“But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” Acts 16:25 (NKJV)

In the aftermath of traveling (by foot and ship), preaching to hardened hearts and skeptics, converting those whose hearts were opened to the gospel, and casting out demons in Christ’s power and authority. Even just one of those exhausts me in reading about it. In the midst of all this, Paul and Silas were met with opposition which took a violent turn into floggings and imprisonment. All of this after being directly guided by the Holy Spirit to go to this exact place.

And what are Paul and Silas found doing at midnight, of all times, in prison ? They are praising God and singing hymns. And the prisoners are listening to them, as one would a beautiful piece of music, with delight and intent.

I don’t know about you all but I whine and complain about minor inconveniences in my daily life. Like a busted water pipe, missing a workout, a car not starting, traffic, stress at work. I don’t automatically and with voice raised sing hymns and praise God in the midst. I admit that freely because it’s not my natural tendency.

But it should be as a child of God. Just like Paul and Silas.

They were specifically and unjustly being punished for their faith. For preaching the gospel we know today and Christ which we call Savior and King. They were experiencing true persecution, and not just inconveniences we too often feel in our every day life. And yet, they were rejoicing in the God who had led them there by His Spirit. More than that, those in the jail were listening y’all.

People are listening, watching as those of us who are believers react and respond to life, circumstances, situations and inconveniences. They see what it is we truly place our hope and faith in when we face the dark of midnight.

Paul and Silas were living testimonies that circumstances don’t define our hope, our joy, our faith, the gospel, Christ Himself. Not a bit of it weighed them down as they were bleeding and chained in that prison. They knew where God intended to have them, to use them, to spread His truth and His word at just the right time, that no one else would be fit for that time and those men in prison.

Maybe you’re not called out to international missions, but you are called as a believer to carry the gospel with you each day, in each interaction and circumstance. And how you respond to the stressors of this life could be the only glimpse of Christ a person might have, and that you were called to be in that place at that time, even if it’s an inconvenience to you, it could mean eternity to someone else.

Because when you continue to read in chapter 16 you see a jailer and his family believing and receiving Christ as their hope and redemption. That is worth the inconvenience of your time and your life.

This is it.

Earlier this week I asked the question of what if? My friend Hanna also shared this week on the fact we are not victims. (Warning, you will get taken to the woodshed and be better for it friends)

I can’t help but think on this phrase of “So this is it,” after this week. How do we come to accept circumstances, life situations that just are? Where we are living it and we’ve given it over to God and it remains?

How do we live in the this and still be joyful, still praise Him for His goodness, still trust He is good? Here’s where I have landed (or rather He has slammed me up against to see very closely):

The things we are in, the ‘thises and thats’ which we are faced with, daily plodding through, are what He has us in. It isn’t convenient, it isn’t what we would have crafted. But this singleness, this infertility, this marriage conflict, this upheaval of life? We are here to be present, to see Him in them and not ourselves. It may never be resolved, we may never know why, but we have to be okay with that because it’s trusting Him and not us. It’s leaning more into Him than ourselves or these pitiful excuses of idols.

He isn’t what we would have crafted for ourselves. Time and again I have read commentaries that point back to Israel believing the Messiah would appear very differently than He did. That He would act and work in a way that they thought He should and He didn’t. He still doesn’t act like we want Him to, am I right?

And we are better for it. I am better for it. The salvation I craft doesn’t make me better, doesn’t reflect Him in me. It looks an awful lot like me wanting the answers and the control, that I just don’t have.

So when I try to tack on addendums to His Promises that are directions to work or act like I want, I need to step back and believe in the truth of His word alone. Not adding to or taking away. But believing just as Elizabeth did, having faith that He would do as promised and living in that faith, not of a false hope, but a steadfast one founded in Him and not my own ideas.

It’s difficult, it’s not comfortable in the least, and there are days and weeks where I just get caught in the weeds of what this is for my life. Yet His Promise to never leave me, never forsake me, to love me, to bless me, and to seek good for me remains. If I but choose to look to that and not at this. As this can become an idol I worship in an ugly way instead of seeking out His Promise that is worthy of all praise and adoration.

So this is it. But He is more. He is all. No matter what this and that bring in or out of my life, He is there. If I but choose Him. If I put my eyes on the One that matters in all of it, despite this or that.


The Beauty of a Storm

We recently got some heavy storms overnight here in Nashville. The storms aren’t rare in the summer because of the humidity (Lord, the humidity…I attribute this as another side effect of the fall). It’s not common though to get them overnight, as the atmosphere tends to cool and there’s just not enough juice to get one going. However these bubbled up and fired off around 1am. How would I know? Well they rattled the house, waking me up and keeping me awake the majority of the the rest of the early morning hours.

The next morning as I struggled to gain my alertness from the groggy half-sleep I got I caught a glimpse of this sight. I have referenced the glimpses I get out my front guest room window before. But this one was just breathtaking. It caught me and pulled me in, watching the artistry at work as the sun broke over the horizon pushing the clouds back and giving off this beauty I could never put into words. IMG_5679

In the middle of the night, I couldn’t have known what the morning would look like, what beauty I would see from a storm that had raged throughout the night. Instead I was solely focused on what the storm was doing to me, rather than what it might bring on the other side of it.

