Blessed Paradox: Hope and Encouragement for the Introvert with Extrovert Gifts

person sitting on bench under tree
Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Pexels.com

People who only “sort of” know me are actually quite surprised to find out that I am an introvert. They see me minister weekly on the platform with multiple instruments and singing, or see my blog and the book, or me breezing through the hallway shaking hands and hugging necks.  They think I am bold as a lion and to a certain extent, they are right.  I suppose it does take a lot of courage to grab a mic and play a song in front of a large group of people.  But still, there’s the safe, invisible “space” between me and those who might be sitting there listening. It’s the same with writing…a way to project thoughts and bring inspiration and glory to God from a comfortable distance.  I guess some gifts even develop or evolve from a necessity to make the best of the personalities we’re born with.  At any rate, here I am, a bit of a recluse, with gifts that make me look like the exact opposite.  A true paradox.

The reason I’m sharing this so transparently is that some of you have this same personality quirk; and you feel it renders you useless in the kingdom of God.  I wasn’t always sure myself that I’d be able to work through this nagging need for personal space; and some days I still have to hack through the cloud of self-doubt.  But I know that the Lord was not on autopilot the day He created me to be who I am!  And He wasn’t half-engaged the day He made you, either.

We aren’t social misfits, we introverts.  I heard it described perfectly not long ago:  introverts get energy from time spent alone, and they find being in the presence of others enjoyable but absolutely exhausting—physically and emotionally.

I married a man who understands this part of me, and he loves me anyway.  We have built a life together where we respect one another’s need for quiet and space, and times for social engagement, too.  He’s better with people one-on-one than I am, and that’s the place in ministry where he fits so perfectly; but at the same time, he actually gets me.  And though sometimes even he overrides my need for alone time, he actually works at protecting my boundaries, love his heart.

So where do you fit on the broad spectrum of the body of Christ? Don’t let anyone, especially the devil, convince you that you cannot be a fruitful yet quiet person who craves solitude. There are places where you can serve which require minimal interaction while still meeting vital needs in the church or community.

Volunteer to do the downtime, behind-the-scenes work.  You may not enjoy being the person performing in the Christmas drama on stage, but you can help build the set or run the spotlight. You can come in and tidy up the nursery after church if you want to help the kids’ ministry but aren’t great with kids. Bake the cookies for the funeral reception. Stock the food pantry shelf after hours.  Fold the bulletins or manage the website.   Agree to lead the devotions for the small group held in someone else’s house, if having people in your own home is too disconcerting. Send the care cards to shut-ins and write them personal notes of encouragement.  Be a youth leader’s assistant who handles the side stuff…it may give you just enough people time to feel bonded without getting pulled into relationships you’re not feeling comfortable enough to sustain.  Interestingly, introverts often become powerful intercessors because of their ease with praying for extended periods in solitude.

And yes, you can absolutely teach and preach with an introverted personality.  I’m constantly surprised to find that some of the best pastors and ministry leaders are a lot like me–hidden away enjoying time away from the crowd–when they’re not doing ministry!

I won’t tell you that as an introvert in ministry, you’ll never be misunderstood.  This is that “suck it up, Buttercup” moment.  Yeah, by people who don’t know how your unique personality nuances affect your responses to being thrust into scenarios that are awkward or downright terrifying, you may get judged unfairly.  You may be perceived to be stuck-up, snobbish, strange, stand-offish, eccentric, too private, too serious, or just…an odd fit.  You may, as I have multiple times, hear people say that if you don’t love being around people, you’re probably not really called into ministry; or that your love walk is jacked up on cinder blocks. That’s not quite true. There’s a huge difference between loving people and actually wanting them in your personal space! Wink!

But newsflash… Jesus got misunderstood and He ministered anyway.  He migrated toward the fringe people and in so doing, was called a drunkard, winebibber, and friend of sinners.  While being judged inaccurately or unfairly isn’t utterly avoidable, remember the law of sowing and reaping.  Be careful of how you judge other people. There are a lot of odd sorts in the body of Christ and elsewhere who merely have personalities different from yours.   Before you write others off, consider how you yourself struggle with where you fit. Sometimes someone who’s the exact opposite of you has the same difficulty finding his or her place in the kingdom, too.  Judge not; it may help you to be less-often on the hot seat of judgment yourself.  Moreover, it’ll make you less likely to try to pressure someone else into serving where and how you serve.

