Our Only Objective Source of Identity

I’ve tried to define myself a lot of different ways—to nail down who I am, or at least, who I’m supposed to be. But I always came up short. Initially, I tried to prove myself through education. I’ve attended eight different colleges in five different states and have pursued—not completed, mind you, but pursued—nearly as many degrees. And though I eventually graduated with a 3.96, my academic achievements ultimately amounted to little more than marks on a page.

They didn’t fulfill or define me.

I attempted to find my identity through sports, through parenting, through marriage. But though I found momentary fulfillment, even my most precious moments could not fill up all my empty places or my God-created need for significance.

I can’t measure myself against others or by temporary goals, as lofty as they may be. God wants me to go deeper, to ground myself in that which is eternal. Unshakable.

A while back, I praised my daughter for her integrity, revealed through a series of behaviors. Her response, “You’re my mom. You have to say that.”

Though I hope my accolades have more validity than she implied, I understood her sentiment. My affirmations were subjective, because they were just that—mine. And though I believe they encouraged her, they couldn’t reach the same place within her heart that Christ’s validation could.

Scripture begins with, “In the beginning God …” That’s where we begin as well—in God. We discover our value, identity, and purpose in the One who made all things, including our beating hearts. Colossians 3:3 puts it this way, “For you died,” –to our old way of life— “and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”

Only God, the Creator of all things, has the authority to assign our identity and define our worth.

He says we’re treasures worth dying for. That’s an identity worth protecting.

If you struggle with feelings of insignificance, or find yourself making decisions based on a fear of insignificance, I encourage you to check out episode 6 of my Faith Over Fear Podcast: Moving Past Fear of Insignificance. You can find it HERE. Life Audio also dropped my latest episode, recorded with a friend and theologian, Dave Montoya, titled Courage to Face Our Doubts. Listen HERE.

Anchored and Secure cover imageAnd make sure to grab a copy of Wholly Loved latest devotional Anchored and Secure: 60 Days of Resting in Grace:

Thanks to Christ’s death and resurrection, we don’t have to stress, strive, or perform. We simply need to rest in what Christ has already done. That is when we begin to come alive and find the power and courage to live as He intended. That’s when we experience true and lasting freedom. This sixty-day devotional helps women reflect on God’s grace and the freedom of living deeply anchored in Him.

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.

Ordinary Conversations With Our Loving God –– Guest Post

Quote on hearing from God, Rick Warren

“I heard God tell me that just the other day.” A sentence during a seemingly normal conversation pulled me out of my reverie and I stared at the speaker. “Could she have heard from God about something as mundane about her grocery choices? That seems a bit ordinary for God to stoop to let us know about.” It made me ask the question, “How do ordinary people hear from God? How do they talk to Him?”

Hearing from God is often a Christian cliché. It is something tossed about in everyday conversation, without much to back it up within the way their daily lives were led. I looked instead at the ones that were living out Christianity in a way that was admirable, but mostly straight to talking to Him myself rather than looking to someone on earth.

I knew I could hear His voice. To myself, it was like talking to friends. But I struggled to explain it to others that did not know Him. I found referring to God as more of a friend than a father easier to handle since I Quote on Hearing From God Charles Stanleyhad grown up with a father who was not very kind the majority of the time. I didn’t want the person I knew as God to be equated with someone that I didn’t want to be like, my earthly father.

I wanted a friend instead and as I read the word of God, I saw Him through eyes that might have been different than what was taught in church. He cared about ordinary people and their ordinary lives. When I spoke with Him, I did as I would a friend throughout the day, in my head and out loud. It didn’t seem odd to me when I heard Him answering me. It was not like some booming audible voice, but instead, like a friend would speak to me.

It is hard to describe, but it is like trying to describe how you know your mom is the one talking to you. You just know. It takes practice as you slow your life down to listen for His answers and sometimes, it takes time to hear.

Have you wanted to develop a real friendship with God where you hear His voice?

Here are a few tips.

  • Practice talking to God as you would a friend
  • Tell Him ordinary things about your life
  • Give Him a chance to respond
  • Journal your talks to look back upon and see how He answered

What are some ways that you have developed your relationship with God and heard from Him? I would love to hear!

Get to Know Martha!

