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Choosing Our King

Have you ever wondered why God has often chosen not to rule over people without their consent? He has always thought it was important somehow for us to choose Him back–like we were accepting an offer from Him, though He could have mandated our obedience so many times. In the desert, the people of God again forgot to trust and so rejected the authority of God, just as Adam and Eve did in the garden, when their fear won out over their faith. Ironically, it turns out, fear, discontentment, and the desire for security we can see, hear, and touch, leads us into rejecting our only true source of security–Jehovah, the One able to fight for us and give us peace.

Joshua gave the choice again to the people this way in the desert, 14 “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

They chose Him.

Throughout the Old Testament God continually “owned” the battles of His people. He fought alongside them and for them over and over. And the people let Him…for a while. And because He fought for them, God the warrior was, Himself, their peace. (Want proof? Check out this list of battles he fought as their king: Numbers 21:21-35; Deut 3:1-6; Numbers 14:39-45; Exodus 17:8-15; Joshua 6; Josh 10:1-13, 28-43; Judges 6-7; Judges 10-11)

When God fought with them, victory was assured. When the people fought without God’s help, they got slaughtered. You would think this would be amazing for them—the God of the universe, communicating with them and directing them, fighting battles in their favor. How exhilarating! How mind-blowing! So where did the people of God go so wrong? How did their relationship of shalom with God, where He was fighting their battles, get broken to the point that God sent them into exile? Didn’t they rely on Him for their food and water and even guidance into the promised land? Didn’t they watch Him fight for them?

Or maybe they were offended by the discipline of God when He re-payed their disobedience with loss on the battlefield? Maybe they were disappointed in the manna or the water from the rock…why wasn’t it wine?!  Maybe God’s provision wasn’t actually enough in their book. Maybe, by their criteria, He was not taking care of them at all the way they thought He should.

But the real rejection, the moment of breach between God and His people in the Old Testament was when they asked for a king…a “real” king. This is the communal choice of Israel to choose human power and strength over God’s strength. And it is a full out rejection of His authority in their lives.

Here’s the context…Samuel, a prophet, had sons who were not good leaders, so the people took this opportunity to demand a king (1 Samuel 8:2-3). Read what follows and see if you can hear the fear and pride in the people:

So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

10 Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle[c] and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”21 When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the Lord. 22 The Lord answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.” –1 Samuel 8:1-21

What do you think the people were feeling? Why did they want a king (verse 20)?

Their choice led them build their armies, set up their own defenses, and make battle plans to fight their enemies. Can you sense God’s heart breaking as He watches the people choose a human king over a mighty God—choosing a political system for their refuge instead of the hand of the creator and sustainer of the universe?

Choosing to forge our own security leads us away from reliance on God’s ability to manage our lives and tells us to plan, build, and defend ourselves. We are afraid that He won’t follow through the way we need or want, and that fear matures into the resistance of peace and the rejection of God. In other words, we sabotage our peace by trying to create our own, submitting to the enemy’s cyclical attacks of fear, pride, and shame.

If God is good, why did He give them what they asked for if He knew it would lead to pain? Why do you think He operates this way?

Peace comes through trust.  We have to choose our King.

.

 

 

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I Didn’t Recognize You!

Out of Egypt and headed for the promised land that God had intended for them. From the start, they complained and doubted God’s provision. But is anyone out there ever blown away by Israel’s inability to trust God even after the plagues and the Red Sea experience? I mean—HELLO! HE just parted WATER for you!

Did it really seem that He would forget them now? Maybe because He left them in slavery for so long? Did they miss Egypt—were they more comfortable there than we might imagine? For whatever reason, the Hebrews had no understanding of a God who would be their king, fight for them, and take care of them.

Narrow in on the story of Gideon for a minute in Judges 6:6-24. This is the story of Gideon being called into battle. I love this story for many reasons but mostly because Gideon, like Moses, and many others (me too!) have nothing but complaints and objections for why he was not the man God needed for the task God called him to (Can you relate?). In fact, he even doubted that God was really with the Israelites at all. Take a minute to read the story. It’s a little long, but it’s worth it.

Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help. When the Israelites cried out to the Lord because of Midian, he sent them a prophet, who said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. I rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians. And I delivered you from the hand of all your oppressors; I drove them out before you and gave you their land. I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.’ But you have not listened to me.”

The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”

The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.”

Gideon replied, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.”

And the Lord said, “I will wait until you return.”

Gideon went inside, prepared a young goat, and from an ephaha of flour he made bread without yeast. Putting the meat in a basket and its broth in a pot, he brought them out and offered them to him under the oak. The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And Gideon did so. Then the angel of the Lord touched the meat and the unleavened bread with the tip of the staff that was in his hand. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the angel of the Lord disappeared. When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he exclaimed, “Alas, Sovereign Lord! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!”

But the Lord said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.”So Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and called it The Lord Is Peace. To this day it stands in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

Gideon makes me laugh because I get him…It could be an angel right in front of me telling me what God has for me to do and I am so nearsighted all I can see is my own mess.  Like Gideon, how many times do I argue my way out of obedience to something God has called me because I am afraid I won’t be capable, equipped, or strong enough to actually succeed.  What an embarrassment to God that would be if I fail!

