I won’t spoil the surprise, but I just wanted to let you know that I can’t wait to share with you a new resource I’ve been developing this summer. Get ready!
How do you decide how to spend your time each day? Maybe you have a boss breathing down your neck for forty or more hours each week and can barely fit all your other responsibilities in the scraps of time left over. Maybe caring for your kids is forcing you from one bone-weary day to the next.
As a mom who works at home, it has felt daunting to be aware of so many good things I could spend my time on, in addition to planning around the unpredictability of caring for a preschooler and a toddler.
When I was in school, I gave most of my time to my teachers and the homework they assigned. When I was teaching, I gave hours and hours each week to managing my classes and preparing lessons.
I once heard a speaker compare the time we have each day to a pie. At the beginning of each 24 hour day, it’s a fresh-from-the-oven pie, and by the end, it’s an empty pie plate, instantly refilling for the next day.
My tendency has been to want to figure out how to slice the pie and slice it the same every day. But then I start living like my pie is my own, rather than a grace God has entrusted to me. I begin to resent the times when my kids or husband want a bigger slice, or when the pie is empty before I had the chance to do everything I wanted to do. When I call the pie mine, I’m also tempted to set my pie up next to others’ pies to see how they’ve sliced theirs and feel my pie is wrong because it looks different.
So how do I receive the pie of a day, or the pies for a week, or the pies for a year with an open hand? How do I let God do the slicing?
I ask Him to show me His values.
The pie of my time can be an offering back to God when I let Him shape my values. I spend time on what I value, but I can only value what God values when I make space for Him. Though the slice of time to pray and read the Bible might not be the same each day, (and may be slivers or crumbs collected throughout the day), as we read His word, He uses it to direct all the other slices and even the attitude we have as our slices are eaten up.
He gives us a vision for what He is doing in the world–bringing all things together in Christ–and reminds us of the privilege of resting in the gospel and running with the good news to all who will listen, (even if they are trying to do handstands or smash a tower of blocks at the same time).
I don’t make every decision about how thin or thick a slice is cut.
When I plan my day so rigidly that everything extra is an inconvenience, I am easily frustrated and might miss what the Holy Spirit is wanting me to join Him in.
When my husband is home and our pies are overlapping, it’s not loving or respectful to cut his pieces for him. Instead, it’s another chance for me to serve him and receive the blessings he gives to our family as we work together.
When I’m not always thinking about the next task, I can also have space to enjoy the things I am spending my time on, rather than flipping to the end of the picture book to see how much longer it will take to read.
I ask God to help me value each role He has given me to steward.
Meal planning often makes me tired. Picking up toys feels pointless when they get dumped out again two seconds later. But when God helps me see the bigger picture of why He’s given me the roles He has, I can flip through one more grocery ad and throw the Duplo blocks back in his room again.
When I clean my house, it’s easier to welcome other people into it, even if it can only be described as “relatively clean and picked up.” God brought an ordered universe from the chaos of the waters of darkness, and I can reflect His desire for restoration as I snap the lid on the toy box again. (And for some reason, the toys become fun again once they’ve been put back into baskets.)
Planning and preparing meals is a way to meet the needs of my family and any others who come during mealtimes. Any time invested in finance, health, car, and home details is a way to love my family and take care of some chaos my husband won’t have to deal with.
I anticipate what God might let me join Him in.
Even when I feel God has given me an idea for using the gifts He’s entrusted to me, it’s tempting to want to control it, to try to make it happen in my way and my timing. But when I allow God to choose slices for certain things, He can use my entire pie along with millions of other pies to fulfill His perfect plan.
It might mean letting go of some of my own expectations in my child and home-care roles. Or laying down my preferences for how to load the dishwasher or get the oil changed in the van so that I don’t have to do it myself. And it might mean using my slices to relieve tasks I might prefer my husband to do so that he can serve in something God is inviting him to.
An Undercooked Mess
Maybe it seems like others have abundant energy or health to devote to each slice. Maybe a grief or underlying tension or stress is making you struggle through caring for the basic needs that fill each pie. Maybe you feel like by the time all the slices are devoured, there aren’t even any crumbs for you, and you wouldn’t have energy to even enjoy them if you did. It’s okay to be frustrated with a hard season or string of seasons as you remember the truth:
Jesus has lived a perfect life of obedience to the Father’s will for us, so that we can enjoy Him for an eternity of pain-free pies. Whether we feel like our pie is an undercooked, blueberry mess, or whether the cross-hatched top came out perfectly, God sees us the same. He sees Jesus’ perfection. And He loves us, sticky hands and all.
