Friday, 17 February 2017

My Love Affair with Effort & Why We Must Break Up

 

Effort is a bit of a strange guy. At first he seems so... right. He tells you, “You don’t have to be perfect!” and you breathe a sigh of relief.

Now you can just relax and be you. What could be better?

But then he adds, “You just need to try. And try hard!” 

That doesn’t seem so bad. As a matter of fact, it feels pretty good. The more you try, the better you feel. You feel accomplished and fulfilled.

And when you don’t succeed, you think well, at least I tried my best.

Yep, effort seems like a really nice guy.

But as you get closer, you begin to see his problems. All relationships have problems, you say, we’ll work it out. But these are some pretty serious problems... problems that have the potential to steal your joy... problems that have caused me to reconsider my commitment to effort.

Let me show you what I mean.

I’ve been with effort a long time, and over the years I’ve noticed something - my love affair with him has the dangerous potential to twist all my relationships into performance-based traps.

My relationship with me:

Oh, I can get really tough on myself. Am I trying hard enough? Am I lazing around too much? Do I deserve this break? Did I do enough? You know how it goes... us ‘work ‘til we drop’ women. That’s effort, alright; he pushes me to the max, and then wouldn’t even let me enjoy some downtime. You can’t stop now he says, there’s more to be done.

It took me a while to realize what he was doing. Chiding me when I rested, manipulating me into believing that rest is something I should earn rather than a sweet command from my Father intended for my good.

My relationship with others:

And it doesn’t stop with me. Without even realizing it, I check to see if others are as in love with effort as I am. So if this is what it looks like when I work hard, I look at some poor, unsuspecting soul, and if perhaps he’s doing it differently to me, I might just assume he doesn’t share the same commitment to effort as me.

Effort and I, we sit up on that pedestal... that critical seat of judgment, and together we muse - perhaps he needs to try harder.

Even when I'm serving others, effort pushes grace right out of the way, tries to twist my motivation and then steal all the glory. 

Yep, this love affair with effort has been going on a long time and it has caused some serious damage between my loved ones and me.

But as grave as that is, that’s not even the greatest threat.

My relationship with God:

You see effort crossed the line when he tried to take the place of God, my true First Love. And what’s even more tragic is I almost let him. As a matter of fact, it is a daily battle to keep effort in his place.

You see effort, kept restrained, is quite a nice chap to have around. He encourages you to work hard to reach your goals... to put your ‘heart and soul’ into whatever you put your hands or mind to. He helps you motivate others to do their best. Why, he even supports your intentionality in spending time with God, your intended First Love.

But he is sneaky, and while I'm praying to my Father, he is whispering to me - trying to convince me that somehow my deliverance (from whatever trial I'm experiencing) depends on 'our' self-sufficiency rather than on the supernatural workings of God. Imagine, trying to limit my expectations of God. 

Yep, if you’re not careful, he creeps up and up in importance until... well, until he becomes the one you worship.


So we’re breaking up... effort and I. We can be friends, but the love affair ends here. I’m loosening the chains he has on me.

He can’t convince me that my love affair with him is evidence of a successful Christian life.

He can’t convince me that I must deliver at a high level for God’s acceptance and approval.

He won’t make me believe that my effort is somehow better than that of someone else... or worse.

I will not agree with him and allow myself to be enslaved by others’ approval of my efforts.

No, effort will no longer be permitted to steal my joy. You see, I’ve been with effort long enough to know that no matter how you try, you can’t find what you’re looking for with him.

No, my friend, only God through Jesus Christ, can give me... give you that joy that we seek.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re searching for God, a new believer or a seasoned Christian effort has a way of getting at us all. Perhaps it has something to do with our pride, that deadly sin that infects us all. The faulty belief that we can somehow improve our standing with God by our own efforts as if what Christ did for us was not enough.

No, make no mistake, slow dancing with effort is dangerous, He undermines and steals our joy – the very gift of God that Christ died to give us.

It is for freedom, that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1

Oh, the joy of being free!

I’m so thankful for grace and for the truth I’m learning more and more – ‘We cannot be truly happy unless God’s acceptance of us is totally based on Christ.’ (desiringGod.org)

My friend, ‘if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall’, hold firm to the hope that Christ came to give us, the freedom that comes from relying solely on His righteousness, and let’s keep effort in its rightful place.

********************
What about you?

Take a close look at your intentions.
Have you been hoodwinked by effort?
Or are you happily resting on God's grace alone?
I'd love if you'd drop me a line to let me know 
how you handle effort's ploys?



Blessings to you, my friend,
Carlie




Monday, 6 February 2017

Will There Really be a Morning?


