Surrender: The Path Through Suffering

As we walk through this broken world, the experience of suffering is inevitable. It may come from the sin of others, the consequences of our own sin, or simply the reality of living in a fallen world. Whatever the source, suffering invites us to respond and serves as an opportunity to walk intimately with our Savior, who is himself well-acquainted with suffering.

The Lord has been showing me lately that the path He’s given us to walk through our experiences of suffering is one of surrender. A heart of humility and surrender traverses suffering with eyes on Jesus – hope in his eternal purposes and presence, desperate dependence, and faithful obedience. This journey of surrender will vary with each unique circumstance, but there are some common ways that surrender is expressed in the midst of suffering:

  • Trusting God’s sovereignty, especially in terms of timing and provision. We surrender our desired outcome.
  • Receiving His comfort, which requires us to grieve before Him and choose to believe that He is our Good Father.
  • Willingly entering into the hard places by resting in His presence there with us.
  • Acknowledging and repenting of our own sin.
  • Choosing to forgive those who have hurt us. We surrender our desire to defend ourselves and seek revenge, and respond with mercy instead.
  • Allowing God to rewrite the story of our suffering and reorient our hearts toward Him.

Let me hear Your lovingkindness in the morning;
For I trust in You;
Teach me the way in which I should walk;
For to You I lift up my soul.

– Psalm 143:8, NASB

The Problem with Confidence

The mantra of the world is all about building confidence: “You are enough,” “You can do whatever you set your mind to,” “You can manifest your own destiny,” “You are worthy & entitled.” But this pursuit of self-confidence is like building a house on quicksand – it won’t be long-lasting or stand up under the weight of reality. It’s bound to crumble. But it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have any confidence at all. The problem with confidence is when it’s misdirected and built on the wrong foundation.

The gospel, as it always does, flips the world’s values on their head. God’s redemptive purposes give us a very different perspective. His Word teaches that we are weak and He is strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). We are vessels of clay, and the power comes from Him (2 Corinthians 4:7). Without God’s grace in Christ, we are rebellious and dead in sin, deserving only of judgment. We must abide in Christ, for apart from him we can do nothing (John 15:1-11). Our sufficiency is from God (2 Corinthians 3:4-6), and it is He who equips and enables us. Because God created and redeemed us, our lives belong to Him and we exist for His glory, not to build up our own kingdom (Ephesians 2:1-10; Colossians 3:1-4; Hebrews 12:28-29).

So then, if we are weak and dependent, what do we do with this idea of confidence? Does it mean that we must cower through life in shame and fear? Not even close!

As followers of Christ, our confidence has a different foundation than the world offers. Our confidence is rooted in the grace of God, the redemption and righteousness provided by Christ, and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit to teach and change us. Most importantly, our confidence is marked by humility – knowing that we are sinners in need of a Savior and fragile vessels in need of a greater power. We recognize and surrender to the reality that our lives belong to God, and that He will accomplish His purposes in and through us. God’s forgiveness covers our shame, and His presence and strength calm our fear. Confidence does not have to be synonymous with arrogance. We can walk with God with boldness AND humble dependence.

Playlist: Humility

Humility is an ongoing lesson that the Lord has been teaching me and cultivating in me for quite a while now. The root of our sin and rebellion is pride, and so it’s become clear to me that the life of discipleship is a journey of learning to walk with the Lord in humble dependence and submission.

Music is such a valuable tool in helping me to remember truth, so I’ve put together a playlist that speaks the truths I need to hear in this journey toward humility. These are songs of dependence, our weakness & need for Christ, the undeserved grace that God has poured out on us in the Gospel, and our right response of surrendering our self-will to pursue God.

Book Review: Unshakable Pursuit

Unshakable Pursuit: Chasing the God Who Chases Us is a new 30-day devotion book written by Grace Thornton. The book is centered on the story of Paul’s time in Athens from Acts 17, and includes Scripture readings and prayer points for each day.