Looking for meaningful gifts to give at weddings, graduations, or baby showers this summer? Or maybe something you can give to encourage a friend? Check out my updated Resource page on my blog! God has used these books, podcasts, songs, and videos to refresh me in the gospel and share it with my children and others He brings into my life.
“How can Jesus be with us? I can’t see him!”
“Why did Adam and Eve eat the fruit they weren’t supposed to?”
“Are zebras good or bad?”
Though I know this will change, my three-and-a-half year old son has a hard time believing I don’t know everything. Sometimes, he gets downright frustrated when I can’t give him an answer.
There are times when I wish I could reflect God in being all-knowing, especially when I read the Bible or interact with others about spiritual things. Studying Deuteronomy alone has led to many questions about nations being blotted out, sins that were supposed to result in stoning, or children from forbidden religious unions being excluded from the tabernacle.
Even reading through the gospel of Mark with a friend makes me wonder over Jesus’ words about being salted with fire, forgiving others so the Father will forgive my trespasses, or believing that I have received what I ask for in prayer.
No Questions? No Answers.
A recent speaker at our church shared that if we are willing to articulate and wrestle with our questions, we will be able to better recognize when we’ve found the answer.
God has also used a book called Show Them Jesus by Jack Klumpenhower to encourage me in my question journey and as I seek to walk alongside others with their questions.
When reading the Old Testament, Klumpenhower challenges us to look at the overall character of God–how He cares for his people in the Old Testament, and how He does the same and even better for us in Jesus.
He also invites us not to ignore the tensions in the Old Testament, but instead look to the good news of how it is solved in Jesus. (Impossible to follow the 10 commandments perfectly? Jesus has done it for us, and in His death, offers His righteousness to those who are joined to Him.)
When we study Jesus’ teachings, we should zoom out to also consider the larger context of His work, and what kind of person He is.
Sometimes God’s ways seem mysterious, but He showed us from the time of walking with Adam and Eve in the garden, to tabernacling with the Israelites, to coming to earth as a baby, that He wants us to know Him and experience His presence. When we know His character and consider His themes of love, redemption, and forgiveness through all of Scripture, we can trust that the One who knows the answers can lead us in His wisdom.
In Psalm 25:4-5, 8-9 David prays:
Show me your ways, Lord,
teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long. . .
Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
He guides the humble in what is right
and teaches them his way.
But What About Everyone Else?
I’ve often been scared of someone asking me a question about Jesus that I don’t know the answer to. In fact, I still get scared about that.
But if Jesus was concerned about simply answering people’s questions, he wouldn’t have given these sorts of responses when He was on earth:
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. (Mark 10:17-18)
They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?”
Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!” (Mark 11:27-30)
Jesus looked into people’s hearts to see what they were really asking. He always knew the perfect response, and didn’t care whether people thought He was smart or not. (Or even whether He’d make people mad enough to kill him.)
When Job lost everything, he asked all kinds of questions as he spent chapter after chapter processing his pain. God responded with teaching Job about His greatness, which left Job nothing to say but:
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. (Job 42:3)
What if, by asking questions, God led us and others to acknowledge His power and understanding, to grow in faith, and to find rest in a God who satisfies us whether we find all the answers or not?
What if, by insisting that God answer my questions, I miss what He does want to show me?
What if He wants me to search for answers with my husband or other believers?
What if I don’t need to know how every little piece fits together because God has already brought everything together under one Head in Jesus?
What if Jesus doesn’t care whether I win an argument with someone who believes differently than I do? Can I trust Him to give me the words I need and the faith that He can work in others’ lives whether I come up with the right response or not? Or even if I give the wrong response?
Jesus is interceding for us. Will we receive what He’s praying for us?
“Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. . . I have made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:24, 26)
I want to receive God’s love so fully that it fills up my own heart and spills over onto others. Yet it’s so natural to do things that are, well. . . unloving.
I see someone at the library I met once before who just had a new baby. Instead of congratulating her and asking how she’s doing, I check out my books and slip past her.
At the grocery store, someone comments on how happy my children are, and I miss a chance to tell her that even though they aren’t always like this, we have a reason to be happy because we have Jesus.
When I’m cooking and don’t answer my son’s question right away, I respond in anger to my son’s impatience with me.
I don’t listen well when my husband suggests an idea for cleaning up my email inbox. I assume that my way is the best, and selfish pride keeps me from even wanting to take the time to understand his method.
These convictions and missed opportunities used to lead me to despair. How could I confess to love Jesus and act this way toward others? Haven’t I been a Christian long enough to know better? Will I ever get it right?
No. No I won’t. And I don’t have to.
