Isaiah 43:2 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”
We moved to Texas 2 years ago, from California, and one of the things I enjoy the absolute most is the extreme weather. It gets me up out of bed in the morning and compels me to stay up late at night in wait. The lightening is magnificent, sometimes trailing across the sky in a mad dash to the finish line across the other end. Other times it is if you are sitting inside an explosion and for a split second all around you is a brilliant shade of fire white your eyes have never seen before.
I do not however anticipate with such glee, the difficult storms of life that can overwhelm all of us at times. For the first 27 years of my life I powered through the storms of life, riding the coat tails of my leftover will from each previous storm I happened to survive. Willing my way through feeling worthless, being a child of divorce. Willing my way through the pain of rejection from a boyfriend I was desperately looking for affirmation from. Willing my way through fear of being abandoned, by pulling myself up by me bootstraps, paving my own way to true independence. Or so I thought. A lifetime of self dependence, for me, ended after decades of self reliance when I found myself no longer able to muster up the strength to continue through the storms. I was living in a shelter, I had lost custody of my daughter, and I was living a shameful life of drugs, partying and complete darkness.
I guess you could say the real me had gone missing for years. When a person is reported missing at sea, the Coast Guard responds by conducting a search and rescue mission. Depending on the odds of the persons survival after a certain period of time spent on the mission, they will either continue the mission or determine there is little to no chance of survival and call off the mission.
In my mind, when I was in that shelter, I had no chance of survival, no chance of ever recovering from where my choices had landed me. None. But by the grace of God, He refused to call off the rescue mission.
After giving my life back to Christ, surrendering to him being in control, almost everything in my life changed. Except for one thing. My circumstances. I still had to deal with consequences of all of my past choices, but facing them was no longer something I would have to face alone or figure out how to get through by myself.
I grew up thinking Christians thought they were so much better than everybody else. Like their lives were so awesome because they joined the cool club. I thought their motto was “Join our club and life will be great!” But I was so wrong. Life is not supposed to be great as a Christian, our faith is great because of what we believe God has done for us. He gave us a chance to live in a way where we experience Him, His love for us and that we would never be separated from Him, even though we could never do anything to deserve such kindness.
The one thing Christianity promises is that we will suffer. It also promises that we will never suffer alone, and that from our suffering will come good.
Does that mean we are excited to suffer? Does it mean we are happy when we are suffering? I don’t think so. But hopefully it means that when we are suffering, going through difficulties, we can find hope in the promise that it is not the end of our road, and that we can trust that God will carry us through.
Today’s prayer challenge:
Being a believer means that God equips us to face life’s difficulties, knowing that He is for us and we are not fighting alone. Sometimes we need to be reminded of this. I challenge you today, to take 5 minutes to give thanks to God that He is with you and write down any ways that you have tried to control outcomes of your circumstances without consulting Him, as if you were facing things alone. Ask for forgiveness in areas where you have taken the lead without prayer first.
Father God I am grateful that you promise I am never alone. I have been faced with difficulties that I feel I will never overcome. You know my will to fight, but God I have taken advantage of that, thinking I am in control. Please forgive me for taking the lead in areas of my life where you are trying to lead me. God show me where I can submit outcomes I have been trying to control, to your will. Thank you that do not remove storms but that you guide me through them that I would grow closer to you and experience the love you have for me.
In Christ’s name, Amen.
According to recent statistics, 18% of all Americans suffer with anxiety. That is approximately 40 million people. Of those people, only 36% seek treatment. A staggering number of people are resigned, to suffer.
I do not suffer from anxiety but I have struggled with depression in my past. There was definitely an aspect of anxiety entangled in my depression. I can remember being overwhelmed with feelings of fear, that would paralyze my ability to respond properly to my circumstances and my thoughts would hold back my ability to stay motivated to keep going. Whether it was to get up for work, or go to the grocery store or even make phone calls to my family. Something in my thoughts would create sort of a dam between themselves and executing normal tasks.
There are accounts throughout the Bible that describe God-fearing men being overcome by fear, which I find to be one of the most comforting aspects of the Bible as I read it. Adam, Jacob, David, Esther, Rahab, Hagar the list of moments when people were full of fear is long. But the Bible’s continued theme from these fearful people is that it assures us that we are not alone and that people have been though what we are going through. From the beginning to the very end of the story, the message that we are not in this life battle alone, is consistent and extremely clear. Yet still, sometimes having the knowledge that we are not alone is just not enough to stir up motivation.
Depression and fear make their sly descent on our outlook and perspective as we sink into the shadows and wait. We wait for thoughts to pass. We wait for feelings to come back. We sleep while we wait. We isolate while we wait. We think while we wait. Sometimes we even pray while we wait. We pray for motivation and for feeling like it. We pray God would take our depression and anxiety away.
