Seeking Great Things

Love and compassion urged Jesus forward when everything within His earthly body cried for Him to turn back..png

In yesterday’s devotion, I laid my heart bare about my current season of life and how I found peace in learning some new things about having joy in the journey. If you didn’t get the chance to read it, I urge you to do so because, in today’s devotion, I want to pick up where I left off and share with you a couple of other Bible passages the Lord has used to encourage my heart. Let’s begin in the book of Jeremiah.

The word that Jeremiah the prophet spake unto Baruch the son of Neriah, when he had written these words in a book at the mouth of Jeremiah, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, saying, Thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel, unto thee, O Baruch: Thou didst say, Woe is me now! for the Lord hath added grief to my sorrow; I fainted in my sighing, and I find no rest. Thus shalt thou say unto him, The Lord saith thus; Behold, that which I have built will I break down, and that which I have planted I will pluck up, even this whole land. And seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not: for, behold, I will bring evil upon all flesh, saith the Lord: but thy life will I give unto thee for a prey in all places whither thou goest.
— Jeremiah 45:1-5

As you can see from this chapter, Baruch had an “I” problem. Woe is me. My grief. My sorrow. I fainted. My sighing. I have no rest. Poor pitiful me! Unfortunately, I hear my own cries and complaints echoing in my ears, so truth be told, I’m no better than Baruch. I’ve been so wrapped up in my personal disappointment and discontentment that I’ve failed to see the needs of those around me. As the Lord put it in the passage above, I’ve been seeking great things for myself. “Who cares about anyone else? So what if people are lost and going to hell? I’m not happy with the way things are going. Poor pitiful me!”  I cringe as I type these words. Though these thoughts have not been in the forefront of my mind, they’ve been there nonetheless as has been proven by my actions and my self-consuming prayers. God, forgive me!

Before I go any further, let me say I truly believe God wants to bless us. He gives us far, far more than we deserve. But God never promised us a happy life. He never assured us we’d never suffer or feel disappointment or grief. In fact, He promised just the opposite (John 16:33). The point I want to get across is, God is not cruel. Life is hard because we live in a sin-cursed world. It’s not God’s fault. It’s ours. But despite that, God goes above and beyond to provide for our needs and even many of our wants because He’s a good, loving Father.

That being said, we saw in yesterday’s devotion how even Jesus became fearful and overwhelmed at the prospect of His crucifixion and all that it entailed. While He was willing to do His Father’s will, He wasn’t exactly happy about the circumstances. It wasn’t a joyful season of life to experience.

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
— Hebrews 12:2

This is a familiar verse, but don’t overlook the words used to describe Jesus’ emotional state. He endured the cross. He despised the shame. Endured and despised. Boy, can I relate to those words? I’ve been enduring a lot lately—going through the motions of doing what needs to be done and trying my best to do so with a good attitude. And I’ve despised the person I’ve become through this season. Cautious. Critical. Cynical. That’s not me. That’s not who I want to be.  

But I want you to notice another phrase within that verse: “for the joy that was set before him.” Not the joy He was experiencing by obeying the Father. Not the joy He felt at laying down His life and suffering agony on the cross. Not the joy of being a good Son. It wasn’t a present joy; it was a joy to come. The joy of defeating Death and Hell. The joy of holding up the keys of Hell in victory. The joy of being reunited with His Father. And last, but certainly not least, the joy of living in eternity with us.

Unlike Baruch, Jesus wasn’t seeking great things for Himself. He was seeking great things for us.  Jesus wasn’t so consumed with His own suffering that He turned His back on others. Instead, He used that love and compassion to keep Him moving forward when everything within His earthly body cried for Him to turn back. He envisioned a brighter day—not for Him, but for us, and that vision gave Him the strength to suffer. Yes, He endured. Yes, He despised. But in the end, He rejoiced, and He will continue to rejoice.

Lord, please help me be more like Jesus and less like Baruch. No matter how difficult the season or how weary I become, please help me keep my focus on others and not myself. Let my love and compassion for them drive me to obedience and surrender. And help me remember there is a brighter day coming!

Walking in Unfamiliar Territory

The Good News About Being Out of Your Comfort Zone.png

Barnabas loves to hike! It doesn’t matter if we’ve walked the same trail a hundred times; he acts like it’s a whole new experience. He runs and plays and wears himself out. And because he is so good at hiking off-leash, Jason and I can hike at our own pace. Barnabas knows his boundaries. He understands he is allowed to venture off the trail, run ahead, or lag behind as long as we are always in his sight. And Barnabas follows the rules better than any other dog we’ve had. He’ll run over to the side to study something and pop his head up every few seconds to be sure he can still see us. If we move far enough away that he loses track, he forsakes his current study and runs after us. He stops at every bend in the trail to ensure we’re never out of sight. Every hike is a pleasant experience for each of us, and we love that we can depend on him to be so cooperative. Despite his many quirks, he truly is a good dog!

