In His Prayers

Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
(Romans 8:34)

Jesus is praying for you.  Think about that this morning.  Jesus is praying for you. Jesus–the very son of God–the One who knows the heart of God–the One who died for you–is praying for you.

By name.

Yes, by name. He is right now before the throne of God, speaking your name to His Father.  Say your name to yourself right now.  Now close your eyes, say it again, and envision Jesus before His father saying your name.

I bet you smiled.

Yet He’s not just saying your name, He’s interceding for you.  He’s entreating His Father on your behalf.  For He loves you.  He cares for you.   He wants God’s best for you.  And He knows the will of His Father.   Jesus is not just praying an aimless prayer filled with empty words; He’s praying the will of God for you.  He knows exactly where you are, exactly what you need, and exactly where you are going.

He is praying for you.

Right now. This very moment.  Jesus is before His Father on your behalf.

So be encouraged today, my friend.  Jesus is praying for you.  Even if you feel no one else understands what you’re going through, Jesus does.  And Jesus is praying for you.

He loves you.  He cares for you.  He wants God’s best for you.

He is praying for you.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 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 8:35-39)

 

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Not Broken…New

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
(2 Corinthians 5:17)

The other day as I went to retrieve a custard dish from the cabinet, it slipped from my grip, fell to the countertop, and shattered.  Now it was not a big dish–just a little 10 ounce custard cup.  Yet when it hit the granite, it shattered; pieces were everywhere. Everywhere.  I didn’t realize how many pieces could come from such a tiny little dish!

Of course I immediately got a broom, swept up the pieces I saw on the floor and the counter and then threw them in the trash. Once I was satisfied I had cleaned up the mess, I got a new dish and moved on with my original plans.

What I did not realize at the time, however, was I had not actually disposed of all the pieces. Even though I had cleaned up what I initially saw and moved on with a new dish, the broken pieces of the old dish still lingered.  Between the camouflaging character of the countertop and the size of the little pieces still in existence, I kept discovering pieces I missed the first time. For days afterwards I kept discovering those tiny shards of glass.  I found one behind the coffee pot.  I found one under a loaf of bread.  I found one hidden beneath the cabinet corner.  And as luck would have it, I stepped on an extremely tiny shard of glass I had somehow missed on the floor.

One little dish…yet so many pieces.

And this image is what God spoke to me the other day.  At one point in my life, I was shattered.  One person….many pieces.  Everything I thought I knew, every confidence I had, everything I trusted in–was really just shattered pieces.  Everywhere.

I was broken.

I was the shattered dish.

Yet then I met Jesus.   I met my Healer.  Jesus did not just save me from eternity in Hell; Jesus took my brokenness and made me whole.  He made me new.  He removed my sins as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).  He removed my filthy rags and clothed me in righteousness (Isaiah 64:6; Isaiah 61:10).  When I accepted the free gift of salvation, the old me was crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20). The old me passed away; the new had come (2 Corinthians 5:17).

When I met Jesus, the old, shattered me was done away with, and the new me was born.  Nevertheless, even though Jesus made me a new creation, there were still shattered pieces of the old me that needed to be cleaned up.  For years I would look at those broken pieces and think those pieces were still me, that I was still broken and shattered.  I’d tiptoe around them, try to ignore them, and feel like a failure at the sight of them.  Countless times I would feel the sting of stepping on one of those broken pieces of the old me.

Yet God has been walking me through an amazing journey over this past year.  Throughout this journey, He’s been picking up the pieces of a shattered life.  At first He picked up the big ones.   There was great relief in throwing those away, so much relief I actually thought all the pieces were gone.  But those were just the big pieces.  If you’ve ever dropped a dish, however, you’ll know that it is the tiny slivers you can’t see that are the most damaging.

So what God has reminded me is those broken pieces are not me.  They are not you either.  Instead of holding onto them, mourning them, and continually reminding ourselves of them, we need to allow God to take those pieces, shine His light upon them, and then throw them away. For God doesn’t want to clean up just some of the brokenness; he wants to clean up all of it. 

Now it used to bother me when I’d find a shattered piece, as if I had failed somehow.  Yet it is just the opposite.   Being able to see the broken pieces is evidence God is continuing to reveal them.   And if God shines His light on them, then God will heal them.  I’m not broken…just picking up the pieces of the old me. And you are not broken either.  You are a new creation.  The old has passed; the new has come.  But God still must pick up some of the old pieces before someone–including you or me–gets hurt.

