Abide: In the Spiritual

I pushed toward the plane, whose roaring engines made it impossible to say a word to either of my sons. With a death grip on my two-year-old, I felt my determination to be strong slip a bit as I re-shifted the heavy car-seat in my other hand. A quick glance told me my six-year-old walked wide-eyed toward the prop plane that would carry us to Houston. I hadn’t expected this tiny plane. For it to be delayed. Or to walk out onto the tarmac to get to it. Yet, we kept moving forward.

Landing in Houston to make a plane change, we pushed through sheets of plastic to enter the airport, slamming into construction chaos. Disoriented, I finally learned we had to get to a different terminal. Taking a deep breath, I hustled us toward the shuttle, but upon breathing in, I smelled a dirty diaper. Of course.

No time for a restroom break, I made use of the backseat of the shuttle to change the diaper and get ready to race to our gate. Only our gate lay at the end of a very long hall. Hopping onto the ‘people mover,’ I started to jog toward the gate, literally pulling my two-year-old along and hollering for my oldest to keep up. My last bit of composure fell when I looked back to see my dragged-along-son looking up at me with his pants down at his ankles. WHAT KIND OF MOTHER AM I?

Holding back tears, I stopped–though still propelled forward by the moving floor–and hugged him. I pulled up his britches and promised we were almost there. 

Photo by Hanson Lu on Unsplash

No kidding–the minute we stepped off that people mover, a man in a little cart hollered over, “You need a ride?” I might have rolled my eyes. The relief of making it to the gate evaporated with the news we’d missed the plane. Tears gushed. Yells poured forth. Sobs finally choked my voice as I sank down in defeat.

Probably my lowest parenting moment on record, this was definitely not a picture of God’s perfect peace. But it sure serves as a reminder to me, twenty-two years later, of what peace is not. I’d done everything that day in my own strength, focused on the goal of getting the three of us to Oklahoma City with as little turmoil as possible. But my plans fell apart. And so did I. I had succumbed to the chaos.  

The Chaos

Chaos, really, is everywhere. Inside us as thoughts and feelings that swirl and spiral. Outside us in circumstances that vary in degree of disruption–from the trickle of daily tasks such as getting kids to school to the wave-pool-madness of missed planes to the full-on tsunami of devastating loss. 

I’ve just begun reading a book by Jessical LaGrone, Out of Chaos, with the hope that what she says is true–chaos is less about lost causes and more like “the raw material out of which God creates” (p.7). And, my hope grows as she points out that long ago God converted chaos to order–into beautiful, organized creation (Genesis 1). 

As we step into this week’s discussion about how our spiritual lives impact our ability to abide in Christ, I keep coming back to what Jessica said in an interview–chaos is loud; it’s always vying for our attention.** And, I realize that this one word, chaos, embodies everything we’ve been thinking about these past few weeks.

Bodies, minds, and emotions feel the impact of chaos. But we aren’t left to flounder in the pounding waves alone. We’ve been offered a lifeline to help us navigate the storms of life. No matter how loud the chaos gets, no matter how hard it tries to get our attention, all we have to do is turn our eyes to our Rescuer–just as Peter did (Matthew 14:29-31). And, in the middle of the madness, we can find the perfect peace of God (Isaiah 26:3).

It’s important to point out that our Rescuer warned us that life in this world will be full of trouble (John 16:33). In other words, we need to expect the chaos–not in a defeatist sort of way, but with an attitude of acceptance that prepares us. Because. Life. Is. Hard. 

You could be like my younger self and believe that if you do everything the ‘right’ way, then life’s road will be ‘easier’–only to discover, to your horror, this is not true. Because Chaos and all its friends know no boundaries. So, it’s better to take Jesus’ words to heart, trusting that life in the world is difficult AND that He has overcome the world (John 16:33). What truth! What hope!

So, really, our question as we contemplate the abiding life from a spiritual point of view is how to recognize the breakers to our spiritual walks. Then how to employ the builders of faith and hope and truth into all we are so that we can dwell in Christ. Yes, peacefully, but also wholly.

Breakers to Our Spiritual Lives

If chaos is the breaker to healthy spiritual living, then it behooves us to unpack the causes of said chaos: 

  • Circumstances–like the rippling digression of dragging kids through an airport. 
  • People–like a nagging boss, lying husband, or wayward child.
  • Even our own motives and inner, unholy drivers–like pride and shame. 
  • And, the enemy, who will use circumstances and people, feelings and thoughts to his advantage. He loves to keep stirring the chaos. 

Perhaps the most subtle yet insidious way the enemy breaks our spiritual connection with God is his ploy to contort our desire to abide in Christ into something ugly and unholy.

For instance, the enemy can twist our longing for a deeper spiritual walk with Christ into a self-focused pursuit, making it about us instead of God. So, instead of wanting time with Him for the simple sake of being in His presence, we begin to desire observable emotions and spiritual gifts in order to show off our spiritual maturity. We become like the Pharisees of old who were all about appearances instead of love and faith and generosity (Matthew 23:27-28).

Similarly, the enemy can distort our affection for God till it becomes a brittle shell of what it once was or what we hoped it would be. Our love and worship of God dry up–maybe because of our motives or our burnout or because we only really desire what He can do for us.

Friends, we must live aware of all the ways our desire to live in deep, spiritual connectedness with Christ can be twisted and tanked. We need to arm ourselves with these truths–we have an enemy who fights against our desire for an abiding life and life is going to have its hard days and seasons. Even more truth: when the storms come, we are not left on our own.

Photo by nikko macaspac on Unsplash

Builders of Spiritual Lives

In one word, Priscilla Shirer spells out what it takes to build abiding lives and to survive the storms of life. Peace (Priscilla, p.92). 

Like truth, righteousness, and salvation, peace is something we can put on everyday. And like its counterparts, peace cannot be mustered by our sheer determination. God’s kind of peace transcends understanding (Philippians 4:7). It comes with His grace and mercy (2 John 1:3)–and His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23), so God’s peace can be ours every single day. 

The world defines peace as the absence of conflict. But, God’s peace, known as shalom in Hebrew, is not circumstantial. It is not the absence of chaos but a deeply entrenched sense of harmony, health, and wholeness in the midst of chaos (Priscilla, p.98-99). 

How do we build our capacity for attaining God’s peace and living from it? Yup, by leaning into the spiritual practices we’ve been exploring–like prayer and Scripture study, but also in the act of getting still before the Lord because “the Lord will fight for you. You need only be still” (Exodus 14:14). It’s so ironic that the enemy does his best to isolate us for the purpose of keeping us trapped in our chaos alone–while God invites us to get alone, as well. But, with Him. And, in order to find victory! 

In a world that does its best to keep us in motion–like a giant people mover–it is difficult to get still. Yet, that is what God calls us to.

Jesus did it. All the time. Despite the crowds. And demands. And exhaustion. He consistently got away to be with God (ie: Luke 5:15-16). He demonstrated for us the way of spiritual health. In the chaos, He got still with God. Even if for a few minutes a day, we can get alone with God. In the stillness, we’ll build faith and a deeper relationship with our Creator. And, we’ll find peace.

Another builder of our spiritual lives is learning to stand in Christ’s victory. I must admit my own lack of zeal for grasping and employing this mighty truth–till now. Now, I’m learning that in His crucifixion victory, Jesus conquered sin, providing cleansing for our old nature. In His resurrection victory, He defeated death, making a way for us to live. In His ascension victory, He overcame all powers and principalities, putting them not only under His feet but under ours (Romans 16:20; see Warfare Prayer). 

Friends, we are victorious in Christ! The battles that wage around us are real, but not without power and hope–because Jesus reigns in the heavenlies. And we reign there with Him (Ephesians 2:6). Living from this victory changes the way we approach the chaos. We begin to see it as sourced by the invisible, spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6:12). We start to see people as broken and lost instead of the embodiment of evil. Yet, there is evil. And it does its best to remain hidden, unseen, and unidentifiable. Evil takes pleasure in anonymously stirring the chaos. It keeps us off-balanced and overwhelmed by the deafening distractions of the world and our own inner storms. But as we put on Christ’s peace and stand firm in His victory, we begin to build inner lives that can withstand whatever the world throws at us. Because Jesus is with us. 

And in Him, everything is possible (Matthew 19:26). Even peace in the chaos. Even victory in spiritual battles. Let us shift our eyes onto the One in whom peace dwells (2 Thessalonians 3:16). So that we can fully dwell in Him.

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  • We’ll hear more about peace next week.
  • I love hearing from you! We’re community! Online community has its challenges, to be sure. But I love how God’s Word is speaking to each of us and how the practices and prayers are moving each of us toward Jesus more and more. Keep sharing!
  • Did you notice? I added two more songs to our Abide playlist.
    • “Give Thanks” has been around a few decades, but I kinda forgot about it till this week. Maybe God put it in my path just in time. I love this version by Steffany Gretzinger.
    • “Peace” by Bethel and We the Kingdom captures SO MUCH of our journey together this summer–from “my mind is like a battlefield” to “my heart is overcome by fear,” the lyrics become reminders of the hope and peace God’s sheltering wings offer.
  • Resources for this week–a resource list you can come back to as needed. Not an expectation for this series. XOXO

Featured photo by Chris Leipelt on Unsplash
*affiliate links, with which I could earn a little something

Abide: Righting Our Hearts

Last weekend I bought a new decorative tray for my living room. The minute I walked in with it, I went straight to the ottoman and replaced the old tray with the new one. I do the same thing with other purchases. Sack in hand, I head to the closet and rip off the old shirt to hang up the new one. Or in the store, I’ll put on the new shoes, sticking the old ones in the box. I immediately take off the old and put on the new.

How I wish I would be so motivated, so joyful and diligent in the taking-off of the ‘old self’ and putting on the ‘new self’ that Jesus offers (Ephesians 4:21-24). 

Too many times I sit in my ‘old nature.’ For instance, I’ll stew on the offense I felt in a conversation, spiraling from hurt feelings to resentment in seconds because I’ve succumbed to thoughts and attitudes that are habitually self-focused.

I am learning to spot my old ways and stop them in the moment–cast them off. But, I must also put on the ‘new nature,’ replacing the old with the grace and love of Christ. 

Putting On The Breastplate of Righteousness

Created as images of God (Genesis 1:27), we are to be righteous–like God (Ephesians 4:24). In fact, Paul tells us we should put on righteousness–like a breastplate (Ephesians 6:14).

by AM Fine Art Prints

Visualize a Roman soldier’s breastplate as a piece of metal shaped to fit his torso, attaching to his belt and covering his vital organs. Metaphorically, we can put on this breastplate as we would the righteousness of Christ. But what, exactly, is righteousness?

We might think of righteousness as what theologians call ‘imputed righteousness’–that moment we believe in Christ. Obviously an important moment, because it’s when we are justified by Jesus, it’s when Jesus extends His righteousness to us. We are forever changed–no longer seen by God as unclean and sin-stained. 

