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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Put Down Those Oars

Put Down Those Oars 8-1Have you ever tried to move against a strong wind? It is a tough ride. It takes every ounce of energy to make it happen. Every bit of focus.

Think of those “windy” moments in life when everything seems to be working against you. You are exhausted. You would love to quit. But you know if you do, you will just go backwards. You have to keep going. Keep pushing. Keep striving.

You see your Bible sitting across the way, but you just mutter a prayer instead.

“I can’t do that right now, Lord. It is taking all my energy just to move. I’ll just talk to you from right here, but I can’t stop, Lord. I can’t stop. You understand, right? Get me through this wind, and I’ll take a breath and really spend time with You.”

Sometimes we have to act even in the midst of the storm.

Do you remember the story of Jesus and Peter walking on the water? (See Matthew 14:22-33.)

When Jesus commanded Peter to walk on water, the winds were still roaring. The disciples were still working hard to get to the other side. I love the description in verse twenty-four:

But the boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary.

“Contrary.” Is that great?

Life often runs contrary to my expectations.

The winds roar, and it is hard to stay on course. I put all of my energy into just making it to the next step of life.

In a moment just like that, Peter decided to put down the oars. He did not ask Jesus to help him row. He did not ask for the wind to stop. He asked Jesus for permission to walk away from the fight. To let it all go and run to Him right in the middle of the storm.

Wow.

Yes, I know that Peter later took his eyes off Jesus and started to sink. But first he chose to let go in the middle of the storm and head to Jesus.

We can’t keep fighting in our own strength.

My friends, we fight the wind on our own far too often. Jesus is right there, waiting. He is never far. But sometimes He just wants us to choose to step away from the fight and walk toward Him instead. We may falter on the way. We might get distracted, and He might have to pick us back up. But, that is not our concern right now. First, we must let go of those oars and turn to Him.

Earlier this week the kids and I read about an overworked missions team. There was too much work for them to accomplish each week. So, what did they do? They started taking an entire day off to pray. Just pray. To put down the oars and walk to Jesus.

Guess what?

Their work load did not decrease. But their productivity increased. They were able to accomplish more in the remaining days than they had even had scheduled before the change.

What winds are you fighting today? Why don’t we put down those oars and focus on Jesus for a bit instead? I know that’s what I need to do today.

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Now and Always

Now & Always 7-28Most who are married or who have attended a wedding have heard those well-known words:

…for better or worse
for richer or poorer
in sickness and health…

We cover the extremes of life in those wedding vows. We commit to stick beside each other in the best and worst of times. But sometimes we forget about now.

Now can be the hardest time to honor, love, and cherish our spouses. Now is tough. Not fitting into either the best or the worst, now is often mundane. It is ordinary. Nothing exciting is happening to keep us motivated. Nothing with extreme challenge is making us stronger.

It is just ordinary life.

Now is also not the same as then. Then I was a young, blushing bride. Then I will have hopefully reached some new measure of success. But now? Now I am caught up in being a wife, mother, homeschooler, and employee. Now I am a good twenty pounds overweight and struggling with discipline. Now lacks the newness of sixteen years ago when our relationship was just blossoming. Now lacks the mysterious wonderment of what our future might become.

Now is just ordinary.

But he loves me right now. Oh what a gift!

Amazingly, it gets even better!

Now is not just when he loves me. It is also when he tells me he will love me always. He sees me in the mundanity of life and says that he will love me even if nothing ever changes. He will love me always.

The extremes of life, whether they be successes or failures, do challenge marriage with those make-or-break moments. But the daily, ordinary, boring mundanity of life can subtly chip away pieces of even a strong relationship. Or, they can offer us the opportunity to reaffirm the solidarity of our love, for now and for always.

May we shower love upon our spouses this week, even in the ordinary of now. And in doing so, may we find ways to offer the assurance of always.

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Obedience of the Small

During my time in the religion department at Ouachita Baptist University, I had the privilege of taking a biblical interpretation course. Dr. Hays taught us to take a passage and see its layers. Simply by reading, reading again, and reading yet again, he showed us how new details could stand out to us even when we thought we had exhausted every avenue of thought in a verse or passage.

Noticing Details

I have not always exercised that developed eye for details, keeping it in shape to see the depths Dr. Hays taught us to see. Even so, there are times when things jump out at me because I have learned to take a second, third, and fourth look at passages.

Take this verse, for instance:

So they established a decree to circulate a proclamation throughout all Israel from Beersheba even to Dan, that they should come to celebrate the Passover to the Lord God of Israel at Jerusalem. For they had not celebrated it in great numbers as it was prescribed. 2 Chronicles 30:5

This continues the story of Hezekiah we discussed a couple of weeks ago. The people have been purified, and they are ready to celebrate a nation-wide Passover for the first time in many generations.

So, what stands out to me here? The very end of the verse. “For they had not celebrated it in great numbers as it was prescribed.” (emphasis mine)

Do you know what that means?

Some still celebrated.

Celebration of the Few

The temple had been in various states of disrepair over the decades, and many years passed with priests completely unable to perform their duties. Yet some people still faithfully celebrated the Passover.

How must it have felt year after year for those few? They were being faithful. They were being obedient. Yet I cannot help but think that some of them must have longed for something they had never experienced – a Passover like God’s people held in the very beginning. A Passover with the whole community. A Passover in great numbers.

But they did not let those longings keep them from obedience. They persevered. They celebrated. They worshiped. They persisted in obedience. Even when the great numbers focused their attention and energy elsewhere.

We have no details showing us how life was for the small numbers who continued in worship. There is no story chronicling their faithfulness. They are not mentioned at all until this moment, and even here it is just a passing statement that only infers their existence.

What About Us?

It is not glorious to obey in small numbers. In fact, it is just the opposite. It is lonely. It is challenging. It goes unnoticed.

But it is worth it.

Are your numbers small right now? Obey anyway. Do you feel isolated? Stand strong anyway. Is obedience challenging? Obey anyway.

The world may never notice. History may never record your perseverance. But it is worth it. Keep going! The day will come when the great numbers will join you. And I guarantee your joy will be complete in that day!

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Life

You know how it goes.

You get it all figured out. You create a plan. You dive into that plan, and all goes well for a while. Then something interrupts.

It’s called life.

Life used to frustrate me. I wanted to walk according to the plan. Predictability was my friend. And, if I’m honest, I will admit that I would still prefer things to always fit perfectly into the schedule and progress according to plan.

But the reality is that life is not simple and straightforward. No day runs exactly the way we want it to. Sometimes the deviations are rough. Other times they actually improve the day. But the reality is that they will always exist.

So, what will we do with life?

My gut reaction is to change life. To make it fit into the plan. Or to at least stick to the plan no matter what life brings.

If I can’t do that, I want to give up. To throw up my hands and decide that it is just not worth the effort.

Instead, I choose to live life.

You see, my Savior is in charge of life. His plan is perfect. He never loses control nor does He ever see a day that does not move exactly according to His wishes.

And I get to live in that perfection!

I am pretty sure today will not go as planned. But that is okay. I will make it my intention to honor God with all I do, seeking His kingdom. When I do, life will be good, even when it deviates from my plan.

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