Lost Girl

GPS, Vehicle Navigation systems, and Google Maps. Ahhh the luxuries of the technological age.

I remember many nights spent printing out directions on MapQuest before leaving for a trip. Even more “ancient” than that….a few vacations involved pulling out an atlas and figuring out a new route.

A few short years ago printed directions and paper maps were our only ways of navigating the roads. Boy am I thankful that’s not how it is anymore.

I don’t “do” lost. Sure, I’ve been lost trying to find somewhere plenty of times. Toria and I have made more than our fair share of U-turns attempting to find our way around on spring break.

But we were never truly lost.

We weren’t where we were suppose to be. We couldn’t find where we were suppose to be. But we knew our navigation and our phones both knew where we were. We could type in somewhere to go, and it would take us there. It might not be exactly where we wanted to go, but we knew we could get somewhere.

And we could always get back home.

There’s comfort in that. In knowing that you can always get back home. Because, to me, you’re never truly lost if you can find your way back home.

But what happens when you can’t find home anymore?

Recently, I’ve been reading a book by Jenny Simmons called “The Road to Becoming: Rediscovering your life in the not-how-I-planned-it moments”.

As I’ve said before, I am a “make a plan, have a plan, stick to the plan” kind of girl. I need all of the help I can get when it comes to letting go of those plans and trusting Him in times when things don’t go according to plan.

In the section of chapters I’ve read most recently, they are focused on being lost and what that truly looks like.

Jenny begins the section by talking about how her military dad explained to her and her sister the procedure they should follow if they ever found themselves lost in the woods by her house.

“If you get lost, the best thing you can do is to stay where you are and let someone come find you. Don’t keep walking around. Just stay put.”

I, too, was taught this as a child. And Jenny and I, well, we’re on the same wave length when it comes to our response.

“I always found this to be an absolutely terrible idea. Terrible. It seemed so paralyzing and hopeless. Sitting still? In the woods? Waiting for nightfall, waiting to be eaten? Trusting someone else to come and un-lost you?

No thanks.

I’d rather get more lost. And be more terrified. And keep repeating the senseless cycle. Anything but siting in the lostness. Anything but waiting for someone else to come and find me.”

Anything but sitting in the lostness. Anything but waiting for someone else to come and find me.

I so relate to that. I’m suppose to wait for someone else to come find me? I should just trust that someone else will notice I’m missing, come look for me, and successfully find me?

I’d rather just try to find my way out myself.

At this point in Jenny’s story, she finds herself lost in her own life. The Christian band she was in her with her husband just dissolved, meaning her career vanished, she has become a full-time stay-at-home mom, and feels as if she’s doing nothing she ever dreamed of with her life.

But what’s even worse for her than feeling like she’s doing nothing, is she can’t even find any answers or directions about where to start. She’s begging to be pulled out of the lostness and offered some direction, but nothing is happening. No doors are opened. No stellar advice is given. And no clear path is shown.

She’s sitting, in the middle of her life, completely and totally lost.

And here’s what she has to say about that season of her life, now that it’s over:

“Had it been up to me, I would have become a lifelong barista. Not because I dreamed of pulling the perfect espresso shot, but because it was an answer. And sometimes, desperate people will take a wrong answer over no answer at all. But that really isn’t the answer either, is it?…I dreaded looking at a blank calendar; I hadn’t seen a blank month on the calendar in over a decade.

“I was neither virtuous nor interested in patience…And being lost along the way was definitely not taught in school or church. Self-reliance, fully mapped-out futures, and divine epiphanies, these were the things that young adults should strive for- not lostness. Accepting lostness as a viable way of existing, even for a short season, is not a mantra our culture is familiar with. It certainly sounded backwards to a girl who was desperate to move forwards. Yet time and time again the same message arrived at the door of my heart. Just be lost for awhile. My husband, parents, preachers, friends, therapists, random books I picked up to read, even song I heard for the first time, all echoed the same sentiment. Lean in to the lostness. Don’t find your way out too soon. Riches hidden in secret places. Treasures in the darkness. Stay. Find them. Be lost. So many voices were reaching a fever pitch and the exhaustion from trying to un-lost myself was evident- so one morning, I gave in.

