4 Steps To Knowing God’s Direction

Are you there God? It’s me, Sarah.

During my figure skating years, I would strike deals with God. If I landed the next jump I would take it as a sign that I should talk to a certain boy. Or I would cut a tight circle with my blade on the ice and if I could keep my spin scratches within the boundaries I’d drawn, it would be a sign that I would pass the test I had tomorrow. It was not a particularly accurate system, but I did it more than once, evidencing a confidence in what was little more than an 8-ball in action.

Deciding for myself to be a Christian at 17 didn’t seem to make the direction of God any more clear. I looked for signs and wonders to make it clear for any and everything from where to go to college to where to eat dinner. What path should I take? Which way should I go? What does it all mean?!?!?! While I considered myself to have at least a modicum of discernment, while I thought myself to be right about more or less everything, at the end of the day, just like so many other people, this was a question that plagued me.

When I felt direction, was it God talking or was it me?

Was I just making up the answers to my own questions about His will for my life?

1. Be prepared to shut your mouth. We all know that famous phrase from the backseat, “Are we there yet?” Does it speed the travel time at all? No, of course not. Neither does nagging God. Another well known line is “God gave you one mouth and two ears, so you’ll listen twice as much as you talk.” This is true with our relationship with the maker.

God will listen and it is right to tell Him what’s on your mind, but if you never stop and sit still and quiet, you’re not going to hear anything. Tell God your thoughts and opinions and your hopes and your plans, and then be quiet. Be still and know, friend, know that He is able.

Job lived through some horrible situations and he didn’t curse God, but he got pretty down. He had some friends give him some advice and Job talked and talked and talked. By the time God shows up on the scene to have a word with Job, God has to tell him to Just. Shut. Up. Now of course, God didn’t say “shut up,” because God is more polite than me, but the message was there.

Job 38: 2-3 says God spoke out of the storm and said “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.” Now I know that message, because I’ve heard it loud and clear. I have the tendency to think I know best and there have been more than one occasion where God has in essence said “Who do you think you are? Do you know who I AM? Get ready, because we’re about to have a talk.”  That is not the way you want to start things off with Him.

If you want to hear God’s voice, the first thing you have to do is be quiet.

2. If you want to know what sort of things God will be saying, get in the Word. God will not tell you something that conflicts with what He’s laid out in the Bible. Read it with respect, look for the historical context, look up the original meanings of words, look for the application in your life today and look for the broader meaning for the church at large.

Let’s say you get home to find out your significant other is out. They left you a note on the table that reads “Ran to Food Lion. Getting milk. Be back in 15.” After 10 minutes, you wonder if he can pick up your dry cleaning. You know from the note if he is close to the dry cleaners or far away. You also know that he’s probably already left the store and is almost home since so much time has passed. Because you were given important information and you can use the knowledge you have of the area and the time, you are able to figure out you’re probably going to have to pick up your own slacks.

God gave us the Bible to be a resource, a tool. Though you might see someone decorating their yard with an old plow, or displaying their grandfather’s old saw proudly on the wall of their shed, but that’s not it’s purpose. Tools are made to be used to help us build things. The Bible is a tool to help us build our lives. Use it.

3. Keep a journal. Or some method of documenting that allows you to review what God has done. In high school I heard a youth pastor say, “If it is important, right it down.” That was when I started my first journal. and there have been many years where I didn’t journal with any regularity, but having picked it back up, I’ve been reminded of how important it is.

I have discovered that I am a word hoarder. If I’ve emailed it, written it down, blogged it, or read it, I don’t discard it, I hold on to it so that I can review it again and again and gain from it all over. Keeping a journal, keeping a little hoard of words the documents your days enables you to recognize patterns of His faithfulness as you revisit what God has done for you, taught you, taken you through. And eventually you’ll start to anticipate that God will do these things again and again.

If it is true on a grand scale that “those who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it,” it is also true for our own lives. There is no historian but you for your days and nights. Perhaps, you will grow up to be well known and influential on the course of the world and someone will right a book on you in retrospect, but that author will be digging through research to discover who you were. You are in your life now. Who better to write it down but you?

While God authors your story, put pen to paper and document it.
Live your history.
Learn your history.
And leave your history behind ready to move on to what God has for you next.

4. Be prepared to accept what He says. Even if you don’t like it.

Seeking after God when you are facing challenges or difficulties or decisions is not the same as chasing Santa. God loves you and wants you to live a life beyond your wildest dreams, but He is most interested in His glory and our gain. And our gain might not look like we think it should.

Our gain may look like a broken car so that we can build a friendship with a mechanic.
Our gain may look like going without so that we can know provision by His hand.
Our gain may look like failure so we are inspired to try harder next time.
Our gain may look like devastation, utter decimation, so that we are hands are so empty they are ready to be filled by His.

Our gain isn’t always new things, promotions, accolades and skinny thighs. His glory IS our gain. When you are ready to do what brings Him the most glory, you will, despite the circumstance, see the most gain where you didn’t expect to find it in the first place.

Knowing where God is leading is possible. God is no created method for predicting the future, like my figure skating 8-ball attempts to divine answers to silly questions. God is ready to walk you straight through your life into His glory and He has a Plan A for your life. He will not be thwarted by a Plan B, but He has a best plan, His plan for you. The best way to walk that path is to tuck in so tightly to His shadow that the only thing you can see are His feet in front of your own, His track before you, and walk therein.

