How to Turn Knowledge into Belief

need_a_rideContinued from here.

I knew the Bible very well for decades before I actually started doing what it says to do. I could give wonderful advice about how to live a godly life … I simply did not do it myself because, in my heart of hearts, I did not really believe it, despite what I knew. Perhaps this is why God’s Word says that it is impossible to please God without faith. Knowing a whole lot about God doesn’t get us to the other side of the river any faster than not knowing anything about Him at all. In fact, it can even be a hindrance because someone who does not know God has not spent years talking himself out of stepping out onto the rickety bridge.

The key to experiencing God’s sufficiency is simple and yet very difficult – you must take that first step in faith. What is that first step? You need to give away whatever it is that you need, which is counterintuitive but is the key to turning knowledge into belief.

Let’s say you need more money: give more to those in need. If you need peace, give God thanks for all He has already done for you. If you need to feel loved, do something loving for someone else. If you need to feel accepted and valued, be accepting and loving to someone who is different from you. If you need to feel joy, do something for someone else that makes that person joyful. If you need more time to meet your responsibilities in this season of life, spend more time with God. This is the spiritual principle of sowing and reaping, and this principle is woven into the Bible in many ways and many contexts.

When you give away what you need, you are taking that first step onto the rickety bridge. You are also planting a seed that will bear fruit in the future if you do not give up. I know this seems counterintuitive, but God’s ways are different from ours, and the principle of sowing and reaping is one that God created. Whatever it is you need, give it to someone else, and God will show you that He is more than enough to meet that need.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace driving a car and asking, “Need a ride?” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Believing God’s Word is the Key to Experiencing His Sufficiency

lifeContinued from here.

The key to experiencing the reality that God is more than enough to meet whatever you lack is believing God’s Word over how you feel. Belief involves more than knowledge. I knew for decades that God was bigger than anxiety, but I did not experience God being bigger than anxiety until I started believing it. Believe something involves taking action in reliance on that belief.

For example, I might know that a rickety wooden bridge is sufficient to hold my weight as I walk from one side of a river to the other. I might see other people walk along the rickety bridge, which adds to my knowledge base that the rickety bridge is sufficient. However, whether I believe it is sufficient will dictate my actions. If I stay too focused on the rapids below the bridge, I might fear them enough not to attempt to cross the bridge. My choice whether to cross the bridge is based solely on my belief as to whether or not it is safe. I might be able to recite stories about other people who successfully crossed the bridge. I may even be able to tell you 10 specific reasons why the bridge is safe to cross. However, until I actually walk across the bridge, I don’t really believe it is secure, and I am missing out on the blessings waiting for me on the other side.

As I remain positioned on the same side of the river, I might become angry with the builder. Why didn’t the person who built the bridge make it more secure? Why isn’t there another way to cross this river? I might become envious of the people who cross it and receive the blessings on the other side, making excuses for why it was easier for them to cross the river on the bridge than it is for me. I might lie to myself and others about why I won’t cross the bridge, saying that I don’t really want to cross over, when the truth is that, in my heart of hearts, I don’t really believe the bridge will hold for me.

Either I believe the bridge will hold or I don’t. My actions will be based upon what I believe, not what I know.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace looking across a river with a bird under the word, “Life.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Believing God’s Word over What You Feel

feelsContinued from here.

When we lack something we need, it feels natural to align our thoughts with our emotions rather than trust that God is going to meet that need. This holds true even when we know God is able. For example, we read about Jesus feeding the five thousand with only five loaves of bread and two fish, and we know that God is able to meet our physical needs in abundance. Even though we know this, when we look in the empty refrigerator and the depleted checking account, we react not based upon what we know but what we believe. Most of us believe what we see rather than what we know and react accordingly. This makes us double-minded and vulnerable to our emotions tossing us around like the waves of the ocean.

My natural reaction is to try to take matters into my own hands. I doubt that God is enough to meet my need, so I look elsewhere to meet it, which the Bible calls idolatry. When I seek out idols, God will let me do it for a while until I learn that idols cannot meet my needs.

For example, I needed unconditional love, but I didn’t think God was enough to meet this need because I wanted “someone with skin” to provide this. I sought it in marriage, parenthood, family, and friendships. God allowed me to experience disappointment everywhere I turned, and my breaking point was when my final two idols (my two best friends) left. I thought this would break me, and it did … it broke up my unplowed ground so it became fertile for sowing righteousness, and I reaped the fruit of unfailing love.

