Take Your Rest

“And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beersheeba, which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a  day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers. And as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, then an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat. And he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. And he did eat and drink, and laid him down again. And the angel of the Lord came again the second time, and touched him, and said, Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee. And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God” (1 Kings 19:3-8).

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This story is for the weary. For those who labor tirelessly and feel the need for rest.

Ever been there? Well, maybe not, but there were days this week when it took everything I had to get out of bed and drag myself to my chair to pray early in the morning. And let’s not talk about the energy it took to carry out my daily work, home, and church duties. There have been exceptional challenges, with little to no relief in sight, so as I sat in the prayer chair early in the morning, too physically and emotionally drained to even speak, asking God to read my heart because the words would not even form, I felt useless and despondent, and was reminded of Elijah. Mighty, powerful, confident Elijah, who had raised a boy from the dead, called down fire from heaven, and prayed effectively for rain after a three year drought. Elijah, who had seen the miraculous, yet somehow, felt the same way I did. He was aware of the target on his life, ran for his life, and reached a point where he felt that he couldn’t go on. He collapsed under a tree and told God that enough was enough. Even after experiencing God’s power move through his prayers, he simply could not go on. In that moment, I realized that even the strongest of us, if truth be told, can expect moments where we feel we must collapse, where we surrender to the battle and simply cannot go on. It becomes too much for us. No wonder Jesus invites us to bring all of our burdens to Him so that we can find rest (Matt 11:28). And for the rest of the day, anytime anyone asked how I was doing, all I could say was, “I am resting under the tree.” Yes, I got some funny looks, but who cares. It’s what I was doing.

I couldn’t help but wonder, how did I get to this place? As a Christian, aren’t I supposed to be superwoman or something – never growing weary, always abounding in the work of the Lord? I mean, I know none of us are perfect, but for all the discussion about leaders and how they are supposed to fearlessly, courageously, and mightily lead the way, never showing weakness, and for all the ways that people will call you a leader without knowing how you really feel unable to fulfill their expectations, I just had to wonder – am I doing something wrong? Like Elijah, I could see where I had been used recently to make a difference in the lives of others, but I also felt that it is enough with me now. No longer could I just pick myself up and keep going as good leaders are supposed to do. I began to cringe at the word “leader” because I could barely lead myself out of my bed. For all their talk of what they perceive me to be, what do they see that I don’t see, or am I a master deceiver and don’t even know it? Because lately, I have felt like everything but a mighty woman of God…

As I pondered under that metaphorical tree, waiting for my angels to minister to me, there are a few lessons from Elijah’s life that I pray will encourage you as they did me.

  1. Persecution is inevitable. The reason that Elijah faced the battles he faced was not through any wrongdoing on his part, but was because of right doing. Elijah had decided to worship the Lord in spite of who the people around him were worshipping. He stood up and allowed God to use him. And so, Queen Jezebel, upset that he had disrupted popular opinion and her influence on the people, vowed to take his life. This is just as we are told in 1 Peter 4:12, to think it not strange when fiery trials come upon you, or in John 14, when Jesus tells us that in this world we will have trouble but to be of good cheer because He has already overcome it all. We can expect a target on our backs as we disrupt the plan of the god of this world.
  2. Comparison will fail you. To be recognized, one of Elijah’s complaints was that he was looking at the world around him. He stated that he was no better than his fathers, and was afraid due to his lack of acceptance by others. While it is good to see how we can improve on the legacy left before us, it is for the glory of God, not for the approval of others. Our main standard should be in regards to obedience to God, not comparing our performance to that of others, even of those who have gone before us or who stand before us now.
  3. Some battles you will face alone. Sometimes this is by choice, and sometimes it is not. Elijah left his servant in town and went away to the wilderness. Jesus often went away, to the wilderness or to mountaintops, leaving His disciples behind, for solitary time with God. So we must know there are times when we must convene with God in solitude. Elijah also later complained that he was left standing all alone – and in the moments when, like Elijah, we become discouraged at being all alone in a big, unforgiving, world that does not fear God, we must remember that Jesus was left all alone too. Sometimes you will have to leave people behind, sometimes people pass away, and sometimes they will abandon you. Though we must be void of human contact at times, these are the times that God is closest to us.
  4. It is ok to rest. I really had to get over the idea that I wasn’t allowed to be tired. As someone asked me, “Why wouldn’t you be? Aren’t you tired after running a marathon? Or after studying for a major test? Or after completing a major project? So why is this any different?” It is ok to be tired. It is ok to rest. Otherwise, why would we be so often invited into God’s presence, or into the arms of Jesus, for rest? So, find your place of rest. Rest in the shade of deep roots. Go to the living water, the place where you will be replenished even in the midst of dry, barren land. The place where roots grow deep, drawing up what is needed from the well so that HIs life will continue on through you.
  5. Get in God’s presence. You don’t have to figure out the next steps. Collapse in that place. Elijah collapsed, and He didn’t have to do anything but to simply be in God’s presence. He didn’t even have to fix any food…the angel of the Lord took care of every need. It is God who is compassionate and will meet us in our place of need, who is in charge of every need in our lives, especially when we feel cannot carry on. Hey good soldier, you do not have to carry the burden, even of caring for yourself, all alone.
  6. Put your eyes back on Jesus. One of the concerns surrounding Elijah in these moments is that he put more emphasis on the circumstances facing Him than on God who was fighting for Him. It is easy to look at all of the circumstances surrounding us…the demands placed on us everywhere we go, feeling all alone as we endure, but we easily forget one thing…in everything we endure, we have someone who has already endured the same, died, and ascended to heaven so that we would no longer be defeated. Anytime we are tempted to focus on our circumstances, becoming overwhelmed by the weight of them, we are to “consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds” (Heb 12:3).
  7. God won’t let you quit. Even if the embers appear cold, they still burn within. After doing some research on the type of tree Elijah rested under, I discovered that not only do its roots run deep in order to draw up moisture in the midst of the desert, it also makes for excellent firewood. The wood from the broom tree is almost like charcoal that is extremely difficult to put out. Even if a broom tree fire appears to be out externally, it still burns intensely within. And the same is true with us. After Elijah rested, God spoke to Him, reawakened the fire that unknowingly never died within him, and pushed Him forward to the next mission for His glory. We must find time to rest in God’s presence, allowing Him to rekindle the fire that continues to burn within, even when our flesh attempts to tell us that we are extinguished.

