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Selfish Prayers

I have been overwhelmed today with the concept of selfish prayers.  God has been convicting my heart, and asked me to write this blog tonight.  I am afraid to share, because I am going to talk about some very personal things.  However, if God tells me to do something, then I need to be obedient to His voice.
This morning’s sermon was on an entirely different subject than the message that I took away from it.  The pastor started talking about Jonah and I was completely distracted for the rest of the service.  You know the story:  Jonah was a Jewish prophet to whom God asked to go to Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian nation and preach against their sin.  Now Assyria was not only an enemy to the Jewish people, but also a very twisted and wicked group of people.  No one in their right mind would march into their capital and tell them that if they did not repent of their wickedness, they would be destroyed soon by the wrath of God.  However, that was exactly what God was asking Jonah to do.
Besides the fact that Jonah couldn’t stand the Assyrian people, he could not bear the thought that they might actually listen to him, turn to God, and be spared of the wrath of the Almighty.  Personally, I would have been concerned about the danger involved.  But, whatever, dude.  Anyway, Jonah decides to pack his bags and go in the exact opposite direction and get on a boat bound for Tarshish.  A storm came up, Jonah realized it was from God and ordered the crew to throw him overboard.  He was swallowed by a fish, and three days later the fish spat him on the shore and God gave him another chance to obey Him.
Long story short, Jonah went to the city, preached, and the Assyrian nation not only turned from its wickedness but was also spared the wrath of God that was promised.  Jonah was angry.  He wanted them to be punished for all the wickedness they had done.  They did not deserve mercy.  So he went out east of the city and sat under a vine and sulked.  The story ends with God confronting Jonah with these things, “Have you any right to be angry?…Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left…should I not be concerned about that great city?”
There are so many things that I will never understand about God.  First of all, He can look at a person who we see as evil and see beyond that.  He sees the confused person who has chosen to do evil, but who also has a choice to turn away from their wickedness and follow Him.  Our limited understanding of God’s justice and the heart of man sometimes leads us to deadly decisions.  There are some people, especially those involved in human trafficking that I could never imagine loving.  I am filled with rage toward someone who could treat another person like dirt.  In my mind, send fire down from heaven.  Yes, Jonah, I think I can understand you.
However, God doesn’t exclude anyone from His redemption story.  As I was sitting in the second service today, God brought to mind the passage from Isaiah 61:1-4:
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
Because the Lord has anointed me
To preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim freedom for the captives
And release from darkness for the prisoners,
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
And the day of vengeance of our God,
To comfort all who mourn,
And provide for those who grieve in Zion—
To bestow on them a crown of beauty
Instead of ashes,
The oil of gladness
Instead of mourning,
And a garment of praise
Instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
A planting of the Lord
For the display of His splendor.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins
And restore the places long devastated;
They will renew the ruined cities
That have been devastated for generations.”
In my heart of hearts, I truly saw the captives as only the victims of abuse.  I watched The End of the Spear again the other day and I was reminded of the incredible redemption story that first inspired me into mission work.  My story also includes serious battles in the jungles of Ecuador, where God brought me back to Him.  However, they made some interesting comments in the movie that really challenged me.
