Seeing Through the Obstacles

A lake retreat brings God’s lessons.

The house was beautiful. Decorated like those in a magazine with the latest touches from the Pinterest boards. Plenty of bedrooms, windows overlooking the lake, and a dock perfect for jumping off of into the refreshing waters. But my favorite part was the huge deck that stretched the length of the back of the house. And being a writer, my favorite place on that deck was at the charming wrought iron bistro table with my back to the windows, my Apple in front of me, and a panoramic view of the deep green waters. There, each day, I spread out God’s word and my journal and leisurely visited with my Abba.

Almost immediately there was a fly in my ointment so to speak. (But even those flies carry lessons!)

My table, appropriately located in a cozy nook beside the door and just outside the kitchen window, had one drawback. A large red oak had, years ago as a little acorn, made his home about 8 feet from me, directly in front of my favorite chair looking off the deck toward the lake. Now he was a big old boy, probably 2 feet in diameter, that blocked a large chunk of my lake view. With the door and porch railing hemming me in, there was really no place to move the table that would make a big difference. Adirondack chairs had their place on the other side of the door, so it was my opportunity to enjoy the blessing in spite of an imperfection.

As I sat watching my kids jumping off the pier that second afternoon, leaning this way and that to see them well around the tree as they floated off on tubes this way, or kayaked around that way, enlightenment came. God did what He so often does with me, He made a lesson out of the mundane and the annoying.

As I stood up and moved toward the railing to call to them for some reason, I realized a truth: the closer I was to that obstacle (the tree) the more of my view it blocked. And the antithesis of that: the further I drew away from the obstacle, the more clear my view was of the reality around me.

My spirit stirred. I suddenly was aware of the spiritual ramifications of this lesson from the physical world. We humans frequently have obstacles come into our lives. Whether it is the relatively minor getting a head cold the day you have a big presentation at work, a larger obstacle like having your taxes audited, or a really huge life issue such as a serious illness or tragedy. We tend to see these obstacles as material, physical world problems, but they greatly impact our spiritual walk.

As we face the larger obstacles, we become just like I was with my tree. We are consumed with the big thing in front of us, and not with the rest of God’s plan being carried out beyond that. We can sit in a ladies Bible study, so inwardly focused that we miss tuning in to God’s great plan going on around us. We can stay cooped up in our homes staring at that “tree” of grief in front of us and not be aware of the beauty of the “lake” just beyond us. We may verbally gripe so much about our current obstacle tree, that the only words that escape our lips are negative, bitter, sour words of disappointment and fear. And we may even hide behind our obstacle tree, because we are so used to that ongoing obstacle in our lives, it becomes easier just to live hidden behind it than to make the effort to reach out to the world beyond, despite our obstacle.

So what’s a girl to do? We all have problems.

First, get some distance on that tree whenever possible. When you are staring down that problem a foot away from you every day, it looms huge in your line of vision blocking the majority of what you see. Granted, we have huge obstacles crop up, but we don’t have to give them the central place in our lives and cozy up to them. Just as when I stepped back on the porch I could see more of the lake, when we step back from those obstructions we see more of the world beyond our difficult situation. A rebellious teen in the house? Accept the husband’s offer of a get-away. Finished that chemo and waiting on results of scans? A family celebration or second honeymoon trip might be a good choice. Your best friend is in financial crisis? Offer them your home free for the weekend for a romantic vacation while you are on that road trip to visit the in-laws. Find creative ways to give yourself (or others) a bit of distance from those besetting hindrances and the perspective and refreshment that come with distance.

Second, look beyond. God is carrying out a good plan all around us. If you can’t pull away for a while from troubling issues to get some perspective, then refocus your outlook, and start looking at the part of that view beyond that tree that you can see. The world is carrying on around you, and God has a role for you in that world as long as you are breathing – problems or not! Invest your life in God’s plans beyond your problem. When we invest in others, both are blessed.

Third, examine that tree. It’s just a tree. One with dead leaves and bark and ants crawling on it. It may be a 100 foot tall, 2 feet in diameter tree, but it’s still just a tree, a created thing. It’s just an obstacle. Nothing is impossible with God. Because of fear maybe, have we mentally made that obstacle more mighty than the Creator? He is still in control. He is not surprised by that tree being there; He saw that little acorn fall there and plant itself before we ever had an inkling we’d even be in the same neighborhood as that tree, maybe even before we were born. The good news: He has the axe necessary to get rid of that tree!

Fourth, move to one side. Look at your tree from a different angle. Could your parent’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s be a blessing to draw you two to spend time together in their later years? Could your broken heart over that rebellious teen prepare you to minister to other broken hearts you encounter along the way? Could that car wreck bring a hidden blessing? Could this trial be drawing you back to prayer? Obstacles, in some way, have God’s hidden blessing and glory tucked behind them. He is active in your life. So get a different perspective on that tree and see what good God may be bringing along with it.

Fifth, pray in faith for God to chop it down. There’s never harm in asking God to remove obstacles from our lives. Jesus did that the night before He was crucified; ” ‘Abba, Father,’ he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36 NIV) That last statement gets us! Are we willing to live with that obstacle always there if God chooses NOT to remove it? He’s got a good plan for us. And He’s got the axe… remember?

IMG_5875And last, see the good in that tree. Count your blessings. My tree has a cheerful little squirrel who chatted with me every day of my vacation and a gorgeous green canopy that shaded me from the heat of the afternoon sun. It’s massive presence reminded me of the strength and stability of the Father, and it’s leaves offered pleasant whispers in the breeze. Your obstacle has hidden blessings too. Maybe it restores a broken relationship, brings a new friend into your life, humbles you, makes you sit still and enjoy the moments more, changes the direction of your child’s life, or causes you to listen and understand new life lessons. God is using it in your life.

