Plead Until the Peace Comes

When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.
Psalm 94:19

Some days, the uncertainty of life is daunting. And sometimes, the certainty of life is just as bad – inevitable break-ups, illnesses, conflict and stress. We may see what’s coming and the anticipation is more than we can bear.

Anxiety is a tough emotion to crack. Once those stomach butterflies take flight, it’s difficult to settle them down. No hand towel sufficiently dries our palms. Our lungs simply can’t get enough air in. Do you know the feeling? I do. And I think Jesus did as well.

In Mark 14, we find Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, a place He often retreated to for prayer. This time, He brought Peter, James, and John with Him. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” He says to them. (v. 34) The original Greek word used to describe the state of His soul is perilupos, which means greatly grieved, being sorrowful “all-around,” i.e. engulfed in sorrow.

Think of the numerous words we use to define sorrow – sad, unhappy, brokenhearted, mournful, grief-stricken, remorse, poignance, bereavement, anguish. Jesus Himself, being fully God and fully man, experienced an overwhelming sense of these emotions. I imagine Him resisting the urge to vomit, His stomach turning in knots, head spinning, palms sweaty. Negative emotions take a physical toll on our bodies and it did the same for Jesus. He needed reprieve.

So He went to His Father. Going a little farther, He fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from Him. “Abba, Father,” He said, “everything is possible for You. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what You will.” (v. 35-36)

Jesus pleaded with God for a different plan. We do the same thing, don’t we? When anxiety is deep within us, we want it to go away. We want God to change the circumstances causing our heartache. Yet, as David mentions in Psalm 94, it’s not the work God does that brings joy, but rather the consolation He extends. God didn’t take the cup from Jesus because the very thing Jesus wanted to avoid was what fulfilled God’s plan – salvation for all. Perhaps the very thing we want God to change is what He will use to fulfill His plan in us as well.

But it’s ok to plead with God until the peace comes, because it will. He will comfort us in our time of need. (2 Corinthians 1:3) He will hear us when we cry out to Him. (Psalm 18:6, 116:1) He will give us the strength to courageously face our greatest fears. After Jesus met with God, He was at peace with the plan. God had provided the comfort He needed to boldly walk to His death, with humility and compassion.

So the next time you’re anxious or overwhelmed by sorrow, plead with God through, praise and prayer, until the peace comes.

Prayer: Our Powerful Parenting Tool

He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. Psalm 91:4

Sometimes, all we can do is wear out the carpet with our knees. 

God used my son to teach me this valuable lesson during his first couple years of elementary school. I knew he was an energetic kid, but when his behavior started to fall behind his Kindergarten peers, a small seed of worry began to grow. Could he have special needs? A learning disability or ADHD?

Countless attempts at discipline, setting consequences, and rewards without improvement left me feeling defeated. Reassuring the school principal we were handling the situation became harder the following year as the reports kept coming home: Has difficulty focusing. Is a distraction to his classmates. Cannot complete assignments. I dreaded answering the phone when the school called. What if they ask him to withdraw?

Before I knew it, that seed of worry had grown into full blown momma anxiety. I felt ill-equipped to handle the mental strain and emotional stress of a child with academic and emotional delay. 

I needed a plan to fight the fret. Tummy butterflies, shaking hands, and trouble breathing became physical manifestations of a spiritual lack of trust and I simply couldn’t live like that. One night, I went into my son’s room after he fell asleep and knelt beside his bed. I laid my hands on him and began to pray for guidance. 

Psalm 91 has always been one of my favorite chapters in the Bible, but in the shadows of my son’s dimly lit room, I experienced the comfort of being covered by the Lord’s wings. Verse 4 says, He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. I found refuge in remembrance of the Lord’s faithfulness. I knew He was in control and would guide me through the ups and downs of this journey.

As I reread Psalm 91 in its entirety, my anxiety fizzled out as the words became relevant to my circumstances: 

  • God will protect my son. (v. 4) 
  • I have no reason to fear what will happen. (v.5) 
  • This process will not bring harm or disaster to our family. (v. 10) 
  • When I call on Him, He will answer me. He will be with me every step of the way. (v. 15)

Perhaps you understand how the weight of parenting can lay heavy on a momma’s heart. But that’s why prayer is the most powerful tool we have. Consistently going to God lessens anxiety; as our knees wear out the carpet, God lifts our burdens. He protects our children more effectively than we ever could. Let’s put our trust in Him.

Is True Beauty Fleeting?

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.
1 Peter 3:3-4

What is your favorite physical attribute? Your smile? Eyelashes? Waistline? I’m quick to recognize what I don’t like about myself, but it’s important to consider what we do like and be grateful. Because it may not always be that way.

