Looking Beyond Ourselves

How deep, how far reaching, is your hope? Before you give the appropriate Christian answer, pause and evaluate your life. Your words. Those thoughts that whisper to you throughout the day and keep you awake at night.ID-100249429

Surrender. Releasing our life to a bigger plan, whether we can see the details or not. Looking past our momentary frustrations, pain and struggles to see God’s eternal plan.

Because, “if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world” (1 Corinthians 15:19 NLT).

If this is all there is, God help us!

To pose the question asked by my pastor, Lance Burch from Reality Church, last Sunday: “What if our lives are bigger than we know?”

This was certainly the case for both Ruth and Boaz. When I read their story, being the romantic that I am, I zero in on their unfolding love. Boaz is Ruth’s provider and Ruth the sweet, loyal, nurturing wife and mother. *sigh* Such a tender example of true and holy love.

And yet, there’s an even bigger story unfolding in the pages of Ruth, a greater romance that calls out to all mankind, for Jesus is our Boaz, our kinsman redeemer, our deepest and truest love.

Pause to read Ruth 4:13-22 and Matthew 1:6-16.

The real story hidden within this beautiful romance is the wooing of Creator God as He laid the groundwork for His redemptive plan, which ultimately led to the greatest sacrifice mankind has ever known.

Ruth’s life was bigger than she realized; bigger, I believe, than she could have imagined.

As is ours. But I think, often we get so caught up in the I of our story, we lose sight of the Author. It’s His story, and we are but supporting roles. Directed by Him, for His glory, to point others not to ourselves but rather, to Him.

It’s funny, this following of God’s plan. When I first began to write full time, I became obsessed with “the dream”. My prayers were dominated by self-centeredness. Lord, help me get published. Grant me new opportunities. Grant me favor with the contest judges reading my work.

Kinda ugly. In fact, not long into it, God made it clear, my writing had become my idol, and God wanted me to let it go. To lay everything, my whole self, on the alter, and thus, my prayers changed as I began to recite the words of Romans 12:1-2, which I personalized as follows:

“Lord, in view of all You’ve done, in view of Your mercy and grace and the death You endured on the cross, for me, I offer my whole body to You as a living sacrifice. May this be my act of worship. Help me not to conform to the ways of this word but instead, transform me by renewing my mind. Help me to know and live Your good, pleasing, and perfect will.”

That is a prayer God has consistently honored.

As I uttered those words, sometimes multiple times throughout the day, asking God to give me the desire and strength to live them, a funny thing happened. Doors of opportunity began to open and publishers began to ask to see my work.

How exciting, right? What I prayed for years ago was finally beginning to happen! You’d think this would be cause for celebration, that I’d be ready to barge forward unhindered.

That wasn’t what happened. I’m not sure if I can explain the heaviness of what followed and the deep urgings that filled my heart, urgings I believe were birthed by Christ. As I turned yet again to God in prayer, I sensed so strongly and clearly that God was going to use me, and suddenly my inadequacies came into focus.

ID-10075996I knew I wasn’t ready. More than that, I knew I had a long way to go before I would be ready.

So once again my prayers changed. I began praying that God would humble me, remove my selfishness, grant me increased self-control, fill my mind and heart with His truth until everything else was pushed aside.

And once again, He honored that prayer… in a much different way than I’d ever anticipated.

I asked for humility. God gave me two humbling (and at times, very humiliating) chronic illnesses. I asked God to teach me truth. He granted me trial after trial that brought me to my knees in deep, sobbing prayers. I asked Him to remove my selfishness and He showed me, through the faithfulness of a terminally ill friend, what it meant to live for Christ.

In the course of three years, everything changed.

I changed.

My struggles centered my heart in Christ and His eternal plan, and it’s my pain and loss that have allowed me to love others in a deeper way than I ever could have, had I not first been broken.

“What if our lives are part of something bigger than we know” ~ Lance Burch, Reality Church

Don’t be the center of your story. Surrender everything to be part of something immensely, miraculously, mercifully eternal.

Let’s talk about this. I know today’s post is insanely long, but today’s lesson is the most important, I believe. We started this study talking about surrender, and that is how we’ll end it.

If we could but catch a glimpse of eternity, how our lives would change! Everything looks different in light of the cross.