But honestly, like Gideon, most of the time I don’t even recognize His guidance as coming from Him! I think it’s just something someone said or something I thought of, when it clearly (in retrospect) is His Spirit speaking truth to my heart!  I don’t think Gideon recognized who He was talking to at first.

Did you see what the angel said to Gideon when Gideon finally realized he was talking to an angel? Peace! Gideon’s response? He built an altar and named it Jehovah Shalom. God, our peace. Probably because he was so thankful for the angel not killing him from being so hard-headed.

It’s the only time Jehovah Shalom  is used in the Old Testament and it is in response to God sending Gideon to war. A war that would bring peace to Israel. God, our peace, because He is capable when we are not, because we don’t recognize His working in us right away. What is He calling us to do today…how have we tried to argue our way out of it citing our weakness, our crazy family situations and schedules, our inabilities?

To Gideon, he says “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand…am I not calling you?”

Go in the strength you have. For Gideon, and for me right now, that’s not much.

What if we could stop focusing on our weakness so much and just start believing Him again. He has called you. He has equipped you. He is going with you. What if we just stopped arguing with God and obey His calling for our lives wholeheartedly, not second-guessing, not fearful…just trusting Him recognizing Him as the one who calls us. He wants you.

Just like He wanted Gideon (crazy clan and all), He wants you just as you are, in the context you are in, partially because weak people recognize their need for Him.

Go in the strength you have…because you know it is HIM who calls you.

God our peace, because He calms our fear. God our peace, because we have glimpsed Him and did not recognize that He was enough—more than capable of managing our hopes, our weakness, our brokenness, and insufficiencies. God, our peace, because He accepts our offerings of worship as unworthy as they are.

God, our peace, because we receive Him finally as such. We stop arguing with Him, decide to obey, and just build an altar to honor Him for His graciousness to us.

We obey and build an altar of worship here because we, like Gideon, can finally see Him as He is, Jehovah Shalom…God, Our Peace.

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In Pursuit of Peace

I began desperately asking God to teach me this principle of living easy and light He started to guide me through word searches in the scripture.  As I was looking at scriptures about peace, my heart stopped when I read the last part of Psalm 34:14: “Seek peace and pursue it.”

 

So simple it sounded…but how do you pursue peace? What does that even mean?

 

So at the end of last year I was walking around the sad little 70% off After-Christmas section “pursuing” cheap gift bags for the following year, when amid the bright Santas and decapitated snowmen and randomly orphaned ornaments a silver-glitter-edged, white wooden cutout stood eye-level with me. PEACE. That’s all it said. I walked past it the first time but I kept being drawn back to it. PEACE. It was like an invitation. And a question…How many times do I pursue cheap things instead of peace? I picked it up and assessed for a minute if what I was thinking was a result of the coffee I had obviously overdosed on or if this was actually a good idea. Yes, I will put it on my mantle…ALL YEAR LONG.  I brought it home and my husband made THAT face, you know the one he makes when I have done something ridiculous, but he thinks I’m cute anyway. So I unceremoniously shrugged and stuck the word PEACE up on my mantle and left it there.

My children, more observant than usual because they were practiced from looking for the elf on the shelf all December, saw the word right away and asked “Why is THAT up there?”  I told them that it’s because I have been praying for our house to be a place of peace and I put it up there to remind us.

After the garland came down.  After the house had returned to its “normal” state of…meh—it stayed. This one little sparkly word that sometimes taunted and teased me, sometimes anchored me, was becoming a part of our family’s pursuit.

The children would bicker and I would say “See that word on the mantle? What does that say?”

“PEACE.”

Sometimes even, I only had to point to the mantle and they would stop fussing (sometimes not). Pretty soon they started catching themselves and saying to each other with wagging fingers and a chiding tone, “See that word on the mantle? What does that say? PEACE (with a little air of condemnation). That’s what Mama wants.”

 

Who says you can’t buy peace?

I’m here to say you can…for $3 at Target after Christmas.

 

Seek peace. And pursue it.

 

That’s what David wrote while He was being pursued and oppressed by King Saul. When there was no place to rest. I love shows that depict police chasing the bad guys…you know how they always say into their radios “I’m in pursuit of a suspect…” We should run after peace this way.  Pursuit like how I run after so many things—like what God does to us.

 

David was seeking and praying for His own peace, communal peace, health, safety, and well-being— the end of the pursuit. He was tired and seeking rest and restoration of relationship so he could show his face again in public without fear for his life!  In fact, the warrior who killed Goliath and thousands of others in battle, eventually would move his capital to Jerusalem, an ancient city whose very name came to mean shalom “peace,” where peace was made possible in his Jerusalem by David’s conquering of the Philistine and Jebusite army.

 

What are you pursuing in your life right now?

 

If we want to live “easy and light,” we need to learn to seek peace and pursue it.

But when Jesus came into our world, He had a way of seeing right through people’s reputations and words—our modus operandi, our big talk and our small talk, and He saw our burdens, our hurts, our scars, our fears. He knew that shalom of community is not possible without first restoring relationship and having “peace” with God, and so he offers us the one necessary thing to meet our most crucial need—peace through His life. He humbled himself and became our shepherd servant, our sacrifice, our provider, our living water, our resurrection, our healing, our hope, our burden bearer, and yes, our peace.

