Monday, May 26, 2014

When you want to quit...

Have you ever wanted to quit? I have, actually just this last week. It seemed one frustrating moment was followed by another, one disobedient child motivated the next and one feeling of inadequacy multiplied into many. After a couple of days of this I was discouraged, impatient and lacking joy. I was ready to quit motherhood, marriage and ministry. I felt like a failure and honestly I struggled with these feelings because as a Christian I know God's Word tells me I am more than a conqueror. (Romans 8:37)

Believe me I felt anything but a conqueror. Thankfully though I've been reminded that feelings do lie and I've been encouraged not to quit the roles God's given me to play or the life He's created for me to live, but friend there are some things I need to quit.

So today I will share them with you because chances are you and I may be tempted with this thought again...

Let me begin with this - quitting is a choice and it's often the easy one, initially at least. No one ever said this life would be easy, but the Bible encourages us to persevere, fight the good fight and finish the race. As we do this, we will be tempted to quit, but we must also look to His Word. Through it God will strengthen us and equip us to complete the work He calls us too.

Once you and I make the BIG choice not to quit, we must continually choose to quit doing some things.

The first that God has brought to my mind in this recent battle is - Quit listening to lies and meditate on Truth. As our frustration builds Satan's voice gets louder...he tells us we're not good enough, we don't matter, we'll never get it right, we're failures and on and on. Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44), but friend Jesus is Truth and "all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Sometimes the temptation to quit starts with worry. Friend when you feel yourself worrying don't let it take over instead listen to Paul's advice to the Philippians, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (4:6-7) Remember listening to this advice and memorizing this verse is not enough, we must apply it and live it out! So will join me in making a commitment to quit worrying and start praying?!!

This next piece of advice comes from my son - Quit thinking about it and start doing it. I don't know if you're like me, but sometimes I'm tempted to quit before I even begin! God calls us to some tasks that are hard and bigger than we are, but if we spend all our time thinking about them, we'll never get it done! This is one that applies to me right now, but I'm praying I accept my son's wisdom so that I can live out Matthew 5:16 - "let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven." Most deeds begin in our thoughts, but they'll never lead to others giving God glory if they stay there!!

A few hours into day 2 of frustration, I began thinking about what would go wrong next and found myself looking at a half empty glass which only fed my desire to throw in the towel. This leads me to our next point - quit dwelling and start thanking! Even in the chaos and complaining, painting messes and potty training accidents there was much for me to be thankful for, but did I focus there? No. Looking back, I think things would have been different if I would have pushed pause to thank God for the child I loved and the role I enjoy. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 puts it quite well, "give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus."

The other day as I struggled and wanted to quit, I found myself thinking of others. A friend who is persevering through pain as she waits for surgery and a local couple who was burying their young son...these thoughts caused me to beat myself up more as my mind thought, "What's wrong with you? You're life isn't hard." Friend, comparison is a sin - it always leads to pride or self-pity, neither are Godly things. So please join me as we quit comparing and start remembering. We each are given our own life to live and will all face ups and downs, joy and sorrow, but God is always the same. He is loving, caring, sovereign and has a plan. In those moments when you want to quit, I encourage you to think about what my husband told me, "We trust the God who never fails." Psalms 73:26 echoes that quite well - "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."  

Finally, the last and perhaps the most important point - quit focusing on self and start focusing on God. When I feel defeated and want to quit, my eyes are on myself - what I'm doing wrong, how I messed up, what's too hard for me, the list continues, but I'm reminded of God's words about my weakness - "When I am weak, He is strong." (2 Corinthians 12:9-11) Once I attempted to live this point out God led me to Psalms 16:8-11...may these words encourage you as they have me! "I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With Him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand."

Monday, May 19, 2014

Thoughts on Working Out

"Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling..." Philippians 2:12b

Working's something I used to do much more than I do now, but over the last few weeks I've been thinking about it more. Our pastor is preaching through Philippians and we've been focusing on verse 12 and God has me revisiting my basketball days.

When I was obsessed with the game, I was devoted to working out. I practiced, I ran, I lifted weights. I wasn't a natural and didn't have a lot of talent, but I was driven to succeed and thus was dedicated to do the little things. 

