Suspense

The camera pans over the summit of a massive granite ledge to the green valley 3,000 feet below. But your eyes are immediately drawn away from the green to something not natural: the red shirt of a man climbing hand over hand up the wall… with no rope.

The opening scene of “Free Solo” continues as Alex Honnold pulls himself to the top of El Capitan, stands up, and looks down a what he just accomplished. As the audience, you can safely assume he did not fall – otherwise the film would never have been produced. But, just to be sure, the filmmakers give you the gift of knowing what happens in the end before you start freaking out!

As much as this documentary is about Honnold’s record-breaking climb, it’s almost as much about the filming of the climb. A “free solo” of this magnitude required 100% perfection – one mistake meant death. Should anyone else even be watching this climb? Would the presence of cameras affect Honnold’s ability to focus, causing him to make a mistake and die?

As you watch the final 20 minutes of the film – the climb itself – you can’t help but stare at the screen and at the same time turn your head because you just can’t look! Even though you know the end (you know he’s going to make it!) you’re holding your breath and grabbing your stomach in the suspense of the moment.

The scene switches back and forth from Honnold to the camera crew and producers themselves, where the suspense is thick. Even though you know what happens, they don’t. They’re not just watching it on a screen, they’re experiencing it live. They know they’re about to witness something either astonishingly epic or gravely tragic – and for three hours and 56 minutes they had no way of knowing which it would be.

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Over the past several months, I’ve been walking with a friend through a hard situation. I’m not even the one going through it, but this crisis has tested my faith and caused me to ask some hard questions about what I believe. Because even though I believe in a God who has given His children many promises, there is no guarantee that those promises equal a happy ending, as I define it, in the here and now or even in the foreseeable future.  

When you’re in a crisis – whether it’s financial, relational, medical, or spiritual – it can feel like you’re dangling from a ledge, just trying to hold on to any small crevice of hope. There are no easy answers and most of the cliche pieces of advice people offer only make you feel worse. Sometimes things happen that are just plain hard, just plain scary, and just plain suck.

In her book, “Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved,” Kate Bowler recounts her story of being diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer at age 35. In the months after her diagnosis, Kate found herself navigating what it looked like to have “faith” during a time of intense suffering and a prognosis of only months to live.

One of the things that struck me was Kate’s realization that, after criticizing others for having an entitlement-based faith in which healing was demanded from God, she found that she herself was holding onto subconscious expectations of what she believed He should do for her. She had visions of what it might look like to make it to the ‘top’ of this climb and expected a loving, faithful, and powerful God to get her there.

The words of Psalm 13 give us a poetic picture of what it looks like to have faith in the middle of a crisis. David begins by being honest and crying out in the unfairness of his suffering:

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
 How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
 and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
 How long will my enemy triumph over me? (v. 1-2)

After getting that off his chest, David asks the Lord to show Himself and give him hope:

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
 Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
 and my foes will rejoice when I fall. (v. 3-4)

Then, after making his request, David declares his trust, even if the Lord doesn’t come through on his request:

But I trust in your unfailing love;
   my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
   for he has been good to me. (v. 5-6)

We all have subconscious expectations of what it looks like for us or someone we care about to make it to the top of a climb. If we’re willing to do some honest soul-searching, we’ll find we have lots of:

“If God loves us then _____________________ will happen.”

“If God is faithful then _____________________ will happen.”

“If God is powerful then _____________________ will happen.”

“Faith” lives in the suspense of trusting a God who doesn’t have to come through in the way I expect Him to. “Faith” submits to a God who has a much bigger picture in mind than my day, my week, my season, or even my lifetime. “Faith” understands that I may not have any answers about the “reason” for my pain. Ever. “Faith” keeps walking in the direction of a God who could do nothing I have planned for Him to do and accepts that it wouldn’t mean He loves me any less.

