Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Nehemiah: Pray and act

I just finished reading through the book of Nehemiah.  What have I learned?  Pray and act.  This is the pattern of Nehemiah's leadership: first, he prays, asking for God's wisdom and leading.  Then, he acts.  He doesn't sit around waiting for God but steps forward in faith as God guides Him.  He doesn't pompously act on his own accord but each time asks for God to direct Him.  Pray and act.  Not one or the other, but both.  Pray and act.  Pray, surrendering your plans fully to God and asking for His direction and provision, then act on what He's given you.  Pray and act.

Encouragement from a Sinus Infection

For the past month, I've been struggling with a sinus infection. Stubborn as I am, I kept trying to ignore it, pushing it off as a cold that just kept holding on.  Becoming frustrated by not being able to breath out of my nose, I finally went in to see a doctor on Monday.

The appointment started out fairly ordinary: describing my symptoms, taking my blood pressure and weight, then waiting on the doctor.  After describing my ailments to her, God opened the door to a much deeper conversation.

What began with a simple question of her asking if I had to return to work after the appointment led to a conversation about Tucker and I's hopes to serve families and children in Africa long term, and her sharing about her family's own considerations about moving to Guatemala to share Christ's love and the skills He's equipped them with with those in need.  I left the office so encouraged, not only because I had a diagnosis and meds to quickly get me on the mend, but more so because of this connection with a perfect stranger through the bond we share in Christ.  What encouragement to know the brokenness of the world and also the hope the comes through Christ alone, and to hear of another passionate about sharing that hope with the world.

Encouragement, too, in Christ's faithfulness as He teaches me boldness.  Bold is not a word that I would use to describe myself.  Timid, shy, quiet, those words often feel like a better fit.  Yet Christ is teaching me to be bold, to be confident in who He has created me to be and to openly share that with those around me, to step out of my comfort zone and fear and step out in faith in where He's leading me, to say yes to Him the first time.  And in doing so, I get to see the blessing of surprising things, like encouragement through a sinus infection.  =)

F-words

Last week I had the privilege of catching up with a dear friend over a steaming cup of chai.  This friend is preparing to move permanently to Southeast Asia as a missionary, and as she prepares, she's been dealing with her own humanity, her fears and grieving and excitement and hope.  As she shared with me, I was so encouraged by her perspective on fear and faith.  She was really open with me as she spoke of her upcoming changes, of leaving family, friends, and a familiar culture.  Then something she said stood out to me:

"Sharon, when I start to become afraid, I know what my problem is: my problem is that I'm not trusting God but rather relying on myself, on my own strength and knowledge."

Wow!  So often when we as Christians are afraid, we get this backwards.  I don't know how many friends I've spoken  of who are contemplating a change in their lives but are afraid to step out in faith because they are fearful of the unknown.  We say we're afraid because God hasn't done xyz, or we're not sure that He will make this next step.  We blame God for a fear when, if we're honest, our own lack of faith is to blame.  We want to be in control; we want to know the what the next 10 years hold rather than trusting God to lead us in just the next step.  We let fear win over faith.

I'm so thankful for my friend's perspective, for giving me a clear view of the reality of fear and faith.  Faith: For all I trust Him.  We trust God because we know His character; we know His faithfulness, goodness, love, grace, justice, perfection, sovereignty, wisdom.  We know that we are His beloved children, and His plans for us are good.  We know He is greater than all of Creation, that none compare with Him.

Just like Peter, when we fear, it is not because our God has failed us or become too small; we fear because we take our eyes off of Him and focus on ourselves.  We fear when we fail to trust God and instead put our faith in ourselves.

 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.
By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.  Hebrews 11

Thursday, January 29, 2015

26 Yeses

A week ago I turned 26, and in good introspective fashion, I took the opportunity to reflect on the fullness of the past year.  25 brought a year of internships, a new nephew, graduation, buying a house, celebrating our wedding and the wedding of several dear friends, honeymooning, getting our first pooch, new jobs, friends moving to follow their dreams, growing with new friends, deeper involvement in our church, and a whole slew of other daily adventures.  25 was a full year, and a year full of blessings, to say the least.  And as I begin 26, I’m blessed with a season of rest, blessed with time to take in all God has done in the past year, to read the books that I’ve checked out time and time again from the library but never actual get to, to pray intentionally, to run, to discover new passions, and to spend time with dear friends.