 

Isaiah 53:5 “The punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

 

HE took the punishment that brought us peace. He is the one who made peace possible. Before that, it was just a dream, a distant memory of a barely remembered past in a garden, where we last had peace with God. He brought us back.

 

When we pursue Jesus, it is a pursuit of peace.

When we pursue peace, it is a pursuit of Jesus.

 

He is our peace. For all of us who need peace with God, and peace in our storms, and peace within our families, Jesus is who we need to be pursuing. But how do we do that? I mean really? What does it mean to seek Him out?

 

Seek peace. And pursue it.

Seek Jesus. And pursue Him.

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The Invitation

Let’s start today with a story. Just imagine…

Two sisters are planning a dinner together, and sisterly dynamics are always really interesting right? The struggle for identity in their younger years made the older one “responsible” and the younger one a little, well, let’s just say she is more carefree.  Martha had invited HIM….Jesus…no pressure. Both are planning to work together to create a spread that is delicious and pleasing to their family and friends—better than it’s ever been done before.  The evening starts off fine…both are in the kitchen chopping herbs and vegetables and preparing the main course.  Then the guests arrive, and that’s when things fall apart.  The sisters go to greet the guests but one never comes back in the kitchen to help pull things together the end! I can hear the responsible sister muttering to herself in the kitchen:

 

‘The nerve!  The meat needs basting at the same time the sauce needs stirring and the salad needs to be dressed and on the table (which by the way is not even set!)  I guess I’ll just have to do it MYSELF, since SHE is out there sitting on the floor and just relaxing with our guests and especially HIM, when I was the one that arranged this whole thing in the first place! MUST BE NICE!’

 

She hears the easy conversation, she gets angrier.  She hears laughter, her resentment builds. She hears quiet whispers of deep conversation and she explodes…publicly.

 

“Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” (Luke 10:40b)

 

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10: 41-42)

 

Do you tend to identify more with Mary or Martha? What are some recent moments when this tendency has “come out” in you?

I love this story when I am feeling like Mary, comfortable in my environment, prioritizing my time with Jesus, taking time for the meaningful things in life. But I hate this story when I am feeling like Martha, abused and used and meeting everyone’s needs but my own and just simply exhausted (which is most of the time). Why do I act this way—crazy and hectic? Because stopping what I am doing would break the pace that seems just barely fast enough to keep my head above water. Plus, if others would just jump in, I would be able to be DONE ALREADY…then I could rest. I need others to join me in my pace (come on people…step it up!). Resting now would invalidate all the hard work I have just done (because I was on a roll, baby!) and I would have nothing to show for the struggle—and the struggle is REAL!

Deep breath. Inhale. Exhale.

It’s no secret we like to schedule our time with Jesus when it is convenient for us.  He gets “worked in” to our schedule when we are ready for Him, like on Sunday mornings or maybe Bible Study days. But what if He wants more from us than that two blocks of time that we routinely build in? Jesus doesn’t care much about being convenient to us. What are some convenient times that you have “scheduled” Jesus into your life.

Are you prepared to let Him into the other blocks of time in your life? Be honest.

If you said “no” you’re not alone, I did too! Only because I can’t imagine what he would look like there, in those crazy, messy places in my life. Resting with him when my kids are awake. At all. Impossible. Resting with him when I need to run errands before I pick up the kids. Impossible. There’s no time for rest. People need to eat. People need a roof over their head and that is my job! And there’s the sibling rivalry and the kids who need help and my impatience to give it. Actually I’m embarrassed to imagine Him there with me in those moments.

But aren’t you tired? What if Jesus was inviting you to curl up on the couch with a cup of coffee and just be with him. Just talk. Just listen. Just rest. What if He is calling you to tune out some of the crazy—how do you even do this?

Why does rest seem so unnatural, so low on our list of priorities?  I think it’s because our work ethic often equates rest with laziness. We are taught that to live a day means that you should “do” as much as possible, and so we try to fit more and more into the day so we will have something to show for it.  But that pace can run very much against the kingdom economy of Jesus. We need to learn what Jesus meant by telling us to rest and carry a light load. Before taking on his yoke, we have to learn how to get rid of our own load of fear and anxiety that we are currently carrying. He might be asking us to slow down and relish things…to relish Him. That is our worship. Why is that so hard for us?

I think the fear and anxiety comes because we don’t actually trust Jesus as much as we say or think we do. Jesus only cares about the important things right? And His idea of what is important can be VERY different than mine. Sometimes I feel like He doesn’t get the trivial things…money IS important because I have to pay for food. My kids success in school IS important because they need good grades to make it into a good school and that is only accomplished by hard work and diligence. Making things happen at work IS important because it creates a high quality, necessary product, or skill in our students, or builds our influence for God’s kingdom. OK… but maybe, just maybe, I am the one who needs to re-think what is important, because Jesus says there is ONLY

ONE. thing. necessary.

Look at Jesus’ gentle critique to Martha. He said her name twice. I imagine it’s the way I do when I am trying to calm down one of my hysterical children. Maybe the first time He said it she was still ranting and raving? I can hear his voice softly correcting her.