The story was set in the jungles of Ecuador where two worlds collide.  One world was a remote tribe that was so brutal, they were killing each other into extinction.  The other world was five missionary families determined to not let this tribe see extinction.  One day, as the men sought to make contact with the natives, they were speared to death.  It was the wives who eventually carried the message of Christ to the villages and salvation happened.  When Steve, the son of one of the missionaries killed, went to the village as a boy, a polio epidemic broke out and the villages had to be quarantined.  Steve and his mother and sister were stuck in the village, imprisoned in a place that was not their home.  Steve talks about how Micaiani (the man who killed his father) was also in a prison, and this place was his home.  It was only at the end of a spear when Steve had every right to kill Micaiani to avenge his father’s death that both found freedom from their prisons of darkness.  As Steve said, “No one took my father’s life; he gave it.”
The love of God sees that there is more to being a captive than simply being a victim.  Captives are also their oppressors, locked in a prison of their own that they cannot escape.  When Jesus quotes this scripture during His ministry, He puts in direct context that this love is not simply for the lowly; it is also for those in high position.  It is not only for the broken; it is also for those who break them down.  What kind of love is this?  It must be a God-sized love.
As I think about the different ways that God has specifically called me into mission, I am reminded of God’s passionate love for ALL people.  I joined the congregation today in singing one of the verses from “It Is Well” that says, “And Lord haste the day when my faith shall be sight.”  For the past couple years, I have never been able to sing that verse without a guilty conscience.  What kind of selfish prayer is that?  It is such a wonderful thing that I have found this freedom in Christ, and I understand that life can become difficult and we long for an end to our suffering.  However, I cannot help but remember the reason that God has NOT YET ANSWERED that prayer:  He is holding out for the Micaianis in this world, who are still imprisoned in darkness.  We beg God to send down His justice, but in the face of God’s wrath, who could stand?  When we pray for justice, we may not realize that a very real part of God’s justice is His mercy.  Just as Jesus on the cross pleaded for God’s forgiveness over the very soldiers that mocked Him and spat in His face as they brutally killed Him, so we must come to understand what it means to live a life that proclaims freedom for the captives all around us.
I think about all the selfish prayers that I pray every day.  I pray for my safety and happiness.  I pray for things that I consider to be my needs, and I wonder how many times the theme of our prayers do not reflect the desire of God’s heart.  We operate as if the salvation of the world is as important as our welfare.  God did not even consider His own Son’s life to be more valuable than the redeeming love He offers to us.  I wonder what it is that makes us think that we are justified in praying for our safety and happiness which are such small things compared to the Redemption Story that has been put into motion.
What do I want my life to be about?  I have decided that I will live my days seeking the Kingdom of God.  This decision, however, has opened the door to God working on my heart and correcting certain things that I did not want to have to deal with again.  It is hard to allow God’s refining fire inside.  However, I have to remember that this is not about my personal gain.  The health and maturity of my faith will aid in the degree to which God will be able to work in my life to advance the Kingdom.  Especially with the area of ministry that I am called into, it is important that I am not only physically healthy, but emotionally secure.
There are certain decisions that I had made about the sacrifice that I was offering to God; certain things that I believed I had to give up in order to pursue His calling on my life.  God is reminding me to not try to predict the specific things that must be lost for the Kingdom.  This has truly been humbling for me.  It is the willingness to give up everything that makes a heart pure.  I am learning how to be wrong in my perception of sacrifice, and even in prayers of relinquishment, a sense of selfishness can creep in. 
In light of all these things, we come to this conclusion.  We struggle to understand God’s justice, and we often pray selfish prayers of God’s wrath or salvation.  We pray for needs and wants that are so trivial compared to the Kingdom of God.  We long to give of ourselves, and often we plan on sacrificing something that God does not require of us.  I have been so convicted of the selfish prayers that I have prayed lately.  So what then, can we pray?  I have found the purest example to be this:
“Our Father, who art in heaven:
Hallowed be Thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.”
There’s nothing selfish about that, is there?
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A Heart Thing

