Why We Can Quit Trying So Hard

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.

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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.

Instant Righteousness

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.

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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. 

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And maybe, some of that love just might start to spill over onto those He brings to us.

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.

Why Your Children Need the Gospel (Instead of Another Lecture)

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

When You Don’t Feel Successful

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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)

Echoing Moses

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)

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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.

When Your Plans Get Thrown Out the Window

A few years ago, my mom challenged me to come up with a word for the year, something that I wanted to invite God to do in my life as I considered what might happen in the coming year. Some of my words from past years have included: Spirit, dependance, and presence (which was my word last year as I anticipated Hosanna’s arrival and my life being turned on its head, courtesy of my newborn).

This year, I’ve been a bit nervous about my word. As if by saying it, I am inviting opportunities to need it. But maybe I am. My word is surrender.

As I anticipate the critical training time now that Hosanna has learned how to crawl (and will soon be communicating more), as I hope to get my novel to a place of sending it to publishers, as I continue to ask God to send people into my home who need to hear or be reminded of gospel truths, it is scary.

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I’ve always found safety in the familiar, especially when I’m the one creating the schedule for everyone else to stick to. But God, in His grace, keeps bringing these living, breathing, factors into my life to open my eyes to the pride of wanting to do exactly what I want, when I want. When I’ve tried to make others see that my perceptions and solutions are the best, without considering their own desires, the only thing I’ve gained is a deeper sense of discontent.

Listening to My Heart?

When I see anything that sways from my intentions as annoying interruptions, (like my son vomiting on the carpet or the “accidents” that make me keep my vinegar spray bottle handy), my heart is really believing that God doesn’t know what He is doing and can’t possibly work it together for my good. Better to suck it up and hope the next day is closer to my plans.

But what if my plans get completely thrown out the window?

What if my brothers sold me into slavery because they were jealous of me? And even when I tried to respond to a situation in a righteous way, it led to me being falsely accused and put in prison?

What if I was told to leave my home and believe promises that wouldn’t be fully fulfilled until after I’d died?

What if I was sent to a place where I took on the neediness of a baby, grew up to be consistently rejected or misunderstood by those I was trying to reach, and spent the night before my execution asking the Father if there was any way His plan could be fulfilled in a different way?

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What if by laying aside my plans done in my way, all the little times I “shared in His sufferings” pointed directly to Him?

Joseph’s Journey

I recently read through Joseph’s story in the book of Genesis and was surprised by how this righteous man’s life pointed to Jesus in so many little details.

Both lives were exchanged for silver.

Both were betrayed by people close to them.

Both were falsely accused when they had acted righteously.

Both were thrown into a pit. (Joseph was tossed in by his brothers, and then the jail Potiphar sent him to was referred to as the pit. Jesus tasted the pit of Hell’s punishment for us when He died on the cross.)

Both caused people to give glory to God in response to their actions, and gave God glory for their abilities.

Both were raised to a high position and became a channel of blessing to the nations. (Joseph advised Pharaoh and provided food during the famine. Jesus, through His resurrection and being raised to glory, offers His righteousness to us so that we might be forgiven and raised to the glory of our eternal home with Him.)

Both submitted to the Father’s will in forgiving and welcoming those who had done them wrong, (Joseph told his brothers that what they had intended for evil, God used for good. Jesus brought forgiveness to us, while we were still sinners.)

Both had to look forward to a future inheritance. (Joseph only had Jacob’s blessing and his affirmation of God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac and himself. Jesus conquered death through the cross, but waits to receive the full number of His inheritance (us!) even as He prepares to come again and usher in life on the New Earth.)

It’s only through God’s Word that we can grasp the Big Story of His plan of redemption for the world and see His steadfast love at work, even when we are sinned against, and especially when we sin.

May the Spirit help us to trust the Divine Author who is fitting together all the pieces of His redemption story. We are a part of His story, and every happy ending to every book is a mere reflection of what it will be like to enter into the happiest eternity of fellowship with God.

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Opening our Eyes

But how can we actually see God’s Sovereign, Loving, Good hand at work every time our nose starts to run? (Or feel the dread of getting sick when other family members get it first.)

Every time our toddler finds something else to dump out (or hide)?

Every time our baby starts working on a new tooth?

Every time our preschooler comes up with another question to ask (or keeps re-asking a question when he is not satisfied with the answer given)?

