I Want To Know What Love Is

All you have to do is listen to the radio for a few minutes to get the sense that love is central to our human experience. Whether you listen to country western, rock, or pop music, singers always croon about the love they feel, the love they lost, or the love they hope will come about. I think of songs like “Always and Forever,” “When Will I Be Loved?” “Endless Love,” and “All You Need is Love,” but there are thousands more. If you’ve ever listened to a favorite love song over and over after a break up, you know what I’m talking about! Love is powerful. The other day I heard the song, “I Want to Know What Love Is” by Foreigner, and it got me thinking. There are people who come and go through my offices every day that would love to know the answer to that question, because love is really what it’s all about. It’s why we’re here, it’s what motivates us to get up every morning, it’s the thing that we crave for ourselves and those around us.

Since love is so  important, it is no surprise that there are hundreds of biblical references for what love does and what it is made to do. Depending on the version you use, the average use of the word “love” in the Bible is 588.7 times! And that doesn’t even include variations of the word, such as “loving” or “loved.” But you get the point. Love is central to our human experience, and it is first and foremost on God’s mind when He created us.

Love is the most paramount, the most important, the most salient, the most enduring thing on this earth. Yet the hardest part for us as humans is to know how to love and love well. Loving well must be preceded by knowing what love actually is. Is it this idyllic, sentimental, and often sexual thing that the world shows us, or is it something more? Unfortunately, as you already know, the world falls very short of knowing how to love well. On the contrary, the world is marketing it, replacing it, selling it, exploiting it, and misrepresenting it.

What really is this thing called love?

The bottom line is that we can only know what true love is when we go to the one who IS love. God is love (1 John 4:8). Because He is all truth, we can find and actually experience true love only through him.

And who better to tell us how to love and love well than the One Who Is Love?

We can read in His Word that love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:8). In the preceding verses, we learn that love is patient, love is kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not proud, does not dishonor others, is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, and keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

That’s the kind of love that we need to practice on both ourselves and those around us.

We can see this kind of love demonstrated by the love of a parent, or a friend that sticks closer than a brother, a spouse that loves for richer for poorer and in sickness or health. That is the kind of love that mirrors the love of God, that causes growth, the kind of love that truly endures.

What else does the Bible say about love?

Our love as Christians is to be both a response to God’s love and a reflection of His love. We see this admonition in the entire Chapter of Roman 12, where he talks about being a living sacrifice (12:1-2), humble service in the Body of Christ (12:3-8), and love in action (12:9-21). These scriptures remind us to be sincere in our love, to be devoted to one another, to honor others above ourselves, to be joyful in hope and patient in affliction, to help those in need.

The Bible uses three different Greek words for love: agape, eros, and phileo. 

Stay with me here—I know you’ve probably heard about these three types of love before, but I think the following explanation and/or application may be a different than what you’ve heard.

The essence of agape love is self-sacrifice. Agape is love which is of and from God, whose very nature is love itself. God does not merely love; He is love itself. Yet God’s love is not a sappy, sentimental love such as we often hear portrayed. God loves because that is His nature and the expression of His being. God loves because He is love, He loves without condition or expectation simply because He is love, it’s like breathing for Him. He loves the unlovable and the unlovely, and His love is displayed most clearly at the cross, where Christ died for the unlovely and unworthy. He paid the ultimate sacrifice for those He loves. In the same way, we are to love others sacrificially, we are to love because “love” lives in us, we are to be love to those around us because we have in us the One who is true love.

Jesus gave the parable of the Good Samaritan as an example of sacrifice for the sake of others, even for those who may care nothing at all for us, or even hate us, as the Jews did the Samaritans. Sacrificial love is not based on a feeling, but a determined act of the will. But this type of love does not come naturally to humans. Because of our fallen nature, we are incapable of producing such a love. If we are to love as God loves, that love—that agape—can only come from its true Source. Because of God’s love toward us, we are now able to love one another.

The second Greek word for love is phileo. This word speaks more of the warm affection shared between family or friends and can be more associated w ith the emotions or the heart. We feel love for our friends and family, a love that motivates us to want to treat them kindly and help them succeed.sacrificial love

The final Greek word for love, or eros, is where we get the English word erotic. Eros is the word used to express sexual love or the feelings of arousal that are shared between people who are physically attracted to one another.

All three types of love—agape, phileo, and eros—should part of the perfect godly expression of love for our spouse. All three work together to help us grow and make true love deposits, just like a bank, into each other’s lives. We will obviously not love everyone with eros; we can, but we should, we need to, and we must love others with agape and phileo love because it’s a commandment. 

If I am to love effectively, and deeply as God loves, I MUST begin accepting God’s love toward myself so that I have it to give to others. Because the love from God is sustainable, I can continue to love well; furthermore it is authentic, which enables me to love others authentically and with wisdom because God knows better how they need to be loved than I do. 

How do I love God, myself, and His people? 

Love your neighbor as yourself.

Think about your heart as a home. That’s where you live, that’s where God lives with you. We are born with the need for love; in fact, without it, we will die. The term for this is “failure to thrive,” when babies who are not seen or cared for and not shown love, they fail to thrive even if all of their physical needs are met perfectly. Everyone around us is born with that same need for love.

Because we’re made in the image of God, we have an inborn capacity to love. We need to take this inborn capacity to love and use that desire to receive true love from God then recycle it to others. We don’t create it—we get this from God.

I like to talk to my clients about emotional bank accounts, which other people can withdraw from or deposit into as we walk through life. One of the things we get from God is continual emotional deposits. It’s like a recurring deposit that we don’t even have to think about. The more I deposit into other people, the more God fills my emotional bank account back up with love so that it can continue to be withdrawn.

But I need to be monitoring my emotional bank account and realize that I control the deposits and withdrawals, not other people. First and foremost, I have to be practicing receiving God’s love, otherwise I will have nothing to give. We also need to be wisely managing on our account. The way I imagine this is through one of those trial subscriptions that cost only $2.99 for the trial, then hit you with a $49.99 charge after the trial ends. You’ve been there, right? (I can’t be the only one!) We have to be aware of those small withdrawals that can turn into big ones if we’re not paying attention. That’s what happens when we don’t manage our own bank account.

How do you like it when you deposit something and they attach a fee to it? No one likes that.

We need to ask ourselves, “How can I make deposits of love to those in my life?” I want to continue to deposit love into that friend’s life so that when they go out into the world and have hardship, they have those reserves to draw from. I do this with my friends, my spouse, and my children. We also need to evaluate our own internal homes and know if we are prepared for the outside world that may hurt us or abuse us or worse. We, too, need that reserve of love to manage the world outside of us that offers very little love.

How do I love God, myself, and His people? 

I care about what God cares about, and I care for what God cares for.

If those last two sentences are all you take from this blog, that’s enough.

They are that important.

Love is feeling and intention put into action. I need to honor my master, to care for what he cares for, to care about what he cares about. That means all people, and that also means me! The correct order for love is receiving love from the One who is love, experiencing that love, loving Him back, and as I learn what love is, and how God loves, then I am able to care for me and to love others well. 

Notice I said “care for me.” This is so important, so don’t miss it. If I allow for abuse in my inner home, in my internal world, how am I prepared for the world of abuse and heartache outside of me? Caring for myself is an act of love, it is sacrificial. I don’t know about you, but I know it’s sacrificial to me because I just don’t want to do it.

The next step from sacrificial love is phileo love, and He wants me to be friends with myself. I accept myself as a friend. I’m with myself 24/7 and don’t want to be my own enemy.

We are so valuable to God, and through Him we have tremendous and inexhaustible resources. Again, I need to honor my master, to care for what he cares for, and to care about what he cares about. That means all people, and that means me.

Yet love sometimes hurts. True love, the kind that drove Christ to die on the cross for us, will hurt at times. Love hurt him, scarred him, wounded him, and marred him. However, the hurt that is true always produces fruit and growth. Hurt resulting from dysfunction, foolishness, selfishness, and narcissism only injures and harms. True love, real love, always produces fruit and growth, even if there is hurt, because love never fails.

In order to discover to true nature of love, we need to go to the source of that love and fill up our inner homes with His deposits of love. Then and only then are we capable of filling up the love deposits of others.

Only then we love our neighbors as ourselves.

Only then can we care about what God cares about and care for what God cares for.

Only then will we be true reflections of God’s love.

Only then will we be able to know love and to love well.

And that’s the kind of love I want to know.

Stop Trying So Hard - You Are Already Worth More Than You Think

Have you ever felt “less than” or not enough? Do you feel as if you will never meet the expectations of those around you? Are you constantly striving, exhausted, always living the “if only, then…” way: If only I achieved success, got that promotion, reached my goal weight, found love, etc., then I would be valued, worthy, good enough. Are you kidding?  you are thinking to yourself, I think those thoughts all the time!

We all do. Those thoughts certainly haunted me throughout most of my adolescence and young adult life. Being adopted, I always had this feeling that I was not good enough and had to prove that I was worthy of love and acceptance. Yet all of that striving and trying to be “enough” on my own led absolutely nowhere. I was on a spinning wheel of trying to measure up to the world’s system of valuing performance-oriented behavior, a system that requires you to show people who you are and what you can do in order to convince them of your value. 

I have to have the right kind of job.

I have to look a certain way.

I have to drive the right kind of car.

I have to build the illusion that I have it all together.

It’s deceptive because, for a while, you feel as if you are successful and valued on the outside. You feed on the accolades and the compliments and the measuring sticks of your success, but it’s never enough. In truth, “performance-oriented behavior” is a trap that keeps genuine fulfillment just out of your reach.

