humility & our calling 

During the past few weeks, my Bible study group has been mediating on the idea of humility. Recently, we learned about Paul’s humility.

What strikes me about Paul is that his characteristics and strengths remained constant through his journey: before he knew God and after he found God’s grace and mercy. He was always a zealous, perseverant, thick-skinned person – but it was once targeted for persecution, and then changed to a zealousness for telling people about mercy, repentance, and the gospel.

While most of us aren’t as extreme as Paul (as in, we don’t persecute Christians or use our gifts for the complete opposite of God’s calling), I have realized one thing: when we use our strengths on our own terms, we often think we are using them well and that we are in a good place. We don’t necessarily know what lies ahead of us and how much more we could do if we used these for God. This is where humility comes in. 

I was reminded of my youth pastor, who once talked about how she got to a ministry of helping addicts and the homeless. She said that she originally went to school for hotel management and hospitality, and she always thought she would use this to establish a career managing trendy restaurants and hotels in the city. God changed her plans, and she was humble enough to let Him do so. God used her strengths and passion to change her ministry and define her calling. Instead of managing restaurants, she now serves thousands of meals to the homeless. Instead of managing hotels, she manages sober living facilities for men coming out of drug addiction, prison, and homelessness. This new mission required the same general skills, but has a very different purpose. 

I can’t help but apply this to my own life, and ask questions about how God will use my experiences and gifts to reach the lost. But I also don’t think that I, with all my limited understanding, have the knowledge and foresight to put this together – to figure out how to use my strengths for God. What I have learned and what I continue to learn is that part of humility is 1) trusting in God and 2) letting go of our plans so that His better, more perfect plans can begin to emerge.

a broken heart 

Concerning the prophets: My heart is broken within me; all my bones tremble. I am like a drunken man, like a strong man overcome by wine, because of the Lord and his holy words.” -Jeremiah 23:9 NIV

As Lent continues, I continue a prayer to God to break my heart – because His heart breaks for each of us and because He uses people with broken hearts. 

Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, was one of these broken-hearted people. Told to preach a message of repentance and to be a voice of warning to Judah, he persevered when shunned, unwelcome, and criticized. He served with a broken heart, and he wept over people’s sin and their unwillingness to turn back to the Lord.

I believe I have grown complacent to the needs of the world around me. On one hand, these past few months have been ones of such fulfillment and inspiration from God. But in ways, I still fail to let this overflow onto others and ignore the needs of people – especially when meeting those needs comes in the way of my own personal desires and needs. Denying myself and my flesh is slowly changing this, and this is where my prayer comes in.

I want my heart to be broken for: the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of the people around me, for sin and self-destruction, and for injustice in this world. I want my heart to be broken so that I not only feel compassion, but so I am moved to act with compassion. 

To be honest, I do not know if I have what it takes for my heart to be truly broken (it sounds pretty terrifying). Jeremiah had such a heavy weight to bear. So while I have prayed this prayer in the past, it too often turns into me trying to just be a good person to meet others’ needs out of my own will. This inevitably fails because I burn out and become a weeping person with no joy – not someone like Jeremiah, who had tenacious faith and determination. So I pray that I allow God to continuously fill me so that my desire to be salt and light does not run dry. I pray that rejection I may face does not discourage me, but that it brings me closer to God’s own (rejected) heart.

lent (and questioning our feelings)

I recently saw a clip featuring Judah Smith and his discussion of the often-embraced idea that our feelings are truth. This idea is so engrained in our culture (especially Western, 21st century culture) that questioning it can seem odd. Basically, Judah Smith insinuates, what we feel – often intertwined with our desires, dreams, and thoughts – can be wrong and/or harmful to our physical, mental, or spiritual health.  

In light of the start of Lent, I choose to meditate on the counterintuitive idea that my feelings are not truth. This season, I am giving up processed/refined sugar. It is only day one but I am already feeling mild withdrawal symptoms – lightheadedness, stomach weirdness, all that jazz. True to my sugar addict tendencies, my desires and thoughts pull me towards sugar. But what this time of starving my flesh has already taught me is that desires and feelings can lead us towards unhealthy things (aka sin). Like addicts, our lifestyle patterns are often reinforced by our feelings. If we are addicted to sugar, we eat more of it and we want more of it. If we lie, we grow desensitized to lies and lie more. So on and so forth. 

Cutting off these negative desires and feelings at their source 1) reminds us that they are not truth and 2) reveals the strong grip they may have on our life. But cutting them off also begins to change the way our flesh and minds think. This interesting article on sugar and Lent talks about several tests that were done on rats’ and actions in relation to their sugar consumption. The article says: “Rats in sugar withdrawal are more likely to show passive behaviors (like floating) than active behaviors (like trying to escape) when placed in water, suggesting feelings of helplessness.” Essentially, sugar dependency caused these rats to be more passive, impulsive, and prone to anxiety and depression. 

