Staying in tune with God

It can be easy to base our value or success in terms of numbers.

You know how it is: “I have this many followers” or “I make this much money”.

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I mean, even in the old days, families were ranked on the number of children — specifically, sons — they had.

I’ve been reading through 1 Chronicles, and if any of you have done so, you know it can get a tad dense. For instance, “So-and-so had five sons: Son 1, Son 2, Son 3, Son 4 and Son 5. Son 1 had two sons…” And on and on it goes.

Well, eventually, I reached chapter 12 where it describes how many warriors from each Israelite tribe joined David’s cause to become king. Most of the tribes offered thousands of men to support his claim. Seriously, one tribe had 50,000 skilled warriors all ready to support David.

Then I came to 1 Chronicles 12:32.

“From the tribe of Issachar, there were 200 leaders of the tribe with their relatives. All these men understood the signs of the times and knew the best course for Israel to take.”

Two hundred men. Not 50,000. Not brave warriors or skilled soldiers. But 200 leaders who recognized David should be king. They were aware of the situations happening around them. They were alert, and they didn’t hesitate once they knew what they needed to do.

We need to be like that in our walk with God. We need to understand what’s going on in the world around us, so we can make sure we’re supporting the right cause and following the correct course for our lives.

We should focus on making sure we’re in tune with God. Take time to be still and listen for His voice. Then, when we hear His voice, we need to possess the courage and the strength to act on it and follow through.

We don’t always need to have the largest number or reach a certain number to determine our value. Issachar offered the fewest amount of men — by a long shot — to David’s cause, but the Bible describes them as leaders with wisdom who understood the signs of the times.

So, take a lesson from the good ‘ole tribe of Issachar. And, while you’re at it, Paul has some good supporting advice in 1 Corinthians 16:13-14:

“Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything in love.”

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A parable of the bread

You know those renovation shows that take fixer upper houses and completely redo them to make beautiful houses?

Well, if I’ve learned anything from them, it’s that renovations normally take longer than expected and they can be difficult.

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Yep, renovations can reveal ugly things underneath the floorboards, unstable supports and poor wiring. Rarely do you see a beautiful new house undergoing renovation.

Now, I know we’d all like to think we’re the beautiful mansion that doesn’t need any additional work, but I doubt that’s the case. Because most of us — like King David, who wrote the Psalm below — mess up and realize we need some help.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” — Psalm 51:10

I heard something the other day that completely stuck with me: Renew = Renovate.

Sometimes, we need to undergo some renovations — in the way we think, the way we act, the way we speak.

Because maybe while we’ve been busy living our lives, some mold has starting growing in the rafters of our minds and has contaminated our dreams and desires. Maybe some carpenter ants have been chewing away at our hearts and weakening our discretion and resolve. And so, it becomes time for a renewing, a renovation.

“And don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” — Romans 12:2a

As we know from most fixer upper renovations, that transformation and renovation process — and the waiting for the renovation to be done — can be painful.

But let me tell you a story.

On Tuesday, I made bread. Yep, homemade bread. I had to prove the yeast, which meant pouring it in warm water and waiting for it to become active. I had to knead, pound, press and mold the dough, constantly flipping it and disturbing it — all to prepare and develop the gluten.

After kneading the dough and placing it in a bowl, I had to wait for it to rise. An hour later, it was time for… more kneading! Punch. Press. Flip. Repeat.

Then, more waiting. Until finally! it was time to bake.

But baking, of course, requires extreme heat. Thirty-five minutes of sitting on a metal rack, waiting in uncomfortable, almost unbearable, heat.

Why did this loaf of bread endure all of that?

Well, without going through that entire process, the loaf of bread would still be individual ingredients, waiting to fulfill their purpose. It took the process of transformation in the creator’s hands to become something more.
Bread

The same applies to us when we submit to God’s will for us.

