I was walking my favorite path along the Oxford canal, pondering deeply, as I usually do this time of year, what kind of year its been–specifically as it pertains to my spiritual life. Suddenly the question popped into my mind, like the gentle whisper of a friend: What was one thing that kept you from being as close to God as you would have liked this year?
Several answers swirled through my brain as I continued to walk, my knee-high red “wellies” sloshing in the wetness of the dead leaves, the morning fog setting in thick. Somehow the fog seemed to serve as a metaphor for how I’ve felt this year with God. My prayer times–the times I set aside each morning (well, most mornings) to meet with Him–have felt, well, foggy. Maybe it is the hurriedness of city life. Or the tiredness from long nights of writing as a theology student. Or the distractedness of trying to be many places at once. I don’t know. All I know is that what became clear that cold winter’s morn is that a new prayer was shaping in my heart for 2015: Lord, please clear the fog…
How about you?
Is there a thing a two, or perhaps a word or two that you would use to capture this past year–spiritually? Bumpy…grumpy…grim..great? I love the rolling rhythm of each New Year. It’s as if God knew we would need times (every 365 days or so) to look inside the window of our souls, and ask: ‘Hey there precious soul of mine, how are you doing? What’s feeding you? What’s depleting you?’ Some may call this “taking stock” or “checking in.” However we want to think of it, this time of year is a perfect time to allow God to form new prayers in our hearts, new rhythms in our days, new habits in our ways of seeking Him.
A wonderful book I am reading, by Julienne McLean called, Towards Mystical Union, which is a modern commentary on St. Teresa of Avila’s ‘The Interior Castle‘ (which I highly recommend), calls stillness the “essential pathway” to connection to and with God more deeply:
“The essential quality of stillness, of the body, mind, emotions, has the capacity to restore our ability to remember, to recollect, to remain ourselves and not be distracted… That is why prayer, meditation, contemplation are the essential pathways to connecting to, and living within, this deeper dimension.” (32)
These words, to me, present a challenge, but also serve as breath of fresh air to this fog-filled soul: stillness… restoration…. remembering… recollecting… living in deeper dimensions.
I don’t know about you but I need help bringing in and holding on to this quality of stillness in my life as I swim with God against the overwhelming current of our bustling world. I need help in setting aside time, meaningful time, to meet with the Creator of my soul. I need help clearing out the clutter of my heart, so there is room for God’s Truth to run through every fiber of my being, going deep enough to feed, nourish, change.
I love God’s command to the Psalmist,
“Be still and know that I am God. ” (Psalm 90:12)
I pray that as we ask God for the grace and discipline to slow down, making stillness a welcome companion in our lives this year, I pray that He–in our times of prayer and meditation–would give to us a renewed taste of His beauty…splendor…holiness…love…comfort….compassion…that keeps us going back, craving for more.
I realized that towards the end of my morning walk that day, the fog started to lift with glimmers of sunlight–God’s light–breaking through, a seemingly beautiful and soul-warming promise of what kind of a new year it was going to be.
I used to be a track runner. The 400 was my favorite race, but there was one part I feared the most: the start. It required getting into perfect position with the blocks set just right. And then the guy standing on the podium would announce through the giant megaphone the three dreaded words, “ready…set…go!” Just one misstep out of those blocks and it could cost you the race.
Sometimes we think of life’s opportunities in a similar way. We want to be in perfect position and fully prepared before we dive head deep into big life decisions. Whether it’s a new job, a new relationship or a new way of serving God, we want to make sure we’re fully “ready” before we fully commit.
Is it just me?
