Fighting for Peace

I wrote last week about how I believe the best is yet to come. Wednesday, I spent a good part of the day journaling and talking to God about everything going on in my life these days. I already believed what I’d written the day before, but I reached an even deeper place of peace and assurance that God truly has incredible things in store.

And then Thursday came. The potential disappointment I’d mentioned in last week’s post suddenly seemed like more of a probability than a possibility; I didn’t handle the thought well. The peace I had just a few hours before seemed nonexistent, and I became a bit of an emotional wreck for the afternoon.

As I pulled out my journal once again, the first lines I wrote were: “It’s amazing how often one must fight for peace… It seems like an oxymoron, but it’s true.” I have no idea where those words came from, but they’ve had me thinking ever since. So many times I think of peace as the absence of struggle, but often it seems like a war within to stay in a place of peace.

Jesus told His disciples, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) He is our source of peace no matter what is happening in the world, but it can be a battle to remain connected to that source when it seems the world is falling apart around us.

Paul encouraged the Philippians (4:4-8), “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

This is how we “fight” for peace. We take thoughts captive, every minute if necessary, and remind ourselves of truth. We rejoice always in Who our God is and the fact He is with us. We dwell in Him and fix our eyes on Him instead of on our circumstances. We present our needs and desires to Him and trust He will accomplish what concerns us, even if it isn’t in the way we expect.

I may have more emotional moments in the coming months as I wait to see what unfolds. But today, I’m in a place of peace. Tomorrow may bring a battle to stay there, but I know the weapons needed for the fight. I will rejoice in God and fix my thoughts on His truth, knowing wherever I am and whatever happens, the best is still ahead!

On Faith and Doubt

I’ve shared a couple of times in recent weeks that God has asked me to have faith for some things that seem highly improbable. In a number of verses in the Bible (James 1:6-7, for example), it says to ask in faith, without doubt, and you will have what you ask for. I have been doing my best to live up to those instructions.

However, it seems no matter how hard I try, little questions often sneak into my mind. “Did God really promise…? What if you got it wrong? Do you seriously believe God can/will do THAT? For YOU?” Each time these thoughts come, they bring guilt and condemnation with them. The one thing God has asked me to do is to believe without doubting, and I can’t even get that right!

This past Sunday at church, we had a guest speaker. There were a lot of great points in the sermon, but one thing has been stuck in my mind for the past three days. He made the comment that faith is not the absence of doubts, but confidence in the face of them. He went on to say that uncertainty of the outcome of a given situation is what makes faith possible. If we were completely certain that what we hope for would happen, there would be no need for faith.

What a freeing thought! I am not a failure because questions come to mind on occasion. I only fail to have faith if I entertain those questions and dwell on them. If I give them more room in my mind than I give to the confidence that God “will accomplish what concerns me,” then I give in to doubt.

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Confidence and assurance in the face of uncertainty. We don’t see the fulfillment of God’s promises yet, and it is normal that questions will arise. Every person mentioned in Hebrews 11 – the “Hall of Faith” – asked God questions on numerous occasions. Questions don’t equal sin or disqualify us from receiving the fulfillment of God’s promises.

Some teachers might tell you that if you only had enough faith, life would be easy and God would have answered your prayers by now. That is a load of rubbish. God never promised an easy life to anyone who chose to follow Him. In fact, in many cases, it was the opposite. What He did promise was that He would be with us, that He would never stop loving us, and that His words are true no matter what! (There are many other promises in His Word, so go read the Bible to find more.)

Whatever it is you’re hoping and praying for today, have faith. Don’t choose to live with the doubts that try to fill your mind. Acknowledge them, remind them of the awesome power of the God Who loves you, and send them on their way.

Will I Recognize Him?

All throughout the month of December, my mind has been on the hope and expectancy that the season of advent brings. I don’t think I have been as aware of those aspects of the season during any previous Christmas season as I have been this year. The sense of anticipation for what God wants to show up and do in my own life has been growing for months, and this season has heightened my awareness of that anticipation.

One major aspect of that anticipation which has come to mind repeatedly is the danger of expectations. I have written before about the difference between expectancy and expectations, but it is beautifully illustrated in the coming of Christ. God’s promises had been spoken through the prophets on so many occasions, and Israel’s sense of anticipation was high for the coming of the One Who would deliver them.

