Wednesday, July 31, 2013

An Examination of the Heart

“But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, 
for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. 
People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 
1 Samuel 16:7 NIV

Growing up I was known as one of the little Biwer girls. It’s true, I was little for my size - always one of the shortest in my class and on the basketball court. And friend, perhaps you too have been defined by your size or looks. Will you join me as we discover our identity is not based on our appearance?

It has taken me years to understand this truth and at times I still fail and find myself defining who I am by the person I see in the mirror. How about you, who do you see when you look in the mirror? All too often the person I see is not the one God does. No, sometimes I still see “the little Biwer girl”, the one who thought she was too small and too weak to ever be good enough. The girl, who as a teenager was mistaken for a boy on the junior high basketball team. The child who looked at every one else and knew they were more beautiful than her.

Early on my walk of faith, I heard the phrase, “Broken and Beautiful,” but for a long time I felt I could only relate to the broken part. I could ask myself, "Who Am I?" "Broken!" Yes, that answer made sense! I've had a broken heart, broken dreams, broken relationships... You get the idea; I have been broken. Simply said, I've felt no good, incomplete, not good enough; sometimes these feelings resulted because of what was done to me and others because of things I'd done myself. The answer, broken, came as no surprise.

But it's the last word in the phrase that is hard to type as an answer to our question. "Who Am I?" "Beautiful." Honestly, the response I've mentally given to that statement for years is "yeah right, look at me!!"

I'm sure you'd agree, I had issues with my looks. But honestly this isn't a past tense struggle, I still do. God showed me the importance of dealing with this a few years ago, when my then almost 5 year old little girl sincerely said to me, "I’m not pretty." Like every Mom, I know my child is the cutest, but still her words hurt.

Especially the ones that followed my "yes you are" response; without a beat, my little Joy said, "you're just saying that." Honestly my heart broke because I knew how she felt, in my mind I'd probably said the same thing to my husband that very day. God directed me to speak His truth to her and as I did, He challenged me to believe it for myself!

And now, for the first time ever, I will say it: I am beautiful. It's hard for me to believe I just typed those words, but I'm finally at a place where it's harder not to believe God's Word.

Please read it for yourself -
“But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7 NIV

Samuel is in the process of anointing the next king when he hears these words. The LORD has sent him to Jesse and instructed him to anoint one of his sons as king. So he arrives and sees Eliab, the first born son. One we can assume was the biggest and strongest, the natural leader, an obvious choice for king, but the Lord says otherwise.

Let us look a bit deeper at the words Samuel hears, “Do not consider his appearance or his height.” Doesn't this contradict the message of society? The nearest magazine or next television commercial will tell you and me who we are is how we look. The world often quickly determines our worth based on our appearance. When we are surrounded by this it can be easy to develop the same way of thinking and label ourselves as the little one, the big one or the ugly one.

So let’s go back to the verse, “The LORD does not look at things people look at.” Take a minute and think about this, what do people look at? Better yet, what do you look at? Take a minute and go to a mirror, what do you see? Hair that’s a mess, teeth that are crooked or a nose that’s too big?

I don’t know what you saw, but there were things I didn’t like. Physical traits that have bothered me and wrongly defined me for years. Some that I could improve, others that will never change, but all part of my outward appearance. The side people see. The side that is important, needs to be addressed and is part of who I am, but the side that all too often is our focus, but never God’s.

Remember what the Lord looks at, He looks at the heart. Isn’t it interesting to think He looks at the thing that no one else can see? Granted this verse isn’t referring to the beating organ in our chest, but what Samuel is being reminded of is God knows our thoughts and intentions. He sees past our good looks and nice smiles all the while overlooking the extra pounds and crooked teeth, the One who makes our heart beat understands the motives of our heart.

Perhaps we should do another exercise…this time we don’t need a mirror, but instead I encourage you to bow your head in prayer. Close your eyes, remember God doesn’t look at the outer appearance, and ask God to look at you and tell you what and who He sees.

If you’re not sure how to begin, pray the words of Psalm 26, “Test me Lord and try me, examine my heart and my mind.” Be still and listen to what He has to say. Take time and write down what He whispers to your heart.

Perhaps this exercise is just as difficult as looking in the mirror, maybe even more painful as we pause long enough to be convicted, but friend remember there is purpose in the pain. God convicts us of things to make us better, to help us change and become who He made us to be.

