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?
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.
When people hear reference to ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), they think of the dogs in the Pixar movie UP!or maybe Dory from Pixar’s Finding Nemo. (I promise not to mention Disney movies in every sentence.) Being easily distracted and forgetful may be part of it, but there’s a lot more to it than most people realize.
ADD is more complex than short attentions and memories.
In the past few years counselors and psychiatrists have begun using a new label: VAST. It stands for Variable Attention Stimulus Trait. I like this because (1) it doesn’t carry the stigma of a word like “disorder” and (2) it better describes my experience.
Yes, I can be often distracted. I interrupt myself incessantly. I’m easily overstimulated and get irritable with repetitive or conflicting noises.
And, yes, I struggle with short-term memory. (Lists and calendars save me daily! You should see my collection of notebooks.)
But my attention and my emotions ricochet to opposite ends of a spectrum. They’re not always short and interrupted. Sometimes they’re intense and insular, sacrificing all else.
I can spend seasons in hyper-focus. My husband calls it “kidnapping.” A special project or pursuit (or sometimes a book) will steal me away with little notice. I simply cannot think of anything else until I finish it. This is especially true when I set a goal about which I am passionate. It could be days; it could be weeks.
Friendships are hard for me. I can’t remember names. Interruptions and disappearances aren’t great for relationships. Knowing how hard it is for me to control these natural inclinations, I can grow self-conscious and insecure, further complicating things. Rejection, criticism, and approval resonate deeply with me, often — right or wrong — becoming part of my self-assessment immediately.
Can any of you relate to any of this?
When life gets full, the blog goes silent.
And so — When life interrupts me, when a million things seem to happen at once, I disappear. I dig deeper into what seems to need my attention most urgently (real life people and problems within arm’s reach), and other things have to wait (online communities and seemingly inconsequential projects).
What has required my attention lately? Moreso than this blog? Quite a few things, actually. Spanning personal, professional, and ministerial. Those who subscribe to my newsletter got an update in their inboxes a couple weeks ago.
(If you’re not a subscriber, you can sign up here to join my Inner Circle of prayer warriors and fearlessly curious followers. If you are a subscriber and didn’t get the email, check your spam folder or click here.)
I’ll not apologize for being silent here. Other things have needed me. Truly and absolutely. I will, however, wonder if evil forces use all this to conspire against me.
I’ve been writing in relative obscurity for almost fifteen years. There have been seasons of prolific publication and seasons of abject futility. Each time I gear up for a re-start, with revitalized passion and purpose, life interrupts and my momentum all but dissipates.
That sounds as if I have no control. That’s not at all what I mean. I’m quite opposed to any semblance of victim mentality. I am, however, acknowledging that this makes me vulnerable to spiritual attack and blockades. And it makes my journey uniquely challenging.
Be watchful, mindful, and still. Work and trust.
In the New Testament we read:
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
1 Peter 5:8 (ESV)
This warning comes at the end of Peter’s letter, just after a series of instructions for leaders in the church. The admonition, however, is not just for leaders. It is for anyone who seeks to follow Jesus and live a life dedicated to honoring God.
Let’s add a few more passages to this conversation.
Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God…”
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.
2 Corinthians 8:11–12
What does any of this have to do with attention spans or spiritual attacks? I’m not just randomly cherry-picking passages. These are entwined in our daily walks with God. How?
We know that evil forces conspire to keep us from God and from good works. They will utilize our weaknesses in those endeavors. May we BE WATCHFUL. What makes you an easy target? How can you guard against those attacks?
May we BE MINDFUL of the gifts God has given us — me and you — but also aware of our weaknesses and limitations. Time is a big one. How are we using it? Are we remembering our finite reality and numbering our days well?
May we BE STILL remembering that God is ultimately sovereign. There is no trial he will not enter with us. No mistake we can make that he can’t redeem. No pit we can fall into from which he cannot lift us. He is good. We can spend a lot of time thinking about ourselves. Let’s take some time to think about him instead. It is infinitely more comforting.
We love to quit, don’t we? Let’s not. Rather than seeing hurdles as signs that we’ve taken the wrong path, let’s view them as challenges we were meant to overcome. KEEP WORKING. Don’t give up.
