When God is all You Need

I recently shared this post at https://inspireafire.com/when-god-is-all-you-need/. I hope it speaks to you as much as it does to me!

It sounds a little too spiritual, if you ask me.

Like a white-bearded guru sitting cross-legged on a mountaintop basking in nothing but the company of God: You never know that God is all you need, until God is all you have.

Nice in principle, but down here in the real world, I need food. And friendship. And meaningful work.

I didn’t begin to understand this saying… until recently.

It happened when I began to rely too heavily on one individual to be my source of joy and inspiration and comfort. If you asked me, I would have told you that of course I understood that one person, no matter how special, can never meet all of our needs all of the time. I thought I knew this, but deep down I apparently did not. And eventually, that relationship shifted like sand beneath my feet.

Three strands and cross

Then I found out what you do when God is all you have.

You hurt. A lot. And you wonder what people mean when they say God is all you need. You think they must have never felt anything quite like this, because you’re gripping God with two fists and it still feels like half your soul has been ripped away. You’re gripping God with two fists and there is absolutely and undoubtedly something more that you still need.

But you keep hanging on. And then you begin to understand.

At least, that’s how it’s unfolding for me.

“God-is-all-you-need” does not mean that we can live long, productive lives without food, friendship and meaningful work. It doesn’t mean we can live without pain when those we love are no longer with us. In fact, God created us with physical needs and emotional desires. Our bodies are designed to require regular inputs of energy and rest, emotional connectivity, and mental stimulation. ”God knows that you need these things,” Jesus told His disciples.

The catch is in what Jesus said next:

“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (See Matthew 6:31-33.)

It’s counterintuitive, but when we seek God first, we allow Him to meet our needs in any way He chooses.

When we need physical affection, God can send someone to give us a hug.

When we need money to cover expenses, God can send someone to offer us a job or provide what we need.

When we need wise counsel, God can send His word through what we read or hear.

He may not use the person we expect, or even the person we want. God doesn’t provide us everything we need from the same person – or the same activity or the same source – all the time. The longer we think we may be the exception to this rule, the more shocking the collapse will be.

We have an amazing capacity for more. It is in the seed of eternity that God has planted in our hearts. It points to our eternal glory with Him. But when that drive for more shifts off its intended focus – God – and onto anything else, then we are blocking God’s intended provision.

“Your Heavenly Father knows that you need all of these things,” Jesus said.

Trust Him to provide for all your needs in His way and in His timing. Actively receive His gifts in whatever way He chooses to send them.

God is all you need, because ultimately, God is all you have. Everything else is simply a gift from Him.

Washed Away

This post was first shared at www.inspireafire.com. Special thank you to C.J. for sharing her artwork. Photo credits to J. Canino. I hope you enjoy!

Hours of careful effort had etched the colorful chalk drawings into the sidewalk. They were there to brighten the day of the neighborhood and the mail carrier. They certainly brightened my day. A small gift from the hands of the artist.

And then they were gone. Washed away in a pop-up thunderstorm that ran the color into the ditch and down the drain.

Just like that, only grey sidewalk remained.

Why is it that the things we want to stick around never seem to, while the things we want to wash away always seem to stay?

Regardless of whether we’re talking about people, events, or emotions, the good times seem so fleeting, while the challenges seem to endure. Anger, rejection, sadness, anxiety – negative thoughts and bad habits – these things cling to us like dark chalk on sticky fingers. The more we try to brush them away, the more they seem to cover us.

I cry out with David and the prophets who pleaded with God across the pages of the Old Testament: How long, O Lord, must I call for help?

The answer may surprise you.

Because the answer is that He has already answered us. The problem is that we might not always like His answer.

First, He answers us with His forgiveness. That part we like. But then He answers us with change. Not the change of the situation that we were hoping for, but a change of us that we may not have seen coming.

