Faithfully Thinking: Keep Your Eyes Focused on Christ, not the storm

As Christians, we are called to keep our eyes on Christ, but this can be such a hard thing to do when so many other things and people are vying for our attention.

No year has made this struggle more prominent than in 2020.

This year has been like a roller coaster ride gone out of control.

We can shut off all the news, block ourselves out of all the social media sites imaginable, but if you’re like me, you can still feel “it”  — the perpetual tension in the air.

Between coronavirus, politics, social issues, moral issues, poverty, personal financial struggles, and family relationships breaking down, many of our heads are spinning. We don’t know where to focus, or more importantly, who to focus on.

I’ve found myself focusing too much on politicians and media; people who can’t provide me the peace I’m seeking.

I heard two sermons this week that focused on putting our focus back on the one who can help calm the storms within us, even as chaos reigns around us.

When the world is raging around me, I find it hard to keep anxiety from raging within me as well.

Jesus has called us to let him settle the storm within us, but we can only do that if we realize that, ultimately, he is in total control of our world.

Does it look like God is in control right now?

I know there are days it doesn’t look this way to me, but that is because I am looking at earthly situations. I am looking at what is tangible and right in front of me and not at the battles within the hidden realms.

“Hidden realms?” you might ask yourself. “Has Lisa gone all Lord of the Rings on me?”

Well, yes, and no. J.R.R. Tolkein was a Christian and he knew that there is a world beyond our own – a world where demons and the Prince of this World battle against the heavenly hosts for our souls.

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. – Ephesians 6:12

The fact we are never completely in control of our own life is a hard concept for anyone to accept, Christian or not.

We can’t stop our car from slamming into a deer when there was no time to hit the brakes.

We can’t stop the hurricanes from destroying our lives, or cancer from taking our loved ones.

We can’t stop people from not liking us.

We can’t control what happens all around us on a daily basis.

What we can do is remind ourselves who is with us during the turbulent times.

The pastor at my parents’ church talked last week about the disciples being on a boat when a storm came up. Jesus wasn’t on the boat when the storm came, but walked to them from the shore, on the water. They thought he was a ghost.

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

Jesus said simply “Come.”

He didn’t say “Oh, that’s not safe. Nah. Don’t do that. I mean, look at the storm raging around you. There is no way you are going to make it.”

He said, “Come.”

And he said “come” because he knew the power to keep Peter calm during the storm was in his control.

Peter did what Jesus said and began to walk on the water, on his way to Jesus’ outstretched hand, but then he looked around at the waves thrashing around him, the wind buffeting him — pushing and pulling at him — rain hitting him the face, and he panicked.

He lost sight of Christ and he began to sink.

How many times have we lost sight of Christ in our own lives and let the chaos of the world overwhelm us and drown out the Lord’s voice?

For me, it is so many times. So many times, it is embarrassing.

We can’t control the world raging around us.

We can’t control viruses.

We can’t control social unrest.

We can’t control elections or politicians (no matter how much we wish we could.).

What we can control is our trust in a God that is more powerful than our fear.

There was another time that a storm raged around the disciples and Jesus, but Jesus slept through it. The disciples were amazed, maybe even annoyed. “How can he sleep when the waves are battering this boat back and forth?” they might have said to each other.

Jesus wasn’t worried, though. He knew and still knows, who is in control.

As the pastor told us Sunday, “Jesus is saying to you, ‘I created you. I formed you. I redeemed you. I have called you by name. What wind? What waves? What are you afraid of? I will always be faithful to you.’”

The pastor also said, “Jesus is in the boat with us.”

What a comforting thought — that we are not in the storms of life alone. Jesus is with us even as the winds howl and the water rises around us.

The words “God is in control” is something we can say with joy in our hearts because that means we don’t have to worry anymore. We can give our fears over to him, walk away and let the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7) ) settle over us.

We can close our eyes, take a deep breath, and remind ourselves that Jesus is in the boat with us.

He’s in the midst of the storm and he calms the storm within us.

“You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on you,
because he trusts in you.
Trust in the LORD forever,
for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.”
-Isaiah 26:3-4

Faithfully Thinking: The battle belongs to the Lord

“I don’t see a change, Lord,” I said one night, laying in bed, thinking about all my health issues. “Some days it almost seems worse. No matter how much I pray for healing. Figuring it all out is so expensive and I don’t want surgery if I even need it. What do I do?”

Silence.

“Should I call the doctor?”

Silence.

“Should I fight to actually be diagnosed with this disease, or should I . . .”

Silence.

Honestly, I sometimes feel as if God really isn’t listening to, or helping, me with some of the health concerns I’ve been having for the last few years, but then, there are days I feel like he’s directing me to “wait.”

Be still and wait.

Two of the things I am the absolute worst at.

“You know what, God, I’ll just handle this!” I cry out in frustration. “Just..never mind! If you don’t want to answer me, then I’ll just fix it myself.”

Be still and wait. I’ve got this.

It’s very hard to trust God when we don’t see things changing. Trust me, I know this first hand.

But the Bible tells us to trust he is working for our good even when we can’t see it.