I didn’t realize how attached I was to my hair until it started falling out. I simply thought it would always be thick and healthy.

Like many other women, my hair stopped falling out while I was pregnant and then fell out by the handfuls after I delivered my children. But this time was different. I wasn’t with child nor had I recently delivered. My hair was simply falling out for no apparent reason. And I could see exposed scalp beneath thinning hair.

The thought of having permanent hair loss evoked unexpected devastation and worry. What if it never goes back to normal? I began to realize part of my self-confidence was anchored in my hair. I had allowed my perception of personal beauty to be defined by my appearance.

This is far from what God wants for us. In fact, I Peter 3:3 says, Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. God gently reminded me that my worth and beauty does not come from my outward appearance, rather, it should be that of my inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. (I Peter 3:4)

As a society, we make judgements based on external appearances. But many of our physical features are inherited and out of our control.

Our attitude, however, it something we can control and that is what God loves – our heart and soul. A gentle and quiet spirit knows how much God loves them, believes He is her perfect creator, and finds confidence in Him alone.

Consider again your favorite attribute. Now, imagine if you woke one morning to find it dramatically altered. Would you view yourself differently? God wants us to focus less on ourselves and more on Him. I pray our inner beauty becomes more important than our outward appearance. Because inner beauty – true beauty – isn’t fleeting.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.
Psalm 27:14

What do you do when it seems like God is silent? Or maybe it feels like He’s not holding up His end of the bargain. Your heart believes this is His will, you’ve prayed about it, but the pieces just aren’t falling into place. Discouragement and discontent erode the initial peace you had and begs the question, God, why isn’t this working out?

Sarai knows the feeling. God promised her and Abram a son (Genesis 12:7), but years passed and no baby came. In these times of questioning and waiting, we have two options of how to respond – wait on His timing or take matters into our own hands. Unfortunately, Sarai did the latter.

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”(Genesis 16:1-2)

For 10 years, Sarai patiently waited on God. But discouragement lead to discontentment and she decided to take action. Abram took Hagar as his wife and she bore him a son. But he was not the son God would use to build His great nation.

How many times have we done the same thing? We force our timing into God’s, hoping He’s on board. And the funny thing is, God allows our stubborn hearts to wonder down roads He never intended us to travel. He gives us free will, the choice to move on our own accord or sit and wait.

Psalm 27:14 says, Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. I believe God is speaking directly to our tendencies to want what we want when we want it. He acknowledges that waiting is hard, but encourages us to take heart and be patient. It’s as if He’s saying, “Just hold on, I’ve got this.”

Sarai’s choice lead to a great deal of undue stress. Let’s remember that God’s silence may be a reminder to sit still. When pieces don’t fall into place like we thought they would, it may not be His will. He is trustworthy of faithfulness. He kept His word to Sarai and Abram. He’ll keep His word with us, too.

Wounded By Words

When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord; he brought me into a spacious place. The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?
Psalm 118:5-6

“You can really hurt someone by the words you speak,” I told my son. Knowing he had felt the sting of criticism in the past, and I reminded him to choose his words carefully.

As I was getting ready for bed later that evening, I realized how much I allow the words of others to influence my mood or opinion of myself. Just that day, I had been feeling discouraged about the critical words and tone with which someone else spoke to me. As much as I wished it had, their comment didn’t just roll off me. It stuck like a glob of glue in my heart and it didn’t feel good.

Then, I came across Psalm 118:5-6. True to God’s nature of perfect timing, He reminded me that His opinion is what matters most. I had been pressed into a state of gloom, allowing another’s statements to steal my joy. But being reminded of God’s love for me, my heart danced off the goo and was free of bondage to the approval of man. What can mere mortals do to me when I have the affections of the God of the universe?

Perhaps you, too, allow the words and actions of others to influence the way you view yourself or the world. It’s hard not to sometimes, especially when those people are close friends or family. We value their opinion.

But if what they’re saying is critical, condescending or simply maligned from the Word of God, then we need to proceed with caution. Taking a moment to pause and reflect may be just what we need to redirect negative thoughts to the truth.

Is what they’re saying true? What is their spirit communicating? Two simple questions point us to clarity and confidence.

If what they’re saying isn’t true, we can stop there and rebuke Satan’s efforts the convince us otherwise. If what they’re saying is true, whether we want to hear it to not, then we need to listen. God may be using them to speak to us.

If their spirit communicates tenderness, we should be grateful God has given us a special friend who speaks the truth in love. But if their aim is to tear us down or build themselves up, then let’s see that for what it is. God is gentle and kind; He never speaks with condescending tones. He may want to get out attention, but He will not do so with criticism. Ridicule is the language of Satan; let’s claim victory over him in those moments.

