Tuesday, January 13, 2015

And the Word of the Year is...

"Now FAITH is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."
Hebrews 11:1 (KJV)

The Head Pastor of my church, Dr. Jim Congdon, recently challenged us to choose a new, word-of-the-year, for ourselves as he did last year upon the New Year's arrival.  He encouraged us to do this because having one word to carry with us daily throughout the year is easier than having so many New Year's resolutions or personal goals to mentally manage.  Goals or resolutions are good--they are an important part in taking steps toward improvement.  If we don't have a plan or any benchmarks toward it, we won't accomplish much.  But if we can also choose a word that summarily covers our biggest needs or desires for personal change, we can better focus and improve our lives in a more simplistic and realistic way.  We can also adjust our goals or resolutions around that word giving them deeper purpose and meaning.   I also think it is a pretty cool way of remembering years past--whenever we think back to the good and bad that we faced in any particular year, we can now place a word alongside it and recall what God taught us and what He did through those trials and triumphs.

My word last year was, patience.  I had no problem deciding upon that word quite quickly and even blogged about it (to read search, "Growing the Fruit of Patience").  At that point in my life, I knew I needed help in that department the most!  But what good is having a, word-of-the-year, if we disregard it after having worked on it for an entire year?  So, patience, will continue to be a special word for me...and one I still need daily.

This New Year my, "word o' the year," did not come so readily.  There are several words of which I could use more in my life at this time:  trust, believe, fearless, freedom and hope were all strong contenders.  After analyzing them and praying about it, the answer came clearly:  (insert drum-roll) FAITH.  I think, faith, is a nice merger of all of those words combined, and God has revealed to me that I need some growth in this area--big time!

Recently I have experienced some pretty major changes in my life.  My husband, Matt, received a big job promotion in October as C.E.O. of, The Kansas Livestock Association.   About that same time, I also left the band in which I had been singing for nearly the past two years.  There have been other changes this past year at my church and in my personal life that have also required some adjusting and forward-thinking.  When change occurs, you have a choice:  You either meet the change head-on forging ahead with positive hope and trust, or you ponder and fret over all the possible problems that could now come your way (or like me, you entertain the paradox of both)!  I have found myself thinking and praying about things like, "How hard will it be for us to adjust to the new demands on Matt with his new position (???)...he was already super-busy.  Will our marriage be okay?  Will the added stress and responsibility age Matt faster?  Will it take years off his life?  What is all this going to look like?  Will I be able to travel with Matt as much as he desires and still keep my band afloat?  Will I be alone even more now that he will be even busier?  Will we be able to stay as close with our daughter and family now?  How will we juggle everything?  Will I even be able to find appropriate, worthwhile gigs for my new band?  What if I don't?  What will I do then?  Am I even a good enough singer and musician to be trying to do this?  Am I too old?  I mean, seriously...what if I fail?  I've waited two decades to do this music-thing, Lord.  This is all I want to do with my life and as You know, it's a hard road."  These thoughts have crept-up on me the past few months and found their way into my prayer life, as they should.

If you have read my blog much at all, you know I am not a big change girl.  Change can be so good and such a blessing.  But initially it often brings personal upheaval and/or some loss.  We may lose a few things that were actually better or that we liked...or loved.  The comfortable and familiar are gone.  Change requires new thought and action.  It demands a positive outlook and an appreciation of the new perks of the change.  It calls for our belief that the new change will be a good one.  It challenges us in new ways and forces us to learn new things.  We have to take unfamiliar risks and plunge into uncertain realms.  It requires us to let go of old ideas and past ways of doing things...and let go of people sometimes, too.  It puts us in uncomfortable positions.  We are forced to put our trust in God in lieu of people or circumstance.

