Winter is a Season of Rest

rest_upContinued from here.

In his book, In Season: Embracing the Father’s Process of Fruitfulness, Wayne Jacobsen says that Winter is a season of rest. Spring is a season of rapid growth. Summer is filled with challenges as we endure through many obstacles to bearing fruit. Fall is a season of harvest. Only in Winter does the vine rest.

Western culture, and Americans in particular, have lost sight of the value of rest. We feel guilty if we are not constantly producing, and then we are surprised when we find ourselves burning out, dependent upon our next cup of coffee to find the energy to keep pressing through.

I just went through a period of burnout. For a four-week period, I had little breathing room in my life. God revealed to me that I was in a season of Winter, but there was no rest. I had built my schedule with little wiggle room. As a result, I had a flareup of acid reflux that caused a sinus infection, and there was simply no room in my life to recuperate, much less rest. Some of the scheduling commitments ended on Thursday last week, and I had Friday (my Sabbath day) completely off – no plans whatsoever. I slept for 14 straight hours. I had a quick bite to eat, watched a movie in bed, and then napped for 2.5 hours. I had another quick bite to eat, watched a second movie in bed, visited with my husband briefly when he got home from work, went to bed at 8:00 p.m., and slept for 9 more hours. I felt like a different person on Saturday morning because I finally experienced rest, which is what I should have been doing all along.

God then placed on my heart that it’s time to prune. He led me to step down from some areas of ministry – areas that are near and dear to my heart – to make room for the “new thing” He is planning. He wants me resting so I will have the energy needed when Spring comes. I don’t think it’s coincidence that I’ll be traveling to Ireland soon, where my cell phone will not have reception and where I’ll be completely disconnected from everyone and everything other than my tour group. I expect to return well-rested and ready for the next season of harvest, as the days gradually stretch longer and new life begins to grow.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding a pillow & blanket while saying, “Rest up!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]


Winter is a Season of Pruning

crutchesContinued from here.

Jesus told us,

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (John 15:1-2).

In his book, In Season: Embracing the Father’s Process of Fruitfulness, Wayne Jacobsen says that pruning the grapevine takes place in the Winter. Because the vine is at rest during the Winter months, pruning causes the least amount of pain during this season. However, even during the time of rest, pruning is still painful – there’s no way for it not to be. Buds that the branch has been investing in are suddenly removed with a sharp cut. Pruning is loss, and our human nature is to fight anything being taken away from us, even when it’s for our own good.

I don’t like to be pruned. I only invest my time in things I care about, so there’s nothing to prune other than things that I love – things that I have invested my energy into over a period of time. Sometimes the pruning is activities – often fruitful activities, such as ministries. Other times, the pruning is relationships, which are doubly difficult for me to say goodbye to. When I invest in someone, I care deeply. The sting of the gardener’s knife severing the relationship hurts. My results-driven, Type A personality balks at seeing the pruned parts of myself lying lifeless on the ground after all of the energy I poured into those parts throughout the last season. I grieve the losses.

While I doubt I’ll ever enjoy the pruning process, Jacobsen has given me two important reasons to be grateful as I am pruned. The first is that pruning has a purpose: so I will become even more fruitful. Jacobsen explains that a vine can only support so much fruit. If it’s never pruned, the weight of the overabundance of fruit will break the branch. A branch can support a few bunches of grapes well, but if too many bunches grow, then the branch will be unable to support them. In other words, nobody benefits from us being spread too thin. The pruning season sharpens my focus so I can pour all of my energy into the one or two tasks that God wants me doing very well.

The other extremely important reason to be grateful for pruning is that bring me into close contact with the Gardener. To prune a branch, the Gardener must lean in closely. God is never closer to me than when He is pruning me. Winter is a season to draw closer to Him – to sense His presence in a way that is deeper and richer than in any other season.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace on crutches in a full body cast. Courtesy Bitmoji.]


Winter Prepares Us for a New Harvest

new_year_new_meContinued from here.

