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.

An Unworthy Exchange

This week, I was reading Psalm 106. It’s about God’s faithfulness and goodness despite Israel’s unfaithfulness. As I was reading, one verse caught my attention: “They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass” (Psalm‬ ‭106:20‬ ‭ESV)‬‬. When it’s put that way, it sounds absurd that the people of Israel made the choice to worship the golden calf (see Exodus 32).

It’s easy for me to sit back and judge their unfaithfulness, because I would never bow down to “the image of an ox that eats grass.” Right?! But I started to think about all ways I “exchange” God’s glory, His presence, for lesser things. What about that extra 20 minutes of sleep, instead of getting up to seek Him? Or how about the half thought out, half followed through commitment to fast? Or that one more episode of Star Trek: Deep Space 9, instead of cracking open my Bible before bedtime?

Psalm 105:4 says, “Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually” (ESV, emphasis added). If we’re honest with ourselves, we all have things we are seeking, other than the presence of the Lord. For me, it’s comfort, rest and peace. None of these things are bad, in and of themselves. But while I’m chasing them through extra sleep or one more episode of my current favorite TV show, I end up with a sorry replica of what can only be found in the presence of God.

Don’t get me wrong, God honors rest. He even set aside a whole day in the week for it. But when I seek that more than His presence, I’ve basically “exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass.”

Matthew 6:32-33 says, “For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (ESV). So that’s what I’m choosing to do–seek God first. When I do that, I can trust that everything else, including that coveted comfort and rest I so desire, will be added to me.

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).

 

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

 

 

 

The Lesson in the Lemon Tree

About a year ago, I inherited several citrus trees. Upon receiving this “gift,” I was told how easy it was to care for these potted dwarf trees. Their primary need was water, and even that was only once a week. It seemed easy enough. So I willingly committed to taking care of them.

At first, I was really diligent to water them weekly. Then I let two weeks go by, then three. Until finally I went to look at them only to discover they all were dead. Feeling horrible about my neglect, I decided I would try watering them anyway.

A week or so later, I confessed my failure to the trees’ original owner, who inspected them and concluded, just as I had, they were dead and not worth caring for any longer. To say I felt awful would be an understatement. I had been entrusted with these trees that had once been so important to him. And I had completely let him down.

Later that day, I went back to look at the dead trees, feeling hopeless about them and my life in general, when I saw something I hadn’t noticed earlier. There was a new leaf on one of the trees. Was there hope for these sickly trees? When I saw that solitary leaf, I was reminded of Job 14:7-9: “For there is hope for a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease. Though its root grow old in the earth and its stump die in the soil, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put out branches like a young plant” (ESV).

There was hope–for the trees and my life! So I committed to watering them weekly. I’ve been much more faithful this time around, only missing a week here or there. I even harvested a lone lemon this winter. Now that we are into spring, almost every tree has buds forming, even the lime tree, which has yet to produce fruit. I’m believing that there will be a great harvest in our house come winter.

But I was reminded again today how easy it is to become complacent. Today is my “watering” day. I had been outside earlier, enjoying the sunshine and admiring the newly-formed buds, getting excited about all the fruit we will get to harvest. I later went inside and got comfortable. As the sun was waning in the sky, I knew I needed to get up and water. But I didn’t want to.

There was a battle in my mind. On the one hand, I wanted to stay in my nice warm spot. On the other hand, I wanted to someday savor the fruit of these trees. But I won’t be able to do that if I don’t invest in their care. And that means watering them even when I’m nice and cozy and not wanting to move.

I don’t know about you, but I see so many parallels to my life. So often I want fruit without discomforting myself. I want growth without any effort. But then I’m reminded of, if not a little chastised by Galatians 6:9: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (NIV).

There will always be that constant struggle between obedience and choosing the easiest, most comfortable path. It’s part of the sin nature. But if we want the fruit, we’ve got to make the investment of time and effort–and obedience–even if that means making ourselves uncomfortable.

So I finally decided to get up and water the trees. And you know what? When I was done, I found my spot was just as comfy and warm as when I left it. I don’t believe God calls us out of our comfort zone without providing His comfort to go with us.  After all, 2 Corinthians 1:3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort” (ESV, emphasis added).

So let’s be willing to get a little uncomfortable, trusting that God will provide all the comfort we need as we obey.