“It was time to embrace being a lost girl. Time to accept the seemingly insignificant nothingness of the blank page in front of me.

“Want to unnerve someone? Make peace with your lostness. When they ask ‘What do you do?’ respond like this: ‘Well, I wake up and take a shower, sometimes. Then I look in the mirror and remind myself that I have no job, no future plans, and no 401(k) account. I tell myself this is exactly where I am supposed to be right now and I contend to do absolutely nothing about it because I have decided to be lost for a season. Then I usually go eat a bowl of cereal and watch The Today Show. So- I just do lostness. What about you? What do you do?’

“They will be horrified! Horrified! It is quite entertaining to watch. I once told this from the stage to a group of young, twenty-something Christian adults. They looked at me with disgusted shock. Their glares told me everything I needed to know about our culturally ingrained idols of productivity and purpose….Pity and judgement oozed out of them as they looked at me suspiciously, wondering if I was one of those people who lives off of the government instead of my own two hands! I instantly felt the weight of our generations disdain for lost people. And I smiled. Maybe I was doing the right thing after all.

“Did it ever cross their minds, I wondered….that the abundance of pity they felt for me could have just as easily been given to those in the room working jobs they hated, for companies they didn’t believe in, simply to avoid being lost?

“Lostnesss is just a season, I told them. ‘For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven….A time to search and a time to quit searching. A time to keep and a time to throw away.’

Lostness is a season, says the writer of Ecclesiastes.

“We would rather focus on the other seasons in Ecclesiastes 3, like planting, building up, and harvesting, while disregarding the less attractive ones like quitting, dying, and throwing away. Our basic instinct tells us to hold on, not let go. Perhaps that is why we have become a culture of doers who would just as soon accept a wrong answer than quit searching and inhabit lostness for a time.

“Making peace with my lost state in life happened in small ways. Refusing to apply for a job at Starbucks- a job I knew wasn’t meant for me. Shutting down the calendar and not looking at blank days as shame-driven motivation to just move on already. Learning to quiet the frantic voice in my soul that kept telling me THE WHOLE WORLD WOULD END if I did not figure out what came next. Replacing that voice instead with a simple prayer: You alone are a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. And relearning how to tell the truth to others about myself. This was hard since most people expect you to lie. When asked how life is going or what the plans for your future look like, no one expects the person answering to say, ‘Actually, my future looks really bleak right now and I have no idea what comes next and I am a bit scared.’ This kind of vulnerable honesty terrifies people. Especially Christians. What type of good Christian doesn’t have a Jesus answer readily available?…I got the sense from many believers that in their opinion, I was a woman of little faith. Somehow my sitting in the dark reflected poorly on my faith in God.

“But I think it is the other way around. A person who is willing to inhabit their lostness has the faith of a great army. People who don’t have faith don’t allow themselves to get lost. They do not trust God to show up in the darkness and shine a light on the path that leads to being found. A faithless person holds on because they cannot control what happens when they let go. They are unwilling to follow anyone into the dark.

“As a person of deep faith who believes I have a good Guide who delivers lost people to found places, I no longer go the wrong way just to avoid impeded streams. Impeded streams bring me face-to-face with God. That is where the real spiritual journey begins.

“God sees what I cannot. He leads where there is no discernible road. He Himself is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. Here at my impeded stream, after the dying and burying. I make a crucial decision to allow the season of lostness into my life. And I put the onus on God to un-lost me.

“I get the feeling He has been waiting for me to do this all along.”

Our walk with God looks much different now, than it did for people like Noah and Abraham. People who had direct communication with God.

God led Abraham to a new land. And God led Noah to build the ark.