My experience and emotions told me that I was fundamentally unlovable. God’s Word told me that I was lavishly loved. As long as I followed my emotions, I experienced need. Once I chose to believe God instead of my emotions, I learned that God was more than enough to meet that need – so much that His love overflowed out of me, changing the dynamics of all of my relationships so that I no longer sought to receive love but, instead, to give it.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of an arrow piercing Grace’s heart below the word, “Feels.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

God is Enough

helpOne spiritual lesson that was particularly transforming for me was learning that God truly is enough – actually, He is more than enough. This is a lesson that I am currently learning at a deeper level as I am learning to walk through the Christmas season without holiday depression. To make a very long story short, the Christmas season is my Achilles heel. As a child, the Christmas season was a time that the safety of school went away, and abusive family “friends” had greater access to me to harm me. Many Christmas songs and symbols have negative associations in my head, and I power through as best I can, trying to spend a little time as possible in a depressive funk.

This year, I have decided that I am finished with surrendering to my past and allowing it to control my present. Jesus died to give me victory over every bondage, even this one, so my prayer this holiday season (since before Halloween) has been for God to teach me how to walk in that victory. I have not done it perfectly, but I have not gone down the emotional well and don’t intend to … and not because I am strong. I am painfully aware of my weakness, but God’s strength is made perfect in weakness, and He is enough.

To embrace the reality of God being enough, I must rely on what His Word says, not on how I feel. It does not feel like God is enough. If I allowed my thoughts to align with my feelings, I would already be deep into a holiday depression. Instead, I must stand firmly on what God has to say about the matter, and He says that He is enough.

I have been praying this Scripture quite a bit since October:

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. ~ 1 Cor. 10:13

I tell God that I am tempted to go down the emotional well, and I need Him to show me the way out. He always does. When I pray this, I don’t feel victorious – I feel weak. I choose to believe God over what I feel.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace sinking in quicksand and yelling, “Help!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Rejoicing in Spiritual Growth and Progress

finallyContinued from here.

And now, we have made it to Friday. I overslept on Friday, which is very unusual for me. I somehow forgot to set my alarm clock and awoke one hour late. This meant I didn’t have time to tithe the full first hour of my day to God, as it my custom. This has only happened a handful of times (probably fewer than five) since March 2013.

When this has happened in the past, I experienced sheer panic. Because I know I am not good, I am well aware that this first hour with God is critical to my having the ability to behave as God wants me to behave. I know painfully well that I am 100% dependent on God to make that happen, and I need that first hour alone with God to fill up with Him so I then have what is needed to pour out to others throughout the day. When this has happened before, I spent my time in the shower begging God to help me contain my sinful nature and not allow it to rule me.

I had a very different reaction this time. I told God that He knows my heart – that I did not intentionally choose to take that hour away from Him. I will always choose God over sleep. I engaged in praise & worship while I showered so I could still begin my day with God. I next had an abbreviated prayer time with God until I had to awaken my son, walk the dog, and go through my regular morning routine. I also had to ensure my husband did not oversleep since he had to get up early for another work trip. I did not have time to study the Bible, but I did recite the Book of 1 Thessalonians from memory later in the day so I could be in the Word, even without a physical Bible in front of me. And then after I dropped my son off at school, I engaged in praise & worship while driving my car to my appointment. So, even though I did not have my allotted hour of quiet time with God, I engaged the same spiritual practices in a modified way.

I was overjoyed to recognize the progress I have made in my walk with God because I now know that even when I mess up by oversleeping, God is bigger than my sinful nature. I had a wonderful day and felt God’s presence. I marveled at all God had brought me through that week and thanked Him for being so faithful to me, even when I was tempted to be unfaithful to Him.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling and running through a banner that says, “Finally!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Choosing between Submitting to God or Selfishness

why_am_I_the_way_that_I_amContinued from here.

I wonder if perhaps I am so confident that I would (and have) stand up against group wrongs specifically because of my deep awareness of my propensity to do evil if I follow my sinful nature. I have no illusions about being a “good person.” I am painfully aware of the wickedness inside of me and that it’s only through God that I am able to choose a different path. I do not “do good” because it comes naturally to me: I “do good” because I love God! It’s a choice I make in spite of how I feel.

I am just as selfish as everyone else and perhaps even more so because of my painful history. Pain naturally turns our focus inward and keeps us thinking about ourselves – about how others have wronged us, how we deserve to be treated better, etc. I endured an enormous amount of emotional pain throughout my childhood because of the child abuse, and I grew into a bitter, self-focused woman who justified my own selfish and rude behavior as a result. I lived in “death” for decades, and I never want to return to that mindset.

