Honoring and Guarding Our Sabbath: A Devotional and Prayer for Ministry Leaders (and Workaholics in General)

“So then, there is still awaiting a full and complete Sabbath-rest reserved for the [true] people of God; For he who has once entered [God’s] rest also has ceased from [the weariness and pain] of human labors, just as God rested from those labors peculiarly His own. Let us therefore be zealous and exert ourselves and strive diligently to enter that rest [of God, to know and experience it for ourselves], that no one may fall or perish by the same kind of unbelief and disobedience [into which those in the wilderness fell].” (Hebrews 4:9-11, Amplified Bible, Classic Edition)

I remember once hearing Joyce Meyer say something to the tune of, “The Lord’s the author and finisher of our faith, but He’s not obligated to finish what He didn’t author.” The following paragraphs are not intended to make you bail on your calling, lie down on the job, or abandon your work ethic or loyalty; but rather, to compel you to work smarter instead of harder, and to actually consult the Holy Spirit before you start filling up your daily planner with what God may not have told you to fill it with! And you guessed it. I’m talking to me here…

Take care, friends, that you begin to respect your bodies and minds and start cutting ties with what God didn’t author, even what appears to be good or productive. Some of us are addicted to busy-ness and we gauge our stock value in the Kingdom (and everywhere else) by how far we can push the envelope abusing our bodies. Sometimes we feel a little more important, pious, “martyr-ish,” and yes, even prideful when people are fawning over our dedication with, “Wow, I don’t know how you do all you do.”

Let me lovingly submit to you that God doesn’t violate His own precepts! If you are not allowing yourself a Sabbath–on whatever day you choose to celebrate it–you are walking contrary to the system He Himself set in place and was the first observer thereof! God doesn’t need downtime…the God who never slumbers or sleeps doesn’t actually need to recharge; but He set the example for us by resting on the seventh day. Now, I realize that a “Sabbath” looks different for everyone–folks have work shifts, assigned workdays, etc., that are set for us without negotiation; but the point is, there must be designated downtime; set-aside blocks of time. For someone whose job mandates unreasonable 7-day schedules, I can’t tell you that you must leave that job, but I will tell you to make yourself a Sabbath block of time. That block may be hours instead of a full day; but I urge you, set aside your block large or small and guard it as sacred! For those of you who have the luxury of a 5 or occasionally 6 day workweek, you don’t get to fudge in this, either. Start establishing a Sabbath in your life instead of treating your quiet time with God like a power nap.

And full-time ministry leaders who aren’t under secular workplace mandates, this applies to you, too–perhaps especially to you. Start setting a better example for those in your circle of influence! Even a 3-shift coal mine sets scheduled downtime for maintenance on its equipment, if it wants to stay in business! Keep running that machine without greasing and regularly changing hoses, etc., and see how costly it gets when things start burning out, locking up, and falling apart… In Exodus, when God established the Sabbath, He did it not just for that head of a household and his family, but also for the sake of the animals and hired servants/slaves…He even designated Sabbath years for the sake of the land, which could be overworked out of zeal, greed, or a variety of motivating factors. Relentless leaders not only abuse their own bodies, they wear out anyone or anything who’s close to them or under their authority!

So why do we people in leadership feel compelled to give the “do as I say, not as I do” excuse for abusing our bodies? We reference Scriptures like “work while it is day because night comes when no man can work” to justify never, ever taking a break? And we tune out the voice of reason who urges letting go of a few things so that the remaining works we do are done more effectively. Are we letting the enemy guilt us into walking in rebellion, deceiving ourselves into thinking that because we are in the last days, we must override common sense (and the Word) to be as busy as we possibly can be? Can we do so and expect to be exempt from the health and emotional consequences of priding ourselves in being workaholics?

I submit to you as well, we as spiritual leaders have a moral obligation to live in balance, for the sake of those who emulate our example. If we don’t respect our own body/soul/spirit, we must, MUST think of our families, our constituents, and a lost world around us–all of whom look to us for at least a reference point of guidance. Hebrews 4 doesn’t beat around the bush here…suggests that we can actually be a spiritual liability to ourselves and others if we disobey God’s directive on right balance. It’s not legalism to suggest that we treat the rest-time He has given us as a holy thing. God engineered all of creation to flow with that same protocol. You aren’t too important to observe some form of a Sabbath, and neither am I! Let’s start re-drawing the boundaries in our lives so that we can be healthy and strong–emotionally, physically, and spiritually–for these last exciting days before our Lord returns!Pray with me…

Lord, I sincerely appeal to You first for mercy, as a person who is guilty of making myself busier than I should be. My spirit man suffers and my words tell on me when I have spent myself beyond reason. While I don’t like the stress and aggravation of no downtime, I confess and repent before You that I’m a recovering addict of work. I drive myself to be busy while making others miserable, because I make sure they’re busy too. I’m working twice as hard for half the impact, because I’m breaking Your rules and expecting You to bless my dismissal of common sense and Your example.

I’m sorry for thinking that You make special exceptions for me because I carry a heavier responsibility. Yes, to whom much is given, much is required–but the “much” is in terms of a closer walk with You and a deeper level of consecration. And even if it were much more required in the physical realm of activity, there are a lot of things on my plate that You didn’t give, Father. Oh, I like to think of all these responsibilities as given by You, but some of them are of my own doing. Some of them are just because I won’t say no to people who can’t wait for me to get even busier doing things THEY want me to be doing! And I say yes and pencil it into my bloated calendar, knowing all the while that I need sleep, I need study time, and just a break from having to think and run so much.

