Holy smokes, it’s 2017!

2016 was a hard year. We had health problems in my family. Two of us required surgery. We spent days, weeks, months – it seemed – focused on simply getting through the day. Chronic pain and fatigue made it difficult to be consistent with much of anything. I am not complaining. God was faithful through our challenges, and even though some challenges remain, I have seen God at work in our lives. I know God will use the hard times for something good.

So…it’s a new year, and as our culture loves to promote, time for a new “you!” Time to set new goals and change old habits. Time to “re-invent” who we are.

Laurie asked us weeks ago as we were finishing our last Bible Study, to really contemplate where we find our identity. The answer to this question is very important in regards to our relationship with the Lord. Where we find our identity is often where we spend our time and energy (i.e. as a wife, mother, employee, employer, etc). If our identity is not forged in God, we will not pour our hearts into our relationship with Him.

I have come back to this identity question again and again. I considered it once more as I thought about New Year’s Resolutions. Like nearly everyone at this time of year, I thought about areas of my life I would like to change. I’d like to study the Bible more, have more quiet time with the Lord, exercise more, cook more, schedule more date nights, etc. etc.

I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with wanting to improve ourselves. But I do think that resolutions in general place our focus on ourselves instead of the Lord. So in that respect, I don’t know that they are especially helpful. So, this year, I have decided to ask the Lord to show me what HE would have me resolve to do differently.

The only way to answer this question is for me to spend more time with the Lord. So I must consistently put aside time for Him. That must be non-negotiable. However, I have also decided that if I don’t make my morning quiet time, instead of feeling guilty and succumbing to negative self-talk, I will ask the Lord to help me set aside time later in the day or in the evening. That way, the pressure is off my ability to “perform” or meet a goal – neither of which matter to God anyway.

Most resolutions fail because they are too lofty, too unattainable to begin with – and because they place the motivation for the goal(s) solely on the person who set them. In the past, I have set resolutions that I have achieved and resolutions I have not achieved, but those resolutions were set by ME. Never have I said: “I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to do whatever He wants” (Luke 1:38 TLB). It is time for me to listen to my God and my Creator, for me to find my identity in being His child, and acknowledge I do not know – will never know – what is best.

Lord, help me let YOU lead – whether it be in New Year’s Resolutions or anything else.

Growing in Grace

Have you ever read Psalm 63? If you have or have not, here is a brief summary of what took place in this Psalm. David was on the run from his son Absalom so he fled into the Wilderness of Judah. Being an extremely visual learner, I started doing some research on the Wilderness of Judah. I wanted to get a better idea of what David eyes would have seen during this time. One source describes the Wilderness of Judah as being, “Bleak, inhospitable, stark, and harsh.” A lot of places have changed in Israel but the Wilderness of Judah has for the most part remained the same for thousands of years. The beginning of Psalm 63 starts off with David saying, “O God, You are my God. I will look for You with all my heart and strength. My soul is thirsty for You. My flesh is weak wanting You in a dry and tired land where there is no water. So I have seen You in the holy place. And I have seen Your power and Your shining-greatness. My lips will praise You because Your loving-kindness is better than life. So I will give honor to You as long as I live. I will lift up my hands in Your name. My soul will be filled as with rich foods. And my mouth praises You with lips of joy…” (vv. 1-5 NLV).

Can you picture running for your life in a land as unforgiving as the enemies that have arisen against you? For a minute, can you imagine the emotions that would have captured your thoughts? Here, David’s first words to the Lord were not “Why! How could my own child betray me?” or, “Lord, give me water, food, and shelter.” Here, he opened his mouth, and what came first were words of praise and thanks so deeply felt in every part of this man for His God.

When reading Psalm 63, I kept coming back to this idea. Here was this mighty king and warrior who knew what it felt like to be satisfied financially, emotionally, and physically. Yet, when he found himself running for his life in a desert land he DID NOT long to be reunited with his riches. He was physically aching for more of what his soul and flesh were wanting–God.

As I was looking through pictures of the Wilderness of Judah, I sat and wondered about all the possibilities that he would have encountered on his journey. How hot would it have been in the Wilderness of Judah? Would his skin be burning from the heat of the sun beating down? How long would it have been before his lips began to crack from the desert air? And from those lips, how was David able to open his dry mouth to tell God that his flesh was weak wanting to be in His presence once more? More sources say that this wilderness went on as far as his human eyes could see, and yet we don’t read that he even placed his focus on his surroundings. David was able to direct his eyes on things above.

