See, I Am Making All Things New

Recommended Reading: Genesis 1:26-3:34, Romans 5:11-17, Revelation 21:1-6

I know there is a lot of recommended reading today, but today I’ll be talking about the entire history of humanity, so I feel like maybe when you think about it that way it’s not that bad.

Some of the best movies, books, and autobiographies out there are stories of redemption. As a society, we love watching a plot line unfold that seems irredeemable and then sitting amazed as some hero comes through, or a situation drastically turns around, and suddenly everything is okay again. It happens in rom-coms, thrillers, action movies, comedies, you name it. We eat it up.

Have you ever stopped to think about why we love stories of redemption so much?

Could it be that they speak to our souls, that they reflect the timeline written on each of our hearts?

The story of humanity is a story of redemption broken up into 3 parts: The fall, the rise, and the end. I want to take some time and just ponder each part today.

Part I: The Fall (Genesis 1:26-3:24)

Are you familiar with the birth story of humanity?

God started out this story by creating two people to walk with Him on the earth: Adam and Eve. He planted a garden for them to work in and gave them dominion over all creation. He fellowshipped with them. It was the way we were meant to live.

It didn’t last long.

Sin entered the picture.

Satan convinced Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil–the one thing they were specifically told not to do.

Here I want to emphasize a concept that I only started thinking about after reading this Desiring God post: Adam and Eve sinned because they chose the wrong person to believe. Rather than believing in God when He had told them that they were forbidden from eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they chose to believe the enemy when he told them it was okay. He told them that they could be like God, and they believed it.

I’ll talk more about that later.

What followed was death and decay. God banished them from the garden, cutting off their access to the tree of life and revoking their right to eternal life (Genesis 3:22). They were suddenly faced with pain and danger and violence. They were faced with a lifetime of living not for God but for work, in Adam’s case, and a man, in Eve’s.

In effect, they switched the default of humanity over from unity with God to separation from God.

And for centuries, we lived within that default.

Part II: The Rise

I will tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.”

-Psalm 2:7-8

Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord,

and proclaim His deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that He has done it.

-Psalm 22:30-31

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name Him Immanuel.”

-Isaiah 7:14

For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given;

and the government shall be upon his shoulder,

and his name shall be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and of peace

there will be no end,

-Isaiah 9:6-7

Behold my servant, whom I uphold,

my chosen, in whom my soul delights;

I have put my Spirit upon him;

he will bring forth justice to the nations.

-Isaiah 42:1

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…”

-Jeremiah 31:31

The fall was a dark day in history. It’s worth lamenting, since it was the beginning of our separation from God. But it would seem that Someone was affected even more deeply than we were. The fall caused such deep anguish in God that He wrote its reversal into the thread of history in the form of prophecy about Jesus. In a way, they were His subtle promise to us that His work was not finished, that restoration of all that was lost was on its way.

The fall started to unravel the day Jesus was born. He humbled Himself to our level, choosing to be born as a baby for the sake of reconciliation.

Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

-Romans 5:11

Over the course of the next few verses, Paul contrasts the death that happened through Adam with its reversal: the resurrection that happens through Jesus.

For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!

-Romans 5:17

How much more!

When I think of all of the death and darkness in the world, it can get a little overwhelming. It is rampant; it is woven into the fabric of our societies.

How much more.

I want to talk about belief again. Lately the fact that Jesus just asks us to believe in Him in order to have life hasn’t been making a whole lot of sense to me. Why was belief His number one priority? Why is belief so powerful?

Adam and Eve were sentenced to death because of their lack of belief.

Their lack of belief entirely separated them from God. It is what caused them to follow Satan instead.

With God, we are either all in or all out. We either believe in Him and are unified with Him, or we believe in something else and we are separated from Him.

As humans, we were made to believe in something. We were made to pick one thing and follow it–believe in it and find fulfillment in it–above all the rest. After humanity was cursed, it was natural for men to look to the work of their hands to be the object of their belief; their fulfillment. Likewise, it was natural for women to look to their husbands–men–to be the object of their belief and fulfillment.

You and I have the opportunity today to do something a little different: to believe in Jesus. To look to Him for our fulfillment. We were created to do exactly that, and it is only when we fully put our trust in Him that we start living life the way it was meant to be lived.

Don’t get me wrong–work and marriage are not bad things. But we weren’t created to believe in them above God.

All that to say, I think Jesus just wants our belief because if we choose to believe in Him, He can take it from there. Once our hearts make Him our number one priority, He can do astounding things within us and through us. That is power that no idol has.

Part III: The End

Remember the tree of life in Genesis 2:9? I didn’t talk much about it, but it’s about to become very important.

There were two trees in the garden of Eden: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the tree of life. God banished Adam and Eve from the garden so that they could not eat from the tree of life, and so they died.

Did you know that that tree comes up again? Side note: I didn’t know that before today, and my mind is getting blown up.

To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.”

-Revelation 2:7

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

-Revelation 22:1-2

The tree is situated along the water of life that flows from the throne of God and the Lamb.

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.

-Revelation 22:14

We lost access to the tree of life when Adam sinned, but through Jesus we gain access to it again! Because of Jesus, we can be righteous and justified in the sight of God, thus reversing the effect that Satan used to have on us. We are no longer destined for destruction–we are destined to reign with God forever and ever (Rev. 22:5)!

As if that wasn’t enough, God passes the old things to pass away entirely–everything that used to be warped by the fall is going to be completely gone someday.

Do you ever have a sort of nostalgia for something that hasn’t happened yet? That is the best word I can think of to describe how I feel whenever I read Revelation 21:1-6. It lays out all of the ways that the fall will be reversed in the end.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

The sea was seen as a symbol of violence and death–this could be a way of symbolizing the fact that death will be no more.

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.

The dwelling place of God will be with man, and they will be His people. The restoration of God’s reign among (and walk alongside) man will be even more glorious than at first, in the garden of Eden, because of what has been overcome…because of the conflict that has been resolved.

Sometimes I wonder if part of the reason God allowed all of these things to happen is because He wanted to tell us an incredible love story.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

God Himself will personally wipe away the tears from our eyes. None of is are untouched by death, by the effects of the curse. We have all suffered heartbreak and pain in this life.

But God Himself will wipe away our tears. What a tender moment that will be.

Death, mourning, crying, and pain will be a thing of the past. Can you even imagine a life like that?

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

When the God of the universe says “all things,” I truly believe He means every last thing. He is renewing everything. Some things He is allowing to pass away entirely, and other things (like you and me) He is keeping, but transforming.

He is the beginning and the end. He was there in the beginning, and after all is said and done, we will still have Him.

He is the only constant. When we walked away, He remained. His love never faltered and His personality never changed. He is always and forever the Great I Am, the One powerful and merciful beyond words.

He is the Renewer of everything that has fallen.

We can find great hope in that.

I know this post is longer than most, so thank you for sticking with it. There is so much power in knowing the story of us. I am more amazed by it every day.

Until next time,

Jenna

Read This if You Want To Be a Morning Person

Hello, you sleepy-eyed beauty (If you’re a man, you can be a beauty too).

Mornings are very polarizing, I’ve found. People either love them or they hate them, and I’ve met very few people who are part of the in-between crowd. You’re either an “early bird” or a “night owl.”

Well, what if you’re a “night owl” who wants to be an “early bird?”

You’ve come to the right place, you sharp-taloned bird of prey.

I’m sorry, I’ll stop calling you weird things now.

Awhile back I wrote a post called Read This If You Hate Mornings. It offers some good vision on why we should love mornings, but I realized recently that it doesn’t really offer any practical tips on how to actually have good mornings if that doesn’t come naturally to you.

If that’s where you are, I completely understand. Last semester I had the closing shift at work about four times a week, which means my day typically ended around 3am. I missed morning time every single day unless there was some sort of emergency (and let me tell you, if you woke me up before 11 you had better hope there was some sort of emergency).

And you know what? I missed waking up early. Deeply. Sunrises are one of my greatest simple pleasures in life, and the fact that I hadn’t seen one since summer was upsetting to me.

I missed the feeling of waking up with the rest of the world. Every day it felt like everyone was already two steps ahead of me and there I was, still laying in bed.