Yes, it can be uncomfortable. It might not go according to our plans. We might still be waiting for something. And every now and then, it feels like we’re getting punched in the gut, only to be thrown into scorching fire.

But Romans 12:2 doesn’t just speak of transformation and renewing without any purpose. No, it speaks of promise.

“And don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you might prove what is the good, acceptable and perfect will of God.” — Romans 12:2

Just like I had to prove the yeast for it to become active, the waiting and change that comes with renovation will ultimately prove and activate God’s will for us.

And so, I’ll leave you with this reminder that has been a pretty good reminder for me: “Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust Him, and He will help you.” — Psalm 37:5

Why I write

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Sometimes it honestly seems like there’s nothing more intimidating than a blank white piece of paper — or, more realistically, the blank white screen depicting the piece of paper humans have traditionally written upon.

Upon that blank page, you’re supposed to spill out your thoughts, your aspirations, your secrets, your mind, your being.

And the paper or screen absorbs those words.

Then what?

Other minds might happen upon the words, read them and take them in. Maybe they’ll remember the words. Or maybe those words will be fleeting black characters that are briefly processed, but which never fully take root within the perusing minds.

And yet, we still write. Perhaps because we think we have something to say. Quite often, because there’s a persistent need that thumps within one’s inner being and begs to be relayed to the external world. The need grows until, at last, it drives the physical body to put itself to work and interpret the metaphysical by actually transferring those messages onto that blank sheet.

And, honestly, it’s easy to ask, after exposing part of your innermost self to the world, “To what end? What’s the use?”

The answer: Who can really tell?

I think it all hinges upon passion and purpose. If I truly believe in something, then wouldn’t I want to show that to others? Wouldn’t I need to?

So, we continue to write, to speak, to relay, because we need to. Because part of our innate human nature is a desire to communicate with and to be heard by others.

But you know what? Other humans will probably let us down in our endeavor to be heard and understood.

And that’s where I insert the source of what drives me to write on those blank screens.

I write because of my love for Jesus.

More importantly, I write because of His love for me.

His ear is always extended to us. He is always there to talk to, to communicate with. He is always there to listen, even if what I have to say feels measly and insignificant or monstrous and looming. And He doesn’t hear only to forget what I said later. He hears, He knows and He cares. And He extends a hand to hold onto.

That’s why I write.

Call me a logophile (or maybe just “a lover of words”)

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Well, here’s a random musing for ya.

The premise of this one emerged when I realized how cool it was that the following sentence actually works as a sentence:
I think that that that that that that describes should be deleted.

Go ahead, put it in Word. No squiggly green lines.

Naturally, I had to outdo myself with my nerdy, wordy weirdness. So I started thinking of words that I can type using just one hand (because I love it when that happens). I mean, come on.

Awed. Bump. Crest. Dread. Eager. Fester. Grade. Hilly. Ilk. Joy. Kill. Limp. Monopoly. Numb. Opinion. Pomp. Rare. Secret. Test. Up. Veer. Weave. You. Zest.

(Yes, I gave up on “q” and “x”.)

So, maybe that doesn’t quite excite you. But what about when you take those same words that once held individual meaning and create something entirely new with them?

It holds a monopoly on abandoned dreams,
for mountains of its ilk have long caused travelers —
once eager and daring —
to stumble, crash and limp along
and exchange joy and purpose for numb torpor.

There the mountain looms with pomp and pride,
causing thoughts of dread to fester,
turning secret opinion to supposed fact:
the journey up will kill you.

Yet up you trudge, veer and weave
up its steep, taunting and daunting grade
you dig deep with rare resolve to master its test.

Now, here you stand upon its hilly crest,
Awed, empowered, with renewed zest.

It was just another bump along the way.

Maybe it’s just me, but I find the ability to do that fascinating. So, call me a logophile… except I should probably just stick with a lover of words.

The voices we choose to listen to

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Words have tremendous power. They can build up and encourage; they can tear down and wound.

