Give Thanks in ALL Circumstances

If you’re like me, you may find yourself skimming over portions of Scripture without really thinking about what you’re reading. Sometimes a verse or passage becomes so familiar that it loses its significance in our minds, and we don’t deeply think about the practical application it has for us. 

For instance, take 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, a well-known and often-quoted passage: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 

When I read the words “give thanks in all circumstances,” it’s easy to reduce that to, “in general, be thankful more often than not.” Or, “give thanks even when it’s hard.” But neither of those sentiments accurately reflects what this verse says. 

God’s will for us is to rejoice always (not sometimes), pray without ceasing (everyday, all throughout the day), and give thanks in all circumstances.  

ALL CIRCUMSTANCES. Every single one. 

This thought is repeated many times in Scripture. Take a look at the following verses, emphasis added: 

Philippians 4:6- “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” 

Colossians 3:17- “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” 

Ephesians 5:18b-20- “…be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 

Hebrews 13:15- “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” 

Let the significance of this sink in. We’re commanded to give thanks for EVERYTHING, in ALL situations, CONTINUALLY praising God. This encompasses all the good things in life, but it also encompasses the bad things. Give thanks when your kids do nothing but fight, whine, and disobey all day. Give thanks when your plans are ruined. Give thanks when you lose your job. Give thanks in the midst of a difficult marriage or relationship. Give thanks when nothing in your life turned out the way you expected. Give thanks when you get a devastating diagnosis. Give thanks when your house burns down. Give thanks even if a child or spouse dies in that house fire. 

How? 

Being able to have this mindset requires a radical shift. First, we need to accurately recognize and appreciate God’s grace for what it is. Our very existence, the air we breathe, and the ability of our lungs to breathe that air is due to God’s creating and sustaining power. Hebrews 1:3 says that Jesus “created the world… and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Colossians 1:17 tells us that “in him all things hold together.” 

Not only do we owe our existence to His grace, but every little thing we enjoy (or don’t enjoy, but should) is a gift from God as well. The warm sunlight. The sound of rain. The beauty of creation that becomes so familiar to us, we fail to notice it. The smile on a child’s face. The taste of your favorite food. The smell of a scented candle. A hug from a loved one. There are hundreds, even thousands, of little things each and every day that we take for granted and don’t acknowledge. 

These are all good gifts from our Father (James 1:17), who doesn’t owe us anything. We don’t deserve any of it. Our sense of entitlement, our expectations that we should have whatever we desire, and our resentment that we have to endure hardships, trials, discomfort, and inconvenience, all come from a heart of pride that is never content. The importance of thanking God for the simple things in life cannot be overstated; if we can’t see His grace in these, and if we aren’t in the habit of giving thanks already, it will be nearly impossible to give thanks when times get tough. 

Second, we need to reframe things that we’re used to thinking about negatively and look at them from a different perspective. This isn’t to say we should ignore or deny negative emotions, but we should not dwell on them. Acknowledge the feelings, pray for God’s strength, empowerment, and a better attitude, and then look for things to be thankful for. Instead of grumbling about going to work, thank God for His provision through your job. Instead of complaining about your kids, thank God for the blessing of children. Instead of being annoyed by your spouse, thank God for him or her. Instead of complaining about household chores, thank God that you have the physical ability to do the tasks. 

And what about the times when we can’t find anything to be thankful for? Crappy jobs, whining children, annoying spouses, and mundane household chores are everyday irritants that most of us deal with. But there are other levels of suffering that are so heartbreaking, painful, confusing, and agonizing that we cannot even begin to find a silver lining. 

This brings us to the third mindset shift. 

I recently did a study on the book of Habakkuk. When you first read this book, you probably won’t have a clue what’s going on. Don’t let that discourage you. Really dig in and use resources to help you understand, because it’s worth it. Habakkuk begins by asking God why He is allowing so many bad things to happen. The people of Judah are facing exile and complete destruction because of their rebellion against God, but God is using an even more wicked country to bring about this judgment on them. It doesn’t make sense. Habakkuk questions God’s sovereignty, goodness, and justice in a situation where evil seems to prevail and God seems far away. 

Throughout the book, Habakkuk comes to realize that God is still good, faithful, and just, and that He uses all things, even our suffering, to glorify Himself and sanctify His people. His ways are higher than ours. He sees and understands things we could not possibly comprehend. He will eventually punish and defeat evil, and the righteous will see His justice, although it will probably not happen when or how we expect it to. The challenge is to trust the character of God and find comfort in who He is instead of getting lost in the pain of our circumstances. Our hope is found in Him- everything and everyone else will fail us at some point, but the character of God is a firm foundation that never changes. 

We have a choice to become angry, bitter, and depressed about our lives, or to worship Him for who He is and what He is doing, even if we can’t understand it. And when we choose to focus on Him instead of our circumstances, our perspective shifts. That’s what happened with Habakkuk. The book ends with this beautiful passage: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.” (Habakkuk 3:17-19)

Habakkuk is looking at the worst case scenario here. He’s describing a situation with no food and no money. He knows his country is about to undergo complete destruction. He knows there is a lot of suffering and death coming at the hands of the wicked Babylonians. In the beginning of the book, he is essentially asking God, “How could you let this happen?” But at the end, he is saying, “Even if this happens, I will still choose to worship you.” 

If your worst fears come true, you still have God. Sometimes, the only thing we can think of to be thankful for is the character and presence of God- and He is more than enough. Sometimes our thanks looks like praise. Not for our situation, but for the fact that we can trust Him to work all things together for good, even when it’s impossible for us to see how anything good could come from it. When there is no joy in our circumstances, there is joy in God. He is our strength. He is our source of joy. He is our eternal hope. He is always faithful. 

I love this quote from Laura Story in her book, When God Doesn’t Fix It: “Joy is in the Lord. Brokenness is in the world. As long as we’re alive, both will coexist on earth.” 