So in this I encourage you today, my friend.   Did you step on a broken piece of the old you today?  Did you see a piece you didn’t realize still existed?  Do not be discouraged.  Rather, be encouraged! Finding an old piece doesn’t make you broken again; it just proves God is still picking up the pieces of the old you you haven’t noticed yet. God has shown you so you He can get rid of it!  Don’t pick it up and coddle it as if it were still a part of you.  Don’t run away from it afraid it will somehow hurt you again.  Once God has shed His light on it, all you need to do is allow Him to sweep it up and throw it away.  And it will be gone.  Gone forever.  Washed clean by the blood of the lamb. For “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

 

Use the Ladder

 “…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.”
(Philippians 4:6-7)

Imagine for a moment you are standing before an immense wall.  It’s highest point is well beyond your reach, and whether you look to the right or to the left, there is no end in sight.   When you touch it, its surface is as smooth as glass, with no grip of any kind available to assist you in getting over it. There are no doors, no windows, no crack nor crevice available.  All that your eyes behold is this seemingly insurmountable wall.

Then, as if that is not devastating enough, you know what exists on the other side of this barrier.  Your future, your hopes, your dreams, your potential–everything true about who you are–beckons you from the other side.   Day after day you try with all your might to jump high enough, to find some possible way of entry to the other side, some possible end to the interminable wall outstretched before you.  Nevertheless, day after day you are met with defeat and discouragement as the wall wins yet again.

Now imagine one day, as you are again fighting the fruitless battle, someone comes up to you with a ladder, a ladder the perfect height and just what you need to climb over the wall.  Then imagine they offer this ladder to you.  Would you take it?  Would you take the offer for freedom?  for victory?  Or would you turn them away and insist you could do it yourself if you just keep trying hard and long enough?

I doubt you’d turn the ladder away.   I doubt you’d turn down the chance for freedom if it were offered to you.

Yet I have learned in recent months that turning away the ladder is what many have actually been taught to do, including me.  And they are encouraged to do so using verses like the one above.  Christian after well-meaning Christian encourages their brothers and sisters not to worry, not to be anxious, not to fear, for to suffer anxiety, fear, or depression must mean our faith is not strong enough. For surely if we had faith strong enough, if we read our Bible more, or if we prayed long enough, we could snap out of the anxiety and depression and move forward, right?.

Wrong.  Oh so very wrong.

And God put this on my heart yesterday after reading another blog my friend shared with me. I believe there are two types of anxiety in this world.  There is needless anxiety–an anxiety which comes when we take our eyes off of Jesus and place it on ourselves and our circumstances.  It is this anxiety I believe God wants us to avoid.  Yet then there is the second type of anxiety.   This type of anxiety remains no matter how long and hard we look at Jesus.  This anxiety exists beyond circumstances.  This anxiety feels like it is sinking even when it is indeed walking on water.  Why?  Because this anxiety is physical; it is chemical.  It is real.

Time and time again in the Bible we are encouraged to walk by faith, not by sight.  We are encouraged to not focus on the seen, but the unseen.  Yet when it comes to the health of our bodies, we often only focus on what we can see with our eyes–what we can read with a test.  Diabetes?  We can see the sugar levels with our eyes, so we readily offer and accept the medicine needed to manage it.   Autoimmune diseases?   There are tests that reveal it and medicine available to manage it as best as possible.   Broken bone?   An x-ray will reveal it and the cast will enable the broken bone to heal.  Heart disease, pneumonia, allergies, high blood pressure, appendicitis, even the common cold are just a small sampling of physical ailments commonly accepted as “normal” consequences of living in an imperfect world.  And because they are “normal,” society finds it acceptable to not only seek out but also to receive the help necessary.  In fact, for a person with a “normal” illness, not to seek medical help would appear ludicrous and self-depreciating.

Yet what about anxiety?  Depression?  Bi-polar disorder?   Are they any less real?  Any less “normal”?  Any less in need of medical attention? No!  No they are not!  Just because there is no definitive test we can see with our eyes, this does not mean they do not exist.   We are physical and mental beings; therefore we can have physical and mental illnesses.  Both are evidence that we are broken people living in a broken world.  And both deserve recognition, respect, and the chance to heal.

