Have you ever been gripped by a Bible passage and unable to move on from it? It’s the one that you reread over and over again and find new meaning in every time. It’s a passage your brain tells you to move on from but your heart is unwavering, certain there’s still more gold to mine. Recently Ephesians 4 has gripped me – I’ve been stuck there for a couple of weeks and I don’t see myself moving on from it any time soon.
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
Ephesians 4:1-6 (ESV)
I’ve always loved the part of verse 1 that says “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you’ve been called”. What an amazing exhortation! As I’ve been reading and studying these verses over the past few weeks, I’ve come to realize that I’ve just been scratching the surface on what this verse actually means.
The word “calling” can mean a lot of different things to different people and I had been reading it as your vocation or your purpose or your life mission. If you are called to be a Fortune 500 CEO, start walking in a manner worthy of that calling now or if your dream is to be a stay at home mom, start loving others well now, etc. But that’s not what this verse is talking about, the calling to which we as Christians have been called is so much bigger. We’ve been called children of God and Paul is encouraging us to act like it.
The good news is that he doesn’t just leave us high and dry, but lays out a manual for us. In just a few verses he takes us through “Acting Like a Child of God 101”. Here are, according to Paul, the things people with our calling are supposed to display:
Bearing with one another in love
Unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace
That is quite the list!
Imagine for a moment what the world might look like if we did even one of those things consistently! How would my family change if I approached them with more gentleness? How would my job change if I chose to bear with others in love even if I disagree with them? How might my community change if I created opportunities to experience unity? How would the church change if we were more humble every day?
I encourage you to grab out your Bible and a journal for the next part – let’s take some time for reflection.
Ask yourself the following questions for all 5 of these words or phrases:
What does ______________ mean?
For example, to me, “bearing with one another in love” means that love needs to be the foundation of everything I do. Without love I am unable to do life with others well. Without love, bearing with one another means doing it with gritted teeth and because of obligation. Love is a necessity.
What does ______________ look like?
For example, to me, “humility” looks like knowing who you are. It means having a correct view of yourself and your station – not thinking more or less of yourself. Pride is not humility. Self-deprecation is not humility. It’s the delicate balance intricately linked with your identity.
Now the fun begins:
Which of these is the easiest for you? Why?
Which of these is the hardest for you? Why?
Recently, I’ve been thinking audacious thoughts and ideas. These seem to be a little out there, a little grandiose, but I’m at a place in my life where I’m becoming okay with voicing them.
What if we each committed to intentionally incorporating one of these characteristics in our lives? Now, this doesn’t mean that we’ll be perfect – we’re going to fail, but we can choose to pick ourselves up and continue to grow.
I wonder how the world around us could change if we were intentional to love more, be more patient, be gentler, be humble in all situations, and look for opportunities for unity in the Spirit. I think that if we open ourselves up to walking in a manner worthy of our calling as precious daughters of the King and allow the Holy Spirit to work in and through us, the world around us could look very different in even a short period of time. I’m willing to give this a try, are you?
I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve said something and then heard my 25-year-old son say, “Filter, Mom!” In truth, remembering to filter what goes on in my head before it comes out of my mouth has always been a struggle for me. I tend to speak much more than I should in some situations and then not say enough in others. Often I’ve missed the blessing of hearing what others are saying in both instances.
However, besides the obvious fact that I miss things, what is the ultimate responsibility I have in my words? Are there consequences far greater than what I may or may not miss? (more…)
I was having lunch with a beautiful young lady the other day, and we were commiserating on our individual inabilities to remember birthdays and holidays. She was telling me of a funny time when her mother had broken a cherished bowl. She found a replacement at the street fair one day in late October and determined herself then that she would buy the bowl and give it to her mother for Christmas. She forgot, decided to give it to her for Mother’s Day, forgot, and subsequently gave it to her mother for Christmas the next year. The problem was that she had placed a note in the gift wrapped box that was dated the year before her mother actually got it! Caught red-handed!
