It occurred to me when I was thinking of my role in God’s family, how I still too often struggle with wanting to have my way. I get cranky when I don’t get the recognition I feel I deserve. I feel put upon when my advice is not heeded or listened too. Notice how both these sentences begin with ‘I’? The Apostle Paul was not being figurative when he said, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20)
We are raised in this world to believe we come first. The truth we’re taught by God is shifted just enough to make it believable, and yet completely off the mark, “we are better able to help others if we help ourselves first.” Can you imagine any teaching more in conflict with what God calls us to?
“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interest of the others.” (Philippians 2:1-4)
praying through these early morning thoughts, while baking cookies with my son, a scripture came to mind. John states that in order for God to become greater, he (John) must become less…yes pause to ponder. No, that is not actually what it says, but that is what is so often quoted. No surprise, this ‘tweaked’ version makes the statement based on John’s actions not God’s character.
John was being confronted by individuals questioning his relevance, and Jesus’s authority. They wanted to know why John was OK with Jesus taking more and more of his fame, his popularity, his business? “To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3: 27-30)
We don’t have to humble ourselves in order for God’s greatness to be realized, we humble ourselves because God is great. God is God, He is unchangeable, immutable and sovereign. None of that depends upon us, nor anything we chose to do. God is not somehow less great because we chose to humble ourselves and follow him or not. This contrary concept is born of a world where self comes before anything else. The misquoting of this scripture is yet one more symptom of the world we live in. Satan tweaking truth just enough to corrupt it completely.
Dear ones, lets face it head on. Our salvation is not for us alone, our salvation is made complete when we share it with the purpose of helping others to realize it. Our lives exit to serve God and others. Like Paul, we must die to ourselves daily. The single biggest obstacle to our relationship with God is ourselves.
I have not right to recognition for anything I do, because it is Christ in me that accomplishes everything. I have no right to be upset when people don’t listen to me, because it is the Holy Spirit working in and through my words to accomplish His purpose. Everything good in our lives comes from God. What John was referring to in this passage of scripture is that his role served an ordained purpose, Jesus is the one in whom all glory dwells. John’s role was complete, now all focus needed to be on the Son of Man. It was His time to fulfill His role, ordained from the beginning of time.
God is God and God is good. His plan is fulfilled and complete. He must become greater, (not that His greatness is changeable, but our limited view of Him must increase) as is His station and right, we must become less because the story is about Him not us.
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As a Christian, I struggle with fear and doubt. There I said it, yes even Christians can struggle with fear and doubt. I accept that seemingly bad things happen to good people and believe that our Sovereign God can bring good out of even the worst circumstances. Yet, in the midst of trials in my life I still experience fear and doubt. I question what I did wrong, how could I have avoided these circumstances, who is to blame for my suffering, how quickly can I remedy the situation? Perhaps these exact thoughts are not what pop into my head but in some form I am trying to rationalize the situation and devise a way out.
In my previous sentences you may notice the use of the word “I” A LOT, and therein lies my struggle. In 2 Peter, we are told of several instances where God has preserved the righteous in the midst of the ungodly.
“For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)— if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment.” (2 Peter 4-9)
The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations. So, while I’m sitting there stewing on what I can do to fix the problem, God’s solution had been ordained since the beginning of time. To put it more simply, God’s got my back. When temptations come, God promises to ALWAYS provide a way out of it…always, in fact the way out was there before we experienced the trouble, we just have to decide to take it.
“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)
So, why then do I respond the way that I do? I get caught in the moment and fix my eyes on the trouble I am in, not on Jesus. I get stuck in the immediate fear and pain of the trial, and instead of looking at the whole situation and what God is going to teach me through it, I allow myself to be paralyzed. Yes, I know it is hard in those moments to focus on the solution not the problem, but that is what we need to do. If we are focusing on the situation, and how we are going to fix it, we are not allowing God to work.
At the very beginning of our daughters chemotherapy treatment, we got an enormous cell phone bill (this was before there were unlimited plans). I was completely blindsided and had no idea how we were going to pay for the bill. The cell phone was our primary source of communication with family, friends, doctors, therapists, pharmacists. We literally could not do without a phone. I was so stressed with a little phone bill, it became the biggest thing in my world. I made a humongous mountain out of this molehill. This obstacle became the tipping point of my daughters health. Now looking back, it was such a small thing, but at the time it was HUGE! You will not be surprised to hear that an anonymous angel paid that phone bill. It was just the first of a long line of teaching opportunities that grew my faith, patience and trust in Jesus.
“The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are attentive to their cry;
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil,
to blot out their name from the earth.
The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
he delivers them from all their troubles.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
The righteous person may have many troubles,
but the Lord delivers him from them all”
God’s way may not always be someone coming out of the woodwork to pay your bill, often it’s the simple answer that while difficult, provides a peace that passes understanding. What I would encourage each of you to do, along with myself…is to see the whole picture. Instead of asking, ‘why God’ in the midst of trials, ask ‘what are you trying to teach me’ or ‘what can I learn in this storm’. See the forest for the trees, molehills are just molehills unless you lose sight of the bigger picture. Keep your eyes focused on God and He will direct your path, keep your eyes focused on the problem and the problem will direct your path.
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Sitting face down on my bed praying, crying really, someone said something to someone else, gossip starts which creates distractions, hurt feelings and damaged relationships. I’m not sure how the snowball got formed or who pushed it down the snow covered hillside, but by the time it slammed into me it was a hard, cold, dirty and painful.
