You know that intensely frustrating moment when you finally reach the bottom of the box–the last bit of cereal–and all that you find spilling into your bowl are crumbs? The pieces make a gentle clink-clink sound as they slide to the center of their ceramic holding cell. You take a deep breath, maybe sigh, and wonder what you’re going to do about breakfast.
Friction causes those little wheat shapes to crumble under pressure created by all the other pieces in the box. I almost feel sorry for them, but then I think maybe I’m empathizing with them because (in a very figurative sense) I am those breakfast bites, falling apart at the bottom of the box.
Maybe I’m feeling some of that same pressure, trying to resist the urge to crumble as life itself grates against the life I’m trying to live.
As I live more life, I realize just how much growing I still have left. No (horror of all horrors), even in your 20’s you will not have all the answers. Somehow, when I was little I thought life would become easier with each passing year. But I found no truth in that. And so I wish for the days when my brother and I ran around in the back yard without a care, spent our weekends hiking and having bonfires at our family mountain cabin, or had cap gun wars with imaginary outlaws as we plodded along on the back of our trusty steed, Angel.
Life as a Christian is beautiful but it is not easy.
Sometimes, I feel that my personal score card holds more misses than successes. But that’s just it, I’m holding onto the score card, and continually give myself a big fat zero. God doesn’t. Jesus died on the cross for my sins, and the day I put my faith in that; my zeros were erased, my card wiped clean, and ripped to shreds by His grace. You see, God isn’t the one making me feel crushed like cereal at the bottom of the box, I am. I put pressure on myself to be perfect, to tip-toe around trying to avoid mistakes. But that just isn’t possible.
I don’t believe God is just sitting around waiting for me to mess up, He’s waiting for me to embrace the freedom that comes with grace–the freedom that comes with being loved by Him. He wants me to have a life that is full of hope and joy (John 10:10). And walking around like I’m scared of living, really isn’t living at all–it’s the hopeless friction being crushed. But that isn’t from God. I have learned that somewhere along the way in my 20-some years.
God only does one type of crushing in my life; He crushes the power sin once held over me.
“We are pressured in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed.” 2 Corinthians 4:8-9
During my sophomore year in college, I started to become more self-conscious of my appearance. One day, I was standing at the Clinique counter of Dillard’s department store with my roommate. She was getting some gel eyeliner; I was simply following along taking a break from the books, procrastinating as usual. As the sales representative rang up her purchase, she turned to me and said, “Would you like to do anything about those dark circles under your eyes?”
Horrified, I stammered a no-thank-you, and we quickly left the store. After that delightful encounter I remember going straight to the bathroom mirror and scrutinizing my face, trying to see the imperfections previously mentioned to me.
Under eye concealer became my best friend that year.
As I’ve entered my young adult years, I’ve become increasingly self-aware about the fact that I no longer have the body I did at 16. Clothes that once fit perfectly are tighter. My hair, which I have never colored before, is starting to sprout gray hairs here and there. My stomach, which used to be flatter, is slightly rounder.
Staring at myself in the mirror, my imperfections scream at me. I became engrossed with magazine articles, YouTube videos, and Pinterest pins all talking about beauty and health. I thought maybe one of these would offer the solution to my many problems.
“This DIY will make your hair softer and healthier.”
“These top 5 drug store steals are necessary to your 9-5 look.”
“How your skin care routine should change once you hit your 30’s.”
Advertisements surely make their money off gullible people like me, or if we’re being honest here, people with poor self-esteem like me. I started to re-evaluate everything in my life from my exercise routine to my food intake. Should I start a juice cleanse? How much kale should I eat before I see physical results? How many squats do I need to do before my legs are more toned?
If you have ever seen the movie Mean Girls, you will remember the scene where the “Plastics” are in Regina’s room, standing in front of her mirror, recounting all their physical flaws. I’m ashamed to say that became my new normal as I got ready for work or to go out with my friends.
When I saw myself in the mirror, I couldn’t think of one single thing that I was happy with. And if I wasn’t acceptable on the outside, how could I possibly be acceptable on the inside? Who would want to hang out with someone who was so flawed? This was the momentum Satan needed to further push the button of my insecurities. He saw how I looked at myself, and how deeply the lies had been rooted.
He whispered, “You aren’t enough and if people see how flawed you are, they definitely won’t stick around.”
If I went back in time and asked my 16-year-old self, what age you should be comfortable in your own skin, I know she would say, “Definitely when you get into your 20’s.”
Well, that’s my age now, and I have to say that I fight this battle daily.
It is not healthy, spiritually or mentally, to be so fixated on my physical beauty. Proverbs 31:30 tells me that “beauty is fleeting but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” So, I have learned to ask Jesus to show me who I am to Him, and what I have to offer. I’ve learned that you need to ask Him to help you find your “gentle and quiet spirit which is of great worth in his sight,” (1 Peter 3:3-4.).
A woman who knows that her worth comes from the One who created it will shine the brightest of all.
