Undivided Devotion

I recently came to the realization that I am single. After nearly 18 years of marriage, this was not a reality that was easy to accept. It’s no wonder it took me almost a year after my divorce to identify as a single woman. After all, I was 19 years old when I went on my first date with my former husband. And 41 when the divorce was finalized. Even though I knew I was unmarried, in my heart and mind I still felt as if I were married.

The significance of the revelation isn’t a desire to “get out there” or anything like that. The significance comes in reading 1 Corinthians 7:

I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldy things, how to please his wife, and his interest is divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldy things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord (vs. 32-35).

Even though I no longer have a husband to please, my devotion to the Lord was still divided. It was divided out of a 20-year habit. It was also divided as I grieved not only the loss of my marriage but the desire to be married. But I’m coming to realize that, for the first time in more than 20 years, my focus and attention can be totally on the Father.

This epiphany didn’t come with a magical transformation that caused big changes to happen overnight. It will be a process. But I’m learning to embrace this season of singleness, not as a consolation prize but as an opportunity to really seek after God.

I don’t know what the future holds or how long I will be in this season. But I am choosing to live to the fullest and accept all the blessings and challenges of singleness. I’m choosing to reorient my heart and be intentional about keeping God first.

“And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,'” Matthew 22:37.

Higher Ground

You know the old saying, “You can’t see the forest for the trees”? It’s a phrase that is often used to describe a myopic point of view. Sometimes, we are too close to a situation to be able to see clearly.

In a recent battle with anxiety, which makes everything feel too close and overwhelming, I was reminded of Psalm 61:2, “From the end of the earth I will cry to you, when my heart is overwhelmed; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (NKJV). I’ve heard this verse many times. And it’s always given me comfort. But it wasn’t until recently that I truly understood it.

In a spiritual battle, we need to gain perspective. We need to see things from God’s point of view. From our vantage, we may not be able to see a way forward. We may only see the “trees of the forest.” That’s a common ploy of our enemy. He likes to bombard us with things that distract us from seeing the bigger picture of what God is doing. His tactics are designed to cause us to lose focus on God’s promises. But if we just let God lead us to “the rock that is higher” than we are–Jesus–we will gain a whole new outlook.

aerial photo of winding road
Photo by David Bartus on Pexels.com

I’m reminded of the Old Testament story of Elisha’s servant. “When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, ‘Alas, my master! What shall we do?” (2 Kings 6:15 ESV). Seeing with his natural eyes, Elisha’s servant couldn’t see any way of escape. But Elisha had a different view of the situation: “He said, ‘Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’ Elisha prayed and said, ‘O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.’ So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (2 Kings 6:16-17).

We must always remember, “… If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31b ESV). When we are facing a battle and it seems like the enemy will overwhelm us, let’s ask God to lead us to higher ground, to get a clearer viewpoint. Then we can see that what looked impossible for us, is possible with God (Matthew 19:26). “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7 ESV).

 

His Eye Is on the Sparrow

It’s been a tough couple of days. I’ve disappointed myself and been disappointed by others. I’ve felt overlooked and underappreciated by people. And I’ve found myself believing that God too had forgotten to notice me.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that God sees me. It’s easy to feel invisible to the Creator of the Universe, especially when I perceive some injustice or unfair treatment by others. But the truth is, God sees me. He sees my struggles, my pain, my good days and bad days. He sees it all! I received a beautiful reminder of this today.

I  had taken a break at work and gone outside to warm my bones and clear my head. I sat in my normal spot, enjoying the view and soaking up the sun. As I was sitting, I noticed quite a few little birds flitting from tree to tree, singing their happy, carefree tune. I have sat in this spot a half dozen times, but I’ve never seen so many little birds. I’ve seen butterflies and crows, even a colony of ants. But never these birds and certainly not as many as I saw today. So I decided to enjoy the scene and their sweet song. As I was watching them, the Lord reminded me of two verses:

“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26 ESV, emphasis added).

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31 ESV, emphasis added).

In both of these verses, Jesus makes it clear that we, you and I, are more valuable to our Heavenly Father than the birds. And yet He sees each one of them, provides for them and even notices if one falls to the ground. How much more does He see me, care for me and provide?