But righteousness also happens daily. Called ‘practical righteousness,’ it is put on each time we make the conscious decision to “cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Rom 13:12). Practical righteousness is a repeated choice and action. It is sanctifying grace, and with it we take off the ‘old self’ and put on the ‘new self’ everyday.

Praying for Our Hearts

The heart in ancient Hebrew is a place of physical life, thoughts, emotions, and choice.** These days we know the heart as our most vital organ–without its lifeblood continuously flowing, our bodies die. As the seat of our emotions and will, our heart, then, is not only vital but vulnerable. It needs protecting. 

The enemy wants our hearts because he knows that from them flows all our feelings and faculties for decision making. So, when you “choose practical righteousness, you place a blockade between the enemy and the area of your life he most commonly targets–your heart” (Priscilla, p.83). When we put on the breastplate, we are covering our hearts with all the goodness and rightness of Christ.

Lord Jesus, we see how important it is to keep our hearts healthy. We believe Ezekiel when he says that our hearts become like stone when we live in our own will and way, when we fail to live righteously day in and day out. We pray that You would give us new hearts that are soft and full of life. Sprinkle us with your holy water to cleanse us, Lord, for we know our hearts can deceive us. Fill us with your Spirit, who helps us to follow You–and with your living water so that we never grow cold or hard. We know our hearts are easily led astray by spiraling emotions and a lying enemy, so anchor us in your truth. Teach us to hold up every feeling to the truth of your Word so that we can stand firm in all that is good and right and true. Help us to trust You above every feeling by reminding us of the way You overcame fear and grief–You chose to trust God’s good heart. You chose to surrender your will for His. You chose the righteous life, and we want to do the same. Thank You for helping us to make our hearts right. In Your name, amen.
(prayer informed by Jeremiah 17:9, Ezekiel 36:25-27, Philippians 4:8, Mark 14:32-36)

Practicing Gratitude

Several times Paul mentions gratitude as he teaches, exhorting us not to be anxious but to pray with thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6)–encouraging our hearts and abiding lives with faith and thankfulness (Colossians 2:2,7). Imploring us to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). And, beseeching us to 

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

Colossians 3:16

Paul hasn’t sent peppy “thinking of you” greeting cards but letters full of truth–there is power in the practice of gratitude.  Ann Voskamp describes that power as place: 

“And when I give thanks for the seemingly microscopic, I make a place for God to grow within me.”

One Thousand Gifts

Gratitude breaks the grip of emotions that want to hold us captive. Thankfulness releases us from the prisons of self-focus and circumstance fixation. Giving thanks makes space for God to work in us. As simple as it sounds, offering God a list of what we’re thankful for helps stop the churning feelings within us and move our eyes onto our Savior. Gratitude is a method of realignment (link last week) because it lifts our heads and rights our hearts. 

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

I’ve been in the habit of thanking God at the end of each day. My minimum is three. And on hard days, those items of gratitude might be the birds that chirped cheerily, the sun that shone, and the softness of my sheets. But even with these, I feel my heart relax and my emotions settle–because I’ve shifted my focus off the situations in my life and onto God. Instead of dwelling on the hard, the negative, the awful, I look for the good. And it makes all the difference.

On better days, I’m able to go much deeper with my gratitude–for the ways God has provided or protected. For the ways He is my hope and joy. For all the fruit of the Spirit that enables me to live more like Christ (Galatians 5:22). And, though not having the words to adequately describe it, I feel the work of thankfulness in my heart–it’s softer. Quieter. More at rest.

So, create a strategy of gratitude, offering thanks to God for all He has done, is doing, and will do. It could be simple recitation as you lay down to sleep each night. It could look like a Gratitude Journal, where entries are intentionally listed, prayed, and reread. It could be a shared practice with a friend. Let’s immerse ourselves in “counting His graces:” 

Lord Jesus, I hear You speaking that I should, “humbly let go. Let go of trying to do, let go of trying to control, let go of my own way, let go of my own fears. Let God blow His wind, His trials, oxygen for joy’s fire. Leave the hand open and be. Be at peace. Bend the knee and be small, and let God give what God chooses to give because He only gives love, and whisper a surprised thanks. This is the fuel for joy’s flame. Fullness of joy is discovered only in the emptying of will. And I can empty. I can empty because counting His graces has awakened me to how He cherishes me, holds me, passionately values me. I can empty because I am full of His love. I can trust.” In your name, amen.
(From Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts)

Praying for Surrender

Richard Foster, a spiritual formation expert, thinks of surrender as a holistic practice. We don’t just surrender thoughts. Or will. Or emotions. Or our bank account. Or our family. We’re meant to surrender it all (cue the hymn). 

I doubt there are many of us who can open all the fingers of our tightly closed fist all at once. But, it doesn’t mean we can’t start with one finger. It does mean we don’t give up. Releasing every area of our lives to God will be a lifetime practice–that practical righteousness we employ every single day, choosing to live righteously and surrendered. One finger at a time.

Of his “Prayer of Relinquishment,” Richard Foster says this prayer is one of true letting go–but not with “fatalistic resignation.” Rather, it’s a release with hope because of our confidence in God’s character. “There is training in righteousness, transforming power, new joys, deeper intimacy” (Richard, p. 52).

Today, O Lord, I yield myself to You.
May Your will be my delight today.
May You have perfect sway in me.
May your love be the pattern of my living.
I surrender to You my hopes, my dreams, my ambitions.
Do with them what You will, when You will, as You will.
I place into Your loving care my family, my friends, my future.
Care for them with a care that I can never give.
I release into Your hands my need to control, my craving for status, my fear of obscurity.
Eradicate the evil, purify the good, and establish Your Kingdom on earth.
For Jesus’ sake, Amen.
(“The Prayer of Relinquishment” by Richard Foster in his Prayer book)

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  • Week Eight Practice = Gratitude! Write or speak, draw or sing words of thankfulness to God everyday.
  • Week Eight Prayer = Use the prayers within this post which include my own, Ann Voskamp’s, and Richard Foster’s. I’ll offer links in the Resource section. Or, create your own prayers using Scripture to bolster your faith and equip you to keep putting on righteousness.
  • I love hearing from each of you–mostly in person or by way of a message. Thank you for your honesty and vulnerability. I continue to encourage you to engage with our community here so that by sharing we smash the strongholds of Satan by speaking truth–by stepping out of darkness and into light. Remember, we have an enemy who wants to isolate us so we’ll believe all his lies–such as, no one would like you if they knew; no one would ever understand. As we share, we cancel out those lies and continue moving forward in our sanctification journey!! Comment below or join in the conversation on Instagram.
  • What did you think of “Sound Mind” on our Abide playlist? I woke up in the middle of the night this week and felt strangely anxious. Immediately the words “You saved, you healed, you delivered me. Jesus’ blood wash over me. Command my soul awake, arise.” Yes and yes! What song(s) minister to you these days?
  • Resources for this week–just a list you can come back to as needed. No expectation for this series:
    • **The Bible Project video on Heart is FANTASTIC. I learned so much but only had room to include a small fragment in this post. I highly recommend the quick watch. Fun fact from the video: the ancient Hebrews had no understanding of the brain, so their language didn’t have a word for it. So, ‘heart’ is often synonymous with ‘mind’ in the Old Testament.
    • I read the info about Richard Foster I incorporated in this post one day while praying through a prayer app called “Lectio 365.” I love the app because the prayers are new everyday but use the same structure, so I grow in understanding, as well as anticipation, the more I pull its rhythms into my own morning routine. I highly recommend it.
    • Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts.* If you want truth and encouragement about gratitude, this is your book.
    • Richard Foster’s book, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home.* Richard Foster really is a spiritual formation guru. He has influenced many a leader, including my favorite, Emily P. Freeman. 😉
    • Priscilla Shirer’s Bible study, The Armor of God.* (Again) I’m so grateful for all her teachings, but especially all the “righteousness” theology this week!!
    • Lysa TerKeurst’s book, It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way.* (again) I didn’t quote her directly in this post, but her chapter on “Exposing the Enemy” continues to influence me.

Featured Photo by me! (my new tray)
*affiliate links, from which I could earn a little something

Abide: In the Emotional

During my senior year of high school, I seriously worried that no guy would want to marry me because I was such a moody mess. I cried over the smallest things. My temper flared with regularity. And, my feelings could do a ‘180’ in the time it took to walk from my bedroom to the kitchen–without provocation. Who would want such a wreck?

I realize now that I was a hormonal teenager. But I’ve also figured out that I lived hopeless, never imagining I could be different because I felt controlled by emotions. I didn’t know I had a choice in the matter.

But I do now.

Now I know that thoughts generate emotions. Now I know that truth is core to our thinking and feeling. When my toxic thoughts spiral, so do my emotions. When I perceive something as truth that is not, my emotions tank.

In other words, Elizabeth George, in her book Loving God With All Your Mind, has proven to be right when she explains that ‘thinking on what is true’ is recognizing “the Bible is true–not feelings or thoughts” (p.29). But when I first read this sentence, I had to wrestle through it. I wrestled till I realized I had mistaken ‘real’ feelings for truth. And as I traced the feelings of anger, resentment, and hopelessness back to their sources, I could always find originating thoughts that were not based on truth.

Since we already addressed our mental life, I won’t be repetitive here. But it is important to recognize how integrated our thoughts and feelings are. Where one goes, the other follows. For our purposes in this Abide series, we’ll focus on taking back control of our feelings because spiraling emotions can block our ability to draw near to God.

Photo by Daniele Franchi on Unsplash

This is a good place to interject that feelings are God-given. They’re not evil. They’re not meant to be stuffed or ignored because of their inherent bad-ness. Because they’re not bad. Emotions are gifts! They warn us of danger. They help us to feel the injustice of a situation. They allow us to experience goodness. But, too often, feelings go off the rails, and that’s when the enemy grabs hold. Derailed emotions become prime property for enemy strongholds.

Breakers

One of the enemy’s favorite entry points is through our disappointments (Lysa, 150). He’ll grab hold of disappointment–in ourselves, others, God, or the world–and feed it. He’ll lie, tempt, and trick us into unhealthy cycles of thinking and feeling in order to keep us stuck in disappointment. 

“The enemy uses disappointments to cause so much trouble in an unsettled heart. A heart hungry for something to ease the ache of disappointment is especially susceptible to the most dangerous forms of desire. Especially when that heart isn’t being proactive about taking in truth and staying in community with healthy, humble people living out that truth.”

Lysa TerKeurst, p.150

Left unchecked, disappointment deepens into bigger feelings that seem endless–it morphs into resentment. It lashes out in anger. It leaves us in a puddle of defeat, which the enemy loves because he’ll use defeat to tempt us to give up and walk away–from jobs, families, and Jesus.

