On Losing Focus

(This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post on November 11, 2016.)

time-for-god
ericcartier.com

It happens: we’ve started a task, we’re a few moments in, and then another idea flashes across our minds. For me, that other idea is usually something I need to add to my to-do list. And for me, the task I’d started, quite frequently, is my daily devotional journaling with God.

Let’s be honest. First, I use the word “daily” loosely. I have a daily desire, but the actual execution on a day-to-day basis is…well, not so daily. (I do however talk to God — all day, everyday — so there’s that. But I digress…)

God frequently speaks to me through song. I’ll wake up and He will have me singing or humming a song through the Holy Spirit. I always enjoy that, a sweet reminder that He was with me all night and was downloading His truths and will for me and answering my prayers.

One particular morning I awakened to the tune of Lauren Daigle’s “First” emanating from my Spirit.

I meditated on that song for a few minutes. I felt in it an excitement of knowing that it was God telling me He wanted to spend time with me first thing that morning. And it was a little reminder of loving correction: I should seek and desire and want God more than anything, and that want should be of His presence, not his presents.

I was in a peaceful, joyful place. And then it struck. That errant thought that completely draws you out of intimacy with your Father for a fleeting moment.

It was a to-do item. Something I “had” to remember to do today.

I was irritated, bothered. Why’d my brain have to tell me this now?!

Then the Holy Spirit placed John 10:10 NLT into my remembrance: “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.”

Almost immediately, the Holy Spirit had me circle “stea”l and then He said, “Your focus.”

Whoa.

So many times I’d read that verse, heard it growing up, and always thought of things being stolen. As I marveled at this revelation, God kept talking.

“The thief can also steal your faith, peace, love, and joy, if you let him. He can kill your dreams, intentions, and hope, if you let him. He can destroy your destiny, your future, and your expectation, if you let him.”

I went on to read that very verse in two more translations, The Message and the Amplified versions. And I began to notice that the “rich and satisfying life” part became “abundance” once I reached the Amplified version. I was led to learn more about the term “abundance”.

According to the Blue Letter Bible, “abundance” is a Greek adjective that reads “perissos” in its original form. But the definitions are what got me:

  • Exceeding some number or measure or rank or need
  • Over and above, more than is necessary, superadded
  • Exceedingly abundantly, supremely
  • Something further, more, much more than all, more plainly
  • Superior, extraordinary, surpassing, uncommon
  • Pre-eminence, superiority, advantage, more eminent, more remarkable, more excellent.

That was cool and all, but I didn’t get it. So I waited for an explanation, for the dots to be connected. And God said to me: You can only see this in terms of things (I really like handbags and cars and gadgets!) because that’s all your mind can handle, He told me. But there’s more, international speaker. Prophet.

See, we often lose sight of the more. We spend so much time fixating on what the thief came to take, that we lose sight of what we still have and what’s waiting for us.

We get so flustered that we’re not yet at a place where our time with God comes completely unaffected by worldly distraction, that we don’t celebrate that we can just return to sweet, quiet time with our Father.

(I literally just got a phone call. Ugh! OK, back on track. Where was I?…Oh!…)

And while we’re trying to protect all of our stuff from the thief, He’s taking the one thing we aren’t looking at: our focus.

We’re trying to protect our peace when a coworker eats our lunch by saying, “Not today satan!” And satan’s already taken our focus off of our gratitude to God for having food.

We’re trying to protect our joy when a friend says something unintentionally hurtful to us, but satan’s already taken our focus off of the blessing of friendship.

We’re trying to protect our hearts so we’re turning down new friendships and potential dates left and right, but satan’s already taken our focus off of giving and directing that love to God.

We’re trying to protect our dreams by not telling anyone about the desire God’s placed in our heart, but satan’s already taken our focus off of the freedom and joy God wanted that dream to give us.

See how it works?

Well, I decided this morning to just get back to my quiet, devotional time. Even when my husband came home 20 minutes later. Even when my sister called a few minutes after that. I just — took my focus back.