The difference between us and Alex Honnold is that we have a rope. We may not be gripped to the wall, in full control of our destiny, but we’re securely attached to the God whose purpose will stand. Trusting God will always leave me feeling suspended and in suspense – and when I sing “You’re never gonna let me down”* I can trust that He won’t! 😳

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*“King of My Heart” by John Mark & Sarah McMillan

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Crush

“Okay, Anna, you can walk now,” I said to our seven-year-old, who was about to start running up a long, steep section of trail in Valley Forge Park. We were two miles into a four-mile family hike/run and though she had kept up with us to this point, I wasn’t sure how long she would last. “No one runs this hill, it’s too long and steep! We can just walk to the top.”

Little did I know I had just issued a challenge. I could see the wheels in her little mind turning, No one? NO one?

Yes, she did run up that hill. A seven-year-old left the rest of us in her dust and ran all the way to the top without stopping. And then proceeded to complete the rest of the four miles without hesitation.

That’s when we knew it was time to sign Anna up for our annual family race – the Crush Childhood Cancer 5K*.

It’s one thing when you’re showing up your older sisters (and parents) on a mountain, but it’s another thing to keep running when no one really cares. In our training runs, we learned a lot about what it means to just keep moving.

To a seven-year-old, it only makes sense that if your legs hurt, you should slow down. If you’re tired, you should walk. If your tummy hurts, you should stop. And if all this is happening at mile one, there’s “no way” you’re going to be able to do 3.1!

But “Coach Mom” has some words for you:

Everyone’s legs hurt when they run. You can still run when your legs hurt.
Everyone gets tired when they run. You can still run when you’re tired.
Everyone’s tummy hurts when they run. You can still run when your tummy hurts.
You can do this!

When Jesus prayed for His future followers in John 17:20-23, His number one request was “that all of them may be one”. (v. 21 & 22) And if our unity is Jesus’ number one priority, then by the laws of physics it will, of course, become our number one struggle. If the whole point of “church” is the gathering of people joining together to push forward the kingdom of God, it only makes sense that we’ll experience some pushback from God’s enemy.

As an introvert, “church” is one of the hardest times of my week. It’s not that I don’t like the people (I love you all, I really do!), it’s just that I would much rather be alone in a field somewhere 😉 When you have social anxiety, every Sunday is hard. Every event is hard. Every gathering is hard.

Maybe you’re not an introvert, but maybe church is a struggle for you because of a relational conflict. Maybe you have some disagreements about the way things are done or how certain situations have been handled in your church. Maybe you have a schedule conflict where something else has taken priority during that time. Maybe you’re just schedule-overwhelmed and Sunday mornings are your only break. Maybe you’re burned out from serving in the church and feeling underappreciated. Even my husband, whose heart literally beats, “Church… Sunday… People… Yay!… Church… Sunday… People… Yay!”, has days where it’s the last place he wants to be!

And it only makes sense in our minds that if something is hard, we should stop doing it.

A few weeks ago, I was again in “Coach Mom” mode, explaining to Anna that, “Every time I run, my legs hurt. Every time I run, I get tired. Every time I run, my tummy hurts.” Overhearing this, my 11-year-old started to laugh and said to me, “Then why in the world do you do it?”

“Because I want to keep my body healthy and every time I run I’m reaching that goal!” I replied.

In a counseling session recently, my counselor asked: “If ministry causes you stress, then why do you do it?”

My answer was the same: “Because I want to stay spiritually healthy, I want my church to stay spiritually healthy, and every time I go I’m reaching that goal!”

In the closing words of his letter to the Romans, Paul counsels the church to not be discouraged by the division and obstacles threatening them. In verse 20, he declares: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”

Who will crush Satan? God.
But whose feet does He use? Yours.

Every time I don’t want to go to church and I walk in those doors anyway, I’m crushing Satan under my feet.

You can still run when you’re tired.
You can still run when your legs hurt.
You can still run when your tummy hurts.
And, as we found out on Saturday, you can still run when you desperately need a restroom!

“Church” may be hard and it may not bring you all the good feelings it seems to promise – but every time you walk in those doors you’re not only crushing Satan, but also keeping yourself and the rest of us spiritually healthy!

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Anna did complete the 5K this Saturday. She ran the whole way and finished in less than 30 minutes!