In my own life, disappointments have led to great worry about my son’s future. If I allow it, worry quickly becomes anxiety that churns my stomach while stress tightens my shoulders. Fear then rises and grips my head till it hurts, and I lose my ability to see what is real. As a result, when I go to God in this state, I ‘worry’ my prayers.**  Over and over, I say the same things, basically speaking aloud what’s going on in my mind. There’s no faith. No hope. Just fear. 

It has helped me to picture my worry as a balloon that grows larger with every anxious breath till it consumes me, fills the space around me, and pushes against the holy throne room I desire to enter, blocking my way. 

Simply said, unrestrained emotions can be breakers to our abiding life. But, we have a choice in the matter!

Builder: Choosing Our Emotions

Just as I used to think my moodiness was the only option, it’s easy for us to believe our emotions run the show. But, the truth is they don’t have to. Lysa TerKeurst, Jennie Allen, and Elizabeth George–three Christ followers who struggled with chaotic feelings that held them in chains–say the same thing: we can choose our emotions

Aimee Walker, founder of The Devoted Collective, outlines three actions we can employ as we endeavor to choose our emotions:

  • First, God invites us to relinquish, to let go of control. When we stop striving and start surrendering our expectations and assumptions to Him, we can begin trusting God to be our strength.
  • Once we release ‘control,’ we can realign our emotions (and thoughts and actions) with God’s Word. When we sync everything in us to His truth, barriers to true intimacy with Christ–like giant bubbles that block our way–are shattered.
  • Control relinquished and hearts realigned, we can receive whatever truths and gifts God offers us. No longer in chains, we are free to open our hands and hearts to the One who has so much for us.
    (taken from Miracle Week: A Devoted Collective Resource)

So, when Paul tells us to think on what is TRUE (Philippians 4:8), he’s reminding us to realign with and receive what we’ve been given (v.9). Priscilla Shirer clarifies, saying that we’re to realign with and receive God’s Word. Beyond reading, realigning with and receiving is  “meditating on the Word, internalizing its principles, then implementing them in your actions” (p.89).

Relinquish.
Realign.
Receive.

Photo by Melissa Askew on Unsplash

Over the years, whenever I begin to worry, I have learned to ask, is this fear truth? What is fueling the fear? Sometimes fear’s grip is so tight, I can’t see truth from lies, so I’ll get into Scripture and start reading what is true: 

God has plans for a good future (Jeremiah 29:11)
God’s power can do exceedingly, abundantly, beyond what we can think or ask (Ephesians 3:20)
God’s love is so high and deep and wide that it surpasses comprehension yet fills us with the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:18-19)

And, little by little, the fear subsides–because I’ve relinquished control, realigned my heart, and received truth. I repeat this process till my emotions settle into the peace God has for me–I receive it, too.

I don’t know what emotions you battle, but the process is the same. And, we have more choices!

Builders: Choosing Surrender and Righteousness

Emily P. Freeman says we may not have control, but we always have choices (Next Right Thing Podcast, episode 227). And another choice we have in taking back our emotions is to choose to surrender our will for God’s will. Friends, we tend to be strong-willed creatures. We’ve grown up in a culture that values independence–where we’re applauded for “doing things my way.” A stubborn pride pushes us further into self–and away from the heart of God. 

Choosing to surrender what we want for what God wants looks like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:39-46). The Savior of the world chose to lay down His own desire to avoid pain, humiliation, and death. He chose to set aside His will for God’s, demonstrating for us it can be done! 

Another choice we have in this battle for our feelings is to choose righteousness. Righteousness is upright living that aligns with God’s standards, and we’ll spend some quality time with this idea next week. For now, it helps to know that we can cooperate with the Holy Spirit as He works to lead us into whole and holy living. And, one way He does that is to help us make a conscious choice to act in a way that is consistent with our new life in Christ (Priscilla, p.85)–including our emotions. 

Friends, we are not helpless under the power of swirling emotions. We can choose to believe they do not have control. And, we are asked to relinquish efforts for our control. So, that leaves Jesus. The One who allowed Himself to feel all the feelings in the face of crucifixion–He voiced them, prayed them, felt them yet did not allow those feelings to overtake His will. Instead, He chose His emotions. He chose to surrender His will. And, He chose to stay on the path of righteousness. 

And He’ll help us do the same. 

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  • Emotions. There are so many, and the vast majority we can control–with the help of the Holy Spirit. But if you are having thoughts or feelings of hurting yourself or others, please reach out for help. And there is help. And hope. A place to start is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline–just text or call 988.
  • Something powerful happens when we speak what we’re feeling. I’m praying each of you has a safe person in whom you can confide. You can also share here. We’re a community of Christ followers hungry to learn more about Him, eager to become more like Him, and honest when we fall short. How have your emotions tried to wield control in your life?
  • A friend shared a new playlist last week, and I discovered an artist I hadn’t known before. After the song ended, Spotify kept playing similar songs, and that is when I heard “Sound Mind” by Melissa Helser. My reaction was certainly emotional. Heart pounding. Thoughts popping off like fireworks–who is this? what song is this? did she say ‘sound mind?’ Of course, I’ve added it to our Abide playlist. Drop everything and listen now. It’s near the middle of the list. (I’m pretty sure you’ll hear more about this song in the near future.)

I surrender anxiety
All the striving has to cease
In this moment, You’re still the King
This is the gift You are giving to me
A sound mind for the spirit of fear
A sound mind so that I can see clearly
A sound mind, Your Spirit is here

  • Resources for this week–a resource list you can come back to as needed. Not an expectation for this series. XOXO
    • The Devoted Collective (founded by Aimee Walker) is a ministry designed for women who wholeheartedly seek to grow in their faith. I’m honored to be part of the Writing Team, and I have fallen in love with the women in this community. I invite you to be part! In fact, TOMORROW (Monday, July 18, 2022) we begin a new Devoted Word study on the Book of John. You can become a member and participate with the community, which incurs a monthly fee, OR you can sign up for daily emails for free. Here’s the page that lists both options.
    • Emily P Freeman’s podcast, The Next Right Thing. I specifically mentioned Episode 227 in this post, but all of it is so, so good.
    • I’ll always recommend JD Walt, writer of Seedbed’s The Daily Text–a daily devotion-like email based on the Text (Scripture).
      • **I got the idea of “worrying prayers” from JD Walt. He says, “There is a big difference between ‘worrying our prayers’ and ‘praying our anxieties.’ The former skirts the real honest truth. The latter trusts enough to keep it real.”

Featured Photo by Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash
*affiliate links, with which I could earn a little something

Abide: Protecting Our Minds

There’s a reason mothers lose their cool when their kids choose not to wear their bike helmets for their long ride to school–because moms know that if the brain inside that pretty little head is damaged, the whole person is too. 

Priscilla Shirer, in her Bible study, The Armor of God, draws a beautiful analogy from this imagery, “What the brain is to the body, your mind is to your soul” (p.160), the soul being the core of who you are as an individual–your personality, feelings, and will. Therefore, where our minds go, so goes our whole being. If our thoughts focus on lies from the enemy, then everything about us will follow the thoughts as they descend to doubt, distraction, discouragement, and despair. 

But, as we talked about last week, we are not without power or hope. We can take control of our thoughts. We can saturate our minds with God’s truth–about Him, ourselves, others, and our circumstances–by entering into the sanctifying process called salvation.

Two Layers of Salvation

Most western Christians are very aware of the first layer of salvation–the saving kind, the salvation that grants by grace and faith an eternal home with Christ. But, our salvation has a second layer that includes more than future promises–it grants us power and purpose for our present life on earth. Priscilla teaches:

“Our souls are saved daily and progressively through the Spirit and the Word of God. This is sanctification and it is how we are able to experience the abundant life.”

p.154

Friends, we’ve been given the promise of eternity but often fail to live for heaven now while we’re in the world. If we neglect this restoring, sanctifying salvation, we live partial lives. It’s time we embrace that “God’s salvation is holistic and involves the well-being of the whole person” (p.155). 

This series on strengthening our abiding lives aims at bringing our whole beings into the process of sanctification–our bodies, minds, emotions, and spirits. If we neglect one area, we limp through life hindered, the opposite of whole. But, if we receive Jesus’ offer of salvation that extends to our here and now, we’ll possess His saving and shielding, His rescuing and restoring. Jesus’ salvation enables us to “lead whole, healthy lives not fractured by the enemy’s deceptive strategies” (p.156). 

Donning the Helmet of Salvation

And, friends, that’s why Paul describes the piece of armor that fits on our heads the helmet of salvation (Ephesians 6:17). We’re meant to wear Christ’s salvation every single day. 

By 3D artist, Vincenzo Amari at ArtStation.com

Just as the Roman soldiers slid a piece of iron and bronze over their heads to protect them in battle, we place Jesus’ salvation over our minds, the ”spiritual expression of our brains” (p.160). Not to put on the helmet of salvation is to leave our thoughts exposed and open for crushing blows. So, let’s put that helmet on!

Heavenly Father, I am thankful that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds, to the casting down of imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and to bring every thought into obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, in my own life today, I tear down the strongholds of Satan and smash the plans of Satan that have been formed against me. I tear down the strongholds of Satan against my mind, and I surrender my mind to You, Blessed Holy Spirit. I affirm, Heavenly Father, that You have not given me the spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
(taken from “Warfare Prayer” by Victor Matthews)

Practice “Fighting Words”

Another way to understand the helmet of salvation is to see it as our identity in Christ. When we focus on who we are in Christ, our minds are protected in Christ (Priscilla, p.151). It’s in God’s Word that we find the truth of who we are–children of God (1 John 3:1).

Then, when we, His children, “receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21, NASB),  we acknowledge God’s truth in us and use it to establish our spiritual identities and restore our whole beings–not only for eternity but also for the here and now. 

So, picture placing that helmet on your head to protect your mind and thoughts AND as putting on your identity in Christ. Priscilla encourages us to see our identity as our weaponry (p.172). With that helmet on, we are secure in our identity because we have fortified our thoughts with the truth of who we are. And when we do that, we live from a place of security, smashing the strongholds of Satan.

Photo by Michal Matlon on Unsplash

Ellie Holcomb, a Christian musician and friend of Lysa TerKeurst, gives us our strategy to practice this week. “Fighting Words” are Ellie’s way of thinking of Scripture–because God’s Words are the truth we can speak over every vulnerable place and situation we face (Lysa, p.188). Ellie has written a song about “Fighting Words,” and Lysa springboards off Ellie’s idea, offering us a list of declarations that we can speak as our own fighting words. 

Lord Jesus, “no matter how brokenhearted or broken down I may feel today, I know for a fact that I am not forsaken or forgotten by my God. I am His beloved daughter, and He is my gracious and loving Father. He strengthens me when I am weak and calls me ever closer even when I fail. His love for me is unshakable, and His compassion toward me is unending. He is a safe place for my every hurt and the perfect match for my every need. And so, while the enemy may want fear, grumbling, and complaints to flow from my lips today, I am choosing instead to declare the praises of my ever present, forever faithful, tenderly compassionate God. The One who is worthy of my trust and adoration.” In Jesus’ name, Amen.
(Fighting Words: a Declaration of Adoration, by Lysa TerKeurst. Based on Psalm 103:13–14)

Prayer for Our Mental Lives

As we claim the full salvation Christ has for us, we can guard our mental lives with His helmet. “Fighting Words” help us declare over ourselves truths that the enemy wants to twist and distort; they empower us to name the lies and cast them out; they give us language to renew our minds in Christ–because WE ARE HIS.