But the God of Abraham and Noah is still the God of today. He is a God who is still there, offering to lead us, maybe in different ways today than He led in the days of old, but still there. Still willing to lead us to the path He has prepared.

Don’t settle for a wrong answer just because you want an answer.

Be patient. Settle into the lostness. And wait for Him.

 

 

Excerpts taken from: The Road to Becoming by Jenny Simmons         https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00XNPCIMC/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

 

I Know He’ll Come

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This, as most of you already know, is my furchild Ellie. After 8 weeks together, we’ve grown pretty close. Really close actually. I’m rather obsessed with her.

And amid the early morning wake-up calls, naps in the car, runs around the house, and meeting lots of new faces, we have somehow found time to get this little stinker potty trained.  After 4 weeks together, at only 12 weeks old, she was mostly potty trained. I may be bias, but Ellie is the smartest puppy I’ve ever known.

Taking tips from more experienced dog trainers, we decided to use the “bell method” for training Ellie. Basically, we hung a bell on our door for her to ring when she needs to go outside.

After seeing this image several times, some things started to click.

When Ellie decides she wants to go outside, she runs to the door, rings the bell, barks, and sits down, continuing to stare up at the door. If I don’t respond immediately, she goes through the routine again, continuing to ring the bell and bark until she hears me coming.

No matter how long she has to continue barking or ringing, she sits there by the door, knowing I will come.

She is persistent. And she is trusting.

As I listened and watched her, I was reminded of the story Jesus told in Luke 11:

And He said to them, “Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within and say, ‘Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you’? I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs.

His friend will not rise just because he is a friend, but because of his persistence he answers his call.

There have been many times that Ellie has rang her bell at inconvenient times. Sometimes, I’ve continued in what I’m doing, hoping she will stop ringing and barking, thinking she must be ringing it simply to go out and play this time.

But because she continues to bark and wait at the door, I stop what I’m doing to let her out. And she continues to sit and wait, because she knows I’ll always come.

If we, as humans, adopted this attitude in our relationships with God, it could radically change our lives.

If we ran to Him with every decision and hardship and complication. If we sat at His feet, continually knocking and seeking. Not praying once and hoping He’ll answer, but beating down the gates of Heaven continually, knowing He will answer us. Knowing He will come to our rescue.

This is the very attitude Jesus calls us to when He tells the parable above. In the verses following the parable Christ proclaims:

“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.

Ask. Seek. Knock.

What would our lives look like if we ran to Him, knocked repeatedly, and continued knocking because we knew He would come?

What if we went to Him boldly and confidently, rather than timidly, as if we aren’t sure if He’ll be thankful or annoyed that we’re asking again?

What if we prayed continually, trusting He will answer in the right way at the right time?

Even though Ellie knows I will come, she doesn’t stop after ringing her bell and barking once.

Sometimes, I think we feel like once is all it should take. Almost as if we think repeatedly asking God for something makes us seem like we think He isn’t listening or isn’t willing to answer unless we beg.

But asking, seeking, knocking, pleading repeatedly is exactly what God asks of us. The repetition shows dedication. It reveals how pressing the issue is on our hearts. And it shows commitment to wanting His help and a willingness to wait for it.

We continue asking, seeking, and knocking, not because we are doubtful that He hears us, but because we are confident He will come in response to our pleading.

 

Don’t Feed the Wolf

“It’s really true what they say. Every person is half sheep and half wolf. Half good and half evil. It’s important to be careful about what side you feed.”

Several weeks back (ironically, before the recent surge in violence and malicious attacks) my dad was talking about the nature of humans. We were discussing how each individual, essentially, has the same potential to be a shining light or a darkening shadow.

With every confrontation, we, as humans, seem to have an equal surge in desire to gain revenge and dish out hurt as well as to maintain grace and show kindness. Perhaps, in the moment, the desire for revenge becomes overwhelming to the point that it’s the only emotion we recognize. But later, when the situation has fizzled out, we often look back, wishing we had handled the situation better. And in moments before confrontation arises, we hope and pray that we will be able to handle these situations gracefully, rather than dreaming of the next opportunity we will have to be unkind. Yet, in the moment, we still experience those desires to behave poorly.