It’s ok to be an introvert…but the spiritual issues that you allow God to prune off you in prayer and the Word (like insecurity, fear, judgmental nature, selfishness, unbelief, lack of love, and suspicion) will be what make you an introvert who is fruitful.  Learn what spiritual traps are more common for those who have that tendency to be loners…and do the work to strengthen yourself from what could destroy the unique and beautiful you whom God created!

A plus to being an introvert in ministry is the comfort level of the briar patch of aloneness. Ministry and leadership can be lonely to someone who’s always got to have a cheering section, always needing a Facebook “like.”  So the place which is difficult for the extrovert is actually where you thrive. There’s a need for all kinds of personality types!

To share with you my strengths and weaknesses as an introvert is a little awkward; but I think it’s necessary because people like me (maybe you’re one of them) feel the need to be understood. For me, I can only handle being around people for a limited amount of time before I retreat to my home.   It’s fun to fellowship, and I love people. I love to laugh and make others laugh with my quick wit and silliness, and I like to engage in deep conversation and to listen genuinely when others are talking. I especially love to be an encourager who speaks positive things into someone’s life.

But all of this interaction, even the fun kind, can exhaust me quickly.  People I would expect to bond with, I don’t always…and I haven’t learned how to make myself enjoy those connections; and yet I’m sometimes surprised at who turns out to be an easy fit. So knowing how I am, I tend to try to compartmentalize my social time and my alone time; and I keep as much as is practical of that time to myself.

I am also not a person well-suited to be the “face” of the ministry—haha!  Working as a church administrative staff person, I learned quickly that I’m terrible at being the receptionist. I don’t have the sparkle, the gregariousness, the gift of gab, the sheer patience; and people who talk a lot, are negative, manipulative, or overbearing make me very nervous.  I try to hide that, but unfortunately, don’t pull it off very well.  I can be social or I can be productive, but I’m a train wreck if I have to combine the two.  Nope, put me in a room off to myself with a stack of work, and I’ll work till the crickets stop chirping.  Yet I’m effective in my element.

At home, I’m pretty low-key.  I generally don’t host overnight houseguests; and I prefer a little notice when someone decides to drop by, just because I don’t fancy myself a great housekeeper.  I’m not so great with kids and babies because I never had any, even though I love them.  I also find myself backing away when someone tries to bring unwanted drama into my sphere, or who “hems me up” in a corner.

I have a gift of hospitality that clashes with the introvert in me. For that reason, I usually prefer to be a contributor to someone else’s get-together, where I cook and send/bring the food (Dana and I share a love of cooking for other people, so this way I can do it without feeling the pressure of being the hostess).  We love to make food sometimes and just drop it off to people.  That blesses them, and it blesses us without stressing me out over the pressure to entertain!

The biggest shock of all to me was when the Lord spoke to me three years ago and impressed upon me to get credentialed in ministry.  As you know, I’m a writer, and I’m very content to make books and the internet my pulpit.  I don’t relish the thought of standing behind a podium and doing public speaking. Nevertheless, I said yes to God and completed a two-year process that earned me an Exhorter’s and then an Ordained Minister’s license in the Church of God denomination.  All the while, as I went though the process, I wondered why the Lord would pick a virtual hermit to be one of His messengers.  I had to arrive at peace with the fact that, while He will stretch this wineskin a little out of her comfort zone, He won’t rupture me and waste His investment!  I did a lot of soul searching, and it was healing to discover that I’m not less holy than an extrovert who by nature loves being in the company of others constantly.

Introvertedness is not a measure of one’s heart or holiness.  I like to think of us as the edge pieces of the puzzle.  We are connected to the body, too, but we have a specific place to fit in the overall synergy of the picture that perhaps makes us connected on fewer sides.  But, even corner pieces are necessary!

I’ve seen so many bold preachers and teachers and lay people who are incredible with people; and thought that there must be something wrong with me for not handling the close proximity thing with their kind of ease. At times I have felt as if perhaps I weren’t as good a person as those who are comfortable with people in their face constantly. I know people who make great foster parents, or who host a lot of company and love having people in their houses—even strangers.  Their driveways are always abuzz with cars coming and going.  Some of them even raise their grandkids and love it.