Like drops of rain chiseling into stone, we may find layers of what we once held dear washed away along with that which needs to go. There may be layers of color and layers of grey. There may be flashes of sunlight and coverings of darkness. We hold our sin-stained hands to Him, again and again. We let His promises and His works do the washing that we ourselves are powerless to do.

It does not feel good.

The Bible tells us that weeping only tarries for the night (Psalm 30:5), but oh what a long night it sometimes seems! It feels as though the darkness will never end. It feels quite the opposite of God’s promises – indeed it feels as though joy is fleeting and hardships endure.

But all of this is allowing for the deeper and ever more beautiful creation to be revealed.

There is joy in the very center that God is helping us find. He is teaching us to cling to His promises like the lifeline that they are. Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed. His mercies are new every morning. Joy itself will come in the morning. (Lamentations 3; Psalm 30)

I’ve asked God many times how to actually do this. How does one cling to an invisible God? How does one believe when unable to see in the dark? I do not have a perfect answer, but here is what I am learning:

  • Some nights I fall asleep gripping my Bible in my hand.
  • Some nights I sit on my bed and write scriptures on my wall.
  • Some nights I read pages after pages in my Bible, underlining the word love.
  • Some nights I plead with God to do all the things I cannot, including telling others all the things I can no longer say to them myself.
  • Some nights I write out every verse I can find that tells me something about God’s character.
  • Some nights I write out questions to God.

Every night I am waiting. I am waiting for God to fight my battles, restore my peace, and fill my spirit with joy. You have been washed, the Bible tells me (1 Corinthian 6:11).

And I continue to be washed.

Coming After Me

Sheep & baby

This post was first shared at inspireafire.com. Enjoy!

Anyone living in my region has probably noticed the freak snowstorms we’ve had three of the last four Wednesdays. I’m pretty sure it’s my fault.

Let me explain.

Winter

The other day I was listening to a video where Cory Asbury talks about his song Reckless Love. And no, watching the video wasn’t directly causal to why we’ve had a flurry of snow squalls, but stick with me. Cory talked about Luke 15, where Jesus tells the parable of the good shepherd going after the one lost sheep. “And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home” (Luke 15:5).

Can you picture that sheep? Scattered, lost, possibly bruised and banged up. Most definitely frightened. Being swooped up by strong arms, and carried, safely, atop the shepherd’s shoulders.

I’ve seen lambs carried this way. They may let out a “baaa” at the sudden perspective change, but most of them look downright happy on their new perch, surveying the world from a whole new vantage.

I can tell you that I do not feel like that found sheep.

I feel more like I am being dragged kicking and screaming through the valley of the shadow of death. There are burrs in my wool, thorns in my path, and rocks bruising my feet. My bleating is closer to a death wail than the triumphant “baaa” of return.

Perhaps this is a sign that I am still running.

God warned the Israelites when he brought them into the promised land that if they turned away from the one true God they would be handed over to their enemies. An iron yoke would be placed around their neck (Deuteronomy 28:48). Destruction, confusion, anxiety, and despair would ensue. And that, of course, is exactly what happened.

Contrast this with the yoke Jesus offers in Matthew 11: A yoke that is easy and provides rest for our souls. A leader who is gentle and humble in heart.

All we need to do is come to Him.

I don’t know why I seemingly choose the iron yoke time after time. Why don’t I let my Shepherd pick me up and place me on His shoulders? Why do I run bleating through the wilderness away from the One who can calm my fears and set me on the right path?

I don’t know why; but I know I do. And I am coming to know, deeper and deeper, just what it means for the Good Shepherd to keep pursuing me no matter how far or how hard I keep running.

God knew, for example, that there was a certain Bible Study I needed to attend. I wanted to attend, but another class conflict was going to allow me to attend just the first couple weeks.

Until it snowed. And my class got cancelled and Bible study did not.

And then it snowed again. And my class got cancelled and Bible study did not.

And then it snowed again. And my class got cancelled and Bible study did not.