If there is no shame in offering a ladder to the one facing the insurmountable wall of uncontrollable blood sugar, then there should also be no shame in offering a ladder to the one facing the insurmountable wall of chemical imbalance.

Why do I say this? Because for many years of my life, I struggled with the forbidden sickness–I struggled with an imbalance.  It’s one that may not be apparent on an x-ray, but it has been real–very real.  Each month I would spend two weeks feeling like a normal human being and the second two weeks expending all my energy to maintain the appearance of normalcy.   Those latter two weeks of the month, I fought paranoia, fits of uncontrollable anger, super sensitivity, clinginess/codependency, overwhelming dread, anxiety, depression, low noise tolerance, low patience, and a general fog.  My mental health was an insurmountable wall before me.   Sure, I’d do my best to overcome it.  Some months I could fight it enough and isolate myself enough to not to do too much damage to relationships and life in general; other months, not so much.  Woe to the pitiful soul who dared cross my path during those latter weeks of the month.

I also used to have, what I would call, an inner freak out at new information.  Surprise me with new information, a change in plans, or an unanticipated question, and you’d immediately witness the deer-in-headlights look upon my face.  It was immediate, mind-numbing fear that would render me speechless.  Even if I knew the answer, if the question was unexpected, I’d freeze.  I can still remember the words of my Chemistry teacher when I broke down in tears at the announcement of a pop quiz:  “It’s only Chemistry!”  Sure, to her it was only Chemistry, but to me, it was a deer-in-headlights, mind-numbing moment of panic.  And it was real.

This is what I want people to realize.  Chemical imbalance is real.  Furthermore, there is no shame in using the tools available to overcome the wall of chemical imbalance.

I did.  Several months ago I hit the bottom in my fight against myself.  And it really was a fight against myself.  It was like someone with diabetes assuming if they kept telling diabetes to go away, it would.  Or if someone with high blood pressure kept telling themselves they didn’t have it, then it wouldn’t be true.  Yet when I hit bottom, I realized the fruitlessness of trying to overcome the wall before me on my own.

And praise be to God He sent a wise woman of God into my life who let me know it was okay to get help.  She showed me the help available and encouraged me that seeking help was not a lack of faith; it was just accepting the ladder I needed to get over the wall.

And over the wall I have come.  It has not been an easy climb, but it has been well worth the climb.  I did not realize how bad I felt and how unhealthy I was until I experienced what healthy felt like.

Now don’t get my wrong.  The medicine I began taking was not an instantaneous cure-all to every problem I had.  People who suffer from diabetes may take a pill or insulin but that does not prevent them from having to watch their sugar and exercise. People who have high blood pressure may take a pill, but they still need to watch what they eat and exercise. People who break a bone may be able to wear a cast, but they still have to be careful not to bump the bone that needs healing.

Taking a little pill every day may help bring balance to my hormones, but I still must take action. In my case, I began talking with a counselor, I must watch my caffeine intake, and I must be sure to get adequate exercise.  I also daily surrender all of me to all of Him through prayer and Bible study.

Nevertheless, the pill was my ladder; it was the tool to lead me to normal.  Again, as I said, it was not the cure-all; my life and my outlook did not immediately transform.   I also, contrary to some people’s perceptions, did not suddenly begin walking around numb to anything and everything.   The medicine did not take away my emotions.  The medicine did not take away my ability to feel.  The medicine did not solve all of my problems. But it did give me the strength to overcome them. It did balance me out enough for me to climb the wall.   Instead of using all of my energy to fight a fruitless battle, I had the energy for what was truly important:  I had energy for life.

And isn’t that why we go to the doctor for help in the first place?  We all want to live life to the fullest.  We don’t want to be sick; we want to be well. So why should we go around limping when the ability to walk without a limp is available?  Why should we continue to fight a losing battle when the key to victory is within our grasp?

We shouldn’t.

I repeat: we shouldn’t.

And I didn’t.

And my life will never be the same.

So I encourage two types of people today.  To you who may know someone facing the insurmountable wall of mental illness, encourage them.  Let them know they are not alone and that it is okay to get help.  Let them know that you may not understand what they are going through, but you recognize its reality.