The cartoons that depict an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other pretty accurately depict the inner struggles that we face as humans. Paul even wrote about these struggles in Romans 7:

“For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do…For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.” Romans 7:15, 19

Paul experienced the inward struggles of the flesh and the Spirit. He desired to chase after that which was good, but he found himself still practicing that which was evil.

A while back, I encountered a picture of a conversation on Tumblr that pertained to this topic.

The original poster wrote,

I’m a bad person who thinks bad thoughts like “ew what is that girl wearing?” and then remember that I’m supposed to be positive about all things and then think “no she can wear what she wants, forget what other people say, dang girl you look fabulous!” and I’m just a teeny bit hypocritical tbh

That comment alone resonated with me. Maybe because we, as females, have a bad habit of thoughts like these. It seems socially acceptable to critique other women daily. For some of us, maybe thoughts of criticism have even become our first thoughts more times in a day than we care to admit. But like this individual, I often catch myself. I try to correct my thoughts, thinking how I would feel if someone said those things about me. And then, I get disappointed, hating that my first thoughts are of criticism rather than admiration.

But the part of this post that made me really love it happens to be the commenter’s response.

“I was always taught by my mother that the first thought that goes through your mind is what you have been conditioned to think. What you think next defines who you are.”

What you think next, defines who you are.

As always, I think the wisdom of a mother rings true. In many cases, I agree that the first thought we have often stems from what we have been taught to think. But more than that, our first thought stems from the things we have been feeding ourselves.

45 The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6: 45

“Above all else, guard your heart,
For out of it spring the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23

For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” Mark 7:21-23

Paul’s struggles in conjunction with these verses may make the struggle of good versus evil seem hopelessly against us. But, thankfully, we have a God on our side who is willing and able to help us.

“Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Mark 14:38

The Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. But, as Paul said, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” The fight of good vs evil requires effort on our part, but it also includes a God who is willing to offer help when we struggle and grace when we fall. Our responsibility, ultimately, is too monitor the things we allow into our hearts and minds.

I think Paul summed it up pretty nicely in Philippians 4:8,

“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”

Meditate on these things. Put forth effort into feeding your heart praiseworthy things, and produce actions that will flow, effortlessly, from a heart that is seeking to be like Christ.

In light of recent events, it is more obvious than ever that we need people acting out of good hearts. Hearts that have chosen everyday to be fed by good and to nurture the sheep within.

To lead people to Christ and achieve peace, we need more hearts that are revoking the evil and drinking in the Holy.

So, with every choice you make in what to watch, or hear, or see, or speak, or do, remember….

BE CAREFUL NOT TO FEED THE WOLF.

Running with Fire

Some people are born with a calm, gentle spirit and a quiet demeanor. My mother, however, was not.

She’s not rude, but she’ll tell you like it is. There isn’t much sugar coating coming from those lips.

She’s not obnoxious, and she doesn’t seek to make her presence known, but she isn’t akin to sitting in the background without a voice.

She voices her opinion. She stands up for what she believes. She chases what she wants. She isn’t afraid of confrontation. And she doesn’t apologize for who she is.

She is every bit of fiery red that covers her head. And I love her for it.

As I have said, she goes after what she wants.

At 12 years old, she worked for my grandfather in his finance business. After saving money she had earned, she took it upon herself to meet with one of their customers, purchase a horse, and have it delivered to her house. Yes. A 12-year-old bought herself a horse. And more surprisingly, a grown man sold a horse to a 12-year-old.

You can imagine my grandparents surprise when a horse showed up at their house. My mother proudly proclaimed that she had bought herself a horse and that was the end of the conversation. She now owned a horse.

