God’s Presence, The Best Present

Christmas season… The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. A time of thankfulness, a time of celebration, a time of gathering with those we love, a time of giving and remembering what God has done for us.

It’s ironic how a season centered around a little baby born to a simple teenager on a quiet night in a small town can easily become the busiest and most stressful season of the year.

For me, it can easily become the season I find myself overdoing everything. Instead of “peace on earth good will towards men” I overcommit, overschedule, overextend myself, overeat and overspend.

What I envision for the season – quiet nights at home sitting around the tree drinking hot chocolate with the family easily evolves into…

Stuff, fill, cram, shove, pack, hurry, rush, dash, run, stress, worry and strain to create the perfect Christmas with a beautifully decorated home, neatly wrapped presents and artfully designed cookies. *Sigh*

But running at this pace, I find, leaves me disconnected from the people I love, weary, frazzled and resentful for overstuffing my schedule.

Our hearts long for connection and significance and when we run, work and go non-stop, we can end up feeling drained and unsatisfied. Can anyone relate?

I hate to admit it, but there have been some years when I looked forward to the day after Christmas – the day I felt I finally had permission to rest and stop.

What I am learning (I’m a work in process mind you) is that…

Hurry is the great enemy of my spiritual life

and the health of my soul.

When we hurry, rush, run, cram and do, even the things we love can become burdens and obligations. And when we live a loud, hurried life, the one thing that tends to get squeezed out is the most important thing.

But when we choose to make this most important thing a priority in our life, we thrive. We thrive in our workplace, in our community, in our relationships and in our family. We thrive because it’s how God created us to live.

What God created us for – what our souls really crave – is space. Space to reflect, space to rest, space to connect with God and other people, but the volume and activity level of our life can be so loud and frenetic that it’s impossible to accomplish.

Psalm 131:2 gives us insight into David’s ability, amidst a lot of activity and a busy life, to maintain a quiet and restful soul.

i-have-calmed-and-quieted-my-soul-like-a-weaned-child-with-its-mother-like-a-weaned-child-is-my-soul-within-me-psalm-131_2

You may think, “David doesn’t understand how busy my life is. Life back then was simpler, easier, quieter. They didn’t have all the social media, expectations, traffic, stress we have today.”

However, David had a lot going on. His life was busy, stressful, fast-paced and loud.

  • He was a warrior and military leader in Israel who had to hide in caves and run for his life to escape  a crazy king for about 15 years.
  • He was king of Israel and undoubtedly the most influential and affluent person around with a role that carried more responsibility than we could imagine.

Not to mention, David also had,

  • A minimum of 19 sons and one daughter
  • At least 8 wives!

Can you even imagine how loud, busy, hectic David’s life was?! Yet somehow, with all of the demands on his time, all of the people needing his attention, all of the people demanding decisions, all of the children needing affection, David made the time to calm and quiet his soul.

He was intentional about it.

David likens the state of his soul to that of a weaned child. Those of you nursing mamas know that to a nursing child, mama means “food”. Babies will fight, sometimes even claw, for their right to eat and if they’re denied they’ll squirm, fuss and cry.

But a child who has been weaned is content to just be with his mommy, enjoying her presence and love without needing anything. David had discovered the value of quieting his soul and quietly coming into God’s presence. He didn’t see it as a duty or requirement. He didn’t demand anything from God. He learned the value and necessity of intentionally caring for his soul by creating space for the presence of God in his life.

This is so important for us to get right.

David knew the importance of having a healthy soul. He knew that…

the outflow of his life came from the inner state of his soul.

If your soul is frazzled and stressed and chaotic, it will bleed into your relationships and all of the areas of your life. Instead of imparting peace, you’ll impart anxiety. Instead of imparting a calm presence, you’ll impart chaos. Instead of connecting with others, your relationships will be shallow and disconnected.

If David was able to create a calm and quiet soul in the middle of the demands, responsibilities and chaos of his life, I believe there’s hope for you and me.

But how? David doesn’t give us “three easy steps to having a quiet soul”. He doesn’t teach on “five keys to creating a calm heart”.