Anna Kaye Gilbreath and I bonded over our love for words. We met through Disciple Now at our home church in Tennessee, and have been friends ever since. She kindly agreed to give us a fresh perspective by writing today’s blog. So, I’ll let you read a little more about her: Anna Kaye is a Tennessee native currently living in Florida. She loves to read, write, and explore. She hopes her writing will be an encouragement to all who read it. You can connect with her on Twitter and Instagram: @akgilbre.
- Being dejected, having prolonged sadness, gloom, withdrawal, feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy. Not always logical.
- Clinical—severe, disrupts daily routines, causes constant sense of hopelessness, and can be generational.
- Seasonal—also called the winter blues, can be caused by lack of sunlight and vitamin D.
- Manic (aka Bipolar Disorder)—severe changes in affect, moods swing from extreme elation to deep depression.
- Dysthymic disorder—chronic, but not severe. Also called low-level.
- Can be reactive/situational.
(This information was mainly gathered from The Quick Reference Guide to Biblical Counseling by Dr. Tim Clinton and Dr. Ron Hawkins, but I some of the information I gathered as a Psychology student at Liberty.)
When I started going to counseling, which I was afraid to admit due to my being a Christian and, worse, a pastor’s daughter, my counselor said something that really stuck with me. And that’s where we’ll start tonight.
She said, “Stephanie, I’d like to see you get angry.”
I looked at her like she was crazy. I thought, Wait… the Bible says something about anger … something like … don’t be. She must have read the confusion in my expression because she chuckled a little and said, “I’m not telling you to get angry at people or even situations; I want you to get mad at satan and the lies he’s put in front of you.”
So let’s talk about depression. We’ll start with some lies surrounding the topic, particularly in Christian circles.
- A Christian cannot be depressed, and she definitely can’t have clinical or chronic depression
- If a Christian is depressed, it’s because of some un-confessed sin in her life.
- Jesus should be all the healing you need; you don’t need to see a counselor.
- Depression is unbeatable.
- If you struggle/struggled with depression, God can’t use you to show His love.
Now, let’s disprove those lies with scripture.
- A Christian can be depressed. Here are some Bible people who experienced depression.
- David–Ps. 13:1-4; 42:3-5a, 7; 55:4-5
- Elijah–1 Kings 19, focus on v 4. This happened after Elijah called down fire, asking God to show His power. Then he had all the prophets of Baal killed. Jezebel, the King’s wife, didn’t like that very much and Elijah feared for His life. So he ran to the wilderness. Jeremiah
- Lamentations (a lament is a passionate expression of grief or sorrow). The name itself is pretty self-explanatory.
- Job–Job 1-3, focus on Ch. 3:1-7, 11-12–Job lost pretty much everything, and cursed the day he was born. However, He did find hope in the Lord.
- Sometimes, depression is due to un-confessed sin, but not always.
- 38 (the whole chapter, but focus on verses 4-8,10), Ps. 51:2-5,8,10-12,17. Here, David had committed adultery with Bathsheba. We’re not told whether he realized his sin before Nathan (the prophet) approached him, but when Nathan confronted Him, David said something to the effect of, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13).
- Yes, Jesus is the root of all healing. But He had disciples. God uses ordinary people to carry out His mission. He uses missionaries, lawyers, teachers, and doctors to reach people and bring healing. Why could He not use a counselor to help bring healing to a wounded soul? Check out 2 Cor. 12:7-10 (His grace strengthens you), Ephesians 4:11-16 (not everyone has the same calling, God uses us each as He sees fit).
- Depression does not mean defeat.
- Luke 1:78-79, 2 Corinthians 4:8-9
- God may allow you to go through some pretty tough stuff, but He won’t let you be crushed.
- Luke 1:78-79, 2 Corinthians 4:8-9
- God can use whomever He wants to use. Paraphrasing what a friend of mine said, “I love that God uses the most broken parts of me to be the brightest spots of my testimony.”
- 1 Corinthians 15:10
There are a few things I want to leave with you:
Every battle leaves scars, and your battle with depression is no different. But those scars are beautiful because they represent the places that were once open wounds. Those wounds are no longer bleeding; they’re healing. So, I want you to know that there’s a difference between depression and being defeated. Living defeated means you let depression run your life. So fight it. The power of your God and His heart fight with you. He gave you a spirit of power, love, and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). There is always, always hope.
A letter to those who battle or have struggled with depression:
Every battle leaves scars; your battle with depression is no different. Don’t let your fear, your doubt, or even your church tell you that depression cannot happen to believers. Don’t let them tell you that your relationship with Jesus isn’t strong because you struggle with feeling dejected, sad, or inadequate.
There’s a difference between being depressed and being defeated.
Living defeated means you let depression run your life. Yes, fighting depression means you have some scars. Sometimes, scars still hurt; sometimes they show; sometimes they make you feel weak. But scars are beautiful because they are no longer open wounds. They were treated by grace, the love of your Savior, and maybe at the hands of a professional counselor. But please know that you are not “less than” because of your battle. There is hope for you, dear soul.
There is always hope.