That last passage, the one from 2 Corinthians, is striking me firmly this season. It sits in a chapter about generous giving within and between the churches. While the context is money, the heart of these verses goes much deeper.
Are you eagerly willing to complete what you’ve started? Are you excited to chase after the tasks God has given you? To pursue holiness in big projects and small?
That takes a lot of trust! Trust that God called the right person, that he’ll use you, that he’ll equip you… And trust that your success isn’t measured in human terms. How does one quantify willingness? How does one measure the spirit of obedience? It’s not about what we have or even what we give (of our time, talents, sweat and resources). It’s about our humble and faithful pursuit of righteousness.
In every prayer for all of you, I always pray with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
God is faithful and he will be faithful to complete what he started in each of us at salvation.
So whether I am eternally distracted or seriously under spiritual attack doesn’t matter. What matters is that I get up again and take the next step with God. And the next step. And the next step.
We may be running a race, but it’s not a competition. Keep running, my friends.
This post was originally created as a status update for my personal facebook page, the second of two posts decrying the incongruity paraded at the Capitol this week. Because so many have shared and copied these words, I want to give them a permanent home. I encourage you to also read the article by David French that prompted this lament. You can find that here.
Oh, Church… We can’t keep saying “This wasn’t us! This isn’t who we are!” We can disagree with the actions and call them “fringe”, but if they’re playing our music, waving our flags, wearing our symbols, and speaking in the name of our Lord, we need to do something about it.
That “something” starts with confronting the lies we’ve permitted to fester within our communities.
I confess I’ve dismissed conspiracy theories, even ignored them. I thought they would just go away. Instead, they’ve taken root and spread like kudzu. There are many unbiblical, un-Christ-like positions we’ve permitted to remain in our midst far too long. Dare I say— We’ve even nurtured them. It’s got to stop. We need to root them out and fill those voids with truth.
We need to remember who we are and what we’re called to do.
Jesus didn’t save us so that we could possess political power. He saved us so that we could have relationship with Him and love and serve others.
When the vast majority of Americans believe Evangelicalism is a political movement rather than a religious conviction, we have a serious problem.
When we have droves of our own leaving because they don’t want to be associated with the label, we have a serious problem.
The moment we decided character doesn’t matter, that policy positions are more important than heart conditions, we sacrificed the Gospel.
Now, listen —- We’re not going to turn this into an “us vs. them” argument. This isn’t about Right vs. Left. This is about our house. Let’s stop making excuses. What are we doing in our Christian communities to preserve and promote TRUTH? To live and exhibit LOVE? To disciple others to reflect the GOSPEL?
Because if those who stormed the Capitol claim to be with us, we’ve clearly confused and distorted the message. We need to get it right.
My mama used to use a phrase: “walking on eggshells.” Do people still say this? Having moved around so much, I’m not always sure what is true vernacular and what is just my family or my generation. I may not know the origins or journey of the phrase, but we all knew what Mama meant. She meant one of us was being too sensitive, resulting in her needing to tread carefully. When she said it, she let us know she felt the environment was unstable, and that one wrong move could make someone (or some situation) fall to pieces.
A similar, though slightly more graphic phrase: walking through a minefield.
That time I almost stepped on a landmine…
In 1998 I moved to Bosnia as an intern with CrossWorld (UFM International, it was called back then). This was a church-planting mission built on the foundation of humanitarian aid and the practice of loving our neighbors. The war had ended just two years earlier, but evidence of it remained everywhere. You could see it not just in the pock-marked buildings or damaged infrastructure, but in the people as well. Reconstruction takes time. Governments, buildings, and property can be restored much quicker than human hearts and minds.
In some sections of the city or the surrounding countryside we would find mine tape. You know the yellow CAUTION tape law enforcement or construction workers might use? Picture that but with MINE written across it. Far more sinister than the seagulls of Finding Nemo, this marked property where they suspected landmines had been buried. They had not yet had the opportunity or resources to sweep the field. To make things a bit more dangerous, there wasn’t always enough tape to circle the suspected area.
I remember walking with a friend one day when she suddenly stopped. Thinking only of the photo I wanted to capture and how to position myself right to get it, I took five or six more steps up the hill before turning toward her.
“What’s wrong?” “Mina.” The Bosnian word for landmine.
