The Satisfactory Choice

Over the summer, my job responsibilities changed. I have spent the last few months learning the new job, trying to figure out what it entails, and determining how to balance each week. This week I finally managed to create a workable plan for walking through each week.

Now I just have to decide to follow it.

Isn’t that the way it goes so often? We have a plan. We have a solution to every problem. But following through with the plan and solution is another matter entirely. We fail, not because we do not have the ability to succeed, but because we do not make the choice to succeed.

I made my work plan on Tuesday. But as I sat down at my desk on Wednesday, I had to decide whether or not I was going to stick with the plan. So many things tugged at my mind and tried to attract my attention. Could I truly focus on what was right before me, despite the seeming urgency of everything else?

The same thing happens to us spiritually.

I love Psalm 90:14.

O satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.

God’s lovingkindness is overwhelming, isn’t it? It is powerful. It is strong. And it is completely satisfactory!

But, just because we have God’s lovingkindness does not automatically mean we are going to be satisfied by it. Just as I had to actively choose to adopt my new work flow, so we have to choose to be satisfied by the lovingkindness of our Lord and Savior.

So, what does it take to be satisfied by His lovingkindness in the morning?

First, we must make a mental choice to be satisfied by the things of God.

So many things vie for our attention. They creep in and say, “Be satisfied with me!” Some of them are good: family, friends, work, ministry. But they are not enough to satisfy. They are simply tools by which God allows us to experience satisfaction in Him. When we lay upon them the responsibility of our satisfaction, we will always be disappointed.

We must determine that we will be satisfied by the lovingkindness of God alone, recognizing that He might show that through our relationships with our families, fulfillment in the jobs He has set before us, or opportunities of ministry that He creates.

Secondly, we must consider our hearts.

Satisfaction cannot simply be a mental checklist of acceptable actions. It must also extend into the heart where contentment lies. Satisfaction in the lovingkindness of God means that, even if no one else were to ever love us, we would be content in the love of Christ.

Can our hearts choose to receive what Christ has to offer? Can we choose to allow that to be enough? Satisfactory?

God woos us. God calls us. God draws us in. But on a daily basis, we have a choice. We can choose to follow the plan He has created for us, or we can choose to follow the other things that vie for our attention.

May we be diligent to make the only satisfactory choice.

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Marriage Monday: The Mondays of Marriage

It is probably a bit obvious that I have skipped this post for several weeks now. Is it because I have nothing to say about marriage? Not at all! I love talking about marriage. I have been reviewing and looking for articles on marriage for work. I have recently written about marriage for other publications and blogs.

Yes, I love talking and writing about marriage.

But this is Monday. And this series is called “Marriage Monday.” And Mondays are, well, Mondays.

Maybe you like Mondays. In all honesty, they are not inherently bad. I am not one of these who thinks that Mondays mark “back to the grindstone” after a weekend of freedom. I do like weekends, but I also happen to really enjoy my jobs. All of them.

It’s just that Mondays come after Sundays. And Sundays are an exceptionally tiring first day of our work week. Why? Because we are a family of introverts in the ministry. Sundays are wonderful. We love being with our church family. But, social interaction requires energy from us. We need to recharge afterward, no matter how much we enjoy it.

So, our family comes into Monday needing a recharge – a recharge we don’t always get when we need it because of the demands of Monday.

What does that have to do with marriage? Just this…

Even on Mondays, our marriages deserve a positive investment.

“Mondays” in marriage don’t always happen on a specific day of the week. They come when we are tired. They come when we have trouble controlling our words and actions. They come when we struggle with supporting and encouraging our spouses because we’re just so tired ourselves. We don’t know what else we have to give.

We forget that giving to our marriages actually brings the rest we need.

I may be tired. I may be overwhelmed. I may have a to-do list that is four times longer than the time for completing it. I may just want to crawl back in bed and hide from the world. But in the midst of it all, my marriage should be my haven. My joy. The place I want to be, with all of it centered in the love of Christ.

