When It’s Been Too Long and You’re Bone Dry

Surviving a Spiritual Funk ImageThis morning was the first morning in two months that I have gotten up before my family, sat in my big green chair and spent time with the Lord. That’s right – the girl who has a blog called “marinate”, whose passion in life is to help believers live Bible-saturated lives, who is scheduled to teach an eight-week Bible study to 200+ women in less than a month, who regularly gets messages and emails from people seeking insight into God’s Word, who believes with all of her heart and soul that time spent with Jesus is the most important part of any day . . . that girl has gone almost an entire summer without any meaningful time in the Word.

I’d like to tell you that this morning when my alarm went off I was eager to get back to it. The truth is the only thing I was “hungry” for was more sleep. Well, a donut then more sleep. Some say that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Perhaps that is true in human relationships but it has never rung true in my relationship with the Lord. Absence from Him always makes my heart grow colder, dryer, and numb. That’s where I was at 5:30 this morning. Cold. Dry. Spiritually numb.

I suppose there are an infinite number of things that can lead to such “leanness of soul.” Sin is obviously first on that list. There have been many times when I have caused my own dry spell as I have willfully chosen my will over God’s. Repentance is always a part of getting our hearts back where they need to be. In most cases it’s the main part.

But this time my dry spell didn’t start with sin. It started with sickness – pregnancy sickness. Nearly two whole months of all day nausea, regular migraines, extreme fatigue, volatile emotions, and an all-around feeling of “I think I might die today.” If I were to write an essay on what I did this summer it would read: “I laid on the couch, dry heaved, ate carbs, and kept my 4 year old alive (which mainly consisted of feeding him processed food and changing the channel back and forth between Disney Jr. and Nick Jr.). The end.”

Please know that I am not beating myself up for failing to maintain a vibrant devotional life for the past several weeks. You can’t feel that badly for that long and it not impact your spiritual life. The One who made me certainly understands that! I’m not writing out of a sense of shame. If anything, I am more aware than ever of God’s grace which has indeed proven sufficient each and every day of this first trimester. Yes, even the days when I dry heaved so violently that I full-on wet my pants. True story.

You may find yourself right where I am today. Don’t worry – you’re probably not pregnant. 🙂 But maybe your summer has been crazy busy. Maybe you’re walking through a really hard trial. Maybe there is strife in your family that has made it feel impossible to get quiet before the Lord. Maybe you are dealing with depression. When we find ourselves in in a place of spiritual dryness, the most important thing is not analyzing how we got there. What matters most is taking those first steps to get out. Regardless of how we got there, we can’t be okay with staying there. In light of that, I thought I’d share what I’m doing to rekindle my passion for God and His Word.

1)      I’m asking people to pray for me.

A few weeks ago I sat and cried my eyes out at a dear friend’s kitchen table. In between sobs I shared how hollow I felt. How hard the past few weeks had been. How unprepared I feel to teach Bible study this Fall.  Then, she prayed for me. Like, really really prayed for me. The kind of prayer that leaves you with a nice mixture of snot and mascara all over your face. In that moment I was reminded how much I needed that. Since then I am trying to be more intentional about asking others to pray for God to restore my joy and it has made such a difference. It amazes me how God leads these prayer warriors of mine to send me little notes of encouragement just when I need it most. He’s so good like that!

2)      I’ve recommitted to having a daily quiet time.

Spiritual checklists have a really bad reputation and rightly so. If our only motive in reading the Bible, praying, going to church, etc. is to get it done and receive some kind of gold stars on our heavenly behavior chart, we are sorely mistaken and are pretty much walking hand-in-hand with the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. Habits without heart are the breeding ground of hypocrisy.

There are times, however, when spiritual duty is our lifeline to a renewed sense of delight. Times when those habits are the primary means by which God will restore our hearts. Times when you have to sit in that chair and read your Bible not because you want to, not because you feel anything, not because you feel madly in love with Jesus, but because God said so – because He has ordained that the one and only way to restore a malnourished soul is to abide in Jesus (John 15).

I thought that when the pregnancy sickness started to go away my desire to have a quiet time would automatically return, but that’s not what happened. I didn’t want to get up this morning. I didn’t want to read or pray or journal. I just wanted to sleep. While my ultimate goal is a renewed sense of delight in the Lord, right now my priority has to be discipline. There are no short cuts to personal revival. I keep reminding myself of that over and over again.