The beauty of that morning reminds me that I need not fret in the storm, whatever it may be and whatever it may look like. He meets us in the storm (Mark 6:47-52) calling us out to meet Him on the waters that He steadies by His own hand. He brings a message in the mess. He doesn’t see as we see, He doesn’t fret over storms that we find ourselves in. If we are with Him, we too should find calm in the midst. Quieting the storms of our lives through resting with Him (Matthew 8:23-27), finding our faith in Him and not in our circumstances.

Isn’t that how it is though for us? We bemoan the storm we are in, forgetting the beauty that often comes from it once it passes. We forget the peace brought by the God Who Creates because He is with us and focus instead on the weariness of the storm, the fretting of our current selves. We forget that out of a mess comes a message. Out of the black of night comes the dawn breaking with beauty. Putting faith in Him who is with us instead of the circumstances, or our own strength.


Leggo My Ego

How do you cope in difficulty? When you face a trial, which may not be of your own making, how do you respond or react?

For the majority of my life I have responded in a very selfish manner-thinking that the woe is me attitude is the best course for myself and the situation. Recently I was reminded of what that looks like, as God put the mirror up to my reaction in a situation. I could easily point to influences around me for rubbing off, but the truth is, that’s not the case. I choose how I respond, no one else.

How I respond or react says as much about my heart and my priorities as it does for me. As I watched the situation unfold before me this time, I saw there were options. I could continue to respond in the manner I had, knowing it would only cause more harm on my heart and continue the spiral of worry and anxiety. On the other hand, I could examine my heart, see where God would have me be in the situation and what I could learn from it.

The situation may truly suck, and it may be forced upon me, but it cannot force a reaction or response. Many, many things are beyond my control, but they are not beyond God’s. Everything must pass through His permission, as Tim Miller shared this weekend. My reaction? Well it should also pass through Him.

So why would I choose to respond in myself when I live in Him daily? When I proclaim I am His child and have His Spirit within me, why would I choose anything other than His will and purpose?

My ego, my selfishness has to die in order for me to grow and be more in His will. I will not grow, I will not feel the closeness of Him when my ego takes root and puts itself first. My ego seeks only itself, and what it can get for itself in a situation. Until I come humbly before Him, sacrificing my ego on the altar, I will only be Sara-focused and Sara-centered.

Thankfully, by His grace, I am able to see that now and can address it in me more and more. I definitely believe that He used a circumstance to get me out of myself, to wring me out and fill me with Him. To see how I can respond in His time and purpose instead of my own.

Tending the Fruit

I have managed over the last few weeks to not kill a plant I bought. That is saying alot as I am prone to having a black thumb. As a part of my One Word for 2014 (GROW) I chose April to work on growing something physically. I grabbed a plant and off I went. Saturday I re-potted the plant along with a new one I purchased to go with the one I was currently tending to in the container it came in.

Maybe it’s not until you hone in on one thing that you begin to notice it all around you. In tending the plants, I saw how others were caring for theirs as well. I was intentional when I picked out marigolds to plant, that I get the ones which weren’t at full bloom but were still sprouting up, so that I could get the most of them for this spring/summer. I watched other budding gardeners pick out their plants and found I felt quite accomplished.

Buying plants isn’t just a one and done thing. You cannot just plant them and walk away. There is a commitment to care for them, as there would be for any other thing that is alive and growing in life.

It is true for my own life as well. Recently there has been alot of hurt and pulling inward. I was finding much of it relatively difficult to understand and navigate through. Then as I considered the parallels of my life with my new interest in gardening I could not help but see John 15:2(b):

“and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

For myself, I bear fruit for a season, but it is necessary to go through pruning after bearing fruit in order to grow and produce more. Do I enjoy the pruning? Absolutely not. Do I recognize it as pruning? Most often, no. I see it as circumstance happening to me, instead of for me.

Part of the reason one prunes a tree is to shape it for design purposes. While it is a difficult, and all too often painful process, pruning allows me to be shaped for His design. Something that I forget when I am in my circumstance, in the mire of emotion and doubt. His pruning is ultimately for my good as a fruit-bearer. Because as I bear out the fruit He receives the glory, as I cannot bear fruit alone.

In what areas is God pruning you back to bear fruit? How can your circumstances be seen differently today through your perspective as the tree/vine?

Singling Out Saturday #2

This week, I wanted to share a specific quote from what is becoming my favorite Shauna Niequist book, Cold Tangerines. I encourage everyone to read her and I thank my very encouraging friend Hanna for first recommending her to me.

In this one she talks about finding the extraordinary in the every day life. I have been so surprised at how her stories, spanning experiences thousands of miles away years ago have been so spot on for things in my life currently.

So often we dwell on the ugliness of what has happened to us in our singleness specifically. The broken relationship, the what-ifs, the missed connections. We want to blame others, rightfully or unrightfully so. What gets accomplished in that? It’s like drinking poison and hoping the person who wronged you gets ill.

And I can spend all my life and all my soul and all my words on the pain of what happened to me, or I can take this glimmering gift and run.   -Shauna Niequist