In his book, In Season: Embracing the Father’s Process of Fruitfulness, Wayne Jacobsen says that Winter is an important time of preparation for the next Fall’s harvest. That’s hard to recognize because it doesn’t look like anything is happening beyond the current harvest’s death. As Paul pointed out, “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.” Death of the current dream must take place to make way for the new one. And note that just because I move on doesn’t mean what I left behind dies. If God wants it to continue to bear fruit, God will bring along an Apollos to water the seed that I have planted. I was never the one who made anything grow: only God has the power to do that. When I presume that a ministry cannot continue in my absence, I erroneously take on the role of God. If God wants the ministry to continue, He will bring along the next leader – one who can grow the harvest better than I ever could. I must not waste my time in Winter pining for the preceding Fall. Winter is a time to focus on what’s ahead, not what’s behind.

Jacobsen says that Winter is a season of pruning and rest, and I’m resistant to both. As I stated previously, I have a results-oriented, Type A personality. I’m in my element when I am working tireless toward the goal, pressing on with all that I have. It feels unnatural for me to stop, breathe, and rest. I’m not good at it, but I need it, just as everyone does. Someone once pointed out to me that am a human BEing, not a human DOing. My therapist told me that in the Continental U.S., people say, “Don’t just sit there – do something!,” but in other cultures, the saying is actually, “Don’t just do something – sit there!” That’s the essence of Winter – ceasing the activity and busyness as we prepare for the next harvest that God has planned.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace placing her hand on her heart and saying, “New Year, New Me!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]


Saying Goodbye to the Harvest of Fall

loggin_offContinued from here.

If I were a character in a novel, my fatal flaw would be my tendency to be overly loyal. What I mean by this is that I never want to let go of anything that has been meaningful to me. I tear up as I work through the last page of a Bible study. I want to continue hanging out with the parents of my kid’s friends from elementary school, even though he has transferred elsewhere. I want the friendship to stay close when the other person moves away. I do not easily adapt to the transition from a bountiful Fall to a pared down Winter.

And yet if we never step down, nobody else will have the opportunity to step up. If we don’t cease investing our time here, then there won’t be time available to invest there. My natural tendency is to hang on too long and too tightly, and my heart breaks as the people and fruit I deeply valued slip through my fingers. Holding on too tightly spoils the fruit.

Back when I was in therapy, my therapist told me a painful truth – seasons end. I didn’t want to hear this, but I was only hurting myself by fighting the inevitable. He said that few relationships last a lifetime. Most are seasonal, and just because they end doesn’t take away their value. I received the ending of a season – and particularly a relationship – as a rejection, but I learned that it’s not. Recognizing that most of where (and in whom) we invest our time will come to an end can actually help us better appreciate what we have while we have it. We learn to savor it because we know it’s temporary.

I am an “all in” or “all out” kind of person. Once I’m “all in,” I don’t ever want to be “out.” However, that mindset is harmful because it goes against God, who says, “See, I am doing a new thing!” I cannot go with God to the “new thing” if I’m still clinging to the “old thing.” The harvest must come to an end, and Winter is an important season of preparation for the “new thing” that God is planning.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace resting in a recliner over the words, “Loggin’ off.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]


When God Brings the Season to an End

I recently finished reading Wayne Jacobsen’s book, In Season: Embracing the Father’s Process of Fruitfulness, which explains the metaphor of Jesus being the Vine and us being the branches. The book is divided into four parts – one for each season: Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. God has revealed to me that I am in the season of Winter, which means my season of harvest is coming to a close, and I am having to say goodbye to areas that once produced much fruit. As a Type A, results-driven person, the transition from Fall to Winter is a difficult one for me.

Everything I do throughout Spring and Summer is geared toward producing fruit in the Fall. God places the vision on my heart in Spring, and I want it so badly that I can taste it. All of my energy pours into this new project, and I can visualize a bountiful harvest that nobody else can yet see. I don’t question that my branches are pregnant with the seeds that will one day burst into a bountiful harvest. I know that I cannot do it on my own – that God is the one who is growing the tiny seeds of fruit inside of my branch – but I’m filled with the anticipation of seeing the bounty that He has in store. I know that God is working and that I get to be a part of the process. I’m good at Spring.

