Thursday, 12 September 2019

How to Embrace the Gift of Small Beginnings



When it comes to shining for God, sometimes we think it must be BIG . . . like a floodlight. 
We envision big platforms in which we reach far and wide for the sake of Christ. With our eyes and hearts set on the grand scale, we can sometimes forget the illuminating impact of a tiny candle in a room of darkness . . . the amazing impact of shining for Christ in the small, every day, mundane areas of our lives.

It’s just one drop we tell ourselves.

It seems so insignificant . . .  so minuscule . . .  so painfully small. One might even doubt its worth. Doubt the value one drop could add to an infinite sea . . . a vast sea of unrealized goals or plans, unlived dreams, ‘waiting-to-be-prayed’ prayers, unmet needs of a thirsty people.

But . . .

There is an amazing rippling beauty in just one tiny drop.

In a world where quantity is often a benchmark for success, we sometimes overlook the powerful impact and influence of one.

Yes, I know the feeling. I’ve been there. It’s September, and you’ve long since wandered away from your ‘this-time-it’s-going-to-be-different’ resolutions, your well-intentioned goals or the focus on your ‘one word’. You’re disappointed with yourself . . .  again. Maybe this is the way it will always be you tell yourself; I might as well just accept it.

But . . .

it just takes one.

This post continues over at Sun Sparkle Shine. I'd love for you to join me there. It is one of the many encouraging posts that my sister, Marva, is featuring in her Shining Like Stars series.  In case you've missed out, you can catch up on all the other posts here.  

Blessings,
Carlie

Friday, 14 June 2019

Looking to God for Help in the Fiery Middle



Easy is not my idol.

I’ve never wanted it easy. In fact, I value hard work. Sometimes, even a bit too much. (You can read about my love affair with effort, here.)

No, easy is not what I’m after.

But sometimes, I wish my fire was different.

I wish I could choose my struggles.

Struggles that stretch me and pull me and make me stronger in a predictable pattern.

Normal every day, garden variety struggles.

You see because even though easy is not my idol, predictability is.

I’d like a guarantee for all the hard work I put in.

You know, the kind that says my kids will turn out just fine because I’ve been a good parent.

Or that I listened to God, followed a path less trod, and although it is hard, the rewards at the end of the journey are exactly like the ones I conjure up in my mind.

But I don’t get to choose.

And the more I walk through the fires—the ones that God has chosen for me—the more I realize it’s a good thing.

Because God is after much more than I am.

He desires to transform me, not just make me stronger.

To rob me of my pride, which He knows stands in our way.

To draw me into His life so that I may reflect His glory.

So all of us who have had the veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. 2 Corinthians 3:18 (NLT)
I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. John 17:21 (NLT)
Yep, my goals for my struggles are just not ‘divine’ enough.

But I don’t like my fires. I don’t like the ones God has chosen. Yet I love how near God draws to me as I’m walking through them. How daily He reassures me of His presence, His power, and His protection.

Still, some days, I cry out, ‘Please turn the heat down, God!’ If you’re passing through a fire right now, you know the refining is not easy to bear. Yet I’m beginning to appreciate the chiseling that’s taking place, and I’m growing ever more grateful for His patience with me when I continually ‘kick against the goads’. (Acts 26:14b)

It is useless for you to fight against my will. Acts 26:14b(NLT)

What about you? Do you ever wish you could peep to the end of your story and know that it all turns out all right? Maybe then, you tell yourself, you can be bold and share your struggle. Maybe then it could encourage another because after all, it turned out fine.

But God doesn’t give us that. Instead, He gives us just a misty, refreshing spritz for each fiery step we’re on in the middle of our story.

And do you know what? With each spray you recognize that right here, caught in the blazing furnace, you’re not alone. God is with you.

Deep down, you know this is true. Because you feel it in the unexplainable peace that rushes in when fear tries to sear your faith, or in the strength you find to step into the fire day after day, or the light that shines in the darkest moments guiding your next step. You know God is with you.


And maybe someone else needs to know that, too.

Needs to know that we may not be sure of how our earthly story ends, but we can be sure of one thing--our God is with us always. He never leaves our side. He loves us, strengthens us, and is actively preparing a place for us.

When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. Isaiah 43:2 (NLT)

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. Isaiah 41:10 (NLT)

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8: 38-39 (ESV)

So no, I don’t like my struggles, and I’m not guaranteed the earthly ending I imagine, but I can walk through the fires because I’m not alone and my God, my fellow Fire-walker, wants much more for me than I want for myself. And. I. Can. Trust. Him. 