When we took him out yesterday for some much-needed exercise, we did a portion of the trail we’ve only done once or twice with him, and we immediately noticed something. Because the path was unfamiliar to him, he stayed within ten feet of us at all times. He still explored and kept his own pace, but he never strayed too far from our presence. Once we reached the familiar portion of the trail, however, he let loose and did his own thing though still within the bounds of what he knows we expect of him. As we discussed his behavior, Jason made a comment that echoed the words of my prayer that morning. He said, “Yes, he stays close when in unfamiliar territory, but once he’s back in his comfort zone, he feels more comfortable to stray farther from us.”

During my prayer walk earlier that day, I had poured out my heart to the Lord about how far out of our comfort zones Jason and I felt lately. For me, I’m a creature of habit and routine, so the concept of being in a different church every week and always meeting new people is a bit overwhelming. For Jason, he is one who loves to be active and doing, so sitting at a desk for hours on end calling and emailing pastors and churches to book meetings is tiresome and tedious. We’ve both had to fight the temptation to say, “Let’s do something else today. Let’s do what we’re familiar with, what we’re comfortable with.” Some days, we have to make ourselves to what we know we need to do.

As I laid out my heart, a thought struck me, and I verbalized it to the Lord. “But maybe that’s the way you want it to be, Lord. Maybe you want us to be out of our comfort zones so we’ll stay close to You, so we’ll lean on You for strength and support. Maybe our time here is so we can learn to depend and trust on You more. So, Lord, please help us to keep this in mind when we get discouraged and want to quit. Remind us there’s a purpose for being in unfamiliar territory and give us the grace and strength to accept where we are.”

I guess we’re no different from Barnabas. When we’re in familiar territory, we tend to do our own thing and go our own way. Sure, we stay within sight of our Master, but are we really walking with Him? Once we’re out of our comfort zones, it’s an entirely different story. We stay close to the Master. We have to. We don’t know which way to go or what to do. We need His guidance. We crave His assurance. We depend on His knowledge and strength. Yes, in our uncertainty, we’re less likely to stray. And considering that—as difficult as it is for me to say—I thank God for removing us from our comfort zones. I praise Him for loving us enough to lead us through unfamiliar territory. The entire process serves as another reminder that what I think is good is not always what is best. Thankfully, God knows the difference!

The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way.
— Psalm 37:23
A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps.
— Proverbs 16:9
And they commanded the people, saying, When ye see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests the Levites bearing it, then ye shall remove from your place, and go after it. Yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure: come not near unto it, that ye may know the way by which ye must go: for ye have not passed this way heretofore.
— Joshua 3:3-4

My Own Understanding

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A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a word game app called Wordscapes. The levels consist of a crossword grid at the top of the screen and a circle of letters (between 5 and 7, so far) at the bottom. The object of the game is to create words out of the letters within the circle and earn points and coins toward future games. I’ll confess—I’m hooked!

The game is an excellent exercise for the brain and acts as a refresher course for both spelling and vocabulary. As a writer, it’s perfect for me. Once I introduced it to Jason, he was equally intrigued. It’s now become one of our favorite things to do in our quiet time together.

My biggest problem with the game is that I lean on my own understanding. I get an idea in my mind of what I think a word is, and when it doesn’t work, I get frustrated. I see a five-letter word and falsely assume it must end in the letter “e.” Why do I think that? I don’t know, but once I do, I can’t seem to make myself explore other options.

The other thing that trips me up is when words begin with vowels. I’ll go through every combination of letters I can think of to figure out the next word, but in my attempts, I neglect to try words that begin with a vowel. I’m getting better about keeping this in mind, but it’s still a struggle.

I do the same thing in life. I get ideas of how I think things should be, and when they don’t work out the way I expect, I fall apart. I make plans, but I do not allow God to lead, so I act in my own understanding, and things become stressful and messy. I’ve learned with my word game that things go much smoother if I don’t have any preconceived notions. If I relax and enjoy the game, it’s actually enjoyable, not frustrating. However, if I try to force things to be the way I expect, I’m headed for disappointment.

I’m learning the same thing in my life, but it seems to be a slow process. I know my spiritual walk will be smoother if I allow God to direct my steps instead of taking the lead myself, but putting that knowledge into action is difficult for me. The planner in me wants to know what’s coming. The control freak in me desires to see things done her own way. And the worrier in me seems to think she knows what’s best. But the warrior in me knows the truth.

God knows our tendency to try to control things and to act in our own strength. I believe that’s why Proverbs 3:5-6 are in the Bible. They serve as our reminder that the puzzle of life is much more enjoyable if we leave the pieces in His hands and trust Him to guide us along the way. He has all the answers. He knows every bend in the road and what’s around every corner. He sees the beginning from the end and cherishes every chance to show us how much He loves us.

It’s time for us to let go of the illusion of control. We don’t know what the future holds, and we would be better off if we didn’t manipulate things to work in our favor. Yes, friends, we need to let God be God. He’s much better at solving puzzles than we will ever be.  

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
— Proverbs 3:5-6