His leading will never disappoint.
His ways are good.
His paths are worth the journey.

The Faith Of My Friend

If we are lucky, we have a friend who has faith that makes you take a step back in awe. If you are friends with Cheryl Binegar, you are lucky, because you have that friend. Cheryl has always impressed me with her reliance, her joy, her care for others and her purity, purity of intention and purity of action.

There was a man in the Bible that most are familiar with, Job, whom God credited like this, “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” And to that came the response from the terrifying restless wanderer, the acceptance of the challenge “Surely he will curse you.”

My friend is going through a very tough time, helping her parents through incredibly difficult health issues. There is sense of living loss without absence that can walk beside us when we travel with our loved ones as their health fails, and it is unlike anything else I’ve known. I imagine it is unlike anything Cheryl has known either.

She has been support to so many, and my hope is that she is receiving the same measure of support in return, good support. As Job sat wishing he’d never been born after the decimation of everything he loved and valued, his friends saw him from a long way off, saw his trouble and they suffered with him. In Job 2, we read that “they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.”

These well intentioned friends who loved Job started their attempts to comfort him, just by being with him. Just being present. And that was such a good thing. It shows the depth of their care for him, that they would sit with this man who was ceremonially unclean, covered in sores. They could have looked on and said, “I’ll send a nut and fig basket to the friend of ours who we all believed to be the best of the best, but I’m not going near him til he is recovered.” Skin afflictions were viewed as expressions of soul afflictions at that time, so the watching world, seeing Job’s family, livelihood, property, possessions and finally his health could have immediately declared him to finally be exposed for some secret sin and shame. But they don’t. They come to him and they suffer with him.

They must truly love him, but in the many chapters to follow they try talking him through his situation, but in doing so they express their own questions about Job and God, their own doubts, their own fears, and their own sorrow. We’ve all been there. In a dark place with friends who offer advice or commentary that doesn’t suit or may even sting. If you are honest with yourself, you’ve been that friend, not knowing what to say, saying something that comforted you once and seeing the other person’s face change, and you wish you could have said it better. We’ve all said, “I wish I knew what to say.”

I wish I knew what to say.

Cheryl is facing now a difficulty that is recognizable as painful. If you’ve lived what she is living, even a portion of it, then you will, as Job’s friend’s, see her suffering from a long way off and ache for her. If you haven’t experienced sickness in those you love, I know you know it’s terrible, but when I entered into my own experiences with this, I remember clearly sitting with my brother as we shared that we just didn’t understand before. It is a blessing to be outside of that knowledge.

Cheryl is in a beautifully supportive community and has built for herself with her sweet, funny love for everyone she meets a response team who wants to care for her. I’m not even there and I trust that it is so, because I know those lovely people that she has loved in action and I know that they will love her in action in return. But when anyone sits in presence with someone going through what she’s facing, it is natural to accompany commentary as Job’s friends did, with our own doubts, our own fears and our own sorrows.

And the faith of my friend, y’all….

This girl….

Her heart is not just to graciously accept the comfort given, but to share the peace and the comfort she already has.

I want to share this with you, this bit from a Facebook post she made the other day. She says…

“I will end with this. Many of my friends have really struggled with how long my family has been going through this trial. They don’t understand why God wouldn’t just heal her. I will never pretend to understand the Lord’s purpose for allowing this struggle, but I do know that I have seen so much good arise from it. God isn’t my genie in a bottle who grants my wishes. He does love me and my family and never intended for the world to end up so broken. But He has given me what He said He would. That is peace through this and the hope of a future. He doesn’t owe me a comfortable life here. I get that and honor Him through this painful season. 🙏🏼”

Cheryl has peace that passes all understanding, an incredible thing because these trials she faces are outside of reason. So many would be driven to despair, and yet Cheryl, and I believe her parents who are living this, are driven to hope. Not because they are naive, not because they are simple, not because they are fools and not because they are weak.

They are driven to hope, because they have that kind of friend one in the same as the one who they call Savior.

I will tell you, if you have a friend like Cheryl, you are richly blessed.
Cheryl will tell you, if you have a friend like Jesus, you are eternally blessed.

Pray for my friend Cheryl, and for her parents, and for her family. And pray for those supporting her, that they will have eyes that see and ears that hear, so that they too may know peace like she does.

By Faith, I…

The story of Abraham and his journey out from Ur has been one I’ve returned to over and over since the very beginning of our family’s exit from Ohio. There’s been a lot that I feel like I identify with there in that story of a handful of people stepping out and leaving what they know to go out in the world and find where they belong, one foot after the other led by not much more than a few conversations with God.

The Israelites, it seems, were forever building little altars, or big altars, stacks of rocks that whenever anyone saw that pile, they’d remember, this is where God did _____ for them. And I imagine that in a nomadic tribe they wandered back by those stacks from time to time and did revisit those stories. I am so glad for those stacks of rocks, those stories retold so that I could return to them so many many years later and hear what those stories tell us.

