Why You Don’t Have to Have All the Answers

“How can Jesus be with us? I can’t see him!”

“Why did Adam and Eve eat the fruit they weren’t supposed to?”

“Are zebras good or bad?”

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Though I know this will change, my three-and-a-half year old son has a hard time believing I don’t know everything. Sometimes, he gets downright frustrated when I can’t give him an answer.

There are times when I wish I could reflect God in being all-knowing, especially when I read the Bible or interact with others about spiritual things. Studying Deuteronomy alone has led to many questions about nations being blotted out, sins that were supposed to result in stoning, or children from forbidden religious unions being excluded from the tabernacle.

Even reading through the gospel of Mark with a friend makes me wonder over Jesus’ words about being salted with fire, forgiving others so the Father will forgive my trespasses, or believing that I have received what I ask for in prayer.

No Questions? No Answers.

A recent speaker at our church shared that if we are willing to articulate and wrestle with our questions, we will be able to better recognize when we’ve found the answer.

God has also used a book called Show Them Jesus by Jack Klumpenhower to encourage me in my question journey and as I seek to walk alongside others with their questions.

When reading the Old Testament, Klumpenhower challenges us to look at the overall character of God–how He cares for his people in the Old Testament, and how He does the same and even better for us in Jesus.

He also invites us not to ignore the tensions in the Old Testament, but instead look to the good news of how it is solved in Jesus. (Impossible to follow the 10 commandments perfectly? Jesus has done it for us, and in His death, offers His righteousness to those who are joined to Him.)

When we study Jesus’ teachings, we should zoom out to also consider the larger context of His work, and what kind of person He is.

Sometimes God’s ways seem mysterious, but He showed us from the time of walking with Adam and Eve in the garden, to tabernacling with the Israelites, to coming to earth as a baby, that He wants us to know Him and experience His presence. When we know His character and consider His themes of love, redemption, and forgiveness through all of Scripture, we can trust that the One who knows the answers can lead us in His wisdom.

In Psalm 25:4-5, 8-9 David prays:  

Show me your ways, Lord,

   teach me your paths.

Guide me in your truth and teach me,

   for you are God my Savior,

   and my hope is in you all day long. . .

Good and upright is the Lord;

   therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.

He guides the humble in what is right

   and teaches them his way.

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But What About Everyone Else?

I’ve often been scared of someone asking me a question about Jesus that I don’t know the answer to. In fact, I still get scared about that.

But if Jesus was concerned about simply answering people’s questions, he wouldn’t have given these sorts of responses when He was on earth:

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. (Mark 10:17-18)

They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?”

Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!” (Mark 11:27-30)

Jesus looked into people’s hearts to see what they were really asking. He always knew the perfect response, and didn’t care whether people thought He was smart or not. (Or even whether He’d make people mad enough to kill him.)

When Job lost everything, he asked all kinds of questions as he spent chapter after chapter processing his pain. God responded with teaching Job about His greatness, which left Job nothing to say but:

Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. (Job 42:3)

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What if, by asking questions, God led us and others to acknowledge His power and understanding, to grow in faith, and to find rest in a God who satisfies us whether we find all the answers or not?

What if, by insisting that God answer my questions, I miss what He does want to show me?

What if He wants me to search for answers with my husband or other believers?

What if I don’t need to know how every little piece fits together because God has already brought everything together under one Head in Jesus?  

What if Jesus doesn’t care whether I win an argument with someone who believes differently than I do? Can I trust Him to give me the words I need and the faith that He can work in others’ lives whether I come up with the right response or not? Or even if I give the wrong response?

Jesus is interceding for us. Will we receive what He’s praying for us?

“Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. . . I have made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:24, 26)

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 Suffering Feels Meaningless

The kids had gotten up earlier than usual, so I threw some French Toast on the griddle and got together our vitamins, juice and dishes. I heard branches start to drop on our roof and looked outside our back door window to see the forest of trees behind our house swaying back and forth–so much that the solid trunks appeared as flimsy as their branches. Isaiah and Hosanna were already in their booster seat and high chair, and as soon as I went to sit down, I heard an enormous cracking sound, followed by a crash that shook our entire double-wide. I screamed and Isaiah started crying. (Ten-month Hosanna seemed to hold up the best out of the three of us.)