I experienced some outward success in my younger years but struggled with stress and disillusionment. The fruits of my performance-oriented behavior, though nicely dressed with the trappings of success, were not fulfilling. I was left feeling more driven by anxiety and compulsion, immeasurably worse off than when I had begun. I felt lost and very far away from my purpose.

I had finally reached the end of my own abilities. I stepped off the spinning wheel and took one step back to God. After running from Him for so long, I offered up my life, not even sure it was worth anything to Him. It felt so small, messy, imperfect, and unworthy. Surely I had messed up my life and purpose with my own efforts. I couldn’t comprehend that it was me that was of enormous value to God.

The moment I realized my value is when everything changed.

It turned my world upside down. As I began to comprehend my value, I came to understand how God thought about me. He chose to create me; and He chose to create you! In Psalm 139, we see David beautifully depict God’s ever-present interest in us. He searches us out and knows us, He sees our every action and lovingly created our innermost beings. He chose us. David exclaims in Psalm 139:6 that “such knowledge is too wonderful for me.” We are incredibly loved and valued.

Choice is one of the biggest components in love. It’s easy to feel love, but it’s another thing entirely to choose to love. From love comes the subsequent valuing of something or someone. God thought about us, wanted us, chose us, and acted upon that choice. There is great value in this understanding. The valuing of something is always indicative of the effort, time, and sacrifice, the price applied, the belonging to, and the determination to be sought out and acquired.

God thought about you, chose you, and wanted you! Just let that sink in for a moment.

Yet there is an even greater truth about His love. We have guaranteed value to Him—value that cannot be earned or revoked. The words guaranteed and value touch on the idea that humans have two very important emotional and psychological needs: 1) to feel they are important, special, that they have worth (value), and 2) to be able to depend on these feelings as true (guaranteed, security). This is why God reiterates over and over again throughout the Bible how very valuable we are, that we have great worth, and furthermore, that we can believe this with complete confidence.

On the contrary, our world establishes value based on what you do, who you know, how you look, what you own, or how much money you have and that value can fluctuate as easily as the stock market changes from day to day. God’s economy doesn’t work that way! He created us and knew before the beginning of time what purpose He had for us. He was willing to put in the effort to bring His vision to completion, to commit to the process, to know there was a diamond in the rough of great value. He is not depending on us to ensure our own value—the Creator, the Purchaser, the Committed One determines the value of the object. I am reminded of Philippians 1:6, that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion” (NIV). When He thought us and bought us, He knew what he was getting into with us. What a relief! We can relax and simply follow Him, trusting that He will complete the work in us.

God is not fixing us up to make us valuable; he is fixing us up because we are so valuable.

As we begin to fully understand WHO establishes our value—our God and Creator—we know that nothing else matters as far as our true value is concerned. Our value is intrinsic. It does not come from anything we can do or create. It originates from our Creator. We are made in the image of God, which instills value in and of itself.

I love to use the analogy of a $100 bill. If I were to give you a crumpled-up hundred-dollar bill, would you still take it? Of course! What if I gave you a $100 bill that had been in the parking lot, stepped on, stuck with chewing up gum—would you still see the value in it? What if that same $100 bill was in a dumpster, would you search for it? I don't know about you, but I would put plastic gloves on and get busy looking!  Because no matter where that hundred-dollar bill has been, no matter what filth it has on it, no matter how many times it has been crumpled up, it's still worth $100!

And the same is true of our value to God.

Like the $100 bill, we cannot do anything to decrease or increase our own value. We have guaranteed value because God values us. It does not depend on us!! Let’s say that again!  We can rest and depend on the fact that He values us, therefore we are valuable. It is guaranteed.

Though we sin, our mistakes and blunders are seen through the eyes of love, attachment, and belonging. Our sin, though grievous to Him because he knows its consequences, is not reflective of our value, or our own authenticity, or why we were made. Think of the $100 bill again. Even if it had been used to purchase drugs or some other nefarious purpose, that transaction doesn’t devalue the $100 bill. It’s simply not being used for its highest, greatest good. It is the same with us and our value when we stumble. Our sin does not affect our value or His love for us; it only increases His sorrow.

If you ever question your value (and we know we all do), please know that at your worst, Christ died for you. Before you even knew you needed Him, before you even knew He wanted you, He valued you.

Romans 5:8 says: “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Even when we were nothing, in terms of the world’s version of value, we were valued by our Creator. Before the world ever saw our value or acknowledged our worth, we were valued. Before we even knew Him, He valued us beyond measure. We were valued just as sunken treasure, or searching for a gold mine. He knew (and knows) our worth and works relentlessly to show our true value. As Romans 5:8 relates, even when we were at our worst with absolutely nothing to offer of value, Christ died for us. 

Wow. 

This truth about guaranteed value is revolutionary and so counter-culture. It is utterly inconceivable to our human minds that someone would love us in that state. But to die for us? Unimaginable.

Even in my darkest hour, when I felt I had absolutely nothing to offer Him, God scooped me up and called me “valued.” He took all my plans and missteps and striving and redeemed me with His love. He showed me that I was His child, bought and paid for with the sacrifice of His Son. I didn’t need to do anything to earn His love. Because I was His child, I had intrinsic value.

God was and is enough.

I was and I am good enough.

God wants us to move the knowledge of His love for us from our heads to our hearts so that we assimilate it into our identity. If the intellectual truth becomes integrated into our heart, then we can access it now—it makes sense. When it comes to my value I need to accept it the same way that I accept that Christ died for me and that Jesus is who He says He is. This is not easy, however. We as Christians can accept that Jesus is the son of God, rose from the dead, resides in Heaven, and lives in our hearts, yet we can still struggle with believing we are valuable.

We must accept that we are sinners who are highly valued by God and in need of a Savior.

As a result, we need to realize and accept: “I cannot regain what I have not lost.” We can feel devalued because of our behaviors, but our value to God cannot be altered. Regardless of how unlovely, how unworthy, how invaluable we feel, we must respond to the truth of God who says we are highly valued and very precious in His sight.

We must believe and internalize this truth about God’s guaranteed value of us, regardless of our sin or failures or feelings of unworthiness. Feelings should not be indicators of our value. I like to say it this way: “Feelings are very real, but not always true.” This insight revolutionized my life. When we feel condemnation, false guilt, toxic shame, we need to remember Scripture. We need to be reminded that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). God will never condemn His children; He corrects, He chastises, and He disciplines, but He never causes any child of His to feel despondent, alone, gross, unlovable, unwanted, or beyond help. The conviction of Scripture always produces life, not death or darkness. When the enemy wants to devalue your very existence by pointing out your sins and shortcomings, you need to refute it with the truth that you were so highly valued that God Himself died in your place.

When we let go of the lies and the feelings of “not good enough” and embrace the truth of God’s value for us and our redemption through Jesus Christ, we take a step toward living in His abundant grace.           

I encourage you to take a step of faith today, just like I did, believing the One who created you and values you. Allow God to scoop you up and call you “valued one.” Accept that He values you regardless of your behavior. Accept that God values you even if you don’t feel it or comprehend it. Remember, even when we didn't belong to Him or choose Him, He loved us and died for us all.  This is the proof of our inherent value.

It’s guaranteed, and on that you can depend! 

God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. —Ephesians 2:8-10

More Than Just a Wedding: Family Issues, Gender Differences, and a Much-Needed Miracle

I recently was given the pleasure, as well as the honor, of officiating my niece’s wedding in Austin, Texas in the beginning of May 2015. What a beautiful place! In the message portion of the wedding ceremony, I expanded on the story of the wedding at Cana where Jesus turned water into wine. It is one of those well-known and oft-recited miracles in the Bible, but it took on a completely new meaning for me recently. One that rocked my world. Two things struck me like a flash of light . . . The first miracle ever performed by Jesus was for family. Not only for family was it done, but it was done at the request of a family member, for a family member. Let us not overlook that Jesus initially said no, and then relented (this will be important later). Secondly, I saw the interaction Jesus [as a man] had with a woman. The gender implications were huge, amazing, curious, interesting, and quite humorous the deeper I examined and imagined how the scene might play out.

Can you imagine Jesus at your family gathering? How would He act? What would He say? Would He keep to himself or draw people to interaction and relationship?

At the Wedding in Cana, we get a glimpse of Jesus (who we know is still God) being a human mortal man, interacting with the mortal woman Mary. We see Jesus as a good, mortal human man in an everyday setting. When he showed up, He was not acting as Messiah or in any divine capacity. It was not yet His time. Yet we see Him as this perfect example of a human man when responding to gender differences.

We can also see a poignant, intimate moment as Jesus behaves as a mortal man in a family interaction. Once His ministry is in full swing, we rarely see Jesus as anything but the Son of God. What a rarity in the gospel that we get to see this moment. Before revealing His divinity, He was perfect as a mortal man. At the wedding in Cana He is the Son of God but also the son of Mary. This family moment gives us a rare glimpse into Jesus as a man, a son, and as a God who loves. We can glean so very much from this small interaction.

Let’s read the story as if we were there. This event is an enduring one in the lives of humans. Weddings have been happening since long before Jesus came and will continue through the end of time—with the biggest wedding feast of all! This wedding in Cana is about the most human event He could participate in, and it is about as human as we will see Jesus. He and His friends (disciples) were simply attending a wedding as guests. Nothing more. He does not reveal His divinity until the end of the story.