To carry this forward into our lives: our feelings towards sin are of  n like those of the rats towards sugar. This is not to say that we are literal addicts (although we can be). But when we live by our feelings, we can become passive and impulsive (or even anxious and depressed). The end irony is that those feelings that we thought would set us free if followed are what end up trapping us in a cycle of perpetual sin and unhealthy behavior. 

love languages

Today, I took the love languages test. My top two languages were 1) quality time and 2) words of affirmation. I took this test because recently, I’ve felt a bit disconnected with specific loved ones in my life. I know these people love me and sacrifice a lot for me – but I still often feel like they don’t understand me and that our relationship feels disjointed. Unfortunately, I have seen that I usually don’t appreciate or even notice the little sacrifices that they make for me. I thought by taking the test I could understand the different ways of showing (“speaking”) love, and apply these lessons to my life.

What I learned, and what I have to remind myself of, is that we all have a different love language we use to show others we love them. For some people, it’s taking care of things for others and acts of service. For others, it’s quality time. For others still, it’s gift-giving. The fact that we all have these different love languages is really a beautiful thing, because it gives us the chance to experience different kinds of love from people in our lives. We can know the joy of receiving a small, but thoughtful gift; we can be grateful for an act of service or words of affirmation. We can savor quality time and take comfort in physical touch. 

So when it comes to the relationships in my life, I pray that I can remember these love languages in my life. I want to remember that not everyone has the same love language as me – sometimes, people show their love in different ways. I may have to make more of an effort to appreciate someone else’s love language, and more importantly, make more of an effort to give them the love they need in their language.

words

Words have power. It’s a cliched idea, but words can speak life and they can speak death. They can hurt or they can uplift. They can bruise or they can heal. 

This week, God has been calling me to pay more attention to the words that I speak. I would say that on the whole, I am not a terribly mean person – granted, I have been mean to people countless times before, but have at least improved in the sense that my words are not said with ill intentions or to hurt people. But there is still a long way to go, and God is calling me to pay attention to the following areas: 

1. Words of sarcasm: I can tend to be exceedingly sarcastic at times. Sometimes it’s through jokes, while other times, I just get impatient and the sarcasm in me comes out. While sarcasm is not intrinsically bad, I believe that some sarcasm has roots in bitterness and anger. This is not good. Other times, sarcasm can just hurt people even though I may not know it and they may not say it. 

2. Words I speak to those closest to me: I think this is true for everybody, but I tend to less carefully choose my words when it comes to immediate family and my close friends. While I love these people so much and try to speak words of love, the angry and harsh words I may speak have the potential for more hurt to them than if I spoke these to a stranger. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

3. Useless words: These words come when my mind is running non-stop or when I am just in a weird mood. Usually these words end up being jokes I make (usually terrible jokes!) or even silly stories I tell about my life or my day. None of this is terrible in itself, but these words can be pointless and at worst, selfish. I have to remember that there is a time to speak and there is a time to listen, and that time I spend talking aimlessly could have been a moment for someone to share with me their story. 

Today, I pray for a spirit of gentleness and wisdom when it comes to my words. I pray that the words I speak build others up instead of tearing them down. I pray that I can be a better listener.

overflowing peace 

Because I am generally an anxious person/someone who struggles with worrying too much, I can go through periods of time during which I do not truly feel God’s peace. Most of the time, it is my own doing; I get so easily caught up in my thoughts about situations, especially when these thoughts race a hundred miles a minute, that I forget about the bigger picture and lose perspective. I am sure I’m not the only one who feels that way. 

While this can be frustrating (and while I want to remain at peace instead of going in and out of it), I have learned to savor even more the peace and serenity that Christ and His love offer me. It is the moments of being so abundantly filled with His love and just basking in the knowledge that there is nothing that can separate me from Him, these moments, that carry me through. These moments of being Spirit-filled inspire me to overflow and pour out onto others. 

I am so thankful for these moments.  

goodness

In Genesis 1, which talks about God’s creation of this world, there is one theme that is held constant in His creation: goodness. Throughout the chapter (Genesis 1: 3, 10, 12, and so on), we hear: “He saw that it was good.” This is the first instance of the idea of goodness in the Bible, or an idea that implies right and wrong. So we read this chapter, we see goodness. And we see that this goodness comes from God. Therefore, we are introduced to one of the first mentioned character traits of God: His goodness.

This idea that God (and His will, plans, and Word) is good is one of the most integral foundations of our faith, and is one that keeps coming back to my mind and heart as I meditate on God’s world. But this idea can often be one of the first that is challenged. We can see this in Genesis 3, when the serpent tempts Eve.

Genesis 3:6 says, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate.

The moment Eve took of the fruit and ate it, sin entered the world. But what’s interesting, as one Desiring God devotional reminds us, is that Eve did not question what is and is not good. She did not have any ill intentions, or a desire to do what was wrong in God’s eyes. Instead, she fell for the idea that there can be good from a source other than God. This idea is a deception that is still present today. So often, we see something that looks good (and is likely intrinsically good), and we try to get it without God.

So I ask, what good things in this world are you desiring right now? Maybe you desire money, a relationship, marriage? These are all good things in and of themselves. The question is: are you seeking these right now, when know that they are not God’s will for you?