To relay and comprehend words — even when reading — we use a voice. Each person’s voice is unique, be it the cadence and rhythm of their speaking voice or the personality and style of their written thoughts.

But what voices are we choosing to listen to?

The world contains millions and millions of voices, and so many of those voices are vying for our attention. Maybe it’s the latest must-see TV show or movie that uses the voices of actors to convey the voices of a director, producer and writer. Maybe it’s a company’s commercial for a “must-have” product that uses its voice to seep into your mind, thereby triggering your own voice that says you need to make a change to become better.

And there — right there — that’s where we become vulnerable. Because our own voices can be both our allies and our enemies.

I’ll speak for myself here, but I imagine I can’t be the only one when I say: Sometimes the loudest voice telling me I can’t do something is my own.

So often, I end up becoming my own deterrent. Because I listen to that voice. I give up on myself before I’ve even allowed a chance to prove to myself and the rest of the world around me that I can, that I will.

We tell ourselves we’ll fail. We tell ourselves we’re alone in the world. We tell ourselves we’re not good enough. We tell ourselves, “Maybe tomorrow.”

Sometimes the voices are like a mob screaming at us and sometimes they’re quiet whispers that snake through our ears. But each voice has the potential to drag us down in defeat, failure and loneliness. Instead of fighting, we convince ourselves those voices are right. We give up on ourselves before we have the chance to fail or succeed.

We’ll never get anywhere if we live like that.

Instead, use your voice to declare the truth and cut through those lies. Use your voice to speak words that are true, right, uplifting, pure, lovely, excellent and full of life.

And then listen to that voice.

Insanity. INSANITY. I-N-S-A-N-I-T-Y.

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Insanity. Insanity. Insanity. Insanity.

I can type the letters I-N-S-A-N-I-T-Y in that exact order as many times as I want to, hoping each time that a new word will emerge, but the result will always be the same word: Insanity.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, while expecting a different result. So, allow me to ask a question — you can choose if it will be a rhetorical one.

Are you insane?

Perhaps I should rephrase and redirect the question: Am I insane?

To answer the question, let me propose a hypothetical situation. Imagine I’m following a road. La dee da, there I go, ambling along the road before me. Suddenly, as I’m walking, I run into a huge brick wall that just happens to be blocking the entire road in front of me.

I persistently continue walking, but each time, I walk into this brick wall. Again and again, I try to keep walking on this road. Again and again, I run into that wall.

If you saw me attempt this feat, I hope you’d say something like, “You know, I don’t think that’s the best road to follow. Maybe you should go around the wall or take a different road.” But you’d probably snicker and be more like, Okay, this girl has some issues. 

Yes, I’m being slightly facetious since I doubt the majority of us will ever actually encounter a scenario like this.

But what about those of us who keep facing the same struggles in our lives and keep failing to overcome them? Because if you’re anything like any other human in the world, it’s highly likely that you’re facing — or have faced — some obstacles in your life.

I don’t want to waste my life running into the same roadblocks. But to overcome those roadblocks, that means changing something. And it seems odd, but change often correlates with humility.

Snap. Did I just say that?

Yep, I did.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Perseverance and determination are also essential for change and for overcoming challenges. But I think the first step just might be humility.

If you’ve used Google Maps, Waze or any GPS app, chances are you’ve heard the word, “Recalculating.”

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There are an assortment of reasons that could prompt the word. Maybe there’s road construction or an accident along the way. Maybe there’s a mass exodus of drivers to the grocery stores in lieu of an impending winter storm, causing an insane amount of traffic. Maybe you made the wrong turn.

But all of those reasons boil down to the fact that the route you were originally following wasn’t the optimal choice. It wasn’t perfect.

So, you have to adjust. And that can be hard to do because that means maybe, just maybe, you aren’t perfect. And, let’s be honest, who likes admitting that?

