Living Open-Handed

Last week, the organization I work with had a retreat for all the staff on the island. It was a great few days away – despite the fact I wasn’t terribly excited to be there at the start. 

One of the things I felt I should do to get my attitude right and be able to hear all God wanted to say to me during the time was surrender everything I brought with me. So, Wednesday night, I spent time laying everything down before God – my book, singing, my life in Ireland, ministry opportunities, and other dreams and promises I felt He’d given me. I told Him I only wanted to bring home what He gave me back during the days of the retreat.

During the next two days, I struggled with some of the hopes and dreams I’d placed on the altar of surrender. There were items – like my book – which I expected to be returned and received back fairly quickly. I still don’t know how God will use Live Your Story to impact lives, but I believe He will bring Himself glory through the message. I trust Him with how that will look without specific expectations, so it was easy to accept that item back from God.

Other hopes and dreams were more difficult. One promise in particular kept finding its way back into my hands and heart. Each time I discovered I was holding it again, I would put it right back down on the altar. While I believe the fulfillment of this promise could bring God much glory, it is not so much a “ministry” promise as a personal one. Because of this dynamic, it was much easier to believe that I was picking it up again because of my own desire for it.

By Friday morning, as I spent time listening to God and writing in my journal, I felt God was saying, “Thank you for surrendering your desires and hopes, but you now have to be willing to receive back the gifts I want to give you.” I felt He was saying that He had been trying the whole time to give this promise back to me, but I was refusing to accept it because I was afraid of turning an “I wish” into a “God said.”

I realized once again that surrender really means living open-handed before God. Hands that are open release things, but they also receive. Just as I don’t know what future ministry opportunities will look like or the impact my book will have, I don’t know how the fulfillment of this particular promise will come about or what it will bring. But I have chosen to leave my hands open to receive all that God wants to give and surrender all that isn’t from Him; I have chosen to trust His faithfulness. He is a good Father who delights in giving good gifts to His children. I may not feel worthy of the gift, but He gives based on His character – not mine.

What is God trying to give you today? Sometimes accepting and hoping for the gifts He offers requires courage because hope brings the risk of disappointment, but the hope He gives is always worth the risk. He is trustworthy. Open your hands.

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The Time Is Now

In previous posts I’ve mentioned I’m working on a book. I’ve been working on this book for nearly seven years, and on many occasions, I’ve wondered if I would ever complete it.

Last week, a good friend bought me a gift: a mug declaring in bold letters “THE TIME IS NOW.”

I doubt the publishing process is what she had in mind with the gift, but the message certainly fits. I signed a contract a month ago with a publisher. For a while, not much was required from me to move the project forward, and it was easy to forget all that’s happening. Today, I am completing my review of the first round of revisions from the publisher, and I’ve been in contact with him about cover designs and finalizing a title. Suddenly, the reality is sinking in: soon, I will be a published author!

After years of doubting whether I would finish the book (or have the courage to publish it), the time is now. I am excited. I am scared. I wonder who will read it and whether they will like it. I imagine criticisms I will receive, and sometimes, I think of positive comments I might receive. (Why is it always so easy to imagine the worst and forget to dream of the best outcomes?) If I allowed the onslaught of thoughts and feelings to overwhelm me, I’d never take the next step of the process; I wouldn’t have started the process in the first place!

The time is now to take a step. The book is one area of my life where the time has arrived. I may have to take steps in other areas in the near future. Sometimes, these steps feel like leaps off a ledge more than a small stride forward. Fear is a close companion in these times of uncertainty. “What if…?” can become a debilitating question if allowed. Thankfully, the One directing the steps can be trusted!

Could it be time for you to take a step? I would wager most of us have some place in our lives where God is waiting for us to move, but He won’t force us to take a step.  We get to choose whether and when we move forward. We don’t want to move ahead of God, so it’s essential to seek His wisdom and timing. However, if fear is what’s keeping us in the same place, waiting for it to pass will keep us stuck forever. Sometimes, we just have to take a deep breath and step into the unknown with God, believing He is with us no matter what the outcome!

For some of us, I’m sure:

MUG

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.

“Foolish” Wisdom

“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27, ESV).