Friend, I’ll be honest the report the great physician gave me didn’t make me feel real good. I heard things like: sometimes I look at you and see selfishness, other times it’s laziness and there are moments when I see one who’s too quick to doubt. Not exactly the happy, uplifting little exercise I expected.

A couple of days have passed since I first wrote about the heart exam and God is continuing His work. Initially the findings He revealed hurt. I wanted to plug my ears and pretend I couldn’t hear what God was saying.

Those strategies didn’t work, so instead I kept seeking Him and looking for wisdom. Like the faithful Father He is, He responded with words to comfort my soul. Jill, if you want to know who you are, you need to know who I see. In the same way you put on a mask or make-up to hide your face from the world at times you do that with your heart as well. You may deny yourself of reality, but I know, I see your heart. Before you can really see the beauty I created when I made you, you must allow me access to the ugly. Remember only I can take what is broken and make it beautiful. Let me change you from the inside out. 

Friend perhaps this exercise hasn’t affected you the way it has me, but I want to share a bit more. Looking in the mirror has never been on the top of my to-do list and this heart examination has helped me understand why. Granted growing up, I never really thought about God thinking I was beautiful. But since accepting Christ as my savior and digging into God’s word, I know He thinks I am.

Knowing this and living like it is true are two different things. Reading Psalm 45:11, “Let the king be enthralled by your beauty; honor him, for he is your lord,” didn’t serve as a magic pill. I knew this truth, but still avoided the mirror.

Deep down I now believe 1 Samuel 16:7 had something to do with it. Knowing the LORD looks at the heart impacts me and if you’re honest I’d have to guess you’d say the same. Though we can hide our outer blemishes and inner struggles from others, we too know our heart. When we deny God access and keep Him from examining our heart, the ugly that is there is something we see in the mirror.

So friend, I encourage you to constantly be in prayer and ask God to examine your heart. It’s something you might not want to do, but it’s what we need to do. Though we can’t see our inside, knowing God does, can impact the way we see ourselves.

Now you might be thinking what good is it going to do me to allow God to examine my heart and reveal the ugly to me? I look in the mirror and do that myself already. I understand this thinking, that’s exactly why I wanted to avoid this examination. Believe me I didn’t want to make you or myself feel worse.

So before you close this page, I want you to think with me a bit about pearls. Chances are you’d like to put a string of them around your neck and look in the mirror; they are beautiful and something of value. But let me remind you, a pearl is a finished product. A pearl is something that is created inside a mollusk, an oyster shell which is not the finest thing to look at.

Some might say the shell around the pearl is ugly, but as time passes and the pearl is created we are left with a thing of beauty. Friend the same is true of our heart, a heart God created, sees and knows.

He isn’t a Father who just sees all of our faults (He does), but He also knows the good. Psalm 139 is one we’ve heard often, but it’s one worth revisiting now. Take a look at verses 13-14, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

Friend all His works are wonderful, that means you and me. Let’s stop and ask our question once again, “Who Am I?” Perhaps we’ve given an answer that is based on our appearance, the face we see in a mirror, but I pray as you’ve worked through this post you realize that’s not an answer God gives.

He wants us to look inward, just like He does, and realize beauty begins in the heart. 1 Peter 3:3,4 tells us, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”

In God’s eyes, beauty is not something we see in the mirror or add on as an accessory, it comes from within. Proverbs 31 tells us beauty is fleeting, but the inner beauty Peter is talking about doesn’t fade away. Actually friend, time adds to this beauty.

Let’s commit to asking God who we are, pledge to believe what He says and allow Him to examine our heart. This process will help us see who He sees and thus become who He created us to be. We might still be little (or big), but we are beautiful when our heart is pure, our motives are right and our character is like Christ.

Friends, these words come from a project God has put on my heart and I'd love any feedback you have to offer. I'm so thankful for the insight you share and the connections God has created here. Blessings to you!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Closing Thoughts on Cultivating

Over the last month I've been doing a Bible study entitled, "Cultivating a Heart of Prayer" and in that time God has done much. I've shared thoughts about this in two posts titled "Time to Cultivate" and "The Cultivator". I'm grateful for all God has taught me and the pictures He's given to me; today I'd like to share some closing thoughts from our study.

