Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I'm not too much

This is something I nervously anticipated when I started my journey to draw near to God: How will I do this during the times when my mood and emotions fight me and try to steal my hope? This time, God used it to give me new comfort about my identity in Him.

Yesterday, I felt as if I was not in control of my mind and emotions. My mood swings were so intense and my crushing, defeated feelings so real that I felt like I didn't fully know myself. I was asking God, feebly, to rescue and stabilize my spirit, but it all just really felt beyond my understanding and control. These feelings, combined with dissatisfaction with my job and no leads yet on a job in Colorado, left me feeling aimless, like I had no purpose. I had been dwelling for a few days on this thought from My Utmost, though, and it was resting in the background of my mind:

Worship is giving God the best He has given you. ... Whenever you get a blessing from God, give it back to Him as a love gift. ... God will never let you hold a spiritual thing for yourself; it has to be given back to Him that He may make it a blessing to others (Jan. 6).

These words have given me excitement about sharing God's work in my life through this blog and about some experiences recently in which God has used me to speak encouragement through His Word to someone else. But, in the midst of my emotions and a long day at work, I didn't feel the excitement. But late last night, I got an e-mail about my blog that reminded me that God is using me to encourage others. God, You are so great! When I was feeling useless, You reminded me that You are using me to accomplish Your work. Your timing is perfect!

This morning, my favorite Psalm gave me comfort about the frightening feeling of not fully knowing or understanding my own spirit and emotions. The comfort is: It's OK if I don't always understand, because God does. Nothing about me is too overwhelming or confusing for Him. He doesn't look at me, mid-mood swing, and say, "You're too much! I give up!" He is calm and sticks with me no matter how chaotic I feel. In My Utmost, Chambers paraphrases what he thinks is the idea of Psalm 139. I will paraphrase him further:

You are God of both early mornings and late nights, both mountain peaks and sea floors. But, my God, my soul can be brighter than morning and darker than the night. My soul has higher peaks than the mountains and deeper depths than the sea. You are the God of all of this, so be my God. I can't reach the heights and depths of my own spirit; there are motives I can't trace, dreams I can't interpret. My God, search me out and know my heart!

Psalm 139 has always been my favorite Psalm, and now it reminds me that I shouldn't fear the depths of myself because God knows me perfectly.

O Lord, You have searched me and You know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue,
you know it completely, O Lord.
Psalm 139:1-4

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Refreshing God's people

I have been spending time with God reading, praying and relearning intimacy with Him for one week now, and it has been awesome. Not only do I feel more centered each day and more able to focus on my responsibilities with a positive attitude, but I also have more spiritual strength to be Christlike in hard situations. There have been a few times this week that something has made me angry and I have been very tempted to gossip, hold a grudge or just be grouchy and grumbly. At times when I feel I would have normally given in to those feelings and desires, I found myself going to prayer. Last night something deeply upset me and I said to Josh and to God, "I know the right thing to do, but God is going to have to fill me up because 'me' does not want to do it." I didn't feel capable of what I knew was God's will, but He is amazing; He filled me up and taught me something wonderful through my frustration. And that's not all: He took my anger over feeling wronged and used it to convict me of my own sin. I think this is going to be a pattern.

Here's what happened.

A few times this week, but specifically last night, some things happened that I felt were unfair to me. It involved spending money; whenever I have to spend money on or because of someone else for a reason that I feel is unfair, I get upset. I had told myself, I think, that I had the right to be upset because Josh and I don't have a lot of money. Since we don't have a lot, people shouldn't expect anything of us, right? They should be the generous ones, because their paychecks are bigger than ours. But what God showed me last night was that I have been living with a stingy spirit.

Stingy is such a nasty sounding word. I never wanted to admit it about myself because my Father, God, is the definition of generosity. Christ gave everything to a world that put Him to death! I never wanted to see myself as having a quality so unlike Christ. But whenever someone expects something from me that involves a financial burden, I get angry and resentful. That is not God living in me! If everything I have is God's, including my money, then I should be using my resources to extend love to others. I should look for opportunities to be generous with the money God has generously given to us.

God gives us an example of giving even when our resources are small; I've heard the story a thousand times.

As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins."I tell you the truth," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on."
Luke 21:1-4

I never once thought of myself when reading this story. And I think if I were really being honest and I were the one there with Jesus, I would've said, "Yeah, Jesus, but I have rent to pay! And groceries to buy!" But while I would like to reason that my situation is special and different, the fact is that I can live with a generous spirit no matter how much or how little money I have.

One reason I never thought of myself as stingy, and maybe why I never identified with this widow, is that I have always gotten the concept of tithing and giving to God. That's always been easy; God is perfect and faithful, and He deserves everything I have to give and more. But when I have to "give" to someone who I don't think deserves it, my attitude changes. That's not the standard God uses on me, though. I certainly don't deserve God's generosity, and yet God gives good gifts to those who ask Him (Matthew 7).