Jesus’s death paid for all the guilt and shame of every sin I’ve ever committed and will commit. But our lives don’t become a blank slate so that we have to start all over with trying to be good enough. When I receive Jesus, I receive His righteousness as if I’d acted perfectly. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
As if I truly loved every person in every interaction I’ve had and will have.
As if I gave glory to God in every response to others’ questions and comments.
As if I sacrificially loved and disciplined and responded perfectly in every situation with my children.
As if I always put my husband’s needs before my own.
That’s what Jesus did when He lived this life on earth, and that’s what the Father sees when He looks at me.
I don’t need to impress God because He’s already been impressed by Jesus.
I don’t need to hide my shame when I fail because Jesus bore it on the cross.
Yeah, But What Are We Supposed To Do?
When we sinfully let someone down, we apologize and point them to the One who will never fail them (and who always lovingly listens to every question, comment, and request).
Each time we are aware of our sin, we respond in worship to God, thanking Him for His righteousness given to us.
We spend time reading His Word, getting to know His character and how He cares for His children through the Old and New Testament, and how it’s most fully revealed in Jesus. We learn His ways.
And when our minds are filled with who He is and what He calls us to, His Spirit can lead us to repentance, seeing the crushing weight of our sin not crushing us but crushing Jesus to death, bringing us the peace and healing we long for. (Isaiah 53:5)
“For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:14)
We keep walking toward God, knowing that Jesus walks right in front of us, never faltering or veering off the path.
And maybe, some of that love just might start to spill over onto those He brings to us.
My three-and-a-half year old son loves crawling up on the counter and helping me cook. He likes to taste the flour and basil and ask all kinds of questions about what I’m making. Cracking eggs is accomplished by simultaneously squeezing and knocking the egg on the side of the bowl, as the egg goo runs through his fingers.
Before I had kids, it was much easier to plan out what I wanted to get done on a certain day, with only the occasional phone call (or teacher request during my planning period). By working hard, I could get my lessons written out and be ready for the next day.
In this season of life with little ones, my tasks are constantly punctuated by needs, requests, questions, and exclamations of “Mommy, look at me!” Many times, I feel like I’m swimming upstream, against the American value of efficiency. Efficiency is defined as, “able to accomplish something with the least waste of time and effort.” As some equate time with money, I have often associated efficiency with success.
In the roles God has entrusted to me, I am certainly called to get things done, but when I dig down to the roots of my heart, I realize that instead of my actions stemming from a heart of active, humble service to my Good Master, the roots are really pride.
One definition of pride is “pleasure or satisfaction taken in something done by or belonging to oneself or believed to reflect credit upon oneself.” I want people to see what I’ve cleaned or written or decided is important and appreciate me. I focus on being an expert multi-tasker. When our pellet stove stops working, or my son chooses to whine rather than obey, I think that if I could only snap my fingers and fix the situation, I would be happier–until the next baby cry or unkind word from someone brings another wave of frustration.
In my pursuit of satisfaction in what I get done, I usually end the day feeling like a failure. And when I’ve been so determined to get everything crossed off my list, without considering anyone else’s desires or requests, I feel defeated in my relationships.
Transforming the Roots
I need to be brought back to the gospel. Today and tomorrow and every day until I reach eternity and fall on my face before the “Lamb who was slain.” (Revelation 5)
Jesus paid for all my pride, selfishness, and shame on the cross. He was perfectly faithful to the Father’s vision for His life, and He gives that faithful righteousness to me. His Spirit is living in me, making me more like Jesus and convicting me when I need to repent.
Through that repentance, grounded in His righteousness on my behalf, God has pointed me to a few ways to keep fighting the battle against pride.
- Be in awe.
The God who filled the oceans and flung galaxies into place created us to be in relationship with Him. The most popular movies and novels echo our desire to be in relationship with someone who will never let us down. Advertisements try to convince us to buy things for our benefit, yet the One who satisfies us invites us to “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” (Isaiah 55:1) His everlasting covenant is ours through Jesus’ death and resurrection before we ever lift a finger in service to Him.
2. Rest in God’s Sovereignty.
Preparing meal after meal after meal for my kids is a constant reminder that God isn’t in a hurry. 2 Peter 3:8-9 says “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” Sometimes, it feels like there are a thousand years worth of needs in one day, and yet God in His steadfastness, wants to carry me through each moment of my life.
3. Look back at His faithfulness as recorded in the Bible and in my own life.
God has always chosen to dwell with His people–through pillars of fire, the tabernacle, His Son clothed in human flesh, and now His Spirit at work in our hearts. His plan to save us literally unfolded over thousands of years (and is still unfolding as people from every nation are swept into His kingdom.)