Martha's headshotMartha Artyomenko- Mother of four sons, business owner, homeschool mom and aspiring writer.
 She stays busy writing book reviews, working, reading, mentoring and spending time in the outdoors of Montana where she resides.
You can find her on her website HERE or connect with her on Facebook HERE.

*Note from Jennifer: God doesn’t often speak audibly. He whispers truths to our hearts and minds. To learn more about discerning God’s voice, read:

How to Discern the Voice of God by Mary Margaret

5 Questions to Know if We’re Hearing From God by Lysa Terkeurst

Hearing God’s Voice by Henry Blackaby and Richard Blackaby

Before you go, fun news! My latest novel, Building a Family, released on the 19th. Woot-woot! You can snatch a copy HERE.

How God Speaks: When We Seek His Heart

We all want to hear from God. At least, many of us do. We want that special revelation, to receive that call, or perhaps the answer to that problem or decision we’ve been wrestling over. I’ve been in that place so many times, and I’m certain I’ll land there again. But while God indeed wants us to continually seek His guidance, His desire for us go so much deeper.

He wants our hearts. He wants us. All of us. And He wants us to want Him—more than His answers or solutions. When I’m in that place of wrestling, I have to ask myself, what do I want more? That “special word” from God or God to connect with God Himself?

And here’s what’s beautiful. When I seek God’s presence above all else, His guidance follows. In fact, His guidance becomes a part of me as He gently yet consistently molds my heart and will and transforms my thinking.

I hear Him most clearly when I lose myself in Him and make Him and Him alone my prize. What a tender, loving, and faithful Father He is! He draws me to Himself, invites me to worship, and then, in this context of love—love from Him to me and me to Him—He speaks. And in that moment of divine intimacy, all confusion, angst, and anxiety flee as confidence and courage well within.

He inspires me to do His will and empowers me for whatever’s ahead. This has always been His way.

The apostle Paul, perhaps the most effective and empowered missionary of all time, is a great example of this. You can read about his history and journeys in the book of Acts, but to paraphrase, while he was vehemently seeking to persecute God’s children, Christ intervened, transformed him, and ignited within him a new, life-giving passion to share the gospel.

That’s God’s call for all of us—to proclaim the power and reality of grace. But we each also have a more unique, more defined call as well, perhaps to mentor youth or write encouraging letters to shut-ins or teach Bible studies to young moms.

Some of you may have discovered how God wants to use you in this season, but perhaps you’re not quite certain. Maybe you’re in a period of waiting and God seems silent, and so you’re asking, maybe even begging, for Him to reveal your next steps. I get it. Those “blurry” periods can be difficult and painful, and in the waiting, we might be tempted to seek God’s call more than we seek Him—forgetting that He alone is the source of all that is good and hope-filled, fulfilling, and true. Forgetting that He is faithful to give us all we need, answers included, when we need it.

There’s a sense of rest, and power, displayed by those who get that, who’ve learned to consistently quiet themselves in God’s presence,  and to seek His presence above all. Paul exemplified this. “For me to live is Christ,” he wrote, “and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21, NIV). It was from that sense of devotion, of connection, that he received his unique, history-changing call to share Christ with the Gentiles. Acts 13:2 tells us while the prophets and teachers at Antioch “were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Dedicate Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them” (NLT).

In the middle of worship, God spoke.

That’s often how He interacts with us as well, because while, yes, He longs to guide us, He longs for us more.

There’s a sense of rest, and power, displayed by those who get that, who’ve learned to consistently quiet themselves in God’s presence, and to seek His presence above all. Paul exemplified this. “For me to live is Christ,” he wrote, “and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21, NIV). It was from that sense of devotion, of connection, that he received his unique, history-changing call to share Christ with the Gentiles. Acts 13:2 tells us while the prophets and teachers at Antioch “were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’” (NIV).

In the middle of worship, God spoke.

That’s often how He interacts with us as well, because while, yes, He longs to guide us, He longs for us more.

Let’s talk about this! How do you connect with God? When do you tend to feel closest to Him? What are some ways you intentionally cultivate a relationship with Christ?

Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Tell us how He’s brought you freedom, or what freedom means to you, and get entered to win an awesome prize bundle. Find out more HERE. And make sure to check out my latest Faith Over Fear podcast, The Courage to Draw Near to God. You can listen HERE.

Book discussion inviteI’d also love if you’d join me for an online book discussion on maria Furlough’s Breaking Free From Fear. Contact me HERE for more information.

