You’re Surrounded

What are you surrounded by? The world and its negativity, despair and hopelessness? Or the Lord and his songs of deliverance and his steadfast love?

What are you surrounded by? The world and its negativity, despair and hopelessness? Or the Lord and His songs of deliverance and His steadfast love?

Have you ever examined your life and realized that you are not the person you want to be? One thing leads to another and all of the sudden you become a person you don’t like. For me, the circumstances of my life lead me to becoming very cynical towards the things of the Lord. I found myself questioning the importance of prayer, questioning the Lord’s desire to be involved in my life, and more.

Almost a year of doubting the Lord sent me to a very dark and lonely place, and I knew that something needed to change. I knew the answer was confessing my frustrations to the Lord, prayer, and reading scripture, but I found that every time I went to read scripture it just didn’t mean anything to me. The words didn’t speak to me like they used to and that was incredibly discouraging. For me, that just seemed like more proof that the Lord didn’t really want anything to do with me anymore. However, a couple of weeks ago, after months of slowly realizing some changes needed to be made in my life (and after a long talk with my awesome mom), I was finally honest with myself about where my relationship with the Lord had ended up, and I was finally able to give up some burdens and begin praying and reading scripture again.

Today I’m thankful for a God who doesn’t give up on us.  I’m reminded of when Jesus says to Simon Peter in Luke 22:32, “I’ve prayed for you; that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” I’m thankful that I have been prayed for, that my faith has been strengthened, and that my God has patiently awaited my return.

Today I read Psalm 32, and its truth hit me like a ton of bricks.

Psalm 32
1 Blessed is the one
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
2 Blessed is the one
whose sin the Lord does not count against them
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?
-Corrie Ten Boom

3 When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night
your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was dried up
as by the heat of summer.

When we keep silent, when we push the Lord away and when we ignore the Lord His hand seems heavy upon us because our guilt troubles us. We refuse to give things up to the Lord, and instead we cling tightly to our problems which become burdens that are too heavy for us to bear. God brings these things to our mind; He keeps them on our heart and conscience so that we can’t throw it off. He doesn’t leave us in the midst of our problems, in fact it is quite the opposite… His hand becomes heavy upon us so that we don’t forget to offer up our burdens to Him.

5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
the guilt of my sin.

Prayer doesn’t change God, it changes me.
-C.S. Lewis

6 Therefore let all the faithful pray to you
while you may be found;
surely the rising of the mighty waters
will not reach them.

If we pray “while [the Lord] may be found,” let’s remember that the throne of grace is always open and the Lord can be found at all times when we call out to him. And when we are constantly in conversation with the Lord we find that we are strengthened by Him, so that when the mighty waters rise around us we won’t be overtaken by them. When I think back on the last year, I know that I wasn’t prepared for the flood that was coming my way.

It’s a bad idea to wait until you are in the middle of the storm to start looking for your life preserver.
-Christine Caine

7 You are my hiding place;
you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance.

The Lord is our shelter, and he protects us when trouble is near, but he also surrounds us with songs (some versions say shouts) of deliverance! This is exciting to me because the world surrounds us with despair and hopelessness, but the Lord brings JOY, HOPE and DELIVERANCE! He provides a way out of the desolate life the world offers.

8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.
9 Do not be like the horse or the mule,
which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle
or it will not stay near you.

I think these verses are amazing for a couple of reasons. First, I love that the speaker changes to the Lord, speaking to us in first person. Saying that He will instruct us and teach us and lead us in the way we should go. That He will counsel us with His loving eyes always on us. You see, friend, it is not in His character to leave us in the dark… He wants to lead us, and he wants to do it the easy way! But so often we are stubborn mules who won’t stay near the Lord unless we are bridled. If he must use the bit and bridle, He will. But he instructs us to not be like the horse or the mule, but to stay near him and listen to his teaching, and he will lovingly counsel us.

10 Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
but steadfast love
surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord.
11 Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous;
sing, all you who are upright in heart!”

These verses give us a reason to have joy. The wicked do have many reasons to be sorrowful, but the Lord’s steadfast love SURROUNDS the one who TRUSTS in Him. He calls us to REJOICE, to be GLAD in Him, and he prompts us to SING for joy.

