His Gifts For His Glory

“For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” – 2 Timothy 1:6-7

 

I’ve always loved writing. I still remember (and admittedly still have!) my first award-winning piece: “The War Against Trash,” written in elementary school. It was a compelling story about the battle between Cleanville and Trashville.¬† Don’t worry, Cleanville won. ūüôā

Actually,¬† in addition to the above piece, I have a bin filled with almost every essay and story I have ever written from middle school through college and beyond. I’ve always placed so much of me in my writing, I could never have the heart to throw any of it away.

In recent months I have not only realized my writing is a gift, but also God has been teaching me how to use this gift¬†in ways which please Him. I write His Word. I write prayers. I write encouragement. I write praise. I write blogs. ūüôā In the same way Philippians 4:8 encourages the believer to meditate on those things that are “true…honorable…just… pure…lovely…commendable…worthy of praise,” so I believe my writing should reflect the same.¬† I should use His gift for His glory.

One of the fears I had at the beginning of my recent journey to change was how and what I could write about as God changed me. It always seemed to me that it often took a negative emotion to bring about my most expressive writing. Yet God has used this journey–a journey which indeed began in a negative way–not only to¬†transform me but also to transform my writing. I often find myself now almost unable to write the negative–only the positive.¬† And it is not a denial of the negative that keeps me from writing about it, for I know the negative exists. I know evil, poor choices, and heartache exist. We live, after all, in a broken world. Sin indeed abounds. Yet as Paul states in his letter to the Romans, where sin abounds, there grace abounds much more (Romans 5:8). God gave me writing as a gift of grace for His glory…not as a means of grumbling and complaining.

It is as I reflect on this transformation of my writing, I am reminded of Paul’s instructions to Timothy. Fanning something requires action. It is not just one swipe that causes the flame to grow; rather it is the continuous act of fanning that creates the wind strong enough to cause change. If I am to fan into flame the gifts God has put in me, then I must act upon them. And I can’t just use them once in awhile. That produces nothing long term. Just as muscles will atrophy without being used, so God cannot expand on His gifts and use them unless I act on them.¬† A baby does not learn to walk unless he takes that first step; he doesn’t learn to walk by standing still.¬† And so I cannot use my gift doing nothing.¬† It takes practice and persistence.¬† And sure, in the same way a toddler will stumble at first, I may stumble as I step out in the gifts God has given to me.¬† Yet I must not allow fear of failure to stop me from fanning into flame the gifts God has given to me.

And neither should you.

What gifts has God blessed you with? What passions overwhelm your spirit and yearn to be loosed? ¬†Act! Take those first steps. Sure, it may be awkward at first. Yes, you may fall… Maybe even fail miserably at times. But if you fail, fail forward. ¬†Reach forward toward the goal, the goal of glorifying God with the gifts He has entrusted to you. And as you do–as you begin fanning–you will start to see smoke rising, then a spark, and pretty soon a flame. And as you continue to fan the flame, God’s Spirit will build a fire–a brightly burning fire no man can quench.

¬†“For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.” – Matthew 25:29

His Story

“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. – Jeremiah 31:33

This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. – Hebrews 8:10

I am a writer.¬† I’m not sure other writers feel this way, but I love to just stare at and experience a new sheet of paper.¬† Something about it excites me. ¬†Even the smell of it is inspiring. ¬†No ink has marred the fresh, crisp page.¬†¬† No story has been written.¬†¬† It is blank.¬†¬† It is empty.¬†¬† Yet it beckons to be used.¬†¬† There is a freedom in its empty lines…a freedom to express myself in whatever I desire.¬†¬† The possibilities are endless when faced with a blank sheet of paper.

And then I write on it.   A whole new experience refreshes my soul.  Sure, the paper is no longer clean, no longer empty, no longer void of words.  Yet the opposite is just as exhilarating.  Words!  Words express thoughts, and thoughts come from the heart.   My heart now beats on that once empty page for the world to see.

Recently God has been leading me through a journey in which He closed one journal of my life and opened another. ¬† When I first opened this new journal, it was blank.¬† At first the thought of waiting for God to fill the empty pages appeared frightening; I had to let go of my own, old story to allow Him the chance to begin His new one. ¬†As I learned to be still God quickly showed me the joys of waiting for Him to begin. Being still and waiting as God Himself took in the empty pages of this new me became refreshing. ¬† He’d already written the story in His plan before the foundation of the earth, but these past months He blessed me with the opportunity to rest in the emptiness–to even find joy and hope in it as well–as He prepared to write His plan on my heart.

Waiting eagerly for God has become exciting to me. There is such joy in the waiting, such anticipation at what will come.   What plan does He have for my future?  What people will He write into my story?  What challenges will come and attempt to rattle my faith?   What miracles will He perform to draw me and those around me to Himself?  Who will He have me be for His kingdom?   The anticipation is exhilarating and full of hope.   Sure, I may not know yet how God will write the details of the story, but I do know that as I allow Him to write it, I can trust in the true author and finisher of my faith.