In the midst of wedding planning, she decided she wanted to learn how to sew. She talked to her, soon-to-be, mother-in-law and informed her that she wanted to learn to sew. Not only that, but, she wanted to sew the dress she would wear on the way to her honeymoon, only a short few weeks away. My grandmother told her that was a little ambitious of a task for the time frame given, but my mom was determined. To no one’s surprise, a few short weeks later, she left for her honeymoon in the dress she had sewn herself.

Throughout my childhood, I remember several different hobbies my mother took interest in. From sewing and smocking, to oil painting. Then on to scrapbooking and cake decorating. In my older years, it was running 5 and 10Ks, and then, learning how to shoot.

Whatever it was she wanted to do, she pursued it with diligence and commitment. She’s one who can’t sleep until her goals are met. Literally. She has been known to stay up nights on end without wavering to accomplish whatever task she has set before herself.

As I was in high school, she always joked that she was going to move into my dorm with me when I started college. She wanted to finish her degree alongside me, and, preferably, before me.

I was always pretty certain that she was kidding about moving in with me. Finishing her degree, however, was a matter I knew she was serious about it. I never doubted that she would get it done, I just wasn’t sure when or where she would do it.

With the demands of a job, and being a wife and mother, it’s nothing short of remarkable that she went back full-time to finish her degree. And finish she did.

I’m fairly certain she put more effort into one single class than I did in all 5 classes combined this semester, but I should have expected nothing less. She’s never been known to settle for “good enough.” She isn’t even one to put in “just enough” effort to get an A. If she isn’t giving 100%, she isn’t satisfied.

When she wants something, she puts her head down and doesn’t let up until it’s finished. A trait that I didn’t quite fully inherit, but I could take a few lessons from.

Her willpower really is admirable. At times, it’s frustrating. Occasionally you have to shake your head and smile- wondering what exactly she’s thinking, but being impressed by her dedication, all the more.

Sometimes, life with my mother feels a lot like following behind someone with a torch and constantly putting out the fires they set. It looks that way sometimes, too.

She’s a fiery red head who has a habit of running with fire.

She pursues her dreams with passion, dedication, and commitment, never taking “no” for an answer.

I’m thankful I have had a strong example for pursuing your dreams and never accepting defeat. My mom has been an incredible testament to what a strong-willed woman can accomplish.

She may not have a quiet, gentle spirit or a soft-spoken tongue, but I wouldn’t trade her fiery passion or unapologetic attitude for anything.

She has taught me to be strong and dedicated. To chase, relentlessly, after the things I want in life. To never except “no” as an answer when it comes to chasing my dreams. And to never listen to the naysayers or dream crushers.

We’re different, but very much the same. What I lack in boisterous opinions and blatant upfrontness, I believe I make up for in strong-willed mind and stubborn, hardheadedness.

Anytime someone points out how stubborn I am, I smile and think, “Just wait until you meet my mom!”

Not many people can say they helped fix their mom’s cap and gown on graduation day, or got to watch her walk across that stage. I’m so thankful I got to be there to celebrate all of her accomplishments and hard work.

You did it, mom! You graduated before me, just like you always hoped. I love you. I’m proud of you. And I will celebrate your accomplishments with you forever.

University of Mississippi Class of 2016

SHE DID IT!!

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Drop the “If” and Do It

Last night, as Preston and I were discussing how our days went, he mentioned a conversation he had with one of his coworkers. As they were talking, the man mentioned that if he had it to do over again, he would have gone into the finance business.

My head dropped a little when I heard that. Not because there’s anything wrong with the finance business, but because I hate seeing or hearing people talk about all of the things they could have done or would have done or wished they would have done. The look in their eyes when they talk about all of the things they regret not doing. You can see them imagining how different their life might have been with those choices. And my heart aches as I watch them long for a different life.

With everything in me, I want every person I meet to absolutely fall in love with their life. I want all of their dreams to come true and all of their goals to be accomplished. I hate seeing people beaten down by life and feel like they haven’t done enough to be good enough.

