Put It Down

When my husband, Justin, approached me to plant a church about ten years into our ministry and marriage, I was less than thrilled. In fact, after years of disappointment and hurt in ministry I was teetering on the edge of giving up. That is not the place in which I thought one should be to launch a church and become lead pastors. As I wrestled with this, and kept saying ‘no’ to God and Justin, I heard God gently nudge me saying, “If you will just be willing, I will do the rest.” God gave me the strength in that moment to say yes. And I have watched Him “do the rest” that I couldn’t do.
For the first three years of the church planting, I had been happy to sit back and let God “do the rest” as He promised to do. He had done everything we had not known how to do, didn’t have the money or resources to do, and hadn’t even thought of doing.

As I watched God do all of this, I should have been able to enjoy all He had done, but I didn’t. Instead, I became very aware of how far we still needed to go.

Rather than celebrating how far we’d come, I focused on all there was yet to do. In fact, it actually felt like there was more to do each week than there was at the very beginning of starting the church. I began to stress about how we were going to do all the things left undone. There was all this wonderful ministry growing, yet I was focusing on all that needed to be done—all the holes left to fill. I began to panic because we didn’t know how to get to the next level and complete what was incomplete. And just like that, I took the burden off of God and put it back onto myself, and the church staff, to accomplish God’s vision for the church.

It took a while for me to realize what I was doing, and when I put my focus back on God’s ability and not my own, He let me know, “I said that if you would be willing, I would do the rest. That doesn’t just mean in the beginning—that means permanently.”
God often reminds me that I need to let things go. I need to stop telling Him what I need Him to do, how to do it and when to get it done. There are many times I stop trusting momentarily that He will do the “rest,” and feel it’s up to me. That is a difficult balance for us to find.

We waiver back and forth between operating in our own strength and then stepping back and trusting God. We pick up the burdens and we lay them down, only to pick them up again.

Last week I was once again panic-praying for all the things I felt the Lord should be doing and He reminded me that I needed to surrender again. He said to me, “put it down.” In fact, He told that I need to actually be on my face with Him—like on my carpet—out loud surrendering everything I was holding so tightly to. So, every day I have been laying out (literally) all of those things I feel the need to control and offer them to God. I surrender my will, my plans, and my control over to His. The first couple of days I did this were hard for me because I wanted to hold onto some things and still ask for my way. While I continued to do this, God kept saying, “put it down.” To me, the tone in that came across like I would say to my girls when they were little to put something down they could break.

He kept saying it over and over. “Put it down.” He told me that I was surrendering daily and then picking it back up. As I listened, He began to remind me that He was telling me to put it down–not just because it was disobedient for me to hold onto all of the things, but He wants me to put it down because I can’t hold it. I can’t handle all of the things in my life. I can’t cause anything to happen. I can’t change situations, but He can. When I put it down, He can pick it up. And oh, when He picks it up, that’s when He can do far more than I can ask or imagine in all of the areas I am surrendering.
I share all of this because I don’t think I am alone. As women, in general, we tend to hold tightly those things so important to us. We hold our callings, our people, our plans very closely and tightly. We have so much to be concerned with, sometimes a heavy burden to hold—ours and for others.

I encourage you to put it down. If you have to, actively choose to put it down every single day because our nature is lay it down and then pick it right back up. And remember that when we put it down, our Heavenly Father picks it up and He can do miracles. He makes smooth our paths and gives life and peace.

“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21

“Cast all your cares on Him because He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7

Pick Up Your Mat

 

Ever want God to wake new things inside of you? New boldness, new vision — to just stir something more inside of your heart? And give you the capability to just go all in for what’s stirring? I was asking God to do that for me a couple of Sunday’s ago during worship. Nothing earth shattering, just asking Him expand my heart for Him and do more in me. However, when He does do more–like I asked, that usually brings back the struggle of feeling inadequate to follow through with the newness and the tendency to shrink back from the challenge.

That makes me so frustrated with myself. So, as I was contemplating these things while talking to God about the next day. Monday morning I open my Bible to my regular reading for the day, which happened to be John chapter 5. I had just written in my journal all that I just wrote above about wanting more from God and yet struggling with that “more” and the feelings of inadequacy, and then my eyes fell on this this story….

John 5:1-9

Afterward Jesus returned to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish holy days.  Inside the city, near the Sheep Gate, was the pool of Bethesda, with five covered porches. Crowds of sick people—blind, lame, or paralyzed—lay on the porches. One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?”

“I can’t, sir,” the sick man said, “for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me.”

Jesus told him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!”

 Instantly, the man was healed! He rolled up his sleeping mat and began walking.

As I read that, I focused on the question pointed directly at me, “Would you like to be well?” YES! Yes I want to be well! It’s not that I am actually sick, but I am so tired of timidity and want to daily default right into operating in that promised Spirit of power, love and a sound mind. Yes, I want that!

As I was answering that question in my head,  I then read the next line, in which the man answers, “I can’t.” And I felt God nudge me with the questions of, “How many times have you said ‘I can’t,’ and how many excuses have you made?” And then the question came again, “Would you like to be well?” I thought “YES” again and kept reading. After the man told Jesus–the Son of God, Creator of the universe–“I can’t,” Jesus completely ignores the excuse he gave Him, and says, “Stand up, pick up your mat and walk.”

Pick up my mat. Do what He says. Who cares how I feel, and what my excuses are. If I want to be well, then pick up my mat. If I want to run after all God puts inside me to do, then just pick up the mat.

Sometimes I feel like I coddle my own self. I dwell on what’s hard, or things I think I can’t do, or excuses. Jesus pushes pasts excuses here and just says do what I say. Take responsibility for what I have given you to do and pick up your mat.