4. Embrace His part for me.
God has given us limits for our good. Our limits point to His infiniteness, and the way He chooses to use a whole Body of believers in every part of the world to be a part of His kingdom work. Even when we are faithless and disobedient, He is always faithful to accomplish His purposes.
5. Keep working in gratefulness for His acceptance of me through Jesus.
Recently, Nathan Rittenhouse, a speaker for Ravi Zacharias ministries, came to our church to speak. He shared from Matthew 20 about the Parable of the Vineyard and the way it highlights God’s generosity completely apart from our ability to work. When we are satisfied in the good Master and what He has done for us, we can get up early the next day and be one of the first workers in the field. We can love and serve from a place of joy and thankfulness in the good way He wants to accomplish His will in our lives, rather than being stuck in our own vision or even someone else’s vision for our lives.
If God wanted to appear efficient, He definitely wouldn’t have chosen to use us to be a part of reaching the nations with the gospel. Like my son trying help me cook, dropping egg shells in the bowl, splashing batter, and spilling oatmeal, God welcomes our uncoordinated help, worship, and love. If anyone else were to peek into our hearts, they would see a mess—toys on the floor, half-finished projects–they may even turn away in disgust when they smell the stinky diapers of our sin.
Yet, because of Jesus, God lovingly steps over the toys, picking up a few at a time when necessary, and changing us so that we don’t have to sit in our stink. When we cry, He holds us. When we pester Him with incessant requests and forget to thank Him, He listens. When we start to get the hang of walking, He celebrates with us, and when we lose our balance or hit our head on the coffee table, He picks us back up and holds our hand as we start again. Never longing for a break from us, he doesn’t sigh with relief when we finally fall asleep for the night.
His love is that unconditional.
At some point every day, I can count on hearing, “Mom! Look what she’s doing!”
Now that Hosanna is mobile, there are almost constant opportunities for friction between her and three-and-a-half-year-old Isaiah. As soon as she crawls toward something, he wants it. And if he’s building a tower out of Duplos, all she wants to do is knock it down and try to eat it.
Isaiah often begs me to keep her from touching his toys. It’s tempting to get frustrated and want him to just share, but then I realize how I can get in the same mindset, wanting my kids to stop dropping food on my floor, taking dishes out of my cupboards, or squishing play-doh into my carpet.
Recently, Isaiah was trying to convince me that other people disobey, but he doesn’t disobey. He is more than happy to let me know when Hosanna is doing something I have forbidden him to do, like throwing food on the floor or chewing on a library book.
If my ultimate goal becomes outward obedience, my son may continue his Pharisaical thinking, that if he follows Mom and Dad’s rules closely enough, he will be a good boy. He would fit right in with children whose parents follow other religions and have excellent behavior management apart from Christ (as long as his sister didn’t bother him too much). Maybe I’d become so convinced by his uprightness that I’d recoil in horror when I caught him hitting his sister or speaking unkind words to a friend.
Maybe he doesn’t need to be told he’s a good boy as much as he needs to be taught the gospel.
All About Jesus
In a recent panel discussion on Teaching Our Children About Jesus, Elyse Fitzpatrick, author of Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus, shared that Jesus had little brothers and sisters and treated them perfectly. Jesus knows that my son struggles to share with his sister, and that I struggle to share my time, energy, and picked-up home.
My son is not called to love his sister most of the time, he is called to love her all of the time, just as I am called to love them and my husband in a thousand opportunities for self-sacrifice each day.
When unconditional love is the standard, it’s not something that can be faked.
When I name sins for what they are, I can point my children to the One who never sinned, and the forgiveness He freely offers. I can tell my son, “That wasn’t kind when you pushed your sister out of the way. Jesus probably didn’t like it when His sister got in His way, but He never pushed her. Even though He was never unkind, He died to pay for all the unkind things we have ever done.”
I can also confess when I sin against him. “I’m sorry for yelling at you to come brush your teeth, rather than simply asking you and disciplining you when you didn’t obey.” or “I’m sorry I acted angry when you spilled your rice on the carpet. Will you forgive me?”
A couple weeks ago, I saw my son rip a toy out of his sister’s hand. When I asked him to apologize to her for taking it, he said he didn’t want to. I felt led to put my hands on his shoulders and pray for Jesus to give him a soft heart that would want to apologize to his sister, thanking Jesus for loving his brothers and sisters perfectly.
Another time, we did work on what it sounded like to apologize using a kind voice, saying specifically what he did that was wrong and trying to look his perpetually-active sister in the eyes. After a couple silly-voice attempts, I thought he had done an okay job and asked if he wanted to go outside. He said, “Yes, but first I need to do something.” He turned to his sister. “Hosanna, I’m sorry for pushing you over.” Then he smiled up at me, “Okay, I’m ready to go.”
