What is it to you?

Earlier this week I was fortunate to be at my home church in Knoxville, a place I hold very dear in my heart and my was instrumental in my faith journey. The Senior Pastor is retiring and to hear Hollie Miller is a treasure and a delight. I am so thankful I was able to sit under his leadership while I lived there. He pointed to a Scripture in his sermon on Sunday that was something I’d forgotten about, and ultimately reminded me of where I’d been for a hot minute myself.

As much as Paul is my Bible boyfriend, Peter is who I am ultimately fashioned after. So much of my faith journey, my life journey is lived out much like Peter’s walk. Never was it truer than at Christ’s return, after Peter’s denial (multiplied by three y’all) while Christ was being taken to the cross. So it’s afterwards, they’ve been out fishing, back to the lives they knew before encountering Christ, when He appears on shore with some wise words on how they should be fishing.

Recently, someone (and by someone, one my beloved sisters in Christ Amy B.) showed a clip of Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump seeing Lt. Dan on the dock as his shrimping boat is coming in, and with utter glee and joy Forrest jumps off the boat to swim to the dock to see his friend. That image is liken to how Peter reacts to seeing Christ…and then Peter slips into his old self again. Christ is giving him instruction through the question of “Do you love Me?” and Peter is adamant about that fact, multiplied again by 3. And then he turns to see John, whom Christ loved, and points to him, asking “But what about him??”

It makes me laugh…and then we see Christ’s very direct and pointed response.

“If I will that he remain til I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.”

Not just to Peter, but to me. To you. To each one of us who is really good and going “But God, what about them??!!”

What is that to you?

Ouch. That one hurt. What is it to us what God has given, told, or blessed someone else with? But we do it. We have since before Christ, and we have since His return. But Peter is getting a lesson straight from Christ Himself here just for us. To help us out. To show us too that we are easily susceptible to the comparison trap, even when we are followers of Christ, even an original disciple.

We sling judgement, whether via social media, our friends or internally. But what is someone else’s pursuit of God’s will to us? What is driving our insecurity and our need to compare? What is telling us it’s okay to cut down someone else’s pursuit or gift so that we can pursue ours instead? Check your motives and your direction on why you’d feel the need to make any sort of judgement on how God has asked, directed, willed another to bring His Name glory.

You follow Me.

Are we following Him? Are we keeping our eyes trained solely on Him and what He has for us?

I’m speaking to myself too here, so believe me when I say this is hard to work through…but how easy is it for us to follow someone’s Instagram, Twitter, SnapChat, or Facebook and think that’s what we should be doing too? How we slip into social theology rather than the Word? We can scroll and post, and never really dig into Scripture because we just don’t have the time. But yet, we make darn sure we get our workout in, our coffee chat, our three posts on social media that’s flowery and good feeling, but we aren’t doing what He’s asked of us.

Following Christ is hard. Following Christ didn’t promise ease or blessings on demand. It promised being in His will and knowing Him more. It promised goodness and joy, glory that is in Him and not ourselves.

God didn’t restore us through His Son’s death so we could concern ourselves with others’ wills. Nope. He wanted to restore us to Him so we could be in fellowship and relationship with Him, His Son, His Spirit. He wanted our full attention because He is worthy of it, and so is His will for us, individually.

May we learn from Peter, whether it is trusting Him when He calls us out onto the water, loving Him when others are questioning whether we know Him, or when the pull to look to our left and our right at others instead of Him pulls at our hearts, minds and eyes.

Maybe not. 

I applied for the job. I interviewed and felt really great about it. I had the balance of experience and education, along with willingness to learn and grow in the position. I honestly felt like I was the perfect candidate. But several weeks later, after an enthusiastic email to check how the committee was doing on the search I got the pat email from the lead. They’d gone another direction and hired from within. 

Ouch. 

And I wondered why I had even gone through all that to be disappointed and let down. I felt like God had specifically been leading me to this position, and that this was exactly what He had been working on me for. I wasn’t crushed but I certainly felt like God and I were on different tracks. 

I have friends talk about their job disappointment, loneliness, hard situations where they’ve felt like God has left them or forgotten them, or that it’s a sort of punishment. While I don’t think God punishes (only disciplines) His children, we sometimes a lot of times juxtapose our feelings and desires upon God’s will. I’ve even been in these same situations of hurt, loneliness, forgottenness and toxic jobs asking God why He’s left me. 

Recently I was thinking and praying for a friend’s situation, and their heart, when I found that maybe I’ve had this all wrong. Maybe in this God isn’t wishing I’d pray more about changing the situation, but that I’d listen and change my own heart perspective. That my focus inward had allowed me to be consumed with my will and way to fix it instead of waiting, listening and being open to His direction. 

“Look as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My Hand…” Jeremiah 18:6(b)

You see I’m the clay, He’s the potter. I don’t get to tell Him what to make me into….I can try but I’ll be left a messy heap on the wheel. He’ll continue to work me over with His hands and I’ll be a stubborn clay needing more water added as I grow dry. The potter isn’t so concerned with how the clay wants to be worked as He is the need He knows for it and it’s usage. 

