Anxiety, Distorted Vision, and the Power of Christ

You may have heard it said that each of us view our world through rose-colored glasses, which means we perceive situations or perhaps events as being better than they actually are. I disagree. I think, most often, our

woman with splattered glasses

Image by Noah Black on Unsplash

perceptions are distorted by a combination of garbage-splattered lenses and curved reflections similar to those displayed by carnival mirrors.

Our vision is tainted by past hurts, pride, fears, sin, and deception, making it hard to see God’s hand and clearly discern His guidance.

This spring, as all my vision distorters fight for dominance, I’m combatting them with truth. This is the only way I’ll be able to clearly see God’s will and heart for me.

In Matthew 6:22-23 Jesus said, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if you eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”

In Scripture, vision refers to one’s ability to view our world and lives from God’s perspective and clearly discern His heart and plans. Our vision sharpens as we grow closer to Him and align our thoughts and actions with His truth. It dulls when we move further from Him and become increasingly consumed with self—our sin, desires, and concerns.

Our family has hit some financial challenges that have me prayerfully questioning how I spend my time. My first response is often to plot and plan ways to “fix” the situation. Where and how can we cut our spending and increase our income?

According my wisdom, it seems logical to allocate my time differently, focusing on those things that generate the most income while reducing those tasks that don’t. Though there’s great honor in providing for our families, when doing so, we must operate from a heart that is completely centered in Christ and His will.

Because we can’t serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). We can’t live enslaved to our bank accounts and clearly hear and heed God’s voice. If our focus is on the here and now and finding security in material things instead of, ultimately, in Christ, the voices of fear, insecurity, and greed will drown out that of our Saviors. The result will be confusion rather than clarity and anxiety and angst in place of peace.

“Therefore,” Jesus said, “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink or about your body, what you will wear,” Jesus said. Do not marimnaó about your well-being, which means allowing your anxiety to draw you into opposite directions and pull you apart. Do not be internally divided, acting as if you were an orphan forced to rely on yourself and navigate life on your own.

Instead, God invites us to live like a child of the victorious, risen King. An adopted and chosen heir of the One who loves us deeply, knows us intimately, and holds the entire world, our lives included, in His hands.

Seek God first, Jesus said, and trust Him to provide, knowing He truly is a good and attentive Father.

Let’s talk about this! Why do you think Jesus sandwiched the passage regarding spiritual vision between the section talking about money and the one on worry? In what ways have you seen worrying distort your vision? What are some ways we can maintain a clear and accurate vision?

Share your thoughts, verses, and stories with me in the comments below.

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Faith — A Clear Sign to Hold Tight To

sad teenagerChurch had become a painful place for our daughter. She loved Jesus and wanted to grow closer to Him, but she’d experienced deep hurt from His people. Hurts that initiated inner lies like, “I’m not good enough. This faith thing isn’t working for me. God must not be pleased with me.”

Every time she entered the sanctuary, those lies played, swirling through her mind and drowning out the songs and proclamations of grace.

I could sense something was wrong, something deep. I saw it in the way she tensed whenever I asked her about her prayer or Bible reading time—really, anything faith related. She grew abrupt, clearly wanting to end the conversation.

Being the … perhaps overly involved mother that I am, I pressed, out of fear. A fear that, when acted upon, could have pushed her away from the faith entirely. Luckily, my husband stepped in and told me to back off. Even more fortunate, I actually listened.

And waited.

And prayed, and prayed, and prayed for God, the only One who knew precisely how my daughter was feeling and thinking, to step in and grab and heal her heart.

A few edgy and frightening months later, He opened the door for conversation, and in the dialogue that followed, He broke my heart nearly as much as my daughter’s had been. She shared years of hurt, of being misjudged, of feeling as if, because she didn’t respond to God (really, to worship music) as her church friends did, that she was unengaged. Uninterested. And not accepted, not just by her peers, but by God.

“What’s wrong with me?” she asked. “I don’t see God in music; I see Him in math!”

To which I responded, “That’s beautiful baby.”

Then I reminded her of Jesus’ words in John 13:35. He didn’t say, “They’ll know you’re My disciple based on how emotional you get during worship service” or “how high you raise your hands.” He said, “By this everyone will know you’re My disciples, if you love one another.”

Friends embracingWhen we love like Jesus, we demonstrate we belong to Him.