The rest of the world may not take notice of me. I may be easily forgotten by those around me. But God has never ignored me and He never will. Even when He seems quiet, I can be assured that I have His attention.

As the old song says:
Why should I feel discouraged,
Why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely,
And long for heav’n and home,
When Jesus is my portion?
My constant Friend is He
His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me
(His Eye Is on the Sparrow, Civilla D. Martin)

From the Ground Up

Last month, I celebrated my 42nd birthday. And I find myself in the strange position of rebuilding my life from the ground up. I thought my life would be somewhere completely different at this point. I never imagined I would be starting over in so many areas. I’m starting from scratch in my career; I’m going from being a homeowner to renter again; and most notably, I’ve gone from being married to single.

I had so many other plans for this time in my life. But it turns out that all the plans I made, all the hopes I had were built on the wrong foundation (Matthew 7:24-27). Oh there was some rock mixed in with the sand. But as the sand began to shift, my life became unstable. I spent too many years taking a little bit of God’s word and a little bit of my own “wisdom,” and mixing them together, making a very insecure foundation on which to build my life.

When a building is demolished, it is completely destroyed. But it is only to make room for something new that will be built there. It’s the same with my life right now. So much of what I thought I had built has been decimated. As painful as it has been to watch what I’ve built be razed to the ground, I know that it is necessary to make room for the new thing God wants to do in my life.

Part of the rebuilding process is letting go of what was in the past and what I thought life would look like so that I can embrace the new thing God is doing. Isaiah 43:18-19 captures this perfectly: “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing, now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (ESV).

I’ve been given an opportunity to rebuild, this time on the right foundation. But instead of doing it on my own, I’ll allow God to lay the foundation and create what He has purposed for me. “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stay up in vain” (Psalm 127:1 ESV).

 

Making Sense of Pain

Recently, I’ve been reading the major prophets. And if I’m honest these are some of the hardest books in the Bible for me. There are some beautiful promises in them. But there’s also a lot of doom and gloom judgement of the idolatry by the people of Israel and Judah.

I’m currently reading Ezekiel. While reading recently, I came across a passage that left me scratching my head, and truthfully second-guessing what I know of God’s nature:

“‘Son of man, behold, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down. Sigh, but not aloud; make no mourning for the dead. Bind on your turban, and put your shoes on your feet; do not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men.’ So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. And on the next morning I did as I was commanded” (Ezekiel 24:16-18 ESV).

I struggle with these verses. Through out this book, Ezekiel has done nothing but obey the voice of the Lord. And God gave him some pretty strange instructions, like eating bread baked over cow dung (see Ezekiel 4:12-15). But this is where it feels like God crosses the line to get His message to Israel.

Ezekiel’s wife, the delight of his eyes, dies. And, according to these verses, it was done by God. Not only that, but the Lord told him he couldn’t mourn. Looking at it in isolation and from a human perspective, it feels cruel. But I know that is not God’s nature. So why would He take Ezekiel’s wife?

Reading the rest of Ezekiel 24, it’s clear that God was using Ezekiel and his wife’s death as a message to the people of Israel. Stepping back, I can see God’s purpose in it. But again, I think of the pain Ezekiel must have felt–I think about my own pain–and I find myself wondering again, “Why?”

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts”
Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV).

As I’ve asked the Holy Spirit to help me understand, the one thing that continually comes to mind is how God can use our pain for His greater purpose. Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (ESV).

I won’t always understand why God allows pain. But I know He has a view of eternity, while my perspective is limited to the here and now. He sees how all of the pieces of my life work together. I know that cruelty is not in God’s nature and I am convinced of Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (ESV). So I can trust Him even when I don’t understand, agree with or like what He is doing or allowing in my life. My hope and prayer is that, like He did with Ezekiel, God will use every thing in my life, including my pain, for His purpose and to help others.

Uncharted Territory

Having the plan for my life irrevocably change before my eyes has forced me take a step back and assess the direction I’m heading. As a creature of habit, it was easy for me to plod along without taking stock of where I was actually going in this life. At one point, there was purpose and intention. I had hopes and dreams and plans. But after a while, purpose and direction gave way to comfort and ease, which gave way to complacency.

