Encouragement at the Well

Being in ministry is hard. I’m sure that can be true for everyone, but I speak from experience when I say that it can be VERY HARD for divorced single moms to be active leaders in ministry. There are judgements, limitations, rules and realities – some are valid and some are not; some are articulated and some are not; some are self-imposed, and some are not.

When those realities overwhelm me, it really helps that there’s a model in the Bible whom I can go back to, to be encouraged and to remember that God equips and uses us all.

See, there was this woman minding her business, going to get water on a hot day. She was totally aware of the judgements, limitations, rules and realities of her world. In fact, when Jesus speaks to her, the very first thing she does is reminds him of the rules! She is a Samaritan AND a woman… either one was reason enough for Jesus NOT to speak to her, but he does.

We know her life is hard. She’s collecting water in the heat of the day – she’s excluded, whether intentionally or circumstantially, from doing what the other women are doing when they are doing it. She is left doing this chore alone and at one of the worst possible times.

When Jesus talks to her, He lets her know that he knows exactly who she is, He knows what she’s done, and He chooses to connect with her anyway – knowing EVERYTHING – and He chooses to offer her the living water that will meet the needs of her heart.

His disciples are confused – they didn’t say anything, but the story makes a point to tell us that they were surprised to find him talking to “her.” Despite their confusion, and the undeniable realities of her life, her encounter with Jesus changed everything.

Jesus made her into an evangelist. An EVANGELIST. Her.

She left her water behind and went into the city to tell people about Jesus. And they believed. They believed HER. They believed and came to see Jesus because of her story. God used her. In the end, the people who came encountered Jesus and believed not only because of her story, but because of Jesus touching them too. But, don’t be mistaken. The Bible is very clear, that God brought them to himself using HER testimony.

He used her then, and on days when my life is especially hard or my stamina for ministry feels gone, God uses her to encourage me now.

This was one of those weeks, where in a random moment of ministry I suddenly got hit with a random but familiar feeling – like I was “less than” the others at the table and I somehow didn’t fit. I left processing again what it means to be a divorced woman in Christian leadership. Thankfully, God brought my mind quickly back to the well.

Here’s what I was reminded of:

·         He sees me. He knows me and He chooses to speak to me anyway. To me. That’s crazy.

·         Sometimes life leaves me going to the well at weird time – at hot times and hard times. I’m often doing things at different times and in different ways than my peers. I often miss out on social things, fellowship and community. I’m excluded – typically for reasons that are circumstantial not intentional. I need to provide for my family while a lot of women in ministry have a partner to share that load. I have more to fit into the same 24 hours – and I sometimes am lonely, tired and worn out. 

·         Graciously, He positions himself on my path and meets me at my place of need. He offers me the living water. I don’t have a single need He can’t meet. I just need to remember who I’m talking to!

·         And, sometimes the disciples are STILL confused and surprised. Church leaders don’t always know what to do with me. I don’t fit the mold. Just like those original disciples, they usually don’t say anything, but can’t help but see Jesus at work. I can see the struggle though, and I need to do exactly the same thing my friend did at the well. She continued despite their confusion. She kept her focus on Jesus and did what He called her to do.

·         My encounters with Jesus change everything for me too.

·         I get the amazing joy and privilege of telling people about Jesus because of MY story. Mine. He made me an evangelist too. The “broken and weary single mom, carried by a savior” story is mine to share and it’s a story people need to hear. I pray that the ending will be the same too – that many will believe because of my story and come to see and encounter Jesus for themselves.

If you are struggling too or looking for encouragement on a rough day – I hope you’ll turn in your Bibles to John 4. And, I hope that both my friends at the well will be an encouragement to you too.

Naughty or Nice?

Can we talk about the Naughty and Nice list?

It’s totally a thing, right. Santa makes a list. He checks it twice. The whole North Pole toy making operation is run by it. Good kids get gifts. Naughty kids get nothing (or a lump of coal if you are a traditionalist!)

If you happen to get to talk to Santa this year,  he’s probably going to ask the million dollar question: “Have you been good this year?”