“Martha…Martha…You are anxious and troubled about MANY things—but few things are necessary, indeed only ONE.”

I always thought he was correcting and chiding Martha (which I always secretly took offense at because she was JUST trying to get supper on the table—I relate).

Here’s what I love about Jesus. He gets it. He understands I am only worried because I am trying to impress him and take care of everyone else. And yet, he tells me to stop.  Just stop. Stop and choose Him instead. Choose the ONE thing that is mandatory, necessary, for true life. Choose Jesus first, eat later. Choose Jesus first, then worry about the arrangements you need to make. Choose Jesus first, prepare later!

Are we even capable of understanding this? It’s BACKWARDS from how we have always done it!  We set a task for ourselves and then upon its completion, rest is the reward.  We do our housework and only then will we let ourselves sit down.  We work at our jobs all day so we can come home and rest. We work our whole life so we can retire in our old age and finally rest! But the invitation of Jesus is to choose rest first, rest in the middle of craziness.

I think I know what you are thinking…you would LOVE to be able to put everything aside and bask in the Word of God. You wish you had the flexibility to be able to pray through the day, but real life precludes that possibility for you. Go ahead. List the things that make prioritizing time with Jesus hard for you in this season of life. He’s not scared of that.

Strangely, the anxious days happen most often on my days off.  There was a day months ago when I wrote this:

Today, I was so anxious all day I was almost shaking.  This was almost undoubtedly initiated because my eldest daughter found and wanted to keep two toads for pets, which escaped and began “leap-frogging” all over my kitchen because and the container she found for them was not big enough. Thankfully, Rob was home and as they laughed and chased the frogs, all I could think to do was get on my computer because I had read SOMEWHERE that frogs carry salmonella (which I confirmed, they do). When the frogs were contained (in one of my matching rubbermaids that I keep the kids’ off-season clothes in…which I will never use again for clothes), I remained “jumpy” all day because every time I walked past them, they would startle and jump at me…yes, at me—I’m sure of it. Between that and driving between three appointments that I had scheduled too close to one another on my one “free” day, I was a wreck all day long.  And yet, if I were honest, all day I heard this in my head “You are anxious about many things, but only few things are needed, indeed only ONE.” 

He was inviting me to rest, and I rejected His invitation…all day long. Take a minute to reflect on ways that he has been inviting you recently. Have you in some way rejected his invitation because your life was too ________________(busy, distracting, exciting, hard)?

Truthfully, it never occurred to me that Jesus was offering Martha a solution to her anxiety by telling her to prioritize Him, by choosing time with Him, the One Thing. Put ALL the things you think are important after Him. Even your kids. Even your husband. Even your work email, your home business, and your facebook account. Everything.

It also never occurred to me that I was choosing anxiety by NOT choosing to prioritize time with Him…because I was always trying to get to Him. That was always my goal–it’s just I was going to get Him almost as a reward for doing everything else. So I never got there. Look at the last part of verse 42: “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Mary chose well. And I like to hope that after this episode, Martha did too.

Mary chose Jesus over preparations in the kitchen. She chose Jesus over Martha’s feelings. She chose Jesus over everything else she had planned. Why?… because He was the only thing necessary. Worth it. Worthy. Her choice was her worship. Her attention to Him was her love for Him. By choosing Jesus instead of her plans, she found peace. By letting Jesus interrupt her day, she found rest…AND, she found protection from the attacks of her demanding sister (just sayin’ for those of you who may have some of those).

Take a moment to pray for clarity on how Jesus is asking you to prioritize Him.

In what specific way might Jesus be asking you to choose Him first?

 

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The Throw Down

 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

1 Peter 5:7-8

 

The Greek verb for “cast” or “to cast upon” is epirripto (ἐπιρρίπτω), which literally means to “throw down or away”—in other words this is something that takes some intentional force on our parts to get them out of our own hands and preferably far enough from us that we don’t pick them right back up again. If we can throw our burdens onto Jesus, we can trade it for on the yoke of Jesus, which is light and easy.

 

Read it again from Matthew 11:

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

 

Epirripto is only used one other place in the New Testament. It is when Jesus is about to enter Jerusalem on the back of a donkey and everyone “casts” their coats on the back of the donkey for Jesus to sit on. Here we see the image again of heaving or throwing something onto a beast of burden and the invitation recorded in Matthew becomes even more beautifully clear. I think the crowd was unwittingly acting prophetically here. Even in the “triumphal entry” He was on His way to the cross to “carry” more than our coats, but our sin and our anxiety (more on this later!)  We can cast our cares on Him because he has already carried them to the cross—not just our sins, but all the weight and worry that living in this world places on us. We can live this way if we want to…with everything.

 

Or can we?

 

In the back of my head, I realize that am thinking, “But if I don’t take care of this (and feel stressed while doing it), then no one will and things will not get done. I CAN’T NOT worry about it!” I’m sure you never feel that way.

 

Honestly, even after reading this, I feel so frustrated.

I’m trying but I. Can’t. Let. Go.

 

But He is saying I can. And you can, but not until we understand more about the depth of His love for us. Look at the end of verse 7 back in 1 Peter again

Cast all your anxiety on him because He cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

 

Why can we feel confident in casting our anxiety on God (verse 7)?