And that was the week I needed to be there. That was the week I had people speak words into my life that I needed to hear. That was the week I had people pray with me specific prayers I needed to pray. That was the week I took one more step toward not running.

And one more step, I am coming to realize, is a big deal. Because Jesus may be gentle, but He is also relentless. He will orchestrate weather – as many times as needed – to allow for that one more step. He will inconvenience others – as many times as needed – to allow for that one more step.

He will come after me. He will come after you. And I may never look at an inconvenience the same way again.

I may be disappointed by a cancellation or a freak storm, but here is a new window into that same story: it could be that because of that very moment, someone’s soul is being saved. Jesus is lifting a lamb to His shoulders. Or at the very least, the lamb has paused, looked back, and is considering this gentle, relentless shepherd that is coming after.

Mercy. A Story of Unrequited Love

This post was first shared at http://www.inspireafire.com, and I wanted to also share with you!

I’m conducting a little Bible study. You’re welcome to come along if you’d like.

Love Never Fails sign

It starts with the second greatest commandment – to love our neighbor. In Luke 10, the expert in the law wanted to know how to define neighbor, but I’m more interested in the other key word in this commandment: love.

Fortunately, in the exchange that follows, we get the answer to this question, too.

After telling the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus asks the expert in the law which of the men in the story was a neighbor. The reply: The one who had mercy on him.

And there we find the answer to not just the who, but also the how. To love others is to show them mercy.

“Go and learn what this means,” Jesus told the Pharisees. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” (Matthew 9:13)

If Jesus told them to go learn what this means, then I think I better go learn it too. Here is just a tiny scraping of what I have learned so far.

The Greek word used here for mercy is eleos, and has a meaning of active compassion, of helping another. Mercy is not just something you have or something you feel; mercy is something you give.

Our modern word mercy comes from a Latin word that refers to the price paid for something. In other words, to show mercy to someone is to pay the price for them.

When someone is hungry, you may show them mercy by paying for their meal. When someone needs help, you may pay the price of your time to help them out.

Those are the easy ones.

Then there are the times when someone hurts you. Or when you feel like someone is taking advantage of you. Or when you’re already paying the price for someone else’s actions through no choice or fault of your own.

Then you pay the price of forgiveness.

And this, not of your own doing, lest any man should boast.

There are some things that are impossible to do on our own. Perfectly loving others, and sometimes even imperfectly loving others, is one of those things. Oh, it’s easy when you’re in a loving relationship to jump at every opportunity to demonstrate your love through concrete acts of mercy. It’s easy when there is a basic reciprocity so that everyone’s needs are being met. But here’s the thing. If everyone’s needs are being met through simple acts of human effort, then there is no space, nor even need, for God.

The harder kind of mercy is when no matter how much you give, it feels like it’s dropping into a dark abyss and there is nothing positive coming back out. This kind of mercy can only be given by God. And when you stop drawing on the relationship itself, when you stop drawing on any kind of reciprocal payment, then you cry out for God Himself to supply the mercy. When you have nothing of your own left to give, then you start giving from whatever God provides.

Three strands and cross

And God always provides.

“Go and learn what this means,” Jesus said. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” And if we turn to Hosea 6:6, which is the verse that Jesus was quoting, we see something remarkable. There is an “and” at the end of this quote. There is more to this sentence. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings.”

How do we love even when it hurts? By acknowledging God. By drawing first on his mercy and on his perfect love with which he loves us, so that we may only then turn and love others.

God, be merciful to me, a sinner.

To My Future Former Self

This post was first shared at https://inspireafire.com/to-my-future-former-self/.

sunset road

RE: My Advice

Date: January 2020

I know you cringe when you’re told too flippantly to keep your chin up and everything will be fine.  I know what you’re thinking: “You have no idea how this will actually end for me.”