Perhaps there is nothing wrong with wanting to be fully ready and prepared for something new God might be calling us into. After all, we want to be wise stewards of the gifts, time and talents we have been given. But there are times when God calls us to obey Him before we feel fully ready. Remember Joshua? He was charged with the monumental task of taking over Moses’ job of leading God’s people into the Promised Land. Imagine how ill-equipped he felt! In fact, he was so visibly scared God actually had to encourage him with these words,
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
Perhaps there is a word in there for us today as young adults facing so many decisions. Big. Major. Monumental ones like: Who should I date? Who should I marry? Where should I work? How should I serve God? How can I make my mark? Where should I live? Should I have kids? Fears of various kinds can keep us from taking courageous steps into the unknown, like:
- Fear of making the wrong decision.
- Fear of stepping “outside” of God’s will (as if it is a linear path).
- Fear of not being ready enough (like Joshua).
What fears are nuzzling into the deep crevasses of your heart right now?
Naming them is a good thing. But then again, if God really is with us wherever we go, as He promises to be, what are we so afraid?
As a woman going through a season of perpetual transition — into a newly married life, living in a new country, beginning a new graduate program, making new friends, considering starting a family, and how to live out my calling in the future — I realize more than ever, we can never be as completely ready or perfectly prepared as we may want to be for the next season God is calling us into. There are just some things in which preparedness only comes as we humbly and obediently walk it out—with God by our side.
May I suggest that when facing a new job, relationship, or some other kind opportunity God puts before us, the trick perhaps is not total readiness, but total dependence on the Author and Creator of our souls. The more we acknowledge our own weakness, the more His strength can come in. The more we embrace our incapability, the more capable He is to do His work through us. The more utterly and totally dependent we become on our Father in Heaven for wisdom, guidance, grace and power each step of the way, the more we experience the truly abundant life Jesus promised (see John 10:10). Not easy maybe, but abundant.
What is the unknown territory God is calling you into? What are the “Moses shoes” God is asking you to fill? Instead of waiting for the “ready…set…” before you go (as any wise runner would), just decide to go for it, trusting the ready and set part will come along the way. The God we serve isn’t known for calling those who are already equipped, but equipping those He has already called.
So, now is the time to be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. So, go!
(A version of this article appeared originally in the Brink Magazine)
When it comes to our spiritual lives, there is not a fast track. When we choose to entrust our entire lives to God, we simply have to wait on His guidance and timing for us. Sounds easy enough right? I don’t know about you, but I actually struggle with waiting. Yep, big time. Whether it is something as mundane as waiting in a grocery store line or something as serious as waiting for a life partner to come along, a baby to be born or a calling to be revealed, my natural inclination is to get to that “next” desired thing as fast and as efficiently as possible. I want what I want when I want it.
How about you?
If you are like me and are tempted to grumble during periods of waiting on God, take heed. It comes with the territory of faithful living. But instead of dreading or avoiding the inevitable periods of waiting that come along in life, we can actually learn to wait well. Here are a few reflections on how to wait well that have come out of my own periods of waiting:
(1) Wait in Action.
Waiting does not mean we sit twiddling our thumbs until ‘poof’ God brings us the desired thing or directive for which we are waiting. Waiting is not a passive thing. Rather, it is staying where we are and living actively in that place. It is the willingness to stay where we are and live out the situation to the fullest with the deep conviction that God is working. Patient living means to actively live in the present and wait there.
The Bible tells us we are complete in Christ no matter if we are single or married, with or without children, working or not. Colossians 2:9-10 (NLT) says,
“ For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority.”
It doesn’t say you are complete IF. Rather, we are complete IN Christ. Period. And I think we are wise to approach seasons of waiting from this perspective. Our lives are not waiting to start. They have started and God has things for us to do in each season. Tim Keller speaks of waiting (in regards to singleness) as,
“…neither a condition without any struggle nor on the other hand an experience of misery. It is fruitfulness in life and ministry through the single state.”
I would argue that any state of waiting for something is a time for special fruitfulness in life and ministry. We can often fool ourselves into thinking that we will be happy or fulfilled or productive or fruitful WHEN…we get that thing we are waiting for. But really, God is working in every season, even through the difficult ones of waiting.
Try telling yourself: waiting is not passive, idle or dormant…it is active, productive and fruitful!