So let us not grow so focused on the negative. Yes, bad things happen, but like a diamond, they are many faceted, and may have hidden treasures bound up with them. Are we embracing the spiritual lessons that come our way through the pain? Are we consumed with the Father, or are we consumed with the fear, dread, confusion, doubts, and what ifs of this obstacle? Are we angry or tender-hearted? Let us look with spiritual eyes to really see – to look beyond that obstacle!

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

What Does a Donkey Have to do with My Destiny? (Part 2)

How do you respond to changes in your life?  Do you go in kicking and dragging your heel? Are you one of those that can’t leave anything behind, so you try to juggle the old and new? Very few of us are excited when changes come in our lives. Changes in our lives are unavoidable. It is how we deal with them and accept them that affect our destiny.

I can honestly say I am one that thinks long and hard before making changes. I like to hold on to the old and familiar. Recently, my dearly beloved 18-year-old recliner needed to be replaced. This recliner had moved with me three different times and has served me Chair 3well, but the time had come for it to be replaced.  I have been putting off getting a new one for several years thinking this one could last a little longer. However, over the past year it had started to lose its stuffing in several places from wear. Finally, I had no choice, I knew something had to be done!

So why did I delay getting a new one? You see, this old recliner really fits me just right. It is so comfortable. The arms are just the right size to hold the remote. It is just the right height. It reclines to just the right angle for sleeping and watching TV. It is what I know. I am happy and content and even a little lazy. This old recliner has been doing its job. I didn’t want to think about going and searching for something new. I didn’t want to face the unknown world of recliner shopping; the colors, the styles, the choices. I knew there would not be one like the one I already had, and I would rather hold on to what I knew than to face the unknown.  However, once the decision to order a new recliner had been made, the question became what to do with my old recliner. Should I get rid of it or keep it around just in case I needed it for some reason. Can you relate? Do you hang on to stuff just in case you need it? (Let me be honest, the real reason I want to keep the recliner around is as a safety measure just in case I don’t like my new recliner.)

Some of you may be saying, “Well Brea, I’m glad you got a new recliner, but that seems very small and insignificant compared to the changes that come into my life.” You are right, but the decision is still the same. Sometimes you have to be willing to let go of things in your past or current life to embrace the new, exciting, and unknown things God has for you in the future. Be it a new recliner, a new Lifegroup, a new bible study, a new church, a new circle of friends, a new ministry, a new career or job, a new relationship, a move to a different city or country, etc. … You get the idea.

In the last session of the Priscilla Shirer Live conference in Knoxville, Priscilla gave us some warnings of things to be prepared for as we chase our donkeys heading towards our destiny. (To understand, read Part 1 if you haven’t.) The word of warning that really stuck me was that sometimes God calls us to let things in our life go: friends, possessions, ambitions, plans, and desires. (She is not talking about your marriage!)  Wait a minute! That is change! I thought I could just carry on with my every day task of chasing my donkey while waiting for my destiny. I didn’t sign up to give anything up. But God’s ways are different from our ways and his thoughts are different from our thoughts. (Isaiah 55:9) Sometimes we have to be willing to change to meet our destiny.

In 1 Samuel 9:27, Saul experienced having to give up something. He had to give up his servant that had been traveling with him. Samuel told him to let his servant go:

“When they reached the edge of town, Samuel told Saul to send his servant on ahead. After the servant was gone, Samuel said, “Stay here, for I have received a special message for you from God.”

Priscilla told us that sometimes in order for us to grasp the new things God has planned, we have to be willing to let go. Saul’s servant had served his purpose by pointing Saul to Samuel and faithfully working alongside of Saul chasing after those donkeys. Let’s be honest, sometimes it is others in our lives that encourage us and point out new opportunities in our lives. We just have to make the decision to follow their suggestions.

A little warning though: Don’t be like Balaam with his donkey (Numbers 22:8-35) and follow someone else’s suggestion or encouragement out of un-pure motives or rebellion and without actively seeking for God’s permission through prayer to move forward.  Draper Rogers detour-44163_640said in his sermon a few weeks ago: “Road blocks are not the enemy and when you encounter road blocks they can be God’s warning signs to you and should not be ignored.”  Make sure you are watching for the road signs while you chase your donkey.  Detours and unintended hazards are no fun and can slow you down.

But back to change. When change comes in your life how do you react: Are you excited?  Do you embrace this new change? Are the words from the song in the movie Frozen your motto: “Let it go! Let it go!” Do you embrace the words found in Isaiah 43:19 (NET) where the Lord says: “Look, I am about to do something new. Now it begins to happen! Do you not recognize it?  Yes, I will make a road in the desert and paths in the wilderness”?

Are you willing to drop everything and follow Jesus, just like his disciples?

In Matthew 4:19-22 (NET) Jesus said to them, “ ‘Follow me, and I will turn you into fishers of people.’ They left their nets immediately and followed him. Going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in a boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. Then he called them. They immediately left the boat and their father and followed him.”

These disciples were willing to drop everything to follow Jesus.

