For the Overwhelmed Christian

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I sat next to a woman in my Bible study group that spoke words of freedom to me. She was addressing our entire small group, but what I heard was permission to live guilt-free as a Christian. A lot of my life as a believer I have felt the need to serve whenever the church doors were open.

Being a Christian meant serving at all times.

While there is truth in this, it isn’t the full truth. We as Christ followers must serve others because we are the hands and feet of Jesus to a hurting world. However, when we read about Jesus’ earthly ministry, He did only what was right in front of Him. Jesus didn’t multi-task, healing every single person with disease and sickness. He stayed on the tasks that were given to Him, doing the Father’s work at all times, perfectly obeying.

The woman in my group talked about how she and her husband intentionally prioritize their service to others. Each New Year, they write down a list of responsibilities first that are non-negotiable, like being a wife and mother to young children. Then she lists a few passion and gifts, and together they pair down realistically what works within both of their schedules. If it can’t fit inside the square calendar box, it’s thrown out for that year.

What a genius idea, I thought, because honestly I can often become over-zealous in my desire to do everything, wanting to “save the world”. I forget that Jesus already did that, and I’m merely called to participate in service right in my little suburban neighborhood.

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So I went home that day after Bible study and wrote a small list of areas I can practically serve in. The first two are my husband and son because I believe the family God has given me is my first priority. Then I left room for 3 other things that I can do, some of which I am already doing but never really viewed them as ministry opportunities.

The point is that the list shouldn’t be immense but instead focus your service. Sometimes we place false guilt on ourselves, or unfortunately sometimes the Church does. There are endless needs around us and it can feel overwhelming. When I try to do it all I end up fragmented and depleted. I forget that there is no output of eternal value without input as well.

Service first starts with my own heart seeking the Lord, growing deeper in knowledge, faith, and love. When I expend all my energy and time in service production mode I leave no room for God to teach and speak in the quiet.

Believers end up doing ourselves a disservice when we think we can fill every opportunity.

It is a privilege to participate with the Spirit in His work but God doesn’t need me or you. He wants our obedience not our guilt to love in His Name. This was so freeing for me to realize. I’m called to be faithful in the place, the responsibilities and the gifts God has given me. My tasks won’t look like yours and yours won’t look like the next woman’s.

Still feel overwhelmed?

Think about where you spend your time each day and how you could make an impact. Are you already in a Bible study? Maybe start investing in some of those relationships or perhaps they need a greeter at the door in the mornings. It doesn’t have to be big to be life changing. We can encourage through writing notes to people who may feel forgotten, or mentor the young woman on the brink of marriage or teach the 3 & 4 year old Sunday school class.

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Also leave room for the small, one-time opportunities to obey. Those acts of kindness are just as sweet to the Lord; a bottle of water for the over-heated air conditioning guy in the middle of August, opening the door for a mom juggling a baby stroller and toddler in tow, greeting a stranger with a smile.

We do the next thing right in front of us. Not everything is Tweet-worthy and that’s just fine because the One who sees it all is the only One worth pleasing.

God is always at work and we get to join Him, but He hasn’t called us to “save the world”. The Lord desires for you and me to live out of the unique personality, circumstances, and calling He has given us. Our concentrated list might even change over our lifetime. What matters is how we love, how we are faithful with what is right in front of us. Only then does our joyful obedience blossom into fruitful obedience. And that aroma is very sweet to our precious Savior.

 

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I don’t desire God (and 8 ways to help)

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When I lack the desire to pray or read the Bible there’s a problem. My mind turns into a thick fog, unable to hold firm to the truth I profess. My spirit becomes dry so I fill cracked cisterns with other things – distractions.

Studies show that the average adult attention span is less than a goldfish, eight seconds. The rest of modern society and I whip out our electronic devices jumping from one thing to the next. I am restless and unable to focus.

There is something unique in the current era that generations before us did not fight against. We now have the ability to be in constant communication, literally at our fingertips, with every form of entertainment seeping through our lives. There is no room for quiet, so we slowly distract ourselves to death.

