A Word to the Anxious Heart

Say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come, he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution he will come to save you.” 
Isaiah 35:4

“What is the world coming to?” I overheard a conversation between two ladies as they watched the news playing on a tv perched above the bar at the airport.

Who hasn’t muttered a phrase of similar persuasion in the past few years? It seems as if violence is becoming a regular occurrence, fear an all-too-common emotion. Many of my friends are also moms who voice concerns about the environment their young children will be growing up in. We worry if they will be adequately equipped to handle the struggles they may face. We question our ability to instill Godly conviction in them. We wonder, will they turn out ok?

I imagine our concerns may be similar to those of the remaining faithful Jews living in Israel while the vast majority had walked away from religious traditions. In the book of Isaiah, we find a message of judgement in response to the Israelite’s rejection of God. Impending doom for God’s chosen people must have evoked fear and worry in the hearts of those who desired to obey. Perhaps they questioned if their commitment would be enough. Would the Lord remember His promises to Abraham and King David if their descendants forgot about Him? They may have felt desperate for change yet powerless to do anything.

Have you every felt that way? I wish I had a crystal ball telling me how things turn out in the end. My hope is that my sons grow up to be kind, independent, and courageous Christ-followers. I want them to find God’s path for them, but worry that the noise of this world will cause great distractions.

That’s why I find Isaiah 35:4 particularly comforting. In this chapter, we see a shift from the message of death and destruction to one of encouragement and hope for restoration.

And I think it speaks to a specific group of people – those of us who have a tendency to worry. We believe in God and trust His authority, but relinquishing our need for control is extremely difficult. The verse says, “Say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong and do not fear; your God will come, He will come with a vengeance; with divine retribution, He will come to save you.'”

Say to those with fearful hearts; the Hebrew word used here is leb, which refers to a fearful mindset. The heart, mind, or will of a man is in a state of concern or alarm. It’s a tendency to anticipate a bad outcome. It’s an ever-present unsettled feeling, rather than being scared about a specific situation. A fearful mind finds it extremely difficult to trust God. We want to manage our circumstances with substantiated evidence of tangible control; believing an invisible God will give us what we need is uncomfortable and nerve-racking.

But God has a tender spot for those who long to be brave. He cares deeply for those who are fighting fear and worry day in and day out. He wants to whisper in our ear, “I’ve got this. I see what you’re facing and I’m in control. There’s nothing too big for me.”

If your heart has a tendency to worry rather than trust, be encouraged today that God has a special message just for you. He calls us to be strong and courageous (Joshua 1:9) for our benefit. God doesn’t want us trying to play god – He’s the best one for that position. He longs for us to experience His peace (John 14:17) but tranquility and turmoil cannot co-exist. It is impossible to live a joyful life when our minds are consumed with the possible outcome of circumstances beyond our control. When we know The One who has the authority to command the wind and seas to obey (Matthew 8:27), we can rest assured that He will take care of us.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

Is It Really ‘My Pleasure’?

My favorite thing about Chick-fil-A, besides their delicious, mouth-watering chicken sandwiches, is the friendly service I receive there. No matter which location I go to, it will be the same – in response to a “thank you”, I hear, “my pleasure”.

That phrase invokes warmth within me. It somehow means more than “you’re welcome” or “no problem”. It’s as if they had eagerly anticipated my arrival so they could prepare a meal just the way I liked it. It was their pleasure to do so; not a burden, a mundane task, or an obligation.

Recently, after having Chick-fil-A for lunch, I kept thinking about that response – “my pleasure”. As I shuffled through the routine of dinner preparation, homework completion and bedtime rituals, I couldn’t help but wonder, is it really my pleasure to serve the members of my family?

In all honesty, delight was far from what I was feeling. Resentful was more like it. Obligated. I was going about my perceived duties begrudgingly. My heart rambled, I’ll do it, but I don’t have to like it. Have you had similar thoughts?

What if these were Jesus’s dishes? My subconscious began to wrestle my pride as I was reminded of 2 Corinthians 9:7, which says, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion for God loves a cheerful giver.” I had decided in my heart to give, but did so reluctantly.

