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.

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The Throne of Grace

Hebrews 4:16 “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Doesn’t that verse just make you sigh a breath of relief? It’s like you have been walking around carrying a boulder on your back and then God tells you that He can take that boulder off. And beyond that, He offers to help you with whatever else you need. So you dump it off and breathe. Thank you Lord.

We can come to God’s throne. Really! How awesome is that.

“A throne is the seat of a sovereign; a throne of grace is designed to represent a Sovereign seat to dispense mercy and pardon.”

God is sovereign, He is in absolute control. So if it were just any throne, we should not be able to approach without invitation. And I can’t imagine why any king would call me to his throne. But we as believers have access, and it isn’t just any throne, it is a throne of grace. Jesus has given us access to our Creator God.

We come to the throne “not depending on our own merits but we come where a sufficient sacrifice has been offered for human guilt, and where we are assured God is merciful.”

We can come to the throne boldly, with confidence because of what Jesus did for us on the cross.

“It is easy to be forgiven. All that needs to be done is to plead the merits of our Great High Priest and God is ready to pardon.”

Jesus is our Great High Priest. A priest in the Old Testament would make sacrifice for the sins of the people. But Jesus changed all of that. Jesus became the sacrifice for all of our sins. A sacrifice does not have to be done again and again. Jesus did it once and for all.

So we come to God’s throne of grace with confidence because of Jesus. And there at the throne “we received mercy and find grace.”

We are sinful people. There isn’t a day that goes by that we live without sin in our lives. We are in desperate need of forgiveness of sins.

1 John 1:9 tells us that “If we confess our sin, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” So we come to the throne and tell the Lord of our sin.

We come with a deep realization of our deep need for forgiveness whenever we come to the throne because we are approaching a Holy God. We remember what Jesus did for us and in humility stand before God desiring His mercy on us.

Our Sovereign God grants us mercy out of His amazing love for us, the love that gave us Jesus (John 3:16).

Then, once we are pardoned, we stand there before God in our desperation and we find grace for all of life. We find “strength, help, counsel, direction, support” and so much more.

How reassuring it is to know that we have this lifeline in prayer. The Lord offers us grace to help us in time of need.

He will help us :

  • in the good times when we want to believe we can do it all in our self-sufficiency, but find we can’t. We only need to recognize our neediness and call on Him in humility.
  • in the mundane, doldrums of life. He is present. we can turn to HIm and He will help us through. He knows our feelings. He can lead us to know our significance in Him if we only call to Him. He knows our worth in Jesus.
  • in the painful times of loss and grief. He knows the grief and pain we bear. we can bring our tears to Him and share our sorrows. He will give comfort and wrap us in His love. We must only come to the throne.
  • in difficult, troublesome times. He knows those days that nothing goes right and your frustration level is higher than the roof. We can come to the throne and ask for help. He knows our weakness, and can give us strength and counsel.
  • in the moments of desperation, where you don’t know which way to turn. He can lead us in wisdom to help us move forward encouraged.

The Lord is always available. We can come to Him at any time. He listens to the cry of our hearts and will respond with grace to help us. He welcomes our neediness and desires our dependence on Him.

Are you struggling today? You can go to Him right now. He will meet you where you are.  He is faithful and true to His promises. Let’s approach His throne with confidence, He has all we need for life. He gives us the rest we need.

Take your struggle to the throne of grace today.

(All quotes are taken from Albert Barnes Notes on the Whole Bible – public domain.)

The Weight of Life

Are you seemingly sinking under the weight of life?

I have been doing a Kim Avery online-Bible study titled Life Overflowing, it is on the book of Ephesians. It’s an excellent study, with audio lessons and a worksheet for note-taking for each lesson. I was writing about it in my journal and inadvertently wrote “Life Overwhelming” instead of Life Overflowing. Those kind of moments help you to see where you are really at in life. We get so caught up in our lives, sometimes we don’t even realize how it is all affecting us.

Shauna Niequist, in her book Present over Perfect, tells about how she found herself at the point of hating her life. She had pushed and pushed, hustled and hustled. She tried to do everything to live up to expectations, and to fulfill obligations, and she came to the place of being exhausted as well as often sick. The weight of life had become too heavy for her.

Maybe you feel the same way. Maybe you have too many things packed into your days; too much to do, too many people to meet with, too much help to give, and an overload of work to accomplish. What is the bottom line? Shauna came to realize that she was trying to make things perfect, and trying to be the responsible one”” who could handle everything. She also found that her striving stemmed from a “cavernous ache” inside of her heart. It was about her need to be loved, so she tried to earn love that she didn’t feel she could receive apart from doing.

God’s love is unconditional. We are not loved by God because of anything we do or have done. He loves us because He created us. He wants a relationship with us. He loves us even though He knows our limitations.

You would think knowing these truths would help us to recognize that the pressure is off, but that often is not the case. We go on striving to find satisfaction within by doing more and more.

We end up believing the Enemy’s lies and then try to fill the hole inside with personal attempts to get love by doing.

All too often we try to impress others with our busyness, and our self-importance. Shauna explains how she chose to change that in her life. We can also choose to make changes. Like Shauna, we can make an intentional effort in our lives to encourage each other to find rest. We can find special ways to support one another. We can help others to see that they do not need to do more and more in their lives.

Shauna demonstrates the importance of knowing the Father’s love so that you no longer need to prove yourself.  When we know God’s love, we learn to love self in healthy ways and then show respect for others.

Reading about this led me to ask myself some questions, questions that I want to share with you for you to also contemplate. It begins by evaluating where you are in the struggle for perfection and also recognizing how weighed down you feel. So consider the following. I found that setting aside some time to journal really helped me.

  • Where are you finding your worth? Is your worth found in your accomplishments or in your busyness?
  • Is there something you are trying to prove?
  • What is the “cavernous ache” within you saying?
  • What is the need deep inside?
  • Who can you reach out to for help? Who can share the weight of life with you? Who can help you carry the heavy burdens of your life?
  • What do your feelings and response to life say about your relationship with the Lord?
  • Is His love enough? What do you need to talk with Him about?

These are important and difficult questions, some of which are only answered over much time and contemplation. But the answers can help you make important changes.

We have to decide what really matters. Each decision Shauna needed to make led her to consider two things. She began to base her decisions about how she would answer people’s requests for her to do something by checking to see if the choice at hand fit into her purpose and secondly, if it would bring her love. There was no more settling for an unsatisfying substitute in striving.

She discovered that often the things she pushed herself to do had not been about her purpose, and more often than not, she did not find love in the end. Instead, she found herself exhausted and feeling sick.  

The should’s, the have-to’s, the people-pleasing choices do not bring us love. They lead to resentment. They lead us to feel like we are carrying around boulders. There are only 24 hours in a day and we can only accomplish so much. What are the boulders in your life? What is weighing you down? Think about it and take it to the Lord in prayer.

  • We can speak honestly about where we are with our Heavenly Father. He knows.
  • We can come to Him with our worn-out lives and seek Him for wisdom and help.
  • We can find His love to fill the emptiness within to help keep us from striving in life.

And most importantly, we can find refreshment in His presence and in staying present in our lives.

I hope that you will find the refreshment our Heavenly Father longs for you to have in knowing the depths of His love for you.

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.