When we’re stretched and stuffed and over-scheduled, we only see the “to-do” list. We can’t see anything beyond the chaos of our life.

Throughout Scripture, throughout Jesus’ ministry, He gives us an invitation. It’s an invitation to declutter our souls and come to Him.

Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”     Mark 6:31

Jesus intentionally creates space for His disciples to pull away and be present with Him. The crowds are pressing in on us and we’re weary. Our schedules are stuffed and our souls are drained.

We need space. We need space to be in His presence. We need space to create rest for our souls.

To receive God’s strength and feel his presence

you have to come close.

God invites us to come to Him and in His presence He calms and quiets our soul. And when we do, He fills our heart with His peace and presence.

This Christmas, receive God’s greatest present to us – an invitation to be present with Him. Give yourself permission to pause long enough to calm and quiet your soul and experience the refreshing that only comes through time in His presence.

 

 

Don’t Be Afraid

When my boys were little, they used to love dressing up as super heroes. Spiderman, Batman, Buzz Lightyear, Nacho Libre were the most popular in our family. (Okay, maybe Nacho’s a stretch for a super hero, but you know what I mean.)

As a young girl, my super hero of choice was the Bionic woman. I used to dream of all the things I could accomplish if only I had her lightning speed and impeccable hearing.

Wouldn’t it be great to be a superhero? To be able to accomplish great feats, rescue helpless people, defeat bad guys and stare down the face of evil without a single ounce of fear?

But, I’m not a superhero. Neither are you (no offense). None of us are. I will never have spidey strength, or cool Batman gadgets. I’ll never be able to run like the Bionic Woman or fly like Superman.

I’m just a regular, ordinary person with regular, ordinary abilities. *Sigh.*

However, God desires to use our lives to do heroic things. God willingly takes our ordinary lives and, as we surrender to Him and step out in faith, He meets us. The natural clashes with the supernatural and what seems impossible begins to take shape. What seems hopeless, begins to glimmer with life once again.

But that’s scary, isn’t it?

Stepping into unknown, unfamiliar territory with no guarantee of success. No assurance as to how the story will unfold. No control. No risk management study. No rainy day fund?!

One of my most difficult struggles has been learning to overcome fear. I’ve come a long way, but still have so…

much…

farther…

to…

go.

I don’t want fear to paralyze me and keep me ineffective. Instead, I want to learn how to stand strong in the face of it.

I want to confidently and consistently live out this scripture in Psalm 56,

when-i-am-afraid-i-will-put-my-trust-in-you-psalm-56_3

God has given us every reason to believe His promises and stand strong in the face of fear. Throughout the Scriptures, we see that wherever there is an impossible situation, God shows up in an amazing way.

One of my favorite examples of this is found in Mark 5 when a man approaches Jesus desperately needing healing for his sick daughter who is near death.

He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” Mark 5:23

While we hopefully haven’t faced the extreme despair and agonizing this man was experiencing, we can all relate to the very painful, fearful, real-life situations that create stress and instability in our life.

The lab results.

The job loss.

The relational conflict.

The financial lack.

Jesus encourages his people, “don’t be afraid.

You don’t have to choose the route of fear. There is a greater power available to you – the way of faith and trust. It doesn’t mean everything will work out the way we want it to…

While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?” Mark 5:35

Why bother? Tempted to give up, encouraged to lose hope, this man had a choice to make. He could choose to make this moment his ending or He could walk with Jesus just a little further and trust God to continue writing His story…

God may lead us to dead ends, and He doesn’t always resolve the tension. He brings us to a place where we must completely rely on him and step out of our comfort zone into the unknown.

Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” Mark 5:36

If we were to write our own story, most likely we would choose to avoid the pain and discomfort. We’d go straight from asking Jesus for healing to receiving it. Why the need for the emotional, painful, long walk through the suffering and uncertainty?

Jesus invites us to walk with Him through the pain and respond in a way that gives God greater access to our life so He can work His greater plan. A path that allows God’s power to work in our normal, messy life.

A road that points people, not to the greatness of our human strength and ability, but to the supernatural, amazing power of God.