And to you who may be facing the insurmountable wall of mental illness today, feel no shame.  Seek out the ladder you need to climb that wall.  It may not be an easy climb, but it ill be well worth it to get to the other side.  Furthermore, when you read verses like Philippians 4:6-7, read it as I believe they were intended:  Do not be anxious about your anxiety or depression, but by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.  I pray you see the difference.  The anxiety you feel is real, it is physical, and it deserves just as much medical attention as a broken bone. So do not be anxious and ashamed about it, but rather allow God to heal you the way He sees fit–even if it means taking a little pill.

You’ll be glad you did.

 

 

Sweet Surrender

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
(Romans 12:1)

Surrender.  Oftentimes the picture associated with it is that of an exhausted warrior: he has fallen to his knees waving the white flag–finally giving up the fight, finally accepting the battle is over, finally admitting he has lost and the enemy has won. In surrendering he is admitting failure, weakness, and defeat.

Yet not so with Biblical surrender.  Biblical surrender is a gift. It is sweet.  It is beautiful. For when we surrender ourselves to the Lord as a living sacrifice, we are not giving in or giving up, we are giving to.   We are offering all of us to all of God.  We are coming to God willingly, lovingly, and out of respect and admiration.  We are bending our knees in submission to His will and His ways. We are worshiping.

In Romans 12:1, Paul encourages the Romans to present their bodies as a living sacrifice–to surrender themselves to God as worship.  What is interesting, however, is he begins with the word “therefore.”  The word “therefore” in Scripture indicates the preceding verses hold the grounds for the “therefore.”  Therefore (ha ha), to fully understand the meaning of Romans 12:1, we must look back to the verses in the previous chapter.   So take a moment and read with me the last four verses of chapter 11:

 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
    or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him
    that he might be repaid?”
36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

Wow. No matter how many times I read these words, I am left speechless.  Our God is all-knowing, all-wise, and all-powerful.  His thoughts, His ways, His riches–He Himself–are all beyond our human understanding.   We will never fully comprehend the depths of God.  Never.   His judgments are unsearchable. His ways inscrutable.  No one knows His mind, and no one could ever give Him a gift capable of repaying Him for all He has done.  God is all and knows all.  For from him and through him and to him are all things.

Therefore.  Yes, this picture–this vision of God’s eternal depth and greatness–is what Paul envisioned as he penned Romans 12:1: “Thereforepresent your bodies as a living sacrifice.”

In other words, because God is God, because God is and was and always will be, because no one is like our God, and because no one knows the mind of God nor His inscrutable ways, we should surrender.  We should surrender all the seemingly known and unknowns to the one who knows it all. We should abandon ourselves entirely to the One who knows us more than we know ourselves.  We should lay our thoughts, our dreams, our hopes, our plans, our desires, our unrealized expectations, our everything–at His feet. And leave it there.

Yet as we lay it all down, we are not surrendering in defeat.  We are not waving a white flag.  We are not giving up our freedom and admitting we’ve lost. Rather, when we surrender, we are claiming victory. When we choose to give all of us to all of Him, we haven’t lost, we’ve won!  See, in God’s kingdom, it is the seemingly foolish things which confound the wise.  In God’s kingdom, just as in order to lead, we must serve, and in order to be first, we must be last, so also Biblical surrender is the opposite of worldly surrender.  When we surrender to the enemy we are enslaved; when we surrender to God we are saved. Saved!

Think about it. When we choose to surrender ourselves to God, we are choosing life.  We are choosing the “Not I, but Christ” life as outlined in Galatians 2:20.  We are choosing to surrender us so through us He can live.

Of course, in choosing to surrender–in choosing to be crucified with Christ–we will have to give up some things: our selfishness, our human understanding, our fear of the unknown, our attempts to control the chaos.  Yet by giving up the earthly, by presenting ourselves as a sacrifice of love before His throne, we actually become free.  Free!

Surrendering to God brings freedom.

For when we surrender our selfishness, we can then walk out Paul’s words in Philippians 2:4 to not only look after our own interests, but also for the interest of others.  When we surrender our understanding, we can then walk out Proverbs 3:5 by trusting in the Lord with all our heart, not leaning on our own understanding. When we surrender our fear, we do not need to be anxious about tomorrow or anything, for tomorrow will take care of itself and God will take care of us (Matthew 6:24-34).  When we surrender control, we will walk through the fire and through the storm with confidence  that the One who guides us also provides for us (Isaiah 43:2 and Joshua 1:9).