So, as I was sympathizing with this man, I casually asked how old he was. Judging by his statement, I had already assumed he must be pushing retirement age. Or, at the very least, nearing 50. A man who was responsible for a family and felt it impossible to drop his job and pursue a new career. I was ready to offer the most comforting, positive, reassuring statement I could muster on the man’s behalf.

“How old is he?”

“22”

Excuse me? Come again.

Twenty two. A whole 3 years into official “adulthood.” Just 3 years ago, he was a teenager. And three years later, in his mind, he’s cemented his career choices.

Since when did 22 become the age we cement the trajectory of our life in stone? Are we all suppose to know our lifetime career at 22?

Maybe it’s horrifying because I’m 22 and still have so many areas of the field I want to explore. Or maybe it’s horrifying because it’s absolutely not a realistic conviction.

Either way, I’m going to pass on this idea. No thank you. That is not how this is suppose to work.

If I had it to do all over again.”

Well, listen up, buddy. You DO have it to do over again. In fact, there isn’t even much you have to go back and do over at this point. You’re just getting started.

“But I have bills to pay and mouths to feed.”

Absolutely, you do. And this isn’t a chance to neglect those responsibilities. It won’t be easy. But, as Momma always said, “Nothing worth having comes easy.”

Just because you are young, doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. I’m not trying to argue that it will be. The truth is, the decisions we make all have consequences. Sometimes, those consequences lead to making our life more difficult.

But notice that choice of words. It makes it more difficult NOT impossible.

Starting school. Chasing a degree. Switching careers. Climbing the corporate ladder.

None of those things are going to be easy, especially if you have a laundry list of other obligations you have to fulfill. But what’s easier? Working towards your goals, sacrificing along the way, to achieve the life you want. Or working a career you resent for the next 50 years because you didn’t think you had another way?

Make a way. Do what needs to be done to achieve your dreams, and don’t stop until you’ve achieved them. The pride you will feel standing at the end of that journey will far outweigh the heartache you went through to get there.

It won’t be easy. It never will. But I can guarantee it will be worth it.

Alongside me, there are 2 single mothers, 1 military spouse and mother, and a grandmother all working towards their B.S in Nutrition to be a Registered Dietitian. They all have a crazy amount of responsibilities to juggle on top of school, and they amaze me everyday. But they have chosen to make their dreams a priority. For themselves, their families, and their future.

It’s never too late to go after what you want. It might not be easy, but it will be worth it. Don’t live your life saying, “If I did it over again I would….”

Drop the “if” and do it. Step out of your comfort zone. Push yourself to the limit. Give it everything you have. Make the necessary sacrifices. And just do it.

Your future self will thank you.

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So the Lord Surrounds His People

“As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people both now and forevermore.”- Psalm 125:2

It’s funny how ordinary events can spark extraordinary ideas, isn’t it?

For 18 years, I have gone to the same church. Every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night that I was alive and well, I was at church. I never had to wonder if we would go or where we would go. I knew.

Maybe it was because I never remembered a time where I didn’t have a church family. Or because a lot of people in my church family were actually my family (last I counted, I’m related to 25 of you (; ) Or maybe it was because I considered my close “church” friends, simply my friends, that I never made the connection.

A couple of weeks ago, I joined close to 50 other young adult and college individuals for a Spring retreat with my newfound church family here in Nashville. Friday night we made our way to Short Mountain Bible Camp in Woodbury, TN, and got ready for a packed weekend.

To end our first night, we all stood around a bonfire and sang in worship together. The songs we sang were very familiar. I had sang most of them many times, including the one that hit me the hardest…

As the mountains surround Jerusalem,

So the Lord surrounds His people.

As the mountains surround Jerusalem,

So the Lord surrounds His people.

Surround us, Lord.

Surround us, O Lord.

We need to be in Your presence.

Surround us Lord.

A short, simple song. That suddenly made a thousand light bulbs go off in my head.