The children of Israel had expectations of this coming King of the Jews, and Jesus fulfilled few of them. Many of them didn’t recognize Him because He didn’t meet their expectations of a warrior and ruler who would free them from the oppressive government they lived under. Instead, their Savior was a baby born in a scandalous way and in a Bethlehem stable to poor nobodies from Nazareth of all places! “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46)

 How many times have I been guilty of hearing God’s promises and then building my own expectations for what they will look like based (sometimes loosely) on His words? How often do I miss the fulfillments of God’s words in my own life because I am looking for my own idea of how He will bring them about? How many times have you done the same?

Yes, hope and expectancy are vital. As I have just been reminded throughout the advent season, God will show up in the midst of our circumstances. He is God with us, and we should live with a sense of anticipation for His coming every day – not just the coming that will bring with it an end to tears and pain and establish His Kingdom forever – but His appearance in our everyday, ordinary lives.

The danger of expectation is in painting our own picture of what His arrival will look like. The vision we end up with may be based on His words, but I have learned that my pictures are often far too small for Him to actually fit into. His ideas are so far beyond what my mind can come up with that my expectations are ridiculously small compared to what He has in mind – despite the fact that they feel nearly impossible to me!

In pondering Mary’s story over the last couple of weeks, God’s appearance in her circumstances must have seemed – in the natural, at least – more of a burden than an answer to her prayers. His arrival in her life meant a tarnished reputation, the responsibility of raising the Son of God, and eventually, watching her firstborn tortured and crucified. And yet, her response was immediate acceptance of God’s plan and a worship session.

As we enter into 2016 in a couple of days, think about the promises God has spoken to you or the areas of your life where you are still awaiting His arrival. Do you have a certain idea of what His appearance will look like in those situations? Will you recognize Him if He appears in a different way than you expect? Will you respond with acceptance and worship no matter what His coming means for you?

I hope my answer to those final two questions is yes. Today, I am surrendering the expectations I’ve built of what His coming and His promises fulfilled will look like in my life, and I am choosing to live with a sense of hope and expectancy for His vision instead.

Waiting

I am waiting – not so patiently, I must admit – for a parcel from my parents. It is full of wonderful things like jeans, pens, and Christmas decorations that I would love to put on my little tree. Each day I beg Jesus multiple times to bring my parcel in the mail that day. At the time when there is no way it could still arrive that day, I ask that tomorrow will be the day.

It occurred to me a couple of days ago, that I ask for the arrival of my parcel far more diligently and with more urgency than I request the things that God has promised.

A few weeks ago I read a devotional about the power of desperate prayers. The example given was the story of Hannah in the Old Testament. She was barren and petitioned God in her desperation to have a baby. Her husband assured her of his love, and urged her to be content with him.

The devotional pointed out that Hannah was willing to face her pain and longing, and not content to accept her condition as “the will of God” for her. Instead, she went to the temple and poured her heart out to God so desperately that she was mistaken for a drunk.

For those that don’t know the story, by the same time the following year Hannah was the mother of the boy who would grow to be the prophet Samuel. (This story can be found beginning in 1 Samuel chapter 1.)

As I read this short encouragement, I was convicted that I had become complacent in the name of contentment. God has promised me several things that I have yet to see fulfilled, and after years – or even decades in some cases – I have learned that I don’t like waiting.

It ‘s amazing how often we in the church are told to be content with God. I wrote previously about the danger of becoming so “content” that we don’t long for the Kingdom of God to come in fullness. I think it goes beyond that though. What I have called contentment recently is a half-hearted or even indifferent attitude toward believing for the promises of God. I had stopped asking. I might have still flippantly tossed a request for one thing or another into my conversations with God, but the requests lacked any expectancy or urgency.

As I await the delivery of ranch dressing mix and other goodies from home, I am taking steps to ensure I am ready. I make sure the door to the entryway is unlocked each morning so the postman can get in to leave the mail. I run downstairs to check whenever I hear the doorbell signaling that something has been left. I am expectant. My waiting involves action and anticipation of the arrival.

So, why is it that all too often, as I await the arrival of all that God has promised, I sit idly by and simply watch? Why don’t I anticipate the delivery of His gifts? What might I need to do to ensure that delivery? Is there a door to be opened, or another action I could take? And finally, why don’t I wake up every morning pleading that today would be the day, or go to bed each night wondering if tomorrow will be?