“You’re just going to have to trust me! I’ll catch you.” How many movies have used lines similar to this? A scene in a film I watched recently showed a little girl on the roof of a burning building. At only two stories, the building was low enough that she wouldn’t have far to jump into the arms of her father. But he still had to coax her off of that roof. He had to remind her that she could trust him, that he loved her, and he wouldn’t let her fall. Within seconds of his reassurance that he would catch her, the little girl jumped from the roof, and into his arms. She was safe, and just moments later, the building was completely engulfed in flames. There was no way to know for sure that her dad wouldn’t fall, or that he wouldn’t miss her somehow. She had to trust him without being able to see the outcome. What if she had waited? What if she hadn’t trusted her father when he said he would catch her? What if she hadn’t jumped?
Sometimes you and I are so much like that little girl. You’re afraid to move from a place that’s no longer safe, because you’re not sure what will happen once you jump. You’re pretty sure you’ll be okay, but there are no guarantees. So you hesitate or never even jump, only to get caught in the flames; and then, oh how you wish you’d had enough faith to jump into the arms of your Father. Why is it so hard for you and I to trust that God knows what’s best for us? Why is it so hard to trust Him, period?
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1
See also: 2 Cor. 5:7, Ps. 33:4
There are two different Hebrew words for faith used in the Old Testament. The first is aman, which describes something that is absolutely reliable, stable, or trustworthy. Yare’ is the Hebrew word for fear. Not the “I’m scared” kind of fear, but reverential awe of God. In the New Testament, writers used the Greek word pistis, which denotes trust and an unwavering belief that something is true.[i] All of these definitions really hone in on the word “trust”. Faith is impeccable, absolute, trust that God exists and that He will do what He says.
Faith shows our complete confidence in God, that even though we can’t physically see Him, He is there. Faith shows our trust in God to do what He promised, to do what’s best for you even when you don’t understand, because you can’t see the whole picture or the end result. Faith is saying, “God’s got this” no matter how scared, or worried you want to be. You can trust that He will come through.
Journal question: What does it mean to have an unwavering belief or unconditional trust? Do you feel that way about God, do you trust Him?
“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. Mark 11:22
See also: Is. 61:8, John 14:1-4, Acts 27:25, Romans 4:16, 1 Cor. 1:9, 1 Thess. 5:24, 2 Tim. 2:13
Jesus trusted God all the way to the cross, and commanded His disciples to trust God as well. You can trust God to be who He says He is and carry out all of the promises He made. God doesn’t speak to you and I the same way He spoke to the prophets, but He still speaks to you through His word, and guides you by the Holy Spirit. Sometimes it can be really difficult to have complete trust in God because you can’t see Him physically. But remember the things you can see—remember how His faithfulness to you in the past, look at the Old Testament prophecies and New Testament fulfillments, watch the changes He makes in the hearts of those around you.
God didn’t lend you a map of your entire life, but that does not mean you can’t trust Him to guide you through it. He wants your trust; He’s not going to break it. He will come through for you, no matter what. Even when it seems like you’ve waited forever, even when you’re hurting and can’t see a purpose for your pain, even when it doesn’t seem that your family or friends will trust Him with their lives—God is still worthy of your trust. He will get you through whatever happens.
Journal question: What does trusting God look like to you? What are you holding onto? What do you need to let go of and give to Him?
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. Romans 10:9-10
See also: Prov. 16:6, Acts 15:9, Rom. 3:25, Heb. 11:6
Did you know that faith is essential to your salvation? Well, think of it this way—you have to trust that God sent His son to pay for your sins. Because you and I were not yet born when Christ died on the cross, we have to trust what God says to us in His word. Though you may experience the benefits of salvation because Jesus died and rose from the grave, you didn’t actually see Him do it. Even beyond that, saving faith means trusting that Jesus’ death does all–saving you from death and giving you eternal life, as well as freeing you from bondage to sin—God said it would do.
Journal question: What does it mean to have saving faith? Write down all the reasons you can trust what God says about Jesus.
Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. Romans 10:17
See also: Acts 3:16, Eph. 2:8
Where do you get your faith? God reveals Himself to you through His word, and guides you by His Holy Spirit and through your prayers. God sent His Son to for your sins. He gave us the gifts of His Spirit and freedom from Sin. You know that now, but how did you find out about Jesus and salvation? More than likely you heard the gospel from someone when you asked God to forgive you and save you from your sin. Maybe your parents are Christians and raised you up in a godly home, maybe a youth pastor reached out to you, maybe a friend told you about her relationship with Jesus, or maybe someone gave you a Bible and told you where to look—but somehow God’s message of salvation through Christ was shared with you.
It would be difficult to accept a message you never heard. No one has an excuse for not knowing God exists, but how will people know Jesus and His salvation if they do not hear the message? Once you know the gospel message, don’t keep it to yourself; go tell others so they can understand salvation through faith in Christ, too.
Journal question: How did you hear the gospel? Write it out.
In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. James 2:17
See also: Luke 22:32, Rom. 1:17, Rom. 10:10, Gal. 2:20
You hear or read the word of God, believe what God says is true, and you ask Him to forgive you of your sins. Now what do you do with your faith? You can’t just sit on it and expect it to grow. Yes, trusting God will help you through the rest of your life, but what else can you do with your faith? Share it. It’s easy to be afraid to share—afraid of rejection, afraid of what people will say about you, afraid to speak up period. But you can’t let fear take over.