And I’d seen His love displayed in her again and again in her school and among her friends. God hadn’t rejected her, nor was she failing in her faith. He’d drawn her near and was working in and through her each time she interacted with the hurting and dismissed. She’d turned to Him for salvation as a child, read her Bible, and did her best to honor Him, but still, at times, she worried somehow, for her, saving faith hadn’t clicked. And, surrounded by other more emotionally driven believers, she felt as if somehow she wasn’t enough.

But, as a friend reminded me, when we allow our emotions to dictate our assurance, we’re actually relying on works-based religion, rather than grace received through faith. Quoting a line from an old hymn that says, “‘I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name,’” she added, “Frame was the old word for feelings. It is so easy to rest on feelings instead of the finished work of Christ, which never changes.”

We are saved through faith in what Christ did on our behalf, regardless of how we feel one moment from the next.

In 1 John chapter four, the author wanted to give ancient believers that same assurance. False teachers had infiltrated the church, were denying vital truths regarding Christ, and claiming to have a special, mysterious, and “secret” knowledge of God that the others didn’t have. In response, John, the apostle who write all three letters bearing his name, wrote a missive refuting this deception and assuring true followers of Christ that they did indeed belong to Him.

They could know, know, know that they truly belonged to Jesus based on what they believed regarding Him (that He was fully human and fully man), that they obeyed what He’d taught, have received the indwelling Holy Spirit, and based on how they loved one another.

“Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God,” John said (1 John 4:7).

And for those who may have been confused as to what this love looked like, he added, “This is how God verse graphics 1 John 4:19showed His love among us: He sent His One and only Son into the world … as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. … No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:9-12, NIV).

The love of God is sacrificial and initiating, and when we love others well, as Christ has loved us, His love is made complete, or has reached it’s full expression, in us.

We don’t need some special knowledge to prove to others or ourselves that we belong to Him, nor should we rely on our emotions to assure us of our faith. We simply need to live in, and live out, what we’ve received—through faith.

Have you ever encountered something similar to my daughter, when others gave you the message that you weren’t expressing your faith appropriately or according to their expectations? What are some ways you’ve found assurance in your faith? What are some ways you’ve assured others who, despite a clear belief in Jesus, have expressed doubts regarding their standing with God?

Share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below, because we can all learn from and encourage one another.

When Ministries Die

woman sitting outside

Imagine forsaking your way of life to answer a call, pouring your life into following God, however He leads, only to learn, at the end of a long, difficult journey, your efforts will eventually come to naught. Those people you prayed for will turn away from God. Those relationships you fought for will fall apart anyway. That ministry you built and nurtured and grew from nothing but a vague idea will die completely.

Some 3,500 years ago*, God called a meek shepherd to leave his way of life in Midian to accept a monumental task—to free God’s people from centuries of oppression. After some hesitation, this man, named Moses, agreed, successfully liberated the Israelites, and led them to the land God promised them.

But this wasn’t just a rescue mission. Through Moses, God was changing worldviews and revealing His heart and will to the world.

Moses’ life is an example of surrendered obedience. Though he never entered the land God had promised, when his time on earth concluded, he could look back over all the lives he’d touched and imagine, with confidence, the legacy he’d leave.

Except that wasn’t exactly what happened. Though he did leave a legacy, I suspect it wasn’t what Moses had hoped for. As he was about to die, God said, in essence, “Everything you’ve worked for, everything I’ve called you to, will fail. The people I loved, provided for, and protected are going to rebel against Me.” (Deut. 32)

They would enter the Promised land as God had promised, and in response, the people would reject their Creator. God knew this, before He led them out of Egypt and drew them near.

Because God’s faithfulness is never dependent on our actions.quote from post.

Nor is our ministry dependent on results. That said, regardless of how things end, during our lifetime, or even for generations to come, God’s will prevails. We saw this, quite clearly, through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and we’ll see it again when He returns to earth to reign for forever more.

As we wait, we’re called to be faithful. To focus on Him and His will done in and through us. That is and always will be enough.

More than enough.

Though it had to sting, to hear his life’s work would soon deteriorate, Moses could die in peace, because he’d done as God had commanded.

When we do the same, and daily step out in faith and surrendered obedience, we can call it a win, regardless of the results of our efforts. And despite what may feel like a huge loss today, we can celebrate knowing in the end, Christ triumphs.

Let’s talk about this! Are you tired? Has something you’ve worked for turned out different than you expected? How might focusing on the faithfulness of God instead of the often faithlessness of others help you stay focused and encouraged? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, because we can all learn from and encourage one another!

