No Matter How Small, He Cares….

And [God] passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God…” Exodus 34:6

Of all the truths we “marinated” in at my church’s women’s retreat last month, the reality of God’s compassion continues to be a precious well-spring of encouragement to my heart. I’ve been wanting to write about it for weeks, but since my days of sitting in Starbucks and blogging my little heart out have been temporarily suspended by an ADORABLE eight month old, I thought a short video clip might do…

 

“Because He is a God of compassion He is absolutely incapable of seeing the conflict and struggle and pain in your heart and remaining unmoved.”

No matter how small, He cares. He really, truly cares.

Wow. Just wow.

Radiant Retreat Videos

Last weekend I had the privilege of teaching an amazing group of women at my church’s women’s retreat. There is no way these videos can adequately capture what took place in the hotel conference room that quickly became holy ground as God’s Spirit swept through and dazzled us with the stunning brilliance of our radiant God. But I am so excited that my little Flip video camera was able to capture the teaching so that whether you were able to attend the retreat or not, you can be dazzled as well. One advantage you have over those of us who heard these messages live is that you get to watch them  in your pajamas with a giant cup of coffee. We’re a little jealous. 😉

Listening Guide (if you want to take notes as you listen)

Session 1 – “God:The Source of Radiant Living”

Session 2 – “The Holy Spirit: The Sustainer of Radiant Living”

Session 3 – “Our World: The Purpose of Radiant Living”

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like a Weaned Child

IMG_1803O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; nor do I involve myself in great matters, or in things too difficult for me.

Surely, I have composed and quieted my soul; like a weaned child rests against his mother, my soul is like a weaned child within me. Psalm 131:1, 2

This is where I have been “marinating” for a few days now. Every time I have started reading the next Psalm or digging into other portions of my not-so-structured Bible reading plan, I have felt a tug back to these words. This morning the tug was stronger than ever. So I did what any self-respecting Bible teacher does when God has her sit and soak in one place for a while – I read, re-read, contemplated the words, and prayed. Then, I went and got Spurgeon.

Here’s a portion of what I read (and underlined, and highlighted, and starred, and read again) from Spurgeon’s Treasury of David this morning on what it means to quiet your soul “as a child that is weaned.” What a powerful metaphor and a much needed reminder that my battle against selfish desires can only be won as I seek and savor my all-sufficient, all-satisfying Savior:

The task [of weaning] to the mother is trying and troublesome. The infant cries and seems to sob out his heart. He thinks it very hard in her and knows not what she means by her seeming cruelty, and the mother’s fondness renders all her firmness necessary to keep her at the process; and sometimes she also weeps for the importunity of his dear looks, and big tears, and stretched-out hands. But it must be done, and therefore, though she pities, she perseveres; and after awhile he is soothed and satisfied, forgets the breast, and no longer feels even a hankering after his former pleasure.

But how is this weaning accomplished? By embittering the member to his lips; by the removal of the object in the absence and concealment of the mother; by the substitution of other food; by the influence of time.

So it is with us. We love the world, and it deceives us. We depend on creatures, and they fail us, and pierce us through with many sorrows. We enter forbidden paths, and follow after our lovers, and our way is hedged up with thorns; and then we say, “Return unto thy rest, O my soul; and now, Lord, what wait I for? My hope is in Thee.”

The enjoyment of a greater good subdues the relish of a less. What are the indulgences of sin, or the dissipations of the world to one who is abundantly satisfied with the goodness of God’s house, and is made to drink of the river of His pleasures? (words by William Jay, quoted in Spurgeon’s Treasury of David, Volume 2)

With mouth wide open, heart bowed down, and hands lifted high this is the cry of my heart today:

“Satisfy us, Lord Jesus!”

 

If You Were Loved “Even When,” You Are Loved Even Now

 “It’s pretty bad when you cancel on your housekeeper because your house is in such disarray that it doesn’t deserve cleaning.”

That gem of a status update from a lovely high school friend showed up on my Facebook newsfeed a few months ago. Before you peg me as a creepy Facebook stalker who keeps a personal log of every interesting post that she sees, let me explain why this one still stands out in my mind.