(2) Wait in Honesty.
Waiting well doesn’t mean each and every moment of every day is easy. Far from it. But this is a time to seek to go deeper with God. I love what the Psalmist in 62:8 says:
“Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”
and in Psalm 56:9:
“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”
We don’t have to pretend we are okay when we’re not. Bring it to God and let Him bring comfort, strength and grace in times of weakness. I am grateful for the difficult times of waiting in my life, for they have brought me into greater intimacy with God.
(3) Wait in Community.
It is easy to become hyper-independent and closed off from those around us during periods of waiting. We think no one else could possible understand. But God never intends for us to be isolated from his Body. Hebrews 10 says,
“Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”
When you are waiting, reach out to someone and let them in on your journey. It will be worth it.
(4) Wait in Expectation.
When we pray and ask God for things, we must train ourselves to live with a greater consciousness of His presence. I love Psalm 5:3,
“In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.”
We can go about the tasks and activities of our days as usual, but with an unusual sensitivity to His working in our lives. We can be on continual alert, listening, watching and waiting with great expectation for God to show up. He could be sending us a message of hope, a directive, an instruction, a correction, a confirmation and we can miss them if we are not looking out for them.
We must also remember we have the Holy Spirit in us to guide us into all truth.
What does this mean in our waiting?
God says everything is made beautiful in its time. God is making everything beautiful in its perfect timing in your life and in mine right now. Even if it doesn’t look like He is present or we may at times feel like He has forgotten about our deepest desires of our hearts, we can know that He is right here with us holding our right hand and listening to every prayer because He promises to do so.
Choose today to embrace the wait. Doing it well shows trust in a God who really does know best.
How do you get through times of waiting? I could use some fresh encouragement.:)
A friend sent me an article recently entitled, “How We End Up Marrying the Wrong People.” I don’t know if we can ever marry the “wrong” person, but I do think marrying a certain kind of person over another, can make for a more difficult or smooth experience in marriage. So how can we best prepare for a smoother ride in marriage? The author suggests that preparing for a marriage requires asking questions that would help guage what kind of spouse someone would be. For example, marriage used to be a more functional thing than anything, and the following criteria might have been considered when marrying:
- Who are their parents?
- How much land do they have?
- How culturally similar are they?
In more recent years, marrying someone seems to be more about being “in love” than anything else, which means the following signs would determine the level of rightness of a spouse:
- one can’t stop thinking of a lover
- one is sexually obsessed
- one thinks they are amazing
- one longs to talk to them all the time
The author of the article suggests we need a new set of criteria for the current age in which we are living. She proposes such questions to ask when dating such as:
- How are they mad (aka quirky, dysfunctional, abnormal, etc.)?
- How can one raise children with them?
- How can one develop together?
- How can one remain friends?
While these may be legitimate questions to ponder before saying “I do,” I’d also like to add three specific things to look out for when considering whether someone else has the potential to become a great mate. Key word: potential. No person when they get married is automatically going to make a wonderful partner. It takes work. It takes willingness. But I believe we can look out for (and seek to develop in ourselves) the raw material that makes for a fantastic, God-honoring relationship partner. They are:
- Ability to say “I’m sorry.” It may sound simple and irrelevant in the dating phase, but it is so HUGE in marriage. If neither of you have learned how to sincerely apologize – and mean it – then marriage will be a rocky and resentment-filled road.
- Ability to admit mistakes. It takes a great deal of humility to admit when we are wrong. It is not easy. But when we are able to swallow our pride and say, “I screwed up,” it is the mark of someone who is not only humble but mature.
- Willingness to be teachable. Being teachable is being willing to change. It is realizing that your way isn’t always the right way and perhaps there is a better way. It is someone who believes in personal growth and transformation throughout life. We never reach a point where we “have arrived” and no longer need to change. This belief in personal growth and development is what makes marriage fun and adventurous and ever-moving forward.