Forgive me, Lord! You gave me a healthy body meant to carry me well-into old age; and I live like I intend to wear it out in half its life expectancy. I pass up sleep and exercise; and I rationalize that if I’m spending that time doing good works, it will never catch up with me.

I repent and I appeal to You for mercy on all others, too, who have become the work adrenaline-and-approval junkie I’ve allowed myself to become. We don’t know how to change except by submitting ourselves to You and listening for Your counsel. We will have to hear from You because we can no longer hear the appeals from our own bodies. We shush our compromised adrenal glands by pumping them full of caffeine. We have a pill for everything. You in turn have a Scripture for everything and a word MODERATION that we ignore because we convince ourselves that we must be always working 24/7 because of who we are.

I will find a way to be less busy, Lord, with Your grace. I will respect this body as the temple of the Holy Spirit and stop giving You an efficiency apartment with worn-out furniture and tired, cloudy windows to look out of. I will make not just room for You, but the best room. I won’t be merely shooting You a copy of my to-do list after I’ve filled it and crammed more into the margins and started on a new sheet. No, I will say, “Here, Father. Take Your eraser and start removing the sacred cows of a busy addict.” In fact, wad up my to-do list and just start me a new one. Put only Your agenda on my list, in Jesus’ name I ask. And I’ll start asking Your permission before I make all those plans that leach the life right out of me and anyone else who has to tag along.

What? You just wrote in a full night’s sleep and a Sabbath! More time with relationships with real people and less time on computers and electronic devices? And even orders to put healthier foods into my body and more time walking and moving! Wow, You are ordering me to get my act together so that You can get maximum return on Your investment in me. I thought maximum return meant how many items were on my list.

You’re after quality. You are after a ten-ring shot and not a broader spray pattern. Most of all, You are after my heart. You want me chasing after You, walking with You in the cool of the day for RELATIONSHIP, not for my sales pitch to You of all the things I did in Your name (or rather, in the name of “ministry”) which You may or may not have instructed me to do! You want me to know You. Your yoke is easy and Your burden is light? Wow. I guess I wasn’t listening to that (even though it was…written in red).

And Your way of governing balance will help me be first a better daughter to You, and then to be a better leader and better family and society member, too?

Yes.

Selah.

(Adapted from a Facebook post I made 03/31/17)

Never Departing—Raising Kids with Values and Not Just Skills

arrows“Dedicate your children to God and point them in the way that they should go, and the values they’ve learned from you will be with them for life.”  (Proverbs 22:6 TPT The Passion Translation®. Copyright © 2017 by BroadStreet Publishing® Group, LLC.)

Your child’s real future isn’t in scholarship, it’s in #discipleship. Scholarship says, “I got it all because of ME.” Discipleship says, “yes I have talent, but even that is because of HIM.”

Praise the Lord for favor and open doors, for free rides to college, and I’m all for getting all the education and credentials we can; but please, Christian parents, don’t elevate your child’s talent above his or her spiritual well-being. If we teaching our children it is all about their earthly goals, we are teaching them to build on sand instead of the Rock. If their entire hope is tied up in their talent—their life plans formed solely around what their own hands can do–then their future is as fragile as one unfortunate sports injury or failed entrance exam. And what good would a scholarship be on the timeline of forever if that renowned college were to transform your child into someone who no longer believes there even IS a God? Celebrate that talent, but don’t make talent an idol. Don’t neglect the foundation in favor of making the facade look good. Want eternity for your kids even more than you want moments...yes, let’s want heaven for them even more than we want a degree from that prestigious university hanging on their wall! If we seek Him first and His righteousness, did our Lord not say that “all these things” (the things that the world would make the primary or sole focus) would be added to us?

I get grieved when I see once God-focused homes where the celebration is no longer on the children’s Jeremiah 29:11 future, but on exalting nothing more than skills and beauty and temporary achievements. Are your children discovering their spiritual gifts? Are they growing strong in their relationship with God, connected to stable children’s or youth church groups where they are fortified by other young believers and godly adult mentors? Are they being brought to see and participate in the move of the Holy Spirit in revivals, prayer gatherings, youth camps, and worship services, or is there never time or desire for those things because of all the other pursuits we have enabled? Do they hear prayer and the Word read in the home, or does God only receive honorable mention from time to time? Are the dreams they chase guided by godly wisdom and balance, or are we endorsing paths that lead far away from God by not teaching them to use those talents for His divine purpose? If we aren’t training them up in the way they should go, how can they stay on a path they were never taught not to depart from!

Lord, speak to our hearts today as Christian parents and recalibrate our focus. Forgive us for grooming our kids to grow up as unbelieving adults who were raised in lukewarm, powerless Christian homes rife with duplicity. You gave them to us as arrows; show us when the problem lies in our aim. You have blessed us with healthy, smart, beautiful kids–and we will teach them how to use their gifts to glorify You rather than to replace You.

Help us to train them to be as effective in fervent prayer as they are in the fast pitch; to tear down strongholds even better than they can sack the opposition’s quarterback; to be Esthers instead of divas; Solomons instead of just intellectuals; Davids instead of rock gods; Daniels instead of conformists. Help us to model in front of them a burning, living relationship with You instead of just a religious experience we once had. Help us not to have poisoned our kids with pride and self-absorption! Remind us to tell them often that we are pleased with them not just because of all they can do but rather, who they are in YOU! Help us not to live our lives vicariously through our kids, trying to recapture our own missed opportunities. We want them to be successful and strong, but O God, we want them to love You even more than we ourselves have loved you. We want them to rise and be the ushers of a last-day awakening, who use their gifts and talents and testimonies to draw people to the Savior!