As I looked around, I was literally surrounded by God’s people. Many of whom I did not know. But here we were, all singing the same words, in praise to our same God. We were asking God to surround us, and as I looked around, I realized He already had.

And that’s when it hit me. THIS is why God ordained the Church. THIS is why organized worship is a vital part of Christianity.

It’s not about appearing holier than someone else because you go to church three times a week. It’s not about a check list we have to accomplish to “earn” our reward in Heaven. It’s not just something we do because we’re told to. And it shouldn’t be a guilt trip we have to give ourselves to motivate us to attend a worship service.

Church, as God designed it, goes way beyond those four walls, public prayer, a quality message, and singing praises. Church, in all of its fullness, gives us a community of people to share life with. People who will encourage us in the hard times and rejoice with us in blessings. We are created to be a community that can physically surround our people with the presence of the Lord.

There’s something incredibly valuable about finding a group of people who can serve as your family when your biological family is miles away. People who surround you with love and encouragement and step in to take care of you when times are tough. I guess it’s a value that you don’t fully appreciate until the ones who always did those things for you are gone.

Those times when you’re sick with the flu and 300 miles away from your mom. Or you get a flat tire and your dad is in another state. Or your birthday falls in the middle of the week and your family is too far away to visit. But your church family shows up ready to fill that gap. Soup and crackers for the flu. A quick tire change. And dinner and a cake to celebrate your birthday.

Those moments are worth more than gold. And they are all found when a church is functioning as a family, surrounding each other with the presence of Christ, just as the Lord intended.

God knew what He was doing when He ordained organized worship. And it’s to our benefit to take full advantage of the community we find there.

“and let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25

Thank you for pulling me in and loving me well Crieve Hall. You are gracious.

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When It Hurts to Pray

Have you ever been anxious about a decision you had to make? Cold sweats, stomach knots, sleepless nights and all? Then suddenly remembered you had a much easier method of dealing with it….just pray about it. So you start to pray and then…

You stop. Because you remember how many times you neglected that devotional book you were suppose to be reading. Or the crappy “I really don’t want to be here” attitude you had last time you went to church. Or how rude you were to the girl in class who couldn’t seem to keep her irrelevant comments to herself for 5 minutes. Or the way you blew off your friend when they asked for a listening ear. Or the small dig you made at the guy who drives you crazy. Or a host of other things that remind us we aren’t worthy. We aren’t perfect. And we are very, very broken.

Have you ever been there? Where you felt like you had to do something, say something, be something better than you are in that moment before you’re worthy of approaching the throne?

Like studying your Bible for 30 minutes or feeding the homeless or helping the helpless makes you more deserving of God’s attention. Or, even worse, neglecting all of these disqualifies you from approaching God in prayer.

Why do we do that? Why do we think we have to polish ourselves before we can ask God for things?

Maybe it’s because, in that moment that we are pleading with God for something for ourselves, we realize how little we deserve the chance to even ask. We are reminded of God’s infinite power. We know what he can do. And when we acknowledge what He can do, we remember all of the small things we have failed to do. All of the little ways we fail Him everyday. And suddenly, like a child with their head bowed in defeat, we compare our resumes, and feel unworthy. We feel ashamed that we are asking for things when we have failed to give Him anything.

Maybe it’s the Devil’s way of deterring our prayers. The enemy has a knack for reminding us of our failures every time we try to succeed. In a lot of ways, I think the memories of the past are the Devil’s most valuable weapon. He throws those mistakes in your face in hopes that you will give up entirely. And maybe that’s where the guilt comes from when we begin to pray a selfish prayer.

Maybe we realize the painful truth that we haven’t been giving it our all. When we start to ask for something, we feel better about asking when we have something to offer in return. And when we ask for God’s help in a season of being lukewarm, we are faced with the harsh reality that we expect a level of effort from God that we haven’t been offering ourselves. And that stings.