*For more information on this great cause, check out crushchildhoodcancer.org

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Blind Spot

I confess I’m not the best driver. It’s common for me to miss a turn or stop at a green light because I’m so focused on the story I’m telling to whoever is in the car with me. I also struggle, as many of us do, with overconfidence. I haven’t fully turned my head to see if anyone’s in my blind spot, but I’m sure no one’s there, so I’m just going to pull over. 😉

Last week, Tim and I attended a ministry conference in Atlanta, GA. The airport and our hotel were a distance from the conference center, so we rented a car for the four days we were there. We love our cars, but there’s something fun about renting a “new” car with all the high-tech functions our older, base model cars don’t have!

Not only did our rental car have a backup camera, it also had “Lane Departure” alerts, beeped to tell me when the car ahead of me had moved at a light, and most importantly, had super-helpful “Blind Spot Lights”. If a car was in the lane next to me, a light near the side mirror turned orange to alert me so I didn’t pull over and cause an accident!

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Cars aren’t the only things with blind spots. As humans, we have an uncanny ability to remain blissfully unaware of our flaws, even when they seem painfully obvious to everyone around us. Maybe it’s because we’re too close-up in our own situations, or maybe it’s just that we enjoy living in denial, but whether we’re refusing to turn our heads or just don’t quite turn them far enough, we tend to miss things.

One of the themes I picked up at the conference was: A leader who wants to grow isn’t afraid to ask for critical feedback. As we listened to speakers present their ideas about how to do ministry well, we learned that much of our effectiveness in helping others comes down to our own spiritual and relational well-being. The way we stay spiritually and relationally well is through gradual change in the direction of growth – but we can’t change what we don’t see.

This Sunday at church, Pastor George talked about the importance of being honest about our sin and confessing it to God. Psalm 32 describes what happens to us when we don’t:

When I kept silent,
   my bones wasted away
   through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
   your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
   as in the heat of summer. (v. 4-5)

Unconfessed sin leads to the opposite of growth. But when we confess our sins, forgiveness becomes real and change becomes possible. George encouraged us to take a few minutes at the end of each day to pour out our hearts to God about the sin we’ve seen in our lives that day. He also suggested that we ask the Holy Spirit to point out to us any sin in our lives we might not have seen.

Verse 2 of Psalm 32 says this:

Blessed is the one
   whose sin the Lord does not count against them
   and in whose spirit is no deceit.

“Deceit” in my “spirit” is not only the result of sin I’m pretending isn’t there, but also the sin I don’t know is there. I can confess the sin I know all day long, but there are things I will never see unless I ask the Holy Spirit to turn the ‘light’ on and alert me.

Critical feedback is hard to hear, but my growth as a leader and a follower of Jesus depends on me not only receiving it from Him, but asking for it!

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Honest

I love it when my children receive gifts. I love it even more when my children receive gift cards – because honestly, we do not need any more toys in this house!

But what I don’t love is the event called “Can we go to the store so I can buy something with my gift card?” It always sounds like such an easy thing – I mean, you’ve only got $10, so how hard could it be?

Forty-five minutes later as we’re wandering through the same five aisles we’ve walked through ten times each, I wonder why I thought this was going to be easy! I’ve suggested multiple options and multiple combinations of those options, but they’ve all been vetoed.

The problem is, I know what you want – you’re just not willing to say it. You want that stuffed animal, but you also know that I’m going to say a firm “NO!” to that stuffed animal because you already have so many stuffed animals they don’t fit on your bed. And you also know we recently donated several trash bags full of old ones you weren’t playing with anymore.

But in the back of your mind, you can’t let go of that fluffy, brightly-colored, glittery-eyed puppy – and so nothing else is going to make the cut! If you just admitted it, we could get the “NO!” over with and move on, but instead, we walk the aisles one more time…

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We’re all born with desire – it’s part of being human. We also learn early on that not all desires are going to be fulfilled in the way we want them to. Sometimes the things we want are “bad” because they are harmful or have the potential to become harmful. Sometimes the things we want are “selfish” because we just don’t need them.

