-One mom's journey following the narrow path-
“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:2 ESV)
Have you ever noticed that the shadow of something is usually a lot larger than the actual object? Small things can look like big things when they are blocking the light. I've noticed lately that the same can be true for anything in our lives. I went to bed a few weeks ago feeling burdened by something that I couldn't put my finger on. It finally dawned on me that I was feeling burdened because I had spent the week worrying about something but hadn't taken the time to pray about it. The problem was getting larger than it actually was, the way a shadow is sometimes larger than the object.
The same was true for me last year when I was struggling with anxiety. I made the problem bigger than God. One of the best sermons that I've listened to is by Tony Evans and it's called, Why God Allows Your Crisis. In that sermon he says you should "never let your feelings sit in judgement over your faith." So often we let our feelings run wild and forget that God is bigger than anything we are facing. We let our thoughts, fears, situations, etc. block His light. Instead of seeing His light, we fix our eyes on the shadows. But our answers don't lie in the shadows. When the darkness threatens to swallow us, we don't have to let it. We may not know how to fix it but we can pray about it and choose to trust in the God who created us. 2 Chronicles 20:12 says, "...We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you" (ESV). I love everything about that verse- he admits he has no idea how to fix their problem, and he sets his eyes on the One who does!
When those feelings of dread and that burden suddenly feels heavy, evaluate your thoughts. Are you worrying about something more than you are praying about it? I know that for many of us right now the object blocking the light is large and the shadow it is casting is bigger still. So let's remind ourselves how big our God is- “Behold I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27 ESV). He’s got this. He’s got me, He’s got you. Let's not waste another minute staring at the darkness, but let's fix our eyes on Him. Our perspective is limited but He sees the big picture and even when it doesn’t feel like it, He is in control. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:38, ESV, emphasis mine). Let’s intentionally choose to rest in the light of His control and not in the darkness of the shadow. Friends, turn around, look up, the Son is always shining. He doesn’t leave us, and that shadow you see- it’s not larger than the Light that it’s trying to block.
Have you ever had a dream that felt too big for you? Something that made you feel alive with excitement but then overwhelmed you with fear at the same time? God placed a big dream in my heart and my feelings of discouragement sometimes overwhelmed the joy I felt for that dream. It’s easy to become paralyzed by those negative feelings when we want something so badly and it seems far away. I struggled to get started because the end result was so daunting. A friend encouraged me to just start somewhere. To do one thing each day or each week to work towards the dream God had laid on my heart. I listened to her advice and began to take small steps. Even though some of those steps didn’t feel like they were making a difference in this dream, I quickly discovered that they were doing something else. Those steps were bringing His plans for me into focus.
As I continued with the work He had called me to, I noticed that what I thought the end result would be had changed. Ecclesiastes 7:8 (NIV) says, "The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride." I am learning that it’s important to be patient because God’s timing is not always what we are expecting. I realized that the end of this dream would be better if I let God lead me in the steps I should take. It’s wonderful to have a goal in mind, but we have to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
God placed a desire to write in my heart and I've been prayerfully working past my feelings of inadequacy. I'm learning that I need to just take one step at a time and then pause to listen. He will confirm or reroute us if we continue to seek Him in each step. Recently I wrote an article for The Joyful LIfe Magazine on walking through the wilderness. Out of fear, I almost didn't submit it. I'm grateful that I did because God used that article to lead me to a new friend.
So do it. Take the next step and then pray. Our dreams will take shape through His leading and the end will be better than the dreams we imagined for ourselves.
Heavenly Father, thank you for being with us on the journey. Whether we are on a clear path or walking in the wilderness, I pray that we will always see you leading us. I pray for courage to get started, to take the next step. Help us to continue to move towards You and not become complacent or stuck in fear. May we seek You and Your will for our lives as we move forward.
My husband and I were talking about spiritual disciplines as we prepared for a middle school Sunday School lesson this morning. There were really 4 areas that we focused on - church attendance, prayer, Bible reading/study, and service to others. I would love to talk about all of those things, because they are important, but today I'm just going to focus on prayer. I've always loved to write and because of that, I have lots of journals filled with my thoughts and prayers. I'm grateful that I've chronicled a record of prayers for my kids to see one day. I want them to know that God is faithful and He is able and He hears us. It's fun to go back and see the ways in which God has answered my prayers. While I love to journal and still write down my prayers, this is an area in which I hope to grow. I've noticed that as life gets busier, my prayer life suffers. Social media is becoming more of a constant distraction (for me) and it has ruined my ability to focus and be still. I'm so used to the constant entertainment that it's difficult for me to just be.
