Monthly Archives: April 2015

Rejoicing Always

“Rejoice in the Lord always”- you hear it often, but I think we miss a lot of that passage because we divide it up into different topics when it really isn’t meant to be. By “that passage” I mean Philippians 4:4-8.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Honestly, it really does look like several different topics; what does rejoicing have to do with moderation or not being anxious, or thinking about “commendable things”? Well, let’s look at it a little closer.

Rejoice in the Lord always. It seems like the general impression people have of this verse is that we are supposed to rejoice. That’s all very well and good, but it’s not what Paul said. He said to rejoice in the Lord. There’s a difference. To rejoice in the Lord is to rejoice in who He is and what He has done. Take Mary in Luke 1:46-49, for example,

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked on the humble estate of His servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.

The awesome thing about rejoicing in the Lord and what He’s done for you is that both are constant. If you’re just trying to rejoice because you’re supposed to do, you have to find something to rejoice about, and depending on your present circumstances, you may find it difficult to think of anything. But if you rejoice in who God is (and He doesn’t change) and what He has done for you in the past (which cannot change either) and His promises (which He will fulfill), you always have that no matter what your circumstances are. You can rejoice in and through them even if the circumstances are such that it is hard to find anything to rejoice over. (With practice even that gets easier though.)

Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. What does rejoicing have to do with reasonableness (or moderation as some versions word it, and as I prefer to refer to it as)? Well, let’s look at my favorite wordy person’s definition. (That’s Noah Webster, by the way.)

Moderation – Restraint of violent passions or indulgence of appetite. Calmness of mind; equanimity. As, to bear prosperity or adversity with moderation.

Calmness of mind; equanimity. Do you think you would gain those if, in spite of and through your circumstances, you were rejoicing in the Lord instead of letting the emotion of the moment control you? I certainly do. Rejoicing in the Lord produces moderation. But Paul didn’t say “be moderate”. He said “Let your moderation be known to all”. He’s assuming we already are moderate because we’re rejoicing in the Lord, so he says to demonstrate it. How do you demonstrate moderation?

In Philippians 4:11-12 Paul writes,

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.

Contentment in our present circumstances displays moderation. It shows that we are not subject to the whims of emotional situations, but rather that we take life calmly, no matter what it throws at us. (And I’m a terrible example of this, by the way. Still learning this lesson.) It’s not normal for humans to handle stressful or emotionally-charged situations calmly, and so by displaying moderation to the people around you, you stand out and your behavior proclaims “There’s something different about me! Don’t you want to know what it is?” Which, of course, is Christ’s power within you, enabling you to take things in a level-headed, wise manner.

The Lord is at hand. Pardon me while I get all grammarly here for a second. In between “the Lord is at hand” and “do not be anxious” is not a period but a semicolon. That semicolon indicates that the second part is a continuation of the first part. Some versions say “the Lord is near” instead. Psalm 145:18-19 shares a similar theme:

The Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth. He fulfills the desire of those who fear Him; He also hears their cry and saves them.

The Lord is near, and He hears our prayers and saves us and fulfills our desires, and therefore, what? Well, that’s where the semicolon leads us to the next thought.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Anxiety is a thief. It steals your focus, your peace, your joy, your productivity, and sometimes even your health. For example, in the past couple of months we’ve had stuff going on in our family that I didn’t want to happen. I won’t go into detail, but this situation stressed me out and worried me to the point where I couldn’t find any energy to do anything, and could barely focus enough to pray. I even started losing huge amounts of hair at a time. We’re talking serious worry here. Does that kind of reaction honor God? Does it display His power in me? Absolutely not!

Paul says that the Lord is near to hear and to save, and therefore we have no cause to be anxious. That’s why Philippians 4:5 ends with a semicolon instead of a period, and leads straight into verses 6 and 7. If I had remembered that in those first couple of weeks, I would have spared myself quite a bit of sanity (and hair).

But anxiety is humanity’s instinctive reaction to stressful situations. You can’t just not-be-anxious. We need some practicality, so I’m glad Paul didn’t end the verse with “do not be anxious about anything”. Instead, he inserted a “but” (read, “on the contrary”) and continued with instructions to pray with thanksgiving.