Lately I've been challenged that I'm not striving as hard as a disciple of Christ's and being convicted that following Jesus is so much more important than chasing a dream of a state championship. I'm thankful for God's grace, patience and mercy; but I've also been thinking about some of His other attributes.

Friends, our God is Holy, He is a God of Wrath and He is our Judge. What does that mean to you? Lately I've realized that all too often it doesn't mean enough to me. Seeing God for who He is should drive me to be who He made me to be, but does it? Not always. 

All too often my flesh wins and I act selfishly instead of being humble. Doubt and fear can take over in place of confidence and security in Christ. At times I rely on self instead of trusting God. All of this leads me back to the verse in Philippians...notice the last phrase - "with fear and trembling."

Do you fear God? It can be easy to answer that question with a "yes", but let me ask, "What does that look like in your daily life?" Do you find yourself trembling before Him? Friend we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.

This again takes me back to my basketball days and part of the reason I was driven to work hard was because I respected my coach. Much of what I did was optional, but because our coach suggested it I did it. I respected him and feared the consequences that would come with not doing what he asked. Oh for the desire to do the same with my heavenly Father!

Friend, when God asks us to do something He always has a reason and He will always make a doesn't matter if it's something big or small, He wants and expects us to obey. In God's Word, Paul instructs us to work out our salvation and today I challenge you to pray about what that means for you personally. 

As an athlete there were always things I could do to improve and friend as a Christian the same is true for you and me. Will this take time? Yes. Will it require work and discipline? Yes. Will it lead to change and improvement? Yes. Will it create new opportunities? Possibly. Will it be worth it? Yes!!

May these words encourage us today -  "Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain." (1 Corinthians 15:58)

I don't know if you needed this little pep talk today, but I'm praying I hang on to what this verse is really saying and am asking God to give me the desire to make it a reality in my life. I'd love to hear what this verse means to you, how you work out your salvation or if you're challenged in a new way as you understand this verse more, so please share. Also if you need prayer as you work out your salvation, leave a request in the comments and I will pray for you as I pray for me!

Thank you for joining me today! It's a blessing to join you as we run the race of life and it's always more fun to work out with a friend!!

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Ministry of Motherhood

Welcome to those of you joining me from the Encouragement Cafe! In my devotional today, I talk about "The Dreaded Question". As a young adult I never pictured myself as a stay-at-home Mom and even 11 years ago when my first son was born I didn't know if that was a "job" for me. Rather than turning in my resignation I asked for a year's leave of absence...this delayed the decision, but eventually I submitted to God's plan and am now home with 5 little people who are quickly growing up.

I no longer struggle with the "What do you do?" question like I use to, but most days the role I do play is hard. More than once I've told my husband, "100 junior high kids were easier than this!!" And I'm not kidding!! Being a Mom, whether you stay at home or work outside, is hard. 

There's the daily work it requires, the stress, the noise,the questions, the being needed ALL the time...the list doesn't end and then it starts all over tomorrow. But fried, let me remind you (and me) that motherhood isn't about the work or the title, it really is a ministry.

One of my favorite Bible verses is 2 Timothy 4:5, "But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry." Years ago, God used these words to speak to my heart as He called me to write and led me into women's ministry, but lately He's been using them to talk to me about my role as Mom. 

What better advice could you give to a Mom?

Keep your head in all situations. Oh and there are situations aren't there?!?! Times of trial, fighting, frustration, worry and fear - motherhood has it all! Daily Moms are tempted to lose it, feel guilty or angry, unappreciated and underpaid, but whatever the situation we must keep our heads. Other versions refer to this as being self-controlled, keeping a clear mind and being sober. As a Mom, pray about this and try to do it!

Endure hardship. Again hardship comes with the job...motherhood is a blessing, but it includes challenges and work. There can be big struggles and daily little ones...both can cause you to want to quit or leave you thinking you're not enough. But in God's Word we're reminded trials will come and here Paul instructs us to endure them. Mom, when trials come don't avoid them, run from them or through them, endure them. 

Do the work of an evangelist. What does an evangelist do? Tell people about Jesus and as a Mom that is the most important thing we can do for our children. Remember friend, we tell them much more with our actions than our words! So read them the Bible stories, but live out your faith. Allow them to see you reading your Bible, let them read your prayer journal, ask them for forgiveness and share Christ's love!