Every time our children refuse to pray, refuse to thank someone for a gift, or choose to value a toy over the value of their sibling?

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Maybe, as we sweep Play-doh crumbs off the floor, we feel more like we’re stuck in a pit than experiencing the joy of being raised with Christ.

Maybe the routine of sorting, washing, drying, folding, and putting away laundry feels like a never-ending circle of responsibility.

What if we asked God to open our eyes to the bigger story, to how it points forward to what God is going to do in the future? Or how it can remind us of what Jesus has already done?

What if we could see each load of shirts bringing us one cycle closer to the moment when we will lose our earthly clothes and be clothed in Jesus’ righteousness?

What if each meal planned, prepared, eaten, and cleaned up, gave us a hint of how much better it will be at the marriage supper of the Lamb, when it’s not really the food that satisfies us but is only an accompaniment to our enjoyment of the One who satisfies us completely?

What if we saw each training opportunity as a way to reflect what God wants to do in our lives–teaching us His ways, disciplining us when necessary, and allowing us to take part in the fruit of righteousness, blessing, and joy that comes from living in obedience.

What if each failed attempt to reach the potty in time, each attempt to pull-up on the couch without falling, and each baby cry that refused to be comforted, pointed us to hope in the God who is walking with us, all the way to our final home, when we finally “get it?”

Spirit, would you open our eyes to see what You are doing and trust your loving Hand with the rest?

If you’d like to share your word for the year, I’d love to pray it with you.

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?

How to Invite Your Children to Taste and See God’s Goodness

As I was getting ready for bed one night, the fear appeared like a sudden thunderstorm.

What if my children grow up and choose not to follow Christ?

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As the rain drops of doubts continued pouring over my face, I had to keep wiping the water out of my eyes to catch a glimpse of the light of Christ.

It made me realize that I was focusing on my abilities and performance as a mom, thinking that by it I could control a heart. If I just led them in the right Scripture memory, listened to the right songs, said the right prayers, talked about God enough, used the right curriculum, and trained in the right way, I could produce the faith my children need.

It’s almost as if I’d convinced myself that I was the one who made my own “desperately wicked” heart soft. (Jeremiah 17:9)

Mrs. Fix-It

When I see a problem or potential problem, I want to do everything in my power to fix it. Letting go of control leaves me feeling helpless. When my six-month-old daughter cries and I don’t know why, my neck and shoulders tense up, and my mind starts going crazy with all the possible reasons she might be unhappy.

My mentor encouraged me to invite Jesus’ peace into those times, even if I don’t have the mental capacity to pray more than, “Jesus, please help me. I invite your peace into this time of crying.” God has used those tears (mine and hers) to show me how good it is to depend on the One who is Sovereignly Dependable.

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Gloria Furman, in her new book, The Mission of Motherhood, says, “Things that are part of our design—our need for others in community, our physical limitations, being embodied in an “earthly tent,” and our lack of knowledge—are not failures.. . If your neediness is simply because you are a human being (i.e., not omniscient, not omnipresent, not omnipotent, not God), then you have reason to rejoice.

“You see the love of the second person of the Trinity to inhabit the same earthly frame as the one you have.. . You see how your neediness points you to Christ’s sufficiency. You see the wisdom in God’s design to make you depend on him for everything you need…And you glory in his grace” (124-125).

The beauty of the gospel is that the Father is the One who draws our hearts, Jesus is the One who accomplished our redemption on the cross and continues to intercede for us, and the Spirit is the One who empowers us to live according to His Word.

When my focus is on treasuring Christ, longing to grow in my knowledge of Him and opening my broken, dependent self to the Spirit’s work in my life, it becomes less about methodology and more about inviting our children to taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8).

Since my three-year-old son is currently obsessed with construction equipment, I can share with him about how much more powerful God is than excavators. And when he wants me to thank God for steamrollers, I can thank God for all the good equipment He gives to make our lives easier.

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In an excellent panel discussion of moms about teaching our kids theology, one of the speakers emphasized that our kids’ understanding of God is both caught and taught.

Another mom shared that when we teach our kids about God, we aren’t offering them something different than what we learn—it’s the same truth cut into bite-size pieces or pureed.

Loving Him First

In Deuteronomy 6, Moses is reminding the Israelites of God’s commands.

