7 Ways to Be Properly Worried

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Got a sinking feeling? Pesky premonitions? Just a little nervous? That’s nothing!

Here are seven sure-fire tips to fuel that anxiety. Continue reading

My Greatest Fear

 

Fear.

At times irrational, at times justified, fear is a human response to circumstance.

The news reels have been buzzing since November 8th. The whole country (and possibly certain world leaders) seemed to be biting down their nails as we all waited with bated breath for the election results. Admittedly, an election is always an anxious affair. The choices of a leader—even small choices—create an indescribable ripple effect. Continue reading

A Voting Christian’s Prayer

photo-1475938476802-32a7e851dad1Our Father in Heaven,

You are King of Kings, Creator of the Universe, and Lord of my life. You raise up nations, and you take down nations. Our times are in Your hands.

Thank you, Father, for allowing us to dwell for many years in this country of prosperity and peace. We are grateful for your bountiful care.

Our country stands on the precipice of change once again as we prepare to elect a new leader. Continue reading

A Spark in the Darkness.

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Shootings in Dallas. Riots in Charlotte. Explosions in New York.

Deceit in the debate hall.

Worry abounds.

When darkness prevails and our grief overwhelms us, how do we get through it? What do we hold on to?  Continue reading

Be strong. Fear not. (Day 12 of the #Encourage Marathon)

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Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who have an anxious heart,
“Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you.”

~ Isaiah 35.3-4, ESV

Welcome to mile marker 12 of our #Encourage Marathon! (If you missed yesterday’s post, you can read it here.)

Someone out there is anxious. It might even be you!

If you read or copied down Hebrews 12.12-13 on Day 8, you may sense a bit of repetition here. We already talked about the need to get motivated. Today, let’s talk about battling anxiety.

Fear and anxiety are part of the human condition. As we grow in age and experience, certain fears increase while others vanish altogether. Adults  tend to worry excessively, because we have so many responsibilities.

Continue reading

“Little Faith” — Good, bad, or simply a start? (Coffee Chat 15)

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With all the big leaps I’ve taken lately, my mind has travelled several times to the account of Peter stepping out on the water in the middle of a storm. There are a plethora of songs that allude to this idea of stepping out in faith/walking on water. Many focus on Peter sinking the moment he took his eyes off Jesus. That’s a great lesson for every season. Lately, however, I’ve been mulling over the term “little faith.”

Jesus uses this phrase throughout the gospels. The only time I found “have you no faith?” was in Mark. Most often he says, “O you of little faith.” Is it a term of disappointment, condescension or frustration? Or, is it an acknowledgement that they have faith, but it needs development?

Let’s look at the passage in Matthew 14 that I alluded to earlier:

And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them.

And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?””

‭‭~ Matthew‬ ‭14:23-31‬ ‭ESV‬‬

I find it interesting that he doesn’t say, “where’s your faith?” Or “have you no faith?!” Jesus says (in essence) “you have faith, but it needs to become greater than your fear.”

Here are thoughts/questions I’ve been pondering and I’d love to hear your input:

1) Peter was a fisherman. He knew what happened if you got out of a boat in the middle of the water—you sink. In a stormy situation, you would likely drown. He had faith enough to step out on the water and walk a little ways. Nobody else jumped out to follow him. Only Peter took that risk. Was he being brash or foolhardy? I don’t know what was on his mind, but if he had been trying to show off, I think Jesus would’ve rebuked him for that. Peter believed that Jesus had the power to help him walk on water. He had faith enough to take the first step.

2) Peter had faith, but his fear was greater. His initial trust in Jesus was overwhelmed when he took his eyes off Jesus and focused on the danger. His fear overshadowed his faith. I wonder if Jesus looked at him like we look at our children sometimes. For example, my children trust me, but sometimes their fear overwhelms their trust. When they went swimming in a big pool for the first time. I assured they would not be scared, but they panicked as soon as they couldn’t feel ground beneath their feet. I may have been a little disappointed in their lack of trust, but, as an adult, I also recognized that they did not possess my long experience. Sometimes this makes them rush headlong into danger and at other times it makes them reluctant to trust.

