Grace in Structure

graceLove the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. Always remember these commands I give you today. Teach them to your children, and talk about them when you sit at home and walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (Deuteronomy 6:5-7)

Ponder It.

  • When have you felt imposed upon?
  • On a scale from one to ten, how “imposed upon” do you usually feel?
  • What situation have you had difficulty seeing God’s grace in or through?

Receive It. Grace doesn’t impose itself on you but works through every imposition, or what we define as imposition. Life is structured. Consider the structures in which you live. There are laws: local, state, and federal. There are regulations about driving, parking, banking, and shopping. Consider the rules and regulations, some which are likely unspoken, throughout your life, such as work, family, church, everyday routines, and more. You might rationalize that the structure around you is unnecessary or is inconvenient. You might easily accept some structure while vehemently fighting against other structure. God’s grace can surround every ounce of structure in your life, whether you appreciate it or not. We have a lot of choices in our lives. We might wish for more choices, but if we’re honest with ourselves, the fact that we can be discontent in the choices we have probably points to the fact that we have ample choices. Because of our discontentedness, we can misapply God’s grace into the structure of our lives. We can live out God’s grace in the areas we appreciate. We see how grace fits with structure we like, and we marry the two. But the structure we oppose is different. We categorize what we approve and what we don’t and withhold accepting and applying God’s grace. However, God’s grace is invasive. It can apply to any situation, not because of who we are or what we prefer but because of who God is and what he prefers. Are you living out God’s grace as fully as he wants throughout all the structured areas of your life?

Live It. As you go throughout your day today, consider all the structure around you, noticing what you might often overlook because it has simply been so ingrained into your daily life. What do you live by that you don’t notice much anymore? Ask God to reveal one area of structure in your life that he wants you to recognize and live out his grace. Pay attention.

Turning Yourself Over

2964e5515fa0efc67f3ed7a6a04df9a8So I began to give myself over to despair concerning all my work that I had labored at under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 2:20)

Despair is something we turn ourselves over to, submitting to it. Sometimes it lasts for a moment, but other times, when we repeat the turn into despair, our choices become a habit. We begin somewhere, but that leads us to somewhere else.

Where are you beginning today? What are you turning yourself over to, submitting to? Has it become a habit? A healthy or unhealthy one?

Pain Tolerance

“I’m a 3.”

That was Dad’s standard response to his pain level. I can’t count the times a nurse or doctor asked him, “On a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being no pain and 10 being excruciating, what’s your pain right now?”

“I’m a 3.”

Before surgery, after surgery, before treatment, after treatment, in the ER. Always a 3.

Maybe he wasn’t good at assessing his pain. Or maybe he thought it was mind over matter, that being optimistic would help, because as he often said, “It is what it is.”

A little more than 24 hours after emergency brain surgery, he casually said, “I sort of have a headache.”

Probably an understatement.

“I’m happy.”

It was his other commonly used phrase when we asked if he needed anything.

And I believed him.

His life was far from perfect at the time. He had a lot to complain about. Yet he was happy. There was enough in his life that made him content. He chose contentment instead of letting situations dictate his feelings. He wasn’t pretending everything would be fine. He knew better.

There’s a difference between putting on an outward mask while in turmoil on the inside and finding peace on the inside and letting it show in the midst of tough circumstances.

It’s a choice we all make. We don’t have to be facing death to choose peace, hope, faith, and joy. We all have things in life that have the potential to steal all of that away from us, to disguise it, or to distort it. We can’t mimic how someone else responds to difficult circumstances, because we can’t see how he or she internally struggles to arrive at the place we so admire. The best we can do is struggle through whatever we’re facing, refusing to minimize or exaggerate it, not with the goal of fixing a particular problem but in order to find a more lasting peace, hope, faith, and joy – something firm and unwavering we can hold onto regardless of our circumstances, feelings, and perspective.

The Christmas Magnifier

8840292-christmas-magnifying-glass-over-background-with-different-association-terms-vector-illustration-stock-vectorChristmas is a magnifier. Whatever is going on in your life is probably amplified right now. That can feel positive, and it can feel negative. Regardless of how it makes you feel, you can choose to respond with honesty, humility, and a willingness to change. Our joy doesn’t come from our circumstances, so what feels like a magical Christmas or depressing Christmas doesn’t define your Christmas, and it doesn’t define you. It’s not time to place blame, dwell on the inescapable, or compare with others.

Our joy and blessings can be permanent. Yes, they seem to shift from time to time, and they certainly change us. The permanence doesn’t mean we feel the same all the time. It doesn’t mean all is happy and wonderful. It means we have a foundation, and when we let the magnifier be about the source of our faith, we amplify the right focus.

