Letting Go: Trusting God and His Love

Letting go is difficult, we clutch on with fear in our hearts. Last week I shared biblical truths that are helping me toward abandoning outcomes to God.  I am focusing on repeating one of the truths as I find my neck and shoulder muscles tightening as I strive to gain control or get it done my way. Sometimes I just tell myself two words, “abandon outcomes.”

It seems so easy to recognize our need toreally know God and to acknowledge our need to be growing in trusting Him. But, I am finding what I think I know and how much I trust is different from the way I live it out in reality.  I am realizing I do not know Him the way I need to, I already knew that, but I did not realize to what degree. I guess we can deceive ourselves into thinking our faith is stronger, and our trust is deeper than what it really is.

The Lord wants us in a deep trusting relationship with Him and as Christians we all have trusted Him for our salvation and we trust Him to varying degrees beyond that. He is at work within each one of our lives to draw us nearer to Him, to lead us to know and trust Him more and more, day-by-day, moment-by-moment. Yet, humankind has been striving for independence ever since the fall of man. Unfortunately, independence never gets us to where God wants us. Stillness not striving is what God wants of us.

I am studying “Living a Praying Life Without Fear: Let Faith Tame Your Worries” by Jennifer Kennedy Dean. It is a study that was given to me, and initially I considered passing it on, it didn’t seem relevant to where I was at. But now, months later, I am learning some very important things about fear. I am realizing how very blind I have been and am to how my own emotions are related to my fears. And I am realizing how my fears are really about my lack of understanding of God’s love for me and my trust in Him.

One of the questions Dean asks her readers is to consider about how we would complete this thought,  “if only…  than I’d be happy and secure.  She asks us to fill in the blank with whatever it is we think would bring happiness and security. At first I didn’t know what to write, but as I thought about my fears, especially the ones that keep me striving. to have control, I wrote, “If only my heart weren’t a sieve, then love would stay and I would feel happy and secure.” If that were true I wouldn’t need to strive to people-please to earn love and satisfaction.

Writing that made me wonder what my heart does with God’s love.  I don’t know the answer to that question but in my prayer journal I paraphrased part of Paul’s prayer from Ephesian’s 3:17-19 AMP. I wrote this:

Lord, help me to be deeply rooted and securely grounded in Your love. Help me to be capable of comprehending the width and length and height and depth of Your love, fully experiencing your amazing, endless love. Help me to come to know, practically through personal experience, Your love, and help me to be filled up with all of Your fullness so that I may have the richest experience of Your presence in my life. I want to be completely filled and flooded with You, Lord. ”

God is love. The Amplified Bible explains that He is the originator of love, and it is an enduring attribute of His nature (1 John 4:8 AMP).

Be still and know that I am God.

Be still and know that I am love.

When we really know His love with every fiber of our being we can be still, we can stop striving. We can stop striving because we will be fully satisfied in Him.

It always amazes me how the Lord keeps bringing me back to this place, repeatedly, as if to ask me: Do you know My love for you? Do you trust me? Why do you keep striving and trying to control outcomes?

So here I am AGAIN, holding my heart up to Him, like a dripping sieve, my heart needs to have all of the holes filled with His love, so no love can seep out. And I ask Him to hold me in His love and help me feel secure in Him, I realize that it is the only place where I will learn to grow to trust Him. It is the only place that I can be still knowing that He is God; knowing that He is love makes all the difference.

I need to bask in His love in order to stop the fear and stop the striving. I need to bask in His love in order to feel safe enough to abandon outcomes to Him.

After all that the Lord has done for us, how can we question His love? It doesn’t make sense. Yet, He continually has to help me see my need for Him, my desperate state. He continually has to help me know His love for me. He has to continually help me be willing to release my clenched fists and stop holding onto control. It is not a one-time-and-done lesson, at least not for me.

When I am striving I miss out on His presence and His love because my focus is not on Him. I miss knowing all the blessing He has for me because I am holding tightly to getting what I want.

What about you, do you need to know His love more?

How will learning more about His love help you to stop fearing and stop striving?

What He asking you to release to Him?

Oh Lord help us! We are a desperate people and so blind to our desperation.  Help us to stop striving and learn to abandon outcomes to You. Help us to trust You, for Your love is all we need. Amen!

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Letting Go; Knowing Truth Can Help

 

Living with stress sure causes problems! But how do we let go?

My thoughts pressure me to try to stay in control, to get it all done, to please everyone and gain approval. Yet, when I work hard to make it happen and the outcome isn’t what I hoped for I get frustrated and angry. It seems that it is a vicious cycle, and I am stuck in it like a revolving door.

My recent realization of how my stress is directly related to my need for control has led me to choose to make changes. These changes will not happen overnight, they will take time and practice.