I hope this encourages you as you walk through your very own fire today.

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

Do you sometimes wish you could choose a different struggle? Or perhaps just see to the end of this one? Maybe you feel like you’re the only one being scorched by a fire today. Take comfort, my friend, you’re not alone. Our God is greater than the blaze, and He’s right there with you; may you find strength in Him today.

And one more thing, if you’ve been comforted by God’s refreshing misty presence in the middle of your fire, why not reach out to another, yes, right there in the fiery middle, why not invite them to share in the relief God offers? Who knows who you might encourage today.

Grace and peace to you,

Carlie



@Embracingtheunexpected






(Post image by Kiên Trịnh from Pixabay)

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Who Are You Praying To?



“Just stay with him.”

I knew what they meant. I knew that my father was dying. Despite his sharp mind and intellect, his body was tired, and the end was drawing near. Yet, that last night, with my body aching and my soul tired from hours of being ‘strong and present’, I left for home. In desperate need of a rest, I missed my father’s passing.

Don’t worry, I’ve come to grips with not being there. But what still haunts me is my surprise when I got the call. It’s not that I didn’t know to expect it—with my training in the medical field I had seen all the signs. I had even helped prepare my family. But secretly and silently I had been praying that God would extend his life just a little bit longer . . . long enough to get home, long enough for my sister to arrive . . . long enough . . .  to prove the doctor’s wrong.

But God didn’t.

Neither did He answer the way I longed for when my brother went missing at sea. I prayed for a miracle. I imagined all the ways the story could end, not wanting to let my mind pause too long on the one ending that grew more and more probable as time went on. But eventually, I had to accept that he wasn’t coming home and there would be no answers. 

God had chosen another way, again.

Psychologists say that we tend to remember the negative in greater detail than the positive. Perhaps, that is why when I’m praying about the big mountains in my life, somewhere in the back of my mind I tend to remember when God didn’t. By allowing my thoughts to drift and settle on my unanswered prayers, I unwittingly open the door for doubt to saunter in . . . doubts about God’s willingness and His goodness.

It is then that I need to remember who I am praying to.

God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. ~ Westminster Shorter Catechism ~
Just reading those words brings the truth front and center—I am not God and God is not me.

If I were to unpack them ever so slightly, this is what I would find.

From everlasting to everlasting, thou art God. Psalm 90:2

Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? Saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth? Saith the Lord. Jeremiah 23:24

It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them as a tent to dwell in. Isaiah 40:22

Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite. Psalm 147:5

For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and lofty place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. Isaiah 57:15

He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgement: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he. Deut.32:4

For the Lord is good, his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations. Psalm 100:5

And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth. Exodus 34:6

For his merciful kindness is great toward us: and the truth of the Lord endureth for ever. Praise ye the Lord. Psalm 117:2

When I chew on those verses, I am overwhelmed with gratitude that this infinite, eternal, all-powerful God should think of me, and I’m reminded of all the times that He cared for me.

Like the time I started having preterm contractions at just 14 weeks pregnant, and I prayed earnestly for God to save my baby. What followed was bed rest for most of my pregnancy and a wonderful opportunity to learn dependence on God in a whole new way. When I held my healthy newborn in my arms, I praised God for answered prayer.

Or the time I prayed for my father to make it back to our island home after a medical procedure overseas that went awry. Watching him have those last few months in the company of his grandchildren was an answer to prayer I would always be grateful for.

There have been many more answered prayers—prayers for protection, for healing, for wisdom, for provision, and countless outpourings of mercy.

Turns out I need to be intentional.

When I sit before God, facing another mountain and crying out to Him for help, when the doubts creep in and threaten to confound my prayers, I need to remember who I am praying to.


I need to purposefully remember all the answered prayers, all the undeserved mercy, all the good He has bestowed on me. I need to take the time to list them out, to review them, to remember His faithfulness to me.

I need to remember that God’s wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth have no limits. They are infinite, eternal, unchangeable. His work is perfect, and He does not withhold anything good from those who walk uprightly (Psalm 84:11 - Thank you, Jesus!). God sees what I cannot. He always knows what is best, and He always does what He says He will do. He can do far more abundantly than all that I ask or think (Ephesians 3:20).  In other words, God has the power and the wisdom and the goodness to answer my prayers in the best way even when I don’t understand. 