As I rested under that tree, I was reminded of Hebrews 4, which says that there is a rest for the people of God and that we labor only to cease from our own works and rest in the completed work of Christ. We labor, not in our own attempt to be good in the sight of others, or even in our own eyes, but only in the power of His grace. I was reminded of David, who often felt so discouraged by the persecution facing him (he cried and ran for his life as well), yet he continued to run to the stronghold of the name of the Lord, his refuge, and was strengthened and saved. I was reminded of Paul in 2 Corinthians 1, who knew the power of God’s comfort in the midst of adversity, and who says that while he also despaired of life itself, he did not hide his persecutions nor the fact that through them his trust in God was being increased. And of course, there’s the woman at the well in John 4 who found all that she needed, living water, in the most unexpected and unconventional place. And so, my brothers and sisters, as you labor, when you feel weary, lay it all down, and rest. When you feel inadequate, rest. When you feel persecuted, rest. It is in collapsing into His rest that we will be made whole and complete, recognizing that we no longer attempt to move forward in our own strength, but only in the power of His Spirit that lives within us. Get under the tree, and take your rest.

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Mental…illness?

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“And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor 12:7-9).

Let’s talk about what happens when leaders experience heartbreak beyond comprehension. What happens when they believe the Word they stand on, but the attacks come anyway. What happens when they feel added guilt because their belief should have been able to stop the attack, but it didn’t. And everybody sees it.

Let’s talk about what happens when leaders are held to a higher standard, as they should be, but are not allowed to fall so that others can see them get back up. When people are expected to be perfectly intact at all times. The pressure is insurmountable when people are not allowed to be human. To be broken. To allow God to move in their brokenness.

Yeah, I know. Some of you are saying to yourself that I have been in this place for too long. Maybe so. But I am so tired of pretending like leaders are perfectly put together with no struggles, unlike the rest of humanity. Sure, I’ve asked God to remove this battle. I’ve done everything short of standing on my head in belief that this is not my lot.

But, what if we take away the stigma of attacks? What if we start to actually glory in our weakness, or in the fact that the devil may come at us, but we continue to survive? What if we begin to see that we are strengthened through our imperfection, and we become an inspiration to those we lead? What if we admit that at times we despair of life itself, yet allow our trust in GOD to be increased? (2 Cor 1:8-9)

What if we say that there isn’t anything wrong with us, but something right, because we were chosen to be broken enough to endure? What if we can truly say that it is not in our strength, but the strength of The One who allowed the weapon to form, yet not prosper?

Sometimes it’s not a matter of fighting the issue, but allowing God to breathe through it.

Yes, you can stand on the Word and believe God for complete healing. But in the event that He decides to allow the attack, you must learn to surrender. You must learn to trust that He is allowing it for a reason, seen or unseen. Some battles are won by fighting, but some are won only by surrender. The victory is in your Surrender.

The enemy wants you to think it’s more dangerous than it is. It’s just an attack. It feels like a heart attack, but it’s not. And you’re not going crazy. Just breathe. It’ll be over soon. It won’t kill you. It won’t even cause you harm. It won’t affect your life if you just see it for what it is. It’s only a physiological response to perceived harm. You’re going to live, and that in abundance. You’ll get through this moment and everything will be just fine. So breathe.

I am learning to thank God for these attacks. Sure, they are uncomfortable, and I would much prefer to be without them. But they have taught me that I am not in control. They have taught me how to let go of every single fear that interferes with my ability to move forward according to God’s purpose. They have reminded me that I am broken and need God more desperately than ever before. Even as I can’t fully breathe, He becomes the very air I need. These attacks bring me to the throne of Grace and Mercy, and at the time of need, bring me closer to God than ever before.

No longer will I be ashamed, no longer will I be condemned, because through it all, God is The One directing the traffic. Through it all, He is bringing me to a new level of surrender. Like Paul, I learn to glory in my weakness as Christ is revealed. Like Paul, I am being brought places I’ve never been before.

“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Cor 12:10).

I am learning to rejoice in the midst of it all.

Breaking Wild Horses

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the son of God who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20).

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Sometimes life hurts so much that we can barely stand it. We cry, and we scream, and we throw tantrums, not understanding what in the world is happening to us. We become what we would call “broken.” We feel as though we could die, sometimes we even ask for it, and it is at that point that we begin to live.

There is no life until we die to ourselves, living not by our own strength, but by faith in He who loved us and allowed His own self to be broken so that we no longer have to be strong, so that we may find life in Him.

“For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom 8:6-8).

Someone told me a couple of weeks ago that God has to break us. Without the breaking, we are unable to walk in the life that He designed for us, we are unable to please Him, we are unable to be used. Just like wild horses are nothing more than pretty to look at until broken.

God desires to break you, to empty you, so that He can use you and pour through you. The more you are decreased, the more He is increased (John 3:30). A broken spirit and contrite heart, He does not despise (Psa 51:17). Brokenness leads to obedience, which is better than sacrifice (1 Sam 15:22). It can be easy for us to look good to others (speaking a good word, praying a great prayer, singing a great song), but until we are broken, all of that running accomplishes nothing.