Pause to prayerfully listen to this song.

Why it Matters What Others Think

Did my blog title cause your hackles to rise? With today’s appearance/performance centered culture, most of us must fight daily to bring everything back to surrendered obedience. Blog posts and Youtube videos abound countering our culture’s shallow and exhausting trend, and with good ID-100184427reason. So rest assured, I’m not going to tell you to jump back on that people-pleasing treadmill. To the contrary. I’m going to encourage you to center your whole heart, every thought and desire, in Christ.

Because if you do, your actions will follow, and people will notice.

Two, maybe three years ago, a dear friend approached me with a story idea. At first I told her “Absolutely not!”, because I felt completely ill-equipped to write it. But then one morning, I awoke with the story unfolding in my brain. Having walked with Christ on this writing journey for a while, I determined God had birthed the story within me. Therefore, He wanted me to write it. So, I called my friend, making sure she understood all this would entail.

I’d need help. A lot of help. You see, this novel would require a great deal of medical knowledge, which I lacked. It’s very difficult to plot something you don’t understand.

And so began our journey. Over the course of a year, Ami Koelliker and I met over lunch, coffee, at her house, talked by phone, and swapped documents as we ID-10023724eeked out the story. And I mean eeeeeeeeeeked out. This was the most difficult story I’ve written to date. It was frustrating, exhausting, and often, downright discouraging. To make matters worse, I kinda doubted we’d ever even sell it. So in essence, we were spending all this time, giving ourselves headaches, on a project that we knew would likely end up in our computer’s trash bin.

There were many times I wanted to call it quits. Many times. I even considered writing Ami a check to compensate her for her time then being done with the whole thing.

But I didn’t. I stuck with it. (As did she.)

And here’s why: I’d made a commitment, and I intended to honor it, regardless of the cost or the outcome.

Flash forward two years, and I receive an email from my editor. New Hope wanted to contract this novel. (Yes, I signed, and the story is going through the various editorial stages now and has a scheduled release date of October 2015.) A story I’d seriously considered bailing on. I’m so very glad I didn’t.

It’s not that I am or was highly spiritual or possessed incredible inner grit. But this is an area God is growing in me. Because our word matters. Consider the following verse:

“Who may worship in your sanctuary, Lord: Who may enter Your presence on Your holy hill? Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right, speaking the truth from sincere hearts. Those who refuse to gossip or harm their neighbors or speak evil of their friends … and keep their promises even when it hurts” (Psalm 15:1-4 NLT)

Our actions reveal our heart. It’s one thing to say we’re transformed by grace; it’s another to reveal this with how we live our lives. For as Proverbs 20:11 says, “Even children are known by the way they act, whether their conduct is pure, and whether it is right” (NLT).

Christian character is a big deal. It adds credibility to our witness and forms a foundation of trust that lets others know we’re honest, reliable, and forthright. Conversely, lack of character is a big deal. It destroys our witness, hinders deep relationships, and ultimately leads to ever-increasing self-deception. And living in self-deception is a dangerous place to be.

As I read through Ruth, from the first chapter to the last, I was instantly struck with how honorable both Ruth and Boaz were. They worked hard, honored their commitments, were loyal to their loved ones. And everyone knew this.

In Ruth chapter 2, Boaz says to Ruth, “But I also know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers” (NLT).

Then, in chapter three, we begin to see Boaz’s character. He says, “Now don’t worry about a thing, my daughter. I will do what is necessary, for everyone in town knows you are a virtuous woman” (3:11 NLT).

How does Naomi respond when she learns of Boaz’s statement? She says to Ruth in verse 18, “Just be patient, my daughter, until we hear what happens. The man won’t rest until he has settled things today” (3:18).

In other words, she knew Boaz would take care of it, and that he would take care of it immediately. 

Their previous actions had revealed their character. Ours do as well. 

Let’s talk about this. If you haven’t had a chance to, read Ruth chapter 3 here. I know you likely read the first part of this chapter Friday but I encourage you to read it again. Actually, I encourage you to read chapters 2 and 3 again. You can do that here.

What stood out to you as read Ruth chapter 3?

What character traits impress you most in Ruth? What about in Boaz?

What areas might God long to help you grow in, in regard to your character?