When you’re really excited about something, you want to share it, right? For example, if you like volleyball, you talk about it, you know the right way to play the game but you always try to improve your skills, you want to play the game as much as possible, and you want others to get involved and love it, too, right? God wants us to feel the same way about the gift He’s given to us—salvation. He wants us to talk about our faith even when we’re afraid. He wants us to study His word to learn more about our faith and grow it deeper. God wants us to do things for others that demonstrate His love, and show that we believe we can trust Him. When others hear the gospel message and see the changes God has made in your life, maybe they’ll want to know Him too.
Journal question: Can you think of anyone you know personally who doesn’t know Jesus? How can you share your faith with those people? What will you tell them? How will your faith push you to act differently?
He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20
See also: Matt. 9:22, Eph. 6:16, 2 Thess. 3:3
Don’t be afraid to use your faith, to trust God to do big things. God can do so much more than you know, or even imagine. Sometimes, our faith is weak and flimsy. You don’t want to ask God for too much. I have a question, is there anything that’s too much for the Creator of the Universe? God is big, let’s stop trying to make Him so small. If you believe that God is the God of the Bible–that He could make a nation from a barren womb, rescue His people from a powerful nation (several times, actually), make a king out of a shepherd boy, send His Son to be born of a virgin, and then to die on the cross for all the sins of all people for all time and then be raised to life—you need to think big.
God didn’t give you a small faith. He wants you to ask for things that allow Him to demonstrate His power. He wants us to ask Him to be big and trust Him to follow through. He wants us to have faith that moves mountains. If you believe God can do anything, it’s not crazy or stupid to ask Him to do the impossible; it’s called having faith.
Journal question: If you could ask God to do anything—what would it be? Ask it. And trust that He will answer even if it’s not the answer you expected.
[i] Trent C. Butler, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, (Holman Reference: Nashville, 2003), 547-550.
Last night my Dad and I went to see the Tennessee Titans play the Minnesota Vikings. Yes, it was the last game of the preseason, the starters only played the first quarter (if that), and Adrian Peterson didn’t play at all. I know. Rain also poured for most of the first half. But we stayed, because we love football, and my Dad loves the Vikings. And maybe we’re just a little crazy. Maybe.
But before the game and the rain started, we had to find a place to park, and we got there a little late so it wasn’t so easy. We ended up across the bridge from the stadium in East Nashville. We parked outside of an urban ministry, and though it was a long walk in what some would consider a not-so-safe area, I never felt threatened. What I did notice was the number of children just running around in the streets and on the sidewalks. Then I saw a group of about six kids, scrambling around in their own front yard football game.
I thought, how sad that they live so close to the stadium, but they’ll probably never get to go to a game. They sit outside and watch the fans walk by, they play their own version of Titans football, but will they ever do more than just hear the announcer’s voice and the roar of the fans?
I left those thoughts at the entry gates of the stadium, but as we walked back to the car my mind rewound to the earlier walk to LP Field. And my thoughts ran straight into Jesus. I saw that trip to the stadium like life. I know Jesus, I know about the kingdom of heaven, I know that’s where I’m headed, and I know I’ll get to see Jesus face to face. But what about them?
I realized I’m really selfish sometimes. Jesus taught us to love as he loved, to serve the less fortunate, and to tell others about him wherever we go (John 15:12, HCSB; Matthew 25:40, HCSB; Matthew 28:19-20, HCSB; Acts 1:8, HCSB ). But I so often get caught up in my own little life, and forget about the people in the world around me. I try to take Jesus with me, instead of going with Him. It’s like I expect people to come to me and ask for Jesus. Instead, as desperately as they need His love, I should be desperately trying to show them. But I fail, so, so much of the time.
I see people every day on an intense search fore more. I think it’s sad that they don’t know Jesus, because as my friend Jarrett said, “I believe we all have an aching deep within our heart that is given from God for something greater than ourselves.” I know Jesus will ease their ache, but I don’t always stop and show them. I don’t invite them with me to walk in His love.
Last night, I could almost hear Jesus saying, Stephanie, whom are you inviting to walk with me?
Sharing Jesus isn’t only for those who are called missionaries. Sometimes, I need to be the one who stops and says, “He’ll take care of you forever, because He loves you. Let me show you the way to His love. Let me show you Jesus.”
Because I’m going to keep asking myself this question, I want to ask you, too. Whom are you inviting to walk with Jesus?
Sometimes you’re blind to love because of its simplicity, but at times it overwhelms you with its extravagance. You don’t always have the easiest time understanding love. Your inner critic shouts that love is not available to people like you. You can’t always hear love’s voice over the roar of your fears, inadequacies, regrets, and insecurities. Words like broken, failure, dirty, and unworthy smatter across your brainwaves until you no longer feel like you’re allowed to know love. Have any of you ever felt like love was just beyond your grasp? I have.
How does love break through? Well, there’s no clear cut, clean and simple answer out there. Each person on the planet has a different story. Some plot lines may look similar, but I think the difference is in the details. Love is in the details. Love is in the daily.