Yesterday I read Proverbs 27 and verse 17 caught my attention. It says, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." I'd read this verse many times, but this time it came to life...because God had been making it real in my life. 

Numerous thoughts came to mind, many connected to our study. The first phrase of the verse made me think of the equipment my husband uses to cultivate our field - it is made of iron (or steel, but it's strong metal) and it has to be sharp in order to work well. When the pieces are dull, it's still a cultivator, but if Job wants it to work well, he needs to use iron to sharpen iron. 

As I thought about this I realized the same is true for me - since I've asked Christ to be my Savior, I will always be a Christian, but if I want to be a woman who serves Him and grows closer to Him, I must continually allow Him to melt me and mold me. 

He has been doing just that as I worked through this study and He's making me sharper, stronger and more effective by using His double edged sword. Hebrews 4:12 says, "For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." 

Through this study I've been challenged to dig into God's Word, listen to His Truth, believe His promises and pray with power. It truly has been a time of growth. The other day as I watched my husband cultivate, I noticed how the soil changed after the cultivator passed. Before the equipment passed, the ground was hard, dry and cracked, but afterwards it was tilled, fresh and full of life. The same is true when God cultivates our heart!

With His Word, God has changed me...He's opened my eyes to sin, He's tendered my heart and He's strengthened my faith. 

He's also brought the last half of Proverbs 27:17 to life. I've seen Him use one woman to sharpen another. Through this online Bible study many sisters in Christ have reached out to one another, they've shared their stories and prayed for each other. I've not only watched this happen, but I've experienced it as well.

Through the study God brought to mind something to pray about, so I did. And as I did, He put it on my heart to do more than pray. He led me to send an email I didn't want to send. It was a message about words that may be misinterrupted, but as one who strongly dislikes confrontation I tried to ignore what God was asking me to do. You see I knew this person, trusted their heart and knew these couple of questionable words were not an issue. Thoughts of addressing this simply left me with the fear of being misunderstood. 

Though I didn't obey immediately, God had done enough cultivating that eventually I did what I didn't want to do. I prayed, then wrote the message. I prayed and then sent the message and prayed some more. Shortly after I had a message back; my friend thanked me for my obedience, explained the situation and assured me she wasn't upset. I was grateful, but then satan went to work.

He began whispering lies and I listened to them. My friend realized this and responded with wonderful words and powerful Truth. She assured me my words were wisdom to her and prayed for peace for me. And she reminded me that God could be using this experience to grow and stretch me. 

A few days later as I read Proverbs 27:17, I realized my friend was right God was, no He is growing me and stretching me. And He's using friends who are in His Word to sharpen me. He works through women who are in the Word to remind me of my identity in Christ, to encourage me in my walk of faith and to strengthen me to live out my calling. As I share with sisters in Christ, I see examples to follow, I hear stories that remind me I'm not alone and my faith grows. They teach me from God's Word and increase my desire to know it better myself.

Friends, I pray you are experiencing the same because when iron, knives and even people are sharpened they shine more!! If we want our lives to shine for Christ we must be willing to let God cultivate our heart and sharpen us with His Word and through His people!!

Our official study has come to a close, but I know the work has just begun! My husband has cultivated our fields twice this summer and God will continually do the same with my heart!

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Spiritual Diet

The other day my baby turned 2! It's honestly hard for me to believe my little man is already that old...a lot has happened in those 24 months! He's grown and changed and so have I! As I thought about this, I decided to look back at my blog and see what was on my heart back in 2011.

The 2nd post I read was titled, "Words Brought to Life". I currently am working through a study about praying God's Word and weekly listen to a pastor who encourages us to read God's Word, so these were timely words for me to read.

from Aug. 4th, 2011 -

A newborn baby in the house means a loss of sleep (plus many other wonderful things!!), but the other night a truth was brought to life while I was up with our new little man. I was already lacking in the sleep department and that night I hoped it would be better, but it wasn't; so I pulled myself out of bed once again and did what I needed to do.

My lil Jesse Man
I sat down to feed Jesse and looked for something to pass my time. Rather than opening the book that kept me up longer than my baby did, I pulled our calendar off the shelf and decided to look at what the new month would bring. It was then something caught my attention; no, it wasn't the events scheduled or the first day of school, instead it was a verse that instantly took on a meaning that was real!!