John 2:1-11 states that when the party ran out of wine, Jesus’s mother (unnamed in John’s Gospel) told Jesus, “They have no wine,” and Jesus replied, “O Woman, what has this to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother then said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:3-5). Jesus ordered the servants to fill containers with water and to draw out some and take it to the chief steward. After tasting it, without knowing where it came from, the steward remarked to the bridegroom that he had departed from the custom of serving the best wine first by serving it last (John 2:6-10). John adds that “Jesus did this, the first of His signs, in Cana of Galilee and it revealed His glory and His disciples believed in Him (John 2:11).”

Let’s look at different translations to get a deeper, broader, and more intimate look at this interaction. I like to look at several translations, particularly for this one, as a way to hear the tone, the implicit emotions, and tenor of this particularly special, and very “telling,” moment in time.

In the Voice, Jesus says, “Dear woman, is it our problem they miscalculated when buying wine and inviting guests? My time has not arrived.” In the Message, He says, “Is that any of our business, Mother—yours or mine? This isn’t my time. Don’t push me.” The Living Bible: “I can’t help you now. It isn’t yet my time for miracles.” The Good News Translation: “You must not tell me what to do,” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.” New International Version:  “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” New King James Version: “Woman, what does your concern have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”

The first revelation about this story? It was all about family.

We see in this reading that the first miracle God performed on earth was for a family situation, in a family, and for a family. God loves families, and we are His family. What we see in the story of Cana is that Mary had a need, and to her it was significant! She needed a miracle; if Jesus didn’t do something, it wouldn’t get done. Families are extremely important to God, and we are His family. He is willing and wanting to perform miracles in our families and our lives.

Yet Jesus did not initially want to do anything about the problem. Jesus said, “What concern is this of mine?” Maybe it wasn’t a concern of his, maybe he was looking at the bigger picture, and the need for wine was insignificant in the bigger picture, but is was very important, very significant to Mary, and so she went to the one person who could make it happen.

The directive here for us is this: We need to go to the one person that can make what “we think” is significant happen, and to believe that it is significant to Him. Go to the one person that has the ability to make happen what we need to have happen.

Why? Because we are his family, and He loves family.

Another revelation? Jesus modeled the perfect role of human man.

 This interaction was a unique glimpse into Jesus as a man. His statement, “This is no concern of mine,” reveals that He was not worried about the wine running out. He didn’t see the need and wasn’t pulled by the concern, but He did fulfill the need.

This was Him being the perfect man, because He was hardwired as a human man. Men, in their hardwiring, do not pick up globally on concerns the way women do. Their brains are constantly scanning for danger rather than relational or inter-personal problems. Woman are community-minded. Men are not. When Mary came to Him with her concern, He opened that box and made her concern His because she cared about it. Jesus was showing a gender difference, yet He showed it perfectly.

Mary trusted Him to take care of it or to let it go. She wasn’t going to fight it or contend, but she just wanted to let him know. She was willing to let it NOT happen as well. It was Jesus’s choice. He was not bullied, nagged, or provoked into action. He had Mary’s trust. No bargaining involved. No manipulation.

Jesus understood that the wine problem was of great concern to her, it mattered to her, so He made it His concern! Not only did He make it His concern, but He did more for her than she asked. He didn’t talk her out of the need, or belittle the need, or do it begrudgingly, but He gave her more wine than she needed and created wine that was of the highest quality.

This is Jesus role modeling for men; it is a lesson for men. There are many things that are of no concern to men, but are of GREAT concern to the women in your life. Jesus is considered the groom, and we are the bride. Men, if it concerns her, it needs to concern you. If she comes to you with a concern, and it doesn’t concern you, you need to make it your concern and help her.

Jesus helped Mary. He entered into her life and made her life important to Him; He helped her in what she was trying to achieve. Jesus was acting in the capacity of a good mortal man as He led and protected and provided for Mary. Men, for the women in your lives—you are the leader, the protector, the provider, the covering—all in varying degrees. . . follow the lead of your Savior and help her. You can be a good mortal man.

In the same way, we as women need to go the men in our lives and not expect them to always know what concerns us, or is important to us, or to even understand why it’s important to us. Furthermore, we shouldn’t be so easily offended or judgmental when they don’t understand or notice the things that we deem important. We must not attribute a negative character quality to a man simply because they don’t understand the importance of what we saw.

Mary didn’t get offended when Jesus said to her, “What concern is this of mine?” She simply stated her concern, and said to the head servant, “Do whatever Jesus tells you to do.” She trusted who He was, and He didn’t let her down!  We can follow the example of Mary and be good mortal women and not complicate things unnecessarily.

Many times, we as women ask for help and then help the men in our lives help us! In the same way, how many times do we ask for God’s help and then “help” Him, and tell Him what to do for us? We are all guilty of this at one time or another.

However, Mary didn’t say, “It’s just not working; fix it,” or “I need beverages,” and then expect Jesus to know what type of beverage. He may have initially objected because it was not yet His time, but He did what she asked. And what is even more remarkable is that He went above and beyond what she what she requested, making it better and more impressive than she could have imagined! He did MORE than what she asked, immeasurably more (Ephesians 3:20).

This is love.

She made her request known, specifically known, and then believed in both His willingness and ability to do it. It was odd that she would go to Jesus for this concern, but she went to Him because she knew He was able to do it. Then He told the servants what to do.

When we go to Him first, He directs His servants in what to do.

Another revelation? We need to go to the One who can truly understand and address our concerns.

This is so, so important for us to understand. When we have a need or concern or problem, we must go to the one person that will make what we think is significant, significant to Him. Go to the one person that has the ability to make what we need to have happen, happen.

Jesus’s miracle—that came about before His time—met and even exceeded Mary’s need. He made her look good in front of everyone she cared about in her community, even though that was not her intention. She simply saw a need. Imagine how proud she was of her son as He stepped in and took on her concern. The abundant overflow of Jesus being a good man was how really good Mary must have looked when she was able to deliver the best wine at the end of the wedding celebration. His first miracle was one of excellence and abundance, which truly reveals the heart of God!

one_personGod wants to do immeasurably more than you can ask or imagine. You simply need to let your concerns be known and trust Him with the rest.

“Do whatever He tells you.” Make your concerns known to God, then believe that He will direct His servants to address your concerns, just as He did at Cana.

Ask for the miracle, and trust that He knows what you really need.

Family is important to God, and you are His family!

Co-Dependency

CODEPENDENCY – A Relationship Disorder Co-dependency is so chronically pervasive in America, it’s almost a cultural phenomenon. If you’re an American, you’re probably also codependent. As a nation, we have an epidemic need to “please”. Look at our foreign policy, for example:

  • we have a hard time saying no to countries that make requests of us
  • we tolerate a double-standard: what other nations expect of us is not necessarily what we can expect from them
  • we always have to play nice and fair, but they seem to be able to break the rules whenever they want
  • we don’t like people to be mad at us

It transcends our personal relationships, too, in how we interact and relate to others. Co-dependency affects the way we handle rejection or approval, as our self-identity and self-worth is tied very closely to others’ opinions of, or responses to us. The co-dependent person in an adult relationship tries to meet all the needs of the other person (or at least tries to be whatever the other person needs him to be) in hopes that it will come back to him in full measure and meet his own gaping needs for love, acceptance, belonging or approval.

Deception of Co-Dependency

At first, co-dependency may not seem like a big deal. In fact, co-dependency can feel like we’re doing the right thing, because initially we pour ourselves out in well-meaning ways for the other person. We give, give and give ourselves away until there is nothing left. It produces what seems like loving, self-sacrificing, giving, meaningful relationships. Isn’t it true, after all, that, “no greater love has a man than this, than to lay down his life for his friend”? However, the Enemy perverts what God has made healthy and good, into a disastrous, chronic, and unhealthy way to relate to others. It leaves exhaustion and burn-out in its wake, and produces no life-giving fruit. There is a way that seems right, but in the end it leads to death; Proverbs 14:12

Roots of Co-Dependency

From the early stages of child development (from age 0-12), a child learns to depend on, or attach himself to his primary caregiver. If dependency is accomplished well (the child is able to completely depend on the caregiver to meet his needs 100%, while also not having to think about or meet the needs of his caregiver), he can move into healthy independence. It is healthy because he has established an ability to trust since his earliest needs were met, and therefore he is able to move forward meeting his own needs without relying on anyone. He can also be interdependent; he relies on another for his needs because it is convenient, pleasurable or mutual to do so, but if that person withdraws or cannot meet his needs at some point, he will still be okay.

Unfortunately, no parent or caregiver is fully able to meet a child’s needs perfectly during this dependency stage because we are mistake-making humans. As the saying goes, babies have babies, and we carry our inner-child wounds right into parenting. There will always be ways our children need to heal from us, and mistakes they will need to forgive. God already knows this, and has made full provision for all the mistakes we can possibly make with our kids. Please do not allow the enemy to attack and accuse you. God is able to make amends for the mistakes we have made in our parenting, even when we have to forgive our parents, and our children have to forgive us.

When dependency needs are not met by the primary caretaker, children (who are narcissistic by nature) will think the unmet needs had something to do with a fault of their own.

If mom or dad failed, the little girl inside interprets that as a failure in herself – “If I was prettier, smarter, better, happier… then Daddy would have loved me. Daddy would have been prouder of me. My needs would have been met if I had been more…” This child is thrown into an early co-dependent process where she learns at an early age to try to meet the needs of her caregiver, hoping that somehow it will come back to her as a filling of her own unmet needs.