I went to the same back door window and saw that a tree about a foot in diameter was leaning against our house, and an even bigger tree was laying in the backyard nearby.

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img_1190Though we now have a hole in our roof and a couple cracks in the office ceiling, I’ve tried to remind Isaiah of God’s protection each time he hears the wind blowing and gets scared, (and how God promises to be with us when we do get hurt).

It’s scary to talk about suffering because I want to have all the answers. When someone shares their pain with me, I don’t want to say the wrong thing. It doesn’t feel like a fair fight when my words are coming up against their real, raw pain. I have to keep the lies of empty motivational phrases from trying to wriggle their way out of my mouth, because that’s what people say when they’re trying to cover up the fact that they don’t know what to say. It’s all the world has. Either feel guilty because there are so many worse off than you, or try to believe phrases like:

You’ll get through this. You are a survivor. You are stronger than the pain.

It might even make someone feel like they are not allowed to feel the pain fully–that it would be better just to ignore it and look to the future.

But what if the future isn’t better but only delivers more pain? What about those who face injustice and persecution until their last breath?

All I know is that whether someone follows God or not, the only hope I can offer is Jesus. If I can’t receive the gift of faith to believe in His sovereignty, justice, and goodness (notice I didn’t say feel), I also probably won’t be able to cling to the hope of eternal joy with Him on the New Earth. If this life is all there is, I have no comfort to offer the hurting.

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But if, when I read His Word, my soul strives to believe and submit to not understanding the ways of the One who is Infinite and also the source of all love, I can cry and scream and pour out my emotions before Him. I can feel and not ignore. Allow myself to claw through the pain of losing someone I love. Speak the disappointment of forfeiting another night of sleep to a fussy newborn. Grieve when my child yells at his cousin, doesn’t want to share his toys, and doesn’t want to apologize. Feel weary when my husband’s responsibilities take him away from helping at home.  

As Hosanna continues to conquer new territory through her crawling, I have needed to intervene on behalf of library books and her own safety. My back and shoulders have taken on a new ache, causing memories of past chronic pain to try and make me fear that the discomfort, discouragement, and limitations are ready to take over again. That the rhythm I’ve found doing life with two Littles is going to be impossible to maintain.

What if I let the Holy Spirit use the fear as a trigger to respond to Him?

When I see my need for Jesus and that apart from Him I can do nothing,  it prepares my heart for His strength to enter into the pain. When I tell him how scared I am or how much it hurts, it opens the way for His Spirit to lead me to a response. (Here’s a great short video on this by John Piper.)

When I mentioned to my dear friend Jessie that my word for this year is surrender, she wrote back these words:

“Surrender to an enemy would be terrifying, but surrender to one who has your highest good in mind, who is the Lover of your soul? That sounds positively wonderful, the very thing our souls are longing for, but often don’t admit. To just let go and be loved. To open our hands and receive.”

Letting Go

When I’m not trying to control my life so much that any pain becomes a bitterness-producing interruption, I can receive the way God wants to use it in my life. Maybe He wants me to leave my plans behind and walk with Him into something totally different. Maybe He wants to comfort me with a promise I’ve never had to set my heart on before.

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When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt and through the Red Sea, there was no mistaking His power. When He brought water from a rock and bread from heaven, there was no mistaking His provision. But before each of those things, He allowed suffering. Slavery. Hunger. Thirst. Fear.  

I recently worked through a Bible study on 1 Peter where I asked the Lord to show me what He has done in my life through allowing suffering. This is what He brought to mind:

  • A deeper knowledge of God’s care and faithfulness
  • Seeing my need to depend on Him more clearly
  • A longing for heaven (Philippians 3:20)
  • Freedom from the perspectives of this world by growing in obedience and purity. (Hebrews 5:7-8)
  • Deliverance from the temptation to be prideful in what I can accomplish or perform. (2 Corinthians 12:7)
  • The chance to comfort others with the comfort I have received from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-6)

Suffering as Ministry

1 Peter 3:15 is often quoted when talking about evangelism, but I’d never taken time to really look at the context:

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…

What if God chose to draw others to Himself as they saw my faith in suffering?