This verse is on my mind today because a number of things in my life seem “foolish” by worldly standards right now. Hoping against hope to see dreams and promises of God fulfilled despite no visible sign that they will ever become reality – no doubt, no back-up plan, just belief and trust. Feeling I should stay silent in a situation where everything in me wants to speak up. Raising money to publish a book that may not sell many copies, and perhaps even choosing a more expensive publishing package than others that are available because I feel like God is directing me that way. Even writing a book about discovering and walking in our God-given identity and purpose seemed foolish because I still struggle so often with that very idea.

All of these things seem crazy – and maybe even downright foolish! – when I look at them with my own perspective. My own “wisdom” tells me to guard my heart and be realistic with my hopes and dreams, to speak up and fight for a valued relationship, and to find the cheapest option available for everything to ensure I’m stewarding my resources well. I suppose that’s the reason God made sure that Proverbs 3:5-6 was included in the scriptures:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (ESV).

I don’t understand God’s thought process. I don’t know exactly how any of these situations will work out. I don’t have a clue why He is leading in the way He is. My job isn’t to understand; it is to hear His voice, trust, and obey. As I seek first His Kingdom and do what I believe He is asking me to do, He will take care of the things that I can’t change or even understand.

Do you have areas in your life where God is asking you to take a step that seems foolish to you and all of those around you? Are you holding back your obedience until you understand His reasoning for such a request? Are the voices around you telling you there must be another way?

Today is a good day to choose God’s kind of foolishness. Decide today that no matter what anyone else thinks, or even what you think, you will take a step of faith. Let’s allow God to use our “foolishness” to show His wisdom today, even when we don’t understand yet!

Five Year Plan?

Have you ever made a five-year plan? I have been asked on a number of occasions where I see myself in five years, and I always marvel at the people who are able to answer that question with more than a mumbled, “I’ve no idea…”

There are days when I wish I had some idea of what my life will look like five months from now; other days even five weeks seems like a stretch! I have spent much of the last fifteen years of my life (since graduating college) with only a vague idea of where life might take me beyond the next three or six months. Sometimes I have reached the end of that three or six month commitment with no clue of what I was going to do next.

In recent months, I have grown to like the idea of a five-year plan more and more. I still love adventure, but I’ve begun to long for a more settled kind of adventure. Maybe it’s because I’m inching closer to the latter half of my thirties, but I would love to have a more definite idea of what God has in store in the days to come.

I know some big picture ideas of what I believe God has spoken to me about my future. Those ideas include music, writing, marriage, and discipleship among others. The trouble is, some of those have been a part of my ‘five year plan’ for nearly a decade and a half. One or two of them have already been a part of my life, and I pray they continue to be. Some seem to be on the verge of breakthrough into new levels, and others seem no closer than they were fifteen years ago…

The thing about this idea of the five-year plan is that it makes it a challenge at times to live day-to-day. There is a tension in me as I begin a season of prayer over the next month specifically for God’s direction on some of these big picture things He’s put in my heart. On one hand, I would love to know where the next few years, (or even the next year!) will take me, and I hope that this next month will present new open doors and opportunities to move forward into more of what He has in store for me.

On the other hand, I find it so easy to get focused on the big picture and how the future might be, that it’s difficult to commit to things for today (or a few weeks from now). As these big things hover just at the edge of breakthrough, it is easy to put off making decisions or doing things today because “what if ___________ happens tomorrow?”

 I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. I’m not even guaranteed tomorrow. So, as I embark on a time of more focused prayer, I want to dream about what God has in store for the future, but I don’t want to focus so much on then that I miss out on now. May God help all of us to find the balance between dreaming and doing.

When Surrender Means Holding On…

I’ve been thinking lately about surrender. There have been some hopes and dreams on my mind and in my heart for a while now that I felt like God put there, but recently I’ve been feeling the need to surrender those things back to Him again.

It is easy to get discouraged when what I see doesn’t seem to match what I believe He has spoken. Disappointment sets in, and I begin to feel like I must have heard wrong. My eyes and heart and mind tell me to bury the dreams, grieve, and move on. My mind says that this is surrender, letting go of what I’ve been holding onto so tightly and handing it back to the One Who I thought gave it to me in the first place. Surrender even means to give up, yield, or relinquish.

