Rough Road Ahead

A few weeks back as we were traveling home from vacation, I saw a road sign stating “Rough Road.” Now, we were in South Carolina so that’s pretty much all of their roads. (Not sorry Palmetto peeps, because your roads are the worst, and that’s saying something from this Nashville gal) As we bumped along a bit I took a mental note of that sign, thinking more about it in response to life than to the physical conditions of the road.

Two years ago today, I was fired from my job with no explanation or reason as to why. Thinking back on some still fresh memories of that day and subsequent days, the road ahead that picture of the “Rough Road” sign came to mind once again. Because I started wondering if we’d appreciate knowing that a rough road was ahead in our lives.

If we could be warned of rough patches on the road of life ahead, would we want to know?

Would it make it any easier to bear? To live through and be on that road, knowing it was coming? I’ll be honest and say that no, it wouldn’t. In fact the knowledge of impending bumpiness makes it harder in many ways. We start to work in our means, (we do that anyways alot of the times) but we try to control the situation, the consequences or the people involved. The warning allows for preparation yes, but preparation on whose part? And what does that prep look like in our lives?

When rough roads approach us in life, do we grip the wheel and just endure it while we are on it, or do we lean in to see if there’s a change of course needed, or if we need to pull off and rest a bit in how we’ve been traveling that road? A rough road gives us the ability to see what’s lying underneath where we’ve been trodding, revealing to us what we are made of and on what/who we are relying. The signal of a rough road gives us false senses of reliance upon ourselves to avoid it or be able to get through it quickly.

Would I have wanted the warning of being fired? I have to say now, two years later, that while a warning of what lies ahead would be nice, I know that in it all I found that I was more trusting of God, not knowing how the road would wind and move, but I had to trust that it would move me more towards Him than anywhere else.

It was a rough road, and one that required healing, provision and trust beyond what I could muster up for myself alone. A rough road ahead doesn’t so much need a warning sign as it does a belief that the rough road is a part of our journey home.

Sacrificial Identity

Am I sacrificing my identity to be identified solely in Christ?

Oof.

I scribbled that question across the top of my bulletin, knowing the Holy Spirit was pushing me into a very hard question to address, right in the middle of Sunday morning church.

Y’all. I don’t know how you get when the Spirit starts doing a work in you, but I tend to want to have a conversation. And you really can’t do that with your pastor digging into the Word with 200 of your other congregants.

Oh, and to think I thought that was it. Nope. Then came the checklist of things I choose to make my identity rather than Christ. Things I put above that list that I had not even thought identified me: judgemental, self-righteous, better than, unforgiving, haughty. Ugh. Y’all, it was not a pretty scene there in that row. Because God was doing a work I had been praying for Him to do, but it wasn’t on my terms. It wasn’t in my controlled environment to address and respond to in time.

Nope…He was there pointing out in the very Scripture I had been reading the week prior, the same Scripture that Aaron had planned to preach on months ago, that my identity was only to be in Him. That at the root of it all, of who I think I am, who I really am, and who others see is the creation that He made me to be, to identify me as-His. That my identity alone should be in Him and not in other things, people, roles or sins.

Yep, sins…because whether I accept it or not, often my identity is in the sin I choose to take for myself. The little ones that don’t seem to matter much in the day to day but that soon become what I am identified as-poor attitude, condescending, unloving, spiteful. It all has to be sacrificed if we want to be known as nothing but Christ’s.

It means choosing grace, hope, love, kindness, goodness, meekness in every single thing. It means understanding that the identities we desire for ourselves, whether they are roles, jobs, prefixes, or any other good thing are not the very best thing for us, they are not His intention for us. And so to be identified in Christ, all the lesser things have to be cast aside, sacrificed and laid down. They must.

If I sat here and said it was easy, then I’d be identified a liar as well because it is not y’all. And it’s not a once and done, it’s a continual fight to not pick up those things we think are good at identifying ourselves as and choose Christ instead. But as we move into our identity being solely in Christ, we find the choosing can be easier, the fight not as hard, and the sin identifiable before we engage in it. It will also mean wrestling with areas we didn’t know we were identified with, sins we couldn’t possibly be connected to, and choices that we hadn’t realized we’d made in order to be identified as anything other than in Christ.

All the Questions. 

I ask a lot of questions. I like context and clarity. It’s something as I have gotten older that has provided me with both, and saved a lot of time assuming something else or misunderstanding a situation/comment/task. 

