Archive for the ‘ faith ’ Category

Margin

Margin is defined in the dictionary as, “an amount allowed or available beyond what is actually necessary.”  Margin is space in our lives.  The white space that borders the text in your notebook, textbook, or Bible can be used to add extra thoughts and notes, unless you are prone to neuroses about actually (gasp) marking in a book.  Margin is your extra space to use in times of necessity or desire.  In the same way, margin is the space in our lives that holds a reserve of extra energy, time, or resources.

As I remarked to someone last week that I felt exhausted and overwhelmed, she replied, “it’s really not that bad.”  While her statement was invalidating, in many ways, there is truth in that statement.  I could easily name dozens of maladies or circumstances that would seem much worse.

The challenge is not that our hectic schedule is “bad,” per se, but it is more so that we have no margin in our lives.  Because of our current circumstances, namely that my husband does not have a drivers’ license and works an hour away from where we live, my husband and I daily use all our time and energy primarily just getting to and from our respective full-time jobs.  We are away from home 15 hours a day on weekdays, and weekends are only slightly less hectic.   Because of our work schedules and other necessary obligations, our lives do not currently allow for a Sabbath day of rest.

When nothing unexpected arises, we can manage to get through each day.  We both feel constantly depleted and exhausted, yet life goes on; we get to work, we do our jobs, we come home, we eat, we sleep.  However, when circumstances require us to give extra time, energy, or attention to something out of the ordinary, everything suddenly seems completely overwhelming.  When I do not get a good night’s sleep, when I feel sick, when there is a traffic accident, when we must travel somewhere out of the way, it feels like the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

I remember learning in a stress management course in graduate school that crisis occurs at the point when the external stressors and life demands exceed our internal coping resources (e.g. time, energy, financial resources).

 

A friend encouraged me today and said that she senses God’s presence the most when she has just passed that manageable state.  As I teeter on the edge of barely coping and complete meltdown, I sense God’s presence upholding me and sustaining me.  What feels like a crisis is opportunity for God to take over and uphold me with his grace.  I realize again that I cannot do this in my own strength.  Every day I am reminded that it is by His grace that we have jobs, transportation, and provision.

I am thankful that the Lord sustains me, and I am so blessed by my husband and our time together.

Grace is Sufficient

What are you gonna say to God

When all you do is pray to God

To take the thorn away?

And all you hear Him say is:

My grace, My grace

My grace is sufficient

My grace is sufficient

“Grace is sufficient” – Shane and Shane

I woke up this morning, like most mornings these days, feeling utterly exhausted.  I said a quick prayer to God asking Him to give me the strength, motivation, and energy to get me through the day, and thanking Him that He is faithful to do this every day.

Overall, I am extremely blessed.  I have a strong relationship with God and am blessed with a deep faith in His promises to provide for all my needs.  I have an amazing husband who loves me far more than I deserve.  I have shelter and a warm bed, plenty of food, a reliable car, a job I enjoy, good health, and dear friends.

Yet we all have struggles and difficulties, and mine right now is constant exhaustion as a result of the demands on my time.  Of course, what I often perceive as “my” time is in reality God’s time that He has stewarded to me to use for His glory and for my spiritual growth.  He is teaching me to humble myself before Him as I spend this time His way, not my way.  And while it is painful at times, death must take place in order for life to flourish.  (“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24)

As an introvert, I like to have a lot of quiet time at home in order to feel both physically and mentally refreshed and recharged.  But because of my husband’s and my schedule, that is not possible during this season of our life. I arise at 5:00 am and am away from home until 8:00 pm every weeknight, and weekends are nearly as hectic.  Most weeks, out of necessity, we do not have a Sabbath or a day of rest.  I think of my friends who have babies or young children and I cannot even fathom the exhaustion of being a mom.  I have newfound respect and admiration for my friends who are young mothers, as their job lasts from 5:00 am to 4:59 am every day.

I have been thinking lately about how easy it is for us to feel that we will be satisfied with things other than Jesus.  It is easy to think that I “need” more money, nicer stuff, uncomplicated relationships.  It is tempting to think that life would be better if I had more free time, or that I need more sleep.  Yet God’s grace is sufficient.  All I need is Him.  Literally, God’s grace is sufficient.