The words on our calendar read, "Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good." (1 Peter 2:2,3) 

Now, I've read this verse numerous times and heard it as well. I know the point Peter is making, but that night as I sat there with a newborn babe in my arms these words came to life! You don't have to be a mom to know babies need milk, I really believe that is an understood fact of life. But if you are a mom, you've experienced the craving newborns have for milk. It feeds them and fills them. Calms them and comforts them. This is what they desire! 

This isn't a one time desire either! My little guy craves milk quite times it feels like this is a constant desire and others it seems to be the only desire!!

That night as I sat in the early hours thinking about this I was struck by the contrast in my desires with that of my son. Honestly I wasn't craving spiritual milk at that moment like my son was craving physical milk. And if I'm truthful I don't know if I've ever craved God's Word in the same way my son cried out for his nourishment.

How about you? Do you crave spiritual milk like a newborn baby craves that which sustains him? Remember craving it, isn't enough - my son doesn't stop longing for milk when I pick him up, he is not satisfied until his desire is met. Friend will you join me in being more aware of what we crave? Let's move past realizing we need this spiritual meal and make an effort similar to the one I do with my son, let's get ourselves out of bed and let our Heavenly Father provide the nourishment that only He can. 

And then when we're feeling empty, cry out and let Him fill us again!! This strategy works for my son and I know God is a much better parent than me!!!

What words have been brought to life for you recently??

Jesse is now 2 and still enjoys his milk...praying he will long for spiritual milk as well!!

As I read this post 2 years later, God has reminded me that though Jesse still loves his milk, he no longer survives on that alone. He is my little meat eater, loves to chew on carrots and enjoys every cookie he can...he needs solid food. And friends as we grow and mature in Christ the same is true for us! Don't allow yourself to settle for the basics, keep growing closer to God and digging deeper into His Word! He wants to nourish you in order to equip you for all He's planned for you!!

"I have a lot more to say about this, but it is hard to get it across to you since you’ve picked up this bad habit of not listening. By this time you ought to be teachers yourselves, yet here I find you need someone to sit down with you and go over the basics on God again, starting from square one—baby’s milk, when you should have been on solid food long ago! Milk is for beginners, inexperienced in God’s ways; solid food is for the mature, who have some practice in telling right from wrong." (Hebrews 5:11-14)

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Who Do You Pray For?

How would you answer the question that titles this post? My common response is: my children (since there are 5 of them, somedays I feel that's as far as I get:), my husband, my extended family, my church family, friends, those in the ministry, individuals I know who are hurting... I'm sure there are others, but this gives you an idea.

This week as I continue to work through the "Cultivating a Heart of Prayer" study, God is at work. He is cultivating my heart and showing me I need to pray more and He's equipping me to pray better. The past few days I've struggled with some doubt, experienced feelings of failure and listened to lies from the enemy. Last night as I thought about the current assignment - praying for a specific situation and/or individual, I asked God for direction.

His response wasn't one I expected, but still it did not surprise me. He put it on my heart that I needed to pray for myself. Not long ago I would have ignored that prick from the Holy Spirit and would have considered it a selfish thought, but last night something was different. God has been cultivating and the crop He's trying to grow (my faith) is maturing.

It's not that I haven't prayed for myself, but I don't devote the time like I should. It's not that I didn't know I need Him, but at times old feelings of unworthiness tell me others need Him more. It's not that I don't pray about all God leads me to do, but I'm learning I can pray more for my heart and my thoughts.

As I walk in faith, I'm becoming more and more dependent on my heavenly Father. I'm grateful He opened my eyes to just what I need and I'm thankful through this study He's showing me the most powerful prayers I can pray...scripture spoken back to Him. And as I did just that He reminded me His Word will not return void. The prayers I pray in faith will be answered by the One who is faithful!!

So today friend, I humble myself and share with you that I have a ways to go on this journey of life, but more importantly I humble myself before my Lord and Savior asking Him to provide all I need and acknowledging He's the only One with the power to do just that.

If the idea of praying for yourself is new, I encourage you to set aside your desire to take care of everyone else and do the most important thing you can do for the ones you love...ask God to take care of you!! Here are the words He gave me...