God wants us to live under His affections, under His supernatural acceptance. His intentions are not for us to seek the approval of man or try to please others. He desires we look only to Him for our true identity and reliance.

We’ll never control what comes out of others’ mouths, but we can control what we say. As I encouraged my son to do, may we not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
(Ephesians 4:29)

Is God Listening?

For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are attentive to their prayer.
1 Peter 3:12a

As my kids have gotten older, I’ve let them venture out on their own while at a local playground. Although I no longer need to be right next to them, following their every move, I pay attention from a distance. I keep track of their whereabouts and I’m within earshot if they need something.

Moms have a special way of knowing which screaming kid is their’s. There could be fifty littles running around but they have distinct, individual voices that their moms recognize. Their cry is unique and moms are so familiar with the sound that we are able to filter through all the others as negative noise.

I Peter 3:12 makes me wonder if God responds to us in a similar way. Millions of voices cry out to Him on a daily basis, yet He knows just which ones belong to Him. Peter is reminding the listeners of Psalm 34:15, which says, The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are attentive to their cry. God keeps tabs on His children and responds to our needs.

What comfort it is to know that God is attentive to our prayers. The Greek word used is eis, which means “entered into”. God does more than listen, He enters into our prayers. He engages with us. He wants to hear our worship, our praise, our concerns and requests. All because He cares about us. He leans in and pays attention just as a loving mom attends to her children.

If you’re struggling with believing God hears you, be encouraged today that He does. Allow this truth to seep into your soul: He knows your voice. He welcomes your prayers. He loves you.

When Life Is An Upstream Swim

And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.
Colossians 3:23

Living a life of faith is difficult sometimes. I go through periods when I feel like I’m all alone, swimming against a current of resistance. I’m trying to follow God’s direction while most others around me are living by the world’s guidance. And there are days I want to give up and go with the flow. Weary of defending the choices I make for myself and family, I long for the ease of common ground.

It’s during those hard days that I am encouraged by Paul’s perspective in I Corinthians. In a letter to the church in Corinth, he describes his plans:

But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me. (I Corinthians 16:8-9) 

In the same breath, Paul embraces his calling to preach and the resistance he will face. The importance of his assignment is not altered by its difficulty. He will be like a salmon making the treacherous journey upstream, swimming against the current, navigating fish going in the opposite direction

What strikes me most in this passage is how Paul acknowledges there are many who oppose me – those who wish to undermine his work are just as important as those who are open to it. He embraces both the challenge of spreading the gospel and the opposition he will face as a result. Paul understands that God has specifically chosen him for this challenging, tumultuous ministry because of his courageous dedication to effectively sharing his faith. He will not allow discouragement to replace a passion for sharing the Gospel.

All too often, we can be distracted by the opinion of others. They chip away at our confidence and leave us second guessing our convictions. We may feel the need to defend ourselves, but the reality is, there is nothing to defend when we are doing God’s work. Let us remember that if God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)

If your life feels like an upstream swim, be encouraged by the promises of God: Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10) Let us walk in bold obedience as we live long and prosper. (Deuteronomy 5:33) God has a specific assignment for you just as He did for Paul. So in the words of Dori, just keep swimming.

Our Hearts: Cramped or Comfy?

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20

We’ve all been there – the dreaded middle airplane seat. Wedged between two strangers, it’s impossible to get comfortable. I was there recently and God used the experience as an interesting analogy.

For an individual with a healthy BMI (Body Mass Index of 18-24) the middle seat is not much of an issue. It’s certainly no plush Lazy Boy recliner, but it suffices. But if the middle seat occupant is flanked by a couple larger individuals, it can feel like a sardine tin. Little room is left to move about as our arms are either pinned down to our sides or midline T-Rex levers. We feel cramped and uncomfortable.

Have you ever wondered if God feels the same way about your heart, His home? I Corinthians 6:19 reminds us that our body’s are the temples of the Holy Spirit, the place where He resides. We are a shrine for His presence. Does He dwell there in comfort with plenty of room to move about and be used? Or is it a cramped environment where He competes with things your heart finds more important?

If I were inviting Jesus to my physical home, I would want the floors scrubbed and vacuumed, the couch cushions perfectly placed, and the counters clear. I would want the aroma to be fresh and clean, perhaps a freshly baked batched of cookies on the table. And those things will not happen by themselves, I would need to do the work to make it happen.

The same is true for the condition of our hearts and physical bodies. We should take pride in caring for ourselves in ways that provide God a comfortable, welcoming environment both spiritually and physically. Take a minute and think about what that may look like for you.

For me, it looks like eating nourishing foods and exercising. I struggle with indulging too often and putting off my workouts. The combination leads to lethargy and a lack of motivation to do what God may be asking me to do.

