Two Questions to Help Pursue God’s Purposes

I don’t know Greek. I can’t read Hebrew. There are Bible study tools I learned about in college that I haven’t tried to fit into my toddler and preschool-filled schedule. Sometimes, my brain has had a hard enough time comprehending the English words stringing together into sentences if it’s early enough in the morning or late in the afternoon.

But something that’s helped me immensely in getting to know God and His purposes for me through His Word is by asking questions.

Questions help me start to figure out what a passage says, what it means, and how it applies to my life. And when I take time to ask my own questions about a passage, the Spirit often uses them to help me find some answers.

I recently put together a guide for our women’s Bible study through 1 Samuel, using some great resources like Jen Wilkin’s Women of the Word, Jack Klumpenhower’s Show Them Jesus, and David Helm’s One-to-One Bible Reading book. These questions could be used for any Old Testament narrative passage in the Bible, so you can check it out here (or get the whole books for more expansive tools to explore each part of the Bible).

As I’ve studied God’s Word, different seasons have allowed various degrees of study. But as He’s invited me to join Him, revealing His plan of redemption through His Word, I’ve realized that every day I need a constant perspective shift.

I need to zoom out, using God’s Word as a telescope, to remember His kingdom coming, power at work, plan to save, and hope of eternity with Him.

I also need to use His Word as a microscope, zooming in on the miracle of my salvation, adoption, and the righteousness He has given me through Jesus’ obedience and sacrifice. I need to zoom in on the good roles He’s placed me in and how they are lived out in His kingdom, asking His Spirit to lead me in my daily decisions.

And I need a panoramic camera, to see how the Spirit is using believers all across the globe to invite people from every nation to know Him.

If I don’t ask His Spirit to help me zoom in, out, and around, I often fall into depending on my own strength or ability to obey. I compare my pitiful abilities to others’ seemingly-less-pitiful abilities and feel discontent, rather than looking up to Christ, who is completely able to accomplish the Father’s will. I try to figure out a list of what God wants me to do, rather than asking the Spirit to lead me in His good purposes.

Like the stones of remembrance in the Old Testament, each passage I study helps me to remember God’s involvement in a specific place and time, reminding me of His unchanging character at work now and for all eternity.

Here are two questions I like to ask the Spirit to show me when I read a passage:

  1. How does this passage challenge your understanding about who God is and what He is like? How is this aspect of God revealed–most fully–in Jesus?
  2. How does this aspect of God’s character change my view of self? How does believing the good news change how I live in attitude or behavior?

What questions has God used in your life to show you more of Himself and lead you in His ways?

When You’re Sick of Always Running Out of Time

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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

When Our Inefficiency is Pleasing to God

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.  

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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.

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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.

  1. 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.

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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.

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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.

How To Read the Old Testament to Treasure the Gospel

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!”

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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).

Digging Deeper

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

How to Fill Your New Year’s Resolutions With Hope

I wrote this article last year, but as I look forward to what God might have in 2017, I wanted to share it again. 

I can’t even count the number of times growing up, whether it was public school or youth group that I was challenged to “make a difference in the world.” That I could be a part of seeing life-changing transformation in the lives of those I reached out to.

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Fast forward a few years to my current life filled with laundry, meal preparations, and conversations about screwdrivers, milk, and pretending to jump in imaginary pools of water.

Surely if I could somehow get these responsibilities over with, I could get to the really important stuff, (followed up by letters of appreciation from people telling me how their lives are so much better because of me and God must surely be pleased with all the people I am impacting.)

At times, it’s easy to see my toddler as an obstacle to what I am trying to accomplish, rather than part of my purpose.

It feels like the Christian life should be separate from wiping the hairs off the bathroom sinks, paying the electric bill, and picking up another box of diapers from Walmart.

But most of the time, those tasks are exactly what my days consist of.

What happened to changing the world?

How do we have a vision while still holding our plans loosely (because little people aren’t as predictable as we might like them to be)?

How do we invite our families to be part of that vision, instead of imagining all that we could do if we had a break from them?

In Philippians 3, Paul lists his accomplishments and reasons he would look pretty important to the average Jew. But in verses 7-9, Paul says,

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.”