As a limited human being this is hard to accept sometimes. Yet when those hard times come, God walks right beside me just as He promised he will. And with a oh-so-personal touch, He comforts me and reassures me that I can be real with Him. I can pour out my hesitations, my uncertainties to Him, I can trust that He understands . . . and I can depend on Him to guide me, sustain me, and answer my prayers.

This is the God I pray to.

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

Who do you pray to?
Do you sometimes allow your doubts and unanswered prayers 
to distract you from who God really is?

If that is the case, I invite you to spend some time 
meditating on God’s word and recalling His faithfulness to you.

There is none like God, O Jeshurun, 
who rides through the heavens to your help, 
through the skies in his majesty. Deut. 33:26


Grace and peace to you, 

Carlie


Friday, 19 April 2019

What You Are Missing When You're Not Honest With God

 “Prayer is the place where I’m invited to present the parts of myself that no one else sees to a God who already knows and loves me anyway.” The Prayer Coin - Elisa Morgan

When I read those words, I knew it right away—sometimes I haven’t been fully honest with God.

Absurd, right?

I mean He knows my every thought. I know that.

Yet, still there have been times, more than I’m proud to admit, where I’ve held back.

And I always had a reason why.

Yet, now that I think about it, it’s been more like excuses than valid reasons.

Maybe you can relate.

Just so that we’re on the same page, when I speak of being honest with God, I’m referring to the Garden-of-Eden variety—naked, exposed truth-telling. The kind of honesty that lays you bare . . . no holds barred . . . everything out in the open. Did I mention e-x-p-o-s-e-d?


Are you comfortable being honest with God like that?

Why or why not?

Here are my main why-nots—reasons I haven’t always been honest with God:

It’s scary.

I’m afraid God will be disappointed in me. As a Christian, I know He’s no longer angry at me—God’s sin-directed wrath was absorbed by Christ at the cross. But sometimes, I can’t shake the feeling that He might be disappointed, and somehow that feels even worse.

And what if he doesn’t understand? Isn’t that one of our greatest fears? Ending up rejected and alone . . . abandoned and misunderstood because what we shared was just too ugly.

But scariest of all is this—what if I share exactly how I feel, and He doesn’t care? Or He asks me to do something I don’t want to do?

Yep, many times I didn’t like taking that risk.

But these what-if fears weren’t the only reasons, I often shied away from being naked before God because . . . it can also be draining . . . painfully so.

I don’t always have the energy for this ultra-level honesty. Sometimes, it feels like surface level honesty is all I can muster up. Digging deep into heart issues is tough work. It requires facing some thoughts and feelings that surprise even me. At the end of a long day or in the middle of a life-storm I’m often too tired or, if we’re being truthful, too lazy to do the work of being honest . . . so, often I choose easy.

And easy looks like this—I’m supposed to pray ‘Your will be done’ and so I do and miss the heart-to-heart God is inviting me to. Am I the only one guilty of praying the ‘right’ words but not the real ones?

‘We can easily default to what I call an “auto-abandon.” As if we’re supposed to surrender, so we do. Auto-abandon isn’t really abandon. It’s something more like resignation.’ The Prayer Coin- Elisa Morgan



There you have it—confessions of a lazy, scared Christian.

A Christian who had for too long missed out on what God was offering her.

But God never leaves us where He finds us, and over time, He has mercifully offered me a balm for every sore exposed in my prayer life. It’s part of His promise to finish the work He has started in me, and I’m so thankful for His overflowing compassion, His never-running-out patience, and His above-all wisdom.

With His out-of-the-box creativity and personal touch, God continually finds a myriad of ways to beckon me closer . . . calling me to come just as I am.

“The prayer preceding all prayers is, ‘May it be the real I who speaks. May it be the real Thou that I speak to.’” C.S. Lewis via The Prayer Coin - Elisa Morgan

The Prayer Coin: Daring to Pray with Honest Abandon by Elisa Morgan is one of the ways God recently got my attention. Just when I was delving into the Gospels, intrigued by what Jesus might be praying all those times He went off on His own to pray, I ‘stumbled upon’ this close-up examination of Jesus’s anguished prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. (Thank you, Alyson.)

And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will." Matthew 26:39

In the book, Elisa exposes the prayer’s dual sides of honest (take this cup) and abandon (not my will, but yours) and outlines how I can also follow Jesus’ example.