How well do you honor your commitments? If you struggle in this area, what will you do differently, having studied this portion of Ruth?

Share your thoughts here in the comments below, on Facebook, or via our email loop. And make sure to visit Beth’s blog Friday for our next lesson.

Other posts and resources you might find helpful:

In Absence of Integrity

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

And as a teaser… for those curious about this book Ami helped me write, here’s what it’s about:

Abandoned by her husband, an organ procurement coordinator fighting to keep her job and her sanity encounters an old flame facing an unthinkable tragedy.

For Tammy Kuhn, being an organ procurement coordinator is more than a job. It’s a ministry. But when her husband of sixteen years leaves her for another woman, struggles with childcare, her absentee ex-husband, and an altercation with a doctor threaten her job. Embittered and overwhelmed, she fights to maintain her sanity when a late night encounter with an old flame stirs emotions long since buried but the ICU is no place for romance.

 

 

 

Are You Teachable?

“I’ll do it myself!” the two-year-old cries, stomping his pudgy food with fisted hands. ID-100284325

“I know what I’m doing,” says the stressed-out teenager who’s convinced they have a strong grasp on reality–and that we, the adults in their world, don’t.

“That editor just doesn’t get me!” says the writer who’s convinced their book is the next big seller, even though others have alerted them to major plot holes.

And so, they dig in their heels and continue on their way… further and further from the finish line.

ID-100260522Early in my writing career, my skin was thinner than a pears and as easily bruised. But before long I learned, if I truly wanted to grow, I’d need to allow God to develop within me a teachable spirit. This realization has helped me in every area of my life.

Are you doing the same? Today my sweet friend and fellow ICD writer shares her thoughts on teachability.

Are You Teachable by Susan AkenSusan'sheadshot

     (Read Ruth 3:1-6)

How do you react when someone gives you advice that is scary? We don’t know all of Ruth’s motivations and reasons for choosing to go with Naomi but we do know she was determined to stay with her and was deeply attached to her. Ruth had great respect for Naomi. When they arrived in Bethlehem, Ruth devoted herself to taking care of Naomi and providing for her. She always listened to Naomi and followed her advice. In chapter 3, verses 1-6, Naomi asks her to get all dolled up and go to the threshing floor where Boaz is sleeping. She tells her to uncover his feet and lay down there. Verse 6 tells us that Ruth “did everything her mother-in-law told her to do.”

She took a great risk here. She risked being rejected and embarrassed. She couldn’t know without doubt how Boaz would react. I think Naomi was sure of his reaction but there was no guarantee. Naomi asked Ruth to take this risk because she knew that Boaz (as next of kin) was her best hope for a future and she knew that he had taken an interest in Ruth since he told her to only glean in his field and instructed his workers to leave extra grain. When Naomi told Ruth to lie at his feet and then ask him to spread his garment over her, this was a custom of the time to let him know she was interested in marriage. You can read more about this HERE:

Ruth allowed Naomi to guide her and trusted her advice.

BeyondIDocover In Beyond I Do, Ainsley also has a mentor who gives her advice. Her friend, Deborah, who led her to Christ is also her coach and friend. Deborah encourages Ainsley to stay open to her mom and to forgive her even though she would prefer to just shut her out of her life. Deborah asks her to take a risk by opening her heart to her mom. Her mom has hurt her so many times over the years and she is afraid of being hurt again. But Deborah keeps gently prodding Ainsley to reach out. She remains open and teachable with her mentor. In one beautiful scene, when Ainsley realizes that she is not sure what is next in her life, Deborah asks her, “If you could do anything, knowing God would stand behind you 100 percent, what would that be?” When Deborah asks that question, Ainsley knows immediately what her answer is. She has known it in her heart but Deborah helps her voice that desire. She helps Ainsley find her ministry to hurting families.

If we want to grow as Christians, we must remain open and teachable. When we think we know it all or that we don’t need advice, we’re headed for a fall. When someone speaks into our lives what feels like criticism or makes a suggestion that would take us out of our comfort zone, God uses it to help us to grow and become more mature. I am experiencing that in my life. My good friend, Jennifer, has become a writing mentor (though I am older than her) and she has recently given me some challenges as a writer that would take me out of my comfort zone. She is also helping me realize that I need to be open to advice and constructive criticism in order to grow as a writer. We need each other!