In verse 14 he goes on to say, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

What is Paul’s goal? It wasn’t changing the world (though God used Him to share His truth in many places).

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His goal was knowing Jesus and living in the hope of the gospel for today and for eternity.

This goal was meant to be pursued as we go about our responsibilities, instead of getting our everyday tasks finished as quickly and efficiently as possible so we can get to the really important work.

Picking up toys for the hundredth time and organizing leftovers can be part of God’s work as we let His pleasure and presence give each task meaning.

Rachel Jankovic, in her book Fit to Burst, shares that “It does not matter what is on the table when the people around it aren’t at peace. It doesn’t matter how clean your house is when bitterness is growing in the hearts of your children.” (p.31)

Goals vs. Desires

So is it pointless to have dreams? Should we throw all our goals out the window?

It’s important to make a distinction between goals and desires. Goals can’t involve others’ behavior, because we don’t have control over that.

I can desire to get my closets organized, but if my son starts running a fever, or my husband has to work late, I can’t consider the unaccomplished task a failure.

On the other hand, if my goal is to invite Jesus and His joy and favor earned on my behalf into every task and interaction I have, I can keep working and fighting to reach it.

Rachel Jankovic shares that “[Our children] should see us setting realistic (but maybe difficult) goals, and working hard toward them. They should see us being visionaries who are anchored firmly in reality. . . They should see us laboring hard to make a beautiful life for them while not losing sight of the them in it.” (p. 31)

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It’s exciting to be around people who are passionate about something. When my husband comes home telling me all about how he’s learning to use the incredible software that designs the metal parts at his company, it makes me smile.

When I have the chance to talk about the draft of my novel with someone, I can hardly choose whether to talk about plot, character, or the storylines I’m trying to weave together.

It’s good to want to make changes to be healthier in mind, body and spirit.

But when the snooze gets pushed too many times, or moments to write get sucked up by phone calls, or I end up dealing with a tantrum when he should have been napping, I can still be succeeding.

If my ultimate goal is to know Jesus and invite His gospel truth to fill my mind each day, the actual circumstances are only the avenue for accomplishing the goal.

John Piper, a pastor and teacher shared in one of his sermons that “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.”

Will you trust the God who shaped the universe and has all the power to accomplish His perfect plan (and let you be a part of it) as He leads you into the future?

Will you lay your desires for this next year in His hands?

Will you let your children see what it means to “press on toward the goal” in His grace?

5 Sacrifices We Can Offer to God This Thanksgiving

Like potty training accidents and moments of defiance, sickness isn’t really something you can plan into your schedule, (though now that I have two kids, it’s a little easier to see it coming. Example: My preschooler got a runny nose, became even more affectionate toward his little sister, giving her the cold, which passed to my husband who had to go to work feeling sick, and finally after a few days of trying to make everyone feel better, I got to join in the nose-blowing fun.)

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As the regular household chores were pared down to keeping the kids alive and a few meals cooked, I struggled with the feeling of uselessness, accomplishing even less than the current pace of life I’ve tried to get used to with having two kids. Time to study the Bible is even more interrupted by inconsistent nap schedules and a tired mommy brain.

It’s made me want to enter this season of Advent and the wonderful family and friend Christmas extras that are added to the schedule with a greater awe for Immanuel—God with us—leading and guiding how we go about our days.

But how do we know how to spend our time?

First, we need to figure out what roles God has called us to in light of the future inheritance we have, which will never perish, spoil, or fade. (I Peter 1:4)

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Called to Be a Priest

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4-5 ESV)

So what does it actually look like to be a priest on this side of the cross?

How can I be a priest as I go about my other wife-mother-friend-daughter-sister-church member roles?

First, we need to remember that our ability to be a priest rests solely on Jesus’ work as the Great High Priest. He was tempted in every way, yet kept the law perfectly so that we can receive His righteousness on our behalf. Even now, He intercedes for us so that we can approach the throne of grace with confidence (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Only then can we hope to offer the smaller spiritual sacrifices that reflect His greatest sacrifice on the cross as we intercede between and on behalf of others.

Jen Wilkin, in her Bible study on 1 Peter, pointed us to some Scriptures describing five different kinds of spiritual sacrifices.