Marriage is not something on the list or just another aspect of my life that must be dealt with. Marriage is instead a part of me.

Mondays like to derail that reality. Mondays like to make marriage just another “thing.” But the truth is that marriage is part of the remedy for Mondays. Why? Because marriage is the picture of our relationship with Christ, and Christ is the reason we can rejoice, even on Monday!

As you head into this Monday, what threatens to turn your marriage into just another thing on your list? I challenge you to turn that around – allow your marriage to be the example of Christ working in your today. Allow it to be what puts a smile on your face, no matter what is trying to bring you down.

May your marriage be your blessing on this Monday.

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Stop Praying for Peace!

Now, before you picket my house and boycot my blog, hear me out on this one.

Actually, let’s go to the Bible on this one. That’s where this idea comes from in the first place. Why don’t we start with Galatians 5?

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23 NASB

Then take a look at Philippians:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-6 NASB

1 Peter is always good, as well:

The one who desires life, to love and see good days, must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit. He must turn away from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. 1 Peter 3:10-11 NASB

Are you beginning to see a pattern here at all?

What exactly is true peace?

Peace is not something that just washes down over us in answer to our prayers. Peace is something that we must allow to shine.

It is part of the fruit of the Spirit who dwells within us. If peace does not radiate through our being, perhaps we should stop and ask ourselves what in our lives is blocking the Spirit.

It is the result of surrendering our anxiety to the Lord through prayer. We think it is useful to worry, but Scripture calls worry a sin. Sin hinders the Spirit’s work in our lives. Is there no peace coming when we pray? Then perhaps we are clinging to sin.

It is something that we must actively seek. The Spirit does not shine through our lives as a result of passivity. We must actively walk away from the things of this world and actively seek the things of God.

So, is it wrong to pray for peace?

Perhaps it is not wrong in and of itself. But, let’s think about something for a minute. If our prayers are focused on peace, then what are we bypassing?

  • We pray for peace, but we do not see where we need to surrender to the work of the Spirit.
  • We pray for peace, but we do not consider the angst and anxiety that we are adding to a situation.
  • We pray for peace, but we do not pursue righteousness and the will of the Lord above all things.

In all honesty, we want peace without the sacrifice.

What must I do?

As I type this, I am struggling with agitation. My mind whirls with all that is on my plate. My heart struggles over unanswered prayer and needs that seem to be perpetually unmet. The snippiness of my children is getting on my last nerve.

I need peace right now.

But, I also see what is blocking that peace. My mind is not focused on Christ. My mouth is not full of rejoicing. And my heart is not chasing after that which is good.

As I intentionally refocus, seek forgiveness, and settle down, the peace begins to come. Just a little trickle at first, but the trickle grows to a flow until peace finally washes over me. The Spirit is in control once again, and I am submissive to Him. I cannot help but have peace.

Do you need peace today? I encourage you to stop praying for it and start taking actions that will ensure it.

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Making Marion

When it comes to fiction, there are certain genres I am almost guaranteed to love. And, to be honest, sometimes I have to force myself out of that nice little literary comfort zone. I have learned to do that more frequently of late, and typically the results are very rewarding. Other times, though, my response is a little less enthusiastic.

Such is the case with Making Marion, my most recent review book. This book, sent to my by Kregel on behalf of Lion Hudson, is just not up my alley.

In all honesty, though, it has nothing to do with the talent of the author. It is instead related to my personal preference. In fact, Beth Moran appears to be a very talented author. She can develop character and setting with incredible skill. I found myself quickly picturing the environment and getting to know the characters in Making Marion.

What I did not get into was the plot. I like plots that quickly begin to reveal themselves, even if they take a while to resolve. I like to know why I am reading this book. Making Marion just does not unfold that way. It bounces back and forth between past and present, setting the stage. Moran handles the transition well, but simply moves very slowly toward the point.