She needn’t say anything more. She stared in the direction I had walked, her feet cemented to their spot as fear filled her features. As awareness filled me, I slowly backed up, surrendering all cares about photography. We never walked that way again.
Parenting teenagers is hard. Some days we’re walking on eggshells and other days we’re traversing minefields. Some days, like this weekend, we’re doing both in a matter of hours.
Let’s be honest: this doesn’t apply only to parenting teenagers. We could say the same about raising toddlers. Or sustaining high-maintenance friendships. Or attempting a political discussion in any sector of America.
We could blame hormones or stress or social climate. We could blame education, communication skills, or even incomplete discipleship. I’m not a psychologist and, while I believe we often have very good explanations for what triggers us, I’m not interested in diving into those root causes today. Rather, I want to just talk about our reactions.
Believe it or not, we do have a choice in how we respond. We can decide to be the eggshell, the mine, or the foot.
The eggshell is delicate, easily broken. This would be the person who gets crushed under pressure. If confronted or (seemingly) threatened, this person will crumble emotionally, likely internalize the situation, and deepen her insecurities. She’ll collapse on herself. She may become sharp, poking here and there in her pain, but mostly she allows the impact of whatever force comes against her to destroy her.
The mine, like the eggshell, can be tremendously sensitive, but the effects go out rather than in. This person often seems fine on the surface. A lot can happen around him, and the ground may appear stable, but if you hit just the right spot with just the right pressure, he’ll explode. The reaction may end just as suddenly as it begins, but the damage goes far and wide, sometimes inadvertently setting off other nearby mines with their own spheres of destruction.
You might think that the problem in all these situations is what’s underfoot. Maybe. Maybe not.
The eggshell is responsible for her reactions. The mine is responsible for his reactions. The foot is responsible for where it steps and how hard it stomps.
And all three can take some responsibility for clean-up.
So which one are you? And what will you do about it?
Are you fragile to the point of having your personal worth damaged easily by the words and steps of others?
Do you appear safe, but then explode at simple, but specific provocation, often hurting others around you?
Are you careful about how you approach others? Do you stomp around like you own the world and everyone else can just deal with it?
You may be all three, choosing a primary mode in different seasons or situations.
Now, I don’t really like suggesting that we “ARE” any of these. It’s a metaphor. We are not defined by our reactions, but by who God says we are. This is just an exercise to evaluate the choices we make. Because we do have choices.
The point isn’t which metaphor fits best, but what we do about it.
“A gentle response turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.”
Proverbs 15:3 (NET)
“Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well.”
Philippians 2:3–4 (NET)
How might we apply these verses to situations that find us underfoot? What about situations we (unintentionally or purposefully) provoke?
We can opt for the gentle answer. We can give the benefit of doubt. We can employ words and compassion that deescalate or even diffuse a potentially volatile engagement.
We don’t always do these things, but WE CAN.
Good news: one reaction doesn’t need to destroy everything. We can prioritize healing, for ourselves and those around us. May we promote peace and communication. May we pursue understanding and unity.
Remember, unity doesn’t mean we must agree on all matters. It simply means we favor the relationship over the issue. It means we value the person more than winning the argument.
Let us exude grace with patience. Let us be known by our love for one another.
Romans 8 may be my very favorite chapter of the Bible. Okay, in truth, I have several favorite chapters, but this short segment of a letter to the Roman believers cut straight to my heart as a teenager. It brought me to a saving knowledge of my separation from God and my need for grace through Christ. It continues to cut straight to my heart today, twenty-five years later. I could go on and on about the beautiful truths laid bare in these verses, but – well, that’s not the point of this post. Let’s just look at verse 31.
“If God is for us, who can be against us?”
This verse rests within the very specific context of salvation. The whole chapter goes to great lengths to assure believers that once God has chosen to save us, we cannot be snatched from His all-powerful, gracious, and loving hands. How gorgeous is that truth?
The American church loves this verse as a rally cry. It’s a strong comfort, a brazen proclamation. And it’s a handy little finger-in-the-eye justification for just about anything we want to do that might offend our neighbors. You don’t like it? Well, God is for us, so who are you to stand against us?
Adding convenience to power, anybody can use it. And we all do.