We must keep our eyes on the Lord. When we focus on our broken circumstances, we are likely to doubt and become angry, bitter, and ungrateful. Or, at the very least, to become burdened and anxious over the fact that things are falling apart and we have no real control or power to change anything. Satan wants us to be distracted by our circumstances. He wants to use anything possible to cast doubt on God’s goodness and sovereignty. In contrast, God wants to use each trial and situation in life to conform us to the image of Christ and increase our faith in Him. We need to use our opportunities wisely. We can choose humility and dependence on God. We can choose worship in the waiting. We can choose to give thanks in ALL circumstances. 

Two of my favorite things are books and music, so I wanted to include links to a few books and songs that address being thankful no matter what, and worshipping God regardless of your life situations. Hopefully these resources will help further your study and enrich your praise.

Even If- A Study of Habbakuk
When God Doesn’t Fix It by Laura Story
Faithful God- I Am They
Even Then- Micah Tyler
Even If- MercyMe
Great You Are- Jordan Smith
Good God Almighty- Crowder

Book Review- Take It To Heart

Revelation. 

What do you feel when you hear or see the name of the last book of the Bible? Fear? Confusion? Hesitation to read or study it? Do you mostly ignore it because you think it’s only about the end times, doubting that it has any relevance to your daily life? Or do you try to decipher all the imagery and symbolism, attempting to connect current events with what seems to be taking place in John’s descriptions of the end times? 

In her new 30-day devotional for women, entitled “Take It To Heart,” Rachel Schmoyer guides us through the entire book of Revelation, pulling out simple truths from each passage to apply to our everyday lives. Each day includes a Scripture reading, key verse, devotion, prayer, and questions to reflect on and study further. This book is perfect for people who have never read or studied Revelation before. With each day’s devotion consisting only of three short pages, it is not intimidating or time consuming. It’s also perfect for those who have struggled with the practical application that Revelation has to offer us today. 

During this study, I realized that our focus is often on the wrong things when reading or discussing Revelation. We try to figure out what should be taken literally or figuratively. We try to predict when end-times events will take place. We speculate about who the Antichrist will be. We wonder if believers will be present for the tribulation, or if there will be a rapture of the Church before it starts.  

The speculation and questions can be endless, but just like every other book of the Bible, the real questions should be, What does Revelation teach us about God? What does God want us to learn about Himself, and how does this knowledge impact our lives and relationship with Him?

From the beginning of “Take It To Heart,” we are urged to focus on Jesus as the Light of the World (see Revelation 1 for an incredible description of Jesus). And throughout the rest of the book, Rachel keeps directing our gaze back to Christ, even as we read about the letters to the churches, riders on horses bringing judgment, angels blowing trumpets that initiate more judgment and death, the two witnesses, a woman and a dragon, two terrifying beasts, the mark of the beast, angels pouring out the bowl judgments, evil world powers personified as a prostitute, a final battle led by Satan, and the final Judgment Day. 

Whew! It’s no wonder we get distracted. There’s a LOT going on in Revelation. But in the midst of all this, Rachel guides us through some very important lessons. We learn to evaluate our own hearts according to the warnings and encouragements that Jesus gives to the seven churches. We are drawn to the beauty, glory, and majesty of God’s throne room in heaven. We rejoice as we remember that Jesus is worthy because of the blood he shed for us. We are shown that although the judgments sound chaotic and scary, they are never outside God’s sovereign plan. We see God’s active protection, provision, and peace for His people. We are comforted with the knowledge that God hears and responds to our prayers. We see the Holy Spirit’s empowering of believers as we witness for Him. We are encouraged by the fact that God notices all the little things we do that reflect our love and service for Him. We are called to patient endurance and faithfulness through persecution and trouble. We are reassured of Jesus’s presence as we prepare for our own spiritual battles. And, of course, we are given the amazing promise of the new heavens and the new earth, and the presence of God dwelling fully with us. 

Perhaps one of the most notable lessons for me was the reminder that we don’t need to know everything. As Rachel says on Day 16, “I trust God to tell us what we need to know. God, in His mercy, does not overwhelm us with too much.” 

There are a lot of mysteries left unsolved in Revelation. It’s good to study these things to the extent that we are able. But most of our time should be spent on what we DO know. The Bible doesn’t tell us who the Antichrist will be, but it does tell us who Christ is. It doesn’t tell us when Christ will return, but we know that He will, and we know what we need to be doing in the meantime- studying His Word, growing in our relationship with Him, and being faithful to share the truth with others. It doesn’t always tell us exactly what should be taken literally or figuratively, but it does direct our focus to the One who has all things under His control as part of His sovereign plan. 

“Take It To Heart” keeps us from the pointless (and sometimes harmful) speculation that so often consumes our discussions and thoughts about Revelation. And it provides a wonderful starting point for those who have avoided studying it before. No matter what opinions you hold, or what view you take on end-time events, this book will benefit you as you reflect on the truths Revelation gives us about who God is and how we should live as followers of Christ. 

Occupation: Servant

By the time I get around to writing and posting this, it will be old news, but as you may know, the British Royal Family has been making headlines a lot. Recently I stumbled across a video of a young Meghan Markle, who was assessing messages of commercials for a social studies assignment in school. One of the commercials featured an advertisement for dish soap and specifically singled out women as the ones who would be cleaning pots and pans. Meghan’s response to this, way back in elementary school, was to write to the company in protest of the word “women” and request they change it to the word “people.” As a child, Meghan said, “I don’t think it’s right for kids to grow up thinking these things, that just mom does everything. It’s always, mom does this and mom does that.” 

This got me thinking about the fact that society seems to view taking care of the home as an inferior role- and when women are often the ones doing it, it’s seen as unfair. Women shouldn’t be expected to “just” stay home, cooking, cleaning, and taking care of kids. They must be equal to men, which usually means equally represented in the workforce, and men must be expected to equally share in those menial household chores. 

