The Subtle Erosion: A Remedy

Is something missing from your Bible Study or your faith walk? Here’s what God showed me about the subtle erosion that sneaks into our time with Him:

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It began like this:

Whenever God answered my prayers in an unmistakable way; when I felt His creative powers flow through me, driving out devotions with an unexpected ease; when His presence shook my foundations—my arms, my knees, my voice while also empowering me to speak; and when His flame licked across the crown of my head and settled like a fire beneath my chest, burning the inner dross with His purifying fire—then I was consumed with awe for my God.

But when the heat faded, the sense of His presence felt far off. Equally far was the grace I once had—the supernatural ease—to demonstrate His patient selfless love to others. I fought to regain lost ground—though I know it isn’t truly lost; it’s part of a life-long process of being conformed into His image—whether by the tangible blaze of His Spirit’s fire or the lonely renewing of my mind. New lessons require a new approach. There’s a purpose in these struggles. And so, my God, my loving God—whether I feel Your presence or not—I know You fill this vacancy, too.

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Still, wanting more, I pressed in; I sought His face; I devoured the Word, the truth. But somehow, in my seeking, the routine settled in until the heavenly manna tasted bland—Bland?! How is it possible to read the Word of Life and find oneself mired in a lifeless intellectual pursuit? This should not be! (But all too often it is.)

Have you ever fallen into that numb pursuit, driven by obligation or desperation in which you feed on the Word and yet still feel unfed? Here’s the revelation God gave me in my recent studies of His Truth: Reignite your sense of awe in Me.” Truth without awe is an intellectual exercise. If the truth doesn’t move us to a place of awe, God will always feel far off.

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So, instead of being a people who come near to God with their mouth and honor Him with their lips while our hearts remain far off (Isaiah 29:13), how about we take a moment to forget the rules and regulations and simply meditate on the glory of God’s power?

Isaiah 29:4-6,9,13-14:

God says, “Brought low, you will speak from the ground; your speech will mumble out of the dust. Your voice will come ghostlike from the earth; out of the dust your speech will whisper. But your many enemies will become like fine dust, the ruthless hordes like blown chaff. Suddenly, in an instant, the Lord Almighty will come with thunder and earthquake and great noise, with windstorm and tempest and flames of a devouring fire… Be stunned and amazed, blind yourselves and be sightless; be drunk, but not from wine, stagger, but not from beer…” The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught. Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.”

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Psalm 46:8-11 (TPT):

Everyone look!
Come and see the breathtaking wonders of our God.
For he brings both ruin and revival.
He’s the one who makes conflicts end
throughout the earth,
breaking and burning every weapon of war.
Surrender your anxiety!
Be silent and stop your striving and you will see that I am God.
I am the God above all the nations,
and I will be exalted throughout the whole earth.
Here he stands!
The Commander!
The mighty Lord of Angel Armies is on our side!
The God of Jacob fights for us!
Pause in his presence

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Psalm 29:

1 Ascribe to the Lord, you heavenly beings,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.
3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord thunders over the mighty waters.
4 The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is majestic.
5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon leap like a calf,
Sirion like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the Lord strikes
with flashes of lightning.
8 The voice of the Lord shakes the desert;
the Lord shakes the Desert of Kadesh.
9 The voice of the Lord twists the oaks
and strips the forests bare.
And in his temple all cry, “Glory!”
10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord is enthroned as King forever.
11 The Lord gives strength to his people;
the Lord blesses his people with peace.

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Isaiah 46:3-5,9-13:

3 “Listen to me, you descendants of Jacob,
all the remnant of the people of Israel,
you whom I have upheld since your birth,
and have carried since you were born.
4 Even to your old age and gray hairs
I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
I will sustain you and I will rescue you.
5 “With whom will you compare me or count me equal?
To whom will you liken me that we may be compared? …
9 Remember the former things, those of long ago;
I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me.
10 I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, ‘My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please.’
11 From the east I summon a bird of prey;
from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose.
What I have said, that I will bring about;
what I have planned, that I will do.
12 Listen to me, you stubborn-hearted,
you who are now far from my righteousness.
13 I am bringing my righteousness near,
it is not far away;
and my salvation will not be delayed.
I will grant salvation to Zion,
my splendor to Israel.

