What Did I Just Say?

As a teacher, sometimes I feel like a broken record.  I’m sure other teachers can relate.  I repeat instructions many times.  I review concepts that students should have already mastered.  I remind kids to wash their hands, wipe their nose, and write their name on their paper. Sometimes my students are just not paying attention.  On many a day I will catch myself saying, “(Jimmy), what did I just say?” Sometimes I feel like my students will never get to where I want them to be.

And yet, isn’t that how we are with God?  He gives us countless examples of his faithfulness, his forgiveness, and his sovereign control in our lives.  Still, we stumble.  We forget.  We get distracted.  We don’t hear his voice.  We don’t see the evidence of his hand in the day-to-day of our lives.  Sometimes I can almost hear God saying to me, “Elyse, what did I just say?”

I feel overwhelmed.  God says,

  • “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9
  • “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” – Psalm 91:1
  • “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28

I feel like a failure.  God says,

  • “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” – 1 John 1:9
  • “The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him” – Daniel 9:9
  • “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:  The old has gone, the new is here!” – 2 Corinthians 5:17

I feel fearful.  God says,

  • So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10
  • “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous.Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9

I am so thankful that I serve the Lord who never gives up on me.  Who never tires of repeating himself.  No matter how many times he has to teach me something, he does it with grace and love.  He takes my hand, tells me to look him in the eyes, and gently speaks truth to my heart.

When I am tempted to lose patience with my students who need me to remind them of something, may I remember how patient God is with me.  He gently pulls me aside and says, “What did I just say?”

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Grace

5 letters that mean so much.

Google defines the word grace as “the free and unmerited favour of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.”

In other words, God saves us and blesses us even though we don’t pay for it or deserve it.

Wow.  I have been a believer and follower of Christ for 20 years, and I still can’t wrap my head around how amazing God’s grace is.  In my own life, I have done and thought so many things that should disqualify me from God’s presence. Thanks be to the Lord that He sent Jesus to cover my sin.  Every thought and every action.  Jesus took my sin on His shoulders and paid for it all.  He died in my place.

The Bible refers to Jesus’ sacrifice many times.

Ephesians 2:8-9 says that it is “by grace that you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Romans 5:8 says that “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.

Titus 2:11 says that “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.”

In short:

I don’t deserve it, but I am so thankful for it.  Praise be to God!

This has become even more evident to me in recent weeks.  In the past year I experienced a challenging season of doubt.  I was striving to trust God and His goodness, but it was proving to be very difficult for me.  I was seeking Him, praying, and trying to be obedient, but I felt dry.  I felt that my prayers were not being answered. Then all of a sudden, one day some circumstances changed, and I felt it.  An outpouring of His grace over me.  I was astounded.  I knew I didn’t deserve it, and I couldn’t fathom it.  I am not one to get emotional, but I cried tears of joy at the thought of it.  His grace.  His love.  Because really, God’s grace is His way of showing us His love.

So what does this mean for my own way of life?  The truth is that if God has shown me this love, then I should be showing this love to others.  1 John 4:19 says “We love because he first loved us.”  Paul Tripp expresses this principle well.  He says, “I think my job is to make the grace of an invisible God, visible, wherever I am.”

Let’s be honest.  This isn’t an easy way to live.  As humans, we like to keep score.  But, living a grace-full life is something that we should strive for.  Something that we should grow in.  2 Peter 3:18 says “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”

May I be someone who rejoices in God’s grace.  May I also be a person who, through God’s grace, can also extend grace to others.

Valentine’s Day

I’ve never been a fan of Valentine’s Day.  Don’t get me wrong, though.  I’m not bitter.  I’m not against love.  I’m definitely not anti-flowers or anti-chocolate.  I just don’t like Valentine’s Day.  I think it’s the pressure of it all.  It feels forced to me.  However, last week I read an article that changed my perspective about Valentine’s Day for the better.  You can read it at Darling Magazine: Love, Actually: Why Love is So Much More than Valentine’s Day.  The author’s point of view is not an incredibly earth-shattering idea, but it touched my mind this week so I thought I would share a few of my thoughts in response.

Swindell suggests that “love manifests in so many ways, too many to count.”  She then proceeds to list a number of ways that love is manifested in daily life, from the parent who calms the crying child in the night, to the roommate who does the dishes for you, to the stranger who offers you a kind word on a difficult day.  Swindell suggests that when we reflect on the ways that we experience love in our lives, Valentine’s Day can actually be a day for thankfulness.  She asks, “who are you grateful for this Valentine’s Day?  What capacity of love have they shown you?”  So, in light of these questions, I’d like to make my own list of ways that I see love in my own life.

Love: unexpected hugs from my niece and nephew.

Love: my mom making me supper after a long day.

Love: the student who offers to help me clean up.

Love: a text message from my friend just to touch base.

Love: an encouragement email from my principal.

There are so many blessings in life that others bestow upon us… sometimes without even realizing.  I think we need to take the time to be thankful for the love that we receive.  Swindell suggests that “we can let [our] thankfulness lead us into being initiators of love.”  Initiators of love.  Sounds like challenge.  So, the question is: what can we do to show love to others this Valentine’s Day, and every day?

valentines-day

As, What, When

Another book that I have been reading is the Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster.  My small group tackled this one in the fall and we are about halfway through.  The book is designed to foster (no pun intended) spiritual growth by teaching readers about the various inward, outward, and corporate spiritual disciplines: meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration.

In the chapter on submission, Foster encourages readers to pray the prayer of Thomas a Kempis: “As thou wilt; what thou wilt; when thou wilt” in an effort to “yield our body, mind, and spirit for [God’s] purposes” (p.122).  I translated this simple prayer into language that works for me, and I try to include it regularly into my prayer time.  It’s just another way that I can daily attempt to surrender my will to His.