According to this mindset, stereotyping women as the ones who are the homemakers and child- rearers automatically labels them as inferior to men. But this is only true because we view those tasks as inferior to earning an income and working outside the home. Society has invented the idea that managing a home is less-than, which means that women must be less-than if they are the ones assumed or expected to be taking on those roles. 

So here’s my question- how did we get this idea that taking care of a home, doing household chores, and raising a family is less important, valuable, and praiseworthy than having a traditional career? Is it because you don’t make money doing those things? Is it because it’s mostly behind-the-scenes work, where no one except your family might notice what you’re accomplishing? (And oftentimes they don’t notice either!)

At this point I should probably make a confession: the role of homemaking comes pretty easily to me. For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a stay-at-home-mom. I’m not a career-oriented person. I love being home, I have no trouble sticking to chore routines, and I don’t even mind laundry or dishes that much. I know these things can be more of a struggle for people with different personalities and goals.  

However, no matter what kind of personality you have, service to others should take a high priority if you are a believer. In many societies, a role of service is not looked at as a valuable or desirable place to be in. But Jesus calls us to a different way of life. 

Jesus, the supreme example of humility, described Himself as “the one who serves” (Luke 22:27). In Matthew 23:11-12 He says, “The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” In Mark 10:43b-45, He says again, “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” And in John 13, we have the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, which was ordinarily a job for the lowliest of servants. His purpose in doing this couldn’t be any more clear. He says in verses 14-16 that He has given us an example of service to follow. If the Creator and King of the universe willingly and lovingly serves us, who are we to look at any task as being a burden that is beneath us?

This isn’t an easy thing to do. What is easy is looking at mundane, monotonous, repetitive, unpleasant tasks that no one ever notices, and becoming resentful. It’s easy to find excuses to avoid them. To complain. The people we serve at home (and other places too) often aren’t appreciative of what we do anyway. They don’t deserve our selfless acts of service, especially when they refuse to eat what we’ve made for dinner, put another dirty plate in the sink one second after we finished washing the day’s dishes, and tracked mud through the house that was just vacuumed an hour ago. 

Guess who else doesn’t deserve any selfless acts of service?

You. (And me. And everyone.)

And guess who voluntarily served us in the most horrific, excruciating, shameful way ever by giving His life for us in order that we may be saved? 

Jesus. And He says, “I have given you an example.” 

Cleaning the toilet suddenly doesn’t sound so bad. 

We may only have an audience of One most of the time, but it’s the most significant audience we could dream of- the God of the universe, who Himself brought about order and beauty in the act of creation. We echo this in a small way as we bring about order and beauty in our homes. Every little thing you do- changing a diaper, folding laundry, scheduling doctor’s appointments, weeding the garden, cleaning up toys, preparing meals- is seen by God. It is valued by Him. And it will be rewarded.

Our service to others matters. We can do it joyfully, knowing that Christ Himself served us and calls us to do the same. On the hard days (and there will be many), we can pray for Him to give us strength and joy. This attitude is not automatic, and it’s not natural. It takes a radical change of heart to pursue and view service in this way. Over time, the Holy Spirit can change our attitudes from drudgery to delight in having the opportunity to serve our families. 

Instagram

Am I saying that men should have no part in household chores or raising children? Of course not. Service is just as important for men as it is for women. The way this plays out is different for each family. I’m talking about a change in mindset, to not think of any task as being inferior in the eyes of God. To not look at motherhood and homemaking as burdensome things, but as opportunities to serve. The low opinion of these tasks (and thus the low opinion of women being “expected” to do them) has only become prevalent because we as a society do not value service the same way God does. The point is, no matter who is washing the dishes, doing the laundry, making the meals, mopping the floors… whether it’s a man or a woman, these tasks are important, and it is praiseworthy for a person to complete them with a heart of willing and joyful service. 

Last week, my son asked me to help him with a toy. I was tempted to say no; I just wanted to sit down and eat breakfast. (Not even 8:00 in the morning, and already I’m being asked to do things for people.) But I knew it wouldn’t take me long to help him, and I had already started writing this post so my own words were fresh in my head, convicting me to not be selfish. As I leaned down to help, I noticed him grinning at me. I said, “What are you doing?” He replied, “Looking at your face.” His silly answer made me smile back, and I asked him why. He said, “Because I like you!” 

I don’t know why he felt that way at that moment; maybe it had nothing to do with the fact that I took the time to help him when he asked. But I suspect it may have. And even if it was totally unrelated, and he was just being a cute little 6-year-old, I would’ve missed that interaction if I’d told him no. Sometimes you are rewarded with words of appreciation and love from those you are serving. It’s certainly nice when that happens. But even when it doesn’t, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23-24).

Praise the Lord- He cares!

I have never written and published a blog post in the same day before (usually it takes me weeks to write and about 2000 words to get my point across), but that’s my goal today. Short, sweet, and to-the-point! 

As we all know, it’s been a tough 14 months, with lots of unexpected curve balls being thrown at us. The past several days have brought some good news, but also introduced a bit more confusion and wrestling within my mind on certain topics. I figured that if I was getting tired of my own thoughts, then God is probably also getting tired of my less-than-eloquent, mumbo-jumbo prayers about the same things over and over again. 

Enter Psalm 113. 

I’m just going to include the full text below, because it’s only 9 verses, and you do need to read the whole thing to really get the context. 

Praise the Lord!
Praise, O servants of the Lord, praise the name of the Lord!
Blessed be the name of the Lord from this time forth and forevermore!
From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord is to be praised!
The Lord is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens!
Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high,
Who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
To make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people.
He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children.
Praise the Lord!