I have a friend at church who I consider a prayer warrior. She truly pours her heart and soul into her prayers (those of you who know me, may know who I'm referring to, I often say she calls down the angels when she prays!). She believes in prayer and her first instinct when faced with something is to go to the Lord with it. I was thinking the other day that I wanted my prayer life to look like hers, so I started examining what I admired about her. She is a great example of someone who regularly intercedes for others, she prays big prayers and has faith that God will answer them, and she's intentional about praying. Intentional. I know that is the key, so I'll come back to that. I am learning a lot from her and I doubt she realizes it. The Bible tells us to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Pray without ceasing- not scroll without ceasing. I tend to do the latter. Being a prayer warrior means going to God first in all situations, it means setting aside intentional time alone with Him to talk and listen, it means turning your thoughts into prayers. I am famous for thinking about stuff all day long (or worrying about it) and not praying about it at all. God has been bringing this to light for me- gentle conviction. In order to establish a habit, you have to have self discipline. So how can we do that? How can we become prayer warriors? I am not an expert so what I am about to suggest, I am going to do too! If you need an accountability partner, so do I. Message me. I would be grateful for the help!
Okay, on to some practical tips- start by scheduling a time to meet with the Lord daily, even if it's just for 5 or 10 minutes. If we are too busy to do this, we are too busy and something needs to go! Be sure there are no distractions, leave your phone in the other room, go in a closet or a room with no computer/TV. Start a prayer journal if you need to write prayers down to keep yourself focused. Don't know what to say? There are so many methods you can use! Do a little research and choose something that will be comfortable for you. Val Marie Paper has some great prayer journals and she has some great resources and blog posts on different ways to pray. I have lots of other resources I can share if you are interested. Reach out to me- I'm not an expert but I love to read, do research, and share what I've learned. Show up. That's the most important part. Show up every single day and God will meet you there. It might be awkward at first or feel unnatural. It will get easier and it will become more natural. Keep doing it. You will notice a difference in your life as this scheduled meeting becomes a habit. You will desire more time with the Lord and will find joy in praying. I am trying this right along side you this week! Let's do this. Let's meet the Lord in intentional prayer daily and watch Him change our lives and the lives of those around us. Follow me on Instagram this week to be reminded and encouraged (@thebyway) as we build a better fellowship with our Lord.
Our life group is reading the book Whisper by Mark Batterson and the discussions have been so good. If you haven't heard of it, I encourage you to look into it. Mark really focuses on how God speaks to us and how we can listen and develop a discerning heart. There are so many ways that God speaks to us daily but we miss it because we are preoccupied with other things. How often do we scroll through our phones out of boredom, missing what is happening with the people right in front of us? There are so many things competing for our attention all day long. It's easy to overlook the seemingly small things in our day. Maybe we are too busy to notice that the same Bible verse has shown up twice in one day. I find that God speaks to me most through repetition (what that says about my listening skills I don't know!). The day to day monotony can hinder us from noticing the supernatural. This week, try to slow down and savor a little longer. Linger in the Word and have a second cup of coffee. Write down the verse that causes you to pause in your daily reading. Underline and share something that spoke to you in your devotional. Read that Proverbs 31 email and connect the dots from that to what you prayed about last night. His Word says "...If you seek Him, He will be found by you..." (1 Chronicles 28:9, ESV). In Whisper, Mark says, "Nothing has the potential to change your life like the whisper of God. Nothing will determine your destiny more than your ability to hear HIs still small voice" (p. 11). I really want to focus my days on hearing His still small voice and tuning out the loud distractions. I want God to change my life and guide me down the path that He wants me on. A path that includes dreams that are too big for me alone. You may not even know what you want or what to pray for- start there. Pray for God to reveal your bravest prayer. Ask Him to show you the desires of your heart that will please Him and lead others to Him. God gives us desires and those dreams can become a reality if they start with prayer. In order to hear Him, we must seek Him daily - in the trenches, in our jobs, in our chores, on our commutes, and in our relationships. Meditate on these words this week: "I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me" (Proverbs 8:17 ESV). Seek Him.
Do you have a place that you love to go to get away from the hustle of everyday life? A place where you just breathe a little deeper? Despite the fact that we are supposed to get snow tomorrow night, tomorrow is still the first day of spring. To our family that means hiking and camping season is just beginning. We bought a little pop-up camper at the end of last summer and we can't wait start planning trips. One place we visit several times a year is a serene state park. It has a beautiful lake in the middle of the mountains and every time that sparkling water fills my sight, peace floods my heart. It still amazes me that the Lord created such beautiful scenery but I still take it for granted daily. The beauty of nature was made for us to savor, not to ignore or rush through but to speak peace to our souls. I am so guilty of living distracted. I'll be honest, I hate that and I try to stop myself but it's a vicious cycle! I am on my phone way too much (#struggles).