Nights were harder for my mom. Perhaps the encroaching darkness worked to heighten her fears to a new frenzy and strangle out the little hope she held on to.  

But for me, mornings were the worst.

Mornings, with bright sunshine heralding in a new day, are supposed to bring fresh hope, good news... relief. But each morning, I would dread opening my eyes as the harsh reality sank in.

In the days following the tragedy, I remember trying to catch up with my November Scripture Writing Plan from The Felicity Bee, a focus on Thanksgiving & Gratitude, no less. I would read the scripture, highlight it in my You Version bible app and meditate on it as I carefully wrote it out in my journal. But when I came upon Psalm 30, I struggled.
You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. LORD, my God, I will praise you forever. Psalm 30:11-12

And that wasn't all... as I read more of the Psalm I found this...

'...weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.' Psalm 30:5

Yep, I knew about the weeping, but the rejoicing, I couldn’t envision it yet.

All I could think of at that time was - 'Will there really be a morning?'


Perhaps, you’ve been there. You have gone through or are going through some trial in your life, something unexpected, something you’d rather not have to go through, and you’re wondering will it ever really end. Will you ever feel joy again?

For days, I refused to highlight the passage, yet alone write it out, but I kept coming back to it. I knew in my heart, that I could trust God... that despite my feelings there really will be a morning.  A time when I can once again look upon the mercies of my Lord, which are new every morning, and rejoice.

And so, somewhat reluctantly, I highlighted my verse and thoughtfully wrote it out.

And then I trusted God and waited.

And as I waited, I prayed.

I prayed for my mom, for my family, for all those God laid upon my heart, that we would be comforted by His presence through the watches of the night and that we would once again see the beauty of the mornings.

I thought about the patriarchs of the bible, Jesus even, who would rise early to meet with God. And I noticed something, in good times and in tough times; God was always there. I started to see more clearly - Life is hard, but God is here, and when we meditate on the truths of His word and lean into His presence, we can catch glimpses of that morning... that morning when all will be well.

So, my friend, here are a few more morning messages that swell with hope. God in His mercy has filled His word with them. Perhaps He knew how much we would need them... how much we would need to find solace in His promises of a new day to come.

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life. Psalm 143:8
In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice: in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly. Psalm 5:3
But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble. Psalm59:16
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. Psalm 90:14 
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. Lamentations 3:22-23
I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. Psalm 130:6
He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed.  Isaiah 50:4b

These mornings, I’m rising early and I’m meeting with my God. And I’m finding more and more reasons to rejoice in His word and His world. I share in this post photos taken by my mom who, thankfully and in answer to prayer, is able to peek through the pain and find the beauty of the mornings once again.

My friend, I know right now, you may be experiencing ‘nighttime’, a slew of dark circumstances that you just can’t seem to shake, but God’s love is unshakeable and His presence never leaves us. Take heart, be of good courage and lean into Him; there will be a morning.


Perhaps you’ve caught sight of it already and the hope of it keeps you going. Why not share that hope with someone today? Someone who desperately needs to believe that '...weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.' Psalm 30:5

And even though we might only grasp snippets of that bright, sunshiny joy on our journey here below, God has promised that one glorious day He will come again, and in the light of His presence it will always be morning.

Now, isn’t that something to look forward to?

Casting Crown's 'Glorious Day' is a song that reminds us of that day. It captures the hope and beauty of the gospel message beautifully. I've included a video (from Joe Hohman) for your enjoyment and I've just added the song to the 'from dust towards the heavens' playlist. Hope you enjoy.

Blessings, 
Carlie


Also sharing this post on Encouraging Word Wednesday over at MississippiMom.com

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Are You The One Whom Jesus Loves?


"My dearest C.J., I am waiting for you still. Find a way back to me, my dearest friend. I love you always. Merridy."

She snuggled next to me as I read those words, and we both smiled.

This is the third book in the Growly Series, one she had been begging to read, and already we could feel the thrill of hope and the surge of excitement. Morning is a stirring fantasy filled with adventure, a perilous quest for love lost, and deep friendship, all in the most magical, imaginary setting. It is an enchanting bedtime read. 

As I closed the book, and led our evening prayers, she nestled even closer. 

"It's nice to be loved", she whispered, her eyes gleaming in the dark. 

"Yes, sweetheart, it is!"

And then she added, "And it's nice to love, as well." 

I beamed. Oh, the joys of bedtime conversations. 

As I lay there, treasuring these moments with my daughter, my mind wandered through the intricate maze of all love is.

I thought about my youngest brother. About my dad as he lay in hospital those final weeks... about the blessing he had spoken. 