See also my devotion on Isaiah 46: A Writer’s Idol. And consider soaking in His presence:

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Prodigal Prayer: Misunderstanding the Father’s Heart

What is prayer? To me in the past—to me now? When I pondered that question, the story of the prodigal son intruded my thoughts (Luke 15:11-31). If you’ll recall, the son asked the Father for his inheritance—or rather, what he believed his inheritance should be: living life on his own terms, in his own strength. In a single word: Autonomy.

The Father granted the son’s request and let him choose his own path, just as Father God also imbues each one of us with free will. He doesn’t force us along the path of obedience.

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But pay special attention to what the son’s request implies: He didn’t value his Father for who He was, only what he could get from Him. (How often are our prayers like that? Do we place our desires on a higher shelf within our hearts than God Himself? Do we let those desires become idols? In the past, I would’ve had to answer, “yes.”)

When the son returned, he came as a beggar. He came as one seeking once more to better his situation by asking his Father to grant another wish, this time to be a servant in His household. The Father denied him. Why? What did the father want instead? Relationship. Very specifically, a Father-son relationship built on His unconditional love.

For any who would ponder this parable in all its beautiful depth, there are many lessons to be learned. Among them is this: God can never give us His all if we don’t seek Him for Himself.

As 1 Corinthians 2:9-10 says, “’Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.’ But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit.”

So what was the prodigal son’s foundational problem? We might claim selfishness, but I’m inclined to declare a spiritual blindness instead. The young man was blind to the depths of his Father’s unconditional love and—if I might be so bold—many of us face this very same struggle.

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Consider John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” How does that make you feel? Happy? Numb? There’s not a Christian alive who doesn’t have some conception of this verse—in their minds. But how many of us “get it” on a soul-deep level? On a level that reaches down into our spirits with the very fingers of God’s resurrection power (Romans 8:11)?

If there’s a single reason why the church today isn’t what we think it ought to be—why our lives as “born again” Christians don’t reflect the same transformative power described in the New Testament churches, it’s because we’re blind to God’s self-sacrificing, unconditional love for each one of us personally. True vision of that love would supernaturally transform us from the inside-out because…our ability to love (either Him or others) is only as pure as our perception of how well He loves us: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

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And because we don’t grasp the purity and perfection of His personal love, like the prodigal son, we too have a hard time seeking Him for Himself—without limitations. Maybe because deep-down we realize that kind of intimacy entails a complete surrender of autonomy. True intimacy (the “abiding” described in John 15) involves obedience: “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love” John 15:10 (NASB).

Yes, we are called to obey His commands. But what does the next verse say (15:11)? “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” The One who designed us, body and soul, knows that He alone is our Source of true satisfaction (James 1:17).

In the story of the prodigal son, the Father allowed his son to chase after worldly pursuits which, in the end, failed to bring the desired joy and satisfaction. The son left his Father’s house full of himself and his own desires—and came back empty. Helpless. But the Father was there watching—waiting to fill him.

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Perhaps that is the greatest lesson of all. We can either seek Him in faith and thereby grow in our understanding of how good He is and how much He loves us—and perhaps avoid the painful years the son suffered alone. Or else we—like the prodigal son—are destined to find ourselves shamed by the world and our own pitiful efforts, running back to the Father years later with empty arms and hollow souls.

Whatever we choose, Father God is waiting to receive us—to pour His love “into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5)… Because His love isn’t dependent on anything we do—it’s a sure and constant force that “works for the good” of all those He’s in the process of calling home (Romans 8:28+)…

“29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. 31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Not if we make the most life-altering decision we could ever make, to come home to the Creator and Lover of our souls.

Spirit-Born Freedom

The words of the Bible are truth. But the natural mind can’t accept them without the mighty working of the Holy Spirit, who brings revelation and guides us into all truth. Staying in the word is so important, but remaining in the Word—capital W—is even more critical because all wisdom and understanding, and the empowerment to obey what we read, come from Him. Reading the Bible under the Spirit’s guidance is life altering. By His power alone are we transformed by the renewing of our minds.

As we read, we must submit to His leading, not leaning on our own understanding and powers of reasoning, but asking Him for His wisdom and revelation. Let us not make an idol of our logic and rational mind when we know that our natural mind can’t understand the things of the Spirit, “because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Remember the Jews who wanted to take Jesus and make Him earthly king by force? They were guided by their natural minds even though they had the Scriptures.