I can no longer tell myself that I should get up and have a quiet time. The truth is, I must have a quiet time. If I want a heart the beats with fiery passion for the glory of my Lord and Savior and a life that puts His beauty on display a daily devotion is not an option, it’s a necessity.

Just a side note – as you get back into the Word try starting out in your favorite passages and using your favorite devotional. Even if you left off 6 months ago in the middle of Leviticus or Ezekiel, you may want to put that on hold a bit longer and start reading in John, Philippians, or some of your favorite Psalms.  Build those spiritual muscles up a bit before you get back to the heavy lifting.

3)      I’m resting in the goodness and grace of God.

It can be discouraging to walk around my church knowing  that most of the people around me assume I am having these amazing moments with God when in reality my Bible is sitting on my desk collecting dust because all I have had the energy to do for two months is glance at my Spurgeon devotional a few times. Worse than that is knowing that while others might assume I’m doing great, God sees that dusty Bible. He knows all about my prayerlessness. He’s well aware of my lack of desire for Him and His Word. Nothing is hidden from Him. But here’s the amazing thing . . .

God isn’t mad at me. In addition to being all-knowing, He is an infinitely loving, gracious, and faithful Father. I have a High Priest who sympathizes with my weaknesses and beckons me to come before His throne in order to receive mercy and find grace to help in my time of need (Heb. 4:15, 16). His perfect sufficiency is more than enough to cover my lack; His strength is more than enough to cover my weakness; His faithfulness is more than enough to cover my failures; His grace is more than enough to cover my sin.

This morning as I was telling God about this barren wasteland of a place I feel like I am living in right now He spoke to my heart and reminded me that what matters most is not where I am, but where He is. And He’s right here with me. Always has been. Always will be. His presence is enough.

4)      I’m praying very specifically for personal revival.

One thing that always strikes me about the petitions of the Psalmists is how many times they ask to be revived, renewed, or restored. As I read their honest cries for deliverance, I am reminded of the truth that every day with Jesus is NOT necessarily sweeter than the day before. Some days are hard. Some weeks are grueling. Some seasons are full of nothing but one hardship after another.  While those are the times we usually grow the most, they are also the times when we feel it the least. Before long we often find that our ears don’t hear His voice as loudly, our eyes don’t see His hand as clearly, and our hearts don’t sense His presence as intensely. In those seasons we basically have two choices: we can dry up or we can cry out. Today I choose to cry out!

As I pray, several verses keep coming to mind (Ps. 119:36, Ps. 86:11; Ps. 51:10, 12; Ps. 19:1-14; Ps. 119:88), but nothing quite summarizes the desire of my heart like the words of Psalm 143 (I’ve added some of my own thoughts in italics):

“Answer me quickly, O LORD, my spirit fails;
Do not hide Your face from me,
Or I will become like those who go down to the pit. (Powerfully manifest Your presence in my life! I want to see You!)
Let me hear Your lovingkindness in the morning;
For I trust in You; (As I seek You, continue to remind me of your faithful, steadfast love for me!)
Teach me the way in which I should walk;
For to You I lift up my soul. (Direct each and every step I take!)
Deliver me, O LORD, from my enemies;
I take refuge in You. (Rescue me from selfishness, depressed emotions, shame, anxiety, laziness, etc.)
Teach me to do Your will,
For You are my God; (Reveal Your will to me and enable me to walk in it!)
Let Your good Spirit lead me on level ground. (Fill me with Your Spirit and grant me the consistency and stability that I currently lack!)
For the sake of Your name, O LORD, revive me.
In Your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble. (From the inside out – REVIVE ME LORD!)

 We pray for so many things but all too often we pray the least for that which matters the most – our own hearts. If there is anything we can’t “fix” on our own, it’s that! So however dry the ground beneath you, choose to kneel there and cry out to the One who made everything out of absolutely nothing. You’ll be amazed what He can do in the most desolate of places that are soaked with the tears and fervent prayers of a child who longs to once again experience fullness of joy in the presence of her Heavenly Father.