Father God, “I fully admit that, many days, my attention is scattered. My mind is so prone to get fixated on the diversions and hardships right in front of me. But my deepest desire will be the declaration of my heart. I am a woman who will wait and watch for God before drawing conclusions myself.

“My soul feels stuck in the muck and the mire and the hard of this earth. But God tells me I have been raised with Christ. This world is not my home. Its brokenness and hurt is not my destiny. And this pain and heartbreak will not be the end of my story. Today I’m purposefully choosing to lift my gaze. To set my heart and mind on the things above. I have the promise of eternity in heaven — a place where there will be no more tears and no more pain. And I have the sweet assurance of God’s powerful presence and His perfect provision in the here and now. I am fixing my eyes on the hope He says is mine. The hope I have in Him. This battle has gone on longer than I expected. My heart feels faint. My eyes weak from the countless tears. I am tired — body, soul and mind. But I am choosing to remember today that all hope is not lost. I am turning my thoughts and lifting my prayers to the Lord, reminding my soul of who He is. My Jesus, who is both mighty and tender. He’s as big as the universe and yet so incredibly close. He is the Savior of the world and the intimate lover of my soul. He is my sure and steady hope in the midst of this storm. The One who will hear my every prayer and give me the strength I need to press on through this day.” In Jesus’ name, Amen.
(Fighting Words: a Declaration of Attention, by Lysa TerKeurst. Based on Psalm 5:3, Colossians 3:1, and Lamentations 3:19–24)

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  • Week Six Practice = Fighting Words! Lysa TerKeurst offers, for free, a PDF of multiple declarations we can speak into every area of our lives: our affection, adoration, attention, attraction, ambition, and action. These words arm us to fight back against the enemy’s attempts to influence our thought lives!
  • Week Six Prayer = Use the prayers from this post, which I’ve pulled from Lysa’s “Fighting Words” and Dr. Matthews’ “Warfare Prayer.” Speaking prayers that have been written by other believers adds to our arsenal of retaking ground the enemy has claimed in our minds. I particularly love these prayers because they incorporate God’s Word. We can do the same–take a passage of Scripture and sculpt it into a personal prayer.
  • Rich Villodas says, “When we can expose the lies we’ve believed, we are in a position to welcome God’s presence and power into our lives. God doesn’t dwell in unreality and illusion. By naming the illusions and lies we’ve been handed, we open ourselves to the liberating truth of God’s saving love” (Deeply Formed Life, p.152). Often we need other people to help us name the illusions and lies. In community we can speak truth in love. We can combat the isolating influence of the enemy–together! Let this community know how we can be praying for you. Comment below or join in the conversation on Instagram.
  • Ellie Holcomb’s song, “Fighting Words,” perfectly captures this part of our abiding journey–with energy and joy and power. It’s on our Abide playlist:

    You say that I am worth fighting for
    And Grace is like waves that keep crashing on the shore
    Fight the lies with the truth
    Keep my eyes fixed on You
    I will sing the truth into the dark
    I will use my fighting words

    (“Fighting Words” by Ellie Holcomb)
  • Resources for this week–just a list you can come back to as needed. No expectation for this series:

Featured Photo by Viktor Bystrov on Unsplash
*affiliate links, from which I could earn a little something

Abide: In the Mental

One glance at the clock and I know we need to hustle to get out the door, so I holler over to my three year old at the kitchen table, “Hey, bud! Put your bowl in the sink then go put your shoes on. It’s time to go!”

“Okay, Momma!” And off I go to get my own shoes.

Five minutes later, I peek in my tyke’s room to find him standing by his bed, barefoot with fish food in hand. “Buddy, what did I tell you to do?”

He sweetly shrugs, “Feed the fish?”

……….
True story. I think of that morning anytime my thoughts bounce from one idea to another. Scattered thinking distracts.

But even worse, when our thought lives spiral out of control, distraction becomes distortion, and abiding in Christ feels impossible.

That’s why it is important for us to recognize how much our mental lives affect our spiritual lives. Until we get our thoughts under control, we’ll continue to be derailed by them. 

Minds As Breakers

Our thoughts determine our emotions. Emotions tell us how to behave. One thought can spiral into erratic emotions and regretful actions. Thoughts are powerful and can be problematic, which is why I don’t find it at all coincidental that three of the most influential Christian leaders–Craig Groeschel, Louie Giglio, and Jennie Allen–each recently published books on this topic. Jennie goes so far as to say:

“We have bought the lie that we are victims of our thoughts rather than warriors equipped to fight on the front lines of the greatest battle of our generation: the battle for our minds.”

Get Out of Your Head, p.4

She first arms us to fight this great battle for our minds with science. Our brains are full of neural pathways–grooves in our gray matter that grow deeper with each thought, good or bad. Newer or less frequent thoughts run through shallow channels while toxic thoughts that we’ve held as truth our whole lives have carved deep canyons. It’s tempting to concede defeat in those bottomless brain gorges…

But God. Our Healer can fill every groove by helping us take captive every thought in obedience to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). We can retrain our brains!

Before we get to the how-to, let’s make sure we grasp that “how we think directly results in how we live” (p.39). When our thoughts are chaotic and ruthless, our abiding lives suffer. When given free reign, our thoughts become breakers to our ability to dwell with God–because we’re too busy thinking about everything but Him.

And, our enemy knows this about us, so he’s busy waylaying us with lies that flood our brains and feed our insecurities:

I’m helpless.
I’m worthless.
I’m unlovable.
(p.14)

His fiery darts come at us full of deceptions that skew our ability to think on the true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable (Philippians 4:8). Instead, like an easily distracted three year old, our thoughts divert from our intended focus–Christ–onto unhealthy and untrue thoughts.

Just as a turntable’s needle cruises across vinyl, these toxic thoughts keep spinning through the grooves, leaving us stressed, paralyzed, prideful, and so distracted that we never emerge to see what God has right in front of us. We fail to grab hold of the freedom He offers us. We miss the chance to enter His presence and abide because we are trapped by our own thoughts.

Photo by Dorien Monnens on Unsplash

Taking Back Control

I remember exactly where I was when the truth struck me: I can control my thoughts. Sitting in my friend’s living room with a few Jesus-loving neighbors, I shared my elation at such a revelation. I also confessed how my mind could get hijacked by stressful conversations running in my mind or by imagined future scenarios. None of those thoughts were based on reality, yet my body felt them as if they were. I hated them. I wanted them gone.

So, as my friends and I processed Elizabeth George’s words in Loving God With All Your Mind, a fire ignited in me. I was done being under their control. 

For those rehearsed conversations, I began replacing the fear that fueled them–because I dreaded confrontation–with prayers for God to give me grace to stop the spiral. I would speak God’s Word over myself: 

  • God has not given me a spirit of fear, but a spirit of love and power and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).
  • God goes before me and hems me in (Deuteronomy 31:8; Psalm 139:5).
  • God’s peace will guard my heart and mind (Philippians 4:7). 

Each time I stopped the stressful rehearsals, my heart quit pounding, my thoughts ceased churning, and my rising emotions settled.

For those imagined thoughts that feared the worst and ran ahead of the present moment, I began to replace all the what-if’s with what was known and true. I’d recite a litany of what I knew to be true about God–He’s good. He’ll never leave me. He’ll help me no matter what. I’d list everything I knew to be true about the situation. “Larry is running late. I don’t know why. My own imagination is stressing me out.” If I couldn’t stop my racing thoughts with these facts, I’d grab my Bible and read a Psalm packed full of truth–out loud. Or, I’d sing along with a song that professed God’s truth.

And the imaginings would eventually stop. I’d be able to breathe and focus on what was actually true. 

Some of my Bible study friends battled future-focused what-if’s like me. But others latched onto past regrets, the if-only’s that haunted them. And others couldn’t get past the idea that their present circumstances weren’t supposed to be this way. To a person, once we identified our brain’s natural bent toward past regret, present disappointment, or future worry, we began to take back control over our thoughts.

Thought Builders

There’s more good news! Jennie Allen shows us how to pair science with Scripture, helping us find the weapons at our disposal to fight back and stand firm against all the schemes of the enemy (Ephesians 6:11), including our thoughts.  

“We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity.”

2 Corinthians 10:5-6, MSG

Equipped with power to tear down the strongholds in our minds, we can name where our thoughts dwell and come at the lies with the truth of God’s Word. 

Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash

Jennie names seven other “enemies that attack us and undermine our efforts to maintain steady, sound minds” (p.39): noise, isolation, anxiety, cynicism, self-importance, victimhood, and complacency. Anytime one of these enemy thoughts hits our brain, we can tell ourselves, with the power of the Holy Spirit, “I have a choice.”  We don’t have to take every thought captive all at once–just the one we’re facing at the moment. We interrupt it with our choice to believe we are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37). Much as we would with a three year old, we redirect the toxic thought, stopping it with truth before it spirals out of control. 

Physiologically we are filling in old grooves each time we stop old thought patterns. And, we are building new pathways in our brains when we implement positive practices. It’s all very intentional and possible. I’m living proof, and so are Jennie and many others. Here’s the craziest, coolest part. We can “learn to mind our minds to the point that controlling our thoughts becomes reflexive–an automatic, intuitive response” (p.45). In other words, what starts off as slow and a bit laborious soon becomes easier because we’ve built new pathways. We’ve retrained our brains.

The Truth of Who God Is and Who We Are

Two significant truths bring us into the homestretch. First, “every lie we buy into about ourselves is rooted in what we believe about God” (p.15). When we believe that God’s very nature–His goodness, His power, His ability–is not true for our situation, we can know that we have bought into a lie. When what we’d normally nod at as being true about God is quietly refused in our hearts, we can know the lies have drawn us into cycles of distraction and distortion. 

Then, these lies deepen their influence on us by shaping our identity.

Until we believe God for who He is and ourselves for who we are in Christ, the battle rages on. The “Warfare Prayer” incorporates much language that helps keep the truth of identity in front of us–yet another reason to pray it everyday.

JD Walt, from the Seedbed Daily Text, puts it this way: “When [Jesus] says to ‘abide in me,’ He means to wake up, day after day, rehearsing the truth of who He is and who we are and who He is to us and, therefore, who we can be to others.”

Friends, if we want to abide, we need strong mental lives. Where our thoughts go, so go our spirits and hearts. And everything about our toxic thinking starts with a lie–about God, about ourselves, about our circumstances. So, that Sword of the Spirit is indeed a weapon we cannot be without. Ever. 