I don’t know what love looks like to you, but for me…
Love is an unexpected note in the mailbox. Love is dancing in a summer rain. Love is a brownie fresh from the oven. Love is a walk in the park with a good friend. Love is laughter shared over a meal with my family. Love is a pen and a journal on the back porch swing, swaying in the autumn breeze. Love is an encouraging text sent at just the right time. Love is a broomstick sword war with my brother. Love is making silly faces at my niece just to see her smile. Love is in her smile. Love is sipping a cup of coffee on a front porch rocking chair. Love is fishing with my dad. Love is a new book. Love is singing my favorite songs on a road trip with my mom. Love is all in life.
You see, there are certainly occasions where love smacks me in the face or charges boldly into my life. But mostly, love comes quietly, like a sweet whisper to my soul.
And that’s all right with me.
Have you ever met someone who talks about Jesus like He really is her best friend? Jesus’ name rolling off of this person’s lips definitely doesn’t sound forced, or fake. She makes you believe that she just knows Jesus that well. She lives and breathes Jesus. She believes prayer is important, vital even. As J. Oswald Sanders said, she believes that “Prayer is indeed the Christian’s vital breath and native air.”[i]
I’m privileged to know such a woman—she lives as if Jesus is walking right beside her. And you better believe, whether you call her or go sit in a rocking chair on her front porch—she’s going to pray for you. I always laugh when my friends meet her. They say goodbye as if they’re getting ready to hop in their cars and drive away with nothing more than a new, very precious friend. I laugh because I know she won’t let them out of the driveway until she’s thanked God for them. Her prayers are said with astounding belief, and power, and they almost always end in tears. It’s all very real, and yet I find this surprising. But, why? Isn’t this how we’re all supposed to live?
Yes. Pray silently. Pray out loud. Pray as you sit on your back porch swing, or as you drive to work (but please, if you do this, pray with your eyes open). Pray for your family, your friends, the lost and the broken. Be real and pray, beloved, just pray.
Day 1: Lord, Show Me
Display the wonders of Your faithful love, Savior of all who seek refuge from those who rebel against Your right hand.” Psalm 17:7
Prayer is supposed to be a conversation between you and God, but how does that flow? There is a sense of reverence that comes with talking to God, coupled with the familiarity of talking to your Father. He is holy. He is powerful. But He does love you. He knows your heart, but He knows praying requires your vulnerability. He doesn’t need you to ask for His help or to tell Him what you need, but He wants you to get to the point where you realize that’s what has to be done. You come to a place where your pride is broken and you have to ask, “Lord, show me.”
I don’t know what you specifically need to see from Him. Maybe you want to see His love for you displayed in an everyday fashion. Maybe you want to see that He’s still watching over that wayward son or daughter. Maybe you want to see that He is faithful to provide for your needs as He promised. Here’s the thing: He wants you to ask Him to show you the way. Although He can show you these things all day long, until you actively look for His presence in your life, like a blind person searching for the light—I don’t think you want it (whatever “it” may be) bad enough. If you want to receive an answer you have to first ask the question.
Journal question: What questions do you have? In what areas do you need God to open your eyes to Him? Say, Lord, show me…
Day 2: He’s Got the Power
‘Then He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I replied, “Lord God, only You know.” … “You will know that I am Yahweh, My people, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put My Spirit in you, and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I am Yahweh. I have spoken, and I will do it.” This is the declaration of the Lord.”’ Ezekiel 37:3, 13-14
See also: Job 42:2
How many times have you heard God has the power to____________? God has the power to change hearts. God has the power to heal this nation. God has the power to bring the dead to life. God has the power to destroy evil. God can do the impossible. God has the power to do anything. This is our understanding of His power. But what is anything? What is the impossible? That’s kind of broad, don’t you think? God doesn’t think in our terms. So, I’m beginning to think that you and I only understand the attributes of the attribute of His omnipotence (being all-powerful). We’re only scratching the surface here.
God took dry bones and put life in them. They were beyond dead. They were dry, as in, not housed within a human body for quite some time. When God asked, I’m sure Ezekiel knew God could do the impossible. I’m sure Ezekiel knew God could do anything. But he confessed, “Lord, only you know.” I don’t think Ezekiel was faithless, but amazed, and simply making a humble admission that he did not know the extent of God’s power. We think in incredibly small terms to be serving such a big God. Don’t let your prayers be limited by your understanding, beloved.
Journal question: What prayer requests are you afraid of asking? Let go of the thought that God isn’t big enough to answer and ask away!
Day 3: Sealed and Delivered
Set me as a seal on your heart, as a seal on your arm. For love is as strong as death; ardent love is as unrelenting as Sheol. Love’s flames are fiery flames— the fiercest of all.” Song of Songs 8:6
*Sheol can be translated as “the grave”
See also: Rom. 5:8
God is powerful beyond our understanding. God wants to show you the way to live for Him. And this same God—loves you. He loves you so much that His Love (His Son Jesus) died to defeat eternal death for you. His love is stronger than death. His love allows you to live eternally in His presence. I love that this verse compares His love to fire. Hell is a burning place—a soul burning because you’re eternally separated from God—but it is also a place of physical torture and burning. But God’s love is stronger than that–His love burns for you with a holy passion. Sadly, some just don’t accept it.