I was back with Abraham again this week, listening to a few sermons, reading the passages again, and ready to process the meaning for today. During each class I’ve taken in the past year, we’ve been assigned a sermon to prepare and present, and this week one of my classmates presented on Abraham. While my friend gave his sermon he repeated this passage…

“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”

Don’t I hear that? Don’t you? Oh man, y’all….I am looking forward to that city with foundations, not the one I came from where I struggled to build my own foundations, but the one where I am going, built by Him. I long for it as it applies to my time on Earth and I long for it as it applies to my time in the next life.

When my classmate gave his sermon he read that passage a few times, by faith, Abraham…by faith Abraham….by faith, Abraham…and then he asked “I can’t help but wonder what it might say about you, By faith,…..” and then he named each of us sitting there. I sipped in the air of the room and held a tiny breath til he reached my name.

By faith, Sarah….

I can’t keep moving towards the promise of God if I rely solely on a pile of rocks we made three and a half years ago when we left Ohio. The Israelites piled up the stones and moved on. They reflected and remembered, but they kept moving forward.  When I hear “By faith, Sarah…” because I am still alive it is an action statement. What did I DO because I trusted God at His word? What am I doing today because I believe in what He’s promised? What will I do tomorrow? How can I keep moving forward “by faith?”

There is a purpose and a plan for you, friend.  When you have those times that the action called for by faith is so clear, DO it!!! Do it and then mark it so you can remember it, so you can come back upon the old stories of your life and see, “By faith, I….” Let those moments encourage you to see that when you trusted God to direct your steps, He guided you well, He defended you, He protected you, He provided for you. Build little altars. Keep a journal. Plant something. Mark it so that people will see and remember what God has done. And then travel on, little nomad, because God has a journey ahead of you before He brings you home.

If it’s been a while since you’ve made a stack of stones, consider today, what does God have for me to do?

By faith, Abraham.
By faith, Sarah.
By faith, you.
By faith, I…….

A Rock or A Vine?

Everyone has days where they hit a wall.
Everyone has days where they sit beside someone who is hitting a wall.

We learn from our youth to be rocks, to be strong and hold ourselves up no matter the situation. We can strong our way through anything if we really try. When we know others are in pain, we should be their rock. Be solid and strong, hold their rocks up with our own rocks, strength upon strength we will not topple over. That’s ok…it’s ok to hold someone up. Just maybe though, as we hold rock upon rock we unknowingly build walls.

Maybe we were never intended to be rocks, but rather vines, seeing one another attempting to scale the walls we hit, and to reach out, grab a hold, wrap around, embrace, care and not let go of each other. Not to support by propping up, but to support by allowing the other to grow while you encourage them towards the light. And then, when you are the one hitting the wall, allowing others to pull you into the sun’s warmth, to trust them to allow them to pull your grasp off those walls, to let go and to find a way up and over.

It’s ok to be a rock, I guess. To offer support. But isn’t it better to be a vine?

For my friends hitting their walls today, I am here for the up and over.

To My Friend Who Is Insecure…

Dear Insecure Friend,

If you just had that moment of “Oh, she must mean me!” then I probably do mean you, but I’m not calling you out to shame you.

Yesterday at church we had an artist named Csilla come lead our worship. She also shared music from her new CD titled Honestly. Before she sang the title track from the cd she shared a bit about her own struggles with insecurity and about how God spoke to her heart about her value.

She stepped back into the story of creation, pulling out that repeated phrase that God uses after He created. It was good. God made what He intended to make and then declared that the creation was good, well created, complete, as He intended. In understanding that if God declares “It is good” after creating, then as one of God’s creations, that is declared over each of us, and who are we to challenge God in that declaration. Oh, I heard that, didn’t I, that word she shared and the rising up inside me of a resounding “Amen.”

At some point in college I got a copy of the Audio Adrenaline VHS called Some Kind Of Journey where they brought a few teenagers on tour with them for a week or so and held conversations with them about some of the issues those kids faced in their daily lives. One of the boys in the video was born with one of his arms not fully formed. He was asked about his experience to which he replied, “If I was born with two arms, I wouldn’t be perfect.” He explained that God made him perfect the way he was. God didn’t mess up. God didn’t make a mistake. God formed him perfectly as he was for the plan God had for his life. I remember thinking that was an amazing perspective, one that hit deep in my insecure heart.

It was at that time that I began to see that the root of most of our sin and struggle and hurt is that we don’t believe that God has made us perfect to His purpose in our life. When we try to reform our bodies, our behaviors and our beliefs to reflect what we think is best, we tell God “I don’t believe that your design for me is best.” If what is available to us through Christ is security, then what must be found where we deny Him access is insecurity.

I found myself in college relying heavily on self deprecating humor as an attempt to bond with others. Make fun of me before they could. Talk trash about myself before they could. This meant pointing out my personality flaws and my body flaws, pointing out my failures, declaring “Do you see them yet? You will see them eventually and decide i’m not enough, so I’ll go ahead and tell you about them upfront and we can get along with you rejecting me before I get too attached to a friendship with you.” Humor, defense, insecurity, one than the next and more and more and more.

One evening I was sitting in a room with worship music playing surrounded by many other college kids, kids I wanted to like me but worried I wasn’t cool enough to hang out with. I was thinking about this when I saw this scene play out.