Sometimes this is so hard to do. I have been known to flat-out rebel by refusing to make the change, or I try to juggle the old and the new. This never works. Can you relate to the rich man in Matthew 19:16-30 (NET), when he came to Jesus and asked him how he could gain eternal life? Jesus told him to keep the commandments, to which the rich man replied that he did, so what did he lack? Jesus replied: “ ‘If you wish to be perfect, go sell your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ But when the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he was very rich.” This man went away sorrowful, sad. He could not let his possessions go. He missed out on following Jesus for things. Do you let worldly possessions, your friends, family members, job, church, current ministries, etc. hold you back from following God to your destiny? Do you favor them and the security they bring over God?  These are some really tough questions! Let me say from experience it is better to willingly give something up than to have the Holy Spirit come in and strip things away as he cuts and prunes your life. The hurt is a lot worse when God has to purposely remove something or someone, than for us to acknowledge and obey God’s instruction when He asks us to let things or people go.

Giving up the familiar and stepping out into the unknown is scary. But God has said in Deuteronomy 31:5 (NET) “Be strong and courageous! Do not fear or tremble before them, for the Lord your God is the one who is going with you. He will not fail you or abandon you!” Also in Isaiah 41:10 (NET) God tells us, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you! Don’t be frightened, for I am your God! I strengthen you—yes, I help you—yes, I uphold you with my saving right hand!”

So are you willing to let go and step out on Faith? At the conference, Priscilla said, “Our calling/destiny is not here. It is there. And we have to be willing to release what God has called us to let go of so that we can fully grasp the future he has planned.  If we choose to hold on to the past it limits our enjoyment of the life God has given us. God lays the table and invites us to come eat, but we have to decide to leave things behind and go.”

It is time for me to let my old recliner go and embrace many years with my new recliner. What is God calling you to leave behind or change in your life so that you can experience new and exciting things He has for your destiny?

What Does a Donkey Have to do with My Destiny? (Part 1)

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Recently, I attend a Priscilla Shiver Live event in Knoxville, Tennessee, with some ladies from our church. (Side note: if you ever have a chance to go hear her live – take it.  You will be blessed!)  During the weekend she taught from 1 Samuel 9:1 – 10:2 with a message I would title “You have to chase a few Donkeys to reach your Destiny.”

Priscilla said God has already made a pathway for our future. We don’t have to rely on luck or the stars to tell us our future when we know the Maker of the stars.  The only thing we have to do is be faithful in regular mundane duties and tasks and our lives will intersect with our destinies.  Here are some Biblical examples she gave:

Rebekah was just faithfully going about her daily task of drawing water from the well when she had an encounter that would change the trajectory her life.  She met the man who would take her to marry Isaac.

The Woman at the Well was faithfully drawing water when she met Jesus and he offered her living water. That day her life was changed.

David was faithfully attending the sheep when his father called him to take provisions to this brothers, and he met Goliath.  He was also faithfully attending the sheep when Samuel came to anoint him as the future king of Israel.  These two events changed the trajectory of David’s life.

The passage Priscilla spent session one on was Saul and his search for the donkeys.  Here is an abbreviated overview of the passage.  Saul has been tasked by his father to go and find the donkeys that had strayed away.  He was going about a very mundane everyday task, but along the way he met Samuel, a Man of God.  Samuel had been sent to the city by the LORD to anoint Saul as the future king of Israel.  The task of chasing the donkeys set Saul on the path to meet his destiny.

Here are a few things to remember about chasing our donkeys:

  • It will not bring us fame on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
  • It does not matter if your family has failed to chase the donkeys before.  This is your chase not your family’s.
  • Your attributes, beauty or lack of beauty, skills or lack of skills, do not matter.
  • You have to make a conscious choice to chase the donkey.
  • We can’t be lazy or have apathy for chasing the donkeys.
  • You can’t think that chasing the donkey is not worth your time.
  • You have to faithfully keep chasing the donkeys until God moves you on.
  • You have to constantly be praying and seeking direction for the path and destiny the donkeys will take.
  • Sometimes you have to keep chasing the donkeys even if you know your destiny because it can take years to come to fruition. Just ask Abraham and Moses. God revealed to them their destiny, but it was years before it was fulfilled in their lives.
  • Don’t get ahead of your donkeys thinking you know where they are going. They may just take a different path.
  • Don’t grow tried and frustrated or be willing to quit chasing your donkey. Your destiny might just be around the next corner.
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Donkeys can be smelly and dirty and stubborn and not much fun.

You see Saul was ready to give up. He was tired, hungry, frustrated and had already traveled through 5 countries. He was ready to return home to his Father and admit defeat. But Saul’s servant encouraged Saul to continue on and seek out Samuel to inquire where the donkeys may be found. God was already preparing the way. God had told Samuel to prepare and watch for Saul. Saul only had to walk the path God had already laid out for him.

Are you chasing the donkeys set before you waiting for your destiny to come? Or are you sitting back doing nothing waiting for your destiny to cross your path? Mary Margaret Collingsworth, an employee at Lifeway and a speaker at the You Lead conference I also attended while in Knoxville, said “God wants us to be doing the everyday, not just looking towards the big picture and waiting for something to happen.”

Are you a single woman waiting on God to bring your future husband?  Then you need to be walking in purity and doing the task that God has laid before you faithfully.  One day, if it is God’s will that perfect husband will cross your path; however, if we are just sitting back and waiting on God to bring him to our front porch we might be waiting a long time. Are you a married woman who is tasked with folding the clothes and raising children? Are you faithfully fulfilling these task while you wait for God to bring your destiny? Be it writing a bible study or teaching a lifegroup or ladies bible study or homeschooling your children. We all want to know what our future holds, but are we being obedient and doing the things we already have scheduled on our calendars. Are we looking for new opportunities to serve God?  Are we willing to do those tasks we despise? What if you knew they were tied to your destiny?