Once a child crosses over the threshold of grief (from unmet childhood needs) to adulthood, she translates that process to her current adult relationships. She tries to meet all the needs of her lover or friend, even becoming someone she is not (to the point of losing herself), if she thinks it is what the other person needs. Her inner-child hopes that her need for security, love or acceptance will finally be fulfilled.

This puts an inordinate amount of pressure on the adult relationship – she hopes that if she does it right, things will turn out well…. 16:40 You can see the disastrous road ahead if a co-dependent remains without help.

God: The Interdependent Example

God created relationships, and He is the perfect and ultimate relater. He created humans primarily to relate with them. It is paramount that we understand it is human to be in relationship. The best way to learn how to do relationships is from the Master Himself.

Jesus was our prime example of God in relationship. He came to give Himself as a ransom. He poured Himself out for humankind even to death on a cross. But He did not lose Himself, nor His identity, on the cross. He did not stop being Jesus – in fact, He became more of who He was at that point. His example shows us how we are to serve, relate and interact with one another.

God doesn’t lose Himself in the process of giving and pouring out into relationship. He says “no” without guilt, although he is willing to negotiate (Abraham, Moses and Jesus were able to persuade Him or ask His will). So we know God is not co-dependent!

One of the reasons our relationship with God can still work even when we’re co-dependent is that God has all His needs met. He is not depending on you or me to meet any of His needs. He has perfect relationship still with the Triune, so even if His relationship with me is sub-par, He’s still okay.

The Miracle: How the Father Heals Co-Dependency

John 17:20-25

New International Version (NIV)

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one — 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me.

The Father gives us His identity; our identity. We are all we need to be in the Father. We and the Father are One. We have been given the Father’s glory, the Father’s love, and the Father’s approval. We are complete in Him.

He speaks to the inner-child issue when He says, “It is better for a millstone to be wrapped around his neck than for one of them to harm one of my little ones.” I am His little one, even as a 50-year old woman. I still come back to God as a little child – not as a peer. No one can be God’s peer. I come to Him as His little Cinthia.

When I get my dependency needs met by God as an adult, and not from others, that’s a tremendous weight I can take off another adult. Then I am able to learn to be independent of –and healthfully interdependent with—others.

The God Who Sees Me

She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” (Genesis 16:13, NIV) Humans have an innate, primal need to be seen. Not just to be looked upon, but to be seen and understood by one another. It is such a significant truth. Being seen is reality-based. When we are truly seen, we are validated and made to feel real. When we’re seen we feel connected.

Consider the “still face experiment” conducted by Ed Tronick in 1975. Let me describe the experiment. A twelve- to sixteen-month-old little girl is videotaped emotionally interacting with her mother; they are smiling and pointing, cooing, and laughing with each other. Two minutes into the experiment, the mother is asked to turn away and then turn back with a “still face,” an expression that is completely unresponsive to anything the child does to reconnect with the mother. Within seconds you see the child’s distress—she does everything she can to reconnect, even shrieking to get the mother to notice or acknowledge her. She thinks to herself, Where is my mommy? This doesn’t look like my mommy; this isn’t how she looks at me. Tronick states that the child “rapidly sobers and grows wary. She makes repeated attempts to get the interaction into its usual reciprocal pattern. When these attempts fail, the infant withdraws [and] orients his face and body away from his mother with a withdrawn, hopeless facial expression.” It remains one of the most replicated findings in developmental psychology. 1

The experiment has a powerful and positive resolution in that while the infant experiences emotional distress (and possibly trauma if not repaired) for 30-40 seconds, the recovery is almost instantaneous when the mother reconnects with her child. This reveals the  power of “rip and repair,” another psychological concept discovered through this process. We are never perfect parents, friends, spouses, etc., but if we are willing, we can quickly repair our imperfect relating experiences with one another, with the reward that our willingness to repair the disconnect can lead to resiliency in ourselves and strengthen our relationships.

Like the infant, our need to be seen is so powerful that we will even change our story or our appearance to make it safe to be seen. We don’t trust that others will love us if they see the real us. The need to be seen can drive us even to produce negative behavior if it means that we will be noticed, often referred to as “negative attention seeking.” We will even engage in negative behaviors if the positive behaviors haven’t resulted in being noticed, seen, or acknowledged. Even though the negative attention doesn’t produce a positive connection, it is better than not being seen at all. It feels better to be seen negatively than to feel like a “nobody.” What we see is that regardless of the pain we are in, when we are seen, when we connect positively, the pain becomes much more manageable even if nothing changes in our circumstances.

This is the place where we find Hagar in chapter 16 of Genesis. Mistreated and discarded by Sarai, Hagar runs away from her mistress. Feeling unworthy, unwanted, and unseen in her flight, she finds herself alone in the desert near a spring beside the road to Shur. That’s when everything changes.

An angel of the Lord appears to her and asks where she comes from and where she is going. How amazing! In her state of feeling “less than” and “not enough,” the Lord sees fit to send an angel to speak with her. She is finally seen.

Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”(Genesis 16:9-10, NIV)

Not only is she seen by the Lord, the Creator of all things, the Almighty God of the universe, but her descendants are blessed by Him.

Can you imagine Hagar’s wonderment at the declaration of the angel of the Lord? Why would God look on me, one who is despised and unwanted by my mistress? The angel then tells her to return to Sarai and submit to her. The same unlivable situation that drove her out into the desert is the one that the angel tells her to go back to willingly, but she now has the strength to endure the inevitable hardship because she has been seen and valued by the Lord, the One who sees.  

When God sees us, it gives us the strength to endure the hard things.

Imagine the hardship that Jesus endured on the cross. He endured every beating, every flogging, every conceivable ridicule, and unimaginable pain in order that we might have an unbreakable connection with God. Arguably the most painful part of his crucifixion and death was when all the sins of the world were heaped on His shoulders and God had to look away. In Matthew 27:46 we hear Jesus cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  One of the definitions of forsaken is “to turn away from.”2 This was unbearable anguish to Jesus. After crying out to God, asking “why” have you turned away from me, He finally said, “It is finished.”

That was the last time those words will ever be uttered. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, mortal man will never have to be forsaken by God again. Because Christ was willing to bear the sins of the world, God will never again have to “look away” from us because of our sin.

Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you. (Hebrews 13:5, NIV)

I have had times in my life when I felt so lost, like I was floundering, just plodding along. I couldn’t find my way, I didn’t know where was going or where I was, and nothing seemed to fit. I knew that God knew where I was, but I didn’t know where I was. I kept asking God to find me even though I knew I wasn’t lost by him, but I needed to be found.

I would pray, “Please, God, find me; I don’t feel found by you. I need to feel seen by you, do you see me? Do you see my circumstances? I’m afraid for you to see what I have done. Have you turned away from me?” Have you ever felt that way? This is how Hagar felt. Once God saw her, she could handle anything. She needed to feel found.

God says:

Trust me. I am the God who sees you. You may not see, but I am the God who sees you. I am the way, and I know my own way for you. I am the God who sees you. I am the God who knows you. I don’t lose anything of value, and you are of immense value to me.

I never walk away from what I have made. I am the great I am, and I am the God who sees you. I am not as distant as it may feel, nor am I as uninvolved as it may seem. There are things I am doing in your life that are beyond your comprehension; they are too vast for me to explain. They must just take their course, be experienced, and allowed to have the time needed to complete what I am doing.

Like a bread dough that is put aside to rise, to allow the yeast to do its work of expansion, you must wait on my work to complete in you. I am in the waiting on ingredients, making sure of their necessary order, knowing what the end result needs to be and the time it will take, I won’t leave you in the process. I will see it through to its full fruition. I am the God who sees you, I am the God of formation; I know my process within you.

You can trust the one who died for you.

You call to me and I listen; you call out to me, and I hear. I am near, more near than you can conceive. You are learning to discern my presence in different ways, in different stages and places.

Trust in Me, the Ones who sees you.

Knowing that God sees us and understands us, holding our future in the palm of His hand, we are now called to see and understand others. Are we looking on others with condemnation and disdain or in compassion, kindness, and love?

We need to be the eyes of Jesus, looking out on the world in search of the hurt, the forgotten, the lonely, the unseen. In the words of Teresa of Ávila, “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ must look out on the world.”

We are to understand that we are forever seen by God, never to be forsaken. “I have now seen the One who sees me.”

Like Hagar, we are to find the strength to endure the hard things in order to see the work of God completed in us.

We are to then to see—really see—the hurt, the forgotten, the lonely, the unseen and be the eyes of Christ to a hurting world.

Questions

  1. Look for ways to know God sees you in unlikely ways and unusual places—in a compliment you got that you really needed to hear, in a song that came on the radio that spoke to you, in a verse you read that cut straight to your heart, in a billboard that reminded you of something important.
  1. How can you actively seek to see and understand those around you?

1 Ed Tronick and the “Still Face Experiment.” Science Blogs. Jason G. Goldman, October 18, 2010. http://scienceblogs.com/thoughtfulanimal/2010/10/18/ed-tronick-and-the-still-face/

2 http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/forsake

Please Understand Me

Come on now, let’s walk and talk; let’s work this out. Your wrongdoings are blood red, but they can turn as white as snow. Your sins are red like crimson, but they can be made clean again like new wool. (Isaiah 1:18, VOICE) Since God cares for you, let Him carry all your burdens and worries. (1 Peter 5:7, VOICE)

One weekend at a women’s conference about eight years ago, I was both a witness and a participant in an amazing display of letting go of burdens. As the music played throughout the room, my eyes drifted to the cross at the bottom of the stage. Hundreds of women filed up to symbolically place the Post-it notes representing their sins, burdens, and anxieties on the cross.