 

He LOVES us—cares for us… in a way all of us parents can understand. My daughter today woke up in a state of fear. “Look how fast the clouds are moving! I’m worried—what if there is a tornado?!”

 

(True story…Really, babe, I just need you to put your shoes on.)

 

Finally, I looked her square in the eye and said, “Do you trust me to take care of you?” She said, “Yes, but I’m still worried!”

 

Me too, baby! My heart always softens to my children when I realize how alike we really are.

But here’s the thing this little exchange taught me…

 

His caring for us is completely independent of our confidence in Him. He cares for us because He is our Father (because of Jesus). That’s it. Whether or not we keep staying tangled in fear does not impact how He is going to care for us, but if we start to ground ourselves in truth we start to see, we don’t have to be worried about the dark skies, because He’s in charge.

 

Do you feel this confident in His love to let your “burdens” be carried by Him at this point in your life? Maybe you do. Or maybe in your heart of hearts, if you were honest, you would feel something holding you back. I am becoming more and more convinced that learning to live easy and light is rooted in our understanding of God’s love and is actually essential to our freedom as followers of Christ.

 

Let’s not leave 1 Peter 5:7-8 just yet. Read it again to refresh your memory.

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

 

Looking back at verse 8, Why do you think Peter follows this commandment/invitation with a warning to remain sober and alert (hint: read the end of verse 8)?

 

Peter is relating our ability to give our concerns over to God and live “easy and light,” (free from heaviness and anxiety and worry and fear) to our ability to resist the enemy of our soul, who seeks to devour us.  The two skills are inextricably related.  Peter is saying that if we do not remain alert, if we are distracted by anxiety, our rest is stolen from us along with everything else.

 

Have you ever been very aware of your vulnerability to the enemy? How has fear or anxiety played into that? What worries or concerns were filling your head when the enemy attacked?

 

 

Paul understood this principle.  Look at his advice for the Philippian church:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 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. (Phil 4:4-7)

Paul, like Peter, pleads with believers not to be anxious. Instead He says to pray.

 

Not pray and plan.

 

Not pray and worry.

 

Not pray and anything else.

 

That’s what is so exciting AND frustrating about all this…our role in it is so small.  It is simply to COME to Him and learn from Him (back to Jesus’s words in Matthew 11 again).

 

But this is not the kind of prayer that sounds good to us or others…it’s not an impressive procedure.  This is the kind of praying that makes us feel stupid. The “why am I bothering Him with this stuff” kind of praying. More and more I’m convinced that’s what He is offering to us. Peace that comes only from honestly opening our heart to God by talking to Him about our boring, yet stressful stuff and waiting for Him to lift the weight off of us.

 

Again, think about it…kids don’t have that filter. They ask about EVERYTHING from bandaids, to money, to more ketchup, to help with a shoelace…nothing is too dumb to bring to Him…where did we get the idea that He only likes to help with the big stuff, and only after we have tried everything on our own.

 

And looking back again at Philipeans 4:7 what is Paul’s experience of what happens when we do this?

 

God’s peace becomes the defense of our heart.

 

God’s peace protects us!  Think about the foolishness of it…surely He doesn’t mean trust Him for EVERYTHING? But this is truth–

It is our irrational trust that produces unfathomable peace.

 

Have you ever thought of the peace of God as protectant coating for our souls. Protection from what? From the enemy—yes, the one that Peter says prowls around like a roaring lion!

 

When humans are attacked and afraid they respond with one of two instincts—fight or flight. In the physical world these instincts help us stay alive. But what is utterly terrifying is that many of us have not developed the correct spiritual responses to spiritual threat.  And I don’t know about you, but I never thought that worrying made me more vulnerable.  If anything, I thought it made me more prepared.

 

But what these scriptures tell us is that our anxiety makes us more susceptible to the attacks of Satan! Extensive anxiety alters our spiritual sobriety and makes us less able to react in faith to the ongoing attacks of the enemy. We can be consumed by fear and worry. We can be destroyed by it. Devoured.

 

I recently read a great quote from Paul Miller’s The Praying Life:

 

“Sometimes we have to worry before we can pray.”

 

The alternative to worrying through life is worrying through prayer. In other words, we don’t need to stop worrying then pray, we need to take it to Him intentionally loading Him up with our burdens. When we tell Him what’s wrong then “throw it” (epirripto) onto Him—could it be possible that He actually takes our worry out of us in part by the process of our spoken surrendering of those things?  He does the work, and He ignites our hearts with the desire for peace, but we activate His peace and set His freedom in motion when we obey Him in this? In the “throw down.”

 

How do you want to react to being stalked by roaring lions? Will you choose to live in an alert, active posture of faith or from a self-protective stance of fear and anxiety? How can you imagine this choice playing out in your real life?

 

The instinct we need to develop is the instinct to run to the Father for protection, right?  Our reaction to fear and anxiety should be an all-out race to the heart of God. And Jesus is saying we can choose that.