I don’t want to paint a broad picture that all of modern technology is evil and we should just retreat like monks. What I am saying is that I think my lack of desire to be still before the Lord has a lot to do with the bombardment of ways to get my focus off of God and onto lesser things. Sometimes these dry spiritual seasons echo the state of my heart. Sometimes God uses these lessons to teach me something about Him, that only He can quench my thirst.

There needs to be a wake-up call in the heart of believers who fall into this trap like me. I noted eight helpful ways to stir our spirit toward God again:

 

  1. Moderation, narrow your search, turn it off.

Eliminate digital clutter by being intentional with how much time you decide to spend online. Stick to it. Time is a precious gift and it would be a shame if you realize at the end of your life how much of it was wasted on social media, Internet surfing, or a Netflix binge.

Beyond that, try unsubscribing to a few email lists you’re on, limit the number of articles or blogs you read. There are a billion zillion things to find online and there just isn’t enough time in the day to take in everything. Be choosy.

When you set time aside to study the Bible, turn off your phone and the T.V. or whatever else might be a temptation for you. These devices are tools meant to serve us, not the other way around. We are losing our ability to be comfortable in silence. Exercising personal discipline in pursuit of our rich God is priceless, I promise you.

 

  1. Read the Psalms.

Read it aloud even. Speak the words back to God like David did, crying out to Him. Highlight verses that the Holy Spirit teaches you. Meditate on it.

 

  1. Seek God in each page of the Bible.

As you read the Bible, look for specific attributes of God. Where is He and what characteristics do you see? Is He Faithful? Creator? Lawgiver? Redeemer? Shepherd? Teacher? Remember that the Bible is first and foremost a book about God, not us, so find Him in each page you read.

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  1. Pray.

Ask God to help you see clearly again spiritual truth. He is faithful and hears the prayers of His own. Ask for prayer from another believer – a trusted friend or someone else mature in his or her faith.

 

  1. Memorization.

Memorizing a Bible verse to carry with you throughout the week might be the one thing that sustains you. Repeat it frequently and let God use that truth to work in your mind.

 

  1. Work it out.

Taking a walk outside or some form of exercise is a great way to clear my head. I can take that time to walk in prayer, or just slow down long enough to notice God’s beauty around me.

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  1. Worship through music.

When I can’t even find the words to pray, worship music speaks for me. I punch in Chris Tomlin’s station on Pandora and my spirit is lifted once again. The melody soothes my soul and the lyrics remind me to worship the Living God.

 

  1. Write out your blessings, big and small.

Developing a grateful heart naturally leads to praising the God of grace, the Perfect Giver. You’ll be surprised at how blessed you really are.

 

Then wait for God to move. We can’t force the rhythms of grace. We ask, we seek, and then we wait. Even when the tumbleweeds blow in the desert of your soul, hold on to what you know to be true. God is keeping His Beloved. Sometimes we wander away and the Lord uses those seasons to grow us up in maturity. I usually learn the hard way. However the Lord of all decides to work in our fellowship with Him it is always for our good and His Glory.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

Confessions of a childless stay-at-home mom

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I have floundered this first full week of school- what to do with myself, what I’m good for, that type of thing. I’m a stay-at-home mom without a child now from 8-2:30 roughly. Am I lazy? Do I have anything else to offer in society?  I start examining the world’s standards of what I’m supposed to be doing with my life and the toxic game of comparison begins.

Even stay-at-home moms with children ALL DAY find the time and/or desire to volunteer in the community, teach Sunday school, work part-time from home and attend a Bible study.

So here’s me the jellyfish just floating through life – well its how it feels anyway. What do you do when you feel like you don’t matter? Go out and get a job? Volunteer at a soup kitchen? Those are wonderful things, mind you, I just don’t feel the need to do them personally. Am I “just a mom”? Or can I be more than that? Is it enough and can I learn contentment in being at home even when I have no one to mother during the day?