First, I had a housekeeper once so I can relate. Kathy came every other week for a couple of years – wonderful, glorious years! The night before her scheduled arrival my husband would stand in utter disbelief as I stormed through the house making sure it was clean enough to be cleaned the next day.

Greg: Don’t we have a housekeeper?

Me: [spoken in a somewhat sassy tone as I am wiping down the toilet] Um, yeah.

Greg: Don’t we pay her to do that?

Me: Yes, but I don’t want her to think we’re a bunch of disgusting pigs!

Greg: That makes no sense at all.

Me: It’s called a “pre-cleaning cleaning.” Everyone who has a housekeeper does it. I can’t believe you don’t know this.

[Cue husband eye roll now.]

The second reason this Facebook post is etched in my mind is because it clearly communicates how I sometimes feel in my relationship with God. I have a really solid grasp of the gospel. I understand the oh-so-precious concepts of redemption, justification, propitiation, grace, and God’s unconditional forgiveness. But there are still times when I struggle to take them personally – times when I feel like my life is in such disarray that I don’t deserve God’s presence, His grace, or His cleansing. Sometimes when  I stand back and look at myself all I see is a lazy, fearful,  uncreative, underwhelmed, irritable, emotionally unstable woman who has utterly failed to live up to the expectations of every single person she loves, especially God. Here’s how things often look from my perspective: As a wife, I’m not exciting enough, as a mommy I’m not engaged or patient enough, as a homemaker I’m not efficient enough, as a friend I’m not invested enough, as a church member I’m not involved enough, as a Bible teacher I’m not prepared enough, as a Christ-follower I’m not in the Word enough, as a witness I’m not bold enough . . .

Whether real or perceived, it doesn’t take much for these “not enoughs” to morph into “not wanted”, “not worthy,”  “not useful,” and even “not loved”  – four things a blood-bought child of God can never be. Left to itself, this heart of mine will actually begin to believe it. The result?  Instead of running to Jesus and His fountain of all-sufficient grace, I switch into self-help mode, try really really hard to do better, and then beat myself up when my self-improvement project inevitably fails.  Instead of welcoming God’s redemptive activity in my life, I stubbornly continue to resist His help and cleansing until I start to feel I’ve earned it. Days, weeks, and maybe even months go by without any meaningful interaction with the Lord. Sadly, my resistance doesn’t make me feel any cleaner, just dryer . . . and more ashamed.

Here’s why: I may be able to pre-clean my house before my housekeeper, but I can’t pre-clean myself before Holy God.  (see Is. 64:6, Rom. 3:20)

Here’s the good news: I DON’T NEED TO!

Ephesians 2: 4 and 5 says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, EVEN WHEN we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).” (also see Rom. 5:6-11 and Col. 2:13, 14; emphasis added)

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Every single word of those verses is worth “marinating” in, but the two words I want to focus on are “even when.”

Even when you were dead in sin . . . He loved you.

Even when you were His enemy . . .  He purposed to save you.

Even when the only god you worshiped was yourself . . . He desired to make you a vessel of HIS glory.

If He loved us even when we were dead, rebellious, idolatrous sinners then it stands to reason that He loves us even when we are lazy, irritable, disengaged moms . . . even when we are moody, selfish, entitled wives . . . even when we are weak, half-hearted, undisciplined Christ-followers . . . even when_________________________ (fill in the blank with your most recent failure).

Knowing that God loved us “even when” does not free us to keep on sinning (see Romans 6). We can’t stay moody, selfish, entitled wives! Rather, it frees us to swing the doors of our sin-soaked hearts wide open to the cleansing, renewing, restoring presence of God. It frees us to take all of our “not enoughs” to the one and only place where they cannot bind us in shackles of shame – the cross of Jesus Christ. It frees us to face our failures with the confidence that not a single one of them has the power to undo what God has already done for us by grace alone.

Your life is never too messy, your heart is never too dirty, your hands are never too lazy, your steps are never too clumsy, and your emotions are never too crazy for a God who loved you even when” to love you even now.

No “pre-cleaning cleaning” required. Ever.

 

 

 

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