I may think this job isn’t what I am supposed to be doing, but He’s got a plan to use me in it for His time and His good. I may see this place I’m in, whether physical location or mental state as not what I can be best used in and He knows the plan for His kingdom is being worked out in me days, weeks, months down the road right there. 

Maybe He’s called me to walk loneliness, hurt, exile or a difficult job out with Him. To bear out His image in those instances, those hard days and weeks, simply so that it brings another into the fold, it advances His kingdom and His will. Maybe it’s about letting the potter decide the use of the clay over and over again, and being formed into His image for His work and not what I think is His work. Maybe it’s about drawing in close to Him and not to my own feelings and will. 

Maybe it really is all about Him and not about me at all. 

My Extreme and His Opportunity

Earlier this week I shared a bit on the reality of a single. Most of what I shared was from a vulnerable place, but a real place nonetheless. It is one that I find I am not alone in feeling, as conversations have sparked with numerous friends after that post (and even before).

Over lunch yesterday I was talking with someone that I didn’t know a year ago. I had never met her, nor heard her story, and there we sat in the cafe at work discussing her family and mine. Our work life and our home life. I couldn’t help but put our lives down on paper in my mind at how different they are, with our commonality of pursuing God’s purpose for us and our lives.

The reality of both of our lives and the stories we are living out is that God meets us in them, in the hard and painful and in the joyful and contented. While my pain of singleness can often be hard to bear out, so can marriage and raising children. I can honor that and know that perfection and 100% satisfaction will not be seen this side of heaven. But it also shot through to me that in my extremes of life-job loss, singleness, illness, anxiety-God’s very present.

“My extremity may be God’s opportunity.”

-A.B. Simpson, Seeing the Invisible

When I am in extreme times of life, what if I considered those opportunities for God? In my agitation of extremity am I harming myself? others? my relationship with God? It’s difficult to see the opportunity when you have just lost your job, when that relationship has just ended. You can’t quite slap on the “glass half full” mentality.

But I want to see it as His opportunity in my life. I want to believe and hold fast that His miracle is at hand in my life. I desire that He shows up big and loud, and that it doesn’t have anything to do with me. I want that.

But I don’t ask for it. I don’t seek it out. I don’t allow Him the space in me, in my extremity to work. I get my hands and I mash up the clay He’s been forming, trying to make it into a jar to contain my life when He’s crafting a bowl to receive His goodness in. I don’t stop to see the opportunity for His work, but my chance at control.

I don’t live in the silence of opportunity, of His work, of the wait.

But I will. I must. I have to choose the cost of His opportunity in my life over the return of self, investing in His economy and not my own. Seeing the maturation of promises He gives rather than the immediacy of my will.

So I stand in an extreme, not wanting to be in the throws of my own will but in looking on it as God’s opportunity. Believing He is rather than what I think I am. Choosing His opportunity over my extreme self.

Fear, Webs and Moses

Never let fear keep you from pursuing hard after a God promise, a calling to your heart by God.

Y’all I say those words. I roll them over in my head and my heart. And then I find any excuse not to pursue a calling.

I meddle in distractions, search out ways to run, and call it “good for me in the moment.” I wonder out and climb down, I hide behind a camera lens and even a blank screen just to not live out what God is pushing me wholeheartedly into, simply out of fear.

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It’s the whispers of a failed friendship after seven years, the residue of single life, the doubt of comparison and screams of “it’s already been done, better.” Fear can grip us in the dead of night or the middle of the day. It can creep in or shout at us. It catches us in a web that sprung up overnight, unawares. It cocoons us, as we lay silent, dormant, giving over who we are to fear.

I let it. I choose it. I camp out in pajamas, full of stubbornness and turn to someone else’s writing to say “I’m not enough,” in a vapid attempt to shirk off this responsibility. I point to my voice, my experiences, my history and my present to say “Someone else please” to God. Just like with Moses, He says “No, it’s you I am seeking for this.”

Funny how I have been here before, but I don’t mark this place. I don’t set out a memoriam to the war I have with fear and with God. I don’t want to remember the removal of shoes because the holy ground He meets me at, finding me in the fear and pulling it all away. Instead I point to past stories, of my inadequacies…all excuses. He listens with such patience, only to say once more “You are who I have called for such a time as this, for such a journey.” It wells up inside of me, until fear is no longer present. It’s not marked by my story, but His. It’s not reminding me of who I am, but Who He is. It’s not about where I find myself now, but where He has already been.

So fear greets me, but God envelops me. He says no more to the excuses, no more to the disobedient heart, and no more to the distraction of life. He says “You are designed for this” and in my weakness, He is my strength. To open my heart, to speak words He gives and to be what He has called me to be.

Obedient.

Contented with Milkshakes

Last Saturday I had my first ever Chick-Fil-A milkshake. What have I been doing with my life before this? Y’all have been holding out on me on this. As I inhaled that delightful concoction all too quickly, I began to think on contentment.

Gorgeous day, time spent doing a hobby I love, and a really good milkshake. I felt content.