While prayer is one of the most powerful tools we have against spiritual warfare, I think we overlook the power that it has to motivate us to be obedient when we don’t feel like it. Sometimes just doing the next right thing is all we can be expected to do. If God’s Word says “I will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9, then we can trust that the expectation for us or our part, is to go. And if we just don’t feel like going, we can trust that The Holy Spirit still wants us to go. So instead of focusing all of our attention on waiting to not feel fearful or depressed, we can pray that God would just show us the next right thing. We can tell God through prayer that we don’t feel like doing anything and that we just want this feeling to go away, and in the same breath we need to be praying that God would, out of His mercy and kindness, just show us the next right thing in spite of our feelings. We can obey when we are depressed and fearful. The reality is that sometimes our feelings are just reminders that we need God. That is not a bad thing. That is the key joy in all circumstances. Knowing just how sick we are and at the same time knowing that God is desperate for us to submit to Him because that brings us life.
When I get depressed, I still know and understand my obligations or the “tasks” that need to happen during the day. It’s just that I don’t feel motivated, I feel upset and unsettled and it sometimes paralyzes me. But it is in those moments that we can remind ourselves that we need refueling from God. We can be reminded to look to Him for the encouragement to just do the next right thing, and He in His perfect timing will alleviate us from our depressed thoughts and anxious feelings.
It’s ok to feel depressed and anxious. But trying to handle it or make it go away in our own will is where we start to shrink away from life.
Today’s prayer challenge:
If you are feeling depressed or unmotivated, take a full 5 minutes to write out how you are feeling. Don’t hold back, get it all out. Write specific things that are causing your depression or anxiety. If there is nothing specific, just write out your thoughts. Then pray what you have written, to God and ask Him to show you the next right thing. It could be going to the store or changing the laundry. Then once that is completed, ask Him for what is next. Go back to Him in prayer no matter how many times it takes, to get to the end of your day. Once you reach the end, keep praying. Pray for what you are grateful for and remember times when God has done miracles in your life. He is the same God He has always been, loving and kind. Hang in their friend, His time is perfect. Reach out to a friend and let them know you are struggling so they can pray with you and help you to keep going.
God I have feelings of depression and anxiety and they are overtaking my thoughts. I don’t see the joy in anything I will do today. I have no interest in conversations or in what other people are doing. I am empty inside. I am waiting to feel again. I know that you looked down at me seeing this season of life and you declared I am worthy of your love. Although I do not feel worthy today, I will be obedient to you because I can trust you and your plans for my life. Please show me the next right thing to do even if it is small, that I would glorify you in my depression and fears knowing that you hear my hearts requests and want me to live abundantly in you. In Christ’s name, Amen
“Yet He frequently withdrew to lonely places to pray.”
I went to India a few years ago with my husband and it was the most amazing trip I have ever been on. But it was also very crowded. I’m talking like uncomfortably crowded. I remember we had to take a train to get to our next destination. When we got to the train station it was madness. I thought I knew what crowded was, but clearly I did not. India is crowded. Like I could smell people, crowded. I could smell hair and breath and goats and it was not ok. Thousands of people all trying to get on the same train and seemingly no sort of ticketing system or wait your turn concepts. All bets were off and as soon as the train arrived it was pure pandemonium. Moms grabbing babies with no shoes by their arms, men slithering through cracks not big enough for a child to get to the train doors and I was holding on for dear life to Josh’s shirt as he plowed through hundreds of people who were also plowing through hundreds of people. Straight up madness. And there were goats, did I mention that? People with their goats boarding the train.
The bible says it may have looked similar to this train scene shortly after Jesus began his ministry. People were hearing of His miracles and healings. It says in the book of Luke that the news about what Jesus was doing was spreading so rapidly that people came in droves just to hear him and be healed.
Do you ever feel like life is coming at you in droves? Just all the life things? Its like there are hundreds of life things that constantly need our attention. Little things like running out of toilet paper, big things like finding mom in home care for her declining health, medium things like a gift for a teacher or friend. But its all of them combined that makes it feel heavy, like you can’t see when the entire list will ever be checked off.
The very next verse after it says that people came in droves to hear Him and be healed, almost doesn’t make any sense. It kind of doesn’t even fit. It says “Yet news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Kind of an interesting place to let us know that, right?
I think it’s the perfect place actually. The biggest most climactic scene, people are searching for Him, desperate for Him…. and he bails. And he did it frequently it says. Busiest guy in town, most powerful guy in town, in the most stressful circumstance in town and He was intentional about finding alone time with God.