Politically, I’m independent. I don’t fully align with any of the major parties, which means all of them have a problem with me. My liberal friends think I’m too conservative (because I’m pro-life, pro-marriage and traditional values, and crave small government and fiscal responsibility). My conservative friends think I’m too liberal (because I believe being pro-life should extend to all of life, not just the unborn; and because I support racial equality and justice, immigration, and gun control).
Please don’t get trapped by the issues or confessions I’ve just shared. None of that is my point. Stay with me.
I have friends on both sides of the spectrum spewing hatred and arrogance, all bolstered in religious fortification and argument. I humbly confess: I’ve taken my turns doing the same. It’s not pretty. For any of us. Least of all the Body of Christ.
This christening of ideas and motivations can go well beyond politics.
If God is for me, I cannot fail at anything.
If God is for me, I don’t need to defend myself or my ideas … ever.
If God is for me, then anyone who claims Christ should agree with me.
If God is for me and my boss is against me, defiance becomes righteous duty.
If God is for me and my spouse is against me, then divorce is justified.
If God is for me, He wants me to be happy and will bless any path that leads to that end.
I fear we too often forget the gravity of that very first word: IF.
We must ask ourselves: Is God for us?
Who’s side is God on? Who’s side are we on?
Two passages of Scripture stand juxtaposed. They possess almost identical wording, yet not. For some reason that verse in Romans gets a lot more publicity than this next one. Perhaps because it’s in the New Testament and this one is in the Old Testament. Or maybe it’s because the Romans passage feels empowering and brazen and this one … well, this one requires humility.
Joshua 5:13—14 reads:
“When Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in His hand. Joshua approached Him and asked, ‘Are you for us or for our enemies?’
‘Neither,’ He replied. ‘I have now come as a commander of the LORD’s army.’
Then Joshua bowed with his face to the ground in worship and asked Him, ‘What does my Lord want to say to His servant?’”
This one doesn’t quite roll off the tongue as quickly nor as easily as that verse in Romans. It doesn’t fit on a bumper sticker either. But it is so important. It gives us some practical advice for walking with the Lord.
Joshua knew this warrior was great, and he didn’t dare assume He was with him. He asked. He inquired. And guess what? The warrior wasn’t on either side. Not on Joshua’s side. Not on Joshua’s enemies’ side. The warrior wasn’t taking sides with humans. Rather, he wanted to know who was on the LORD’s side.
What happened next? Joshua humbled himself, face to the ground, and sought direction. He didn’t take another step until he heard from God. Rather than ask God to bless his human plans, Joshua inquired about God’s plans for him. Then he obeyed.
We often want God to bless us. We want Him to condone and support our plans. What would happen if, instead of asking God to join OUR side, we truly sought to join HIS side?
What would happen if, instead of asking God to join our side, we truly sought to join His side?
What if God isn’t on our side? What if – even more terrifying – we stand against Him?
It is natural to defend our positions passionately. We want to win the battle, to argue toward a won debate. May we, as humble servants of God, pause. Take a breath. And truly seek God.
It’s great if He’s on our side. It’s even better if we’re on His side.
I’ve committed the great taboo of raising politics in a post about spiritual intimacy. As such, many will want to argue points and positions based on those issues. Please don’t. This isn’t a platform for political debate or grandstanding, and any such comments will be deleted. Refuse to chase the red herring.
This post isn’t about politics. It’s about humility. Supplication. Introspection. For myself most of all.
If you have comments and insights about Scripture or about seeking God in the dailies of your life, please post them! I’d love to know your thoughts on that.
Once upon a time there was a lovely lady, the mother of both a prince and a princess — Let’s start over.
Once upon a time there was a hot mess girl struggling to keep her stuff together after having two kids in quick succession.
Okay, that girl is me and those two kids came 17 months apart. That means different nap schedules, different eating schedules, different developmental schedules, and twice the diapers and crying and emotions and fun and cuteness and all of that. It was a LOT. Let us also take a quick nap moment to remember that the Boy Child (born second) did not sleep for three years. Yes, my friends, this hot mess girl (and her long-suffering, faithful husband) did not sleep for a very, very long time.
In the midst of all this, the castle fell into disrepair. The house was also a hot mess.