You are sealed by this love, protected by this love, taught by this love, and held by this love. He pursued you ardently, meaning He did not relent, and He does not relent. Even after you chose to follow God and became His beloved daughter, He continues to pursue you. The world is a rough place. You’re going to mess up. But God is going to love you anyway. He will not give up on you.
If you like music, check out this Misty Edwards song (it’s based off of our focus verse).
Journal question: How does it make you feel, knowing that God pursued you and still pursues you even though He’s already won your affection? What does that teach you about love?
Day 4: Love Is Not A Buffet
This is My command: Love one another as I have loved you. John 15:12
See also: John 13:34
God’s command to “Love one another” is difficult sometimes. But that’s not the whole deal. He also said to love “as I have loved you”. That’s pretty hefty, to love as He loved. You won’t love perfectly because we’re not perfect people. Half of the time, we’re not even good at loving other people. God didn’t say, “love others when they’re nice to you or when they don’t get on your nerves.” There are no qualifiers to God’s love for you, so nothing should stop you from loving others without hesitation.
Ouch. That one hurts, right? I feel a little like I’ve been punched in the gut because I am so, so guilty of not loving others like I should. Love is not a buffet. You don’t get to pick some people to love, and you don’t get to choose to only love people sometimes. Love is not easy—your sins nailed His Son to the Cross but God pursued you anyway. He will never stop pursuing you. Let that be an example for you.
So my plea—don’t give up on loving others. Love them enough to continue to tell them about Jesus. Love them enough to continue to pray. Even when their anger stings, even when they roll their eyes at your way of life, even when they say they don’t need your prayers, even when your heart is constantly breaking because it seems like they will never change—love anyway. God knows your pain. He knows what it’s like to love and have people spit upon Him in return. He knows what it’s like to send someone the Most Precious Gift and still be told it wasn’t enough. He’s been right there, beloved, and He’s walking with you now. Don’t give up on them, keep loving, and keep on praying.
Journal question: How did God pursue you (i.e. who/what did He use to show you how much He loves you and how much you need Him?)? How does this change the way you’ll love others? Has giving of your love actually made you feel more loved—when and how?
Day 5: Pray Like You Mean It
“Therefore I tell you, all the things you pray and ask for—believe that you have received them, and you will have them.” Mark 11:24
You are so loved, by your Savior, your Jesus. He went to the cross for you. He sits at the right hand of the Father, interceding for you. God loved you so much that He sent Jesus to restore your relationship to Him. Do you believe God can do anything? Do you believe God loves you? Do you believe God wants to show you how to live for Him and how to love? Do you believe?
God wants you to ask Him to do big things.When you pray, don’t do it halfheartedly. Ask Him for big things and then praise Him as if He has already granted an answer. Even if the answer is no, or not yet, believe that it will come and praise Him for it. Faithless prayers, show lack of desire for an answer. If you are desperate for your God, know that He will meet you there. He will answer your prayers, but you have to do your part by believing that He will do His. As Mark Batterson said, “Pray like it depends on God and work like it depends on you.”[ii]
Journal question: Do you believe? Write it out.
Day 6: Get It Together
“Now I appeal to you, brothers, through our Lord Jesus Christ and through the love of the Spirit, to join with me in fervent prayers to God on my behalf.” Romans 15:20
God asks us to pray through some tough situations and asks us to pray for some hardheaded people. He has relationship with His Son Jesus and the Holy Spirit, so when He created us He created us with the need for relationship with others. Prayer is a part of our relationship with God, why would it not be a part of our relationship with other believers? No, it’s not exactly the same, but there’s power in prayer and power in pray-ers.
You better believe Satan doesn’t want you praying for people when he’s trying to get his hands on them. So he’s going to throw a lot of junk your way. He’s going to attack you just where you’re vulnerable. He’s not stupid; he knows your armor has some weak spots, and he knows exactly how to hit them and make it hurt. You need prayer support. So get together with other believers as you pray for your lost friends and even the day-to-day messes in your life. As you walk with Jesus in prayer, remember that your friends are doing the same. How much more powerful are your prayers, then, when you’re all walking together in the same direction?
Journal question: Write down a few names of strong believers you trust. What are your prayer needs? Remember those people on your list? Yep, call them, get together (or get on the phone together) and pray.
[i] J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership: Principles of Excellence for Every Believer, (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2007), 83.
[ii] Mark Batterson, The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011).
For more on prayer see:
For written prayers see:
4 years and I still wake up with Barcelona on my mind.
A few months before my brother got married in 2010, my Aunt invited us along on one of her many singing adventures. She performed at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, Spain. For those of you who don’t know me–I love all things Spanish. Spain is culturally rich and filled with beautiful people. I took as much Spanish as I could in High School and College, and at the time we traveled to Barcelona, I could hold a decent conversation in Spanish. Although, when we landed in Barca and I was able to tell the cab driver where we needed to go, all he said was, “You speak Mexican Spanish.” Nevertheless, I knew I was in for the trip of a lifetime.
Our first day there, it rained. But still, we had arrived. And for the next 6 days, Ben and I would be in Barcelona, Spain.