I do that sort of thing all of the time, as I’m sure many of you do too. I buy things or cards and put them away with full intentions of giving them to a special someone for their birthday or a holiday, only to not just forget where I put the gift or card, but to often forget the special day altogether! I forget dates, occasions, calls–you name it, and I’ve forgotten it. My young friend and I laughed together as we named ourselves “Time Capsule Friends”–that is, friends who give gifts late or make calls late so that we serve as a sort of “time capsule event” for the one getting them. We excused our lack of memory as a sort of service instead.
Of course our conversation was all in good fun, but I came face to face with the reality of my behavior while having coffee with another dear friend shortly afterward.
Understand that I am a busy woman. We all are! Kids, work, the house, our spouses, our church: Women are more often than not overworked and over-extended in most areas of their lives. Consequently, my friends and co-workers in ministry are generally very gracious with me when I don’t return calls or occasionally re-schedule or even cancel coffee dates or lunch. Sweetly they will say, “It’s okay, Deb. I know you’re busy.” And I am, just as you are and they are and we all are. However, is that always a good excuse? Do we allow our undeniably busy lives to interfere with ministering to one another as friends and loved ones? Is a busy life an excuse to selfishly ignore the needs of others?
As I alluded to, I had coffee shortly after my lunch with another dear friend. We had talked for a while, and I noticed that she was stammering a little, obviously trying to figure out how to tell me what was really on her mind. Suddenly and without warning, she began to weep right there in the coffee shop.
“I’m sorry, Deb, but I need to see you sometimes. I need time with you, not often, but occasionally.”
I stopped short. You see, this is not the first time I’ve heard this, and it’s not the first time I’ve heard this recently. I get so caught up in my work for the Lord that I had begun to forget the work of the Lord. I write and minister and speak and counsel, and often I think this is the bulk of what I should be doing. Unfortunately, I sometimes also ignore that all of those things are absolutely nothing without relationship, without love and friendship and really ministering into one another’s lives.
Jesus, the one person in all of eternity who truly had an excuse to maybe cancel a few coffees and lunches, never did so. Right after teaching the Sermon on the Mount, He didn’t hesitate to heal the leper or go to the centurion’s house to heal his servant or to heal Peter’s mom or hundreds of others. He was busy. He was about the Lord’s work, but our Savior knew that this work was accomplished in relationship and giving time to individuals.
What excuse have you given for not meeting with a friend or a woman who needs you? Is it your children or your grandchildren or your job or even your ministry? Sisters, please don’t do what I’ve done and think that it’s somehow a service or even adorably quaint to be a “Time Capsule Friend.” It isn’t. God has called us to pour into one another’s lives and live in the love exemplified for us by our Savior.
Needless to say, I’ve made a few long overdue calls lately and paid a few long overdue visits. My work can wait. After all, it’s really meaningless if in it I am not showing the love of Jesus to the people around me.
Do you need to pick up the phone?
“This is not my life.”
“Those are not my children.”
“That is not my husband.”
Have you ever looked around at your life and thought any of these things? I mean, this isn’t what we signed up for, right? No one told us the day we walked down that isle or the day we graduated from school or the day we heard our child’s first cry that things would one day take us to the brink of despair.
That’s someone else’s life. That’s not mine.
But then one day it is. One day you wake up and all those women whose lives were battered by unfaithful spouses or lost children or sickness or death are suddenly not just remote prayer requests. No longer can you abstractly look at those sad and torn lives and feel sympathy. Now you are smack in the middle of empathy. You’re living it, and the only thing you can do is look around and wonder, “What happened?”
The truth is that if you’ve been an adult woman for longer than three minutes, you will have experienced these emotions, and you’ll experience them more than once. We were never promised a rose garden in this life, and for the most part, we realize that.
But sometimes it’s not just a weed-infested garden that we find ourselves in the middle of. It’s a pool of sticky, slimy toxic waste, and we think, “Nope. This is not my life.”
What are we to do in those moments? What does a Christian woman do when even getting out of bed seems abundantly out of the question?