I have been thinking a lot about my control issues, and realize how I am tied up in the temporal, looking for approval of man. Colossians 3:2 AMP says, “Set your mind and keep focused habitually on the things above [the heavenly things] not on things that are on the earth [which have only temporal value].” The Truths of God’s Word are things from above, and my need for human approval is definitely temporal. I need to fill my mind with His Truth, especially the truths regarding all He gives me. These are things that I miss out on when I am wrongly focused.

The changes I am going to make involve taking the following truths into my heart, and focusing on them throughout my days.

1. First of all, I need to focus on God’s great love. Jeremiah 31:3a AMP, tells us: “The LORD appeared to me (Israel) from ages past, saying, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with loving-kindness I have drawn you and continued My faithfulness to you… “ When I am feeling like I need to try harder and do more in order to earn love I will think on His everlasting love that does not change or diminish.

2. God also promises us peace of mind and heart in John 14:27 AMP, “Peace I leave with you; My [perfect] peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid.” Yet, even so, I strive and worry and sit here with aching shoulder and neck muscles. When I am feeling overwhelmed and stressed I need to think on the peace He gives. Do you need His peace today for whatever you are struggling with?

Isaiah 26:3 AMP promises us peace as well. Isaiah tells us this about God, “You will keep in perfect and constant peace the one whose mind is steadfast [that is, committed and focused on You in both inclination and character], because he trusts and takes refuge in You [with hope and confident expectation]”. When we keep our minds stayed on Him, we will have His peace!

3. I know that I end up in bondage to others as well as to my to-do list and, as their slave, I grow more and more tense and worried, continually striving. Bound to these, I am weighed down and overwhelmed. Hebrews 12:1-2 tells us that because so many have witnessed the truth God’s absolute faithfulness, we can strip ”off every unnecessary weight and the sin which so easily entangles us” and stripped of these, we can “run with endurance and active persistence the race set before us [looking away from all that will distract us and] focusing our eyes on Jesus who is the Author and Perfecter of faith, … who for the joy [of accomplishing the goal] set before Him endured the cross disregarding the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God [revealing His deity, His authority, and the completion of His work]”. The Lord has given help to us to run this race of life. We have freedom in Him, the pressure is off. We only have to throw off the weights and run this race free of all that keeps us tethered.

4. The Lord also has given us access to Him in prayer. Hebrews 4:16 AMP tells us: “Therefore, let us [with privilege] approach the throne of grace [that is, God’s gracious favor] with confidence and without, so that we may receive mercy [ for our failures] and find [His amazing] grace to help in time of need [an appropriate blessing, coming just at the right moment.” I can come to Him, we can come to Him, freely anytime and tell Him about our struggles and trust Him to supply mercy and grace to help us. What do you need to talk with Him about today?

5. The Lord also wants to gift us with joy, peace, and hope; gifts that, like the sun behind dark clouds, are missed or seemingly lost as I focus on the wrong things. Paul tells us about it in a prayer-like verse in Romans 15:13 AMP. This is a favorite verse of mine. It says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing [through the experience of your faith] that by the power of the Holy Spirit you will abound in hope and overflow with confidence in His promises. “ In the midst of our overwhelming lives these are offered to you and me! I want to say,“Yes Lord, bring it on!”

6. And one last verse I want to focus on is James 1:5 AMP. James tells us, “If any of you lacks wisdom [to guide him through a decision or circumstance], he is to ask of [our benevolent] God, who gives to everyone generously and without rebuke or blame, and it will be given to him.” When we are at a loss as to what to do or how to do it we only need to ask the Lord and He will lead us in His wisdom. What a wondrous gift this is! So often, in times of stress we come to a place that we don’t know what to do next, and knowing we have help can really bring relief in times of worry.

Wow, what a list! Looking at these truths I wonder why I get into such bondage and overwhelm. I only need to remember all I have in my Lord. Each one of these verses gives us a way to set our minds on Him to help us take our focus off of the outcome that has us bound in knots.

I realize that what we each need to let go of probably is different, but when we transfer our focus to Him and seek Him for help, we are given exactly what we need to make it through. He helps us let go by leading us to focus on Him and on what we have in Him. He helps us focus on Who He is and what He can do for us and that is what we will be looking at next week.

The tighter I hold on to getting my way or to finding ways to fill my empty, the more frustrated, angry and short-tempered I become. My neck and shoulder muscles continue to tighten as I stress about how I can do everything so I get the response I need. I must turn my focus to Him!

What are you in need letting go of? Maybe you do not realize what is at the bottom of your clutching on so tightly, ask the Lord to show you what it is. He knows why you are feeling (emotionally and physically) the way you do. He knows what you are in bondage to and He wants to deliver you! He wants to deliver me. Ask Him to show you the Truths of His Word that counteract the lies that keep you bound. When you know the truth you shall be free indeed (See John 8:31-32)!