    I was walking down the middle of the street and people were hurling rocks at me. They called out names and fears and mocked me. I saw myself being struck by the projectiles, words and stones, and then I raised my eyes to see the crowd. There every face in the crowd was my own. It was not the world who was dealing so unkindly with me, but myself. Maybe somewhere back behind the crowd of me were cruel people who would hurt me, or maybe there were people back there who could love me, but they would never reach me because I had blocked the path to me, filling it with my own insecurity. Then my viewpoint became one of the crowd and I saw that it was no longer me walking through the center path, breaking down step after step, but instead as I stood there on edge of the road and felt the stone in my hand, prepared to fling it at myself….there in the road was Christ. And there was the crowd of me throwing stones at Him.

It was a moment that changed me. I understood for the first time that as I beat myself down, I was hating that which Jesus loved, hating that which Christ climbed up on the cross and died for. Like Csilla’s message that God creates and declares “It is good.” Like the guy from Some Kind Of Journey saying “If I had two arms, I wouldn’t be perfect.” God didn’t just create me perfectly to His purpose and then leave me to my own devices, He created me and then prepared a way to protect me through Jesus and a way to perfect me though His Holy Spirit.

Looking back on those college days, I’d heard people say my stories were annoying for years so, though I loved writing in high school, those times that I chose to write for the fun of it become more seldom. I would begin stories I told friends by making fun of my story telling ability. As the years went on, I just stopped writing and stopped telling stories to most people. I think out of all the ways I criticized myself, this was the worst offense, because this is a part of my created nature, to tell stories and I bullied myself into stopping.

I can still stand on the side of the road and hurl those stones. I count up page views and likes. I tally comments like it is the number of responses typed out that matter, that maybe my words have no resonance unless the reader tells me so. I write entire entries and leave them unposted, because maybe I’m not saying things in a way that communicates to every person reading the entirety of my point and my person and my thoughts and my theology, like I could even begin to communicate that in 1300 words or less.

I wish I could tell you that I have eternally chased off insecurity, but I think that  insecurity is the darkest root that our humanity hides deep down inside. People might convince themselves they enjoy all kinds of wrong things, relishing in personas of wickedness, I am the baddest _______________ out there. But no one broadcasts “Look at me! I’m the most insecure person in this room!” It is a doorway we bury and deny so that those most hurtful voices can speak into our lives.

 To my insecure friend, we’re all insecure. Let me sit with you and let me talk to you about where I find security. Let me tell you what I know to be true.  Show me your dark buried door, friend. Show me your root. Let me remind you, you are fearfully and wonderfully made. It is good. You are made perfect to His purpose in your life. He has made a way to protect you and perfect you, because He prepared you to be His beloved. You are His beloved, so be….loved.

Love, Me.

P.S. Want to hear that beautiful voice I got to listen to this weekend? Check out Csilla’s Facebook page… https://www.facebook.com/csillamuscanmusic/ This girl’s got pipes.

Lazy Poor People

Last night in class we walked through Moses’s story, start to finish. We talked about the basket and the river and the princess, the nursemaid and the murder, the desert and the burning bush. It is a familiar story even to those who don’t go to church. Every Easter, flip through the channels and you’ll find Charlton Heston holding a staff aloft in front of parting water.

This time through, however, there was a new story inside the old familiar one. I knew the story. I’ve heard it. I’ve colored in the Sunday School coloring sheets about it in my youth. But it didn’t stick out like it did this time.

When most people retell the story, Moses grabs his belongings, ties it to his staff, grabs Aaron and heads off to Egypt to tell Pharaoh, “Let my people go!” Pharaoh says “Tough tookies, cookies!” to Moses and God sends the plagues one after another, nasty vile diseased attacks until Pharaoh could take no more and sends the Israelites out of Egypt.

We skip right over Exodus 5.

Moses doesn’t first request freedom for God’s people….he requests a festival. He and Aaron go to Pharaoh and ask for the Hebrews to be allowed 3 days to go have a festival to God in the wilderness. Pharaoh replies he doesn’t know the Hebrews God and he isn’t going to give them 3 days vacation from slavery to go have a party. They have work to be done.

Moses and Aaron press the point and Pharaoh becomes irritated. He sends word to the slave drivers and overseers that they are not to give the people straw to make the bricks, they are now to require the Hebrews to gather the straw and make the bricks, but they get no more time allotted to carry out double the work. They can’t meet this goal and so the slave drivers beat them. The Israelite overseers go to Pharaoh and asks why he’s done this and how is this fair. Pharaoh calls them lazy and sends him off with the same demands, now covered in insults in the ears of the people Moses came to try and liberate. This sets Israel against Moses and they tell him off for making trouble for them.

Moses then speaks to God and says, in essence, “What are you doing? Did you really send me here to be an annoyance to Pharaoh and for you NOT to rescue your people?” God says, “Look out. I’m about to blow the lid off this joint.” You know, He essentially said that….just in more holy language.

I know we rush through this part of the story if not skip it all together so we can get faster to the blood and locust and boils and death which is far flashier than not making bricks. But last night I couldn’t rush through it. I read it and then reread it and then read it again. I wondered why Moses didn’t ask for freedom from the first go. I wondered why God doesn’t have a voice before the request is made. I wondered what the purpose was in allowing Israel to become put out with the liberating leader. But none of that is what drew my eyes back over the page again and again. It was this starting at verse 6….