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Remember the parable of the sower, which shows instances in which the word of God—that all-encompassing seed with powerful truth potential—could be rendered ineffective. There’s no question that God’s word “is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). But what of the soil?

The soil represents our individual hearts. Consider the Israelites in Moses’s day, of whom Paul says, “But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:14-17).

We can have God’s word, trust in our own powers of reasoning, and still not “get it,” unless we invite the Holy Spirit—whose thoughts are higher than our thoughts—into our Bible reading with an attitude of teachable humility. I like the Passion Translation’s rendering of this last verse: “Now, the “Lord” I’m referring to is the Holy Spirit, and WHEREVER HE IS LORD, there is freedom.”

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God can be near us without us sensing His presence and walking into His freedom. Some remain in bondage beneath that veil because they haven’t made Him Lord in their hearts and minds. Be assured, this is something we can only do fully with His help. There is no condemnation for the children of God, but He wants to take us higher, deeper. Because of the enemy’s deception, some of us are still living beneath that blinding veil—at least in part.

Are you ready for freedom? For more of God’s truth and power in your life? Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into all truth in every moment. When we know the truth, it sets us free from all manner of bondage which is not of the Lord but of the enemy. Submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee. The Passion Translation for verse 16 says this: “But the moment one turns to the Lord with an open heart, the veil is lifted and they see.” This could be our moment for greater spiritual vision and freedom. Are you ready? Jesus said, “Come. Follow me.”

SCRIPTURE REFERENCES:
Romans 12:2, be transformed
John 16:13, Spirit of truth
Proverbs 3:5-6, trust
Isaiah 55:8-9, His thoughts are higher
Ephesians 1:17, Spirit of wisdom
1 Corinthians 2:14, natural mind
John 6:15, king by force
Matthew 13, parable of the sower
Hebrews 4:12, word is living and active
2 Corinthians 3:14-17, veil vs freedom
2 Corinthians 10:5, take thoughts captive
Romans 8:1, no condemnation
James 4:7, submit to God
Matthew 4:19, “Follow Me”

Spirit-Wind

Mini-Devotional Collection

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The last few days, I’ve been reading “Praying from the Heavenly Realms” during my morning devotions, feeling the weight of the Spirit and being injected with inspiration and faith for prayer. Almost every morning as I was reading, a spark of inspiration would strike and I would begin furiously typing my thoughts into my phone, pausing to search for Scriptures that came to mind, until I sensed the flurry winding to a close.

The devotions below are the very ones written during this time. I first published them on Facebook as individual posts, but I thought it would be fun to anchor them in a more permanent post and to share them with some of my friends who aren’t on Facebook. So, here they are:

If you need recommendations for recharging a stagnating faith-walk, check out the first mini-devotion below: 1. God is the Source

If you’re struggling to believe in God’s personal love for you, consider reading the second: 2. Nobody’s a Nobody.

If you’d like a meditation on Philippians 1:21 and on what it means to be dead to sin and alive to Christ, check out 3. To Live is Christ.

If you’d like a distinction between happiness and joy and how earthly treasures can never bring permanent satisfaction, skip to 4. Where Your Treasure Is. (This and the next one are geared toward writers, but just replace the word “writing” with “passion” and you’ll still likely find something to glean.)

Finally, the last mini-devotion (5. God Owns His Creation) is meant as a pep-talk for writers (and probably other creatives) who find themselves tempted to place their value in their writing (or art).

However much or little you read of these mini-devotionals, I pray you’ll be blessed.


1. God is the Source

I remember how I used to feel, reading John 3:16 and thinking, “Sure, God loves the world generically, but me, personally?” I wonder how hard it is for others to accept God’s personal, individual love for them as well.

God’s work in my life has filled me with an experiential knowledge of His perfect personal love for me. Not only that, it’s flooded my heart with love for Him, which is a total game-changer. When you really grasp the nail-pounded, blood-lashed, mocked-to-death love of Jesus for YOU, and when you can dwell in that beautiful place—in His loving presence—YOU. WILL. BE. CHANGED.

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As one who lived so long in a wilderness of powerlessness, I’ve come to understand one very important thing: God is the Source. We can listen to worship songs and read our Bibles, but we can’t make ourselves feel God’s love. We can’t make ourselves love God. And we certainly can’t remake ourselves into the people He wants us to be.