In a person of my personality type (you know--the control-freak type), and when I am operating on my own in my flesh and not with God's help in the Spirit, all of that upheaval typically causes some or all of these ripple effects:  sleeplessness, over-analytical thought, fear, uncertainty, anxiety, doubt, distraction, sadness, over-eating, under-eating, over-exercising, under-exercising, worry, obsessive-behaviors and exhaustion.  I saw a quote the other day by a Christian author, blogger, speaker and fellow Twitter follower of mine, Kelly Balarie:  "Control is pride hidden under a cloak of fear."  Ouch.  And where does fear comes from?  A lack of faith. 

When we lack faith, we often try to over-control our lives.  It's our prideful way of, "pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps and moving on."  We try to fix it ourselves and put our faith in ourselves to do so.  We often read and hear things such as, "Take control of your own life--if YOU don't, who will?!"  We know from God's Word that if we know Him and live by His Spirit, we should be able to exhibit self-control in our lives (Galatians 5:22-23).  But we also read and hear negative commentary about controlling personality types and people who are so driven by control that they leave others in their wake (including God).  Clearly God doesn't want us to just sit back and do nothing with our lives under the misconstrued, aloof idea that since He has ultimate control, what's the point of even trying?!  But He also doesn't want us striving and straining in over-control.  I grew-up hearing the phrase, "God helps those who help themselves," and even thought for a while in my young years that it was Biblical.  Well, it isn't.  Helping yourself can be good and bad.  There is a fine balance needed in "control," and faith properly placed is the key.  God desires for us to utilize control in our lives humbly and healthily.  God gave us a brain, mouth, hands, and feet so we can use them.  He wants us to use them!  But He wants us to use them meekly, giving ultimate control to Him.  We must view our lives as vessels or extensions of His strength, His will, and His glory.  He wants our confidence to be in Him, not in our own might and efforts and certainly not in man's.

On that topic, God also does not want us to allow others to control us in ways that are wasteful, abusive, misguided, or harmful to us.  We must be leery of other control-freaks who not only struggle with over-controlling their own lives, but who also want to control ours with their plan for us.  These are the people who attempt to manipulate you, over-power you, or prove themselves in prideful ways to you and others.  These are the people who lie to you, are uncompromising, have to win at all cost, break promises but expect you to keep yours, and use your weaknesses against you to guilt you into doing or believing what they want.  These are the people who have different rules for you than they do for themselves.  These are the people who expect you to trust them, but haven't behaved in ways that warrant that trust.  In situations where you are feeling controlled and it is causing your faith to waiver, the best action to take is to bring the control back to the best and ultimate source of it--The Lord.  We must place our control (and the other person's) under His authority alone by tapping into the motivational sources of His Word, prayer, wisdom, diligence, rest, strength, trust, obedience, hope, love, and FAITH.  We can effectively use control and self-control in our lives in faithful and fruitful ways when we understand Who is really in control and give Him that control.  We must seek to please and trust Him only.  When we do that, control is no longer a self-centered, prideful, mismanaged, disillusioned, stressful way of handling our lives out of fear, pride, and lack of faith.  It is also no longer a manipulative, defeating tool used effectively by others in our lives.  Instead control flows out of us as an act of worship, discipline, perseverance, and FAITH in working to joyfully live a life that trusts in God alone and seeks to please Him alone.

The following verses state clearly that we are called to do things on our own in faith and take a certain amount of control of our lives understanding from Whom our wisdom, help, and plans are truly and ultimately derived.  If we do so with much faith and humility, seeking His will and strength above our own (and above pleasing men), He promises to make our paths secure, even when it gets hard and scary:

Proverbs 3:5-6, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight."

Psalm 37:23, "The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when He delights in His way."

2 Corinthians 10:3-5, "For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.  The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."

2 Timothy 1:7, "For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control."

Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through Him Who strengthens me."

Proverbs 16:9, "The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps."

Colossians 3:23, "Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men."

Proverbs 29:25, "The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe."

Jeremiah 29:11, "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"

Isaiah 43: 1-3a, "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.  For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior."

Luke 12:27-28, "Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will He clothe you—you of little faith!"

Isaiah 43: 18-19, "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland."