As I placed my head in my folded hands and cried, I wanted so desperately to cry out to God, intercede! I wanted to be bold like David before the throne and cry out to the Lord God of the universe to fight my battle, to carry His standard before me.
“I come to you, Lord, for protection; never let me be defeated. You are a righteous God; save me, I pray! Hear me! Save me now! Be my refuge to protect me; my defense to save me. You are my refuge and defense; guide me and lead me as you have promised. Keep me safe from the trap that has been set for me; shelter me from danger. I place myself in your care. You will save me, Lord; you are a faithful God.” Psalm 31:1-5
I wanted so much to cry out for the Lord to fight this battle and defend me, but I felt unworthy. I sat there with my face to the floor wanting to cry out for my Father’s help and couldn’t because I know I’m not perfect. I wanted to go to my Father and show Him I was bleeding and ask for His help, but I was afraid because I was dirty.
Does any of this sound familiar? This was one of those moment where God truly spoke to me. David wasn’t perfect, neither was Paul, neither was Peter. He doesn’t call people because they are perfect, actually they are usually very very imperfect. In that moment the God of the universe showed me that His love, His protection, His defense was not dependent on my perfection, or even on my being worthy. It is only dependent on His love.
Let that sink in a moment… how often have we not gone to God because we feel we are unworthy?
There’s no shadow You won’t light up
Mountain You won’t climb up
Coming after me
There’s no wall You won’t kick down
Lie You won’t tear down
Coming after me
He fights for us, He chases us, there is no distance, no pain, no sin, no obstacle to big (or too small) that He can’t – won’t overcome to get to us. Hear me dear ones, there is NOTHING that can separate you, make Him love you less (or more). We all need to step out with the boldness of David and claim the amazing grace God has given to each of us. There is nothing out there that can separate you from Him.
I cried harder at the realization of the depth of God’s love for me, than I did at the pain that this situation caused. He stands between me and trouble, He defends my right and left side, He goes before me and protects behind me. The only part I play in this relationship is to keep my eyes and heart on Him, and follow. He will guide my steps and lead me in the way of righteousness.
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When the idea of this series first popped into my brain, I thought perhaps there was too much similarity around the issues of stress, fear and anxiety. These three emotions are often used synonymously (I think that’s a word). However, as I’ve read and researched, although they seem to elicit similar responses they are very different emotions. While stress is felt when we allow ourselves to feel the pressure of the world closing in on us, fear is when we experience eminent danger causing us to fight or flee. Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. It can be a nagging and dragging emotion that drains us of our energy, focus and even our ability to move forward.
Anxiety in our world today is so prevalent that it also has a psychiatric definition along with numerous medications to help you overcome your anxiety. Anxiety disorder is defined as “a nervous disorder characterized by a state of excessive uneasiness and apprehension, typically with compulsive behavior or panic attacks.”
A state of excessive uneasiness and apprehension, sound familiar? Do you spend large parts of your day trying to control all the circumstances around you and worrying that things won’t turn out as you hoped, then becoming fearful of the outcome of that disaster, and allowing the expectations of everyone around to crush you to the point you just don’t feel like you can breathe? Anxiety is absolutely debilitating!
Many years ago, like about 8, we were going through an adoption process. My youngest son and my oldest daughter were living in our home as foster children. Marcus was placed with us the day he was born and his older sister came sometime later. Both immediately became part of our family, I was actually surprised how well they fit in and how complete my family became with them now part of it.
That’s when it began. Every three months or so we had to go to court for an update. I would worry about obscure possible relatives showing up and claiming them, what if the Judge changed his/her mind, what if my lawyer didn’t think we should have them, what if, what if, what if. My brain was constantly filled with anxious thoughts about what might, could, possibly, imaginably, vaguely, happen. I would start calling our case worker asking questions about every ridiculous possibility and she would finally tell me, “yes Betsy, that could happen, but worrying about it won’t change anything.”
The Bible can be very simple and direct, we however, have a tendency to complicate it. In Matthew 6, Christ is very clear about or propensity to worry. “Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?” Matthew 6:27
In Matthew 6 from 25 through 34 Christ acknowledges that worry (anxiety) is something that plagues us all. “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on it. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?…But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Matthew 6:31-34
Yes, I hear you, I wasn’t worrying about clothes or food. I was worrying about losing my children. But, I was worrying about possible (not probably) outcomes that I had no control over. I was spinning stories in my head and letting Satan live in my brain rent free!
God already knows the outcome, and better than that, His outcome is always going to be far better than one I could pull off. Not to mention my anxiety isn’t going to make a difference other than to have a negative impact on my health, relationships, walk with Jesus, and, and, and.
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
Marcus and Emily are a blessed part of our family. They were part of God’s plan for us all along, and my anxiety had nothing to do with it! Looking back I can see how allowing my worry to go unchecked and become a habit created so much tension that was unnecessary. It cast a constant, looming shadow across what should have been an exciting adventure and growth opportunity for my family. Luckily I serve a Sovereign and loving God whose Grace is sufficient. I don’t think I permanently scarred anyone!
Stress, fear and anxiety are NOT of God! At least, not in a perpetual ruin your day and darken your life kind of way. We are not meant to live in a constant state of any of these emotions. However, there is good news; Christ doesn’t want that for you either and He has provided relief in the form of the Holy Spirit.
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8
If you ask God to help you find peace and freedom from stress, fear and anxiety He will be faithful to answer.
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