Some questions to discuss, pray over, and ponder:

First, if you haven’t already done so, read Ruth 3:1-6

  1. How do you react when someone offers advice that scares you?
  1. Are you cultivating a relationship with a mentor? (I don’t think it has to be someone older than you, just someone you can learn from) Is there someone you could mentor?
  1. Would you be willing to share about a mentor relationship and what you learned either when you were mentored or when you mentored someone else?

Share your thoughts here in the comments below, join the discussion in our email loop, or at our Facebook Group page Beyond I Do Bible Study Group. 

***

Susan Aken is a homemaker, substitute teacher and writer. She lives in Nebraska but was born and raised in Oklahoma. Her greatest love is for the Lord Jesus Christ who has redeemed her and set her free. Her other loves are her husband and son (she is now an empty nester). Susan enjoys reading, photography, spending time with family and friends and writing. She has a heart for prayer ministry and loves her church! Visit her online at Soaring With Butterfly Wings. Find out more about her writing or pick up one of her devotionals here.

Moving Past the Comfortable to the Extraordinary

Is your love for the convenient and comfortable keeping you from the extraordinary?

melodylodgekoct132_editedToday a sweet friend and talented author of Entrusted, Julie Arduini, challenges us to evaluate our life, opening ourselves up to God’s nudging, even if that nudging terrifies us or leads us well out of our comfort zones.

Moving Beyond the Comfortable by Julie Arduini

As Ruth worked the fields under the harsh sun and I suspect the wandering eyes of the fellow laborers, she wasn’t comfortable. The hours were long. It was dry and hot. Had I been out in those fields I confess it would take all of five minutes before the muttering would start. I would have imagined my life had I gone back home. Surely it would have been more…comfortable. I’d be angry thinking how Naomi would be home, not as hot and dirty, and although grieving, she’d still be what I was not.

Comfortable.

Ruth in the fields symbolized her faith walk. It was outside the comfort zone. She could have returned home. She stayed with Naomi. She could have refused to work the fields, but she didn’t. She could have kept the fruits of her labors for herself but she went home and gave the grain to Naomi.

I’ve never had to work a field but I have been challenged to step outside the comfort zone. With writing I remember the day God whispered it was time to say goodbye to writing the newsletter for the local Mothers of Preschoolers group. There wasn’t a bad thing in what I was doing, but God was calling me to do more. I had no idea what that more looked like, and walking in obedience was definitely a leaving the comfort zone experience.

I’ve left the comforts of a life I thought I would spend the rest of my days. We were an Upstate NY family, it was all I knew. When the financial fallout of 9/11 hit our area my husband’s job changed. An opportunity came in the exact time frame his job was ending but it was nearly 300 miles away. It meant leaving everything and everyone in a season where our baby was very ill and my dad passed away. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

BeyondIDocoverIn Beyond I Do, Ainsley’s life is a fairly predictable package. Things are planned out. Her life, her future is…comfortable. How tempting it is to ignore His call and bulldoze forward on our own strength and hopes. Ainsley’s choice is what Ruth had to face. What I had to surrender was the comfort zone.

It isn’t easy but Ruth’s story offers a great look at God’s heart. When Ruth obeys and surrenders the comfort zone she has a protector and provider named Boaz. He makes sure she receives food, drink, the most fruitful land, and stalks that had already been pulled out for her.

The very first day we moved to Ohio our daughter, severely delayed at the time because of her sickness, pulled herself to stand. Our son blossomed in his new school. My husband thrived and had dreams fulfilled at church.

Ainsley received a happy ending.

Leaving the comfort zone isn’t easy. It’s a choice nearly every minute to fight resentment and grumbling. But eternal rewards are there and as Ruth 2:1-17 show, favor is abundant.

That’s the zone I want. How about you?

Could you relate to Ruth and her obedience to leave a comfort zone by working the fields?

Do you tend to resent people who don’t seem called to leave the comfort zone?

Have you ever been in Ainsley’s position with a future mapped out but God was calling you in a different direction?

Describe a time when you felt God’s favor and protection.

What do you sense God is asking you to do with what you’re reading in Ruth 2?