Discharge all the duties of your ministry. Do the work, all of it. As Moms, we must persevere and be diligent. The job never really ends and if we're going to do it well we must continually be in touch with our Heavenly Father who will equip us for the task He's called us. Abide with Him with my friend!

I pray you are encouraged in your role as Mom today!! It is a privilege and truly a high calling, but friend let us remember it is a responsibility as well...may we not take it lightly or for granted! Mom, your ministry matters!!

Dear Heavenly Father, Lord thank you for creating me to be a wife and a mom. Help me see these roles the way you do...ones of eternal importance. I ask for your help in keeping a clear me stay calm in moments of frustration, focused in times of stressed and prayerful in all situations. Lord, hard days will come, difficult situations are a part of life and trying moments are daily present help me endure them all. And Father I pray for myself as an evangelist, help me live out my faith in my home, draw me closer to Yourself and help me share You, starting with those who are in my home. Lord, you have given me work to do, my ministry, help me do what You created me to do. In Jesus' Name, Amen

Thursday, May 8, 2014

You should feel bad...

Well, isn't the title of this post just one to get your attention? I guess I won't be surprised if nobody reads this! Still God has it on my heart to share, so I'll put it out there and ask Him to use it.

Growing up I loved basketball and I can vividly remember my coach addressing us after one specific loss. It was a game we could have and really should have won; when the final buzzer sounded we were disappointed and it showed. He didn't yell and scream, but he did make this statement - "When you lose, you should feel bad."

At first I don't think I appreciated those words, but as I reflect they make sense and last night after 20 years they came back to me...only this time there was no game involved.

I've been working through Wendy Blight's new Bible study and this week our focus was on living so that. Our memory verse is Matthew 5:14a,16 - You are the light of the world. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven."

As I do this study along with my daily devotionals, God continues to speak to me about something I know He is calling me to do. Something that is beyond me and will require time. Something that just the other day I shared with a friend and specifically asked for prayers to be obedient and disciplined.

Last night God provided time to work, but I wasted it. I wasn't doing "bad" things, but I wasn't intentional either. I chose to do something I enjoyed in the moment, but really won't matter in the long run. Then when it was late and past time to go to bed, I picked up my study and three paragraphs in God spoke to my heart.

I read one short question and tears instantly fell from my heart as God again confirmed what I've been avoiding. He reminded me He'd answered my prayers for time, but I squandered it. I was convicted. And I felt bad.

That painful place opened the door for Satan and he started to condemn, but a quick prayer fought him off. I thought I might feel better with him out of the picture, but I still hurt. It was then I remembered the line from my coach, as the Holy Spirit whispered to my heart, "Jill, you should feel bad."

Now I didn't beat myself up, well not for long anyway, but I believe God was trying to show me something. Friend, when we sin, we should feel bad. We are hurting the heart of God. He is holy and can have nothing to do with sin. You may look at my situation, or your's, and think, but I wasn't doing anything "bad"...that may be true, but remember in God's eyes sin is sin. And I chose to disobey.

I was convicted and I felt bad, as I should. And friend, when God convicts you, I pray you feel the same. Sometimes I think it can be too easy, and perhaps we're too quick, to chalk conviction from God up as condemnation from Satan. They are different, but in the moment they make us feel bad. Remember Satan wants to shame you, but God longs to change you!

Our pastor talks about the Good News (the Gospel) and the bad (we're all sinners) - until we understand the bad news we don't realize we need the Good!! Friend, you and I must recognize, confess and repent of our sin so that we can receive God's forgiveness, deal with it and turn from it. And the bad news is when we realize David's words in Psalms 51 are ours we will feel bad. In verse 4 he says, "Against You (God), You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight; so You are right in Your verdict and justified when You judge."

But friend, there is good news...1 John 1:9 encourages us, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." That confession will come when God convicts, we feel bad and realize the sin we've committed.

I always felt bad after a loss on the basketball court and though those feelings were not fun, they served a purpose - they opened my eyes to weaknesses, motivated me to improve and kept me humble. And the bad feelings that accompany the recognition of sin are powerful as well...they remind me God is a loving Father who forgives, help me remember I am a sinner who needs Christ and give me the opportunity to turn to the One who can help.