I pray that some of these verses have helped you and that you will join me next week as I share more about letting go!

Christian Platitudes and Spiritual Band-Aids

What do you say when you don’t know what to say?

  • When your neighbor’s husband dies from a heart attack at 32 leaving his wife with four young children.
  • When the retired couple at church have all of their financial savings taken in a scam and are left with nothing.
  • When the cancer comes back for the third time and the hospital bills continue to pile up at our friends house.
  • When the young college grad with a successful job opportunity ahead is unexpectedly killed in a car accident.

What do you say? We want to say something. We want to sound like good Christians and be encouraging. Yet so often our words end up coming out leaving the grieving one feeling hollow and empty.

We hear the grief, the despair, the hopelessness, and pain, and in our anxiety we search our minds for the right words. Then out comes a verse out of context or a platitude that drops like a bomb.

The Bible shares how initially Job’s friends really were helpful in bearing his burden. They came to him and they sat with him. For the first three days they were silent.

Those who are hurting don’t need us to explain away why God allowed this.

  • They need someone there with them in the pain– someone to just be fully present.
  • They need someone to give them hug, to cry with them, or to just listen without judgment.
  • They need someone who will allow them to be wherever they are in the process of pain or grief.

Grief and emotional-pain takes months and sometimes years to work through. Our losses, whatever they maybe, hit each one of us differently. Each step of the process takes a varying amount of time depending on the individual. That is why the spiritual band-aids and Christian platitudes can be so damaging and so hurtful. The things we say may very well be true, but the hearts and minds receiving them may not be at all ready to hear those things.

Sometimes the person enveloped in pain wants to share about what they are going through, whether it be fear or sorrow or even anger. Other times they cannot even form the words, they can’t even begin to think because of their depth of grief. We need to be aware of where they are at, and when we don’t know, just ask. A simple, “Do you want to talk or shall I just sit here with you?”

There just are no easy one-size-fits-all answers. All of our responses need to depend on the individual’s needs.

Our fear of not knowing what to say or do can even make us want to avoid the situation. But that can be hurtful too.

The bottom line is remembering to show love. Isn’t that what we all need all of the time? And we especially need love when we are going through the rough stuff of life.

Next time you are faced with someone near-and-dear to you struggling with what life brings, consider how you can show love and meet them right where they are.

  • Maybe that will mean going and sitting with them.
  • Possibly sending a caring card will be the right thing to do.
  • Maybe sending a note and flowers will show you care.
  • It might be that bringing a simple meal will be just what is needed.
  • Or maybe the Lord will lead you in a totally different way according to His perfect wisdom.

Whatever path of compassion you choose remember you definitely can help them to feel held in your love and presence by reaching out and being there.

Acceptance and Belonging

Romans 15:7 tells us, “Therefore accept one another just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.”

 

Do you long for acceptance and belonging?

I know that I do. We as humans generally want to feel that we are a part of something, we need to know that we have a place. We need loving acceptance to welcome us in relationships. The Lord created us with desire for relationship but finding acceptance and belonging can be a struggle. All of the issues that keep us imprisoned in loneliness leave us without the belonging and acceptance we so desperately need.

Paul tells us in Romans 15:7 that we are to accept one another. And we are to do this because of what Jesus did. He is our perfect example. He accepted us by His grace. He died for us and brought glory to His Father. We too can bring glory to God by living out grace in our lives as Jesus did.

We are called to accept one another even though we recognize many differences among us; different looks, different viewpoints, different beliefs, different perceptions, different ways of understanding and on and on it goes. Even so we are to emulate Jesus in showing patience to each other and in showing forbearance for each other. We are to show the same love that the Lord has showered on us.

The Bible speaks a lot about the importance of unity, and as you probably well know that does not come easily. It is only through the love and acceptance of Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit can we have unity. Unity is not born out of sameness in background. It is born out of the love that Holy Spirit pours into our hearts, and the grace we learn to share as we come to know Jesus in deeper ways. We all come from different backgrounds and have had many different experiences. The common thread for Christians is the Gospel. And it is as we grow in our faith, we grow in our desire to live out Christ-like love and acceptance to others.

Living out love and acceptance in the church, in the Christian community is what Paul is speaking of. He does not say that it will be easy, but he does make it clear that it is possible as we depend on the Holy Spirit. Paul knew the Truth, he knew the reality of God’s grace. He knew full well how his life had been transformed, how his heart had done a 180 degree turn around. Only in God’s power. The Lord led Paul’s heart to a place of peace, and to a desire for fellowship. Following this miracle in his heart, Paul wanted nothing more that to see the church, the body of Christ to grow in peace and unity.