***

Julie Arduini is an author with a passion to encourage readers to find freedom through surrender. Her first Adirondack contemporary romance, Entrusted, gives readers hope to surrender fear. A Walk Through the Valley will soon be available as an infertility devotional with 5 other authors. She blogs every other Wednesday at Christians Read and is a frequent contributor to Jasmine’s Place. To learn more about her writing and love of chocolate, visit http://juliearduini.com. She lives in Ohio with her husband and two children.

Entrusted FRONT Cover_editedEntrusted:

Jenna Anderson, sassy city-girl, plows–literally–into Adirondack village, Speculator Falls with a busted GPS. She gets a warning from the sheriff but has ideas for the senior center to prove she belongs in town as their director. Town councilman Ben Regan is as broken as the flower box Jenna demolished. He’s grieving and wants to shut down the center before there’s too much change and heartbreak. They work on community projects and build a slow relationship, but the council needs to vote on the senior center’s future. Can Jenna show Ben both her and the center are worth trusting?

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this. I often tell our daughter, I’d much rather receive God’s blessings than consequences. What I mean is, I’d rather be walking in His will then venturing away from it. There’ve been many times when following God’s will has been difficult, uncomfortable, and frightening. Moving to Papillion was one! (You can read about that here.) But in every trial and triumph I’ve learned God is good, loving, and faithful. He truly does have our best in mind.

Share your thoughts in response to Julie’s questions here, via our study email, or at our Beyond I Do Bible Study Facebook group. If you’re not a part of our email loop or Facebook group and would like to be, simply shoot me an email and I’ll get you added. 🙂

WhenDawnBreakspreliminaryBefore I go, I wanted to share some exciting events in my world. I recently learned my novel, When Dawn Breaks, is available for pre-order at 25% off! You can get it here.

As the hurricane forces Jacqueline to evacuate, her need for purpose and restitution forces her to head north to her estranged and embittered daughter and into the arms of a handsome new friend. Dealing with his own issues, Jacqueline isn’t sure if he will be the one she can lean on during the difficult days ahead. And then there are the three orphans to consider, especially Gavin. Must she relinquish her chance at having love again in order to be restored?

Read a free, 23 page excerpt here.

Finding Our Calling–the In Between Years

Your heart was stirred and you responded with enthusiasm, determination, and focus. ID-100148082But that was so long ago, you barely remember the call. In fact, you’ve begun to doubt it. Did you really hear God? Is He in this? Has He given up on me or changed His mind?

You accepted the job, anxious for advancement and to put your unique giftedness to use. Oh, the plans you had! But after ten years of doing grunt work, watching others get promoted, get raises, while you remain stagnant, you’re beginning to wonder… God, do you see me? Do you care?

Obedience. Perseverance. Surrender.

Doing the right thing simply because it’s the right thing.

Many of us long to be used by God, and when we consider this, I think our minds often Luke16-10versepicjump to something grand. We long to be missionaries or to start a ministry, or perhaps lead our entire office to Christ.

But what if God called you to poverty… for Him. To give up everything to align yourself with the destitute and spend your days begging on the street corner?

This is the modern day equivalent of what Ruth did. She gave up everything to align herself with Naomi, to take on Naomi’s plight, and to spend the rest of her days, in essence, begging for food.

Pause for a moment to read Ruth 2:1-17.

Notice, Ruth took initiative. She offered to go out into the harvests to glean grain from “anyone who is kind enough to let me do it” (v. 2).

She humbled herself and served her mother-in-law in a grueling and demeaning position. In essence, she became a beggar. Notice, she didn’t play the poor-me card, bemoaning her situation, asking Naomi to join her. Never once do we read the words, “Why me?” coming from her mouth.

I believe that’s because she was entirely focused on the needs of her mother-in-law. Ruth truly loved and honored Naomi above herself.

In gleaning, not only did Ruth willingly take the position of a beggar, but she also potentially put herself in harms way. She, a defenseless woman voluntarily worked among hired hands; male strangers.

We can sense the potential danger in this through Boaz’s words in verses 8-10.

“Boaz went over and said to Ruth, ‘Listen my daughter. Stay right here with us when you gather grain; don’t go to any other fields. Stay right behind the young women working in my field. See which part of the field they are harvesting, and then follow them. I have warned the young men not to treat you roughly.‘” (Ruth 2:8-10a NLT).