Let’s be honest, our culture totally buys into this. I bought into this. Lots of parents (and grandparents, babysitters, teachers etc) use the threat of the naughty list to encourage good behaviour for the whole month of December. Some even employ a cute in-house elf-surveillance system that sits on a shelf and reports nightly to Santa.

Every year though, the irony of this “list” system hits me. God sent us the most wonderful gift – specifically because we weren’t good enough. At its very core, isn’t that the Christmas message? That Jesus came to redeem those of us on the naughty list – which *spoiler alert* is everyone.

The Bible is super clear about this. Romans 3:23 says that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” I’m a pretty good person, and still I definitely could have made the naughty list many times this year. But, here is the good news: God’s grace is bigger than my sins. Even after I do or say or think something stupid that would land me on the naughty list, I don’t need to try to work my way back onto the nice list. Titus 3:5  says “He saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.”

His grace and mercy covers all my failures, bad decisions, angry outbursts and nasty thoughts. And, if you have put your faith in him and asked for his forgiveness, he covers yours too. Thank God for the mercy, grace and love he shows us – at Christmas and always!

So, what can we do about all this naughty and nice list confusion. The Bible is also super clear that we should make the most of every opportunity to share the hope we have found – and honestly, there isn’t much better opportunity to share the hope of Christ than Christmas.

The next time someone asks you if you’ve been good this year, or whether you have been naughty or nice – be honest. Christmas is about a good, good God coming to rescue a people who forever fall short. Even the best of us has had bad moments this year – and that’s when we can most appreciate the gift of Christmas. Christ came to redeem the lost and the naughty. Praise God.

Share that around the dinner table with your family. Share it at a coffee shop with a friend. Make it your facebook status. Paint it on a mug. Cross stitch it on an ugly Christmas sweater. Tell someone today how glad you are that God’s gift isn’t dependant on how good you are, and that God sees your sin and chooses mercy and grace anyway- and that’s the blessing of Christmas.

BUT a word of caution… When someone casually asks you if you have been good this year, they probably aren’t prepared for you to drop a whole theological response, complete with the tracks and the mini-New Testament that you’ve been keeping warm in your back pocket waiting for the window to pounce! Remember what it says in 1 Peter 3:15 “…Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…”

Don’t be a jerk. Don’t be obnoxious. And, don’t preach a 20 minute message to the mall Santa while the other kids are anxiously waiting in line.

If the opportunity comes up casually to chat about this, be ready to simply respond about how blessed you are that God’s gift of grace and mercy in Jesus isn’t dependant on being good or making the right list. Be gentle. Be respectful. If someone asks more questions, be ready to tell your story of hope and faith. Not sure what to say? Look at the shepherds in Luke 2 – they simply told what they had seen and heard. That’s all you have to do. Your story doesn’t need to be fancy – it just needs to be genuine and point others to the hope you have found.

God’s gift to us this Christmas is awesome, and it doesn’t matter how naughty or nice you have been. His gift is for you. I pray that you will receive his grace and mercy and have an amazing Christmas celebrating who he is and what he has done.

 

Lay Down Your Weapons and Be Still.

My third born child is funny. He’s funny on purpose now, but when he was little, he hadn’t learned to harness his superpower yet and so he was just funny.

At the ripe old age of three, he learned Bible verses in his Sunday School class. They memorized the words of the verse, but not the location. They were just little. The verse words were enough! Reciting verses got him LOTS of attention. One day he was with my mom and recited his verse of the week. She said to him “Oh, sweetie, that was wonderful. Was it taken from the Bible?”

No word of a lie, he looked at her with a horrified expression and sputtered “No, Grandma… It’s still in there!”

(I can’t make this stuff up!)

My past few posts have been based on a message I delivered on Psalms 46 last month. I really wanted to only speak on Psalm 46:10, “Be Still and know that I am God…” but every time I sat down to prep my talk, that silly memory verse story came to my mind and I seriously kept hearing his three-year-old voice reminding me that this verse wasn’t taken from the Bible… “it’s still in there”.

So… I decided that I’d better be sure to understand more than just 8 words before I started to speak – and I did some serious study on the whole Psalm in context. In fact, I got myself totally twisted up and confused and sideways trying to make sense of all the commentaries. What I learned is that while this verse is often just used as a call to quiet reflection and communion with God, the really smart scholars will tell you, it’s about much more than that.