Here’s to building new grooves of truth!

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  • Titling this post “Abide: In the Mental” may usher in ideas of mental illness, but the context here is our thought life–for clarity. Thoughts have power, but we can have control over them:
    • Build a rhythm in our day to focus on God’s truth (Scripture) and anchor our identity in Him.
  • This week I got to experience the power of community, seeing how being present with someone who needs prayer and truth as thoughts swirl and spiral out of control gives us an opportunity to do for them what they cannot do for themselves. I can’t encourage you enough to come alongside someone in this faith journey. Not only can we support and encourage one another, but we can be prayer warriors and truth tellers for one another! Commenting here is a great step.
  • Music matters so much to our minds. If my song choices on the Abide playlist  don’t speak to your music language, I want to beg you to create your own playlists. Pack them full of truths that your brain needs to hear. Music affects our brains with incredible power. Keep it playing!
  • Resources for this week–a resource list you can come back to as needed. Not an expectation for this series. XOXO
    • Jennie Allen’s Get Out of Your Head.* If you struggle at all with your thought life, I can’t recommend this book enough. I’ve read it at least twice and pull it out to reference on the regular. So. Good.
      • Season 3 of Jennie’s podcast is based on this book. It’s really good 🙂 If you have a favorite podcast streaming app, look up Jennie Allen, Made for This Podcast.
    • Craig Groechel’s Winning the War in Your Mind.* I read this book last year. Craig shares his own method to overcoming negative thought patterns.
    • Elizabeth George’s book Loving God With All Your Mind* — the one that started it all for me. 🙂
    • I’ll always recommend JD Walt’s The Daily Text–a daily devotion-like email based on the Text (Scripture). JD is a pastor and writer and all-round leader who shares vulnerably and truthfully as he grows alongside his readers. His thoughts and challenges have been shaping me for years.

Featured Photo by Delbert Pagayona on Unsplash
*affiliate links, with which I could earn a little something

Abide: Looking Inside

“I know what it’s like to live a divided life.” With these words, Rich Villodas opens the fifth chapter of his book, The Deeply Formed Life (p.88). I read them the night I finished a draft of last week’s post–the one where I wrestled to put into words the ways our bodies play a role in our spiritual abiding. How kind of God to give me another layer for understanding what living disembodied means.

Sometimes it’s the way we separate our inner self from our outer self. 

As if wearing a mask, we keep our struggles hidden. We camouflage the anger or bitterness or shame that have a hold of us. We bury the deeply rooted false beliefs that wrongly influence our every action. It’s as if we physically rip apart the self we present to the world from our inner person. A divided life. However, “to follow Jesus in this world requires us to embrace a fully human life, alive to the dimensions of our interior worlds that often are repressed, ignored, and explained away” (Rich Villodas, p.90).

In other words, if we’re to abide fully in Christ, we need to seek wholeness for ourselves. No more disembodied living. So, how do we embrace and embody our whole being? We look inside.

Lord Jesus, just as You met Paul on the road to Damascus, You meet us where we are–broken, scattered, grieving, lonely, hope-filled, and hungry for more of You. You led the busiest of lives, Lord, yet you developed an abiding rhythm with your Father. Thank You for showing us what it looks like to step away from the distractions and get alone with God. We confess to You today that we desire more of You yet have been hiding from You. And from ourselves. We’ve been afraid of feeling too much, of remembering the pain, of experiencing all the shame and guilt and regret that we’ve tried so hard to push down and forget. But we see now, Lord, how much damage we’re causing within us and to those around us. Living fragmented has forced us to live from our false selves, but we want to live as our true selves–with You, Jesus. You’ve promised never to leave us but to walk with us and help us, so we take You up on that invitation now. We ask that You would come alongside us in this journey of wholeness and inner healing. In Your name we pray, Amen.

Incorporation of Acts 9:3-6, Psalm 34:4, John 17:9-12, Matthew 14:23, Isaiah 41:10

Buckling the Belt of Truth

Borrowed from GodSpeak.net

We’re ready to do the deep dive within–not to feel worse about ourselves but to bring the broken and hidden to the feet of Jesus. As our physician, Jesus can mend the fragments and heal the hurts. He can shine the light of peace and joy and grace into places where only darkness has existed before.

So, before we take another step, let’s put on our next piece of armor, the belt of truth (Ephesians 6:14). Truth is described as a belt because it serves as an anchor for all the other pieces of the armor, holding it all together. When we abide in God’s Word and know the truth (John 8:31), we are set free–and we’re armed. We tighten that belt around our waists so that the truth holds us at our center, keeping lies at bay.

Armed with truth, we can begin the work required to bring healing and wholeness to our bodies–inside and out. Before we go any further, however, it’s imperative to say that we do not need to have ourselves all put together to come into God’s presence. Jesus died for us “while we were of no use whatever to him” (Romans 5:8, MSG). But He loves us so much, He doesn’t want to leave us in our brokenness. He deeply desires that we find forgiveness and wholeness in Him so we can have full life, being made holy in every way–”our whole spirit and soul and body kept blameless” (1 Thessalonians 5:23). 

Practice in the Psalms

No matter our state of being, we can come to God, and the Psalms are great in helping us do so. Poetically, the Psalms give us expression–language and imagery–for what is happening within us. They also give us permission “to lay out our questions, doubts, fears, rage, unfiltered thoughts, praise, celebration, and joy to God. It’s as if [God] knows that the way toward divine union in worship is through a willingness to be human” (Rich Villodas, p.96). 

King David, the author of the majority of the Psalms, demonstrates for us how to look within ourselves to spot what’s fragmented. Whether he laments or repents, David shows us how to be honest with ourselves and with God.

“David, in Psalm 139, did three things effectively that we are invited to follow. He made time for interior examination, he was integrated enough to surrender his inner world to God, and he had the courage to face himself.” Rich Villodas, p.102

Time. Integration. Courage. Three hard-to-find ingredients in our busy, dis-integrated lives today, yet they point us toward wholeness within ourselves and, ultimately, in the world.

This week’s practice is to use Psalm 139 as a guide for interior reflection. Read it. Speak it. Sing it. And allow its words to search you. When you sense the Spirit speaking–a flutter in your spirit, a whisper in your heart, an image in your mind–pause and hear Him out. Allow truth to rise up, be seen, and given to Christ. Keep that belt of truth tight and the Sword of the Spirit nearby so the enemy cannot attempt to lie to you.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and get a clear picture of what I’m about. Father God, I know that You are good and that when You look into my heart and mind, it is a glance of kindness that’s for my good–meant to help me know myself so that I can more fully surrender all that I am to You. So I open myself to you now and ask that You would point out anything in me that offends You–anything that needs grace and forgiveness. I pray that in this process of examining and releasing that You would lead me along the path of everlasting life–a path that leads to You. I love that you always know where I am and what I think and what I do because it means You are constantly with me, calling me back to Yourself in grace and love. Thank You for going before me and for your hand of blessing on my head. This knowledge of who You are and how You work is truly too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand. Yet this is your way. So I choose to walk in it. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
(Incorporation of Psalm 139:1-6, 23-24)

Prayer for the Physical

Western Walll, Jerusalem, 2017

It’s interesting to think how prayer embodies our bodies. The Spirit in us connects with God, so as we pray, our physical bodies will be involved. My friend describes kneeling as becoming an altar before the Lord. Worshippers at the Western Wall rock back-and-forth and walk out their prayers. Very often my hands move or my head bobs as I pray. However it looks, allow your body to embody prayer.

Lord Jesus, You created me and were there when God breathed life in me. You truly know everything about me–the number of hairs on my head and the days I have on earth. What a revelation it is that everything I share with You, You already know. Yet You desire to hear all of it. In your wisdom, You know how important it is for me to get honest with myself–and that’s exactly what happens as I get honest with You. Just as David brought his every fear and emotion to You, Lord, I desire to do the same. I long to see myself the way You do–to see my motives, my broken places, my repressed feelings, and my darkest fears as You do. Lord, your Word promises that your love is always enough–that it covers all my sin and casts out all fear. Your love is the key to trusting You to guide me into myself. Help me root myself in your love so that I have all I need to explore my own depths and pull up the weeds that pollute my inner being. In your name, Jesus, Amen.
(Incorporation of John 14:6, Luke 12:7, Psalm 139, 1 John 4:18, 1 Peter 4:7)

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  • Week Three Practice = Interior Examination. Pray Psalm 139, allowing its truths to move you into introspection–awareness, confession, surrender, obedience, or whatever God invites you into. The idea is reconnection with our bodies and living from our true selves so that our walk with Christ, worship of God, and way in the world come from depths of wholeness. We want to be embodied believers.
  • Week Three Prayer = Utilize the prayers in this post to jumpstart your own prayers of invitation and revelation about your body’s role in abiding with God. Also, Dr. Matthews’ Warfare Prayer remains an incredible tool to help us stand firm in Christ and against the enemy.
  • Entering into community with each other is integral to our spiritual growth. So, comment below or join in the conversation on Instagram.
  • Worship rhythms will always help us keep our focus and adoration on the One True God. While we’re worshiping, we can also be praying. I found myself praying Kim Walker-Smith’s song, “I Say Yes,” from our Abide playlist this week. She’s captured the very words my soul has been wanting to express:
    • Father God, I say yes to Your heart and all of Your healing. Because your ways are higher, Lord, I surrender. I come to You just as I am–I come to you open, God. I am ready for all that You promised, for all that You are. So pour out your Spirit, pour out your presence now. Tear down these idols, and every stronghold. Tear down all judgment, and all of my pride. Tear down religion, and all my self-righteousness. I believe You are faithful to everyone and every promise. I believe that You are faithful. You will rebuild. You will restore. Lord, I surrender–I come to You just as I am. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
      (Incorporation of lyrics from “I Say Yes” by Kim Walker-Smith)
  • Resources for this week–just a list you can come back to as needed. No expectation for this series:

Featured photo by Meg on Unsplash
**affiliate links, from which I could a little something

Abide: In the Physical

For as long as I can remember, I have walked into rooms to do something, only to forget why I’m there. One way to jog my memory is to walk back to the room I just came from to look for clues about my quest. More recently, however, I’ve become aware of my body in these situations. I’ll actually say to myself, “My body seems to know why I’m here. I should pay attention.”

Y’all, it’s the weirdest thing! It’s like my body knows what to do before my conscious self becomes aware. I’m standing in the middle of the kitchen clueless. Till I’ll stop long enough to notice I’m positioned near the sink–and a light bulb goes on. Oh yes! I need soap.

I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why I’ve been keyed in on what my body is telling me–except a podcast. A couple of months ago, I listened to Emily P. Freeman interview Dr. Hillary McBride about how important it is to be aware of our bodies. Sure, our health and needs, but especially the way we exist in the space our bodies take up. Her idea of paying attention to bodies planted an idea in me that I’m only now beginning to work out. 