I love Grace’s writing, and this book is no exception. It is engaging, convicting, gospel-centered, and grace-saturated. Unshakable Pursuit is a unique and valuable resource for anyone who wants to know God more intimately and be encouraged and challenged in their walk with Him. Here are a few of my favorite aspects of this book:

  • Grace’s giftedness for storytelling connects God’s Word, activity, and promises to your daily life and experiences.
  • It casts a vision for growth and discipleship, for knowing God’s character and how He works in your life, and for joining in the mission of making God and the gospel known around the world.
  • The book zeroes in on one passage of Scripture, which allows you to consider it in more detail and understand its connection to God’s grand narrative of redemption.
  • It teaches you to pray specifically for God’s purposes to be accomplished in your own heart and among the nations.

The gospel message runs like a thread throughout the entire book: God pursues us in His grace, so in turn we pursue Him in response to His love, and we pursue others so that they might also know the life and freedom that we have been given. It’s a great book to go back to regularly, and to share with friends.

Unshakable Pursuit just released on May 21, and can be purchased from New Hope Publishers or on Amazon (on June 18). You can connect with Grace on her blog, and be sure to check out her first book, I Don’t Wait Anymore.

Being Defines Doing

A common problem that many of us share is defining our identity and value based on our work and performance. We let the roles we fill (wife, mom, student, athlete, employee) become the central, orienting piece of our life and identity. We also evaluate ourselves based on how well we perform. In a nutshell, we tend to operate out of the belief that our doing defines our being.

But Scripture points us to the fact that, for those who are disciples of Jesus, reality is quite the opposite. Our core identity consists of two parts: being created by God in His image in order to display His glory; and being redeemed by Christ and adopted as a child of God, so that we may know God and make Him known.

This identity is where our value and worth are derived from. We did nothing to merit our creation or salvation, so the quality of our performance cannot touch our value. And with our core identity being rooted in Christ, the job we do and roles we occupy do not define us. Instead, the identity given by God shapes and drives what we do and how we live. Our roles become unique avenues for us to know God more intimately and live as His image-bearers.

So let us hold our work loosely, remembering that we are defined by something more eternal. And let us humbly and boldly live in a way that exalts our Savior, in whose perfect righteousness we stand secure.

Why Community is an Important Piece of Your Counseling Journey

Sometimes people operate from the position that counseling is an entirely personal, private matter. They won’t tell people they are close to that they’re even in counseling, much less share details about what they’re learning and how they’re wanting to change. But this attitude toward counseling eliminates an important element from the process: community. Why should you consider sharing this intimate journey with your community? Here are just a few key reasons…

  1. The counseling relationship is limited and temporary.

    At best, you may see your counselor for an hour each week. Your counselor can’t walk through daily life with you. There are certain limitations in your counselor’s insight and impact that are inherent in the nature of the relationship. While some people may need a longer period of counseling care than others, it’s generally a temporary situation that concludes or becomes less frequent once its purposes are met. As counselors, our goal is to help you address the current issues and struggles, give you tools for growth and change, and then launch you back out to continue the journey in the context of a gospel-centered, discipling community. You shouldn’t rely on your counselor as your sole source of encouragement or nourishment.

  2. Sanctification happens in the context of relationships, and within the local church body specifically.

    Biblical counseling is all about sanctification — pursuing heart change as we walk with God and are shaped by His Word. And that kind of change doesn’t happen in isolation; we’re designed to live and grow in community. The church has been united into a family, and we need one another. It’s in relationships that we are sharpened and challenged, and where we learn to love and forgive.

  3. You need other people to help you remember truth, to hold you accountable, and to encourage you.

    I’ve found that counseling is so much more effective when the people you live life with are aware of the content and progress of the counseling. This allows them to be involved and supportive in specific, tangible ways. And you never know how God will use your story to impact their lives as well.

Counseling can be a painful process, and it’s intensely personal. But sharing it with your community will be invaluable. What’s holding you back from opening up and including others in your journey?

 

 

How the Church Can Care for Those It Sends Out: Getting Started

Your church may be enthusiastic about sending people out on mission, but are you prepared to support them well?

In the New Testament we get to see some beautiful examples of how the church can minister to those who are sent out on mission. The church supported Paul with prayer, financial and material provisions, relationships and encouragement. Paul knew the church cared for him and he could ask for their help when it was needed. The church also welcomed him back and was eager to hear about all that God was doing.