They’re also the sort who love to take a dozen people with them on vacation and always have a posse running around with them, hanging on their every word. Conversely, people who are extroverts don’t do alone very well; and they thrive on that constant interaction.  They have a wonderful work to do, God bless them every one.  I admire them, I cheer them on, but I am not them.  Other people’s drama can quickly spiral me into exhaustion and then depression.  But there is still a place for me in the body of Christ, and there’s a place for you if these scenarios aren’t your cup of tea, either.

Yes, it took a while for me to realize that not everyone in ministry is or has to be an extrovert!  Some of the people I thought were the most grand social butterflies are in fact, very much like me–the square peg introvert. They have just learned the fine art of emotional management, time management, and adhering to a schedule where there’s promised alone time.  I’m better than I used to be, but I’m still after all these years trying to find that happy medium.

I remind myself often that Jesus craved alone time and that He would routinely spend time away from His disciples to pray and recharge.  Sometimes His compassion would override His need for separation (as in the time He pitied the multitude following Him and ministered to them even while tired…seeing them as sheep with no shepherd).  But the Word does not tell us that He did that every single time.  No doubt He was always in demand; but He still got alone with the Father; and the Word even tells us His custom was to do it early in the mornings.  Perhaps that was the only time He could guarantee that other people weren’t stirring around looking for Him.

I do know that the more time I’m in the company of others, the less time I have for collecting my thoughts and pouring them onto paper.  I need that aloneness in order to release the essence of my gift. So the introvert nature is a bit of a blessing for the writer/artist part of me.

I just don’t get lonely very often. I was never the girl who could never go to the restroom without asking one of the other girls to come along.   I love to go on long drives by myself, and some of my happiest prayer times have been on long, lone commutes. Much as I love my husband and other members of my family, I still need that space.  It energizes me.  It heals me.  It’s the “beside still waters” place where my Shepherd restores my soul and my sanity.

I’ve rambled a bit, so thanks for your patience.  I guess this is all gushing out because I need to say it as much as someone possibly needs to hear it.  Maybe I just need to get it off my chest. If you’re a friend or family member who wishes I would give more of myself, thank you for enduring the fact that I’m only good for a short stint before I retreat back into my cave.  I’m just like a cordless phone that can’t be off the charging cradle too long!

But seriously, back to the subject of ministry and the introvert, I encourage you not to perceive yourself as unfit!  Find a place where you can serve, that stretches you just enough to keep you growing, but that doesn’t let you make life all about you, either.  There is a way to connect with other people even if you don’t want to have an entourage following you and calling you constantly!  I think Jesus May have deliberately chose 12 disciples with enormous differences in personalities and gift mixes.  It teaches us that it takes all kinds to make up His church.  Some of His disciples we know about practically in name-only.  They didn’t write canonized epistles or have particularly daring historical accounts, but their presence was significant just the same.  Jesus even chose the one who would ultimately choose whether or not to betray Him…and did. Interesting, isn’t it?

Hey, I’m in my 50’s and I’m still trying to overcome the desire to pull the covers back over my head a lot of mornings.  I could choose to let this introverted nature completely rule me.  At times, perhaps I have.  Becoming bold to be a writer and musician and to wear other hats has surely been a long process.  But I do want to be fruitful and to let Jesus conform me to His nature; so I keep trying, and I keep putting myself back up on the Potter’s wheel to work out the marred parts of my clay jar.

If you’re wrestling with your place in the kingdom and in ministry, pray with me:

Father, I identify with Paul when he wrote about wanting to be one way but found himself being another way.  He was referring to his sin nature which constantly needed put in check; but sometimes I find my personality just as frustrating as a sin nature. I need your help.  I present my body to You as a living sacrifice. Make it holy and acceptable. Take the parts of me that need perfecting, and work them over (and over again if necessary).

Paul said that he became all things to all men so that he might win some to You.  Help me to identify with others on a more Christlike level.  Help me to have the wisdom to make room for sharing Your Good News while navigating this life as someone whose personality prefers aloneness.  Show me ways to make a difference in the world in spite of my need for an arms-length relationship with most people.  Help me not to be blind to elements of my nature that warrant change; but also help me not to judge myself unfairly based on the accuser of the brethren’s voice, who tells me that I’m unworthy, not holy enough, or not fit to serve in the role of ministering to others.  