“…looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” –¬†Hebrews 12:2

He Has A Plan

“But while he [Joseph]¬†thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit…'” – Matthew 1:20

Yesterday as I read my¬† She Reads Truth devotional (an amazing devotional website I encourage you to check out!),¬†God spoke to me through the following excerpt:¬†“But the angel‚Äôs message did not come without consequence for Mary and Joseph. It would lead these two young people to live as fugitives for a time, fleeing from the paranoia of a ruthless and powerful Roman ruler. And on top of all that, as her belly expanded, Mary and Joseph would have to endure the suspicious looks of friends and relatives who couldn‚Äôt help questioning her purity and his character” (find it¬†here).

These past several months God has continually written upon my heart an important truth:¬† His ways are not my ways.¬† In fact, sometimes His ways cause us to walk a road apparently opposite to the one He promised us.¬† Sometimes God’s most perfect plan requires His child to walk through the deepest valley.¬† And as I have personally walked some painful roads, God has faithfully shown me it is not until one experiences utter darkness that one can fully appreciate the tiniest glimmer of light.¬†¬† If I want to run a stronger race on the flat roads, I must train on the hills.

Mary and Joseph were godly people.¬† ¬†Joseph was referred to as a just man and continually obeyed all the Lord told him to do.¬† The angel Gabriel actually¬†greeted Mary with ‚ÄúRejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” (Luke 1:28)¬† She was told she had found favor with God and would give birth to the Savior of the world!

Yet these two godly people were misunderstood. Their hearts were pure, but God’s plan for them led them to be perceived as just the opposite. I know in today’s society the shock factor of a pregnancy prior to marriage has been unfortunately greatly lessened, and in some places not even out of the ordinary.¬† But 2000 years ago, this was not only a major faux pas, but also a supposed indication of ungodliness. God chose to take two godly people to bring about His Son, yet in doing so, they appeared ungodly to the world.

God has shown me over and over again, He always has a plan and a purpose, even if the world does not understand. He always has a plan and a purpose even if we do not understand.¬† “For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us” (2 Corinthians 1:20).

So as you walk out God’s plan for your life, remember¬†this:¬† “He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24)¬† Yes,¬†not everyone, not even you,¬†will always¬†understand the how and the why of everything we experience.¬† And yes,¬†there will always be well-meaning people who unknowingly¬†judge what they see through human eyes instead of spiritual eyes. Nevertheless, what people believe will not alter God’s plan for you, and it will never change His love for you. God loves you and has a plan for you. So walk it out with confidence, even if for a little while you must endure a few strange looks from those who do not know you like God knows you.

¬†“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.”¬† – Hebrews 10:23

A Burning Heart

“They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road,
while he opened to us the Scriptures?'” – Luke 24:32

Imagine walking on the road to Emmaus with Jesus and having Him open up the Word–His Word–to you. I get chills just thinking about it.¬† God Himself–in the flesh–speaking His Words into my heart. ¬†No wonder the disciples’ hearts burned within them!¬† Their eyes may not have yet been opened, but their hearts certainly were.

Each time I have opened God’s Word lately, my own heart has burned within me.¬† Whether I am writing it, reading it, praying it, listening to it, or speaking it–every word of God’s Word causes my heart¬†to flutter with life, expectation, and hope.

And the other day as God brought to mind the above passage about the men on the road to Emmaus, He reminded me of the truth this passage conveys.¬†¬† Jesus may not¬†physically walk this earth like He did¬†over 2000 years ago, but He does still walk it today.¬† He walks the road to–well, anywhere–right by my side.¬† He walks it right by your side as well.¬† And He walks it¬†using His Word.

Think about it.¬† John 1:1 tells us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”¬† Do you want to know God?¬† Do you want to have your heart burn on the road of life like the hearts of those disciples 2000 years ago?¬† I know I do.¬† Yet for my heart to burn with such holy expectation and life, I must first read His Word.¬† I must write His Word.¬† I must dwell in His Word.¬† For His Words are life.¬† He is life.¬† And to dwell in His Word is to dwell in Him.

God is truly with us.¬† He is indeed our “Immanuel” (Matthew 1:23).¬† Yet the only way we can walk the road of life¬†with Him is to walk the road in His Word.¬† And as He speaks–and as we listen–we may not physically see Him with our eyes, but we will certainly see Him with our hearts.

¬†‚ÄúBehold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,‚ÄĚ
which is translated, ‚ÄúGod with us” (Matthew 1:23)
.  

He Uses It All

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” ¬†–¬†Romans 8:28

God uses all of it. He uses every moment of our lives for His glory and His purposes.

