God is good. God is on the throne. Breathe in. Breathe out.
These were the words she whispered while making snow angels in the crumbs on her kitchen floor. It’s such a vivid picture of crying out to God.
Sometimes we get to seasons that just sap us. The weight of our burdens is too heavy. It’s not that we forget how to pray. We just don’t know what to pray anymore. Words elude us. Eloquent speech isn’t possible.
A simple stanza can help, not just to recalibrate our faith and focus, but also to force us to be still and know that He is still God.
As my kids get older, as I get older, my most common breath prayer comes from Psalm 90.
The short version: “Teach me to number my days that I may gain a heart of wisdom.”
The longer version:
Lord, become my dwelling place. You are everlasting to everlasting. Teach me to number my days. Grant me a heart of wisdom. May your favor rest on us. Establish the work of our hands.
The writers of Scripture have given us so many beautiful affirmations of God’s character! We don’t need to be original. We don’t need to know what to ask for or how it all should end. We can borrow these ancient phrases, breathe them in and out, letting the truth sink into our being. Trusting our great and faithful Father to hear; trusting Jesus the Son to intercede on our behalf; trusting the Holy Spirit to translate the indecipherable mutterings of our hearts into the precise petitions that match our needs.
My life has a recurring appointment at 2am. It doesn’t take place every night. Some nights offer surprising and continuous, blessed sleep. Those are beautiful times. But most nights — I’d say three out of five for the past ten years or so — find me awake for this appointment, battling my past, my present, and all sorts of insecurities and accusations. Voices tell me I’m not enough; I’ll never be enough. They offer evidence of my failures and comparisons to others’ effortless success. They condemn without mercy, a repetitive loop of ceaseless striving and bondage.
The Apostle Paul never explicitly defined the “thorn in [his] side.” We only know it was a painful, persistent affliction he couldn’t shake. I wonder if it was like this.
On the morning after another sleepless night wrestling lies, I woke exhausted. Again. I confessed my struggle and the thoughts in my head to my ever-loving husband, tears silently leaking onto my pillow. Sometimes speaking it out loud helps. He prayed for me, over me. And then we got up to tackle another day.
Sometimes God speaks.
Shannon over at Sweet Blessings offers a really simple and impactful approach to the discipline of daily Bible time. Rather than giving a strict, multi-step regimen, she encourages Scripture writing. She publishes plans that give you just a few verses to copy from your Bible each day. That’s it. No questions; no forced pre-written prayers or contemporary devotional readings. Just writing. It’s simple, but the act of handwriting holy words breeds stillness. Contemplative moments.
This month I’m going through her ‘Birth of Christ’ plan. I have a blank journal. On one page I write the day’s Scripture. On the next page I write my observations about the passage or a prayer. Often both.
On that particular morning the writing was Isaiah 40:1–5. These verses come in the middle of a prophecy spoken by Isaiah to King Hezekiah. The verses, while directly spoken to the nation of Judah in their time, were echoed in prophetic fulfillment by John the Baptist as “a voice of one crying out” in the wilderness.
It is vital that, when studying to understand Scripture (or any literature, really), we consider first and foremost the context. That includes the original writers, the original audience, the original purpose and intent, and the culture and languages in which it was penned. But God also speaks directly to us in our day through these sacred texts. Sometimes it’s a lesson learned through their stories; sometimes it’s insight about our own. The past and the present work in holy concert to exalt Truth.
That morning as I read God’s promises to ancient Israel, the words sank deep into my weary heart.
“Comfort, comfort My people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and announce to her that her time of servitude is over, her iniquity has been pardoned…”
Isaiah 10:1–2 (HCSB)
Has my iniquity been pardoned? If I believe God’s words, YES. Christ made it so.
Consider Paul’s writings to the Romans:
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, because the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free…
Now if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, then he who raised Christ from the dead will also bring your mortal bodies to life through his Spirit who lives in you. So then, brothers and sisters, we are not obligated to the flesh to live according to the flesh…
For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear. Instead, you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father!”