Boaz would not need to warn his men not to treat her roughly unless he knew this was a common problem. Nor would he need to urge her to remain in his field unless he knew gleaning in other fields, among other strange men, could be potentially dangerous.

I believe Ruth understood these dangers as well, and yet, with courage, she set out to do the right thing. Even when it was hard or frightening. Here we see the depth of her love and sacrifice.

In these chapters, we also see her perseverance.

Harvesting grain was a grueling endeavor, one that exhausted the strongest of men. Hours spent in the sun, backs bent, hands rubbed raw by the rough sheaves of grain. Then, once the sheaves were gathered, they had to be winnowed then ground into flour or roasted.

Through all this Ruth persevered, not knowing what lay ahead, not knowing that every step of surrendered obedience was leading her to her calling.

As I read today’s passage, I couldn’t help but think of Luke 16:10

“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.”

Faithful in the little things…

Sitting with a neighbor even when it seems no one notices.

Serving in the nursery week after week, even though you’re tired.

Pouring your heart into a blog no one seems to be reading or perhaps editing a manuscript your certain will never go to print.

Going to work every day, giving your all, even though your boss credits your efforts to another.

ID-100189108Raising your children or grandchildren, wiping snotty noses day after day, even if it means struggling financially. While your neighbors hold prestigious jobs.

Faithful in the little things, doing the task, whatever it is, that God has set before you today.

Remaining in God’s will, even when it’s hard, tiring, or lowly.

Following His leading, trusting in His timing, even if the drudgery drags on. And on.

Surrendering your plan for God’s. This past Sunday our youth pastor, Robert Conn, gave an excellent message on trust and surrender. The sermon is titled “Practically Trusting.” I encourage you to listen to it by clicking here.

1. What stood out to you in today’s passage?

2. What do you believe were some of the external challenges Ruth faced during her period of gleaning?

3. What do you believe were the internal challenges she faced during her gleaning?

4. Can you share a time when you served out of obedience and it became difficult or tedious? What do you believe God was doing during that period? In what ways did that time of service help develop your character or grow your faith?

I could discuss this passage forever as I feel it is so incredibly rich, but alas, I’ve far exceeded the reasonable blogging word count. 😉 I will leave you with this:

Each of us are called. God invites each of us to seek after and embrace the abundant life Christ offers. But oftentimes in our journey, we hit numerous roadblocks, set backs, and long winding valleys. It is our choice to give up or persevere.

Hold tight to your call. Hold tight to the One who called you.

Share your thoughts here, join the discussion on Facebook, or join our Bible study email loop. Make sure to visit  Beth’s blog FirstHalfDay on Friday for another discussion on surrender.

Reaching the Fork in the Road

So much struggle. So much uncertainty. So much pain. And in one moment, one simple, ID-10016416rational choice, she could leave it all behind. Start over. Follow the easy path.

Or so it seemed….

As I read Ruth 1:1-8, I wondered how Ruth’s life would have changed if she chose to leave Naomi and return to the land of her people. Where she could stay with her relatives, find a new husband, have children, and live a life of ease.

At least, standing at the fork of indecision, that must have been how it seemed.

Read verses 8-10 again here.

To paraphrase, after Ruth’s husband died, her widowed mother-in-law’s urgings presented Ruth with a choice: She could focus on her grief, on her problems and self-preservation or she could die to herself and her needs and love her mother-in-law more than herself.

Let’s not lose sight of the significance of this. Here were two widowed women living during a time when husbands were largely a woman’s only hope of survival. This was before welfare and life insurance policies. In this agrarian society, to live without a husband meant one would be forced to depend on the generosity of others. (You can read more about widowhood in Bible times here.)

So in essence, choosing to stay with Naomi rather than return to her homeland, Ruth would be choosing a life that, could quite possibly, result in homelessness and hunger.

Can you imagine the fear? The inner turmoil this must have created?

I suspect some of you know the rest of her story, but let’s pause here, at this moment of intense pain and uncertainty. At this place of incredible tragedy, where, having lost her husband, Ruth had to decide: hold on to her life–focus on self, or surrender her life to God, not knowing what lay ahead.

In chapter one of Beyond I Do, Ainsley was given that same choice. Go back home and let someone else deliver that package to Deborah’s sick friend, or die to self, pushing past her fear, and obey.