This day is almost done. The “auto brew” on the coffee pot is set. My Bible, pen, and journal are in their place. My alarm is on. A day full of new mercies is just one night’s sleep away. I may not feel like it, but tomorrow morning I will get up. I will pray. I will read.  I will be still. I will listen. I will obey. For I know beyond any shadow of a doubt that somewhere along the way my joy will be restored. My passion will be rekindled. My heart will be revived. In His presence is fullness of joy; in His right hand there are pleasures forevermore (Ps. 16:11). That means it’s flat out impossible to fervently seek Him and stay dry. I love that!

However long it’s been, it’s never been too long. However dry we feel, we’re never too dry. However far we’ve wandered, we’re never too far.

So today I choose to take those first steps. I choose a fresh start. I choose obedience. I choose joy. I sure would love for you to join me.

Cultivate my heart, Lord, so I may catch every word that falls from heaven- every syllable of encouragement, every sentence of rebuke, every paragraph of instruction, every page of warning.  Help me to catch these words as the soft, fertile soil catches seeds”.  – Ken Gire

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I just HAD to share . . .

I clicked on this link this morning and I’m pretty confident it will prove to be the best five minutes of my whole week. In it, John Piper talks about the importance of marinating in God’s Word. Yep, right up my alley! My favorite part: “A godly life is lived out of an astonished heart – a heart astonished by grace . . . ”

When you read your Bible, are you seeking an astonished heart? Am I? We should be!

For those seeing this via email, you may need to click on the title of the blog post to see the link.

Enjoy!

https://soundcloud.com/askpastorjohn/must-bible-reading-always-end

For My Fellow Read-Through-the-Bible-in-a-Year Failures

images[2]Confession: I am a read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year failure. A repeat failure to be exact. As in, I’ve given it my best shot several times and have never finished on schedule. Not even close. Not even once. I did it in two years one time, but that was when I was single, still living with my parents, and my biggest responsibility was maintaining a proper Florida tan. Needless to say, those days are long gone!

Every January for the past decade someone in my life – a pastor, Sunday school teacher, mentor, or friend – has challenged me to read through the Bible in a year. And every year I try really, really hard. I print out the reading plan, put in in the front of my Bible and convince myself that this is the year I will actually succeed. But by the time February rolls around I’m still hanging out with Abraham when I ought to be watching the Israelites cross the Red Sea on dry ground. I’m pretty disciplined to read my Bible almost every day, but somehow I never seem to read enough to keep up with “the plan.” I get hung up on a certain verse, or I have to stop and ponder a particular truth, or a passage utterly confuses me and I stop to do some research, or my eyes won’t stay open because I stayed up too late the night before, or my sweet little boy decides that he wants to wake up an hour early – you know how it is.

This January was different. For the first time in many, many years I didn’t print a one-year reading plan and I didn’t buy a special one-year Bible.  Instead, I got myself three bookmarks – one for the Old Testament, one for the Psalms, and one for the New Testament. Each morning I get up, get my coffee, sit down in my special quiet time spot, and simply pick up where I left off the day before.

I read a Psalm or a portion of a Psalm first. Reading a Psalm is a good “warm up” for me. It focuses my attention on the Lord. Aside from that, I can’t think of a better way to start the day than with some praise. Well . . .  coffee, then praise. When it’s really early reading the Psalm out loud is usually my only hope for staying awake. You know, since it takes a few minutes for the dark roast to do its job.

After I’m finished in the Psalms, I find my bookmark in the Old Testament and pick up where I left off the day before. Then I do the same with the New Testament. I close by jotting down at least one truth from my reading in a notebook. Sometimes I get through a whole chapter or two in each Testament. Sometimes I only get through a few verses. But with my bookmark plan, it simply doesn’t matter. What matters is that I get up . . . that I sit before the Lord . . . that I marinate in His Word . . .  that I listen intently to His voice . . . that I surrender to His will . . .that I marvel at His grace.  That stuff isn’t necessarily a function of how much you read; it’s a function of how well you read (i.e., how well you listen to God’s voice and apply His truth to your life).