I had to go back and re-read Psalm 63 because for the first time I was understanding for myself what it meant for God to be someone’s all in all. David’s eyes, heart, soul, mind, and flesh were fiercely loving God as one. Yes, David was an imperfect man. Nonetheless, in the book of Acts Paul explains concerning him: “After removing Saul, he made David their king. He testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do’” (Acts 13:22). Even though David had committed many sins, was still “a man after God’s own heart.” I love the MSG version of this: “He’s a man whose heart beats to my heart, a man who will do what I tell him.”

Friends, I want my heart to beat with God’s heart. When I say, “O God, you are my God,” I want to say this with all my heart, mind, and strength. I want to obey Him despite what I feel or what my eyes may see. No matter what may come while I live in this world, I want to worship Him with abandon and speak truth to my soul in every moment. He is my refuge and reprieve no matter where I many find myself in this life. Like David, I want my God to be my all in all.

All for His Glory

Our study has been on a break for the holidays and I’ve got to tell you, I was ready for a little break. Please don’t misunderstand, I LOVE our studies and I LOVE Thistlebend, but sometimes it’s just good to have a break from the normal routine. And it’s great to gain an extra morning of the week where there’s nothing already scheduled. As the new year has begun, I’m realizing more and more the need for consistent community, however.

I’ve always somewhat prided myself on being an independent person. If I actually want to be, I can be pretty disciplined to do things—to a fault really. I can set a plan and make it happen. The Lord keeps bringing to mind this sermon that I heard a few months ago at my church about children and having a childlike dependence on the Lord. One of the things the pastor said was that it was actually very hard to teach how to be dependent, but if he was telling us how not to be dependent he would tell us not to pray. That line has just stuck with me. My husband and I talked about our goals for the new year and one of the things we talked about was this dependence that our pastor was speaking of. I had told my husband I wanted to be more fervent in prayer. When thinking about goals, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 came to mind more specifically which says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances…” A week or so later our church was doing a “New Year” sermon, and I realized then that I did not put forth that much of an effort or plan out how I was going to reach this goal that I was wanting for 2017. You know why that is? Because my hope was in myself and my discipline and independence to actually achieve this goal. Another reason is because I wasn’t seeking out any community for accountability.

While you could say that my independence has always been praised (by this world) it’s desperately hurting me for many reasons. (1) The truth is, I’m actually not independent like I believe that I am. Scripture says that apart from Christ I am nothing. (2) This fake independence that I believe to have keeps me from praying and asking the Lord for help; it keeps me from depending on Him. (3) It keeps me from actively being in community with others. Because I don’t feel like I need anyone to say anything to encourage me to enact a plan, I isolate myself from others sometimes. And let me be really honest here, I don’t like telling people what I’m struggling with. I like telling them after the problem has been “fixed.”

But the Christian life is not one of independence, thankfully, even though my flesh wants it to be. The Christian life is lived in the body of Christ. I say all of this because I need to hear it. I’m so thankful that Thistlebend promotes this community and this sharing and this dependence on the Lord and on each other.

What does this dependence on the Lord in community look like practically? For me, it’s being vulnerable enough to say to some friends, I want to be completely dependent on the Lord in all things and I want to pray about all things and I need your help to do this. I don’t pray like I should, I am not as obedient as I should be, and I am in desperate need of God’s grace. And it’s asking for help in the exact moment when I know I should pray and I don’t want to. It’s not telling someone that earlier today I wanted to pray and I made myself; that’s being independent. It’s texting a friend in the moment and saying, “I don’t want to do this. Will you please pray?” That vulnerability in the mundane moments creates dependence and it fosters community, true community all centered on the Lord. Needless to say I’m really thankful that study is getting ready to start again because I’m seeing how much I really do need it.

Do you have community that encourages and prays for you like this? Do you have others you can share with vulnerably? We’d love to hear what your groups do to encourage each other! Leave comments! And if you don’t have a community of believers you’re involved with, we’d like to hear that too and try to help you have community within the body of Christ!

Planted for His Glory