We can’t keep trying in our own will to get all the stuff done. We can’t keep letting the entire day go by under the lie that we are too busy. It’s very simple, go frequently to lonely places to be with God. Whether it is 5 minutes in your closet before your kids see you, or the first 5 minutes you get in your car on the way to school or work. Maybe its setting the alarm earlier to wake up or setting an alarm 10 minutes before bedtime to be with Him. Make it important.
Today’s prayer challenge:
Reflect on what you will be doing every day this week. Pick a time that you will commit to being alone with God. Write down the time. If you do not have 5 minutes to spare, commit to God what you will cut out of your day and replace with alone time with Him. Remind yourself of the truth that not everything in your day is more important that time alone with God. Pray over the time you have picked.
God I see that I have not fought for time alone with you. God forgive me that I have bought the lie that I am too busy for time with you. God help me to give you my best, not my leftovers. God change my heart to be excited to be with you and not to resent things that get in the way of that time. God help me to be intentional and a good steward of my time. In Christ’s name, Amen.
Romans 5: 6
“You see at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”
Do you know what an autostereogram is? I didn’t know they had a name, but apparently an autostereogram is one of those pictures where you stare at them for a moment (or for a very long time, if you are me) and then almost miraculously, the image you thought you were staring at, becomes a completely different image. Usually it is a 3D image so it is a little bit shocking once you see it. Well I’m the worst at those. Seriously, the absolute worst. My mom had a painting in her home of a little wooden barn in the forefront, tucked away in a meadow with purple flowers all around it. The painting was a head on shot of the barn, looking at the front of the barn with the meadow behind it. Or so I thought. It turns out that the painting was in fact an autostereogram of sorts. One day my mom asked us what we saw in the painting. Naturally we both said the front of a barn in a meadow surrounded by purple flowers. She then proceeded to say, “Stare at it for a minute, and you will see that it is actually the back of a barn with the meadow in front of it.” I was in disbelief until my sister shouted “I SEE IT!” I stared for multiple minutes and nothing. My mother and sister could see both images any time they passed by it. “Hey there it is, oh ya and there’s the other one.” Like no big deal. As for me? Not so much. I would stare, stare as hard as I could. What even is staring as hard as you can? I’d cross my eyes, blur my vision and nothing. I had walked passed that painting for weeks. Until one day I saw it. Can I just tell you the day I saw it was like hitting the freaking lottery. I’m not exactly sure why but I felt like I had figured out an ancient code to something super relevant. I had tapped into my inner whatever and it was awesome. I could pretty much time travel at this point is what I’m saying.
I kind of feel like life without Christ can be like that painting. You buy that painting thinking it’s one thing, a picture of a front facing barn in a meadow that flows out behind it, and that’s all it is. The same can be said about our lives. You become an adult knowing that you need to make something out of yourself that you and others will be proud of. That’s it. Our whole lives we think we have to be strong. We have to get control. We have to make something of ourselves. We know our life is just a front facing barn.We do whatever we can to protect that barn, tend to the meadow, kill all the weeds and grow all the flowers. Just be strong. We put on the act, we pretend like we are confident. We get things done in our own “strength” because we have to, no one else is going to do it for us. Just stay strong. We are empowered and we convince ourselves that if we try hard enough, do good enough, are disciplined enough and strong enough we will someday arrive in the presence of the feeling of success or accomplishment, happiness and just maybe we can look back and say wow I was really really strong and I’m really really happy.
And then Christ comes in and quietly says that true happiness is in what He has done for us, not what we can do for ourselves. He asks if you see that the painting is actually the back of the barn, not the front. And the meadow flows out in front of it, not to the back. You stare for a moment, thinking this guy is insane. He has no idea what I have done to build this life and to accomplish what I have accomplished. But you stare. You stare as hard as you can. Weeks maybe months go by and you don’t see what He sees. Until one day, you see it. You see that the painting really is what He said it was. You were not seeing it clearly this whole time. And in that moment every single thing changes. Your perspective of your own life all of a sudden is rocked to the core. You see that even on your best day, your efforts don’t measure up to the sacrifice He made for you to have eternal relationship with Him. You see that it is not about how hard you work or how long you stare, but it is about the work He did so that we don’t have to measure up any more.
Having a perspective that His strength is made perfect in our weakness, is life changing. It is backwards thinking. It is freedom.
Today’s prayer challenge
Write out something you are trying to control. It could be controlling the outcome of a situation. Maybe it is trying to control the way someone will respond. Maybe you are trying to protect someone from experiencing pain. Or trying to control someone else’s behavior. Take a few minutes to really think about it, and then write out this prayer next to it:
God your word says that the right time is when I am powerless. This concept is so foreign to me God. God I strive to be in control. Please change my heart to see powerlessness as a strength. God remind me that you are in control and that you are trustworthy, above all else. In Christs name, Amen.