  1. A broken spirit and contrite heart

O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:15-17)

  1. Our bodies

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1)

  1. Proclaiming the gospel

But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:15-16)

  1. Praising God by acknowledging His name

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

  1. Doing good and sharing what I have

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. (Hebrews 13:16)

Just like God’s gracious blessings are both physical and spiritual, our sacrifices to Him may or may not be seen before they are offered like incense before God’s throne.

Each moment I invest in praising God for who He is, thanking Him for the specific physical and spiritual gifts He helps me to recognize, and surrendering my body for His use, it is a sacrifice to Him.

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Every time I invite Him to search my heart and draw me to repentance, it is a sacrifice to Him.

And when my heart is focused on the goodness of God, it prepares my heart and mind for talking about that goodness with others.

I can be thankful for each opportunity to do good that He provides: each spoonful of pureed peas, each moment of listening to a friend pour out her struggles, each repeated read of the Katie the Snowplow book , and each cycle of planning a menu, shopping, pulling ingredients out of the fridge, cooking, serving, and cleaning up.

As we prepare for Thanksgiving, will we be content to stop at spending a moment thanking Him for the physical blessings of good food, family, and friends? (Or merely join with the world in the feeling of “being thankful” with no one to direct our thanks to?)

What other sacrifices might God be inviting us to give for our good and His glory?

*If you’d like to read a Thanksgiving fiction piece I wrote last year, click here.

Come and See (How to Enjoy Sharing Jesus)

“How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (John 4:9)

His request for water was unexpected. She could have walked away.

But she didn’t.

Whether it was curiosity, the Spirit’s working or both, she stayed to talk.

And Jesus started drawing her into the truth. She didn’t understand all the talk of living water, but she kept listening, eventually asking for the water that would allow her to cross off “draw water” from her to-do list each day.

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And then Jesus zoomed into her soul. “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” (John 4:16-18)

She could have denied what Jesus revealed about her life of multiple husbands and current sexual sin, but she stayed in the conversation, saying that Jesus must be a prophet.

So Jesus kept pouring the truth into her, about the Father seeking people to worship Him in spirit and truth, which led her to bring up the Messiah. Only then, did Jesus reveal Himself as the Messiah, the One who was to come.

When the disciples returned to Jesus, their looks showed that they didn’t understand why he would be talking to this woman.

But it didn’t stop her.

“So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”’ (John 4:28-29)

Other Samaritans came to see the man the woman was talking about and believed “because of the woman’s testimony.” (vs.39) Jesus stayed two days and kept speaking the truth.

They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” (John 4:42)

Joy vs. Guilt

Does the command to “make disciples” ever feel more like a burden than a joy?

Do guilt and condemnation creep in when an opportunity is missed, or when you wish you’d responded differently to someone?

Does it feel like when you do take time to pour into someone, the living water seems to evaporate before it reaches their heart?

I have felt validated when people respond positively to a truth I share. I have also let disappointments grow into feelings of insignificance and self-pity when the response I hoped for didn’t happen.

Lately, the Father has lovingly lifted my eyes to a different focus.

Maybe the Samaritan woman struggled with these feelings, but her actions showed her faith. She wasn’t focusing on whether people would believe her. She just had to share, which caused many of her townsfolk to find out more from Jesus Himself.

The first two words from the woman to the people have echoed through my head as I struggle with wanting people to know and grow in the gospel.

Come, see.

Come, see.

Come, see.

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God uses so many different ways for His kingdom to come and His truth to be revealed. The results I imagine might be incredibly different than how the Spirit wants to work in people’s lives and in my own life.

But how do I know if I’m doing it right? What if I miss opportunities and don’t know if I’m being a “good and faithful servant?” (Or wishing I’d spent a few more minutes talking to the Jehovah’s Witnesses who came to my door.)

Nancy Guthrie, in her chapter in Word-Filled Women’s Ministry explained The Parable of the Talents this way:

“We don’t need to fear that we haven’t done enough. (Don’t we, as women, regularly tend to think we haven’t done enough or that we simply aren’t enough?) The real danger being drawn for us in this parable is not the danger of not doing enough for the Master. The two faithful servants receive different amounts and come up with different amounts in the end, and they are both rewarded with exactly the same praise from the Master.