As I am learning though, I realize contentment isn’t found in the things of life-circumstances and offerings of this world. While those things I was enjoying are in fact good, I can’t run back to those to provide me contentment day in and day out. They would ultimately provide me with obesity, diabetes and probably a jobless existence taking photos of flowers.

Looking around me this week I saw contentment being sought in so many things that hold no value or worth, things that are mere distractions from the godly contentment found in pursuing God’s will. Sadly I saw people resting their contentment in another human being and what they could give them (trust me I have been there and still work through that). I have to admit this week my contentment was lacking due to a busy workload-so here I am confessing that I was trusting in my job for contentment that it can never bring. Some choose alcohol, others choose food. Some seek out that contentment in their families or friends, which are good things but will let us down if we seek after just that for our contentment.

When we place things that this world offers (or tells us that we have to have) as necessities in our lives beyond what God provides, we usurp His will with our own pursuit of contentment, our own will. Don’t get me wrong here, we can still enjoy the things of this world. But when godliness and contentment depend upon our environment or circumstances, both will always be shaky, never finding stability.

Paul speaks to this as he addresses the Philippians in his letter to them. His contentment came from the acceptance of God’s will in his life and pursuing the desire to see God’s character reproduced in him. He wrote this from a perspective of having walked through so many seasons of life and change. He found that contentment never rested in his circumstances but in His will lived out in Paul’s life. Just a couple of verses later is a verse often quoted in relation to sports or hard times but I think it points back to contentment.

Walk with me here in this thought. I don’t think Paul was referencing doing just any old thing as long as Christ’s strength was in him. In context of these verses, it affirms Paul’s truth of faith, that contentment is accomplished in Christ’s strength, not in our own. In every situation, in every need The secret of contentment he alludes to is found in verse 13.

I can do all this through Christ who gives me strength.

Yet we wield that verse too many times to work in our own wills for our own definition of contentment rather than that which Christ can best work in us. We struggle and fight against circumstances that we just don’t like simply due to our selfish nature (preaching to myself here y’all) but when we stop, seeking His strength in the hungry moments, in the wanting moments, in the situations and circumstances, we find contentment lies within His will for us.

When I seek out the things which I believe will bring contentment to my life, I find they are fleeting and asked to be pursued over and over again. However when I live in His will, seeking His strength, contentment is lasting and real. It’s the acceptance that His will is good for my life.

So will I be content with fleeting moments of pursuit of my own will or accepting His will as good? Milkshakes pass away, but contentment in Him is eternal.

From the Corners

There’s a corner of my guest room that I sometimes go to catch a glimpse of the rising sun just peaking over the trees and rooftops in my neighborhood. It’s the mornings where I need a quiet start, a greeting of a new day ahead.

It reminds me of these words of Jeremiah, as he anguished over the plight of his country. He saw no signs of relief and was focusing on the lack of hope. We see in verse 21 there’s a turning from his lament to a realization of hope.

Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I hope in Him!”

 The Lord is good to those who wait for Him,
To the soul who seeks Him.

Lamentations 3:22-24 (NKJV)

His mercies allow us not to be consumed by what is breaking our hearts. It’s a reminder that whatever trouble or struggle we are in, through His mercies we are not overwhelmed, we are not used up by the struggle. The reason we are given such mercies?

His compassion on us.

His tenderness towards us. His concern and care never fail. When so many other things in this life fail, including our own minds and hearts, our own limited understanding. His does not.

Not only that, Jeremiah reminds us that they are new each day. We don’t get leftovers or what remains from the day before. We get brand new compassion poured out on us, through the never ending mercy He gives.

He is faithful, when I am not. When I am in a struggle or finding that I might be swallowed up, He is faithful with compassion and mercy. He is good, if we but wait. If we believe and choose to wait upon Him.

As we see here, when we seek Him in the corners of life we find Him bringing newness to our days, rejoicing in a hope that never ends, finding our souls are His portion forever.

Refinement

Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17

For the longest time I understood that verse but never really thought about how it applies to myself and what it looks like off the page, in that sharpening. Until the other day.

I was having a conversation via email with a friend about a situation and what I had seen come from it now months later. What God was choosing to reveal to me now, the lesson to be learned and the growth which needed to come from it all. How He chose to use the situation for good and glory when it could have easily turned into something far worse.

God’s pretty good at that. Taking a situation, a mess of our own making, and changing the script. But we have to allow it. Often that means getting sharpened by another person. That means sparks, tension, and sometimes fire. But it also means sloughing off the dull edges. It means being in community with others enough to create that spark and ignite the kindling of sharpening.

The question I asked my friend, and I pose it here too, as I still ruminate and dig deep on it is this: If iron sharpens iron, how much more then is God refining us in the process?

If we allow Him to, He will take the sharpening process further. Fashioning us into tools for use, to be resharpened again and again as He works out His purpose in us and through us. That refining also means we may get refashioned for another purpose in the midst of the work, as the season changes and as His will for the work to be done is lived out in us.

We have to be willing. We have to be available and most importantly we have to be sharpened, ready for use and refinement for the purpose He has called us to in the now.