Oh, we know that all things work together for good for those who love God. And we know that in the end God wins and we get to celebrate with Him in heaven. But that’s not what you mean. You mean, it’s easy once the struggle is over to tell someone else that their problem will work out.

You want to hear from someone in the trenches. Someone with mud and tears still on their face. You want to hear them say it’s going to be okay. You want someone whose heart is currently breaking to look you in the eye and say, I hear you. I understand. This path is hard. I don’t know where it leads either. Nevertheless, you are going to make it through.

Lantern

That’s what you want to hear.

So here I am. I am the future of your former self, so I know what you’ve been through and how you got here. I know the path right now is hard, and I don’t know where it leads. But here is what I have to say.

It’s hard when you’re in the middle to even know the next step. For every voice in your head that shouts at you to dig in and hold on there is an equally compelling voice that says it’s time to let go. You’re not even sure what those things mean. You just know they are tearing you up inside so that sometimes all you can do is fall to your knees and physically scream.

That’s okay for a time. But here’s an image I want you to see:

Hand holding box

Imagine putting it all in a box. All of it. Leave the top open so you can still look inside. You can still watch and see what’s going to happen.

Now hand the box to God. And grip God’s hand.

You’re still holding onto it. You’re still fighting for it with everything you’ve got. But God’s hand is between you, and it.

That’s how you hold on and let go at the same time.

Do you remember when God asked Ezekiel down in that terrible valley, “Can these bones live?” My answer is the same as his: “Lord God, only you know.”

Only God knows your path and the life it leads to, but there are amazing things that you are going to witness. Miracles that bring life to your dry bones.

Someday you will set down all this confusion you’re carrying around. Not because you get answers to your questions, but because you will reach a point where your questions no longer matter. Like those bones clattering one atop the other, your despair will turn to hope and your confusion to purpose. When it happens, it will be God’s doing, but the path to get you there is yours to walk. Not because you must change paths in order for God to work, but because the path is changing you.

Love Never Fails sign

You will be loved deeply. It may be another person who comes alongside you. It may be a revelation of God’s love that becomes more real and palpable to you than anything you’ve ever experienced. Either way, that need for love and belonging that burns so fiercely in your heart – and every human heart – will be filled to overflowing. In turn, you will reach out with the love of God to others in ways that were never possible before.

You will experience what it means to fill yourself with God. It may come directly from His Spirit like Ezekiel in the desert or the disciples in the upper room. It may come from His Word, from scripture-based teachings and books, from His Creation, from unexpected places. Ask Him and ask Him and ask Him, because he promises “I will be found by you.”

Remember, God is holding your box now. When it all becomes too much, stop and remember that. Then keep pushing forward. Make mistakes. Try again. Fall down. Get back up. Hold onto God’s hand with everything you have – not to keep God from slipping away, but to keep your hands off things they shouldn’t be on.

And He will work. And you will make it through.

Faith Like a Squeaky Toy

Dog with stuffed toy.
This post first appeared at inspireafire.com.

Have you ever wondered what’s inside a dog’s squeaky toy?

Of course not. Because if you’ve ever had a dog with a squeaky toy, you’ve already seen the inside.

Dog toy stuffing.

Do you know how you got to see the inside? Because the outside was completely chewed up and destroyed.

Some days I feel like that squeaky toy.

The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ is in us (2 Corinthians 13:5). Unlike the inside of my dog’s squeaky toy, I don’t know what that looks like.

Unfortunately, I suspect the way we find out is very similar.

Dog chewing on toy.

In times of trial, I question why God is making me go through this. I feel like I am being ripped apart and chewed up. Or maybe like I’ve been swallowed whole and am navigating a long, dark, winding passage that, quite frankly, stinks.

The reality is even worse than the metaphor.

I argue with myself – whether God is causing the suffering, whether I brought this on myself, whether there is any way to get through this dark night of the soul any faster, whether I am going to make it out at all.