The real danger threatens those who do nothing with what has been entrusted to them, those for whom there is zero return—no response of faith to the gospel, no treasuring the Master, no fruit of the Spirit, no return for the Master’s kingdom—nothing. That’s the point of the third servant, who did nothing with his gift. Because he did nothing, he did not just lose his reward; he lost his life.” (239)

When I’m continuing to let my focus be on treasuring Christ, it will be His love flowing through me onto others, whether they choose to receive it or not.

His kingdom is coming. And I get to be a part of it.

And so do you.

When You’re Hungry For Accomplishment

Sometimes the Spirit brings a face to my mind during the day—the man who broke his leg, the girl going off to college for the first time, the family packing to spend another term overseas.

Other times, the person is right in front of me, quietly sharing a need (or shouting it at the top of their lungs if they are under 3 feet tall).

I often respond to a little people need without giving it much thought.

Or I’ll spend a moment praying for the person God brought to mind, and possibly shoot them a text.

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But other times, when caring about someone takes more time than I’d planned—a phone conversation, a time of instruction and discipline, or trying everything from celery to teething rings to calm a fussy baby–I find myself wanting to argue with God.

It’s as if the Father is saying, “My daughter, will you do this for me?”

And I respond, “But Father, look at all these other good things that I’d like to do for you. Can’t you just change my circumstances so that I can do them instead? What happened to serving from my gifts or trying to work efficiently and effectively?”

If I’m lucky, the Spirit’s truth gently pushes through my other thoughts with something like, “Who’s in charge over every scrap of the universe anyway? Who works all things together for your benefit and my glorious before-time-began rescue plan? Who gives people the gift of faith and draws them through life until their sure hope becomes a reality on my eternal New Earth?”

Pretty much all I can say to that is, “Oh. Right.”

Otherwise, I just keep trying to work hard in my own strength, forgetting the beauty of the gospel and the God who ordained it.

I forget what success means in His kingdom as I snatch at significance and results I can measure on this earth.

I forget the importance of taking time to enjoy Jesus and letting His Word change my thoughts that stubbornly want to keep slogging through the same trenches of worldly success.

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I look to my accomplishments to bring the satisfaction that only Jesus can.

Instead,  I need saints of old like Charles Spurgeon to remind me of truths like, “Remember this: had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, Divine Love would have put you there.”

Send Them

At our conference of Mennonite churches this year, the speaker and his wife shared stories of what God is doing in churches all around the world. They encouraged us to echo the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Here I am. Send me.”

But they also shared the story from the book of Acts, about Cornelius going to the home of the apostle Peter, and bringing Peter back to his family to share the good news of the gospel. God didn’t just send Peter out to preach the good news. He sent people to Peter (Acts 10).

The theme of the conference was Discipleship, and the speaker challenged us to not only say, “Here I am. Send me,” but also, “Here I am. Send them (to me.)”

As my heart continues to struggle with desiring earthly recognition and success, here are two things that the Spirit has used to refocus my mind on His perspective.

  1. Asking God to help me recognize who He is sending to me.

I often have my own ideas about who I want God to send me—people ready to ask, “Can you show me how to surrender my life to Jesus?” I need to be reminded that when Jesus was on earth, He met people’s needs, sharing the truth as He listened and loved.

  1. Asking God who He wants to love through me today.

When I’m concerned with the tasks I think God wants me to do for Him, my work can feel like one long to-do list. Joy dissolves, and people are added to the list of laundry, meals, and diapers.

But when I take time to receive the Father’s love and ask for His love to flow through me onto others, it takes the pressure off having something tangible to show for my time. It allows me to relax and enjoy the reflections of His image all around me.

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When the work becomes all about people, the household tasks and life details become a way to love my family and those He’s placed in my life.

Surrendered Goals

So what do I do with my goals and dreams?

First, as my mentor Natalie reminded me, I need to recognize that what I think is hunger for accomplishment really is hunger for God.

When I’m concerned with trusting God in what He wants to do through me, rather than focusing on pleasing God through my actions, it opens the way for God to graciously change my motives.

Maybe I won’t have the chance to publish a novel while my kids are still young.