Though I don’t have school-age children, Elyse gave some great principles about what it looks like to place the conviction with the child when they sin against someone, rather than forcing them to mimic apologetic words they don’t mean.
Nurturing And Evangelism
God has placed a desire in our hearts as women to nurture. We don’t want to see our children skin their knees. We wish we could take their sickness away. We enjoy fulfilling desires for cups of milk or another helping of the supper we cooked. But do we really believe that Jesus loves them more? Do we tell them? Will we ask God to use whatever is necessary to draw them to repentance, or would we rather make sure they always feel good about themselves?
If you are the mother of little ones, you are guaranteed an opportunity for evangelism. Day in and day out, you love and serve hearts that are not surrendered to Christ, souls that do not have the indwelling Spirit guiding them in love, patience, kindness or self-control. If you’ve surrendered your life to Christ, you reflect Him as a priest, interceding daily on behalf of the souls in the next bedroom, and practicing life-on-life discipleship.
If you’re feeling discouraged about your children’s heart behavior, look to Jesus. He has the power to turn stone hearts into flesh. To replace selfishness with His Spirit’s love.
Jen Wilkin, in her newest book, None Like Him, said that “Jesus demonstrated power over the physical realm to point us to his power over the spiritual realm. Every visible miracle Jesus performed during his earthly ministry was a whisper. . . pointing to the most dumbfounding miracle of all: the display of his power to transform the human heart from stone to flesh.” (134)
Loving Father, thank you for loving our children more than we ever could. Would you show us how to point them to you, even as we look to you for the strength to do it? We surrender our children to you again today.
A friend recently told me that she’d been feeling overwhelmed by how much there is to know about God and the Bible. But then the Spirit reminded her that she has her whole life to learn, study, and delight in the God who made her.
At this stage of caring for my little people, my Bible meditations are constantly being interrupted by baby yells and requests from my preschooler to watch him knock his building down. Mealtime prayers are punctuated with bibs being pulled off and cries of “Mom, I dropped my spoon!”
No longer can I count on having a certain hour of the day free to read the Bible and pray, which has challenged me to appreciate the gospel in a new way. Just like my kids’ requests (and cries) continue from the time they wake up to the time they ask for a story, a drink, a prayer, and music to listen to as they fall asleep, I am reminded of my constant need for Christ. That He is the only One who can satisfy me and give me the hope I need to get through days (and nights) of needy little people. It is His grace, pulling me out of what is predictable and into a life that demands that I choose where I am going to look for strength.
God has used this holistic way of viewing my need for Christ to challenge me in the way I read Scripture, and especially the Old Testament. Rather than going to Scripture for a verse to carry me through the day, I’m realizing that every God-breathed passage I read is shaping my understanding and love for the Shepherd who is leading me through the weariness, whining, and messed-up plans (and floors).
A number of months ago, God used my friend Jessie to lead me to a great resource called One-to-One Bible Reading by David Helm, (which is also immensely exciting to use while reading Scripture one-on-one with someone else).
Since I’m reading through the Old Testament historical books right now, I’m using David Helm’s list of Old Testament narrative questions, first reading for comprehension–noting the context, time and place where the narrative is happening and writing down things that are confusing. It allows me to start with a real-place-and-time foundation before trying to look for a main point or theme.
Once I think about the main point (or what I might be missing if God hadn’t put that passage in the Bible), I get to my favorite part, when I get to ask, “How does the passage point forward to what God is going to do in the future? Does it prophesy or anticipate Jesus Christ in some way?”
After asking myself this question day after day, the Spirit has given me a new lens to view each passage I read from the Old Testament. He brings to mind passages from the New Testament that help explain God’s purposes in the tabernacle, the priesthood, and His never-changing desire for people to reflect His glory. (And if you want to help your children understand how everything points to Jesus, rather than as just a collection of so-called Bible heroes, The Jesus Storybook Bible is a great place to start).
Prayer becomes a way of responding to what I’m learning moment-by-moment. I can thank Him for the map of my life He’s ordained when I read about God leading Abraham, or how He works through all our mixed motives and even sins when I read about Jacob and Rebekah’s deception to receive Isaac’s blessing.
When I get to the end of Exodus, where God gives the dimensions and instructions for the tabernacle, it’s a chance to praise our God of details, because if He gave such specific instructions for an earthly tabernacle, how much more will the place He has for us on the New Earth be carefully prepared?
When I read about Aaron and his sons being clothed in their priestly garments, I can praise Jesus for clothing me in His righteousness, for being faithful on my behalf so that I can be inscribed with “Holy to the Lord.”