I’m also good at Summer … not that I enjoy fighting the elements as I persevere through the obstacles of spiritual attack trying to get me to quit. God blessed me with a stubborn nature, which didn’t feel like much of a blessing when I turned it against God. However, now that I’m fully sold out to following God no matter where He leads, I’m able to endure the harshest conditions because I WILL NOT QUIT. I will reach the harvest in the Fall or die trying, but the harvest won’t be thwarted by my giving up.

And then the Fall totally ROCKS because that’s the fun part – watching the fruit burst forth into a bountiful harvest. But the season of harvest cannot last forever. The days grow shorter and the nights colder as the season shifts to Winter, which is where I find myself now.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of In Season: Embracing the Father’s Process of Fruitfulness. Courtesy Amazon.]


Experiencing Joy in the Midst of the Painful Circumstances

hospital4_blogContinued from here.

The quote from Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts Devotional: Reflections on Finding Everyday Graces, that I shared in my last blog entry is a hard truth, but it’s one that will transform your life once you embrace it. We want happiness, which comes from God giving us what we want. However, God wants to give us joy, which is not dependent upon our circumstance. You can experience joy even in the midst of devastating circumstances if you will believe that God has provided you with a well of joy and open your eyes to see it. I know because I have experienced it.

Although my childhood was filled with ongoing, severe childhood abuse, my most painful memory is spending five nights in the hospital with my then-15-year-old son as he recovered from major back surgery. I had three months to prepare for this emotionally-draining experience and had numerous people praying us through the experience. I felt every prayer.

In the midst of watching my son suffer as I muddled my way through trying to support him on limited sleep and precious little alone time with God, I experienced joy. While there was nothing enjoyable in the experience, God provided me with wells of joy to get me through the most painful week of my life. I found joy in the Ronald McDonald room on the floor … in the cards and visits from family and friends … in the beauty of sitting in the shade on a bench surrounded by gorgeous flowers. I would not choose to relive that experience, but I certainly experienced much joy during a season of sorrow and pain. I found joy in the midst of the pain because I found God there. Where we find God, we have access to joy, and God is always … ALWAYS … with us.

[Graphic: Photograph of garden in the hospital. Courtesy Grace Daniels. ]


How Can You Believe God is Close When You Don’t Feel His Presence?

Continued from here.

I shared earlier this week that my answer to how close I feel to God at any given moment is a 10 (with 10 being the closest I have ever felt), not because I FEEL His presence all the time but because I know the REALITY is that He is always close to me, no matter how I am feeling. I no longer allow my feelings to drive my reactions. I have learned that my feelings are a byproduct of how I am thinking. If I want to change how I feel, then I need to change how I think.

The World says that “seeing is believing,” but the message of the Bible is that believing is seeing. Hagar provided a great example of this in Gen. 21:14-19:

[Hagar] went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba. When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, ‘I cannot watch the boy die.’ And as she sat there, she began to sob. God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, ‘What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.’ Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.”

God did not have angels rapidly digging a well while speaking with her. Hagar was so distressed and driven by her feelings that she didn’t see the well that was nearby. The reality is that there’s always a well nearby because God is always nearby, but we often don’t see the well because we don’t believe it’s there.

In her book One Thousand Gifts Devotional: Reflections on Finding Everyday Graces, Ann Voskamp words it this way:

Whenever I am blind to joy’s well, isn’t it because I don’t believe in God’s care? That God cares enough about me to always offer me joy’s water, wherever I am, regardless of circumstance. But if I don’t believe God cares, if I don’t want or seek the joy He definitely offers somewhere in this moment—I don’t want God. In His presence is fullness of joy. He is in this moment. The well is always here. God is always here—precisely because he does care…You have to want to see the well before you can drink from it. You have to want to see joy, God in the moment.”

How humbling to realize that when we don’t sense God’s presence in our circumstances, it’s because we are the ones pushing God away.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of One Thousand Gifts Devotional: Reflections on Finding Everyday Graces. Courtesy Amazon.]


God is Close the Brokenhearted

broken_heartContinued from here.