“That same day Pharaoh gave this order to the slave drivers and overseers in charge of the people: “You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw. But require them to make the same number of bricks as before; don’t reduce the quota. They are lazy; that is why they are crying out, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to our God.’ Make the work harder for the people so that they keep working and pay no attention to lies,”

…and then skipping to verse 15…

“Then the Israelite overseers went and appealed to Pharaoh: “Why have you treated your servants this way? Your servants are given no straw, yet we are told, ‘Make bricks!’ Your servants are being beaten, but the fault is with your own people.” Pharaoh said, “Lazy, that’s what you are—lazy! That is why you keep saying, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’  Now get to work. You will not be given any straw, yet you must produce your full quota of bricks.”

Ouch, y’all.

Not ouch because Pharaoh was mean to this faceless mass of slaves, but ouch because I recognize what Pharaoh said from our world today. We have people who have less straw, people we’ve taken straw away from and are holding it back from them, and yet we demand they make the same number of bricks as people who got straw delivered to their door. We are a society built on inequity still using inequity as an operating tool.

This is where I need your grace. Because I don’t have a solution. I’ve read article after article from everyone’s vantage point (except those that promote violence, because I can’t stomach the words that encourage violence as a solution from an ideology). I’ve listened to news anchors and commentators and watched as the stories we tell on Netflixz and Hulu have changed in tone guided by Hollywood’s values (positive or negative).

I read these things, watch these things, and no matter the viewpoint I walk away every time with the same response…”Yeah, but….” “Yeah, but she asks the other to see her point of view but makes no effort to see his.” “Yeah, but poverty extends beyond color lines, and I’ve served kids of every shade and seen kids of all colors overcome and kids of all colors fail.” “Yeah, but ignorance and frustration don’t make those behaviors acceptable.” Yeah, but…yeah, but…

I don’t have the liberty of a “yeah, but” here. I can choose to allow the words of the media, social or otherwise to form my opinions for me, or I can choose to allow the word of God to guide me. This is the word of God.

I feel sort of like Moses, who went to solve a problem and suggested something to Pharaoh and it blew up in his face, so he turned back to God and said, “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.” And God replies, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: Because of my mighty hand he will let them go; because of my mighty hand he will drive them out of his country.” He took over and took care of it.

If you want an answer on how to fix America, it isn’t here. But let me speak to the church for a minute….


Don’t be Pharaoh. If all you can be in America is Moses, turning around and saying to God, I tried, but I don’t get what you’re doing?!?!, then be Moses, and be ready to step aside so God can do his thing. But stop being Pharaoh. We need to figure out where we stand, on race relations, on poverty, on refugees, on immigrants, on oppression, social rights and we need to do that not starting with media, but with the word of God. If you have an abundance of straw, hand it over to someone who doesn’t, don’t complain that there is a perfectly good field out there full of straw and those lazy poor people just need to stop thinking about partying and go get straw.  We don’t need to warp scripture to fit changing worldviews, but we can’t ignore scripture to allow us to stay comfortable.


I read the passage three full times last night and reread it today. I wrote this blog in three drafts. I don’t know how this entry ends. I don’t know how to wrap this up with some neat little, this fixes everything little Kumbaya bow. I still see room to grow and room to see other’s viewpoints in every perspective I’ve read out in the world. But of all the things I’ve read in the past year about the social issues faces our country, this has been the only one that’s left me with no buts.

So I share it here, and maybe you can find something out of this passage that hits home. Or maybe you can share some other scripture that speaks to you with the rest of us. I want to be involved in a conversation that starts in the Word of God and addresses the concerns of our society. I’ve been involved in a conversation for far to long that starts in the concerns of our society and address the Word of God.

Any passages to share?

This Time Last Year

       I’m continually amazed at what can change in a year.

In January this was particularly obvious as I recalled the shaking shell of a girl I was. January 2016 I was holding my breath and by January 2017 I hadn’t just exhaled, but had repaired all the damage I’d suffered from the extended lack of oxygen. As the year progressed, I remember thinking over and over how I felt like a cat whose fur was growing back in after it’d licked itself bald from stress. January to January was an incredible journey.

But April to April? Can I see such a change there, so marked that I am almost unidentifiable from the person who followed the direction to “Keep writing, Sarah?” By April of 2016 I’d already come so far from January, but I have often found April is take two of the comparative months. Generally by April I can see what my New Year’s Resolution should have been and get to work on it. About the time everyone else is canceling their gym memberships, I am signing up to better myself.

I am very grateful now that I have managed to keep the blogging up for a year now, because a year ago when I started this blog I took an account of myself and documented my mind and my heart. I opened the first post from last April, the 8th, and I’m ready to sit down and take another account of who I am in heart and mind.

A year ago….

 There are days that I ache for Ohio, for our family we left behind,
the children who are quickly becoming adults, the emotional closeness
that proximity allows, the adults who are still growing themselves…..
There are days that I would flee back there in a heartbeat and settle back
into that comfortable life.

………and today.

This weekend we will load up the suitcase and trunks and
return for a quick trip back to our old stomping grounds. Easter
this year will not just be a reminder of the life after death of our Savior,
not just a reminder of the eternal life available to us after our death,
but a reminder that God allows endings to bring about His new beginnings.
He allows eternal live not to be lived only in the hereafter, but grants us
heaven on Earth. And ours is Virginia. Ohio was the birthplace of my adulthood,
and I cherish it, but those fly away home pangs are gone. Because I am home.