Going back to my recent experience with my family, I finally I emailed my Group Leader from STEP Advanced in a panic, and asked her to pray for my family – and to pray especially for me to find my joy again. She emailed me back to say she was praying and gave me some excellent advice:

“Remember that in the presence of God is fullness of joy. Look for His presences constantly and do not neglect time with Him. If anything spend more time conversing with Him and in prayer.”

So I said I would, and I think for the first time since the situation blew up, I spent significant time thanking God, for the little blessings He’d given me that day, for His promises, and for His character, instead of just whining and worrying at Him. You know what happened? He gave me peace and joy. He gave me comfort.

Evidently Paul knew what he was talking about.

Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Wasn’t it enough to tell us not to worry and to pray and thank God? If He’s given us His peace, isn’t that the end of the matter? Unfortunately not. See, especially for people like me, worry is actually a habit. Even if I manage to give it to God and receive His peace, over time it tries to come back. See, worry is a tool that satan likes to use to distract us from the Creator. Once he knows it works on you, he will keep using it on you again and again. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 says,

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…

Anxiety is like a fortress that the devil has established in your mind. However, if your mind belongs to God, you cannot let His enemy establish a foothold in God’s territory, so you must destroy the stronghold. To do that, you must fill your mind with things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable to combat the lies and doubts of anxiety. For example, Paul provides two promises farther on in his letter.

Philippians 4:13 – I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:19 – And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

One of my new favorite pieces of truth when my brain wanders to stressful places it ought not to dwell, is Isaiah 26:3,

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.

When you fill your mind with God’s promises and intentionally turn your focus to Him, there is no room left for anxiety to come in and build his grisly walls of defiance.

So how can we apply this? I see three applicable concepts in the above verses.

  1. Rejoice in the Lord. Rejoicing in the Lord is outward. It is a choice to praise Him for who He is and what He’s done, etc. I have a coworker who always loves to tell me about all the little “God-winks” she’s received. The little blessings He’s given her, and how He continually provides exceedingly abundantly more than she asked for. She calls it bragging on Him.

Psalm 34:2-4 has a similar concept:

My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together! I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears.

People brag about the wonderful things their kids or grandkids are doing all the time – bragging about God is the same idea. You’re sharing how wonderful and glorious He is. So when He blesses you, even in a small way, talk about it. Even if you’re just telling yourself. The more you do it the more you will align your attitude to recognize those little blessings, until you are really rejoicing in the Lord “always”.

  1. Thank God. Remember the hymn “Count Your Blessings”?

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Thank God for even the smallest things. That day that I finally started thanking God, I was thanking for everything from sending Noelle to wake me up when I slept through my alarm to getting to see a bit of the sunrise on my way to work. Once you start thanking Him, you’ll find more and more things to thank Him for, so start small and watch them grow.

  1. Refill your mind. When you have a stressful situation or just something that keeps bothering you again and again, find truth from God’s word to combat it and fill your mind with it. I often write references on my hand so that throughout the day I see them and have to either remember what verse goes with it or look it up all over again; filling my mind with it. There are myriads of promises in God’s word that you can throw in the face of worries and doubts that the devil sends your way. Remember, Jesus combatted with scripture too. (Matthew 4:1-11)

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 – Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Happy rejoicing! 🙂

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While I’m Waiting

I hate waiting. It’s one of those things that I constantly have to relearn how to do graciously. Waiting is especially exhausting when you don’t know how long you’re going to have to wait. This past week especially I’ve been waiting more and more anxiously to hear back about an application I filled out so that I can know what I’m doing this summer. Waiting and checking my email and wondering what I’m going to tell the schedule person at work and checking my email again. So it brought up the question…What should waiting look like?

About the same time I rediscovered a song from the movie Fireproof. It’s called While I’m Waiting, and part of it goes like this:

And I will move ahead bold and confident
Taking every step in obedience
While I’m waiting I will serve You
While I’m waiting I will worship
While I’m waiting I will not faint
I’ll be running the race even while I wait

That in turn reminded me of a passage that I’ve brought up before. It’s a passage God keeps bringing me back to over and over again, Psalm 37:3-5.

Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lordand He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will act.