We choose today to openly to put You first, and to teach them to put You first, too. We will guard our conversations in our homes, what we take into our gateways of eyes and ears. If You tell us we need to change some things, add or take away some things, we will not ignore Your voice! We will communicate to our kids that no matter what else they do or don’t become, we want them to love and serve You first and foremost. We will help them hone their skills, but will teach them to give You all the glory for what those skills help them achieve. We will instill eternal-mindedness into them, and we will live lives in front of them that back up what we teach. It will show in how we invest our time, our money, our affections. We will have great fun with them and laugh and make memories; and we will teach them how to have compassion, how to give, how to love with perfect love, and how to flee from temptation. We will teach them how to cling to truth, stand firm even when the world bullies them for what they believe, and we will teach them how to forgive and be forgiven. We will love them like You want us to love them–unconditionally–and will love them too much to let them be deceived and led by the devil away from their life purpose!

Help us to hear Your voice concerning our kids, Father. Your planned future for them is better than anything we could lay hold of for them on our own. As we trust You for that future, we will be good stewards of our little arrows; and by Your grace, they will grow to be arrows hitting not just any mark, but the actual destinies for which You handcrafted each of them uniquely, fearfully and wonderfully!. We consecrate ourselves, our homes, and our children today. Bless them, protect them, do great things through them, and let them never depart from You, in Jesus’ name.

(Adapted from my Facebook status, August 11, 2017)

Release and Renew: Prayers for Those with Heartbreaking Jobs

”I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD In the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:13 NAS1977)

Be deliberate today in your pursuit of the goodness of God. I speak especially to those in careers where you daily see the ugliest side of humanity, or perhaps the most hopeless-appearing situations. Soldiers, law enforcement, social workers, oncology nurses/doctors, ministers, teachers, counselors, and others–at the end of your day you must find a way to disconnect from the despair, lest you become a casualty instead of a catalyst for healing and hope. You can find that in prayer. At the beginning of your day you have to coat yourself in the hope of the Word to shield yourself from what you’re going to encounter. You might say, “why aren’t you suggesting I pray for the people I encounter instead of myself? This feels so selfish. What about their problems?” I’m writing this today to help keep you strong enough to do the hard work you do. You can’t help others if you wind up taken out by despair. It’s time to gear up because we NEED you doing what you do. Please, stay strong! Take care of your spirit!

Our world is sad. It’s bad out there. There’s so much despair and so many wicked activities taking place. There’s so much sickness and tragedy and cruelty. So many children, elderly, weak, innocent who are preyed upon. So many people operating under demonic influence inflicting pain and suffering on themselves and others. So much ADDICTION.

I’ll be honest. I went through my Twitter feed earlier this morning and the bad news was exhausting. I wanted to go back to bed and pull the covers over my head. I honestly thought, “Death’s not such a bad thing…it’ll be a relief to leave this world and go on to heaven!” But then I remembered what Paul said about it being more expedient (needful) that he remain behind to help others instead of going on to be with the Lord. I want heaven. I want to go and be with the Lord and be away from all the madness for all eternity…eventually. But what I really want to do first is effectively hold back the worst of evil by collectively offering up effectual fervent prayer. I want to point others to Jesus and be someone who hammers signposts in the ground of life that show a lost world the direction in which to run to find hope. THE ONLY way I can remain objective is to have God’s Word tattooed on my heart and mind, and to stay close enough to Him to hear His voice. Otherwise I just disappear into the sludge of despair with everyone else who’s given up and is waiting to die.

So for all of you who are so bravely doing the jobs I could not do (or rather, don’t necessarily WANT to do), I just encourage you this morning to cover yourself. Even if you’re already well into your shift, there’s no time like the present to start. Pray with me:

“God, thank You for helping me survive all the situations I encountered yesterday. Your Word says Your mercies are new every morning. Today I receive Your new mercy. Clothe me with salvation, with humility, with strength. Just like the “whole armor of God,” I put on my tactical gear. My head’s covered with salvation. My heart’s covered with righteousness. My tactical belt is truth…I can attach every tool I need to do my job to this truth. My feet are covered with peace. My shield is faith. My defense weaponry is Your Word and Your Spirit! That said, Lord, I’m getting ready to walk into the unknown today. I will encounter messed-up lives. I will meet hurting people. My heart will break over what’s not fair. Use me to make a difference, to be Your light bearer in a dark place. Help me to respond not out of anger, but with great wisdom.

Help me to do my best while I’m on the job and then help me to LET IT GO at the end of the day. Lord, help me not to carry these problems home to my family. I need my family and they need me. Help me to appreciate and be ministered to by the innocence of the home I’ve worked so hard to build and protect.

Keep me safe today, guard me against burnout; help me to strategize with the mind of Christ about how I can use my gifts to bless others and my strengths to help those who are in the place of need. Help me not to lose my sense of compassion nor my sense of duty to minister to the disparaged. I don’t want to be callous or insensitive when someone is needing treated gently. Help me to be just and fair with all people, even those who aren’t just and fair with me. Remind me that I represent YOU and can’t afford to let my words and actions go contrary to Yours. Help me not to think as the world thinks, but as YOU think about situations. Keep me from being jaded. Keep my heart tender even as you keep it from breaking in two at the things which also grieve YOU. In Jesus’ name.”