So, I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me that, Dr. Matthews’ “Warfare Prayer,” which I received not long after that and shared last week, includes prayer specifically about our bodies:

“I smash the strongholds of Satan formed against my body today.
I give my body to You, recognizing that I am Your temple.”

I’m awakening to the idea that our bodies can either be vessels for God’s purposes or hindrances. Our bodies can help us abide in Christ, or they can keep us from it. It becomes imperative, then, for us to spend some time considering how our bodies impact our abiding life.

Disembodied

We tend to live fragmented from ourselves, having lost connection with our bodies–what they tell us and how they lead us. As Dr. McBride explains, because we don’t see the body as the place where our existence happens, we live disembodied. Maybe we’ve believed that our bodies are not our own–that they belong to a person or a system. Maybe we’ve believed that our bodies are an enemy or an obstacle that needs to be overcome. Or an obstacle to living life. Or even an obstacle to experiencing God. 

Photo by Suzi Kim on Unsplash

We rarely realize we’ve adopted these beliefs (more proof of our disconnection), but once we do, it helps to remember that Jesus came to us in a body. In doing so, Jesus shows “us through his body that our bodies are not bad, that the Divine exists in flesh and that the body is part of God’s way of being in the world” (McBride).

To become aware of our bodily stance is empowerment. Once we recognize how dis-integrated we are within our bodies, we can work with the Holy Spirit (and professionals, as needed) to reconnect and re-integrate within ourselves. 

I suspect this is a new idea for most of us. But here’s a truth I’m allowing to sink in. If the enemy is busy building strongholds against my body, then there must be something to what Dr. McBride is telling us. Our bodies are part of the whole experience on earth and with God.*

Bodies as Breakers

In our physical world, busyness and media stand as huge distractions. Second only to our relationship with God, our bodies take the biggest hit for the perpetually fast-paced lives we lead. Lack of time leads to fast food meals. Lessened energy leaves us too tired to exercise. Every leveraged minute of the day leaves us spread so thin we have nothing left to give. Yet, somehow we manage to scroll social media, only to compare and feel worse about ourselves. 

Our physicality also distracts. Long term illness, chronic pain, and lifelong battles can tempt us to focus on them instead of God. And, too often mental illness hitches itself to us, making us feel hopeless and helpless. This is when the enemy escalates distraction to isolation, leaving us wide open for attack.

The enemy can distract and tempt us to sin with our bodies. Our bodies can become unhealthy fixations, which push us to idolize ourselves more than God (Matthew 6:25). And, what’s meant to sustain us or give us pleasure gets twisted–food, sex, and other addictions lure and lock us up. 

Each of these physical areas can become breakers to our life of intimacy with Christ. But, they don’t have to. God always gives us an escape when temptation comes our way (1 Corinthians 10:13).

One exit strategy is to take hold of the truth that our bodies belong to us. Dr. McBride encourages this bodily ownership as a first and integral step toward embodied living. Scriptural truths can be picked up, like a sword, to help us fight back. Psalm 73:26 has become my mantra when I’m tempted to hate my body or be distracted by it. I feel such relief within myself and connection with God when I speak it aloud:

My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,
    but God remains the strength of my heart;
    he is mine forever.

Psalm 73:26, NLT

Once we own who we are and Whose we are, we can use the truth and the power God offers us to shatter the shackles that have kept us from living fully on earth–and abiding with God in the heavenlies.

Body Builders 

Nope, not talking about the gym but about building awareness of and possibilities for spiritual abiding in the physical realm (1 Timothy 4:8). I’m talking about paying attention to what our bodies are telling us in order to build abiding lives.

Photo by Sven Mieke on Unsplash

It helps to remember that to abide in Christ means to depend completely on Him for all that we need to live for Him. Warren Wiersbe describes abiding as a “living relationship” while Paul dubs it “Christ living in us” (Galatians 2:20). Chris Tomlin sings our illustration: 

Where sin runs deep, Your grace is more.
Where grace is found is where You are.
And where You are, Lord, I am free.
Holiness is Christ in me.

“Lord I Need You” by Passion

The answer to ALL the worldly, bodily dysfunctions and distractions is Christ in us (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)! 

Friends, we are the temple of God. 

This is the game changer. Our bodies are the place where the holy exists. We don’t have to leave our bodies to experience something holy and sacred. Christ is in us! Embracing this reality gives us all the power we need to put off the old nature with its…

  • selfishness and put on the new nature with its love.
  • fear and put on the new nature with its courage.
  • weakness and put on the new nature with its strength.
  • deceitful lusts and put on the new nature with its righteousness, purity, and honesty.
    taken from Dr. Matthews’ “Warfare Prayer”

The more we walk this earth fully aware that we embody the holy, then not only will we take better care of our physical selves but we’ll treat all the other temple-bodies with equal respect and love. 

The hope of Christ is in us. CHRIST IS IN US. No matter what demands and distractions we face, our bodies can dwell in this physical world with supernatural power. 

Rhythm of Worship

Photo by Guillaume de Germain on Unsplash

There will always be one who tries to come against us on this journey toward the abiding life. As we begin to recognize how the enemy twists our affection for our family to the point they’ve become idols in our lives. Or the way he takes our adoration of food and warps it till it’s what we worship. Or that he takes advantage of what we like to watch or do until our attention is only focused on those things. Once attuned to these tactics, we can learn how to stand firm against them.

An effective way to break the enemy’s grip on us is to build the rhythm of worship of God into our daily lives, putting our affections, adoration, and attention back on the One we love most (or want to love most, which I qualify because sometimes we desire to love God before we actually do). He alone is worthy of such undivided attention and devotion.

When we can see our bodies as a sanctuary, ”that place we encounter the divine” (Dr. McBride), it doesn’t matter when or where we worship. We don’t save worship for Sunday mornings; instead, we build new rhythms, playing praise music instead of Tik Tok in the mornings. We praise God in the car or as we fold clothes or wash dishes. Or worship Him as we walk or paint or watch the birds.

Worship renews our allegiance to God. It sets our spiritual eyes on God and gives us space to rejoice in God’s mercy and goodness–because His love covers a multitude of sin (1 Peter 4:8). And casts out fear (1 John 4:18). And fills us to such an overflowing that we can love others as He loves us (John 15:12).

Friends, the physical ramifications of our spiritual abiding with God cannot be underestimated. To truly abide with God, we must become aware of our physical being in a very physical world. And that starts with paying attention to our bodies–claiming them as our own and seeing them as holy sanctuaries. To deeply dwell with God depends on our willingness to depart from distractions that not only pull us away from God but from ourselves. 

Our bodies know the truth of Christ in us. We should listen.

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  • *If you desire more information about ‘embodied living,’ I recommend Dr. McBride’s book, which I link in the resource section. I’m only using a fraction of her ideas as a springboard for our purposes. But there is much more to her research and teaching.
  • One other factor (I’ll mention) to our physical habitation on earth is our relationship to time. Again, no space to elaborate on this here, but if managing time, prioritizing how you spend your time, is an Achilles heel for you, I can’t wait to introduce you to Kendra Adachi. She is perfecting what she calls the Lazy Genius Way, and it’s changing people’s lives! I’ll link her below.
  • Isolation, as a tool of the enemy, can be directly combated in community! So even though we aren’t sitting face-to-face, your comments here and on Instagram help us to connect with one another and discover we are not alone in all the hard and lonely.
  • Music often helps get our bodies and hearts and minds aligned so we can more fully worship God, so I hope our Abide playlist helps you do just that. I’m still moving songs around. I even added one this week (“Spirit Lead Me”) that captures so much of what worship is–not just singing. But surrendering. And obeying. And trusting.
  • Resources for this week–a resource list you can come back to as needed. Not an expectation for this series. XOXO
    • Kendra Adachi’s book, The Lazy Genius Way,** and her podcast, The Lazy Genius, give us words and very practical strategies to manage the lives we want to live–being genius about the things we care about most and lazy about the things that we don’t, IN THE BEST OF WAYS. If you want a quick overview of her thirteen principles, here‘s a great place to start.

Featured Photo by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash
**affiliate links, with which I could earn a little something

Abide: Practices and Prayer

For years I poured myself into dance. By middle school, I was at the studio four nights a week, learning and rehearsing. Each goal I set for myself pushed me to work harder, and it paid off. My last performance with that dance company, a ballet solo, reflected all the hours and years of practice.

Isn’t that what’s drilled into us–“practice makes perfect?” I have taken it to heart my entire life. I practiced till I made the cheer squad. I practiced till I made Show Choir. And so on…

Then last year, JD Walt shared with his readers a conversation he had with God that caused a significant shift in my ‘practice’ paradigm:

“John David, you still think this morning meeting with me is a spiritual practice. It’s not practice. This is the game. This is not like practicing meditation or yoga or even the way you tend to think about ‘spiritual disciplines’ or even having a ‘quiet time.’ This is a meeting with me. I am discipling you. We sit together in silence. I bring my Word into your mind and you contemplate it in your heart, storing it up like treasure so it will be available in the field as needed—bread for the eating, seed for the sowing.

I breathe my Spirit into the lungs of your spirit day by day expanding your capacity for me to indwell you all the time. I put thoughts in your mind and impressions in your spirit. In this meeting, John David, you behold me and I bless you. You pour out yourself and all your insecurities, and I fill you with my life, and all my provisions. When you miss this meeting, it’s not like you skipped practice. You missed the game.

If there’s one thing you need to understand, it is that you just can’t miss meetings with me. There is just too much at stake for you and for all the people who are looking for me to show up through you in their lives every day. Our meeting every day—it’s not practice. It’s the game.”

Seedbed Daily Text, 2/21/2021

So much of what JD says pricks my conscience. I have approached my relationship with God as a goal to attain–I’ve ‘practiced’ as if I would ‘achieve.’ Yet, as God is showing me, an abiding life with God is not a practice. It’s the game–one that we’re meant to enter everyday. 

There is too much at stake, friends, for us not to take seriously this daily meeting with God, this life of abiding in Him.

Then There’s Practice

Yet, here I am throwing the P word out at you. And I will all summer–for a few reasons. 

  1. We are sorely out of practice. For most of us, we don’t know how to get in the game. 
  2. Our current time with God has become stale–so routine, there’s little-to-no connection.
  3. There are many ‘practices’ out there that can help us enter the game.
  4. There’s the science that proves we can retrain our brains–by repetition. 

Notice what’s not on that list. “We can do this! All we have to do is follow a five point model of behavior modification, and we’ll achieve perfect status with God.” Nope. Not at all. In fact, that whole mindset is of the world. Just look how huge the self-help aisle is at Barnes and Noble.

I think where I’m going with this–because I’m learning with you as we go–is there is much we can do to move us toward an abiding life. Like practice. Google offers a definition for practice that I think helps direct us toward our purpose: “the actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method, as opposed to theories relating to it.”