Around that time, someone encouraged me to identify what ONLY I could do and outsource the rest. ONLY I could be a mom to my kids, a wife to my husband, the voice for my teaching and writing, or the right confidant to my sisters. But ANYBODY could mow my lawn or clean my house or do my grocery shopping. She encouraged me to think through what I really NEEDED to do and what I might be able to delegate to others on my behalf.
This was a huge shift in thinking for me. My upbringing idolized independence. Intended or not, the lesson I learned was: If you couldn’t do it yourself, you were lacking in some way. As such, the idea of hiring someone to help felt to me like failure.
While wrestling with these thoughts and feelings, I approached others for perspectives. I craved insight. A couple of those conversations went like this:
Me: “I’m debating hiring a cleaning lady.” Other Person: “What — you’re too good to clean your own house now??”
Me: “I’m debating hiring a cleaning lady.” Other Person: “What — Are you too good to hire help??”
These diametrically opposed reactions have stuck with me for years.
Both accused me of being arrogant for different reasons. In truth, I felt far more uncertainty and insecurity than pride. While it may look like both were asking questions, they were really proclaiming judgment without inquiring about my thoughts or attempting to hear or even acknowledge my debate. They both took sides, assuming where I stood. At that moment, I only stood stunned.
We could look at this and decide: “Wow, Tanya. You have terrible friends.” (Absolutely not true.) OR we could choose to see ourselves in this story.
This isn’t about cleaning house. It’s about clearing preconceptions.
We live in a world of instant judgment. We see a meme or a social media post, a yard sign or a t-shirt, and instantly declare our approval or disdain — not only for the idea, but for the person behind it. We rage over headlines (even if we’ve not read the articles they title) and label groups of people based on assumptions that may or may not be based in fact. We question everything; not because we want to learn, but because we want to argue. We want to be right and prove others wrong. Isn’t it exhausting? Are you as tired as I am?
What might happen if we stop assuming what people mean? What might happen if we stop assuming where people stand? What might happen if we stop judging and start loving?
HOW? Breathe. Listen. Hear. We all need to listen more.
Let’s go back to me and my friends. I know now that these two friends were projecting their own insecurities into the conversation. Both felt threatened. The first because she believed independence proved greater status. The second because she had watched her mother work incredibly hard cleaning others’ houses and then be discriminated against because those same people who hired her help treated her of lower status.
Knowing this, I can understand their knee-jerk reactions to my statement. It doesn’t mean either of their assumptions were correct, but it gives a frame of context. Once I heard and understood their perspectives, they were willing to hear mine. We could correct errant assumptions and move forward.
We don’t have to un-friend each other.
Stop. Listen. Hear. Your assumptions may be wrong. There may be much more behind the words than you realize.
“Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters! Let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger. For human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.” — James 1:19–20 (NET)
Let me offer a caveat here. You are totally allowed to unfriend toxic people. Do not stay in an abusive relationship. You do not need to keep unhealthy or destructive people in your life. You get to choose who influences your space and mind and heart.
While you are choosing who needs to go and who gets to stay, choose prayerfully. Carefully. Wisely. Be sure you’re not the destructive one someone else needs to un-friend.
Learn to listen. Offer second chances on those first impressions.
Listening isn’t easy. Especially when we think we already know what the other person thinks or is going to say. So practice.
Choose not to interrupt.
Deliberately refuse to craft your response while the other person is still speaking.
Actually LISTEN before you cement your opinions or judgments.
And PRAY. Pray a ton.
Before and after and through: PRAY
Don’t just pray for the right answers or the right responses. Pray for the right heart. It’s amazing what a little humility can do for a conversation and relationships. Pray that we all might love one another well; that we might know which arguments we must engage and which ones are best left alone. Proverbs speaks of fools that can be taught and fools that waste our time. I’ve found myself lately praying that God would show me the difference.
Pray also for your “opponents.” First: remember that being of different opinion or position doesn’t automatically make us enemies. We may very likely be on the same team, just approaching issues differently. Refuse to easily surrender to “us vs. them” mentality. Second: pray for their blessing. (It’s really hard to continue hating someone for whom you genuinely pray blessings.) Pray the same things for them as you pray for yourself! Pray that you might understand one another and work together in unity toward what honors God and serves our world in need.
“Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” — Philippians 4:6–7 (NET)
In case you’re wondering, I did eventually hire help and it was worth every single penny. My only regret is that I wish I’d listened sooner.