3) “Little faith” is meant to be a starting point, not a permanent residence. Thus far, these men had left their livelihoods, their families and the status quo to follow Jesus. We often shake our heads at their mishaps, but I wonder if we would have done as much as they did with the little knowledge they had. Jesus watered their faith regularly so that by the time He ascended to heaven, they had enough faith to move mountains.

4) I find it interesting in James he says this:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”

~ James‬ ‭1:5-8‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Do you think James may have been thinking of this incident when he wrote this?

Your turn!

What do you think about the phrase? When Jesus uses it, what does it mean?

Grab your favorite cup of coffee or tea and join the discussion!

Am I walking by faith or frozen with fear?

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What follows is a long post and I hope you will bear with me through the end. It could be that you will not relate to this in any way; or its just possible that you also are faced with terrible storms that make you want to change course. Whatever the case, I hope this will be edifying to you.

As many of my long time readers and personal acquaintances are aware, 2015 was a very challenging year for me and my family. I won’t go into great detail, but we have dealt with a disability that brought about medical retirement and have been searching for new job opportunities since August. We’ve been waiting for doors to open, putting out resumes and preparing for some lean times. We’ve been busy during our wait and praying hard for direction and strength.

Around Christmas, we got a phone call—a potential job opportunity in Texas. Houses, food, gas (pretty much everything) is cheaper in Texas. We could do more than just “get by” over there.

My immediate reaction was resistance and—though I am ashamed to admit it—fear

Texas is flat!

How can we move so far away from my parents and in-laws?

That part of Texas doesn’t have much natural beauty…

How would the kids handle being uprooted?

How would we afford the move?

But it’s Texas!

I’m a native Californian… I won’t fit in.

We have to leave behind orchestra, my daughter’s truly awesome violin teacher and our homeschool group.

I’ll be even further from the coast!

Why Texas?

Fortunately, 2015 was a year of significant spiritual growth. So, even though my mind was all flashing lights and blaring sirens, I knew that I needed to take it all to the Lord. So I prayed and pondered. I talked to my spouse, then prayed and pondered some more. I started sounding out friends and family and prayed even more. Slowly but surely I began to see all the positives. If this is the direction God wants us to take, then He will help us through it. I need to trust Him to do what He has always done.

No final decision has been made as we are still doing our homework, which includes an upcoming trip to assess the potential of the job offers, the housing and the local churches. As all these things have been unfolding, I was struck by something, but I kept it to myself until about a week ago.

I thought of the Israelites.

I can hear you groaning: “Oh no! Not more about the Israelites, Elihu!” I see so many of my own foibles in them that I feel compelled to write about them and—hopefully—learn from their mistakes.

I thought of the account in Numbers 13 when the Israelites had reached the edge of the Promised Land and they sent twelve spies to check it out. The account even lists the names of these men. Two men of faith and then men of infamy…

They don’t hop on google to look at photos, crime stats and housing prices. They don’t get a birds-eye view from Google Earth. Not having the benefit of modern technology, they pack their walking sticks and maybe the last bit of the day’s manna and quail ration and head in on foot. The rest of the Israelites pace about for forty anxious days waiting for their return. They may have been thinking,”Do you think it’ll be as amazing as God says? I wonder how hard it will be to move in?”

At the end of forty days, the twelve men return with more than what they packed. They have fruit! Mouthwatering, savory, sweet, colorful fruit! When all you’ve had is manna and quail for months, fruit is pretty exciting.

With twelve different men, one would anticipate twelve different perspectives. It came down to two: fear vs faith.

Let’s read the account:

At the end of forty days they returned from spying out the land. And they came to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the people of Israel in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh. They brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land.

And they told him, “We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.”

Joy of joys! This is what God had promised! He wasn’t making it up, and the men had brought back evidence. Can you imagine seeing fruit after eating nothing but quail and manna for months?

How do you think the Israelites are going to react? Are they going to rush eagerly toward their new home?

Hang on to your hats, the men have more to say:

“However…

Uh-oh. This can’t be good…

“…the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the Negeb. The Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the hill country. And the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and along the Jordan.”

Houston, we have a problem. This won’t be as easy as we thought! Lions, and tigers, and bears—oh my!

But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.”

Whoa. Why did Caleb think they could take the land? They didn’t have chariots, horses or battering rams. They were just a rag-tag assortment of ex-slaves! How could they overcome these gigantic, well-armed people?

Read on:

Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.” So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.””