Dear Heavenly Father,
Lord, today I come before you to pray for myself, something I don't do enough and something You are showing me I need to do more. Father God I pray for eyes to see, ears to hear and a tender heart that longs to obey. Lord help me think on what is true, noble, pure, right and lovely. I pray that I would draw near to You and hold fast to You. Lord, help my trust You with all my heart and take away my need to understand and desire to figure things out. Father do not let any unwholesome talk come from my mouth, put a guard over my mouth so that I may speak words that build others up. Lord I ask you to do the same with my thoughts...especially the thoughts I think about me speak Truth to myself in the same way You've created me to share it with others. I ask you to keep me from throwing my confidence away; help me press on, fight the good fight and live a life worthy of the calling You've given me. Renew me Lord and transform me with Your Truth. I pray my light would shine before men so that others, especially my husband and children, would see Your good works and glorify You. Father help me cast all my cares on you and continually remind me to pray about everything so that I worry about nothing. God, I ask You for a heart that is willing to forgive in the same way You have forgiven me. Finally Lord, I pray that You would help me understand, embrace and receive the love, the love that is wide, high, long and deep, You have for me. And as I do help me be a friend and a wife and mom who loves at all times. Thank you Lord for choosing me to be Your child, for reminding me that I am a dependent daughter, creating me to be a gifted girl and for loving me as your beautiful bride. Lord you are good. And I am grateful. I pray this all in Jesus powerful and precious name, Amen

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Cultivator

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!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

My Audience

A month ago, I was preparing to share at my grandma's funeral and I was thinking quite a bit about the audience. As I planned to speak about the hope I have in Christ and read a few verses from the Bible, thoughts went to those who perhaps didn't know Jesus in a personal way. My mind wondered and maybe even worried, "What will they think? Will they see me as a 'Jesus Freak?"

Then thoughts went to those who are strong in their faith, the pastor who'd be presiding and my pastor who was now sitting in the pew while I stood behind the podium. Again the same thought, "What will they think? Would I say something wrong, omit an important Truth or misuse an opportunity?"

Then thoughts went to my mom and her siblings, "What would they think as I shared stories about their mom?" Thoughts went to my siblings and cousins as well, "Would I share memories they'd experienced too?"

My mind was racing with these thoughts until God reminded me who my audience's true, all the people I mentioned above were in the congregation, but my audience, the only One I needed to please, was and is God my Father.

He even brought a few verses to mind and confirmed the message He'd impressed on my heart -

Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts. 1 Thessalonians  2:4

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galations 1:10

We must obey God rather than men! Acts 5:29

I pray the words I shared that day pleased the only audience that really mattered. In my attempt to please God, He blessed me as others shared that my words had touched their hearts. When you and I strive to please God, He takes care of the details and is faithful to bless our obedience.

In the days that have followed, God has had more to say about my audience. In that time, I haven't stood in front of a crowd, but my audience is still present. God has been reminding me that it doesn't matter what I'm doing, who I am speaking to or how I feel, He is watching. He is El Roi, the God who sees. And He has created me with a purpose, to please and glorify Him.

It's important to think about this when delivering a message many will hear, but it's just as important, if not more, when speaking to my husband, disciplining my children or joking with a friend. God is watching and as 2 Corinthians 5:9 says, "So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please Him." Lord, make that the desire of our hearts!

If that is our desire, our passion, we know Psalms 19:14 will be true in our lives! It says, May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” 

Something to think about - Daily, do you live for an audience of One? If not, what would change if you did?

Monday, July 8, 2013

Time to Cultivate

I am currently doing a Bible study titled, "Cultivating a Heart of Prayer" and the other day as I thought about it, I wondered why Wendy Blight, the author, gave it this title.

You see, it's cultivating time here in Iowa. My farmer husband is busy cultivating the beans we've planted in the field. This is a task I associate with Iowa soil, one I know involves work and takes time. I hadn't really ever connected that word with my heart, but as I thought about it, God showed me there are some similarities.

Many farmers today don't do a lot of cultivating. They have access to various chemicals and numerous fertilizers; that is a much easier and faster route. But since we are raising organic crops this is not an option for us. My husband must do the tedious job of cultivating taking 12 rows at a time. The equipment digs up the dirt and removes the weeds, so the crop can grow.