Fast forward to this semester. I have an 8am three times a week, and life usually necessitates waking up early the other four days, too. So, how did I make the transition?

Not easily.

For awhile it took a lot of learning the hard way. Here are some of the things that I’ve found work for me through trial and error.

1. Go to bed early.

But did you actually read that, or did you just sort of scan it?

READ IT AGAIN.

THIS IS NOT A JOKE.

I couldn’t figure out for the life of me why I was struggling so much to wake up early, and finally I realized that it was for the most obvious reason in the world: I wasn’t willing to go to bed early. I always found some excuse to stay up late. Old habits die hard, and this one is no exception.

I’m gonna speak to the night owls out there for a second: There will always be a reason to stay up late. Of course, sometimes you should. Don’t miss out on making memories with your friends at 1am because you’re determined to wake up at 6:30 the next day just because. But those times should be the exceptions, not the rule.

If you really want to start having better mornings, you need to be willing to go to bed as early as you can…and for awhile that may not be very early, if you’ve been habitually going to bed past midnight. And that’s okay.

This is a bitter pill to swallow, but the majority of us can’t live a functional life staying up late and waking up early. Believe me, I understand the temptation to try. Something about nighttime is so peaceful and ethereal.

But you know what else is peaceful and ethereal?

Not being exhausted all the time.

I know this is the hardest step to take, so I’ve compiled some ideas to help you out with it:

  • Don’t try to make the switch all at once. Let it be a gradual process; try going to bed 15 or 20 minutes earlier every night.
  • Set an end-of-screens timer. The light from laptop, phone, and TV screens decreases the amount of melatonin your brain makes, which keeps you from getting sleepy. Pick a time at least 30 minutes before you plan to go to sleep to shut off your screens and set an alarm on your phone.
  • Journal/plan. Maybe as something to do after your screens are gone for the night? The top two reasons I stay up late are because I’m either getting something done, or I have something on my mind. If that’s what it is for you, it might be helpful to try writing. Write a to-do list for the next day so that you don’t forget about what you want to get done, or if something is on your mind try journaling about it. It also helps to pray about it. “Give it to God and go to sleep” has become my mantra.
  • Pick something calming to do before bed. Maybe it’s journaling and writing. Maybe it’s reading, or meditating, or stretching. Whatever it is for you, get into the habit of doing that before bed and your mind will begin to associate it with sleep.

Once you have some semblance of a healthy sleep schedule, we can move onto number 2.

2. Start your day off on the right foot.

We’ve all had those days when we wake up and it feels like we’ve suddenly been launched into that scene from Moana where her foot is stuck in the coral reef and she has giant waves drowning her and oh, God, what happened to her adorable pig sidekick? Is he dead?

Maybe you missed your alarm and you have to rush to work, or your family is screaming at each other, or it hits you that you had homework due today and it’s not done.

Basically, we’ve all had mornings that were just the worst.

Sometimes those factors are beyond our control, but mostly we have the ability to proactively create a positive routine and enjoy it day after day. What an incredible freedom.

Here are a few things that I believe are nonnegotiable aspects of a good morning routine.

  1. Time with God. The effect it will have on your day will amaze you if you don’t currently do this in the morning. Please, please, please, don’t be legalistic about it, because then it won’t be enjoyable at all and it will feel like a burden. Do it because you want to lay your burdens down, once again surrender to the King, and learn more about His Word. I know some of you really don’t have a lot of time for this in the morning, but I would still recommend praying and reading for as long as you can and then having the rest of your time with Him later in the day. I wrote more about time with God in my last post about mornings.
  2. Power food. Honestly, I don’t love breakfast as much as I used to, but I feel absolutely awful when I either don’t eat it or I have an unhealthy one. You’ve been fasting for at least 8 hours (if you followed tip number 1) and your stomach needs a calorie sacrifice. Try to make it something with some protein and fat so you stay full longer!
  3. Something enjoyable. What do you enjoy doing? Start your day off with it. It could be listening to your favorite song. It could be making your favorite breakfast or really amazing coffee. It could be (more power to you) going for a run. What is it for you?

Obviously I’m not perfect at always following all three of those, but in order to consider it a truly great morning, I think all three are necessary.

Here are some suggestions for adding to your routine. Maybe don’t try to implement them all tomorrow, but pick one or two that sound interesting to try out!

  1. Watch the sun rise. This literally never fails to make me feel like it’s going to be a good day. If it happens to be overcast, I found a song that to me sounds the way a sunrise looks. (It’s December by Tow’rs, for those who are interested. But listen to whatever you like!)
  2. Do one thing that’s been on your to-do list forever. You’ll be amazed at how productive and empowered you feel.
  3. Get in a workout. Make it something you actually like doing! If you hate running, try yoga or kickboxing or lifting or hiking. There are so many possibilities. Many health and fitness experts agree that doing your workout in the morning will help you get the most benefits out of it.
  4. Get fresh air. Morning air feels incredible! Try taking a short walk as you watch the sun rise and pray for your day. Some of my best mornings have started off that day. It’s possible I look like the neighborhood crazy lady doing this, but there are days I’ll bring a mug of coffee with me.
  5. Make some kind of warm drink. If you’re not a coffee drinker, herbal tea is a nice alternative. In my opinion, warm drinks are some of the most comforting things in existence.
  6. Give yourself a little more time. Wake up early enough that you actually have time to enjoy yourself before you need to start your busy life. Give yourself time to have peace and quiet. For me, this usually means waking up about two hours before I need to be somewhere. On days I have to be at work at 6:30, I conveniently forget about this one.
  7. Make a plan for the day. Some days I feel like I don’t get anything important done because I didn’t take the time to plan and prioritize. Pick 1-3 main things that you really want to get done, and then make a plan for how you’ll accomplish them.
  8. Give yourself 20-30 minutes to procrastinate. Obviously this one probably won’t work if you have to be somewhere early in the morning, but on the days when you have a little more time but a lot to accomplish, it can be nice to have dessert first, in a sense. Spend 20-30 minutes just watching TV, or browsing social media, or whatever else you really wish you could be doing, and then get started with the day. This one takes some self-control!

3. Make it a habit.

Building a routine requires building a habit, and building a habit requires consistency. Love yourself enough to do the above two steps for 28 days in a row, and after that it will be second nature and you’ll wonder how you ever did anything else! Life happens, and you’ll have mornings that are less-than-Hallmark-worthy, but we really do have so much control over how we start the day.

I’d love to hear about how you make your mornings great in the comments below!

Until next time,

Jenna

Us: The Space Between Easter and Revelation

Recommended Reading: Acts 1:6-11, Acts 2:14-47

I’m sure you saw enough Easter posts last weekend and for the weeks leading up to last weekend. I know I did. But what about life after Easter? We know that Jesus is risen, and we know that He is coming back someday soon, but where does that leave us right now, in the present?

In my mind there is a timeline. It starts at Genesis and goes through all the books of the Bible until it finally finishes up at Revelation. Jesus’ death and resurrection is, of course, near the end of this timeline. The Bible doesn’t tell us a whole lot of narrative after that. We see the apostles do a few things–and they are amazing things–but after that it skips to the end of the world with Revelation.

You and I reside in that space between Jesus’ resurrection and the end of the world. I believe that our stories are important to God, too. He has planned good works for us to do (Ephesians 2:10), and He has planned them for a reason.

I was reading through Acts 1 the other day and these two verses stood out to me:

While He was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.”   -Acts 1:10-11

It seems like the believers were sort of dumbstruck. Their friend and Savior had just been taken up into heaven. They had Him back for forty days and then He was gone, and they were left staring up at the sky with their mouths gaping.

I think that’s where we all start out, if we’re being honest.

Luckily the disciples had the angels there to snap them out of it and remind them of the bigger picture. What follows is the book of Acts, full of signs and wonders and powerful testimonies of the early church.

After the Easter service I felt compelled to write about what comes next–now that our Savior is raised to life and sitting at the right hand of the Father in glory…where does that leave us?

The example of the early church

I think there is a lot to learn from the first believers. These were people who had walked this earth alongside Jesus in the flesh. They probably knew a thing or two about His priorities.