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

Rising Above the Negativity to Sludge to Live in the “Heavenlies”

Scripture tells me I’ve been “seated in the heanvenlies” but I often allow myself to get caught up in the sludge of negativity. Of anxiety and uncertainty. Of pride and selfishness.

I can become so consumed with all the chaos and noise around me, I forget I was redeemed to rise above.

When this happens, I must remind myself of who I am, who I belong to, and therefore who’s sovereign over the big and little details of not just my life, but all of humanity overall.

I’m not a powerless, helpless orphan forced to navigate this harsh world on my own. I’m blessed with every spiritual blessing, chosen, adopted into God’s family as His beloved child, forgiven, and lavished with kindness by the One who has full authority of all things, my family and circumstances included, and is, at this moment working everything out in accordance with His good and perfect will. (Eph. 1:4-11).

Standing on those truths allows me to shift from reactionary living to empowered, courageous, and eternally impactful purpose.

To look beyond the problems and concerns of today to the victory of tomorrow.

Last month, I spent an evening serving in a local church spanning three stories accessed by relatively steep stairs. As children raced up and down, their breath grew heavy, their faces sweaty, and their legs fatigued. The younger ones, however, moved much slower, their much shorter legs greatly challenged.

Standing at the bottom, or even the midway point, the climb ahead of them must have felt monumental, as if the staircase went on forever.

You may know precisely what that feels like.

One little girl in particular, perhaps two years old, clearly labored for every step. Her father, holding her hand, watched her patiently, lovingly, gently tugging her forward. Then, about halfway up, likely sensing her strength was gone, he scooped her up and balanced her on his shoulder.

Resting deeply in his embrace, she smiled and watched his strong and sure feet take her higher and higher, effortlessly. From that view, those stairs looked much different. A little less steep, each one not quite so high. Not nearly so insurmountable.

This is the type of view our heavenly Father offers. He knows our journey is tough. Exhausting. He knows, at times, the climb feels never-ending, and ten times more so when we survey the staircase from a ground level view. But God wants us to shift our perspective. To remember we’re not stuck in the muck that appears to stretch for miles in every direction. The anger and confusion and uncertainty of this present world. We are, at this moment, raised up with Christ and seated with him in the heavenly realms.”

Our home is elsewhere, so though we still struggle with the day to day, we have the power and authority in Christ to do as victorious daughters of the risen King. Notice, this is the truth. Where we presently, at this moment, reside.

Jesus paid a high price to grant us this position. With every action, reaction, and interaction, may we choose to live in the reality of this standing.

Let’s talk about this! How often do you give negative thinking more power than God’s voice? How can you more intentionally and more consistently focus on truth? What are some ways you currently do this? Share your thoughts, examples, and suggestions with us, because we can all learn from and encourage one another.

You may find this video, week one’s video presentation for our Becoming His Princess Bible study, encouraging and helpful as well.


 

If you haven’t grabbed your free copy of our study yet, you can do so HERE.

Want me or my team to come speak to your Bible study group, Moms group, or next women’s event? Contact me 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.

 

The Dangers of Pain Avoidance

danger signPain avoidance can lead to devastating, enslaving, and life-squelching results. No one enjoys pain, whether physical, mental, or spiritual. In fact, most of us will go to great lengths to preserve our comfort level—many times, unfortunately, to our own harm.

Admittedly, I’m likely more pain adverse than most. My husband and I became engaged in Nebraska (where I live now), and at the time, one needed blood tests before they could receive a marriage license.

This scared me on a couple levels. First, my past was far from squeaky clean and I’d always harbored a fear that I’d become infected with HIV. Second, I hated needles. So much so that the mere thought of one pricking my skin caused my pulse to rise, my muscles to tense, and my stomach to engage in enough fluttering to initiate a violent sense of nausea.

But I loved my fiancé (now husband) and desperately wanted to spend my life with him! So, each day, I’d drive to the local hospital, add my name to the blood-draw list, and wait. And wait. And wait.

And in my waiting, my anxiety grew until, ten to thirty minutes later, I walked out and drove home in defeat. Finally, my husband took time off work to drive me there himself, sitting with me in the waiting room to make sure I didn’t leave.

All fear stems from pain avoidance, and often, this avoidance ends up costing us much more than what we may have experienced had we simply confronted our fears.