Buildings, monuments, and miles of coastline zipped by as we made our way to Aunt Vic’s temporary digs. I felt like a little kid at Christmas time–I definitely had my face plastered to the window–something I’m sure my cab driver really appreciated.
I relaxed in the living room, watching Ben take pictures out the window, thinking, “Man, I can’t believe we almost missed our flight.” And wondering why I ever considered staying home.
I was bubbling over, and despite the terrible weather, I couldn’t wait to get out and explore the city around me. And it just so happens that exploring is what Ben and I do best. So that’s what we did–for the next 6 days, we just went out all day to see as many things as we could, and eat as much Spanish food as we could, dance to their music, and marvel at their architecture.
Everything about the culture–the language, the music, the people–it was all beautiful. I remember thinking about the fact that we only had 6 days to explore. After that, 13 more hours on a plane. But I digress…
We saw and did so many things while we were there, so I’ll just tell you a few of my favorites.
(1) Las Ramblas–vendors, markets, street performers, and so much more. I even had my picture taken with this dude (you can see it on the left), and I’m not really sure what he was supposed to be, but He was funny. And he kept calling me “Pretty Lady”, so hey, kudos to him. We became fast friends. I also loved Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria. Lots of fun foods and people from all over the world.
(2) All the cathedrals were stunning, but my favorite was definitely The Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família. Less formally known as Sagrada Família. One of my friends back home said it looks like one of those sand-drip castles people make on the beach. And the doors and figures outlining the outside of the building were phenomenal. Below, you can see a night shot of the cathedral, a picture of Jesus at one of the doors, and then a close up of the door. The candles are just from the inside of another cathedral. I think it was La Basílica de Santa Maria del Mar de Barcelona. Also a beautiful building inside and out.
(3) Park Güell–unique, intricate, and filled with all kinds of fun colors. Designed by Antoni Gaudi, who also designed Sagrada Familia, Palau Güell, Casa Vicens, Casa Milà (La Pedrera), and Casa Batlló.
(4) Nieve (snow)–I think the snow was specific to our trip, because it was the heaviest snow Barcelona had seen in 4 years. At least that’s what several shop keepers and the Starbucks’ (Yes, we went to Starbucks in Spain) baristas told us. The streets pretty much shut down. People were still milling about, shops, markets, and tourist spots were still running, but the cabs were not. So that certainly made for an interesting trek home later that evening, but the snow added a unique beauty to our trip.
(5) Everything about my trip to Barcelona was unforgettable to say the least. Here are a few more of my favorite shots, showcasing the people, the side streets, museums, food, and my travel companions (My brother, Ben, My Aunt Vic and Uncle Scott–if I’m in the picture–Aunt Vic took it. Ben is an awesome photographer, but I don’t have any of his shots, so I’ll post a link to his website here and his Facebook album of Barcelona Architecture here).
May 26, 2010
I stopped praying as much because I didn’t want to admit to God that I was wrong. I feel so stupid for letting go of so many things I loved, all to chase one empty ideal. I let go of my friends. I let my grades slide. I came really close to giving up on college all together. I still wake up and wonder where it all went wrong, wonder where I changed, and why I let go of the person I wanted to become. And maybe I didn’t let go. Maybe I just never knew who I wanted to become and maybe I still don’t. Maybe.
Being someone I didn’t really want to be brought on more heartache than anything. God never left me, though, as much as I tried to say He did. I turned my back on Him. I knew where I was going to go wrong before I ever got there, but I went anyway. I tried to make His voice so still and so small that I just couldn’t hear it anymore.
Freshman year. As if it wasn’t tough enough going from being the top class in your school to bottom of the food chain–a lot of you are moving away from home for the first time, some of you don’t know anyone else going to your school, and you have probably never gotten to make your own curfew or choose all of your own classes. And that makes you feel free. And we all want complete freedom, right? Yeah, that’s what I thought too, but I learned that I really needed some boundaries and some really great friends to keep me grounded. I’m not writing this to show all the wisdom I’ve gained in my short 23 years (ha-that’s funny), but to leave you with some things I wish I had known as a college freshman. I learned a lot of really tough lessons my Freshman year, and I would love to save you from some of that heartache, if possible. So, some of my friends and I came up with a few things to help you stay strong in your faith while having a great college experience.
(1) Get to know the people around you. Invest in other people. Make a point to know names and get to know the things they like, and their background. Befriend people who share the same beliefs as you, but who didn’t grow up with the same experiences. They may teach you new ways to live out your faith. Find what makes them stand out. Get to know your RAs, the people on your hall, and the people in your classes. You don’t have to be best friends with all of them, but getting to know a variety of people with diverse interests can really help you grow. Your core group of friends should help you stay grounded in your faith, which is important because your faith will probably be tested more than ever before. But that doesn’t mean you should live in a bubble. You can learn a lot from people who are different from you. Get to know people with varied opinions, just make sure you know where you stand.