I have recently experienced yet another of those seasons in my life as a woman, wife, and mother, and I was struck with these thoughts in rapid succession. Huddled in the corner of my bedroom, lights off, and curled up so tightly on the floor that my joints ached, the despair caught me almost off-guard. I wasn’t even crying correctly because I couldn’t breathe well enough to make a sound. I just rocked and gasped for air. And then my thoughts changed from “This is not my life” to “I have to fix this!”
Isn’t that the way we are? That’s how God created us women. We manage things. Paul referred to women as the “managers of the house” in Titus 2:5, and managers manage things. Consequently, our first instincts are to manage our situations.
It only took me a few minutes, however, to realize that I couldn’t manage anyone out of anything this time, and instead of moving from that realization toward Christian resolution, I moved toward anger with God.
“I know You think I’m this strong. I know You think I can handle this, and I know You said I wouldn’t be given anything more than I could handle, but I’m not this strong! This is too much!”
Of course, I didn’t actually yell these things out loud, although I have before. No, this time I screamed with boldness in my head. I really was confounded by God’s apparent misidentification of my supposed strength. I needed Him to reconsider.
Have you ever felt this way? Are you feeling it now?
I am ever amazed at our Father’s grace. I’m in awe of His constant and abiding love and patience toward us. He could have yelled back at me right then. He could have struck me down completely for my irreverence. That would have been warranted.
However, what He gently did was fill my head with these words:
Debbie, I do not ordain these things in your life to point you to your own strength. I ordain them to move you toward Mine.
You see, it will forever be our propensity to try and make things about us. It’s my knee-jerk reaction to bolster my own fortitude and figure things out, and then to be angry when I’m just not strong enough or smart enough or tolerant enough or when I feel forced to do things on my own. This is unfortunately an anger that when harbored will quickly turn into bitterness.
Indeed there are a lot of bitter women out there, and among them is no small number of bitter Christian women. Why? Because we simply aren’t strong enough, and truthfully, that was never God’s point.
Everything is about Him, and these times are meant to bring attention to Him, to His strength, His love, His mercy, His care, His tolerance, His grace, and His perfect plan.
What do we do as Christian women in moments of such complete despair that we can’t even breathe?
I was pouring out to a dear friend in the middle of this—which, by the way, I highly encourage you to do—and she reminded me of exactly what we are to do when we look at the life we now live and wonder how it all went so wrong so quickly. She reminded me of Psalm 121,
I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
When you are on your bedroom floor and the pain is beyond your ability to bear, you do the only thing you can do, you do the only thing you should do, and you lift up your eyes.
Jesus told us in Matthew 11:28-30,
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
There are going to be moments in these lives as pilgrims in this foreign land when we are nothing less than confused by the things that happen. We can become downcast in our souls over the heartache inflicted on us by the ones we love the most, and we will gaze at our circumstances with a sadness that feels insurmountable.
What do we do?
We lift our tired, tear dimmed eyes toward heaven and unto our Father. We rest in His divine and loving purposes. After all, we have a hope that the world does not share, a hope and an assurance that we do not serve a God who is an “absentee Father.” Our Lord is fully involved in the lives of His children, and He has promised us that He has a plan, a plan that will not harm us but will bring us a hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11) He has promised us that all of our lives are purposed for our good and His glory. (Romans 8:28)
So, my sisters, lift up your eyes to the hills. From where does your help come? Your help comes from the Lord, the very Maker of the heavens and the earth.
Don’t laugh. If you live in America, then at one time or another you have walked through a Walmart near you and thought, “Who are these people?” I laughingly admitted to my husband and son the other night that I have to repent every single time I leave Walmart for the unkind and sinful thoughts that run rampant through my mind as I walk through the aisles. I truthfully don’t want to admit what these thoughts are, but the subject matter ranges from cart driving ability to attire choice while shopping for groceries.
The problem is that these thoughts often lead to anger, and just as often I leave my neighborhood Walmart having to deal with that anger. Not long ago, my son and I were shopping there and as we left I proclaimed, “I am not shopping here anymore! These people are Walmartians!!”