Remember, this journey is about abiding with God. Yes, learning how to, but also doing it. Not just rattling off theories and methods, but the actual dwelling with God. That’s why this summer I would love to offer practices and prayers we can employ as we endeavor to enter the game.

Week One Practice

Last week I introduced our Abide series by explaining there are threats, or breakers, to our ability of getting alone with God regularly. But there are also things we can do to bust the breakers. We can implement builders that help us step into God’s presence.

In Ephesians 6, Paul addresses the biggest threat to this abiding life: Satan. Because our battle is not against flesh but powers and principalities and spiritual darkness (v.12), Paul offers equipment we can use to defend ourselves and fight back: the Armor of God. 

Each week, I’ll focus on a specific piece of the armor. However, we really need to be putting on all of them everyday, and we’ll see by the end of the summer how each week’s ‘piece’ builds into the whole. We’ll just break it down, one at a time.

Let’s begin building a habit of taking hold of the Sword of the Spirit (v.17). This holy book is the only offensive (as opposed to defensive) weapon of the bunch because it is the Word of God, which goes out from us, like a sword, to dispel the enemy’s lies. Jesus models for us how to wield this weapon each time Satan comes at him with a temptation in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11). But to use it, we must know it. And, we must learn to sit with it. As God instructed JD, we need to contemplate the Word in our hearts. One reason is so the Word is at the ready when the attacks come.

I’m realizing that I’ve practiced reading the Bible to get information for so long that I don’t know how to ‘contemplate’ it. I’ll have to start practicing a new way. 

So, for this week, let’s pick one passage to park on. If you have no idea where to start, I offer up Psalm 1. Read it; reread it. Pause when something gets your attention–even if you don’t know why. Come back to the passage again and again, giving space for the Spirit to speak. Maybe even read it in multiple translations.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Week One Prayer

The structure for this entire series poured out of me one day after praying aloud the Warfare Prayer by Dr. Victor Matthews. A friend recently sent it to me, and I just keep being amazed by it. Its combination of God’s Word and God’s power become an unbeatable weapon in our armory.

The first day I prayed this prayer happened to be one full of runaway emotions. I felt powerless to help my sons, to speak truth in their lives, to control my feelings as they swirled and spiraled. Out of desperation for God, I read the words of the prayer out loud through tears. Then I got to this paragraph:

“I am thankful that You have made a provision so that today I can live filled with the Spirit of God with love and joy and peace, with longsuffering, gentleness and goodness, with meekness, faithfulness, and self-control in my life. I recognize that this is Your will for me and I therefore reject and resist all the endeavors of Satan and his wicked spirits to rob me of the will of God. I refuse in this day to believe my feelings…”

The floodgates opened–I refuse to believe my feelings. My soul felt the truth of it. Discouragement and fear had overcome my ability to trust God. I reread those words multiple times, agreeing with them in my spirit, and the miracle of peace came over me. Hope saturated my entire being as I stood from my chair to complete the prayer. 

The rest of that day words and phrases from this Warfare Prayer kept coming to mind. I knew deep down this prayer had been handed to me as a gift–one that should be opened everyday. 

So, it is with great pleasure, and his permission, that I share with you Dr. Matthews’ Warfare Prayer. It’s a bit long to paste here, so I recommend clicking the link and printing it out–even saving it to your phone so that you always have it handy. Then every single day possible, make these words your own.

Over the course of the summer, we’ll step up to the plate, faithful to practice and enter God’s presence. And as we do, we’ll witness our worldly desires dissipate into what God has for us. We’ll watch as our duty-driven religion drifts into oblivion because the desire to dwell with God dominates our thoughts and want-to’s. We’ll wonder and marvel at the way our hearts and minds and spirits awaken to the abiding presence of God–and how everything in us wants more of Him.

This summer of abiding will be one of practice. But even more so, it’s the game!

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  • Week One Practice = contemplate a passage of Scripture, really let it do its work in you.
  • Week Two Prayer = Dr. Matthews’ Warfare Prayer
  • Each time we share our experiences–good or bad–we encourage community, which is key to our spiritual growth. So, comment below or join in the conversation on Instagram.
  • Settling into worshpful ‘practices’ is encouraged with music, so I hope our Abide playlist helps you enter the game!

Feature Photo by Nihal Demirci Erenay on Unsplash

Abide: Breakers and Builders

I’ve been playing “Throne Room Song” on repeat lately. I even wake up with the bridge thrumming through my mind:

The veil is torn; the doors fling wide
I see glory as I run inside
The throne room; before You, I bow.

taken from “Throne Room Song” by Charity Gayle

A picture has been seared into my soul–an image I deeply desire to live out in my everyday life. Yes, I look forward to running into the throne room at my eternal entry. But, just as much, I long to go there now.

Maybe without realizing it, this is what has driven me to understand what it means to dwell with God. I love that this journey of seeking to abide has given me strong words to grab hold of: inhabit, remain, refuge, shelter. And a forever link to Psalm 91.

My big aha last week has broadened my understanding that to abide in Christ includes, but is so much more than, settling into a silent reverie with Him. However, I find it difficult to remain in Christ–to keep up the rhythm of entering His presence, to stick with reading Scripture, to root myself in Him so that I stay with Him. One reason is because we have an enemy who thwarts our efforts and douses our desires. He actually looks for footholds in our lives so he can establish strongholds. And, he’s calculated in his efforts.

War Tactics

Jesus tells us, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). Peter warns us, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Paul exhorts us to take a stand against the enemy because our “struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against..spiritual forces of evil” (Ephesians 6:12). Lysa TerKeurst takes these biblical authors at their word, so in her book It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way (aka: INSTBTW), she devotes an entire chapter to the three ways the enemy comes after us. He (1) tempts, (2) deceives, and (3) accuses. In that order. 

Think of temptation as Satan leaning in, just as you open your Bible to read, to whisper in your ear, “You’re hungry*.” Then you’re off to Sonic, Bible forgotten. Then there are times his voice sounds oddly like the world’s, “Don’t you want to feel good? Try this…it’s amazing” (INSTBTW, 167). Our enemy will appeal to all our senses to reel us in.

Once the enticement has been offered, Satan will follow-up with his deceptions. He ramps up the appeal with straight-up lies to help us justify and rationalize what we say and do–even when we know better. Maybe you’ve heard him say, “You deserve this. You’re special enough to get away with it. And no one will ever know. It will just be your well-deserved pleasure” (INSTBTW, 167).

But, he’s not done yet. Getting us hooked is the foothold. What he’s after is the stronghold–that grip that imprisons us with shame and regret. For what he just tempted us with and talked us into, he then rails against, slandering and guilting us over our choice to acquiesce. His accusations are laced with lies, “Look at what you’ve done now. God is ashamed of you. When people find out, they will shame you and rename you the loser you are. So you better keep it a secret. This isn’t just a choice you made. This is who you really are. You’ll never escape this shame or be healed of this pain. The best you can ever do is numb your pain, and I’ve got a few suggestions for you” (INSTBTW, 168).

Friends, we need to be attuned to these tactics. You’ll hear me say this a lot–awareness is empowerment. Because when we know what Satan is up to, we can look to God. He’ll equip us so we can come against our enemy’s attacks. To obliviously walk through life is to give our enemy control, and with him at the wheel, we will never truly abide with our Father.

Photo by Arjan de Jong on Unsplash

Breakers

In this battle for intimacy with God, we also want to train ourselves to notice the vulnerable footholds the enemy watches for. These ‘little’ feelings and thoughts, in Satan’s hands, become part of his strategy to separate us from God. They become interruptions that endanger our abiding abilities–interruptions that become threats. I’ve come to call them breakers.

I’ve collected notes on my phone for over ten years–any ideas that inspires my writing. This week I searched the app to find a Note with lists of those breakers.  

The first list of breakers comes from a Joanna Weaver book I read nearly twenty years ago, Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World. She cleverly titles the tactics of Satan the ‘Deadly D’s.’ Distraction. Discouragement. Doubt. Then, as if she’s read the same book, Lysa TerKeurst adds to that list: disappointment, division, defeat, destruction, death (INSTBTW). 

I’ve had plenty of time to witness how the enemy uses distraction, discouragement, and doubt to keep me down, to keep me ineffective, to keep me from drawing near to God. And, as I’ve added every other ‘D’ to my Note, I’ve seen these devilish designs do their dirty work in my life, as well as, in families, churches, and communities. It’s crazy how quickly a doubt can spiral into division. 

The Deadly D’s pack a punch, but they’re not the only demonic devices. Lysa offers another list in her book, which I’ve dubbed the ‘Insidious I’s:’ isolation, intimidation, and influence (p.150). These strategies are just as subtle as the Deadly D’s, and they tend to work in tandem. For instance, if the enemy can isolate us, he can influence us. 

Builders

Throughout our series, we’ll zoom in on these deadly and insidious ploys to see how sneaky the enemy can be–and how vicious. Lest your fear, remember this truth: Satan is not victorious (ITSTBTW). God has given us His Word and His Son to learn from and model. We’ve all read the end of the story–we win! But, even today we can beat Satan at his games. We can run into the throne room, and waiting for us there is a God who entrusts us with His truth, encourages good habits, and extends power that enables us to build intimacy with Him. We’ll call these builders.

Photo by Susan Holt Simpson on Unsplash

Every other week this summer, I’ll offer up ideas that we can incorporate into daily, weekly, and monthly rhythms to break the enemy’s grip on us. It’s my goal to prescribe specific builders that relate to each week’s focus–things like biblical tools, spiritual disciplines, and practical changes in our thoughts and responses.

Then on the ‘other’ week of this every-other-week structure, I’ll focus on prayers and practices that we can actually do together. It’s my hope this ebb-and-flow through our summer will help us move from information toward transformation in our spiritual lives. We’ll be able to get beyond talking about abiding to actually doing it!

Holistic Approach

A final word about our enemy’s ways. He does not hone in on one area of our lives. He doesn’t just tempt us with the spiritual, but the physical, mental, emotional, and social, as well. I’ll start in two weeks with the physical, but we need to know that these segmented parts make up our whole being. As such, they’re impossible to completely separate. For instance, everything about us–our bodies, minds, feelings, spirits, and social interactions–is woven together. 

We also need to make note that our enemy is not the only threat to our ability to dwell with God. Our own habits, choices, mindsets, and sins become threats to abiding. The world with its culture, natural disasters, and diseases can thwart our intentions. And, there are other people, whose habits, choices, and sins impact us negatively every day.

So, as we seek to remain more and more in Christ, we need to be aware of and equipped for each interruption to this abiding life. Whether the world, people, or our own selves threaten our ability to dwell, we can know that the enemy will use all of it as footholds with the hope of creating strongholds. 

I borrowed from our “Dwell Playlist ” a song to lead off our new “Abide Playlist”–because its lyrics are just too perfect for what we’re about this summer. Now, and throughout the week, let’s make its words our prayer:

Where the Spirit leads, as I’m following
I depend on You, I depend on You
For the victories still in front of me
I depend on You, I depend on You
You’re the Way, the Truth, and the Life
You’re the well that never runs dry
I’m the branch and You are the vine
Draw me close and teach me to abide. 

taken from “Abide” by The Worship Initiative

Lord, teach us to abide.