Even as I read Leviticus, I can rejoice that one reason for the animal sacrifices was “that the glory of the Lord may appear to you,” and that Jesus was clothed in flesh to become the true sin-forgiving, righteousness-giving sacrifice and to reveal the Father’s glory so that we might worship Him as His children.
Rather than taking what I’ve learned and figuring out what I need to do, Helm provides the last two questions to lift my chin back up to God, asking:
How does this passage challenge your understanding about who God is and what he is like?
And then, as I invite the Holy Spirit’s specific conviction, I can ask:
Is there some attitude or behavior you need to change?
The sorrow I experience over my sin is a gift as it draws me to repentance and remembering again the grace and forgiveness Jesus stayed on the cross to give.
Like a diamond, when we study each facet-passage of Scripture, we can enjoy a different glimpse of Jesus and His glorious gospel. It doesn’t matter if we have six years left or sixty. Every day that we take time to read His Word is a new chance to treasure Jesus and hold our gospel diamonds up to the light for others to see.
Which facet of Scripture will you ask Him to help you understand so that you can enjoy Him more?
You can get the free PDFs of David Helm’s questions for each genre of Scripture here.
Or you can get the entire book here.
Jen Wilkin also has an excellent guide for deepening your study of Scripture called, Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds.
Isaiah had gotten the hang of walking and was delighted with his new level of freedom. When I decided it was time to sweep the floors of our tiny basement apartment, I would set up some toys for him to play with and rush over to the kitchen with my broom. About two seconds later, Isaiah would innocently (or not so innocently?) wander over and stand right in the middle of the pile of crumbs I had just gathered. Or he would want to help, and spread the dirt with the broom in a perfectly even layer across the floor again.
With two kids now, tasks that I used to get done quickly now take at least three times as long (some kind of weird exponential thing, I’ve found).
One time, we had a couple Chinese international students in our home for a meal. They were surprised that I stayed at home and kept commenting on how clean our apartment was. (I guess clean is a relative term.) I wasn’t sure if it was because in some Asian cultures people don’t visit each other’s homes but instead go out to eat together, or if they were trying to validate my role as a wife and stay-at-home mom, or because they knew those words in English. But it made me think about how I spend my time each day.
Sometimes it feels like I’m stumbling through each week, not even sure what is making me so busy. The whirlwind of Bible reading, housework, child care, training, email, writing, people interactions, budgeting, shopping, and food prep compete with the unexpected car repairs and “Honey-could-you’s” for the same 24 hour period.
When tasks don’t feel like they are running smoothly, it’s easy for me to get discouraged, thinking I should be using my time better. I try to convince myself that I should have been able to predict the future, with all the unexpected changes to my day, because doesn’t God want me to be efficient for Him?
Being Like God
Jen Wilkin, in her newest book, None Like Him: 10 Ways God is Different From Us, wrote the specific words of conviction I needed to hear:
We must recover the truth that was obscured by the Serpent: rather than being like God in his unlimited divinity, we are to be like God in our limited humanity. (25)
It feels much more natural to spend my energy trying to predict my baby’s nap schedule, figure out how I should have spent my writing time, or run myself ragged trying to get tasks crossed off my to-do list, rather than asking God to work in me to reflect His goodness, mercy, holiness, and faithfulness.
Jen Wilkin puts it this way:
So it has been ever since [the Fall]: human beings created to bear the image of God instead aspire to become like God. Designed to reflect his glory, we choose instead to rival it. . . Rather than worship and trust the omniscience of God, we desire to be all-knowing ourselves. Rather than celebrate and revere his omnipotence, we seek ultimate power in our own spheres of influence. (23)
How often do I dismiss the requests of my preschooler to read him a book or help me in the kitchen because it doesn’t fit in with my time table?
How often do I get frustrated by the unexpected phone call that comes as soon as both kids are down for a rest? Or my husband’s vision for the evening looks nothing like mine?
Faithful Is Successful?
My mentor Natalie told me about a book she’s been reading called Faithful is Successful. When I told her that I wasn’t sure how to feel about my writing goals and ministry desires that I don’t have time for, she asked a question along the lines of, “What if God wants to grow a faithful heart in me?” (rather than being proud of the accomplishments I’ve produced). What happens when the success becomes old news?
She reminded me that even in the church, it’s natural for people to value serving others as efficiently as possible, to fulfill as many people’s desires as possible, so that we can reach out to as many as possible. But what if God wants to use me for a task that would take someone else half the time or less?
In Exodus 3, Moses spent almost the whole conversation around the burning bush trying to convince God that he wasn’t the best man for the job. But God didn’t respond with, “I chose you because you are so gifted and will make me proud.” He tells Moses that He will be with him. He gives him His name, “I AM.” He shows him signs of His power. And he gives him his brother Aaron to help.