What are you magnifying today?

 

The Trust of Companionship

12407209_790916824388193_18117472_nHis armor-bearer responded, “Do what is in your heart. You choose. I’m right here with you whatever you decide.”

“All right,” Jonathan replied, “we’ll cross over to the men and then let them see us. If they say, ‘Wait until we reach you,’ then we will stay where we are and not go up to them. But if they say, ‘Come on up,’ then we’ll go up, because the Lord has handed them over to us—that will be our sign.”

They let themselves be seen by the Philistine garrison, and the Philistines said, “Look, the Hebrews are coming out of the holes where they’ve been hiding!” The men of the garrison called to Jonathan and his armor-bearer. “Come on up, and we’ll teach you a lesson!” they said.

“Follow me,” Jonathan told his armor-bearer, “for the Lord has handed them over to Israel.” (1 Samuel 14:7-12)

Having trust is important, affirming, and challenging. Jonathan’s armor-bearer supported him and committed to stand by his side, trusting that “what is in (Jonathan’s) heart” would be trustworthy. We don’t follow people because we simply want to be by their side, as if we get some sort of affirmation or recognition out of being someone’s sidekick. We remind them to follow God’s leading. We trust we can follow them well, because they are following well. Ultimately, God is the trustworthy one.

He gifts us companionship, teamwork, and trust. He gifts us relationships. We simply have to follow Him into and through them. Each day and each relationship is full of choices.

I Would Rather…

We often use the phrase, “I would rather…” with a wistful tone, wishing for something we don’t have. Sometimes we say it with irritation to express what we’d rather be doing. But what if we flipped our perspectives to claim we’d rather be where we are, doing what we’re doing, instead of our other options?

For example, maybe you’d like a newer car, but there are other things that take priority, such as an education, dance lessons for your daughter, or a thrifty vacation experience with friends or family to make memories together. Would you rather be driving a new car or doing those other things that you’ve prioritized? Despite feelings of being in out-of-control situations at times, we have more choices than we might care to admit because of the responsibilities that come with them. When we get down to the basics, we will admit that we indeed have chosen what we’d rather do.

Instead of complaining, what if you took the high road and began to see the choices you have in front of you?

What if you accepted the responsibility of responding well, so that you make the best choice and move on instead of what focusing on what could have been? Maybe your situation isn’t ideal, but you can still prioritize relationships, faith, and so many other choices. You get to choose how you react to what’s going on around you.

When you say “I’d rather,” do you focus on what you don’t have and what you can’t do, or do you take responsibility for choices to set aside some things for a season in order to prioritize other things? Your approach and perspective matter. Contentment requires you to focus and choose well.

I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13)

Little-Girl-Looking-over-Fence

Lies That Soothe Us

I know why we do it, yet I wonder why we do it.

We try to comfort ourselves and others in moments of trials and grief. We would give just about anything to help someone or ourselves get through the pain and challenges of life. But in the process, we neglect the truths the Bible tells us. God reveals Himself to us through His Word. He wants us to know Him, not just to have all the right answers but to be comforted, healed, and promised. When we neglect what He says and cling to what we think will help us feel better, we miss out. We miss out on trusting Him, and we miss out on what He wants to give us through Himself and His Word.

We want to believe that the people we lose in death, we gain in angels. Again, our intentions aren’t bad. We want to continue to feel close to people we lose. We want someone higher than us to watch over and provide for us. We can always feel close through our memories and other ways God provides. And we always have Him watching over and providing for us. And since God created angels, I would personally like His authority, protection, and provision over anyone else.

We want to believe all the people we love are reunited in heaven, yet Scriptures clearly tell us we aren’t married in heaven. Again, our intentions aren’t bad. We want to carry over some of the things we like most on earth into heaven with us. We rationalize that God says heaven won’t include any pain, and we can’t imagine being separated from people we love and not feeling pain.

But can we not find comfort in who God is, His sovereignty over us all? We don’t determine what will be best for us, now or for all eternity. Only God knows all those details. And He won’t let us down. We’re not going to be disappointed that things aren’t the way we expected them. He will blow what we imagine out of the water.

At least, that is the potential. But let’s be honest with ourselves, each other, and most importantly, God. While we don’t determine what eternity will be like, we determine our relationship with God right now. Eternity isn’t “someday.” It’s right now. We don’t create it. We respond to God’s creation. We respond authentically and responsibility, or we choose to put our own preferences and ways above His.

What will you choose to prioritize today? What truth will you seek, create, believe, or follow?