Now as Always

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I read Philippians 1 last night.  I just can’t get over Paul’s extraordinary faith.  In verses 12-14 he says, “ Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.”  Instead of focusing on his suffering, Paul, in the midst of his imprisonment, is able to see that God is being glorified.  A situation that most would see as the worst possible scenario can be seen as “good” because God is being exalted.  I am so humbled by Paul’s testimony.  I don’t think my life will ever be as hard as Paul’s was in this passage yet in verse 18b he says, “Yes, and I will continue to rejoice.”  Even though I have never faced anything as remotely trying as imprisonment, I often tend to struggle to rejoice.  And yet as Paul sits in chains, he finds the good–Christ’s glory–and rejoices.  If I were in his situation, I think I would be more apt to complain.  To tell God that it’s not fair.  This is what I get for following Him?  Instead of pitying himself, Paul is found rejoicing.

Verses 20 and 27 are my favorites in this chapter: “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death… Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”  It doesn’t matter where we are or what is going on in our life, our aim should be to exalt Christ NOW.  And no matter how hard life may get, glorifying Christ needs to ALWAYS be our goal.  Paul isn’t saying that we only need to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel when everyone else around us is also living in an effort to please Christ; instead, he says WHATEVER HAPPENS.  Glorifying God doesn’t get set aside when I’m being pressured or persecuted.  No.  “Now as always.”  Living for Christ doesn’t get thrown away just because someone has hurt you or because you’re upset.  No.  “Whatever happens.”

What I got out of this chapter last night was that God can use me wherever I am for His glory.  No matter what situation I am in, I should always be rejoicing as I remind myself that God is working this out for “good.”  In the hard times as well as the easier times, glorifying Christ is my purpose in life … now as always, whatever happens.

Joy Always

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1 Thessalonians 5:16, 18 – “Rejoice always…Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
“Rejoice” means to be glad, happy, or delighted; to be full of joy. Always? I mean, it’s easy to rejoice sometimes but always finding joy? Not so easy. Giving thanks in all things? Is that even possible?
Being happy is not instinctive for me; it’s not something that always comes naturally. I’m sure some people would be shocked to discover that. Everyone thinks I’m always happy; people tell me I’m always smiling. But honestly there are a lot of days that I find it really hard to find reasons to be happy. It’s a deliberate choice for me. I have to constantly remind myself that I should always, no matter how bad life gets, be able to find things to be thankful for. My happiness, my joy should never be based on my circumstances and therefore I should find joy no matter the circumstances. Believe me, that’s easier said than done.
Life is really hard sometimes and my natural response seems to be to get upset or angry, but if I’m honest with myself neither of those reactions ever make the situation better. Usually they just end up making everything worse.
Psalm 102:23a says, “In the course of my life, He broke my strength.” I read that the other day and I wondered…is that what God’s doing when life feels hard? Breaking my strength? Because I can be a very proud person. And if my life wasn’t broken, would I have given it over to Him for Him to fix it? Would I see myself as in need of Him if life is dandy and I’m doing just fine on my own?
Can I say as Paul in Philippians 4:11-13? “…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances…I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” He breaks my strength so that He can give me some of His own.
I have a notebook where I write down what I’m thankful for. There are some days when I’m writing nonstop and other days I just sit there staring at a blank page and trying so hard to find something. But there are a few things that I can be thankful for every day no matter what:
That I’m still breathing—God has blessed me with another day here
God’s love—nothing can separate me from that (Romans 8:38-39)
Eternal life—God didn’t promise an easy life but he did promise me eternity with Him
And really, even if those are the only things that I can find to be thankful for, isn’t that enough? I am so blessed. God didn’t have to save me but He did. He didn’t have to create me but He did. He didn’t have to give me another day but here I am. He didn’t have to love me but He does.  I think I have plenty of reasons to be happy 🙂

What If God Says No?