A one-year reading plan is a really good thing. The last thing I ever want to do is discourage anyone from making that a goal! It’s one of the best ways I can think of to get a “big picture” view of God’s Word. It’s something I definitely want to accomplish before Jesus calls me home. But I’m finally convinced that it isn’t the “holy grail” of spiritual maturity. I’ve finally let myself off the hook for never successfully checking all the boxes of my yearly printout on time. I’ve finally accepted the fact that it’s okay to hang out with Abraham a little too long. Moses and the Israelites will still be living their lives in the book of Exodus whether I get there on schedule or not. (For a girl who is task-oriented, always likes to be on time, adores detailed schedules, and always plays by the rules, this is huge! We’re talking major growth here, people! You should stop right now and clap for me.)

If you want to be successful at “marinating” in God’s Word, I sincerely believe you must have a plan. But for that plan to be fruitful, it has to be doable. It has to accommodate the ebb and flow of your life. If you are a mom with young children, it must allow for a lot of interruptions.

Today is February 6th and I just finished up with Noah and the Sermon on the Mount.  For the first time ever, I’m okay with that. Why? Because my bookmarks are moving, God is speaking, I’m growing, and “life” is no longer interrupting like it used to.

Don’t have a reading plan? Is the one you have not working? Get yourself some bookmarks, a pen, and a notebook. Commit to “marinate” every day and watch those bookmarks move ahead at whatever rate works for you.  When something stands out, write it down. Keep it simple and keep it going. One year may not be enough time to get through the Bible, but I know from personal expereince that it’s plenty of time for the Bible to get through you. “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

 

 

 

Don’t Say Wow

christmasI was in what my husband not-so-affectionately refers to as “the zone.” The cleaning “zone”, to be exact. I’m sure you are well acquainted with how it is when you only have a couple hours to get as much of the house clean as you possibly can and are absolutely determined to actually get to the bathroom floors this time. You know, since several weeks of nothing more than a quick Swiffer job here and there have left you wondering what unseemly creatures a swab test might reveal.

Amazing housekeepers like ourselves should never have to fear a swab test. Never. Ha!

So, the cleaning frenzy was in full force. My beloved cleaning products were ready to go (anyone else out there have a strange affection for cleaning products?), my “bleach clothes” were on, my favorite Pandora station was playing, and my determination to evict whatever non-humans had taken up residence in the tiny little crevices of my bathroom was at an all-time high.

Oh, and did I mention that my three-year-old was home? Sort of kills the mood, doesn’t it?

He was home, and he was bored. I was already feeling guilty for letting him watch too much TV that morning, so I had turned it off. Turning off the TV makes me feel like a really good mom. It also makes me feel like pulling my hair out, especially when I’m in “the zone.” That day I chose to lose some hair and I like to believe it significantly improved my son’s chances of getting into a really good college and making a positive difference in the world.  Two more episodes of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse surely would have ruined him forever. But I digress . . .

After several failed attempts at getting me to play trucks, Shep found a balloon and started hitting it around the house. When you only have one child, a toy or activity that truly captivates their attention and DOESN’T require your involvement is a rare find. The balloon did just that  . . . for about 10 minutes. Then, he decided he wanted to show off his amazing balloon hitting skills. He came into the room I was cleaning and said, “Mommy, look!” Then, he hit the balloon. My response: a half-hearted, “Wow buddy, that’s great.”

Again, “Mommy, look!” And again, “Wow, that’s really neat. You’re good at hitting that.”

Several more times . . . “Mommy, look!”

Each time, my response was the same half-hearted “wow.”   After the second or third hit, I said it without even looking at him or his balloon. I was in “the zone,” remember? I didn’t have time for such things.

Then, it happened. That moment when your child says something so simple, yet so profound . . . mere words that shoot like little daggers straight into the depths of your soul and cut right through your upside-down priorities and selfish intentions. Words that make you pause, put down the spray bottle, hug your little boy, and marvel at how a three year old with a balloon can reveal so much about your own heart.

After several, “Mommy, look!” comments, followed by my half-hearted, distracted “wow” responses, Shep walked up to me, looked me in the eyes, and said, “Mommy, don’t say wow.”

What?! Don’t say wow?

At first, I was a little puzzled. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with saying “wow.” In fact, it is generally a welcomed response. How did my son not know this?

Then it hit me. It’s not that he didn’t want my “wow.” He just didn’t want my fake “wow.” He wanted me to stop what I was doing, look at him, and genuinely delight in his balloon hitting skills. He didn’t want my half-hearted affirmation. He wanted my whole-hearted attention.