See, what we focus on matters. And the enemy knows that. Because one moment of lost focus could cost us all of the abundance God is promising us.

And His abundance, the more He still has for us that is so splendid we can’t even imagine it, is far greater than what the enemy is currently trying to take.

So cut yourself some slack; you’re human. There will be times when you can press in like never before and experience God in new, intimate ways. But there will also be times when you can’t for the life of you cease the torrent of mundane thoughts that race through your mind.

Keep the faith. Keep your focus. God’s got more for you if you’d just focus on Him and not the thief and his wily ways.

Final Leap of Faith Prayer Call 

  Last night marked the fifth and final installment in my five-week, Leap of Faith Prayer Call for women. It has been an absolute honor and privilege to be able to pray for and with women as they believe God for more in their lives. I can only hope that this prayer line was a blessing and/or encouragement to those who dialed in or listened to the recordings. I know I definitely saw God move in my life in this time with you all. 

I shared an excerpt from Pastor Rick Warren’s “God’s Dream For Your Life,” 19-day devotional as the devotion last night. You may read it in its entirety below, or listen to it and our prayer by using the credentials below:

Playback Number: (641) 715-3589
Access Code: 859-866
Reference Number: 5

Here is the transcript of the devotional I shared:

From Dream to Deliverance

If you want your faith to grow so you can claim God’s promise in Mark 9:23 — “Everything is possible for the person who has faith” (GNT) — then you must first understand that God takes you through six phases of faith.

Phase 1: Dream What is the dream God has given you? If you don’t have a dream you’re working toward, you just exist. You need to start praying, “God, give me your dream.” You’re here on Earth for a purpose. When you discover that purpose, you’ll discover the dream God wants you to go after.

“God … is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of — infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes” (Ephesians 3:20b TLB).

Phase 2: Decision Maybe you have a dream from God, but you’ve not yet made a decision to go after it. God’s word for you in phase 2 is, “Go for it!” You may need to make the decision to give your life to Christ or be baptized or join a church or get involved in ministry.

“If you are like that, unable to make up your mind and undecided in all you do, you must not think that you will receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:7-8 GNT).

Phase 3: Delay When things don’t happen on our timetable, we tend to run ahead of God and create detours to make it happen. Do not detour! You may end up making the wrong decision. You’re in God’s waiting room. Wait for God to work his hand.

God says in Habakkuk 2:3, “But these things I plan won’t happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled” (TLB).

Phase 4: Difficulty What difficulties have you faced waiting for your dream to be fulfilled? You’ll go through many tests in life, but God knows what you’re going through. He’s watching, and he hasn’t forgotten you.

“Even though you are temporarily harassed by all kinds of trials and temptations. This is no accident — it happens to prove your faith, which is infinitely more valuable than gold” (1 Peter 1:6-7 Phillips).

Phase 5: Dead End Some of you are at your dead end, and you’re ready to give up. But you’re right where God wants you! He is preparing you for deliverance. God’s word for you is, “Hang on! Don’t give up!”

“At that time we were completely overwhelmed, the burden was more than we could bear, in fact we told ourselves that this was the end. Yet we now believe that we had this experience of coming to the end of our tether that we might learn to trust, not in ourselves, but in God who can raise the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).

Phase 6: Deliverance Do you expect and trust God to deliver you? He will. But it doesn’t happen overnight. You have to go through all six stages before God brings you to deliverance.

Leap of Faith Prayer Call June 2

Many thanks all of the women who joined the inaugural Leap of Faith Prayer Call for women last night.  I pray it was an encouraging, empowering, and inspiring time, and that everyone who called in got what they needed from God.

If you missed the call yesterday, want to hear it again, or want to share it with folks you know, you can listen to the recording by using the number and codes below:

Playback Number: (641) 715-3589
Access Code: 859-866
Reference Number: 1

Here’s an excerpt of the devotional I shared:

How often have we heard in our lifetimes Psalm 118:24? “This is the day that the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.”