Looking at me–with my makeup free face except for most Sundays and hair that is truly unpredictable–you would never think of me as a salon receptionist. But indeed I was. For a portion of my college career I worked at the salon of a friend. During this time I experienced my first facial, first manicure, first pedicure, and even some attempts at¬†hair coloring (although even the hair stylist commented on my wild hair.)¬† As I’ve looked back on that time, I’ve sometimes wondered how and why I had the job.

Yet then this weekend God reminded me He uses it all. While setting up for one of our church outreach ministries this past weekend, I was assigned the job of decorating a tent with candy canes. In securing the candy canes, I thought a bow would be both effective and ascetically pleasing. Yet the thought of making a bow worthy of our church productions was a little bit daunting to me.  I admit I was a little hesitant about making a bow out of tulle.

Within¬†moments¬†of¬†my decision to attempt the bow,¬†and after texting my friend my personal opinion that I was “bow-challenged,” God brought to mind a¬†memory from my salon days:¬† the day one of the salon¬†workers showed me how to tie a bow on a present.¬† I could picture her standing there showing me how to create a bow that actually looked pretty. So as I faced the tent this weekend with tulle in hand, I tied the bow the way I was taught so many years ago.

Voilà! A bow! One simple lesson from my days in college working an uncharacteristic job had just enabled me to tie a bow (and 3 more after that) to decorate a tent for ministry. And ministry is truly what makes me tick.

God never makes mistakes. Never.¬† Just as God used David’s time tending sheep to prepare him to be king, God uses every moment of our lives to prepare us for His work.¬† Every moment–even the unusual moments–God uses.¬† He not only uses these moments, He works them “together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

He Waits For Me

“Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you,
and therefore He exalts Himself to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
blessed are all those who wait for Him.”
(Isaiah 30:18)

God waits.¬† Ponder that for a moment.¬† God waits.¬†¬†¬† The God of the universe, Maker of Heaven and Earth, waits.¬†¬† What does He wait for?¬† He waits for us.¬† He loves us, He longs for us,¬† and He¬†desires to be gracious to us.¬† Yet before He can shower us with His presence, before He can use us for His purposes, He first¬†waits. He waits for us to wait for Him. He doesn’t chase us; our enemies do that.¬† He doesn’t run after us;¬† although we often run away from Him.¬† He waits.¬† He simply waits. And as He waits, He calls.¬† He beckons each of us to come.¬† To bow before His throne.¬† To be still.¬† To cease our striving.¬† To surrender.¬† He waits for us to wait upon Him.

What happens when we wait?¬† God is faithful to show Himself strong.¬†¬† God doesn’t call us to “be still and know” (Psalm 46:10) He is God so our enemies can be victorious over us.¬† He doesn’t ask us to wait so we can be trampled underfoot.¬† Just the opposite.¬† He calls us to¬† be still knowing when we cease striving, victory will come and our enemies will be defeated.¬† When we wait, God is¬†exalted.¬† For¬†God¬†exalts¬†Himself.¬† Yes–once we wait, once we stop pursuing our own agenda, once we cease grasping at¬†the winds of human desire, once we surrender our every¬†moment to God–God MOVES.¬†¬†And when God moves, miracles happen, lives are changed, souls are saved.

 So let your heart take courage, my friend.  Take courage in the Lord.  Know and trust and believe you will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living (Psalm 27:13).  

“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”
(Psalm 27:14) 

His Will

“Your kingdom come, your will be done,¬†on earth as it is in heaven…”
Matthew 6:10
This morning as I prayed “Your way” to my Father in heaven, my gaze landed upon the manger scene the kids and I are putting together for the season. Each night for seven nights we add a new person to the scene. As I looked upon it this morning, though, God reminded me that His way is not my way; in fact, it is almost always different than my way. As I pray “Your way” to Him, I must also recognize that His way is often in contradiction to the ways of the world and the ways of my human imagination.
God often takes the “foolish,” the “weak,” and the “despised” of this world to shame and bring to nothing those who think they are something (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).¬† God can make anything and anyone into a vessel of honor for His purposes.¬† No one expected the savior of the world to be born in a stable. But He was. No one expected the Son of God would die on the cross. But He did. Many expected Jesus to remain in the tomb. ¬†But He didn’t. ¬†He rose again to give us life. And the life which I now live I must live by faith, not by sight.
God’s got an amazing plan for my life. So even if it looks like a wilderness at the moment, I rest secure knowing that God’s ways are higher, greater and more awesome than mine–even when the current appearance is that of a stable manger instead of a crib fit for a king.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Isaiah 55:8-9