I want to be involved, truly—but I want to be involved in a way that is energizing to me and not just draining.  I need Your wisdom to pair me with what fits the person You created me to be. Give me opportunities to sow into the ministries of those who can handle the more dramatic one-on-one encounters!  There are people who are perfectly crafted to minister in some very difficult social settings which I cannot deal with effectively.  If You lead me to support those ministries, I will back them however You tell me—financially, behind-the-scenes, or just merely in prayer. Give me a servant’s heart that overrides my will, when my need for aloneness crosses the threshold from healthy to just plain selfish.  Even though I need down-time, help me to always be generous and compassionate. Give me balance.

And Lord, help me to be less judgmental of others.  I’ve often mistaken other people’s personalities for being something they weren’t.  Just as I don’t want to be misunderstood, help me not to misunderstand.  Help me to be more tolerant of those I perceive to be overbearing people, because in some cases, it’s just their extroverted personality showing through.  Help me work through my desire to retreat from and avoid the hard, necessary business of loving and tolerating people who aren’t just like me. Some of their strengths can compensate for my weaknesses, and vice versa.  We need one another.  

In whatever areas You have gifted me, I’ll serve to the best of my ability.  Yes, I can have a bold message of faith to share and still be someone who has a quiet nature.  I’ll draw strength from my time alone with You and will carry it out to a lost, hurting world who needs to know that You love them.  I’ll fight the doubt that tries to make me feel disqualified from ministry.  You made me; You can use me in any way that You choose…and not even my weaknesses can change that.  They are only crippling weaknesses if I were to refuse to let You work on me.  I surrender to You what I have.  I am the loaves and the fishes.  Bless me, break me, and feed the hungry.  

In Jesus’ name…

Crazy Faith

Now faith brings our hopes into reality and becomes the foundation needed to acquire the things we long for. It is all the evidence required to prove what is still unseen. (Hebrews 11:1 TPT)

God expects #faith that compels action. I’m not talking faith versus works…I’m talking about faith that is too strong not to respond in some way to what we believe about Him.

Jesus requires the man with the withered hand to stretch it out as best he can toward Him. God’s word for Naaman is to dip seven times in the muddiest water hole around. The disciples are ordered to sit the 5000+ down for a meal that hasn’t yet materialized–and it’s either going to make them heroes or the biggest fools on the planet.

There are many “bring them to Me” moments recorded in the Bible. Everything from five loaves and two fishes to a weighty test of whether Abraham will be willing climb a mountain to offer his son to God. When the Lord is getting ready to do something whopping stupendous big, He asks a token of that person’s faith–and that something might seem embarrassing, ostentatious, risky, perplexing, seemingly nonsensical, or impossible to rationalize. But consider: isn’t faith at times any/all of the above?

I saw where Theresa Hanshaw posted a challenge today for believers to get their passports in anticipation of trips to the mission field. It’s another bring-them-to-Me window of opportunity. It’s a way of saying, “I don’t just flirt with the idea of God doing extraordinary things for me; I prepare for it.”

People of real faith don’t just pray for rain, they set out their buckets and barrels. Hungry seekers don’t just wish for a visitation from God; they clear all the junk out of their guest room, fluff the pillows, and keep checking to see if He’s on the doorstep yet. They start coming up with names for the baby. They stick their toes into the Red Sea before it parts. They don’t calculate their odds of winning, consult the Doppler radar for probability of precipitation, or fact-check at Snopes to ascertain whether that sort of miracle has ever really happened before.

Put walking shoes on your prayers today. And don’t pray lazy, boring, 95% off markdown rack prayers that apologize for expecting too much of a tired, frail, depleted, resourceless Savior—request the impossible kind of stuff a person would ask only if he or she really believes in a great big wonderful God. Not that any of it is actually a challenge to Him, of course…but our prayers are often so lackadaisical and faithless that they don’t even get the attention of our angels (who are left undispatched, like Maytag repairmen)—much less inspire the Creator of the Universe.

Ask big…then go get your passport. 😉

Father, we live in a day when, even with all our technology and endless information and gadgetry, our imagination for dreaming big things seems diminished.  It doesn’t even occur to us to bind and loose, to call things that be not as though they were, to see wrongs and deficiencies and make them right.  Forgive us for our anemic, lazy, “template” requests that require little to no faith.  Forgive us for giving You so little chance to show us just how powerful and capable You really are!