Priscilla asked us if we were waiting for the current season in our life to be over thinking the next one would be greater.  A single feels she can’t wait to get married, and doesn’t enjoy her time of being single.  A young couple can’t wait to have children but miss the time of togetherness they have to build their marriage.  An older lady can’t wait to retire.  What about a job you can’t wait to leave? Something you agreed to do that you can’t wait to be over? You get the idea. Are you racing through every season of our life waiting to get to the next and missing out on the blessing of the current season you are in? We all do it. We are spending all our time waiting for our current situation to be over instead of looking for the blessing God has for us.

So as you chase your donkeys, be on the lookout for your destiny.  Keep being faithful to the small, mundane task.  Don’t wish your life away and miss out on what God has planned for you. Don’t be so worried about the big picture God has for you that you miss the snapshots of God working on in your everyday life. Don’t get bogged down and feel that what you are doing does not have purpose. Everything you do has a purpose.  You may just not be able to see its worth yet. When Saul completed his task and arrived at the appointed place and time there was a reward waiting for him – a feast in his honor, a special message from God, anointing for his destiny, and word that the donkeys had been found.

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Faithfully do the task before you as you wait for God to bring you to your destiny!

Faithful

People on the cone of Old Faithful Geyser as it erupts; R Robinson; 1948

“But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” Psalm 86:15

For the past couple of weeks, I have started this blog post and just stared at a blank page. This word “faithful” has been everywhere I have been and it seems like it has been in every verse I have read, but I could not seem to write about it… until today.

The word “faithful” is a strong word, especially when you are talking about the space in between the God of the universe and us. For us as believers to find God faithful, we have to have been through some “stuff.” To know down deep that HE IS FAITHFUL there has to have been some fire or a valley that He brought you through for you to know what faithful looks like or feels like. God’s word is full of promises for faithfulness but until you and I test Him, until we put our heart and life and future in His hands, we have no way of knowing what His faithfulness looks like.

I remember a day, eight plus years ago that His faithfulness became evident in my life. faithful-and-true-christian-poetry-by-deborah-annWe watched a family reunite and watched God redeem, restore and bless, but that meant that we had to let go of four precious kids as they returned home. God brought strength and comfort into our home and hearts. God breathed peace into our home and allowed us to welcome more children over the next several years. As each one prepared to leave, He was FAITHFUL to send that same peace and strength and hope into our home and hearts. We felt His presence and a sense of peace like never before because we looked for Him in those hard moments. We searched for His heart and sought His face when times were hard and HE WAS THERE…faithful.

I have been listening to a new song by Mercy Me called “Even If” over the last couple of  weeks and there is such a powerful line in that song “You’ve been faithful You’ve been good, all of my days. JESUS I will cling to You, come what may”. I can tell you that in my little corner of the world God is faithful, and He is good. I can read you the Scriptures that tell of His faithfulness, and I can also put that same Bible down and tell you time after time that He has been faithful in my life and how time and time again He blessed me in ways that I would have never seen if I had not been actively looking for His faithfulness. Not always easy, not always the way I would have wanted it to be, but His ways are higher. We each have a story to tell and our story reflects His goodness and His faithfulness. Prayers that He answers and blessings that He brings tell a story. There are hurting people right outside our doors that need to hear what He has done in your life and mine. They need to hear that HE IS FAITHFUL and that when we are empty He can fill us with strength and power to stay the course.

We are blessed as believers to have the opportunity to see God move and see miracles happen, the challenge for us is will we share them? Will you be bold and courageous enough to share your story with someone so that His story can be told? Lives are changed when real people share real hurt and heartache and when God is faithful to redeem and restore. Broken people loving broken people because only God can heal. We have the faith to walk out our journey because He is FAITHFUL!!!

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. Revelation 19:11

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Back to Basics: Hearing God’s Voice

“Look Mommy! It’s God talking!”

These words burst out of my preschooler’s mouth and caught me by surprise. “What?” I asked. He pointed to the sun’s rays streaming through the clouds seeming to shine down on one particular place in the distance. I understood. All those children’s Sunday School pictures would show light coming down from Heaven when God spoke to someone, and now my son was seeing that in real life and knew in his little mind that God was talking. My perspective was changed forever in that moment. Now whenever I see the sun streaming through, I think to myself God’s talking to someone. I pray for whoever it is that God is shining down on at that moment, that they will hear, accept, and obey His voice.

Oh! If only discerning God’s voice were that obvious! If the clouds parted and sunlight struck me square in the face, that would be so much easier than having to mature and learn to discern for myself what God is speaking to me. How can I know it’s God talking? How do I discern God’s voice? How do I learn to hear God’s voice and distinguish it from the other voices I hear – my own, the enemy’s, the world’s, etc.

ear-2372090_640❀  The foremost way we learn to know God’s voice is the same way a baby comes to recognize his mommy’s or daddy’s voice: he is with the parent continuously until the parent’s voice becomes familiar to him. For us, that means spending time with God as constantly as we can. Granted, in everyday life, work must be done, physical life moves quickly. In the midst of this rushing river called Life we must intentionally plan for and look for ways to spend more time with Our Father God. This means immersing ourselves in his Word – daily, hourly, continually. Find focused time to read and study His word every day. Listen to scripture songs, sermons, podcasts, and testimonies. Memorize scripture so that it dwells within us. Let’s make our heart familiar with the tone of God’s voice so we recognize it immediately.

❀ Learning to hear God’s voice also means spending time in prayer listening for God to draw that verse of instruction up from the depths of our heart and into our conscious attention. We need to speak scriptures to ourselves and call our spirits to attention in the name of Jesus Christ and listen to Him. Life is not just composed of mind and body. We have a spirit within that can commune with God and that God will move and inspire. But we must pray and listen.

