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).

 

 

 

Surviving a Spiritual Funk: Anchor Your Heart

Note: This is the second post in a “Surviving a Spiritual Funk” series. If you missed the first one, you can read it here.

I’ve been sitting here trying to think of a unique, semi-original metaphor for the unpredictable nature of our emotions.

I’ve got nothing.

The only picture that keeps coming to mind is a little boat trying to make its way across a vast ocean. Sometimes the waters are smooth and oh-so-beautiful. The boat glides across it and navigates with confidence toward the intended destination, which happens to be in clear site. Other times the waters are turbulent and terrifying. The boat is violently tossed up and down and survival becomes the one and only goal.  The destination is shrouded in darkness and the stormy sea becomes nearly impossible to navigate. There are, of course, the “in between” times as well when the waters aren’t smooth or turbulent, just choppy. Navigating the little boat doesn’t seem impossible, but it sure is hard. The driver of the boat longs for calmer waters. She craves a smoother ride. She looks around at others gliding so confidently toward their desired havens and wishes she wasn’t stuck riding wave after wave of wind-tossed waters.

Life provides all kinds of “weather” that both stirs and stabilizes the waves of our emotions. Our hearts are like little boats on those unpredictable waters trying so hard to stay the course, but at times wondering when and if calmer waters will ever come . . . praying desperately for it to happen NOW.

Ever been there? Ever felt that way?

If you’ve ever experienced a “spiritual funk,” you have.

One of the most agonizing things about spiritual depression is the seemingly impossible task of snapping out of it. Emotions get the better of you over and over again as the distance between what you know to be true and what you feel to be true grows wider and wider. One minute you’re riding high on a wave of spiritual desire. The next minute, you’re sucked under an emotional current with absolutely no sense of God’s presence whatsoever.   To me, nothing is more aggravating than a heart that just won’t cooperate! If only I could master my emotions once and for all! Not likely this side of heaven (at least not as long as PMS is a reality in my life), but a girl can dream, right?

Though we may never attain complete, once-and-for-all mastery of our emotions, there is great hope for unsteady, wind-tossed hearts. At the bottom of that vast and sometimes turbulent sea of human affections is a solid foundation of truth. When anchored to that truth, there is no spiritual storm that we cannot survive. We anchor ourselves by “marinating” on that foundation (you know I had to slip that word in somewhere!).

So what exactly is that foundation? What must the anchor of our hearts cling to? What truths are able to steady our faith even when our feelings lag so far behind?

Though they are vast and varied, I’ve narrowed those truths down to two unchangeable realities that can turn any spiritual funk into an opportunity for deeper faith. Here they are:

  • We must anchor our hearts in the unchanging reality of who God is.

Okay, so there’s no way I can do this point justice here. In fact, there’s no way I could do it justice anywhere! What I can do is remind you of the fact that no matter how crazy life gets, no matter how blind-sided you are by a series of difficult circumstances, no matter how many twists and turns God allows along your path, no matter how long you’ve been begging to get off the emotional rollercoaster ride, one thing never, ever changes. Your God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8).

If you’ve ever spent any time studying the Psalms of lament, you have noticed that nearly every announcement of despair and desperate cry for relief is followed by an intentional declaration of who God is and remembrance of His past faithfulness. My personal favorite is Psalm 77. Just after lamenting the fact that God seems all-but-absent from his life, the Psalmist writes,

“I shall remember the deeds of the LORD; surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will meditate on all Your work and muse on Your deeds.  Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God? You are the God who works wonders; You have made known Your strength among the peoples. You have by Your power redeemed Your people” (vv. 11-15).

Another favorite is in the book of Lamentations where Jeremiah follows a very vivid, heart-breaking description of his utter despair with these words:

“I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him” (Lam 3:21-24, emphasis added).

In Psalm 42, after asking the question, “Why are you in despair, O my soul?” the psalmist concludes, “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (v. 11)

When your soul is in anguish and your spiritual affections hang in the balance, there is no better way to steady your heart than to choose to praise God for being God. “I will yet praise Him!” must be the battle cry of every Christian fighting for joy in a spiritual desert.

The battle is won or lost based on our willingness to anchor ourselves in the solid rock of who God is. He has never once been unfaithful to His children. He has never ever forsaken His blood-bought kids. He has never ceased to be good to those who He sovereignly chose to be His own. What in the world makes you think you will be the one exception? Not a chance!

  • We must anchor our hearts in the unchanging reality of the gospel.

Sometimes we get the idea that while salvation is accomplished by grace, sanctification (the process of becoming more and more like Jesus) is accomplished through struggle. The truth is it’s all grace from beginning to end. We are saved by grace (Eph. 2:8,9), we grow by grace (2 Peter 3:18), and one day we will be fully redeemed by grace (1 Cor. 1:4, 8-9).

God is not only sovereign over my conversion to Christ. He is sovereign over my conformity to Christ. Yes, I am to “work out my salvation with fear and trembling,” but that would accomplish absolutely nothing if it weren’t for the fact that God “is at work in me, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12, 13).

