All Things New – Part III

This last weekend I was able to attend the ONE Conference at Cornerstone Berean Church in Ames, Iowa. I hadn’t been to a women’s conference in quite a while, so I was excited for some time to get away, learn, and worship.

Now, after all is said and done, I feel challenged to share with you everything that I took away from this conference. The entirety of this weekend was exceptionally transformational to my walk with God, and I am excited to share that with you.

session three, October 6

James 1:5 says that ‘if any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.’

This is an amazing verse, but one that is quite often misinterpreted. We read James 1:5 and convince ourselves that all we must do is ask, and God will deliver. Rarely does it actually happen this way though, and not due to a lack on God’s part, but because we’re asking the wrong question.

As human beings, we are notorious for asking the wrong question. We want to know exactly what to do; how to do it, and when. Because of this, we start to believe that this is how we must discern God’s will for our lives and follow it. However, asking God to tell us what to do, how to do it, and when is not wisdom as James 1:5 describes it.

Wisdom is an internal mechanism to make decisions. Knowledge is just facts.

So often when we kneel to pray and ask God for wisdom about any decision we may be facing, rather than asking for the humble discernment we need to make a wise decision with the information we have, we ask God to tell us what only God knows – facts, details, and outcomes of the future.

With this kind of approach, we mistreat, misuse, and abuse the Word of God by viewing it as more of a ‘how to’ manual for our lives rather than the glorious, shameless, infallible declaration of the glory and majesty of God Almighty. We miss the real purpose and process of sanctification and start believing that the decisions in life – where to live, who to marry, where to work, etc. – are the main focus.

We convince ourselves that ‘if only we could make better decisions, then we’ll be better people’ right?

I’ll admit it, I’ve spent years believing this and striving for this. If I could just train myself to make better decisions, then I would become that gentle and quiet, godly, wise woman described in Proverbs 31.

What does this actually do though? Eventually, with this kind of approach to discovering God’s will, my success, my obedience, my faithfulness, my righteousness, my everything —it is all left up to me. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that’s good news…at all!

Because failure is in our nature, we become a nervous wreck when trying to discern God’s will because if it is in fact left up to our own decision making whether we stay within God’s will or not, we know that we’ll eventually fall to the wayside.

So rather than asking God and trying to discern what to do, where to go, and when, perhaps there’s a better question that we could be asking.

Rather than inquiring of God to show us what to do, let’s be men and women who daily seek to discover who He wants us to be, because…

God is always more concerned with the decision-maker than He is with the decision itself.   -Jen Wilkin

And when you start asking this question, I promise that you will be pleasantly surprised to find that it is quite clear what the will of God is.

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable…for God did not call us to be impure but to live a holy life (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7).

God’s will for our lives is to be holy, because He is holy’ (Leviticus 11:44-45, 19:1-2, 20:26, 1 Peter 1:15-16).

Haven’t we already been made holy though? Doesn’t it say in Hebrews 10:10 that ‘we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all’?

This is true, as we have been given positional holiness in and through Jesus – we have been delivered from the penalty of sin and granted righteousness before God by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21).

However, we are directed to pursue practical holiness in a life of faith, trust, and righteousness before God; working out our salvation with fear and trembling, trusting that it is God who works in us to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose (Philippians 2:12).

When Jesus instructed us to ‘ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you,’ he was not talking about the daily decisions that we face throughout our lifetime.

Rather, God was saying that the answer will be given; the secret will be found; and the door will be opened to the one asking, seeking, and pursuing holiness. What good is the ‘right decision’ if I’m still the ‘wrong person?’

As believers, we have the power to choose rightly; the wisdom to credit God with those right decisions; and wonderful grace for when we get it wrong.

The will of God for our lives is to be holy, because He is holy, and we have been given the power, wisdom, and grace to do just that through Jesus Christ. Through the amazing grace of Jesus Christ, we have been justified through faith and reconciled to God. We have been granted new names and a new purpose for which we are to live. And finally, we have been set on a new path; on the path of God’s will which is to be holy, because He is holy.

She Speaks to Inspire

As I swept the crumbs off my dress and finished my last bite of cake, the best man at my dear friend’s wedding stood up to give his toast.

I had known this friend since my early teen years. Unbeknownst to her, she had inspired me in so many ways to be the best woman I could; seeking God with everything I had and living each day with grace and purpose.

She’s the closest thing I have to a big sister and I have always loved her for that.

She’s naturally a pretty quiet person though and as the best man recalled their first introduction, he recounted how he was oddly suspicious, wondering why she spoke so sparingly.

What he said next took me by surprise but I’ve held onto it ever since –

“I [the best man] realized that she didn’t speak not because she had something to hide, but rather because she had nothing to say. She has such a quiet confidence and wisdom about her that she only speaks to inspire (paraphrased).

