How God Grew Me in 2018

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I want to lift my praise higher than I can reach
That you would save one soul is more than enough for me

I cry out to Him, adoring the blanket of stars in the sky.

This is it. I’m here. You’re here. For years I didn’t understand You. For years I struggled in prayer, wrestling and clawing for what was real. But You were there all along, just knowing. You knew everything.

And in truth, I always knew You were real. The thing I couldn’t grasp was how You were beautiful. How you could mean something to my life. How you could woo me and awe me into an adventure following You. I just didn’t get it. I knew I needed to follow You, but I didn’t love You enough to be able to do so for the rest of my life.

People often assume that if God is beautiful than you will know without a doubt the moment you pray your first prayer to Him. But, while that may be the case for some people, others like myself take longer to realize this. It takes faith, even as small as a mustard seed, to grow and push through the ground and soak up the rain and break through the earth and withstand the storm and survive the drought and branch into stems and produce fruit.

It takes work. It takes a complete heart transplant, a total transformation of your vision, to finally see that God really, truly, deeply cares.

More often than not, it doesn’t take just one prayer to make our spirit sing with unfathomable joy. It takes many. It doesn’t take one Bible verse, it takes a yearning for truth and a searching for the Word of God every day, with earnest pondering. It doesn’t take one act of service, it takes many to finally grasp that we can’t do this on our own. We need the knowledge that our Lord Jesus Christ is our righteousness, and nothing we do can add or subtract to that. We need the overwhelming grace of God to flood our souls so we can pour out into other people’s lives in the same way.

In 2018, I’ve realized more of my need for God’s grace, as it has filled my heart and transformed my life in ways I’d never imagined.

This year has been an adventure. I graduated from high school and started going to college. God blessed me with friends I never knew I needed. He grew me in confidence as a person and as a Christian. He pinned down some of my weaknesses and met them with His strength. He guided me gently to surrender things I never knew I needed to surrender. He gave me the wisdom and delight to focus on Him as I watched Him fix problems I didn’t even know existed.

Yes, it was all by God’s grace. And I don’t add that in as a casual obligation. His grace was, and is, everything to me. It’s becoming more and more to me as I realize that I myself really don’t have it all together. I need Him. Maybe people think I am pretty good on the outside, but the only times anything good comes out of my life is when I defeat my own impulses and let Christ’s love take control. Only through Him can I produce anything of eternal value.

But I have not always understood these things. As a young teen, I could not in all honesty say that I even loved Jesus. I wanted to say it, but if I did it wouldn’t have been true. I desired the things of the world rather than the things of God far more than I do now. Most of my life was centered on myself.

Now, as I fully rest in the assurance of Christ, I can honestly say that I love Jesus. His love fills my heart with wonder. The seriousness of my high school years built in me the strength to hold tightly to truth, and now my surrender to God’s love for me plunges me into a life of childlike faith adoring and serving my King.

But 2018 was not a year of all sunshine of rainbows. Some days were tougher than others. Some days the enemy seemed to be attacking me on every side–the hopelessness of a looming and impossible deadline, the uncertainty of my future gnawing at me, or the burden of perfectionism weighing on my shoulders.

But the beauty of following Christ isn’t just the glorious sunset or the magnificent rainbows. The beauty of following Christ is that even in the most treacherous storm, with rain pounding and lightning striking and the ground beneath you shaking—even then, you can see the sunshine behind the dark clouds.

Even at my lowest points, I still have a Hope to hold onto. Even when I’m a sleep-deprived college student with no clue how I will finish an assignment that’s due tomorrow, not all is lost. Even when the people around me close themselves off from God’s love, I can trust that He is good, and He can do more for them than anything I can imagine.

When I was younger, I didn’t know God like I do now. God has been so gracious to me, especially this year. Still, I know God is not in the least finished with me yet. I have so much more to learn. It is overwhelming to think about how much more God needs to work in my heart. But I know He is faithful to complete the good work He has started in me—and in all of us.

Please, don’t stop searching for Him. Even the person most closest to Jesus on this earth right now needs the prayers of other believers, so never hesitate to ask for prayer! God is always there for you, and if your heart is open to it, He will show you the beauty of who He is. He takes pleasure in us when we simply put our hope in His love.