So, what do we do as we wait for His return?

1. Gather together.

Who else remembers all of the bickering the disciples did while Jesus was there? It seems like they were always fighting about something super important, like which of them was the greatest. –Sarcasm- But as I read this passage I can almost palpably feel the bond they share. They are unified by the strongest connection in the world: Jesus. On top of that, they are likely sharing in some unique blend of sorrow, fear, and anticipation.

They then gather together with all of the Christians in the world–I mean, that number was like 120, so it wasn’t even a megachurch or anything, but still–and just prayed like there was no tomorrow. 

This was serious praying, you guys. Prayer was now their only connection to Jesus, and they were taking full advantage. I think they were probably better at praying than anyone has ever been since because they were talking to someone who they used to be able to see. Isn’t that mind-blowing?

What if we prayed like that? Like we were just having a conversation with our Friend and Teacher who we’ll see again someday? What if we, like the disciples, believed that everything we asked for would be given to us (John 14:13-14)?

We see Peter rise up as a leader and mouthpiece in the first couple chapters of Acts. In verses 15-26 he addresses the crowd concerning Judas’ replacement. Then he addresses a much larger crowd in Acts 2:14 and begins to open-air preach. We all have different gifts useful for building up the body of Christ, and that is one reason it is important not to try to walk the Christian road alone. Peter couldn’t have done it by himself, and neither could Thomas or Andrew or Philip or the new guy, Matthias.

2. Get ready.

The first step to getting ready is obedience. Jesus instructs the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father–the Holy Spirit–and the very first thing they do is return to Jerusalem. Has God asked you to wait somewhere? Waiting is hard, I know, but He always has a reason.

The second step is preparation for the Kingdom. In Matthew 25, Jesus tells the parable of the ten bridesmaids. Five of the bridesmaids took oil for their lamps when they went out to wait for the bridegroom; five were foolish and did not. When the foolish bridesmaids’ lamps started to go out, they had no choice but to leave and buy some more oil…and that is when the bridegroom came. The point is, the Kingdom of God is something you don’t want to miss out on. Prepare your heart now and be on the watch for God to move.

The third step is to ask God what else He has for you. He had tongues of fire and violent winds in store for the believers during Pentecost. In Acts 2:14-21 we see Peter remind the crowd of the words of the prophet Joel:

“In the last days it will be, God declares,

that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,

and your sons and daughters shall prophesy,

and your young men shall see visions, 

and your old men shall dream dreams.”

Outpour of the Holy Spirit. Prophecy. Visions. Dreams. Signs on the earth.

Are we asking God for more of these? Do we even believe He still does these things?

If these are truly the last days–and if the last days started 2000 years ago, then I would argue that we can confidently say that these are the last days–then God is waiting for faithful followers who He can entrust with these things.

Are we ready to see them happen? Or are we content to live our comfortable Christian lives?

“Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made Him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”  -Acts 2:36

God wants to make Himself known. We just need to be ready to partner with Him in doing that.

3. Baptize and make disciples

Who remembers the great commission in Matthew 28:19-20?

Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, tot he end of the age.

And that is exactly what Peter does–right off the bat.

“Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”  (A common and valid question) Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.”        -Acts 2:37-41

Gospel preached. People baptized. Fear gone. It’s fun to contrast this with Peter’s denial of Jesus in John 18:17-25. Such growth can happen in such a short period of time.

Done and done.

Obviously we’re not all called to open-air preach like he did, but we are called to not hold in the Good News. What does that look like for you?

Make sure you have an answer for anyone–especially a new believer–who asks, “Brothers [or sisters], what should we do?” Make sure you can tell them about baptism and discipleship!

4. Encourage, support, and strengthen

The believers’ lives after Jesus ascended into heaven was no joke. They stood in front of councils and risked their lives to proclaim the name of Jesus. They experienced persecution the likes of which most of us have never seen. A huge portion of them were executed.

It was critical that they had one another.

Jesus said that if we love Him, the world will hate us. Paul makes it clear in 2 Corinthians 1 that those who share in Christ’s resurrection will also share in His death, His sufferings. Even though we may not experience it to the extent the early believers did, the truth is we need each other.

Acts 2:42-47 gives some practical examples of how they supported one another:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

The early believers…

  • Were devoted to teaching and fellowship
  • Were devoted to breaking bread together and prayer
  • Were filled with awe because of the signs being done
  • Had all things in common
  • Sold their possessions to distribute the earnings to whoever needed them
  • Spent a lot of time together
  • Had glad and generous hearts
  • Praised God
  • Had the goodwill of all the people
  • Were growing in numbers.

Does this sound like your church? Are there a couple of bullet points up there that strike you as especially important? What could you do to make them more of a priority among the people you fellowship with?

Prayer is a great place to start if you don’t see this kind of unity in your community. God can radically transform anything, especially His body.

So, friends, where does that leave us?

Exactly where God planned for us to be.

We get to proclaim His name amidst the darkness and suffering of this world; we get to be the city on the hill and strengthen other believers. We have access to a ridiculous degree of love and power, and we have the hope of an eternity in heaven.

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Until next time,

Jenna

What We Can Learn From Moses About Anxiety

I’m going to start out by asking you two questions.

1) What makes you anxious?

Public speaking?

Confrontation?

Telling the Gospel to strangers?

Work?

Spiders?

Okay, so the last one probably isn’t going to be relevant in this post, but I really want you to think about this. What is something that stresses you out when it comes up?

2) What have you been called to?

If you’re at least high school age, you probably have some semblance of an idea of what your calling is (unless you’re like me and you pretend you can’t hear God telling you what your calling is for the first 19 years of your life).

Another way to think about this besides in terms of a career is, what part of the Body have you been called to be?

Maybe it’s the ears. Maybe you’ve been called to be a listener, or notice subtle cries for help that no one else around you seems to hear.

Maybe it’s the heart. Maybe God has given you an abundance of compassion for the world around you, and it’s so strong it’s painful sometimes.

Maybe it’s the hands. Maybe God has given you skills in creating things for people.

Think about what it is for you.

Can I tell you something I’ve learned recently?

The enemy would have you give the same answer to both questions.

In my own life, that’s exactly what he orchestrated.

For years I’ve been afraid of speaking. It didn’t matter if it was to one stranger (or even a friend, at times) or in front of a group of people in speech class…although I could manage a conversation with a stranger. There were times I don’t think I could have gotten up and spoken in front of a group.

The enemy had me believe for most of my life that people were dangerous, that speaking to them was dangerous. Having my technical writing professor tell us last spring that we were going to give presentations at the end of the semester was enough to make me consider dropping the class…or taking a zero, at the very least.

And then God broke the news to me: He wanted me to stand up and speak to people for a LIVING. Young people, but people nonetheless. He was asking me to be a mouth for the Body.

Didn’t He know I couldn’t do that?

I started to reason with Him. “Maybe I could design a youth ministry format to where it’s completely centered around small groups. Maybe I won’t give talks at all. We’ll play games and then do some Bible study separately-but-together. It could work, God…”

Maybe it could.

But that’s not what He’s asked me to do.

“But would God really ask us to do something that scares us?”

Let me tell you the story of Moses, the first recorded case of public speaking anxiety.

But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.”  Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?  Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.”  But he said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses and he said, “Is there not Aaron, your brother, the Levite? I know that he can speak well.          -Exodus 4:10-14

Moses hears GOD speak to Him from a burning bush. He literally hears the voice of God asking Him to do these things, encouraging him in the fact that He will be with his mouth and teach him what to speak.

And he still can’t do it.

I mean, I’ve gotta give him some credit. This was a big task. The future of his nation rested on his shoulders (or, at least, that’s what he must have thought) and he was tasked with speaking to a hard-hearted, iron-fisted man about it.

But he had heard the voice of God.

One thing that always strikes me about this passage is the fact that God can be reasoned with. He knows what is best for us, but He gives us free will and He knows how to alter His plans to accommodate that free will. In this case, He gave Moses the free will to chicken out even though it ticked Him off a little.

I consider Moses to be a great role model, but I also want to learn from his mistakes. God can be reasoned with, which could give me an excuse to do what Moses did and wiggle out of difficult work. But if I truly believe that He knows best and has my best interests in mind, wouldn’t it make more sense to just bite the bullet and have some blind faith?