As we get older, we gain a little more self-control over those desires. That doesn’t mean they go away – we just get better at hiding them (even from ourselves). We learn how to pray “spiritually correct” prayers so God knows we’re not being selfish. We assume that if we pretend they’re not there, our desires will somehow get small enough to disappear.

In Psalm 86, King David calls out to the Lord for mercy. After admitting his need, David proclaims his God’s greatness “among the gods” and then presents this request:

“Teach me your way, LORD,
that I may rely on your faithfulness;
give me an undivided heart,
that I may fear your name.
I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart;
I will glorify your name forever.”
(Psalm 86:11-12)

For David and his people, there was great temptation to worship other gods in hopes that a desire might be fulfilled. This would lead to a “divided” heart, where a portion of one’s heart was still for the Lord – but only a portion. An “undivided” heart, on the other hand, would fully trust this great God and his great wisdom, care, and provision.

A desire sought after is a recipe for a divided heart – but so is a desire stuffed down and ignored. We say we trust God with “everything,” but that “everything” is vague and really only includes “everything I’m comfortable trusting Him with.” In our attempts to be “good” and look “good” to ourselves and to God, we hold back, grabbing certain pieces of our hearts and sitting on them, hoping if we don’t acknowledge them or call them by name, they’ll go away.

Jesus has clearly called me to “deny” the fulfillment of my sinful and selfish desires (Mark 8:34), but that doesn’t mean denying their existence. Squashing them only feeds them by giving them permission to hang out unsupervised in the back of my mind. Jesus wants me to be “set free” from the power of sin and self (John 8:36), but I can’t be freed from anything I’m not willing to be honest about the existence of.

It’s my automatic reaction as a Christian to sense a sinful or selfish desire and think “Oh, I shouldn’t be thinking that,” give myself a little “Stop that!”, and move on. When I’m praying, it’s second nature for me to think carefully about what I’m saying – to manicure my prayers into what I think God would like to hear.

Meanwhile, the Holy Spirit is like, “Hello!? I know what you really want to say! Why don’t you just spit it out so I can speak My truth over it and we can move on, already!”

Acknowledging my real desires might be the very thing that frees me from their power. Being honest unclouds my fluffy, brightly-colored, glittery-eyed-puppy tunnel vision to see the many ways He is, has been, and will continue to provide for me. Being honest with God unites my heart to fully trust Him with everything – meaning I can honestly worship Him “with all my heart”.

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Solid

What was the staple item of your childhood Easter basket? Was it jelly beans? Chocolate eggs? Marshmallow Peeps? Cadbury mini-eggs?

For many of us, it was, of course, the chocolate bunny. This timeless treat has topped-off baskets for decades, giving parents an endless variety of flavors, shapes, and sizes to choose from. Dark, milk, or white chocolate? Added peanut butter or caramel? Goofy or life-like? Life-size or dentist-friendly? And the biggest one: Solid or hollow?

Growing up in a family of three children with a limited budget (or maybe just a smart mom) meant that even though I hoped every year that my box would say “solid,” a “hollow” bunny was what I would find. From the outside, a hollow bunny looks like tons of chocolate. But when you bite into it, you realize you’ve been duped – it’s really not more than a few bites!

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The words of Psalm 115 give us a clear picture of the difference between our “solid” God and the “hollow” idols we might be tempted to worship instead:

Our God is in heaven;
 he does whatever pleases him.
But their idols are silver and gold,
 made by human hands.
They have mouths, but cannot speak,
 eyes, but cannot see.
They have ears, but cannot hear,
 noses, but cannot smell.
They have hands, but cannot feel,
 feet, but cannot walk,
 nor can they utter a sound with their throats.
Those who make them will be like them,
 and so will all who trust in them.
(v. 3-8)

From the earliest times, human beings have attempted to explain the mysteries of nature and the purpose of life by pointing to the spiritual. The notion that there could or maybe even has to be something beyond what our eyes can see lies within us all. Paul puts it this way in Romans 1: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (v. 20) This notion was meant to lead us to seek after and know the one true God.