My work seems small and meager.

Invisible, insignificant.

…And that’s okay.

Most of the inner workings of the world go on without any fanfare, recognition, or even so much as a “thank you”. My self-worth is not wrapped up in what I do, how many plates I can keep spinning at once, but who I am in Christ.

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Shortly after winning their silver medals in synchronized diving, Olympic athletes David Boudia and Steele Johnson were asked by a reporter about their mindset with each dive. They admitted the pressure was intense to compete well, but that their identity is in Christ and not what they accomplish on the diving board. These young Olympians are secure in their worth because it isn’t tied to this world.

We may not be remembered in history (or win medals) for washing a pile of laundry, cooking dinner, or picking up our kids from school, but what will remain is how we reflected God’s character toward others. Whether your audience is one million or one, how you live should ultimately please the Ultimate One.

No one else has your life.

God gave it to you and the people in it to make much of Him, not yourself. There is a season and a time for everything. Thank God for the really good, the really hard, the really lonely, and the really ordinary times. As we focus on Jesus Christ, He will lead us, and our lives will culminate into worshipful living. Go to the Source of Life when you feel meaningless (or at least your work) and ask the Spirit to bless the work of your hands.

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Because when it’s all said and done, the most important thing you can do with your life is to pursue God and live out the faith you’ve been given. So for today? Enjoy God and His good gifts, big and small. Simply trust that in our unworthiness, Christ made us worthy of our calling. You are loved by God, and He is faithful to sustain you wherever He has placed your feet.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

when you need to be reminded

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Recently I was reminded that I need to be reminded. Sometimes as a believer I forget who I am in Christ. Part of this problem is occupying my mind with what the world says, thinks and does. Worse, when I believe the lies about who I am, or rather, who I am not. The Bible talks about defending ourselves with the armor of God. So, what does that look like exactly? One active way is to memorize Bible verses.

“I have hidden Your Word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11)

I have dipped my toe in memorizing Scripture in the past but not really pursued it. Most of the verses written on my heart are the fruits of years in Awanas growing up, an old cassette tape singing truth, and Bible class during the awkward years.

Lately there has been a gnawing in my spirit for more – more of God. The restless hunger prompted action. I find that when I commit His Word to my mind, the heart changes too. I begin to love the Bible all over again. God’s Word really is alive as it awakens parts of me I didn’t realize were dormant.

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Speaking Scripture aloud that flows from within is life giving. Slowly, like a bloom that just needs water, light, and time, I begin to spread out my petals little by little. Tight fists can’t receive anything. I open my hands wide and He starts the work of satisfying my soul. Day by day this process occurs. His blessing of filling is not a one-time act. No, in His extravagant love God gives us Himself every day. His mercies are fresh each moment.

So how is this done practically in a world that seeks to snuff out God altogether? Well, the Israelites used to write Scripture and bind them on their foreheads. God knows we are a forgetful bunch so He graciously tells us over and over to remember and do not forget. When we get caught up in the blessings or the trials of life our focus is shifted off of Him and onto the circumstances.

To help combat that, I have started writing out a verse each day to meditate on and try to memorize. I write the first letter of each word on my hand plus the Bible reference. It fades away throughout the day between hand washing and scrubbing pans in the sink. That’s kind of the point so hopefully at the end of the day I have memorized one verse.

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“He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy.” Titus 3:5

Personally this way is less intimidating than remembering whole chunks of Scripture at once. I still might memorize a passage, but it is one verse at a time. As the saying goes, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time” (which forgive the example, because, gross). Somehow this way my goal seems realistic. I also secretly hope a stranger notices the scribbles on my hand and inquires about it. What a unique opportunity to quote Scripture huh?!

Is there something you dream of achieving but the obstacles look insurmountable? I’d like to gently encourage you that you do not have to master it all at once. Inch by inch, day by day; chip away at it, whatever it is. You’ll soon see progress, looking back over your shoulder at what was accomplished, and the mountain you climbed without even realizing it. Failure is not starting at all.

