“Life is hard and life is good.”

“Life is hard and life is good. ‘That he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end’ (Deuteronomy 8:16).” John Piper

I love how God is constantly walking me through situations in life that redirect my focus from my circumstances to the Gospel and to Christ. Especially recently.

The season of life that I’m walking through currently leaves me feeling anxious, excited, and simultaneously both nervous and confident. Sometimes seasons feel drawn out and slow and other seasons feel like time merely flies past and there’s nothing you can do to slow it down. Last night I realized that somehow our hearts understand these different seasons, even when we can’t analytically understand them. At this point, this season feels like even time is as divided as my heart. It’s like I can feel time rushing forward in slow motion and I’m held in between the extremes. Crazy, I know. The only thing I can liken it to is watching an egg timer. The sand seems to rush as it drains from one end to another, but that three minutes always feels like an hour.

I have learned over the course of the last several years to never waste a season. I always want to look for the lesson, learn from any mistakes I have made, and enter the new season looking more like Christ. I’ve personally experienced what Deuteronomy 8:16 says – that we are humbled and tested by God for our own good. It’s remarkable, really. It’s hard and it’s good. It’s beautiful and painful. It brings both joy and tears.

Truthfully, seasons are never about circumstances. Seasons are always about the heart. Life is all about the Gospel. Circumstances are a tool God uses to redirect our hearts back to the Gospel.

This season has been about illuminating and breaking my pride, developing humility, submission, waiting, trusting, and learning to simply be still and let God be God. More than anything, it’s been about faith in God’s promises and confidence in His Word. I’ve continually looked to Habakkuk 2:3 for assurance:

“But these things I plan won’t happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed.”

Recently I’ve blogged a lot about Romans and Abraham. I’ve been totally overwhelmed by Abraham’s response to God and by his faith:

“No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:20-22).

I want faith like that. So today my prayer is this: “Show me your ways, O 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” (Psalm 24:4-5).

A heart fully submitted and devoted comes from a heart that has endured seasons, it would seem. Seasons are always about the heart. “To do you good in the end.”

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A More Worthy Pursuit

A goal of mine used to be to read all of the U.S. Presidents and First Ladies’ autobiographies and any books they have authored (and it’s quite an extensive list). I love history and politics. I’ve always loved reading and I have many lists of books that I’d love to add to my library. Today I decided that a more important goal is reading all of these: http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/OnlineBooks/ByTitle/

I waste too much time. I find that I talk a lot about valuing the eternal more than I value the here and now. But sometimes that’s a bit more difficult to actually live out. It means we have to really take a magnifying glass to our choices. We have to recognize that where we spend our limited time and energy highlights what we truly value. I want to value my relationship with God more than I value music, novels, shopping, academic pursuits, friends, and even ministry. I want to be constantly ingesting and absorbing books, sermons, and Scripture that bring me closer to Christ.

I want to really value Christ and live my life in constant pursuit of Him. I don’t want there to be a day that goes by that I’m not made more like Him. He, and He alone, is a worthy pursuit.

So does that mean I need to stop watching shows on Hulu, stop frequenting Ann Taylor and Forever21, and sell all my books on politics? Not exactly. What it does mean is that I need to more closely monitor how I spend my time and realign my priorities when I realize that the things of this world are crowding out my pursuit of Christ.

Something God  has been speaking to me about throughout this last week is how easily distracted I am by life. And not just by the hard things of life, but by the pleasures of life as well. The primary take away from this Easter season was I don’t love my Lord as I should because I don’t give Him the time that I should. He’s also reminded me that all the things of this life are worthless compared to knowing Him. The Apostle Paul learned this lesson as well:

“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:7-11

Would we say that a man loved a woman (or a woman loved a man) if they infrequently or sporadically spent time together, talked, or shared their lives? Unless there are extenuating circumstances that prevented communication for a time, most would consider that to be an incredibly unhealthy relationship. Couples in love delight to sacrifice other things to spend time with the one they love. After all, my boyfriend Josh is correct in his frequent assertion that “time spent is relationship built.”

So what relationship am I building? Am I growing in my knowledge of Christ and the power of his resurrection? The fellowship of sharing in his sufferings? Becoming like him in his death? Does everything I do reflect my love for him and time spent with him in his Word?

Wow. These are the things (growing, sharing, becoming) that are a worthy pursuit.