What if they were reminded of Jesus’ example of submission through suffering when they saw me suffering unjustly?

What if I talked through my own suffering with others rather than trying to give all the answers to their pain?

What if I was able to speak about the benefits I’ve experienced because of suffering, even as I expressed my current pain honestly with others? (Rather than simply depending on inspirational phrases that decorate my living room walls or web images that pop onto people’s Facebook feed to do the job.)

When God brought the plagues and split the sea, one of the reasons He did it was that “the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.” (Exodus 7, 13) The Egyptians did, and some even joined the Israelites, leaving their security behind to follow a God of glory and power.

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God is not afraid to use suffering to draw people’s hearts to Himself, because fellowship with Him is always better than escaping painful circumstances.

He is patient, not wanting anyone to perish, and has made a way for us to know Him through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Will we speak that hope to ourselves and others when they ask?

What benefits has God allowed you to see as He’s worked for your good in suffering?

What anxiety is He longing for you to cast on Him?

What promise is He inviting you to grab onto today?

12 Days of Scriptures about Jesus to Meditate on this Christmas

Are you ready?

This advent season, we join with God’s people throughout all of history who waited for their Messiah, their Deliverer, to come. But our waiting is different. We get to celebrate the climax of God’s redemption plan in sending Jesus to earth to pay the price for our sins, even as we await His coming again, when we will join with the angels in celebrating Him, and take part in the marriage supper of the Lamb.

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The shepherds were amazed and terrified when they saw God’s messengers giving glory to Him as they delivered the good news. Just imagine what it will be like when we will join with the angels and elders and living creatures praising the Lamb on the New Earth.

Rather than spending twelve days trying to figure out why a true love would give turtledoves or milkmaids, I put together twelve days of Scriptures about Jesus to meditate on this Christmas season. I’ve also created a PDF you can print out to use for yourself or your family. (And if you want even more resources, you can check out Paul Tripp’s excellent Advent series and Betsy’s 25 Advent Readings for the Very Young.)

May the joy of Christ fill your traditions, family times, and difficulties this Christmas. He is here. . . and He is coming.

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Day 1

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:2-7 ESV)

Day 2

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” (Luke 1:46-55)

Day 3

And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:67-79)

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Day 4

And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all. And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:14-21)

Day 5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (John 1:1-18)

Day 6

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:35-40)

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. . . I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. (John 10:7-11, 14-16)

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. (John 15:1-2)

Day 7

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

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Day 8

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:15-20)

Day 9

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:8-14)

Day 10

And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:8-11)

Day 11

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped. (Revelation 5:6-14)

Day 12

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. . . Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. (Revelation 19:6-8, 11-16)

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Why Your Husband’s Love Needs to be Received

Christopher and I usually play violin together for a few weddings each year. Some couples lift up Christ as the One joining them together and giving the strength to keep their vows, and some use Bob Marley lyrics in the ceremony in place of Scripture or say that they will keep their vows, “for as long as love shall last.”

We recently played at a wedding where the bride and groom had written their own Christ-centered wedding vows. As I watched the sincerity on the groom’s face, the Lord gave me a deeper understanding of the way He wanted to love me through my own man sitting right next to me.

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But what exactly is love?

What does it mean that God is love? Isn’t love a feeling? Isn’t it an action?

Recognizing the Gift

The apostle John says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” (1 John 3:16 ESV)

Love is a gift from God, meant to be received and shared with those He has placed in our lives.  But we can’t understand how to receive the little acts of love until we recognize the greatest gift of love—God sending His Son to die, paying the punishment for our sins.

Every time we see God’s love in Scripture, how he cared for the Israelites in the wilderness, gave them a promised land, and called them to return to him as they flocked to nations and their idols, it invites us to look ahead to the cross.