For those who live local, join me for two great events! Live teaching of Wholly Loved’s Becoming His Princess Bible study (Register HERE), and one of our Fully Alive Conferences. You can find out more and click through links to register HERE.

You can snag your free copy (ebook) of the study HERE.

Healing in the Hands of the God Who Sees

woman standing in the darkI spent most of my adult life hiding while presenting an image to others of the person I wanted them to see. The woman I hoped to be but quite frankly, didn’t see myself as. If asked, I would’ve readily admitted I had an unhealthy fear of rejection.

I knew I overemphasized other’s opinions, but I didn’t understand why. Therefore, I continually fought surface level battles that led to short-lived behavior modification, frustration, and, often, defeat.

Galatians 1:10 was my go-to verse, one I prayed and meditated on countless times. Written by a first century church planter who routinely faced rejection and persecution, it says, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

And every time I read those words, conviction squeezed my heart, followed by a commitment to do better. But a week or maybe a month later, I’d find myself battling the same insecurities.

I felt defeated. Stuck.

I wasn’t. Instead, I was held, searched, and known, deeply and intimately, by the one who not only sunset with quote pulled from text.saw my struggles but also the root cause beneath them (Psalm 139:1-2). Through a series of painful events, He allowed an inner lie to surface so that He could replace it with truth.

I was a new, and hugely insecure leader at the time, interacting with wounded and insecure women while still, largely, dealing with my own hurts and fears. I thought I could power through, but in so doing, was living but a fragment of who Christ created me to be.

God wanted to take me to a place of freedom. Therefore, He allowed me to land smack dab in three consecutive, ugly interactions where I felt misjudged, slandered, and attacked.

In response, I began to pull deeper into myself, feeding negative thinking that had been dormant yet festering deep within my heart. Lies I’d thought I’d overcome, had long since moved past, but which the God who searches and knows me saw as clearly as the tears on my face. And as He watched, He was waiting for the perfect moment to reveal them to me—so that He could initiate healing.

One afternoon, while I was moping around the house, my husband said, “You’re acting like you did something wrong.”

In that moment, something clicked, and a thought followed, Because I think I’m bad.

As God’s gentle Spirit ushered in, I realized my intense reaction—the reason the three rejections had hurt so deeply—came from a belief adopted early in my childhood, one I thought I’d long since dealt with but that had been far too engrained through years of hurt and failure to uproot easily.

Bowing my head, I offered my pain and the falsehoods surrounding it to the God who “searched me and knows me, when I sit and when I rise;” and who “perceives my thoughts” the reason behind every action and emotion “from afar” (Ps. 139:1-2, paraphrased and personalized.)

God knows and loves you just as deeply, and wants to bring you to a place of deeper healing and freedom. When emotions and insecurities arise, instead of fighting them in your own strength, surrender them to Christ. Ask Him to show you their root and to, step by step and prayer by prayer, push out all that is false, ugly, and painful with His love and grace.

Let’s talk about this! When strong emotions arise, how do you normally respond? How might turning to Jesus lead to lasting freedom? In what ways have you experienced this to be true?

Cover image for Becoming His Princess Bible StudyShare your thoughts and stories with us in the comments below, and make sure to grab a free copy of Wholly Loved Becoming His Princess Bible study. You can do so HERE. For those who live in the Omaha Metro, join me for live teaching at Christ Community Church, starting March 12th. Register HERE.

And make sure to join me for one of Wholly Loved’s upcoming Fully Alive conferences. Find out more HERE.

 

When Others Hurt Us

Image by Gokil on Unsplash

My friend’s comments and attitude stunned me and left me clamoring for a reply. At first, I had none. An evening excursion I’d anticipated with joy, that I’d set aside time for, paid money for, was quickly turning to regret.

The words tumbling out of my friend’s mouth weren’t only hurtful, they were unjustified. It was almost as if she were searching for things to criticize and condemn. Though I persevered, doing my best to enjoy the rest of our time together, my mind kept rehashing every painful statement.

My emotional reaction would’ve been different had she had been calling out sin, or perhaps lovingly pointing me to growth. Then I would’ve known her remarks came from a place of love. But that didn’t seem to be the case. Every declaration appeared to erupt from a place of … indignation.

Why was she so angry? Did she really view me the way her words implied?

The next day, still nursing the sting from the night before, I was rehashing it all through prayer to God. Every statement she’d made, why it was wrong and unfair, and what each revealed regarding the state of her heart.