It also looks like feeding my spirit with uplifting music, tv shows, and limiting my time on social media. I can keep my heart home healthy by practicing mindfulness to produce less of the messy and more of the meaningful.

I don’t want God to feel like He’s squished between worldly distractions rivaling my attention. I want Him to feel welcomed and at home in my heart. Putting Him first does just that and reciprocates the commitment He has made to us.

During this busy holiday season, consider God’s place in your heart – wedged between life’s perceived demands or comfortably engaged in cozy conversation with you?

Distracted By Many Things

Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.” Luke 10:41-42

There are days when I feel overwhelmed my by to-do list. A lot needs to be done in a little amount of time and regardless of how much I accomplish, it never seems to include everything. Can you relate?

I bet Martha can. In Luke 10, we find her scurrying around the house, meal prepping while scooping the countertops clear of miscellaneous items and fluffing pillows. Jesus has been welcomed into her home and it’s a big deal. While wanting to make a good impression, she is clearly overwhelmed by her to-do list.

What do you do when you’re overwhelmed? I begin to talk faster than normal and at a higher pitch than normal. My furrowed brow communicates stress to all who glance in my direction. And when the task is an urgent one, it’s best if you get out of my way.

Needless to say, feeling overwhelmed is not a pretty experience. And it wasn’t for Martha when she asked for help:

But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” (Luke 10:40)

Martha had been drawn away from Jesus, her attention diverted to the tasks. While focusing on the list, she was missing out on the gift – the presence of Jesus.

Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
(Luke 10:41-42
)

I can completely relate to Martha’s struggle. The dishes are not going to wash themselves and food doesn’t miraculously show up on the table. But what Martha is missing is that those things can wait. Jesus wasn’t about physical appearances. He wasn’t impressed by upgraded kitchens or well-coordinated shades of grey in the living room. He didn’t awe at the size of her tv. He was about relationships – communion with others – and we should be too.

When I rush through the grocery store check-out line so I can quickly drop the cold items at home before making it to yoga, I miss the opportunity to identify the hurt in the cashier’s eyes. I fly past a God-ordained encounter to be used by Him. Distracted by many things, I omit the one thing.

If your to-do list is long and overwhelming, take it to God. Ask Him to show you which items are most important to accomplish in a given day and schedule the others in elsewhere. While grabbing a quick cup of coffee, take the time to observe your surroundings. Ask the Lord to prompt you to speak if a stranger needs an encouraging word. With His help, we can incorporate our many things with His One Thing.

His Presence is the Comfort

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4a

Elijah was one of the Lord’s passionate prophets of the Old Testament. While many Israelites during that time began serving Baal, an idol, Elijah remained firm in conviction and challenged them to return to the One True God. He called fire down from heaven. He earnestly prayed for the end of a long drought and it began to rain. (I Kings 18) He gave of himself physically, emotionally, and spiritually, leaving his soul depleted and fatigued. He needed rest and restoration but Queen Jezebel was threatening to kill him.

Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. (I Kings 19:2-5)

Elijah was ready to throw in the towel. Spending his life as a prophet for the Lord seemed pointless in that moment. Have you ever felt that way? Perhaps you’ve tried to do right by God in many aspects of your life but continue to wait for that coveted blessing. Like Elijah, our wounded, hurting hearts needed comfort. We need relief from the pain.

An angel tended to Elijah in the wilderness, giving him food and water. He rested. Then he got up and traveled for forty days and forty nights, reaching a cave at Horeb, the mountain of God, before resting again. It was there, in a chilly, damp cavern where he expresses the ache in his heart:

And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” (I Kings 19:9b-10)

Was everything he had done been for nothing? Would God hold up His end of the bargain? It would be reasonable and understandable if Elijah wondered these questions – I know I have. It’s frustrating to dedicate time and energy to the Lord’s calling without seeing the fruits of our labor.

Elijah was ready to walk away at this point. What could God possibly say to change his mind?

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. (I Kings 19:11-13)

What could God possibly say to change Elijah’s mind? Nothing. Because God doesn’t need words. His presence provides the comfort we need to keep going.

Matthew Henry comments, “Gracious souls are more often affected by the tender mercies of the Lord than by His terrors. The Lord could have spoken within the fierce wind, earthquake or fire. But instead, He chose a gentle whisper. In that moment, Elijah needed to be redirected to the mission at hand, but not before he reconnects with how much the Lord cares for him.”

Living for God can be exhausting. It’s ok to need a break. When faced with discouraging opposition, fear and anxiety may follow. It’s ok to want to run away. But the best part is that God will always meet us right where we are. He may not change our circumstances or tell us what we want to hear, but He wraps our frazzled souls in the soothing warmth of His presence. He renews and restores our heart’s passion to serve Him.

And that’s all the comfort Elijah needed.