So, if we ever feel stuck in our faith walk, the very VERY first step is to ask God to give us what we need, which could involve prayer, finding and confessing the promises He’s given in Scripture, or worshiping His sufficiency, goodness, power, and love.

Here are three quick things to try:
(1) Pray Ephesians 1:17-22 for yourself.
(2) Read 1 Thessalonians 5:24 and the prior verses.
(3) Listen to “Best News Ever” by MercyMe

When we can’t find the strength or inspiration, we need only lay the burden back on God, acknowledging that He is the Source of all good things and that we’re utterly helpless without Him. This is true in every moment, whether or not we feel it.


2. Nobody’s a Nobody

The Bible says of Jesus that “for the joy set before Him, [He] endured the cross” Hebrews 12:2.

And what was that joy spurring Him on? Only the privilege of being “seated at the right hand of the throne of God”? Somehow, I don’t think that’s the whole story.

Not for the man who would leave the 99 sheep safe and sound in their pen to go after the one (Matthew 18:12).

Not for the man who defended the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) or who paused His plans to personally acknowledge the woman with the faith to touch His hem (Matthew 9:18-26).

Jesus singled people out, like the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:7-26). He knew what was in their hearts (John 2:24-25) and loved them anyway (Matthew 23:37): “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.”

And He forgives them at their worst (Luke 23:34-43): “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” … Then one criminal said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

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I want to finish with a quote from a book I’ve been reading: “Praying from the Heavenly Realms” by Kevin Zadai:

“When Jesus was standing with me after I had died in the operating room during my heavenly visitation in 1992, I remember looking into His eyes and seeing something amazing. He remembered the day He thought of me and spoke me into existence and sent me to my mother’s womb. This is extremely important to understand because I could hear Jesus’s thoughts when I looked into His eyes. When He realized this He smiled. He saw that I had turned out just as He desired when He spoke me into existence. I had turned out the perfect way that He intended me to be…

“It is profound how much He loves people. God’s purpose is actually injected into us when we are created, along with the gifts and plans that He has for us. His purpose for His Kingdom has been placed inside of you, and this earthly life is just a journey of discovery. There is an unfolding of the gifts of God and the purpose of God for every person on the earth. He does not wish that any should perish.”

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29: 11-13).


3. To Live is Christ

I died. That’s what the Bible teaches. I died and now I’m only alive by this new work God’s doing in me. Whenever we die, we’re free from sin. I died with Christ and it’s no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. I died to sin and I’m free. But without Jesus’s sustaining power, I’d be nothing more than a walking zombie.

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I’m already dead—already experiencing the gain of living in vital union with my Savior. Yet I haven’t been so blessed as to meet Him face to face. What a gain that would be! What a blissful reunion with the One who’s been helping and sustaining me. The longer I dwell in His presence, the more like Him I become, the more I like myself—perhaps because I’m thinking of myself less and Him more.

So many people live in fear of death, but what a beautiful moment that’ll be for those of us who have staked our lives on Jesus. Truly I long for that day when I’ll finally stand in the presence of the One who loves me most, with nothing between us.


4. Where Your Treasure Is

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When I made writing my treasure, I swung uncontrollably between anxiety and depression… and elation. But the elation could never last. It was based on a worldly hope of success that could never be perfectly met in every instance. When circumstances favored that hope, I was happy. When they didn’t, I was devastated.

Had I been published during this time, I know in my heart that this emotional roller coaster would’ve persisted—in spite of any apparent success. When reviews were good, I would be up. When bad, my mood would swing down. And having been published, I would want to be published again, so that—in spite of achieving—I would never arrive in that happily ever after destination. Because… it’s a myth.

The very word “happiness” contains the root for chance, circumstance—happenstance. Happiness based on a particular worldly outcome is never a constant and unchanging thing, for we know “this world in its present form is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:31). Bestsellers are forgotten. Yesterday’s successes rarely satisfy on the morrow…

But when we “use the things of this world as if not dependent on them”? When we make Jesus our treasure? Then we’re taking the “hap” out of happiness in exchange for a lasting joy that can never fail. Then our “happiness” is guaranteed… Because our Savior is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). And if God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31).