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When we feel the sunshine’s warmth through orange and yellow leaves, get a little extra time from our baby’s extended nap, or take another breath into a body that functions relatively well, it points back to the cross, and ahead to a future home with Jesus, free from the evil and brokenness that shreds our emotions and darkens our ability to recognize love.

When we get an impulsive hug from a child, feel a baby’s grabby caress on our face, or hear our husband ask what he can do to help after he’s gotten up at 4am for work, it is a tiny reflection of the cross.

All of our loving acts or words are little sacrifices, springing from the greatest sacrifice God planned from the beginning of time.

When we keep going back to the pure love of the gospel, placing our faith in His Son, we invite the Spirit who has chosen to live in us to purify and perfect the love we can give to others—the lost moments of sleep to listen to a husband’s dreams for the future, scooping  baby-turds out of the bathtub, and investing the time to fully answer a preschooler’s “why” question.

Preparing Your Heart to Receive

Reaching for Christopher’s hand during that wedding, I was overcome with the treasure of experiencing faithfulness, kindness, protection, and a peaceful spirit through the way Christopher treats me. All the good that I experience from him is a reflection of the way God loves me.

I was also pricked with memories of times Christopher has wanted to delight in me through a lingering hug, sharing a funny story, or inviting me to watch something the kids were doing together, but I was too busy to engage fully. I’ve often had my own idea of how I should be loved (basically, what I think should get done), rather than paying attention to the love already offered to me.

Many times I struggle under the weight of my own expectations of the meals, dishes, laundry, and emails I feel I should get done in a day, not to mention how I should be making all the right decisions in training my kids and making sure they get enough iron in their diet.

When I’ve convinced myself that it’s all up to me, I need someone to shake me enough to see that  I’m trusting in myself, what Christine Hoover in her book, From Good to Grace refers to as the “goodness gospel,” trying to be good and do good apart from God.

Sometimes, I think I’m doing so well, being patient and understanding, until I reach the end of my limited patience and don’t want to adjust my expectations anymore of what should get done before everyone arrives for our son’s birthday supper at our house.

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Sometimes I feel that unless my expectations are fulfilled or I force myself to act a certain way, I don’t even deserve to receive love. I forget that I could never earn God’s love, and that I don’t have to.

The God who is love, is living inside of us, covering us in His righteousness so that we don’t have to fear the day of judgment. When I let fear of people invade my relationships, and think that what I write, how I respond to my children, and how much I reach out to others determines my value, it’s an indication that I’m not resting in God’s approval and love.  I fear the “punishment” of people’s disapproval or reactions instead of repenting and being in awe of the God who punishes evil completely. (see 1 John 4:7-19)

When my days are focused on entering into giving and receiving sacrificial love through Christ’s power, I can invite Him to enter in to whatever fussiness, diaper blowouts, or nose-wiping my circumstances bring.

A Woman of Faith

One encouragement God brought recently was through a biography about Sarah Edwards, the wife of the 18th century church father Jonathan Edwards. Most men of that time valued “getting their hands dirty” in their work, but Sarah cared for her home of 11 children while her husband spent many hours studying Scripture.

She often had to set extra places at meals, since pastoral interns, missionaries, and others would come to learn from her husband. Many times, Jonathan would eat his supper quickly and retreat to study some more, leaving Sarah to interact with the guests.

Some of her letters and journal entries revealed that she was often concerned about what other people in their church and community thought about her husband, especially since he was not like many pastors of that time who made “social calls” in addition to visiting members when they were in need.

When their daughter Esther’s husband died, leaving her with two little children, Jonathan traveled to assist at the College of New Jersey, replacing Esther’s husband as president. He contracted small pox after an inoculation, and his last words were about Sarah:

“Give my kindest love to my dear wife, and tell her that the uncommon union which has so long subsisted between us has been of such a nature as I trust is spiritual and therefore will continue forever.”

How might God be inviting you to open yourself up to love and be delighted in?