I would venture to guess that we’ve heard it countless times, and probably recited it as well.

But what God really wants me to impress on each of you, my Sisters in Christ, is that we’re thinking too small when it comes to what God has predestined for us and what He wants to do for us.

In fact, if we really want to give God space to move, we have to know and confess that this is the YEAR that the Lord has made.  We will rejoice and be glad in it.

I believe with everything in me that this is the year for women to to take Leaps of Faith in their lives, careers, ministries, relationships, and even in their dreams.

It’s why the Holy Spirit led me to establish a luncheon series to cultivate networking and empowerment for women.  And it’s why I’ve prayed that you’d all join me on this call this evening.  Just so I can agree with, intercede for, and pray with each of you for the breakthroughs you’re expecting God to deliver for you this year.

As I prayed about what God would have me to say to you all tonight to encourage you, He told me to tell you that you, women, we are strong.  We are not weak.  We aren’t shrinking violets.  No we were made from strength.  And as we prepare to go and possess all that God has for us this year, we need to know that we know that we know that we are strong in and because of Christ.

The evidence of our strength can be found right in the first book of the Bible.  In the first chapters of Genesis, God walks us through the creation of, well, everything.  Light and dark.  Day and night.  Earth and heavens.  Water and land.  Animals.  Everything.  Then He creates man and woman in His image to rule over His creation.

And that’s where it got interesting.

The Bible says in Genesis 2:7 that God formed Adam, the first man, from the dust of the earth and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils.  But when we get down to verse 22 of the same chapter we see that God then forms woman, Adam’s helper, from his rib.  So we’re actually made in God’s likeness from bone.

So I did a little research on bones.  And here are the two most compelling facts I found:

– Our bones, inch-for-inch, are stronger than the steel used in the construction of skyscrapers; and

– Our strongest and longest bone is our femur, or thigh bone.

These two points alone underscore the fact that we, women, are literally made to withstand.  We were created from the stuff that supports, protects and strengthens others.  And literally what we are made of makes it possible for us to take on, shoulder, carry, and face every weight life attempts to heap on us.

Women were made from bone.  Not men.  Women.  We were made to be strong.

Now, I certainly am not saying that women are stronger or higher or better than men.  We were created to be their helpers and we are called, once married, to submit to our husbands who are submitted to the guidance of our Lord.  That hierarchy is not debatable.  It is the right order of things.

But you need to know that you’re made of stuff that doesn’t break easily.  It doesn’t back back down from a challenge nor does it yield in the face adversity.  You need to know that you’re made from some of the toughest stuff in the entire human body and that’s not by accident.

It’s not by accident because you and I are also created to do something that men are physically incapable of: give birth. To deliver new life.  And I declare that it is time for you and me to give birth to the ideas and desires God’s planted in us, according to the Word of God.

That idea for a new business or nonprofit?  God wants to deliver it and deliver you to the larger territory it holds.

That dream of a promotion or new job?  God wants to deliver it.

That heart for service and love?  It’s time to deliver.

Those prayers for guidance and wisdom?  It’s time to deliver.

Those prayers for loved ones?  God’s about to deliver.

Prayers for relationships? Delivered.

Prayers for finances?  Delivered!

I confess according to Matt 6:33 that all these things are added to you in the name of Jesus.  All God asks is that you shift your focus from your problems, and even from His promise, to seek Him first.  And then, He will deliver you!

And I pray you’re ready to give birth!

Leap of Faith Prayer Call for Women

Please forgive me for the radio silence!  I’ve been super busy turning my passion for encouraging and equipping others into a luncheon series designed to do just that for women.  I launched the Leap Luncheon Series™ at the prompting of the Holy Spirit in January of this year to help connect women with other successful women thought leaders, business owners/runners, and game changers.