About two minutes into my rant, God’s voice swept through my mind: “Be the friend to her you quote pulled from text on green backgroundwant her to be to you.”

In other words, show grace. Recognize that, yes, her words and behavior had been ugly, but there were countless times mine were as well. If I were to list every time I’ve done or said something hurtful to someone I love, I’d be buried in paper and ink.

I never have and never will love others perfectly.

Neither would my friend. Most likely, her behavior the night before stemmed from something completely outside of our encounter. She was probably hurting or experiencing stress or uncertainty in some area. Or perhaps she’d merely slipped into a sinful state. We’ve all done that.

But God’s love and gentle presence remains, and knowing we still have a great deal of growth ahead, He lovingly convicts then picks us up and carries us to that next level of grace.

Philippians 1:6 tells us all who belong to Christ are in a state of progress. We’re teetering someplace between who we once were and who we’ll become. This verse brings great comfort when we’re the ones who’ve tilted back toward sinful behaviors, but this hope-filled promise involves those who hurt us as well.

With every interaction, especially the most painful and disappointing, may we all remember that each one of us are in a state of becoming. God will complete the work in us, and perhaps most importantly, He carries the bulk of the weight.

When Life Hits Hard–Where Joy is Found

sunrise, flowers, and clouds with quote regarding joy

Some of my darkest periods have occurred when I’ve appeared to have every reason for joy. And I’ve experienced deep joy during difficult and painful situations.

About ten years ago, after a series of moves and job shifts, our family landed in a small town northeast of Kansas City, MO. I homeschooled at the time, we weren’t wealthy by any means, but our finances were solid and our bills paid, our marriage strong, and our home-life largely tension free.

But I was miserable. Defeated and confused. In pursuing what I thought would bring me joy, I was robbing myself of it.

At the time, I was working toward a teaching degree, or perhaps geology or chemistry, I can’t remember which. (I changed my mind regarding potential career plans each semester, it seemed—because I wasn’t called to any of them.) I knew with the deep yet quiet certainty that can only come from the Holy Spirit within that God wanted me to write, something I had no problem doing—as a hobby and according to my terms.

Terms that involved ample self-protection, also known as no transparency, and guaranteed financial payoffs.

But God was calling me to surrender. Everything. My plans, desires, wisdom, and all those prospects certain to include a secure 401K and steady paycheck. For surely, aren’t those things, and all the material benefits included in them, what bring joy?

If that were true, I would’ve had it in abundance. Instead, my heart felt dulled and dark, a darkness that increased as, through disobedience, I continued to distance myself from God and His love.

Light—and joy—flooded in the moment I surrendered.

I experienced the converse of this about four years later when a mysterious illness began stealing my energy and dignity. Though I later discovered the cause of my rapid weight loss and related symptoms, for almost a year I sat in the tension of not knowing. Of fretting and imagining and striving to control what felt like a revolting body. But in the middle of all my uncertainty and pain, I experienced peace.

And joy. A joy much greater and stronger and more abiding than my circumstances—a joy Image of mountains, lake, and a sunset with a quote pulled from the postfound in abundance as I sat, each day, in God’s presence. Because, as Psalm 16:11 states, joy comes not in the absence of difficulties but instead in God’s presence. As we hit pause on our busyness and each day’s stressors, as we allow His gentle whisper to drown out our worries and fears, He births joy within us.

His joy, not ours, given to us as a gift, if we’ll receive it. A gift that doesn’t necessarily abate our sorrow. In fact, joy and sorrow, even intense sorrow, can quite naturally co-exist. It did for Jesus, as He wept in the Garden on the night before His death. I imagine it did for God the Father as well, when He sent His precious Son into our sin-tainted world.

Joy isn’t an emotion. Those come and go based on countless external circumstances. Rather, joy is a deep awareness and appreciation for God’s love and grace, which is always at work, even in our darkest moments.

Let’s talk about this! What resonated with you most in today’s post? Is there anything you disagree with or maybe would add? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, because we can all learn from and encourage one another.

cover for Bible studySpeaking of finding joy during hard or painful periods, for those following along with our Becoming His Princess Bible study, last week we talked about ways to remain faithful during periods of disillusionment. You can watch that session HERE. You can grab a free copy (ebook) of the study HERE.

If one of your friends or loved ones is hurting but you don’t quite no what to say, how to respond, or how to help, you may find encouragement from my post on my Crosswalk blog on helping our hurting friends. You can read that HERE.