No matter what the struggle, all I need is Him.

Ultimately, the “good” things in my life do not point me towards my need for God.  I thank God for the blessings, but ultimately, if I had no struggle, it would be frighteningly easy to think I had it all together, that *I* was enough.  It is the hardship that reminds me that I desperately need God.  In my exhaustion, I want to feast on Him, I want to know Him better, I want to serve in His name, I want to sing praises to Him, I want to call out to Him for help.

I have good health and great friends.  Praise His name.

I am exhausted.  Praise His name.

I have food and shelter.  Praise His name.

I am struggling financially.  Praise His name.

I have an amazing husband who is my best friend.  Praise His name.

I long for more rest.  Praise His name.

I am His.  Praise His name.

Hardship

As a result of recent events in our lives, my husband now needs a ride to and from work each day, which is about an hour from where we live (and an hour from where I work).   This means a 2 hour drive, both morning and evening, 5 days a week.  Suddenly, I feel as though life has given me an extra 20-hour a week job, unpaid.

Like most people, I immediately wanted to grumble and complain and vent to my friends.  I wanted validation and sympathy.  I wanted to wallow in self-pity.  Fortunately, I have a few great friends who listened and gave me the sympathy I was looking for and helped to encourage me.  A little validation goes a long way.

Those friends must be praying for me, because within just a couple of days, I really don’t feel a lot of self-pity anymore.  Maybe a little.  As I was driving to work this morning, I spent time thinking about all of the blessings in what seems like hardship.  First and foremost, I know that God is working all things for good in my life, that He supplies all my needs, and that this is a blessing meant for my sanctification and to draw me closer to Him.  I trust in God for His goodness, knowing He is completely sovereign, so I trust His plan for me, even when it doesn’t seem pleasant on the surface.  I can admit the struggle and difficulty but also know that good will come of it.

I am thankful for the opportunity to serve my husband.  I believe it will draw us closer together.  I am thankful for a reliable car that gets good gas mileage, and for God’s protection over me during all the driving I have done over the past year in general.  I enjoy listening to the Bible while driving, and I like listening to sermons, as they take my mind off the stress of traffic, and now I will have more time to do those things.  I hope that my husband and I can listen to sermons together as encouragement in the morning.

I offer my time in the car to God as a sacrifice.  I offer my life as a sacrifice to Him.  My agenda never mattered to begin with; He has always been the author of my life.  My plans are laughable.  What I think is the best use of my time is but dust.  His plan for my time and for my life brings life.

As I have experienced God’s provision and the way He works things out, the way He answers prayers, I realize that number one, I am not in control anyway, and number two, He will supply all my needs and He will work all things together for my good.

I was reading a devotional this morning about being overwhelmed not so much by the sheer amount of things we have on our “to do” lists, but more so being overwhelmed by the anxiety and worry about those items.  This observation resonated with me.  Each day is an opportunity to serve and minister to those around me (first and foremost, my husband).  I can focus on today or this hour and feel it is a manageable chunk.  If I think too much about the next week, the next month, the next year, I get overwhelmed, thinking there is no way I can do this or that.

God’s mercies are new each day, and He gives us what we need for today.  I would love if He could just put a few million dollars in my bank account (literally and metaphorically), but then I would not need to rely on Him daily for my needs.  I would start to rely on myself and forget that I need Him.  The consequences would be disastrous, or meaningless and wasteful at best.

The reason for my faith, the reason behind my joy and peace in the midst of hardship is. . . through hardship and trials.  In God’s mercy, He has allowed trials and difficulty in my life.  As God has walked me through trials and hardship, I have grown closer to Him.  As I have experienced His love for me, His mercy, His goodness, His provision, and His patience with me during the trials in my life, I have grown as a person.  I have experienced more of the fruit of the Spirit growing in me (love, joy, peace, patience, etc.).

I do not know what God has in store for me, but I will seek Him, trusting that His plan is wonderful.

Psalm 105:4

Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.