Friend, I know this isn't "fun" stuff to deal with, but it's a necessary struggle to address. Walking in faith is hard, we will slip and fall, but in those moments of conviction remember who God's because of His goodness that He allows us to feel bad because He knows there's something so much better!!

I encourage you to spend some time with Him and ask Him to examine your heart. Pray that He would convict you, even if that means you will feel bad because when you and I are sinning, His light is not shining!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Some of My Favorite Books

Prayer has been on my heart over the last few was the focus of my Bible study, a key point in my pastor's sermon and the theme of a message I've been preparing to share. Most importantly it's an area that God is calling me to cultivate more and more. Let me begin by asking you a question that challenged me last week - "How often do you pray?" And then the follow-up - "Why don't you pray more?"

I don't know about you, but those questions are convicting! I know prayer works and it changes things. I also believe it is one of the keys to building my relationship with Christ and strengthening my faith, but yet I'm guilty of not doing it more. Those feelings of guilt are convicting, but thankfully through my study they haven't been condemning. Instead God is encouraging me and reminding of the purpose for prayer, the power in it and the preciousness of it.

Can I ask you another question? How do you know prayers are precious and valuable? Please don't say because I just said so in the paragraph above! I'm sure we could all give examples of how prayer has personally been precious in our lives...just recently I learned of God's answer to a long awaited prayer. The news was precious!!

But friend, we don't have to rely on our experiences, which is good if you've yet to experience this!! We can look to God's Word and in Revelation 5:8 we read, "And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people."

I've read this verse numerous times before, but never really stopped to think about it. Now that I have, it's made me realize even more that prayers, your prayers and mine, are valuable to God. Friends, He keeps golden bowls!! As I thought about this I was struck with the fact that it's our prayers He keeps, not our good deeds or religious works. Our prayers connect our heart to His, change us and matter for eternity!!

The next thought that flowed from this was...if God finds our prayers valuable enough to keep perhaps I should too!! I'm grateful that over 10 years ago God put it on my heart to journal my prayers because now I have some of my favorite books...ones no one else can buy!!

Friend, these books wouldn't mean much to you, but if I'm in need of encouragement or need to be reminded of God's faithfulness I simply pull one off the shelf and can literally read about God's goodness. I say that and don't want you to think my life is perfect or I only pray about the good stuff. Last night as I flipped through I read about our miscarriage and the death of loved ones, there were also many words about relationship struggles and parenting frustrations. Life is hard, but prayer is powerful and God has a plan.

Keeping a prayer journal is a way I keep myself focused as I pray, writing keeps me from being distracted and has proven powerful over the years. These books not only help me see God's work in my life but they also open my eyes to the growth in my spiritual life. Early on at times I had one entry every few months and some of my prayers were very self-focused and simply a time of asking. I'm so grateful for how God has strengthened my faith and increased my ability to pray.

As I reflect I'm also grateful for all God has done and for the reminder of His timing. In 2006, I read my prayers about something God put on my heart - Titus24U - it was a name and at the time I knew He was giving me a passion to connect one generation of women to another, but it was all beyond me and didn't make a lot of sense. But God was stirring and as I flipped through I see that continued in all the years that followed. In each prayer, I see how He'd revealed more and more and increased my confidence and desire to obey. And last night I was able to add a prayer...this time it was one of thankfulness - in May of 2013, Titus24U was held for the first time and over the last 12 months God has blessed the women who've joined together to pray, praise and study His Word. 

One last thing I've found as I've gone through some of my old journals are prayers others have prayed for me. These two are encouraging...some of them came at a time when I was struggling to pray for myself - I truly believe they carried me through. Others are prayers that have strengthened my faith and shown me the importance of praying for others. While some bring a smile to face as I read prayers I may have been afraid to pray for myself, but others lifted them and God answered.

Friend, I grew up journaling my thoughts, so a prayer journal kind of comes natural for me, but I know many who say just the opposite and feel like it's something they could never do. If that's you can I encourage you today to make an effort to jot down one prayer a week for this month. I trust God will use that in ways you can't imagine. And as you pray, ask Him to give you the desire to pray more and to even put some in writing. Friend, He values our prayers enough to keep them, perhaps we should too!!