Jesus came that we would have and enjoy life to the full (John 10:10). He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end (Revelation 22:13), who fills everything in every way (Ephesians 1:23). One with the Father, He does not change like shifting shadows—and how quick we are to forget that He is the Source of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). Yet we miss the greatest gift of all—unspeakable joy in our intimate restoration to the only Father who could ever love us perfectly, and our beloved self-sacrificing big brother, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2)—for us!

When we put Jesus first, making Him our foremost treasure, only then can we truly enjoy all the other beautiful gifts He’s given. Praise God!


5. God Owns His Creation

Can I just say, your value as a person goes way, way beyond your abilities as a writer. God has shown me freedom in placing my identity in Him rather than anything we might do or accomplish on this earth. I suspect creatives are particularly susceptible to the lie that they’re only as good as their latest creation.

When we get negative feedback, aren’t we tempted to devalue ourselves? But think about this: You are God’s creation. Every time anyone has mocked you—your quirky personality, appearance, and unique if somewhat bizarre gifts—or anytime you’ve laughed or rolled your eyes at anyone else for that matter (no guilt here, just grace!), God doesn’t devalue Himself on account of those insults.

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You are God’s creation. And He owns it—owns and claims YOU as His special creation. He absorbs the insults against you. He’s even got your name engraved in the palm of His hand like a picture in His wallet. You might be struggling (and I hesitate to use Job as an example), but God was bragging on him, wasn’t He? “Look at my son, would you? Just look at him! Is there anyone so grand?” And how about that prodigal dad, just waiting for His son’s return? That father gave the young man freedom to make mistakes in order to bring him home changed and ready to face the world because Love—always hoping and persevering—sees the potential in others.

The truth is, each one of us was fashioned with His special care and personal touch. Our names and even our future good deeds were planned out, and all our days inscribed in Heavenly books. God made you the way you are because He wanted YOU to exist. And He came down to earth and died because He didn’t want Heaven without you in it.

The Hero’s Ordinary World

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When we think of Christmas—especially if we’re Christian—we tend to focus on the manger. The baby. The star. But as a writer, it occurred to me… the manger isn’t the beginning.

In every story, the hero’s journey begins in the ordinary world—his ordinary world. But this hero’s ordinary world is far from ordinary.

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Light is a state of being for the wise prince, as ancient and unchanging as His glorious Father.

With infinite creative power, He summons clear waters with the breath of His lips. They spread out from the sole of his leading foot, perfectly still, reflecting a wash of pastels perfectly mirrored from a radiant peach and gold dome. With every step, spikes splay out like textured snowflakes across the water’s surface while a glittering mist rises—dances up to the pristine hem of His robe, such a pure white it’s glowing.

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The warmth of His Father’s embrace is a constant presence. He spins one finger in the air and a thunderous waterfall springs up, etching angular stones as if it’s been grinding them forever. Green spreads out around the fallen stones forming the shore, a soft carpet of vibrant moss. Ancient trees rise, bringing shade. Flowers sprout. Every color of butterfly flutters—a moving impressionistic painting.

The scene is perfect.

All is Love and Peace.

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In the middle of the pond, where the fall’s spray is a battering wind, He gazes straight down between his feet. Beneath the bright reflection, rainbow-colored fish dart. Beneath the fish, algae grows up from blocky stones and sways in unseen currents.

Beneath the stones, a tiny blip—a little pocket of space and time. Very small and dark, filled with stars and planets, and—more important than that—the crowning glory of His creativity: Humankind.

All of them lost in darkness.

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“They are harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

He looks up and the thundering rush of water is a white beard—a voice. “To save them, you must become like them. You must give up your powers, your title, and live like a man. Submit yourself fully to Me, as if we are not equals…

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“Instead of growing trees with a single thought, you will toil and labor, shaping wood by grinding the rough edges to dust, which in turn will raise blisters in your tender flesh. Instead of perfect harmony and love, you’ll be surrounded by those who hate you. Sweat and dirt and pain prevail in the fallen world, as you know.”

“Because it’s under a curse…a curse I can break.”

“At great cost.”

The prince paces on air because the pond is gone—the waterfall silent. Instead, its thundering pulses in his head. He sees…all. Every child born into sin—yet precious. Every tear streaking their dirty faces. They don’t all see the dirt—but He does. They don’t see their worth—but He does.

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He built His own worth into them.