Worship From The Heart

‚Äú‚ÄėThis people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.‚Äô‚ÄĚ
 Matthew 15:8-9
As I closed my eyes to take in the words of the song “Healer” by Kari Jobe¬†during worship on Sunday, I could sense God’s presence speaking to my heart.¬† After a few minutes, I could also sense those around me begin to stand. For a moment I contemplated joining them, but I didn’t; I remained seated. Why? Because I was in God’s presence in my seat. God was ministering to me. To stand would have been to leave His presence–to leave His presence to be like man. Now I am in no way implying that those around me were not in His presence, but I am saying His presence was with me in my seat. It was in my seat I sensed God sharing His truths with me. It was in my seat God was speaking love and peace to my heart.
And as I remained seated with my eyes closed, God also showed me it takes just as much courage to remain seated when everyone else stands as to stand when everyone else remains seated. I’ve seen this played out week after week. The worship team will be singing a song, and the song will lead someone to stand. This is wonderful. God’s presence inspired that person to stand. And then it happens: the worship wave. Another person¬†stands, then another, then another, until at last almost everyone stands. But why do they all stand? What has led each person to stand? Was each person compelled by God’s presence to stand? I don’t know, for only God can discern a person’s motives and intentions. Yet I do tend to believe not everyone stands because God inspired them to stand. Rather, they stand because they don’t want to be the only one still sitting. They stand because it is supposedly the spiritual thing to do. All good Christians stand and sing, right?¬† Wrong.¬†¬† Standing up¬†to¬†sing¬†doesn’t make one spiritual; this is a commandment of man, not of God.¬†¬† What God wants is our hearts–whether or not our physical bodies are standing, sitting, kneeling, or lying prostrate.
Man may look out our outward appearance and attempt to gauge our spirituality, but God looks¬†at our¬†hearts.¬†¬†¬†It’s not about the song.¬† It’s not about the sitting.¬† It’s not about the standing.¬† It’s about Him.¬† It’s about what God wants.¬† And what God wants is us–all of us–and all of our hearts.
“Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
1 Timothy 1:17

That It May Be Fulfilled

“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet…” (Matthew 1:22)

As I read through the book of Matthew, I find myself pausing to smile at verses like the one above; there are many of them throughout the book.¬† With each occurrence, I reflect upon God’s amazing sovereignty.¬† For He truly is sovereign.¬†¬†¬† Before the foundation of the world, God existed. He was, He is, and He always will be.¬† Before He ever said, “Let there be light”; before He breathed life into man; before Adam and Eve chose to disobey; before Jesus came to die for our sins; before I was ever conceived; before it all–God knew it all.¬† Before He spoke those first words of life, He knew everything–and I mean every thought, word, action that could and would happen.¬† He knew.¬† And He knows.¬†¬† He knows my every moment.¬† He knows your every moment.¬† And in His knowledge–in His sovereignty–He is weaving an amazing story.¬† It is His story, yet it is ours as well.

Nothing surprises God.¬† He knew Jesus would be born in a manger; He foretold it¬† He knew Jesus would be called a Nazarene; He foretold it.¬† He knew Jesus would be sinless and die on the cross; He foretold it.¬†¬† And in the same way He knew the life of Jesus, He knows my life.¬† He knows your life.¬†¬† He knows what happened yesterday.¬† He knows what happened today.¬† He knows what will happen tomorrow.¬† And He has a plan.¬† Even those things which attempt to throw us down, to crush us, to make us lose faith–He knows, and He has a plan. God has a divine purpose for each of us.¬†¬† It may not make sense in the moment–like I doubt Mary and Joseph would have fully understood having to move around so much in the early years of Jesus–but it makes sense to the One who wrote the story, to the One who knows the beginning and the end.¬† After all, He IS the beginning and the end.

Now I admit I–with my limited understanding–would not choose all the things that have happened, are happening now, or will happen in my life.¬†¬†I do not think Mary would have chosen a manger as a crib¬†for her precious bundle of joy.¬†¬† I actually do not believe God in His sovereignty would have necessarily¬†chosen everything for each of our lives either.¬† God didn’t choose sin; He hates it.¬† God didn’t choose sickness; He is the Healer.¬† God didn’t choose death; He is the Resurrection and the Life.¬† But He did choose us.¬† He chose me.¬† He chose you. He chose each of¬†us before the foundation of the world.¬† And He chose us knowing everything. Everything.¬†¬† The good.¬† The bad.¬†¬† Everything. He also chose to work out all things for His purpose and according to His glory.¬† He didn’t choose all the bad things which happen to us, but He did choose to use all of them to fulfill His purpose in our lives.¬†¬† He has a plan.¬† He has a purpose for my life.¬† He has a purpose for your life.¬† And even if what we may be experiencing appears to be a mistake or an unbearable load, we must remember God is sovereign.¬† God doesn’t cause the bad things to happen, for God is not the author of evil,¬†but in His sovereignty He is more than able to use all of it–yes, all of it–“that it may be fulfilled” in my life.¬† Each moment, each word, each thought so¬† “that it may be fulfilled.”

The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;
your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever… (Psalm 138:8)