Back to positives, though – Moran is not afraid of dealing with some deep issues. The quirky characters in Making Marion have a good deal of baggage. Neglect, abuse, and abandonment, to name a few. Marion herself lost her beloved father at a very young age, and then became mute when her mother accused Marion of talking her father to death. Now an adult, Marion longs to know more about her father. This longing and a single photograph bring her to Sherwood Forest to search for answers.

She has no way of knowing just how serious her search will become.

I will make one additional note: Making Marion is written by a British author. Some of the language and references, while very normal to a British audience, will be offensive to the typical American Christian fiction reader. In fact, it would be better for American audiences to view this as a novel with spiritual leanings rather than a decidedly Christian fiction novel. In all honesty, this is a cultural issue, and you, dear reader, must decide for yourself how you will choose to handle the content.

Bottom line: Making Marion is a debut novel revealing the potential of new author Beth Moran. It might not be to my liking, but that does not at all discredit Moran’s writing skills. Will it be right for everyone? No. Will some enjoy it? Immensely.

This book was sent to be by Kregel in exchange for my honest review.

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The Lord Did What?

Prayers and praises abound in Scripture, especially in Psalms. Sometimes my heart is drawn to those prayers and their message. The words of David or Asaph or Moses or any of the other authors truly reflect I was to say.

But other times I drift away from the example of Scripture in my prayer and in my praise. Especially in my praise.

You see, all too often, my praise focuses on what the Lord has done for me. Don’t get me wrong – He has done much for me. Oh so very much! I can see profound examples of His handiwork every time I look back over my life.

But, there are days when I just do not see it quite so clearly.

Those are the days when everything seems to be going badly. Those are the days when the needs seem to heavily outweigh the provision. Those are the days when none of the options are good. Those are the days when the future seems completely bleak.

I would be lying if I said I could easily praise God for what He has done when I hit days like that.

Or weeks.

Sometimes even months.

I always need to ground my prayers in Scripture. But in the difficult times, I need it most. Those are the times when passages like Psalm 92 truly stand out to me. I encourage you to read the whole Psalm, but allow me to pull out just one verse here.

For You, O Lord, have made me glad by what You have done, I will sing for joy at the works of Your hands. Psalm 92:4 NASB

As I look at this verse in the context of Psalm 92, I cannot help but be awakened to the selfishness of my typical praises.

I’ll say it once again: All too often my praise focuses on what the Lord has done for me.

In this verse, though, the psalmist stops with “what You have done.” There is no “for me” tagged on the end. If we truly ponder many of the prayers in Psalms, we see that some do offer personal reflection of what God has done for the psalmist. But, the greatest focus is instead on God’s mighty works in creation as a whole.

God doesn’t just do for me. God DOES.

What a difference that perspective makes!

When we are only focused on what God does for us, our vision becomes narrowed. In fact, it often narrows so much that we cannot even see many of the works of God in our lives. We want the feel-good, make me dance for joy kind of acts of God.

That is not always how He works.

But, His works are always good! Yes, even when they do not feel good.

When we shift our focus to that realization, we see His perspective a little more clearly. We understand His heart a little more strongly. And we discover a bigger picture that encompasses all of creation. We see what a big God we serve! And suddenly, we find joy in His works, even when those works cause growth that hurts.

Yes, Lord, I am thankful for what you have done for me, and for that I will praise You.

But even more, I am thankful for what you have done, because that shows me so much more clearly who You are.

For that, too, Lord, I will praise You!

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Joy in the Doing

I didn’t want to sit down to write tonight.

I’m tired.

Between school and work, my brain has been stretched greatly this week.

My back and shoulders are tight.

I honestly just wanted to curl up on the couch and read or watch TV. Instead, here I am writing.

Is it because I feel I have to? Nope. That’s not it. It is my blog, created to be an outlet for the thoughts that swirl around in my mind. While I do, as I have mentioned many times, think better when I tap out my thoughts into coherent written form, I do not feel like I have to write on my blog. Especially when I do have other outlets for writing.

So, why am I writing tonight, even though I did not feel like it?