As you will.

What you will.

When you will.

What I Learned from Reading “One in a Million” by Priscilla Shirer

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The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a “title” as “the name given to something (such as a book, song, or movie) to identify or describe it.”  Sometimes, book titles give a significant part of the plot or message away.  As an elementary school teacher, the first book that comes to my mind that fits this category is The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle.  Not so surprisingly, the book is about a very hungry caterpillar.  That said, some book titles are much more vague, or secretive even.  They are designed to create interest.  Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell might fit into this category.  I think that the title One in a Million, by Priscilla Shirer, sits somewhere in the middle.  It grabbed my attention and gave me an idea of what I was signing up to read without giving too much away.

When I saw One in a Million sitting on the shelf at my local Christian bookstore, I was looking for a book to read that would foster personal growth.  I had previously enjoyed a Bible study written and taught by Shirer, so I turned the book over to read the back.  I discovered that the book’s purpose is to encourage readers to live life as “one in a million.”  Shirer explains that this is someone who seeks a “deep, daily experience of [God’s] ever-abiding presence” (back cover).  That is something that I want in my life.  The back of the book promised that Shirer would explain some strategies to live this way, while taking a closer look at the Israelites’ time travelling in the wilderness, a story that is chronicled in Exodus.  I was intrigued, and picked up the book.

There are few books that I have read that have gripped me as much as this one.  I have to assume that God led me to read this book during a difficult season of my life because He knew that it would be an encouragement to me.  Not only that, but it challenged me to grow.  As I read each chapter, I felt that Shirer had written the book just for me.  I’d like to record some of the important learning that I experienced during my reading.  Reflecting on information is a great way to consolidate learning and to help it sink deep into the long-term memory.  Further, if anyone will benefit from these thoughts, or are encouraged to read the book for themselves, this blog posting will have served an even greater purpose.

The book is divided into three sections:

  1. Deliverance
  2. Development
  3. Destiny

The first section discusses the desire that we have for abundant lives.  Fortunately for us, God wants to give us the desires of our heart!  He longs to give us confidence, joy, discernment, anticipation, and power.  Shirer points out that in order to attain these things, we must flee Egypt.  Keep in mind, that if you don’t live in Egypt, this statement still applies to you!  “Egypt” can be a state of mind.  “Egypt” can be brokenness or bondage in our lives.  “Egypt” can be a bad attitude.  We must yield to God’s Spirit so we can be free of places that Satan rules… our “Egypt.”

I believe it is so important to ask God for deliverance in areas that we struggle with.  Psalm 139:23-24 says: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.”  I have learned that when we ask God to reveal our sin to us, He will!  Then, we can do as Hebrews 12:1 encourages us to do: “lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

All this said, it’s important to remember that if we ask God to search us, or if we ask God for guidance, we can’t run away or ignore Him when we hear His voice.  If we are going to live abundant lives as “one in a millions,” Shirer encourages us to be “willing to step outside your cozy comfort zone”.

Once we have decided to leave Egypt behind and follow God unreservedly where He is leading, there comes a time of development.  For me, one of the main lessons in this section of the book was that God’s path is not always where we might expect.  Sometimes development requires a detour to the wilderness.  Shirer explains that for the Israelites, a straightforward overland route to Canaan would have been the shortest way to get there.  That said, “[God’s] purpose was not to get them to Canaan as quickly as possible.  Instead, He wanted to teach them trust and faithfulness.  He also wanted them to know Him as their Lord.  For us, the wilderness can be a season of struggle.  A season when it is harder to have our quiet time.  A season when we doubt.  Nevertheless, we are called to trust.  God desires for us to trust in His ability to provide, regardless of whether or not we understand the path that He is leading us to.  If nothing else, following God’s leading into the wilderness will produce endurance!  Fortunately, there are many other purposes of the wilderness:

  1. To protect us.
  2. To humble us.
  3. To teach us dependence on God.
  4. To teach us to trust.
  5. To put us in a position where we’ll start expecting more from God.
  6. To determine who or what is ultimately satisfying us.
  7. To know our Lord.
  8. To refresh us.
  9. To teach us patience.
  10. To engage our faith.
  11. To draw us near to Him.
  12. To bring God glory.
  13. To teach us to be willing to follow.
  14. To bless us.

In other words, the wilderness can be a time of incredible growth in our lives if we will yield to it.  Realizing the purpose that can be found in these times was incredibly encouraging to me as I waded ankle-deep through the sand and sat at the foot of Mount Sinai!  That said, Shirer explains that when we truly desire God, we don’t want anything to stand in the way of intimacy.  Even the wilderness. When we desire God, we obey, even if we have to experience the wilderness for a while for God to complete His purposes there.

Fortunately, there is a “light at the end of the tunnel.”  Eventually, the “winds change” and God leads us out of the wilderness.  However, Shirer explains that “Promised Land living is reserved for those with a ‘different spirit’ (Numbers 14:24,30).”  We must follow wherever he nudges.  Whenever he nudges.  Fortunately, He is there with us every step of the way.

Shirer suggests that in order to live abundantly, we must never grow complacent in our faith.  We must draw near to Him to ensure continued intimacy.  Further, sometimes we must let go of good things to make room for better things.  So, how do we do this?  We must:

  1. Advance with courage.
  2. Accept your post.
  3. Adopt a willingness to stand alone.
  4. Act immediately.
  5. Activate your faith.
  6. Acknowledge God’s presence.
  7. Anticipate God’s miracles.

With God’s help, we can do these things!  Philippians 4:13 says that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  He will help us, but we must do our part: Seek Him.  Surrender.  Follow.  Obey.  If we do these things, we can experience “Promised Land living!”  I want to… don’t you?