So, it is as we seek the Lord and depend on the Holy Spirit, He will empower us to develop hearts wiling to accept others with Christ-like love. We desperately need the love of Christ in our hearts, the power of His grace, and the leading of the Holy Spirit to help us develop unity in our churches and to grow places filled with people who want to accept others because they have found acceptance in a loving Savior.

Belonging, acceptance, and community bring about an atmosphere where we are willing to carry one another’s burdens and weaknesses, trials, afflictions, and infirmities. This grows out of hearts filled with love. It is in a community of hearts filled with God’s love that we can begin to feel safe to share in authenticity.

When we are stuck holding our shame inside, walls are constructed that keep us separated. But when we are free to share our struggles, confess our sins, and be honest regarding our suffering, we open the doors to the possibility of finding community. We need to know God’s grace in our hearts in order for us to share His acceptance.

When we know the magnitude of God’s love and grace towards us, we learn of the freedom to come to Him just as we are. And knowing His love and grace deep in our hearts leads us to sharing that same kind of grace with others.

I find that people who have found the vast ocean of God’s grace are the ones who can share that same grace from their hearts with others.

The Lord desires the church to be a place of belonging. He created us with longing for belonging. He wants us to be in communion with Him. He wants us to live in community with others through sharing His grace.

The thing about belonging is when we truly belong we no longer need to hide, we can be real and authentic about where we are at in life. We don’t have to be chameleons or people-pleasers.

When we can be honest about who we are and where we are at, and not have to try to be someone we are not, we can feel at home, and truly feel loved.

So finding acceptance and belonging begins in our hearts when our hearts are firm in the knowledge and experience of God’s grace and love towards us.

Take time today to examine the reality to which you know God’s grace. Seek to know it more so that it overflows as you meet others. Acceptance starts with knowing Jesus and the fullness of His grace. Acceptance grows as we allow His grace and love to flood our hearts. We can make a difference. Our Christian communities can be places of acceptance and belonging. How will you begin to make this happen in your life?

 

It has been a number of weeks since I have been able to publish a post because of having to help with my mom’s care. I have felt the Lord’s grace in my life as I saw the Lord work through the prayers of others. I so appreciate those who so kindly prayed for my mom. She has been in and out of the hospital a couple of times in the past few weeks as well as in rehab. She is finally gaining strength and able to sit in a chair. Thank you so very much for your faithful prayers. 

Loneliness

Do you wrestle with loneliness?

You are not alone.

Loneliness is experienced by many people, but few admit it. Admitting to feeling lonely is difficult because we worry no one will understand.

We find the subject of loneliness in the Psalms. David shares openly of his struggle with feeling lonely. David takes his neediness to the Lord, wanting Him to be aware of his pain and to help him with it. Here are two verses where we find the Psalmist crying out.

Psalm 25:16 “Turn to me and be gracious to me for I am lonely…”

Psalm 142:4  “Look to my right and see, no one is concerned for me. I have no refuge, no one cares for my life.’

Can you relate?

There have been times in my life when I have felt lonely. I remember feeling as though there was no one I could share my present reality with. No one that I could share my feelings about all that was happening in my life. And I wanted to talk with someone.

There are many different reasons for loneliness. Loneliness can be circumstantial. It may be because of moving away to a new town, or having an empty-nest. It could be that there has been a misunderstanding between friends or within your family. Loneliness also occurs when there is a loss of a spouse or close friend through death or divorce, or a separation of some kind.

Loneliness can be because of personal fear of sharing, putting up walls of self-protection. We sometimes choose to isolate ourselves because of fear of others criticism, judgment, or their reaction. We stuff our feelings because it seems as if no one will accept us if we share with them.

I know my depression stemmed from stuffing deep grief from childhood. I felt abandoned in my grief but didn’t feel heard when I tried to express it, so I crammed it deep inside. I chose to be busy and independent as I grew up. I ran away from the painful feelings as much as possible, until at one unexpected moment much later in life all of my pain poured out in sobs. I had walled off that part of me– and chose not to feel it or look at it. But then came the time when there no longer was a choice. I had to get to the bottom of it all.

Loneliness can come about out of shame too. A choice we or a family member made, one that seemed like the only way out at the time, leaving us now feeling alone and afraid to share. What will people say? What will they think? How will they look at me if they knew? These are all questions that may go through our minds. We wonder how could I tell them about my abortion, my drug abusing teen, my affair, my alcoholic spouse, my father in prison–what will they say?

These feelings of shame can be further magnified in the community of believers. We look at those around us in the chairs or pews in our churches and they look as if their lives are perfect. We wonder how could they ever relate to what we are going through? The feelings of “I don’t belong” scream in our heads and rip apart our hearts. We need each other. We need someone to talk to. But who is safe?  Who will even want to be around us? We feel like the lepers in the Bible– isolated and surely to be ostracized.

Again I ask, can you relate?

Loneliness is a problem in all of society. The rich, the poor, and in each and every race. We all need Jesus and we all need the community of others to support us throughout life.