This whole “trust in God” thing has been a real struggle for me over the last couple of years. There are days I feel so hopeless with situations in my life, from finances to the lack of friendships, to trying to sell our house and chronic health issues that never seem to go away.

I heard a great sermon once entitled “The Battle Belongs to the Lord.” I don’t always agree with the pastor, but for this sermon, I absolutely agreed with him.

Each time I find myself in despair I hear the pastor saying, “The battle belongs to the Lord.”

The devil will tell us, “But your checking account is still empty,” and that is when you say “The battle belongs to the Lord,” the pastor said.

This is exactly what happened to me last week when I looked at our savings and realized we were really going to be struggling to make our mortgage payment this month after some unexpected expenses. I began to fall back into the familiar pattern of panic, trying to figure it all out in my head and fix it on my own.

Then I heard the words: “The battle belongs to the Lord.”

This week my mind, for some reason, started rushing again with thoughts of some inconclusive tests I have had in the last few years for a disease that can only be cured by what some consider a minor surgery (I consider all surgeries major.)

“What if I have this?”

“I need to figure this out.”

“I need to decide what to do right now about it because what if this disease kills me. I mean, they say it could take many years, but still. . . ”

I began “researching” on Google, talking to others on a Facebook support group who have it, looking at all my test results again, thinking and stressing. I started to fall back again into a pattern of negative thinking that three years ago left me almost completely mentally paralyzed.

The battle belongs to the Lord.

The words kept coming back to me. Over and over.

I signed out of Facebook, I stopped Googling, and I turned on a sermon podcast and laid down for bed. A year ago I wouldn’t have done any of those things. I would have Googled and researched and fretted all night long.

“The battle belongs to the Lord,” I repeated to myself, over and over to try to calm myself.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that I fall into these obsessive, worrying thoughts about my health, finances, or future in seasons of my life where I feel God is calling me to continue with a task he has asked me to finish. I have a feeling someone is trying all he can to distract me from the here and now; to lead me down paths of confusion so I will forget my calling, forget that God has asked me

to write and to raise and teach my children. What God has called me to may not seem as important as what he has called others to, but this is the path he has set for me and it is clear to me that Satan prefers that I forget about that path and wander off on some wild goose chase in another direction.

There have been more than a few times I have snapped back to reality while running around an empty left field of life like a chicken with my head cut off. I’ve looked around and noticed that where I was supposed to be is way off in the distance. I then have to toss aside the random worries to get back to where I need to be, but I can only do that with the help of God.

He tenderly takes my hand every time this happens and says, “No. Not here. Over here where I asked you to be and where I am doing a new thing, even if you can’t see it. Stay on this path. I will be here with you, even on the darkest days.”

And God does this repeatedly.

Repeatedly he steps off the path we were on together, and I wandered off from, takes my hand and leads me out of the wilderness of anxiety, panic, and confusion and back to the path he set for me.

He’s never impatient when he guides me back.

He’s never frustrated and never scolds me for walking off and letting my human side rule for a while.

He simply leads me back, leans down close and whispers, “Keep going. This way. We’ll get there together, beloved.”

I know I’ll wander off again.

I know I’ll lose myself in a fog of confusion again.

I know I’ll panic again, cry and ask God, “Where are you?!” because I will forget, once again, that he’s right here, next to me, where he’s always been.

Faithfully Thinking: Didn’t I tell you to let me handle it?

I am a control freak.

I know it.

My family knows it.

God knows it.

I’m not as bad as some people, no.

But, I’m still someone who likes to control situations around me – mainly any situation I feel could affect my own well being or that of a family member.

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If I think I can do something to change a situation for the better, I will do it, or at least attempt to do it. Often, though, I can not change a situation and I still lay there at night and try to figure out how I can.

For instance, we need to sell our house, sooner rather than later, so for several nights in a row, I was lying awake, trying to figure out how to get the money to fix this house up so we can sell it faster. I couldn’t figure it out and it was leaving me exhausted and irritated. One night I was laying there, physically tossing in bed while my brain tossed all the possibilities of remedying this situation back and forth. That’s when I heard a voice, of sorts, in my head. Actually, it was more like a sentence that I didn’t put there, so, for me, it was God reminding me of something.

The conversation went something like this:

“Didn’t I tell you to let me handle it?”

“Well, yes, Lord, but . . . ”

“Then let me handle it.”

The conversation was over that quickly.

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God didn’t ask me to figure it all out. He didn’t ask me to find the solution to our need to find a house closer to my husband’s job or figure out how to get people to read my books when I write them (specifically Fully Alive when it is done. This is the book I really feel God was prodding me to write and I’m terrified to continue writing because I feel completely unqualified to do so.) He also didn’t ask me to be the so-called perfect teacher for my children while I homeschool – he just asked me to do it and reminded me he would take it from there.

I’m not good at obeying.

I’m a rebel.

I don’t like to be told what to do, but as a follower of Christ, I need to trust that he knows better than I do about the things of life.

And I need to trust that ultimately God will handle it, whatever “it” is at that point in my life.