Consequently, the next week we went to what I thought was a less aggravating and more posh grocery store. My son and I were wandering through the aisles of this food paradise “ooh-ing” and “ahh-ing” over every little thing when we found ourselves standing in front of a vast array of different types of teas. After a few minutes of talking excitedly about all the many sorts of teas we saw, my son looked around him and saw other shoppers looking at us with the same kinds of looks I usually gave out while shopping at that “other place.” That’s when he pulled me aside and whispered, “Mom, we have to go. I think we are Walmartians!”
I giggled, then agreed, and then rather hurriedly left and went to Walmart.
Now, I could go to a lot of lessons from this terrible reflection into my heart, but as we round the corner on Thanksgiving, I can’t help thinking of my beautiful African friends in Malawi and Zimbabwe and Liberia and Kenya. They have no Walmart. The truth is, they often don’t have food at all. Mothers wander around villages that have been decimated by drought and floods and disease trying desperately to find food, any food, but they can’t. There are no food kitchens or welfare programs or even trash cans from which they can scavenge food for their little ones. There is no food. Period.
Priscilla Mgala, my precious friend from Malawi, tells the story of two widows in the village near her who were trying desperately to find food for their children. They went into the bush to try and find something they could cook. They found some roots that looked very much like cassava roots, so they pulled them out of the ground and took them back to the village. There they cooked these roots and served them to their children. Two of the little ones died before morning. Can you imagine the desperation it takes to give your children something that you don’t even recognize simply because you want to fill their sweet, hungry bellies? And then can you imagine the utter terror when you find them dead the next morning because of what you fed them?
When I think of the plight of women just like me, women whose only difference from me is that they were born in a poor country in Africa instead of this great land we call home, I cringe at my silly American attitude when I don’t like the kinds of people I see at Walmart. I’m ashamed that I think I have any right to be picky, especially when I am faced with the tremendous blessing God has given me of being born in America where food is literally everywhere.
And then, my friends, I am struck with what real thankfulness should be. Real thankfulness is looking beyond my over-privileged lifestyle and looking toward others who need what I take for granted. A real perspective on thankfulness is not disparaging this country because some of its leaders don’t lead exactly how I think they should. Real thankfulness doesn’t spit on our flag or protest in our streets or threaten to leave simply because I disagree with an election.
Real thankfulness looks upward, not outward, and says, “Thank you, Lord, for letting me be born in a country where I can go to Walmart. Thank you, Father, that I get to be a Walmartian.”
Finally, real thankfulness is exemplified in those who don’t scoff at the tremendous blessings they have received simply because God allowed them to be born in America. Real thankfulness is instead found in those who willingly and without measure share with those who weren’t so fortunate in the place of their birth. So, I urge you, sisters and brothers, look outside of your walls and even outside of your country and be thankful this year…truly thankful. Find somewhere to give to another. Stop lamenting about the people you don’t like here and thank God that He let you be born here!
This year, let Thanksgiving be about giving, not complaining.
And if you are a Walmartian, I’ll see you in the aisles!
***If you would like to give to women in need this year, especially at Thanksgiving and Christmas, please consider contributing to the Reap What You Sew Project, a tailoring school we at Love Everlasting Ministires are launching in Malawi, Africa in April of 2017. The school will give the training necessary so that widows and destitute women in that country can run their own businesses and finally be able to feed themselves and their children. To donate, visit LoveEverlastingMinistries.com now. We appreciate any support you can give. God bless you.
Do you sometimes find yourself saying things that your parents used to say to you, only to grimace and think, “Was that me?” I know I do—a lot. One of the things I used to tell my boys all of the time was that they just needed to be patient, that whatever was happening to them at the time wasn’t the end of the world. It’s just a season. It will all work out. It’s not as bad as you think. You’re being too dramatic.
Don’t miss the forest while you’re looking at the trees.
It’s a wonder they didn’t murder me in my sleep.
And now that I’m older and my boys have left the nest, I find myself in circumstances often where I remember saying those words to them, and even to others, and then find myself thinking that things ARE that bad. There’s NO WAY this is going to work out. This ABSOLUTELY IS as bad as I think. And I’M NOT BEING DRAMATIC!!