As believers we want to think that we can find that community, that family, in our churches. But that is not always the case. It seems that our churches are often places filled with plastic smiles and rote replies where many hearts are dying of loneliness.

So what is the answer, how do we find a better way? How do we find the connection we so desperately need? Well, the first and most important answer is to seek the Lord in prayer. I know that I have prayed at different times in my life for the Lord to provide me with community, safe-sisters, and He has in amazing and unexpected ways. I have found that He knows exactly what my heart needs.

Many deep safe friendships take years to form, but with God, He can develop depth of years in a few months. He wants us to have heart-to-heart friendships. Friendships filled with love, sharing and accountability. It is in the sharing of our hurts, our struggles, our pain, our missteps, and in our freedom to confess the reality of what life is really like, that we find community. Community is what we need to help us lift our load.

Galatians 6:2 tells us, “Carry each others burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” The Benson Commentary explains that this verse is telling us to “sympathize with and assist each other in all our weaknesses, grievances, trials.” Matthew Henry’s Concise commentary says that “The better we know our own hearts and way, the less we shall despise others and the more be disposed to help them under infirmities and afflictions.” And Barnes Notes on the Bible  explains that we are to “bear with each other; help each other in the divine life. The sense is that every man has special temptations and easily besetting sins, which constitute a heavy burden. We should aid each other in regard to these, and help one another to overcome them.”

The law of Christ is all about loving one another and love is the antidote to loneliness. Christ-like love. When we read the Word of God we see that Jesus mostly condemned the pious, proud, self-reliant people and befriended the suffering and the sinners.

I am so blessed to be a part of a church that is full of love and honesty regarding struggles, but I know that is not the norm. And it makes me incredibly sad to see so many going through life lonely and isolated because there is no place for honest sharing and confession.

We need to be the change-agents. We need to open our hearts, confess our struggles, and welcome the neediness of others. This can start with just acknowledging the emotions of another or a struggle heard in prayer. it can be followed up with a caring phone call. Or asking one to join you for coffee or for a Bible study or a book study. It takes being aware, and a willingness to be open and available. Reaching out involves risk but when connection occurs it brings great blessing. It’s helpful to remember that people have varying levels of comfort with depth of sharing, so we have to move forward carefully.

We all need acceptance and belonging in our lives and my post will delve into that topic next week. I hope that you will join me again.

We Need the Lord and Each Other

If someone asked you to describe the Lord and your experience of Him, What would you say?

How does that influence your interactions with others and how you respond to pain and difficulties?

Shadows are the result of something blocking the light. There are many things in life that cast a shadow on our faith and make us question the Lord’s goodness, His power, His timing, or His wisdom. Roman’s 8:38-39 tells us that nothing can separate us from God’s love. Yet, Satan wants us to live in the dark places, and to have shadows cast on God’s love and faithfulness so our faith is shaken and we question God. Satan wants us to tremble with fear and feel very alone.

The Lord desires us to fully know His love and to share that love and build community. He wants us to be empathetic, authentic, transparent, and real about what we feel and need. He wants His love to touch our pain and to help us grow. He wants us to grow to know Him and His love more deeply. He wants us to pour out our hearts to Him (Psalms 62:8).  He also wants us to make confession of our sin to one another (James 5:16).  He desires us to live in a community of love.

When we as Christians are limited in our experience of knowing the reality and magnitude of God’s love, we fail to share and express it. We all need the Lord, the blessings of His love and grace, and we need each other, but how should this flow and work in life? And, more importantly, is it happening to the extent and in the way the Lord desires, or do some changes need to take place?

The Word of God is filled with people struggling with sin, pain, and fear in real life issues. We read about people who cry out to the Lord in desperation like Elijah (1 Kings 17-19), Ezra, and the Israelites (Ezra 10), and David (Psalms 42, 43, 69). People who authentically confessed their weakness, sin, and neediness. It is in those places in the Bible, in those places of authenticity and transparency, that I feel safe and not alone. I feel a level of community with them because they share their hurt,  and raw emotions with the Lord and with others.

We know that we are a sinful, rebellious people living in a world filled with pain, sickness, evil, and trouble. We know there is a cavernous emptiness within. It is in Jesus that we find grace and acceptance.

Yet, there are so many lonely Christians with dark secrets that they fear sharing. So many afraid to step into our churches because, more than being preached at or judged, they need to feel love and acceptance. There are so many hurting people; deeply wounded by abandonment, rejection, lies, betrayal, loss, grief, death, living in depression, or with another mental illnesses. There are many whose stories are walled off within because of fear, they live in self-protection. People who see plastered on smiles and hear “I’m fine” and wonder, “what’s wrong with me?” People who hear verses handed out like prescriptions, spiritual Band Aids slapped ineffectively on gaping wounds. People who hear Christian platitudes; the way it should be, but know that this isn’t their experience in life or their experience of God. These are people who desperately need to feel and know the love of Jesus in real, practical ways, but they are not finding it.