❀  Learning to hear God’s voice also happens when we immerse our lives in Him. Surround yourself visually with scriptures and wholesome, Godly images. Surround yourself socially with like-minded Christians who will “spur one another on to love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24) Get deeply connected with the local body of Christ. All these things help filter out the voice of the enemy, remind us of Christ’s voice, and correct us when we start listening to the wrong voice.

❀  Listening to God’s voice requires waiting. In our Instagram/Breaking News world we’ve become accustomed to having the information we want immediately. God is not bound by time and does not fall prey to our mental urgency to “know it now.” We must seek Him patiently with our whole heart and we will find Him. (Jeremiah 29:13) We must be still to recognize and know that He is God. (Psalm 46:10)

❀  Learning to hear God’s voice also includes exercising self-control in your thought life. If your mind is overrun with your thoughts, the world’s opinions, unholy dramas, self-pitying sagas, and Satan’s fiery darts of temptation, God’s still small voice will be drowned out in all the hubbub, and even when He is speaking we will have trouble hearing Him. In Philippians 4:8, Paul gives us the key to controlling our thoughts.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Tools For Determining God’s Voice

1. Remember That God’s Voice Will Never Tell Us Anything Contrary to His Written Word.

God ‘s written Word, the Bible, is truth. God will never speak anything to your heart that goes against His written Word. That’s why it is critical for us to know His Word. If we don’t understand the full counsel of what Scripture teaches, Satan is able to slip subtle twists of truth into our minds and deceive us just as he did Adam & Eve in the Garden. Satan is in the game of mimicry and deception. He shoots those kinds of thoughts into our minds, and when we aren’t in tune with God’s voice we may obey this counterfeit voice thinking it is from God. Always compare the thoughts and promptings of your mind and heart with God’s written Word. If you’re a young Christian and don’t feel you have the Biblical wisdom to discern this yet, go to an older, wiser Godly woman or a pastor for prayer and help. The next tool will help with this too.

 

2. Sifting Our Thoughts

We must learn to sift our thoughts through the lens of Philippians 4:8, and then our mind can be cleared of the clutter and can readily discern God’s voice. Here is the process to take every thought captive. For any thought you have, ask your self the questions below. If at any point your answer is “No,” then that thought is not of God.

Philippians 4:8 Thought Tester:

Is this thought True?                        Yes/No

Is this thought Noble?                      Yes/No

Is this thought Right?                       Yes/No

Is this thought Pure?                        Yes/No

Is this thought Lovely?                    Yes/No

Is this thought Admirable?            Yes/No

Is this thought Excellent?               Yes/No

Is this thought Praiseworthy?       Yes/No

If your answer to any of these is “No,” then choose to quit thinking that thought and replace it with a scripture verse to think about. If we just ask the first question, a great deal of what we consider will be raked aside.

 

3. Know What Scripture Says about God and Satan

Another way I make sure I am hearing from God is to be aware of what scripture teaches us about God and Satan. This simple chart compares the voice of God with the Enemy’s voice.

                The Voice of God and the Voice of the Enemy  

  1. Satan condemns, God convicts our hearts.
  2. Satan’s goal is to destroy, God’s goal is to correct and encourage.
  3. Satan’s is a harsh, loud, merciless voice, God’s is a gentle, merciful voice.
  4. Satan is negative and discouraging, God speaks honestly of your failures, yet is hopeful.
  5. Satan seeks to separate you from Christ, God seeks to restore your relationship with Christ and others.
  6. Satan is punitive, he offers no grace, God offers grace with appropriate consequences.
  7. Satan is a roaring lion, God is a still small voice.
  8. Satan has come to kill, steal, & destroy, while God gives life to the full; abundant life.

 

4. Recognize that God Asks Us Questions in Order to Teach Us

In the Garden of Eden, God called to the man and woman “Where are you?” Was it because God didn’t know? Had they hidden so well that the omniscient Creator of the Universe couldn’t find them in a garden? Um, no. He was educating them. Today we call it the Socratic method (an educational method based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presumptions), but personally, I like to refer to it as God’s method. He knew where Adam and Eve were, but He asked them a question to get them to think – where were they really? Outside God’s plan, disobeying His instructions, hiding from Him. They needed to take stock of themselves to learn.

God asked many people questions throughout scripture. In 1 Kings 19:9-13 God asks Elijah, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” as he hid in a cave in fear. Then a wind and an earthquake and a fire came by before God spoke in a gentle whisper and asked Elijah again, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (Side note: God also repeats Himself to us.) In Job 38 God asked Job questions which stopped him in His tracks. God asked Isaiah, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” (Isaiah 6:8) Jesus asked people He met questions, the most common one being, “What do you want me to do for you?” God asks us questions today also. He asks us questions to get us to think and learn His ways. So listen. When you find yourself asking yourself, “What are you doing girl?” just maybe God put that question in your mind to get you to think and learn. So stop, go to His Word, and contemplate your actions.

Learning to hear and discern God’s voice is a process. We must learn to recognize the voice of our shepherd. As we faithfully stay in His Word and apply His principals in living out our lives, we will find His voice becomes more distinct through the years. In the meantime, listen carefully! He is speaking! My prayer for you is that you would begin to hear Him and follow Him obediently just as it’s recorded in Isaiah 30:21-22 “Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’ ”

(Join our fall Women’s Bible study at Gardendale First Baptist Church: Priscilla Shirer’s Discerning the Voice of God.)

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“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate very wrong path. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalm 119:103 – 105 May His Words illumine your path today as you seek Him faithfully! 