When I was fired from a job, I had a lot of questions, none of which have ever been answered. For a while that unknown, that “no-cause” just left me deflated and assuming a lot. It welled up anger that had to be dealt with, and it also took me to God asking Him a lot of things about how He could let that happen and so on. 

We take a lot of questions to Him, maybe not all of them because we are human and we often try to answer the majority of them on our, in our own thinking, instead of laying them before Him. However He answers in His time and His way. But I find that some questions I ask, and this may hold true for you too, just don’t get answered. 

We hold some elite company in the Bible as well with this. When we look at the life of Joshua we can see his ordainment to lead the people of Israel into the land that was promised. Confidence and influence are with him, as is God. We see him lead them across the Jordan, obedient to the commands of God. 

Then he meets a Man. The commander of the army of the Lord as a matter of fact. Joshua doesn’t know this, only that this Man has His sword drawn. Joshua asks Him a question, of whether He is for them or heir adversaries (Joshua 5:13-15). His question, it goes unanswered. What follows in that very brief synopsis is God meeting Joshua right where he is at, and that’s all that mattered. 

You see I believe that often it’s not our questions being answered that we are in deep need of, but that we need to encounter God and be obedient in humble worship. That we need that time with Him far more than our future revealed or a question deeply answered. He tells us over in Jeremiah that His ways, His thoughts aren’t ours. The sovereign Lord of all is answering our questions so often by giving us what our limited understanding couldn’t comprehend-time spent with Him. 

It took me seeing Joshua and Job (Job 42:5,6) have their direct questions go unanswered to see they were answered by the loving, caring and reigning God for what their deep need was, Him. To know that when I take all of that to Him, He gives what He knows is needed…more of Him and less of me. 

Defining Work

Recently I was talking with my sister about jobs and career and degrees. We both are first generation college grads, and both of us have Master’s degrees in the education field. As I was launching into a bit of an emotional monologue about the use of degrees in jobs she stopped me with, “You need to get over that.”

 

Without realizing it, I had elevated this education to a place of importance, of stature that was bordering on idolatry in my life. I had made it more important than God’s design for me. I didn’t fully grasp this until I read the words of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 2:

Therefore I hated life because the work that was done under the sun was distressing to me, for all is vanity and grasping for the wind…Therefore I turned my heart and despaired of all the labor in which I had toiled under the sun.

(v. 17, 20 NKJV)

I saw how I had placed my work, the labor of my life, as the thing to be obtained, to define me and make me find meaning in it. I did it all without realizing it. It was a slide I hadn’t seen myself take and ultimately it left me just as Solomon states, despairing and hating.

If I am truly honest with y’all I was a nasty person to be around in some of those moments. I contributed to the hate and despair as I let my job and my work seep into every ounce of my life, laboring out of a place of idol worship rather than out of the overflow of Christ. It wasn’t work as worship, I had switched it around and made my worship be my work. I sought the meaning of my life in the work I did, and ultimately it crushed me and left me empty.

It does that to us all if we allow it, if we pursue after meaning and definition from our work for our lives. We see how Solomon shows us plainly, cautioning us that he’s done it…every bit of it, and yet it was lacking, it left him empty. It ultimately gained him nothing but emptiness and despair.

But when we seize our work as a gift from God, that it is from His hands instead…that we aren’t relying on our work to be what defines us, but instead relying upon God, then we find nothing is better, that joy is found. Because it’s not about us in that work, it’s not about the work itself, it’s about God. It’s the good found only in Him, what He gives us, that we are then able to rejoice in. We are able to meet the stressors of a job situation, a career move, job loss with the focus on what He is telling us rather than what that job says about us.

When we are able to accept the truth that our jobs, positions, degrees, etc. aren’t what give us definition, then we are able to see the way God chooses us for them, whether a lifetime, a season or somewhere in between. It’s in that we can Amen to Solomon’s follow-up words:

Nothing is better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that his soul should enjoy good in his labor.

(v. 24, NKJV)

The Wrong Question

Often it’s not that we are asking a question, but that it’s the wrong one.

 

I am a member of a satellite campus of a larger church in Nashville/Brentwood area. Often times I listen to our Senior Pastor’s sermon via podcast during the week. It’s really insightful to see the various ways God uses individuals to speak about Scripture.

This week’s y’all…I have listened to Mike’s sermon three times…THREE. Because it’s just that good. I’ll probably keep it archived so I can come back to it again and again.

Here’s the rub…it’s about asking the wrong question. We can ask, we just ask the wrong thing. So let me just let Mike do the talking here.

 

What’s in a Title?