Reading through the book reminded me of those times when I’ve poured it all out and highlighted the many times I have not. I yearned for what I knew was possible.

So, I did what any God-fearing woman would do—I prayed, ‘Help me, Lord. Help me to come to you.’

Then I pushed through the fear and fatigue because I knew God wanted more for me. And the more I prayed honest . . . the more I got to taste the intimacy he’s invited me to share.

And usually what I think might be harrowing is often healing.

Elisa reminds me:

 'Honest opens us to help. And help that wholly heals comes from God alone.’

My fears dissipate, and I feel rested in His love. 

‘I had feared that if I dared go honest, I’d be cosmically zapped, that I’d be forever misunderstood—even rejected. I wasn’t. Instead, I was scooped up and held in a safe embrace. Then I assumed I’d be sizzled into abandon—forced to utterly give up my honest desires. In reality, I yielded tender toward God and what I knew he ultimately wanted for me. Instead of being lost in abandon, I was found. Really, the one thing I’ve given up in this journey is the very fear I was running from.’ The Prayer Coin - Elisa Morgan

Amen, Elisa. I wholeheartedly agree. Thanks for being used by God to draw me, once again, into His embrace.

So, my friend, you don’t have to miss out, learn from my mistake. 

God says come . . . come scared, come weary, just come . . . pour out your heart to Him. Really pray. Face your fears. Do the work. Embrace the gift . . . embrace what God is offering you—a closer, more intimate walk with Him . . . ‘all because of Jesus, and all in His name.

Grace and peace to you,

Carlie


****************
What About You?


What's stopping you from presenting the real you to the real God?
When last have you dared to pray honest--questions, doubts, laments and all?

You can pick up your own copy of 'The Prayer Coin' here.  
You're welcome, in advance. :)

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

When Faith is The Only Thing You Have



‘And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.’ Hebrews 11:6
He was a powerful man.

Successful, respected, a man in authority… he gave orders and others followed.

Even more, he was kind and compassionate.

Yet, he was powerless to help the one he loved.

She had tried everything.

Now, she had nothing.

Years had gone by, every specialist had been consulted, her life-savings had dwindled away, yet, she was still unwell.

Have you ever been there? To the end of yourself?

Painfully aware that your ability… your desire… your resources… as great as they may be just aren’t enough. You can’t fix the brokenness.

Well, I sure have.

And today I’m drawing inspiration from the lives of these two biblical examples of faith.

You see that powerful man didn’t have what he needed but he knew of the One who did.

And the lady knew exactly Who to turn to.

Jesus.

In awesome wonder they beheld the Only One who could help them.

The all-powerful, ever-compassionate, God-in-the-flesh Jesus Christ.

Humbly, aware of their own frailty, they reverently approached the God-man.

Just speak the word, he implored.

You don’t even have to be physically present to heal the brokenness. I know that just a word from you is enough.

And the lady?

Well, she just touched the hem of His garment. Perhaps she thought, I know who You are; I know that you can make me whole. I don’t even need a word, I just need to get close to you… near enough to reach out and touch… even your clothing.

And do you know what?

That pure, immaculate faith, unsullied by reliance on anything other than the God-man Himself caught the attention of Jesus.

When faith is the only thing you have, Jesus notices.

And He acts.

He pours out His power; He makes our brokenness whole.

But sometimes we feel that faith isn’t enough.

Sometimes we don’t fully rely on Jesus. Perhaps we forget who Jesus is.

If you’re anything like me, sometimes, when you’re faced with a mangled mess… well, you take matters into your own hands.

You analyze the problem from all angles, research it to death, consult the ‘experts’ and then come up with the best course of action according to you.

If I’m not prayerful, this reliance on me translates to a complete lack of faith – a failure to fully depend on God and totally and humbly obey where He leads.

You see, faith is not about me. It’s not about how much faith I could muster up. Rather, it’s the quality not the quantity that counts.


The right kind of faith – genuine faith in an all-powerful God – begins and ends with God.

It’s all about Him… who He is, what He has done, and what He continues to do.

(How many times do we make it about us?)

Such a faith has no space for doubt or fear… no worry that God is unwilling or unable to act.

Such a faith knows Whom it believes and is fully persuaded that He is able.

Such a faith trusts even when it doesn’t understand.

Such a faith is powerful beyond reason because it rests on the all-powerful God of the Universe for whom nothing is impossible.