But I don’t want to refuse to adjust my path because I’m too proud, afraid, lethargic or stubborn.

At some point then, don’t we need to rethink something? Don’t we need to recalculate and adjust? Don’t we need to admit that something needs to change?

Maybe you’re not content with the progress — or the lack of progress — you’re making. Maybe you wish you were on a different path, but you’re too afraid of change. Maybe you’re just comfortable with the same old routine you’ve been performing for years now. Maybe you think you deserve the bruises that brick wall keeps giving you.

But I challenge you — just like I challenge myself — to look at the road you’re on right now and assess both your progress and the destination you’re pressing toward. Are you getting where you want to be? Or are you stuck in a gif-like loop of walking into the same brick wall?

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Bikes, stitches and Aloe vera plants

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Gotta give cred to my former roommate who had cool stuff for me to take still life photos of.

Ever feel like you’re getting hit on the head with the same heavy hammer over and over and over again?

Yeah, that happened to me today. The same message kept popping up unexpectedly throughout this lovely crisp November Monday.

First, it sprouted as an idea while I was reading my Bible this morning. Then, it blossomed into a vine of connected thoughts while I was walking around my work building during lunch. Then, it branched out from another post over at the Beauty Beyond Bones blog. And finally, it snaked itself around my mind in the form of a song that randomly played on some stranger’s YouTube playlist.

And finally, I was like, OK, I get the picture. I’ll write about this.

So here it is: If your father truly loves you, he’ll want what’s best for you, right?

I remember when I fell off my bike when I was seven years old. I flew over the handlebars and skidded chin-first across the gravel driveway. Bawling, I proceeded to scamper up our super long, steep driveway to my dad who would know how to fix it. He cleaned my battle wounds and off we went to the hospital.

I turned eight a few days later, sporting a nice set of stitches on my chin and elbow.

A couple weeks later, I was scheduled to have my stitches taken out. Let’s just say one of those stitches was really embedded in my chin and it took a lot of tugging to get it out. Afterward, my dad led me out to the parking lot and took care of me as I heaved in the bushes by the car.

He then drove to a store and bought me a little Aloe vera plant. Most eight-year-olds wouldn’t be too impressed with an Aloe plant as a gift, and I can’t say I was at first either. But my dad told me to smear the Aloe’s goo on my chin and elbow injuries every day and it would help the scars heal. So I did.

I used that gift countless times throughout my life.

And that Aloe plant grew over the years, becoming Master of the Windowsill, spawning other little Aloe plants and still going strong when I moved out of my parent’s house years later.

My dad wanted what’s best for me, so he gave me a gift that was helpful, considerate and a blessing in the future, as well.

So let me ask you: If our dads here on earth care so much for us and want to give us the best Aloe plant gifts, then how much more will our Father in Heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him? (That’s a Jen version of Matthew 7:11, in case you were wondering.)

My dad’s great. I know he loves me fiercely, would do anything to protect me and wants the best for me. But even he doesn’t love me as much as Jesus loves me.

God has the best intentions for us. He isn’t holding out on us or baiting us with a gift, only to move it away before we can receive it.

Sometimes, yes, we need to wait for His gifts. Sometimes, yes, that waiting is really hard. But He really does know what’s best for us, at the best time.

God has a plan and purpose for us greater than we can even imagine. He has a gift for each one of us.

But it’s up to us to receive that gift.

I could have refused to use the Aloe’s gel on my scars. It was smelly and sticky and sometimes those pointy ends stabbed me as I tried to glean the gooey innards from the plant. This was a gift?

But I accepted my dad’s gift to me and it helped heal me. If you looked at my chin now, you would barely see the scars where those stitches were.

Sometimes all it takes is trusting that your Father knows best. Because God’s gifts for His children are good. Hope, joy, peace, love, freedom and so much more. Not only do these gifts from God increase along with us, but they also heal and mend — just like that trusty Aloe vera plant.