Because I really do find joy in it. I might not think so at the beginning when I am tired and would rather do something more brainless. But once I get into it, I am always glad I did. Already, less than 200 words in to this post, I feel better.

Spiritual discipline works much the same way.

Any believer in Christ knows that this life is hard work. It takes constant effort to stay on top in the spiritual warfare that rages all around us. Sometimes we just do not want to exert the energy necessary to be obedient. To be disciplined. To be Christ-like. To allow the fruit of the Spirit to shine through us.

And honestly, we have the choice. We can “relax.” We can determine that we just need a break.

But we’ll regret it.

If I had not decided to sit down and write tonight, I would be disappointed tomorrow morning when it was time for a post to go live and there was not one to publish. And it would be that much harder to sit down and write next time.

A choice to “rest” from spiritual discipline has an infinitely more profound effect. Instead of feeling rested, we feel weighed down. Instead of relaxing and being refreshed, we find ourselves depressed and struggling. Instead of making our load lighter, we struggle with obedience that much more.

Until the day we join our Savior in eternity, there will always be something we are neglecting to just buckle down and do. There will always be some area requiring more discipline. And it will always be a challenge to take that step and just do it.

But as soon as we do, we know the joy of obedience and discipline. And, oh, what joy there is to have!

Will it always be easy? No.

Will we really have the energy? Not hardly.

Will the sailing get smoother the farther we go? No, it won’t. There will always be something more challenging around the next corner.

We’ll still be tired. We’ll still want a break. But oh will we have the joy!

What discipline can you exercise today? Yes, today, at the end of the week when you’re tired and just don’t want to do anything. It is worth it! Will you choose to buckle down and do it?

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Marriage Monday: When I’m a Failure

Do you ever feel it? The failure of marriage?

I’m not talking about the failure that leads to separation and divorce. No, that is a different topic entirely. I’m talking about those days when you just know you have been the worst spouse in existence. You wonder why your beloved even puts up with you. No matter how hard you try to say the right thing, everything out of your mouth is wrong. No matter how hard you try to help, every action hinders instead.

Am I Alone?

The voice inside my head often tells me that I am the only wife who ever experiences failure like this. I have had friends confess that at times they have felt like the world’s worst mom, but few have ever shared with me their feelings of failure as a wife. Typically I hear that it’s all his fault. Or it’s the kids fault. Or it’s hormones. Or it’s…

Just go ahead and fill in the blank. You know what excuses you use.

But I have a feeling that I am not really as alone in this as I feel. It is easier to gripe about a perceived external cause than admit our own failures. So the words we share in public are words of complaint rather than confession. All the while, we press down that suffocating feeling of failure.

What would happen if we would just admit it and work through it instead?

Guess what, my friends. We will fail in marriage. We will let our spouses down. We will say and do the wrong thing.

It is what we do next that makes the difference.

The last thing I want to do when I feel like a failure is humble myself before the Lord, crushing the pride that led to my failure in the first place. But that is the only thing that will work.

I cannot be the wife that my husband needs. I am incapable of it. But the Holy Spirit who lives within me can provide every right word, every strengthening action, and every ounce of rightness that I lack on my own.

My failure comes when I do not allow Him to shine through me. It comes when I try to do this marriage thing on my own. It comes when I seek my satisfaction, strength, and energy from worldly sources. It comes when I rely on Ann to be capable of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. While each and every one of those attributes are essential to a successful marriage, Galatians 5:22-23 reminds me that they bind together to comprise the fruit of the Spirit, not the fruit of Ann’s human nature.

Of course, now that I really think about it, this is not just about marriage. It is about our spiritual walk in general. We will fail. But the Spirit never fails.

What will you walk in this week? Your failure or the Spirit’s success? I don’t know about you, but I am ready to be satisfied by His lovingkindess (Ps 90:14). I am ready to walk in His strength. And I am ready for the fruit of the Spirit to overcome my failure.

Will you join me?

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