Sometime ago I heard a pastor say, “Faith isn’t the product of striving it’s the result of surrender.”
I’ve been learning to surrender.
To stop striving to believe what He says is true. To surrender all my fears and doubt and to sit with Him hopeful, like a child, expecting something good.
I’ve lived most of my life waiting for the other shoe to drop. Looking over my shoulder for a club to come down. And watching closely the rug under my feet expecting it to be pulled by some dark force to make me fall.
There is rest in the storm. There is peace in chaos. There is trust. Because I know He is good, I can follow Him into the valley of the shadow of death without fear. He is with me. He is trustworthy. And in the place where the enemy’s threats rattle and echo off the rocks Jesus sets a feast for me. Feeds me with dainties of His love. Romances me with intimacy. Gazes into my eyes and I am drawn into the love in His.
I forget there’s a malevolent presence nearby because the goodness and glory are so bright. So beautiful. With the radiance of God’s glory shining on me nothing else is important. I can’t even see anything else.
I’ve been learning to surrender to trusting Jesus. Even when it’s hard. Even when I want a different path. Even when I want it to be easier than it is.
He’s teaching me how to row upstream. How to move with strength, effort, and pain against the flow that resists what I’m called to do and who I’m designed to be. Seeing God’s country up ahead and not giving up. Throwing off all yokes except His. Not entangling myself in what is not my assignment. Embracing only that which He’s shown me is mine.
There are worse things than pain. Being without Jesus, without my Heavenly Father, without the Holy Spirit’s comfort is way worse. It is unthinkable and unimaginably empty.
The Lord is my shepherd. I choose to follow. I choose to surrender to His journey for me. It matters not where I’m going as long as He is there. As long as He is leading. As long He is with me.
There have always been only two stories: the one that God speaks and the one that darkness tells. Each day I get to choose which one I will focus on. Which one I will believe and live by. God’s story is harder to hear. I have to lean in to know what He’s saying. I have to dust off my Bible and read the story of hope and love that He brought generations ago. I have to remind myself that He doesn’t lie. That He doesn’t change. That His story lasts forever. Darkness tells me a different story. It prophesies death and destruction. Today this story screams loudly everywhere I look.
There are also only two kingdoms and I get to choose, each day, where I will live. Which one I will align my thoughts, my words, and my prayers with—which one will fuel my life? Whose words, Satan or God’s, will I believe? Whichever words I believe are true are the ones that begin to create in my life.
In the beginning, just after life exploded in beauty upon the earth, God’s enemy entered the garden to change the destiny of creation. He came armed with a lie. A lie that questioned what God had said to Adam and Eve. A lie that challenged God’s words and spoke of a different future to entice Eve into believing God had deceived her. That surely they would not die if they ate the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Surely they would only be like God. This story, this lie, was a rational one. One that offered an outcome that seemed reasonable, obvious. Eve believed it bringing death to us all.
Today, I hear two stories: one of evil taking over the world and one of Jesus becoming king. My choice is as basic as Eve’s. Do I trust and hope in who God says He is for me or do I believe the power of darkness as demonstrated around me in violence, hatred, and fear? Who do I really believe has control of the outcome?
I don’t understand either story very well. The dark prophecies have many variations but always result in anger and fear. The words of Jesus, who is the Host of Heaven’s armies and our returning king, result in peace and hope. Beyond reason, I choose Jesus’ story. Even when I don’t understand. Even when I can see no evidence. My hope is not in what I can see, my hope is in who God is and what He has promised. What He gave up to have me call Him Father. My hope is in His word that does not change. That says He’s given me a future. That every thought He has for me is good. That He is the One who cares for me. Deeply. With extravagance. Completely unfairly. He loves me beyond what good or bad I’ve ever done. He does not lie, and He does not change.
The story God tells me is that I am His wildest dream. That every color, every animal, every bit of singing music in creation is for me. Given so I would see Him in His wondrous glory and begin to know Him. His story is one of outrageous sacrifice, offering His precious, beloved son as a ransom to ensure my freedom from the kingdom of darkness. To ensure I could become a child of God, a friend of God with nothing standing between us. What an absurd love. He didn’t wait until I was good or even intending to be good. He took all that I was not, and all raging rebellion that I was, and went to the cross for me.