I think anxiety is one of the enemy’s favorite weapons against us. It causes us to not even consider that God could be calling us somewhere because it’s too intimidating.

Has God been calling you somewhere that you haven’t been willing to consider going? Are you, like Moses, telling God, “Oh my Lord, I am not _____?”

His power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Sometimes He likes to do things through the weakest people so that there can be no doubt that He is the One that did it. Rather than be crushed by anxiety, we can boast of our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 11:30) because God’s glory shows even brighter through them.

But what if that anxiety won’t go away?

Note: the kind of anxiety I’ll be talking about here isn’t the debilitating kind that requires professional help. I absolutely believe that God can heal that kind of anxiety, but there are times when seeking help is a good idea.

Anxiety is a dark product of the Fall. It isn’t from God, especially if it is keeping you from doing what you’ve been called to do.

It isn’t something that we can just will away through positive thinking. Our help has to come from God.

Last summer God promised me that He was going to heal my anxiety when it came to speaking. And you know what He did?

Exactly that.

I’m not going to pretend it wasn’t a long process. It definitely did not happen overnight, but I asked Him to heal me of it and He walked with me along the road that led to freedom.

Today I did two presentations.

A year ago one presentation was enough to make me want to vomit. Two would have probably made me seriously consider which one I should just take a zero on. I didn’t understand how some people could be unaffected by giving presentations, and I for sure didn’t understand how pastors and youth pastors could just get up and talk for thirty minutes. I couldn’t even make it to six.

During those presentations, I didn’t feel a trace of anxiety. They didn’t scare me while I was preparing them, and they didn’t scare me this weekend the couple of times that they crossed my mind.

The coolest part is that during one of them I got to tell a classroom full of my peers the difference between being a fan of Jesus and following Him. As someone living in the Bible belt, I feel this was a pretty significant occurrence.

GUYS.

If that can happen to me, I DON’T CARE WHAT IT IS FOR YOU. GOD CAN DO IT FOR YOU TOO.

I don’t know how to make you understand how huge of a testimony this is for me. It sure as heck didn’t happen because of my positive thoughts or my willpower. It happened because God was faithful to answer one scared little college kid’s prayer over the course of a year. I was TERRIFIED of speaking a year ago, and today I looked 30 people in the eyes and told them we need Jesus. And I was filled with peace.

I’m going to ask you again.

What is God calling you to?

Is it that person?

Is it that place?

Is it that task?

I know it sounds unpleasant, and I know that it’s easy to evaluate our own abilities when we’re faced with difficulty. But what if we started to take God’s abilities into account instead? What if we really believed that He has the power to accomplish what He set out to do, and that He can use us in whatever way He sees fit?

What if our weakness doesn’t matter?

What does that change for you?

Until next time,

Jenna

How to Be Wise

Recommended Reading: James 3:13-18

That title makes me feel a little arrogant–“Sit down, children, and I will teach you all there is to know about wisdom.”

Just kidding. I am also a children.

As someone who wants to be a spiritual teacher in the near future, this is a topic that has weighed heavily on my mind lately. What DOES it mean to be wise?

The world would say, “Well, it means you’re really smart. It means you always have the right answers and you give good advice.” And that’s not wrong, necessarily, but the kind of wisdom I want–and the kind of wisdom you want, I’m guessing, since you clicked on this post–goes a little deeper than that.

I spent some time this morning finding out how to attain this kind of wisdom, and if it’s okay I’d like to share my findings with you.

Let’s start by destroying some of what the enemy has built up in our culture surrounding wisdom.

Lie #1: You can’t be too wise

I stumbled across Ecclesiastes 7:16 the other day that stopped me in my tracks. Here it is:

Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself?

Don’t be overly righteous? Don’t make yourself too wise? But that goes against EVERYTHING THE BIBLE TEACHES.

And then, God reminded me of something I’ve been struggling with lately: this little thing called Arrogance. And I think that’s what this verse is getting at. Romans 12:13 say something similar:

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but think of yourself with sober judgment, according to the measure of faith God has given you.

“Why should you destroy yourself?” is a harsh question, but it’s worth asking. Once you start to over-analyze and criticize every tiny little spiritual thing you hear, you start to lose your joy. It’s legalistic, it’s pessimistic, and it’s not worth doing. Trust me, I’m a recovering analysis addict.

That’s not to say you should believe everything you hear–it’s just that some mountains aren’t worth dying on.

Lie #2: Wisdom is the end goal of learning.

I think by now most of us are familiar with the old adage from 1 Corinthians 8:1: “Knowledge puffs up.” That’s not to say that knowledge itself is bad–in fact, there are tons of verses that tell us quite the opposite. The full phrase from 1 Corinthians 8:1 is, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”

We can seek wisdom for the wrong reasons. We can seek it just so we feel better about ourselves, or even so we feel like we’re better than everyone else. Or we could just be trying to get really smart. In context, though, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” means that the end goal of gaining knowledge should be to help others, to love other people better.

And typically, the more we learn about God, the easier this becomes. So don’t think that learning and knowledge are bad things, because they aren’t. Proverbs 1:7 says that fools despise wisdom and correction. Just make sure that you have the right motives for becoming wiser.

Lie #3: All wisdom is from God.

There are 2 different kinds of wisdom: worldly wisdom and Godly wisdom. Look at 1 Corinthians 3:18-19:

Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God.

The wisdom of this world is folly with God.

Later I’ll get into the differences between worldly wisdom and Godly wisdom, but for now suffice it to say that it does not all come from the same place.

So then, how do we gain real wisdom?

Now that we’ve cleared away some of the trash the world sells us on a daily basis, let’s start to replace it with what the Bible tells us. Here is the secret to becoming wise:

Fear God.

“Is it really that simple, Jenna?”

“I came here for more than 2 words, Jenna.”

“I don’t believe this girl has ever been to seminary.”*

But, in all seriousness, that’s all it takes. If you’ve never read Proverbs 9:10, it’s worth reading:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
    and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.

That sets the foundation for all knowledge, all wisdom, all insight. It’s amazing how simple God makes things for us. It proves that He really does know us, if you ask me. I usually need things to be pretty simplified.

If we fear and know God, we can then start to become wise. This isn’t the world’s foolish wisdom that Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 3–this is wisdom with some power behind it. It’s reliable and enduring, and it is worth attaining. Proverbs 3:13-15 tells us that it is, in fact, more desirable than anything else in this world.

Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,
    and the one who gets understanding,
for the gain from her is better than gain from silver
    and her profit better than gold.
She is more precious than jewels,
    and nothing you desire can compare with her.

*You’d be right, low-key.

Why does fearing God increase our wisdom?

  1. Because it reveals the answers to some of the deepest questions in life. If we fear God, we already know the most important truth we could ever attain: that the Gospel is the way to salvation. We have an understanding–a fuzzy one, as in a mirror, but an understanding nonetheless–of the Creator of the universe, and we know the way to life. Beyond that, we know the meaning of life. Those are pieces of wisdom that most of the world cannot tell you, yet they have been revealed to you and me. We are wiser than we think we are.
  2. Because it blows conventional wisdom out of the water. Knowing God, with all of His paradoxes (Does “whoever wants to gain his life must lose it” ring a bell? What about Jesus being fully God and fully man?), absolutely obliterates everything we thought we knew. And that, in turn, humbles us. We do not have the capacity to understand a lot of things about God, and once we realize that, we become teachable again. That makes the next point possible.
  3. He teaches us new things every single day if we walk with Him. He gave us His word for a reason. He gave us His Spirit for a reason. If we are willing to listen, He is faithful to speak truths over us that we can’t find anywhere else.

So, how do we differentiate between Godly wisdom and worldly wisdom? James has some things to say about that.

How to Evaluate Wisdom

As we’ve already established, there are two kinds of wisdom: Godly and worldly. If you want to evaluate your own wisdom, or–be careful with this one, or better yet, don’t do it at all–someone else’s, look to James 3.