He counts the cost. The thorns, the metal beads ripping his flesh. The utter rejection by God and man. The betrayal…

The nails digging in and torturing his nerves in a body capable of death. It’s his vehicle to carry all the sins of the world to Satan’s lair and leave them there.

“I bind myself to this course… Our love will cover their multitude of sins.”

“And so shall it be.”

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Disclaimer: I took creative license in creating this scenario. More than trying to be 100% accurate in every respect, I hoped to inspire awe for Jesus’s willingness to give up everything in pursuit of me and you.

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The Spiritual Power of Our Words

The other day, God taught me a very important lesson—a jumble of lessons, really, about faith and fear, idolatry, the power of words, and more. However, the real story begins a few month back, amidst my ongoing struggles with anxiety and depression, mostly rooted in my failure as a writer.

You see, throughout the course of my writing journey, I frequently wore labels like “inadequate” and “hopeless.” I rarely experienced God’s joy or peace in my life. If I did experience happiness, it was always a product of fleeting circumstances. For a long season, Scriptures and sermons either fell flat or filled me with self-condemnation. I was trapped in an endless cycle of situational moods—happy when I did well and miserable when I failed.

In short, my emotions were torturing me—and it felt like Hell.

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Let’s be clear here… Everyone struggles with their emotions from time to time. Everyone deals with frustration. That’s not what I’m talking about… Anxiety and depression—that suffocating joy-sucking black hole in a person’s chest and the bee-hive explosion of buzzing angst that hijacks all hope until the victim is desperate for unconsciousness—those emotions are often beyond our power to control.

I had begun taking steps to get free—steps as slippery as walking through quicksand. I was trapped in a pit only God could lift me out of… I just had to reach out and take His hand.

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If that makes it sound too easy, well…it was. That’s because after all my efforts and struggles, I didn’t do it—God did.

It really was a miracle… I’d come to the end of myself, anxiety attacks slamming me one after the next. I was fighting to keep my head above water, but—ultimately—I was drowning. Though God had given me a few passing words of inspiration, I wasn’t expecting much. I was simply desperate for relief.front-black

That was when God led me to a devotional book composed by another writer of fiction: Ted Dekker. Within days of beginning the meditations in his book, “The Forgotten Way,” the anxiety and depression were gone. In vague whispers of emotion, I remember the transition… one day, feeling like the world was caving in… the next, drinking full breaths of glorious freedom, each one sweetened with a joy and peace that seemed to have been hidden all my life—but not by God.

God wasn’t hiding Himself, you see? My skewed perceptions—the same ones that turned God’s word against me—they were the culprit. The truth is, our reality is shaped by what we truly believe, which means some of us are living in Hell even while the kingdom of Heaven looms near.

Ted Dekker said it like this:

“Everything we say, do and think aligns us with darkness or light, love or grievance. Thus, everything is a spiritual practice, whether we are aware of it or not. We are constantly, in every moment, aligning with one way of being or another. The choice is ours to make each moment of each day.”

lick-the-lemons-logoIn the days that followed my newfound freedom, I experienced frustrations—normal highs and lows—but nothing like before. I wasn’t happy; I was joyous. I wasn’t perfect; but neither was I condemned. I was able to love my daughter more. She hadn’t changed at all, mind you—but I had. Through “The Forgotten Way Meditations” God renewed my mind and transformed my life.

He saved me from the emotional Hell I’d been living in.

God taught me so many lessons through that entire experience…

Yesterday, I had the exam.

It began with a post I saw on Facebook, one person’s expression of gratitude for a wonderful friend in their life. This is what it said:

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Instantly the self-pity flared. I knew I shouldn’t write what I wanted to write, but in that moment, I just wanted to be visible. I wanted human understanding. So I did it anyway. Here’s what I wrote:

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The moment the words were out, and especially as the human sympathy rolled in, the emotions behind my words became more real. Suddenly, they had power. Before voicing my fears, all I had was a little niggling doubt—something entirely manageable. But after?

I’d opened the floodgates to the enemy. The anxiety struck anew—and it wasn’t pretty. It bowled me over with unstoppable power, reminding me of the greater Power that had rooted it out of me to begin with. I was like Adam and Eve, longing for the very fruit that would made me sick.