In that moment, with a Swiffer duster in one hand and a can of Pledge in the other, I thought of how many times I do the same thing to God. While I know full well that God is nothing like my three year old, I have to admit that He often comes to me with the same message: Don’t say wow.

Don’t just go through the motions. Don’t merely pretend to care. Don’t fake affection.

Don’t settle for “devotions” that are void of any true devotion or praise that is empty of any real passion.

In Isaiah 29:13, God says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.”

In other words, they said “wow,” but they felt no wonder.  They were all duty with no delight.

I don’t want to be like that. Especially not now. Not at Christmas. Not when I’m celebrating the marvelous, miraculous incarnation of my Savior, without which I would be utterly lost in my sins and destined for an eternity in hell. If there’s ever a time to say “wow” and really mean it, it’s now!

As we rush through all the last minute preparations for Christmas, let’s make sure we don’t rush past the Person of Christmas.

Stop. Breathe. Read. Pray. Marinate.

As you do, hear the Lord’s sweet whisper . . .

Don’t [just]  say wow.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Our Own Fault {Another 1 Corinthians Sneak Peek}

Here is another excerpt from the workbook I have written for the Becoming a Woman of Conviction in the World of Compromise study on the book of 1 Corinthians. The passage that goes along with it is 1 Cor. 2:6-3:4.

My husband, like many Americans, loves to spend money on things that will improve his health. He’s been a member of almost every gym in our town, he’s purchased top-of the-line running shoes that any marathoner would envy, he’s the proud owner of P90X DVD’s and related equipment, he’s got a state-of-the-art heart rate monitor (well, he had one – I may or may not have lost it), he has the MyFitnessPal app downloaded on his phone and consults it regularly, and he spent weeks researching home cardio equipment before purchasing the nice hunk of metal that sits in our den. If all it took was having the right equipment to be perfectly healthy, my husband would be a health and nutrition beast! Handsome, adorable, and moderately fit, he is. A health and nutrition “beast,” he definitely is not (nor am I!). Unfortunately, you can’t just have all the stuff, you have to use all the stuff. If Greg and I aren’t as healthy as we should be, it’s our own fault! (You have to know that I am typing this as I stuff my face with chocolate. Oh the irony!)

The same is true spiritually. If you and I are not spiritually mature, if we are still worldly, if we are still sipping on spiritual milk when we ought to be chewing on steak  – it’s our own fault. We have been given everything we need for godliness and growth (2 Peter 1:3). Not only do we have God’s Word, which is the ultimate source of divine wisdom and truth, but we also have God’s Spirit who enables us to understand and apply it. And I should mention that those of us who live in America have literally thousands of solid Christian growth resources available to us with just one click. The crazy thing is that American Christians are arguably the most immature, worldly, self-centered, cliquish believers in the world. Why? Because you can’t just have the stuff, you have to use the stuff . . .

You can’t just hear the word, you have to do the Word.

You can’t just acknowledge the sin, you have to get rid of the sin.

You can’t just give your tithe, you have to give your life.

You can’t just attend the church, you have to be the church.

You can’t just have the Spirit, you have to yield to the Spirit.

You can’t just listen to great sermons, you have to live those great sermons.

You can’t just go to a conference, you have to take it home with you.

The single greatest reason why we don’t fully appropriate all that God has given us and grow up in our faith is because we feast on the world’s wisdom, but only snack on God’s. You can’t imbibe the world’s mentality day after day, TV program after TV program, magazine article after magazine article, song after song, book after book, talk show after talk show and expect that one or two measly hours of church a week is going to get you out of spiritual diapers. NOT. GOING. TO. HAPPEN. 

Don’t be the girl sitting on the couch watching a Jillian Michaels DVD eating a massive bowl of Moose Tracks ice cream. Get rid of the worldly junk.  Marinate in God’s Word. Listen to the counsel of His Spirit. Surrender daily to His will. Then watch yourself become a woman of righteous, mature, brave, Christ-honoring conviction in a world plagued by compromise.

Oh, and I can’t think of a better way to jump-start the transformation than studying 1 Corinthians with me this fall! (Yes, this is a shameless plug.) Check out all the details here.

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