However, by the time Psalm 115 was written, the people groups surrounding the nation of Israel had conceived hundreds of “gods”. These divine “beings” served to explain the mysteries as “everything that occurred, whether good or bad, was attributed to the gods”* More than that, they brought these answers down to earth. Gods conceived by human brains could only resemble earthly things, which gave them the ability to be visualized and then replicated into physical ‘idols’.

Most importantly, the attribution of specific powers to individual gods made them seem, even ever so slightly, under human control, as it was assumed they could be appeased through worship and sacrifices. Life in those times depended thoroughly on unpredictable, uncontrollable forces and these gods appeared to offer protection, satisfaction, and livelihood. So the people worshiped them. Even the Israelites, though they knew the one true God, also knew that He “is in heaven” and “he does whatever pleases him” (v. 3), so they constantly succumbed to the temptation to bow down to these more ‘manageable’ gods.

But the Psalmist declares that even though these “gods” looked like they had something to offer, their offers were empty. Conceived by human brains and made by human hands they held no power and could not bring the protection, satisfaction, and livelihood they promised.

In my 2019 suburban life, many of the big questions that at one time mystified people have been answered by modern science. Also, the majority of my daily life does not depend on the forces of nature – though I sometimes pray an event will not get rained out (or maybe that it will 😉), my success or failure does not depend on their ‘favor’. Medical knowledge has explained most illness and disease and I don’t live in fear of invasion or war.

The temptation to worship other gods isn’t a thing in my life.

Or is it?

I may not be bowing down to Ba’al, but if I had that new ______________, I’d be satisfied. I’m not asking anything of Asherah, but man, life would be so much better if ______________ finally happened. I’m not imagining myself in debt to Dagon, but if I could just accomplish ______________, I’d finally be ‘there’.

Every time I expect a physical item, social interaction, goal completion, or emotional sensation to bring me satisfaction, there’s a chance that I’m making an idol of it.

Every time I put my hope in something that’s created by human hands or conceived by human brains, there’s a chance I’m going to find it hollow and unable to produce what it appears to be promising.

And every time I bite in, it’s not long before I realize I’ve been duped.

The Psalmist says in verse 8, “Those who make them will be like them and so will all who trust in them” and that’s exactly what happens. Trusting in something that’s hollow only leaves me hollow. I felt empty and I thought that that thing, person, experience, or feeling would be the thing that filled me up, so I took a ‘bite’. But after I chewed and swallowed, I was still empty. It looked like it had a “mouth,” but it turns out it couldn’t “speak”. It appeared to have “eyes,” but it couldn’t “see”. Its “ears” weren’t capable of “hear[ing],” its “nose” couldn’t “smell,” its “hands” couldn’t “feel,” and just because it had “feet” didn’t mean it could “walk”.

My prayer lately has been that my hollowness would cause me to long for the solid fulfillment only Jesus can give me – and that I would continue to experience disappointment when I put my trust in the things of this world. When I find myself frustrated with that thing I took a bite of, I thank God for the reminder that only He can satisfy!

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*https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/encyclopedia-of-the-bible/Idolatry

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Hindsight

Speaking of the cold… Can you figure out this rebus word puzzle?

Rebus CHILL

If you got that one, can you get this one? You’re getting warmer!

Rebus SPRING

Over the past few weeks, the girls and I have been working hard to solve a collection of rebus puzzles.

Some of them are so obvious, you can’t not see the answer right away. The letter “P” with an arrow pointing up above it? That’s “Pup,” of course.

Some of them require a little out-of-the-box thinking. The letter “S” with a rabbit next to it? Srabbit? Sbunny? What’s another word for ‘rabbit’? Oh! It’s “Share”!

Others you feel like you could stare at for hours and never figure them out. The letter “G” with a circle underneath it? “Go?” Nope, that’s not it. Oh – how about “Ground?” Nope. It took weeks, but we finally got it – “Underground”. Get it? The “round” is “under” the “G”. 🤦

Every time we open up a new ‘level’ in this app, we flip through the puzzles and do our best to solve them. Some we get on first glance, some take a little collaborative thinking, and some leave us saying, “We’re never going to get that one!”