Or maybe, it’s because that’s the love we, as humans, are most familiar with. As a child, if you wanted something from your parents, especially something big, any semi-insightful kid wouldn’t dare ask for it right after getting in trouble. Most kids, wouldn’t even ask after an average day of behavior. Oh no. If you wanted something from your parents, and you knew it was going to be a long shot, you asked after you voluntarily cleaned your room, took out the trash, washed the dishes, and made a special effort to not fight with your siblings for a whole 24 hours. You wanted all of the stars in the universe working in your favor in hopes that you would get what you wanted.

Is that not the attitude we have sometimes with prayer? Like “God I know this is a lot to ask, but I’ve done this and this and this and I’ve really been working on this and I’m putting a lot more effort in than her and I deserve this. Okay I know I don’t deserve this, but I’ve really worked for it. I’ve worked for it God.” We would never verbalize it like that, obviously, but I think that’s the thoughts we have behind the scenes sometimes.

And in those times when we start to pray and then realize all of the ways we haven’t put in effort lately, we feel as if the answer is automatically a “no.” Because we haven’t done enough to deserve a “yes.” We should be in trouble, not being rewarded.

We are constantly stuck in this cycle of subconsciously trying to earn what we ask for in prayer. Trying to be good enough, holy enough, saved enough for God to want to “reward us” by answering our prayers. It’s as if we are using our good deeds to motivate God to want to help us out. We want dad to say yes, so we try to provide him with incentive. You know, because God might feel guilty for answering our prayers when we haven’t yet earned an answer.

But while this is an easy attitude to fall into, I’m glad it’s not the truth behind the story. Not even close.

We don’t have to be good enough, righteous enough, or strong enough, for our prayers to be heard. We don’t have to fix ourselves before we are worthy enough to approach God.

When I think about that simple statement, that we don’t have to try to make ourselves perfect before we come to God, I’m reminded of the words Christ spoke to the multitudes in Matthew 11:28:

“Come to Me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Were the people tired from all of the good works they had been doing? I’m sure some of them were. But I also believe that some of those people were tired from weathering the storms of life. They were beaten down by trying to follow the old law perfectly. They were constantly reminded of their sin, because of their continual needs to offer sacrifices. And they were probably feeling weary from constantly trying to reach perfection, but failing.

And the words Christ offered to them were simply, “Come to Me.” He didn’t tell them to put forth more effort and then come. Or do more good deeds and then come. Simply, come.

We’ve been studying Hebrews on Wednesday nights, and it’s all about how the New Law is superior to the Old Law. Over and over again it points out how much better the new way is, because of Jesus’s sacrifice. And while all of that is enlightening and inspiring, there has been something we learned a few lessons back that I never knew, and it has been a game changer.

In chapter 9, the writer is describing the old tabernacle and the details surrounding the topic. In the midst of this description, the author describes the ark of the covenant, overlaid in gold, which had the tablet of the covenants inside. Now catch this. The cherubim of glory and the MERCY SEAT were above the ark of the covenant. Any light bulbs going off?

By intentional design, the MERCY SEAT was ABOVE the tablet of the covenants. Mercy was literally above the law.

Because of Christ’s death, we are offered grace and mercy. A mercy that transcends our understanding, offering us love, grace, and acceptance when we least deserve it.

The kind of love that does not offer us “better answers” because we have earned it. A love that doesn’t ignore our petitions because of how much we don’t deserve it.

The love that simply asks us to come. To bring our requests to Him. Not with a long list of our good works in tow to offer us a better chance of approval, but simply, to bring our requests.

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:16

Because of Christ, we have the gift of approaching God’s throne with confidence. We don’t have to hang our heads low, and feel unworthy. We don’t have to prove ourselves before we ask for something. Honestly, we would never do enough good to deserve God’s ear anyways.

But He offers it freely to us.

“The Lord is righteous in all His ways, Gracious in all His works. The Lord is near to all who call upon Him in truth.” Psalm 145:17-18

He is near.

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” 1 John 5:14

He hears us.

“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love endures forever.” Psalm 136:1

And HE is GOOD.