God and I have been talking lately about the issue of falling in love.  This has always been an “issue” for me.  I think maybe a lot of church kids feel this way too, that we have told ourselves for so long that anything to do with a boy (or girl) is wrong.  Yeah, sex is wrong before marriage (yes, I said the three letter word), but the issue of dating and relationships was so taboo that it wasn’t even talked about in church.  Therefore, it must be wrong.  But the problem comes in still wanting it.  Why do I want to be in a relationship?  How on earth do I learn how to be in a relationship?
Well, I struggled too with what a lot of people have told me over the years.  I have heard person after person tell me to enjoy my single years because someday I would get married and (insert interpretation) life would get terrible.  All married people ever talk about is how annoying their spouse is or how they envy the fact that I’m single.  (I have met a few exceptions, but the majority of people are like this).  I don’t even think they realize that this is what they are portraying, but it’s true that this is the perception that I walk away with:  marriage is wrong.  Anyone else come away with this perception too?
For me, the issue does not lie in possibly marrying an annoying person or getting hurt.  The problem lies in myself and my fear of not being good enough.  Why on earth God would bring this up in my life now, I don’t know, but when He wants to talk about something, He’s relentless.  So, reluctantly, we have dived into this murky water called “how Chelsea feels about relationships.” 
This morning as we sat down to talk about this, I told God about how my desire to fall in love has always felt to me like my “dirty little secret.”  I had told myself for years that falling in love was wrong, mostly because everyone told me that I was too young to think about it but I still had the desire.  Therefore, wanting to fall in love became my “sin”…it became something that I was very ashamed of.  Then God asked me a question that broke my heart, “Are you ashamed of your desire to fall in love with Me?”  How do you answer a question like that?  “Of course not, but I admit that it hasn’t been easy.”
God reminded me of the things that healthy relationships are based on, and the thing that is at the center is learning how to love the other person’s heart.  Then I realized that was exactly what my relationship with God was all about.  It wasn’t about looks, because obviously, I can’t see God.  It wasn’t about what He does for me, because I learned a long time ago that God isn’t Santa Claus waiting to give me whatever I ask for.  His love for me went beyond what I wanted to what was best for me.  His love is a selfless love, as mine should be for Him.  As the relationship grows deeper, I realize that all I want is what He wants and I learn to see the things that break His heart and cause Him pain.  Sometimes I have to remind myself what a miracle it is to be able to fall in love with the Creator of the universe, and at that a Creator that I have never seen.  Yet He is more real to me than anything I touch or feel.  He is a reality beyond the reality that I have always known.  The only thing inside of us that can begin to comprehend this is the heart.
I learned today that falling in love with someone should look exactly like falling in love with God.  It should start with learning how to love his heart.  That’s about as far as I’ve gotten in this whole discussion with God, and I’m sure there will be more to come.  It was like one of those “AHA!” moments.  I still haven’t decided if a relationship would be for me or not, but I think God is saying that it is.  We’ll see who wins this battle…haha…I can pretend I even have a chance.