There are thousands of reasons that God deserves our praise, but what is it in this psalm that causes the psalmist to praise God so exuberantly and repeatedly, and to marvel at His uniqueness? The answer is found in verses 4-9. Although God is “high above all nations,” and seated on high with magnificent glory, He looks down at us and has compassion. He cares about our lives. Even the most lowly of people in human terms- the poor, needy, and barren women (who would’ve been in quite a state of misery, because of the emphasis on being able to bear children in those times)- are not too lowly for God to notice them. 

I love the way my ESV Study Bible notes put it: “This provides an image of God’s tender care for his loved ones. God’s majesty never implies his remoteness from those who look to him; it implies instead his exhaustive attention to detail, and his inexhaustible ability to care for his faithful.” 

This is why we should praise the Lord. Our majestic, all-powerful God, the ruler of all creation, is simultaneously involved in and sovereign over the whole universe AND the small details of our lives. He cares about your struggles. He cares about your needs. He cares about your desires. He cares about your situation. He is not too busy or uninterested to think that your life, thoughts, emotions, and circumstances are of no importance to Him. On the contrary, He is so loving and powerful that even though He is above the heavens in glory, the creator and sustainer of all, He knows and cares about the intricacies of your life. He has a never-ending supply of grace, mercy, power, wisdom, compassion, and love for those who belong to Him. This should bring us an enormous amount of relief and peace. 

1 Peter 5:6-7 says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” Verse 7 is frequently quoted, but we usually ignore verse 6 (even though it’s actually part of the same sentence!). Before we can really cast our anxieties on God, we have to humble ourselves. Even in our suffering, whatever it may be, we need to submit ourselves to His plan and timing for our lives, knowing that it won’t last forever. Whether He eliminates our suffering in this life or not until we stand in His presence, He will bring it to an end. And until then, we should entrust our worries, anxieties, and needs to Him, because the mighty God cares for us. 

Praise the Lord!

Love Your Neighbor

I started this blog shortly after the Covid-19 pandemic began in 2020, and except for mentioning it briefly in one or two of my posts, I haven’t written about that or any of the political and social unrest that has characterized the past year. While I would be happy to discuss my personal opinions on those topics in a private conversation, I’m not going to write about it in detail at this point either. Suffice it to say, there has been a huge amount of heartbreak, sadness, discouragement, and despair. These emotions have been experienced by millions of different people in different ways and for different reasons. 

What I do want to write about is my bewilderment and disappointment with the way many people who claim to follow Christ have responded in the midst of it all. I have seen and experienced friendships torn apart and churches divided. Anger, judgement, and mockery is directed towards those who have a difference of opinion, and arrogance and pride reign in the hearts of those who are convinced only their view is right. I would expect to see such division and heartlessness in the world, but to see this behavior happening in churches and among fellow believers has been disheartening, to say the least. 

This polarization and division should never have occurred in the body of Christ. Our unity in Christ, and the love we should have for God and one another, are paramount above politics, pandemics, and personal opinions. 

What has happened to loving each other despite our differences? Was this just a nice thought we had when everything was going well and we never really had to put it into practice? What has happened to putting relationships above rules, love above legalism, bearing with one another, and welcoming each other? Romans 15:5-7 is a challenge to us all: “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”

Likewise, in Matthew 22:37-39, Jesus says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Are the significant differences between us now enough to push aside what Jesus describes as part of the most important command there is? 

We should model righteousness and lead by example, but judging people’s motives and shaming them is not going to win their hearts. This is not acting in love towards our neighbor. And there are not only one or two ways to love our neighbor, either. We each have different weaknesses, fears, and hardships, but our pride and lack of compassion have kept us from listening and understanding the struggles of others. We all need Jesus equally. We have all sinned and fallen short (Romans 3:23), and we all live in a fallen world. Our struggles differ, but the sinful state of our hearts is universal. As believers, our love and compassion for others should also be universal, as we remember our own need for God’s grace, forgiveness, and guidance in our lives. 

It’s easy to find fault and criticize, but we are held responsible to follow our own convictions, not to judge those who aren’t acting according to how we think they should be. Romans 14:10-12 says, “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’ So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.” 

I am not saying that we should never speak truth, exhort, or admonish others. It would make no sense for me to say that, since my entire blog so far has been built on my view of truth according to Scripture. But we can speak up for what we believe to be true about a certain situation while still maintaining and valuing close relationships with those with whom we disagree. We can listen and strive to understand their perspectives. In humility and grace, we need to allow for the possibility of the Holy Spirit leading and convicting others in different ways. There are often situations where a lot of nuance and gray areas are present. Many things aren’t completely crystal clear. And even if we do believe something is crystal clear because of a command or moral teaching in Scripture, it is not our job to convict, convince, or condemn our neighbor for being wrong. It is our job to be faithful to God’s Word and our own convictions, and then to LOVE our neighbor. 

So many things have changed in the past year, and so many of them have been painful. But God has also taught me so much through this. I think God has used this situation to expose a lot of sin and problematic areas within people’s hearts and lives. I’ve seen my own pride and arrogance brought to light, too. I’ve had to humble myself and admit I was wrong about some things. I’ve learned that God is the only one I can trust to never fail me when other people have let me down. I’ve had my heart and mind opened to new possibilities and opportunities that I never thought I’d consider. I’ve become even more thankful for my relationships with family and friends who have stuck by me through it all.

So, I continue to wait and pray for God’s purposes to be accomplished. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future (cliché as it may sound). I’m looking forward with hopeful expectation of what God will do through all of this. I pray that the events of the past year will ultimately result in more lovingkindness towards others, reconciliation of relationships, repentance where it’s needed, and spiritual growth. 

I’ve been thinking about a song lately that is really relevant (link below). My prayer is that all the struggles and trials of this year are truly God’s Mercies in Disguise.

What is Intentional Motherhood?