May my prayer be set before you like incense; 
may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice. 
Psalms 141:2

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Don't Chew That

Lately my little boys are all about mints and life-savers, but yesterday after giving them one I noticed they immediately chewed it up and wanted another. I said, "You know guys if you sucked on that it would last a lot longer. You're not supposed to chew this candy."

I'm not sure if they grasped the concept, but God seemed to use it as an illustration for me. A similar thought was impressed on my heart as I thought about God's Word. Friend, when it comes to reading your Bible is it something you move through quickly so you can get on with your day? Do you do your devos, cross it off the list and proceed with what comes next? 

When we "chew" through the Bible, we may get it done quickly, but we'll end up in the same situation as my little boys with their candy - we'll be wanting more!! And we won't have enjoyed or benefited from what we've already been given.

Now I'm not going to instruct you to suck on God's Word, but Joshua 1:8 does tell us to meditate on it. "Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful." And Psalms 1:2 says, "But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night."

The word meditate, according to Webster, means to spend time in quiet thought. The Hebrew word for meditate, hagah, translated means to ponder, mutter, speak, study or talk. This is an action that takes time and requires effort. Meditating on God's Word is something we must be intentional about throughout the day not just during our devotional time.

And friend, my little boys will enjoy their candy more if they suck on it and we will experience the same when we meditate on God's Word. That enjoyment will include the benefits of God's Word working in our lives and transforming our hearts! 

The following verse from Psalms says, "He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers."

Friend, I pray today you and I will be encouraged to linger over God's Word instead of simply chewing it up so that we can appreciate it and experience it fully. I'd love to hear how you do this...please share in the comments.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Flashback Friday - The Cultivator

Friend, the last couple of days God has had much on my heart...many around me are walking through hard, trying times and it's weighing on me. As I process this and work through my Bible study, my mind keeps going back to prayer. Those thoughts led me back to a study I did last year and to some posts I wrote last summer. The study was titled, "Cultivating a Heart of Prayer" and God did much in my heart, but today it was beneficial to be reminded of the One who does the cultivating. He's put it on my heart to share, so I trust if He's brought you here He has something to say to you. I pray our ears will be opened and hearts encouraged to approach Him with confidence. (See Hebrews 4:16) Friend, He has the power, ability and desire to meet every need!

From July 2013 - 

Awhile back I shared a post titled, "Time to Cultivate" and today as I took lunch to my husband in the field, God had more to say. 

This time my focus was primarily on my husband. Cultivating is not a fun have to go slow, it takes time and you must be careful. And then often after a little time passes, you do it all over again.

I watched Job look back over his shoulder to make sure he wasn't damaging any beans and I thought about God doing the same as He cultivates my heart. He is El Roi, the God who sees. He too is always watching me and is constantly aware of the work He is doing. He is careful as He tends the soil of my heart. The work He does has a purpose.

I looked at the equipment my husband was using and noticed the yellow guards that sit parallel to each row of beans. They are there to protect the crop. In the same way, I believe God has guards in place to protect me and my heart as He works. In the process of cultivating, dirt is broken up and weeds uprooted, but the Cultivator protects the crop that's growing.

As I visited with my husband about this part of farming, I believe he appreciated my interest and he also shared another important point. Depending on the size of the crop, cultivating can be done a bit differently. As Job talked about this, I again thought of God as the Cultivator. He knows how I'm growing and changing, He knows my maturity level, He knows exactly what I need. And He has the wisdom to work in ways that are best with timing that is perfect.

Finally, as I opened the door of the tractor cab I was greeted with this - 

My little Jesse man loves being in the tractor and spending time with his daddy! He'd "worked so hard" he fell asleep. With thoughts of God as the Cultivator, I look at this picture and I'm grateful that just like my husband, God does His work while at the same time caring for the child He loves. 

Friend, I know the work God does in us is often hard, it takes time and requires work. But may we all remember the One doing the cultivating is caring, careful and wise. The pain we feel and work we face has a purpose...God knows what we need to grow and He loves us enough to provide just that!