That story is the one that ignites my faith to believe whatever He says is true. That He is my protection, my hope, my song. Convincing me the noise, the smoke, the violence of God’s enemy in my nation and other nations is a lie. That somewhere, somehow, God will arise and His enemies will be scattered. That some way the kingdom of the world will become the kingdom of our God. That the earth, its fulness, and everyone in it is the Lord’s because He made them. He does not lie. He does not change.
One day while I was waiting on God, I saw the answer to a prayer I’d been praying for a long time. I was so excited, yet as I got up the next morning I wondered if what I saw was a promise or if it was real. Was it happening now or was it going to happen in the future? I asked the Lord, “Is this real or is it a promise?” His words came almost immediately, rolling loudly through my heart. He said, “What’s the difference?” Like He didn’t know. Like they were the very same thing to Him. Telling me clearly that when He promises a thing it is real. To God, all His promises are real. His word is forever true. It’s up to me to believe it. To speak it. To pray it. To stand and say out loud, as a praise, what He has said. To let it live large in my thoughts. To offer thanks, in faith, that He never lies. He is always good. His mercies are never ending. And He loves me with an unbelievable, unending love.
The difference between the two stories being told today is that one is true and the other is a lie.
Please turn off the news, find your Bible and start talking to the One who loves you more than life. I suggest starting in Psalms or John. God’s heart for you and His story of your future will capture you and give you hope for each new day.
2 Cor 1:20 NIV
For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through Him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.
Numbers 23:19 ESV
God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
Is 55:11 NIV
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
Instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, that will endure forever.
Psalm 23-24 NKJV
Oh, love the Lord, all you His saints!
For the Lord preserves the faithful, and fully repays the proud person.
Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, all you who hope in the Lord.
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This morning the Lord spoke to me about my default position in a crisis. He let me know that what I choose is very, very important.
God is the only God who, when I look into His eyes, I understand who I am. He gives me a revelation of how greatly He values me. How treasured I am. He makes me alive. His life fills me with love, with light, with hope, with joy. I don’t get that when I look in the mirror. I only see what’s wrong, what’s missing, and what’s broken.
When I come to Him, He does not show me what’s wrong or missing. He simply begins to fill me with Himself and there is nothing wrong or missing or broken in Him. He shows me I am the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. Beauty for my ashes. The oil of joy for my sadness.
When I come to Him, He does not show me what’s wrong or missing or broken in you, either. He shows me His great joy and delight in you. He shows me His heart that is huge with love for you. He shows me His great faith that you will come closer, with a whole heart, to know Him. Love believes all things. There is faith in God. He planted it in us. His faith that we would respond to Him is what led Jesus to the cross. His compelling love is why Jesus laid down His life so the Father would have His heart’s delight, which is us. For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son.
When I’m challenged in my life, my default response is to start searching my heart, listing my failures, recounting my sins, seeking my place of repentance. I cannot see His heart. I do not know His word about me or my situation. I cannot feel His love. Condemnation and confusion become my food. In a crisis, I rarely see His heart for others. Usually, strife and frustration come into my relationships. Peace and joy flee. This position of looking to my self, leaning on my strength or understanding is not God’s way for me when I am in trouble.
My other default in a crisis is to look for an enemy. I begin looking for what the enemy is doing in my life. Questioning, searching him out, focusing on him instead of Jesus. Stepping off the narrow path of God’s leading, I venture into a murky, smelly swamp looking for the evil force I know is hiding to ambush me. I think if I can identify him, I can conquer him. Shushing God when He tries to get my attention saying, “ Just a minute, can’t you see I’m busy here? I’ll be right with you,” as I continue my quest for understanding the swamp.
Neither one of these responses leads to life. The only response I should ever have is to run into my heavenly Father’s arms. To seek Jesus. To wait for the still small voice to speak. Because I cannot know He’s working in me through the crisis if I do not go to Him. Sometimes He wants to teach me strategy. Sometimes it’s faith and patience. Sometimes it’s to reveal how big and good He is. Or to show me how much authority I have in Jesus. And sometimes He wants to tell me something about Him I never even dreamed of before. Something beyond my understanding.
I forget that everything in my life is an invitation to a conversation with God. He waits for me to show up. To confirm I’m choosing Him. That my heart is focused on His heart. That He matters to me. That I will listen. I will wait humbly before Him for power from on high. Submitting to God and resisting the enemy driving him out. The Father sees in the darkness so I don’t really need to. I simply need to listen for God to tell me what I’m to do. What I’m to resist. What I’m to cast out. Where I need repentance. Where I need worship.