As God continues to bless this initiative with even greater speakers and more women in attendance each time, I feel compelled to agree with women all over that the desires and dreams that God’s give them will come to pass; that they will take LEAPs of Faith this year into the new territories God has claimed just for them.

So tomorrow I’m going to start a 5-week prayer call for women looking to make LEAPs this year.  I want to encourage, intercede for, and agree with women who are seeking and praying for breakthroughs in their lives.
The LEAP of Faith Prayer Call™ will be every Tuesday evening at 7pm for 45 minutes for the entire month of June (June 2, 9, 16, 23, and 30).  I’ll do a brief devotional at the beginning of the call, ask if there are any new prayer requests, and will then pray for everyone and the requests I receive. The line will be muted during the actual prayer.
I invite you to join us!  You may send in your prayer requests – either with your name or anonymously – via email to expectmore@radicalnewu.com or via my web form here.   Requests will need to be in to me by 8pm ET the day before the call (so tonight).
Here are the call-in details:

Dial-in Number: (641) 715-3580
Access Code: 859866

Whether you feel led to join us or not, I ask for your prayers for me in this endeavor.  Not for MY success, but for my complete erasure so that God speaks and moves for everyone who calls in.
I also invite you to invite women in your network whom you believe would appreciate some encouragement and prayer.  My prayer is that by getting support and encouragement, women as a whole will feel empowered to go after and live the lives they desire, the one’s God’s ordained for them, instead of just accepting the circumstances and situations they face.
And for those curious, the scriptural foundation (and purpose of my Leap Luncheons) – Hebrew 10:24 – is also my goal and compass for these calls.
I believe so strongly that God has more for women – for each of you and those who will join the call – and I’m committed to doing what I can to see that you all get the MORE God’s already named as yours!
Thanks in advance for your support!  I’m praying God’s blessing over the LEAPs you’re going to take this year as well!

Obsessed

appleofmyeyeFor the past day or so, I’ve been listening to The Walls Group album “Fast Forward” almost non-stop. (if you haven’t heard it, you should!  It’s awesome!)  And one song has been on repeat in my Spirit — I woke up singing it: “God on My Mind (feat. Brandy).”

Now, I’ll admit, a minuscule part of the reason why the song resonates for me is because it samples Brandy’s “Always on My Mind,” and hers was the first CD I ever owned back in middle school.

But this morning, when I woke up singing the song’s chorus, God gave me a revelation about its lyrics.  They go:

From the mountains to the seas, from the day that we believed to the beginning of time.
I can’t get you off my mind.
From the stars in space, to that empty grave, no matter how hard I try I can’t get God off my mind.
Always on my mind, your always on my mind. Thoughts of you all the time, your always on my mind.

I’ve listened to the song so many times and found myself inspired by the aspirational quality of these words.  I aspire to have God on my mind ALL the time.  In fact, the Bible tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 ESV to “16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  And what more is prayer than thinking of and talking to God?

But this morning, the Holy Spirit gave me this epiphany: “You’re always on God’s mind.  He never stops thinking of you.  He’s obsessed.”

And suddenly, the lyrics had even greater meaning.

“From the mountains to the seas…”– No matter where we are or end up physically, nothing can separate us from the love of God.  He loves us so big and so wide and so deeply, that even when we stray from Him – physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally, whatever – He’s still thinking of us.

“…from the day that we believed to the beginning of time..” — The Bible tells us in Jeremiah that before we were even in our mothers’ wombs, God knew us.  Even then, He was thinking of us.  And as we grew up, even before we chose Him, He was thinking about us enough to send his Son to die in our place.  From before our lives started and every moment since, we’ve been on God’s mind.

I can’t get you off my mind.” — The Psalmist tells us in chapter 139 that God’s thoughts on us are so numerous that they outnumber the grains of sand.

From the stars in space, to that empty grave…” — Everything that God has ever done for us, from stringing the stars in the sky to sending His only son to die, has been for us as an act of love because He was thinking about us.