But as I was reminded by Betsy Childs Howard in her talk on Walking By Faith When Dreams Are Delayed, God hasn’t given us the grace to face everything that could happen in the future. He gives grace for today.

And today, it’s okay that the potty training, grocery list, nursing, and time to email a friend filled up the 24 hour slot of today, rather than my writing.

Who has the Spirit placed right in front of you to share His love?

What circumstance is He inviting you to receive today as part of His gracious plan?

When Motherhood Feels Like Survival

Do you ever feel guilty when people do nice things for you?

Or start comparing yourself to all those who have a harder life or circumstance?

And then the next second, when you’re trying to get the screaming baby to latch on and your toddler is yelling for your help from across the house, wonder why you have to be needed (and touched) all day, every day?

These past newborn days have been filled with grace and kindness. Cards coming in the mail. People from church bringing meals. My parents staying with us and cooking food, doing fix-it projects in the house and yard, and letting 2 1/2 year old Isaiah follow them around and “help.”

There have been text messages to let me know people have been praying. Calls to ask if I need anything at the store.

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In the daytime fog that comes from each REM sleep cycle being interrupted by a famished newborn, trying to compose thank you notes doesn’t seem to be enough.

But then when we’ve just turned out the lights to go to sleep and the fussing starts, the ungrateful and self-pitying thoughts come rolling in.

Why couldn’t she schedule her gassy discomfort an hour ago, when we weren’t so tired?

Why does everyone around me have to be so needy?

The one sure thing about newborns is that they’re unpredictable, just like most of my other circumstances (including the ones that I’m living under the illusion that I control).

I often waver between guilt over the blessing in my life and frustration over the unexpected inconveniences of an overcharged internet bill and a little voice whining for a brownie for the 37th time that day.

It doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for joy.

I let my circumstances justify or condemn my feelings instead of just saying, “Ok, emotion. Here you are. Let’s go talk to Jesus about it and go from there.”

It’s easy to let my emotions force a false perception of reality into my mind—that this stage will never end, that other mothers have figured out how to do this parenting thing wonderfully, and that my thoughts will always feel this disconnected and boring.

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One gift in navigating the emotional newborn journey has been reading Gloria Furman’s book, Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full: Gospel Meditations For Busy Moms.

She reminded me that every leaky diaper and temper tantrum happens under God’s sovereignty.

Every act of love and care points us to the greatest act of love: Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross so that we can be in relationship with God, adopted as His daughters, and heirs of the most glorious eternal life to come.

Gloria shares that, “In the context of eternity, where Christ is doing his work of reigning over the cosmos, we need to see our mundane moments for what they really are–worship. In the daily (and nightly) work of mothering, we’re given dozens of invitations to worship God as he reminds us of the hope we have because of the gospel.” p. 18

We are nurturing life in the face of death in our sinful, fallen world.

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When we allow ourselves to appreciate people’s acts of kindness, no strings attached, we can also delight in the undeserved gifts of grace and spiritual blessings God wants to lavish on us simply because we are His.

And when our thoughts are covered in the truth of the gospel, we are free to invite his presence into every chopped onion, Thomas the Train book, and nighttime cry, no matter how many dishes are still left in the sink.

When we feel that we’ve done little else than keeping a couple kids alive that day, we can rest in His greatest accomplishment of our salvation and daily power over the universe.

Will you invite Jesus’ presence into each messy day?

Will you let His accomplishment be enough today?

 

Can Mamas of Little Ones Reach the World?

My dear friend Jessie is sharing her heart as my guest blogger today. I’m also excited to share with you about her new book Loving the Stranger: Welcoming Immigrants in the Name of Christ.

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Refugee crisis.
Thousands fleeing war.
Camps.
Capsized boats.
Devastation.
Pain.

You read the heart-breaking headlines with one eye on the news story, one eye on an almost-boiling pot on the stove, and one eye on a rambunctious toddler or three (you have more than two eyes, right, including the ones in the back of your head?).

Your compassion is stirred, your concern is raised, and you long to “get out there” and help the hurting in this sick, sad world. But then you sigh as you’re drawn back to reality…

In the time it took you to read the first paragraph of this article, the pot you forgot boiled over, one of the toddlers is wailing in the next room, and you just remembered you have to pay the water and electricity bills today.