The antidote to living a self-centered life is submitting to God’s authority and making my choices based upon how He says to live, and nothing about the Christian lifestyle comes naturally to me. It does not feel natural to spend the first hour of my day with God … or to defer my preferences to the people around me … or to pray blessings over people who harm me. None of this comes naturally or easily to me – it’s all a choice, and I choose it because I love God, not because I am good.

Now, here’s the really cool part – As I make the choice over and over to live life God’s way rather than my own, the Christian lifestyle becomes easier. For example, I have been tithing the first hour of my day to God every morning for over 4.5 years, so it now feels natural to start my day with God. In fact, it would not even cross my mind not to do so any longer. This is not because I am “good” – it is because I have been obedient in this area for so long that tithing the first hour of my day to God has become my “new normal.” It is now a habit.

The same applies to forgiving those who hurt me. I used to stew and complain about it – now, I pour my hurt out to God and prayer for them. As this has become my habit, I don’t find my feelings getting hurt very often. I choose not to take offense, and because I have already decided I am going to forgive everyone who hurts me, I don’t bother putting energy into negative feelings toward them.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace looking at herself in the mirror and asking,  “Why am I the way that I am?” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

“Group Think” and Being a “Good” Person

im_goodContinued from here.

When I awoke on Thursday, I simply felt better. I had a peace that I could not explain: I simply knew in the deepest recesses of my soul that I was OK – that God was in control. My son asked politely if his discipline was over yet and received my “no” without incident. My husband awoke with a determination to choose to positive mood, even though his circumstances had not changed. God was clearly at work in my family.

I had an interesting meeting on Thursday that got me thinking about a couple of topics over the next couple of days. The first was the topic of “group think,” which is when people go along with whatever the group thinks, even when they disagree. I stated firmly that I do not allow groups to drive my actions – that I would likely have been among the first resistors taken to a concentration camp in Nazi Germany because I am not going to mistreat people just because the group is doing so. The other person cautioned me against being too certain that I would go against the dynamics of the group (or, in this case, society) because most people do not, despite their good intentions. I responded by sharing my story of being fired for refusing to engage in false and deceptive practices back in August, which definitely involved going against the flow of the group and came with a cost.

Later in the conversation, this person called me “good,” to which I responded that I am not good – all that is good within me comes from God. This is a conversation I have had multiple times with a close friend. She loves to call me “good,” and I always tell her that I am painfully awareness of my lack of goodness. All she sees within me as “good” is a reflection of God’s goodness. I am well aware that I do not have even one emotionally healthy bone in my body. This person said we were going to have to agree to disagree on this topic, which is pretty much where things stand with my friend.

This got me thinking about whether there is a perhaps a correlation between the two topics. Most people believe that, at their core, they are “good people,” which may be why they believe they would not go along with the group to trample on other people. However, when all of these “good” people come together as a group and the leaders provide the opportunity to tap into the evil inside of themselves (their sinful nature), they are blindsided when their sinful nature takes over. Even Paul was vulnerable to his sinful nature, despite all he did to build up the Christian Church.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling and saying, “I’m good.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Choosing Not to Go Down the Emotional Well

Continued from here.

I did a lot of praying on Tuesday and asked a few friends to pray for my family and for me as well. I felt disconnected from God, which was ironic after having such a strong time of praise & worship with Him that morning. I ran through my four fundamental beliefs multiple times and recognized my vulnerability was doubting that God was in control. I also kept praying 1 Cor. 10:13. I told God I was tempted to sink into an emotional pit, so I needed Him to show me the way out.

I was certainly not in a “good mood” on Tuesday and kept praying for God to help me simply make it through the day. I thanked Him that His mercies would be new in the morning and asked Him to get me from now to then. I did what I could not to focus my thoughts on feeling sorry for myself despite being very tempted to do so. I thought I would be OK if I could just make it through the day.

My husband returned from his day trip for work extremely stressed out. His stress level grew even higher when I filled him in about our son’s ODD behaviors and the consequences I imposed. He then had to call in to see if he had to report for jury duty the next day, which he could not afford because of his already tight deadlines. Sure enough, he did have to report for jury duty, and that was his final straw. At a time that I really needed to be comforted myself, I found myself in a position of having to put my own emotional drama on the backburner to comfort my husband and reassure Him of God’s love and control at a time when I was tempted to doubt this myself.