“…no matter how hard I try…” — He keeps track of our sorrows.  He captures our tears in a bottle.  Our names are written on His hand.  He couldn’t get away from thinking of us if He tried or wanted to (don’t worry, He doesn’t try and doesn’t want to!).

Always on my mind, your always on my mind. Thoughts of you all the time, your always on my mind.” — And His obsession with us is consistent.  It’s constant.  He is always thinking about us.  It, like Him, is unchanging.

Isn’t that overwhelming?  To consider that God is always thinking about me.  About you.  Your situation.  Your hardships and trials.  Your joys and successes.  What’s important to you.  What you’re worried about.  What you fear.  What you need.

Every moment of your life, God is thinking of you.  Nothing surprises Him.  No circumstance sneaks up on Him.  He knew.  He knows.  He’s thinking of you.

I don’t know what you’re facing today, but I hope you’ll know this: God is absolutely obsessed with you.  You’re the apple of His eye and, because you’re so important to Him, He’s made you more than a conqueror; He’s defeated your every foe; and He is always working things out to benefit you.  He’s thought about all you’ll ever need and want, and has created a plan to give you hope and a future.  To bless you.

God can’t get you off His mind.

So walk through today in godly confidence that the Creator of the world, the King of all nations, the Alpha and Omega is thinking about you.  Right.  Now.


*YouTube courtesy of Stênio Nóbrega

Dealing With Disappointment

Some of you may remember that last Thursday I finally brought to fruition a God idea nearly a year in the making.

But what no one knows (save my husband and my Mama) is that the day before my big event was bookmarked with disappointment.

The day started with me receiving word that I had not won a Chase Mission Main Street small business grant for my small business.

Disappointed is an understatement for how I felt. I felt abandoned, alone, angry, sad and overwhelmed all at once.

Just like that, the way I thought God was going to move in my life had changed. And I was left with the overwhelming heaviness of the reality of my situation. My goals for my business, the debt my family had amassed supporting my business, they weren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

I cried a lot that morning. I couldn’t sleep I was so grief-stricken. And when I got into the shower, I broke down. The tears and the anger and the hurt all flowed freely. I was overcome.

But somehow, mid-rant, I found myself humming this song: “Lord You are good and your mercy endureth forever. Lord You are good and your mercy endureth forever!…I worship you! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!”

Even now, a week later, I remember clearly the puzzled look that crept across my face when I realized the dichotomy of the moment: here I am sobbing into the shower stream on the outside, but my Spirit was praising God.

The reality is that nowhere does God say we won’t be disappointed. Similarly, nowhere does He say we aren’t allowed to feel, to have emotional, human responses to the changes in our lives.

So even as our flesh mourns, if we stay prayed up, our Spirit will minister to us…even without out participation.

In fact, as I reflect now, I smile at the thought of a scripture that the Lord brought me to in my devotion.  It was Job talking, chapter 13, verse 15a: “God may kill me, but I will trust Him…”  That’s how I felt in that shower, ranting about how sad and disappointed I was.  Reminding God of His word and His promises.  (He’d later – much more politely, I might add – remind me that HOW He plans to fulfill the promises of His word is none of my business.  My only responsibility is to believe and expect that He will.)

The corresponding disappointment bookmark came later that Thursday evening. My day ended with my best subcontractor giving me 30 days notice. She’d gotten a job offer for a job that was perfect for her and where she wanted to go. For months, I’d been praying that God would enable me to hire her full-time. But, it wasn’t to be.

But I didn’t take this second spate of news as hard as I’d taken the morning news. And the reason why is because in between the two events I stumbled across the Feels Like Home blog; specifically this entry on 13 Bible Verses and 6 Steps to Deal with Disappointment.