In her chapter on God’s infinite mystery, Jen Wilkin reminded me of the way God sees me.
Apprehending with complete accuracy the best and the worst of me, he is neither impressed nor horrified. He accepts me as I am because of Christ. Nothing is hidden before the One who formed my inmost being, and because I am fully known, I am fully free to love the God I only know in part. (38)
I may not understand everything about the way God’s kingdom is coming, but I can trust HIs leading and get excited about what God is doing with and without me. But the details need to be left up to Him. When I move forward and bump up against my limitations, it is a way for God to bring about His timetable in my life.
As I’ve continued to edit and re-write my novel, I’ve been discouraged when I’ve felt like I didn’t get much done before the dishes, laundry, and little voices started calling loud enough to pull me away. But as my mentor said, “What if the process of writing creatively is to bless me right now?”
What if writing is something God is providing for me? Something to let a completely reckless part of my brain dance around and try something new? A chance to enjoy reflecting the Creator, who is the only One who can create something from nothing?
What if, rather than pursuing a feeling of “I came, I saw, I conquered” by the end of the day, I laid what did happen at Jesus’ feet, inviting Him to redeem it–even my unkind words to my preschooler or the living room that didn’t get picked up–according to His good plan for my life? What if Jesus freed us from the illusion that we could accurately measure our level of success anyway?
Or, as Jen Wilkin puts it:
“Praise God that his plans do not rely on my faithfulness, his joy doesn’t hinge on my good behavior, his glory doesn’t depend on my performance. I stumble along, chasing my own agendas and plotting my own ends, occasionally offering him the reverence he is perpetually due. He is unruffled and unharmed by my inconsistency. He is pleased to be glorified either through me or in spite of me, but he does not need me in the least. And yet he loves me, deeply and eternally, for no other reason than “according to the good pleasure of his will” (Eph. 1:3-6). (60)
Moses, the man who asked God to send someone else, wrote a song filled with what he had learned about God and about himself as he saw God deliver the Israelites out of Egypt and through the wilderness, toward God’s promised land.
What if we began our days, echoing his words?
Before the mountains were born
or you brought forth the whole world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God. (Psalm 90:2)
What if we numbered our days, remembering that we are dust?
What if, in the same breath, we asked Him something that He longs to do for us? “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.” (90:14)
What if we asked Him to help us see His splendor and share it with our children?
What if we started and ended each day with the last verse?
May the favor[a] of the Lord our God rest on us;
establish the work of our hands for us—
yes, establish the work of our hands. (Psalm 90:17)
When God is the One establishing our work, it is enough. Maybe He’s preparing us for opportunities we could never imagine. Maybe the desires we do have to host a Bible study, or visit sick people at the hospital, or go on a trip to encourage missionaries overseas, are desires that God planted but wants to grow into reality in a different stage of our lives.
Can we trust that what God is doing in our lives now will connect with what He is going to do in five, 10, or 20 years? Do we need to see how He’s connecting the dots? (so that we can approve of it beforehand?)
When I am seeking to be faithful, it helps me to see how my family is a part of what God is establishing, rather than an interruption of it. I won’t be trying to yank everyone around me into the swirling funnel of my plans so that we’ll all fall out the bottom into my desired outcome.
I’ll be able to help my children and husband be who God created them to be. To welcome others into a home where it’s okay to make mistakes. To talk of God’s faithfulness and what He is teaching me over the dinner table (or changing table), rather than the number of times the potty was remembered too late.
Father, would you forgive us for trying to establish ourselves without you? Give our hearts a desire for faithfulness. Please establish the work of our hands today. We are Yours.
The kids had gotten up earlier than usual, so I threw some French Toast on the griddle and got together our vitamins, juice and dishes. I heard branches start to drop on our roof and looked outside our back door window to see the forest of trees behind our house swaying back and forth–so much that the solid trunks appeared as flimsy as their branches. Isaiah and Hosanna were already in their booster seat and high chair, and as soon as I went to sit down, I heard an enormous cracking sound, followed by a crash that shook our entire double-wide. I screamed and Isaiah started crying. (Ten-month Hosanna seemed to hold up the best out of the three of us.)
I went to the same back door window and saw that a tree about a foot in diameter was leaning against our house, and an even bigger tree was laying in the backyard nearby.
Though we now have a hole in our roof and a couple cracks in the office ceiling, I’ve tried to remind Isaiah of God’s protection each time he hears the wind blowing and gets scared, (and how God promises to be with us when we do get hurt).