Faith and the INTJ: Part 2

Someone wrote this comment on one of my blog posts: “Sorry to inform you, but there is no way you can be an INTJ if you’re religious. Note that INTJ’s are logical, religious beliefs are not logical, also INTJ’s are smart, religious people are not smart. Hence, why you cannot be an INTJ if you believe a magic man in the sky created the universe in a week.”

Read Part 1 of my response.  This is Part 2.

It is true that I did not arrive at “Jesus Christ = Lord and Savior” by logic.  I arrived at Jesus Christ through Jesus Christ alone.

Which brings me to the second part of the commenter’s post.  “Note that INTJ’s are logical, religious beliefs are not logical, also INTJ’s are smart, religious people are not smart.”

I assure you that I am an INTJ.  Am I smart?  I suppose it depends how you define smart.  My IQ is high enough to garner acceptance into Mensa, which I did join several years ago.  Am I logical?  Ugh, I cannot get away from logical analysis of even the most mundane or trivial issues.  Case in point: this blog post.

Proverbs 3: 5 reads

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding

God says that we are not to lean on our own understanding.  Why?  Because who are we to think that we, who live in one place at one time understand or know more than the God of the universe who is everywhere and outside of time (thus seeing all of time at once)?  As Matt Chandler, pastor of the Village Church, puts it: you can watch one millisecond of a movie (what our lives would amount to if all of history were condensed into one hour), and I will watch the entire movie, and we can then argue about what the movie is about.  Our own understanding is limited.  We do not know what is going on in our neighbor’s home right now, much less our neighborhood, much less our city, much less our country, much less the universe.

Proverbs 16:25

There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.

Much of what seems logical or “right” to us is fallible.  Since sin is, in large part, blindness to our own sin, we can barely see beyond our own logic and opinions, and the arguably skewed worldview of our current culture and society.  Our limited position in time and space influence what is logically right to us.  I may look at a Styrofoam from the side and see a trapezoid shape.  You may look at it from directly overhead and see a circle.  Who is “right”?  Logic led us both to different conclusions.  Again, we are limited in time and space and thus cannot know all.

Arguably, an aspect of intelligence is the realization that there is much we do not know.

Incidentally, we all have faith.

Hebrews 11:1

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

We all have confidence in and assurance about what we do not see.  We have confidence that our car will start when we turn the ignition, though we are not looking at its inner workings to know if something is broken or the engine is missing.  We have assurance that we will not float into the air as we walk about, though we cannot see gravity itself.  Faith as defined in Hebrews 11 applies to all of humanity and does not exclude any of the personality types.

 

Faith and the INTJ

Someone wrote this comment on one of my blog posts: “Sorry to inform you, but there is no way you can be an INTJ if you’re religious. Note that INTJ’s are logical, religious beliefs are not logical, also INTJ’s are smart, religious people are not smart. Hence, why you cannot be an INTJ if you believe a magic man in the sky created the universe in a week.”

This is one of my most favorite comments that I have ever received on my blog.  Firstly, it sounds like a typical INTJ comment, dry and matter-of-fact but tinged with a sense of irony and drollness.  For that reason, it made me chuckle.  Secondly, it reminds me of a time when I thought the same way and of my journey from unbelief to faith.

Let’s break it down.  “There is no way you can be an INTJ if you are religious.”

“Religious” is a tricky word.  In the church I attended as a child, ritual and moralism were predominate themes.  I believed that the people who attended my church by choice (this excluded myself, as I was forced/bribed into going by my parents) were lemmings who shelved their brains in order to get cheap comfort through a systematic and predictable pattern of standing-sitting-kneeling and responsive reading.  At the time, I viewed faith as synonymous with religiosity.  I do not consider myself religious in the sense that I do not take comfort in moralism or ritual.  My faith is not based upon going through the motions, nor do I believe these things draw me closer to God or earn favor with Him.

My faith is based solely on the saving work of Christ Jesus.  I believe that the Bible is the Word of God and that all of it is true.  Defending that claim is a discussion for another day.  So let’s look at Ephesians 2:8-9:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—  not by works, so that no one can boast.