In my mind, I wanted to just talk about being still, but the verse in context calls for more! In fact, it’s actually a call not just to quiet, but to a laying down of weapons – on GotQuestions.org its explained like this:

“ this is a call for those involved in the war to stop fighting, to be still. The word still is a translation of the Hebrew word rapa, meaning “to slacken, let down, or cease.” In some instances, the word carries the idea of “to drop, be weak, or faint.” It connotes two people fighting until someone separates them and makes them drop their weapons. It is only after the fighting has stopped that the warriors can acknowledge their trust in God. Christians often interpret the command to “be still” as “to be quiet in God’s presence.” While quietness is certainly helpful, the phrase means to stop frantic activity, to let down, and to be still. For God’s people being “still” would involve looking to the Lord for their help; for God’s enemies, being “still” would mean ceasing to fight a battle they cannot win.”

Hmmm… a stopping of frantic activity

Hmmmm…. looking to the Lord for help

I’m not in a physical war and I’m not fighting a physical battle, but I will tell you that I often seem to be frantic and I see lots of other frantic people around me! And I’m not always quick to look to the Lord for help.

I also tend to want to fight – if not against people or God directly – I’m inclined to fight against my circumstances. I’m a problem solver – and I’m sure that some of you are the same. I love a good problem to solve – and it can be mine or someone else’s. I’m becoming more and more aware that I sometimes even step in and fight on behalf of others against circumstances that God intended for a purpose – and for their good.

Now, I’m not saying that we should never fight circumstances – for ourselves or others. I’m not suggesting that stillness needs to ALWAYS be our response – I don’t think scripture suggests it either. God sometimes calls us to action. If he’s called you to Nineveh, don’t go sit under a tree to be still! If he has told you to march around a city gate, march around the gate. Sometimes Jesus healed with a word, sometimes he told the person to go and DO something.

Do what God calls you to do – sometimes that’s an action. But, scripture also reminds us that sometimes we need only be still because God wants to fight for us. Its not just Psalm 46 calling us to be still. Psalm 37:7 says to be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him. Exodus 14:14 says the Lord will fight for you, you need only be still.

In my right, healthy, and well brain, I know that I’d rather have God fight for me… In the moment, when I see the battle or challenge or problem though, it can be HARD to trust and be still and wait patiently for Him.

I think it’s important that we pray for discernment to know when to fight and when to lay down our weapons be still. I’m curious, how often I fought my circumstances and missed the blessing of God being my comfort and my strength in the midst of the circumstance instead. How often when I felt too exhausted to go on, but kept going anyway, was God really calling me into rest (and I missed it!).

Can you relate? Leave a comment or join us of Facebook to discuss.

(The other blog posts from my Psalm 46 talk can be found here and here.)

Stillness Defined – with a little bonus math!

I was speaking on Psalm 46 a few weeks ago, mostly on “Be Still and Know that I am God.” I thought it would be a good idea to make sure that all the ladies I was speaking to had a shared understanding of what stillness actually is, so we turned to the dictionary.

The KJV Dictionary says this:

STILLNESS, n.

  1. Freedom from noise or motion; calmness; quiet; silence; as the stillness of the night, the air or the sea.
  2. Freedom from agitation or excitement;

I wrote my whole talk, including this section where I had planned for the ladies to stop and talk about other words we could use to describe stillness, like hushed, serene, tranquil, or inactive – and opposite kinds of words too, like anxious, disturbed, agitated, noisy, fussed, distracted, clamoured…

Right before I was about to speak, I read my notes back over and noticed something I had missed altogether. Did you catch the word that repeated in the definition? I hadn’t seen it the first seven or eight times I looked at it! It was like my eye bounced right over it and I almost missed it.

Stillness is freedom.

It’s right there at the start of each definition, yet I nearly missed it!

Being still before God is choosing to enter into freedom from the worry, anxiety, pressure and noise that would steal my peace.

And, I use that term “choosing” very intentionally, because stillness for me is HARD and entering into it requires a choice. It feels like it shouldn’t, but it does.