And as told to me, Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and He will break your legs, immobilizing you if need be, in order to prevent you from further harming yourself; however, how much easier would it be if we would be cognizant and compliant in the breaking process to prevent this extreme? So, let’s assume that we are wild horses being broken. Here’s what you need to know about the breaking process (by the way, this can be applied if you are being used to create new disciples as well). For the sake of time and attention, only the most important and relative points will be discussed.

Breaking Wild Horses: The Process

Most importantly, it is necessary to know that a horse’s loyalty is dependent upon the type of training he receives. Horses that are broken to follow their leader out of respect, rather than fear, are much more enjoyable and will yield greater obedience. Much how God does with us, yes? His desire is that we would respect Him and stand in awe of Him so that we will be much more enjoyable to Him, with greater loyalty and obedience.

 Step one. Build trust.

1. Building trust is first done through building a personal relationship. This is done by just being near the horse daily and grooming it gently. It is also important to remember that horses are prey animals, and so they are always on high alert. They are easily startled.
Comparison: We must be focused on primarily building a relationship with He who is training us, especially as this is His primary goal. He brings us out of wilderness so that He may dwell among us (Exod 29:46). He understands that the enemy is prowling about, seeking whom he may devour (1 Pet 5:8) and that we are prey, and we must remain mindful of this as well. Knowing this, we also remember that when we submit to God, drawing near to Him, the enemy will flee (James 4:7-10). So we can walk in relationship with Him free of the spirit of fear, which we learn by spending time with Him.

2. Maintain safety. Because horses are so easily frightened, it is important to stay in the horse’s line of sight. When not in the horse’s range of sight, continue to speak to him so that he knows where you are and is not frightened.
Comparison: As a horse, remember that if you don’t see God immediately, He is speaking to you. His voice is a still-small voice (1 Kings 19:11-13), so be sure to pay careful attention to listen for His voice to avoid being afraid.

3. Take it one step at a time. This means that you move through each movement slowly, and never give up.
Comparison: Remember that even if you do startle easy, God will move as slowly as needed with you. He will not give up on you. He will never leave you nor forsake you (Deut 31:6).

4. Don’t get angry. Provide gentle correction. Again, a horse is more enjoyable if taught to respect rather than to fear.
Comparison: As a horse, you can expect correction as you learn a new way of functioning. Remember that God corrects those whom He loves (Heb 12:6, Prov 3:12). He knows exactly how much pressure, and exactly where to apply it, in order to teach you to respect Him.

5. Reward for success. As you introduce equipment to the horse, or teach him to walk with a lead rope, the best way to reward the horse is with a release of pressure. Teach the horse that the best way out of a frightening situation is by obedience rather than flight or fight. For example, if attempting to lead the horse with a rope and the horse does not move, then you take another step and the horse moves, reward the horse by loosening the pressure from the rope slightly. The horse will learn that the best way out is not by fighting, but by obedience.
Comparison: As a horse, we do not need to, nor should we, fight against what God is telling us. (See Jonah). It is so much easier, and more enjoyable for us, if we will go with the flow. After all, He has already fought every battle for us.

Step two. Halter break.

1. Introduce all equipment slowly. Familiarize the horse with each piece of equipment by allowing him to smell, see, and experience the equipment. If he becomes frightened, back away and re-expose him to it until he is familiar with it.
Comparison: God exposes us to situations, both positive and negative, to get us used to what He needs in order to perfect our obedience to Him. Again, He knows exactly what we need, when we need it, and will not give us more than we can bear as long as we trust Him in it. And He will provide a means of escape if needed (1 Cor 10:13).

2. Add the bit. In adding the bit to the halter, it may be helpful to add molasses to ease the process.
Comparison: God will satisfy your mouth with His goodness (Psa 103:5). Be watching for the good things – they will make the breaking easier for you to handle.

Step three. Teach to longe.

1. Train in small increments. Remember that longing is an exercise in trust, so build trust and endurance gradually.
Comparison: Again, God will not give you more than you can handle in His leading. He will also gradually increase your trust and endurance so that He can lead you to the ultimate success He has planned for your life.

2. Use body language and vocal commands. Teach the horse to observe your desires through arm and body movements as well as by voice.
Comparison: We must be observant in order to learn and obey! Observe patterns, especially through His Word, and in our lives, and learn to recognize His voice. This is done, again, mostly by spending time with Him in worship and Word.

3. Teach the horse to respect your space. Horses will test in order to see who the leader is. Provide pressure as discipline and guidance where they would naturally receive it from the lead horse if they were in a wild herd.
Comparison: Wow. We, as wild horses, have a tendency to test God. And when we do so, even unintentionally, He will provide correction in the appropriate place. If you sense discomfort, it might be time to re-evaluate who/what you are following and line up with His spirit (which, don’t forget, always leads to life and peace!).

Step four. Saddle break.

1. Familiarize the horse with all equipment, one piece at a time. Start with the saddle blanket, rubbing it along the horse’s body, allowing him to smell it, etc. Repeat the process again with the saddle. Anytime he becomes fearful, slow down and reintroduce the equipment.
Comparison: As in all steps before, God is familiarizing us increasingly with situations and equipment we will need to get to where He is leading us. He will not lead us further than He knows we can go in His presence.

2. Fasten the girth of the saddle in small increments, until it is fully tightened.
Comparison: As we are being broken, it will seem that things are getting tighter and  tighter around us. But do not fear, because again, He is with us and is wiser than we can comprehend. His ways are not our ways (Isa 55:8-9) and He is the only wise God (Rom 16:27, Jude 1:25)!