“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:5-9 ESV)

The only way we can prepare and “puree” the truth for our children is if we are loving Him and studying His Word first.

I don’t know what pains or pleasures God is going to use in the story of my family. But I’ll never forget my theology class in college when the professor encouraged us, saying that though it may seem like someone will never look to the Lord, “Where there’s life, there’s hope.”

1 Peter 2:9 says that as believers we are part of a “royal priesthood.” Gloria Furman lifted my spirits when she reminded me that “Jesus is having mercy on your kids, for he put a priest in the next bedroom whose prayers ascend like incense before him as you boldly approach the throne of grace and plead for your children’s souls” (164).

As we trace the generation after generation of God’s redemption story, we can be comforted that God grows things, and He’s not in a hurry.

Father, thank you for the children you’ve placed in our lives. Would you show us how to surrender them to you, even as we intercede on their behalf? Would you grow us in our knowledge and love for you, so that we can truly invite others to taste and see that you are good? Thank you for Jesus.

When You Feel Like You’re Missing Out

I’ve heard it said that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something.

I’m not sure how being a mother would be calculated if you factor in nap times, night times of being “on call,” and the fact that every time you turn around your children are at a different stage of life. (As if you could become an expert on unpredictable humans).

But if you took a skill like learning to play the cello, it would mean practicing for 40 hours a week every week for five years.

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Trying to Do It All

A few weeks ago, Christopher and I strolled past ice cream and used book shops on our way to Touch of Italy for our anniversary, relishing our kid-free evening. We talked about the dreams we have, from publishing a novel to saving up for a powered paraglider (I’ll let you guess which one was Christopher’s).

It made me wonder how I would feel if none of our dreams happened–or if the pieces of success didn’t bring the fulfillment we thought they would.

If this life is all there is, we only have 80 years to squeeze everything in–if we’re lucky. Our bodies start breaking down, and we might regret not doing more when we had the chance.

As our children grow, we see them as fresh starts and try to live some of our dreams through them, running them from activity to activity in an effort to keep them from being “deprived.”

Or maybe surviving life with little people right now feels suffocating, the minute-by-minute responsibilities turning into weeks and months of setting aside other pursuits.

At times, I’ve fought the feeling that in some undefinable way, I’m missing out.

That if my circumstances were different, I could really be successful.

And then I’ve realized how prideful that is, choosing to live in discontentment rather than trusting God’s good care in the life I have now.

As believers, we don’t have to worry about missing out because Jesus gives hope in the present, marching all the way into eternity.

If we truly believe that we’ve been given the Holy Spirit “as a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance” (Eph. 1:14), and that we have a  “new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. . . kept in heaven for you (1 Peter 1:3-4), this present life can always be enough because Jesus was and is enough for us.

We don’t have to prove that we are enough because Jesus’ blood-bought forgiveness and garment of righteousness has already covered us and will cover us until our souls step into resurrected, perfect bodies.

So what do we do with our desires now?

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Christopher and I talked about starting a life list, dreams that we would give to God. We realized that the list could be as long and outrageous as we’d like, since we have eternity to finish it.

Death from this life would only mean that we can work at the other things on the list from resurrected bodies that have been made perfect. Because Jesus is coming back to create a New Earth, we will have the chance to keep learning, in a world that has been completely restored.

Just think how many things we will have the chance to become an expert in.

Time is Not Running Out

When we quit feeling that we have to get it all done now, it makes this life so much less stressful.

When we see our lives on this present earth as a tiny dot on the line of eternity, we can rest in the circumstances that our Sovereign and Good Father has us in, and enjoy the people He’s put in front of us.

Because He’s in charge and always will be, we have a sure hope.

Paul says in Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

If we are choosing to look to the God of hope, joy and peace are benefits in the present as well as the future, whether it be our kid’s next milestone or our final destination.

My mentor reminded me that God gives us grace in the present, and we can’t always see what His grace will look like in the future.

Trusting that God is good, loving, and in control, takes effort (strengthened by the Holy Spirit’s power), but the alternative is trusting in myself and forfeiting the gifts of joy and peace He wants to fill us with.

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Lifting Our Eyes

Maybe you feel like you’re making little impact on the world. . . look to the God of eternity.

Maybe your marriage doesn’t feel like you imagined it as a little girl. . . look to the God of eternity.