“…the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.” – Psalm 147:11

In this coming year of 2019, I resolve to make Christ my center. I resolve to grow in my understanding of God’s grace that we are so undeserving of and to draw deeper into an everyday fellowship with my Savior, as He directs my paths.

Whatever your heart is full of, your life is full of. And Christ’s love dwells in all who trust in Him (Rm. 5:5). So, this year, may your life be filled with the sweet presence of Him.

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When You (Actually) Surrender

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“Lord, I give up all my own plans and purposes. All my own desires and hopes and accept Thy will for my life. I give myself, my life, my all utterly to Thee to be Thine forever. Fill me and seal me with Thy Holy Spirit. Use me as Thou wilt, send me where Thou wilt, and work out Thy whole will in my life at any cost now and forever.” – Betty Scott Stam

I think it’s majorly underestimated how much the Christian life requires us to surrender. At the beginning of my freshman year in college, I hung the above quote on my wall. I remember having this strange unsettling feeling as I hung it up, that for some reason, though I thought I must be surrendering everything to God, though I was saying I was surrendering everything to Him, there still were probably some things I was holding back from Him.

Was I really surrendered to God’s will for my life, no matter what that might entail?
Was I casting all my dreams and desires at His feet, completely open to what He wanted for me? Did I trust that He knew what was best for me?

The above quote was such a bold statement that I wasn’t sure if my heart was truly all the way there yet.

But now throughout this semester I have been unmasking what it truly means to surrender. Slowly but surely–painfully and gradually–I am learning not just to say that I surrender to God, but to actually surrender.

Because “believing in Jesus” is a lot more radical than it sounds. Believing in Jesus means laying your life in His hands, trusting He knows what’s best, and letting Him take total control.

It’s about putting to death your desires and being in step with the Spirit rather than the flesh. And oh-how-easy it is for me to forget who I am and let the current sweep me in the opposite direction!

“…put to death what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Colossians 3:5

Nevertheless, thank God for His indescribable gift of Jesus Christ! We are certainly not meant to do this on our own, and neither are we capable of it. We could never do this on our own—only through Christ’s strength can we prevail! (Phil. 4:13)

When we fail, we have a gracious mediator on our behalf, Jesus Christ, who is always there to intercede for us, to cover us in His perfect righteousness. With Him, God only sees Jesus’ perfection in us. With Him, we desire to want more of Him. We desire to cast out our flesh and fill our lives with the sweet knowledge of Christ each and every day.

If we do not desire this, we are plants that are dying. A constant heart check and persistent effort to find more of the fullness of God keeps us growing. It’s never too late to drop everything and run to Him!

“Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually!” 1 Chronicles 16:11 ESV

In doing this, we find abundant freedom and grace. Walking in the Spirit is an intentional everyday process that is so life-giving and peace-filled.

And yet the irony of the Christian life is that while it offers the deepest joy imaginable, it isn’t about being happy. It isn’t about having a good life. It’s about living a life sweetly surrendered to God’s will, and enduring hardship with Christ as a joy far deeper than happiness. The pain of walking humbly in the Lord is worth far more than the happiness associated with fleeting pleasures.

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” Philippians 3:7-8 ESV

To have Christ as the focus, the meaning, and the entire point of your life is the only thing that will matter for eternity. It’s easy to say it on paper, but surrendering is not easy at all. Surrendering requires the truest humility before God, because He knows deep inside our hearts no matter how much we try to hide from Him. It requires accountability with other believers. It requires community, digging in the Word, prayer, worship, and a constant shift of your thoughts from the things of the world to the things of God.

At some point in this semester, I thought my eyes were fixed on Jesus until I looked up at Him and screamed as Peter did, “Lord, save me!” I was drowning in the deep ocean, hopeless and flailing for my life. I had been distracted by other things, and even when I tried to get my focus back on Him, it was extremely difficult. Yet I was desperate to turn back to my dear Savior, even though these other things seemed so beautiful and good in the moment.