But, guess what? We always do – and then say to each other, “How did we not see that?”. Once you’ve “seen” the answer, not only can you not unsee it – you can’t imagine how you ever didn’t see it in the first place!

Hindsight is 20/20. Unfortunately, foresight – or even in-the-moment sight isn’t! Hard situations and crisis moments can leave us feeling puzzled and unsure of what to do. There are so many times I wish God would just hand me a list of “Instructions on How Mandy Desilets Should Handle This Exact Situation”. (Wouldn’t that be great?) He’s promised to guide me and I’m looking to Him for help, but sometimes I feel like I’m staring at the picture thinking, “I can’t do this!”

In Psalm 25, David sings about the ways God guides us:

Show me your ways, Lord,
   teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
   for you are God my Savior,
   and my hope is in you all day long…
Good and upright is the Lord;
   therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
He guides the humble in what is right
   and teaches them his way.
(Psalm 25:4-5, 8-9)

Because our God is “good and upright”, He doesn’t just keep all that goodness and uprightness to Himself – He is always actively leading us, as His children, toward goodness and uprightness. He does this by revealing His own ways to us and instructing us in how we, as humans, can act in those ways as well. As our Guide walks in front of us, so can we put our feet where His feet were and walk in the direction He points.

Life would be a whole lot easier if I always walked in His ways, but as much as I want all that goodness and uprightness to characterize my life, the forces of fear, judgment, and pride tend to speak just as loud (if not louder) and I end up letting them guide me instead. Although I wish I never had any failures, every time I handle a situation poorly I can look back, see clearly what I should have done, and let it become something my faithful Guide can use to show me the right path.

When we look at our rebus puzzles now, after completing several levels, we have a strategy:

  1. Details. Though not every detail of the picture is significant, you have to break it down into parts. Does that little stem off the top of that pod of peas resemble a letter? Yep! That’s an “R” which means the answer is “Pear”!
  2. Position. Short words like on, in, of, or, and, etc… find themselves inside lots of other bigger words. An “ant” “on” an “F”? Or is the “ant” “in” the “F”?
  3. Synonyms. Sometimes the word is just is what it is, but sometimes it’s not. That’s an “L” floating in water. Is that water “liquid”? Some “waves”? A “lake”? The “ocean”? A “sea”?
  4. Big Picture. It’s easy to get caught up in the details and end up trying too hard. It’s a picture of an upside-down hanger. Is there a letter in that? A number? A shape? What’s another word for “hanger”? Oh! 😂 It’s a “bat” – an “upside-down hanger”!

Every time I’m facing an “I don’t know what to do! I can’t handle this!” situation and I’m looking to my Guide for help, there’s a good chance the Holy Spirit’s going to point backwards – not to shame me for my mistakes, but so He can use the hindsight I now have from a previous situation to guide me in this one.

  1. Details. Does this situation resemble another that I’ve faced? It may not be exactly the same, but there’s a good chance I have been here before.
  2. Position. When I faced this situation previously, where was my heart in relation to God’s? Was I laying it open in trust? Or was it closed up in fear and doubt?
  3. Synonyms. What were my options for action/reaction? How many of them were based on fear, judgment, or pride? What did I choose and how did it work out for me?
  4. Big Picture. Was I overthinking then? Am I overthinking now? Do I need to step back and think about the obvious, general commands and ways of God?

The first verse of Psalm 25 is: “In you, Lord my God, I put my trust.” Trust doesn’t come naturally – it’s built over time and every opportunity that’s placed in front of me is a stepping stone. I might not know exactly what to do, but letting the Holy Spirit use that 20/20 hindsight view will give me some clues!

If you get that, can you get this one?

Rebus TRUST

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Think

A 30° day in April is worse than a 10° day in January. After basking in the glory of 75° and sunny this Saturday, we were all tricked into putting away the hats and gloves and winter coats. Make way for spring! Or so we thought…

And then Monday happened. And 30° happened.