(2) Stand out. Be bold. Not just in your beliefs, but about trying new things. Step out of your comfort zone a little–try out for the football team, join the school’s vocal group, attend different club meetings, develop new interests, travel, and get out in the community around your school. Of course, this boldness also applies to your faith. In order to stand out, you need to know where you stand. When you’re upfront about your beliefs, it makes life easier on yourself and others. And regardless of whether people get angry with you or think your beliefs are weird, they’ll respect someone who can stay strong and not be swayed from what they believe to be true. People respect those who aren’t indecisive. Plus, when people know what you’re about and Whom you’re about, they know who to come to if they have questions. This way, you’ll have a tremendous opportunity to show people the love of Jesus on your campus.
*sidenote: there’s a difference between being bold and being pushy. Only God can change hearts, you won’t win people over by arguing. Show them what you’re about by the way that you live. If you live and speak differently, they’ll see that.
(3) Know your stuff. Study. Yuck. Yes, I know. That’s not a popular word among Freshmen, although I don’t think anyone really likes it. So let’s say this instead, dig deeper. Dig deep into Scripture so that you know what you believe. Grow deeper in your relationship with Jesus by praying. A lot. That’s something I really should have done more. And I can also tell you that you’ll probably feel more accomplished in college if you’re well-rounded in your experiences. By that I mean–meeting new people, joining a club or a sports team (hey, intramural counts too), and keeping your grades up. College is tough, and you’ll learn so much about life outside of the classroom, but remember that what you learn in the classroom is important too. I failed a math class my first semester and I’ll never forget it. That definitely pushed me to study a little more during the second semester. Oh, and while it’s tempting to skip class, some professors aren’t so forgiving with their grades. I once missed three quizzes due to having swine flu (swine flu, people) and wasn’t allowed to make up my grades.
(4) Keep the dust off your Bible. I went to a Christian college, and I’ll be honest, I mostly used my Bible for class. If you’re a ministry student or just attending a Christian school like I did, please know that a Bible class, a Bible based class, or attending chapel twice a week doesn’t remove the need for getting into the Word on your own. Other people can certainly influence your life and your relationship with Jesus, but you’re the one who has to build it and keep it going. You’re responsible for your spiritual walk. I’m not trying to preach at you, just know that I’ve been there. I tried to blame other people when I fell, but I wasn’t giving Jesus much (if any) of my attention. And I really suffered because of that.
Now that I’ve said that, I do want to encourage you to go to a Bible Study or Life group on campus or at a local church. You do need to have the support of other believers to help you stay committed to growing your relationship with Jesus. If you go to a state or non-Christian affiliated school, you could also join an organization like Campus Outreach, Campus Crusade, InterVarsity, Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), or YoungLife (each college is different, so if there are some good organizations I missed, feel free to comment below).
(5) You don’t have to have a ring by spring. This may be an unfamiliar phrase to those of you who don’t attend Christian colleges, but basically, just know that college isn’t all about who you date. In fact, I would encourage you (and many of my friends said the same thing) not to date for a little while. Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying you can’t. But there’s something about college, especially Freshman year, that pushes you and helps you to learn about yourself. Sometimes, that’s easier when you’re not trying to split time– building a romantic relationship, new friendships, adjusting to the college workload, joining new clubs and just trying to make it through the first year–all at once. You have plenty of time to figure out what you like, and what you want from life, and still date someone later on. If you’re already dating someone now, great! Just don’t let that relationship consume you. Make time to really experience college life.
I’m sure there’s a lot more that could be added to this, so if you could go back, what would you tell your college Freshman self? And if you’re a new college student, is this helpful?
I hope it is. And I hope you all have a wonderful freshman year (And, hey if you’re further along in college–these should still apply to you–so I hope you all have a fantastic year as well).
HUGE Thanks to those who contributed time and ideas to this blog post:
Elizabeth Bankston–Liz is one of my best friends. She loves to sing and her love for Jesus really shines through when she does. She’ll be studying music and voice at Trevecca Nazarene University starting this fall.
Daniel Crawley–He’s an awesome, godly man, who lives in NC with his beautiful wife and precious baby girl, where He is also a Lead Pastor. Daniel and my brother were friends, so he became a little like a second older brother to me. I will forever be known as “punk” when Daniel has a say in the matter. He tweets here.
Logan Ledbetter–Logan and I met at church. He’s a former MK (Missionary Kid) who spent part of his childhood in Ukraine. He studied Chemical Engineering at the University of Huntsville in Alabama and now studies Technology here in TN.
Jessalyn Pierce– Jessalyn is a good friend of mine, and one of those people you just immediately love. She is really into creative stuff, like photography and making cool videos. Jessalyn is a Senior at Bryan College, where she’s also an RA. She loves Jesus and has really awesome things to say here.
Dan Reed– Dan loves helping young people get to know Jesus. He received his degree in Biblical and Theological Studies at Boyce college, and is now an associate Youth/Family Minister in Kentucky where he lives with his beautiful wife, Alyssa. He writes stuff here, and tweets here.
Jarrett Scott — Jarrett is a pretty cool guy, and is currently leading the Youth Ministry at His church as a volunteer while he’s still at Middle Tennessee State University studying Communications. He blogs here, tweets here, and recommended this site to help you better understand and defend your beliefs.
Zachary Willis– Zach is a good friend, who’s adventurous, smart, loves Jesus, and has a great sense of humor. We both started out at North Greenville University, and now Zach is serving in the US Navy. Every now and then, he tweets here.