And at night (or the end of your workday, whenever that is 😉 ):

“Father, thank You for helping me to make it to the conclusion of another day. These burdens I bore all day long, these suffering people I worked with, the situations I can’t necessarily fix with an easy button…these worries and cares all want to come home with me. The memories want to invade my ability to wind down, to hear my spouse and children’s conversations, to keep me from the place of prayer and the much needed place of recharging and sleep.

But just like a set of coveralls, I choose to unzip the activities of the day and I step out of them. What I couldn’t fix today, I will deal with tomorrow, but for now I let it go. I’m not God–You are. I trust You to put things on hold, to keep the people I can’t help 24/7, to send others alongside to help, and to keep this world spinning on its axis for another day. In Jesus’ name I reject the effects of constant exposure to negative forces. I will not cope with frustration and sorrow by engaging in substance abuse or destructive relationships. I will seek out things that keep my heart pure and guileless, I will freely laugh at every possible opportunity, and I will give mindful thanks for the simple blessings You afford me, like a beautiful sunrise or the giggles of a small child.

I boldly declare that the helmet of salvation will keep my mind and protect me from becoming a walking case of PTSD. You are strengthening me, You are renewing my mind, You are restoring my innocence, and You ARE my joy, my strength. I will run to You and not be so “tough.” You’re the One I run to when I’m out of my league. It’s ok for me to be vulnerable in Your presence because You heal me and help me. I plead the blood of Jesus now to wash me clean, to cleanse the portals of my mind from what I need to let go of. Thanks now for blessing my family time, my worship time, my downtime and strengthening me to fight another day. I love You and trust You. Amen”

Unhooking from Guilt

fish hookSo, my brothers and sisters, you owe the flesh nothing! You do not need to live according to its ways, so abandon its oppressive regime.” (Romans 8:12, VOICE translation)

One of the quickest ways someone can distance me from him or her is to try to lay a guilt trip on me.  Call it a quirk in my personality, but I don’t cotton well to being nagged at or  manipulated through false guilt.  (Just so everyone knows…when I’m distant or slow to return calls and emails, there really is a good reason.)  And yet, when I look over my life, so many of the bad decisions I have made have been in times when I’ve allowed guilt to sink its hooks into me.  While I shy away from people who try to turn me into a chess pawn, I still have yet to completely break away from self-imposed guilt—that drives me to work myself into oblivion for fear that I haven’t given enough.  As you’re reading this, chances are, you are shaking your head in agreement because you too wrestle with a life out of balance.

So you may say, “A little guilt never hurt anyone.”  There’s a huge difference between conviction and condemnation, friends.  The Holy Spirit convicts.  Conviction is an admonishment that is always intent on bringing us up higher in our relationship with God.  Conviction challenges us to do the right thing regarding our relationships with God and man.  Conviction will steer us away from making costly, wrong decisions.  Once we make the right choices, the conviction then lifts…and we go on about our way, liberated and our peace still intact.

Condemnation, on the other hand, has no intent on making us better.  Condemnation is Satan’s (and sometimes, people’s) tool to keep you in a holding pattern of feeling nothing you do will ever be good enough.  Condemnation doesn’t want your debt paid.  It won’t let you free from its manipulation, because the one wielding condemnation against you retains an advantage over you.  You’re under that person’s thumbnail.  You will exhaust your last resource just to placate the nagging, and still it won’t go away.  Condemnation affords no peace.  That’s a prison without walls.

Guilt steals your health.  I’ve been there.  I’ve hung onto toxic relationships sometimes for years, and to my detriment.  I’ve given up so much personal enrichment time that it’s incalculable.  Whose fault is it?  Most certainly mine.   Exercise and right amounts of sleep and solitude and prayer and Word time have sometimes gone right out the window, because I reasoned that I just HAD to work more…doing things other people were putting on my ever-growing to do list.  (Don’t expect that other people will recognize and respect your need for some personal space.  They’ll keep taking as long as there’s a drop of you to give!)  My list has grown to unmanageable proportions because I wouldn’t say no.  Guilt saw to that.  Without safe boundaries, all the joy has at times leaked right out of me.  And you know what?  God isn’t in one bit of it.  He isn’t glorified at all when my health and mental health are at times a wreck; or that I have grown overweight and dangerously out of condition, or that I resent being me.  Know what God does and doesn’t give you the green light to add to your schedule.  Ask Him.  Even if it’s a good thing in and of itself, it might not be in His plan for you in particular…and He isn’t obligated to finish what He didn’t author!  Don’t let guilt-laden activities weaken your immune system and cause you to become sick!

Seasons are temporary.  Don’t let guilt make them permanent.  There are seasons in our lives when we do find ourselves pulled-on out of necessity.  You may be caring for a sick spouse or aging parent right now, or several small children.  And when you hear someone say, “You’ve got to take some time away.  You have to take better care of yourself.  You can’t keep going forever with no down time,” it would sound so good and right if not for that nagging voice of guilt.  Even God’s voice can be heard, however muffled by the screams of the urgent present,  pleading with you to slow down.  You have a choice at this point:  you can listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit that says, “Pace yourself.  Work on boundaries and balance.  Keep God first and make enough time for yourself before you pour out to other people.  Remember, this season will pass; and you need your health now as well as after these demands are no longer upon you.  Take care of your spirit, soul and body for the long haul!”  And deep in your spirit, you know it’s a right word.  Whether you listen, or you cave into the fear that others will judge you unfairly, it’s a call you’re going to have to make.