The waiting (from 3/12/10 – posted 3/13/10)

“The waiting is to teach us our absolute dependence on God’s mighty working.” Andrew Murray, Waiting on God.

My last post was on running and focus. Today is about waiting. All day at work I watched the clock. Time is never slower than when you’re watching it (a lesson from yesterday, for sure). And that’s especially true on a Friday afternoon. And then I sat in traffic for an hour and a half on my way to see Josh. Let’s just say I am running very low on patience these days.

So yes, life is about running and running well – to reach the finish and receive the prize. But today, I realize yet again that even in all of our running, there must be rest. On Sunday I’m meeting with my mentor, Lauren. In her e-mail to me today, she mentioned that we’ll be discussing balance, rest, and finding quiet places with God.

Balance for me is something that’s very difficult. I like to be always busy, always moving, always running quickly. I think though, that there are weeks and months like these last few, that God has to walk me through to show me how very dependent I am on Him. Sometimes I cram too much ministry into my heart and life to make enough time for quality rest and time with God. I’m in the midst of a humbling process and am realizing again how very human I am. And to remember once again, that unless I’m filled, I can’t pour out. I must be full of God and His Word to have life and to give life.

This life, after all, isn’t about me – it’s all about Him. He “gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25b), and “in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Apart from Him I can do nothing. If I feel like I can’t breath, or I’m exhausted by life and how quickly I move, it’s likely because I’m not relying on Him or drawing on His strength. I’ve once again fallen into pride – HUGE pride – the belief that I can take care of myself, order my own life well, help people, and make a difference without being carried through all of it by the One who gives me life itself.

This weekend, I’m going to practice waiting. And it’s going to involve some worship, some sleep, some working out, and some time in my favorite chair in my living room with God. It’ll be totally worth it and I’m sure it will be exactly what I need.

Fight the clock or focus on the finish line?

One of the things I like the most about MBC is that so much of what they do is first thrown up on a white board and talked about, debated, marked out, rewritten, and reframed. If you walk around through the upstairs office areas, almost every cubicle and conference room has one. There’s always vision being written down, pictures being drawn… notes being taken. I love that work culture!

The point? I’m really visual. I’m so much better at seeing than hearing (something I really need to work on). So last night, when a friend drew an illustration to drive a point home, it helped a lot with redirecting my perspective.

I wish I could recreate it for you – just so you could see it too. I should have taken a picture with my blackberry.

But since I didn’t, I’ll attempt to explain it.

So many times we’re somewhere between the starting line and the finish line. But instead of focusing on the finish line – where we’re headed – we’re instead looking at our stopwatch and timing our progress. Instead of a race to the finish, we race against time. It’s like there’s a huge clock just above us that weighs us down and we can never quite outrun it. When we do that it’s almost like time stands still and we seem to move in slow motion. That, according to my friend, is the best way to get impatient, take your eyes off of the goal, and lose focus.

And it’s true. It reminds me of the story of Peter walking across the water to Jesus in Matthew 14:22-34. He took his eyes off of Jesus, probably just for a second, and remembered where he was instead of who he was walking to and where he was going. In that second, he stepped from faith into fear and began to falter.

I’ve always loved Hebrews chapter 12. Verses 1-2 are favorites of mine, but today I read the whole chapter and really took some time to think about the context (Heb. 11-12) and the illustrations therein. Here’s chapter 12:1-14:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,

nor be weary when reproved by him.

6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,

and chastises every son whom he receives.’

7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. 12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord”

So what does this mean to us? We sin when we lose sight of the goal and live in fear. Jesus endured the cross because He focused on the joy that would come. Likewise, we’re to not grow “weary or fainthearted.” Fainthearted means “lacking courage,” and weary means “physically or mentally exhausted by hard work, exertion, strain, etc.; fatigued; tired.” Basically, we’re not to become exhausted and we’re to run hard with our eyes focused ahead.

It’ll take discipline. And discipline is good. It’s one of the ways God loves us and I think I’m getting a lot of it right now. I need to better discipline my heart, my mind, my will, and my emotions. I all too often find myself weary, lacking courage, and checking the time. The promise here is amazing – if I will be disciplined – if I’ll lift my hands and strengthen my knees – righteousness and holiness will be present in my life. Pretty cool. I’m going to work to focus on the goal instead of fighting the clock.