For years, I have heard and read about the concepts of purposeful parenting, being intentional with your children, and relying on God’s strength and wisdom instead of your own. I had an idea of what this meant, but didn’t understand how to practically apply it. I knew I wanted to live out my faith in front of my children, but how was I supposed to do that, when I felt like my house was in constant chaos? I knew I wanted to respond with more love and patience, but how could I when I was in the midst of dozens of sibling quarrels everyday? I knew I needed to be less angry and irritated, but how could I control my temper when my children’s behavior still consisted of so much disobedience, defiance, arguing, and tantrums, despite my best efforts to discipline and teach them? 

I thought I was already doing the things that I needed to do in order to bring about more peace in our family and respond differently. I read my Bible everyday; I prayed every now and then about my attitudes. I admitted to God that I couldn’t do this on my own, and that I needed the help, wisdom, and strength of the Holy Spirit to parent well. So why wasn’t anything getting better? Why did I still feel lost in a cloud of frustration, hopelessness, and discouragement? I didn’t even know what my purpose was anymore, or what I was supposed to intentionally be doing. I was just trying to make it through each day without totally losing my mind. 

Then a combination of things happened that started to lift me out of the hopelessness and despair. I had a very discouraging couple of weeks, where I felt like everyone in my family was especially tense, negative, and not getting along well. I knew I was contributing to the negativity but I didn’t know what I could do to stop the bad cycle we were in. During this time, I started reading a book that really helped to clarify some things in my mind and gave some good practical tips. And I truly believe the Holy Spirit brought other things to my mind that I have learned and read about for years, but never realized how it all fit together and how my actions and attitudes had to change. My desperation and prayers for wisdom suddenly crystalized into a plan, gave me inspiration and motivation, and finally brought meaning to the concepts of intentional and purposeful motherhood. 

When I stopped to think about it, I knew my own resources of patience and grace with my children ran dry very quickly, and that I needed God’s help. But I realized I wasn’t acting like I needed God’s help in my everyday life. I was still tackling each new day, each new situation, without praying about it, without reminding myself regularly throughout the day that I needed to be alert and aware of Satan’s attacks. I wasn’t praying over my attitudes and responses multiple times every single day; I was just spending a couple minutes praying every now and then when I was feeling particularly discouraged. I wasn’t thinking through potential situations that might arise and preparing ahead of time for the likelihood of needing to leave the room and ask for His help right at that very moment as soon as I started feeling frustrated- even if it happened 10 times a day. I wasn’t planning for any of this. I was just reacting based on instinct and emotion. Unfortunately, being the sinful people that we are, our human instincts and emotions often make things worse. 

And this brings me to what I believe is the core of the issue. The day after I began thinking about all of this in a new way, I was in a frustrating situation with my daughter. I could feel my annoyance rising. I could feel that I was about to start saying things I shouldn’t say. I knew I had just determined that in situations like these, I would walk away and pray, so I left and closed the door to my bedroom. But I didn’t pray right away. I sat on my bed for a minute and tried to pull myself together, without asking God’s help. Then I reluctantly started praying- and realized something crucial. 

I didn’t want to pray. Praying meant I had to humble myself. Praying meant I had to admit that I was reacting wrongly. Praying meant that I had to ask for self control because I didn’t possess it on my own. It’s easier to yell. It’s easier to unleash an angry tirade. 

So maybe this was the problem all along- not that I didn’t know what to do, but that I didn’t have the humility or willingness to do it. In the midst of parenting frustrations, we must employ humility and self control- probably two of the hardest attributes in the world to master. Our pride, arrogance, and superiority complex over our children keep us from remembering that we’re no better than them; we’re just bigger and older. We are in need of God’s grace every bit as much as they are. We sin every single day, just like they do. We are so self-centered and prideful, we forget that Jesus humbled himself by becoming human and enduring a shameful and excruciating death, so that as believers, we would have the privilege to call on Him for the wisdom, patience, and strength that we don’t have on our own. 

Without immersing ourselves in Scripture, we won’t even know what biblical wisdom and godly responses are. I love to read, so I’ve been pretty good at keeping up with my daily Bible reading plan. But I was failing to take into account how much prayer and preparation I would need to do, and that I would need to do it when I’m not already in the midst of problematic situations or in the heat of the moment. Being intentional means thinking and praying about my attitudes and potential conflicts before they happen and deciding how I will respond before I’m even in the situation, so that when the time comes, I am prepared. It means being aware enough of my own emotions to know when I need to step away from my kids. It means being humble enough to ask for God’s help when I’m angry or tired or confused or exasperated. And it means doing that everyday, repeatedly. 

The Apostle Peter understood the importance of this. In Mark 14:30, Jesus tells Peter that he will deny him. Peter responds, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” The other disciples agree. Yet only hours later, they all desert Jesus when he is arrested, and when push comes to shove, Peter does indeed deny Jesus. This experience may have been on his mind when he writes in 1 Peter 1:13-15, “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.” In 1 Peter 5:8, he warns us about Satan’s attacks, saying again, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”  

This is serious language! And it requires serious work and effort. We are in an unseen battle everyday; not against flesh and blood, but against “the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil” who would love to see me fail and my family fall apart (Ephesians 6:12). In order to combat this, we need more than a little bit of prayer here and there. We need to regularly humble ourselves and acknowledge our shortcomings, while asking everyday, sometimes every hour, for His wisdom, grace, and strength so that we can conduct ourselves in a holy way. I need Him to help me look at motherhood as a calling that is full of opportunities to serve, love, reflect Christ to my family, and express dependence on Him through it all. I need Him to equip me to carry this out, as I share in a small fraction of His suffering to love and serve difficult, rebellious people, who don’t always love or serve me back. Without making the effort to focus on God this way, I so easily default back to feelings of despair, negativity, and frustration. 