As I’ve met with several friends, I can’t help but chuckle at the themes that keep popping up: I sit with one friend celebrating the advance in his career (not job, but career!), another glowing as she expects her first child, another rejoicing at the opportunity to finally do what she loves (and get paid for it to boot!), another discouraged as she longs for a baby, another scurrying over last minute plans before heading overseas to do missions,  discussions of insurance and mortgages, of growing families and dreams.  I sit back and chuckle, asking “When did we all grow up?”.  No longer are our conversations of a far off future but of the here and now, and of the soon to come.  Somehow we’ve aged that our far off dreams have turned to planning and praying.  And once again I stand amazed by God’s perfect plan. 
I’m amazed as I see Him do the impossible day by day, amazed as I watch prayers get answered.  And I stand in full anticipation as to what God has planned for my life, for our lives.  My life has not at all turned out how I had planned, and I thank God for that.  I praise Him for saying no to my plans that He may give me something better.  And in this period of waiting, I fully anticipate Him to do great things.  This year, I’m daring not to dream big, but to faith big, daring to say yes to God the first time rather than relying on my own understanding of all of the little details.  This year I long to say yes, to dive fully into whatever God has for me, to trust Him with abandon.  I pray that He would continue to lead and guide us for His name sake, to show us how we can use what He’s given us to draw others closer to him, and to strip away anything that would distract us from Him.  I pray this is the year of 26 yeses, and then even more as God leads and directs.  This is the year I pray for discernment and courage to take the first step, walking in the light of God’s leading lamp.  And it’s the year that I invite you to do the same.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Waiting...

It's been over 10 years since God first laid a desire to serve in Africa on my heart; in that time, multiple mentors in my life have encouraged me to continue my education that I may be better equipped to serve.  As each chapter in my life closes, I start praying, asking God if this is the start of my opportunity to head overseas.  He's been gracious to me and allowed me to serve in Africa short-term, only growing my desire to be there longer.  I was sure that seminary would be my final step of preparation, but God had other plans, plans greater than I could never imagine.  And yet I felt discouraged, feeling like the waiting game would go on forever and I would never achieve my goal.

During a conversation  with my supervisor the other day, she encouraged me to continue to hope and trust in God's timing.  As I reflected on our conversation, I was reminded of how often God asked His people to wait: He asked Abraham and Sarah to wait for a son, the Israelites to wait to be released from slavery in Egypt, then wait to enter the Promised Land.  He asked His people in exile to wait for His Redeemer, and asks His people now to wait for Christ's return to fulfill His kingdom.  So while waiting can be difficult, I'm in good company and can rest assured of God's perfect plan. Praising God for His grace and patience with me and for His perfect plan for my life.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Blessed



It seems fairly obvious that I'm in a state of blessing right now.  In the past two months, God has given us a house beyond our dreams, allowed me to graduate with honors, let me marry the man who far exceeds my wildest dreams, provided us with our first dog, surrounded us with great and supportive friends and family, and given us endless opportunities for the future.  Life couldn't be better, right?
And yet I find myself anxious, find myself freaking out.  Why?  Because God's plans are not my plans.  Three years ago when I started seminary, I went in with the intent of studying counseling but not becoming an official counselor.  I planned to spend my last semester interning somewhere in Africa with the intentions to stay there indefinitely.  I had no plans for a husband or dog or to settle in West Michigan for a few more years. My plans didn't happen.  In the most beautiful way, God messed up my plans for something better: for His plans.

And though I'm blinded by His goodness and the perfection of Jehovah Jireh's plan, I worry.  I worry because I realize I'm not in control.  I'm not the one's calling the shots.  I can't say that I surrender my everything to God while also trying to be self-sufficient.  It simply doesn't work that way.  So I'm praying that God will soften my heart, that He will empower me to truly surrender my whole self to Him.  I pray that God will fill me with the perfect peace that comes from Him alone.  I praise Him for holding my past and my future and pray that He would continue to draw me closer to Him.  I praise Him for the plans that He has for me, praise Him for knowing me better than I know myself, praise Him for knowing my heart and exactly what I see.  I'm praying that He'd show me how to trade my worry for perfect peace in Him.  God alone is my strength and future.  In Him alone I place my trust.  To God be the glory now and forever!












Friday, April 18, 2014

Perfection

Awhile ago, one of my professors was teaching about Creation and the Garden of Eden.  In his lecture, he focused on a phrase that, while repeated over and over throughout Genesis 1, has often been misinterpreted in our modern context.

 "And God saw that it was good."

Good.  As we stretch our imaginations to envision what the Garden of Eden looked like, Creation unspoiled by sin and death and decay, often we envision a place of perfection.  A garden vibrant with trees in full bloom, the fragrance of flowers filling the air, animals living in complete peace, humanity at it's wisest and grandest; we envision a world in which all inhabitants thrive together rather than competitively stepping on one another to get ahead.  We envision perfection.

Yet God doesn't declare His creation as perfect.  He calls it good.  In fact, God commands humans and animals to multiply and fill the earth; He blesses Adam and Eve and says to them "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.  Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground." (Gen 1:28).  God creates, then invites His creation to join in fulfilling His plan; He invites us to take part in His glorious design.

As a recovering perfectionist, this is good news for me.  It removes the burden of perfectionism from my shoulders.  God did not create me in my fullest forms but invites me into His work, giving me space to grow and learn in Him.  He creates me in humble form that I may rely on Him always instead of pridefully puffing myself up through my own deeds and character.  Like a little child, God invites me to follow Him as He leads and guides me for His name sake.