Step five. Train for mounting.

1. Change your position. Up until this point, the horse has only been accustomed to seeing you at eye level. It is now time to familiarize the horse with seeing you at a new level so that he will not be afraid of you at a higher elevation whenever it is time for you to begin mounting.
Comparison: God will begin appearing in a different way, at a new level, which may seem frightening. But again, as He says repeatedly, do not be afraid. He is simply preparing you so that He may complete the great work He has started (Phil 1:6).

2. Introduce your weight on the horse’s back. Begin by leaning on his back, gradually increasing your weight until you are able to place it all there without resistance.
Comparison: The closer you get to being fully broken, the more weight you will experience. But the less frightened you will become as your trust in Him increases.

3. Get on the horse’s back, slowly. Again, begin by first putting one foot in the stirrup until the horse is comfortable, then introduce swinging your leg over his back, gradually increasing until you are able to sit on his back.
Comparison: See above. Again, we are gradually being exposed to what is needed until we enter a place of being fully used according to His purpose (Rom 8:28).

4. Add the reins. Again, slowly increase commands and speed over a period of several months.
Comparison: Repeat, repeat, repeat. Yes, God is constantly increasing gradually as He introduces us to more seemingly uncomfortable circumstances. This is so that He can fully use us as intended and we can withstand it.

Congratulations! The horse is broken! The thing that is most outstanding here is that while we often hope to be broken quickly and easily, and are easily frustrated, the process takes at least one year, if not longer. If it takes that long for horses, how much longer do you think it takes for stubborn humans? It is a gradual process. And rushing the process along may result in unnecessary fear, so just as God has not given up on you, do not give up. And do not rush it along faster than he is introducing each step to you. Yes, sometimes you will fail, and sometimes it will hurt. Sometimes it will feel like you are going around and around, the same steps, lessons, and processes, over and over and over. But when you place all of your trust in Him, the result will be worth it all.

 

The Power of Obedience

” I don’t have much more time to talk to you, because the ruler of this world approaches. He has no power over me, but I will do what the Father requires of me, so that the world will know that I love the Father. Come, let’s be going” (John 14:30-31, NLT).

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Ever had one of those days, or weeks, or even seasons, where all you know is that you need help? Yeah, so that’s kind of where I’ve been recently. It seems that one thing after another is trying to interfere with my ability to walk in peace. And so, after reaching a point where all I knew is that I need help, and I need comfort, I turned to John 14. This is at the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, where He is giving a final word and instruction to His disciples, letting them know that the end is near. He warns them just before this passage that He will have to go away, and that they should remember His word, because  they will need it in the future. They didn’t understand what He was saying, but soon enough, they would. And so as Jesus wraps up his communication, He tells them that He will not be able to speak much more to them, for the ruler of this world is on his way.

Just as Jesus lets the disciples know difficult times are ahead and that they should remember what He has said, He has a way of also letting us know in advance that trouble is coming, and that we should likewise remember His Word.

This brings me to 4 points regarding this scripture:

1. “Because the ruler of this world approaches…” As the enemy approaches, we must learn to expect tribulation and be prepared with a Word hidden in our heart in order to be able to endure. When trouble comes, we often find the voice of our Lord becoming silent. But if we will hold on to the Word that He has given us, to the Word that is written on our hearts, surely we will be able to endure.

2. “I don’t have much more time to talk to you…” Speak with wisdom, and know when to be silent. Yes, there is power in our speech, but there are times we must recognize the appropriateness of silence. For even a fool is counted wise when he is silent (Prov 17:28). Sometimes when we open up our mouths, we provide the enemy with ammunition. And so the first thing to do when we see the enemy approaching, most of the time, is to be quiet until we can properly assess the situation and determine the weapons needed to win the battle.

3. “He has no power over me…” Though the enemy may come against you, it is important to remember that he has no power over you. It may feel like he has power, it may look like he has power, but he has no power, no matter what struggle you are being called to endure.

4. “I will do what the Father requires of me, so that the world will know that I love the Father…” Walking through the trial does not mean that the enemy has victory. Walking through the trial reveals obedience. Obedience won’t always look good, and it won’t always feel good, but it will reveal love for the Father. Sometimes we are called to walk humbly, in meekness, appearing as though we are defeated, but in actuality, we are walking in victory. Earlier in this chapter, Jesus says that those who love Him, and the Father, will obey His commandments. He doesn’t say that it would always feel good, but He does say that obedience is the fruit of true love for Him. The world needs an example of the action (not just emotion) of love, and in this obedience, the world will know what love and commitment truly looks like, as well as recognizing the power of a re-established love relationship between Father and children.

So, in conclusion, you can expect to face great tribulation at times, but rejoice (1 Pet 4:12-13). The enemy does not have power over you, especially when he cannot deter you from the obedience God desires and requires for His glory. As 1 Pet 4:13 states, in meekly doing what is required regardless of difficulty, we are to rejoice in obedience, holding onto the Word given to us, knowing that regardless of appearance, we have victory. As much as we participate in suffering with Christ, we will also see the revelation of His glory.

 

Tend the Field

“I went by the field of the lazy man,
And by the vineyard of the man devoid of understanding; And there it was, all overgrown with thorns; Its surface was covered with nettles; Its stone wall was broken down. When I saw it, I considered it well; I looked on it and received instruction: A little sleep, a little slumber, A little folding of the hands to rest; So shall your poverty come like a prowler, And your need like an armed man” (Prov 24:30-34).