What’s the best thing I could be doing while waiting to find out what the next thing I’m doing is? Doing what I already know I’m supposed to be doing. (I know, it’s kind of a duh, but that’s what I’ve been learning, so bear with me.) I don’t think God wants us to twiddle our thumbs whilst waiting for our next instructions. He wants us to look around where we are and see what we can do to make a difference while we wait. Dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness until we receive orders to uproot and move to a new land and dwell there.

So what’s it boil down to? Some days, it might just be milking the goats or washing dishes at the appropriate times, or showing up at work with a smile, or reading my brother’s science book to him, or playing piano for the nursing home. The possibilities are really endless. I could be writing blog posts or devotionals or encouraging notes instead of repeatedly checking my e-mail and worrying about my unknown summer schedule. I could be researching and planning alternate activities as well as preparing for the one I’d really rather do, instead of fretting about whether or not I’m going to get to do it. God’s got it under control, and His timing is better than mine anyways, so I need to keep my eyes on what He’s got for me to do do here (and there’s plenty) instead of daydreaming and wondering so much about the future.

So what should waiting look like? I think it shouldn’t look any different than everyday life. It should include the same level of faithfulness that I aim for in my regular life, not less because I’m preoccupied with what I’m waiting for. It should be active.

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“Don’t Judge Me”

In the past few years – especially since getting a job – I’ve come to realize just how much other people’s opinions of me (and what I think their opinions are) control me. They control my actions, my confidence and security, and my sanity. Yick! So this is something I’ve been doing a little pondering about: the ‘need’ to control other people’s opinions of me. I’m going to focus on those of critical people in particular (although I think this applies to all people in a way) since those are the ones that unnerve me the most.

Critical people (and even people I just think are critical because I’m insecure and thus judge them to be judging me [Oh the irony!]) out of all the humans in this world most make me want to make them like me. I want to do whatever it takes to make them understand why I do what I do and win their good opinion. (And hey, some respect on the side wouldn’t be bad either.) But when I actually take the time to think about it, my desire to control their opinions of me really just boils down to fear. And what’s God say about that?

Proverbs 29:25 ~ The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.

I can testify to the truth of that verse! (The second half will tie in later.) Fear of man’s opinion of me always, without failure, trips me up and makes me fall on my face in a figurative mud puddle. (With my mouth open, no less.) Rather than gain that person’s good opinion, I end up with a burden of shame and a mouthful of mud. And in the end? Honestly, if someone feels like criticizing me, they’re going to find a reason to criticize me no matter what I do. (And maybe especially when I try to make sure they can’t.)

As I was thinking about this, I remembered a couple verses:

1 Peter 2:23 ~ When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly.

Isaiah 53:7 ~ He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.

In the face of not only criticism, but a gruesome death by torture, Jesus gave us an example to follow. He was abused and humiliated and in intense pain; meanwhile His critics jeered, “If You’re the Christ, save Yourself!” Translation: if you want us to believe You, do this one thing to earn our good opinion. Of all people, Jesus had the most right to justify His actions to His critics. And how dare they say such irreverent things to Him? “Yet He opened not His mouth,” “but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly.”

That reminds me of another verse.

Matthew 7:6 ~ Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.

What would have happened if Jesus had tried to explain His actions to the mocking crowd and ‘fix’ their opinion of Him? He had the right to put them in their place. He could have scolded them. But what would have happened? Like Matthew wrote, they would have trampled on His efforts to justify His actions and attacked Him all the more. They would have taken His words and thrown them back in His face. By not justifying Himself to the people, Jesus was really living out His own teaching in Matthew 5:39 to “turn the other cheek”. What looked like weakness to the rabble was really wisdom.

I want to justify myself to my critics. I want so badly to shut them up by proving that I deserve their approval. But if Jesus didn’t do it when He most had the right, then how can I do it? In the end, the answer to fear of people’s opinions is not to try to control them – they always end up controlling me instead – but to entrust myself to Him who has the only right to condemn me, and yet loves me exceedingly and abundantly more than I could ever deserve. In His hands I can safely turn the other cheek and let Him handle both my reputation and the people whose opinions I’m so tempted to fear. He’s ready to give me confidence in spite of other people, but I first have to trust Him.