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I’ve gotten to the point where most days I’m okay with waiting to get married. I understand the importance of this season in my life but I still can’t help but excitedly anticipate the coming day when I hope to be married. But what really scares me is the thought of: what if it’s God’s will for me to be single forever? What if God decides I would glorify Him more in my singleness than in marriage? What if I will never have that dreamed of wedding, never have that hand to hold, never have a man to love?
Not being married for years and years seems hard enough. But…never? Could I do it?
1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it.”
Okay, God, if it ends up being part of my destiny, then you must have decided I was strong enough.
We’ve all heard the story of David and Goliath. We all know this Philistine was a giant. But I looked up how tall Goliath really was: 9 ½ feet. Wow. On top of his height and his strength, he had armor and a sword, a spear and a javelin. This was a man to be feared. In 1 Samuel 17:8-11 Goliath speaks to the Israelites: “He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants. But if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.” And the Philistine said, “I defy the ranks of Israel this day. Give me a man, that we may fight together.” When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid…” After this terrifying speech, David comes into the picture. He hears the words that Goliath says. He hears Goliath defy the Lord’s armies. But for some reason, these same words impact David differently than they did the rest of the men. Instead of hiding, he takes action as seen in verses 32-49: “And David said to Saul, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.” But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!” Then Saul clothed David with his armor. He put a helmet of bronze on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail, and David strapped his sword over his armor. And he tried in vain to go, for he had not tested them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.” So David put them off. Then he took his staff in his hand and chose five smooth stones from the brook and put them in his shepherd’s pouch. His sling was in his hand, and he approached the Philistine. And the Philistine moved forward and came near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. And when the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was but a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. And the Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field.” Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth,that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hand.” When the Philistine arose and came and drew near to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. And David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone and slung it and struck the Philistine on his forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground.”
I find that often the Bible stories I’ve heard since I was a kid don’t usually mean as much to me unless I actually sit down and think about what each verse means to me. I can recite the details, quote all the verses, but they don’t sink in and take root until I study them carefully. Looking at these verses, you may wonder how this story has anything to do with not ever getting married. Think about it. David had no sword, no armor, no height, no strength to help him. He only had God. He didn’t rely on anyone or anything but God for the courage and the strength for this victory. In the same way, you can face any challenge, no matter how large, when you have God on your side. It may not feel like it. It may feel like an empty hand or an unadorned ring finger is too much. But with God at your side, there is no such thing as a defeat.
I think about all the letters I’ve written to a man who I’m not even sure exists. All the prayers I’ve prayed for someone who may not have ever been born. All the hopes I have that include a cozy house, some kiddos, and a future with the man I love—and I wonder…could I give all those up? Could I live the rest of my life without someone by my side?
Really, does it make sense for me to choose to be miserable if God doesn’t give me what I want? I would be like a child in the candy aisle whose mother just said no to a treat. The child throwing the temper tantrum feels like they have ever right to do so. It makes sense to them. They really, really wanted candy. They thought they could get their mother on their side so they had already decided what they’d get or what flavor they’d start with. But mom said “no.” Whining and kicking and screaming doesn’t help anything. It doesn’t change the situation for the child. Perhaps mother knows about something even better waiting at home, a dessert or surprise treat she’d made just that afternoon. Or maybe mom knew that her child had already had enough sugar for the day. Mother had her reasons. Mom knows what’s best for her kid. You already know where I’m going with this one, don’t you? If God decides that marriage is not part of His will for your life, He has a reason. We may not ever see or know or understand the reason. But that doesn’t mean God doesn’t have a purpose for your singleness.
If that time comes for me, it will be a rough road. A hard choice. I can choose to be bitter, living as if the purpose for my life was to get married. But that’s not true. I was created solely to glorify God. Instead of choosing the negative approach, I can choose to be filled with the joy that only God brings even though He didn’t give me the man I dreamed of, the marriage I prayed for, the love I desired. God promised one thing: eternal life. He didn’t ever promise me a diamond ring or a houseful of kiddos or a handsome guy. I don’t think it’s wrong to tell Him your heart (He already knows how you feel so it’s not like it will be a surprise to Him). I don’t think it’s wrong to pray that He will bring someone into your life. But I do think it’s wrong to expect Him to do so. I compare this to Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. “Lord, not as I will but as you will.” “God, this is what I want. Since I was 12 years old, I’ve longed for the kind of love that never stops loving. But this is what I want. Do as you want.” That’s a scary prayer to pray. Relinquishing my hopes and my desires and my dreams. Giving up the only thing I’ve ever wanted.
I don’t know if this is God’s plan for me. Or for you. It’s just something that sneaks into my mind sometimes and scares me a little. I know I should not worry about this. Even if it is part of God’s plan for my life, there is nothing to fear. Especially because He will always be with me, He will never give me more than I can bear, and He will provide the strength and courage I need at the time.

My Clouded Life

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I realized something the other day… The only reason I ever start feeling sorry for myself is because I start thinking about myself in the first place. That seems like an elementary thought. A duh moment for most of you. But to me it was an eye-opener.

When someone says something mean, I internalize it and let it hurt me instead of turning to Christ and praying for that person. When I’m having a bad day, I tend to dwell on those emotions, feed the sadness, instead of thinking about all the blessings God has so graciously given me. I have a tendency to make everything about me.

When everything is about Christ.

When did my life become all about me?

When did my happiness become more important than glorifying Christ?

Instead of focusing upward on the glory of Christ or outward in serving others, I most often turn inward. I pity myself.

I’ve often been told that the cure for a low self-esteem is to find things to love about yourself. Learn to accept yourself. Focus on your strengths, the things that make you happy. In reality, the cure for low self-esteem is to stop thinking about yourself.

We don’t tend to associate low self-esteem with pride. We usually see it as the complete opposite. But, as Edward Welch says, “Low self-esteem usually means that I think too highly of myself. I’m too self-involved. I feel I deserve better than what I have. The reason I feel bad about myself is that I aspire to something more. I want just a few minutes of greatness. I am a peasant who wants to be king.”

I went on a walk the other night and it was cloudy. The stars were having trouble peeking their way through the thick canopy. I feel like that sometimes. Like I could be shining so brightly for Christ but I’m letting fears and worries, doubts and frustrations cloud my life. I’m letting myself get in the way of His glory.

I’m a horribly proud person. I have begun to live like the world revolves around me. I need to humble myself before God. Because the broken, cracked vessels are the ones that let the light of Christ shine through.