When we think about terms that define us, I have a hard time not pointing to my job title. For the last 15 years or so, I think it’s been ingrained in my mind that what you do, your job, profession, career, they define you.  What that title says is who you are. It blankets your life and encompasses all that you are.

Without it, you’re not of value or worth. You don’t matter.

Job-title

That’s a glimpse at the lie I have been wrestling with these days.

That’s the idol I have been worshiping at for some years. Because it was a dream of my own making. A way and means for me to show that “I did this” and “I provide” without letting God in to much of it.

Oh there have been times and seasons where God has been so at work in me through my job that all I could do was point to Him and say “thank you.” But for the majority? I was finding provision and sufficiency coming from my own hands. I see the pride, the ego, the self muddled all through this.

I watched and built with my own hands such a faulty idol of career. A career that was for the last four years making me absolutely miserable. It was deteriorating my health, my mental capacity and my rest. And yet I worshiped it, clung to it so tightly that even as it betrayed me I tried to glue it back together.

It has taken a complete career change, life change for me to see what God had been giving me glimpses of for years. I was being consumed by the idol I had built, allowing it to define me and shape me, rather than allowing God to use me in it for Him. It brought me some unique experiences and knowledge gathering, but I chose to see it as my definer. Of who I was and the value I had. When that gets pulled out from underneath you, you are able to see the idol you’ve constructed by your own hand and not the “ministry” you said you were called to do.

I am coming to this place of seeing that my job title (or even lack thereof) has no definition to who I am. I am defined fully and completely by God. When I stand aside and fully face that He is my portion and sufficiency (Psalm 119:57) then I am able to stop building idols and worship the God who goes before, who created me for good works, and who calls me His beloved.

It’s seeing that the only one who said my worth is in my job title is me. I convinced myself that I am defined by that and I am the one who is in control of providing in that capacity. When we confront the lie of worth placed anywhere by in God’s truth, we begin to chip away at the idol which has consumed us, consumed me. An idol that does not want to die or being knocked down, but bears a significant weight in addressing and pulling pieces away that have been built over time and seasons.

Understanding that He is my portion provides me with so much more than I could ever imagine of supplying in my own weakness. The title of Child of the King far outweighs any job title I can obtain.

What If?

I sat there in a movie theater with a friend not really knowing what to say. We were at a screening and had decided to use the time to talk about some heart issues we both had been experiencing as of late. She looked at me with such fear and pain in her voice asking “But what if this is it?”

I looked at her and shared that I too had asked that same question, with longing, fear and pain. What if this is it for me?

She looked with such honesty, seeking an answer as if I held some secret. Me, another single female with a job and a mortgage. Me the woman seven years older, and supposedly wiser, yet still single.

What-ifOh my heart hurt, and friends, it still does…because this What If plagues us in some very quiet times-no matter our marital status. It whispers ever so softly that it echoes out into every corner and crevice of our lives. We begin to wonder what if this happens? what if that doesn’t? What if? What if? What if?

Those two words will slither and crawl throughout our lives when we are at our most vulnerable, when we aren’t on guard or we just aren’t prepared. I remember not too long ago my “What if?” snuck up and sucker punched me hard. I had to pull over because I had started to sob. It was speaking fears and doubts I had left unchecked and running loose. It was the reality of no control that I chose to carry with me as if I could control it. Oh that illusion of control will mess you up friends if you aren’t careful. You’ll think you’ve checked off this on your timeline of life and not its time to for that….when in actuality we are on God’s timing and that may mean you don’t get that, or not right now but when He believes you are ready.

I wish I could tell you that it’s easy to answer the what if of my friend, or of my own life. But it’s not. It’s difficult because the what if is a lie. It’s a lie of comparison. It’s a lie that our story has to be like that person or those people. It’s a lie that tells us that we can control it and we are in command. We aren’t.

You aren’t.

Neither am I.

So that night, after sharing that hard conversation with no answers with my friend, I began to wrestle once more with the what ifs? that were circling my own heart and mind. Then very clearly I realized that I had laid down that struggle before of my future but I hadn’t let go of my present. I was still wrangling it with both hands, herding here and there like wild cats. Yet God stood there all the while waiting for me to relinquish and rest. To allow Him His work and me to trust. I go before Him, even in the moments since, seeking to give my present and my future back over to Him when I try to pull it back.

It’s not mine.

Those questions? Well they are a lie that is used as a weapon to distract, manipulate and take us from His truth. And that’s when I cling to His word that tells me exactly where I am if I just keep faith and remember it’s not about me.

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time,  casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.  Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.

1 Peter 5:6-10