So as I thought about and even watched my husband cultivate our crops, I pictured God doing the same with my heart. This too is a process that takes time. It involves work and requires effort on my part. Cultivating a field, or my heart, isn't something that happens with the flip of a switch. But it is job that brings results!

Cultivating removes weeds from our fields and lies, bad attitudes and wrong thoughts from my heart. This task also tills up the soil, so new growth can occur. At times it would be easier for my husband to use chemicals and raise our crops conventionally and we can be tempted to pursue an easier way to connect with God, but He desires a personal relationship with us. There's no quick way to make that happen and no one else can do it for me, or you.

In order to do his cultivating, my husband needs a tractor and a cultivator and friend we need two things as well...quiet time and God's Word. The Bible is the only piece of equipment we need, it is a powerful tool. Hebrews 4:12 tells us, "For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.God's Word can do more work than my husband's John Deere will ever do! But we have to open it and be receptive to what He has to say!!

Finally, God also brought to mind that my husband cultivated the same field last year and his dad did the same many years ago. Each new year, the work had to be done again. Cultivating isn't a task we do once and consider it done. Friend, the same is true for our hearts, each season, actually every day, we need to cultivate the soil of our heart so we have a heart for prayer. Only then will new growth take place. 

Every year my husband has a goal of producing a better yield than he did the year before, and I believe we should have similar goals in our walk with Christ. If we want to grow closer to Christ and do more for the glory of God our hearts must grow closer to His and that won't happen unless we get the cultivating done!

The soil has been cultivated so the beans can grow...Lord, cultivate my heart  as well, so my faith can grow too!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Confessed Lately?

Growing up I can remember some friends talking about going to confession at their church. The thought of sharing my sin with a priest almost made me sick; I was grateful that was not something I had to do in my church. 

You see it was bad enough that I knew what I did wrong, I didn't want anyone else to find out. For quite awhile I was pretty good at playing the "I'm fine" game and I think I thought, If nobody else has to know about my struggles then maybe I can deny their existence as well.

Time went by and I realized faith was not just religion, but a relationship. This realization opened my eyes to much, but today I want to focus on how that changed my view of confession.

It was then I realized that in a way I had to do what my Catholic friends talked about...only my confessions were to be face to face - with God and others. 

Thankfully, this no longer makes me sick, but it's still an area with room for improvement. I'm currently doing Wendy Blight's Bible study titled, "Cultivating a Heart of Prayer" and this week God has been speaking to me through this verse -

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. James 5:16

Three weeks ago today my grandma passed away, the last week we knew the end was near and I was preparing my children for her death, but honestly I didn't do a real good job of preparing myself. 

Her death has impacted me even more than I expected it to. I know it's natural to be sad and grieve, but as one who has a history with depression I feel like I'm falling back into a pit. I've regressed to the "I'm fine" response at times and feel myself drifting and disconnecting. 

I'm grateful I realize this and know this study is all in God's timing. So yesterday as I read this verse from James yet again, I asked God, "Lord what sins do I need to confess?"

I didn't hear His voice, but I felt Him impress some things on my heart -

"Jill, you're not being entirely honest. Remember a half truth is still a full lie. You're struggling at times, you're sad, you miss your's OK, tell people that."

"My daughter you are also anxious, you're worried, you fear losing someone else."

Then like Jesus spoke to Martha, I sensed Him say, "Jill, Jill you are worried and upset about many things..."

I couldn't deny what God was saying...losing my grandma has been harder than what I'm sharing with others. But I was surprised when He called me out on my fears...I hadn't really thought about that, but my mind has played the 'what if' game. I was visiting with a friend who just lost her mom and heard of another losing a child...I can't imagine the pain that would bring and can tell myself I could never handle that. God's right (He always is), I have been fearing death, change and pain when the only one I need to fear is Him.

As I thought about this one sin that rose to the top was the sin of disobedience. I say I believe God's Word, but there are parts of it I have not been obeying. Specifically 2 Corinthians 10:5b, "we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ," and Philippians 4:8, "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."

I have not taken every thought captive...I've entertained lies, dwelled on worries and pondered the what if's. At times my thoughts have been wrong, ugly, and ones I didn't want you to know. So today I confess that to you.

Why? Because that is what God is telling me to do. And because I believe His Word...He commands me to confess and us to pray and then promises He will heal. 