Even today I find myself remembering this friend and the influence she continues to have on my life, praying that God would grant me the same inner confidence and wisdom as her.

We have the power to speak life into people.

Did you know that?

Sometimes it doesn’t even have to involve words. A simple smile could be the spark that ignites a renewed hope in the depths of a dried soul.

That happened to me once. In fact, it was this same friend who was my first summer Bible Camp counselor. I remember watching her one time, thinking how cool she was and how much I wanted to be just like her when suddenly, she glanced my way and smiled at me.

That changed me.

As a 13-year old, it meant the world that someone I admired actually took notice of me; actually saw me for who I was, and liked me for it.

A simple smile changed that ornery little 13-year old girl then and still causes joy to swell in my heart ten years later.

A cheerful look brings joy to the heart…(Prov. 15:30) and a person’s words can be life-giving water…(Prov. 18:4).

Just as the genuine smile and gentle words of this friend inspired many, so too can the mocking glance, disingenuous conversation, and harsh word cause destruction.

I’ve been hurt by words. Even more so, I’ve been hurt by the lack of words.

I also know that I have hurt others with my words and harsh reactions.

Speaking words of hope and life into someone is so easy to do, and more often than not, those words will never be forgotten. Same goes for a harsh, mocking word – so easy to spit out but severely detrimental and almost impossible to forget.

Imagine though what might happen if we took one day – 24 hours – and dedicated everything we said and did to the purpose of inspiring others; to pointing others to the love of Jesus Christ.

To say something uplifting when a mocking remark is more natural.

To speak truth when lies are easier.

To be genuine when sarcasm might get more laughs.

To smile when disapproval seems necessary.

To remain silent even when the world beckons us to speak.

There is unfading beauty in a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight (1 Peter 3:4).

This kind of spirit is not natural. In fact, it is very unnatural. That’s why when someone like my friend exhibits this kind of gentle and quiet behavior every day, it is not easily forgotten and is cherished by all those who know her.

I read an article by Jon Bloom the other day that delineated the difference between a ‘presently preoccupied’ mindset and that of an ‘eternally focused’ one.

A presently preoccupied focus – Do, Have, Be – I do ‘this’ to have ‘that’ in order to be ‘this.’

However, an eternally focused approach would be just the opposite – Be, Do, Have – I am ‘this’ so I do ‘that’ which results in me having ‘this.’

In order for us to respond to people with gentleness in our voice and a smile on our face, we must first remember who we are.

Something I like to do in my time with God – and I encourage you to try this sometime – is take a piece of Scripture that reminds us of who we are in Christ and make it personal. I’ll give you an example:

Deuteronomy 7:6 –

For you, *insert name,* are holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you, yes you *insert name,* out of everyone on the face of the earth to be his treasured possession.

This is who you are!

You are a treasured possession.

Doesn’t that just make you feel awesome on the inside!?

Does it not just instantly calm your spirit; perhaps cause everything that you’re fighting to be and to achieve grow dim in light of this beautiful truth?

What are you trying to be friend? Where do you feel you aren’t measuring up?

Believe it or not, in the eyes of God Almighty, you are enough. You are holy and you are treasured above all the nations in the arms of God.

So take a second, remember who you are, and allow that to seep into your soul, because a heart that knows it is treasured by the most loving God will naturally speak life because it has life.

Harsh words come from a disrupted spirit. However, a spirit confident in who he or she is in Christ will be calm and gentle, overflowing with words that speak wisdom and inspire for years to come.

People remember kind words.

They remember a genuine smile.

I remember my friend and she continues to change my life even today though we are miles apart because she speaks to inspire.

New Beginnings

I pulled into the parking lot and took one last breath before stepping into this new unknown that was before me.

The day was Thursday, May 19, 2016.

One year ago today.

I had graduated college five days prior to this moment and moved into my new apartment only two days ago. I had just celebrated by 22nd birthday the day before and now found myself in the parking lot of my new office building.

This was my chance at a new beginning.

The thought of having my own apartment and living entirely on my own sounded wonderful, yet only a few months later I found myself independent like I had wanted, but lonely; working a great job, but also aimless.

The life I had once kept at a very brisk pace suddenly came to a halt.

After years of striving towards something; striving toward High School graduation, toward college, toward college graduation, and ultimately toward the life I was now living…after years of this, I was finally here and it was an absolute, utter wasteland.

This was it.

That’s when I picked up what is now my favorite book by Logan Wolfram titled Curious Faith. Within the pages of this book there is an analogy that has stuck with me ever since I opened it up for the first time.

In seasons where life seems stripped down and barren, we can do more than just survive. We can receive abundance.