Inspired by a picture my sister sketched, I opened to the passage Matthew 14:25-33 about Peter walking on the water. When Peter became distracted by the waves and started drowning and yelling for help, Jesus immediately reached out his hand and pulled him out of the water. He said to Peter, “You of little faith, why do you doubt?”

As I read Jesus’ words, I almost wept because God seemed to be speaking directly to me in that moment. Why do I doubt!? After all God had done for me, why did I doubt that His plan for me was good, whether or not it worked out how I wanted? Why did I doubt that God’s plan was way better, and anything I wanted that was against His will would be utterly futile and worthless compared to following Jesus? Even if what I wanted sounded good and beautiful, how could I dare trust that I was right, when God knows and see all things?

I am so foolish. Only He knows what is best for me. And yet though we are foolish, the Lord cares for us deeply like a good Father cares tenderly for His children. He wants to give us a life of purpose and hope, abiding in Him and enjoying sweet fellowship with Him.

As you and I learn to truly surrender, let us continually cry out, “Lord, save me!” and grab for His hand that readily pulls us up again. Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, so we can walk on the water without fear of the waves.

And let us remember the words of this song, continually checking our hearts to see if we not only say, “Lord, I surrender,” but that we actually do.

“I’ll bring You more than a song
For a song in itself
Is not what You have required
You search much deeper within
Through the way things appear
You’re looking into my heart”

A Message to My Sisters in Christ

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Sisters, before we could care
If our hair was untangled
Or our faces were clean
They told us we were beautiful.
Before we knew what it meant to have charm
They adored our smile.

Beauty—we still don’t know what that means
Is it merely aesthetically pleasing?
Is it based on the beholder’s eye?
Or does it exist deep inside?

I don’t know about you,
But beauty seems to define us,
This pressure to beautify, to have skin that glows
It diminishes the beauty of goodness and hope

It’s as if our beauty
Is all that we are
But as sisters in Christ,
True worth is found in our hearts.

Sisters, I know how you feel
You came here today feeling like nothing was right
But you managed a smile that was sweet and polite
Because the exterior is all that people will see
But with God you can find a beauty that He sees.

When do you find a peaceful heart hung in the aisle
Or a joyful smile for a-dollar-twenty-five?
When do you see a submissive spirit toward God
Purchased by girls here and abroad?
How much more often do we strive for attractive designs and complain at the boundaries placed in our lives?

We’ve heard “modest is hottest” so many times
We’ve heard “wear your purity ring”
And stay refined
Why is the focus on all the things we cannot do
Rather than how much we can do to glorify God?

Sisters, the secret to everlasting beauty is this:
Don’t focus on yourself or that kiss
Devote yourself to loving and knowing the King
Because His glorious face is the highest standard for beauty.

 

“One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” — Psalm 27:4

“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” — 1 Peter 3:3-4 

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” — Galatians 5:22-23 

 

Thank you for reading! Click here to see my post, “A Message to My Brothers in Christ.”

God Bless!

The Gospel, The Light: 6 Things God Has Done For Humanity

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(Photo by Samantha Lynch on Unsplash)

I blind myself to the truth, do you? Am I the only one who runs from the Light, preferring the safety of darkness? 

When the Light pierces through the darkness, it hurts. It hurts when I see I’ve been trying to fill the void inside me with my passions, dreams, ego, or self-pity. It hurts to see that me, you, and the whole human race sin every day without realizing it.

Or maybe we do realize our weakness, but we’re too afraid to do anything about it.

Woe to those who go to great depths
to hide their plans from the Lord,
who do their work in darkness and think,
“Who sees us? Who will know?” – Isaiah 29:15

Without this Light, I feel so empty. I’m in constant pain, letting insecurity rule and darkness overshadow any good that’s left in me.

I’m blind to my own weakness.

Why are we like this? It’s my fault. It’s yours. It’s Adam and Eve’s fault for eating that fruit in the garden. Their sin began a chain reaction that spread to every generation of humans who have lived since.

Doubts come: Come on, I’m good enough. God wouldn’t send a nice person like me to hell. I’ve done enough good things to outweigh the bad.