"This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased." 

I had smiled then, and jokingly chided, "How come you haven't said that about me?" But, I had been deeply moved by the exchange between father and son, for I had seen the power of love in their lives... the empowering love of a father for his son and the self-sacrificing love of a son for his father. 

I had watched as my father believed in this son, valuing him highly and helping him to believe in himself, and I had witnessed my brother’s devotion to my dad and his selfless acts of service as he cared for him. All for love. 

Yes, it is good to be loved, and to love, as well. 


I thought about John, the beloved disciple, the one whom Jesus loved.

As I travelled through the pages of John’s gospel, I had wondered, "Was it arrogance that made John refer to himself like that - the disciple whom Jesus loved? Surely, he didn't imagine that Jesus loved him more than the others?" 

But the more I dwelled on his words, the more I noticed something... something special about John. I became more aware of his point of view... more sensitive of his perception of Jesus' love for him. I could almost feel it... the depth of his realization. 

I could sense his comfort... his abandon. The ease of a son with his father... a son who looks admiringly on his Father and who is delighted to be so loved by him. I could see it now. John knew Love... the love of Jesus... he claimed this love for himself... a love so real, so profound, and so personal that it defines you.

‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’

Who wouldn’t be attracted to a love like that? A love that calls you, accepts you, empowers you, and gives your life purpose and meaning. Fully accepted and totally assured, John felt loved enough.

Loved enough to always stay close.

It was John who leaned back on Jesus during the last supper. So close was he to his Savior that he could just lean on Him, perhaps even rest his head on His shoulder as he asked the tough question no one else dared to, “Who is it, Lord?” It was distressing enough to even imagine someone betraying his Lord, yet alone ask the question.

Loved enough to ask the tough questions and accept the answers.

It was John who followed Jesus everywhere, even to the unexplainable, uncomfortable, unimaginable places. To the Mount of Transfiguration, as Jesus dazzled them with His glory, to the Garden of Gethsemane as Jesus wrestled in prayer and to the Place of the Skull, where darkness covered the earth. Right there at the foot of the cross, as Jesus gasped for air, struggling to breathe, it was to John that he entrusted the care of His mother. 

Loved enough to follow Him everywhere and to be trusted to care for the ones He loves.

It was John who received the Revelation of Jesus, a telling of what is to come, words that, even now, speak hope and purpose into our struggles.

Loved enough to share in His secret thoughts.

Have you ever been loved like that? Loved enough? With a love that satisfies? A deep, intimate, life-transforming love? 
enough - in a quantity or degree that answers a purpose or satisfies a need or desire (Dictionary.com)  
I think John felt it.

He knew the sacrifice Jesus made was for him. The decision Jesus made to gave up all that He had; to become a man despised by many; to endure an agonizing, humiliating death on a cross separated from His Father as He became sin for us; to trade His righteousness for our unrighteousness; to make a way back Home for us, lost and wandering far from God; I think John felt deep in his bones that it was all for him. 

Loved enough to die for.

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1 John 4:10

But it wasn’t just for John. It was for you... and for me.

Have you ever felt that love? John felt it profoundly and personally, and he never forgot it.


I think though, sometimes, I forget.

Sometimes, when I’m lost in the craziness of now, I forget that it was for me that Jesus died. I forget the love that always pursues me, and waits for me, that refuses to let me go.  The love that offers me a way back home.  Back to where I’m created to be. Back to being fully accepted and totally assured in a deep, intimate relationship with my Father. Back to loving because I am loved.

But I don’t want to forget. I want to remember. So I’ve given myself a little reminder and each time I twiddle the cross and the heart I wear around my neck, I remember. In the moments when I feel anything but loved and anything but loving, I  pause and remember. I remember that I am the ‘beloved of Jesus’. I remember that His love, wholly independent of my actions, has the power to transform me... to make me more like Him and to empower me to love Him and others sacrificially.

I’m not there yet, but the more I yield to His love the more I am filled with hope and delight and love.

So, just like C.J., in my daughter's new favorite series, we have someone waiting for us, loving us with a hope that never ceases, a love that's enough, but unlike C.J. we don't have to find a way back home ourselves... God has already given us the Way... we need only yield to His love. 

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What about you?

Do you truly know that you are the one whom Jesus loves?
Are you fully accepted and totally assured?
Or like me, do you sometimes forget?
What do you do on a daily basis to remember His love?

Perhaps take a moment to be reminded of who you are to God with
Jason Gray's 'Remind Me Who I Am'
I've just added it to the 'from dust towards the heavens' playlist. 
Hope you enjoy!