So…. who’s giving the correct assessment? Is Caleb having delusions of grandeur or are these men cowards?

Fear says: Freeze! Don’t go another step! We can’t do this!

Faith says: Yes, this is daunting, but God and I make a majority. God promised this land and He wants us to take it. He’ll lead us through it one step at a time.

Faith trusts God in spite of fear.

Faith moves trembling feet forward.

This story isn’t over….

So all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night. And all the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, and the whole congregation said to them, “If only we had died in the land of Egypt! Or if only we had died in this wilderness! Why has the Lord brought us to this land to fall by the sword, that our wives and children should become victims?

Oh the agony! One minute, the promised land is within their grasp, the next minute they are lead to believe they cannot have it. Instead of pausing to consider or even praying about their fear, they weep and wail.

Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?” So they said to one another, “Let us select a leader and return to Egypt.”

Seriously?!

They wanted to go back to slavery? They must be mental!

It’s doubtful the people of Egypt would have welcomed them back with open arms. It’s more likely they would have killed them on the spot. And yet, how often do we make outlandishly stupid statements at the height of our anxiety?

The minority is going to speak:

Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the people of Israel. And Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes and said to all the congregation of the people of Israel,

“The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.”

Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones. But the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the people of Israel.

Joshua and Caleb—two small but strong voices of reason. Two voices who speak from faith, not fear. In the turmoil of emotion, the people pick up stones to kill them (hmmm…. Sound familiar?)

“The Lord is with us; do not fear them.”

I would venture to guess (and it is only a guess) that Joshua and Caleb had been noting, with gratitude and awe, all the ways in which God had cared for them since they had left Egypt: the manna, the quail, the longevity of their clothes and shoes, the cloud by day and pillar of fire by night, and the water in the wilderness. They had seen a mighty empire defeated without a single spear tossed. All these wondrous things they had committed to their heart. They had confidence in the power of the Lord.

I would also guess (though, again, I could be wrong) that these men had a huge adrenaline rush when they saw the Anakim and the fortified cities. I’m confident they were a little scared. Fear is a natural reaction to such things. Joshua and Caleb didn’t know how God would defeat their enemies, they simply trusted that he could. They feared God more than they feared the Canaanites. Their faith held more sway than their fear.

How often do we fail to see God’s provisions, both small and large, and consider ourselves entitled to those blessings? Such a mindset will lead to a lack of trust and progress in our walk with God.

What was the outcome of this account?

And the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying,

“How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me? I have heard the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against me.

Say to them, ‘As I live, declares the Lord, what you have said in my hearing I will do to you: your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness, and of all your number, listed in the census from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against me, not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun.

But your little ones, who you said would become a prey, I will bring in, and they shall know the land that you have rejected. But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness.

According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure.’ I, the Lord, have spoken. Surely this will I do to all this wicked congregation who are gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall come to a full end, and there they shall die.”

And the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land, who returned and made all the congregation grumble against him by bringing up a bad report about the land— the men who brought up a bad report of the land—died by plague before the Lord. Of those men who went to spy out the land, only Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh remained alive.

(The above passages are from Numbers 13 and Numbers 14. As always, I suggest reading the full context.)

Oops.

Confident, courageous faith will take you beyond what seems possible, guard you through perils unthinkable and carry you to heights incomprehensible.

An unhealthy fear of everything but God will paralyze you, leaving you to wander about life barely subsisting, never quite tasting the joy that comes from trusting in the Lord.

As I thought about this possible move, I had to ask myself—Am I going to walk by faith or freeze with fear?

I wondered, “Am I being offered the chance for better things and forsaking it for the comfort of my known wilderness?” During a discussion one evening about our possible future, my spouse began comparing the situation to the Israelite spies.

I burst out laughing. Our thoughts were nearly identical.

So, the two of us are going to go “spy out the land” as it were. This choice will have a huge impact on our family one way or another and I would be dishonest to say it doesn’t matter. I want this choice to be positive not simply so we can be “better off” financially, but so our family will grow in the Lord. If living in this new place wold damage that, I’d rather not go. If staying here will weaken us, I’d rather not stay. Unfortunately, I cannot see all the far-reaching implications, but I have confidence in my God who does see and whose wisdom is so far beyond my own.