I’ll never forget a lesson I learned when flying a few years ago.  As the attendant went through safety protocol with us, she explained that, if the oxygen masks dropped out of the ceiling, parents of small children must apply their own masks first.  Wow. And the reason being, if the parent were to pass out, he or she wouldn’t be able to save the child.  How many times over your life has guilt caused you to do some things in the exact opposite order?  We become so busy doing the work of the Lord that we neglect to walk in the cool of the day with Him–and when I say “we” I’m even including you pastors who find yourself in this same position!  May I remind you, if you let yourself go physically and spiritually to pot, you will be of no benefit to anyone else.

Go ahead and take that day off.  If someone offers to float you out, take him or her up on the offer.  Go for a walk and then watch a clean, funny  movie (maybe with popcorn or an ice cream!).  You’ll feel a whole lot better.  Remember, if you turn down help, not even then will guilt leave you alone.  It’ll always try to be there telling you that you should be doing more.  Since guilt won’t be satisfied, you may as well go ahead and find some joy and peace in your life!  Let guilt go aggravate someone else for a change.  Most importantly, ask GOD to order your steps.  When you are starting to dip into your reserves, He can replenish you.  Be prepared for Him to say no sometimes.  Our pastor, Mitchell Bias, shares sometimes how his late mother-in-law, Edith, has called him on a couple of occasions and said, “The Lord says you are to do nothing but REST today.  Don’t even leave the house!”  Give yourself permission to back away and rest.  Ask God to put people in your life who will affirm what He’s ordained for you–a life in harmony and balance.  God won’t wreck your health to advance His cause.  He has too many resources and people out there to rely solely on you.  We need to be reminded of these things once in a while!

Guilt perpetuates your bad habits onto your posterity. It will make you a bad parent. It won’t let you discipline your kids or allow them to grow up and become independent.  It will keep you from letting them encounter some hardships that develop character, because you’re always being the buffer between them and their problems.  Guilt will have you paying off all their debts (and there will always be more where that came from because they know you have deep pockets and…yes…guilt).  Moreover, it will have you raising your grandkids instead of requiring their parents to shoulder the responsibility.  Guilt will even superimpose itself on your kids…because once you are infected with guilt, you’ll use it to manipulate and control them all their adult lives.  You’ll pout and get mad when they aren’t coming around often enough to suit you.  You’ll use guilt as a wedge between your kids and their spouses, between your kids and their kids.  IF YOU ARE AN “I SHOULD HAVE DONE MORE” ADDICT, YOU WILL IN TURN MAKE UNREASONABLE DEMANDS ON THOSE YOU LOVE!

When we consider setting up boundaries of moderation, the enemy is not going to like it.  Guilt says, “You selfish thing…you call yourself a Christian and Christians are not supposed have a life.”  What a bunch of baloney!  Jesus came to give you ABUNDANT life, not an empty-shell existence.  Somewhere among the day-to-day demands of your life, He can help you find that happy medium which gets you to the other side of the season you’re in.

Difficult seasons are temporary.  They’re MEANT to be temporary.  And when you’re on the other side of them, if you truly know who you are in Christ, your self-worth isn’t going to require you being a human vending machine for the rest of your life.  After the time passes when you were under great demand, re-calibrate and learn to enjoy NOT being on call 24/7.  You really can enjoy being fruitful without being overburdened, endlessly under life-leaching pressure, and always at everyone else’s beck and call.  Don’t allow guilt to turn you into a codependent…or you’ll imprison yourself in a mode that allows others to exploit your inability to say no!

Guilt…its own reward?   You can let guilt or even the need for people to recognize “poor old noble you” drive you to play the martyr.  I’m being harsh here, but let’s face it: having people recognize you as indispensable is a cheap swap for walking in God’s best will for your life.  When guilt has its way with us long enough, we start craving affirmation from man rather than God.  Whether it’s pity or admiration we wind up desiring, it becomes the drug of choice to ease the guilt throbbing between our temples.  So we wind up trying to do even more so that people when notice our sacrificial nature and praise us for it.  Although Jesus was using a parable concerning giving alms, I want you to take this to heart:  He spoke of people who give to the poor, in ways that they could show it off to other people and be recognized by man.  He said that they already have their reward.  Did you know that if you neglect what God’s will is for your life just for the recognition of being the person no one else can do without, you already have your reward?  When I’m in up at night over interest-bearing debts, because guilt motivated me at Christmas to max out my credit cards beyond my means; or I’ve gone 3 years without a vacation because I was “too busy” to take time off; or the doctor says I’ve developed some degenerative disease because being a workaholic was more attractive than following God’s plan for discipline and balance…I don’t like the idea that the mess I’m in is actually my reward.  It’s pretty hollow.  When you’re in over your head, who really cares whether someone else admired you at one time for your lack of moderation?  Walk after the Spirit, and you won’t fulfill these pesky lusts of the flesh that are the devil’s dirty bombs designed to steal, kill and destroy!  Sometimes God is going to move you away from the spotlight, away from sowing into bad ground, or wasting your time and energy on what won’t bear real fruit…and believe me, it’s a good thing that He does this.  Listen and be obedient when He pulls you out of involvement in matters He doesn’t want you meddling in!  Only HE is omnipotent and omnipresent!