In my mind, there’s a kind of stillness math that basically boils down to this equation:

Physical Stillness + Mental Stillness + Emotional Stillness = Spiritual Stillness

I’m bad at this kind of math! Usually, this is how this plays out for me. First, I get myself physically still, but as soon as I’m ready for some quality quiet time with the Lord, and my body is still, my brain will suddenly decide its time to download. I’ll start wondering whether I locked the door, I’ll remember that I was supposed to buy milk and call for an appointment, and if given enough space, I’ll move to bigger things – like problem solving and life planning.

I’ve also discovered that staying very active either physically or mentally keeps my brain from having to process anything emotionally, so if I do actually get to a point of being physically and mentally still, I’m suddenly emotionally aware too – and stillness remains a step beyond my grasp.

I genuinely believe that stillness is intended to be freedom – to release the cares of the world and enter into fellowship with God – but it is also a discipline that takes practice and intentionality.

If you are struggling to be still – either physically, mentally or emotionally, consider practicing being still. There are lots of ways to start. Try simply sitting and being silent. If silence is hard at first, try playing worship music very softly in the background. Take several deep breaths. Be aware of the quiet. Be mindful to not allow your to-do list to start yelling at you.

If doing a more guided exercise would be helpful, consider trying this… In his book 24/6: A prescription for a Heathier, Happier Life, Dr. Matthew Sleeth suggests a meditation using the words of Psalm 46:10. You begin by saying the whole line, and then remove one word at a time until you come to the last word.

Be still and know that I am God.

Be still and know that I am.

Be still and know that I.

Be still and know that.

Be still and know.

Be still and.

Be still.

Be.

Don’t rush through this. Allow your mind to slowly embrace stillness with each line, and when you finish the meditation just sit and enjoy a moment of simply being.

Do you have a strategy for quieting your heart and mind and embracing stillness? Please share it here or jump over and join our facebook group to join in the discussion and to see an affiliate link for Dr. Sleeth’s book. We are here to support and encourage one another!

 

The formula for successful stillness

Be still and know that I am God.

I have been giving a whole lot of thought to these eight words from Psalm 46 over the past few weeks – and I think I may have stumbled across something I likely should have always known! God gives us a formula for successful stillness in the words “Be Still and Know that I am God.”

Can you see it?

We can be still BECAUSE we know that GOD IS GOD.

We can rest because God is God.

We can find peace.

We can stop striving.

We can just be… 

Because God is God. 

Let’s look at Psalm 46 together for a minute (copied from Bible Gateway – click on the link to visit Bible Gateway directly).

Psalm 46[a]

For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. According to alamoth.[b] A song.

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.[c]

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields[d] with fire.
10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

11 The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Looking at the Psalm, we see that the people were called to be still despite the earth giving way, the mountains falling, or the nations going into an uproar and kingdoms falling. How on earth is anyone supposed to be still when the world is literally falling apart around them?

I haven’t personally lived through a significant natural disaster, but despite feeling distanced from physical realities, I have had lots of times in my life that felt like the ground had shifted under my feet and all my stability was gone. My dad’s death and my divorce come to mind immediately! But, even challenges on a much smaller scale can knock the wind out of me and leave me feeling shaken. Looking back, I’m curious, how often I personally have missed the blessing of God being my comfort and my strength because I forget in the midst of the chaos who God is.

Before the Psalmist tells us to “Be still and know that God is God” – he tells and reminds us about who God is:

God is our refuge (v. 1)

He is our strength (v. 1)

He is an ever present help in trouble (v. 1)

He is with us (v. 7 & 11)

He is the God of Jacob, and our fortress (v. 7 & 11)

He is exalted among the earth and the nations (v. 10)

My wandering and distractable heart sure needs reminding!

Are you Struggling to find stillness? Struggling to find real rest in God? Take a moment to remember who God is. He really is our refuge, our strength and our help. We can be still BECAUSE of who God is.

Let’s take a minute to remind ourselves and encourage one another about exactly who God is. Do you have a favourite verses that describes God’s character? One of my favourites is Psalm 68 – “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” Share your favourites in the comments or over in our Facebook group. Let’s be people who remember and people who encourage!