I awoke on Wednesday feeling hopeless, but I engaged in my spiritual disciplines, just as I do every morning. The only difference was that I spent more time in prayer about the spiritual attack on my family, and I prayed numerous verses out of Beth Moore’s Praying God’s Word: Breaking Free from Spiritual Strongholds from the last chapter, which is focused on spiritual warfare. I asked God to give me wisdom and discernment for how to help my family.

I let my small group know that I would be unable to attend Bible study on Wednesday evening and asked for prayers. I felt those prayers throughout the day as God went to work on my family. My husband spent more time reading devotionals and watching sermons by his favorite preachers. My son was (surprisingly) compliant with respecting the discipline I imposed for his behavior from the day before. I stayed home from Bible study that night because I thought I would need to be caretaking my family, but God did the work. I have no other explanation for how our family went from being in a state of crisis the night before to having a relatively pleasant evening together the next night.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of Praying God’s Word: Breaking Free from Spiritual Strongholds. Courtesy Amazon. ]

 

Processing an Intense Week

this_is_not_happeningLast week was intense for me, and I’m processing all that happened. I am also celebrating how much growth I have noticed in myself and expressing gratitude for all God has changed in me over the years.

Monday of last week was the calm before the storm. My family (husband and 16-year-old son) had a pleasant dinner together, laughed, and enjoyed one another’s company. I awoke on Tuesday morning feeling joyful and grateful for my family and my life. Like every morning, I spent the first hour with God: praying, studying His Word, and worshiping Him. I looked forward to a wonderful day … and then the bottom dropped out.

My son is on the spectrum for oppositional-defiant disorder (ODD). Of course, most teenagers are oppositional and defiant from time to time, but behaviors in a kid with ODD are in their own league, and typical parenting advice simply does not work with these kids. Over the years, I have learned how to interact with my son in ways that minimize the likelihood of having an ODD showdown, but not matter what I do, these behaviors still surface from time to time, and I generally cannot see them coming. There was nothing on Monday that alerted me to having to deal with his ODD issues on Tuesday.

My son was in full ODD mode on Tuesday morning. The best way to describe the dynamic is that he becomes an emotional battering ram and will not back down, no matter what anyone else says or does. When he gets like this, all I can do is pray and stand my ground while being repeatedly “emotionally battered.” Because my son and I are close, I am typically the recipient of this behavior. (I am a “safe” person to unload these behaviors on.)

My husband can sometimes rein in the ODD behaviors faster than I can because of his authority as head of our household, but that did not happen on Tuesday morning. My husband had been stretched very thin at work for weeks and had a stressful day ahead of him, involving travel. So, I tried to handle things on my own along with the school (my son attends a private school for students with special needs) and kept my husband out of it as best I could, although he was involved in the morning before heading out of town, which heightened his stress level.

Keep in mind that the holiday season is a vulnerable time of year for me because of my childhood abuse. I am improving year by year, but I cannot yet say that I have mastered the holiday season. I told God in October that I know Jesus has already conquered this area of bondage for me and asked Him to guide me in how to walk in freedom in this area of my life. I did well in October, but the dynamics of Tuesday, with the frequent communications from my “battering ram” son via text from school, made me vulnerable to going down the emotional well that beckons every holiday season.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace spinning a vortex and saying, “This is not happening!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

When God is Silent

where_are_youHave you ever gone through a season in which you pray and pray for God’s guidance and all you receive in return is radio silence? I have been through these seasons more times than I can count. In the early days, I used to believe that God didn’t care about me, but I now recognize the height, depth, width, and breadth of His love for me. When God is silent, it’s not a reflection of a lack of love for you. There is nothing you can do to cause God to love you any more or any less.

Sometimes, God’s silence is a test. When I cannot sense His presence, what will I do? Will I return to how I used to behave now that I perceive that God is not watching me? Will I continue to seek Him with all my heart? Or will I assume He has abandoned me and behave as if He has?

And then sometimes God is silent because of my rebellion. I endured a painful year of radio silence from God because I was determined to do things my way, and God let me. I had been in a tug of war with God, and He eventually let go of the rope. Once I humbled myself and returned to obey Him, the radio silence ended.

When you go through periods of radio silence from God, continue to seek Him. Ask God to reveal any area of sin that might be causing the silence, and respond to the Holy Spirit’s conviction if it comes. If nothing does, then this might be a test. Seek God with all your heart. Double up on your quiet time, including prayer, studying His words, and worshiping Him. As you continue to seek God with all your heart, you will find Him again.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace looking through a telescope and asking, “Where are you?” Courtesy Bitmoji.]