Take a moment to ponder what actually happened here… I aligned myself with the enemy rather than God. I expressed faith in satan’s intentions instead of God’s. I denied all the work my sweet Savior had already worked in my life. Because, you see:

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Here’s the thing: We can either have our self-pity or we can have God. Our minds can’t hold onto both at once because they’re polar opposites. Self-pity can’t survive even a tiny drop of God’s love. The One who knows all, saw our predicament before the foundation of the world and planned His own death in accordance by creating the tree He would die on. The longer we gaze at God, the smaller our problems become.

Which means…

If we’re seeing our self-pity, we’re not wholly seeing God… We’re in danger of stumbling… And so, in those lucid moments, you have a choice just as I had a choice. A choice to magnify our view of God or to allow our self-pity to drag us down.

It wasn’t a difficult choice, really. I just didn’t realize the power of my own words. I didn’t take my idolatry seriously.

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Besides that, I’ve learned that renewing the mind is an ongoing battle. The freedom God won for me doesn’t give me a free pass for the rest of my life. Now, instead of enjoying God’s peace, I’m battling an anxiety hangover. It feels like exhaustion and heartburn all mashed up inside. I know it’ll pass; I don’t regret the lessons I learned; but all this unpleasantness could’ve been avoided.

In retrospect, I feel a bit like Peter asserting he would never deny Christ—only to suggest through my words that God’s work in my life somehow wasn’t enough. That’s one new lesson I believe God wants me to absorb more deeply: He’s the Source. He alone is enough. Absolutely nothing else—and no one else—can satisfy.

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It was a hard lesson to experience—like the wake-up call Adam and Eve had, no doubt, after eating the accursed fruit. To have experienced the sweet communion of Christ, the joy and peace of living free of my emotional shackles, experiencing Heaven on earth—only to fall back into the grips of Hell.

Yes, it was hard, but this, too, is God’s grace in action. I’d forgotten how awful the anxiety felt. I was in danger of forgetting all His benefits, He “who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”

Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name!

Now, to my very core, I am convicted of the Scriptural truths found in Psalm 73, verses 25 and 26:

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Be blessed, my friends… God loves you.

And if you’d like to learn more about mental illness in the church, I just learned about a new book coming out soon: Whispers in the Pews by Chris Morris.

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Identity Crisis

Like nothing else in life, I have a seemingly boundless capacity to obsess about my writing. In deceptive whispers, it promises significance in success.

For over half my life, I’ve struggled to feel good about myself… to find some value, some purpose—some success… or at least to prove immune to the string of assailing doubts and inadequacies embedding my heart like shards of glass and burning like raked coals inside my chest.

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I know God is the source of all good. That I should be able to find satisfaction in Him, but I can’t force contentment…

God is love, He’s enough, and He makes me adequate… But what I know in my head, life experience mocks. I can spend entire mornings in devotion, preparing my mind…and yet the moment I face a messy scene or a blank page, I freeze.

My peace is gone; God isn’t enough.

Haven’t I learned a thing?

Of course I have. In my head… But I have a prodigal heart—perpetually blind to the great expanse of Love Who calls this fragile temple His “home” and lives to satisfy this broken soul. He’s been living inside all along, and yet my heart wanders to the farthest reaches of my dark imagination, still searching for a shred of worldly hope or some flicker of self-worth.

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As the prodigal son attempted to transform his father’s fortune into joy, so I use my Father’s “talents” in hopes of earning satisfaction. And yet…my talents aren’t enough. I’m mired in emotional squalor, feeding—starving—on the deficit of my own futile attempts to find meaning within.

In spite of all my efforts, I hit a wall of frustration. What started as a gift to be enjoyed has become a slave driver instead. Am I not capable of writing for God alone—in His strength and joy?

It should be possible, but always the need to measure up creeps back. The internal editor shreds my efforts. The very act of sitting down at the computer erects an impenetrable wall. I’ve come a long way—learned so much. But now that knowledge has become my very own snare—like God’s unattainable law.

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But… Over the past week, God has brought various resources to my aid.

For example, I’d been studying personalities in an attempt to better understand my characters (Thank you, RJ, for the inspiration!) when I stumbled upon this book at the library: “Better than Perfect” by Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo.

For a long time, I’ve known I was a perfectionist. I might’ve even seen it as a good thing, something to spur me toward excellence. Now I see it’s my Achilles’ heel, sabotaging all my writing efforts.

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Grace accepts imperfection. Law cannot. Neither can perfectionism. Therefore,“I’m a failure.”