Everything they worried about in the middle of the night.

Everything they struggled with daily.

The secret sins that no one else knew about.

Everything.

With tears in their eyes, they placed their cares and burdens and worries on the cross as they placed them in the hands of their God who cares so much for them. I would imagine the cry of their hearts at the moment was something like, “Please understand me and accept me for who I am.” They were crying out for unconditional love. His answer is always, “I do understand, and I love you despite those burdens you carry.”

The notes were so numerous that they were spread all over the floor around the cross. It was an overwhelming amount of burdens from a group of women, and many of them were already followers of Christ.

As I struggled to fit all of my sins and struggles on a tiny Post-it note, I got a glimpse of God’s perspective of my sin. My big burdens aren’t as heavy to Him as they are to me. It was then that it hit me. The very cross that that He could not bear on His own on the walk to Calvary was made of wood—the very material of which our symbolic Post-it notes were made. Our sins are now weightless, just like those tiny Post-it notes, because Jesus already bore them on the cross. It was a powerfully moving moment when I realized that God is so much bigger than the sins that we either magnify or minimize in our own minds.

It is so significant when God says in Isaiah 1:18, “Let’s walk and talk; let’s work this out.” Several commentaries on this verse tell us that God is talking to us about the need to come to Him; and we shouldn’t to be afraid to come to Him. His conversation to you might sound something like this: Let me talk about this with you. You know the sin you think is unforgivable and overwhelmingly life-controlling? I’m not surprised by it. I know you and love you. Nothing is too big for my love to overcome. My Son already paid the price.

How amazing is that?

He wants us to let go of our burden of sin because He can handle it. He already knows about it, and, most incredibly, He wants to talk with us about it so that we can learn from it. He so desperately desires a relationship with us, even with all of our shortcomings.

He understands.

In fact, He wants to know how we explain our sins to ourselves. He wants us to tell Him our understanding of ourselves and to reason it out. Sometimes we may not even know the reasons we continually hold onto certain burdens or sins in our lives, but we can then submit to His guidance in discovering the why. In order to walk and talk with God about our burdens and sins, we need to be honest with Him and give Him an explanation of our motives rather than an excuse. What’s the difference?

Explanations are relational and bring understanding.

They explain the motives and emotions behind an act and offer up an understanding of the person. When we reason with God about our sins and give explanation for their cause, we are opening ourselves up to His grace and mercy to forgive them.

When we give excuses, on the other hand, we are saying, “I can’t help it. This is just how I’m made. I cannot change.” Excuses will bring justice, which is what we deserve. There is no room for mercy and grace, because there is no responsibility taken. So with excuses there is only justice with consequence.

But explanation goes even farther than that. It gives context to “my crazy.” Sin is downright crazy if you think about it. Explaining helps me understand me (James 5:16) and helps you understand me. Not to minimize or excuse what I did—it’s more about understanding the why. Humans are hardwired to figure things out, to understand and to make sense of their world. People don’t seem as weird, scary, or menacing when we understand the “why” behind what they do. Note: this is why the “peace that passes all understanding” is so difficult for us—because we are hardwired to try and make sense of everything.

Even when the craziness of conflict and other worldviews constantly crashes through our consciousness and we seek to understand, we often fail and get angry or begin to condemn. But God is able to understand, enter in, be relational, and never make crazy, wrong behavior seem okay.

He is the ultimate, perfect relater.

So when we choose to explain own wrong choices or bad behavior, we begin to understand each other better and meet the basic human need of being understood, known, seen, and wanted. It is powerfully healing when we are known—really known: the good, the bad, and the ugly—and are still wanted and understood. That feeling of “you still want me and love me” even when we are fully known, warts and all, is so incredibly powerful.

It’s what God offers us, and we can do this for each other.

We have countless studies that reveal how powerful it is when people are connected and attached. We have more power when we are connected because our behaviors matter, making us matter. When we are involved with a community, we choose better on a more consistent basis and resist indulging in our weakness because we are in relationship with others. This is because they know of our weaknesses and vulnerabilities and can then support and protect us. This is not to say that they are responsible for our weaknesses, but they give courage to us in our weakness. This is how we help each other “fight the sins that so easily beset us” (Hebrews 12:1).

This dynamic was so perfectly demonstrated by the relationship that Jesus had with his disciples. They were known and loved by Christ, and it brought out the best version of them, even when they failed.

We fight our sins better when we are not alone—this is why sharing who we are and why we do what we do is so powerful. When done correctly, we do not feel alone. The worst thing is for humans to be alone and struggling in loneliness. We sin most frequently when we are alone and disconnected, thinking that no one else understands us. We feel alone, unwanted, unseen, and unworthy.

When we are connected and engage in the explanation of our struggles, knowing and understanding their context helps to reestablish a connection, not explain away bad behavior. Context allows us to be seen, to be known, to be accepted, in spite of our troubles; it doesn’t minimize offense or take away consequences. Explanation helps us to see and know each other in the midst of, and truly in spite of, our behaviors. This ultimately helps us to work harder, fight harder to have our behaviors truly “match” who we are, versus our behaviors contradicting who we really are and ultimately want to be.

Galatians 6:2 says to share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ (NLT). It’s connectedness, relationship, fighting together. Understanding each other. When we share our burdens with each other, we are given the opportunity to understand their struggles, pray for them, and reach out in compassion. We are given the divine opportunity to forgive as we have been forgiven.

Forgiveness is the antidote to sin.

When we walk and talk with God about our sins, He is increasing relationship with us, which ultimately strengthens us and helps us to endure and to fight against the pull of sin. But we need to be honest with God with how attached we are to our sin. Maybe your inner dialogue with God would sound something like this:

I’m embarrassed to say I like this sin.

I don’t want to give it up. 

I’m angry that I can’t stop.

I’m so worried.

I’m really struggling here.

If you cannot relate with this dialogue, honestly and prayerfully consider what a more honest conversation with God sounds like for you.

Trust me when I say that God is not disgusted, weary, or sick and tired of hearing about our struggles. He understands, and He is not surprised at all. You can’t shock God, and remember who God has contended with—Hitler, Stalin, Mao Tse-tung, Satan. If He can handle these guys, He can handle us.

The bottom line is that He is willing to talk about our sin with us, willing and wanting to be in relationship with us, willing to talk about how big and how small our sin is. He sticks with us in the midst of the consequences of our sin, and will never leave us to contend with it alone—unless we choose to battle it alone.

The whole point of Jesus carrying the cross is that we are together in this. We are not alone! God doesn’t want us to struggle alone in our sin. He wants us to come to Him with all of our mess and talk with Him about it.

Come on now, let’s walk and talk; let me help you work this out. Your wrongdoings are blood red, but they will be turned as white as snow.

What are you struggling with today?

Make a commitment to tell one other person about your struggles and offer to support them in fighting their battles as well. Open your heart up to the community of understanding that awaits you when you share your heart with a trusted friend. You’re not meant to fight alone.

God is waiting to talk with you too. Don’t let another minute go by alone in your fight. Trust Him with the Post-it notes you would post on the cross. Even though they feel overwhelming to you, they are weightless to Him and He can handle them all. Let them go.

Come and lay them at the cross. He understands.

 

Confess to one another therefore your faults (your slips, your false steps, your offenses, your sins) and pray [also] for one another, that you may be healed and restored [to a spiritual tone of mind and heart]. The earnest (heartfelt, continued) prayer of a righteous man makes tremendous power available [dynamic in its working]. —James 5:16 (AMP)

I Am With You—Always

I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught.—John 14:27 (MSG)

My peace is the legacy I leave to you. I don’t give gifts like those of this world. Do not let your heart be troubled or fearful. —John 14:27 (VOICE, emphasis added)

Peace is God’s parting gift to us.

Of all the parting gifts that Jesus could have left for us, He left us His peace. Not love, not faith—although those are both very valuable things—but peace. Isn’t that interesting? This is the culmination of everything Jesus taught, everything He demonstrated while on earth. Christ left this legacy of peace for us to follow. I have found myself ruminating on this passage and being drawn back into it recently, and I believe there is great truth to be found in this short exchange with the disciples.

Worry and peace cannot coexist.

Why? Because God designed our brains to only process either worry or peace. Neuroscientists have discovered a truly interesting phenomenon regarding the human brain; it has something like an on/off switch1 and cannot focus on both a positive and negative feeling at the same time. Interestingly enough, the brain will always pick the negative before the positive as an unconscious survival mechanism. Can you relate?

Our brains are always trying to help us avoid pain and will unconsciously focus on the problem rather than on the solution. We all know the proverb that states, “For as a man thinketh within, so he is.” This quite simply means the more I worry about things, people, and situations, the more anxious I become; and the more my mind finds to worry about. It’s a vicious cycle.

But Jesus gave us peace as His parting gift to us.

Jesus must have known how important peace was to our hearts, souls, minds, and physical bodies. He Himself dealt with immense struggles here on earth, yet he never worried. Why was Jesus able to make such good decisions and never be anxious? He was always in communion with His Father and continuously at peace.

So how we embrace peace in the midst of circumstances that beg for us to spiral into anxiety and despair? It’s all about trust.

Jesus gave us His peace as His legacy for us. We need to learn to trust Him.

I recently had an “aha” moment as I cared for my finicky cat. I was pouring cat food into his bowl, of all things, when I felt the Lord speaking to me. Cinthia, you feed and care for your cat every day and night, even though he is not always the best cat, because he belongs to you. You give him what he needs; he does nothing to merit it. He just receives it, trusting that you will care for him.