Feeling Guilty for Not Feeling Guilty

I went to a young adult group tonight in Brentwood and it was a really good experience.  I met one person who was also new, but I’m convinced I’ll meet more people as time goes along.  It’s a rather large gathering, so it’s harder to get to know people.
The music was fantastic and then the pastor stood up to talk.  The group is studying the book of Judges right now, and it is very obvious that this pastor has at least one seminary degree because even with all the knowledge I have gained from studying the Bible my entire life in depth, there were times when I struggled to follow him.  The theme of his message was sin, and how sometimes we only halfway follow God (like the Israelites did many times when God ordered them to wipe out a people group and they merely captured them).  The pastor dealt a lot with God’s justice, and I agreed pretty close to his theology.
The part that I struggled with was the feeling I had when he was done talking.  He spoke about how we all sin a lot and how we are all tempted toward impure things.  He gave several lists of common temptations and our need to surrender them to God.  Although it was never explicitly said, it felt like I should have felt guilty, and in a way I felt ashamed for not feeling guilty.  In the past, maybe I was drawn to those things.  However, coming to know Christ at the level I have, my temptations do not reach that level anymore.  The temptations that I struggle with are things like having the courage to become involved with a certain group or talk to a certain person that maybe I don’t know.  Sometimes I’m tempted to get depressed, a lot of times over the lack of a relationship or such, but those things that he mentioned have no draw for me anymore.  God took that away.
I’m sitting there in the service and I say to God, “There’s got to be something in my life that You want to convict me of.”  And He responded, “I know that I have your heart.  There is no question and no going back.  You are exactly where I want you.”  You know what is ridiculous?  I feel guilty even writing that in my blog.  I feel like it’s prideful to write something like that.  WHY?  Why is it a bad thing to admit that you are right with God?  I guess maybe the Church as a whole is guilty of this in seeing the sins of the world and insisting that everyone present has them.  I’m not saying that I don’t sin occasionally, but I hope that it is far less than it used to be and that God and I have established a clear enough line of communication that I will deal with it as quickly as possible.
Just yesterday, God wanted to talk to me about something and I kept putting Him off.  Finally, at 3:30 I sat down and we had the talk.  It is things like that in my life that I struggle with.  I used to wonder what God wanted and what He was saying to me, but the closer I get to Him, the less room there is to question.  If there is something in my life that needs to change, there’s no missing it, and there’s no going to bed without dealing with it.  That’s the way I think it should be.  I’m not saying this as a matter of pride, but for the first time in my life I can say beyond the shadow of a doubt that God and I…we’re doing great.  Now is the time I need to watch out too…because that’s usually when He messes up my world.
Tonight I felt God say to my heart, “Don’t feel guilty for not feeling guilty.  Keep open communication with Me, and I will show you when you are off track.  It’s ok to feel good about where you are at right now.”
Right after the message, the band played the song “From the Inside Out” by Hillsong.  The words are incredible.  As I was singing the words, “With my heart and my soul, I give You control. Consume me from the inside out, Lord.  Let justice and praise become my embrace, to love You from the inside out,” my heart began to come alive.  One of the verses says, “Your will above all else, my purpose remains.  The art of losing myself in bringing you praise.”  That is what my life is about.  It is no longer just words on a screen.  I REALLY WANT THAT WITH ALL OF MY HEART.  No matter what the cost; no matter where, I’ll go.  What I want for my life is truly whatever God wants for my life.  It was kind of earth shattering to realize that through this move to Nashville and spending time in rest and in the presence of God, all this has completely clicked in my heart.  I pray that God will continue to mold and sharpen His will in my life and help me to be open to the conviction and nudges of His Spirit.