Not to mention the fact that finances are tight, you’re dog-tired from getting up with the baby at 3 am (and 4 am, and 5 am), and your passport expired three years ago.

You want to reach the world, but how in the world…?

I have good news for you, Dear Mama. I know your heart beats with desire to be involved in fulfilling the Great Commission (“go and make disciples”) and the Great Commandment (“love your neighbor as yourself”).

I know you’re trying. I know you want to do more for the world but feel like your world is so small, only made up of your home, your husband, and your little, little kids.

God sees you where you are, and He is pleased. But here’s the exciting thing: He has brought and is bringing a strategic ministry to you, right to your doorstep.

You don’t even have to step outside — you just have to invite this ministry in.

What is this ministry? It is nothing less than being an ambassador of the Welcoming God who loves the stranger (Deut. 10:18) and sets the lonely in families (Ps. 68:6).

The lonely strangers I’m talking about are immigrants (refugees, people who came for work, international students…) from literally every country in the world, including members of many unreached people groups who have never before heard the Good News about Jesus.

I promise you, fulfilling the Great Commission is something you can do in the midst of the busyness of your daily schedule.

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All it requires is opening your (everyday) life and inviting people in, making room in your (ordinary, Jesus-loving) heart and room at your (messy kitchen) table for one or two more.

You don’t have to set aside certain hours (and arrange a babysitter!) in order to be involved in ministry. Rather, your everyday life is the very thing that immigrants are missing the  most about their own lives.

Home. Family. Belonging.

Losing these things is one of the most painful aspects of crossing a culture. And one of the most powerful things we can do for culture-crossers is to welcome them into our own homes and families, inviting them to belong with us.

Alicia has written beautifully about hospitality before, but I just want to offer a quick reminder that hospitality — opening your home — is not the same as entertaining.

Entertaining has its place for sure, but it’s not a biblical command. Hospitality is. Hospitality is much more natural and organic than entertaining.

Entertaining is putting on a show (often a very fun and enjoyable one!), while hospitality is inviting others behind the scenes. In hospitality, there is no need to roll out the red carpet or do things in a more fancy way than usual.

The only thing that is needed is a little extra room at the table for another plate, another person, another life.

Hospitality is making room in your real life for the real life of another, even a “stranger.” As they gather around your everyday kitchen table, strangers cease to be strangers and instead become friends. And kitchen table friends naturally become family over time, because you’re doing life together. Invite internationals into your normal rhythms, your everyday weeknights, your mundane moments.

What they are missing is not novelty, but normalcy. Dinner can be rotisserie chicken or boxed macaroni and cheese – the important thing is that love and connection will be on the menu. Hospitality is simply openness, saying, “Come in! To my home, my heart, my life.”

Openness simply means inviting others into our daily routine wherever we can.

It means thinking, “Since I’m going to the grocery store, I’m going to call Fadila and see if she needs groceries, since I know she doesn’t have a car,” or “Johnny has a tee-ball game tonight and the weather’s nice…maybe I can call Maria and see if she’d like to sit in the bleachers with us and watch.”

Openness is keeping our eyes wide open to the opportunities God brings our way right smack- dab in the middle of our busy lives.

It means resisting the tendency to shut people out when things get hectic. Instead, it means intentionally inviting others into the hectic, into the crazy-busyness. Illusions of perfection maintained by keeping others on the outside of our lives are not helpful for any kind of true friendship, including cross-cultural friendship.

autumn-962755_1280Openness invites others into our real lives, following Paul’s example in ministry, when he said about the Thessalonians: “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us” (1 Thess 2:8, emphasis mine).

Your simple willingness to open your home and invite strangers to become friends and even family around your kitchen table in the midst of a busy, normal life will speak volumes about your open heart, and testify to God’s heart for the stranger.

You can impact the world, Mama, just by opening your door.

 

Want to get involved in welcoming immigrants but don’t know how to get started? For an encouraging how-to guide chock-full of practical ideas for how Mamas of little ones can get involved in reaching the world on their doorstep, check out Jessie’s new book: Loving the Stranger: Welcoming Immigrants in the Name of Christ.

Do you know someone who might benefit from this post or from the book? Share this post to let them know!