Maybe the cooked rice got thrown to the carpet, smashing down into a sticky mess. . . look to the God of eternity.

When our desire is for Him, He directs our other desires and goals for our life.

Jonathan Edwards put it beautifully:

“God is the highest good of the reasonable creature. The enjoyment of him is our proper; and is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied.

“To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Better than fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of any, or all earthly friends.

“These are but shadows; but the enjoyment of God is the substance.

“These are but scattered beams; but God is the sun.

“These are but streams; but God is the fountain.

“These are but drops, but God is the ocean.”
― Jonathan EdwardsThe Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 17: Sermons and Discourses, 1730-1733

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The Father has accomplished our salvation and adopted us as His daughters, so we can live lives of gratitude instead of striving for the world’s perception of success, fame, or money.

And as the apostle Peter reminds us to love one another deeply, he also gives us the perspective we need:

“For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For,

“All people are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
     but the word of the Lord endures forever.” (1 Peter 1:23-25)

Will you surrender the seed of your life to wherever the Father wants to plant you for this season?

Will you invite Jesus into your desires as you let your thoughts be shaped by His enduring Word?

Who is the Father leading you to love deeply today as you look to the hope of eternity?

When a Newborn Joins the Family (A Letter To Myself)

Dear Alicia,

You now have three months of experience as a mother of two, and there are a few things I’d like to remind you about this newborn stage in case you happen to get big and pregnant again and don’t remember what it was like to welcome a new member to the family.

Most importantly, please know that it will get better.

She will start to cry less, and you will come to terms with the fact that your schedule and rhythm will never look like it once did.

Here are a few other things I’d like to encourage you with (numbered, since there is a good chance you are hormone-charged or sleep-deprived).

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  1. You can’t help the fact that your baby would rather be back inside the womb.

I’ve heard it referred to as the “fourth trimester,” when the baby just wishes she were back in the darkness, surrounded by warm fluid, and getting to listen to your heart beat. It’s not your fault that even when she is fed, changed, and burped, she is still unhappy.

It’s okay to try things to make her feel better, but then you need to quit feeling guilty if she’s still uncomfortable and just not enjoying having to sleep on her back. She’ll get used to life just like you are getting used to a new stage.

She’s never known what it’s like to be hungry or have air bubbles inside her tummy. The only way she can communicate her feelings–ranging from slight annoyance to pain–is through crying. She’s experiencing the first sensations of what it means to live in a broken world.

Just think what wonderful news you’ll be able to share with her in the coming years as her tears find meaning, purpose, and healing in the forgiveness of Jesus.

  1. Life is going to be different, and you won’t be able to imagine how.

Over the past 2 ½ years, you’ve worked out different schedules with Isaiah–when to shower, read your Bible, and how to get household tasks done. But throwing a newborn into the mix will totally shake up the routine you’ve settled into.

Your previous way of life was not bad or good, it was just a different stage that you’ll never be able to return to. And this new life, with its unpredictability and having to divide your energies between two little people is exactly what God has called you to because He allowed them into your family in the first place.

Don’t worry about preparing yourself or trying to imagine how you’ll fit a newborn’s needs into your schedule. You won’t be able to. You’ll just have to find a new rhythm.

If you expect there to be unexpected circumstances to deal with (ex. Toddler pooping in the tub, clothes to rinse out from diaper blowouts, mysterious fussiness), you can see them not as interruptions, but as part of your schedule. It’s another way God is loosening your desire for control over your life.

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  1. There is no schedule.

You thought a few weeks in that if you got the right advice or kept perfect track of feedings and nap times, you’d be able to predict and conform Hosanna’s needs to your schedule. You saw her as a machine, thinking that if you’d punch in the right numbers, she would respond in a certain way.

You thought that if you only planned ahead well enough, you could avoid embarrassing situations like diaper explosions and finding a place to nurse in public.

Or when she didn’t nurse or sleep before you left to go to a restaurant or someone’s house, you imagined that when you got there, she would cry without taking a breath, and you’d have to endure helpful suggestions like, “Is she hungry?”

Sometimes if she was crying and you tried to nurse her, she screamed louder and pulled off, only to be doused by a spray of milk, (while everyone around was trying to ignore the all-out war going on under the nursing cover).

Unfortunately, worrying about it in advance won’t keep it from happening. On the other hand, she might sleep the entire evening because newborns are just that unpredictable.