It’s exciting to know that it’s possible.  That’s something that we don’t communicate well in the church:  a right relationship with God is POSSIBLE!  I’m not saying that I don’t sin anymore or that I’m not tempted to give in to some things, but the temptations now are different.  They are directly linked to my obedience to the call of Christ in my life.  Sin has lost its power and it no longer has a hold on me.  That’s the saving grace of God!  Tonight we sang, “Into marvelous light I’m running, out of darkness out of shame.”  That’s my life.  That’s what God has done for me.  He has led me out of the darkness into the light.  Why would I ever want to go back, or think about what it was like to live there?  I see those around me struggling, and I remember what it was like.  However, I know and am living a completely different life now.  I am loved, I am cherished, I am REDEEMED.  I want that for everyone I know!
I really need to say that the pastor was right on tonight.  He said something that was SO TRUE:  “If you live your life trying to keep from sinning, you are going to fail.  What you need to do is STAY CLOSE TO CHRIST.”  AMEN!!!  That is the secret to this living thing…I wish more people knew it.  I wish it wasn’t a secret at all!!  Ladies and gentlemen, I am posting this on my blog for the whole world to see:  the secret to life is to stay close to Christ!  Then, don’t feel guilty for not feeling guilty.  Knowing Him is so much more than that.  Find out today!

Wake Up Call

First of all, I just want to say that I do not handle free time well.  Many people have either criticized me or admonished me throughout my life for having such a busy schedule, but these last couple weeks have been pure proof that I was not made to have free time.  I become someone I do not want to be and that is:  lazy.  I have a tendency to be a TV junkie or a dreamaholic.  I could spend hours every day listening to music and dancing in my room.  Sounds stupid, I know.  That’s just the way I have always handled life.  Just ask my parents.
I woke up this morning at a fairly good time, and I decided that I was going to go back to sleep.  I wanted to catch up on as much sleep as possible before life became crazy again and I would be missing it.  When I went back to sleep, God gave me a dream that rocked my world.  If I told you the dream, you would probably laugh at me.  It was pretty stupid, but proved a deep point to me.  I woke up to numerous questions from God asking me to evaluate what that dream might mean.  It became all too clear very quickly and I realized that He was calling me out on some things in my life.
Here is the problem.  This subject has been an untouchable subject for me.  God can have everything else but this.  This is just a part of who I am and I can’t change.  Do you have any areas like that?  I’m not sure that I realized I had areas like that until this morning.  I feel like I am in boot camp in a lot of ways, because on the subject of personal responsibility, I could use a lot of work.  So many of my friends have this figured out and down to a tee.  I guess I’m just behind the game.  Oh well…I’ll get there.  It may take me longer, but I’ll get there.
I have the distinct feeling like God has a reason for calling this out in my life RIGHT NOW.  I have a feeling I know what it is too.  This scares me to death.  Sometimes I beg God for a sign as to why He is doing some of the things He is doing, and sometimes I wish He wouldn’t be so open with me.  However, He must think I can handle the truth.  I guess I’ll take that as a compliment.
Yesterday I heard a new song by Starfield.  I’m sure it’s been out for a while, but it’s a new radio station down here and I’m hearing some new stuff.  It’s called “Rediscover You” and it challenged me yesterday. Here are the lyrics:
I need to just admit
my faith is paper thin
I’m feeling so burned out
On religion