At the lake we have no choice but to focus on who we are surrounded by and the scenery in front of us - there is no cell service. There is no scrolling, just listening, talking, swimming, hiking, and relaxing on the beach or by the fire. We wake up to sunny skies (or if your luck is like ours, a few downpours!) and we fall asleep to the cicadas singing. It's blissful. While all of that sounds heavenly to me, it might not to you. There might be another place that makes a sweet peace settle over your soul when you get there. A place where worries seem farther away and God feels a lot closer.
Life slows down in those places, but that doesn't mean it can't slow down at home. Perhaps we can leave our phones inside and sit on the front porch with our morning coffee and just savor a few silent moments. Maybe it's taking a walk around the neighborhood as the sun is beginning to set and the sky is ablaze with color. Maybe we can lay on the grass in the front yard and watch for shooting stars with someone we love. My kids are the perfect examples for me - they aren't distracted by technology when they are outside, they always notice the colors of the sunset, and their imaginations come alive when they are splashing through the creek in our backyard. I want to be more like them. Unhurried. Undistracted. Just enjoying the world God created for us.
Jesus often retreated to a quiet place to be alone with His father and it was often in nature. He went to the mountains (Matt 14:23), the garden (Matt 26:36), and even by the sea (Matt 13:1). If Jesus needed that, how much more do we? When we feel like life is moving at lightning speed, maybe we could slow it down a little, a few minutes each day, and follow His example. We don't have to wait for that trip to the beach or that hike in the mountains, we can intentionally spend a few quiet moments with Him right where we are- on our porch, in our backyards, at the local park, etc. We can lay down the distractions and soak in the beauty around us. It might be hard at first (especially to lay down the distractions!) but we will see the fruit of it if we stick to it.
Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for calling us to quiet moments and for setting that example for us. Help us to take a few minutes each day to slow down and savor it. Help us find a time and place in our day to rest in You. Speak peace to our souls as we follow what You've modeled for us. Help us to realize that time spent in the quiet with You is not wasted time, but that it's the most valuable moment of our day.
Waiting is such a hard thing for me. I am a planner by nature, I love to know what's ahead. I haven't met a single person who enjoys waiting. When God gives me an idea, I get so excited that I want the end result immediately. Sometimes, while we are sitting in the silence of the wait, we feel like God is ignoring our prayers. God isn't ignoring our prayers but sometimes the answer is "not yet". I'll be honest, I don't love that answer when it's given to me. I usually reply with, why not!? I experienced a time of waiting in my life (more than once, but this one stands out to me). I was desperate for God to answer my prayer so I tried to control things. I went from doing my part to trying to do His part too. Needless to say, that didn't go over well. I believed I knew what was best for me and tried to take matters into my own hands. I'll be honest, it didn't work. When I finally came to end of myself, I started pressing in to God. I began to pray more (most of the time it was desperate pleas for this prayer to be answered, just keepin' it real!) and I began to read my Bible a lot more. I wrote down scripture and meditated on it. As I drew closer to Him, I started to relinquish my control.
As I was in this waiting period my husband and I traveled out of town. When we got to our hotel, I immediately noticed a church sign across the road- you know the ones where churches post quotes or sayings to get you thinking. Well this one really spoke to me - it said: "God's time is always time enough." I knew God placed those words there for me. After that, I relented. I started to trust God's control more, I began to trust His sovereignty. I felt His peace again. Eventually I saw the answer to that prayer but it didn't come without the lesson. I'm grateful for what I learned during that period of waiting (hindsight!). Even after learning this lesson, it's still hard for me (#controlfreak)! If this is something you struggle with as well, I encourage you to rest in the promise of 1 John 5:14 (ESV): "This is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him."
Heavenly Father, thank you so much for sustaining us in those trying times of waiting. Help us to present our requests to you and to know that if our desires align with Your will, we will have them. Help us to be patient and to trust in Your sovereignty.