It reminds me of Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:25-34 regarding the lilies of the field and how they are clothed better than Solomon. You don’t see lilies wringing their petals, wondering how God will feed and clothe them. And you certainly won’t see my cat spending a single moment in anxiety that I won’t feed him.

How much more will our Father who loves us care for us in abundance when we are in need? Just like my cat and the lilies, we can’t do anything to earn His favor. All He asks of us is to trust Him and not worry. He knows what worry can do to us. He is pleading with us, “I made you, I created you—this will compromise you and kill you. Don’t drink the poison of worry! It is a slow kill.”

Worry is a slow kill.

Neuroscientists have confirmed through the use of an MRI the many neural changes that your brain undergoes within one second of having a negative thought. The amygdala releases dozens of stress-producing hormones and neurotransmitters. These brain chemicals immediately interrupt normal functioning of the brain, especially those involving logic, reason, and problem solving. In other words, negative thinking and worry puts you into survival mode. The more you stay focused on the negative words or thoughts, the more you actually damage key structures that regulate your memory, feelings, and emotions. You may disrupt your sleep, your appetite, and the way your brain regulates happiness, longevity, and health.2  The bottom line? Worry is simply not good for you. If you let it, it will slowly kill you.

The science of the mind is now catching up to the Bible and proving what God has been saying to us all along. We must maintain the highest level of positivity in order to counteract the effects of negativity on our bodies, our spirits, our souls, and our relationships. God really knows what he is talking about when He says not to worry. It truly harms us and lowers our effectiveness.

One way to combat worry is to understand the relationship we have with our brains. You can talk to your brain and tell it what to do. Sound silly? Hear me out. Take a moment to think about the words peace, love, and joy. Meditate on them,  and really let their meanings settle into your psyche. What happens when you practice this type of meditation is that the thalamus (command center) in your brain takes that word and disseminates it through the rest of your brain.3 Instead of moving into the “fight or flight” survival mode that worry instigates, meditating on “peace” takes that word straight to the frontal lobe where higher-level thinking and emotions reside. It’s like restarting your computer. Contemplating the positive is akin to hitting a reset button in your brain.

I encourage this meditative practice with my clients, and I’ve benefitted from the practice myself. When you are stressed and feeling burned out, tell your brain, “Relax, you can do this. You are capable. You can pull through this trauma. You are strong.” This practice actually builds neurological connections in your brain that can have a healing effect, even after inconceivable trauma.

Having Jesus in you means you get to have “His” feelings.

This is not just about knowing you need to be at peace cognitively, how he wants you to feel, but actually getting to feel the way He feels. In a sense, you can borrow His feelings. When we are overwhelmed by problems and circumstances, we can look at Jesus and borrow His peace.

My peace I give you.

I recently had an amazing experience at the San Diego Zoo where I was treated to a back stage encounter with the animals. I saw a sloth, a leopard, an Alaskan wolf, and a cheetah, along with many others. The animals were a mere five feet away! It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but it led to an epiphany of sorts. You see, the cheetah had a unique buddy that helped him to stay calm—a specially chosen shelter dog.

The calm cheetah with his canine buddy.

Cheetahs are naturally very skittish and wary. As part of a program called “Animal Ambassadors,” zoologists pair cheetahs with dog companions particularly chosen for their calm demeanors. I watched as the cheetah constantly looked over at his canine buddy and stayed calm during the entire interaction. Though he would be a nervous wreck with all the people and commotion on his own, with his buddy at his side, he was able to be at peace. The dog’s peaceful demeanor was enough reassurance for the naturally skittish cheetah that it was all good. Everything was going to be all right.

Isn’t that amazing?

We can do the same with Jesus. We can constantly keep our eyes on Jesus as our “buddy” and take our cues from Him. We can borrow His feelings of peace when we are just not feeling it. If He is good, we are good. And He is always good. Everything is going to be all right.

That doesn’t mean that it’s going to be easy. Trust is hard.

One saying of mine that I refer to often is that “trust is a word I understand until I actually have to do it.” It doesn’t feel like a heavy word until I actually have to put it into practice. But Jesus understands how hard it is to trust. He wants us to trust Him because the peace of God is almost inaccessible if we’re not trusting.

Our trust should be in God, not in ourselves.

My trust always needs to start and stop with God, not with me. I have to learn to trust Him with my “God–sized” problems—the ones that are unsolvable, burdensome, and unmanageable. Instead of focusing on how and if He will solve them, I need to focus on my relationship with Him and on who He is.

I accept this life of uncertainty; I accept God’s timing. Nothing is impossible for God—He is the God of the impossible, He is the God of me, therefore I am thankful that I am not too impossible for God.4

We can accept His peace by being transformed in His presence.

The famous devotional, Jesus Calling, encourages us to relax daily in His healing holy presence. We must allow Him to transform us through time alone with Him. As we center our thoughts more and more on Jesus, trust displaces fear and worry. Our minds are like seesaws—as our trust in Him goes up, worry and warring go down. This heals my brain, my spirit, my soul, and eventually my body. This trust helps me to know what’s important, how I am supposed to spend my time, and what I am supposed to do!5

A prayer that I often repeat to myself when I need to get myself centered back on God is the prayer of Saint Teresa of Avila. Sometimes I only say the first two lines, but the first stanza is incredibly poignant:

Let nothing disturb you.

Let nothing frighten you.

All things pass.

God does not change.

Patience achieves everything.

Whoever has God lacks nothing.

God alone is enough.

When we have peace (His peace), we can truly be who He created us to be. We can have full access to our logical, rational, and creative beings versus using our thinking only for survival. Having His peace allows us to thrive.

Jesus accomplished so much during His short time on earth because He was at peace with himself and had His Father’s peace, so He was able to walk out the immense calling on His life without wavering. He also had amazing amounts of energy, because his energy wasn’t being used to fight and defend.

Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.” —Matthew 28:20 (MSG)

This scripture encapsulates the idea that we cannot do what God has called us to do without His peace. So He gives us His peace, commissions us, and will always be with us as we do His work in us and for His kingdom.

His peace is with us always, because He is with us always, helping us to do His work through us, no matter our circumstances. Nothing is impossible for God. You can trust Him. Accept His amazing parting gift of peace each and every day, without worry, without fear, and just wait to see what He can do!

My peace I give you.

Citations:

1 Words Can Change Your Brain, Andrew Newberg. Page 18.

2 Words Can Change Your Brain, Andrew Newberg. Page 22

3 How God Changes Your Brain, Andrew Newberg.

4 Streams in the Desert, November 27, L.B.E. Cowman.

5 Jesus Calling, Aug 10, Sarah Young.

Stop Playing It Safe!

The master was furious. “That’s a terrible way to live! It’s criminal to live cautiously like that! If you knew I was after the best, why did you do less than the least? The least you could have done would have been to invest the sum with the bankers, where at least I would have gotten a little interest. “Take the thousand and give it to the one who risked the most. And get rid of this ‘play-it-safe’ who won’t go out on a limb. Throw him out into utter darkness.” 

- Matthew 25:26-30 (MSG)

As we are moving into this year, we need to develop a new position on risk-taking. It is time to start living lives that are all out, no holds barred, and ALL IN for our Creator! We only have one life to live, so God asks of us to live it well. And that means taking risks.

Now that does not mean living recklessly. God is calling us out of our safe comfort zones to live a life of risk-taking with Him. A life of intention, courage, and passion. A life that is willing to follow Him and, yes, to make mistakes, ultimately trusting that God can handle them.

Isn’t that freeing? He already knows that we will make mistakes. He does not expect perfection. He expects us to simply follow Him.

God is saying to us, “Be willing to make mistakes, I can handle it. I have provision for every mistake you make; I am the God of all; I have resources you know not of, and I can create new resources if need be. You must take risks and make mistakes to be fully human and to be all I have created you to be! You must push, strain, stretch, and then rest from your striving. You have no idea how beautifully and wonderfully I have made you; please come discover yourself with me!”

What is keeping you from living a life of courage and intention and risk-taking for God?

Simply put, it’s fear. We are afraid of failure, afraid that we won’t measure up, afraid of being hurt, looking foolish, stepping out just to fall flat on our faces again. Yet God calls us to a life of being fully abandoned to His calling.

So how do we get past this fear and step out of our comfortable, cautious lives? It begins with understanding that God is not surprised by anything.

Let that truth wash over you. God is not surprised when we fail. We need to look at our past issues through the eyes of a healthy parent, an advocate, a loving God that knows we are going to fall short of our potential or even do something stupid (even those things that we think are unforgiveable). We all have those deep hurts, nagging sins, and character flaws that we attempt to handle with varying success.

Yes, God does see our sin. And, yes, the sin bothers Him. But when Jesus died on the cross, God knew exactly who he bought. He’s not surprised. He’s not deluded. He did it intentionally. He understands the depth and breadth of our potential relationship with Him and that we will fail time and time again. We will turn away, make mistakes, and forget Him. He is not surprised by anything we do. He knows us even better than we know ourselves.

This does not mean that we should look at our behavior and take away the importance of the offense or mistake. We are simply to realize that our behaviors do not always indicate “who we are.” We need to desire behaviors that reinforce and express who we truly are as children of God. This is who Jesus was. He was God in human form, so every behavior, word, gesture, and decision was an exact expression of who He authentically was. This is the goal, yet none of us have attained it. But we know that God will complete the work He started in us, as Philippians 1:6 says: There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears (MSG).