Whether you get compliments on what a good baby she is, or whether you hide in a corner to avoid the pitying glances, Jesus is going to be with you, because His grace is always in the present.

You don’t have to imagine what it’s like raising eight kids because He gives grace for what He has entrusted to you.

On a practical note, once you’re three months in, there is still not much of a schedule. It’s more about being aware of the general times she’s eaten and slept and trying one or the other if she’s fussy. She might be awake for only a half hour or maybe two hours before she wants to sleep again.

And you won’t be able to fix everything with nursing. In fact, sometimes your letdown made Hosanna choke and get even more frustrated.

But it’s okay, because newborns are really bad at holding things against you.

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  1. Goals should be held lightly.

Everyone else who seems to be running around and getting a lot accomplished probably aren’t having their sleep interrupted every three hours at night. It makes a huge difference!

Your mentor Natalie had to remind you that during this stage, you should only have goals if you want to have goals, especially with your writing.

And do you really need to vacuum that often?

When Hosanna came along, jobs that had previously taken twice as long because of Isaiah’s toddler “help,” doubled again because her eating and sleeping-on-your-shoulder preference invaded every previously free block of time.

Try to think of getting your tasks done sometime during the week rather than sometime during the day, (or even sometime during the month).

Even your goal of getting in a nap won’t happen many times, (though it certainly doesn’t hurt anything to try), but it will be another reminder of your weakness and that Jesus wants to be strong in you.

In the fog of tiredness, you may be wondering if this is really how God is wanting you to spend your days. As Christopher had to remind you, you will never get it right all day every day, but that is exactly the point. Christ’s finished work on the cross accomplished everything needed to bring you into right standing before the Father.

He is inviting you to receive His love and rest as part of His perfect will for you.

  1. You may not feel a whole lot of affection for your newborn, but it will grow.

Those first few days and weeks were filled with Hosanna’s lung-strengthening demands, without even the courtesy of eye contact.

When you are jolted out of sleep for the third time that night, remember that all that sacrificial giving isn’t a way to show you how strong you are but that Jesus is the only One who can keep loving through you.

It’s okay to cry when she does.

Soon you will begin to see the twitches of a smile when she meets your eyes. And though it won’t make everything better, it will help. She’ll start to enjoy watching the goings on outside the womb, and be entertained by the funny sounds that come out of her siblings.

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  1. Have more dates with your husband in the first three months.

It’s easy to let those first weeks be consumed with trying to keep your little people happy. You were scared to leave Hosanna with anyone because if she was fussy, you felt like it was somehow your fault.

When you went on an anniversary date with Christopher, the frozen breastmilk bags split down the sides as they thawed, and she refused to drink the formula you sent as back up. Your mother-in-law said that she cried, and it was okay.

It was fine.

When you live in community, people aren’t expecting you (or your children) to be perfect. They aren’t sitting around waiting for thank you notes for the meals they brought. They’re letting Jesus love through them and giving you even more reasons to lift up praises to Him.

Just take the risk, and be thankful for the family who are willing to watch your kids.

And when you’re with your husband, don’t worry about trying to make deep conversation happen. Just enjoy each other.

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  1. You probably won’t like the way your body looks.

Just as you need to fight against the thoughts that make you think your worth is determined by what you accomplish, you need to hold up that shield of faith in front of your new post-pregnancy body.

You bear the marks of carrying another of God’s image-bearers into the world.

It’s okay to share with God your disappointment, but ask Him to open your eyes to see more of His greatness, so that you can see yourself and others as He sees you—a redeemed, adopted daughter among many other beloved creations.

  1. It’s okay to mourn the sacrifices.

You knew there would be lost sleep and crying, but when Hosanna actually came, you had to allow yourself to acknowledge the pain, so that you could bring your feelings to Jesus.

Of course someone else has it worse, but that doesn’t make giving up sleep, writing time, relaxation in the evenings, and quiet conversations with your husband unimportant.

When Isaiah was a newborn, you were able to get some good reading in while you nursed, but this time it’s been filled with conversations about the difference between an excavator and backhoe and what dinosaurs eat. (Or someone shouting “Mommy I need help!”  from across the house.)

You also used to have a block of time each day to write, but now even your moments to yourself have had household details pulling at your attention and a tiredness that’s made your  brain feel like part of it was slipping out the back of your head.