We ask You to awaken the dreamer in each of us today.  File away the callouses from our hardened, indifferent hearts so that we may have a heightened awareness of situations around us which warrant change.  Make us those agents of change!  Your Word tells us that we have not because we ask not…and we are not asking because we are instead ignoring or just accepting.  O God, realign our priorities.  Make us hungrier than ever for Your Word; for as we read Your great exploits from Genesis to Revelation, it renews our understanding all over again just how mighty and capable You are to do the seemingly impossible.  We ask that You will reveal to us extravagant requests to make…make us aware of what never before occurred to us to ask.  You are the Creator who created us in Your image, with creativity in our DNA.  Awaken that creativity which causes us to partner with You in the miraculous.

From this day forward, make us divinely dissatisfied to coast through our lives, doing just enough to get by.  Give us BIG vision.  Share Your heart with us about what YOU see needing changed and then help us to get on board with You.  We stretch out “withered” hands to You that have withered from inaction and we say, “Wake up every sleeping part of us that could otherwise be doing Your work.”  Help us build “crazy faith” so that we will imagine, dream, and invite You to go above and beyond our wildest requests.  Nothing is too hard for You…so take us on the ride of a lifetime as You erase the “im” from impossible.  In Jesus’ name we pray, and in faith we ask for more from a Father with an unlimited supply.

(Adapted from my Facebook status 7/31/17)

Snakeproofing Your Path…or at Least Your Feet

garden.jpgThis morning I drifted back off to sleep and dreamed that I was in this pretty, rustic frame house overlooking a beautiful view…one of those gardens that has stone walkways and big leafy plants. The temperature was perfect. It had balconies and decks on every imaginable angle and level. I thought…finally somewhere to go where I can clear my mind and just relax! I remember feeling thankful that the Lord had blessed me with this time away. I took off down a set of the steps leading to the garden and just as my foot started to hit the landing, I saw the biggest copperhead I’ve ever seen stretched out facing me, with its head lifted up and what looked almost like a smirk on its face.

I took off back up those steps and started warning people not to go down into the garden, and I watched in despair as I could see animals and people already wandering around the various paths down there…imagining that there were no doubt more where he came from; and I just turned away so I wouldn’t see. They couldn’t make out what I was saying as I shouted down. I finally went back inside and slammed my door shut. And then I woke up.

As I lay there in the bed, I recalled the smug look on that big snake’s face. There have been so many times when I was so close to stepping into a new place, only to be met by this spirit of fear…and just as he intended, I would be driven by that snake right back into my comfort zone. It’s strange, as I dreamed this, I didn’t sense the garden to be necessarily a dangerous place. I didn’t blame the garden for the snake, or perceive it an evil trap. It was just a place where I could go and rest my mind and body. Why would he be waiting there, daring me, taunting me? And then the Lord immediately brought this Scripture to my remembrance: “Behold! I have given you authority and power to trample upon serpents and scorpions, and [physical and mental strength and ability] over all the power that the enemy [possesses]; and nothing shall in any way harm you.” (Luke 10:19 AMP). And I then thought of “having your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.” (Eph 6:15)

I can’t say whether the dream had a special meaning, but I can tell you this: we don’t have to shrink back from opportunities God gives us for fear of the enemy. Oh, that old serpent is liable to be peeking out along just about any path we’re walking on; but we don’t have to spend our lives running back up the steps into perceived safe places just to avoid him. If we belong to Jesus, we can put on that footgear of peace and go wherever He leads us. Who would’ve thought that peace is in our feet, not our head! I can almost envision a big tall pair of “snake proof” boots with a heavy heel for just such occasions. We are wearing God’s peace, we are protected, and we are given authority to clear the path for others by crushing what causes danger under our feet. We are given this charge not just for our own benefit…but for an entire humanity God wants to reconcile to Himself.

Knowing now that we can do this without fear, let’s get out of our enclosed “safe place” and interact with others. They need us and can’t hear us just shouting down at them. We have to get on a level where they can understand the Gospel, and be ready to defend them from the devil if needed. And, we can do it all while remaining in a state of rest and peace! No fear!

Emboldening Your Child in the Face of Christian Persecution

Romans 1 v 16God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.  God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.  You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.  You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”  Matthew 5:10-16

We all try to shield our children from being bullied and from being a bully, and as well we should.  No one likes to encounter the milk money monster who waits on the curb every school morning for that one intimidated child.  And, while the clique of mean-spirited girls who pick on that one whose clothes and hair are not as nice as theirs may get some snickers of approval from other kids, they will carry the brand of a bully and a snob for the rest of their lives in the memory of that person whose life they made a living hell.  Some things may be more called-out nowadays than they used to be; but all-in-all, not much has changed across the generations.