One gift of the wilderness is the clarity we gain when all else is stripped away. When life feels bare, it’s easier to see what is truly important. Priorities align, distractions fade away, and we find ourselves in an environment where we can dig deeper into our faith (Curious Faith by: Logan Wolfram).

My life, my goals, my sole desire for achievements and acceptance had been stripped away. Where I was once ambitious and a go-getter, I now found myself sitting alone on the couch every night watching Netflix for lack of anything better to do.

However, as I look back on it now a year later, I can see that it was in those empty spaces and isolated moments that I truly found Jesus.

I grew up in a Christian home and always considered myself ‘well-versed’ in the art of Christianity, though it wasn’t until this particular wasteland that I realized that that was all He was to me – something to achieve and perfect.

That is not what our God is.

Several months after starting on this journey, I stood alone in church one Sunday morning as the words of Bethel’s song You Make Me Brave washed over me, wave after wave, and I finally understood.

Christ had been serving a purpose in my life. He just wasn’t thee purpose.

I realized that while I was using God to achieve this ‘Proverbs 31 woman’ ideology, I forgot the real purpose for which I should be pursuing Him.

Him.

Instead of praying that my hopes and dreams for this new beginning would align with His, I was imploring God to grant what I wanted; to align with my expectations for the way I thought my life should go. Logan Wolfram explains perfectly that often it is these expectations that become preconceived resentments (Curious Faith by: Logan Wolfram).

I resented God. I harbored bitterness towards Him because I had yet to receive what I thought was a ‘good’ dream; what I had been in ‘holy pursuit’ of for so long.

It wasn’t until my time in the wilderness; my time in isolation and solitude that I recognized my shortcoming. I had been pursuing all of these spinoffs and results of a Christ-centered, Christ-motivated lifestyle and forgot to actually pursue the heart of it all.

I forgot to pursue Christ; to know Christ not for what He could grant me, but to know Him for Him. I was living a presently preoccupied lifestyle rather than an eternally focused one. I was seeking that which would make me look and feel like a good Christian in the here and now rather than seeking Jesus Christ and His Kingdom, the only One who could actually change my heart and give me joy when all else falls apart.

Wildernesses are tough though.

This isn’t going to be a blog that sugarcoats the realities of what wildernesses truly feel like. They are hard, they make us want to give up, but most of all, they plant in our hearts a destructive lie.

Wildernesses have the potential to make us believe that our future is hopeless.

It is a sinking feeling when you realize each night that the next day would only be the same as the day you had just finished. There were plenty of nights like this for me over the last year, and nothing built up feelings of hopelessness in my heart quicker than the belief that the next day wasn’t going to be a new beginning, but only a broken record repeating yesterday and the day before.

But…

Praise God that He never leaves us there in our hopelessness.

As someone who can speak from the other side of a wilderness, I promise you that there is hope.

Life is full of new beginnings my friend, you just have to look for them.

It could be in the sunrise, a thunderstorm, meeting a new friend, or reaching out to someone who is hurting. It could even be in the simple prayer when prayer seems impossible.

Simply saying the name ‘Jesus’ amidst the most terrifying storms of our life is the best ‘new beginning’ you could ever embark on!

I’ve seen over the course of a year (one of the hardest years of my life thus far, yet also one of the most joyful) how a wilderness can change someone.

How the solitude can create abundance in one’s heart.

How the isolation can be filled with an all-knowing presence that satisfies to the fullest.

He is doing a new thing! He is making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland (Isaiah 43:18-19).

My friend, He is making all things new; He is renewing you!

There is only one hope when all else feels hopeless and that is Jesus and it is found in a relentless pursuit to know Him and to know His heart for you. That is our hope; that is our lifeline when faced with the wind and the waves of this world.

When Peter stepped out of his boat in Matthew 14:29, he deliberately disregarded the hopelessness and fear that was roaring all around him. He set his eyes on the only One he knew could save him and he walked on the water.

The whole concept of walking on water is one based on 2 Peter 1:4 – …He has given us his very great and precious promises so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

When we look to God not in hopes of receiving what we want from Him for our lives here on earth (success, acceptance, relationships, etc.) but rather in expectation of meeting with the Great I Am, we are able to walk over the strivings and vain pursuits of this world and step out onto the waters and walk toward Jesus as Peter did.

We have that very ability within us through Him!

When there is nothing to see in our future, it makes seeing Him a whole lot easier. When there is no hope in this world, it makes holding onto the hope we have in Him that much more fulfilling.

When He is all we have, we lack in nothing.

When the wilderness has you feeling hopeless, remember that our God is a God of new beginnings and that pursuing Him to know Him is worth it all.

He is doing a new thing in you my friend, and He promises that what good works He has begun in you, He will see to completion. Sometimes that might entail time spent in the wilderness, but we have this hope – that Christ goes before us and promises to never leave us nor forsake us.