Worldly Wisdom

“But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.”        -James 3:14-16

Let’s break that down. Worldly wisdom…

  • Is full of bitter envy. The Greek word used here, “zēlos,” is translated as “an envious and contentious rivalry, jealousy.” Have you ever felt this way? I have. And I have definitely opened my mouth and “informed” the people around me of something that was true, but it was spoken out of a place of jealousy and rivalry. I wanted to gain an edge over what my fleshly mind saw as spiritual academic opponents. This is the opposite of speaking the truth in love. It is an example of being puffed up by knowledge, rather than using knowledge to build up from a place of love.
  • Is full of selfish ambition. This one goes hand-in-hand with the first bullet point. Worldly wisdom is full of itself. It is selfish and it wants to make itself known. Even the shyest among us have something in the dark, fleshly corners of ourselves that wants the limelight. It wants to be elevated above the rest and be known, just for the sake of being known. The danger of this is that our world does value wisdom, and so sometimes that thing within us gets its way.
  • Is boastful. A possible explanation for this is that worldly wisdom is insecure, and so it has to praise itself for fear that no one else will.
  • Is false to the truth. Worldly wisdom cares little about actual truth–maybe it sounds good, but if you dig deeper and really evaluate it, there is little truth to it. Worldly wisdom only cares about being recognized and exalted.
  • Produces disorder and wickedness. This is perhaps the easiest way to separate the two types of wisdom: the fruit. Just look at the after-effects of whatever wisdom you are trying to evaluate. What does it produce? If it produces arguments, anger, pride, divisions, anything other than peace, it is likely that at least a bit of worldly truth has crept in.

Godly Wisdom

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.  -James 3:13

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.  -James 3:17-18

Pretty straightforward, but I’ll break this chunk down too. Godly wisdom…

  • Is proven by a good life. Other translations of this are “good behavior” and “good deeds.” Does the wisdom under inspection go hand-in-hand with respectable behavior? Does it come from a person who meets the needs of the people around them, who lives a life reflective of Jesus’?
  • Is pure. It has an air of reverence and modesty; it realizes that any wisdom we can attain is from God, and so it treats it as though it is sacred–not a weapon in a fight. It represents the Holy One it was given by.
  • Is peaceable and gentle, willing to yield (other translations say “open to reason”). It is not belligerent; it is not going to die on every mountain just to win every argument. It is willing to admit when it is wrong, and even when it is right, it is gentle about it. It isn’t rude or ready to go to war. It is there to build up the body of Christ, not tear it down for the sake of being right.
  • Is full of mercy. Godly wisdom is kind and joined with the sincere desire to help those listening. Another way to look at this is, what are the motives of this person (a question that we should pretty much only be asking ourselves. Otherwise we’re looking at a plank-in-the-proverbial-eye situation)?
  • Is full of good fruits. I touched on this when I talked about worldly wisdom, but it really is important: what fruit is the wisdom producing? If it produces peace, it is from God; if it produces anything else, it is from the world. Be wary of anything that causes divisions or unrest within the church.
  • Is without a trace of partiality. Another translation for “without partiality” is “without dubiousness, ambiguity, or uncertainty.” Wisdom is straightforward, reliable, and undoubting.
  • Is without hypocrisy. This can also be translated as “unfeigned,” “undisguised,” “sincere.” This is wisdom that we really believe in, and we ourselves really plan to live out. It practices what it preaches, in a sense. It isn’t something we just made up to look good–it came straight from the Source, and something about it convicted us.

No wisdom we could possibly dream up ourselves could meet a standard like this–it absolutely has to come from God.

Basically, what I’ve learned about wisdom is that no amount of trying to become wise will help me attain real wisdom. God is the One who gives it.

All wisdom comes from the Lord,
    and so do common sense
    and understanding.
God gives helpful advice
    to everyone who obeys him
    and protects all of those
    who live as they should. 

-Proverbs 2:6-7 (CEV)

I’ll leave you with one last snippet of truth from James:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.  -1:5

Don’t be afraid to ask for wisdom. God gives it generously. He wants His people to know what they’re talking about, and He wants to edify His body.

Let’s be teachable today.

Until next time,

Jenna

P.S. This post is on the W2W linkup. Submit yours!

What I Learned About Gratitude This Year

“We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is good, because it is good, if bad, because it works in us patience, humility and the contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country.”

–C.S. Lewis

There is one more month of school left.

Looking back, I can safely say that God has taught me more about gratitude this school year than at any other point in my life. It has been the overarching theme, possibly even my “season,” to translate it into Christian-ese, and it has been absolutely beautiful. I wouldn’t have it any other way, because I now realize that a life without gratitude is a colorless one indeed.

So, of course, the first and foremost thing I learned about gratitude is: Be Grateful. Let’s just lay that foundation right now. There are verses all over the Bible about being grateful to God for His gifts, provision, and mercy, and it is absolutely critical in the Christian life. I want to get a little more specific than that, though.

1. Be Grateful for the Bible.

I worked as a camp counselor this past summer at Frontier Camp. The experience as a whole was, in a couple of words, mind blowing, but there is one thing in particular I took away from the summer that I’ll ever forget. It’s a quote by the staff pastor, Stu*. He said it during one of his sermons; I don’t know if it was planned. I don’t even know if he remembers saying it, but I’ll never forget it. It’s this:

“Are we already over the fact that we even have a Bible?”

I had been taking the Bible for granted to the extreme. It had just always been there with me, waiting for me to muster up the desire to engage in the burden of reading it. “It’s boring,” my excuses shouted. “It’s time-consuming and hard to understand at times and I just don’t really feel like it.”

But, you guys, God didn’t have to tell us anything about Himself! And yet here is a clean little package of 66 books–66 love letters–that He wrote and dedicated to us. There is an entire storyline in there of how He saved the world, a storyline dotted with romance and violence and life lessons. That collection of books, which most of us have sitting on a shelf in our homes, is God’s autobiography to mankind.

God’s.

It is our ticket to understanding the Creator of ourselves–or understanding Him as well as we can with our finite minds, at least. Yet reading it is somehow a burden?

What?

Beyond that, not everyone even has access to this autobiography. We happen to have the privilege of having it translated clearly in our language, and if you live in most English-speaking countries you are also allowed to read it. Not everyone can say that. So many cannot open up a book and learn about their Savior, about the God who loved them to the point of death.

We can.

When was the last time your heart was moved by that?

*Stu, if you’re reading this, thank you. For this, and for all you did/do for us.

2. Be Grateful for Life.

This is another very basic one, but one that I forget about. God just reminded me of this one this morning, actually, so I’m glad to be able to share it with you!

How often are we grateful just to be alive, to have been created?

You wouldn’t be here, reading this post, if God hadn’t first imagined you–your hair color, what your laugh would sound like, what your favorite food would be–and then created you because He wanted to know someone like that.

Now that we have been created, we get to go out and experience all that this life has in store for us. We don’t need to wake up each morning dreading what the day holds–I don’t care if it’s Friday or Monday. Life is a gift.

He didn’t have to create you! He didn’t have to create me! Yet He did, and now that we’re here, He loves us, and He’ll never stop loving us. That’s exciting news!

Have you ever imagined a picture in your mind, and then tried to paint it and then realized you just couldn’t create it in real life? Maybe the actual product was kind of disappointing compared to what you created in your mind?

Yeah, we aren’t like that for God. When He looks at those who love Him, He sees perfection.

3. Be Grateful for Your Church.

About once a month, I get the urge to shop around for another church. Sometimes it’s a relational issue, but usually I’m just genuinely curious (There are over 200 churches within 20 minutes of my house). Each time I really believe that this is it–I’m going to find another church. A perfect one; one where everyone is perfect loves God perfectly and has the same gifts as me and knows how to be exactly what I need without me having to tell them.

Each time, I’m pretty sure God laughs at me.*

I think most of us can agree that The Church, the bride of Christ, is a great thing. A smaller percentage of us would agree that our church, lowercase c, is a great thing.

Since churches are made up of imperfect people, none is ever going to be perfect. Your church, however, is full of prime opportunities to contribute to God’s Kingdom. You get to live out our calling to serve, make disciples, and fellowship, all in one place. If you are being fed and you are growing in your faith with your church, that is a gift–one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. God has planted you there for a reason, and the community that comes with it is His gift to you. At times it is also His way of teaching us patience and humility!