The Hebrew translation of reluctant is lupe, which means pain of body or mind, physical or emotional distress”. I was allowing a messy kitchen to pain me emotionally. I felt coerced, like it was my sole mandatory responsibility, rather than my privilege, to do the job. My hunched shoulders communicated the weight of household chores being nearly too much for me to bear – like the slouched pout I get when I tell my children to clean their rooms. They make sure I understand just how miserable they feel about it. I would much rather they pipe, “Sure, mom!” as they gleefully bound up the stairs. My heart would fill with pride, delighted by their cheerful attitude. The same is true for God. It brings Him joy to see us serve with willing fervor.

I’ve typically considered 2 Corinthians 9:7 in the context of tithing, and it is often referenced that way, but I think there’s more to it. If God wants us to do everything as if unto Him (Colossians 3:23) and He loves a cheerful giver, then we should take pleasure in serving others as if unto Him. It becomes less about the importance of the task but rather our attitude towards completing it. Serving hundreds of orders of fried chicken sandwiches can become monotonous day in and day out when considered a “job”. But when it’s an opportunity to serve, it becomes much more. It spreads cheer. It puts smiles on faces. It turns a boring day into a special day.

It can certainly be challenging to be cheerfully ready to serve others through the monotony of daily tasks. If this is an area of struggle for you as well, consider these ideas to help:

  1. Decide in advance to have a positive attitude. Start the day by asking God to help prepare your heart to embrace the chores of the day ahead. Lord, that mound of laundry won’t fold itself. Teach me to see it as an opportunity to bless my family.
  2. Approve of what needs to be done before being asked. Each morning, I know my sons will ask me to help them get dressed, eat breakfast, or any number of other things. When I mentally agree to assist before being asked, its a privilege rather than an nuisance.
  3. Determine to serve with joy. My response to requests for help can either be laced with willingness or irritation. Joy is not a feeling; it’s an attitude stemming from a spiritually compliant heart. Pause amidst frustrating moments to allow the Lord shift your perspective.

We can take pleasure in serving others because we know God loves a cheerful giver. He takes delight in us when we eagerly anticipate opportunities to give and embrace them with enthusiasm.

So they next time you’re told, “Thank you”, try replying with, “My pleasure”. And mean it!

What If I Don’t Feel Joyful?

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
Habakkuk 3:17-18

At times, it’s nearly impossible to be joyful.

I wanted to sulk. I wanted to stew over the events of the morning. I let the muscles of my face form a scowl of displeasure – the kind that can be spotted from across the room and shouts, “don’t even think about talking to me today!”

I hadn’t began the day in a bad mood, but after calmly asking my kids to get dressed three times, wiping up spilled milk twice, and realizing we should have walked out the door five minutes ago, I got a little irritated. But when we were halfway down the block before I realized one child left his lunch at home, I lost it.

Has that ever happened to you? It’s not a fun feeling. The sad thing is, I believed my attitude was justified. I thought my circumstances warranted a loss of self-control. My emotions dictated my actions, culminating in a regret-filled commute.

During my drive, the Lord used a familiar song on the radio to gently remind me that it doesn’t matter if I feel like being joyful. It matters that I choose to be joyful.

Regardless of what is going on around us, we have the opportunity to choose our response. Habakkuk’s story is one of choosing joy in the midst of pending devastation.

Habakkuk’s prophetic conversation with the Lord is recorded in three chapters of the Old Testament. He documents concerns about a great deal of corruption among the Jews. Habakkuk wants to know how God will respond. He learns of the Lord’s plan to send the Babylonians to overtake them, resulting in the loss of lives and livestock.

Habakkuk’s initial incredulous response eventually transforms into blind trust as he realizes his faith is not in earthly belongings, but in the Lord. He sings,

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.
(Habakkuk 3:17-18)

Habakkuk recognizes that nothing about his worldly experience alters the course of his salvation and heavenly destination. Thus, he chooses joy.

When joy is based on emotion, it wavers according to our circumstances. When joy is a choice rooted in the truth of God’s Word, it never changes.

No matter how much I long for one, a blissfully joyous life simply isn’t in the cards because I am a flawed human married to another flawed human who produced three more flawed humans. But the amazing part is that through all of the chaos, discouragement, and struggles of life, I can choose my response. And I choose joy.