Here’s the part that pulled me out of my pity party and put my day in perspective, directly from the blog:

13 Bible Verses & 6 Steps to Overcome Disappointment

Believe in God’s plan. Our God is a miracle worker. He can part waters, move boulders, heal the dead (not just the sick, remember, the dead), save, destroy, bless, and curse. He can do anything, everything, things beyond our comprehension.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9

When I say you have to believe, I mean you have to believe that God has got this thing in His hands. He is looking out for you. He is working out a plan that is bigger than you, and you are going to be better for it in the end.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11

Sometimes, it takes a painful disappointment to teach us a skill or strengthen our faith or to put us in the right place at the right time. We don’t know His ways or His thoughts. We just have to believe in His promise.

Grieve. Things have not gone the way you wanted. Your hopes and expectations have been defeated. You need to spend some quiet time being sad, mourning the way you thought things would be.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

Cry. Exercise. Read. Do whatever it is that releases the sadness, the disappointment, the defeat.

And then, eventually, you have to stop grieving and move on.

Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning. Psalm 30:5

Disappointment is not meant to define you, my friend. It is not meant to hold you hostage or weigh you down into the mire of depression. Don’t give it that power.

Pray. You had to know this was coming, right? Spend some time talking to your Heavenly Father. Tell Him your heartache. Tell Him about the plans you had and ask Him to show you why He’s taken them away. I promise you that He has good in this for you, and it’s okay to ask Him what that good is.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. Romans 8:28

Talk to Him like you’d talk to your best friend. Your prayer doesn’t have to be pretty or sound like one at your church. It just has to be honest and come from your heart.

Give your burdens to the Lord, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall. Psalm 55:22

You, my friend, are the godly. You are chasing after God, trying to do the right thing, seeking a better understanding of Him. Aren’t you? He’s talking about you.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

Listen and wait. Big things happen when we pray. Sometimes, they are blessings beyond our expectations.

But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. Matthew 6:6

Sometimes they happen right away, but usually they happen later when we least expect them. Keep waiting. You’ll know when your prayer has been answered.

Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord. Psalms 27:14

Search for the good. This is a miserable time to try to be thankful. I don’t know about you, but all I want to do is wallow in self pity of my dreams deferred (or dreams lost). This is the time when it’s hardest – and most important – to find the good, grab onto it with both hands, and celebrate it. You need to.

This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24

In beginning this post in the middle of the night, I came to understand that it wouldn’t have happened if my plans had worked out. I wouldn’t have been sleeping fitfully. I wouldn’t have jumped out of bed to write these words. It was God’s plan for me to write these words. (It has been an incredibly soothing and cathartic process). It is also His plan for you to be reading them right now. I am thankful that He chose me.

Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:19b-20

Believe in yourself. You too are part of God’s great plan. He is preparing you to do His work right now, even in this time of disappointment. No matter what burden comes, know that He will help you stand underneath it, carry it up the hill, and triumph over it in the end.*

Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:28-31

God believes in you. You may not feel equipped to handle this on your own, but He’ll give you what you need to get through it.

For I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13

*The triumph doesn’t always happen when we think it should. Sometimes, we only triumph over our struggles as we leave this broken world. A conversation I had with my pastor illustrates this point:

“Tara, God will heal her.”

“I just don’t know that He will. She is so sick. She hardly gets out of bed.”

“He is going to heal her. He might heal her body now, or He might heal her soul in heaven, but you can trust Him to heal her.”

Wow. The simplicity and immensity of that statement left me with many tears but complete peace. We can trust Him to defeat our disappointment, no matter what it is.

Look, I don’t know where your disappointment lies.

Maybe it’s in a relationship that ended, or never took off. A professional opportunity that passed you by. Or a personal dream that has yet to come to fruition.

Whatever it is, I hope these passages encourage you. No matter how disappointed we feel, nothing has changed with God: He’s still just as in love with us; just as dedicated to our success and peace and joy; just as committed to giving us “hope and a future.”

Sometimes, just sometimes, we have to go through the disappointment to get closer to our destiny.

Because sometimes the thing we really wanted wasn’t God’s best for us. And what is yet to come is infinitely better.