This means that we must resolve to let our shame die in the past. We can’t let those memories “live” in our past to continuously pop up and ensnare our minds. This kind of shame and condemnation only leads to more sin! In fact, it is one of Satan’s biggest tools to keep us ensnared by sin.

This also applies to successes. Just as I cannot continue to live in the shame and embarrassment of past behaviors, I must not live in my past successes. We have to look at our life experience as lessons. We want to be wise people that learn, not fools that continue to repeat.

We need to shake off the old and live fully in the present where God has made a way for us to be restored each and every day. The added bonus of living fully in the present and taking power away from the reminders of our sin is that it is a great “in your face” to the enemy! When we choose to dwell on what God has forgiven, it is a massive reminder to Satan that he is defeated.

So, we are to remember and learn. We are never to use hindsight for self-abuse; it is only intended to see where we were as it is related to where we are going. We need our memories to remind us of either “who” we are or “who” we are not. If people have amnesia, dementia, or Alzheimer’s, many times relationship with them is not possible because they do not know who they are. When we are reviewing our past, we must resist judgment and condemnation. We know that God says, “Therefore there is now NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

You see, he paid the price for our ability to learn and grow without being in debt.

It’s similar to your parents paying for car insurance while you are learning to drive. You are allowed to make mistakes, there is no other way to learn. God is aware of this and has made provision for it. I am always comforted by the fact that God has already provided for all the mistakes I am going to make. Living in freedom from the debt of our sin does not mean that we don’t have any consequences. That is part of the learning curve.

I must evaluate based on facts:

Did that work for me?

Do I want to repeat it? 

Do I want to integrate that behavior that into my being? 

If not, I use it as a reference point to tell me NOT to do that behavior; I now know it doesn’t work, and so I can check that off the list. If it is a repetitive issue, like drug abuse or addictions, then the learning process is finding out what causes the repetition or the bondage to that particular behavior or cycle. Satan wants me to get so caught up in how egregious the behavior is that I am to condemned and ashamed to do any healthy problem solving.

Bottom line? Humans need to make mistakes as a way to learn.

God is calling us to relax and live in the freedom to learn and grow and make mistakes without the fear of our souls being in jeopardy. He has already paid the price. There is nothing we can do in and of ourselves to settle the cost.

Our only true offering to God is living our lives fully as Jesus did. Jesus risked the most. Think about it—we were not a good gamble. God knew, before He even sent His Son to earth, that we would reject Him, despise Him, crucify Him.

Yet He still risked it all for us.

The biggest insult to God is NOT LIVING! I know that I don’t want to be identified with the “play-it-safe” who buried his talent and was thrown into utter darkness. But that is exactly who we are when we settle for lives that are safe and risk-free.

Though God knows our human frailty, He has high expectation of our human potential when we partner with Him. We need to see ourselves from God’s perspective, living lives that are fully engaged and trusting in His provision. We need to take steps every day to use the talents and resources He has entrusted with us to further His kingdom. We need to reach out to the world around us with the full measure of His love.

So, go out on a limb. Take that step of faith that God has been calling you to take. Pray for opportunities to stretch past your own ability so that God can work with and through you. Above all else, in this New Year, LIVE your life FULLY, with passion and courage and abandon, as an offering of love and thankfulness to the God who risked it all for you.

Do Not Hinder the Little Children

Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom belongs to such as these.” (NIV) This verse in Matthew 19:13 & 14 struck me one day. I thought to myself, How interesting that we only apply this verse to literal children. We imagine in a very literal sense that Jesus is just talking about children here. For the kingdom belongs to such as these.

But what if we suppose for a moment that there was more to what Jesus was saying? Many of His parables and teachings were figurative with hidden meanings so that only some would understand. Many alluded to the fact that we must become like children or have childlike faith in order to inherit the kingdom of God. So why do we so easily forget that we are children of God?

As adults we come to rely on our own strength, wisdom, and means so very often. That kind of independence is even lauded in popular media and entertainment. We encourage children to behave properly, stop being so silly, and learn responsibility. We may not want to admit it, but we may see them as less important in the grand scheme of our day. Mommy needs to finish this project. Daddy needs some quiet time. But this is not God’s way. God values children. Jesus called the children to come to Him.

Just as everything Jesus said and did was topsy-turvy with the world’s view, in heaven’s economy, children are very important. For the kingdom belongs to such as these. That’s pretty important.

There is something that God wants you to remember about yourself today—God sees you as His child, and He values you. He loves you. He wants you to come to Him. He wants to heal your hurts. He is saying to those around us, “Let my children come to me, and do not stop them!” Or perhaps He is reminding you to not hinder another one of His children from coming to Him.

In the Message version of these verses (13-15), we can glean so much more from these verses.

One day the children were brought to Jesus in hope that he would lay hands on them and pray over them.

The operative words here are “in hope.” We don’t want to steal others’ hope or discourage them from coming to get help or healing from Jesus. We need to encourage other to seek Him first.

The disciples shooed them off.

How many times do we minimize our pain or our needs and put them off until later? How often do we see ourselves, “little ones,” as less important? How often do we neglect to lead someone to Jesus because it doesn’t fit our time schedule or plan?

But Jesus intervened…

Hallelujah that He intervenes for us! Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father and intercedes for us (Romans 8:34).

“Let the children alone; don’t prevent them from coming to me. God’s Kingdom is made up of people like these.”

It is interesting and worthy to note that He didn’t say children but people here. We are all His children, no matter our age or station in life. People that honor children as Jesus did are authentic, real, honest people of God’s kingdom here on earth.

After laying hands on them, he left. 

Notice that He did not move onto the next thing until he met the need of the child. We need to take a lesson from Jesus in how He manages children, or us, as followers of Christ.

Above all else, if you can’t support yourself or others in coming to Jesus, then LET THEM ALONE, as Jesus directed the disciples in Matthew 19:14. In fact, in Matthew 18:6, Jesus warns us,  

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (NIV)

That is pretty strong language, so just let that soak in for a moment. It would be better to drown in the sea with a millstone around your neck, with no hope of escaping, than to cause a little one (one of His children) to stumble. Yikes! This makes me want to be a little more careful of how I treat God’s children (and myself).

Let’s go back now to that first verse where the disciples were shooing the children away from Jesus, and Jesus countered by saying that they should let the children come to Him. According to the verse in Matthew 18:6, it would be better for the disciples to have done nothing at all than to hinder the children from coming to Jesus.

Let the little children come to me.

But let’s not be too quick to dump on the disciples. They got a bad rap many times because they were learning the way of Jesus as He taught it to them. So let’s look at things from their perspective for a moment. When they were shooing the children away from Jesus, they thought they were honoring their Lord. They thought they were keeping Him from being bothered during His important ministry time.

They thought they were serving Him.

Ouch. Does that hit a little close to home? Is it possible that at times we shoo others away from coming to the Lord while we think we are serving Him? Is it possible that we minimize the importance of the “least of these” when we should be laying down a red carpet for them to run to Jesus for healing and deliverance? Is it possible that we push away our own problems because we think that serving Him means that we have to handle everything on our own?

Let the little children come to me.

We need to be willing to bring ourselves and others to Jesus. We need to be more aware, more gentle, more compassionate. We need to be like children who will grab the hand of another and run to Jesus with abandon! It is only through His touch that we can be healed, delivered, and brought to wholeness. And it is only through becoming like little children that we can inherit the kingdom of heaven.

Let us come to Him like little children, for the kingdom belongs to such as these. Matthew 19:14

Reflection Questions:

  1. Do you allow yourself, or will you allow yourself, to come to Jesus with the hope that He will touch your life? Do you come to Him with a need and ask that He “lay His hands” on the request or need?
  2. Do you discourage others or yourself from going to Jesus by “shooing” away your problem or minimizing, ignoring, or thinking it’s unimportant? What specific things are you discouraging in yourself or others when coming to Jesus?
  3. Will you let Jesus “intervene” on your behalf or another’s?
  4. Ask God to lay His hands on you, to meet your need, and for the need to simply be touched by God alone.
  5. How can you allow yourself to be a child with Jesus, so that you can be one of the people in God’s kingdom?

Meditate on these Scriptures and how they apply to you and others.

Finding God When We Lose Him

Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger. We usually only think of this Scripture in reference to Christmas, but it should be our everyday expectation. Why do we get so caught up in our everyday lives that we don’t find Him? How kind God is that he showed us this great love and grace by showing the way to Jesus with such a magnificent angelic display.

Sometimes we may wonder why angels aren’t appearing to us and telling us where we can find God. But God already showed up for all believers. Even still, we need a star, flashing lights, and blinking neon signs to show us the way when we’ve lost God.

Mary found herself in a situation where she had lost Jesus when he was twelve years old. Mary and Joseph had traveled with Jesus to Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover. Since His birth, Jesus had grown strong in body, wise in spirit, and the grace of God was on Him (Luke 2:40).  As the Feast ended and Mary and Joseph began the journey home, they didn’t realize that Jesus had stayed behind in the temple in Jerusalem.

As the caravan home was well underway and Mary suddenly came to the realization that Jesus was not with them, panic set in. Anyone who has ever lost a child can relate with this feeling of anxiety and helplessness. You go over in your mind the last place you saw your child. You rehearse everything that was said for clues to their whereabouts. You riddle yourself with grief over the “what ifs” of the situation.

Mary and Joseph felt a similar panic when they realized Jesus was not with them. We can imagine Mary frantically going from caravan to caravan asking, “Have you seen my son? He is about this tall and only twelve years old. Please, can you help me? Where is my son?”