No one’s taking this away from me.  In recent days and weeks, I’ve been trying to take all these things to heart.  I’ve been experiencing burnout big-time, and God is calling me to start lightening the load.  The first things that get sacrificed when someone wants something of me are the very things that give me life.  I’ll skip exercise…and I’ve done it for years.  I’ll shorten my prayer time or try to do it on the fly.  I’ll neglect my housework and not even see the mess I’m stepping over to get to that next thing on my to do list.  I’ll deny myself recreation and travel and the solitude which is so important to the writer God has called me to be.  I will go days at a time without looking into a mirror, and when I do, I see someone I don’t recognize.  Older, not vibrant and enjoying her life.

When I woke up this morning, even though I’d been busy till 3 AM and had cleared out my inbox before nodding off, it was already filling up again.  Part of me wanted to say, “You know, people will think I’m a slacker if I don’t fly right into these things for them.”  Guilt.  But you know what?  I got dressed and I got on the elliptical machine..something I wasn’t doing for myself even as recent as a week ago.  And for 30 minutes my chubby self said out loud as I sweated and panted, “No one’s taking this away from me. This is mine.”  Yeah, I’d rather have been doing something a little more enjoyable, but I’m going to MAKE myself become disciplined to set some boundaries.  And if I have to psyche myself into thinking that exercise machine is something I can’t bear to do without, I’m going to learn how to fight for my fitness time.  I’m making it my goal not to give up any more real estate in my life in areas of spiritual and physical maintenance.  God has something important for me to do, and I can no longer afford to neglect the one vehicle I’ve been given to transport me through this short vapor life.  Neither can you…I don’t care how important you are.

Jesus did not cower to guilt, and neither should we.  Remember, Jesus was moved by love, by compassion, by empathy, by the faith of others, and even a time or two, by righteous (sinless) anger…but He was never moved by guilt.  I can’t find one instance where He got out of the will of God because of someone or something pressuring Him or guilt-tripping Him into doing the wrong thing.  He got talked about sometimes, and was misunderstood by many, but He never let that manipulate Him out of His identity.  Even when Satan tempted Him to prove that He was the Son of God, He was not moved; He stood His ground.  He would not be bullied into proving Himself.  And a number of times we read where He regularly separated Himself from people to just get alone with God.  There were folks who would just had to wait on Him, but He wasn’t going to cut His time short doing what was needed in order for Him to really do what was needed!  I want a Jesus kind of restraint.  I want to be steadfast and immovable.  I want to be disciplined and balanced and have self-control that shuts out the drive to under-prepare and over-achieve. I don’t want guilt to have a ring in my nose, leading me to live in ways that compromise my health and my peace.  I only have to please God; and if I am feeling a spirit of guilt instead of peace, then I’m hearing the wrong voice.  Jesus says His sheep hear HIS voice and another they will not follow!  May we all recognize whose voice we are hearing at any given time, and discern whether that voice is to be followed, ignored, or even silenced!

“Father, help us to voluntarily remove ourselves from the court of public opinion!  May we keep our eyes and ears focused on You rather than the endless expectations of others.  Help us to shut out the voice of the Accuser which says we can never do enough, never be enough.  Conviction is Your righteous voice that will never place unreasonable demands upon us.  Conviction releases peace and never an insatiable unrest in our lives because obedience brings a finality and a reward.  Condemnation, however, keeps us walking by works instead of faith, and that’s never where You intended us to go.  We rebuke the spirit of guilt from our lives, and will stop living in the dimension of always owing and never being able to pay in full.  We submit ourselves to You and we resist the Accuser!  He must flee from us, and take all his unreasonable demands with him!  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Prayer Confession Over Anxiety

Prayer over anxietyI am sitting down in Your presence, Papa God, spending the night with my Most High God. I am pressing in close to You–close as I can possibly get. I’m Your little shadow–right under Your wing! I say to You, “Abba, You’re my refuge. I trust in You and I’m safe!”

That’s right…and even now, I thank You for rescuing me from hidden traps, shielding me from deadly hazards. Your huge outstretched arms are protecting me— under them I AM perfectly safe; Your arms fend off all harm. YOU LOVE ME AND I’M CERTAIN OF IT!

I will fear nothing—not wild wolves in the night, not flying arrows (or bad news, or big bills, or negative doctors’ reports, or money worries, or even family drama) in the daytime. None of these things will cause me to lose my peace and not one ounce of sleep!

I’m not affected by fear of disease that prowls through the darkness, nor of disaster that erupts at high noon. When the enemy does his worst, YOU WILL DO YOUR BEST!  When he tries to flood me with despair, YOU are my floodwall of protection and YOU ARE SHUTTING THE FLOODGATE ON DESPAIR!  I am safe until the torrent subsides.

Even though others succumb all around, drop like flies right and left, no harm will even graze me. I am standing untouched, watching it all from a distance, I watch the wicked turn into corpses, watching it on tv news, yet not being a part of it. I DON’T FEAR THAT THOSE SAME THINGS WILL HAPPEN TO ME!

Yes, Papa, because You are my refuge, the High God my very own home, evil can’t get close to me, harm can’t get through the door. You’ve ordered Your angels to guard me wherever I go…and that’s just what they’re doing! Even if I would stumble, they’ll catch me; their job is to keep me from falling. Thank you, Papa God, for having my back (and all the rest of me) covered!

There may be feisty young lions and cunning serpents lying in wait on my pathway, but You’re keeping me safe. I walk safely along just as though they’re not even there…and if they try to attack, You’re empowering me to just kick them out of my path. I will treat them as the nuisance that they are and nothing more. They will not break my spirit and they will not break my stride.