Waking the next morning, after an anxious day devoid of any story-writing progress, I wrote, “God is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and End, the Source of all love, joy, peace, strength, and truth. Seeking satisfaction in anything else is futile. When I dig inside and come up short, this is my solution.” And I did feel peace in those words, however fleeting. In spite of their truth, however, they failed to remove the inevitable writer’s block wall.

I received further reassurance and encouragement from this outside post I recently reblogged.

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“It’s not about me,” Sheehan says. “It’s about being a part of what God is doing. For the weirdos like me. The awkward kids on the bench who no one else will reach out to. The ones who get more truth from bizarre story than many ever could from fact. This is our charge, and the enemy knows it, and we won’t go unopposed.”

Then, I felt God saying it was okay not to be productive with my writing. That I needed to take some time to connect more deeply with Him and learn to live in His strength. If I wanted to write for Him, ultimately, I needed to learn how to really live for Him.

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Somewhere in all those struggles, I also discovered a radio broadcast on frustration by Dr. Charles Stanley. His message confirmed what I think we all know on some level. Frustration, ultimately, is not about what’s going on in the world around us… but about our internal response. After all, different people often respond to the same set of circumstances in divergent ways. Why? Because, unlike Paul, we haven’t all “learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:11).

Furthermore, God is sovereign (Isaiah 14:27). Whatever difficult circumstances we’re facing, aren’t they God-ordained? Paul could say, “I can [endure] all things through Him who strengthens me” because he knew God was present, working, and sovereign in those situations. And God’s plans are always best.

One interpretation is this: God allows difficult circumstances in order to shape us and to highlight areas within us that require transformation (James 1:2-4, Romans 5:3-4).

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My perfectionism, I believe, was the internal deficit God was highlighting. This embedded thorn in my soul has been around for as long as I can recall, pronouncing failure over my every “accomplishment”… My Ph.D. thesis. My three years of teaching. My failed manuscripts. Every minute of writer’s block and every criticism—from within and without—every self-doubt triggering a new identity crisis.

But if God is magnifying this issue, surely He means to bring healing.

Ted Dekker’s free ebook, “Waking Up: To the Way of Love,” recently rocked my world. The truths I read therein faded quickly from my mind, but I feel the Holy Spirit’s swell whenever I reread them… Am I not searching for significance, just like Ted, who confessed, “I see now that in my search for love and acceptance, I slowly began to enslave myself to various identities, which I mistook for my real self in many arenas—sports, church, relationships, career, wealth. These identities became like gods of a lesser kind, all of which I hoped would save me from insignificance in this life.” (See my guest post on idols here.)

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Eventually, Ted’s revelation came: “I free-fell into that space beyond mere intellect where faith and love are found… It felt like falling into a great unseen mystery, but I was actually falling into the light. I was falling out of a prison—a darkness that had been deepened by my own attempts to make my own light through reason and striving.”

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The ultimate truth he discovered was this: In Christ, we are already complete. We are already holy. As sons and daughters of the living God, we are hidden with God in Christ. For us, in a very literal sense (since we died with Christ and are raised again with Him), to live is Christ.

Ted goes on…

“So I found myself asking over and over: If it’s no longer me who lives, but Christ who lives, then who is this person called Ted, whom I judge and condemn for his constant failure? Who is the man I see in the mirror? He doesn’t look like a new creature and doesn’t appear to be seated in heavenly places. Who is this guy who stands on two feet, seeking acceptance and significance in various ways? …

“The answer became plain. My seen, temporary earthen vessel, to use Paul’s description, was like a character in one of my novels. Like a role that I played for a short time. It wasn’t an illusion or evil as claimed by the Gnostics—God forbid. But, clearly, it was passing away—decaying already—and therefore not eternally True. It was like a role in a TV movie.

“I had mistakenly put my identity in that role, rather than in my true self so clearly characterized by Jesus and Paul as one joined with and in Christ.”

So here I am, stalled on the verge of a new identity crisis, still unsure what to do with my work-in-progress but certain my next step will be a stripping of the old perfectionistic self… To that end, I’m contemplating how my stories—rather than feeding my own sense of self-worth—can convey God’s eternal truths.

How about you? What do you see as your identity? Is there something God wants to work in you before you work your writing for Him?

Concerned you might be a perfectionist? Take the quiz here: http://betterthanperfectquiz.com/