Yet I think one of the most awesome benefits of true surrender is the depth of trust and peace that then overwhelm the surrendered heart. When we surrender every moment of every day to God, fear, worry, and doubt are replaced with an inner confidence and knowing that God is in control of all of it. Yes.  All of it.  Nothing comes to us that has not already passed through His sovereign hands.  Nothing slips through His fingers by mistake as God utters a heavenly “oops!”  Nothing happens by accident, and nothing surprises Him.  Nothing.

God reminds us in His Word He always has a plan.  Always. Through the words of Isaiah the prophet, God declares,

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways…
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)

In Jeremiah 29: 11 God declares, “For I know the plans I have for you…plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. ” Through the psalm of David, God reminds us He knew all our days before we were ever born (Psalm 139:16). Through Paul He reminds us God works all things for good and for His glory (Romans 8:28).   Through Isaiah God declares He will keep those in perfect peace whose eyes are fixed on Him, because they trust in Him (Isaiah 26:2).

When we surrender to God, we can trust God.  And when we trust God, we can walk in peace.  Sure, we can make plans, but we can also walk out each day knowing God will determine our steps (Proverbs 16:9). Every moment becomes an opportunity for God to reveal Himself to us and to the world.  We can truly proclaim, “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24), because when we surrender, we are allowing the One who made the day to direct the day.  And with God in the lead, we need not worry or fear or wonder, because “it is God who is at work…for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

In April 2015, the circumstances of my life were thrown into the air, yet with them also went my sense of security and worth and value. Why?  My heart was not surrendered to God; rather, it was enslaved to the lies of the enemy.  I had actually surrendered my life to lies–lies about my worth, my value, and my purpose.

Yet now ,almost a year later, although the circumstances of my life are still not set in stone, I am. Where I am and what I am doing no longer affect who I am. Who I am is a daughter of the King. I am loved, accepted, forgiven, and fully pleasing to Him. And I trust Him. I really trust Him.  It is difficult even for me to put into words the depth of trust I have in Him. 

How can I trust Him so deeply?  Because I’ve surrendered to Him. Every day I wake up, I get on my knees and I surrender every moment to Him–every thought, every action, every item on my to-do list.  I surrender it all.  Then when I rise up from my knees, I rise up in peace and confidence that God will orchestrate the day just the way it is supposed to go.  There is no need to worry when God is the one guiding the way.  And the times I sense worry, fear, anxiety, or doubt attempting to creep back into my life, I stop, I get on my knees, and I again surrender to the One who knows me more than I know me and whose riches and wisdom are beyond my understanding.

I must say I could go on and on sharing all the divine appointments that have occurred through my surrendered life.   He’s timed meetings perfectly; He’s timed texts perfectly; He’s even timed the birth of calves perfectly! Over and over again He has shown His presence is with me in every moment, even the unpleasant ones.  Yes, even the unpleasant experiences can work for His good.  When my son threw up in the middle of the night a couple of days ago, that wasn’t pleasant.  But by being home with him instead of out and about the next day, I was able to notice our newest baby calf had gotten out of the fence.  Through the unpleasant experience of a sick child, I was in turn available to notice and help out a stranded calf.   Last week, was I a bit disappointed at first when the two people I had asked to pray with were unavailable?  Sure, but then God met me in the most meaningful and special way–and He spoke to my heart His love.  He spoke it to me alone and in the exact way I needed it.  I truly believe He orchestrated every moment of that day for His good pleasure.

When we surrender all to God, we allow God to use it all. And we are free–free of fear, free of anxiety, free of shame, and free of worry.

So I encourage you today to cease striving–cease trying to make things work out the way you think they should.   Cease trying to figure out the why of what has been going on.   And surrender.  Get on your knees and give yourself to God.  Present your body as that living sacrifice.  You’ll soon experience that God’s yoke is indeed easy, and His burden is indeed light (Matthew 11:25-30).  His ways are far greater than any you could ever dream up.  And it is His way you want, even if for a little while (or maybe a long while), His way doesn’t make sense. 

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).