 

Faithfully Thinking: This Isn’t What I Pictured

This weekend I heard a sermon entitled “This Isn’t What I Pictured” and, boy, was it spot on for where I am in my life right now. I certainly did not picture my life where it currently is, which sounds entirely negative, but isn’t. There are definitely some negative places I’ve found myself, but there have also been some positive surprises along the way.

This sermon brought home for me that sometimes God wants to use us, bless us or grow us in a way we didn’t picture. The problem is not, as the pastor said this weekend, our situation, but that we pictured it differently and because our imagination of what life would be does not line up with what we see, we are stressed. Sometimes we must have faith in what we do not see, which, for me, is the hardest thing to do.

Maybe we thought we’d be a missionary to a faraway country, but instead, our mission field is at home, teaching our children. Maybe we thought God would use as to minister to recovering addicts, but instead, we are ministering to recovering perfectionists.

I know I didn’t picture being 42 and staying at home with my children, homeschooling, without a career to call my own, but it’s where I am and where I am trying to bloom (though I see myself as wilting). And, actually, I’m enjoying this one, even though I didn’t picture it.

I also didn’t picture being 42 with almost no close friends. I thought that I’d be comparing notes with a good friend about our now teenagers, but instead, I’m out on my own, so to speak. I’m not on my own really, of course, because God is still directing and guiding me even during what I see as unexpected turns in my life.

Even Christian often don’t see God in the negatives of life. I know I don’t and I was raised in the church. I rarely that what appears negative to me as something God is leading me through for a greater purpose. Honestly, there have been a couple of situations that were thrust on me that I felt, and still feel, were completely unnecessary.

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I still have trouble seeing why certain situations were allowed by God. The key for me has been realizing it’s not all about me. When I was asking God years ago “why did you let this happen to me,” I would sometimes hear in my heart “It’s not about you.” Even though it wasn’t “about me” it affected me, though, and I often wonder if the same outcomes could have been reached or lessons learned without all the unsolicited pain. 

Often we see pain, loss, or change as a punishment from God, instead of protection. Sometimes God takes away to protect us and sometimes that removal causes pain we did not ask for or expect.

God is always there whether we feel him or not. He’s there in the pain, the hurt, the life lessons.

The worship song, “Here Again” says: “Not for a minute was I forsaken. The Lord is in this place.”

When we feel like God is not in our situation, that’s where faith comes in.

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Do you know how hard it is for me to write that? I am at the worst at feeling like God is in a situation when the situation does not feel right or good to me.

The worship song “Waymaker” says: “Even when I don’t feel it you’re working. Even when I don’t see it, you’re working.”

Even when we don’t think God is in our situation, he is and he’s working and he’s changing things and he is for us. Even when we don’t see him, we can hear his voice. That’s a hard thing to trust in, isn’t it? The unseen.

Sometimes we can’t trust because we can’t hear him through all the noise in our lives – social media, other people’s opinions of us, or our own perceptions of what life was supposed to be at this point.

God is there for us even when our friends are no longer our friends.

God is there for us even when the texts or calls go unanswered.

God is there when we don’t get the job.

God is there when the bank account is dry.

God is there for us when those closest to us reject us, betray us, turn us away.

God is the same yesterday, today and forever and that is a picture that will never change, even when our lives are not what we pictured.


To see the sermon which inspired this post:

To hear the songs that I quoted here:


Lisa R. Howeler is a writer and photographer from the “boondocks” who writes a little bit about a lot of things on her blog Boondock Ramblings. She’s published a fiction novel ‘A Story to Tell’ on Kindle and also provides stock images for bloggers and others at Alamy.com and Lightstock.com.

Trying to be still and remember He is God

Some days life is all topsy turvy. The world seems upside down and turned around these days. What was once up is now down and what was once frowned upon is now applauded. Those who say they love children and babies only protect them once they are born, not before. Those who say they support women don’t support them if suggest we respect ourselves by not dressing inappropriately. Those who say they respect life are murdering others. The other day every story in my Facebook newsfeed seemed to want to remind me of what foods and vitamins can kill me and what my children shouldn’t be doing that I once did because now it’s dangerous instead of fun. (Side note: I’m on a Facebook break for my sanity).

It makes my head hurt and the other day it found me shutting off Instagram and FB and just about literally huddled in a fetal position while I nursed my daughter to sleep for her nap (by the way, I’m not supposed to be doing that either, whether it feels right and natural to me or not). I closed my eyes against the tears and all the voices in my head and I heard a still small voice say “Be still.” That was weird. I said, “Huh? Why did that thought pop into my head?” It sort of creeped me out, but I heard the words again. “Be still.” And I then I heard, “Be still and know that I am God.”

It happened again a few days later as my mind raced with worry about another situation I’m currently facing. I kneeled to wash my daughter’s hair and as my thoughts raced from worry to worry to worry I heard the words “Be still..” again…

I often tell God, “Lord, I am awful at being still, at least as far as my mind goes. You know this. Yet you still urge me to remember that you are God. You are in control of my finances. You are in control of my health and that of my children. You are in control of the world, even when it seems out of control. Please, help me to not forget and please keep placing those words in my mind.”

Psalm 46:9-11 “…9He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariots with fire. 10″Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” 11The LORD of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah.”