These are issues I want to discuss, issues I want to look at. You see, I have been on both sides of this problem. I have been the needy, desperate one feeling totally alone and misunderstood, as I felt when I was deep in my depression and people questioned my faith. And I have been that Christian, who has shared an unhelpful Christian platitude and walked away not hearing the pain of another. I think that most of us can probably say we have experienced both sides.

Many of us have been needy and desperate at some time. We have needed empathy, understanding, or a listening ear from a caring person, or maybe something more tangible. Yet we may have struggled to feel safe in asking to have that need met, and so have been left alone in our pain. We fear sharing the reality of our neediness, we question the safety in being fully seen and heard just as we are. Many of us know the pain of loneliness, neediness, or just wanting to know acceptance and have belonging. We feel left out, not good enough or just separate and different.

And many of us also have given out a verse when a listening ear was needed.

What can we as people and we as a part of the “Christian community” do? The change begins in us as individuals.

My next three posts will focus on loneliness, acceptance, belonging, Christian platitudes, and spiritual Band-Aids. I hope you will join me each week.

Growing in Grace through Soul Friendships

Are you growing in grace?

Do you have friendships in your life that draw you closer to the Lord?

The most important goal in life as a believer in Jesus Christ is to grow in knowing Him more and becoming more like Him. So, if that is your goal in life, then it only stands to reason that you would desire to have friends with similar feelings and wants.

We end up with many different relationships in life, and there is a range to the depth of intimacy our relationships reach. The people you are closest to have the greatest influence on you and you on them. Their influence can be for good or for the worst. This helps us recognize why it is so important to make wise decisions or choices especially in our closest relationships. This is also why I asked if you have friendships that draw you closer to the Lord. Growing in grace should be a top priority and a soul friend can be a great help in that.

You may be wondering at this point what I mean when I say “soul friend.” Soul friend is a term I read about when I was doing a little personal studying on the spiritual disciplines. I was familiar with many of the disciplines mentioned, like meditation, prayer, study, solitude and silence, but I had not heard of that of “soul friendship.”

The following qualities are found in a soul friend, she or he:

  • has an intimate relationship with the Lord
  • lifts you up in prayer
  • shares honestly and truthfully with you
  • listens and empathises with you
  • helps you find your way to the Lord when you are distracted, frustrated, hurting, angry, or overwhelmed
  • helps you to hear and know the Lord’s truth about your situation

Mindy Caliquire says that a “spiritual friend” or “soul friend” helps us sit with God and helps us pay attention to Him.

We can be real with a soul friend, confess our problems, sins, share our needs, and be fragile enough to say ‘I need help.’ These kinds of friendships take time to form and develop, and often, I believe, they really come in answer to prayer.

I have been blessed with three soul friends in my life.  Three women who I have known varying lengths of time, but have grown deep with each because of our sharing. These friends do not know each other, they may have only heard me mention the others names. In each of these relationships our sharing with one another is all about honesty, asking probing questions, encouraging each other to seek wisdom, and praying for each other as we would pray for ourselves.

Each one of these three friends is a person I can share my deepest pain with. I can share the part of myself that I rarely tell anyone about. The pain that gets triggered at the most unexpected time, the pain that really makes no sense in the current situation but is all about the hurt of the past. I can be real and share the hurt I feel in a situation, or explain why I reacted. I can explain my reaction as it is connected to my pain, and they will know and connect with me in it. They will reassure me. And it works both ways, I know their inner conflicts and deep hurts, as well as their insecurities and I can be there for them.

Our conversations center around life, how we feel about life, what the Lord is teaching us, and where we are struggling. Our conversations always include how we can pray for each other, sharing Bible verses that touch our hearts, and giving God the glory for what He is doing.

None of us are squeaky clean, on the verge of perfection and knowing it all. We all are struggling in our own ways and we all need help for this journey called life.

We each need at least one soul friend in our lives. There are a couple of verses from God’s Word that come to mind as I share about soul friends. One is Proverbs 27:17:

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. 

A soul friend helps you grow in the things of the Lord, in learning about Him, in learning His Word, in learning about living in Christlikeness. Iron is sharpened.

The other verse is just a couple of verses further into chapter 17 of Proverbs at verse 19:

“Oil and perfume rejoice the heart; so does the sweetness of a friends counsel that comes from the heart.”

The “sweetness of a friends counsel,” words spoken in truth and with love are so sweet. Those words connect our hearts in very special ways and keep us coming back to one another for more support, encouragement, and help. And, more importantly, we find our soul friends leading us back to the love of the Lord, to His wisdom, and that is truly irresistable.