The role of supporting those we send out is a task the church should take seriously, as both a responsibility and a gift. There are so many ways that a church can care for its sent ones. For those who are trying to figure out how to even get started, here are a couple key ideas for laying the foundation…

CARE — Choose two or three people to serve as advocates on a care team, with one team assigned to each family unit overseas. Each team would be responsible for checking in with their sent one regularly, encouraging them, and staying aware of how the church can meet their needs.

CONNECT — That same care team would function as the sent one’s representatives to the church so that they stay connected. In conjunction with the church leaders, the team can figure out the best way to regularly communicate the sent one’s prayer requests to the congregation. There are many other ways to connect, but establishing and maintaining this work of prayer is vital.

Those who are sent out to serve overseas can feel forgotten by their home church. They face many unique struggles, and often without a strong community of local believers supporting them. With the intentional love and care of the sending church, they can be spiritually and emotionally healthier, and able to be more effective in their work.

Whether your church is preparing to send out its first overseas workers, or you’re looking to improve your support of existing workers, it’s important to think well about how to start. Focus on care and connection, then grow from there.

Seeing Through the Fog

“Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”  – Philippians 4:8

I’ve found that there are times when my mind can’t wrap itself around words. Maybe you’ve experienced this too. It usually happens when my emotions are especially strong, and I can’t see through the fog. I know I need to align my thoughts and feelings with what God says is true, but it’s hard to remember what I know and it’s hard to grasp the written Word.

How can you fix your eyes on the Lord when the words on the page aren’t communicating to your heart? How do you let truth pierce through the fog? One helpful tool is the many images that Scripture uses to describe God’s character and the ways He interacts with His people.

God is our refuge.

He is our firm foundation.

He is our Shepherd.

Jesus is the Bread of Life.

Christ is the Lamb of God who bears our sin and takes away our shame.

God is the Holy One on the throne.

He is the light to our path, the One who led His people by a pillar of fire.

Dwelling on these images can help fix your mind and heart on God’s character and promises. He is sovereign, strong, gracious, sufficient, loving, holy, and faithful. Even when the words aren’t sinking into your heart, seek to know Him and draw near.

“Oh, that we might know the LORD! Let us press on to know Him.”  – Hosea 6:3a

Our Daily Bread

In Exodus 16 we find a story that displays God’s character and teaches us how we’re designed to relate to Him. He had delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and was personally guiding them. But the people began to complain about the lack of food in the wilderness; they forgot God’s deliverance and presence, and questioned His character and intentions. In response, God fed the Israelites with a daily supply of manna that He provided, sustaining them in the wilderness for 40 years.

DEPENDENCE & REST || The Israelites were utterly dependent on the Lord for their daily bread. They needed Him to provide what they could not produce for themselves; they couldn’t go even one day without Him. The Israelites were taught to rest, and to trust that God would provide a double portion to enable that Sabbath rest.

HUMILITY || The dependence on God’s daily provision was meant to produce humility in the Israelites. In Deuteronomy 8, Moses reflects this in his warning to the Israelites to not become proud. They were called to remember that it was God who delivered and sustained them and to respond in praise and thanksgiving.

TRUST || God’s character and faithfulness were on display as He sent the manna each day. Even though the manna itself was mysterious, something the Israelites had never seen before, they could trust God in the unknown.

OBEDIENCE || Part of the purpose of the manna was for God’s people to learn obedience, listening to His voice and following His instructions. His intentions toward them were pure, and His commands were for their good.

Just as God revealed Himself to the Israelites as He provided for them, so we too can learn these lessons as we draw near to Him. We are made to walk in humility, dependent on our Creator and overflowing with thanksgiving. He is always good, always trustworthy. And in Christ, God has offered provision for our deepest need—salvation and rescue from the bondage and penalty of sin. Jesus is the Bread of Life, given by God so that we might have life in Him:

“Jesus said, ‘I tell you the truth, Moses didn’t give you bread from heaven. My Father did. And now He offers you the true bread from heaven. The true bread of God comes down from heaven and gives life to the world…. I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’”  — John 6:32-33, 35

In salvation, and in all of life, we are fully dependent on the Lord — for grace, strength, growth, joy, life. He knows our need, and He is faithful to provide. He is our rest.

Whatever you are experiencing today, remember this story of a God who sees, loves, teaches and provides… and look to Him for your daily bread.