I think there’s much more that could be said about our intentions and purposes as parents, but this is a good place to start: our main purpose is to become more like Christ in the midst of trials (parenting contains many), and to acknowledge that the only way we can reflect Him more is to be actively, frequently acknowledging our need for Him, both before and during moments of conflict or frustration. 

To end on a lighthearted note- my son has gone through many phases of absolutely hating bathtime. During one of these particularly intense and persistent phases, I sang the song “Lord I Need You” as he screamed and fought me during baths, so that I would be focused on God and keep myself from losing my temper. It actually worked pretty well, so I’m not sure why I never thought of singing it during other difficult times. Maybe it will be helpful for you too! I would love to hear any thoughts you have on what intentional parenting means to you, or the different ways you stay focused on your purpose.

Persevere in Prayer

A few weeks ago, I was asked to write an article on the topic of prayer for a local church’s monthly newsletter. I decided to post it here, as it’s a good reminder for everyone, including myself. The last couple of weeks were kind of rough for me emotionally, and several times God reminded me of my own words that I had just written- to persevere in prayer even when I was discouraged.

Prayer is something I have struggled with for most of my life as a believer, but in recent years I have been convicted that it’s definitely something I need to devote more time to. God has used marriage and motherhood to show me how much I really do need to depend on Him, instead of relying on my own resources and abilities, and I am working to prioritize prayer everyday.

The article needed to be less than 500 words, so this post might be the shortest one I’ve ever written. I should probably work on trying to get to my point quicker in my writing too 🙂

It’s easy to get discouraged when we pray for something for weeks, months, or even years, with no indication of whether or not we will see our prayers answered in the way we hoped. Sometimes we fall into the trap of believing that our prayers alone won’t make a difference. But James 5:16 says, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” Not multiple righteous people… one righteous person. God doesn’t require hundreds of people praying in order for Him to act. Elijah was one man, and God answered his prayers for rain. Hannah was one woman, and God answered her prayers for a child. Moses was one man who prayed (on multiple different occasions) that God would not destroy the disobedient, rebellious Israelites, and God relented. Elisha was one man who prayed for the Shunammite woman’s dead son, and God raised him back to life.  

Of course, as we all know, there’s no guarantee God will answer our prayers, even if we persistently pray and our motives are pure. Jesus Himself asked God to spare Him from the cross, but ended with this important statement: “Not my will, but yours, be done.” There are many things about life that we will simply never understand. That’s why it’s so important to trust in God’s sovereignty and goodness. If our prayers are not answered, we can trust that God is still in control, and that He has a good plan for our lives. It’s also helpful to remember that the ultimate goal of prayer is not for us to get what we want. Regular prayer deepens our relationship with God and helps us to recognize the leading and conviction of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It changes our desires to be more in line with His. It allows us to humble ourselves before Him, to express our total dependency on Him for everything, and acknowledge His power and wisdom. It teaches us to rely on His strength instead of our own. It gives us an opportunity to praise and thank Him for who He is and for His blessings. 

So don’t give up. Pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Make connection with God a priority in your day. Invite Him into your life, ask for direction, seek His wisdom in your decisions. Have faith in the character of God and in His timing. God hears us, and always does what’s best for us, even if it doesn’t feel like it. Your prayers may be answered, but if they’re not, you’ll end up with something better anyway- a closer relationship with the almighty God of the universe, and confidence in His perfect plan for your life. 

Broken

“He’s from a broken home.” We’ve probably all heard this term, used to describe a situation in which a child’s parents have been divorced or separated, or “normal” family function has been disrupted in some way. It’s often used to explain a child’s misbehavior and struggles in school or life in general. We all know the negative effects a tough home life can have on a child, or even an adult for that matter. But does divorce, separation, or abuse have to occur in order for there to be brokenness? I think we all live in broken homes, because we’re all broken people- and the reason for that is sin. 

One of the definitions of the word broken is “not functioning properly; out of working order.” This has certainly been true of mankind ever since the fall in the Garden of Eden, where God’s perfect design for creation spiraled into chaos and disorder after Adam and Eve’s disobedience. Nothing and no one in this world works properly. We have all turned away from God’s authority and plan for our lives. In Romans 3, Paul (quoting from Psalm 14) says that not even one person is righteous or seeks after God on their own. We fall woefully short of what we were originally intended to be. 

We all look for ways to fix this feeling of brokenness. “Believe in yourself! Do what makes you happy! You can be anyone you want to be,” the culture shouts. “You define yourself and your future.” We are encouraged to explore our identities, to discover who we really are, and to do whatever brings us happiness. 

There is an increasing cultural focus on the issue of identity. Race, gender, sexual orientation, personality traits- these things are often how people seek to identify themselves, to bring meaning to their lives, to find where they belong. They are culture’s way of attempting to heal our brokenness. Some of them are part of God’s design for humanity, although we place a lopsided emphasis on them in an attempt to turn them into identities that ultimately define us. Others are actually sin issues that we have twisted into good things to give ourselves a sense of belonging, to ease a guilty conscience, or just simply because it feels good. Society has done a great job of not only tolerating, but accepting and celebrating just about anything that makes us feel good. 

Problem is, it’s all a lie. An enticing lie, to be sure, but a lie nonetheless. People are looking for “safe spaces,” where no one will tell them anything is wrong with them and they’ll be accepted just as they are, no changes necessary. But there IS something wrong with all of us… something that has broken us. And trusting our feelings doesn’t work well considering we were all born with a sinful nature, a bent towards selfishness. Jeremiah 17:9 says that the heart is deceitful above all things, desperately sick, and beyond our ability to understand. Our feelings about something don’t indicate truth. We need an objective source of truth. 

We try repeatedly to find fulfilment outside of God and His Word. Like children rebel against their parents, we reject authority and the idea that God would have the right to tell us how to live. Our sinful nature and Satan conspire together to convince us that we will be happier if we go our own way. The sad irony is that God is the only thing that will truly satisfy us! 