In this society where tolerance and acceptance are being talked about night and day, there’s a new form of soft persecution going on in the Christian faith:  the pressure to avoid having to be recognized as the “outsider.”  Believers have fundamental moral codes which come from the Word of God; and cultural relevance takes a backseat when it comes to truth.   When truth is priority in a person’s life who walks among peers with only self-serving motivations, there’s bound to at some point be a dividing line.  Children are hearing so much about tolerance and acceptance (and in some ways it’s a good thing) that they’re feeling a pressure to do whatever it takes to be tolerated and accepted–including compromise in the area of their faith.   We will probably continue to see that dogma of inclusion being strengthened toward other belief systems and choked off on the side of evangelical Christianity.  It’s an unusual time, the last days…where evil is called good, and if you embrace good, you’re considered evil, closed-minded, bigoted, prudish, and a reject.

As a parent, what you do need to teach your child early-on is that it is ok to be rejected for Christ’s sake…and the best way you can enforce that in your child’s life is for him or her to see you modeling it in yours.  If you’re becoming increasingly tight-lipped about the Gospel–if you’re hiding or relaxing your faith in order to get promoted on the job or accepted in certain social circles–that’s the example your child sees and will probably follow.  Just as we teach our children the beautiful truths of God’s Word, we must also be transparent with them about the reason why Jesus wound up being crucified.  Though it was ultimately the plan of God to purchase our salvation, it was carried out at the hands of men who hated Christ’s teachings and wanted to silence Him at all costs.  As our children get a little more mature, we shouldn’t conceal from them that there have been martyrs throughout the history of our faith who bravely gave their lives rather than deny Jesus.  Don’t be afraid that your child is too young to “get” the message of the cross.  I mean, look at the things you allow him or her to watch on tv!  Even if you’re very protective about what you already low, children manage to be exposed to sex, violence, drugs, and the stark ugliness of life far sooner they should.  They know much more than we did at their age!  So in the matter of eternity?  If they can handle the movies and video games available nowadays, I think they can more than handle the truth.

Have more than one heart-to-heart with your child about boldness in his or her Christian faith!  Reassure your child that, if persecution, bullying, or exclusion should happen, he or she has nothing to be ashamed of.  Certainly, we need to defend our children when someone’s treating them unfairly; but God does reward the tenacity of His children when they refuse to compromise for the sake of popularity.  There are life lessons your child will be confronted with soon enough; and you need to have prepared him or her to trust in God for His protection and vindication.

Whenever you as a parent are pressured to allow your child to participate in events, parties, even holidays that go against your Christian conscience, please, hit your knees before you make foolish decisions.  Your child may get teased for not being allowed to go to a seance, a sexually-explicit or contraversial movie, or a party where alcohol may be being served to minors; but I promise you, you’re not doing your child any justice by violating conscience to avoid peer pressure.  If your children see you ashamed of the Gospel, they’ll have no hesitation in being ashamed of Jesus themselves.  The subject of persecution is by no means a fun one to address, but remind your children, when they experience difficult times, of the story in Acts Chapter 5, where the apostles were arrested, publicly humiliated, commanded not to use the name of Jesus (sound familiar?), even beaten for their faith, then went away rejoicing that they’d been counted worthy to suffer for the sake of Christ.  A very unpopular message in today’s world–but it’s at the heart of the very faith we embrace!

There are going to be hard times.  There may even be times when your child messes up, or gives in to peer pressure, or does as Peter did–denies Jesus three times before the rooster crows.  Strive to have an open enough relationship with him or her to talk about these things openly…and help your child quickly recover and move forward from stumblingblocks.  If our children know they can come to us and openly confess their sins, and receive forgiveness not only from Jesus but from their parents, they’ll run to that place of sanctuary called “home.”  When your child does encounter persecution for the sake of his or her faith, as a parent, be your child’s cheerleader!  Be an encourager, a praiser, and quick to show your child you’re proud of him or her for being resolute in the faith.  Reinforce that meekness isn’t weakness.  Christians don’t storm around angrily demanding that people celebrate us, not as the world does.  Teach by example.  We can share Jesus without being obnoxious or overbearing.  We can pray for others without constantly hounding them or looking down on them.  It’s very important that we be salt and light in this lost world–something our children can see and emulate.  We must remind our kids as well as ourselves that our calling is not merely to fly under the radar and escape this world undetected; we are called to shine a light to a very lost world.