But God doesn’t weigh the good versus the bad; no, He measures us up to a stick, and we have to reach the top to enter heaven—He requires us to be 100 % perfect.

And we’re not.

And God is truly sad about that: “[God] wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4)

So, how did God provide a way for us to escape hell and to enter His heavenly presence, now and forever?

1. He sent a perfect man.

God sent His Son, Jesus, to live on this earth perfectly following God’s laws, like no human ever had before. He was the one person in history’s existence who actually deserved heaven.

Only God is 100% perfect all the time. And that’s exactly who Jesus was, and still is to this very day.

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” – Hebrews 1:3

Jesus is the one perfect Light, the one true fulfiller of our souls. He spoke out against lies and injustice; He uplifted the outsiders in society. He was filled with deep compassion for people, healing the sick and preaching about the Kingdom of God, a place where hearts are free, a place their souls had been longing to hear about.

2. He sacrificed this man, His Only Son, for us.

What’s terribly ironic, is that the One person who deserved heaven went to hell in place of everyone else who deserved hell. Jesus was nailed to a cross to purify us from our sins, dying in our place so we wouldn’t have to eternally bleed.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” – John 3:16-21

3. He, in the form of a man, came back to life.

But it doesn’t end at the cross. Three days later, Jesus Christ rose from the tomb, alive and well, and witnessed by hundreds of astonished people. He went up to heaven where He now sits at the right hand of the throne of God.

4. He saves us not by any goodness in ourselves, but by His amazing grace.

This is the most crucial point I have, even though it’s number four (number 4 is a good number, right? ;)) So pay attention here.

The thing is, Jesus did NOT die so we would follow rules, He died so we would place our faith in Him and come to know Him. It is only by faith in Christ that we are saved.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9

Christianity is NOT a religion. It is a beautiful, everlasting, soul-fulfilling relationship with Jesus Christ.

5. He shines His Light into our everyday lives.

Today, in the 21st century, Jesus offers this hope as we battle against anxiety, depression, temptations, grief, and feelings of emptiness: He is the Light.

Let those words sink in for a minute.

After Jesus left this earth, His Holy Spirit came to convict this world of sin.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” – 1 John 1:9

Wow! What an amazing truth that is. Throughout our Christian lives, we must bring our dark deeds into God’s glorious light, so that He may completely and totally outshine this darkness within us. His forgiveness is real, and He is waiting for you to simply cry out to Him with a repentant heart.

Once we believe in Jesus’ power to overcome death and sin on the cross, the Holy Spirit illuminates through our pitch black souls and guides us into more and more victories over our sin and failures, and more and more into the love and peace of walking in His ways.

“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” – John 14:16

6. He fills us with joy—now and forever.

With God’s Light inside of me, I’ve found the absolute freedom of His grace. I am no longer empty. I am truly, definitely, totally forgiven, as far as the east is from the west. When I place my surrendered trust in Jesus, my heart bursts with this Light.

As Christians, we face hardship. But through it all, our joy is made complete through Christ.

You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” – Psalm 16:11

I am free.

I am not floundering in darkness, but I am running out into the open arms of my Father, whose eyes ignite with unspeakable joy when He sees me. Without Jesus, I don’t know where I’d be. I don’t know how I’d bear the fires of this raw, miserable life.

But with Him, the sword of truth has attacked my old self. Now I am new like a polished ring, waiting like a Bride for her Groom, until the day He returns.

Please, when He comes back, don’t let it be your first time to bow.

“[Jesus], being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.” – Philippians 2:6-11

(All Scripture taken from NIV.)

 

Busy Thoughts vs. Faithful Thoughts

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(Photo by Igor Cancarevic on Unsplash)

Busy Thoughts

I think too much;
I think the same things over again,
And again I think
And then
All I can think of
Is the thought
That I’ve thought it before.

Or?
Or maybe not.
Maybe I’m insane
And the way I am
Is not like anyone else.

Or?
Or maybe I’m just like you—
Busy.
Maybe I’m busy
With things I ought to do,
I need to do,
And the things people want me to do–
Even if it’s not for me.

What about the things I choose to do?
The things I don’t want to lose
Because then I’ll lose myself?