I have been saved (meaning that God has drawn me into a personal relationship with Himself) based on grace (His free gift to me) through the saving work of Jesus Christ (who lived the sinless life I should have lived and died the wretched death that I deserved to die).  None of this is based on anything about me – not what I do, what I think, what I say, who I am.

Therefore, it is true that I did not arrive at “Jesus Christ = Lord and Savior” by logic.  I arrived at Jesus Christ through Jesus Christ alone.  Adding anything to Christ turns the issue and my faith into what I would consider “religious” (which I loosely define as moralistic behaviors that often accompany faith).  Religion has nothing to do with my faith.  Or my Myers-Briggs personality type.

Stay tuned for Part 2.

Why I Agreed to Honor and Obey My Husband

A relative of mine recently expressed concern over my wedding vows because I said in them that I vowed to honor and obey Smith in our marriage.  I can understand the concern because everything in our society affirms that men and women are equal and should be treated as such.  Additionally, we see extreme examples of men who abuse the authority that God has given them by controlling and manipulating their wives.

I believe that the Bible is the Word of God.  Proving that to my readers is beyond the scope of this essay, but there are plenty of resources available.  (Click on this link and open the document entitled “Life Issues Book PDF” about half way down the page for a brief examination about why people consider the Bible to be God’s Word.) 

A lot of times, what God says in the Bible is counter-intuitive to what we would think on our own.  Many times, the Bible goes against what is commonly thought in society.  Our sin often clouds our minds as to what is “right.”  Doing what God asks is not always easy, but it is always right, and I have found that obedience to God’s will brings far more peace and joy than disobedience does.   Jesus lived a vastly different life than we live, and yet he is seated at the place of highest honor before God.  His life was not without struggle, but the eternal outcome is a place of honor and glory.

I sometimes ask people who want to defend disobedient behavior or behavior that goes against God’s instruction to us, “How is that working for you?”  No one ever responds that their way is working out great.

So, back to the “honor and obey” clause.  God says in Ephesians 5:21-33

And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.

For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church.  And we are members of his body.

As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

God has given Smith (and all husbands) the final authority in their marriages.  This is what God says to me and to all wives, and I aim to live authentically by Scripture, and thus I did willingly vow to obey Smith.

As can be seen in the Ephesians passage, the husband is charged with loving his wife as Christ loved the church, with an unselfish love that honors her and cares for her.  Both the husband’s and wife’s roles are to be rooted in love and submission to each other.  Yet God gives someone the final “say,” and He gives it to the husband.

A wise woman once told me that when people tell her that it doesn’t seem fair to women, she replies that it is fair, because women do have a choice.  Women choose who they marry.  I am convinced that a Christian woman ought to only agree to marry a man that she is able to respect and obey before she makes those vows in front of God and her new husband.  Smith values my input and opinion, he solicits suggestions from me, he has a strong and admirable character in tough situations, and I respect the way he thinks through decisions and weighs consequences.  Smith is a man I knew I could trust as the head of our family.

I have heard the pastor at my church say that when a husband and wife have a difference of opinion, the man’s final decision takes responsibility and protects the wife.  If he chooses “his way,” and it fails, he takes responsibility.  If he chooses “her way” and it fails, he also takes responsibility.  If the outcome is successful, they can share in their thankfulness because they made the decision as a team, since the husband made the decision and the wife ultimately supported it (even if it wasn’t “her way”) because she respects her husband.

I am deeply convinced that by honoring Smith and submitting to his final authority, I am serving God.  I am not serving Smith as the king of a kingdom; I am honoring God by adhering to His word.  I am showing respect for my husband, which God has called me to do in several places in His word (Ephesians 5:33, 1 Peter 3:1). 

There will likely be times when Smith is wrong; that is normal because we are all sinful and imperfect.  I can voice my opinion and then I can still do right by honoring his final decision.  In this, I am honoring God, and God will not disappoint me (Romans 5:5).  There are many times when I will be wrong, too.  There are many times when I will disappoint or frustrate Smith.  Yet these times are no surprise to God, and in His economy, it will all be used for my sanctification and His glory.