 

But that choice is often really hard. After all, there are vultures to waive off, leggings to acquire, potential tornadoes in the morning (aka, my house) and meals to be cooked.  But He. Is. Right. Here.  The invitation to live easy and light is still out there.  Have you RSVP’d to His invitation yet? Yes, Jesus…I’m coming to that party! Can we let Him teach us to throw down?

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Shut the Door

With four children six and under, one of the only “alone times” I get throughout the day is when I am in the bathroom, but even those moments are not always secure right? Think little fingers under the door and broken doorknobs from little ones thinking the door was just “stuck”—because Mama would never lock THEM out! Inconceivable.  I’ll never forget the one time I was talking to the twins (rather, they were talking to me, A LOT). Needing a bathroom break, I walked into the bathroom and said, “OK, I need to lock the door right now for some privacy.” I was shocked when they both happily agreed with a “Yes Ma’am” but then they proceeded to COME INTO THE BATHROOM WITH ME and THEN one of them locked the door with all of us inside.  They sat right down on the floor and just kept talking. Now I am not saying that my children are problems, y’all know I love them and this crazy life we have together. But as a metaphor, sometimes the very things we are trying to escape follow us into our time with God and when they do, there’s nothing to do but just lock the door and deal with them up close and personal!

Why do I always feel like I need to fix my stuff before I take it to Jesus? Because we are a culture of preparedness! Think about it–Be Prepared…it’s more than the credo of Boy Scouts. That is the motto of our souls as we research, skim through market reports, create contingency plans, and end up acting out of fear not faith. My whole job is centered around preparing students to enter the world with useful skills. But all this emphasis on preparedness leaves us ill-equipped for the surprises that tend to pop up and frustrated that our issues continue to follow us into our quiet spaces.  We can’t get away.

I think that’s why Jesus’ emphasis is on being “alert” (not prepared) because He IS with us! He really, actually is. Here in our mess. Here right now in the hour before supper when everything goes to that very dark, sad place of hungry and tired children and husbands…perhaps?).  He is in the hectic and frustrating moments at work, when we can’t get our head around a situation.  He’s saying forget about your own ability to get ready for the hard things you’ll face…instead, look for me in it. Be alert. Be ready for the struggle. Be ready to run to me with “that thing” and rely on me and listen to me when the mess follows you and you can’t get the space you need to process them.

How often do I just need to STOP and listen for supernatural help form the Holy Spirit that goes beyond our own understanding–but we feel like if we just keep moving, keep talking we will deal with it. The very real truth is that He is actually, really here. In our pain. In our emptiness. In our loneliness.  He is right here. Looking honestly at your heart right now, do you really believe that 100%?

Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’” Psalm 46:10

Sometimes I think “being still” is MUCH more difficult than “being obedient.” At least in being obedient you get to do something. In “being still” you are being asked to do nothing but trust. That’s harder.

Yesterday I was taking the kids to school. This time crunch is one of the major sources of stress in my day so I had strategically planned to leave so early that I would be in line ready to drop them off at 7:30. Doing that would give me enough time to get to work. Lunches were packed thanks to Rob—best husband ever), clothes and shoes were on, hair was fixed, and I was ready. We were out the door! YES!!! Success.

But then…(I know you have the “but then” moments too). BUT THEN…the seatbelt would NOT budge across their booster seats.

SERIOUSLY?!!!

I spent a good five minutes wrestling with this seatbelt (which doesn’t seem long, but it was).  Every time I pulled it, it would lock up and not stretch to clip in. I probably tried it about a hundred times thinking it was a fluke. Finally, I stopped.  I prayed out loud for God to unlock this seatbelt. I felt SO stupid asking God for this, and also in front of my children because what if he didn’t answer me? Then I would be solely responsible for destroying their childlike faith over a malfunctioning seatbelt. I know is sounds trivial, but I was (literally) immobilized without this seatbelt working, which seems ironic. My last option was faith…and yes, I realize my first step should have been faith, but I’m working on that. So I prayed, and asked God to free the seatbelt.

In my heart, I felt that God was telling me I should give up, shut the door, and go sit in the driver seat. Initially I resisted this idea…who knows, maybe that next pull would actually work.  I was like a gambling junkie at a slots machine…just one more time!!!  Finally, I shut the back door and began to walk around the car—though I knew I would not go anywhere without my children being buckled up. When I opened the driver door I heard squeals of delight! It was working! The seatbelt stretched across and we were able to make it to school and work on time.  Now I don’t know if there was a mechanism in the car that was being triggered by the door being opened or if an angel actually went into the car and fixed the problem. But what I do know, beyond a doubt, is that God told me to stop struggling and shut the door.

Shut. The. Door.

There was nothing I could do to fix this problem in my own strength—moving in that same trajectory of pulling and pulling over and over again. In fact, by letting it go, I released whatever lock was activated in that specific situation (whether spiritual or mechanical). My pulling and constant straining was only making the problem continue. When I obey God when he tells me to stop and rest, we are giving Him space to move miraculously in our lives and to see it as His hand working! What a gift! Why would we NOT want that? (Maybe we just don’t really think He is capable or cares enough to engage with us in “those sorts of things.”—more on this later)

Some of us just need to shut the door on the infuriating, frustrating, unsolvable problems we are facing right now. We need to shut the door long enough to let God solve the problem or let the problem solve itself. We need to leave it for a minute and regroup, take ourselves out of the crazy.  Take the time to be quiet, listen to the Holy Spirit, wisdom of others, and scripture. An active prayerful rest.