 

Wheel of Faith

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Supper was finished… The kids had completed their dinner chores and scattered. Our conversation was light, the kind of good natured banter that Husband and Wife often share. We had been discussing the recent bad string of movies I’d chosen and brought home from the library for our date night viewing pleasure.

“That last one was awful Babe.”

He was right, the light-hearted romantic comedy, was in fact none of those things. No light heartedness, not very funny and the acting was subpar. I was quite glad I had not wasted a dollar-seventy-five rental fee; relief that I hadn’t washed over me.

“Yeah I know. It was really bad. I’m glad it was free though.”

I had nearly finished loading the dishwasher when I was forced to make another, more profound acknowledgement. The confession had come secondary to a familiar scenario that had just played out between us. He coughed and cleared his throat. I began to quiz him. Meanwhile, as he spoke I paused the dishes duties to assess him. In a move that resembled “Baymax” from Big Hero 6, I scanned systematically, beginning at the top of his head and making my way down to his tennis shoe covered feet. No overt physical findings detected.

Depending on who you ask I may or may not have begun asking irrational questions. Questions like, “How long have you been coughing?”

His response, “Uh, once.”

The interrogation continued… I wanted to know not only the frequency, but also the quality of the cough in question. As is customary his cooperation eventually gave way to annoyance and he put an end to my line of questioning. His tone of voice changed and he said, “Amy stop. I’m fine, I had to clear my throat. Good Grief.”

I apologized for my irrational behavior, quickness to jump to unmerited conclusions, and relentless interrogation tactics. He quickly offered his forgiveness.

As I placed the last of the forks into the basket, I said “You know I always think the worst.”

He gently, yet matter-of-factly said “Yes, you do. I think that’s partly why you struggle with faith.”

He didn’t have to elaborate, I knew what he meant. We’ve often discussed the fact that I struggle when it comes to matters of faith. Areas where I am to trust God for the seemingly impossible. Believing in faith is by far one of my biggest struggles. I wrestle daily with this one, and I am often left unsettled because I know that without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).

My man does not struggle in this area nearly as much as I do. In His infinite wisdom and grace, the King gave me a husband that has a tremendous amount of faith, and lives a life evidenced by it. He is a man that can be described as a “man of faith.”

I’ve often thought that if there were a chapter in his book written about his faith, it could boast all of the following headings… “Faith Big enough to Be on the Wheel of Fortune, Play it, and Win the Exact Amount of Cash Needed to Pay for an Adoption…” or maybe “Faith Lived Out by Throwing Caution to the Wind and Fulfilling The Meteorologist Dream…” or “Slow and Meticulous Ain’t the Same as Big and Dumb…” perhaps “He Can Do Almost Anything…” or maybe this summation “Follows Directions Well”.

It has been said that what you are thinking today will be who you are tomorrow. What my man of few, but profound, words was saying to me as I finished loading the dishwasher was that I tend to think the worst. I brace myself in preparation for the worst, even when the worst is in direct contradiction to God’s word.

God’s Word tells me over and over that He loves me, He is for me, He can be trusted. He gave His very Life for me. There is truly no greater love than that. Faith is simply believing that God will do what He has already promised He will do. Perhaps for me, the secret to faith lies in my thinking. If I believe God… If I trust Him… Then the product of that is the faith I’ve longed for. Perhaps if I change my thinking from the worst to the best, then that is the first step necessary to prepare me for the great things God has in store.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. Hebrews 11:1,3,6

The Unappreciated Gift

by returning guest author Brea Burelle

Have you ever received a gift you didn’t want?

You know, the ones you want to return or just stick in your closet and never use.

I have. My unappreciated gift was a car. I received it in 1985 when I was 17 years old. It was a 1967 Brown Mustard Plymouth Duster. That’s right, my grandparents gave me an 18-year-old car when I was 17 years old. They had planned this big surprise. They had stored the car in their basement, backing it in so when they opened the door I could see the car with the custom-made license plate with my name on the front. They were so excited to provide this gift to me and thought they had done so well in picking it out. Well I was so unimpressed that I looked right pass the car trying to figure out what the big deal was about. Plymouth Duster Car2.jpegThe car looked nothing like anything I would want. It was not the right style or color and definitely not like what my friends were driving. How could I be seen driving this Mustard Yellow car? Who were the kidding? I am positive that I must have hurt their feelings, but at 17 years old I could not pull it together to fake my appreciation. It was not until I had to start paying a car payment on a car I bought years later that I fully appreciated the gift of being handed a car free and clear, with no strings attached. In my mind all I could think about was that I wanted what everyone else had. All these years later I look back on this event in my life and wonder how I could have been so unappreciative of the gift I was given.

Just like this car how many gifts have I been given by God that I take for granted and don’t full appreciate the sacrifice made on my behalf. Gifts like: His Love, the Gift of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and the gift of My Salvation. God has also provided me with Spiritual pexels-photo-264793gifts to be used for his kingdom along with more gifts than I can name. He says in His Word in Matthew 7:11 (NET) “If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” God’s is the giver of good gifts.

Then the other day as I was preparing to lead a prayer group and was looking for Scriptures to give other woman dealing with Singleness. I was listening to a sermon on Singleness and the text was 1 Corinthians 7:7 (NLT) “I wish everyone could get along without marrying, just as I do. But we are not all the same. God gives some the gift of marriage, and to others he gives the gift of singleness.”