I looked up the word “mat” in the Greek language and it literally means a bed for sickness. God doesn’t want me to lay around on what hinders me and wallow in that.  He’s calling me to pick myself up–weaknesses and all– and walk in His freedom and grace.

That day I was reading this passage, there were several things I was facing that I was intimidated to do. Each time I was preparing for one of them, I just decided that I was going to pick up my mat. That’s kind of become something I say now. Instead of thinking anxious thoughts about something I just say, “I’m gonna pick up my mat.” Instead of procrastinating because it’s difficult, I say, “I’m gonna pick up my mat.”

To me, that just means I am not making excuses to disqualify myself from something God has given me the power to accomplish. I am going to pick my mat and WALK.

Do you need to pick up your mat?

Take courage because He promises to go with us when we pick it up.

Deut. 31:6 “So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.”

2 Timothy 1:7 “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and a sound mind.”

 

The struggle with timing…

 

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven….

Ecclesiastes 3:9-15 “What do people really get for their hard work? I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. Yet, God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. So I have concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God. 

And I know that whatever God does is final. Nothing can be added to it or taken away from it. God’s purpose is that people should fear Him. What is happening now has happened before, and what will happen in the future has happened before, because God makes the same things happen over and over again.

Discontentment has already made an attempt to sink in a little bit. It’s really hard to pray those big prayers, dream big with God, and allow Him to drop those God-sized dreams in your heart to build His Kingdom, and not get disillusioned waiting on His timing. It’s exciting to yield your mind, your heart, your schedule and plans to God’s purposes, but it feels dissatisfying, restless, and unfulfilling to wait, and wait, and wait.

If we are being honest here, it’s really hard to continue to wait expectantly, and joyfully, with increased faith when you see nothing new happening.

Psalm 5:3 says, “Listen to my voice in the morning, Lord. Each morning I lay my requests to You, and wait expectantly.”

The struggle and balance between laying down your life daily for God’s plans in your life and getting frustrated with waiting on God’s timing is real. We want to tell God what to do and when to do it (or at least I do). I do it all the time — not on purpose or with intentional disrespect — but it happens. As I was talking to God about all of this today (and maybe complaining a little), He led me to the book of Ecclesiastes to gently remind me that to everything there is a season in life. And He makes those seasons beautiful in His own timing. And not to get all worked up and impatient because He can actually handle it all and is, most definitely, still in charge of all my stuff.

The most interesting part of that passage in Ecclesiastes to me was the end of chapter 3, verse 15 that says, “God makes the same things happen over and over again.” I have read that before, but today it made a great impact. Nothing is new to God. Nothing is hard for God. He has done it all in the past before, and already knows what He is going to do in the future. He’s got it covered. Sure, its hard to wait, but I am learning (and will continue to have to learn this) to hold onto His mercies that are new every morning to guide me, and give me peace, patience, strength and grace when the waiting is hard.

And as I struggled with all of this today, God brought me full circle by reminding me that those who wait on the Lord shall be renewed in their strength (Isaiah 40:31) Funny how just talking to God a little while, dwelling in His presence and letting Him into our thought processes separates truth from feelings, and brings exactly the right Word at the right time.

“Lord, continually help me each morning to lay my requests out to you, and enable me to keep waiting expectantly with an open heart, full of faith, knowing You are working on our behalf. Help me to keep trusting fully that Your ways are best.”

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Emmanuel

I love all things Christmas. Christmas is my favorite time of the entire year. I love the anticipation of Christmas Day, and I always hate for Christmas to end. I love the trees, ornaments, decorations, making cookies, shopping, wrapping presents, movies–all of it! But most of all, I love my Savior, who came from a perfect Heaven to this Earth, filled with us imperfect humans, to save us. I don’t really ever forget that part during Christmas, but I find that it does get overlooked and pushed to the back burner. It takes effort to bring Jesus back into the forefront of Christmas and center stage of it all.

As I celebrated Christmas, I took a moment before Christmas Sunday to remind myself and my girls that Jesus is Emmanuel–He really is God with us. And that is a big deal. He is here with us, all of the time.

And He’s not only with us, but He is for us. He is on our side. He is working on our behalf and already gone before us to make our paths straight.

Psalm 18:30-36 says it this way, “God’s way is perfect. All the Lord’s promises prove true….v. 33 God arms me with strength, and he makes my way perfect. He makes me surefooted as a deer, enabling me to stand on mountain heights. He trains my hands for battle; he strengthens my arm to draw a bow. You have given me your shield of victory. Your right hand supports me; your help has made me great. You have made a wide path for my feet to keep them from slipping.”

That’s what I need for 2016. I need Him to make me surefooted, to train my hands and make a wide path to keep my foot from slipping.

It’s easy to celebrate Emmanuel as “God with us” at Christmastime, but we cannot forget that as we enter 2016. He will be with us every single day throughout the entire next year. And if He is with us, then we can remember that Hebrews says He also cares enough to respond to us as we seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6 MSG).  And as we seek Him first, we can remember that the prayers of the righteous produce wonderful results.

Armed with those truths, we can have great anticipation of what God can do through our lives in 2016.  Our plans and dreams should reflect that great anticipation as well! As we, and the rest of the world, make resolutions and take inventory of our lives, lets make plans that are bigger than ourselves.  Our dreams and goals should be bigger than we can accomplish in our strength.  They should make us uncomfortable, and maybe even embarrass us if we say them out loud. After all, we aren’t here very long on this Earth compared to eternity and I want 2016 to count for God and His Glory in this short life that I have.

Let’s all let God drop some dreams into our hearts that HE wants to accomplish this year through us. Let’s stop asking God for what we want and start asking God for what HE wants for our lives.