I certainly do not intend to write another article on being patient in the midst of trials, knowing that God is at work in all of them. Christians, by and large, know that Romans 8:28 is in every one of their bibles. They know and they’ve heard that God has a plan, just as He promised in Jeremiah 29:11, and that His plan is for their good. The problem arises when that plan doesn’t feel good. The confusion manifests when that plan makes utterly no sense.
What is God thinking? He has to see that this is not good! Why would He hurt me this way?
The issue becomes almost incredulous when we live in the middle of circumstances where seeing the love of God reconciled in the things He allows to happen is just about impossible. When our marriage ends, or a loved one dies, or we lose our houses or our jobs or our children—how do we see the forest of God’s love in the middle of rotten, stinking, dark trees?
I don’t have an answer, but what I do have is the same thing that all of us have, and that’s the bible. The stories and words of God are purposeful, and at the expense of beating this bush again, let me just remind you, and me, of the story of Job.
You remember Job, right? This guy did it all correctly. He was a righteous man, and by Old Testament standards, his riches and many children and great life were a direct result of this righteous life. God had blessed him above and beyond his fellow man. Job was living large, but he did so while humbly serving his God.
Can you imagine how he felt that day when he lost everything? In one fell swoop, Job lost his fortune, his livelihood, all of his children, and finally, his health. He had no friends who sympathized or offered him compassion. His friends assumed these horrible disasters happened because of some hidden sin that needed to be confessed. Even Job’s wife turned on him.
Can you imagine how this man of God felt?
I know that most of you have probably studied, or at least read the book of Job on occasion, and you’ve also most likely labored through it.
And yet, God put it in His Word, and we know that He did so because Job demonstrated for us the endurance of a believer’s faith, even when the entire world falls down around his ankles. Mind you, Job didn’t take it quietly. He yelled—a lot. He screamed at God and at his friends, asking why and what was going on?
The trees were falling, and Job was lost in a cataclysm of endless pain, but he never denied that God was God.
Now, cut to the forest that Job didn’t see, the forest that God showed you and me at the very beginning of this story. This is the forest we would all do well to remember when our own trees block our view.
When Satan came to God and told Him that he had been traveling around the earth, what was God’s first response? Job 1:8 records the Lord as saying to Satan,
“Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” (ESV)
In essence, God looked at Satan, and His very first thought was, “Have you seen My Job? I love My Job! Did you see how awesome Job is? Look upon My son, Job!”
I don’t know about you, but the idea that God would single me out while addressing the angels and say something like, “Have you seen My Deb? I love My Deb!” is a thought I would treasure above all else.
And when Satan asked to test Job, God allowed all of those horrible things to occur because He trusted Job. God looked down upon his child, and He trusted Job so much that He allowed Satan to take everything from him but his life, and God did this because He knew that His servant, Job, would stand in his faith. God knew that He would then use the testimony of Job for all time as a witness of unswerving faith in God’s very “God-ness.”
God looked upon this man and said, “Have you seen My Job? I trust My Job so much that I will allow him to be tested so that I might use him.”
This was the forest of reality in the heavenly realm that Job didn’t see because he was surrounded by the trees of this mortal existence. However, this beautiful forest was always there, even when Job didn’t see it.
My sisters and brothers, there is a heavenly reality occurring every millisecond of every day beyond our human sight. The trees of our lives may be falling and rotting all around us, but the essence of our faith is to emulate Job’s. The essence of our faith is in knowing that God is God, and though we don’t understand His ways, we know that they are ultimately good and right. Our faith comes from knowing the forest is there, even though we only see trees.
Most especially, though, we must remember that when God chooses to bring or allow horrible things in the lives of His children, it’s not because He doesn’t love them or is punishing them. It’s because He is choosing to use them. He’s building our stories, much like He built Job’s story, so that when He has delivered us, He will use us.
I know that when tragedy hits my life, God is in heaven saying, “Do you see my Deb? I trust my Deb so much that I choose to use her. I will deliver her, and once I do, she will be a vessel used to My glory.”
That, my friends, is a forest upon which we should focus, even in the midst of these sometimes very ugly trees.