I say an empty prayer
I sing a tired song
I need to just admit that the passion’s gone

And I want to get it back

You told me
Look for You and I will find
So I’m here
Like I’m searching for the first time
Revive me, Jesus
Make this cold heart start to move
Help me rediscover You

I want to learn to pray
The way that David prayed
I want my soul to burn when I hear Your name
I want to feel like new
I want to hunger for you
Bring me back to life like only You can do
Cause I don’t want to stay the same

You told me
Look for You and I will find
So I’m here
Like I’m searching for the first time
Revive me, Jesus
Make this cold heart start to move
Help me rediscover You

Lord, I want to be Yours today
I want to know the passion of the saints
And how they were changed

You told me
Look for You and I will find
So I’m here
Like I’m searching for the first time
Revive me, Jesus
Make this cold heart start to move

I want to burn for You
Bring me back to life, Jesus
Help me rediscover You

Change can be good, especially when it’s God doing the changing.  However, I’m finding that change is not always pleasant or easy.  Sometimes I leave all the changing to God and I forget that I have an active part in that as well.  When I pray the prayer, “Lord, I want to rediscover You,” I’ve got to realize that the answer may involve dealing with some serious issues in my life.  Especially when it involves something that I’ve been doing (or in this case not doing) for a very long time, it is that much harder to change.  However, anything is possible with God, and I know that He would not ask of me something that was not possible for Him to do in me.
This morning I received a wake up call from God, and I am praying for the strength to follow through.  Is there a wake up call that God is trying to give to you?  How will you respond to Him today?

Goals

Last night and this morning I have been thinking a lot about school.  I am excited about the next two years of my Masters program.  I don’t know that I have fully expressed why I am looking forward to the next two years of my journey.
First, I feel that this step is completely God-led and inspired.  He has proven that every step of the way to me.  Second, it is going to be a challenge and with challenges come opportunities for growth.  Finally, I will meet many people in the next couple years that will help me to become who God created me to be and will sharpen me in so many ways.  I don’t know how to communicate this, but I feel that these next couple years could possibly be two of the most important years in my life in terms of becoming.
I am nervous about some things, though.  First, I know that it is going to be a lot of work and I always have this voice in my ear telling me that I am going to fail and not finish what I have started.  This voice reminds me of many instances in the past when I have failed to accomplish what I set out to do.  It is hard not to listen.  I also know that I am going to be stretched immensely.  I saw that even today when I had breakfast with some pretty awesome people that have done and are doing some great things in the world.  Who will I become?  The answer depends on how much I allow God to work in my life and how I will respond to the challenges I will face over the next two years.
I have been thinking quite a bit about goals.  Who is it that I want to be?  What kind of work ethic and mentality do I want to establish for myself?  Here are a few things to start:
-I want to be a constant learner and have a passion for research and knowledge.  This is not something that comes naturally to me, as reading is not enjoyable.  I feel that in order to be successful in my field, I need to change this.
-I want to be willing to take risks, even when those risks involve the limelight.  I tend to shy away from leadership opportunities because I am afraid of failure.  When I was younger, I was always involved in leadership teams and such, but something happened between junior high and now that changed that for me.  To be the leader that I know God created me to be, I need to be able to take risks and leadership responsibilities again.  I must discover what it is that damaged me, and seek God’s healing in this aspect of my life.
-I want to be more sociable and actively interested in the lives of those around me.  Good leaders are not focused on themselves, but rather on those around them and the unique gifts everyone on a team brings to the table.  I need to start conditioning myself now to see the depth of those around me and get to know them better than simply as acquaintances. 
-I want to learn how to manage the fear in my life.  This fear holds me back from accomplishing so much.  If I could somehow learn to believe in myself and God’s ability to work through me, then half the things in my life wouldn’t cause me half the stress they do.  My struggle with finishing my homework is not because I am lazy or a procrastinator.  It is because I am afraid that I am going to do it wrong.  I need to get over that.  I need to manage my fear.
-I want to learn how to foster and maintain long-term relationships.  This will be essential in the world of non-profit leadership, because just like in everything, it is not what you know but who you know.  Beyond the networking side of things, the accountability aspect is very important.  Sometimes I am afraid to share what God is doing in my life right now with someone that I knew earlier on in my journey because I do not like to remember what I was like back then.  I have too many regrets.  What I am forgetting, however, is that these people are the only ones who can truly see how far I have come and how much work God has really done on my life.  There is no comparison.  I am missing out on an encouragement and a blessing by giving into my desire to leave the past behind me.
-Finally, and certainly not least, I want to grow closer to God.  I want to fall more in love with Him every day.  At the end of these two years, I want to look back and not even recognize who I was when I started this journey.  I was telling my cousin today that God believes in me far more than I believe in myself, and that scares me.  One of my best friends Rachel called last night and she reminded me to not be ashamed of my passion for God just because most people around me do not feel the same way.  I love Him so much, and I need to be careful that my desire to please others does not result in toning down my zeal for knowing and following Christ.  Jesus calls us to go against the grain on a lot of things, and I want to grow in my understanding of what it means to follow Him rather than my idea of what it means to follow Him.  As my professor said today, we must pray that God would give us a paradigm shift to anything that does not encompass His thoughts and His will.  I no longer want to see the world the way I see the world; I want to see the world the way God does.
These are just a few thoughts that are on my heart today.  Just thought I’d share.