*Probably good-naturedly, since His love is perfect and all. But there’s very likely some laughter all the same.

4. Be Grateful for God’s Provision.

What are some specific ways that God has provided for you and your family? What prayers has He answered? We should try to notice things like this and thank Him for it. It does wonders for our relationship with Him.

At the beginning of the year I spent a lot of time praying for my family. I knew of specific things they needed from God, and I can see now that He provided all of them over the course of the last 9 months or so. He did some things in their lives that I did not see coming–then again, He is a lot more creative than me. This is the God who makes rivers in the desert we’re talking about, the God who gives life to the dead and calls into existence things that did not exist (Romans 4:17). I am so grateful that He allowed me to see that verse come alive.

As far as my own life, He provided in so many small ways:

When I asked Him for a youth group I could work with and grow my ministry skills, He provided one.

When camp got difficult and I no longer had it within me to continue, He took over and gave me the energy and words I needed.

When I went through a breakup that I had a really difficult time with, He gave me joy and reminded me of my purpose.

When I was unsure about my career and major choices, He reassured me and gave me fresh vision.

At every point I felt low, He comforted me (2 Corinthians 1:3). When my heart was broken, He healed me (Psalm 147:3).

And on and on and on.

He didn’t have to do any of that.

Sometimes it’s hard to know when He is providing in the moment, since life can be hard and situations are rarely perfect. Looking back, though, it’s so clear that He is constantly providing for me and sending me gifts. I would venture that you could say the same if you spent some time honestly thinking about it.

5. Be Grateful For the People in Your Life.

Seriously, because they may not be here tomorrow. Don’t take them for granted. Outwardly show them that you appreciate them.

I don’t know what I would do without the people God has given me. They are my community, my friends, the people who make me laugh, the ones who keep me from going insane. The more I think about it, the harder it hits me that He didn’t have to put them in my life. “What if me and ______ had never crossed paths?” is a question that strikes me from time to time, and each time it causes gratitude to well up in me because they are a gift. Sometimes when people do frustrating things we can forget that, but it’s true.

Also, remember how I said that life is a gift? The fact that God created your friends and family and gave them life, gave them today, is not only a gift to them–it is a gift to you too.

God has put every single person you know in your path for a reason. Often, He uses people as His medium of showing us His love. He is showing His love to you through them in some way–and, on the flip side, He is showing His love to them through you.

Let that sink in: If you keep an eye out for it, God will undoubtedly reveal His love for you in the way people interact with you. Beyond that, you get to show the love of the Father to everyone you come across today! Imagine the possibilities!

Will you take advantage of that?

6. Be Grateful For the Patch of Grass God Has Brought You To.

Contentment is a lifestyle, not the product of a destination.

God has given us all a patch of grass to steward. What is it for you? What has God brought you to and asked you to steward? Is it a relationship status, a career, a stage of life?

For me, it was a stage of life. Don’t get me wrong, I love college. I love that it is opening doors for me, I love the people I’ve met, and I love the opportunity to learn more about this world. I am also grateful for the privilege of going at all, a privilege denied to most of the world.

But I’m really excited for the next part, and that actually led to a lot of discouragement for awhile.

This semester was an especially heavy time with regard to discouragement. School just seemed to pale so much in comparison to the career that God is leading me to, the post-college life that He has for me. I still strongly believe that He is taking me to bigger and better things, but He reminded me of the beauty of where I am now.

A couple of days ago He put this question into my mind: What if the grass in your future isn’t any greener than the grass I have you in now?

That question wasn’t meant to make me feel hopeless. Rather, it was meant to help me reevaluate my feelings of discontentment. Every stage of life–and on that note, every relationship status, job, and season–comes with its pros and cons. If we can’t be content where we are now, it’s likely we won’t ever be content.

It’s easy to lose sight of the greenness of where we currently are because we’re comparing it to someone else’s “patch of grass,” or our own a few years down the road. Comparison is the enemy of contentment. I was comparing my patch of grass to the one God has promised to lead me to in the future: a career in youth ministry. In a world of 8ams and part-time jobs and homework assignments and everything else that comes with toiling through my 16th year of school, that future career became something like an idol.

It’s getting easier and easier to see college as the necessary first rung on the ladder of this career, not just a speed bump in the way. I’m still working on this one, if you couldn’t tell, and God is faithful to fill me with gratitude when I need Him to.

If singleness is your “patch of grass” and you’re having a hard time being content with it, click here!

Thanksgiving shines so much light into an otherwise gray and dusty world.

It reminds us that God gives amazing gifts. It brings us joy and contentment.

If you’re interested in making gratitude more of a habit, I included a section on gratitude journaling in this post.

God is so faithful. Sometimes we forget that, but His mercy exceeds our forgetfulness.

Until next time,

Jenna

P.S. This post was featured on A Work of Grace! Click below to see my featured post and Aimee’s beautiful blog!

P.P.S. Are you a blogger? Click below to add YOUR post to the Grace And Truth blogger linkup!

Grace&Truth-300x300

How To Receive the Kingdom Like a Child

Reading: Mark 10:13-16

I don't know when the last time was that you worked with children, but they are strange, my dude. If you have your own, you probably know this better than I do. They are creatures of infinite energy, intense motivation, and fantastical ideas, and they can build an entire world for themselves out of a couple of action figures and a table. Oh, and their faith is incredible.

Sometimes we can overlook the spirituality of children. I've mentioned it before, but I have the privilege of volunteering with elementary schoolers at my church every other Sunday morning. When I first started volunteering, I went into it with low expectations. I assumed that the children I would be working with would be bratty and chaotic; I assumed that they were empty vessels for teaching. None of that was true (although they have their bratty and/or chaotic moments!). In fact, I was immediately amazed at the kinds of things that would come out of their mouths.

To give you an example, the very first time I spoke to one of the elementary school girls, she informed me that she was going to be a missionary, and she had a specific country on her heart--one I rarely hear of. She didn't bother with any of the "Well, if it works out, maybe I could be a missionary..." stuff we get caught up in as adults. She knew where she was going, and she knew why. She wanted the people in that country to know about Jesus.

I could tell you so much about these kids, but one thing stands out to me--

Those kids are not afraid to receive a gift.

Every now and then we'll play a game where the winning team members all get a prize from the prize box. The prizes are nothing extraordinary; they were likely bought at the dollar store. It never fails, though--every time they are excited to pick something from the prize box.

What if we are called to react the same way as we receive this infinitely more incredible gift God has offered us: His Kingdom?

How many of us even think about that gift on a regular basis?

I've prayerfully put together some attributes of a person receiving the Kingdom like a child.

Humility

Proverbs 22:4: The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life.

James 4:10: Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

Have you ever seen a child open a gift? It doesn't matter what's inside--the way they tear open the packaging is nothing short of pure elation. When children receive a gift, they don't stop to think about whether or not they are worthy, or push it away like they don't need it to keep their pride. They have zero qualms about simply receiving it, and with enthusiasm. They recognize that what they will in a few seconds claim as their own has the potential to enrich their lives and make them happy.

It takes that kind of humility to receive a gift like the one God offers us. We have NOTHING to give to Him that doesn't already belong to Him, yet we are expected to receive something monumental from Him. We need to receive it without pretending that we're fine on our own or we don't need it. We need to rip the paper off the box, so to speak, without stopping to think about how we look as we do so.

Trust/Faith

Jeremiah 17:7-8:

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”

I remember every single time a child has prayed over me, because every single time the Holy Spirit has absolutely flooded my heart and mind. It was almost tangible. I rarely experience God's love and power like that during a prayer, and I have to believe that it has something to do with faith. Children have this unshakable belief that what God has said is true, that what they say to Him is going to move mountains.

They have the kind of faith that tosses fear right out the window.

What if we had the kind of trust in God that children have for their parents? They aren't afraid of whether or not their parents are going to provide them a home, or their next meal, or support, because they have not been disappointed in these areas.

Think about it: Has God ever actually failed you? We can trust in Him because He is too mighty to fail. Everything always goes exactly according to His plan, and we can live our lives and embrace the Kingdom full of faith because He will never leave us or disappoint us. He works all things for our good (Romans 8:28).