Wait did you catch that? Wow! God’s Words says singleness is a gift from God. The word gift in Greek is charisma which means “a gift of God’s grace” (charis). So Singleness is not just any gift, but a gift of God’s grace.  Now what am I going to do with this new piece of information. Who wants to hear that Singleness is a gift? Most of us singles ladies consider singleness as a holding pattern until we get married. Our Singleness is supposed to be just for a Season. Why would God consider singleness a gift? No woman I know wants to open a gift that contains the gift of singleness. We surely don’t get excited about being single. We get excited about getting married. Our society puts our focus on marriage. We expect to receive flowers and gifts from the guy we are dating. The excitement of receiving a ring. Then comes the parties, tea and wedding gifts, and the wedding itself. Single people don’t get these things. So, this got me thinking. What is so special about Singleness that God would consider it a gift?

I am sure there are many answers, but this is the one that pricked my heart. As a single woman, I can have a life more devoted to Him. God can have my undivided attention if I am willing to give it to Him. In 1 Corinthians 7:32-35 (NLT) Paul say:

I want you to be free from the concerns of this life. An unmarried man can spend his time doing the Lord’s work and thinking how to please him. 33 But a married man has to think about his earthly responsibilities and how to please his wife. 34 His interests are divided. In the same way, a woman who is no longer married or has never been married can be devoted to the Lord and holy in body and in spirit. But a married woman has to think about her earthly responsibilities and how to please her husband. 35 I am saying this for your benefit, not to place restrictions on you. I want you to do whatever will help you serve the Lord best, with as few distractions as possible.

God’s Word says I am to use my gift of Singleness, “to do whatever will help you serve the Lord best, with as few distractions as possible.”  Paul tells us that a married woman has earthly responsibilities and are pulled in many different directions. They have to worry about their husbands and children and how any other ministry they take on will affect them.   As a single, I don’t have to worry about family members being neglected. I don’t have to work my schedule around others. When God calls me to a ministry I can devote my time to it. I can travel and do mission work when needed and called. I can be involved in several different ministries and not worry about family members feeling left out and abandoned. I don’t have to work my quiet time around distractions in my home. pexels-photo-478541I can spend extra time with the Lord and not have to worry about the clock or what is not getting done. If I am willing to give it, the Lord can have all my devotion as I serve him with all my ability.

Singleness may not be the gift I would choose for myself or that any woman would willingly choose, but we do not get to choose our gifts, remember? God does. I have to remember that God is a good Father who loves me and wants the best for me. God does not give bad gifts. But the choice is mine of how I look at my gift of singleness: I can choose to be bitter and unappreciative of God’s gift or I can choose to be excited and joyful about this gift. It is all up to me. If I choose the former, I miss out on all the wonderful things God has planned for my life during this Season or Seasons. If I choose the latter I get more than the gift of Singleness, I get the Gift of God Himself. If I am willing to stay devoted to him and follow his path, God’s Word promises in Psalm 16:11 “You lead me in the path of life; I experience absolute joy in your presence; you always give me sheer delight.” As I continue to serve the Lord and He continues to open doors may I experience absolute joy and sheer delight in being able to be in his presence and know that by walking this path of Singleness, I am walking the path he designed just for me. May I fully appreciate and be excited about this gift that has been given to me.

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Back to Basics: Good or Best

God is GoodGrowing up, I heard a phrase that shaped not only how I acted, but how I thought. I heard this phrase leaving to go to school, leaving from class to class, when I went to people’s houses, and basically before I went anywhere in public: Morgan, be a good girl. My whole life with the same standard to pursue: to be a good girl. Make good decisions, make good grades, have good friends, be a good person. And there’s nothing wrong with those things. Actually, by the world’s perspective that’s a commendable goal. But recently, I’ve been challenged spiritually by that same goal that I used to strive to be as a young girl. I was in a meeting when one of the ministers of our church said something that I won’t forget any time soon: Good is the enemy of best. Yeah re-read that again. Whenever I heard that, it was an immediate punch to the gut. Things started pouring into my mind of my life where I had been pursuing good instead of best. Friendships, relationships, decisions about my time, and most importantly my relationship with Christ. But as soon as guilt flooded in, my flesh started excusing all of those decisions by saying, “but they were all good things! None of them were bad! ” And that’s true. But they weren’t best. Good is good, but God is best.

I know what you’re probably thinking, Morgan what are you saying? I do so many good things! I probably would agree with you. But I want to challenge you, are the things you do, the friendships you have, the relationships you make, are they best? In my personal life I had been settling for good, when best was still an option, and clearly still available. The definition of best is “of the most excellent, effective, or desirable type of quality.” So I started asking myself this question in every decision of my life, “Morgan are you consistently pursuing best?” Now hear my heart, I am not aligning myself with perfectionism, because that’s not possible with my human heart. I’m trying to align my life with Christ in every area. And here’s the thing: I’m starting small and then working my way up. I am asking myself, Morgan is lying on the couch watching Netflix for 6 hours straight best? Is scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat the best use of my time? Is checking out with the same cashier every time I’m at Walmart and not saying one word of encouragement or not saying one word at all best? Is that friendship that drains me spiritually best? Is that guy you are talking to good or best? Am I consistently pursuing righteousness? Am I consistently pursuing a deeper relationship with Christ? Am I consistently pursuing intentional conversations with people to share about the gospel and what it has done to my life? I know these are hard questions, but I believe that Jesus changes everything, and that He is worth nothing less that our very best. When Jesus becomes the center of my focus, everything changes because He changes everything in me. I start looking for the best in my circumstances, the best in people, the best opportunities to make His name known, and even looking for the best in myself. So ladies, I challenge you are you pursuing “best decisions” in your life? I won’t lie, it’s hard. But oh so worth it, because I’ve realized something that’s changed my life forever: Jesus is best. And when Jesus is best in my life, He changes everything.