Abba, You’ve said, “If you’ll hold on to Me for dear life, I’ll get you out of any trouble. I’ll give you the best of care if you’ll only get to know and trust me. Call Me and I’ll answer, be at your side in bad times; I’ll rescue you, then throw you a party. I’ll give you a long life, give you a long drink of salvation!”

Well, that’s just what I’m doing! Thank You for getting me out of trouble, for giving me the best of care as I strive to know and trust You more. Thank You for always answering when I call, for staying right with me through thick and thin. Thank You for rescuing me and then making me feel celebrated and special…because I’m Your child and I know You love me! Thank You for quality of life, a satisfied life, and a perfect salvation which will last me all of eternity.

I am taking a deep breath now and breathing in LIFE. I receive Your Holy Spirit with every breath! I am exhaling and pushing out every negative thought. I expel any thoughts that would crowd my mind from the knowledge that YOU are in control. I clear my soul of any problem that tries to look as tall and strong as my Lord Jesus! Any idea that violates my peace, any thought that would cause me to doubt that YOU are Sovereign, I arrest, handcuff, bind, toss into jail and throw away the key!
In Jesus’ name, anxiety has no more control over my life!

(Adapted into a prayer from Psalm 91:1-16 Message and KJV translations; and also from Isaiah 59:19, John 20:22 and 2 Corinthians 10:5)

Secondhand Smoke

smokeCan fire be carried in the bosom without burning one’s clothes?  (Proverbs 6:27 NRSV)

I think I just now realized that the expression “hot under the collar” came from this verse of Proverbs!  Oh the challenges we face in the Twenty-First Century Church, with our 24/7 news and social media.  We have become absolutely saturated with information until it’s coming out our ears.  The Word said it would be this way in the end times…Daniel’s age-old prophecy declared that knowledge would increase.  Interesting, isn’t it, that only knowledge seems to have increased.  Our world is just as unwise as it ever was; in fact, we’ve gotten pretty stupid to have become so smart.

As believers, we must guard our souls from toxic overload, truly.  At the time Ecclesiastes was penned, the only sources of information were books (well, scrolls and tablets to be more precise) and direct word of mouth.  Yet this totally relevant-to-our-day word was given to us all those centuries ago: The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one shepherd. Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them.  Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.  (Ecclesiastes 12:11-12 NIV)  Imagine the author’s awe had he a glimpse into the age of technology!  Now, it can be fittingly added, “of being bombarded with information true and false, there is no end…and overexposure is exhausting and unhealthy!”

A couple of decades back, I remember Nettie Neace teaching in Sunday School how that the Lord had delivered her from an addiction to watching the news.  Just a young adult at the time, I couldn’t really grasp the idea of keeping news channels on all day long; but that was before the Internet!  Now all we have to do is click open our social media just to say hello to friends and family, and it’s on!  Why, we can rabbit-trail all day long, following links to a million different opinions about our world’s debauched condition.  We can shake our heads in disapproval, rant a while, and then click “share!”  It goes on and on and on, and to what end?  At the end of the day, we probably haven’t actually prayed about the people and conditions who’ve shocked us so…but we sure have been drawn in by the stories and pictures!

God spoke the words “secondhand smoke” into my spirit this morning as I pondered these things.  Just as you can become sick from breathing someone else’s cigarette smoke, you can also become physically and spiritually sick from taking in the sinful, appalling stories about others’ lifestyles.   Are you absorbing the toxins just because you won’t distance yourself from what’s polluting your soul?  Many times we don’t even realize we’re doing it…if you’ve lived with a smoker or worked in a place where you have to breathe it all day, you can begin to tune it out to where you don’t even notice it anymore.  Your lungs do, however.  When we make it a daily routine to tune in to the next episode of “As the World Churns,” we are drawing fire into our bosom; we are filling our lungs with the fumes of sin.  Proverbs warns that it will burn us!  In our own covert ways, the world’s reveling can even become a form of entertainment as we take it all in.  It may not have immediate effects, but when you allow yourself to become glued to screen, letting commentary anger you and raise your blood pressure, it is going to do cumulative damage.  I made a comparison yesterday on my Facebook status that all of this is like poking your finger in your eye, yelling “ouch!” and then poking your finger right back in your eye again!  We can make ourselves victims of these whether our views lean to the left or lean to the right–there are plenty of ploys to anger us by “the other side” or to, as my grandma would say, “get our goat!”  And there are people who sure know how to push our buttons.  We can walk right into the smoke and hang out there, or we can recognize what it’s doing to us and walk away.

Does this mean we are to be like ostriches with our heads in the sand?  No, not at all.  We need to advocate and practice balance.  Jesus told His disciples to watch and pray, lest they enter into temptation.  We should limit our time around tv, newspapers, and social media to reasonable amounts.  What you read, stop and pray about it before just going on to another and another.  The true litmus test of whether it’s worthy of your attention is this:  1.  Does it move you to pray and intercede, or does it instead cause you to rant and rave?  2. Does it have the ability to enrich your life in any way, or is it just more “fluff?”  3.  Does it rob you of peace, or does it instead give you peace?  4.  Do you read it because you are seeking answers, or do you read it because you are addicted to the rush of another shock?   5.  Does knowing about it in any way stand to benefit you?  6.  Would Jesus post it to His status if He had a social media account?  Would He share, forward, bookmark, comment on, or consider it to be worth sacrificing time spent doing good?  7.  Can you actually do anything about what you’re watching, or are you just another spectator with an opinion?