We fear the pain of rejection and so we hold tight to unhealthy relationships or become relational chameleons. But by presenting a false self, we rob ourselves of the gift that comes from connecting with those who know us fully and love us anyway.

When our daughter entered public school after years of homeschooling and a short stint in Christian education, she suddenly found herself in the throws of a completely different culture. One that, at times, could be quite antagonistic to people of faith. I feared her desire to fit in, to make friends, to avoid the sting of rejection and loneliness, would sway her behavior, potentially leading her in a dangerous direction.

Until she told me about an incident during her social studies class. The teacher asked the students, if they could change the world, what would they wish for? Ashley raised her hand and said, “That everyone would be Christians, because then there’d be more love and less hate.”

Knowing how much she longed to make friends in this new environment, I was flabbergasted and asked, “Were you worried how the others might respond?”

“No,” she replied. “I’d rather they know who I am, and either like me or not for that.”

In other words, she was prepared for the possible sting of rejection, and though I have no doubt some amount of fear lingered at the thought, she faced that fear, and in so doing, embraced a deeper level of freedom.

She also discovered her people—friends who loved her for who she was, not who she could’ve pretended to be.

When we think of pain, usually our minds jump to the physical, and that can be daunting for sure. But emotional pain—loss, rejection, betrayal—has the capacity to hurt us most. Because of this, pain avoidance can become our driving motivation. It can cripple us and hinder our ability to live fully alive, if we let it.

But like I did in that hospital lab so long ago, and my daughter did in a middle school classroom, we can face our fears, even if that means embracing potential pain, to live in freedom.

Moving From Rejected to Deeply Loved

Picture of Ashley outside resting against a tree trunkHer greatest strength, the one that had enabled her to overcome incredible challenges, was not only being called into question but was condemned. It was our daughter’s first real job, her first time out of state, on her own. Really, her first steps into the world of adulthood. But a critical roommate turned what God intended for a blessing into months of rejection and pain.

And as I listened to her relay all her roommate had said and done, my anger and sorrow began to rise. Had we been discussing an issue of sin, then perhaps I could’ve understood. Even agreed with the young woman, encouraging my daughter to embrace truth as she attempted to grow in her faith and talents.

And perhaps had our daughter been home, surrounded by her friends, her support system, the criticism wouldn’t have cut so deeply. But there she sat, over 1,000 miles away, barely twenty years old and embracing a role many adults would find intimidating, and her every move, her every word, her very identity, was being challenged. To make matters more confusing, this other woman, who was older than my daughter, claimed to be a Christian, and often used Scripture to back up her condemnations.

“Mom, what’s wrong with me?” my daughter asked.

My response: “Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Do not let her challenge the core of who you are. Those things that make you strong. That make you you.”

Though my daughter knew I was right, it was hard to shake off the insecurity her roommate triggered. Those inner lies that cropped up when life became hard and others acted ugly, lies that told her she was annoying or not good enough kept playing through her mind.

But my daughter kept pressing, kept praying, and kept going to work each day, refusing to cower to one woman’s faulty opinion. And over time, reality hit. She began to notice instances when her roommate was critical of others, belittled others behind their back, and viewed everyone and everything through a lens of judgment. This provided the context that allowed my daughter to see the situation more clearly.

She gained the wisdom necessary to shake off the rejection and move forward in godly confidence.

In Matthew 7:5, Jesus instructs us, when in relational conflict, to first remove the beam out of woman praying with text of quote pulled from articleour eye so that we can see clearly. In context, He’s addressing the person doing the judging, the person with a critical spirit, but I believe the general principle applies to both sides. So often, we have planks, whether pride, areas of deception, or wounds caused by past hurts, that distort our vision. Only God can see the situation clearly. Therefore, the best thing we can do, whenever conflict arises, is to seek Jesus. To ask Him to show us what’s really going on—our role and the other person’s.

When we do that, we may find, as my daughter did, that the issue isn’t about us at all. Other times, He may show us areas we need to change. Either way, by leaning into Him and seeking His wisdom, we step deeper into freedom and in situations like my daughter experienced, learn to move from rejected to deeply and wholly loved.

If this post encouraged you, pop over to the Wholly Loved website to watch a short video devotion on “shaking off the dust” of rejection. You can watch it HERE.

I also encourage you to sign up for my free quarterly e-mailing to receive great content (short stories, inspirational messages, recipes, and more) sent directly to your inbox. You can do that HERE.