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“Why, They’re Under the Table.”

Imagine you live in Holland after Hitler’s conquest. The Nazis are pressing every healthy young male into their army, and you have three ‘eligible’ older brothers. Every day you keep a watch for the soldiers, for fear they will take your brothers away. Then one afternoon as you’re getting ready to have tea, two of your brothers burst through the door, yelling that the soldiers are coming. They clamber down into the potato cellar to hide, and you drag a rug and the kitchen table over the trapdoor. (You’re thankful for the floor-length tablecloth you put on it!) The next instant, as you shakily attempt to set the table, soldiers burst in the door. They demand to know where your brothers are, and you’re faced with a dilemma: do you lie to protect them, or do you tell the truth and betray them?

In The Hiding Place (Chapter 7), Corrie Ten Boom wrote that her niece, Cocky, was faced with just this dilemma. Cocky’s mother had raised her to tell the strict truth, insisting that “God honors truth-telling with perfect protection!”. So when the soldiers demanded to know where her brothers were, she immediately responded, “Why, they’re under the table.” The soldiers looked under the tablecloth and saw nothing but the rug. They were so flustered that they left without finding the boys.

For the past few months we’ve been studying 1 Peter in Sunday School, and as I pondered over some of the verses within it, I was reminded of that story. The passage that reminded me of it is 1 Peter 2:21-23:

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly.

(I italicized the phrases that stood out to me.) Cocky was faced with a choice – either lie (which she knew was wrong) to protect her brothers, or tell the truth and risk losing them. Most people would pick the lie in a heartbeat because they believe protecting someone from harm outweighs the lie. I honestly don’t know which I would have picked if I had been in Cocky’s place, but I was challenged by how she responded. She chose not to commit sin by lying, and trusted that if she did the right thing, God would take care of her brothers.

Wow, that takes faith! [Trusting God’s word is true and acting on it.] When your human understanding says to do a little wrong for the sake of the good it will bring, but God’s wisdom says to do the right thing no matter the consequences, what do you choose? I think Cocky’s mother was right; if we stick to doing what’s right, God honors it in ways our human understanding can’t grasp. Cocky had no idea that her telling the truth would be the very thing that would make the soldiers leave her brothers alone. She probably expected them to find the trap-door and take her brothers. But she chose to tell the truth in spite of that, and God honored it.

You know as I look at 1 Peter 2:21-23, I see a few interesting things. The first one is that before he even describes what Jesus did, Peter made sure to let us know that we are supposed to follow His example. And then he goes on to describe some important actions:

1. He committed no sin, including that of deceit.

2. When reviled, and persecuted, He did not give in to the human urge to retaliate.

3. He entrusted His life to God.

I really want to focus on that third action, because that’s what I’ve been learning recently. What does it mean to entrust your life to “Him who judges justly”? As I’ve chewed on this verse in the past week or two, I’ve found myself applying it to trusting Him with my uncertain future. There are quite a few things I want to happen, but I don’t really *know* whether or not they will. I can either worry about things that I want to happen and places I want to go with my life and spend my time stressing about how to get there, or I can focus on the present – focus on just today, just the things He’s asked me to do *now*. If I ‘befriend faithfulness’ in the immediate present He will take care of the future, even if through my human eyes the consequences to my faithfulness look like they will take me in the opposite direction from where I want to go. If I, like Cocky, choose to do what I absolutely *know* is right, He will honor it. He doesn’t need me to ‘bend the rules’ to make His will happen. Sheesh, do I believe He’s all-powerful or don’t I? That’s what it really comes down to.

I looked up the word ‘judge’ as I was thinking through this post, and amongst all the definitions one might expect, I found one that caught my eye: “Rightly to understand and discern”. Who understands and discerns what’s best for me better than the One who created me? While I spend time worrying about what God’s will for me is, He already knows it. While I fret about how to serve Him, He already knows; He has the power to use a single act of service in the present to lead to greater ways of serving in the future, and all He wants is for me to listen and obey in that moment. If I obey Him no matter the consequences, He’ll use whatever consequences to continue to lead me towards the future He has planned for me. All I have to do is entrust myself to Him and do what’s right.

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