True joy, peace, contentment, belonging, and freedom can be found in none other than Jesus Christ. He is the ultimate fulfillment of everything we long to be and have. There is nothing we can do to earn His love. He does accept us the way we are, but change will be necessary if we are to truly surrender our lives to His authority and obey Him. It is often painful to follow Him. The costs can be great, the struggles immense. But not only does He become our new identity, He gives us the strength to make the changes. He doesn’t expect us to push through on our own. His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). Our brokenness is exactly what He uses to work in us and lead us to Himself, the true source of delight and love. 

This isn’t an easy road. Jesus tells us in Matthew 16:24 that we must deny ourselves (reject our own selfish desires that are contrary to God’s Word), take up our cross (embrace God’s will for our lives, no matter the cost), and follow Him. Romans 8:13 and Colossians 3:5 tell us to “put to death” our sin. But in order to do that, we first have to submit to His Word and accept that it IS sin. We have to accept that we will never find our true sense of belonging or identity apart from Him.  

This is in direct opposition to everything our culture will tell you. The thought of denying yourself something that makes you happy to embrace a life of struggle and submission to someone else’s authority is downright repulsive to most. And you might think it’s easy for me to say all this, being a straight, white, Christian woman. It is true that it’s easier for me than many others. I have not dealt with racism, struggled with my sexuality or gender, or had to deal with potentially losing everything because of my faith. But we all must make the decision to either put our faith in Christ and define ourselves by His power and righteousness, living in obedience to Him, or to define ourselves by any number of other things- even if it’s just our own selfishness, pride, and desire to be the authority of our own lives.

There are many people who have made the difficult decision to lay aside their other identities and follow Christ. Rosaria Butterfield was a feminist lesbian who, after reading the Bible and having conversations with another believer, became a Christian. Her first book, Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, tells her story, about how she “lost everything, but gained eternal life in Christ.” Her second book, Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ, explores the concepts of sin, identity, and repentance.

Becket Cook was a gay man in Hollywood, who became a Christian in 2009 after hearing the gospel. According to this article detailing his conversion, he “traded his gay identity for a new identity in Christ.” Becket still experiences same-sex attraction, but doesn’t define himself this way. In his words, “If people ask me how I identify, I’m just like, ‘I don’t identify by my sexuality. I’m a follower of Christ who has a lot of struggles, including same-sex attraction.’” He also talks about being celibate- denying himself to take up his cross and follow Jesus. I haven’t read his book, entitled A Change of Affection: A Gay Man’s Incredible Story of Redemption, but based on the article, I would recommend it to someone struggling with this topic.

Nabeel Qureshi (who, sadly, died from stomach cancer in 2017 at the age of 34), was a devout Pakistani-American Muslim. After years of study, research, debates, and conversations with people holding all different kinds of worldviews, he left Islam and became a Christian. This decision was extremely costly for Nabeel. His family and most of his friends were Muslims, who were shocked and dismayed about this decision. Islam was a huge part of his identity that he was giving up. In his book, No God But One: Allah or Jesus? he says one Muslim friend told him that if they were in a Muslim country, he would have killed him right then and there for leaving Islam. The only reason he didn’t is because the laws of the United States don’t permit it. Nabeel asks this question at the end of the book: “Leaving Islam can cost you everything: family, friends, job, everything you have ever known, and maybe even life itself. Is it really worth sacrificing everything for the truth?” After an objective study of Christianity, Nabeel’s conclusion was this: “The gospel is the answer to our individual pains, to the world’s sufferings, and to life’s mysteries… It is worth all suffering to receive this truth and follow Him. God is more beautiful than this life itself.”  

In a video that went viral in 2017 (linked below), Priscilla Shirer had this to say on the issue of being defined by race: “I do not describe myself as a black woman, because that gives too much power to my blackness. I don’t want black, my race, to be the describing adjective, the defining adjective of who I am as a woman. I am not a ‘black woman.’ I am a Christian woman who happens to be black… So you may be a black woman, a black man, a white woman, a white man, but that should not define you, so that if your race or if your political group is going in a different direction than the Word of God, you don’t choose your blackness or your whiteness or whatever culture you are. You do not choose that or your political persuasion over what it is that God’s Word declares to be true.” She faced some backlash for this and later clarified that she is very proud to be a black woman, but her point was that “no aspect of life should ever define the believer MORE than our relationship with Christ.” Diversity among race, heritage, and culture are beautiful gifts from God that we should enjoy and celebrate, but they should not define us. 

From Google Image search

These individuals, and countless others, have either given up or reprioritized identities that they once held dear, often at a huge cost. They exchanged these identities for the One that truly brings satisfaction and joy: Jesus Christ. 

My favorite verse in all of Scripture is Isaiah 53:5: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Peter quotes this verse in 1 Peter 2:24: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” Think about that… by his wounds we are healed. It seems like a beautiful, poetic paradox- that one man’s suffering through a tortuous death could heal us. But He does. If we believe in Him, He heals us from our sin and our brokenness. 

It is painful. But it’s worth it. Jesus is worth it. 

Note: I know that many people adamantly, vehemently disagree with this worldview. If you’re one of them, I would simply say that this is what I believe to be true- but I don’t look down upon you if you don’t. I don’t think you’re any less of a person if you believe something different. I don’t think you have less value. In fact, I believe every person intrinsically has equal value because every person is made in the image of God. You are worthy of love and respect no matter what you believe, and one of the worst things we can do with topics like this is get angry and shut each other out. I would love to hear your thoughts and have a conversation about this, even if you completely disagree with what I have to say.