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  • Each week I’ll offer a few resources that can further inform and equip you on your journey toward deeper intimacy with God. NOTE: I do not intend for you to look at all these. Think of these weekly lists as a resource library that you can come back to as you have need. Glance now and dig in when it’s time. This week’s resources:
    • Obviously :), Lysa TerKeurst’s book, It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way.** The overall book is about how to deal with disappointments. Lysa weaves her own story around biblical wisdom and spiritual guidance. I read it with an amazing group in the spring of 2019–what an equipping for what lay ahead! And, her chapter that I mention today, “Exposing the Enemy,” is incredible.
    • *Denotes a scene from C.S. Lewis’ brilliant, albeit fictional, book about the subtle tactics of the enemy. If you’ve never read Screwtape Letters,** this is the summer to do it!
    • John Mark Comer, a pastor out of Portland, delivers some well-crafted messages about our enemy:
      • First, his interview with Jennie Allen on her podcast, called “The War For Your Faith.” It’s so enlightening and encouraging–I think I’ll listen again!
      • I also found a script of a sermon he gave back in 2016, called “Why?” in which he addresses our perpetual question of why bad things happen, and he names FIVE causes: “God’s will, our will, other people’s will, Satan and the powers, [or] just life on this side of resurrection in the world.” It’s a bit heady, but it’s solid. You’ll hear more about JMC as we go. 😉
  • Chime in as we go through the summer. As we’re discovering, community is key to our spiritual growth. So, comment below or join in the conversation on Instagram. Either way, let’s share and encourage and abide…together!
  • Last, but absolutely not least, is our new summer playlist simply titled, Abide. I tried to imagine what songs would usher us into that throne room, as well as, equip us against our enemy. And, there are plenty of each. But I also intentionally included songs that will pull us into specific areas that we’ll enter this summer, like identity, surrender, and doing life in the world with Jesus. I pray we’ll lean-in to these worshipful tunes–to praise God, to enter His presence, to surrender our all to Him. XOXO

 Featured Photo by Tyler Milligan on Unsplash
**affiliate links

Remain: Abiding in God

When I once prepared for a talk about growing our roots deeply in Christ, I had this inspiration to lead the group through a guided prayer using imagery of literal roots breaking out of a seed and digging into the soil so that a plant would develop and flourish. And bear fruit.

As I practiced, these words spilled from my mouth, “we feel the coolness of the soil enveloping us.” And my imagination ignited. I could see soil wrapping roots with its very essence so that the roots had all they needed to be nurtured. 

I was overcome in that moment with a sense of abiding. Roots abide in the soil. We abide in Christ. It’s a staying. A remaining. Not just for fun or safety or encouragement–yes, for all these reasons, but for so much more. We abide in Christ every minute of every day…

  • …whether we’re in the Word or living it out or letting it live through us. 
  • …whether we’re at His feet praying or zipping through our day, His presence fueling our focus. 
  • …whether we’re silently leaning into Him for long stretches of time or taking that peace with us as we serve people who’ve been wrecked, broken, and torn apart. 

What I once thought of abiding–as only the time we spend in His presence–I’m discovering is but a pixel of a much larger picture. Yes, abiding happens when we remain, dwell, and draw near to Him. But what happens to us while we’re with Him remains with us even when we’re not sitting still and silent or giving space for His Word to speak into us. 

Abiding. Is. All. Of. This.

So, as we pause on this final installment of our Remain series, let’s tease out what abiding looks like–in Scripture, in God, and in the world because of its work in us.  Then, for our summer series, we’ll do some further unpacking of how we can cultivate more intimacy with Christ by abiding in every area of our lives.

Abiding in Scripture

I love learning. There’s no two ways about it. For 24 years I have intentionally and consistently engaged in Bible study, cutting my teeth on Beth Moore’s A Woman’s Heart, God’s Dwelling Place in 1998. (And I don’t miss the irony of DWELL being in the title!)

All the learning. All the studying. It’s a passion. It’s changed my mind, my heart, and my life. But, here’s what I’m discovering: studying Scripture is not the same as abiding in Scripture.

Studying is needed. It’s good. It’s right. But if we only ever look to Scripture for information, we will miss its power for transformation.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

So, now I’m learning to engage in the spiritual practice of abiding in Scripture. It’s a slower read where we move in step with the Spirit with no expectation except to encounter His nudge every once in a while. It’s a reading to understand who God is, with the hope of absorbing His essence into ourselves.

No rules or must haves. No checkboxes or quotas.

You see, in the simplest of terms, the Greek word for abiding, meno, means to stay in the same place or position over a period of time. Meno describes something that remains where it is, which pretty much summarizes this entire series. Only it also applies to practices like abiding in the Word–where we pull up a chair and linger.

An ancient practice called Lectio Divina captures this kind of abiding beautifully. There’s no space here to unpack it now–but I will in our summer series! For now it’s enough to know that the ancients had it right–there’s purpose and power in sitting with small snatches of Scripture for no other purpose than to experience the Word.

John, the beloved disciple, employs the word meno more than all the other writers of the New Testament combined. His heart is to call people to abide in Jesus and Scripture:

“Everyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God; whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.”

2 John 1:9, NRSV

This particular verse shows us that abiding in the Word of God is to abide in the Word (John 1:1). But the reverse is true, as well. If we fail to abide in the Word of God, we fail to really know it and risk falling into the trap of running beyond it.

So, picture yourself snuggling so deeply into the folds of the Word that it wraps you–like soil around a root–and you absorb its life-giving nutrients. You’re changed by it. Strengthened in it. And produce fruit because of it.

Scripture Abiding in Us

Rooting ourselves in Scripture comes with a cost and a mysterious, beautiful blessing.

The cost is time. No plant of any value breaks from a seed, sprouts roots, and pops above ground overnight. Besides weeds, only plants whose roots are in shallow soil do this. And they burn up in the heat (Matthew 13:5-6). They wither without deep roots in Christ’s soil.

So, we need to plant ourselves in deep soil and give time for our roots to grow, which requires time in the Word, soaking up its goodness. Allowing its truths to become part of who we are.

The beauty, the mystery then is that as we abide in the Word, it abides in us:

“As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father.”

1 John 2:24, NIV

The seed, the Word, plants itself in our souls, our hearts, our minds each time we remain in it. The mutual, symbiotic abiding of the Word looks much like the water and food in the soil that moves up through the roots into the plant. Parts of the soil become parts of the plant and help to make the plant what it is designed to be.

In much the same way, each time we sit down with Scripture, we absorb its essence into ourselves, nurturing its growth within us. Then even as we step away from the pages of our Bible, the Word continues to abide in us.

Abiding in God’s Presence

To read God’s Word slowly, receiving what it has for us, is part of what it looks like to abide in His presence–for we encounter God on the pages of Scripture. However, abiding in His presence can also look like:

  • laying down our burdens at His feet as we worship Him in heartfelt, honest trust.
  • praising God for all His goodness, love, peace, hope, sovereignty, justice, joy–even when we don’t see it or feel it.
  • picking up the pen and writing on paper our thoughts, feelings, questions, anger, and hopes then asking Him to meet us there.
  • inviting Him for a walk through a forest or a jog along the banks of a creek. 
  • seeing Him in the birds that sing and the flowers that bloom and the trees that grow really deep roots.
  • letting go of our calendars, surrendering our will for His.
  • singing in full abandon with a song that speaks the words we can’t form on our own.
  • anything we do to shift our focus, off ourselves and our circumstances, onto Him.
Photo by Moritz Knöringer on Unsplash

God Abiding in Us

And, like the seed of the Word, there is a beauty and mystery that occurs as we abide in God. The more we enter His presence, the more we become aware of God abiding in us.

Abide in me as I abide in you (John 15:4). Simple truth–remain in Him, and He’ll be in us.

Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit (John 15:5). Simple fact–only in Him can we flourish.

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you (John 15:7). Simple instruction–abide in Him and let His words abide us.

The absolute answer to all our doubts, distractions, disappointments, and discouragement is abiding in God and allowing His Word to abide in us. Simple. Yet not easy.

Remember the cost–time. This abiding life happens only with intentionality. 

Abiding’s Impact on the World

But when we abide, the world feels its effects. 

When Christ’s truth reigns in our hearts and minds, we live humbly–with His wisdom.
When Christ’s love fills our person, we live-out that love–unafraid and generous.
When Christ’s grace meets us where we are each day, we offer it to everyone we meet.
When Christ’s joy finds its being in our souls, we glow and splatter it everywhere we go.
When Christ’s forgiveness covers us, we live from it with kindness and compassion.
When Christ’s peace settles into our spirits, we pass it on.
When Christ’s gentleness grows within us, we speak truth in love.
When Christ’s self-control takes over, we can let go and step aside.

Close your eyes and imagine with me a world where every abiding believer lives this way. I don’t know about you, but the picture calms my breathing. My racing mind rests. My hope increases because I begin to grasp God’s way in the world. Jesus shows us how. And His Spirit in us makes it possible. 

Remaining in God IS abiding in God. He is our dwelling place, that secret space where we find safety and silence, refuge and remembering, and our true place of belonging. Yes, we need to draw near to God, but we also need to remain there. Stay awhile. And let His Spirit abide in us–for our good and for God’s purposes.

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  • With all the tragedies and traumas of our era, I’m finding this practice of abiding is more needed than ever. So many prayers going up for all those who have lost so much.
  • What do you make of this idea that ABIDING is more than entering God’s presence? How does this affirm your experiences with Him? How does it challenge the way you’ve thought? Journal your responses, asking the Holy Spirit to guide you as you seek.
  • I don’t know about you, but our Dwell Playlist has become a favorite of mine. And I’m thinking it might always be.
  • I hope you’ll be part of the our summer series, “Abide: Building Intimacy with God.” Please, invite someone along!
    • We’ll ebb and flow–one week of teaching, another of practicing what we’re learning.
    • It’s my goal to keep the posts shorter so that we can immerse ourselves more fully in the actual abiding. (Pray for me–I already have way too much research for one series, much less shorter posts! I’m praying for surrender in the process!)
  • You may be tired of hearing about my social media woes. As much as I’d love to walk away from all of it, I’d miss you. And I’d fail in my faithfulness to the writing/publishing process of the 21st century, where there’s an expectation for a writer to have a viable platform. So. My Instagram (@shelleylinnjohnson) is growing slowly (thank you), and I’m developing new rhythms and “looks” for it. AND, what feels a bit like a miracle, my new Facebook account is active (so many hoops, but I persevered.) The next step is creating an Author’s Page. I’ll keep you posted. See you in the summer–next week! 🙂

Featured Photo by Daniel Hajdacki on Unsplash