5 Little Things To Find Joy In This Season

The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.
Psalm 126:3

While running errands recently, I couldn’t help but notice the excitement of the season growing within me. Yes, Halloween was just a couple weeks ago, but the stores are bursting with sights, smells, and tastes of the holidays. And I love it. The next six weeks will include my birthday, Thanksgiving, and Christmas and during those times, I will get to visit with many friends and family members.

Although the temptation to be overwhelmed by the upcoming busyness of the season is in full force, pausing to find joy in the little things may be just what we need to make it through. Here are five little things I’ve found joy in so far:

Cinnamon is the smell of the season. From brooms, to sticks, to potpourri, the warmth wafts gently into my nose as I enter the local grocery store. The inviting scent begs me to take some home. I’m reminded of pecan cinnamon rolls freshly baked on Christmas morning and red hot candies decorating cut-out cookies. Joy is found in the aroma of a spice mentioned in Song of Songs 4:13-14 –  Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates with choice fruits, with henna and nard, nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with every kind of incense tree, with myrrh and aloes and all the finest spices. What familiar smells remind you of the holidays?

Toasted White Chocolate Mocha
For those of us who love sweet coffee beverages, welcome to taste bud heaven. Yes, I’m talking about pumpkin spice lattes, peppermint mochas, and caramel brulee frappicinos! I had forgotten how delicious the Toasted White Chocolate Mocha was until that day I was running errands. For those of you who haven’t tried one, imagine a perfectly toasted marshmallow smothered in white chocolate, drizzled with caramel, and topped with a dollop of whipped cream. They’re like Christmas in a cup. Oh wait, that’s actually unsweetened cinnamon light soy lattes… Regardless, my tongue found intense joy in the flavor of the beverage, a sweetness likened to the decrees of the Lord, which are more precious than pure gold and sweeter than honey from the honeycomb (Psalm 19:9-10)

Advent Calendars
I see them in a variety of styles and themes – advent calendars. They count down the 24 days leading up to the much-anticipated morning of gift-giving. And although Christmas is nearly commercialized beyond recognition, we can see the true meaning peeking through these advent calendars – the picture of Mary and Joseph gazing upon Jesus in the manger, the shepherds visiting as the sheep peacefully linger under a bright star in the midnight sky. The countdown symbolizes the foretelling of Jesus’ arrival as found in Isaiah 7:14 – Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. A joyful smile makes its way onto my face as I see Christ upon the grocery store shelf.

Jingle Bells
Typically, I’m a stickler for waiting to listen to Christmas music until Black Friday. However, on this particular outing, I welcomed the sound of Jingle Bells overhead because it went nicely with what I was smelling, tasting, and seeing. You see, Christmas is the only time when playing “Christian” music is acceptable in secular realms. It’s not uncommon to hear Joy to the World, O Holy Night, and Mary Did You Know? while navigating the sale racks at Old Navy. For some, this may be the only time they hear the good news of Jesus’ birth as announced by the angels in Luke 2 – “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (v. 11-12) Rejoice in the message of hope available to all!  Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (v. 13-14) May we, too, be filled with the joy of the angels as we embrace the sounds of Christmas – even if it is before Thanksgiving.

Greeting Cards
And last but not least, those greeting cards. During my outing, perusing an aisle of greeting cards brought back memories of how much fun it is to receive old-school snail mail from friends and families. Our refrigerator quickly fills up with sturdy, card stock notes capturing happy moments. The style, shape, and size may all differ, but the message is the same – wishing you and yours a season of happiness and merriment. We can appreciate the efforts of others to spread cheer even when our lives are less than happy. Perhaps the loss of a loved one is making it exceptionally difficult to be joyful this year. Even then, our hearts can be touched as our fingertips contact the paper – a physical reminder of the reason for the season, Jesus. May we be as excited as Elizabeth and exclaim: As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. (Luke 1:44)

So if the approaching holiday season is feeling overwhelming, burdensome, or simply dreadful, find hope in the appreciation of little things. Find moments of reprieve in ordinary places, while doing mundane tasks, amidst a daily routine. For it’s the joy found in these little things that makes the big things a bit smaller.