Ephesians 6:16, "Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked."

Hebrews 11:6, "And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him."

1 Corinthians 16:13, "Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong." 

2 Corinthians 5:9, "So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please Him." 

Matthew 17:20, "He replied, 'Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.'"

Galatians 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ Who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me." 

Ephesians 2:8-9, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." 

James 1:1-8, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, Who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.  But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.  Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do." 

And my all-time favorite verse: 

Romans 8:28, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose." 

As I read over all those well-known, favorite Bible passages, I realize that the recent and somewhat unexpected changes in my life can do two things:  1.  They can cause me to fear, doubt, and waiver in my trust of God and try to over-control my life in prideful, faithless over-compensation; or, 2.  They can compel me to rely on my Lord more in faith, knowing He will work it all for my good because He loves me and wants the very best for me.  Essentially, I can choose fear or I can choose faith.  If I believe what I say I believe about God, His character, His love for me, and His plan for my life, then I should trust Him in full faith.  If I believe all of those above verses to be true, I should be able to prayerfully and faithfully rest in them.  Will everything about the new changes in my life be perfect?  No.  Will I have hard times this year along with the good times?  Yes.  Do I need to fear this?  No.  Our nature is to fear and fret.  But if God lives in us and we know Him as our Father, we no longer have to submit to our old nature.  Our new nature calls us to have faith.

Before, during, and even after the recent changes in my life occurred, I prayed extensively myself and with Matt about all of them.  I even did another one of my 40-day prayer fasts regarding one particular situation.  I prayed that if Matt's promotion would be harmful to him or to our marriage in any way, or if it was not God's ultimate desire for us, that he would not get the job.  I prayed that if Matt was not the perfect person for the job, that God would move him out of the way and put the best person in the position.  I even told my mother to pray this and told her that the members of Matt's Association deserve the best--and that it may not be Matt.  After my Matt got the job, my mother told me that she knew when I asked her to pray this that Matt would get the job and that God had already been preparing my heart for the role, too.  For me to honestly desire what is best for Matt's Association members over what I may have thought was best for us told her that I had developed a very deep love for the people for whom Matt works.  She is right about that.  But I also had faith that God knew what was best and anything less than His best just wouldn't be worth it. 

I also prayed endlessly that God would guide me and show me the right path to take in my band situation.  I prayed for wisdom, clarity, unfettered truth to be revealed, protection, and God's hand and perfect will over it all.  I asked for a clear mind and stable choices.  I prayed for Him to change my heart if I was headed in the wrong direction on any level, and petitioned Him to blatantly and obviously reveal the right decision.  I asked God to remove any selfishness, fear or vanity in me in the decision I would make, and guide me to the best plan--His plan for me.  I prayed that He would show me what would be best for my marriage and for me with regard to my time, my finances, my energy and my future in music.  I told Him to guide me to a choice that would actually be best for everyone involved in the band and their true desires going forward.  I told Him I want His blessing in my life and that I know that blessing only comes when we are walking the path He desires for us--perhaps He didn't even want me trying to do this anymore.  I asked Him yet again to remove the desire to do this music-thing if it is not His will or best plan for me.  Knowing that I have prayed all of those things also helps me to rest in the faith that God will take care of me in the changes that have come and that will come.

Faith, like trust, requires belief and submitting to it.  Faith is a noun and trust is the verb that flows out of that noun.  You can't really have one without the other--they are strongly related.  If I have faith in someone it follows that I should trust them.  If I trust someone, it means I have faith in them.  Some would argue that trust goes deeper than faith--that faith is mere belief while trust is the outpouring action based on that belief.  Though faith is a noun, there is a fair amount of action wrapped-up in it, too--if faith is believing in something, the action is in the believing.  But I think the best definition for, "faith," is found in Hebrews (God's definitions are always much better than man's):

 "Now FAITH is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1)

To me, this means living out our beliefs and hopes in our actions...letting our lives (the evidence) speak louder about our faith than our words do.  It means trusting in things we cannot always see and believing in the things for which we hope.  Essentially, believing our beliefs and doubting our doubts.