Measuring Up

I love the Amplified version of James 1:17, the first half in particular. It reads:

“Every good gift and every perfect (free, large, full) gift is from above…”

The expounding upon perfect is the part that really gets me: free, large, and full.

How many times do we pray for a thing and, in our excitement and haste to see/get/have it now, we begin trying to make it happen?

We pray for a mate, so the next time a young man or lady catches our attention and gives us the time of day, we are already thinking forever…even though the signs are there that s/he isn’t the one.

We ask God to get us a new job with more pay, so we begin applying to jobs based on the salaries we want…even though something inside tells us we won’t enjoy the job or the people or the mission of the organization.

Or we ask God to grow our own business with more income, so we start chasing every person or organization with a bank book…even though none of what they do aligns with our gifts or interests or talents or capacities.

But what we find in the first half James 1:17 are some good parameters by which to measure our “blessings” to determine if they are from God, or just an attempt to distract us from God. Are they something we want to further our own plans, or are they a part of God’s plan advancing for us?

Let’s take a few minutes to unpack the parameters laid out for us in this passage of James.

Perfect (verb) – I love this word used here. God is perfect. Jesus is perfect. And God made us perfect in His image to fulfill His purposes for our lives, and then sent his only Son to shed His blood so we could be reconciled back to Him and His perfect will. That means that in Christ every messy, uncomfortable detail of our lives is perfected, because only that which is perfect (the Son) can make perfection out of flawed materials (us).

So no matter how jacked up we think we are or our lives are, they — and we — are made perfect by Christ. This act, this action, of making the flawed as good as it possibly can be is the definition of the VERB perfect. So, literally, God is always WORKING for and through and on us. It’s the nature of who He is and what He does through his Son.

Perfect (noun) – When we look at the definition of “perfect” as a noun, it says: “having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be.”

This is what God gives us. When He blesses us, His blessings, His gifts, have everything we need (and likely much of what we want!) and there is nothing better that exists. That’s why His will and plan for our lives is perfect: there is no better way. His love for us is perfect: it never changes, covers all of our faults, and is unconditional. Glory to God!

So if the “blessing” you are claiming isn’t in alignment with God’s perfect will or His perfect plan for your life, it doesn’t measure up.

Free – As cliché as it is, Jesus really did pay it all. So when God blesses, the cost has already been paid. There’s nothing you can do to earn it because God blesses us out of the character of who He is not out of what we can do. If this new “blessing” you are claiming requires you to pay in ways that aren’t in alignment with God’s character or His plan for your life, or asks you to do or say things that just plain don’t feel right in your gut, then it isn’t free and it ain’t measuring up.

Large – We serve a big God. He’s bigger than the vastness of space and time that He created. His word tells us in the latter half of Matthew 6 that He guarantees us the necessities of life – food, shelter, clothes, and their trappings. And the Word also tells us that He knows what we need (utility bills, maintenance on the car, tuition for the kids, down payments, etc) in Matthew 6:8 and will in fact supply all those needs as well (Philippians 4:19). So knowing this, and that His plan is to draw everyone unto Himself, if the “blessing” you’re claiming isn’t big enough to give God glory and credit and show Him to others (or just plain show him mighty in your own life), something there ain’t measuring up.

Full – Does this “blessing” you’re claiming require you to add to it, fix it, adjust for it, or otherwise do something to make it complete or to make it fit your need/prayer? If you answer yes, hold on — something isn’t measuring up. Full
means to capacity, no extra room, no free space. God-blessings leave no room (or need!) for us to add to it. Period.

The reality is that yes, it is necessary, that we make sure the “blessings” we claim measure up because we are called to a higher calling, a higher purpose.  If folks of the world are created to, expected to, conform and just take what the world sends their way, how much more do we, the children of the Most High God, have to be diligent to ensure that all that we allow into our lives meets the standards of the God whose delight it is to bless us?

The patience and faith it takes to let something that ain’t for you go can be tremendous.  But the energy it takes – the spiritual, physical, and mental energies – to deal with the consequences of trying to rush or force the Hand of God is far greater.