     A year ago…

           I’ve had those times, too, where I can see immediate clarity to
how I’m being used here, but much of my time has been spent feeling
a bit like I’m mucking through mire. On the topic, I check in from
time to time, and the answer is almost always the same, “I’m preparing you.”
For what, I’m not sure, but if there is one thing I’ve learned since coming
to the valley, it’s that His plans are always better than my plans.

and today….

This almost makes me chuckle. After 3 years of “I’m preparing you,”
He is filling in the rest. And while being able to complete that sentence
with “for ministry” is a step forward, there is still a vagueness to
the exact method of that. I can only imagine the journey ahead in the
coming year while He continues to unwrap this gift, and I am so excited
to peel back the paper. I’m in the middle of my third class and the
most clear lesson I’ve learned is this. In all that time of preparation, any
number of times I told God that I was pretty sure I was ready for anything,
but today I am acutely aware of how much more preparation I need.

      A year ago…..

          Heritage in Ohio was my home, but this was a good home
away from home. Over the past four months, this church has
supported me, has connected with me, has given me the opportunity
to serve and be served, spoken to me and has sidled alongside
Heritage in my heart. Perhaps the situation is something more akin
to a duplex, than a beach house.

                                                                                               and today…

We officially joined our church here, Harrisonburg First Church
of the Nazarene. There was a long stretch of time that I would have
said it would be a bittersweet experience, but it was with an
undivided heart that I was able to commit to being in HFCN’s body,
and to be doing so not out of obedience, or obligation, or convenience,
but truly joyful that God brought us to this local congregation.

I think a year later I would see myself as settled, but still growing. Perhaps, sprouted or budding would make sense as the stage of development in my little garden here. I wrote a sermon for a class recently on Joshua. Joshua spent all this time in the shadow of Moses. Even though from the beginning it was Joshua who would ultimately lead God’s people into the Promised Land, he was denied leadership for over 40 years. He didn’t use that time to pout or to compare himself to Moses, he used it to support the current leadership and to go into the tent of meeting and to remain in the presence of the most Holy God.

This is where I’ve been for the past year, in that tent, enjoying the presence of God. And there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. There may very well come a day when I am fighting battles, marching around my own Jericho, and I will remember the time I had over the past year, drawing near to Him, with sweet remembrance and jealousy….but I sincerely hope that by next April I can look back and say that no matter what growth I’ve exhibited, no matter how much the world looks different to me or I to the world, I hope that it can be said of me, that I went into the tent of meeting and did not depart.

Do Not Fear?

     Our generation is marked by fear and anxiety, taking pills to manage something we think is a new epidemic. Right now, maybe more than ever, anyone with anything to sell knows the currency value of fear. Write the name of a concern on a price tag, slap it on and people will flock to pay dearly for that product.

Before I go any further, let me pause. This is not a post down on pills. There have been times that I have needed medicine to help breath deeply enough to function, and while long term those have not worked for me, and while long term I FEAR what impact they might have on a person (yes, I just said I’m fearful of that, I get it) I do not begrudge people looking for medicine to receive help for the very real causes and effects of anxiety. Unpause.

Over and over God tells us “Do not be afraid” more than probably anything else in the Bible. Fear has plagued humanity since the beginning of time and from the first moment fear reared up, hiding in the Garden of Eden crouched half naked behind a bush, God was concerned for our fear and looked to relieve us of it.

When I was 17, I was a scared broken girl trying to make sense of my world.In those days the panic would sneak around the corner and stick it’s leg out, causing me to crash to the floor, knocking the wind out of me. It was in one of those moments, post-fall, that I first experienced peace that passes all understanding, and knew, God is real, and if this peace was what He could give me, I wanted all of it.

When I was 18, I was still scared, still broken, and still trying to make sense of my world. Fear had walked around the corner by then, no longer needing to hide and jump out at me, but rather setting up as a roommate. One night through conversation with a friend and a mentor, I realized that God wasn’t doing this to me, that He saw my pain and He longed to pick me up, rock me and comfort me. Oh the sweet realization of God as Abba.

And for 16 years, I evicted fear. Sure there’d be moments of worry, moments of concern, moments of cares, but all in all it was manageable. God had seen me drowning in this internal struggle and had pulled me up.

In the fall of 2015 I was in an incredibly difficult situation, a truly unhealthy work environment. I walked around the corner and bam, tripped right over Panic’s outstretched leg. I found myself back in the clutches of fear and those attacks this time felt double shameful. Did I no longer trust God? Was I failing at my faith?

This time the water washing over me was not an internal ocean, but an external one. I often look back at that time now and think of an animal who licks it’s fur off because off stress. I needed medicine to help me for a time, but it was plain to me reading the doctor’s face that the best rx for me would be a change in circumstances. God got me out of that situation, and I can’t tell that story in one sentence, one paragraph or even one blog post, but it was absolutely the hand of God rescuing me. The next time I went to my doctor, having quit the medicine, to tell her I had absolutely no need of it, her jaw dropped in amazement.

It has been well over a year now since that overwhelming fear has been a part of my life. Certainly there has been worry and concern and care, but never outright panic. Friends, whether it is internal or external, God wants you to hear this, “Do not be afraid.” He has the peace and the power to overcome the terror that is out there and He is so ready to hand them both to you.

