We all pray the prayer of help. We face a situation that feels hopeless, overwhelming, and or even more than we can handle and say, “God, help!” Psalm 121 reminds us of where our help comes from and the help that God brings to us.
When we live on the other side of disruption, we don’t know what the future holds or how our risks and choices (or lack of risks) will affect our future, but our steps don’t stop with us. Whether or not we take that step, take that risk; is felt for generations to come. Ruth had no way of knowing that her acts of faith and courage would lead to King David and Jesus being a part of her family tree.
Disruption hits all of us at some point. It is not a matter of if, but when. For Ruth and Naomi, disruption hit first with famine and then the death of Naomi’s husband and her sons, one of them being Ruth’s husband. How do you find your foot in the midst of disruption and difficulty? Moving forward from disruption always begins with a choice, and that choice determines everything.
There’s a huge pressure to do the shoulds others put on us. Sometimes those expectations form or influence the shoulds we put on ourselves. The expectations of others often cause us to feel like we are being evaluated, judged, rated, or ranked. The should of others implies we have failed or fallen short. Our natural reaction is to be angry, resentful, defensive, or pull away. Worse, when we try to live in the expectations of others, we end up living someone else’s version of our life rather than the version God desires. Whose story will we live? The one God has for us or the ones others have for us? We have to learn to be bold and say “no” to the shoulds of others that distract us from the story God wants to write in our lives.
We know from experience and research that Americans are not open to having spiritual conversations. So how do we create space for God in our conversations? Space for God, or God space, is when the seeds of faith are planted, watered, and nurtured. Space for God allows for the topic of God and spiritual things to be freely explored in a safe way. When we create space for God, anyone can raise their honest questions, doubts, concerns, and even their anger toward God or the church. Folks feel safe enough to be real and vulnerable to explore the spiritual world that they have previously feared or misunderstood or not understood. When we make space for God in a relationship, spiritual curiosity is awakened, and folks are open to hearing the story of Jesus and faith. The Bible tells us how to make space for God, and we’ll look at practical ways to facilitate spiritual conversations.
One of the practices we don’t often talk about is feasting, partying, and enjoying God and his gifts to us. Practices help us to be present to ourselves, God, and others, and feasting is a perfect place to experience all of these. It also gives us what we most need in our lives: Presence. There is power in presence, and for many of us, the best place to experience that is around a table. Jesus spent much of his time at a meal with people, and when he did, he was fully there.
When we look at the life of Jesus, we see that he wasn’t in a hurry. He got to where he wanted to go when he wanted to get there. He lived at a sustainable pace so that he could thrive in all relationships. In Matthew 11, Jesus invites us to give our burdens to him so that we can rest and experience life.
All dreams, visions, and change projects face challenges. We have to face them to move through them. Moral authority (influence) is what gives us the ability to confront the challenges in our lives. When we live a life that can’t be argued with, that people can’t turn away from, we will have influence that lasts.
To accomplish what God puts on our hearts, we will need to pray and plan. Often, we lean towards one end of the spectrum: we pray and wait and do nothing, or we plan and plan and take God out of the equation. But God’s hand was on Nehemiah as he prayed and planned.
When we think of joy, we often think of happiness, but joy is actually deeper than happiness and is not connected to our circumstances. As we are in the season of Advent, the season of waiting, we wait with anticipation, but we wait knowing what God has done in the past. These past works are not only what we hope for in the future, but also how we experience joy in the incomplete places of our lives today. We know God is at work and that He gives good gifts to his children. In Advent, we need to learn to enjoy the good gifts God has given to us.
Advent/Christmas is about hope, the hope that Jesus came and will one day come again, but we often lose that hope. 2020 has taken hope away for many of us, and a lot of us have become jaded. Yet, we are invited to hope in Jesus, because He hears us. Even as we wait, we can still have hope. Because the night does end, and the sun rises again.
So many connect the church with a building. During the seven plus months of COVID, we did not have physical services, but we were still the church. The church in China is exploding and can’t have buildings. The church is bigger than a building. Church is who we are wherever we are. That’s because the church is part of something bigger – the kingdom! So we put the kingdom first in our lives and as a church body. We look to join God wherever he’s at work and help expand God’s influence in our lives and spheres of influence.
At some point, we look up in life and think, “I expected life to turn out differently.” We expected to be married by a certain age or that our marriage would go a certain way. That we would have kids by now, or they would play out differently. The same goes for our health, our careers, house, etc. What do you do when your expectations in life aren’t met? If we aren’t careful, we end up disappointed and cynical, which leads us to a place of bitterness.
One of the biggest places we experience bitterness is when God doesn’t do what we hope or expect. Why does God allow certain things to happen? Why does He stop some things but not others? We must learn how to reconcile our bitterness towards God so that we can handle the other places bitterness creeps in. When we do this, God changes our perspective to begin to see what He is doing behind the scenes of our lives that we can’t see.
What would Jesus undo? He would undo pride! Jesus wants to remove our “me first,” “I know better” or “I can manage this” attitude. Pride leaves no room for God. Pride moves God from being the Master to a consultant where we allow him to give us advice, but we’ll decide if we’ll follow it. Pride is built or hurt by our accomplishments, gifts or abilities, following the rules, comparisons, recognition, etc. Pride defines everyone and everything based on me. If things are not going well, pride blames God for not taking care of “ME.” The antidote for pride is humility We empty ourselves to let God fill us. We allow God’s grace to fill us. We allow God to use us how he desires.
What would Jesus undo? One thing Jesus tried to undo was move people from dead, hollow, empty, and meaningless worship and praise to actually engaging God with an authentic heart, soul, and spirit. God doesn’t want our words, he wants our hearts. He wants us to give him honor and glory every day in the way we live and use our lives.
Trusting God, trusting in His goodness and power is incredibly difficult, especially in the midst of the storm. But in a storm, God wants to bring us to a place where our trust is in Him. Trusting God comes through remembering how God provided in our past so that we can know He will be with us in our present and future.
In a storm, as our fears, worries and anxieties rise in us, so does our desire to control things. Often this can lead to a bigger storm, or keep us stuck in one. Releasing control is one of the scariest, but most freeing aspects of faith and when we find ourselves in the storm, many of us rise up to control more when we need to control less.
One of the questions we have about God is how much he cares for us, how close he is in our lives. One of the most beautiful and well-known Psalms tells us that because God is close, we are never alone, we have what we need.
Loneliness is at an all-time high. Especially in this season of sheltering in place. There is a crucial truth that we miss: Being alone is different from being lonely. God meets us in our loneliness. He has something for us as we are alone. Throughout Scripture, God spoke the clearest and the loudest to those who were alone with Him. We have this unique opportunity for silence and solitude so that we re-enter a post-Covid world closer to Jesus than when we entered it.