Honesty

Children are willing to be honest about where they are at. They aren't afraid to ask for help or show their frustration. They aren't afraid to seem imperfect.

These are all critical areas in which we can learn from children.

In Luke 17:21 Jesus reveals that the Kingdom of God is among us, or in the midst of us. It is present in the interconnectedness of our relationships with other believers and our relationships with God. And what relationship was not built on the foundation of honesty?

We can't be afraid to be real with one another. I've seen so many people be asked how they are and respond, "I'm good!" when I knew they were decidedly not. It happens in churches, homes, and workplaces across the nation. In fact, I would argue that it has become the norm. I don't think Jesus intended for the Kingdom to be that way. If we can't be honest about what we're going through, how can we be the Church for one another? How can we expect to be able to give or receive support?

Total Acceptance

Proverbs 30:5: Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.

When I worked at camp over the summer, I noticed that every now and then campers would discuss the election with each other. I eavesdropped on a couple of their conversations and at first thought they were just really politically-educated twelve year olds...and then I realized that these were things they had heard their parents say.

I'm not saying twelve year olds can't have political opinions and be educated on candidates, but they do tend to completely accept their parents' beliefs as truth. And it makes sense--in the eyes of a little kid, their parents know e v e r y t h i n g. 

If a kid's parents tell him something, he accepts it. End of story. He has no reason for disbelief.

Are we like that with God? Are we willing to accept everything He says, especially in His word, as complete and solid truth?

Enthusiasm

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

2 Corinthians 3:12-13: Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end."

Children are the most energetic, excitable, enthusiastic people on the planet, and that's because they are aware of all of the amazing possibilities! They have an optimistic outlook on life--on whatever they are doing, really--that says, "Something new will happen today."

I was about thirteen when I realized Christmas presents weren't very exciting to me anymore. Year after year as I grew up, I opened my presents with the expectation that whatever was inside would be life-changing. It would rock my little world. Then, I hit that point around thirteen and I started opening my gifts with the outlook of, "I might like it. I might not." And it wasn't as fun.

I imagine that as Paul was writing 2 Corinthians 3 and 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, His attitude was more similar to that of young me. Since we have such a hope, we go to the world boldly--enthusiastically. We rejoice constantly. We pray constantly. We thank God in all circumstances. No one who is bored with the Kingdom of God rejoices all the time. 

I think God wants us to receive His Kingdom with the attitude of a little kid on Christmas. Here we are, living in the midst of sin and darkness, and He offers this gift--this Christmas present, if you will--that promises a way out. Are we accepting it with enthusiasm, as though we believe it's an incredible gift, or are we "opening" it tentatively, as though we might not like whatever is inside?

This might seem like a small thing, but it has the power to change the way we live.

For so long, I believed that the Kingdom of God was nothing to be excited about. It was full of people who acted one way on Sunday mornings and another way...all the other times. For me, it contained no breakthrough, no wonders, no Spirit. And then God--the real God, not the system of truths and beliefs I had come to accept--hit me like a Mack truck.

When you see God move, it's impossible not to be excited about it. It's impossible not to want to tell other people about it.

Children are an inspiration, my friends.

We have a lot to learn from them. Are we willing?

Until next time,

Jenna

8 Prompts to Inspire Your Spiritual Journaling

A few years ago I thought journaling was for people who liked keeping diaries.

Since I was a nerdy writer kid, my love for writing took that form for awhile while I was little. I would write about my day, how my brother and his friends were so annoying, the drama happening at school (and I might have been 10, but that drama felt like something straight out of Gossip Girl at the time). Then I moved on to bigger (and better?) things like novels. And glorified journaling. Whoops, I meant blogging.

Journaling is so much more than a diary, as I’m sure most of you know. It can be an insanely useful tool while you’re building your relationship with God. I’ve had some of my most intense moments with Him while writing–something about putting pen to paper helps lock in ideas so much better. Writing out what you believe, what you’re learning, what you know about God…it’s powerful.

So, that’s great. Journaling is powerful. What are we supposed to write about?

I’m glad you asked.*

I’ve compiled a list of some of the prompts and/or topics that have been the most useful to me during my walk with Jesus.

*I know, I know, I hate when other writers ask questions for me like that. But, you know, writer’s block is a real thing. I stared at this page for a solid five minutes before I wrote the first sentence.

1) What are your goals for the semester/week/next 5 years?

If you’ve never sat down and asked God about where He wants to take your life, I would highly recommend it. He knows so much better than any guidance counselor, friend, or coworker. When you get the answer it is always so perfect and incredible, just like Him.

There are 2 elements of goal-setting that shouldn’t be ignored: short term and long term.

I’ve found that the single fastest and most effective way to get to where I want to be is to ask God where He wants me to be, and then how He wants me to get there.

The “where do You want me to be” is a little more long-term. I spent a long time sitting with Him last year after asking that question, and it led me to the idea of youth ministry that later solidified into an actual plan involving a major change and a lot of faith. This question doesn’t need to be career-related by any means. If you’re asking the question because you don’t know what career you want, I think God will be faithful to answer it. If you already know what career you want and you are asking where He wants you to be with regard to relationships, lifestyle, healthy living, your relationship with Him, finances, or something else, I think He’ll be faithful to give you your answer there, too.

“How do you want me to get there?” is more short-term. This will probably look like weekly or semesterly goals. They will definitely be practical. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that just because the answer is practical, it’s not spiritual. God cares about all parts of your life.

Pro Tip: Make sure any goals you set are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Based.

This is as simple as it sounds: Just ask God what He wants to do in your life, then wait on Him. He will send you the answer if you’re not too focused on what is seen, rather than what is unseen.

2) Who can you pray for?

I mentioned in my last post that I’m not hugely into prayer journaling. I do prefer to pray out loud in private, but if I’m in public and don’t want to make a scene, prayer journaling is a viable alternative. What’s nice about it is that you can also go back later and see what you prayed for, and actually notice when your prayers get answered.

My top 5 prayer points are friends, family, leaders, nations, and myself. Not necessarily in that order. I try to pick one each day and just go to town.

3) SOAP Study

Are you going through a Bible passage and want to really lock what you’re learning into your memory? This one is for you.

Honestly, I hated this method when I first heard of it. It seemed way too structured, like homework. Then God gave me some vision for each element and why it’s important (and He reminded me that I don’t actually have to write out the letters every time, which seems obvious but it wasn’t to me and it helped), and now I use this method pretty much every time I study a passage.

S stands for “Scripture.” Write down the Scripture you’re taking notes on. If I’m writing about a longer passage I’ll usually write down a couple of verses that really stood out to me and make a note somewhere of what all I read. Writing things down helps us remember them later. It’s science. Scripture is one of our greatest weapons against the Enemy’s attacks, and writing it out is a good way to memorize it.

O stands for “Observations.” Write down the facts about the passage: what message the author is conveying, who they are writing to, important details–whatever seems significant to you. Every word is written for a reason.

A stands for “Application.” God gave us His Word so we can apply it to our lives. Some passages are easier to apply than others, but we can learn something from everything we read in the Bible. Write down any takeaways, anything you find that you know God wants to use to impact your life.

P stands for “Prayer.” Spend some time thanking God, on paper or out loud, for what you’ve just read. He wants to hear from you.

4) What Are You Grateful For?

The Bible tells us all over the place to “give thanks to the Lord.” Why is that?

Because He is good, his mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures.

  • “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving,
    And into His courts with praise.
    Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.
    For the Lord is good;
    His mercy is everlasting,
    And His truth endures to all generations.” -Psalm 100:4-5

Because it is God’s will concerning you.

  • “In every thing give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” -1 Thessalonians 5:18

Because it will ease your anxiety and lead you to God’s peace.

  • “Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.” -Philippians 4:6-7

Because of His unspeakable gift.

  • “Thanks therefore be unto God for his unspeakable gift.” -2 Corinthians 9:15

And many, many more.

What has God done in your life lately? Have you thanked Him for it yet?