I had the blessing of a conversation with a dear friend this week that reminded me of all that God has done for me in the area of fear over the past 20 years. It had been a bit of time since I’d revisited the story in the context in which it was discussed and it served me so well to remember that first time I experienced His peace, peace that passes all understanding.

That is my prayer this morning for my friends, for my church and for my country.  Peace that passes all understanding and power to overcome.

Do not fear.

Why Bother Praying?

Last Sunday in a class someone asked this, “If the prayers of a righteous man avail much, does that mean that God doesn’t listen to the prayers of an unrighteous man?” I think it’s a fair question. We should be able to ask these things and we should be willing to look to find the answers.

It is a concerning idea, that one person’s prayers might get higher priority because they behave better than someone else. It is just one of the confusing points on prayer, for me anyway.

Another confusing point that I think you will see goes along with this question is we find in Mark 11, where Jesus tells us, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours,” and the assurance from Matthew 7 “Ask and it shall be given to you, Seek and you shall find.” But how does that line up next to James 4 where we read, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

So which is it, when I ask, will I receive or not? If I was more righteous would I receive the same things that someone who is less righteous wouldn’t? Who judges how righteous I have to be before I receive the things I want?

It is tempting to write this off as one of the contradictions that someone determined to disprove Christianity would use to shake about and declare that we can’t get our story straight. If we just discount the James passage and go with the easier to swallow “Ask and you shall receive” bit then we can tell people who want a promotion or a new car or for people to get along at work or even less selfishly the health of a loved one, that they just need to ask.

But who among us has been on the receiving end of pouring out your heart to someone and having them look you in the eye and ask “Have you prayed about it?” and thought “Really? Of course I prayed about it, but I’m struggling to hear an answer and so I’m asking you.” How do you not walk away from those times with this worry that you’re not being righteous enough to rank or that God just might not be listening?

In order to understand these verse, we have to begin right in the hardest spot. Righteousness. Does God listen to a righteous person more than an unrighteous one? Well, sure, but not righteousness like we try to define it by human striving. Because think about this. Who is righteous when they approach the Lord and confess their need that first time, when they see that they are a sinner and accept Jesus’s sacrifice to atone for their sins? Nobody! Nobody walks into that situation with anything to offer in return for the best gift they can receive. No one can say “Lord, I have volunteered and I don’t punch my sister and I usually swear only when it’s really necessary and my mom is really proud of how I’m turning out. I will trade you this stuff for eternity.” No, all they can say is “Lord, I am without. I am a broken mess who needs what you have to offer.”

No one would EVER suggest that God would not hear that prayer even though it is offered by an unrighteous person for what could be seen as a pretty selfish gain  that cannot be repaid. If there is anything that we can all agree on, it is that that prayer will be answered, and thank God for that! If so assuredly a prayer by an unrighteous person is answered, every time, then what?

The answer to all of this we see in what the Bible has to say about righteousness. Philippians 3: 8-9 says “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.

Righteousness is not based on our works, on how well we practice our faith, but rather it is the Spirit which allows us the strength to have faith and respond to Him. We know that the Spirit goes ahead to the lost and draws them into Him, into repentance, and so in that moment, when a person is trusting solely on His sacrifice being moved and emboldened by His Spirit there is perhaps, never such a righteous word uttered, because in that moment they are the farthest from depending on their own works and the closest to leaning on and accepting the righteousness the comes from God.

It is no confusing thing then, once we understand that a righteous man is no well behaved man, but rather a reliant one, one trusting in the righteousness of God, that someone tucked so sweetly in the arm of His Father would be close enough to turn their head and whisper into the ear of our Lord.

     Can you look at your prayers and believe that you can be broad or specific in your request, you can be humble and bold, that you can ask for something as real as new shoes or as wild as a mountain to pick up and move, and trust that God will come through just as sweetly as you did when you first asked God to rescue you? Because what could be more crazy than someone giving up their own child to be crushed by your wrongs so that you can go free….and if God will do that for us, then how can you not believe He will do things beyond our wildest dreams for the rest of our lives?

God has even provided a way for us to pray when we can’t come up with the words, in Romans 8: 26-27 we read, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” And those prayers I think must avail the most, delivered through righteousness to righteousness without our interference.  Can you get out of the Spirit’s way enough, less of you and more of Him and allow Him to speak for you?

If you haven’t come to that point where you’ve turned to God, admitting your brokenness and trusting in His righteousness, that’s the right place to start. If you already have, take a minute and remember that time that you had no doubt that you were unrighteous, and allowed yourself to take in His righteousness to cover you, and were in return granted an immediate and complete and perfect response to your prayer. Return to that sweet submission and relying on His righteousness, tuck yourself into His embrace and whisper your requests into His listening ear and long for His answer which will give Him the most glory and that will be for your good.

Watch Your Mouth!