Allow yourself to mourn the ability to concentrate and the fact that your eyes get more tired looking at a screen.

Don’t fear that your writing will be permanently hindered because you can’t keep up with the quantity you were used to. God is not limited by your abilities. If He wants to keep using your writing, He will. What success are you really after anyway, if not to be led into the opportunities that God provides?

Your loving Father has so much more to teach you and so much more love for you to experience. Let your hope be in Him, Alicia, because that’s all that really matters.

Love,

Alicia

Why the Trinity is Essential to Motherhood

How do you think God views your role as a mother? With His arms crossed, thinking you need to do better at being patient and loving, not to mention get more vegetables into your toddler, keep the house picked up, and hold your baby more?

Do you think God gave you the family He did because He thought you could handle it, and when you don’t seem to be juggling it all so well, He is sitting back, rubbing His temples because you’ve let Him down again?

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If we served a single-person God, these responses would be much more likely. His feelings toward us would be based on our performance.  If we were expected to be a good parent in our own strength, we’d fail every time.

But that was never the plan.

An Eternity of Love

If a single-person God didn’t have anyone to love until humans came around, He couldn’t be eternally loving. . . because who would there be to love? Himself?

Glen Scrivener, in his article, “The Trinity Saved My Life” said, “You loved me before the foundation of the world” – that’s how Jesus describes eternity in John 17:24.

“Before there was anything, there was love.  The Father, by the Spirit, has eternally poured His love onto and into His Son.  In other words: “God is love” (1 John 4:8).

“God is this loving communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

So why would He bother with us, knowing that we’d choose evil and fail each day in loving others completely?

I often have the best intentions to treat Christopher with love when he comes home from work, but then petty annoyances and selfishness in wanting to be served slithers in, poisoning my time with my family.

Scrivener goes on to write about the Trinity that “this relationship is the explanation for everything else.

“Their love was too good to keep to themselves.  From the overflow of their life together, the Father has created a world, through His Son and by His Spirit.

“We have been birthed out of love and destined to share in it.”

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The Verdict Is In

So what does that mean for our nose-wiping, food coaxing, band-aid giving days (and nights)?

You will never get it right. And you don’t have to.

The love of the Father and Son flowed onto us when Jesus came to earth, lived a perfect life, paid for our sins by His death, and rose from the dead to daily intercede for us to the Father on our behalf.

The Father delights in us because we have been covered in the Son’s righteousness, and no amount of sin or failures can change that.

Mike Reeves, in his book Delighting in the Trinity, wrote, “This God makes no third party suffer to achieve atonement. The one who dies is the Lamb of God, the Son. And it means that nobody but God contributes to the work of salvation: the Father, Son and Spirit accomplish it all.”

Lifting Our Eyes

So when we think that we have to be more loving, have more faith, or trust more, we need to shift our focus.

I can’t force myself to become more loving. Love is a fruit of the Spirit, something that can only flow out of us when we’ve received the love the Father wants to lavish on us. .

We can’t squeeze our eyes shut and decide to have more faith (even if Hollywood would lead us to believe differently). That, too, is a gift to be received from our Father who longs to draw our hearts to Himself.

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Even trusting God is not something that I can purpose to do any more than I can say I’m going to trust a friend—either I do or I don’t. Trust comes from being in a relationship. When we struggle to trust God, we can choose instead to meditate on the One who is trustworthy.

Salvation and grace aren’t perks thrown at us by a benevolent dictator God. They are part of enjoying the relationship we’ve been adopted into by a loving Father.

He is salvation.

He is grace.

Reeves goes on to say, “For it is only when you grasp what it means for God to be a Trinity that you really sense the beauty, the overflowing kindness, the heart-grabbing loveliness of God.”

Just imagine if we could begin each day (or wake up each night) remembering and delighting in our loving Father, salvation-giving Jesus, and empowering Spirit?

If, when the discouragement started seeping in because of the half-folded laundry and crumbs sticking to our bare feet, we reminded ourselves of the future hope of a perfect world with Jesus that each sunrise brings us closer to?

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Teeth-gritting resolve will only bring failure when our strength is spent.

Why not use that energy to focus again on the One who delights in being our strength?

*If you’d like to hear more thoughts from Mike Reeves, you can check out his soul-filling book, Delighting in the Trinity or listen to his series of three audio talks on Enjoying the Trinity.