    With love,

Also sharing this post on Encouraging Word Wednesday over at MississippiMom.com


Tuesday, 10 January 2017

How To Turn Your Pesky Expectations Right Side Up


It was the morning after New Year’s Eve, and I lay restless in my bed. I kept thinking about my friend. I could hear her voice now. Distraught and choked by tears, she had shared with me how her night had been ruined.

She had made the best plans - down to the smallest detail. With decorations, snacks, and the ideal setting prepared, she had been thoroughly anticipating the celebration to come. Through all the readying her excitement had been mounting, and she could hardly wait. She thought it would be superb; that everyone would love it, and that they would all have such a wonderful time.

And then…

It all came tumbling down.

Her vision of the perfect New Year’s celebration - battered and wave tossed- lay shipwrecked around her.  Nothing was as she envisioned it.  The scenario did not unfold as she had pictured.  Persons did not respond as she had hoped. She was overcome by her emotion.  Instead of sailing into the New Year on high seas, as she had expected, she was left clinging to a dingy raft of despair, overwhelmed by her disappointment - a victim of her own expectations.

Expectations. The word roared through my mind like a crashing wave. As I rolled out of bed at the start of this New Year, I knew I had to pay attention. I had seen too many victims fall, had been a casualty myself far too many times.

Time after time, we dream up the perfect scenarios, and with our great, big expectations on board, we outline our next move.

And time after time, when our plans don’t turn out as we expect, we wind up feeling deluded, cheated, and disappointed, like somehow we’ve missed out on what should have been. We feel angry even, and so oftentimes we lash out, at anyone (ourselves included) or anything that could be blamed for spoiling what could have been.

And yet, while we are busily grasping for a lifeline... struggling against the swells of discouragement and anger - fighting against our loved ones, ourselves, even God - those pesky expectations are gathering together and gaining strength. Un-accused, they lie in wait, planning and scheming, waiting to capsize us once again, into a sea of discontent.  

Expectations. As the word surged through my mind, I knew this year had to be different. I would not be raided yet again. This year I am recapturing joy, and I have to be ready... ready to seize my expectations... and turn them right side up.

You see, nothing is wrong with having expectations, per se. It’s just that we have them turned upside down. We expect too much from man, and not enough from God.
‘Lower your expectations of earth. This isn’t heaven, so don’t expect it to be.’ Max Lucado
I, for one, am guilty of expecting way too much from myself. And when you expect perfection, one of two things can happen, you either drive yourself to the point of exhaustion always striving for the perfect - which always sits right outside of your grasp, by the way - or you just don’t bother to try at all if it seems like perfection is impossible.  What’s worse you put those same unrealistic expectations on others. And as we have seen, ‘today’s expectations are tomorrow’s resentments.’


But what if I did it differently. What if I simply expected man to be man, and God to be God.

I could expect that Man, though created in the image of God, has been marred by the Fall. I could expect that, even for followers of Christ, while God is transforming us to be more like His Son, well... we’re simply not there yet. We mess up.

And when that happens, as it inevitably does, I could expect that God, in His mercy, will have compassion on us.
‘Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.’ Psalm 103: 13-14

And because, my God is perfect in all of His ways, here is what else I can expect from Him:

I can expect that God will supernaturally enable me to show that same mercy and grace to those around me, and to myself, when we continually fall short.  

I can expect that when I feel weak, unequipped, or disillusioned, I can run to my God who defines Strength and who 'can do immeasurably more than all I ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within [me]'. (Ephesians 3:20)

In fact, I can expect that God gives me everything I need for life and godly living. 
By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world's corruption caused by human desires. 2 Peter 1: 3- 4
No matter what happens or how I feel, no matter how many times I am tossed overboard by my faulty expectations, I can expect for my God to be always right here with me. 
‘...because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5 
And, I can expect that as I draw near to Him, I will find Him to be ever faithful, and in His presence I will experience joy to the full. 
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. Hebrews10: 23  
'You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.' Psalm 16:11

So, this New Year, I’m turning my expectations right side up. I can already feel the hope rising. It's like having a brand new expectation.

I’m seeking Jesus anew, and I'm expecting to unearth a JOY worth treasuring and savoring, a JOY that can withstand the tide of my circumstances... a JOY not based on my expectations of others or myself, but on God’s promise for those who sit at His feet.
‘Christian joy is a good feeling in the soul, produced by the Holy Spirit, as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the word and in the world.’ John Piper

It’s an expectation that can’t be disappointed.


What about you?

Have you been a victim of your own expectations?

Are you ready to turn them right side up?

What are you expecting from God this year?

Friday, 30 December 2016

Do You Get the Feeling You've Been Here Before?