The Kingdom of God

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking tonight.  Eduardo, one of my friends, says that my mind is always going and never stops.  I’m not sure if he means this in a good way or a bad way.  Whatever the case may be, he is right.
I watched the movie tonight “How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days”.  This is one of my favorite movies, although it opened the door to some serious questions in my life.  Besides the fact that it reflects the rest of Hollywood in the cleanliness of the entertainment, it begs the question, “What is it in life that we chase after?”
In the movie, Andi says that letting Ben go was one of the worst decisions of her life.  Despite everything that she put him through, the movie still ended with Ben on the motorcycle chasing down the taxi that Andi was riding in.  Every girl’s heart on the planet starts racing as we wonder if there is a guy out there that would chase us down like that.  Following the style of every chick flick out there, one leaves the movie feeling hopeful that someday love might find them (or upset because love never has).  Sorry if I just ruined the movie for you.
What is it in life that we chase after?  Everyone longs to fall in love, to have a good job or a great reason not to work, and to be respected while doing what they love to do most.  “Happiness” is the theme of our generation, and if it can be obtained, then what does it matter how we get it?  Of all the things that we pursue, at best God just becomes one of them.  We pursue Him and love and employment and respect.  However, there is a problem to this theory and a reason why it never works.  Chasing after God does not leave room for anything else.  Period.  It’s all or nothing.
There is a theme that has haunted me this entire past year and it’s the subject of the Kingdom of God.  I have written about it at some great length, but it’s like every single day I am discovering more and more about what it is and what it means to be a part of it.  Every day I realize how great the cost is of following Christ.  The truth is, the more seriously you follow Christ and most specifically seek to be a part of His Kingdom, the more dangerous the waters grow.  Honestly, there is a part of me that is very afraid to write about this tonight.
As I was reading Matthew tonight, I started writing down some of the things that the Kingdom of God is “more than”.  Here are some examples:
The Kingdom of God is…
…more than physical or emotional healing.
…more than our excellence or success.
…more than our personal well-being.
…more than our righteousness.
…more important than our food and our clothes.
This last example is found in Matthew 6:25-34.  I had never noticed this part nor read it in this way until tonight.  Jesus says, “Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?”  Surface level, this does not make any sense, because one must eat if they want to have life.  Or do they?  What is the life that Jesus is referring to?  Later He says, “But seek first HIS KINGDOM and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  Therefore, what we can glean from this passage is that seeking the Kingdom of God is even more primary than finding our next meal.  Wow.  It must be pretty important, then.
Also, if the Kingdom of God is more important than physical healing, then why did Jesus spend so much time healing people?  Reading Matthew 9:35-38 about Jesus seeing the crowds and having compassion on them, then saying to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few,” leads me to understand that it is our need that gives us a sensitivity and an openness to the Kingdom.  The healing, however, is not evidence for or against the Kingdom, because the healing is not the issue.  This is a tough message to grasp.
I went through this battle for the past several years, praying for healing and never receiving it.  I finally started to realize the purpose of my journey was not in seeking healing, but in allowing my brokenness to be an avenue for the Kingdom of God to come in my life.  What is the Kingdom of God, you ask?  That is a great question, but the answer must come to you in a personal way between you and God.  I was often frustrated because no one ever gave me a clear answer to what it was.  It took me a long time to realize that Jesus didn’t clearly define it because it cannot be defined; it can only be something that we either become a part of or become an enemy to.
Jesus would have made a horrible salesperson.  There were no package deals or labor day discounts.  The Kingdom of God is what it is, and Jesus never shied away from describing the seriousness of the cost.  In many cases, He talked people out of following Him because He recognized things in their life that were more important to them than the Kingdom.  He did not want any half-hearted followers.  There is no such thing.  There are either people completely sold out for Him that are willing to give up even their daily bread or people that are a part of the “everyone else” category.  It is that everyone else who are enemies to the cross of Christ.  In light of this, I have to ask myself:  If Jesus were standing before me tonight, would He invite me in or warn me of something that I love more than Him?
This is where things get dangerous.  Martyrs do not meet their death all over the world because they live lives of love.  Martyrs meet their death because they stand for a Kingdom that is higher than the kingdom of the world.  The powers of this world are stronger than we realize or like to give credit to and they are much stronger than us.  We must consider carefully the pledge that we are making when we choose to follow Christ.  We are not just deciding to follow love; we are deciding to take a stand for the Kingdom of God and against the kingdom of this world.  There will be a Judgment Day, and do not let anyone else convince you otherwise.
Lord, I pray for your protection.  How many times have I prayed this prayer?  Maybe I pray it in earnest each night before I go to bed because since I was a small child I knew what awaited me in the dark.  I was afraid, and for very good reason.  Evil is something that one should never mess with.  However, when you choose to be a part of the Kingdom of God, the enemy will find you.  You can be assured of that.
However, the most striking thing to me is throughout the whole Bible, God always sends this message to His people, “Do not be afraid.”  He makes statements like, “Be strong and courageous.”  He doesn’t suggest this; He commands it.  How can one face death unafraid?  Through the incredible power of the Holy Spirit.
What does it mean to be a part of the Kingdom of God?  What is God’s mission that it would come at such a high cost?  Paul talks about it at great length in many of his letters:  it is the message of reconciliation.  Once upon a time, God created man with a perfect relationship with Him.  Imagine walking through your garden right next to God Almighty!  He used to do that!  However, when sin came into the world, things got a little messed up.
Life is full of choices.  When we choose positively toward one thing, we are also choosing negatively toward something else.  There is no middle ground.  If I choose to follow Christ, then I choose to devote my everything to Him.  There is no room for myself, or anything else.  This affects everything that I do.  I choose to see the world through His eyes.  The things that bring Him joy also bring me joy, and the things that cause Him pain cause me pain as well.  Believe me, God does not turn a blind eye to the suffering of His children.  His justice roars like a lion, and we are called to this cause as well.  We are commanded to rescue the captives and set free those who have been in bondage.  Do you want a story that is better than any drama on the market?  Because I can tell you that the Story of God would put any glorified hero to shame.
There is a reason why these stories cause our hearts to race.  God created us to be courageous warriors for Him.  This is not just for the brave; courage is a choice.  We are a part of something much bigger than us.  It is more than our personal well-being and calls for ultimate sacrifice.  What a fantastic journey this could be.  Why would we ever settle for anything less?
Choose this day whom you will serve, and make the choice with caution.  Count the cost.  However, if you choose to follow Christ, know that you are a part of something HUGE.  Never believe the lies that you are alone and never give in to fear.  God calls you to be courageous.  You are His child.  No evil can touch you without His permission.  If following Christ is worth living AND dying for, then do not fear.  Find out for yourself what the Kingdom of God is.  I can guarantee that you will not be disappointed.

I’m Ready! Now What?