We do need to teach our children the hard lessons of life concerning a bold witness, but not just so they’ll be a little tougher.  In truth, if we can’t help them remain steadfast under the relatively benign persecutions of our American culture–the shunning, the exclusion, the teasing–how can we ever expect them to be bold enough, should a swordsman ever stand over them and demand a recantation of their faith or else suffer execution?  I pray that we never see the same horrors as our Christian brothers and sisters on the other side of the globe; but that’s something we cannot guarantee we won’t encounter in our lifetimes.  We should teach our kids that they can put their trust in God to keep them safe; but we also must gradually prepare them not to be jaded by the cruel reality of the world in which we live.  There is an enemy who, 2000 years later, still vehemently opposes and despises the cross and all who call on the name of Jesus.  May our children be taught by us to remain strong, unwavering; a next generation of the faithful who may very well be the last generation before the end of days!

Confidence—in HIM

confidence“But this beautiful treasure is contained in us—cracked pots made of earth and clay—so that the transcendent character of this power will be clearly seen as coming from God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7 VOICE) 

One of the cruelest vampires leeching the life right out of you is lack of confidence. When I think of how many years I had let the approval of people imprison me and hold me back, it just sickens me…so I try even harder NOT to think of it! Seriously, it is paralyzing when you need affirmation. The devil will use that longing as a tool against you–always putting satisfaction just beyond your reach, always keeping you self-deprecating and in a state of the fear of not being good enough. Yes, that was me. And my imagination was in overdrive…thinking people didn’t really like me, didn’t think I was good enough, thinking I was going to mess up. So I approached everything timidly. What a setup for failure and more bruising to my fragile ego! I would watch other people do things so easily (especially public speaking and singing) and think, “why can’t I be like them?” You know what this does? It makes us avoid situations where we might be asked to shine!

How funny it is, that it’s taken me hitting my mid-late forties to shake that stronghold. Sure, we tend to chill out a little more as we settle into getting older; but may I tell you that the REAL act of liberation came when I stopped keeping my eyes on others and started focusing on Jesus. When I surrendered that need for approval to Him, and learned that His was truly the only approval I needed, something changed. I began even to cast down imaginations and subdue everything to the knowledge of WHO JESUS is, and I realized that I don’t have to please anyone but Him. I also learned that when we keep our eyes on Him, He does the rest THROUGH us. I can’t rely on my own strength and ability to be there every single time…but you know what? I can always expect HIS to be!

If you are struggling with confidence issues, talk to your Papa God about it. He can heal fears, emotional/physical abuse, wounded egos, and bitter disappointment…and can free you to step out and grasp that thing He’s created you to do. Indwelling of the Holy Spirit (ask Him to fill you if you’ve not experienced this) will unleash boldness.

I love the Apostle Paul. He had an education and life experience that any man would be proud to flaunt, yet he kept it to himself. Why? Nothing to prove! He came into Christianity fully aware that he would be distrusted, rejected by many for the years prior when he’d made it his life’s work to persecute followers of Jesus. He knew some might never accept him as good enough. Did it slow him down? No! Why? Nothing to prove!

My lifelong friend Jimmy Copley, a bold carrier of the Good News, made a FB post today which really cemented this point I’m making. He likened us to pizza boxes. The box isn’t what has worth–the pizza inside is. Be filled today with the Holy Spirit. People will smell the aroma and become hungry for what’s inside. The writing on the outside of the box, the fancy construction OR LACK THEREOF…irrelevant. You ARE a fragile vessel, capable of failing, messing up, falling short…yet THE GOD has chosen to use your frail container in which to place His Spirit! He does this so that when He works through you, people will know that it’s Him and not your own ability to perform which has brought forth good things.

Today when you are about your daily routine, you will be called upon to do something greater than your ability and experience can offer. If you are relying on merely those two factors, you may set yourself up for failure. Ask God to take your container, imperfect and incomplete though you may be, and work things through you that exceed your capabilities. As He does, give Him the glory. No more fixating on the judges’ scorecards! GOD Himself endorses you! With your confidence in His ability (the One Who cannot fail) instead of your own (which may or may not succeed), you walk into your situation with the full assurance that you really CAN do all things through Christ who strengthens you. Like Paul…nothing to prove, so you can afford to be all in. Go forth empowered today, in Jesus’ name!