 

 

 

How Jesus Responds to Our Doubts

woman standing at dusk watching the sun set

Image by Sasha Freemind on Unsplash

What happens when God doesn’t intervene? When circumstances grow worse, doors close, and illness lingers?

Is He still good?

Does He still love us?

Intellectually, we know sometimes bad things happen to good people, but sitting in the middle of chaos and catastrophe, doubts take hold.

A couple years ago, while on her first college coop, our daughter’s depression spiked. She did all the appropriate Christiany things. She went to church, read her Bible, meditated on Scripture, and prayed.

She prayed and prayed and prayed. And yet, her depression remained. And though she knew they were lies, comments she’d heard previously tore at her hope.

Just have faith, then your depression will go away.

Mental illness is a spiritual issue. If you’re close to Jesus, you’ll be happy.

Have Jesus, have joy.

It got to where going to church, the one place she was supposed to feel safe and find healing, increased her pain.

Made her feel less than. Insufficient. Unseen and unloved by her Creator.

But still she went, and one lonely Sunday morning, God met her there and gave her hope. Not that she’d get better, although with self-care she has. In fact, the sermon talked about times when God, for whatever reason, doesn’t intervene Woman looking contemplated with text pulled from postor heal. But whether we see His hand or not, He remains.

His love is unshakable.

That Sunday morning, in the middle of her depression, God let her know that she was okay. That their relationship was okay.

That He held her and wouldn’t let go.

We all need to know that, especially when life feels hard. We need to know that the One who formed galaxies by a mere command sees us and is alert to our suffering.

God doesn’t always act as we expect or even desire.

Imagine having given your entire life to serve Him, only to find yourself imprisoned and awaiting execution. Imagine the questions, the doubt, the intense inner wrestling.

The bursts of hope followed by crushing defeat and despair.

Just over two thousand years ago, a faithful prophet sat in a dark, dank dungeon. The stench of decomposing bodies, the cold that ate at his bones, wore down his courage and faith.

The man who first encountered Jesus from within his mother’s womb, who wept at the presence of the incarnate God, then a fetus. Who decades later proclaimed, with certainty, that He was “the lamb of God who took away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), the man who’d witnessed the Spirit landing upon Him like a dove and had heard the Father call Him His Son (Luke 3:22), feared, perhaps he’d been wrong.

Could it be Jesus wasn’t the long-promised Savior?

For surely, after all John had done, all he’d given up for the sake of Christ, God wouldn’t leave him in an ancient dungeon to die.

But as each day dragged into the next, without so much as a glimmer of light to distinguish them, John the Baptist’s certainty turned to doubt. In the confusion that can only come from deep pain, he sent one of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the One who is to come, or should we expect someone else” (Matthew 11:3)

John knew about all Christ had been doing. Even more, he knew what He hadn’t done, and in that moment, the one unanswered prayer drowned out every miracle proclaimed.

But Jesus reassured him, not by promising his rescue but instead, by reminding him of who He was.

“Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen,” Jesus told John’s disciples. “The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good news is preached to the poor” (Matthew 11:4).

In other words, “I’m still good, powerful, present, and in control.”

Then, immediately, Jesus spoke to the crowds, “I tell you the truth, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11).

This was how Jesus addressed John’s doubt. Not with anger or disgust or rebuke. But with reminders of His power and affirmation of His love.

Sunset with quote pulled from postHe responds to our doubt in the same way. God may not answer our prayers as we’d like. He may not rescue us from that difficult situation or bring long-desired healing. But when we come to Him honestly with our doubt and despair, He’ll center us in who He is and His love for us.

How might remembering those truths strengthen you for difficult situations? How can focusing on who God is and His heart for you bring hope in the middle of despair?

This week, at Wildewood Christian, we’ve been talking about remaining faithful through disillusionment. Whenever life cover for Bible studydoesn’t play out as we’d hoped or expected, we can feel discouraged, defeated, and disillusioned. How might reminding ourselves of God’s love, often, help us during those times? If you’d like to watch the full session, filled with tips for weathering disillusionment periods with hope and grace, you can watch it on Wholly Loved’s YouTube channel HERE. If you don’t have the study but would like to grab a copy, you can do so for free HERE. You can pick up a print copy HERE.

You may also be interested in:

When Disappointment Steals Our Joy, by Wholly Loved’s guest blogger Donna Jones

And one of my favorite books: Thinking Right When Things Go Wrong by

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.