I remember being asked once what I was passionate about. At the time, it seemed like a frivolous question. What grownup has time for passion?! We can’t all go chasing our dreams. After all, Proverbs 28:19 says, “A hard worker has plenty of food, but a person who chases fantasies ends up in poverty” (NLT). But I was confusing fantasies with God-given dreams.

I think about Joseph (Genesis 37-46). God gave him clear dreams about his future. I believe it was because he held on to those dreams that he was able to endure slavery and imprisonment. He knew his dreams were God-given and therefore trustworthy. But what if he had been practical? What if he had looked at his life and decided there was no place for dreams anymore?

I think if was asked about my passion today, I’d have a completely different answer. Chasing dreams doesn’t seem like such an empty pursuit any more–not when I know that it is God who gives the dreams. Acts 2:17 says, “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old me shall dream dreams” (ESV, emphasis added).

As I’ve been processing through the end of one season, I can’t help but ask the Lord “What’s next?”  As scary and sad as it is to see the end of my marriage, it’s also a little exciting to be heading into uncharted territory. I’m allowing myself to dream again. I have decided that my faith is bigger than my fear and that I’m going to believe God when He says He has “hope and a good future” for me.

So what is next? I don’t know yet. But I’m going to revel in the dreaming and keep my heart and ears open to what my Father is saying. Because I don’t want to miss what He has for me in this new season.

That’s Not the Whole Story

For the past two years, I have asked God to restore my marriage. I’ve pleaded, I’ve bargained. And last Thursday, my divorce was final, leaving me with the reality of disappointed expectations.

The next day, we commemorated Christ’s death on Good Friday. And then celebrated His resurrection on Easter. The timing got me thinking. On the day Jesus was crucified, His disciples didn’t have the privilege of knowing the end of the story as we do. All they knew was that their friend, the man for whom many of them had given up so much to follow, was dead. In their minds, it was a defeat. If only they knew the whole story.

I bet you, that’s what God would say to us. When life hands us what seems like a defeat, I wonder if He’s thinking, “If only they knew the whole story…” First Corinthians 2:9 says, “But as it is written: ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him'” (NKJV).

I don’t know yet what my whole story is. But I continue to hold on to the promises the Father has given me. I continue to cling to Jeremiah 29:11, which reminds me that He has “hope and a good future” planned for me and my family. I am excited to see how God puts all of the pieces together to make the wonderful masterpiece that only He can.

As much as the enemy of our souls would like us to believe it, our circumstances are never the whole story. What looks like a defeat is just a set up for a greater victory! So let’s take our victory lap now and rejoice for what God is doing, even if we can’t quite see it clearly.

After the Storm…

Here in Southern California, we’ve had a very rainy winter. At first the rain was a welcomed relief from the usual hot, dry weather. But as the weeks languished, with little or no sunshine, the rain soon became unwanted. There were days when it felt like the sun was never going to shine again. But it did. And now we are enjoying one of the most beautiful springs I’ve experienced in almost 18 years living here.

The kids and I recently had the opportunity to witness Spring in full bloom, in fields covered with California’s iconic golden poppies. It was an amazing sight to see. But what was more incredible was the realization that this “super bloom” was only made possible by the rain—that annoying, sometimes dangerous, often depressing rain.

Poppies2

How often is this true for us? When we are in the midst of a fierce storm, it may feel as though the sun has been permanently darkened in our lives. There were days in the beginning of my journey when I couldn’t envision a day without heartache and tears. I couldn’t imagine ever feeling “normal” again. But slowly, as the clouds have begun to part and the sun has started to peek through, I’m seeing what’s blooming in my life. And it’s beautiful. It’s different from what I expected, but breathtaking just the same.

If we trust our good Father, the storm will end, the sun will come out and we will realize the beauty that has grown as a result of the rain. We don’t always know what the end of the journey will look like. It may look hopeless at times. But Romans 8:28 reminds us, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (NIV).

We can trust God because He’s the same One who rebuked the wind and said, “Peace! Be still” (Mark 4:39). And He’s the same One who uses all of the things in our lives–the good, the bad, the ugly–to create something beautiful (Ecclesiates 3:11).