Thinking he was somewhere in the company of pilgrims, they journeyed for a whole day and then began looking for him among relatives and neighbors. When they didn’t find him, they went back to Jerusalem looking for him. (Luke 2:45)

When all else failed, they went back to the last place they saw Him.

How do we find Jesus when we’ve lost Him? We go back to the place where we last encountered Him. We have to remember that He never left us. We left Him. We moved on to the next thing without Him. If we are not in constant companionship with Him, it is so, so easy to do. We get carried away by our schedule and our timeline. We have to get back to Nazareth! We keep moving on in our own strength. When we finally realize that Jesus is not with us, we panic. Where did He go?

In our story in Luke 2, Mary tried everything outside of herself to find Jesus. She asked everyone around her for answers. Does that sound at all familiar?

When we feel that we’ve lost Jesus, do we truly seek Him? Or do we tend to consult the latest book or our friends, relatives, neighbors, or the latest podcast? We desperately ask, “Have you encountered Jesus? Where did you find Him?” It seems like the right way because it is our natural instinct to seek the help of others. Mary and Joseph did the exact same thing when they lost Jesus. Finally, they went to the temple in Jerusalem.

The next day they found him in the Temple seated among the teachers, listening to them and asking questions. The teachers were all quite taken with him, impressed with the sharpness of his answers. But his parents were not impressed; they were upset and hurt. (Luke 2:46) 

They found Him, but they were not amused.

Mary and Joseph simply could not understand why Jesus had worried them so by staying in the temple. Didn’t he know how worried they were? The Message translation says that they were “half out of their minds” looking for him  in Luke 2:48. Jesus calmly responded, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I had to be here, dealing with the things of my Father?”

They had no idea what he was talking about.

But it was so simple. As the Son of God, it really could not have been more clear. He was in the temple, His Father’s house. He was dealing with the things of His Father. Where else would He be? Why were you looking for me out there?

Why do we look at so many things outside of ourselves when He is right where He should be…in the temple. Our temple. And He is dealing with the things of the Father. He is interceding for us on our behalf.

When we’ve lost Him, we’ve never really lost Him. We have just forgotten where He resides. We need to stop looking outside of ourselves, like Mary did, and go back to the last place we encountered him. The last place that we felt His presence and knew that He was near was not when we were listening to a podcast or reading a spiritual development book, though those can be excellent tools for growth.

No, when we are lost and looking for Jesus, we simply need to seek Him in His temple.

Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10)

Instead of rushing around and looking for Him outside of ourselves, we need to still our minds and our hearts long enough to hear His voice. He is always right there, waiting for us to seek Him. He longs for us to find Him.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. (Matthew 7:7)

When we feel lost and alone, we are never really alone. We have just wandered too far outside ourselves. We need to get back to being centered with God.

The story of Mary and Joseph finding Jesus ends with him returning with them to Nazareth and living obediently with them and growing in both body and spirit, blessed by both God and people.

His mother held these things dearly, deep within herself. (Luke 2:51-52)

In order to keep Jesus close and never lose sight of Him, we need to follow Mary’s example of holding these things dearly, deep within ourselves. If we value the relationship with our Savior and want to keep Him close, we must remember where he resides. We must fight the urge to constantly look outside of ourselves when we’re lost. We must keep ourselves centered on the One who never changes. And we must earnestly seek Him alone.

Chances are we will never be the beneficiaries of a grand angelic display that leads us to our Savior. But we can hold the truth about Him dearly, deep within ourselves, so that we never truly lose Him again.

Seek and you will find. Be still and know that I am God.

Let It Be With Us Just As He Says

As Christmas approaches with all of its joy and wonder, we are drawn once again to the story of Mary, Joseph, and the miraculous birth of Jesus. How blessed she was to have been chosen as a vessel to be used by the Lord. Yet how humbled and uncertain she must have felt when walking through the calling for which she was chosen. She was not unlike many of us, knowing that God has a calling on our lives. There is so much that we can learn from her story. I imagine that the morning the angel Gabriel appeared to her must have started like any other day. Preparing breakfast, seeing to the needs of her home. Envisioning what her life with Joseph would be like when they were married. Just an ordinary woman on an ordinary day. Then, in a moment, everything changed.

Gabriel greeted her:

Good morning! You’re beautiful with God’s beauty, Beautiful inside and out! God be with you. (Luke 1:28, MSG)

Gabriel greeted her by telling her how beautiful she was to God. I just love that, don’t you? She was beautiful inside and out, he said. When God looks at us, He doesn’t see the brokenness, the hurt, the incomplete. He sees His beauty. YOU are beautiful with God’s beauty, beautiful inside and out. The God who created the universe and knows everything about you thinks you’re beautiful. Just let that soak in for a moment. Can you fathom that truth?

This passage in Luke shares that Mary was shaken by Gabriel’s greeting, wondering what was behind a greeting like that. She had a sense that something important was about to happen, and it scared her a little. But Gabriel comforted her by saying:

Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus. He will be great, be called ‘Son of the Highest.’ The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David; He will rule Jacob’s house forever—no end, ever, to his kingdom. (Luke 1:29-33, MSG)

I can only imagine the wheels beginning to spin in Mary’s mind. How was this to happen? Yet Gabriel told her that she had nothing to fear because God had a surprise for her! And who doesn’t love a surprise? A surprise is joyful, delightful, and special.

Just like He did for Mary, God has a surprise for you as well that is joyful and delightful and special. He has a plan and a purpose for you that you cannot even conceive of or understand. Just as the Holy Spirit came upon Mary and conceived in her the promise of the birth of Christ, the Holy Spirit will conceive in you the promise of the birth of something new in you that only you can accomplish.

Whether or not we have children on this earth, we are all birthers. Really! God is birthing something amazing in each and every one of us that we cannot even conceive of yet. Just like Mary, we are ordinary people living out our ordinary lives, and yet God has something extraordinary He wants to do through us. We are an essential part of the process!

God has a way of using ordinary vessels to do extraordinary things. Look at David, the humble shepherd who defeated Goliath and eventually grew into his calling to become king of Israel. Moses was a man who suffered from a speech impediment and fear yet led the Israelites out of Egypt. Paul persecuted the church only to have a life-changing encounter with Jesus that led to the conversion of thousands to Christ. Ordinary vessels. Extraordinary outcomes.

And just like Mary, we have nothing to fear. When we yield to God’s plan for us, we will be challenged and stretched beyond anything we thought we could do, just as a pregnancy literally stretches a woman as her baby grows. There will be challenges. There will be complications. We will often question if we are even fit for the calling placed upon us. Yet we have nothing to fear because God is in it and all around it. He will see to completion that which He has conceived in us.

Do I open the womb and not deliver the baby? Do I, the One who delivers babies, shut the womb? (Isaiah 66:9, MSG)

You will not be pregnant forever. God will birth His amazing promise in you. Nothing is impossible for our God. Just as Gabriel spelled out God’s plan for Mary, he revealed that her cousin Elizabeth conceived a son, even in her barrenness. He was reassuring her that God can do anything.

And did you know that your cousin Elizabeth conceived a son, old as she is? Everyone called her barren, and here she is six months pregnant! Nothing, you see, is impossible with God. (Luke 1:36-37)

Gabriel is, in essence, saying, “If God can do it over there with Elizabeth, He can do it here with you!” If He can do it for others, He can do it for you. Nothing is impossible with God. Nothing.

Let me ask you something: What have you not been able to do? What have you considered impossible?

God used one ordinary woman to do the most extraordinary thing in history. God became man and dwelt among us. If He can do the extraordinary through her, He can most certainly do the extraordinary through you. God still wants to birth things in you that no one else can do.

Mary responded to Gabriel’s words as we should respond to God’s calling on our lives:

Yes, I see it all now: I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve. Let it be with me just as you say. (Luke 1:38)

Let it be with us just as He says. But how do we “let it be with us”? It all starts in the beginning.

In Genesis, God spoke the world into being. In the beginning, He was the conceiver of all things. God must be in the beginning of everything we do. When we invite Him into our day, our activities, our interactions, our priorities, He is able to conceive the impossible through us.

Hope of all hopes, dream of our dreams, a child is born, sweet-breathed; 

A son is given to us: a living gift. And even now, with tiny features and dewy hair, He is great. The power of leadership, and the weight of authority, will rest on His shoulders. His name? His name we’ll know in many ways— He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Dear Father everlasting, ever-present never-failing, Master of Wholeness, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6, VOICE)

Master of Wholeness. When God conceives and begins to birth this new thing in us, and He walks it out with us, He also creates wholeness within us. In the practice of yielding to his calling, we invite Him to replace the void—the brokenness and incompleteness—with wholeness. It’s like getting riches for your rags—the best kind of story! Rest assured that you will not be birthing this thing on your own. God is always available to you and will never forsake you. He is “ever-present and never-failing” throughout the process. Pray to him using the name Jesus or His other names: “Dear Master of Wholeness,” or “Dear Ever-present, Never-failing God.” He is the birther of the impossible, and He will make all things new.

So, dear one who is beautiful with God’s beauty, both inside and out: What is God birthing in you for the coming year? What is the impossible thing that He will make possible?

Remember that when God is in the beginning of our every step, anything is possible. We can trust the Creator of all things to birth the extraordinary through us. Let it be said of us that we are the Lord’s servants, trusting in His mighty power to make the impossible possible within us as we daily submit to His will.

Let it be with us just as He says.