God’s Grace is Sufficient

I recently went back to work after being home with the kids for nearly 10 years. It’s been an interesting transition. It’s been a boost to my self-esteem to feel like a contributing member of society again. But it’s also been really hard being mom and employee, and the million other roles that I fulfill on a daily basis. I find I’m less patient than I’d like to be and more tired than I’ve been since the kids were waking up in the middle of the night. I also have less time to do things I love, like writing this blog. I have frequently complained to God about it, essentially asking how I’m supposed to do this. Then I read 2 Corinthians 12:8-10:

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong”  (ESV).

I know it should, but it doesn’t exactly fill me with warm, fuzzy feelings. It frustrates me. I don’t want to boast in my weaknesses. I don’t want to be content with hardships. I want God to say, “Oh honey, I understand. You don’t have to do that anymore. Let me just handle that for you.” And sometimes He does that, for which I am eternally grateful. But this ain’t one of those times. This is a “put-on-my-big-girl-pants-and-trust-God-to-give-me-what-I-need” time.

“God gives grace to people and He is faithful.”
– Faith Tyler, age 7

When I sat down to write today, my sweet daughter, Faith, decided she would “help” me. She started giving me ideas of what to write. I humored her as she gave me different ideas, not really expecting her to say anything profound (she is, after all only seven years old). But without knowing what I was planning to write, she said: “God gives grace to people and He is faithful!” It’s so funny how God will drive His point home, if I allow myself to be tuned in.

I’m no more thrilled than I was before with the idea of being weak. But being reminded of God’s grace and faithfulness by my precious child, is just another way He shows His grace is truly all I need.

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?

Be Faithful with the Small Things

A couple of weeks ago I wrote how details are important to God. But just as it is important for me to follow God’s instructions, it’s equally important that I’m faithful in my obedience.

Through out this challenging season, there have been “small” points of obedience that God has asked of me. Sometimes they’ve made sense. I could see how one “little” act would impact a bigger situation. But other times, they haven’t made sense, at least in my very limited perspective. In those times, I’ve been pretty compliant. My side of the conversation with God usually goes something like this, “Okay, Father. I’ll do this. I don’t understand, but I’ll do it.” And I do! I follow through with full commitment…at first. Then I get discouraged and start thinking about how much it really doesn’t make sense. It’s not changing anything or mattering to anyone. So why am I doing this?! I actually had a one-sided conversation like this with God recently: “Yeah, so I’m not going to do that anymore because it doesn’t make sense and I don’t really like doing it. I’m tired of doing senseless things.” Let me tell you, God is a much more patient Father than I am a mother. If one of my kids came to me with such a bratty pronouncement, it would not have been a one-sided conversation. But God just let me say my piece.

However, as I was praying for a friend recently, God reminded me of Matthew 25:23 which says, “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master'” (ESV). In my piety, I thought, “Oh this is perfect for her! She needs to remember that her little acts of obedience matter to God.” Then God finally responded to me: “This is not just for her, but for you too!” Oops! For my friend, it was an encouragement for her to continue doing the things she deemed as “small.” For me, it was a correction of my refusal to do the things I counted as insignificant.

I realize that I’m not always going to understand why God asks me to do certain things. I’d like to think at some point it will all make sense. But there is no promise of that. So I have to decide if I’m going to be faithful to do the “small” things He’s asked of me. To quote my wise friend, “I don’t have to worry about the success…of a matter. I just need to be faithful in doing it.” And that’s really what it comes down to! “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Revelation 2:10b KJV).

Read, Think, Do, Repeat

I love spending time reading God’s Word. It’s truly the highlight of my day. I love to crawl into my little closet, open the Word and hear what God has to say to me for that day. During this intimate time, I’m at such peace with God and myself.

If I could just stay there all day, life would be great. But I can’t stay there all day. I have to go out into the world and deal with people and torrential rain and garage doors that won’t open. Talk about a buzzkill!

My time with God should pour over into the rest of my day. If my experience in my prayer closet doesn’t have an impact on my everyday life, what’s the point? This sacred time should make a difference in how I treat people or handle challenges. Unfortunately, too often I find that my circumstances or emotions dictate my responses.

Psalm 119:165 NLT says, “Those who love your instructions have great peace and do not stumble.” Ouch! Perhaps I don’t love God’s Word as much as I think. Maybe I’m not letting it have it’s full transforming work in my life.

How do I let God’s Word transform every part of my life? Fortunately, the Bible has clear instructions for how to do that:

  • “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8 ESV).
  • “But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night” (Psalm 1:2 NLT).
  • “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what is says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourself” (James 1:22 NLT).

If I had to break it into simple steps, it would be:

  1. Read it!
  2. Think about it!
  3. Do it!
  4. Repeat!

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edge sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12 ESV).

 

 

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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