When we are in a season of exploring relationships through dating, it is easy to focus on things that our society values: good looks, athleticism, wealth, leadership skills, etc. But really, the things that matter in marriage are farthest from the superficial things we think matter so much. The times I find my husband most attractive are not when he is pumping iron, but times he is looking me in the eyes and telling me he is sorry. Or times he owns up to his mistakes. Or times when he is making an effort to change something about himself for the sake of our relationship. I can only hope he would say something similar about me in terms of when he is most fond of me as a spouse.
If you are in a season of waiting on God, ask Him during this time to help you develop the traits listed above. If you are in a season of dating and pondering marriage, look out for traits that embody humility, vulnerability and willingness to change and grow. Also seek to develop them yourself. If you are in a season of marriage, make an honest evaluation of yourself as a spouse: Are you able to say sorry? Are you able to admit when you are wrong? Are you teachable and working on your own personal and spiritual development for the sake of your spouse?
I am always struck by 1 Samuel 16:7 when I come across it:
“The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
Make this verse be your guide in waiting, dating and marriage and you can’t go wrong. Marriage is what you make of it and that largely depends on the two people involved. Vulnerability. Humility. Teachability. These character traits are rare treasures that – when possessed by both partners – will make your relationship wonderfully rich and worth fighting for.
What would you add?
I came across some interesting statistics in my life coaching course:
- The number one reason people leave a job is that they don’t feel appreciated.
- In the past year, 65% of the workforce in the US received no praise.
- The frequency of praise and recognition in the workplace should be no less than once per week.
- For healthy relationships, the ratio of positive comments to negative comments should be 5 to 1.
- Positive emotion can increase life expectancy by 10 years.
The power of positive praise to the human heart cannot be overstated. Have you ever known someone who believed in you, someone who frequently spoke words of encouragement and praise? The kind of person who made you feel you could do it, whatever “it” was? That is the kind of person God wants us to be.There are numerous verses in Scripture that encourage us to be encouragers of others:
- “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
- “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29)
- “The tongue has the power of life and death” (Proverbs 18:21).
- “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life.” (Proverbs 10:11)
- “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25)
Our words make an impact. If you are struggling to be a person of positive praise, as I am lately, refuse to accept it. We might say, “I’m just a worrier. I was born that way.” Or, “It’s my nature to be a pessimist.” But God will have none of that. He is in the personality-changing business. He wants us to “be conformed to the likeness of his Son” (Romans 8:29). I don’t know about you but I want to be known for my encouraging words and my positive attitude. Here are some practical tips to help us bring change into this crucial area of our lives:
- Develop a positive thought life. Spend time in God’s Word. Meditate on the verses that speak about encouragement. I love how Paul encourages this: “Finally…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8). A lot of times, our ability to praise others starts with our thoughts. God can transform us by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2) with His thoughts.
- When you wake up, ask God for help. In order to be a person of praise and encouragement, we need to ask God for help first thing in the morning. It is an intentional act, saying, “Lord, I can’t do this on my own, please help me to focus on the positive today instead of the negative!” In my journal during my quiet time with the Lord each morning, I usually write out a prayer asking God for strength to be an encourager, not a criticizer, and for self-control in handling any negative emotions that come up.
- Monitor your remarks. It helps if we can be aware of what we are saying. One time a close friend gently remarked that I was sounding rather negative one day, more than usual. I started paying attention and realized I had adopted the habit of negative thinking and “venting” without even realizing it. When we pay more attention and have a goal of making our positive comments outweigh negative ones, soon it will become a habit.
- Be intentional about encouraging others. This is where a little goes a long way. Pick one person each day and decide to send either a note, a text, an email or phone call with something to encourage that person. Maybe it is a verse or something you appreciate about them. But intentionally encouraging others brings joy not only into their lives but into ours as well.
There is so much power in our words! Why not make them positive? Choose today to be an encourager.
**What practical tips have you found to be helpful in becoming a person who brings praise and encouragement to others?