Are you in that “fun” place of waiting? If so, are you just sitting and staring out the window and expecting that the delivery will fall in your lap, or are you preparing for the arrival of whatever it is you’re waiting for? I’d love to hear your answers in the comments below.

More than ever before, I’m realizing that waiting is a verb – an action word, and for too long I have allowed no action to be associated with it. It’s time to change that in my life; it’s time to ask, seek, knock, and prepare, expecting that delivery could come any day and I don’t want to miss it!

Time to Party?

So, tomorrow is kind of a big deal in my world. When it comes to birthdays, I’m still a kid at heart. I still wait with anticipation as my chance to celebrate a new year in my life comes along. If I’m being perfectly honest, I still love  the cards and gifts, the kind words and feeling special.

Some people seem to have outgrown this childlike fascination with their birthday, or they never really celebrated the day to begin with. Others dread the anniversary of their birth because it means they’re getting older, and aging is seen as the worst thing in the world. Um… I’m guessing they haven’t thought through the alternative to having birthdays and getting older.

The countdown to this birthday has been different. I’m torn between wanting to hope that it will be amazing and being afraid that it will be depressing. I’m living in a new country, and I’ve traveled enough during my time here that I don’t have a lot of close friends yet. Many of the friends I have made are currently out of town. I don’t have a permanent address and most people don’t have the temporary one, and with postage being expensive for overseas stuff, I don’t expect many cards or packages. I may end up taking myself to dinner and to a  show of the Irish National Clown Orchestra.

Another layer in my reasons to be wary of hope is that this day marks the passing of another year in which I didn’t accomplish so many things I had hoped to do. Like many others on the planet, my life hasn’t quite worked out the way I expected. Tomorrow, I enter my mid-30s, and I thought I’d be a wife and mom by now. I thought maybe I would know what I’m meant to be doing in ministry and even actually be doing that by this point. I thought life would be different.

Don’t get me wrong on this. I LOVE my life for the most part. If any of those other things had happened before now, chances are I wouldn’t live in Ireland, and I wouldn’t trade this for anything. Most days, I feel fulfilled and truly happy with where God has brought me in life. It’s just that I know there’s more.

Despite my attempts to be content in every circumstance, and give my desires back to God, and all of those other things that well-meaning people “encourage” me with, I know there is more. Just when I reach the place where I feel the contentment we’re taught is the goal, HE begins to whisper to me that there is more, the best is yet to come.

So, despite any indications to the contrary, there is the potential for this birthday and the coming year to be the best so far! I am on the brink of new and BIG things. Most days, I feel it – the expectancy that something is just around the corner.

On the days when I don’t feel it, He reminds me, challenging me to hope beyond the seen, beyond the risk that disappointment is what awaits around that next corner.

I don’t know what’s waiting. I can’t see around the corner yet, but I know someone whose view is far superior to mine. He has whispered to me of the things that are waiting and I am learning to trust His voice.

I am also learning to hope without demands or score-keeping – because, let’s face it, I lose that count every single time. I discovered earlier this week that I was subconsciously beginning to tell God all that I’ve done, the sacrifices I think I’ve made in my (nearly) 34 years of life. I can almost hear Him chuckle. He must think how cute and silly I am to play that game again when all He has to do is remind me of one moment in time that changed everything.

In the moment when Jesus defeated death, paid my debt to sin, and made abundant life possible, He  won forever and always – not only against Satan, Hell and death, but against my selfish attempts to blackmail Him with my supposed “sacrifices” on His behalf. 🙂

Does God love me and want to give me more than I can even imagine? Yes, without a doubt! Do I believe there are huge things ahead of me, and that this year may hold surprises that I haven’t even dreamed of? Most of the time. 🙂 Does God “owe me” for sacrificing or stepping out of the boat to follow Him on this adventure? Nope, not a darn thing!

I am excited about tomorrow. I think it’s going to be a fun day and the beginning of an exciting year. Will it bring along great friendships, ministry direction/opportunities, a place to call home, and maybe even a bit of romance? Who knows! Whatever it brings, though, it’s going to be full of life, laughter, love, tears, pain, uncertainties, and so much more! It won’t be perfect, but it will be abundant and full of Him!

Expectation or Expectancy?