“Don’t come down! I can do it by myself!” my excited student calls up to me.

I cringe. Where have I heard those words before?

In the high-shrieked cry of a strong-willed two-year old.

In the defiant stance of a semi-independent teenager.

And in the self-assured proclamation of so many of us who confidently rely on our own strength, wisdom and ability.

It seems we never tire of believing ‘we can do it all on our own’.

As you look back over 2016, and prepare for the New Year ahead, do you get the feeling that you’ve been here before?


I certainly do.

I’ve been there... making the same mistake over and over. Busily setting my goals and launching ahead – strong-willed and hardheaded – confident that I can do it all by myself.

But, inevitably, as I stand on the brink of a New Year and look back, my eyes and heart are drawn to the wreck - the pile up of frustrations, fears and failures – all brought on by my failure to stop, listen and learn.

You know what I’m talking about. Those areas of our lives where we felt sure we knew what we were doing... had it all worked out... but instead ran headlong into a series of problems. Problems we just didn’t know, and still don’t know, how to fix.

But this year, we tell ourselves, it will be different. We’ll plan it better this time. We won’t make the same mistakes again.

I wonder how many more times must we repeat the same cycle before we understand the benefits of admitting our need for help.

I think of Jesus as He approaches Jerusalem that final time. As the crowd rejoiced around Him, Jesus wept bitterly and lamented:
"If only you, even you, had known on this day what would bring you peace!”   Luke 19:42a
What about us? As we plan for the New Year ahead, do we know what would bring us peace? Or are we blinded like the ancient people of Jerusalem?

I think about my relationship with my Father in heaven. I think about how many times He tries to teach me, to show me the way I should go, to give me His peace. And about how many times I am unwilling to learn... to receive what He offers.

I remember the days when I saw God as a hovering schoolmaster waiting to point out where I went wrong - standing over me with stick in hand threatening to dole out the punishment I deserved.  Thankfully, I no longer see Him that way. I now know that He is a loving parent tenderly guiding me through the school of life.

But still, there are times I refuse to humble myself and sit at his feet. I refuse to be guided.

There’s no sugarcoating the truth. It all comes down to pride.

It’s a constant battle - the struggle between my will and His.

But I’m learning. Learning how to quiet my mind, focus my attention on Jesus and humble my heart.  Learning how to learn.

He promises me it would be easier... easier than trying to do it all on my own.
"Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."  Matthew 11:29-30
 
So, as I stand on the brink of 2017, I am refusing to make the same mistake. I'm stepping into the New Year with no elaborate plan, just a simple desire to sit at His feet. 

This year, I am willing to be teachable.

As each new day unfolds, I am willing to lay aside my plans, goals and aspirations and to simply stop at Jesus’ feet to listen and learn. In Robert Morgan’s inspiring book – Mastering Life Before It’s Too Late, I discovered a simple yet profound idea with which to start each day... even the busy, crazy ones. Morgan suggests starting out small - just 15 minutes of each 24-hour day - five minutes to read the Bible, five minutes to pray and five minutes to plan my day. Doesn't sound like much, but as we meet faithfully with God, He causes that tiny seed to grow and flourish.

I also prepared a prayer box – a simple homemade treasury – designed to be filled with the outpourings of my heart – my prayers and praises. I don’t yet know how God intends for me to use it fully, but my heart’s desire is to fill it with prayers I offer along the way – prayers from scripture, promised prayers that I would otherwise forget to pray, photos of loved ones I’m praying for etc. etc.

I’m not na├»ve. I know it will not be perfectly done. I know my foolish pride will raise its ugly head and try to convince me that I can run ahead with my day and do it my way. I know there’ll be times I fall.  Times I forget about my prayer box.

But God has promised, and I am willing.  

I don’t know about you, but when I sit at the feet of the Master Teacher – the very same One who knitted me together in my mother's womb, who records each day of my life before a single one has passed, and whose thoughts are precious towards me – I feel a little bit scared, a whole lot excited and super hopeful.  I can't wait to see what rewards He has in store for me as I humbly submit to His will. 

So, even though I feel like I’ve been here before – I haven’t. But God has.

It's a whole new day - one that I haven’t seen before, but God knows the way. And this New Year my simple desire is to be led by Him day by day, moment by moment.

What about you?

Are you teachable? 
Willing to admit your need for help? 
Willing to stop, listen and learn?
Or can you do it all by yourself? 
God is willing to guide you - Are you willing to learn?

Ask me and I will tell you remarkable secrets you do not know about things to come. Jeremiah 33:3
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Also linking up with these amazing sites today: Testimony Tuesday and Tuesday Talk