Unfortunately, some women end up in abusive marriages, despite their attempts to honor God in choosing a husband.  God does not promise us an easy life.  We all have trials, and this is the burden that many women carry.  I have been in several abusive relationships, and I know the pain and the erosion that results.  I thank God that I did not end up marrying these men.  Even when our husbands disappoint and wound us, God is faithful to love and heal us.  I am responsible only for myself, and I am responsible for my obedience.

Today I am thankful for God’s Word.  I am thankful that I live in a time when it is readily available to me and that it contains all the answers to life.  I am thankful that God honors my obedience even when it doesn’t makes sense to me, even that He enables me to be obedient in the first place, for it is only by His grace (and not my own strength) that I am able to do anything good or worthy.

 

Feeling Discouraged

I have been feeling very discouraged over the past few days.  Dictionary.com reads:

dis·cour·age [dih-skur-ij, -skuhr-] 

verb (used with object)

  1. to deprive of courage, hope, or confidence; dishearten; dispirit.

 God wants us to come to the end of ourselves, to use up all our own strength and effort, because only then do we turn to Him and rely on Him.  What a challenge it is to trust in Him when our own resources (emotional energy, finances, strength, etc.) are depleted!

The evil one would love to see us lose courage and hope.  He would love to get in the way of our relationship with God.

I read one of my favorite Bible passages last night: Philippians 4.  Paul, who suffered far more in his life than I ever have (and how much more than that did Jesus suffer!), yet he writes, “I have learned how to be content with whatever I have.  I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything.  I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”  I am so far from what God calls me to in this passage.   How discontented I can feel, telling God that I will be happier “if only. . .”

Paul also writes in Philippians 4 “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.”  Yet how I worry!  I do trust God more now than I did earlier in my spiritual walk, I have learned more of an attitude of thankfulness over the years, and I have more peace.  Yet I am so far from fully trusting Him.  It is as if I am trying to jump over the Grand Canyon, and I used to be able to jump 2 feet, and now I can leap a full 4.5 feet. . . yet the Grand Canyon ranges in width from 4 to 18 miles.

Over the past few months, I have been feeling particularly strong in my relationship with God, and perhaps it should come as no surprise that the evil one wishes to chip away at my strength and peace.  I feel physically run down and overwhelmed by my workload.  I feel distant from my friendships.  I feel worried about making ends meet financially.

Daily, even hourly at times, I cry out to God, telling Him I simply cannot do it.  I cannot complete my daily work without His help.  I cannot cover all my expenses without His help.  My physical strength and energy comes only from Him.  I know He will provide for me, yet not knowing how or when is so challenging.

I believe unquestioningly that the Bible is the Word of God, that all of it is true.  I remind myself of God’s promises to me.

Psalm 86:7 – I will call to you whenever I’m in trouble, and you will answer me.

God always answers my prayers.  Not always in the way I demand of Him, yet He is so faithful.  I have never gone hungry.  I have never passed out from exhaustion.  My work always gets done.  I have all I need and more.  He has blessed me beyond measure.  I spent my lunch break yesterday in my car, sobbing from discouragement, and God sent three people (one by email, two in person) during the afternoon to speak encouraging words to me.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 – Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
I don’t know that I could be as bold as Paul, yet I know that he suffered far more than I ever have, and still he felt Christ’s strength.  My areas of weakness are my delight, because that is when I most allow God to take over and shine through.

Romans 8:18 – For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

An eternal perspective helps.  A few days or weeks or months of struggle here on Earth are nothing compared to an eternity with my heavenly father.  And further, I know that He is working all things for good (Romans 8:28), even the struggle.

One of my favorite Tim Keller quotes is this, from “The Reason for God”: The Biblical view of things is resurrection—not a future that is just a consolation for the life we never had but a restoration of the life you always wanted. This means that every horrible thing that ever happened will not only be undone and repaired but will in some way make the eventual glory and joy even greater.

Today I am thankful for my home, my vehicle that reliably transports me where I need to go, my job especially in a time when so many are unemployed, and for my faith in God.  It is by his grace I am saved, and no matter what earthly difficulties I endure, nothing can take away His love for me.