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 Your Husband’s Desires Don’t Match Your Own

I recently pulled out the workbook Christopher and I used during our pre-marital counseling six years ago.

The section that caught my eye dealt with the ideas each of us had for our new life together.

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How would the housework be divided?

Who would pay the bills?

How many children did we want to have?

How would we discipline them?

How much time would we spend in the bedroom together?

While we laughed again about Christopher’s “the more the merrier” answer to how many children we would have (which wasn’t so funny when I thought he was serious), it made me realize how our desires are constantly changing and how dangerous it can be not to address them.

Sometimes I’ve felt frustrated with myself for having expectations at all, pushing them down along with my feelings.

Wouldn’t it be more loving to ignore a Saturday afternoon task that didn’t get done?

At other times, it’s sounded too exhausting to take the time to talk through them.

What if I couldn’t express my desires in a clear way?

What if he thought my ideas were ridiculous?

Sometimes I’ve wanted to force my husband to understand things from my perspective before making any effort to consider his own.

If only I felt like I was being heard, then I could be more loving and respectful when it was his turn.

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Jesus Love

But Jesus didn’t put qualifications on others. The Scripture doesn’t say, “Consider others better than yourselves if you feel like you’ve been listened to and appreciated.”

Jesus died for us when we were still stained by sin, ignoring the abundant life He longed to give.

Grace is only grace when it has nothing to do with our behavior and everything to do with accepting and extending His gift of mercy (Ephesians 2:8-9).

That’s the kind of communication He invites us into—gracious, loving, forgiving—all empowered by the Spirit.

Here are a few things that have helped me when conflict seems to build like a pressure cooker.

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  1. Tell Jesus how I’m feeling.

We have access to a friend who knows our inmost being, sympathizes with our weakness, showers us with grace, and has the power to help us change. Would we rather trade that for Facebook sympathy?

2. Listen.

Emotions can feel like cotton balls stuffed in our ears, preventing us from hearing what our husbands are really trying to express. But God’s Spirit has the power to hold us as we press our lips tight or ask questions that will prompt him into sharing. It might surprise us what things he values over getting dinner on the table on time.

3. Be honest about my struggle.

I’m amazed by the gracious response Christopher gives me when I admit to what I’m struggling with and confess the anger and resentment that I’ve allowed to grow.

And when I’m able to state my failed hopes in a non-hormone-charged way, it gives him a chance to process what I’m saying.

A few years ago, a counselor encouraged us to consider the trust we’d built up from resolving past disagreements as we allow ourselves to vulnerably share our feelings with each other.

4. Pray together.

Sometimes I ask Christopher to pray for me right in the moment if I begin to feel condemnation and lies running through my thoughts. Sometimes he suggests we pray together if the disagreement doesn’t seem like it can be easily resolved.

Because asking for wisdom is a request God delights to answer. (James 1:5)

So often I try to find a solution to our problems by relying on my own understanding, (even if I’ve just prayed for God’s wisdom), which is a kind of spiritual schizophrenia as Jen Wilkin said in her Biblestudy on James.

Something Christopher has said many times to encourage me is, “I’m on your side.” We are in this together as we fight against sin and selfish desires.

5. Evaluate the expectations I have for myself.

When I feel frustrated by how little I accomplished during the day, it’s easy to want to try to make up for it in the evening. I find myself going into squirrel-mode, grabbing as many acorns as I can and trying to make others around me do the same.

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“Here—take this acorn and put it in the dishwasher.”

“Put all your acorns back in your toybox this instant.”

“Did you call the guy about reimbursing our acorns yet?”

But sometimes, a few of my acorns need to be left strewn across the floor in favor of helping with my husband and son’s acorns.

Often, they are better at showing me how to love them than if I try to love them how I think they should be loved. (They’re also really good at loving and enjoying me without any thought to how many acorns they have to step around).

When we make the effort to work through conflict, we have the chance to catch glimpses of the perfect relationships we will have in Heaven in the Jesus-filled way they were meant to be.

Will you ask for the Spirit’s power, living in the hope of the gospel as you work through the messes of today?

He is ready to help.