I can only get what I need from spending time with God. His answers are bigger than what’s inside of me. He is of heaven and I have no frame of reference for what’s in Him. I can only see what’s in Him when I stop, ask, seek, and knock. My need is a temporary affliction. His answer builds a permanent, unshakable foundation under my feet. Someone said that Jesus was a master at changing the conversation. The apostles would ask about something and Jesus would start talking about a completely different topic. He does that to me. I have a need. I ask for a provision. He starts talking about flowers, or a city on a hill, or water faucets.
I have to turn the care of my situation over to Him before I can let my curiosity loose to follow His new topic. When I seek to see Him, looking down this narrow path, I look up and He’s there. When I see Him, I see everything I need, every single thing is in Him. HE is what I need. And He dwells in me. I have everything I need, I just didn’t see it or believe it or experience it. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of the unseen. With faith and patience, I inherit and experience what is already mine because He is mine. I am my beloved’s and He is mine.
I walk differently now. Instead of precarious and tormented I walk straight, sure of my foundation and full of joy that makes no sense. I can’t turn around and go back. There is no other path for me but the one where Jesus leads, as odd and mysterious as it seems.
One Less Angry Person
The world does not need one more angry person which is where I land when I look at evil and am offended instead of bold in His love for lost ones. When I focus on injustice, anger at people rises in me instead of hope in God’s bigness. When I look at systems embedded with chaos and lies, despair overwhelms me and I lose faith in His truth of redemption. I saw a picture in prayer one day not long ago. It was a young boy with superman eyes. Eyes that shined light rays at whatever he focused on and the light made what he was looking at come alive. He looked at a dead snake skin and the snake came alive. He looked at a wilted flower in the garden and it bloomed big and beautiful with life.
No matter how lifeless things first appear, our attention makes them grow. It empowers them to live. What we focus on grows. Choose carefully what to focus on because we have power. We don’t deny there is a dead snake in the garden but we can deny its power to live. We can deny its power to divert us from life. There are things in my peripheral vision that are threatening, fearful, or troubling but God is very clear with me on what I can entertain in my thoughts and vision. His word is clear on what must hold my attention. His ways are higher. He has given us power to call things that are not as they if they are. To speak life into the good bits of our garden, our environment, even our friends and family. Sometimes it’s easier to only see what is wrong or what the enemy is about, maybe because we have a habit of doing life this way, but there is another way, a way that brings goodness to life.
Perhaps if we’re intentional in where we focus our eyes and our attention, we can experience newness of life every day. We could honor each other by focusing on the good. In chaos, we could look for the one lovely thing, no matter how wilted and we could see it bloom as we watched. We could find good things in other people. See the opportunities in challenging circumstances. Remember our promises from God.
In researching the electron, scientists have puzzled over whether it’s a wave or a particle. The interesting thing is that when they look for a particle they find the electron is a particle, but when they set up the experiment to see if it’s a wave, they find the electron functions as a wave. Most curious. It appears to be both, or rather it is whatever the scientist is looking for. Which makes me wonder if it’s even possible to set up a truly objective experiment or if we become part of the answer because of what we’re seeking. Because of what we believe is true. Because of what we’re focused on, expecting to see. Perhaps all of creation, other people even, are wired to respond to the voice, the look of another. We are connected in ways we don’t even understand. Powerful in ways we have not recognized. Powerful to bring to life the darkness or light in our own lives and in the lives of others.
Thinking out Loud,
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.
Clothed in His Presence | Graham Cooke
I looked down. I could see my feet in ruffled socks and tiny patent leather shoes. At age four I wasn’t really excited about finding Easter eggs. I was with my parents at a community Easter Egg Hunt where the wide green field was dotted with colored eggs and covered in running kids, but I wasn’t really interested. I wasn’t even bothered by the kids taking eggs out of my basket to put in their own. I had a different focus. I was enjoying the way my feet looked in my pretty shoes and socks.
I think I must have been a real trial for my parents. There they were, thinking the goal of the hunt was in gathering lots of eggs and then being disappointed for me that I was not able to fill my basket. And there I was, thinking the fun was in the beauty of my shoes.
It played out in other areas of my life as well. I was never very good at understanding cultural or social norms. Experiencing new, curious or beautiful things was more my inner drive. Like when I was three and wandered into the graveyard behind our house and and brought home some flowers. I remember being surprised when I would get into trouble. I just never saw it coming. I don’t remember intentionally misbehaving, but simply responding to my environment with the joy and curiosity that was inside me.