So, last week I decided to surrender some of my dreams and hopes back to God. I held open my hands, hoping that He would take them back and let me move on to other things I’ve been working toward and praying for. Instead of taking them away, He began to close my fingers back around those hopes. He is not ready to let me walk away from them yet. For now, surrendering to Him means continuing to hold tightly to the promises He’s spoken, trusting Him more than I trust my eyes, walking in faith that He is faithful and trustworthy and worth the risk of disappointment.

As I walked to church on Sunday, I was thinking about this topic and asking God to confirm whether He really was asking me to hold onto this hope. Sometimes it can be difficult to discern His voice from my own thoughts. Maybe I just wasn’t ready to give up; perhaps I was convincing myself that God wanted me to keep holding onto something that He really was asking me to give back to Him. Then again, maybe I was trying to give it back because I’m scared of the potential to get hurt and be disappointed if I keep holding on. (Isn’t it amazing how difficult it can be to figure out what’s going on even inside ourselves?)

The sermon at church on Sunday was focused on Abraham, and Romans 4:17-22 was one of the texts used. “In hope he believed against hope… No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what He had promised. That is why his faith was ‘counted to him as righteousness.’” Abraham believed in the God who “gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.”

Sometimes surrender means letting go. I’m learning this week that sometimes it also means holding on – not just to the hope or promises, but to the Giver of them, the only One who can speak things that are not as though they are… and be right. Faith isn’t blind. It sees the difficulties, the ‘impossibilities’ and chooses to still believe in the God with whom all things are possible (Luke 1:37).

Take the Step

Even as I wrote the post last week, clouds were building and getting darker in my own mind and heart. By the end of the night and into the following days, I was wondering if maybe my strength of positivity had abandoned me because I was struggling to believe the sun was still shining behind the clouds.

There wasn’t one thing that brought the storm. A number of factors converged and blocked out my view of the sun for a time. Some of the clouds aren’t worth mentioning, but there were three in particular that hit within hours of each other, and all of them brought doubts about the things God has told me about making this place my home.

I have mentioned before that I felt God was saying it was time to settle here and begin to put down more roots. One of those roots involves getting my Irish driving license, and the first step of that process was scheduled for today. I put off studying for the theory test until the end of last week, because without realizing it, I had begun to think it was futile to work toward getting my license here when I wasn’t sure I’d be here long enough to make it worth the small fortune it will cost.

So, what were the storm clouds? First, I just renewed my visa, and one year from today marks the end of the time I will be allowed to stay in Ireland unless I can convince the justice department that I need to be here longer. I have known for two years that three years was the maximum length I could stay without special permission, but that seemed such a long time away when I first arrived. Being given the information on what documents I will need to provide next year brought it to the forefront of my mind that I could easily be told to leave in a year.

The second of the clouds had to do with finances. Due to some unforeseen circumstances, I was told there was a remote possibility that a significant amount of my monthly support might be stopped. Recently, money has been tight already because of the visa and insurance renewals, and losing any support (let alone the amount I could lose) would mean I could no longer afford to be here. I don’t anticipate this decrease happening, but on top of the visa concerns (and knowing the costs of getting a license), it was stressful news to hear.

Finally, before I moved to Ireland, I felt like God had said that He had things here He wanted to give me. For a number of months, I have been praying into something I thought He had promised. Around the same time as these other concerns arose, I began to doubt that He had really spoken about this opportunity. It looks doubtful, or at the very least far away.

All of these factors converged, along with some other seemingly insignificant ones, to create a perfect storm of wondering if it is worth putting in the work to put down deep roots. This feels like “home” more than any place I’ve ever been, but is it worth the effort and emotions if I’m going to be uprooted?

Last weekend, I put all these thoughts on “pause.” The driver theory test was scheduled, and I needed to study so I didn’t waste the money I’d already paid when I booked the test. I’m happy to say I passed the test, and I should receive my learner’s permit in the post within a couple of weeks. I’m also happy to say that even though I don’t know the outcome of all of these situations, I have hope again. I know God can give me favor for the visa renewal, and He can provide all I need, and He is faithful to His promises even if they don’t look the way I expect.

Today, I took a step of faith. I don’t know exactly where the road leads, but I know He has asked me to pursue deeper roots here. I don’t know how He’ll provide the money to continue the process or how He’ll work out any other detail, but even without seeing the sun behind the clouds, I could see enough to take one more step forward. I trust it will be worth it.

What step might you need to take today despite the darkness surrounding you?