More Important Than Traditions

I’ve often imagined Mary and Joseph introducing the shepherds to baby Jesus in the same way parents bring their new baby to church for the first time—squeaky clean and wearing a ruffly dress.

Members flock around and pass the baby back and forth, commenting on how much the little lump looks like her mom or dad.

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Actually, the stable was probably a bit of a mess. Not only had it recently housed animals, but Mary had also given birth there.

Maybe Jesus hadn’t gotten all his sweet crevices washed out completely.

Maybe he was colicky.

And yet, even as Mary was recovering and welcoming shepherds as  her first post-birth visitors, she treasured all that had happened, pondering it in her heart (Luke 2:19).

She embraced the experience in the midst of her pain and discomfort.

As I read news headlines and see the struggles of friends close to me, I’m reminded that pain isn’t put on hold for the Christmas season, no matter how much tinsel and merry feelings we try to cover it up with.

We long for freedom from disappointments in our family and other relationships.

My mentor Natalie reminded me that many of us put all our energy into trying to make our world look the way we think it should, instead of being okay with our broken lives.

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It’s natural to desire perfection because that’s the way the world was made. It was all good.

But when human sin messed everything up,

God didn’t throw it all away.

He allowed it to be broken.

One of the ways I’ve attempted to fix my world has been through trying to start traditions for my family. I’ve wanted to recreate the moments that I can remember from growing up (though my mom doesn’t seem to remember my childhood holidays as glowingly as I can).

If I could only set the scene with Christmas tree, goodies, laughter, and feelings of peace and goodwill, I would be happy.

 

christmas-1052596_1280When I don’t feel the same way in the present as I remember experiencing in the past, I’ve wanted to take charge of others’ behavior to try and manufacture that joy.

When I’ve tried to be in control of my circumstances, it’s only added to the frustration when I can’t make my husband’s work give him less responsibilities or cause my two year old to reflect on the beauty of advent.

Simple Reminders

On Thanksgiving, as I was listening to the Sons and Daughters Sovereign Grace cd, the Spirit (and probably a few pregnancy hormones) brought tears to my eyes as I realized that what I needed more than recreating the right tradition was a simple memorial or two that would remind me and my family of the gospel.

God made flesh.

God with us.

God to the rescue.

It might not be glittery or be Pinterest-worthy.

We may not get to an Advent reading every night. (Or when we do, our son may be more interested in smashing his peas on his plate one by one, rather than listening to the Scripture.)

It may even keep us from participating in all the “good deed” opportunities that spring up this time of year.

Reminding ourselves and each other of the gospel will free our hearts to enjoy all the other beauties of Christmas.

Maybe it’s a comment to our children about how thankful we are Jesus came to live among us.

Maybe it’s a word of comfort or prayer for a friend who can’t see how God is working.

Maybe it’s a whispered prayer for Jesus’ joy when our husband comes home tired and not eager to listen to our troubles.

Or maybe it’s choosing to laugh when the tree gets knocked over and a few ornaments shatter into a million tiny pieces.

When we focus on the gospel, our souls will be at rest in the Jesus who came as a lumpy baby to live among us, experience life on earth while living it perfectly, and become the sacrifice for all the sins we stain the world with every day.

hot-chocolate-1047608_1280Pain, messiness, and beauty can live together as we remember the reason Jesus came to earth, and then allow ourselves to delight in the smell of a fresh Christmas tree, twinkly icicle lights, gifts that make our children laugh, and the same songs that come back to warm us like an embrace.

 

And when we’re just too distracted by the difficult circumstances to see the beauty on earth, we can grit our teeth and grab hold of the gospel as we acknowledge God’s love and all the other spiritual blessings we might not feel.

Will you take a moment the next time you’re staring at your Christmas tree or a flickering candle, to travel back in time, push aside the straw to sit by Mary as she traces the curves of Jesus’ face?

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Will you reflect on the wonder of it all—God with us?

And will you invite others to do the same?