My arguments go nowhere. But this is what the Bible says: That when we are tested by various trials – various fiery trials – the genuineness of our faith is being tested. And not just tested in the sense of does it exist and how strong is it, but tested in the sense of testing gold in the furnace. This means burning off the dross and refining our faith into something even more precious than gold.

Faith, I am coming to see, is not just revealed in the furnace of our trials, but actually made.

“I want a faith like that,” I used to think when I witnessed individuals who seemed to have an unwavering connection to God. I knew it was a dangerous prayer even when I said it, but I didn’t know it was going to hurt so, so bad.

Dog chewing on toy.
It is not always easy to get to see inside.

I do not have an unwavering faith. But I am in the furnace. And I am clinging to this promise: that we are being guarded not by our own feeble strength of faith, but by God’s power. At the last time, the goal of our faith, like a chewed up squeaky toy, is going to be revealed. And that goal is the salvation of our souls (1 Peter 1:5-9).

Christ dwells within us now. Peter (1:8) urges us that though we have not seen Christ, we can love Him, and though we do not see Him now, we can believe in Him. Some day we will see Him face-to-face, but we don’t have to wait until then to know He is here.

Maybe we just have to listen for the squeak.

Sometimes it’s hard to hear over the roar of the furnace, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Traffic Stop

This post also appears at http://www.inspireafire.com.

I’m sitting in traffic as I write this.

Sunset over highway

I don’t mean the backed-up-at-a-red-light kind of traffic. I wish I could write a blog post that quickly. No, I’m talking about the “highway is closed ahead due to two semis and a truck” kind of traffic. That’s according to a lady in a mini-van who apparently has inside knowledge from highway patrol somewhere to my rear.

She passes me slowly, the lady in the minivan, as I stand outside my car with half a dozen other people, stretching our legs. She rolls by half on the median as she tries to find a place where the median is a little less ditch-like in the hopes of crossing over.

“They said they have no idea how long it could be or what they are doing!” She shouts encouragingly as she rolls by.

Highway traffic

I am glad I recently made a pit stop, considering this part of Interstate 70 consists of nothing but wide-open fields with nary a bit of cover until darkness falls.

A few vehicles brave the small ditch in the median and do make it across, but most of us are sitting. Or standing.

And waiting.

The couple next to me have Kansas plates and a yellow lab they take for a walk. Ahead of me is a flatbed truck and behind me is a semi. I watch the sun set and the moon rise.

And I wait.

Our part of the highways turns to darkness. While headlights still pierce the eastbound lanes, our cars sit silent. No headlights, no flashing hazards. Only the occasional interior light or flash of a mobile device as someone rummages in their trunk. It’s remarkably quiet for sitting in the middle of a highway.

I’m mid-sentence on my keyboard when the world outside suddenly changes. Maybe it’s because I’m preoccupied, but the suddenness of the change catches me off guard. There is light and noise and movement. I toss my laptop on to the passenger seat, bring my car to life, and punch the gas. I had expected a gradual start-up, but in seconds I’m flying down the highway. The very last thing you want to do is stay in the middle of a highway with an entire line of cars behind you that have been sitting for two hour and are now ready to go.

Another mile down the road the congestion comes back. We move in starts and stops, bypass the crash scene, and then finally – finally – begin to move at a steady pace.

Isn’t that so like life?

highway at night

You’re hurtling along only to come to a screeching halt. A sudden change and you jump from 0 to 60 only to hit another road block. You stop and start. You detour. The stretches of smooth sailing sometimes seem few and far between.

We have a leader in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but that doesn’t mean the path is always clear. Like the Israelites following the pillar of fire in the desert, we don’t always know in advance when it’s time to go, or when it’s time to stay, or even which direction we’ll be headed next.

God grant to us the wisdom to know that when there is no clear path forward it may be time to sit and wait. And when the road suddenly opens up in front of us, let us be ready to punch the gas so we don’t get run over from behind.

Highway sign