If you do not have a soul friend in your life right now, ask the Lord to show you who He desires you to have that kind of relationship with, and let Him lead you in it.  He can and will make it happen, because there is nothing He wants more than for us to be growing in knowing and loving Him as we enjoy His love in others. He wants us to be growing in grace. He answers these prayers in amazing ways! You won’t be disappointed.

Next post we will consider Growing in Grace through Meditation, Reflection, and Journaling.

Freedom in Grace

Romans 6:14-18 “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under the law but under grace. What then” Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means… But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient form the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and having even set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.

Do you know the freedom you have in the grace of God?

Grace frees us from the bondage of sin. When we are chained to a sinful life we are slaves to unrighteousness. But when Jesus died on the cross, He offered each of us robes of righteousness. His blood washes away our sin as we confess Him as Lord and Savior. We can be cleansed.

So if we are covered by Jesus righteousness, what does that mean for us? It means freedom, not freedom to do whatever we please but instead it means freedom from slavery to a life of sin. Instead we no have become saves to righteousness. Righteousness meaning rightness with God. When we live in sinfulness, we are not right with God, because God is a holy God and does not tolerate sin. but grace through Jesus blood covers us in righteousness.

Galatians 5: 13 says, “For you were called to be free, brothers; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve on another through love.”

So, we aren’t to use our freedom to just satisfy our flesh or satisfy our selfish desires. Instead we are to use our freedom to serve each other out of love.

Peter tells us in 1 Peter 2:16, “As God’s slaves, Live as free people, but don’t use your freedom as a way to conceal evil.”

We are to use our freedom to serve God. Bother of these verse are saying that we should allow our faith to be the diving force to holy living, to loving others.

It sees that we can see an important correlation here; to the level we understand and know the gracious heart of God is the same level to which we know how our sinful ways measure up against His holiness. And, in knowing that, our hearts should be prompted to live a life that pleases God. Not because we can earn our way to heaven, but because we love Him so much that we desire to please Him by living for Him.

It is in this freedom through grace that we find permission to stop striving.

We have freedom from condemnation. 

Romans 5:1 give us this hope: “Therefore there is now no condemnation from those who are in Christ Jesus.”

We have freedom from sin.

Romans’ 1:22 tells us: “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God the benefit you reap leads to holiness and the result is eternal life.”

We have freedom from fear.

Romans 8:15 says, “For you did not receive the Spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons by whom we cry, Abba! Father!”

We have freedom from the fear of death.

Hebrews 2:14-15 explains: “Now since the children have flesh and blood in common, Jesus also shared in these, so that through His death He might destroy the one holding the power of death–that is, the Devil– and free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death.”

This is our hope: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. stand firm, then and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)

We no longer have to live in fear. we are free to rest and trust in God’s love for all of life.

Yer, we so easily become entangled and become slaves to shame, to expectations, and to self-doubt. Do you find yourself in any of those? We are so easily enticed by what we see and want. We have been set free for the purpose of focusing on God’s grace, His love, and His Son Jesus.

 

Are you living free in the grace Christ bought with His blood? Where do you find yourself enslaved? Take time to talk with the Lord about this and ask Him to help you know your freedom in Him.

What’s in Your Treasure Chest?

What are you filling your treasure chest with for assurance and hope?

When we feel empty within, we search for things outside of ourselves to fill us. Shauna Niequist, in Present over Perfect, tells how she filled up on busyness, performance, recognition, and accomplishments, but ended up empty. Trying to find what will fill the emptiness, people reach for so many different things. It may be sex outside of marriage, alcohol, shopping, chocolate, drugs, or more and more work. What fills your emptiness within?

I have come to describe my heart to be like a sieve because the need for love within feels so great at times. It seems to get filled and then empty out, a constant cycle. Only God’s love, only God’s presence, only relationship with the Lord can fill or refill the holes.

Shauna says that when we carry God’s love and true peace in our souls as if our souls were a treasure chest, it is then we recognize that we don’t need to keep reaching and striving for more. The need inside feels so great but the Lord’s love is greater.

We need to consider what we are filling our lives, our hearts and souls with? What are you treasuring, running after, striving for? The Lord sees it as idolatry or adultery when we cherish anything more than HIm. He is the Treasure, His love is the gold that should fill our treasure chests. We should delight in Him above all.

Yet, we so easily get caught up in reaching for something here in this world when He holds out His arms and calls to us. He pursues us. Psalm 23:6 says, “Surely, your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” Literally, that means He chases after us with His loving-kindness.

Take a moment to create a picture in your mind. First of all, picture yourself striving for, running after whatever it is you think will fill you. Now, look behind you, look again, do you see the Lord following after you yelling your name? He is chasing you, He has so much to give you, so much loving-kindness to bring to your heart, soul, and life. Did you get a clear picture of that in your mind?