God in his mercy has filled His word with a multitude of faith-rich stories which remind us of those 
‘who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.’ Hebrews 11: 33-34

Yes, when we have nothing else but faith, we have enough.

We look to 'Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…’ Hebrews 12: 2

And we live amazed at who God is, what He has done and what He continues to do!

Will you pray with me?

O Heavenly Father,
Teach me to see
that Christ does not desire me, now justified,
to live in self-confidence in my own strength,
but gives me the law of the Spirit of life
to enable me to obey thee.
Thou hast taught me
that it is an adherence to Christ, a resting on him,
love clinging to him as a branch to the tree,
to seek life and vigour from him.
I thank thee for showing me the vast difference
between knowing things by reason,
and knowing them by the spirit of faith.
By reason I see a thing is so; by faith I know it as it is.
I have seen thee by reason and have not been amazed,
I have seen thee as thou art in thy Son
and have been ravished to behold thee.
I bless thee that I am thine in my Savior, Jesus.


(Excerpt from The Valley of Vision – Belonging to Jesus)



Friday, 1 February 2019

What Does Living Look Like To You?


Lean in close.

I want to ask you something.

It’s a bit personal.

I’m sorry. I usually don’t do this. I understand you’re a private person. I am, too. I would never do this ordinarily. 

But this is too important.

How do I know?

Because I’ve seen it. Seen it in the eyes of the dying.

On the brink of death, there it was… the burning desire to live fully…

So, I’m asking you…

What does ‘living’ look like to you?


No, don’t answer… not yet…

It’s a question you need to chew on… to digest slowly… to mull over and over.

Some of us envision the ‘doing’ life.

We are the ones who feel most alive when we are doing. Doing a lot… doing big… doing what brings happiness or wealth or success or… doing enough to be recognized…  you get the point.

Then there are those of us who are nestled comfortably in the ‘being’ camp. For us, it’s more important to be true to who we are. We don’t get too caught up in the doing, we’re happy to just be. Or so we say...

But each camp looks longingly at the other and wonders…

Am I missing something?

And with all the doing, and being, and longing, sometimes we miss the simple, sweet story that’s as old as time.

It’s like a fairy tale…

It’s full of wonder… and transports us to a ‘place’ where anything is possible…

It exists outside our time yet within our time…

And it’s filled with excitement and anticipation…

Yes, it’s very much like a fairy tale… except that it’s not.

Its truth whispers to our souls, and we just know.

We know that it’s real.

And if we let it, it comforts and reassures us…

But we complicate things… we muddy the waters…

We don’t believe that the ‘living’ we seek could be so simple…

The feast that is offered to us… well, we’re not always sure about it…

So, we turn away…

It happened once upon a time a long time ago in a garden…

And it happens once upon a time every day in our time…

We miss the point… miss the sincerity and love behind the invitation.

And miss the simplicity and amazing possibility of life as it could be…

A close, sweet walk with the LORD… the Writer of the story.


Fellowship with the God who lovingly weaves us into His story knowing that only therein can we truly live.

You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever. Psalm 16:11

You see, my question – ‘what does ‘living’ look like for you?’ has many layers.



What it’s really asking is…

Deep down in your heart… do you really trust the heart of God?

Do you truly believe that in His presence you will find what ‘living’ really looks like?

Are you using the ‘starter pack’ He has given? And are you living it out the way He directs?

His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness… But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. 2 Peter 1: 3 a,5-7

Or do you feel that you are better suited to manage your own affairs? To design the life, you want?

I told you it was personal.

But I’ll share something with you.

Several years ago, when I peered into the eyes of the dying… when I saw there the intense yearning for ‘living’… I vowed that I would live each gift-day to the full.

Yet, I kept feeling like I was missing something… like I wasn’t fully living…

But this year, as I sought my ‘one word’, I felt God calling me to ‘live amazed’…

To live amazed by who He is, what He has done, and what He is doing.

And as I gaze into His word and His world, seeing and savoring the beauty, the goodness, the love, the mercy, the power of the LORD, I am finding that living amazed looks a lot like clinging to Him, listening to Him, and putting His words into practice.

And it humbles me… humbles me that the all-powerful God invites me to cling to Him, weaves me into His timeless love story and empowers me to cultivate a life that brings Him glory.

I’m praying that every day I’ll remember that and live amazed.

So, I’ll ask you one more time…

What does ‘living’ look like to you?

*************************

Grace and peace to you,

Carlie