Thank you Lord for speaking to us through scripture. Thank you for surrounding us with songs of deliverance, and for surrounding us with your unfailing love.

*The quotes I included aren’t just random quotes about prayer, they are all quotes that I heard at one time or another during my time of ignoring the Lord that used to be convicting, but are now encouraging 🙂

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Perfect is Something I am Not

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I have struggled with the beginning of my “lasts,” as I just registered for my last fall semester at NKU. I have struggled with being a “people pleaser.” I have struggled with being self-centered. I have struggled with low self-esteem, and lying, and sometimes being downright rude. I guess you’ve gotten the point by now, I am not perfect.

Perfect is something that I have never been, even though sometimes my “squeaky clean pastor’s daughter” vibe leads people to believe that I am. And, I have always strived for perfection…which is something that has left me empty, unfulfilled, unsatisfied, etc. But that is because perfection is something our human flesh desires that is solely for our own selfish gratification.

Ok, great. Now what?

A few short weekends ago I got to hang out with 7 freshman girls, and we got to really dive in to discuss what we hold on to that helps us find short-term satisfaction. We talked about grades, boys (of course), and all kinds of things… but I like to encompass all of the above in saying this: I have been trapped by striving for perfection.

When I was in high school and I began to dig into the word and I was learning new things every day from the Lord, there was one thing that was still missing. I prayed that I would be in the Lord’s Will, but only because I didn’t want to screw up my life. Even though I was doing the right things and seemed to be going the right direction, the motives of my actions left me empty.

My problem was that perfection was spelled out for me in Proverbs 31. In this passage we see a woman who is beautiful, wise, she knows how to run her house, she knows about trading and how to make a profit, her children love her, her husband seems like a cool guy and he praises her. I would read this and be like, “dang… I want to be like her.” She’s got it all together!

I missed the most important part of the passage. Verse 30 says, “A woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” Regardless of her other qualities, her most praiseworthy one is that she fears the Lord.

That’s where we should begin. Our fear/love/admiration of God leads us in the right direction. For the past month, I have encountered Romans 6 and 7 almost every week from different pastors, teachers, and mentors. Do you think the Lord is trying to tell me something? 🙂

Romans 6 calls to our attention that we are either a slave to sin, or we are a slave to the Lord. Ew, a slave?? I don’t like the sound of that. Well, too bad. We are bound to something whether or not we like it. But, I think I would much rather be a slave to the Lord. When He is our master the Bible says our yoke is easy and our burden is light. However, Romans 6 cautions us against taking the easy road.

The easy thing to do once we have recognized God’s unending grace and mercy is to continue going on sinning. Why? Because we are not under the law, but under grace! However, even as slaves of the Lord we are called to obey.

16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

19 I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

-Romans 6: 16-23

I once heard someone say it this way: The reason we find it so difficult to follow the Lord is because we can’t imagine what it would be like for someone to be “over us” as our master and have our best interest in mind. The only thing that we get from living in sin, apart from God, and those things that we are ashamed of, is death. What do we gain from obeying the Lord and living in righteousness? Eternal life!

That is the gospel. However, the gospel should not bring about “behavior changes.” It should bring about a heart change that ultimately turns your heart towards obedience, and leads to righteousness and holiness.

The problem is that Satan still can gain footholds in our lives in those areas that we allow him to. Whether that is grades, relationships, or in my pursuit for perfection; he can use any good thing for a sinful desire. It is an ongoing battle.

89 Your word, Lord, is eternal;
it stands firm in the heavens.
90 Your faithfulness continues through all generations;
you established the earth, and it endures.
91 Your laws endure to this day,
for all things serve you.
92 If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.
93 I will never forget your precepts,
for by them you have preserved my life.
94 Save me, for I am yours;
I have sought out your precepts.
95 The wicked are waiting to destroy me,
but I will ponder your statutes.
96 To all perfection I see a limit,
but your commands are boundless.”

– Psalm 119: 89-96

Father, thank you for loving us enough to give us your laws so that we can know the way to live, and so that we can recognize our sin. Thank you for being faithful to forgive our shortcomings, and for sending your Son to meet that standard that I can’t meet. Lord, I delight in you and I am so glad that you have rescued me and have saved me from perishing in my sin. I pray that I would not be limited by pursuing earthly perfection, but that I would find joy in obeying your commands. Amen.