It’s scary to talk about suffering because I want to have all the answers. When someone shares their pain with me, I don’t want to say the wrong thing. It doesn’t feel like a fair fight when my words are coming up against their real, raw pain. I have to keep the lies of empty motivational phrases from trying to wriggle their way out of my mouth, because that’s what people say when they’re trying to cover up the fact that they don’t know what to say. It’s all the world has. Either feel guilty because there are so many worse off than you, or try to believe phrases like:
You’ll get through this. You are a survivor. You are stronger than the pain.
It might even make someone feel like they are not allowed to feel the pain fully–that it would be better just to ignore it and look to the future.
But what if the future isn’t better but only delivers more pain? What about those who face injustice and persecution until their last breath?
All I know is that whether someone follows God or not, the only hope I can offer is Jesus. If I can’t receive the gift of faith to believe in His sovereignty, justice, and goodness (notice I didn’t say feel), I also probably won’t be able to cling to the hope of eternal joy with Him on the New Earth. If this life is all there is, I have no comfort to offer the hurting.
But if, when I read His Word, my soul strives to believe and submit to not understanding the ways of the One who is Infinite and also the source of all love, I can cry and scream and pour out my emotions before Him. I can feel and not ignore. Allow myself to claw through the pain of losing someone I love. Speak the disappointment of forfeiting another night of sleep to a fussy newborn. Grieve when my child yells at his cousin, doesn’t want to share his toys, and doesn’t want to apologize. Feel weary when my husband’s responsibilities take him away from helping at home.
As Hosanna continues to conquer new territory through her crawling, I have needed to intervene on behalf of library books and her own safety. My back and shoulders have taken on a new ache, causing memories of past chronic pain to try and make me fear that the discomfort, discouragement, and limitations are ready to take over again. That the rhythm I’ve found doing life with two Littles is going to be impossible to maintain.
What if I let the Holy Spirit use the fear as a trigger to respond to Him?
When I see my need for Jesus and that apart from Him I can do nothing, it prepares my heart for His strength to enter into the pain. When I tell him how scared I am or how much it hurts, it opens the way for His Spirit to lead me to a response. (Here’s a great short video on this by John Piper.)
When I mentioned to my dear friend Jessie that my word for this year is surrender, she wrote back these words:
“Surrender to an enemy would be terrifying, but surrender to one who has your highest good in mind, who is the Lover of your soul? That sounds positively wonderful, the very thing our souls are longing for, but often don’t admit. To just let go and be loved. To open our hands and receive.”
When I’m not trying to control my life so much that any pain becomes a bitterness-producing interruption, I can receive the way God wants to use it in my life. Maybe He wants me to leave my plans behind and walk with Him into something totally different. Maybe He wants to comfort me with a promise I’ve never had to set my heart on before.
When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt and through the Red Sea, there was no mistaking His power. When He brought water from a rock and bread from heaven, there was no mistaking His provision. But before each of those things, He allowed suffering. Slavery. Hunger. Thirst. Fear.
I recently worked through a Bible study on 1 Peter where I asked the Lord to show me what He has done in my life through allowing suffering. This is what He brought to mind:
- A deeper knowledge of God’s care and faithfulness
- Seeing my need to depend on Him more clearly
- A longing for heaven (Philippians 3:20)
- Freedom from the perspectives of this world by growing in obedience and purity. (Hebrews 5:7-8)
- Deliverance from the temptation to be prideful in what I can accomplish or perform. (2 Corinthians 12:7)
- The chance to comfort others with the comfort I have received from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-6)
Suffering as Ministry
1 Peter 3:15 is often quoted when talking about evangelism, but I’d never taken time to really look at the context:
Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…
What if God chose to draw others to Himself as they saw my faith in suffering?
What if they were reminded of Jesus’ example of submission through suffering when they saw me suffering unjustly?
What if I talked through my own suffering with others rather than trying to give all the answers to their pain?
What if I was able to speak about the benefits I’ve experienced because of suffering, even as I expressed my current pain honestly with others? (Rather than simply depending on inspirational phrases that decorate my living room walls or web images that pop onto people’s Facebook feed to do the job.)
When God brought the plagues and split the sea, one of the reasons He did it was that “the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.” (Exodus 7, 13) The Egyptians did, and some even joined the Israelites, leaving their security behind to follow a God of glory and power.
God is not afraid to use suffering to draw people’s hearts to Himself, because fellowship with Him is always better than escaping painful circumstances.
He is patient, not wanting anyone to perish, and has made a way for us to know Him through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Will we speak that hope to ourselves and others when they ask?
What benefits has God allowed you to see as He’s worked for your good in suffering?
What anxiety is He longing for you to cast on Him?
What promise is He inviting you to grab onto today?