I have often used these words interchangeably, but I’m learning lately that there is a difference. It may not seem like a big deal to change a few letters, but the truth is, the dissimilarity has affected my emotional and spiritual well-being for years!

The dictionary defines these words as nearly the same thing, but their connotations in my mind affect the very foundations of what I believe about God and His promises.

So, what’s the difference? Hopefully, I can put this into words in a way that makes sense.

Expectation feels demanding. When someone says “I expect” this or that, I often understand it to mean that any less – or different – is not acceptable. If I am given a responsibility, I want to know the expectations that go along with it so that I can be sure to meet them.

There, that is the idea I’m looking for. Expectations are things which exist to be met. They are specific, and it’s difficult to accept anything that doesn’t look the way it’s expected to.

Expectancy, on the other hand, feels open. It is a feeling of anticipation for something. It is HOPE.

I have written a lot in past posts about the things I felt God has promised me. (I was going to say recent weeks, but I’ve not written in weeks. Forgive the absence, please!) These past few years have been a roller coaster of ups and downs – high times filled with expectation for the fulfillment of promises, and then times where I feel I’m falling into some seemingly bottomless chasm of disappointment.

Even in the most recent post, I wrote all about the “broad place” that God has been promising to bring me to during this season.  Yet, here I am 7 weeks after arriving, still crashing in someone’s guestroom.  For a while, I was stressing out about it, frantically looking for a place to call home. I didn’t understand why God wasn’t meeting my expectations and demands for Him to fulfill His promise on my schedule and to my specifications.

The problem is He never promised that I would be all settled and unpacked within a couple of weeks. He never said I would have my own apartment, or even my own room. He didn’t promise internet, or a washing machine, or a kitchen sink for that matter!

God promised me a “place” of rest, of ministry, of growth. My stress and disappointment was acute because I interpreted His words, and then built my expectations on that interpretation. As soon as I lay down my own ideas, stopped stressing, and let go, not only was a weight lifted, but new possibilities suddenly had room to make a home in my mind.

The very morning that I finally gave up my search for the perfect housing solution, I decided to make the most of my season of living out of a suitcase. Within hours of first thinking of the idea, plans were forming and I had talked to my leaders and family… I would go on an epic adventure!

Part of the ministry I have been asked to do here in Ireland requires some travel for research purposes. It had been in the back of my mind to do a couple of short trips in the UK to check out some of the Celtic era monasteries and abbeys in Scotland and England, but I hadn’t given a ton of thought to when. As I thought about my living situation, suddenly it just made sense to do all the travel before I start paying rent and bills here in Sligo.

I realize now that this is an incredibly obvious solution, so feel free to say “Duh!” I have said it to myself several times so far. That is simply an illustration of how my expectations for what I thought God would do clouded my mind and blocked out an obvious benefit to my current circumstances. 🙂

All that to say, I will be leaving my temporary home in Sligo next week for a journey that will take me all around the British Isles. I’ll start by seeing three or four places in Northern Ireland, then a ferry to Scotland and travels to several different parts of Scotland, England and Wales. Finally, I’ll catch a ferry back to Dublin via the Isle of Man to see some sites in other counties of Ireland before returning to Sligo.

I don’t know how long this will take, but I’m guessing I’ll be gone for maybe 6 weeks. I don’t have an itinerary. I am traveling on my own, just me and Jesus, and I am filled with expectancy! I have no expectations for what God will do, but I am filled with a sense of anticipation to see what He will do during the next two months! Divine appointments, incredible provision (I don’t know how, but to travel in the UK for several weeks will require some pretty amazing provision.), fun, and new knowledge of history, Christianity, God and myself.  Those are some pretty basic ideas of what might be a part of this, but I anticipate surprises all along the way!

I am so excited to see what will take place over the next two months. There are so many unknowns – I could end up sleeping in a bus depot somewhere, but I cannot suppress the feeling of hope and expectancy that is building inside me. I don’t know what to expect, and I LOVE that! I am simply going to be obedient, take the steps He shows me, and watch in amazement at the ways He shows up.

I appreciate prayers for wisdom, safety, provision, and anything else you’d like to pray for me. 🙂 I’ll keep you posted and hopefully be able to post some photos along the way.

Now, based on the length of this post, I should probably sign off so you can all go and thank the Lord that I didn’t kiss the Blarney Stone when I was at the castle last week! 🙂