The world is spinning with thoughts
And all my life is filled with things to do
And too much overthinking.
Maybe I’m busy because
I think too much.

 

Faithful Thoughts

I think of life;
I think of Jesus over and over again,
And again I think;
And then
All I can think of
Is the thought
That my life is under His control.

Or?
Or maybe not.
Maybe my life
And His amount of control
Depends on my faith.

Or?
Or maybe my faith depends
On Him.

Maybe I need to be faithful
With things He wants me to do,
I need to do,
And disregard the things people want me to do
If it’s not for Him.

What about the things I choose to do?
The things I don’t want to lose
He gave me as a gift—to be who I am.

The world is spinning with thoughts
And all my life needs to be filled with Him.
Instead of overthinking
I need to be faithful
In thinking of Him.

 
“Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest.” – Hebrews 3:1

Little Obediences: Everyday Actions that Matter to God

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Introducing my cousin, Amy Caylor! She wrote this essay that I thought was too good and true not to share. 🙂

 

I have a quote on my wall that says “You need to give your life to God in the little ways too, not just the big ones. —Waiting for Your Prince Charming.” I don’t remember much else about that book, but that struck me as something I needed to remember, so I put it on my wall. Now, four years later, I came across the idea again, in “The Man Christ Jesus” by Bruce A. Ware.

When people think of giving their life to God, or obeying Him in everything, they often think of the big stuff. Accepting the call to be a missionary. Selling everything, and giving it all to the poor. Refusing to deny Jesus, and being martyred for it. While following Jesus might mean that, it isn’t everything to obeying Jesus. Following Him truly means obeying him in the little ways too.

This could mean deciding to have a good attitude at work. In the context of the book I read about purity, it meant being patient and trusting that God’s plan was best for your life, whether you married or not. These “little obediences”, as Bruce A. Ware called them, can be harder to do than they sound, because we don’t necessarily see these things as important, or “little sins” worth being conquered. Being snappish because “Can’t you see I’m reading?” doesn’t feel or sound like it is something to overcome, but in a life that is suppose to be characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, it isn’t honoring to God. We should “be imitators of God, as beloved children” as Ephesians 5:1 says, and Jesus was sinless.

We don’t truly understand what that means. Jesus was sinless. He repressed both the “big” sins and the “little” sins. He followed His Father’s heart in every single way. He both forgave the Pharisees as he hung up on the cross, and refused to roll his eyes at his earthly parents, even when He knew how superior to them He was. Every single time. Every time temptation hit He prayed and struggled and didn’t give in for the whole duration of the temptation. What an amazing Savior!

We need to follow God. Not only in the big, life-changing ways, but in the small, daily, moment by moment ways. How we act and how we treat others should show glory to God. It is really hard to do, which makes it even more amazing that Jesus did it. Though we could never be sinless in this life like He is, we are called to follow His example.

Surrendering To His Love

People say I’m quiet. I wouldn’t think so unless they did. They say I’m patient, but I would never have thought so myself. Some say I’m shy. My family tells me I’m smart and thoughtful and kind.

 

Inside, I’m only a weak little lamb surrendering to a Savior whenever I remember, letting Him take my few loaves and fish and multiply them, whenever I think of it. But when I think only of myself I am nothing. When I acknowledge Him in every aspect of my life, He shines out of me, revealing His everything.

 

“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” – 2 Cor. 3:18

 

Nevertheless, whenever I think of myself, it matters to me, what people say. What they think. I wonder what they really think, if they say what they really think. I wonder.

 

People are mysterious. I have hardly even begun getting to know myself. It helps to know what they think by what they say. When I think of only myself, it matters to me, because I want to know who I am in their opinion, and I want to be more me according to whatever good things they think of me. None of what they think matters. Only God’s opinion matters, because He’s the only One who knows the real me, whoever I am. And He is the only One who is truly good.

 

But whenever I think of myself, I care. I care about me too much. I care what others think of me, and I blush when they compliment me. Am I going to bow before them at the end of the world? No. But I still care, and I still have a lot to learn to give up myself in every way and take pride in Him rather than in my own talents, skills, or looks.

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