Confessions of a Christian Bully

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The other night I was asked to share my testimony and I was a little caught off guard, so I bounced around my story and I shared little tid-bits of what God has taught me throughout my life, but I avoided what I’m going through right now; mostly because I was still kind of in the middle of it.

This semester, I have been more intentional about praying every night and getting in His Word than I have in a long time, and what’s frustrating is I’ve still never felt farther from Him. So, I increased my bible time. I increased the amount of worship services I go to. I lead worship at the BCM, just hoping that I’ll feel His Spirit again. And for a while, I haven’t. I didn’t know what was wrong. I thought I was sincere in everything, so I didn’t understand why I felt like His presence had left me.

I’ve been noticeably in this dry place for almost two months now. But those close to me probably didn’t know it. I still think that God has been faithful to use me and continue to speak to me through His Word, but I can’t really say that I have felt His presence.

Until Saturday night, when God finally took the scales from my eyes to show me what He had been teaching me through this time.

I love the lost… I can love non Christians all day. But I have to admit to you that some of the people in my life who annoy me the most are Christians. I thought I was doing a good job of keeping that to myself. Then, in two days’ time, multiple people confronted me about the way I had noticeably played a role in making them (or others) feel in a negative way.

The first person spoke to me Friday, and I didn’t respond too well. Honestly, I was pretty sure she was wrong. I really didn’t want to pursue a relationship there, and I was pretty sure she just needed to get her head on straight and realize how nice I am.

The second one though…. It was Saturday night and I got a huge slap in the face. Actually, no one really said anything to me when it hit me. I just had this feeling wash over me of shame, and guilt, and I really felt like I was too deep in to even fix it. I really just wanted to run away. I curled up in a ball, pulled my blankets over my head, buried my face in my hands, and wept.

I cried a lot, until I didn’t have any tears left, and I shouted to God, “Where have you been?? How did I even get here?” I really didn’t understand how I could love Him and love others so much, and be genuinely seeking His face and reading His word, and still have ended up in a place that did not glorify Him at all. And then God told me “Caitlin, I love you. But you aren’t loving all of your Christian brothers and you know it.”

Immediately I thought of a passage in my favorite book, 1st John:

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness.10 Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 11 But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.”

1 John 2:9-11

I can remember reading that verse a while back, and being like I don’t know about that… I’ve never really experienced where my relationship with other people can affect my relationship with God.

However, for the last two months (maybe even longer at this point who even knows) that is where I have been. But I was blinded. I didn’t even see where I was going or what I was doing because I was in the darkness (how scary is that?). I’m just thankful that He is faithful to forgive. So that we can forgive ourselves, and others can forgive us.

Up until this point, I’ve been keeping my relationship with God and my relationships with others separate, but that really is not how it is supposed to be. According to Ephesians 4, there is a very direct correlation between how we treat our Christian bothers and sisters (the body of Christ) and our maturity in faith.

15Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work…

25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin:” Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

Ephesians 4: 15, 16, 25-32

Honestly, this has been huge for me. For a while, whenever I would read scriptures like these, or my closer friends and mentors would point out what I was doing, I would just blow them off. I knew the truth but the devil had a huge foothold in my life: annoyance. I allowed myself to blow people off because they were annoying me. I would say, “I love that person, I really do, but they just annoy me, I don’t know why.”

Do you know why they annoyed me? For no good reason at all except that I believed the lies that Satan told me about them. Lies such as:

  • She thinks she’s better than you
  • He isn’t worth your time
  • He doesn’t speak to you, so he probably hates you
  • She is too weird
  • He just tries too hard
  • She is too similar to you

Now all I want to do is apologize to everyone that I have hurt, and tell you that I love you so much. Genuinely, I do. God has given me that love because clearly it’s not a natural thing for me. But 1 John 4 clearly tells me that loving my Christian brothers and sisters is the most important thing, not only in my personal relationship with Christ, but in my ministry to non Christians.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”

1 John 4:7-12

Thank you Lord for sending your Son to die for my sins. Thank you for loving me, and teaching me (the hard way) about how loving others effects my relationship with you. Thank you for your forgiveness. Thank you for continuing to teach me and make me complete in You. Amen.