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It’s your choice: Good or Best?

When the Tables Are Turned

A young friend in her late twenties came to me recently with an unusual concern.

She is the only one in her small group who has chosen not to drink alcohol because of her Christian faith. It’s not that she’s never tasted alcohol. Nor is she rigid, prudish, or legalistic. It is a conscious choice she has made.

I don’t know all her reasons. Our conversation was more on the reactions she had received to her choice than on the choice itself. She had made that decision when she realized that alcoholic beverages offered no benefit to her and didn’t draw her closer to God, and that there are always risks associated with drinking alcohol. So she made the intentional decision not to use alcohol. In my mind I immediately thought of the verse in 1 Corinthians 6:12 “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable,” and I understood her decision.

But that was not the case with others she had encountered. At a small group meeting the prior week, she had found herself conspicuously being the only one not consuming alcohol. She did not feel out-of-place in her spirit and was enjoying her fellowship time. She also had the strength of character to not feel compelled to drink just because the rest were. So where was the issue? One of the young men approached her offering a drink. She declined, and he reacted!

He was offended that she wasn’t drinking. He chastised her for it and questioned her on it. She explained that she wasn’t judging him; she had just chosen not to consume any alcohol. A discussion ensued and suddenly she was the one feeling judged for her abstinence. We are told in Romans 14:16 to “not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil.” So she had to stand up for her convictions to another member of the body of Christ, one who should have been encouraging her and building her up instead of undermining her convictions.

Has our society so infiltrated the church that this is what we’ve come to?

Has it become a world where it is “politically correct” in the body of Christ to be so open-minded about alcohol that we condemn those who choose to abstain?

In another situation, a family friend in her early 30s recovering from alcoholism encountered her church friends, who knew her well, drinking at a class gathering they knew she would attend. She was surprised and let down. How could brothers and sisters in Christ choose to exercise their “freedom” at the jeopardy of her sobriety? Is Paul’s warning forgotten? “It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.” (Romans 14:21)

A skewed view of grace has been slowly rising to the surface over the years, one that says a follower of Christ can do anything they choose and it doesn’t matter because God will forgive. Has the church bought into this so much so that a person who walks in purity and holiness is seen as an affront to this false interpretation of grace? In Romans 6:15, the apostle Paul admonishes us, “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” Are we so caught up in our freedom, that we are careless with our responsibility toward other believers?

Just as Christ has given us grace, we are called on to offer grace to those around us. In our Christian walk, let us extend compassionate love and care by respecting others weaknesses and not causing them to stumble by our actions. Let us also refrain from judging another for choices they make, that while they don’t go against scriptures we would perhaps consider a sin for us.

And on the other side of that coin, let us all also refrain from undermining a brother or sister in Christ who has chosen a higher standard than we are living. That is often difficult, especially when we feel conviction or condemnation simply by being in their presence. Instead of questioning the high road they have taken, when that conviction comes upon us let us pull aside, and seek God to see if He is using their example as a way of calling us to a deeper walk of holiness.

They Were Sheep Without A Shepherd

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Scott Martin produces and publishes a daily forecast for a popular weather blog. My favorite part of his forecast is “This Day in Weather History.” I like History, I do not so much like the weather, nor do I prefer a lot of information pertaining to it. I am the odd-woman out in our house. I am the only member sans a radar app or warning type apparatus thingy on my phone. A suspender exposed James Spann does not give me cause for panic. As my husband publishes his “Midday,” he rarely brings to my attention the details of the forecast that are not of interest to me.

So one afternoon when I heard his exclamation of “Oh Wow!” It gave me cause to pause.

Me: “What Wow?”

Scott: “On this day is 1918 there were 504 sheep killed by a single lightning strike in Utah.”

Me: “Weird.”

Scott: “A herd of Sheep gather closely together in a storm and the shock from the single bolt traveled from one to the other.”

SONY DSCThen I began to ponder on that one. If I’m honest I’ll admit I’m still pondering. As a devoted sheep my initial thought, “Where was the shepherd?” Common sense would dictate that the shepherd was likely seeking shelter. Perhaps he had the influenza… After all, 1918 was the year of the terrible influenza outbreak that claimed so many lives. It was known as the Spanish Lady and it ravaged the bodies of the young and healthy. The world had never seen a pandemic of such epic proportions. Maybe the shepherd had been drafted into the First World War. Another pandemic that claimed the lives and ravaged the bodies of the young and healthy. Maybe he was close by and like any other human in his situation, was powerless against the force of nature that still can not be tamed.

I then had the realization that the closeness of the herd is what allowed the electricity to travel from one to another. They were one mass and not several individual sheep standing exposed in the storm. While I’m sad for the Sheep of 1918, their death 99 years ago serves as a lesson for me. My Shepherd will never leave me. His Word dictates His thoughts regarding Sheep with no Shepherd, Matthew 9:36 says, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

My life storms, pestilence, even war and death do not drive Him away. In fact, during those times He is right beside me. He is filled with compassion. My Shepherd pulls me close and offers me protection. He does indeed have power over the forces nature, and as my quiet time this morning reminded me, He is not bound by the laws of physics, gravity, space, and time. All are irrelevant when He is involved. Like the long dead sheep of 1918, His herd is to behave as one. The Shepherd likes it when we stay together, huddle close in the storm. When one of us grieves, we all grieve. When one of is struck, we are all struck. Not all this divisiveness and hostility. All the Sheep unified in obedience to the Shepherd.

I wonder how different our world would be if we would act just so.

“Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call — one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” Ephesians 4:1-6.