So I have been tearfully asking God to give me the desire to be generous and that the Holy Spirit would fill me, removing the resentment and grudges I am holding against those who I feel have robbed me. After praying last night, I decided to look for insight on generosity in the Bible. I found this verse in Philemon in which Paul is thanking God for Philemon's faith and love for others. The wording is a little different in the NIV, but I don't think that the differences here in the New Living Translation alter the message. In fact, I believe God intended for me to read it in this translation first so the words would click in my brain. I changed the name Philemon to my name and imagined if a spiritual mentor was writing these words to me:

I always thank my God when I pray for you, Kelly, because I keep hearing about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God's people. And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ. Your love has given me great joy and comfort, my sister, for your kindness has often refreshed the hearts of God's people.
Philemon 6

If I allow myself to have a stingy heart, whether I think I'm right or not, I will not be able to understand and experience all the good things I have in Christ. I certainly won't be able to refresh anyone around me. But once I live with a generous spirit, knowing everything I have comes from Him, I can refresh the hearts of God's people and be known for my love and kindness to others. That's a reputation I want.

This week, I am asking God to give me the kind of faith that produces generosity and to help me understand all the good things in Christ so I can give good things to others with a joyful heart. He has already removed my anger, which yesterday I had felt was impossible, and blessed me with so much peace!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Where am I going?

Hebrews 11 talks about the faith it took for Abraham to obey God's call to leave home and go to a foreign land. I've been reflecting a lot on our (quickly) approaching move to Colorado, and this Scripture came just in time.

The New Living Translation says,

It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in tents. And so did Isaac and Jacob, who inherited the same promise.
Hebrews 11:8-9

My devotional today in My Utmost for His Highest is based on the second part of verse 8: "He went without knowing where he was going." Basically, God didn't lay out the whole plan so that Abraham could weigh his options, consult other experts, and then decide if God knew what he was doing or not. He revealed Himself to Abraham, who then had to make a decision based on faith. When it comes to this move, however, I have been praying that God would show me His plan and work out all the details. Chambers writes, "God doesn't tell you what He is going to do. He reveals to you who He is." Doesn't knowing who God is sound a lot better when you really think about it?

I have been stressed about finding a job in Colorado. I've been searching and applying for more than six weeks now with no leads. It scares me because I feel so powerless to control our success in the next stage of life. How can I make this move joyfully not knowing what my salary will be or what I'll be getting up to do every day? I can do it because true joy comes from going where God leads you, even when you don't know where you're going. Hebrews says in verse 9 that Abraham had to continue living by faith even once he arrived because he was living as a foreigner in a tent. I think that means that things weren't all set up for him there. And, I'm guessing, his previous setup before the move was better than a tent. But rather than deciding that because he was not prospering, he must've misunderstood God, he lived by faith, waiting to see what God's plan was. So often if things don't work out, we just shrug and say, "this must not have been God's plan. God wouldn't want me to go through this." But that's not God's promise.

I almost didn't read on, because I thought that was the gist of it, but then I found the best verse of all. Because really, if you're not living day to day focused on the job, the house, the bills—what are you focused on?

Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God.
Hebrews 8:10

I may be moving to Denver, a new city, but my eyes are on a city with eternal foundations, one designed by God. Doesn't that sound like the best place to live?

Monday, March 22, 2010

The beginning

This week, I have been deeply humbled and convicted by the sudden death of Kylee Boden, a dear friend to many whose faith leaves me speechless. I did not know her personally, but she and Matt have been very close to Josh's heart ever since Matt was the campus minister at UCF. Although I did not know her, God has spoken to me through the testimony of her life and over the last few days has laid a very heavy burden on me that I am not living the life I was designed for.

Last night, I cried out to God in my journal:

I know God, and I love Him, but I have not given myself to Him and allowed Him to refine me to be a woman like (Kylee). I have been happy with normal, and I have blended into the world around me. I have been ashamed and timid about my Christ. I have lived my life for myself. I have confined the all-powerful God of creation to worship on Sundays. I have served without passion and I have lived without intention. God has spurred me to the extraordinary.

I grieved over my lack of courage and the way I have slowly compromised my passion for Christ over the last several years to the point that I couldn't find the passion in myself at all. I knew that I needed to seek God fully on my own, independent of Josh, and that my search of God's presence needed to become my life. Not just part of my life. I plucked Josh's copy of My Utmost for His Highest from his bookshelf and put it next to my bed to read this morning. After Josh left for work, I sat on the bed with the book, my Bible and my journal. I'm not sure what I was expecting to happen. Here is what I read aloud on the first page of the book:

My eager desire and hope being that I may never feel ashamed, but that now as ever I may do honor to Christ in my own person by fearless courage.
Philippians 1:20

It took me years to admit to God that I had been ashamed of him; that I felt my courage and will had been depleted. It took Him nine hours to answer the cries of my heart. For the first time in at least three years, I cried at the words of God, which he had spoken directly to my heart. I crawled into the lap of my Father, the Creator, and let Him hold me. That feeling of resting in God's presence is unmistakable, and it reminds my soul of what I was created for. I was not created to be a writer, a teacher, an editor, or whatever I end up doing here. Those things will be part of what I do, but I was created to be God's daughter. Everything else is so secondary. I was not created for this world, and I am not dependent on it or imprisoned by it.

So, my life changes today. I no longer live in consideration of myself. I am not of this world. I keep myself before God for this one thing only: My Utmost for His Highest. I am determined to be absolutely and entirely for Him alone.