Maybe start a journey of committing Scripture to memory too. It helps us claim our identity when we feel lost in a sea of forgetfulness. Remember who you are, whose you are. You belong to Someone. We are a free people, redeemed by grace. We don’t have to listen to what the world says or even care about what they think about us. Use the truth filter God has given us in His Word. You have a place at His table, as His daughter or son, as His beloved.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

The Joy of Knowing

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Sometimes I’m not sure if I should write. I hesitate. My pen freezes and confidence wanes. “Who do you think you are?” I tell myself. I’m not a “spiritual giant” and have only 31 years of life experience. Not much. What could I possibly have to say? I’m a stay at home mom, picking up toys, giving piggyback rides, and feeding my people who live here.

It isn’t flashy or Instagram worthy. I’m not Ann Voskamp or John Piper or Beth Moore. But you know who I am? A daughter of the King. Not only that but loved and chosen.

When I am still and allow this truth to sink in, my spirit cannot even handle all the emotions. It’s like fireworks inside, feeling as if my heart just might actually burst. As His children God calls us to go and be a witness to the things He has done.

“Come and see what God has done, how awesome His works in man’s behalf!” (Psalm 66:5)

This calling is for every believer not just the ones with a big platform. Our identity is not wrapped up in how many “Likes” we get on social media. In fact in many ways that can chain us back to our flesh. We’re free, you and I, no longer bound to comparison or insecurity. We still do it, but it isn’t what Jesus intended. He has better things in store for His own.

When we rest in the knowledge of His grace toward us and have faith that we belong to God, the fruit of our lives will tell us who we are. So, who do you think you are? I know to whom I belong. I can speak and write and live with every confidence because my life has the ability to honor the Father when His Name is made famous.

You have a part too. All of God’s children play a role in adorning the Gospel. Wherever you live in the world is exactly the place you need to be, speaking the name of Jesus. The gifts He has given you also serve a purpose to showcase His love for others and His glory. Go and live and be whom the Lord purposes you to be with the joy of knowing you belong and you have a place here.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

Grace in Trials

 

Sometimes in the heavy life stuff or even the drudgery of rainy Monday stuff we long to see grace in the midst of it. Like longing for water in the desert, so we need to be sustained in the hard moments. This is a prayer from The Valley of Vision that is helpful to me right now and maybe it is for you too.

Whatever your struggle, know that your response has the potential to become valuable fruit for Jesus. The Lord says He prunes the branches that bear fruit so that they will bear even more fruit. Pruning is a painful, uncomfortable process, and if I’m honest I’d rather escape from my skin to avoid it. But life is messy and hard and trials are inevitable. The good news for believers is that we have a Hope that does not fail us. Perseverance produces character, and through character, an everlasting hope. Thinking of you all today and praying that your trials are not in vain, but will somehow serve the Lord and will turn out for your good. May you receive grace upon grace today.

-April

Grace in Trials

Father of mercies,

Hear me for Jesus’ sake.

I am sinful even in my closest walk

with thee;

it is of thy mercy I died not long ago;

 

Thy grace has given me faith in the cross

by which thou hast reconciled thyself to me

and me to thee,

drawing me by thy great love,

reckoning me as innocent in Christ though

guilty in myself.

 

Giver of all graces,

I look to thee for strength to maintain them in me,

for it is hard to practice what I believe.

 

Strengthen me against temptations.

My heart is an unexhausted fountain of sin,

a river of corruption since childhood days,

flowing on in every pattern of behavior;

 

Thou hast disarmed me of the means

in which I trusted,

and I have no strength but in thee.

Thou alone canst hold back my evil ways,

but without they grace to sustain me I fall.

 

Satan’s darts quickly inflame me,

and the shield that should quench them

easily drops from my hand:

Empower me against his wiles and assaults.