And the girl, who was twelve years old, immediately stood up and walked around! They were overwhelmed and totally amazed. Mark 5:42 NLT

 

Living for a Bigger Story

 

I love using the mobile app Waze to find my way around town. The calm, computer-generated voice gives me the assurance that I’m going to arrive at my desired destination. Every turn is anticipated, mapped out and scripted for me, highlighting where the accidents and heavy traffic are. Shoots, I’m even made aware of the upcoming potholes and unexpected objects in the road! It’s comforting to drive when I know there are no surprises in store for me.

But real-life isn’t like driving with Waze. It’s not like strolling through a flowery meadow or floating gently in a pool on an air mattress with a fruity iced tea in hand (you know, the kind with the toothpick umbrella containing the pineapple and maraschino cherry)?

God doesn’t guide us through life, whispering step-by-step instructions to us.

Rather, I’ve found real-life to more closely resemble climbing a rugged mountain or traversing a forging stream. It’s full of unexpected objects in the road, detours and last minute course adjustments.

And instead of using a detailed road map to direct our every step, we’re asked to use our faith and trust God.

For a person like me who has control issues, this can be troubling – even terrifying at times.

“Just tell me what to do, Jesus, and I’ll do it. Point me in the right direction and I’ll walk.”

But what do I do in the silence?

How do I walk forward when I can’t clearly see the direction I’m supposed to go?

How do I have faith when things are uncertain?

How do I trust God when I don’t see any evidence of results?

In the Gospels of Mark and Luke, we see two kinds of people contrasted: those who lack faith and those who have great faith.

He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith. Mark 6:5, 6

Ouch! Jesus goes to his hometown – the town where He was raised, the streets where He probably played as a kid, the families and friends He grew up with – and Jesus was stunned, shocked, amazed by their lack of faith. People whom Jesus knew, loved and cared about, didn’t believe He was who He said He was and that He was able to do what He said He could do.

In Luke 7, we see another interaction Jesus has, this time with a centurion (a Roman officer who was in charge of 100 men). The centurion had a servant who was sick and dying so he sent someone to go find Jesus to help.

So Jesus went with them. He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. Luke 7:6-7

This man believed the spoken words of Jesus had more than enough power to heal his servant. What a huge statement of faith, especially when you take into consideration that this man was a Roman centurion and not even Jewish!

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” Luke 7:9

Two different times, Jesus was amazed. He was amazed at the lack of faith from the Jewish people He knew intimately and loved deeply and He was amazed at the great faith of a stranger who He didn’t know and had never met.

If Jesus looked at your faith – the great things you’re attempting, the bold things you’re believing He will do, your expectation for God to stretch you and use you in the lives of others…

Would He be amazed by your faith?

Do

Does your life point others to the greatness of God?

Or… would He be amazed at your lack of faith – limited by a small-thinking, fear-filled, self-engrossed, adventure-less life?

I desperately want my life to resemble a life of great faith, but if I am to be completely honest, I often reduce my life to become manageable, reasonable, attainable and pretty average. I follow my map, consult my budget, plan my timeline and believe for things that don’t require much faith at all. Really, they’re things I can probably accomplish on my own strength.

Oh, but God desires to stretch us!

To enlarge our faith, for God to be made so big in our life that others want to know about the God we serve.

Consider whose amazing faith your life better resembles – the Jewish people from Jesus’ hometown or the Roman Centurion?

When our faith is small, our focus becomes small. We look for answers instead of looking to Christ. We trust in our personal road map for our life instead of trusting God. We ask for things we think we need instead of asking for more of Him in our life. Instead of partnering with God and what He is doing in the world we bask in the comfort of our own minute, selfishly-focused perspective.

Does your life tell a bigger story? When the world sees my life, I want to be a reflection, not of what Kris can do in her own power and planning, but in the greatness of what God can do through a life that is fully surrendered and possesses amazing faith in an Almighty God.

Don’t live a smaller story – a story that tells about a safe, calculated faith.

Ask God to stir your heart to take a step of faith.

Who knows? Just maybe many months (or perhaps years) from now you will look at all that God has done and you’ll be able to trace back to this moment when God inspired you to believe Him for something that could not have happened without amazing faith being partnered with His presence and power.