Thank you friends for your prayers and let's praise Him for His power. His Word is alive and when we seek Him, we will find Him. I encourage you to confess your sins as well and if you're not sure what they are, ask Him, He'll show you and then He'll work to make James 5:16 a reality in your life as well!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A Story of Hope

In my last post I wrote about doubting God and questioning His goodness, something we Christians know we shouldn't do, but if we're honest - it is a sin we commit. Thankfully, God has wrapped His arms around me as I walk through this season of grief and though I'm sad, He is comforting me.

One thing God has done in the last couple of days is remind me of His faithfulness. This isn't the first time I've experienced loss or prayed for healing that didn't come. Last night I read words I'd put together 4 years ago and they were powerful because they reminded me that God can and will carry me through whatever comes my way. He's done it in the past and I trust He will do it in the present.

My prayer is this story of hope will encourage you like it did me...
On June 20th 2009, I sat alone at the computer and put these words together, but waited until October to share them. It's a glimpse of how God has worked in my life and made Himself real. There are certainly times when life seems to make no sense and moments when His plan seems far from perfect, but He is present and He is working. While He does just that He never asks for me to figure things out (though all too often I try), He simply wants me to seek Him, trust Him and never lose my hope in Him.

So with that here's my story of "Hope"...

Last August (2008) we experienced a miscarriage – pain and loss you never understand until you’re in the midst of it yourself. I only knew I was pregnant for 15 days – doesn’t seem long, but once you’ve connected with a child it is a bond you share for life. I never felt the baby move, saw her face or heard her voice, but yet the baby is mine.

The days following the loss were difficult; tears would come in ways I never expected. I’d see a baby toy and wonder if we’d ever need that again, I’d look at the kids’ pictures on the wall and realize I wouldn’t need to rearrange them 9 months down the road, and once my 3 year old asked me to read a book and handed me one titled, “We’ve Lost our Baby.” She didn’t understand why it made me cry.

During the time of sadness there was also strength, not mine, but God’s. He lifted me up in ways I had never experienced. The loss was real, but His comfort was too. In this difficult time, I experienced a side of God I never had before. Even when I wasn’t seeking Him, He was holding me. When the hurt created questions and caused me to push away, He drew me close.

Looking back it’s still hard to understand and thinking about our little one who should now be 2 months old still brings tears. But God’s Word is true, He has a plan and it’s one for good. Now I would never say losing a child is good, but what God did through the experience has been.

He made Himself real and proved His Word to be true. He worked through others and lifted me up. He reminded me why we have hope and how heaven is real.

And nearly 6 months following, He unexpectedly blessed me with another pregnancy. Early on the fears returned, what if I lost this baby too? That wasn’t a road I wanted to walk again.

As our pregnancy reached the 6-week mark, thoughts turned to the baby who should have been born in 6 weeks and feelings of joy turned to ones of guilt. I really struggled with God’s ability to give and take away. I rejoiced for the baby to come, but felt like I was forgetting the one who already was.

Time went on and God continued to walk me through this journey we call life. I would cry and He’d dry the tears. I would question and He would answer. He assured me my pain was OK, the loss was real and He knew, He’d lost a child too.

So as the pregnancy progressed I found myself thinking about names. And as a family of all J’s, thoughts started there. Janelle, Judson, Jordan, Jace, Jared, Julie…the list went on, but I always came back to Jenae. I’m not sure why, but it seemed to be the name God had for our little one.

Eventually I looked into the meaning of the name and found it to be, “God has given.” Since this wasn’t a baby we had “planned” (are any?), I thought the name fit.

Then it was time to move on to the middle name and instantly Jenae Hope entered my world. It made sense - God has given hope, and what a gift that is!!

My husband still wasn’t sold on the name; he claimed it sounded too much like one of the other girl’s. I assured him all names that start with J would be similar. We continued to discuss possibilities and had plenty of input from the little one’s older siblings, but still without even knowing the sex of our baby I was sure we had a little Jenae Hope Beran.

Well that confidence only lasted to the halfway point of our pregnancy. We had always waited for the Dr. to announce the baby’s sex in the delivery room, but this time my curiosity surprised me.

At the completion of our ultrasound, the radiologist handed me an envelope with the answer to my question. I waited awhile (like 2 hours), but eventually took a peak and pledged to a 20-week secret – it was a boy!