Not only does this scripture apply to our lives physically, but it also pertains to the spiritual part of our lives as well. When we don’t tend to the natural field, compromising a little bit here and a little bit there, eventually the field becomes overgrown and does not produce a harvest. The same is true for our lives spiritually. Maintaining our spiritual health requires work. It is studying God’s Word, praying, fasting, and spending time with Him in worship that keeps our fields in good health and produces a harvest. Simply going to church on Sundays, and maybe even midweek or for special occasions, is not enough. We must recognize that any little bit of compromise in daily plowing, planting and watering opens the door for the enemy to come in and sow weeds in our lives. Just as the man who roams about, we know that the enemy of our souls prowls the earth, seeking whom he may devour (1 Pet 5:8). Laziness and compromise in spiritual life leads to poverty in thought, and so in fruit, for as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he (Prov 23:7). You’ll never know the richness of the life God had planned for you all along if you are not cultivating your relationship with Him. (He did come to give us life more abundantly, after all. (John 10:10)) Remain diligent, trusting and knowing that God will reap a harvest in all parts of your life when you tend to the field of your spiritual life.

Taste and See

“O taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him” (Psa 34:8, KJV).

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My favorite dessert of all time is cheesecake. Even just the way the word so carefully and passionately comes out of my mouth so very intentionally exhibits my love and desire for it. And I don’t care what kind of cheesecake…turtle cheesecake, strawberry cheesecake, chocolate cheesecake, New York Cheesecake, plain cheesecake, even Jello cheesecake – any kind of cheesecake…I just love cheesecake.

I love cheesecake so much that the way that I eat it does not compare with anything else that I consume. There are other foods that I absolutely love, so much so that I would drop almost anything to be able to eat them, but nothing is like cheesecake to me. When I am presented with a piece of cheesecake, my entire attitude changes. It is the one thing that will stop me in my tracks, force me to sit down and slow down and savor the moment. First I decide to observe it, imagining which bite is going to be the best bite of all. I develop a strategy, determining how I will best enjoy my consumption of this most delectable treat. And then as I slowly place the first bite in my mouth, I close my eyes and inhale, swirling that bite around in my mouth, enjoying every second of my experience. And I continue to do so with every single bite.

So I imagine some of you are probably laughing right now, saying to yourself, “Wow, this girl is special. All that over a piece of cheesecake.” Yeah, I know. But here’s the thing – we all have that thing for which the world stops. For me, it’s a piece of cheesecake, and for you it could be anything – a particular smell, a particular song, a particular hobby or experience. My point is this – whatever that thing is that causes you to slow down, and breathe in, no matter what else is around you, there is a love that is even greater than that. Psalm 34:8 says to “Taste and see that the Lord is good,” but how good is He to you? Is He good enough to cause you to stop, lay aside your best plans, and enjoy taking Him in?

So many times we get caught up in rushing our lives along that we forget to slow down and savor and experience the goodness of God. In all of the radical description about the way that I eat cheesecake, the point is to say that our love for God has to be so much more than even that. We often get so caught up in living busy lives that even when we do take time to spend with God, we can become so easily guilty of rushing in and out of His presence.

Slow down, my friends. Take the time to adore Him, to observe Him in all of His glory. Take the time to imagine and strategize all the amazing ways that you can worship Him in prayer, in study, and in praise. Take the time to breathe Him in, swirl Him around in the innermost parts of your being, savor the taste and the fragrance of His love for you. And then repeat with each and every bite you take. Don’t rush it along, simply saying “That’s good” and moving along, but slow down, close your eyes and enjoy the moment, not letting anything hinder or distract the experience.

Enjoy each bite for as long as it takes.

The New Living Translation of this scripture says, “Taste and see that the LORD is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!”

We must take refuge in Him, meaning that we must slow down, wait, remain hidden, and just be in His presence. There is no greater joy, no greater moment of exhilaration, than when you allow Him to be the thing that the entire world stops for so that you may simply behold the beauty of all that He is.

Don’t rush. Take Him in, my friends, savor every moment, and taste and see a goodness that is like no other.

 

He Hears Your Cry

“The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth” (Psa 145:18, NIV).

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Some of our most significant prayers are prayed quietly when no one is looking. They are prayed in moments of solitude and desperation, when we’ve moved beyond emotions, in moments when it seems that nothing is left. These are moments when we’ve cried all the tears we can cry, when we’ve moved beyond hysteria, into a place of complete brokenness, into a place of total dependence on God, because without Him, there is nothing left.

Ideally, in our lives, our first action is prayer because we recognize the importance of communication and relationship with our Father, and we have hope in all that He has told us. But in these moments of quiet, after we’ve prayed all that we can pray with our own understanding and we’ve done all that we can do in our own strength, we pray a different kind of prayer, not knowing what else to do. In these moments, it feels like nothing happens. We move beyond structure and methodology as we simply talk to God from the heart, and there’s no dramatic voice that booms from the sky, no immediately overwhelming evidence that we’ve been heard. It feels as though nothing has changed. So we sit for a moment in stillness, seemingly unheard. We sit for a moment, take a deep sigh, and then we finally decide to get up, knock the dust off of our feet, and keep moving forward without even knowing how, one unsure step at a time.

But “the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way” (Psa 37:23).

Hang on, and keep praying, because it is these moments that God is sitting ever so quietly with us, holding us in His hands, knowingly and lovingly listening to it all. Hold on, because it is in these moments that He has counted the tears of the past and heard your every cry. It is in these moments that He has been waiting on you to just lean completely on Him with all of your heart. And it is in these moments that He has already worked the answer out in the most mysterious of ways. As you rise, it is in these moments that you are moving forward into the direct manifestation of His purpose for your life…

You Don’t Have To Be Afraid

“That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph 4:22-24).

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Warning: moment of transparency ahead.