Romans 8:1-2, 10–12, 15
Does any of this make any sense to you?
Small Steps Toward Realized Freedom
In that moment of reading Isaiah, my heart heard the Holy Spirit affirming Christ’s work in my life, that he saved me for something far greater than slavery to negative thoughts and burdens long forgiven. He showed me that my time of servitude ended long ago — the moment I put my trust in Him.
Have I recognized my pardon? Or am I, like a stubborn dandelion seed, still clinging to the dead and familiar rather than flying free to produce life anew?
What is the purpose of my penance? Why persist in listening to lies that oppress and keep me captive?
This sounds like a simple switch of the brain. If I just change my mind, then I won’t struggle. I wish it were that simple.
Transformation is a complicated journey, but maybe the first steps are simple. Not easy, but simple. Maybe tiny victories can be found in remembering truth and fortifying my faith with those truths.
Maybe changing my mind in the daytime can create new habits for those 2am meetings.
And maybe one day those middle-of-the-night appointments will no longer be kept.
YOUR TURN: What lies might you believe that keep you captive? What steps can you take today to realize the freedom Christ came to give?
People love to cite the first part of Proverbs 31:25:
“She is clothed with strength and dignity…”
But the last half of that verse is my favorite. In fact, if I ever get a tattoo, it will either be a black-eyed susan around the birthmark on my back OR it will be the second half of this verse… somewhere I can see it.
“She laughs without fear of the future.”
You know, 2020 was supposed to be the worst year ever. That’s what everybody said. It was a dumpster fire, and nothing was supposed to top it. Smooth sailing from then on, right?
No one saw 2021 standing in the wings waiting to make 2020 look lovely. Peaceful and even a little life-giving.
This year has been rough. I could make a list of all of the unprecedented, never-before imagined things that have happened in and to our family in the past ten months. I won’t, because it’s depressing. And it’s not the end of the story anyway.
There are nights I don’t sleep. There are days I cry and eat way too much chocolate. There are times I haven’t a clue what or how to pray at all. And so I breathe in. I breathe out.
And I remember that that woman I admire so much from Proverbs isn’t laughing out of ignorance or insanity. She’s laughing because she knows exactly who holds the future. She doesn’t need to fear, because all her tomorrows are already ordained. She doesn’t know what they hold, and she has no promise that they’ll be better than today. But she knows the One who holds them, and she delights in the confidence of His great love for her.
Scrolling through twitter, a specific post caught my attention. A prolific author and Bible teacher (who shall remain nameless) was promoting a new podcast by some friends of hers. She claimed they would help listeners “parent like a Christian.”
What does it mean to parent “like” a Christian? Is that different than being a Christian parent?
The phrasing caught me funny, like calloused skin on a stretch of silk.
We can put this “like a Christian” tag anywhere we want. Parent like a Christian. Work like a Christian. Talk like a Christian. Argue like a Christian. Dress like a Christian. Perhaps it calls us to be distinct. To be in the world, but not of it, as the Apostle Paul encouraged.
That’s not a bad thing. But is it enough?
I wonder if the subtlety of the phrasing encourages surface performance and projection. If we play the part, if we look the right way and project the accepted image, then — mission accomplished. It also allows us to identify who’s in and who’s out, right? I mean, if I know how Christians are supposed to parent, work, act, dress, eat, argue, vote… Well, then we can check off the boxes, for ourselves and others, and consider the job done. Easy-peasy.
Behavior modification. Classification. We can measure that.
Is that all we’re after? The illusion? The status? The club membership?
The Gospel I know goes much deeper than that. People change, but not of their own knowledge or power or habits. It’s internal, immeasurable, supernatural … and entirely inexplicable apart from the Holy Spirit.
“What use are the superficial changes we make if we neglect the deep work God wants to do inside us?”
This may feel like an exercise in nuance or semantics. Maybe it is, but I believe it’s important. There is a difference between doing something LIKE this and BEING this.