Let’s decide now this year we will take the time to ensure that every new person and opportunity that crosses our path measures up to what God has promised us.  And then let’s endeavor to support one another in letting some “blessings” keep right on going, because if we err on the side of caution and let something go that God did intended for us, it’s still ours and His word says that as long as we’re acting out of what we believe to be His will, He’ll bless us all the same.

 

Unbowed

As time does, today finds us acknowledging that time has swiftly passed.

It seems as though it was just summer…just autumn…just Christmas. And now, we’re embarking on a brand new year.

For a lot of folks, the New Year is filled with the hope of what’s to come. There’s so much possibility in the coming days, weeks and months. I’m excited, too.

But what I feel in addition to excitement is a renewed confidence. A belief that no matter what comes or what the future holds, God brought me this far. I know He won’t leave me.

Much like the line from “Invictus,” we’ve made it “bloodied but unbowed.”

Last year was hard for so many. Folks lost loved ones and jobs. They fought physical, spiritual and mental illnesses. They sacrificed, nearly succumbing to hell all around them.

So while many are facing this new year with excitement and optimism, there are a great many still who are simply relieved. Those who are glad to be done with a year that tested and tried us — our patience, our faith, our fortitude.

We were bent to near breaking last year. We often felt as though we cried more than we smiled. Worried more than we hoped. Fought more than we simply lived.

We struggled and scratched and clawed through layoffs and loss, debt and depression, sadness and sacrifice. We prayed and pursued. We protested and proclaimed. We worked and waited.

Many of us made it to 2015 only by the grace of God. And we’re relieved just to have made it.

If this is you. If all you feel about 2015 so far is relief that 2014 is over, know this: you made it.

The storms that the enemy thought would take you out only made you stronger. The traps the devil meant to harm you only catapulted you forward with more focus and greater determination. What would have literally caused someone else to lose their mind motivated you to keep going, to not give up.

And you’re here, standing at the dawn of a new year. Bloodied, but unbowed. Bent, but unbroken. A little weary, but still a battle-ready warrior.

To you I say own your stripes. There’s a courage, a confidence, and a determination that comes with overcoming. Yours is a testimony no one else can give because they haven’t walked in your shoes, haven’t fought the battles you’ve won.

To you I say stand tall and proud. Because while others were too busy wishing away their todays hoping for tomorrows, you lived and breathed every moment — the good, the bad and the unbearable.

To you I say don’t shrink back. Don’t be so overcome with relief that you forget the strength, the faith, and the resilience your trials earned you. Yes, you may be bloodied, but you remain unbowed.

To you I say this is a new day. A day ordained for your victory; predestined for your triumph.

This day. This week. This year is a year of restoration for you.

God saw every test, every trial, and every tear. He heard every prayer and every plea. And for you He has worked in the background to bless you in the open.

Time will not slow down. It won’t ease because we’re tired or overwhelmed or overcome. But it is the knowledge of what we’ve already been through – and beat! – that spurs us on in our weakest moments.

My prayer for you is that even as you make resolutions, that you’ll also make it a point to count your blessings and your wins. In all of your forward thinking, look back long enough to claim your hard-earned strength and faith and fight.

Own your stripes, your bruises. And honor the important parts of the “old” you in this new year.

Bloodied, but unbowed. Bruised, but unbroken. And blessed in spite of it all.

*A version of this post appeared on The Huffington Post yesterday.  You can check it out here.

Huffington Post Blog: On Bedside Baptist

I can’t remember how many times I’ve learned – and relearned! – the lesson about the pitfalls of busyness. (Check out one of those times here.)

But a few days ago I found myself in that space again: suddenly realizing the toll overcommitting was having; this time not just on me, but my family as well.

Head on over to the Huffington Post to check out my latest post on my membership-in-good-standing at Bedside Baptist and, most importantly, the liberty I found there.