Unlike the Israelites, we don’t have any sort of promised land on this earth. Our promised land lies beyond this life. Yet the choices we make today have long-term consequences that impact our spiritual health. I’d rather have a dinner of herbs with God in my home, than a sumptuous feast without Him. I want my choices—even these piddly ones like moving—to fulfill God’s purpose on this earth. No matter where he leads me, I need to be making Him the goal with each breath. It could be this door is opening just to reveal it’s the wrong one. Who knows?

Seek the Lord’s guidance each step of the way and remember that the promised land lies beyond this earth. Don’t let your fear keep you from it. Walk by faith.

 

Building Trust Through Prayer

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I’ve done a lot of writing about prayer on this blog. There is a reason…

God commands us to pray.

The Bible is filled with of examples of prayer.

Prayer is communication with God, our Creator and Father.

How much do you trust someone that you rarely talk to?

Parents—how awesome do you feel when your kids confide their fears to you? It gives you an opportunity to comfort, reassure and guide your children. It strengthens the bond between you. Our Heavenly Father (God) wants the same opportunity, but how often do we pour out our anxiety and worry before Him?

For those who are not parents—I’m sure you have friends. Isn’t it a blessing to have friends to lean on? Friends give you a shoulder to cry on, a sympathetic ear, and a warm hug. We aren’t going to make ourselves vulnerable to our friends if we don’t trust them. We aren’t going to trust them if we never communicate with them. Do you trust God and confide in Him as you would a friend?

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

~Philippians 4:4-7 ESV

Do not be anxious about anything.

Pray.

Don’t simply go through a list of requests to God. Communicate your fears to Him.

One thing people in the Old Testament did in some of their prayers was to remind God of His promises. This scripture says, don’t be anxious, but pray and give thanks and the peace of God will guard your heart and your mind. That’s a promise! If I stop dwelling on my worries and fears and hand them over to God, He will give me peace. If you are not feeling peace, reverently remind God of this promise from His word… oh yeah, and don’t forget to read the word too…

One of my favorite examples of prayer is the account of King Hezekiah in Isaiah 37. In the previous chapter, the King of Assyria (Sennacherib) had invaded Judah and was headed for Jerusalem. Sennacherib sent a message telling the people in Hezekiah that they have nothing in which to place their trust.

Here are some excerpts of Sennacherib’s message:

Thus says the king: ‘Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you. Do not let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord by saying, “The Lord will surely deliver us. This city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.”

Beware lest Hezekiah mislead you by saying, “The Lord will deliver us.” Has any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria?

Who among all the gods of these lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?’”

~Isaiah‬ ‭36‬:‭14-15, 18, 20‬ ESV

His servants bring him the message and he is overcome. Notice what he does in chapter 37. He sends a message to Isaiah the prophet:

“Thus says Hezekiah, ‘This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to the point of birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth. It may be that the Lord your God will hear the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the Lord your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.’”

‭Isaiah‬ ‭37‬:‭3-4‬ ESV

He asks a righteous person to pray for Him and for Judah.

Then, he gets a letter from the Rabshakeh, reiterating what his messengers had already told him. Hezekiah takes the letter, reads it and then goes to the house of the Lord.

Where do we go in our distress, fear, anxiety or doubt? Do we go to the Lord? Do we go to other believers or do we simple seek out the “experts.” Do we hide or do we seek help?

Hezekiah went to the house of the Lord.

When he gets there, he spreads the letter out before the Lord and prays:

“Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God.

“It is true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste all these peoples and their lands. They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands.

Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are the only God. “

~Isaiah 37:16-20

I love this part. He spreads the letter before the Lord. God already knows what it says. God doesn’t really need to see it. Nevertheless, Hezekiah lays it before God. He shows God reverence in his prayer. He reminds God that the Assyrians have degraded the Lord. He acknowledges that deliverance will not come from his own might, but from God’s mighty hand.

Spread out your fears and doubts before the Lord. He knows the troubles you are facing, but tell Him anyway. As you tell Him your fears, show him reverence, remind Him of His promises and acknowledge that He is a God of power.

The effective prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

To build trust: Read. Pray. Renew. Praise. Repeat.

Lord willing, we will talk about “Renew” in our next post.

Remember to pray, dear friends.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you. (1 Peter 5.6-7)

~Elihu