To me, one of the greatest treasures in the whole of God’s Word is the benediction given at the end of the tiny New Testament book of Jude:

“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (vv. 24, 25).

Who keeps us from stumbling? God does. Who makes us stand before Him blameless? God does. When all is said and done, who secures our joy? God does!

Here’s the bottom line: God’s faithfulness to sanctify us, to get us ready for heaven, is not ultimately dependent on our faithfulness to do everything we ought to do. It certainly doesn’t depend on our faithfulness to feel everything we ought to feel. First Thessalonians 5:23 and 24 says it this way:

“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass” (emphasis added).

Your growth in godliness in not just a process, it’s a promise. Jesus is both the author and the perfecter of your faith (Heb. 12:2).

Rest in that today, sweet sister. Anchor your heart in the hope of the gospel. As you fight for joy, fight knowing that the victory has already been secured for you. The battle is ultimately the Lords, and He has promised your good for the sake of His glory.

If you feel out of control, all washed up, or spiritually capsized today; if you are fed up with your wishy-washy heart; if you’re sick and tired of the emotional turbulence;   it’s time to let down your anchor and sink deep into the unfailing, unchanging,  unshakable, all-sufficient, utterly faithful, never giving up, indescribable, extravagant love of God. Love that saved you. Love that keeps you. Love that will perfect you. Regardless of how you feel today.

Surviving a Spiritual Funk

A spiritual desert.

A dry spell.

A slump.

A valley.

A case of the spiritual “blahs”.

A bout with spiritual depression.

A season of spiritual silence.

A lingering spiritual “funk.”

Whatever you call it, have you experienced one? Have you ever gone days, weeks, months, or maybe even years without knowing the soul-deep sweetness of repeated “wow” moments in God’s presence? Have you lost that “lovin’ feeling” in your relationship with Jesus? When you speak of passion for God and His Word, do you have to speak in past tense? Does God’s “still small voice” seem way too small, and His “unsearchable” ways way too hidden?  Are your quiet times way too quiet? Does the “overflow” of spiritual satisfaction that you once felt continue to elude you, seeming to always be just beyond your reach? You may taste it once in a while, but has it been a long time since you really feasted on it?

If so, than guess what – we have something in common. I’ve been there too, plenty of times. I know that frustration. I’ve cried those tears. I’ve felt that void. I’ve experienced that loneliness.

Would you think less of me if I told you I went a whole year without any consistent time with the Lord? What about if I told you it wasn’t in my distant past, but recently?

Is it okay to say that as a mature, Bible-saturated believer, I went months without feeling much of anything for God or His Word?

I hope so, because it’s the truth. It’s a chapter in my story that God has not given me permission to edit. It’s a real and vital part of the whole of my spiritual life. Did God cause it? I’m still not sure about all that. Did He allow it and use it to deepen my faith, suffocate my spiritual pride, and make me more like Jesus? Absolutely.

Spiritual “funks” can be caused by a number of things – trials, grief, major life-changes, sin, busyness, depression, chronic physical pain, or simply God’s sovereign choice to back off a bit in order to test and strengthen your faith. My most recent dry spell was caused by a major life change: the birth of my first child. I know that moms are supposed to look back at the first 6 months of their child’s life and feel lots of warm, fuzzy things and talk about how they’d give anything to have their teeny tiny baby back. I am hoping to get there some day, but I’m not there yet. Not even close. I’ll take a walking, talking, some-what self-sufficient preschooler over an infant any day!

I won’t get into all the details, but being a stay-at-home mommy of an infant rattled me to the core and had a major effect on my relationship with Jesus. After years of freedom to take as much time as I wanted to “marinate” in God’s Word and then pour out into the lives of women through Bible teaching, the all-consuming needs of a baby took me by surprise. In fact, they were a total shock to my carefully ordered system!  (It’s not that I wasn’t warned . . . I guess I just chose to ignore the haggard looks and smoke signals of the new moms who crossed my path. :))  Add to that the physical/emotional side effects of the postpartum hormones and sheer exhaustion, and you have quite a recipe for what the old timers called “spiritual melancholy.” Shepherd was about a year old before I started having a daily quiet time again and almost two years old before I started to feel the “fog” of spiritual dryness begin to lift.

I spend a good two years in a spiritual battle. The enemies – “life” and my own unsteady heart; the prize – joy; the weapons – we’ll tackle that in another post.  Some days I fought well. Other days I didn’t even try. Spiritual depression can be paralyzing of we let it. Sometimes I let it.

But thankfully, that’s not all. I’m delighted to tell you that this chapter of my life has a happy ending. This part of my story is redemptive. It doesn’t make me look all that great, but it testifies so beautifully to the sufficiency, steadfastness, grace, and “more-than-enoughness” of my Savior, which is the only reason I’m willing to share it.

If I were to give this chapter a title, it would be one word:  “Faithful.” In all the ebbs and flows of my spiritual affections, God has never changed, He has never left me, He has never forsaken me, He has never stopped speaking, He has never stopped working, He has never ceased to provide – He has never failed me. Not once. Not ever. And He never will.