I was talking to a friend of mine this morning about the struggles of life and more particularly the finding of a job.  Every job seems to want people who have experience, but who gives the ones who do not have experience the chance?  He told me the same thing that I think most of us struggle with:  “I do not know if I want a job or not.  I want more than anything to make a difference in the world.”
Man, have I struggled with that one!  This is how I responded to him:  “I think it has much to do with how we are ready.  God has waited to bring some things into my life because in my heart I was not ready; I was not mature enough in my faith.  I thought I was ready, but because readiness is more than what happens in our brains and more of what happens in our hearts (which is something that only God and the Holy Spirit can prepare), we cannot control when we are ready.  All we can control is how open we are to the Holy Spirit.”
That is a huge lesson that I have learned this past year:  that I cannot control when I am ready.  I think sometimes we have a tendency to compare our hearts to the American process of success:  if I get this degree then I can get this job which will lead me to this promotion and this amount of income.  However, our hearts do not work that way, and we don’t become ready for certain things based on the amount of effort we put into it.  I don’t understand why this is, but God prepares our hearts in His own time.  Some people search for years before understanding the love of God while some grasp it nearly instantly.  This is a great mystery.
Sometimes we think this way in our relationship with God, and we communicate this from the pulpit:  this idea that if we spend an hour in devotions every morning, then we will become a “good Christian”.  However, faith and matters of the heart cannot be placed in a mathematical equation.  A strong and mature faith is only brought about through the journey.
We are not left out of this process, however.  God will not take over our lives if we are not willing to let Him.  This is the essence of free will.  Even though there is prevenient grace where God is preparing our hearts to hear His truth, we must still accept this truth and open the door for Him to change us.  When we continually give the Holy Spirit space in our lives, He can do marvelous things in our hearts.  The timing is His, however, and for reasons that I do not expect to ever know, our readiness depends on His timing as well.
There have been many times I thought that I was ready for certain things.  I’ve thought I was ready for marriage.  I’ve thought I was ready for a certain job.  However, those doors did not open when I thought they should have, even when I brought my whining case before God.  For years I prayed, asking God to develop in me a passion for the things He cares about.  It was not until this past month when God said, “Alright, here is the next step.”
What is completely ironic about this step of moving to Nashville is this:  I did not think I was ready.  Come to think about it, every single thing in my life that was God-led, I had the distinct feeling that I was not ready for it.  However, through the process of obedience to His voice and doing what He asked of me, I became ready as only He could do.  Looking back, I see clearly how I had everything I needed to accomplish His will in my life, though it was not always apparent at the time.  I have come to use this measure in identifying the will of God:  Do I sense His leading?  Do I feel prepared?  If the answer is Yes and No, then we’re good to go!  (And amazingly, that rhymed.)
It is interesting to me that the things I thought I was ready for (marriage or a certain job) have not yet come to pass, though I have done many things I would never have dreamed of doing like living and working in other countries and getting a bachelors degree in a foreign language.  Even though I always wanted to, I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be living in Nashville or getting a Masters Degree.  All of these things were huge steps of faith for me, because I fully believed before and while doing them that I could not accomplish the task.  Maybe this is all a lesson of faith, but I wonder if when I think I am ready for something, that confidence is what disqualifies me from being ready.  When I believe that I can do it, what are my blind spots?  What then becomes of my testimony?
My greatest prayer is that my life would be an example of what God can do with someone that is fully committed to Him.  God does not just work in parts of our lives; He works in and through the entirety of our lives.  I know that before He took hold of me, I was a mess.  Now, my life is one more example of God’s incredible redemption story; an example of how He can bring beauty from ashes.  I long to see miracles, but looking back I see the greatest miracle of all is my own life, and He is only beginning.  The further I walk on this journey with Him, I realize that there is no separation between things that I am ready for and things that I am not ready for.  There is only obedience to His voice, passion for His Kingdom, and love for those He loves.  In light of that, I may end up doing some pretty crazy things.  However, through each experience my trust in His provision grows stronger and stronger until someday, I pray, the worry of what will come will never cross my mind.  The “what ifs” will never be an issue; the “whys” never viable questions.  All that remains will be HIM.
We will never understand the great mysteries of the heart.  However, there is one thing that we can be sure of:  when we wait upon Him whose timing is perfect, we will never be disappointed with the result.
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