Find Us Faithful

In case you didn’t know, I am a natural worrier. My daughter also struggles with worrying and anxiety. I have to remind her that it’s not her job to take care of her brother, make sure her friends don’t get in trouble, or keep everything running smoothly. Often, when she is so focused on those other things, her own behavior quickly deteriorates. She is so worried about everything else around her, that she doesn’t remember what she is supposed to be doing or where her place is in the family (under the protection and care of her parents)- and when she is focusing on the wrong things, that causes even more anxiety because she is not physically, mentally, or emotionally able to control or handle those things. 

Once again, parenting serves to prove that we adults have many of the same struggles as our children. God has been revealing to me that I do the same things I get so frustrated with my daughter for doing. How many of us have worried about things we can’t control? Or tried to assume the responsibility that belongs to God for something that we as humans aren’t physically, mentally, or emotionally able to handle? And how many times have we experienced anxiety and distress, acting in ways that we shouldn’t, because we were so focused on what seems to be spiraling out of control around us instead of our own response to it? 

I can’t control anything in my world. I can’t ensure my childrens’ salvation. I can’t make sure everything is always running smoothly. I can’t keep any kind of stress or catastrophe from occurring. 

If that was where the story ended, realizing those things would inevitably cause many of us to descend into major anxiety and depression. If those things were up to us, we’d be in trouble. The reason we can so easily end up anxious and worried is because it is true that we can’t control or change anything on our own. Most of us know that, even if we don’t always readily admit it. But I often forget my place in the same way my daughter does. My place is under the sovereignty, protection, and care of God. And that ends up being incredibly freeing. Releasing those expectations of ourselves, and resting in God’s limitless capabilities, brings freedom and peace. 

But this doesn’t mean we don’t have to concern ourselves with anything at all. God has given us responsibilities. Our responsibility is to be faithful to what His will is for us as revealed in His Word. Faithfully serve and love our families and communities. Faithfully spend time in the Scriptures and in prayer, so that we are growing spiritually. Faithfully obey God’s commands, even when it’s hard. As I would tell my kids, “Focus on your own actions instead of other people, and make sure YOU are doing what’s right.” 

I love these quotes from Nancy Guthrie’s book, Praying through the Bible for your Kids, in regards to the salvation of our children: “We don’t have to feel as if we’ve failed when we don’t see the responsiveness we prayed for… It is not up to us to create change in our children; it is up to us to bring them under God’s Word and then trust him to do the convincing and changing.” As hard as it is to accept sometimes, as parents, we can’t make our children change. Discipline and training are necessary to hopefully bring about proper behavior, but changed behavior on the outside doesn’t always equate to a changed heart on the inside. Fortunately, it is not our job to bring about that change. Our job is to faithfully teach them the truths from God’s Word and do our best to train them through discipline and instruction, and then trust God for the outcome. 

God certainly uses us in people’s lives. Our faithfulness often has a ripple effect. We have a responsibility to speak truth, to stand up for what’s right. If we see or hear something that doesn’t line up with Scripture, either in our families or in the world, we need to address it. But we can’t argue someone into changing their mind or heart. We don’t have the power to change people, and we don’t have the ability to ensure salvation for our children and loved ones. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. 

It’s easy to forget in this culture of instant gratification, that even when God does use our faithfulness to help bring about change in other people’s lives, it takes time. Usually, our children don’t immediately respond with changed lives after one day of godly instruction. It often takes months and years of training, teaching, correction, and leading by example for our obedience and faithfulness to have an effect on those around us. It’s easy to think that nothing we’re doing is “working.” But years later, we may have the joy of knowing that we were having an influence even when we didn’t see it. (Just as an aside, I am talking to myself more than anyone here. I often get discouraged about the lack of immediate results in my kids, and I need to be reminded of this truth frequently.) 

Sometimes living in faithfulness to God even has an effect after we die. Things that we taught our children and lived out in front of them can be brought to their minds when we aren’t physically present with them anymore. We can’t and don’t need to know exactly how God is using us, and all the events of our lives, to bring about His purposes. We only need to know that we, personally, must be faithful to Him, just as He is faithful to us, and rest in His infinite sovereignty and power to use us to influence others. 

One of my favorite songs is Steve Green’s “Find Us Faithful.” If you have never heard this song, please take a few minutes to listen to it here. The lyrics are simple but powerful. This is my goal, and what I will strive for, knowing that I can only accomplish it through God’s grace and strength, and trusting Him to use me according to His plan. 

O may all who come behind us
Find us faithful.
May the fire of our devotion
Light their way.
May the footprints that we leave
Lead them to believe.
And the lives we live
Inspire them to obey.
O may all who come behind us
Find us faithful

Fall Writing Frenzy 2020

This is a different type of post for me, but I’ve been getting involved in the world of children’s literature, otherwise known as KidLit. I’m a member of several different Facebook groups focused on children’s publishing and writing, and the other day I saw a post about an event/contest called Fall Writing Frenzy. Several different fall-themed photos were posted, and each contestant needed to pick a photo that inspired them, and write something about it.

One of the photos was a sunflower. I love sunflowers, and this past summer my daughter and I planted some. Two of them ended up being absolutely enormous, and it was fun to watch them grow. I wrote a little poem from the perspective of a young child, using our own experience as inspiration. The top picture is the sunflower image from the contest; the bottom picture is one of the sunflowers that we grew this year.

Sunflowers

Photo cred: Susan Kaye Leopold

Put some seeds in the ground
Sprinkle water all around. 

Wait a week, what do I see? 
A tiny plant with tiny leaves. 

Sun and rain, rain and sun
Look, there is another one! 

Little plants up to my knee
Soon they’ll be as high as me.

Summer fading into fall
Now they’re almost 10 feet tall! 

One of our sunflowers

Yellow petals peeking through
First on one plant, then on two. 

Flowers looking at the sky 
Friends of bees and butterflies. 

Flowers looking at the ground
Now it’s time to take them down. 

No more flowers standing here
But I’ll plant some more next year.