Why do we tend to believe our doubts and doubt our beliefs?  Personally, I know I struggle with this because bad things do happen to good people.  We live on a fallen planet and because of sin, God is not totally in control of everything that goes on down here (and He is certainly not in full control of every person--we are not His pawns).  People are flawed and sinful, so they make flawed and sinful decisions.  Life is not always fair and things do not always work-out easily or well.  Though God is in control of the ultimate or final plan of our lives and of eternity, He is not the ruler of this world presently (2 Corinthians 4:4).  God has given the enemy a certain amount of power within boundaries and in a time-frame set by God alone.  In John 16:33, we are basically guaranteed that we will have troubles here (as I've said before:  death, taxes, change, and now--troubles)!  Therefore, I find myself fearing that things won't always work-out well (or how I want or think they should).  I don't like pain and suffering.  I don't like sorrow.  Hardships are just that--they are hard and hard isn't fun.  It is difficult to see past the current pain, trial, or uncomfortable change in which we find ourselves and believe that, "...all things [will] work together for good" for us (Romans 8:28).  Though that is ultimately true, it isn't always presently true.  That verse doesn't say that all things are good--it says they work together for good.  It also doesn't say that all things work together for good within six days, six months, six years, or six decades.  We don't always see the good that comes from changes or hardships right away.  In some cases, we may not see the good until we meet Him face-to-face.  Sometimes we feel like we are believing on blind faith that it will work for our good.  But if we truly know the Lord and trust Him with our lives, there really is no blind faith.  Even a mustard seed faith is faith (Matthew 17:20).  We may believe and say that we want God to perfect us and prune all the bad stuff off of us and our lives, but we don't actually love that process.  It is a harsh one.  When we are walking through the trials and tests in life, it is easy to focus on the first half of John 16:33, "...In this world you will have trouble," and forget the second half,  "But take heart! I have overcome the world."  It takes faith.

We all want to be faithful people...hardworking, honest, disciplined and self-motivated.  We desire to see success and fruit come out of the labor of our lives.  We want to see our plans turn out well, reach our goals, and believe that the changes in our lives will bring good.  We want to believe that we will be victorious, not defeated or harmed by those changes.  We want to trust that 2015 will be a good year--a year in which we humbly learn what God wants us to learn, enjoy the blessings that God has given, and bring glory to God in all we do.  All of this takes faith.  Without it, fear and over-control begin to take root.  When we live a life fueled on faith, love reigns.  Hope endures.  Peace permeates us.  Joy pours out of us.  We self-motivate through our faith and through the power of the Holy Spirit.  When we do, "control" becomes a blessing of discipline and endurance adorned with gentleness and patience--not a curse cloaked in a flurry of fear.  Our actions become an outlet for our faith which reveals itself in our hard-work, creativity, abilities and talents in ways that bless God, others and even us.  The faithless, fearful fuel that causes us to strive in prideful over-control runs empty and drains us.  But with faith firmly founded in Christ, good things can endlessly and freely flow.  

A friend of mine encouraged me regarding facing so many unknowns with the new changes in my life with the phrase, "Good takes care of good."  In other words, when we do our best to live righteously, humbly, mercifully and lovingly, things have a way of working out. Good things come and God takes care of us when we seek Him and His ways.  His Word promises us that we reap what we sow (Gal. 6:7).  I want to sow faith.  In response to all my fears and doubts about how all the new changes in my life are going to look, I close with this:  God's got this, and I have faith.

(Shot by me, on 2.10.13, @ St. Pete Beach, FL.  Loved this little guy.  He stood and looked-out on that water for the longest time and then took a step of faith toward it.  The water was so big to him.  It was uncertain.  But eventually he waded, and he had the time of his life!  Faith...what is God asking YOU to step-out in faith toward this year?  Trust Him!  Have faith and have the time of your life!).