The world became a precarious place filled with unpredictable people. As I grew older, I became introspective and watchful. Carefully aware of the steps I took. Making statements of life softly. Experiencing quietly and alone whenever possible.
I am grateful for a Heavenly Father who patiently draws me into his arms of love. A love that is big enough to heal my wounded heart. A love that opens the wide world of me again in a new way. A love where He lives and delights in the person that I truly am.
Recently, He walked me through the backyard of my life. Those places in my past that are so troubling, I choose to ignore them. You know, I have done my time of grieving, of healing, of repenting…the whole walking out of co-dependency with counseling etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. So it came as a surprise when Jesus took my hand one day and headed in that direction. What He did was an amazing adventure. He showed me all the places where He was IN my life. I was terribly aware of where He was not, but had never actually seen or thought about where He was.
He was in the very first iris I ever encountered. The one I talked about in the Beautiful Journey post. He was there when I discovered the koi pond, the apple tree, the crazy geese that ran the fence with us when we walked to school. He was with Grandma Banta and I as she showed me about marigolds, gardens and currants. He was in the Christmas shopping trips where I was sure my brother would love an art set just as much as I did and I couldn’t wait to see him open it on Christmas morning. Jesus was there, in the neighbor’s barn, when lots of us kids jumped around the hay, throwing it up way high and at each other laughing out loud as it stuck in our hair. He came with me on my first horse ride and on all the ones that followed. He was there when I actually became an owner of a horse because of my parents’ great giving hearts.
Jesus was there when I crashed my car sliding on black ice. I could have died so easily, but I did not. He was there when Mr. Gonzalez, a high school teacher, taught us so much Spanish we started thinking in it. When my best friend and I met Suzan from Brazil and actually used our Spanish to get to know her.
Jesus showed me colors, textures, light, shadows and shapes. He led me to stories that put big dreams in my heart. To stories that taught me about the life and pain other people experienced. He was in the curiosity that fueled my imagination. In fact, He never left me. I just didn’t know it.
So the walk to my backyard with Jesus changed something in me. It gave me a new window to see my world from and a better understanding of my own identity by seeing the things that brought me joy as I grew up. Sometimes the painful things speak so loud we can’t hear anything else. The pain of my past covered up some important, joyful things…like the rush of joy in seeing the beauty of my ruffled socks and pretty patent leather shoes.
My encouragement to others is that when God invites you to the backyard, don’t be afraid, just go ahead and go. You will experience His love for you and His joy in you. He delights in you. He really, truly does.
Psalms 149:4 For the Lord takes delight in his people; he exalts the oppressed by delivering them.
You know that kindness leads us to repentance? (Rom 2:4) I believe in a world where we inspire each other with love and lovely things. I believe that the kingdom of God in us is where the power of beauty lives and is practiced and cannot be stopped.
And then the rubber meets the road. The Lord faithfully reminds me there are people I need to forgive. People who make me work hard, seeking Jesus’ fingerprint so that I find something to bless, to admire, to hope for expansion, growth and change in their lives. Sometimes I never find it, but still I must forgive.
I am required to forgive, no matter what else I do, in order to set myself free. I am required to bless them in order to set them free. I must bless them so they can be what they are called to be and do. I am called to move beyond forgiveness into blessing others, those who have hurt or betrayed me, so that my heart can be free to know the heart of God.
Such a process. About the time I feel I have accomplished this activity, someone from my past rises into my present and I have to acknowledge that, although I forgot about them, I never intentionally forgave them. Sigh. It is truly a living process. A way of walking in the world.
My job as a believer in Jesus is not a mission to expose sin, to share the twisted, to give attention to or provide a platform for the ugliness of satan’s mean, smelly or fearful things. My mission, as a believer, is to express life and love and share hope. To exude the essence of the goodness, kindness and beauty of God.
Love as a seed will grow. In fact, it cannot be stopped—it will find a way. Let the love of God fall into the cracks of brokenness in your life. Share a seed of love with others. ‘Shed it abroad,’ and know, that as it drops into the broken cracks of others’ pain, it will grow. We were created to love and be loved and forgiveness and blessing inhabit love. So be brave, be strong and go with Jesus into this garden He is tending to become the life, the beauty, the love that you are.