Each day, we’re given that same choice as well, and how we decide directly affects our trajectory. With each choice, we either step closer to God’s call for us or we venture one step further away.

WeekOneVerseBIDStudy

If we try to hold on to our life, our dreams, our goals; if we focus on self-preservation, we lose. But if we surrender EVERYTHING, we win. Every time.

Oh, if only we could see the road ahead! Then our choices would be easier, wouldn’t they? But God is asking us to trust.

If you haven’t had a chance to read today’s Bible passage, or if you’re just joining us, you can read Ruth 1:1-8 here. If you haven’t purchased Beyond I Do, the novel our study springboards from, you can get an ecopy for under a buck or print copy for under ten here.

Let’s talk about this.

I encourage you to write Matthew 16:25 on an index card and keep it where you’ll regularly see it. The abundant life Christ offers begins and is sustained by surrender. But to surrender, we must learn to die to ourselves.

I’ve been told the questions I posed Thursday were a bit… abundant so I’m going to post a shortened list today. 🙂 Even so, please don’t feel as if you have to answer them all. Rather, choose a few to think and talk about and journal on.

I encourage you to join the discussion here, through our email loop (let me know if you’d like to join. 🙂 ) or on our study’s FB page.

Our Bible reading: Ruth 1:1-8
Focus: evaluating our past and present hurts in light of God’s sovereignty and grace.
What thoughts arose as you read Ruth 1:1-8?
We read about Naomi’s heartache but not much about Ruth’s. Why do you think that is?
What are some difficulties Ruth faced as a widow?
Why do you think Ruth chose not, at least from what we see, to voice her pain to Naomi?
In what ways can we see Ruth’s love for her mother-in-law?
In what ways did Ruth exhibit self-sacrifice?
When has God asked you to focus on others and not on your pain or trial, and what was the result?
ACTION PLAN: What might God be asking you to do this week?
Make sure to stop by Beth’s blog on Friday to discuss Ruth 1:8-22

Some questions to consider and pray about in preparation for Friday’s discussion:
What is it that keeps me from my calling?
What stops you from moving forward with God, or, if you are following God, what makes this difficult?
What does self-preservation mean to you and has it affected your walk with the Lord?
What are some ways you can know what God is calling you to?

 

 

Don’t Ignore God’s Prompting

Have you ever felt a nudge, a niggling deep in your heart, urging you to do something, something that ID-10075996seems so strange, or perhaps so uncharacteristic for you, you decide you can’t possibly be hearing God right? Therefore, you conclude that thought to be but a passing brain flutter, triggered by a sappy commercial or perhaps last night’s dream.

But then it comes again, and again, and your heart begins to prick as excitement builds. And yet, before you put feet to the thought, another follows and then another as your brain lists all the reasons you shouldn’t do that thing.

It doesn’t really matter what the thing is, does it? It can be something as simple as getting up and getting your spouse a glass of water when you’d rather sink deeper into the couch. Or maybe it’s volunteering to serve in a new ministry, or perhaps it’s writing a check for a missionary family you recently learned about.

If we belong to Christ, each day, I believe, we receive countless promptings from the Holy Spirit to, in some way, live out our faith. But I’ve found, those proddings are often much too easy to ignore.

10686711_10202958489178981_4529210945024416942_n

 

I was a young mom, and though I accepted Christ at a neighborhood Bible club, I was just beginning to grow my faith. It hadn’t been terribly long since I’d been on the streets, and as a result, I lugged around a great deal of shame. And had developed a habit of hiding. Of wanting to step out, but, well, I didn’t. Instead, I went to church, sat in the back by myself, (my husband wasn’t a believer at the time), then, when the sermon ended, grabbed my daughter from the nursery and hurried home.

Week after week, I did this, and week after week, as listened to the sermon and sing praise songs, an odd thought would flit through my brain: You should go to the nursing home.

It was the strangest idea ever. I didn’t know anyone in a nursing home and truly had no reason to go. Besides, I had enough to manage keeping my toddler occupied. And what would I do there? Did nursing homes even allow such a thing–random strangers to come in, and do what? Sit?

No. It was absurd, and so, I shoved the thought aside and resumed my routine: Go to church, sing songs, pray, go home. Repeat.