I need work, too.  I’m not that into television, but I can easily get drawn into news stories online.  I have a big heart, I can come pretty unglued by all the sinful, unjust, hateful things going on.  Most of them don’t put me in a prayerful state, I must confess.  They depress me, discourage me, disillusion me.  If that’s all I fill my soul with all day long, how can I do anything more than wallow in misery?  I have to apply the Word to what I see, and pray for the people who are so full of hurt and deception; but I also have to know when I’ve ventured beyond praying and now I’m just loitering.  The Apostle Paul gave us a great guideline to follow about what we breathe in, and there’s nothing smoggy, smoky, fumey, stinky, or dirty in a bit of it:  Brothers and sisters, think about the things that are good and worthy of praise. Think about the things that are true and honorable and right and pure and beautiful and respected.”  (Philippians 4:8 NCV)  If ever there were a time we need to apply some First Century godly wisdom, it’s now.

The Cheerfulness of Obedient, Smart Giving

basketWe have an abundance of “smart” electronics these days, don’t we?  Smart phones.  Smart cars.  They weren’t designed to keep us from having to actually be smart, though!  I’m talking today about giving, and how we can give intelligently by giving OBEDIENTLY.

There’s really a difference, you know.  The difference is the fruit that is borne from the seed we sow. Generosity is a noble and wonderful trait (the Bible says for us to be givers!) when it works in tandem with obedience to God.  We should indeed be cheerful and liberal givers; but it’s doubly important that we listen for God’s instructions, because foolish generosity is, well, FOOLISH. The whole of that text says this (I love the Voice Translation of 2 Cor. 9:7): Giving grows out of the heart—otherwise, you’ve reluctantly grumbled “yes” because you felt you had to or because you couldn’t say “no,” but this isn’t the way God wants it. For we know that “God loves a cheerful giver.” When our giving is God-directed, it is smart giving; obedient giving which isn’t given for ulterior motives, or given out of guilt or compulsion or a need to just feel good!

A generous parent, for instance, can harm his or her child through excessive giving not tempered by wisdom.  Would you give your child candy for breakfast just because he or she wants it?  Of course not!  But would you breed a materialistic appetite in your child by enabling him or her to get every single thing the child wants, just for the asking?  Do you operate in fear of not being your child’s friend, when in reality, your child needs you to set boundaries, to say no once in a while?  Following God’s direction will keep perfect balance instead of making the child entitled, spoiled, selfish, wasteful.  You can actually TEACH your child by anointed example as you give wisely.  This applies in every area of our lives, not just parenting!  Sometimes we have to say no to ourselves!  I know I sure do!  Read on.

Remember the song, “What a Friend We Have In Jesus?”  Oh what peace we often forfeit, oh what needless pain we bear all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer…

That familiar verse perfectly sums up our lives when we don’t listen for His voice!  Yes, it’s true.  We’ve gotten used to just asking for things…perhaps we need to return to asking for Him to reveal His will in decisions we are facing.  It even applies to our giving of our time, talent, and treasure. I know all too well what it’s like to give just because it feels good.  The importance however goes beyond my flesh feeling good, and therefore, my motivation must have a higher purpose than gratifying my flesh!

How can one be a selfish giver, you might ask…sounds like an oxymoron!  It’s taken and is still taking time and experience, and also a deeper knowledge of my Lord through intimate relationship, to know that responsibility accompanies our ability to say yes.  My ability to say NO has in times past gotten me into trouble.  Hey Lisa, can you join this club?  Can you go here and do that and can you be available at all hours for anything anyone asks?  Oh yeah…I’ve been so bogged down with to-do’s which I agreed to in order to be a people pleaser.  Then, exhausted, I would find myself bitter at having no downtime, or nothing at all left.  Often, I’ve had not one piece of fruit to show for it, because I didn’t have the courage to say, “I’ll get back to you…I really need to talk to God before I commit to this!”

Well, go back to the passage in the Bible where Saul took the spoils of war after God had specifically told him not to…and then he tried to appease God by sacrificing some of the livestock on altars to justify his disobedience of a direct order!  Talk about insulting God’s omniscience!  The Scriptures tell us that obedience is better than sacrifice.  Saul’s disobedience would eventually cost him his kingdom…even his descendants would suffer consequences because of his foolishness.  We ourselves can undo all the good of our generosity whenever we sidestep what God has already instructed.  Why would we not take the counsel of the One Who actually KNOWS the outcome?  When we have His voice, we already have the inside track to what is going to be a blessing, be blessed, and bear fruit!

Bear in mind, He will sometimes direct us to give when it DOESN’T have that euphoric, how-wonderful-it-feels effect!  Can we respond when there’s a need in our own life?  Can we be as the widow who cooks her last meal for the prophet before there’s evidence we will have enough for ourselves? Don’t stop being generous, for heaven’s sake…but lay your heart and your feelings on the altar and allow Him to direct you to good ground.  Even good ground can’t produce its best yield if you cram the seeds too closely together!  Give your acts of kindness the best chance for a harvest by being sensitive to the Holy Spirit.  Instead of it just being said that you’d give someone the shirt off your back, let it be said that you heard from God and responded with the right thing at the right time!

“In all your ways know, recognize, and acknowledge Him, and He will direct and make straight and plain your paths.”  Proverbs 3:6 (AMP)