 Whether I have the ears to hear, the eyes to see, and the heart to feel or not, I belong to a God who is more committed to my holiness, my wholeness, and the perseverance of my faith than I will ever be, even on my best days.

When my heart cries out for an answer to the question, “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me?” (Ps. 42:5);

When, in a moment of gut-wrenching honesty, I dare to ask, “Will the Lord reject forever? And will He never be favorable again? Has His loving-kindness ceased forever? Has His promise come to an end forever?  Has God forgotten to be gracious?” (Ps. 77:7-9);

When the deadening silence and emotional uncertainty gives birth to a question I never thought I’d ask: “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1);

When “I cry by day, but [God] does not answer; and by night, but I have no rest” (Ps. 22:2);

When my heart is “embittered” and I am “pierced within” (Ps. 73:21);

I choose to hold on for dear life to the one thing I know will never changethe steadfast character of my fiercely faithful Heavenly Father. Though my flesh and my heart may fail, God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (Ps. 73:26)!

For the next couple of weeks, I’d love for us to explore this topic of “surviving a spiritual funk” together. I will be blogging as much as I can about it, and I’d love to hear your stories of God’s faithfulness in your own desert seasons, and the highs and lows of your own fight for joy. If your chapter doesn’t have a “happy” ending yet – if the picture of God’s perfect sufficiency still isn’t crystal clear – that’s okay. The purpose of this series to is help you get there.

God’s Word offers sweet, soul-soothing hope for spiritually depressed hearts. So, pour yourself a warm cup of coffee (or several – this may take a few weeks!), add way too much of your favorite creamer, and let’s “marinate” in all that sweet, soul-soothing hope together.

 

Cloudy Days

A nasty cold is working its way through my house this week, which has left little time or energy for blogging between all the nose wiping, snuggling, and attempts at sleeping. So, I pulled something from my personal archives. I wrote this back in July of 2008 and it still rings so true in my life. (By the way, those of you keeping up with the book club, this crud we all have pushed that back too . . .I’m hoping to have the next chat up Friday or sometime this weekend.)

I recently spent a week with my husband, parents, and brother in Daytona Beach where our days consisted of essentially three things  – doing nothing, eating, and early morning workouts on the beach (to minimize the effects of the eating). Aaaaahhhhh . . . my idea of PURE BLISS!

One of the things I love to do each morning at the beach is sit on the condo balcony with a cup of coffee and watch the sunrise over the Atlantic. Usually, the skies are clear and the rising sun creates the most amazing masterpiece as it reflects on the ocean water. Sadly, things were different this year. Every morning that I woke up early to see the sunrise, the sky was full of clouds that blocked the sun. The sun was there of course, but the “wow factor” that I longed to see was greatly diminished by the looming clouds.

On a positive note, there were  a couple of mornings when the light peaked through little holes in the clouds creating beams of light that reflected onto the water. Not what I came for, but very pretty. At least all was not lost.

As I sat on the porch the last day of vacation, watching yet another not-so-spectacular sunrise, I thought about how many times my spiritual life has been just like those mornings on the condo balcony. God’s faithfulness to reveal Himself each day is as sure as the sunrise. He is an ever-present God who has indwelt me with His Spirit, so each and every time I kneel before Him in prayer, meditate on His Word, or join with fellow believers in corporate worship, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is going to “show up.” I expect it . . . anticipate it . . . look forward to it.

But sometimes there are clouds that block the view – the clouds of difficult circumstances, sadness, anxiety, disappointment, physical pain, stress, fatigue, and the list goes on. Some of these clouds are self-induced. Others are completely out of my control. Whatever the cause, these clouds can loom for a long time and diminish the “wow factor” that I long to experience when I meet with the Lord. God still “shows up,” it’s just hard to see Him through the looming haze of life’s valleys.

What hit me as I thought about the lousy sunrises I had seen is this simple truth: clouds eventually clear. They aren’t permanent. In fact, had we been able to stay another week at the beach, there is a very good chance I would have woken up to clear skies and gotten to see a gorgeous Daytona Beach sunrise at some point.

I would, however, have had to keep getting up early. Consistency and perseverance would have been crucial.

Are you in a “cloudy” season in your walk with the Lord? Did you set aside time to meet with Him recently, only to be disappointed once again that you didn’t “see” anything spectacular? My encouragement to you is this: Keep on getting up, keep on setting aside that time, keep on kneeling before Him in prayer, and keep on meditating on His Word. Make consistency and perseverance your two best friends.

You may not see Him very clearly right now, but He’s there . . . He’s speaking . . . He’s working . . . He’s protecting . . . He’s refining. Never forget that the clouds aren’t permanent. One of these days, they will lift and you will get to have more of those “wow moments” with Jesus that you have been craving for so long.

Until then, enjoy those little rays that peak through the clouds once in a while – those little whispers from above that you are seen, known, and loved by Almighty God. They may not be the masterpiece you anticipated, but they sure are pretty.

“In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.” Psalm 53:3 

What truth, promise, or attribute of God do you cling to on cloudy days?

 

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