5 Ways to Respond When Your Faults Are Laid Bare

5 Ways to Respond When Your Faults Are Laid BareIt’s the pause in conversation that makes me hold my breath, hoping that I can stop time or at least postpone what I don’t want to hear.

The pause after I’ve asked a question of someone, realizing in that split second that the person is going to point out one of my faults or a way I’ve failed their expectations.

The words that follow are the hardest not to interrupt– to try and justify myself.

To keep from offering a quick “I’m sorry” and “Can we go back to the way things were?”

No one is perfect, but it hasn’t made me feel any less condemned.

When a person brings to light something I’d rather keep hidden, it’s almost as if I split into two people.

Part of me is listening to the words the person is saying, and the other part is standing beside the sharer, shaking an accusing finger back at me.

She becomes louder than the person who is actually speaking, railing on about all the ways I will never measure up, and that I’m a complete failure to those I love.

She inserts twisted expectations the person speaking hasn’t even mentioned, like. . .

You will always be an anxious person, feeling uptight over circumstances that would make others laugh.

You will never learn how to control your reactions of impatience toward your son.

You will never reach a point where your tone and behavior respects and honors your husband.

When I realize the real person is still speaking, sometimes offering words of encouragement that I can’t quite focus on, I start to envy turtles, wishing I had my own built-in closet to hide in.

5 Ways to Respond When Your Faults Are Laid BareTrying to change in my own strength has felt like juggling knives. I might be able to learn how to do it for a few seconds, but when I drop them, I always get cut.

I’ve forgotten that the God who raised Jesus from the dead is living inside of me, ready to help and give grace when I fail.

Here are a few steps I’ve taken when the knives of condemnation start to break skin.

  1. Praise God for who He is.

When I take time to search Scripture and think about who God is, it’s a whole lot easier to remember that I’m not alone. The One who is with me is more powerful than a lion and gentler than a lamb.

I often sing You are Holy while in the car, since it lists so many names of God.

  1. 5 Ways to Respond When Your Faults Are Laid BareThank God for His promises.

No matter how I’ve seemed to mess up my life or relationships, God’s promises are always there, like a ripe peach ready to be picked.

Some of the promises I’ve clung to in these times are:

God doesn’t condemn me, because Jesus took my punishment and shame.

He has adopted me as His child.

He loved me and provided the way to be rescued, even while I was still wallowing in my sins.

My value is not based on my performance.

No matter what happens on earth, my ultimate destination is living a life of joy in Jesus’ presence on the New Earth.

  1. Pour out your feelings and frustrations to God.

Flip to almost any of the psalms, and you’ll see hearts being laid bare. Fear, discouragement, and cries for help remind me of all I can bring before God.

When I also confess where I’ve sinned through thought, words, or action, His forgiving embrace is there, ready to remind me that I am His.

Many of the psalms end with a note of hope, as the writers speak truth about God, inviting His thoughts into their feelings.

  1. 5 Ways to Respond When Your Faults Are Laid BareBe honest about your struggle.

Sometimes, I’m working so hard to hide the fact that I have faults, I don’t let others in on any of my feelings. My husband told me that he can’t always tell when I’m struggling, unless I say it outright (without trying to send any subliminal messages.)

When those close to me know the parts of me that are sick, they can fight with me instead of against me when I let them down. They can bring me before God’s throne and cheer me on as I battle. (Ephesians 6)

  1. Thank God for His forgiveness, for His Spirit’s power working inside of you.

The God who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion (Philippians 1). The Spirit delights in our process of growing in holiness, and we can look forward to the day when we will be sanctified through and through (1 Thessalonians 4:23).

Sometimes it’s helpful to reflect on the changes God has guided us into already. Packing for trips used to make me incredibly anxious and overwhelmed, but on this last trip, I was able to rest in Jesus’ peace, knowing I wasn’t a terrible person if I forgot something. Thanking Him for the progress has given me an extra measure of strength for the battle.

How can you join in the fight today, rather than surrendering to thoughts that destroy?

Who has God brought into your life to fight for?

Jesus, may the next painful conversation we have be covered in your grace as we seek to depend on You. We are Yours.