Poppies1

 

 

 

Possessing the Promise

“And the Lord spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho, saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you and destroy all their figured stones and destroy all their metal images and demolish all their high places. And you shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given the land to you to possess it'” (Numbers 33:50-53 ESV).

God had promised the land of Canaan to the people of Israel. It was their inheritance from their fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It was theirs…no doubt about it. But God didn’t simply just hand it over. He instructed them through Moses, to “drive out all the inhabitants of the land…” He could have destroyed the inhabitants  ahead of them. But instead, He gave the people of Israel the opportunity to partner with Him for the possession of the promise.

What if the people of Israel didn’t actually take possession of it? What if they had stayed on the other side of the Jordan, looking out at the land that was theirs, but never doing anything about it? That’s kind of like receiving a check for a million dollars but not cashing it. Sure, that money is mine and it’s pretty cool to be able to say I have a million dollars. But unless I actually deposit it into my account, it’s of no use or value to me.

The same is true for the promises God has for me. His word is chock full of promises for you and me. But unless we take possession, we will not experience all that He has for us. So we must take possession. That sounds pretty daunting and it would be if God expected us to do it on our own. But the awesome thing about this is we don’t have to do it on our own. He has said, “You shall not fear them, for it is the Lord your God who fights for you” (Deuteronomy 3:22 ESV). He’s also said, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9 ESV).

How Do We Take Possession?

What does it mean to take possession? Is it enough to believe and even agree with God about His promises? I think that’s a great first step. But I don’t believe it’s sufficient to simply believe. There have to be action steps we each take to partner with God. I’m reminded of James 2:17 which says, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

What do those action steps look like? I think it’s different for each person. For me, it’s to continue in my obedience to whatever He tells me. It’s to “…not grow weary of doing good” (Galatians 6:9). It’s also to continue to contend in prayer with thanksgiving.

For you, it may be taking a leap and doing something that’s been on your heart to do. It may mean discontinuing doing things that God has told you to stop doing. But no matter what the step is that God is calling us to, we won’t possess the promise until we move.

So what steps of faith is God calling you to take in order to possess His promises?

The Long Way Around

Sometimes I feel like God is taking me the long way around to fulfill His promises for my life. And it can be frustrating. I know He’s working. But sometimes it feels like there has to be a more direct route.

But as I was reading in Exodus recently, I noticed that God did the same with the children of Israel after their release from Egypt. “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although it was near. For God said, ‘Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.’ But God led the people around by the wilderness toward the Red Sea. And the people went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle” (Exodus 13:17-18).

So why did God take them the long way? I think one reason is the children of Israel were just starting to learn they could trust God again. They had been in captivity for 430 years (Exodus 12:40). In that time, I’m sure they had grown suspicious of God’s intentions toward them. They even showed their faithlessness when they saw the Egyptians chasing after them: “And they said to Moses, ‘Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt? What have you done to us? Why did you make us leave Egypt? Didn’t we tell you this would happen while we were still in Egypt? We said, “Leave us alone! Let us be slaves to the Egyptians. It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness!”‘” (Exodus 14:11-12 NLT).

“… So the people feared the Lord and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.” – Exodus 14:31

But because God hadn’t taken them by the shortest, most expedient route, they didn’t really have the option of trudging back to Egypt. This gave God the opportunity to remind them of His power so that they would learn to trust Him more fully. “Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses” (Exodus 14:30-31).

I believe another reason God led the Israelites by the long way around was to display His glory to the surrounding nations through His miraculous intervention. “The peoples hear and tremble; anguish grips those who live in Philistia. The leaders of Edom are terrified; the nobles of Moab tremble. All who live in Canaan melt away; terror and dread fall upon them. The power of your arm makes them lifeless as stone until your people pass by, O Lord, until the people you purchased pass by” (Exodus‬ ‭15:14-16‬ ‭NLT‬‬).

Our world tells us that the best way is the quickest, shortest route from Point A to Point B. But God’s not so worried about expediency. He’s more interested in my development in the process. And He’s more concerned with using my life to display His glory to those around me. So sometimes that means taking the long way around. But in the end, I am convinced it will be worth it.

Please note: I left out a lot of the details from the biblical account, assuming a basic familiarity with the overall story. But if you haven’t read it before, it’s definitely worth reading. It can be found in Exodus 13-15.

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