How silly we look. Think of it this way, it is like you are running away from someone with a ton of gold, calling to you, saying “this is for you.” But yet, you continue running towards whatever you think will fill the emptiness. The Lord chases after you with His love and mercy.

Over and over again in the Bible the Lord displays His love to men and women who do not respond. The Israelites repeatedly turn their backs on Yahweh and sin. We do the same thing, sometimes not even realizing how we have been overcome with desire for some thing or some one more than what our desire for the Lord is.

What are you delighting in, putting your hope in, banking your assurance on? It if isn’t the Lord, then turn to Him and talk with Him about it. Why are you running from Him? I don’t think we even consider that we are actually running from Him, yet we do “run” after other things.

We don’t need to continue striving to fill that emptiness. It is in relationship with Him that we can find the love and peace to fill the treasure chest within. It is an ongoing choice throughout life. We have to choose to reach for the Lord daily, and especially in our desperation and emptiness rather than for some quick fix.

Proverbs 4:23 tells us that we need to guard our hearts. We can get influenced by so much in this world. So, as you go through your day, guard your treasure chest. Keep finding God’s love to fill it. He wants to fill your treasure chest with His love. He wants to give you abundant life as only He can.

Love

Where is love in your life? How do you get the love you need? These are questions I had to ask myself as I read Ann Voskamp’s book The Broken Way.

The love we receive from the Lord and the reality of how He demonstrated His love is all wrapped up in two words: unconditional and sacrificial. It has been said that our hearts have a God-sized hole within and that until we come to know Him we search a million places to find something to fill the emptiness inside.

I guess that is why it made so much sense to me when I read this in The Broken Way, “…everyone is always asking only for one thing- will you love me?” I thought, “yes, that’s true.” I know in my own mind and heart that it is what I desire. I also know that I keep my need for love mostly hidden. It is not something that I easily want to admit to or am vulnerable to share. I believe that this is true of most people, I think that we often try to hide our neediness.

People want love, acceptance, and belonging. We search for these throughout life. We desperately want the emptiness within filled. And we try to fill it with so many things. We grasp at the air.

So, where can we get our love-tanks filled?  The surest way is in coming to the King of Kings to be filled. He is available, generous, and gracious. He demonstrated His amazing love in sacrificing Jesus, His only Son, on the cross for us. He loves us that much. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

When we come to know that nothing else can satisfy, nothing else can fill that void, when we finally come to the realization of our need for God, we must cry out in the desperation of a beggar. He is the one Who is able to fill our hearts.

Once we have the joy of knowing Jesus and His sacrificial love, we find our own hearts filling with love as we feel His presence in our lives, as we learn to know His comfort, His peace, His hope, and His faithfulness.

But we also can lose sight of this. Unless we keep feeding on His Word and receive His nurturing in our relationship with Him, we can grow hungry and needy again. And, I believe until we reach heaven we will always feel a certain emptiness.

Recognizing my own desire to be loved, being made aware of this again through reading Ann’s book, helped me to think in a new way about others. It made me to see people as needy, needy for love. And it doesn’t matter who they are, what financial tax bracket they are in, what they look like, we all struggle with emptiness. We all need love. People especially need love from us as believers. As believers we can be filled moment-by-moment in our relationship with the Lord.

People need the love that says, I see your sad eyes, I see your homelessness, I hear your hopeless words; all of these are a cry for different ways to be loved. Maybe a word of encouragement, maybe an invitation to conversation or lunch, maybe an offer of prayer.

Ann says the following about love:

“…it is always sacrifice for someone” (p. 104) and it is “the willingness to be interrupted … the willingness to be broken into” (p. 177).

Love, a sacrifice, a being broken into, a being interrupted. Love takes time and effort, giving and responding and willingness to risk being hurt.

God sacrificed, God gives love and He wants to live through us, we are the conduit of His love to others.

Next time you are feeling lonely or empty, reach out with love to another, it will change the way you feel. It is too easy to throw a pity party in wallowing in our own loneliness, when all we have to do is reach out. Next time you feel resentful or frustrated, remember Jesus sacrifice on the cross. Let His love fill your heart and readjust your attitude so you might respond with love. Everyone is looking to be loved. Maybe it is your child, your aging parent, your neighbor, your bossy co-worker, maybe it’s the tired clerk at the store, or the pregnant waitress or the overworked tax accountant. They all want love. Thinking about this changes everything. Most of all hopefully it changes the way we live our lives.

How will you let love change you? How will knowing people’s need for love change the way you live and respond?

Take time to consider these questions. It may mean a softer answer, a helping hand, a bigger tip, a listening ear, or maybe just going out of your way sacrificing your time for another. Whatever it is, give love, show love, and live love. It really can change everything, but most of all it can change our very own hearts.