In January I had the ability to give myself a swift kick in the pants and just get outside. For the first time in many years, I reached my winter goal of getting at least one run or hike in every week – no matter how cold it was. When Saturday’s t-shirt and flip-flops weather hit, I felt like I had crossed the finish line!

Then I looked at 30° on Monday morning, and the last thing I wanted to do was voluntarily go outside when I didn’t have to! “But it’s cold,” I thought, “and I’m so sick of the cold. I just can’t.”

But after forgetting to say “Decaf” when ordering my Americano that morning and having the feeling I might spontaneously combust if I didn’t do something active, I put my shoes on and went anyway.

And guess what? Seven minutes in and I was rolling up my sleeves thinking, “I’m roasting. I should have worn a lighter shirt!” 🤦

This is not a new lesson for me. I learn it every. single. time. I go for a run in the cold. I never want to get my running clothes on because all I can think about is how cold I’m going to be. I never want to walk out the door because all I can think about is how warm and comfortable my house is. There are many days the warm house and warm clothes win and I can’t get myself to do it!

I know the discomfort of the cold will only last for approximately seven minutes. Seven minutes is less than a mile. In seven minutes, I will forget that I was ever cold! But sometimes seven minutes feels like a long time.

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Being a follower of Jesus and being comfortable are phrases that rarely show up in the same sentence. We like all the stuff about how much God loves us and how He’s got a plan for our lives – but this whole ‘deny yourself’ thing isn’t much fun. Deep down I know that God’s infinitely wise voice is leading me toward all the good things He has for me, but sometimes I’m not so sure I want to go that way!

In Romans 13, Paul pleads with his readers to “wake from sleep” and “put on the armor of light” (v. 11-12). He instructs them to “walk properly as in the daytime” by living life as if this “light” was shining on them, exposing their actions at all times (v. 13). And how should they do this? First, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” and second, “make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (v. 14)

When I ‘suit up’ for my day, ‘clothing’ myself with Christ is a great place to start. Connecting with Him and being reminded that “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20) snaps me out of my self-focused, comfort-driven daze. But that doesn’t mean it completely goes away! Throughout my day, it’s a guarantee that temptation will fade right back in – whether it’s an invitation to gratify my sinful nature or the thought that I’d rather turn around and go home than follow through with an opportunity God has placed in front of me.

When Paul said “make no provision” he meant to not ‘enable’ or ‘allow for’ sin and disobedience to happen.* The way we do that enabling is, as the NIV translates, by “think[ing] about” it. Of course we must “think about” our choices, but Paul is talking about the kind of thinking that plans ahead with a focus on the fulfillment of a desire. In other words, the more I think about my desires, the more I’m likely to make the choice to fulfill them.

Making “provision” happens when I engage in lengthy debate with myself over a choice. Is that really the Holy Spirit leading me or is it just my guilt speaking? I start to rationalize: “I think I can probably handle this, it’s not really that bad. I’ll just do it this way.” or “I’m just so stressed I need to do/say this right now because it will give me relief”. Or “There’s no way I can face that situation! I won’t handle it well!” and “Serving in that way will take too much of my energy and I’m just so tired…”

Lately, once I’ve decided I’m going for a run, I don’t think – I just go. I’ve learned to not, as my Grandma might say, ‘hem and haw’ over the decision. I get dressed, throw on my shoes, and run out the door before I have time to talk myself out of it!

I don’t want to be uncomfortable. And ‘denying myself’ is a fast track to uncomfortable. Obeying God when He’s leading me out of my comfort zone? I don’t think that’s going to feel good. It would be much easier to stay in my warm house, in my warm clothes, sitting in my warm chair… Yeah, that would be better. 😉

But when I do obey, does the initial discomfort last more than seven minutes? Honestly, I’m not sure it ever does. Temptation tends to lose its power, and those hard things never end up being as hard as I thought they’d be. It’s amazing how quickly I *warm up* after taking those first steps to just do it!

*https://biblehub.com/greek/4307.htm

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