The Secret to Being Stronger

For the past several years I have played guitar as a part of the worship team at my church.  Even though I am one of the least advanced musicians on the team, I love being part of the band!  Last weekend, I played for the first time after taking a two month break.  The problem was, along with not playing on stage, I also didn’t pick up my guitar at home.  For two months, I didn’t practice.  My fingertips didn’t come in contact with the strings.

Over those 8 weeks, my fingers didn’t feel any different than normal.  I had no idea anything was changing…until I started practicing for the weekend.  After running through the songs a couple times, I became painfully aware that something had changed!  My fingertips were red and sore by the end of practice.  My ability to handle the pressure of the strings digging into my fingers had diminished.

We have three services on Sunday mornings, with a practice before that.  That’s about two hours of playing.  By the middle of the first service, I was feeling it!  By the end of the second service, I discovered blisters covering two of my fingertips.  I started the third service knowing that there was a chance the blisters would break…and psyching myself up to keep playing through the pain!

See, typically, I spend hours practicing before anyone sees me play on stage.  During a service, when I’m playing with all the passion I’m feeling, the strings dig in harder.  The practice time that no one sees keeps my fingers ready for the pressure of giving it all I’ve got on stage.

Sunday afternoon as I looked at my blisters – thankful that even though they grew during the last service, they didn’t break! – I saw such a strong parallel to our spiritual life.  I have trained my fingers through disciplined repetition.  My body responds to pressure a certain way because of the consistency of that practice time.  My ability to handle the pressure doesn’t stay the same when I neglect that discipline – even when I can’t tell that anything has changed.

That practice time is just like our daily devotion time with God – the consecrated, consistent time that nobody sees.  Authentic relationship with God is only cultivated through time spent in His presence.  There isn’t a shortcut to that.  As we grow closer to God, our ability to handle the pressures of life changes.  Our faith grows, our love grows, our peace and joy grow.  We are stronger.

When we neglect that time, we find ourselves in situations where our faith is not as strong as we thought it was.  And, just like those blisters, difficult circumstances will cause us more pain than they would have if we had stayed consistent in our time with God.

So, what does consecrated time with God look like?  Just like practicing guitar, it takes discipline and intentionality.  It means reading the Bible every day.  It means setting aside a specific time of focused prayer every day.  It means that even when we feel like it’s not making a difference, we trust that it is doing a work in us that we can’t even see.

For me, talking to God conversationally throughout the day or randomly opening my Bible to read for a few minutes comes easy.  It is much more difficult for me to follow a structured schedule – but it is so necessary!

We need consistent time with Him.  That is what makes us stronger.  Let’s not wait until the pressures of life cause unnecessary blisters!  Let’s commit to a consecrated, daily time in God’s presence.  You will be stronger.  It will affect your life in ways you never imagined!

2 Lessons From a Bad Speaker

I recently attended an event with multiple speakers.  A couple of speakers had messages that immediately resonated with me. I heard from God through their words and was moved to action as I listened to them.  There was one speaker, though, who made a big impression on me…but not in a good way!Her style was abrasive, even obnoxious at some points, with random intense outbursts that didn’t seem to relate to anything meaningful.  I’ve watched a lot of speakers over the years, and this was truly bizarre!  Her content and presentation was so scattered that it was a challenge to figure out what the point of the message was.In the days following the event, I spent time meditating on the things I had gleaned from the good speakers.  As I drove to work one morning, God brought to mind a sentence I knew I had heard during the event.  He started using those words to work in my heart and reveal things to me.  It was one of those beautiful, unexpected moments with God.As I tried to remember who had spoken those words, I was completely surprised with the realization that it was that bizarre speaker!And right then I had another opportunity to hear from God.  I learned two things in that moment.

  1. God will speak through anyone He chooses.  If I only listen when people and circumstances measure up to my expectations, I will miss out.
  2. God can use me even when I don’t measure up to my own expectations.  He expects availability and surrender, not perfection.

That speaker was available; she showed up!  And in the middle of a presentation that I would not have classified as a “win”, God spoke and God got the glory. And isn’t that what it’s about anyway?Sure, the wins are nice, too!  It feels great to nail it!  God gets the glory in those times, too.But those times when we are less than our best, when we feel like we’ve botched the whole thing…those are the times that allow the beauty of God’s grace and strength to shine!God spoke in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”The Apostle Paul described it like this, “We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.” (2 Corinthians 4:7)
I’ve been in a season like that in my own life. You know those times when it seems that every flaw has a big spotlight shining on it?  Times when we botch things up and then every attempt to fix things only seems to make it all worse. Times when, at the end of the day, we are left with a list of failures – some real, some imagined – that start to whisper, or shout!, DISQUALIFIED.When it’s tempting to listen to the voice of defeat, we have to fight back with the Words of Truth!  We have to recognize that we have an enemy who will shout whatever lies it takes to keep us from walking in the purpose of God in our lives.  Sometimes those lies are incredibly believable.  But what does God say?  What is the truth that will silence the lies?  We find the only solid truth in His Word.  Dig into the Bible!  That is how you will defeat the lies!Recognize that God can use you right where you are, flaws and all.  And that He loves you too much to allow you to stay there.  Surrender, repent, submit, rest in His love and grace….but DO NOT quit!  You are not disqualified.  You are a beautiful work in progress who can allow God to shine through you, in spite of you!  “… And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.  We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith…” Hebrews 12:1-2″And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

When You Need to Kill a Year Before New Year’s Eve

Yesterday I officiated a funeral.  This was not your typical funeral.  For one thing, I was the only one in attendance.  For another thing, I did both the killing and the burying.

Most years come to a gradual end and quietly die of old age on December 31.  People pay their respects through small gestures.  Year in review photo albums, comments on the highs and lows, resolutions in hopes of tweaking some things for the next year…

 I decided that I could not allow 2015 to have its own typical, peaceful end.  So I took it upon myself to kill it.

As if a small bit of justice can be served by me killing it early, having the final word.  So, on December 18, I killed 2015.  Burned it and buried it.
And let me tell you, in case you are ever planning to burn a book that represents a year of your life,

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Pure Strength

I have proven something to myself about being able to be strong.
The circumstances are too fresh to write about specifics, but the past few weeks have been the hardest of my life. I know I have only been strong by the strength God has given me, but I have been strong and not failed in the midst of something that most people never go through. There is a certain amount of peace and letting go of fear in me as a result of that. I haven’t been perfect, but as I look back I can hold my head high and feel good about how I have navigated the past few weeks.

There’s only one time I can think of that I lost sight of true strength, reacted in fear & felt the need to “be strong” on my own. Continue reading

Our Deepest Thirst

I took the day off yesterday.  I wasn’t sick.  My kids weren’t sick.  I just needed a day.  A day to catch up on life – real life – the kind you feel, not the kind you do.

I had a lovely breakfast at my favorite taco spot, but as I left I was at a loss.  Five hours until I pick up kids from school.  How do I spend it?  How do I make this day valuable?  My practical list of tasks begging for my attention is long – clean, sort, organize, purchase…
My body has been asking for rest.  Should I read and nap all day?  Maybe book a massage?
And writing!  How I’ve longed to have a day to devote to writing!

None of these options seem like they will fulfill the purpose of this precious day.  But the clock is ticking.  So I begin to voice my frustration to God, “God, you know what this feeling is much more than I do.  It’s this restlessness.  It’s this not having enough. This not being enough.  It’s this heaviness even when things are good.  What I’m really asking is, how do I make this ache go away?”

And there it was.   Continue reading