I wasn’t totally surprised as there had been similarities in the pregnancy with that of our other son, but because of the name, the one it seemed God had given, I was prepared for a girl. I can remember thinking, “What about Jenae?”

And though I didn’t hear God’s voice, it was as if He said, “I’m already holding her.” And then there was peace – it all made sense - that name was on my heart during the time she should have been born. I thought I was naming baby number 5, but God knew it was number 4.

The name doesn’t make it any easier; actually it brings the tears right back. But I’m learning that’s OK, though her life was short, her presence was real and the pain is too. She’s one I won’t hold until heaven, but I’m thankful for her life and that I know her name. I’m also grateful God has given us His hope! Mommy loves you little Jenae Hope Beran.
"I Will Not Forget"
Though it seems
the world has forgotten
and even I have went a day
or two without remembering,
"I will not forget."

The role you played was pivotal
and your presence powerful.
You touched my heart
and changed my life,
"I will not forget."

I think of you often and
still miss you just the same.
You will forever be
a part of me,
"I will not forget."

No one will ever take your place
or do what you have done.
You alone are special -
a gift only God could give,
one, "I will not forget."

Monday, July 1, 2013

Don't Quit

The last few weeks have been a bit of a roller coaster...losing my grandma and helping my children walk through grief, while attempting to do it myself. The weather..or should I say the rain. The crops, the ones our family depends on, that we have yet to plant or will need to replant. 

This roller coaster ride lately has felt like one big climb. It seems we're going up a hill and can't see the top. 

I'll be honest, there have been days when the walk has been hard. I've been tempted to not walk at all, to just quit. 

Those words might surprise you...this is Jill, the one who did what others said they couldn't, the one who spoke at her grandma's funeral and claimed God would carry us through.

And friend, if this doesn't surprise you, I want you to know it has surprised me. The feelings of doubt and desire to quit have compounded the pain I was already experiencing. Some of my old insecurities, that had gotten better, have been resurfacing and that hurts me too. 

I don't want to doubt God, question His goodness or analyze His plan, but I have.

And though that surprises me and maybe even you, it didn't surprise God. He knows me, He knows my thoughts and He loves me anyway. Though my circumstances change and even I do too, He never does. 

I'll admit, I've been down, perhaps even a bit depressed and drifting from the Lord I love, but He is at work. He is drawing me near, whispering to my heart and bringing others alongside who are praying me through.

I've been reminded it's easier to believe God and press on in faith when I remember who He is. The other day a friend sent a message that did just that. She said, "Praying Isaiah 40 for you:

Do you not know, Jill?
    Have you not heard?
I AM the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
I will not grow tired or weary,
    and My understanding no one can fathom. 

I give strength to the weary
    and increase the power of the weak. 

Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall; 

but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint."

Let's just say God said much through this! The truth is in this life I, and you too, will grow tired and get weary, we may even be tempted to quit, BUT GOD...He does not grow tired or weary. He never quits! Friends, He is everlasting, He is strength, He is power, He is good and He is sovereign. 

God's Word and my friend's prayers reminded me to put my HOPE in the LORD. He is the One who will renew me. 

When I seek Him, when I intentionally look for Him, He is there and His presence and power does renew me. Yesterday a complete stranger shared a verse with me, one that he said was for me. I heard God as he read from Psalms 103:5, "He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!" 

Hours earlier a friend had prayed about me soaring on wings like eagles and now a stranger was sharing about God filling my life with good things and me being renewed like the eagle. Coincidence? I don't think so.

Once again God had my attention so I proceeded to look up Psalms these first 5 verses, 

"Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s."

Again God was speaking and telling me what I needed to do - praise Him and remember the benefits He provides! He wants me to do these things SO THAT I will be renewed, which means I will regain my inner strength and resolve to pursue God. When I focus on Him, seek Him and worship Him, I won't want to quit, and friend neither will you!

Today will you join in me in fighting the good fight and pressing on toward the prize as we seek the Lord? I pray my story has encouraged you and if you've been tempted to quit, I hope you've been reminded that God will never quit on you and He will strengthen you as walk in faith...even when it seems uphill.

"Who satisfies your mouth [your necessity and desire at your personal age and situation] with good so that your youth, renewed, is like the eagle’s [strong, overcoming, soaring]!" (Psalms 103:5 Amplified)