Waking up in the morning and writing out everything God has blessed you with will train your mind to notice good things in your life as they happen. This will make you more content, optimistic, and healthy. If you don’t believe me, this is actually backed by a lot of scientific studies. Here’s a link to read more if you’re interested in health or psychology, or if you just don’t believe me. It’s okay, no hard feelings.

Giving thanks to God is as simple as it sounds: just take out your journal and start listing everything He has blessed you with. If you’ve never done this before or you’re feeling down, it might take a few minutes to really get rolling, but you’ll feel so uplifted afterwards. Guaranteed, or your money back.

5) What is Something God Has Done in Your Life Recently?

TESTIMONIES! They don’t just have to be your life story. They can also be the short-term, recent ways you’ve been seeing God move. Did That Person finally show an interest in going to church with you? Did one of your coworkers ask you about Jesus, opening up an opportunity for a deep spiritual discussion? Did your dog’s leg heal? Seriously, it can be anything.

Write testimonies down as you see them.

Someday you’re going to be feeling low, and you’ll open up your journal and be reminded of what God has done in your life, and it will be monumentally encouraging. Writing them down also helps you remember them so you can encourage other believers.

6) What are your dreams for the future?

This is similar to number 1, but it isn’t quite the same.

What is a dream or a hope of yours that excites you? Write it down. Write down what you feel God is saying about it. Write down why you want it so bad and what it will take to get there. “Dreaming with Jesus” can be one of the most uplifting and motivating things you will ever do. I would encourage you not to go into this with any expectations. Just write down what excites you about the future and its possibilities.

Also, ask God what His dreams are. Keep in mind, many of God’s dreams for the future don’t have anything to do with you–at least, not directly. They are still wonderful and inspiring, and it can be a good reminder that God isn’t done with this world. You can spend time praying over them. If He reveals to you that He wants to grow His church in Iraq, pray for the church in Iraq!

7) What is Something You Can’t Stop Thinking About?

Is there something you’re consistently worried and anxious about, or have strong negative feelings about, or have distractingly positive feelings about, even? Sometimes it helps to just get it out of your head and down on paper. It could be that God is waiting for you to bring it to Him, and writing it down and then writing a prayer for it can be the first step to mental peace. Doing this helps clear my head if I want to focus on worship or a Bible passage but I have that thing nagging at me.

Of course, sometimes God gives us an idea that we can’t let go of because it’s an idea He wants us to do something with–it’s a good thing. In these cases it’s still a good idea to bring it to Him and ask what exactly He wants us to do with it.

Writ it down. Give it to God. Next.

8) What is Something That Inspires You?

Usually I write about these things as I encounter them, for future reference so I don’t forget.

I don’t know what this will be for you, but for me it’s usually a song or a book. Occasionally it’s a quote. I’ll write it down so I can go back to it later and be inspired all over again.

What Do You Enjoy Journaling About?

I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment and send me an email telling me your thoughts, how you journal, and what you like to journal about.

Hopefully this list inspired you to get with God and get writing!

Until next time,

Jenna

Feeling Spiritually Timid?

Follow my blog with Bloglovin!

Reading: Acts 4:23-31

You’re not alone.

My freshman year of college I went on a Spring break mission trip with my church. We were there to evangelize to the students at the University of Central Florida. I only have one clear memory of attempting evangelism, and it was not a shining moment.

I remember I walked into the on-campus cafeteria’s sitting area with my tray of food (that I was too nervous to be eating, really) and looked around for someone sitting alone. The group of people I was with had pretty much flooded that cafeteria, though, so there really wasn’t anyone. I set my sights on two people sitting at neighboring tables and talking to each other, a girl and a guy. “Here we go,” I thought, and took a deep breath and walked over.

I started asking them the usual questions: “Are you a student here?” “What do you like to do ?” “What organizations are you in?” By asking that last question, I discovered that they knew each other through leading Young Life.

“Awesome!” I thought to myself. “They’re good. They already know Jesus.”

So, I finished my food pretty quickly without conversing with them too much more, and then got up and left.

I find that whole situation pretty laughable now.

Maybe I was right. Maybe they were “good”–maybe they did already know Jesus. I hope they did. At the same time, I definitely missed out on the opportunity to have a spiritual conversation with them. I missed the opportunity to encourage them (From what I’ve heard, Young Life can be kind of a marathon sprint, if you know what I’m saying) and maybe pray for them. I missed all kinds of opportunities.

All because I was too timid to ask one more question.

The founders of the early church weren’t perfect in this area, either, although from their stories it can seem like they were. These people were standing in courts boldly speaking about Jesus even though it meant certain death. They were preaching in the streets, performing miracles, and speaking in tongues. They were spiritual superstars, it seems.

But, if this boldness came naturally, why did they feel the need to pray and ask for it?

That question stopped me this morning. I guess I’ve believed lately that some people just have a better knack for this kind of thing, but what if that very belief is what has stopped me from asking God for a greater measure?

The reading for today is one that consistently amazes me every time I read it.

The believers had just been told by the chief priests and elders (people of very high authority), in no uncertain terms, that they were to stop teaching about Jesus.

What is their response? They gather together and pray for God to take note of their threats, for boldness, for healing, and for signs and wonders performed through the name of Jesus.

Notice the way God answers.

He literally shakes the place where they are gathered and pours out the Holy Spirit. Through that outpour of His Spirit, the believers begin to speak the word of God with boldness. He responded to their prayers and gave them what they asked. How often do we ask God for things in faith that He will actually give them to us?

That word, “boldness,” comes from the Greek word παρρησία (parrésia). Look at its meaning:

I. Freedom in speaking, unreservedness in speech

II. Free and fearless confidence, cheerful courage, boldness, assurance

III. The deportment by which one becomes conspicuous or secures publicity

“Free.” That word is in two of the three meanings of the word. 2 Corinthians 3:17 says, “Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” If the Holy Spirit is present, we experience freedom. It is as simple as that. 2+2=4.

That third meaning, I think, is what makes speaking this way intimidating. We need to be prepared to become conspicuous because of the message we are speaking, but it’s all too easy to be rendered ineffective by fear.

So how do we become more bold?

First, seek God and His presence.

Look for His goodness in your own life; ask your community for testimonies of how God is working in their lives. In Acts 4:20 Peter and John tell the chief priests and elders, “We cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Seeing God move gives us confidence in the message we proclaim.

How can we speak of a God we have no history with? If you don’t feel you’ve witnessed His power in ways that motivate you to speak about Him, tell Him! Ask Him to move in your life in powerful ways.

Second, pray for boldness!

That is what the believers do in verse 29, and God responds in a powerful way. He is always faithful to answer us. The God who shook the place where the apostles were gathered together and filled them with His Spirit is the same God of the 21st century. He can do the exact same thing when you pray, and more.

Third, ask for faith.

There’s no reason for us to speak boldly if we don’t believe anything is going to happen because of it. The kind of faith I’m talking about here is the faith that God will move mountains because we had the boldness to obey Him and open our mouths.

God values faithful prayers. I expand on this a lot more in my post on why we should be more excited about prayer. 

In Luke 17:5 Jesus’ disciples ask Him to increase their faith. We can do the same, with incredible results. According to 1 Corinthians 12:9, faith is a spiritual gift. We receive spiritual gifts through the Holy Spirit, and God responds when we ask for a greater measure of them. So let’s do that with the gift of faith! Having greater faith will open your eyes to everything God could accomplish through even one burst of confidence in speaking about Jesus on your part, and it will make you excited to try it out! It has for me.

God sees the threats (Acts 4:29). He knows what you are up against.

He also knows that He is bigger.

He has His hand stretched out to heal; He is ready to perform signs and wonders through His name. He is ready, and He wants to partner with you. In His eyes, you are worthy of inheriting the “family business,” and He will give you everything you need to be effective.

So, the question is not “Can I?”

God gives the ability and the boldness.

The question becomes “Will I?”

I would invite you to pray and ask God what that means for your own life. Whatever–and whoever–He has called you to, He is by your side, and that is no light thing. You can rest knowing that the most powerful Being in existence is on your side, and nothing can touch you without going through Him first.

God is using the Gospel to save the world, and you and I are carriers of it.

What will we do with it?

Until next time,

Jenna