Yesterday, I realized it. The change that I had been waiting for happened. There was a shift in a personal relationship (I’ll spare you the details for the sake of adaptability), and it was then that I recognized that I have still been waiting on everyone who means anything to me to give up on me, to decide that I am too crazy, to decide that I am no longer worth their time, to decide to abandon me. Even after all that has been done to express love, to express appreciation, and to express that I have made a positive impact on others’ lives, somehow I was still expecting to be considered unworthy of love, and so also unworthy of relationship, eventually being left abandoned in a lonely cloud of desperation and unworthiness.

And in the midst, perhaps I was also waiting for God to do the same.

Most of us, if not all of us, have experienced negative life circumstances. Those circumstances form us and train us in our expectations of others and ourselves as we grow. So for someone like me, and possibly like you as well, growing up in less than perfect circumstances trains us to expect that once others really get to know the “real” us, they will surely abandon us. Growing up in circumstances of abuse, repeated abandonment, isolation, failed marriages, perhaps even untimely deaths, teach us beyond the surface that perhaps we just aren’t good enough, so we learn to expect rejection and abandonment regardless of the amount of human love pointed in our direction.

Often our circumstances turn us into something like an armadillo. We carry tough, inpenetrable exteriors, as a form of protection, because our circumstances have taught us that we have to be tough. So we smile, we endure, we become good soldiers and even superheroes until the very end, never showing any sign of weakness or pain. We make sure that we are dependable, likeable, and able to accomplish what others are seemingly unable. But when you take away the shell, we become nothing more than little possums, feeling insignificant and hiding in the solitary burrows of our pain. We fear that once the tough exterior is taken away, we become something that no one would deem worthy of existence, easily targeted and easily intimidated. Once we take away our tough exterior, we fear that we have messed up too badly or that somehow all of the bad stuff we have been through was our own fault. Once the shell is gone, we become convinced that others will surely decide that we are too flawed to be worth their time. And as humans, because we often see God in the same way that we have seen others who have harmed us or left us at a young age and/or continuously throughout our lives, we fear the same from Him. We fear that because of our past, not only will others continue to decide that we are unworthy of their love, but that somehow we will also be abandoned by God – that He will decide that we are not worthy of His affection and He will leave us isolated, lost, and hopeless.

It is in this moment that we have a choice: we can either obey our feelings or obey the Word of God. We may not be able to change what happened to us, or even our inappropriate responses to certain events, but when we change our focus, we change our feelings. In this moment, we can decide to believe the Word that says that God will never leave us nor forsake us (Heb 13:5; Deut 31:6; Matt 28:20; Josh 1:5, 9). In this moment, we decide to believe the Word that says that God loves us so much that He desires to dwell among us, even in the midst of our mess, and that He will even deliver us from our mess because of His great desire for us (John 1:14, Exod 29:46, Psa 107:20). In this moment, we decide to believe that God is Love – reliable, never-ending, all-abiding, all-conquering, Love (1 John 4:16, 9-19).

And in this moment, as we begin to allow God to be all that no one else ever was, in the moment that He becomes our all-sufficient, all-nurturing God: in the moment that He becomes El Shaddai, we begin to realize that even if we were so horrible in the past that no one else wanted us, we are no longer that person we once knew. We are being made new with each breath that He places in our bodies. As we learn to rid ourselves of our tough exteriors, shedding off the old familiar ways of thinking and being, we learn that while not everyone will appreciate the new creature we have become, some will as they recognize that God had His hand on us all along. We have nothing to fear, knowing that God has created us in His likeness and in His image (Gen 1:27); and in that moment, we learn that even when things do change, it’s not as bad as it once seemed. We no longer have to fear abandonment or rejection, for we are God’s chosen vessels that are filled with His Spirit (John 15:16, Eph 1:4-5, 2 Thess 2:13). And He wouldn’t put His treasure in unusable or unrenewable vessels, in anything not worthwhile (2 Cor 4:7, Matt 9:14-17). We no longer spend all of our time anticipating the worst possible scenario – we take off the old exterior, learning that change just means a simple shifting, perhaps even that we become closer to those we love, and most importantly, closer to God, as we learn to walk in our new nature. We strip off the old man, no longer walking in fear or deceit, but walking in the righteousness and holiness that He had for us all along. Our self-talk begins to change, recognizing that we each have a special part in His great plan, and if He deemed us to be fearfully and wonderfully made (Psa 139:14), how can we argue against that? “There is no condemnation for them who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom 8:1). “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us” (Rom 8:33-34). We walk in this newness of life, knowing that even if others, or even we ourselves, deemed us to be unworthy in the past, this is no longer the statement that we accept, and so we need not fear that the same things that happened in the past would repeat themselves. There is no argument that can be exalted against God’s righteousness in Christ, regardless of the past. If He saw fit to die for me, there is no condemnation that will stand against me. Worthy or not, He loves me and has called me as His own, and so I have no choice but to recognize that my past, including past rejections, do not define me. As the song says, “I’m no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God” (No Longer Slaves,” Bethel Music) (see also Rom 8:15).

And so, what shall we fear? Of whom shall we be afraid? For our God is our light and salvation, the strength of our lives, and it is in His shelter, in His refuge and habitation, that we shall dwell (peacefully, lovingly, and joyfully) all the days of our lives (Psalm 27, Psalm 91).

The Accomplishment of Affliction

“It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.” Psalm 119:71

refiners fire

Life is tough sometimes. Often, we mistakenly expect that once we are walking in relationship with God, that tribulations cease to exist. But we are instructed multiple times in the Bible that this is not the case – that we will face spiritual warfare, that we will face adversity here on earth, that there will be attacks and battles and fiery trials that we will have to overcome.