 

Even Jesus did this to connect with His Father while on earth:

 

Mark 1:35 And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.

 

Mark 6:31 Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat.

No time to even eat…yes, I have been there! So here is the question…What are some things you REGULARLY need to take a break from and intentionally place in the lap of Jesus? Can you find a scripture that can help you in that moment? We will be talking later about ways that scripture and prayer can equip us to face these moments with grace and truth.

You have babies or toddlers? You can’t leave them for a meditative moment? I get that. Here’s how the conversation with my kiddos goes at my house sometimes:

Mama: “What?!!! You toasted the whole loaf of bread?”

Children: But Mama you TOLD us we could make our own breakfast while you got ready.”

 

Here’s where I want to learn to say (instead of what I actually said, which I really should not repeat here):

 

“OK, y’all, we can talk about who toasted the ENTIRE loaf of bread in a second…but for right now, you go to your room and you go to your room and no one talk to Mama for just a minute, I need a minute to pray.”

 

But to even do this, I need to be in a posture of listening, in a constant state of expectant readiness for God to encounter my everyday mess. How do you imagine this working out for you in your day to day? What are the recurring situations that you are asking Jesus to meet you in the middle of:

Take a minute and ask Jesus to meet you here and show you how to encounter these burdens with grace and peace, maintaining the rest and light-load lifestyle He offers us. I’m learning to take smaller more frequent trips to Jesus throughout the day, step out of the action physically or sometimes just mentally and drop my concerns in his lap for a minute. I’m ready to learn the discipline of resting so I can be interrupted by Jesus. I’m ready to keep Him so close that having Him talk to me is as natural as my child or husband speaking to me. But what exactly does it mean to “cast our cares on Him”? Why do we see Jesus tell us to trust Him over and over? And what is so wrong about carrying my own weight anyway? More on this later…

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Vultures and Cold Coffee

When is the last time you felt truly carefree?…

 

Was it a place you remember?

Was it a person you were with?

Was it a time or season in your life?

 

For me, the moment was sitting outside on my back porch watching my children play, a mug of warm (luke-warm) coffee in my hands that I had heated up throughout the day because I never had time to drink the whole cup.  A frozen dinner had been thrown haphazardly in the oven and I had no one that needed my immediate attention.  Life was, in that particular moment, calm and quiet. The weather was perfect…a light breeze blowing through the trees by our house and WAIT…were those vultures in the sky?!  Circling over my toddler twins? Why yes they were.  In a moment my peace was shattered and I went into emergency mode. Now, I know my three year olds probably could have held their own against these pesky predators, but I had seen Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” in my formative years and well, it had me seeing images of my kids’ eyes getting pecked out, etc. etc…

 

I hustled the children inside to safety and threw a couple rocks for good measure at these buzzards who I would not allow to eat my children.  My carefree moment was gone…in a moment (my coffee still unfinished, I might add), replaced by fear…probably not-so-well-founded fear. And once again I withered.

 

The enemy of our soul truly seeks to steal, kill and destroy us, but I am convinced he often does that in small doses. He stealthily steals our moments of peace one by one, replacing them with fear, anxiety, busy-ness, materialism, and weights of the world that we wear so naturally like running errands, making appointments, family obligations, church commitments, and overall, the things we do that just make us “amazing” in the eyes of everyone around us.

 

I never did finish that cup of coffee. In fact…most days I don’t.

 

After all, I am the one who has to solve the problems that end up in my lap, in my home, in my email, and sometimes in my bed (at night…at 2:00am…there’s always SOMEONE needing me—good heavens). Overwhelmed doesn’t seem to cover it. Tired can’t even begin to explain this soul exhaustion that has been the culminating result of seven years of parenthood so far with about four to go until all children are in elementary school. My house is loud and rowdy and there is an injury about every five minutes—not exaggerating. We actually installed a metal first aid kit on our wall so the kids could dress their own wounds, and our oldest wants to be a doctor…also convenient.

There are moments when I feel like I am having an out of body experience, like I could see the mess and the crazy, but there was nothing I could do to stop it. And when we go out I feel like people must think something is wrong with me that I can’t keep four young children under control in the store or restaurant. Last time I had the twins in a store, one of them blocked my vision asking for a certain cereal while the other laid on the bottom of the cart and wheeled it away with his hands making a clean get away all the way to the next aisle before I turned around and said, “Where’s my shopping cart?” And it’s in those moments I try to laugh but sometimes I just feel like I am GOING TO LOSE MY EVER-LOVIN’ MIND.

It was in the middle of one of these moments of crazy that I felt the Holy Spirit whisper to my heart, reminding me of an offer that Jesus made us while walking through His own daily craziness. Matthew 11:28-30 says

 

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

 

I desperately need an easy and light load to carry because I feel like I carry everything on my shoulders…and it’s HEAVY and it’s not good! And I honestly can’t remember the last time I rested…slept yes (in between runs to feed the baby, calm a dreaming toddler, or change wet sheets), but truly rested? It has been a while…like, hmmm…years. The problem is I have no idea how to actually rest!  I mean, it is easy to say “give it to God” but how to you take it from Him, His yoke of rest.