Imitation vs. Authenticity
Doing something LIKE (a Christian or whatever) reflects meritocracy. It’s good works by ambition and discipline. It’s satisfied with well-built facades. It focuses on what can be seen and measured.
BEING (a Christian or whatever) is simply who you are. It’s less about the top of the iceberg and more about the whole of the iceberg. It isn’t built around you; it wells up inside you. Good works follow because God is good and having him work in us naturally produces overflow. The discipline and ambition may follow, too, but not because we have to perform. Not because we need to earn our space or rank. Not because people need to see us.
In fact, Jesus spoke out against performative faith: praying in public and making a show of offerings. These people “have received their reward in full.” (Matt. 6:5)
And let’s be real: performances are exhausting. Always having to be “ON” and make sure our true colors don’t bleed through… I’m not interested.
Nope. I don’t want to DO anything LIKE A CHRISTIAN. I want to BE A CHRISTIAN, transformed and renewed, understanding fully who I am and to whom I belong and why he has me here. I want to go far deeper than what is seen on the surface.
I want to BE A CHRISTIAN who loves well. May we live generously, freely, compassionately, fully. I want to throw out any concept of rank and be one who mourns with those who mourn and rejoices with those who rejoice, regardless of personal circumstances.
I want to BE A CHRISTIAN who walks humbly. People shouldn’t have to earn acceptance from me. They don’t need to check off boxes or prove themselves worthy of my accolades or approval. Recognizing that all people are created in the image of God, I want to see myself as no better or worse than those around me. Oh, we will disagree. We may adamantly oppose one another’s ideas and beliefs. But the people behind those beliefs are still worthy of respect and honor, even if for no other reason than the holy image they bear.
I want to BE A CHRISTIAN who chases after God daily. In all things. In all roles. In every space and with every breath.
Okay, wow. That’s a lot. I can hear some of you. “Tanya, that’s a tad over-zealous. A bit out of reach.” Yup. You’re right.
Confession: I fail. A lot. Pretty much daily. In several ways daily.
But that’s the point, isn’t it?
No, “failure” is not the point, but the reality that we cannot do any of this on our own IS the point. If we could become righteous and good-works our way into God’s favor, then we wouldn’t need Christ. We wouldn’t need the Gospel. We wouldn’t need the Holy Spirit or the Bible or church or anything else. We could strong-arm our way into acting LIKE a Christian rather than ever actually BEING one.
So here’s the big question:
How can we BE CHRISTIANS rather than just living LIKE Christians?
WE PUT OUR TRUST IN GOD. Not in our ourselves nor in our understanding of him or his word, but directly into him, trusting his personhood and building a relationship with him.
This is so much bigger and harder than lip service. It is an active habit, an internal conviction that often won’t be visible to others.
WE FOSTER RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD. Spend time reading his word, praying, worshipping, fellowshipping with other believers who can encourage us. Create space to meet with God, not just to vent rehearsed lines or frustrations, but to listen as well. To listen and learn.
Again, this is something that may be seen by others, but more often than not, the reality of it is submerged. It’s personal and private.
WE ALLOW OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD TO PERMEATE OUR LIVES. Healthy, growing relationships don’t live confined to a specific building or appointment times. They invade our personal space in the very best ways. They influence our thinking and our habits. Flourishing relationships help us become something better. They change us. Living, growing faith should do the same.
Put away the clipboards and the checklists. Stop striving in your own power. Be still in the presence of God and then walk with him, letting him direct your steps. The rest will take care of itself.
A Humble Disclosure
I’m posting this after a pretty rough week. Details need not be shared. Just know these written words, these holy musings pierce my own soul too. I’m not preaching at anyone. I’m wrestling with my own shortcomings, my own superficiality, my own struggle to take faith deeper. All of this is so much easier said than done. Please do not think for a microsecond that I have mastered any of this. Know that you’re not alone in imperfect, messy living out of our faith. We are growing and learning together.