Overcoming the battle is easy to talk about if you’re just coming out of a battle or haven’t yet entered into your next battle, but it sure can feel impossible and unbearable if you’re right in the middle of one. How can you withstand the heat? How can you endure? How can you trust God in the middle of it when it feels like He’s nowhere to be found? How do you have peace in the midst of a storm?

You remember your purpose, the purpose that God has designed for your life. You remember that whatever the enemy meant for evil, God is in control as He created the one who created the weapon (which, by the way, He already said won’t prosper), and He only allowed it for your good (Gen 50:20, Isa 54:16-17). You remember that God promises that all things work for the good of them that love the Lord, who are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28). You remember that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed through your affliction (Rom 8:18). Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all (Psalm 34:19).

And you remember that affliction accomplishes the following:

  1. Affliction reveals God’s nature, and yours. “And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no. And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live” (Deut 8:2-3). (Also read through verse 10.)
    We all like to think that we are perfectly obedient to God when things are going smoothly, but what you do when faced with a struggle – the reflexes you fall back on while in the middle of the fight – reveals everything about who you are. Even things that you didn’t know about yourself. You really don’t know what you would do when faced with particular struggles, but God does. He will allow the struggle so that you can see yourself more clearly.
    You also don’t know the power of God’s hand until you are in a place from which you cannot rescue yourself. You don’t know God as a provider until you are in need, you don’t know God as a healer until you are sick, you don’t know God as a deliverer until you are bound, you don’t know God as a redeemer until you need saving. It is God who keeps us, heals us, rescues us – but we would think that we are all that for ourselves if it weren’t for affliction that exceeds our own control and requires Him to step in.
  2. Affliction humbles us. “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Cor 12:7-10).
    Here Paul speaks of his torment. There was this thing, this battle that he just couldn’t seem to overcome. For all of the gifting that had been given to him, Paul acknowledges that there are some things that just don’t feel good. He even prayed repeatedly for the thing to be removed, but finally he realizes the purpose behind his pain. He recognizes that if it weren’t for his affliction, he might exalt himself and the gift in him rather than relying on the strength and grace of God. So whatever that thing is, Paul makes a decision to rejoice because it is only in affliction that God can be exalted above human strength. It is only in affliction that Christ can be revealed and humanity can maintain its position in relation to Him.
  3. Affliction strengthens us. “At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge. Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion” (2 Tim 4:16-17).
    When you are most looking for someone to support you and encourage you in the midst of the storm, when you are growing weary and no one is to be found, the Lord will stand beside you and strengthen you in the middle of it all. And here’s a kicker: it’s never just about you. He will strengthen you so that others can attest to His greatness by your example as you allow Him to move through your life.
    Not only that, but affliction is like reaching muscle failure. In military training or in intense muscle building, muscle failure means that you work the muscle until it cannot be worked any longer. You do so many pushups that all you can do is lay out on the floor because your body cannot move any longer. It is at the point of surrender that the most growth occurs. And the same is true for our faith. As affliction brings us to the point where we can no longer move in our own strength, that is the point that God can move in, stand with us, hold our hand, give us peace, and move on our behalf. As He begins to move, our faith is strengthened as we see miracles on a deeper level every time we are called to endure and move ourselves out of His way.
  4. Affliction perfects and completes us. “And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope” (Rom 5: 3-4). “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (James 1:2-4).
    As we are called to endure affliction, we recognize that affliction builds our patience, which gives us more experience, increasing our wisdom. As we continue in experience and wisdom, we learn that we have unending reason to hope. So as patience increases, we learn to rest and wait on God. We learn how to be content in all things, whether abased or abounding (Phil 4:12), knowing that ultimately it is God who is in control, who is perfecting and completing us so that there is nothing we shall want.
  5. Affliction teaches us all things. “Receive my instruction, and not silver; and knowledge rather than choice gold. For wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it” (Prov 8:10-11).
    Psalm 119:71 states that as we are afflicted, we learn the ways of God. We learn of His goodness, we learn to fear Him as we stand in awe and wonder at Him. There are things that are caught rather than taught in the fire of experience, and it is only by experience that we learn to reverence the majesty of His ways. In the midst of every affliction, we are to look for the lesson, the wisdom, and the instruction, and cherish it as it is more valuable than rubies, silver or gold.
  6. Affliction draws us to God. “For I will be unto Ephraim as a lion, and as a young lion to the house of Judah: I, even I, will tear and go away; I will take away, and none shall rescue him. I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me early” (Hosea 5:14-15).
    As we face affliction, we reach a point where we have no choice but to turn to God. God knows that we are resourceful – if given the opportunity, we will rely on our own knowledge and understanding to deliver ourselves. But when the fire gets hot enough, we turn to Him. It is only by allowing satan to push on us and afflict us that we can be pushed right into the arms of our loving Father. We are pushed into deeper relationship with Him – which is what He wanted all along.
  7. Affliction corrects us. “In the lips of him that hath understanding wisdom is found: but a rod is for the back of him that is void of understanding” (Prov 10:13). “My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction: for whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth” (Prov 3:11-12). “If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore, we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? for they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (Heb 12: 7-11).
    Affliction puts us back on the right path. Affliction puts us on the path of holiness. As we are afflicted, though it may not feel good, it will increase our understanding and affirm our Father’s love for us, remembering that He will not correct those whom He does not love. And He loves us all, so we all rejoice in correcting affliction!
  8. Affliction heals us. “And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed” (Heb 12:13).
    After the affliction of correction in #7, an opportunity is made for healing to take place once the path is made straight. It’s much like breaking a bone, and then aligning the broken bone with a cast or a splint. Affliction allows a straight path to be made so that proper healing may take place.
  9. Affliction refines us. “And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The Lord is my God” (Zech 13:9). “Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction” (Isa 48:10). In order for precious metals to be purified, they must be melted. As the metal is melted, any impurities are separated from pure metal as the impurities rise to the surface. The impurities are then skimmed away. Once the impurities are removed, one can look into the melted metal and see one’s own reflection. As God tries us in the fire, any impurities that do not look like Him are removed so that at the end, as He looks at us, we are conformed into the image of His son as we are predestined (Rom 8:29), and He begins to see His own reflection. Looking at us is much like looking in the mirror, all because of the repeated rounds of intense, form altering heat that exposed and removed all impurities.
  10. Affliction grows us. “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit” (John 15:2). Let’s take the most common example – the rose bush. We may look at a rose bush and think that it looks just fine – that it appears to be bearing sufficient flowers, but understanding the future growth of the rose bush teaches us that there are times that if we want to see more abundant growth than what’s right in front of us, we must prune it in the right season. And the same is true for us. Sometimes we are afflicted in the pruning process – and yes, the cutting away of what appears to be good and healthy hurts – but if we want to walk in the abundance of what God has for us, we must be able to endure and remember that at the end of this affliction is growth beyond what eyes have seen, beyond what ears have heard, beyond what has entered into our minds (1 Cor 2:9).
  11. Affliction gives God glory. “That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7). In the midst of every affliction, the victory of Jesus is revealed. The story of Lazarus’ death and resurrection in John 11 reveals that when Jesus heard of Lazarus’ illness, He stayed where He was for three more days, though He could have rushed to Lazarus’ side and immediately healed him. Things had to look bad, hopeless even, so that God would get glory at Lazarus’ resurrection. In the story of the blind man in John 9, the people thought that perhaps affliction was allowed as a punishment for sin, but Jesus said “Neither has this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him” (John 9:3). Even take the most common example of affliction in the Old Testament – the story of Job. After Job had lost all earthly possessions and relationships, and had been afflicted with disease, and been outcast, his friends wanted to know what type of sin he had committed to result in such disgrace. But by the end of the story, we realize that Job’s affliction had nothing to do with him and everything to do with God’s glory being realized in his attitude and life.Conclusion:

    “For ye shall not go out with haste, nor go by flight: for the Lord will go before you; and the God of Israel will be your reward” (Isa 52:12). “And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, that brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them: I am the Lord their God” (Exod 29:45-46).
    Your afflictions may not be pleasant for the present, but they accomplish much. Through them you are healed, purified, completed, perfected, refined, shaped and conformed into the image of Christ Jesus. It’s never easy to endure, but in the midst of it all, He is right there with you, holding your hand. Remember that in order for Him to be manifested in your life, there must be a fire, there must be a battle in which He will show Himself strong. And the battle is not for you – someone is watching you and needs to see you endure, much like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the furnace. It is only through their affliction that the king’s mind was changed – and so as you endure, someone else’s faith is being strengthened as well (Dan 3). And ultimately, when you are a child of righteousness, you shall be delivered out of every single affliction so that God will be shown to dwell among them who trust in Him in the midst of it all.

Passing on the Blessing: Paraphrasing of a Pastor’s Teachings

Pride will have you thinking that it’s all about you, that it’s all about how hard you work, that you are responsible for returning the favor for those who bless you and judging those who curse you.

Many of us don’t know how to be blessed. Receiving the promises of God is difficult when you’ve bought the lie that it’s all about you and how hard you’ve worked. Baby, it’s time to stop doing God’s job, a job that He’s already completed. Walk in what He’s promised you. He will bless the labor of your hands, but He will also bless you before the work begins and outside the parameters of your work. He is responsible for blessing those who bless you, and cursing those who curse you. So you don’t have to get revenge, and you don’t have to work your way into His abundance.

Don’t be surprised when blessings begin to manifest, and you don’t have anything but a prayer to give in return.

And when it’s your turn to bless, don’t be surprised when the blessings don’t come immediately from man, but at an appointed time from God.

This stuff is real, y’all. This morning I prayed a simple, seemingly insignificant prayer. In passing, I mumbled a quick half-hearted prayer for a new black purse. And then tonight, at the end of church service, the woman sitting behind me grabbed my attention and said that she had something to give me. Something that she loves. She went to her car, and when she returned, she had emptied out her new-looking black purse and gave it to me. (It still has one of her peppermints, a jolly rancher, and 3 cents in it!) And I had nothing to give in return but a prayer. It was hard to not have anything physical to give. But my job was to receive, and hers is to receive not what I have, but what God has for her.

And the same sort of thing has been happening repeatedly through different people and different circumstances over the last few weeks. He just keeps on blessing me in some pretty big, and lots of little, ways. And most of the time, all I can do is pray that God will abundantly bless those who bless me – those who are being used as an answer to little prayers that they don’t know about.

We have to know that God loves us so much that He will bless us with even the little things in our lives, and we don’t have to do anything for them. We also have to know that when others bless us, that it is God who is ultimately responsible to return the blessing, whether it’s through us or somewhere else. And He does it bigger and better than when we do it on our own. Some of us are learning how to give, while others are learning how to receive without feeling indebted or responsible for others’ welfare. (Yes, it’s good to work hard, and yes, it’s good to give, but the point is to allow God to do the work through us – not us relying on our own selves, feelings of superhuman responsibility, or feelings that we owe one another anything.)

So it’s time to be humble enough to simply give. Moreso, for some of us, it’s the receiving that seems more humbling, more difficult. So it’s time to be humble enough to simply receive.

Let God do His job. Walk in the blessing that has been passed down, that has already been willed, to you. Favor, blessings, and authority are yours. All you have to do is receive it.