 

Don’t you want that? I do.

 

I want that supernatural rest that comes from carrying things loosely, from giving my burdens to Jesus. More than this thought, we are commanded to do it…over and over in scripture. But to me it reads like a humble, kind imperative more than a strict command, like a doctor’s prescription, or the way I feel when I tell my kids to calm down when they are upset. It’s like an invitation to something better.

 

Two times I had a doctor prescribe rest to me …both times I was pregnant so it was wasted because I couldn’t get comfortable enough to rest anyway.  Rest seemed and still seems like a foreign concept to me, but also at the same time, distantly familiar. It was like I used to know it but it’s gone, like the way I feel helping my children with their homework (heaven help me, I don’t remember a thing from math and my oldest is just in first grade! Wait ‘til she gets to polynomial equations— I don’t stand a chance.)

The point is, sometimes the things we used to know often seem the most elusive.  When was the last point in your life that you felt truly peaceful for more than a moment? When was the last time you were in a state of peace?

I think the Holy Spirit is challenging us to explore the offer God provided to us in Scripture to release the things that are weighing us down, load them onto the back of our Father, and truly experience the carrying of a light load even in the middle of all of our daily responsibilities.  He wants to walk with us through different areas of our heart and see what needs to be “cast on Him.”

Don’t you want to wake up with joy, ready to not just muddle through the best you can but take hold of the day with fearless joy? I know I REALLY want that.  I know I have not had that in a long time, even as someone who “trusts” Jesus, which seems too honest for me to admit. I want to live without sighing under the pressure of work, expectations, and disappointments. I want to be free from fear and anxiety. It has to be possible.

For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment. 2 Timothy 1:7 HCSB

We need to be able to cast off our own fears and weights of this world so that we can be free to accept the gifts and mindset of God through the Holy Spirit!  Instead of being afraid, God is calling us, His children, to walk in POWER, in LOVE, in SOUND JUDGMENT…this should be our normal state.  This is His offer to us. I don’t know about you, but am ready to take him up on it.

So let’s do a quick snapshot of where we are right now…
What words describe your “normal” state currently:

What daily experiences do you think contribute to the positive emotions? Take a second and list them out…

 

What do daily experiences you think the negative emotions stem from most often? Take a second and list them out…

 

 

So many people out there will say “self care” is maximizing the positive things and minimizing the negative, the stressful…I don’t think this is God’s approach. You know why? BECAUSE the hard, stressful things are the NECESSARY things!  It’s not like I can just “minimize” my children (even though they can be stressful) or minimize the need to take care of my students (I love those “kids” I teach like my own children too).

So how is His approach different? That’s my question…Are you living “easy and light” right now—walking with an easy yoke and a light burden? Are you living in a spirit of love, power, and a sound mind? If so, what is your secret? If not, what do you think is holding you back?

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Easy and Light

I never considered myself an anxious person—I was always pretty laid back

But the birth of our fourth child last Spring was a bit traumatic. When we came home with her I found myself jittery and worried all the time. I started having panic attacks…I didn’t know what they were. All I knew was that I couldn’t breathe. I could hear myself breathing in and out but my lungs didn’t feel like they were taking air in. I felt like I was being strangled. When my husband was home, he would just hold me and tell me it was ok, that I was breathing even if I didn’t feel like I was. He would pray for me and tell me to slow my breathing down. After about two-five minutes, the attack would subside. It made no sense to me! Hadn’t everything turned out just fine? Wasn’t the baby ok? Then what was my problem!? I didn’t feel like I had the right to be anxious. I felt guilty for having this physical response that was in my mind, not even tied to any lasting tragedy or loss. It made no sense to me. I waited for it to go away, six months later it remained.

During this time, any small stress could potentially freeze me or send me into panic mode. Any hiccup in my plans or surprise illness in my kids would create a cyclone of worry and fear. And yet, the voice of God, a promise of peace. It spoke so softly at first, it was like a whisper of a far off hope. It took root in me, this seed of a promise. It became the prayer I would pray through strangled tears, like an accusation, like a plea from a beggar, “Lord, you promised me peace. Why can’t I find it.” So I started begging God to show me what was happening to me and to teach me about peace in the middle of chaos (because that’s what my life is right now with four kids and both my husband and I working).

I was so desperate, I took a day off of work and I began to search. Not just reading my Bible, but a Bilbo Baggins strap on your pack and set off for a distant mountain search for peace and joy and relief from this crippling fear in scripture. Who had it? How did they get it? And from the first day I sat down with my coffee and began this journey, I could sense Jesus sitting there with me, showing me in his word and through gentle reminders in my everyday life, how He could BE my peace and He could help me to carry a light and easy burden.  I wanted this more than anything else, I needed to know he was present and that He was able to actually handle every heavy thing I carried. He asked me to write as I learned, to write as a way of learning…I’m a teacher by trade so I’m used to building curriculum, but I didn’t know what I was writing at first. Now I am convinced that this thing He has been teaching me is something He wants for all of us…a light load, an easy burden. And it’s not just a possibility, it’s a necessity for our survival in this world.