"So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom." Psalm 90:12 (ESV)
This week I learned a lot about God's love for me and that He actually calls us to rest. I'm not talking specifically rest on Sundays, but about rest from constant doing. I love ministry. For quite some time I prayed for God to give me a ministry to be passionate about. A way that I could make a difference. God answered that prayer through many ministry opportunities, but once I got started it became hard for me to say no to any ministry opportunity. Our schedules were really busy this year and I kept hearing God calling us to slow down. I know God calls us to ministry but I didn't realize He also calls us to rest. Recently I was given the opportunity to go on a mission trip this summer (one that I've been praying about for two years) and it happens to fall during the week we were planning to take our family vacation to the beach. That threw a wrench in things. I began to pray about it and felt like I was being led to say no to the mission trip (again). How could God call me to go to the beach and not on this trip? He calls us to serve right? Through prayer and talking it out with my husband and friends, I realized that God calls us to ministry and to rest. I've been so busy saying yes, yes, yes to all of the opportunities I've been presented with that it didn't really occur to me that I could choose rest over yes and it would still be an obedient decision. The key to this decision was really discernment. I can't use rest as an excuse to ignore ministry opportunities that God is calling me to but my goal is to pray through and discern what He is asking me to do and take that step. In this decision I felt God calling me to rest and He confirmed that after I made the decision. I feel so amazed that God loves us so much that He wants us to work and rest. I know that God rested from His work and I am learning that instead of thinking of rest as quitting the work He has called us to, that I need to think of it as recharging so that we can finish the work He's called us to. I'm so grateful that He loves us enough to call us into His rest.
Heavenly Father, thank you so much for calling us to ministry and for ministering to us through rest. I pray that we will be obedient to whatever you call us to and use our rest to prepare us for future opportunities. May Your voice always guide our decisions.
"Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!" Psalm 90:17 (ESV)
Charles Spurgeon once said “If I know that Jesus lives for me, then darkness is not dark: even the night is light about me.” Do you ever feel like the path in front of you is dark and you can’t see where you are going? It feels like darkness is all around and seems like God is far away. I had a dream that I was driving a car and it was completely dark. I was on the road going pretty fast but I felt as though I was blind, I could see nothing in front of me. I could sense the woods around me and I was fearful of all of the things I could run into but I couldn’t stop. It’s easy to worry about all of the things that can go wrong when you have no vision of where you are going. For some reason, I kept driving even though I was afraid. It was terrifying but suddenly in front of me the sky turned a brilliant red as the sun began to rise. I could see where I was and I was safe. Isn’t that how life is? Sometimes we don’t see what God has planned for us and it feels as though we are driving blindly down life’s mountainous roads destined to crash. But He is there, like the sun rising, the true Son never fails to light our paths. His shows up in a mighty way and relief washes over us. The truth is, even in the dark, He’s never left us. In the silence, He’s still there. Psalm 18:28 says “...my God turns my darkness into light.” This gives us rays of hope. He will show up when we don’t know what to do and in His beautiful light we will see Him clearly and will know we are safe.
Dear Heavenly Father, thank you so much for going before us and keeping us on the right path when we are unsure of what is ahead. Please give us peace and remind us that our darkness is not dark to you. Thank you for being our light and help us to discern Your will for us.
If you have time, read Psalm 139.
Lately I've been reading a lot about having too much. Too much stuff, technology, food, etc. I'm currently reading 7 by Jenn Hatmaker and #Struggles by Craig Groeschel. I have to agree with both of them, I fill my time with too much stuff. Too many hours spent scrolling on social media, too much time spent trying to decide on an outfit - looking through a lot of clothes that I don't like or don't fit me anymore that I never wear! Even my kids have too much- too many toys to even be interested in playing with half of them. If I'm being honest... I didn't buy most of them, they were gifts from grandparents (though they are appreciated!). The kids may not know it but they are overwhelmed with the amount of stuff they have too. They prefer to play outside, to spend their time collecting rocks and sticks and creating toys from random things they find rather than playing with toys they have. And don't even get me started on how we spend too much money at the grocery store. I really dislike meal planning and cooking which usually results in a hodge podge of things I come home with, some of which doesn't always get used! I can see the need to cut back. I'm not even talking minimalism. More or less just living a more simplified and intentional life.
Looking into the eyes of the people around us rather than looking at them through the lens of a smartphone camera or glancing at them as though they are a distraction from the pictures we are scrolling through on social media. When this life is done, it will not matter whose posts I liked on Instagram, but it will matter that I shepherded the hearts of my children. That I pointed them to God through my actions and with my heart. I want to spend my days counting my blessings, living in the moment - free from the nagging feeling that I have to document each and every thing we do. Why do I have that feeling? What are the reasons behind what we post? Is it to encourage others? Or is it more self seeking? To see how many likes we can get? To show everyone that we do fun things in life and create jealousy?
I want to wake up talking to Jesus, not scrolling through what I may have missed on Instagram. I want to enjoy the sunset without having to capture it and post it. When did we become a generation who is so addicted to our phones? I have no idea what I will do with this right now. I'm trying to make one intentional choice at a time until I realign my priorities. God first.
Lord, help me to accept the blessings you have given me (the moments and the tangible). Help me to appreciate them and not turn them into something self seeking. Help me to live with less so that I may have more. More You, more time, more focus on what matters. Amen.