 

Keep me sensible of my weakness,

and of my dependence upon thy strength.

Let every trial teach me more of thy peace,

more of thy love.

 

Thy Holy Spirit is given to increase thy graces,

and I cannot preserve or improve them

unless he works continually in me.

 

May he confirm my trust in thy promised help,

and let me walk humbly in dependence upon thee,

for Jesus’ sake.

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Layered Joy

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Right now I’m going through a Lent study with She Reads Truth to help my heart grasp a better understanding into the deep wonder of Jesus’ life, crucifixion, and resurrection. I’m wanting a solid gratitude for what my Savior has done and His immense love for me. To know Him and be known by Him is my heart’s desire.

The Lent devotional is packed with Scripture each day to meditate on. Sprinkled throughout are recipes, of all things, and hymns. I came across Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy, and the third verse is what struck me most:

“Come ye weary, heavy laden, lost and ruined by the fall,

If you tarry till you’re better, you will never come at all.”

Sometimes I catch myself striving to “be good” outwardly, while the sin of self-reliance spreads like a cancer. When I find that I am secretly still trying to earn my salvation by doing good works, my heart needs an about-face. Doing good things alone are most definitely not wrong but when my motivation becomes fear of losing my salvation, trying to climb God’s ladder of approval, or dare I say it, win the praise of man? I just need to stop.

I do this with joy too. When I base my joy on the superficial, trying to control the circumstances and create a harmonious atmosphere, sooner or later the rug gets pulled out from under me as I’m snapped back into reality. This is because I’ve skewed the meaning of what real joy is. Deep-seated joy is two-fold: everlasting joy and sanctifying joy.

King David wrote in the Psalms, “in Your Presence there is fullness of joy”, which means joy is placed within every believer because His Spirit dwells in us and we are forever in His Presence. We are gifted with God Himself in everlasting joy. That is imperishable, something we will carry with us into eternity.

 

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Sanctifying joy is the work of the Spirit in me. It doesn’t come naturally. I tend to have a deep feely, introspective, serious business face most days. Sometimes it is easier to say, “the sky is falling!” than to just sit and enjoy the sunset. But you know what? I can still pursue joy even with my kind of personality because God has given us the oil of joy – Himself.

Through reading Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts devotional I am training my heart to have eyes of joy. Looking for the everyday graces all around me even when it’s hard. Then I can return thanks to the Maker of those wonderful ways He has chosen to show His love to me that day- big and small. It is a practiced discipline of regarding the ordinary through the lens of thanksgiving. All circumstances (depression, sickness, infertility, a difficult job, a scary life transition, sleepless nights, an autistic child) are lovingly placed before us so that we can train ourselves to seek the Lord, trust Him, and pray like crazy.

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And those sanctifying moments to choose joy instead of sorrow? That seems like pie in the sky talk but it doesn’t have to be. When the job interview bombs, the washing machine breaks, or a loved one dies, real life happens that can rock us to the core. You know what else it can do for us? One of the most gracious things possible – an opportunity to humble us once more proving that we were never in control of anything. And if I can still give thanks to a very good God in humility even when I don’t have all the puzzle pieces figured out – there lies an opportunity to grab hold of pure, unadulterated joy. It is when you and I come low that the Lord raises us up in grace.

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Sometimes my heart resembles the Grand Canyon and joy is a tiny almost invisible stream at the bottom. It is in those moments where I gently remind myself that I must decrease as He increases in my life. Less of April, and more of Jesus. Ann compares running water to our spiritual state, noting:

“Down, always down, water runs, always looking for yet lower and lower places to flow. I watch water run and think spiritual water must flow like this … always seeking the lowest places […] I must go lower. I tell myself this, watching water run. That whenever I am parched and dry, I must go lower with the water and I must kneel low in thanks.

The river of joy flows down to the lowest places.

And here on my knees I can see.”*

Grace upon grace,

April

Go Deeper: Psalm 16:11; Psalm 40

*Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts devotional p. 109