In my last blog entry, I shared a Bible verse for when we are in deep pain:

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18)

I spent most of my life brokenhearted. Actually, “shattered-hearted” would be a much better descriptor. I could not fathom how God could possible knit my heart back together when it had been ground into sawdust, but He gave me a new heart instead, one that feels as if it has never been broken. I have not forgotten what it felt like to have a shattered heart. Holding onto the memory of a shattered heart while living with a new heart drives home just how powerful and faithful God is.

A friend told me about her mother losing her brother (my friend’s uncle) in her late teens when he was killed in Vietnam. Her mother, who has been a Christian her entire life, said that God felt so close that she could almost reach out and touch him. She was still in an enormous amount of pain, but the reality of God’s presence provided her with comfort during one of the most painful seasons of her life.

It has been through experiencing the comfort of God in my anguish that I have learned how to comfort others. How do we comfort others? It’s not by distancing ourselves, is it? We comfort others by drawing close to them … by hugging them and holding them close … by reaching out to check in with them to see how they are doing … by listening to them. All aspects of comforting someone involve drawing near to them, not pulling away. So, why do we believe the lie that God pulls away from us when we are at our most broken?

Nowhere in the Bible does God promise us an easy life. Jesus actually promised us just the opposite:

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

You are going to experience pain, struggle, and grief in this lifetime. It’s inevitable. What you DON’T have to experience is buying into the lie that God has abandoned you. When you are feeling like God is nowhere to be found, that’s when He has drawn the closest to you.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace inside a broken heart. Courtesy Bitmoji.]


My Answer for Closeness to God is Always a 10

10Continued from here.

In my last blog entry, I asked you the following question:

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the closest you have ever felt to God and 1 being the farthest you have ever felt from God, where would you rank yourself today? Why?”

My answer is always a 10, not because I always FEEL God’s nearness but because His closeness is simply a reality. God made us this promise in both the Old and New Testaments:

The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deut. 31:8)

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you” (Heb. 13:5)

I have walked with God long enough to learn that His nearness has absolutely nothing to do with my circumstances. When I am on a “God high” after attending a Christian concert and feel like I just experienced a slice of heaven on earth, He is near. And when I’m so desperate to sense His presence that I open my Bible, place it under my pillow, and rest my head on top of it sobbing – begging for any sign that He hasn’t forgotten me – He is just as near. In fact, God provides reassurance in His Word that He is near when we feel broken and alone:

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18)

It doesn’t say that God isn’t near when we are brokenhearted. It’s just the opposite! When our world is falling apart and we question where God is, that’s the very time the Bible assures us that He is close to us.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling and holding up the number 10. Courtesy Bitmoji.]


How Close Do You Feel to God?

questionI’m leading a new small group through my church, and the question we discussed at a recent meeting was this one:

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the closest you have ever felt to God and 1 being the farthest you have ever felt from God, where would you rank yourself today? Why?”

Before continuing to read, go ahead and answer that question for yourself, being sure to address the “why” part.

Let’s see if I can guess your response. If God recently came through for you on something big, such as by clearly answering a prayer than has been on your heart for a while, you answered in the 8 to 10 range. You also likely answered in the 8 to 10 range if you recently attended a Christian event that gave you a “God high,” such as a Joyce Meyers conference or a Beth Moore Living Proof Live event. Conversely, if you have been suffering for a while and are struggling to hang on, you likely answered in the 1 to 3 range. And then if your life is somewhere in the middle, with some up and some downs, you answered in the 4 to 7 range.

How did I do with my prediction?

You might be rolling your eyes right now because this seems so obvious. When you see God working powerfully in your life, then He must be close, right? And if you have been begging Him for relief for weeks, months, or years with no relief in sight, He must be far away, right? It may surprise you to learn that this perspective is not biblical, and yet most Christians sadly believe the lie that God’s blessings/enjoyable circumstances = God’s nearness and a lack of them = God’s abandonment. Let’s explore together what the Bible has to say about how close or far God is from you and to what degree, if any, your circumstances factor into it.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace looking quizzical under a question mark. Courtesy Bitmoji.]