But the thought wouldn’t go away, and every time it came, a hint of excitement followed, which was as odd as the thought. Why such a thought should bring any kind of emotion at all was beyond me.

But after a month of steady proddings, I went, and brought my daughter with me–only because I had no one to watch her.

I randomly chose the facility, marched inside with a toddler on one hip and a stuffed diaper bag bouncing against the other.

I met Frank that very first day. He was an old, sprite man full of laughter and jokes, and he adored my princess. The three of us quickly formed a relationship, one my daughter remembers to this day. She and I came often, Frank and I chatting about everything from the weather to… well, to be honest, I don’t remember. And it didn’t really matter, because sometimes, oftentimes, presence is enough.

But then one day, maybe two months since our first visit, we arrived to be greeted by one of Frank’s caretakers. We learned Frank had taken ill and refused to leave his room. He wouldn’t see ANYONE.

Anyone, it seemed, but my princess. When he learned we had come, he came out, and we talked, and again, I don’t remember what about, but it didn’t really matter.

Because sometimes, oftentimes, presence is enough.

God had prompted me, for over a month, to do something so simple yet so deeply meaningful–to sit with his dying child.

And I almost missed it.

When I read 2 Thessalonians 1:11, I think of this event.

“…May He [God] give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do” (NLT).

May God give us the power to overcome our selfishness, our anxieties and insecurities, our pointless busyness, and everything else that hinders us from responding to His promptings with anything but full and immediate obedience.

 

This verse, and the memory that always accompanies it, touches me so very deeply, I wanted to see what other sweet Christians friends had to say about it. I believe we grow in community, and it’s been fascinating and thought provoking to read my friends’ thoughts on this verse. I encourage you to do the same. You can read others’ thoughts on 2 Thes. 1:11 by following the links below:

Rocking My World: What’s the Therefore There For by Lill Kohler

Soaring With Butterfiy Wings: He Brings the Fruit by Susan Aken 

Thoughts on 2 Thes. 1:11 by Ginger Solomon

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this! Can you share a time when you sensed God nudging you to do something that didn’t seem to make sense? Did you respond with obedience? If so, what were the results? If not, what kept you from responding in obedience? Share your thoughts here in the comments below or on Facebook at Living by Grace.

From November 10th-December 10th, we’re going to be encouraging one another to surrender all we are and hold dear to Christ, embracing His call on our life–on our day! I encourage you to join us.

This study will be hosted on Facebook on Tuesdays and Fridays (those participants can interact daily, if they Biblestudyinvitechoose). Discussion questions and conversations will also be hosted here (on Tuesdays) and on Beth’s blog FirstHalfDay (on Fridays). I will also be creating a yahoo email group for those who prefer to interact that way. (Let me know if you’d like me to send you an invite to the email group.)

The study will follow the life of Ruth, as detailed in the biblical book of the same name, using my debut novel, Beyond I Do, as a springboard. If you haven’t purchased the book but long to, now’s a great time! CBD is selling it for a limited time for $0.79! You can get it here.

For those planning on joining our month-long Bible study, on Tuesday we’ll be discussing purpose in trials. Sometimes our calling–the catalyst of great, divinely driven action–can be birthed from great struggle or tragedy.

Our Bible reading: Ruth 1:1-8
Our book reference will come from chapters 1-2 as we discuss what we (you, me) believe drew Ainsley’s heart to the boy she encountered in the Kansas City inner city apartment complex.
Our focus will be: evaluating our past and present hurts in light of God’s sovereignty and grace.
Some questions you can mull over in the meantime:
What thoughts arose as you read Ruth 1:1-8?
We read about Naomi’s heartache but not much about Ruth’s. Why do you think that is?
What are some difficulties Ruth faced as a widow?
Why do you think Ruth chose not, at least from what we see, to voice her pain to Naomi?
In what ways can we see Ruth’s love for her mother-in-law?
In what ways did Ruth exhibit self-sacrifice?
What made self-sacrifice challenging for Ruth?
Have you ever felt God asking you to put someone else first? What about when you yourself were in a difficult or painful situation? When has God asked you to focus on others and not on your pain or trial, and what was the result?
ACTION PLAN: What might God be asking you to do this week?