There are lists in the Bible, lists of things that make ladies with very styled hair clutch their pearls and thank the sweet Lord that they don’t do those things on those lists. What an imagination the New Testament writers must have had, because such depravity would never cross their minds. Maybe it would cross their lips, while they lean in to speak in those dropped voices referencing those people who would find themselves in those sort of deviant situations. It all wraps up nicely with a promise to pray for that person, but as the week slips by, so does the promise to pray, and by the time Sunday rolls around there is only this lingering sense that there had been a promise to say something to God about someone truly wicked, but what was that? And the prayers go up for health and happiness for themselves and their family, the hurt that drove the subject to the brokenness that landed them in that list gone from anyone’s mind, except that poor soul’s own mind.

Now going into this, I want to be transparent. While some people pound the pulpits and cry out against the very obvious ills of the world, it is not often that I hear a sermon telling me to watch my mouth, and truly, truly, I need to hear that more than I need to be told not to drink or fight or cheat or steal. The moment I take my focus of God, I know it because I can hear it in my speech. I am harsh and hateful, and I am 9 times out of 10 pointing out the flaws in others as my language gets nastier and nastier.

There is this sense that words are just words and that vulgarity is just sort of something that humanity assigns in an attempt to separate us from them. In high school, I learned from my theatre teacher in a lesson on language and story telling that many of the words we consider to be vulgar came about because they were simply words used by other rougher cultures and so those guttural sounding words, associated with those barbarians, were labeled as vile. Not because the words themselves were evil, but because they were associated with the enemy.

Yes, that is a part of the development of language, but it isn’t the whole picture. We live in this space between words are just words and the very real truth that words have value and weight. If words are just words, then why would we dive deeply into a fictional word able to see the tiniest detail in that land of one book, but in another we read a few paragraphs and nap it shut. Why do people put words and not simply images on protest signs? Why do we repeat seemingly sacred groupings of words at important life events, like weddings or graduations? Why would it matter if your parent called you their sweet baby, light of their life or if they called you that brat who won’t shut up?

It’s easy to recognize that words are not just words. They are representations of what we think and what we feel, what we hold as truth and what we hold as valuable. They make change and they mark change. You see, if words were just words, they would start in your mouth. But words aren’t just words, they begin in your heart. We turn them over in our minds, arrange them in an order, put them out in the world and hope for the best, because there is no taking them back, not really.

One of the hardest lessons of my life I’ve had to learn is that I can’t weigh out other people’s words on my own scale. The level of anger and hatred it would take for me to say some of the nastiest things I can think of is not the same level it would take for someone else.

When a child is mad at their parent and screams “I hate you!” a parent doesn’t scream that back at their child, because they understand that the child doesn’t mean it and that the weight of the parent saying that to a child would be devastating blow, but the weight of a child saying it to the parent is a tiny flick, something that can be ignored.

I had a friend who saved “I love you” in its romantic use for when she got engaged. Did she not feel love before that? Of course not. But she held those words to a higher weight than most, because she recognized the impact on her heart if she used them lightly.

The Bible has spoken few words so true to my life as the message “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” I have been brought back time and time again to this concept over the past 2 decades, and while I believe that God perfects us and gives us the power of the Spirit to overcome our struggles, I have the sense that I will be reminded of this for many years to come.

I have been made keenly aware in the past few weeks just how many verses there are in the Bible warning against using words carelessly. In fact, in many of those lists of actions the Bible warns against that make those ladies faint end with a warning about gossiping or slander, about lying or stirring up trouble. Don’t murder. Don’t steal. Don’t cheat. And watch your mouth.

I was back and forth for years speaking and apologizing, or talking and justifying before it finally became clear to me. I can’t get my tongue in line. It’s just not possible. If I am a sailboat, I will never be able to control that sail and that can be a terrible thing because it directs my route. The only thing I can do is to tether the line to the Word and let Him hold it.

God gives us His Spirit and along with that His power, but over and over, more times than I can count, when The Spirit is mentioned in the Bible, the very first evidence of His presence is a change in speech. The spirit comes and the people praise. They speak about God. They rejoice. They spread His message. And if they are doing that, they aren’t gossiping, fighting, lying, or any of the rest of it. It are almost always the first result of being filled by His Spirit.

Because I see that so clearly, it has shown in my life that when I lose control of my speech, the first thing I need to do is re-tether that line. If this is something that you see as a struggle for you, if you have an interest in seeing if there is something to this, if there is even the slightest needling in your mind that maybe you need to evaluate the weight of your words, then let me challenge you to take these steps and put them into practice over the next week.

1. Open your Bible. Put your mind on Him. If you think you don’t have the time, think about your commute. That’s plenty of time to listen in. You can use the internet to play sermons or read books or to just read straight scripture.
2. When someone asks for prayer, stop everything. Don’t say “PRAYERS!” and stick a little hand emoji and move on with life. That is not praying. Stop and pray for that person right then and there. Better yet, ask someone how you can pray for them. It will occupy your mind and it will use your words for something positive.
3. Just be quiet. If your words aren’t ripe, don’t pick them. If you need time to respond to someone, just say that. . A wise saying is “Better to stay quiet and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.” It’s better to wait and say the right thing than say something you have to do damage control over later.
4. Ask God to prepare you conversations in advance and to help you listen for His voice throughout your day.

In fact, as I close this, I want to share a prayer that I pray which helps me refocus. Feel free to take it and form it to your language and give it as your own.

God,  give me the conversations You want  me to have today. Help me hear what You have to say to me. Use our words to encourage each other and to glorify you. It’s in Your name I pray. Amen.