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)

Strengthening Ourselves Against the Spirit of Offense

man lights legs silhouette
Photo by Tookapic on Pexels.com

Make a commitment to yourself and to God for this upcoming year not to be sidelined by a spirit of #offense. Some of you may get huffy on me even just reading that first sentence…but hold on and let me elaborate a little!

In my prayer time a couple of days ago, the Lord cautioned me that the enemy was going to launch an attack on the body of Christ in the way of offenses; an attempt to erode our unity. Not so much one big collective attack where everyone is hit at the same time by the same event, but many small instances. The old “death by a thousand cuts” strategy.

We live in a perpetually-offended society nowadays, and believe me when I tell you that listening to constant bad news on TV (true or not), listening to negative music, reading negative articles and books day in and day out can wreak havoc on your spirit man! That spirit of offense can get all over you if you don’t guard your heart! We worry more about our outward appearance being impacted by a lost culture, than we do about the inward impact of those feelings of entitlement, pride, arrogance, and yes, the tendency to get angry, hurt, and offended by everything that doesn’t agree with how we want it. People are ready to sue or to break ties or to ruin others’ reputations at the drop of a hat. And sadly, it happens even in church too.

So how do we cope and make it through the obstacle course of offense? By renewing our minds daily in the Word. By being honest with ourselves before God and recognizing what pushes our buttons. By praying protection over ourselves and our loved ones and inviting the Holy Spirit to change the atmosphere wherever we are—home, school, church, the grocery store parking lot, wherever.

Our minds are going be full of SOMETHING. We have to set parameters and say no to what the Holy Spirit cautions us to avoid. And even though we feel we shouldn’t have to be careful around others, yes, as believers we have an obligation to walk blamelessly before the world. We need to think before we act and do. And we need to arrest that spirit of offense when we feel it rising in us.

At some point over the coming weeks and months, you may feel the enemy say something like:

  • “You should just leave/quit/resign/divorce/part ways. You’re not appreciated. Your (spouse, job, family, group, ministry, church, etc.) ought to have to suffer a little bit and then they’d see how much you are worth.”
  • “They did that on purpose! Are you going to just stand there and take it?”
  • “God didn’t answer your prayers. He must not really love you after all.”
  • “So and so just gave you the stink eye. That person doesn’t like you.”
  • “They just did you wrong because you are (too young, too old, not beautiful, they’re jealous of you, not the same color as them; or they think they’re better than you).”
  • “Your church takes too hard a stance on that point of doctrine. They act like a cult. You should find a church that agrees with what you consider truth.”
  • “Who do they think they are to judge you for your choices?”
  • “They’re not the boss of you.”
  • “You should just go ahead and (hurt/kill) yourself and get out of the way.  That’d make them sorry.”
  • “That attitude can go two ways. If they’re asking for trouble, you know you can’t back down now.”
  • “If that person were really a Christian, he/she would (look, act, vote, participate, speak) just like you. Don’t trust him or her!”

Sound familiar?

Well friends, we have a choice. We can do the work in our prayer and study time to toughen up, or we can run around constantly wounded and on the defensive. People hate having to always tiptoe around one certain person in their lives! Don’t let that person be YOU! Remember that much of the time, folks don’t even know that their words were inappropriate or caused you to be hurt. And yeah, some people are not going to be fair with us—now or ever. The Word tells us to pray for, forgive, and love them anyway. Sometimes we have to do it (without gossiping about them behind their backs, by the way) from a distance—but near or far, God’s grace can enable us to shake it off.

Pray with me: “Father, I don’t want to be overly sensitive. I don’t want to stumble on the rock of offense, this year or ever. I don’t want to abort my mission or abandon a divine assignment You’ve given me over becoming hurt, mad, or offended at someone else. Jesus, some of your followers even abandoned You when Your words offended their sensibilities.  Please help me!

There are any number of opportunities in a day for me to have my feelings hurt, if I choose to. Crucify the drama queen nature in me! I reject that tendency to want to dramatize and rehearse and nurse and tell others about how this person or that organization or that race or this group was unfair to me. It’s hard, Lord. Sometimes people’s words and actions are downright intentional! I feel sometimes like people who don’t understand my pain are against me. But by Your grace I am rising above offense, in Jesus’ name.

Today I put on the whole armor of God. I protect my mind with the helmet of salvation, my heart with the breastplate of righteousness, my whole being with the shield of faith, my vital organs and private parts with the loinbelt of truth, and my feet with the gospel of peace. I have the Word and Your Spirit in my hand as a sword of defense from the attack of the enemy. You have equipped me to protect my spirit, soul, mind, will, emotions, and entire body. I will not leave the place of prayer improperly dressed to meet my day!

Lord, Your Word tells me in Matthew 18 exactly what to do when a brother offends me—it’s actually a good template for my other relationships too. It starts with personal communication, not a Facebook rant. I will handle situations the way the Bible tells me to. I will not assume that the other person automatically knows, and I will not read his or her every action or inaction as some kind of negative response! I will be civil but honest when these kinds of communications must happen. The object is restoration and forgiveness. Father, in this moment I release and forgive every person who has knowingly or unknowingly offended me!

Lord, I remind myself today that the enemy’s goal is collateral damage. A hit at me is intended to wound and scatter and render ineffective my whole circle of influence. The offense was a weapon not of flesh and blood, but unseen wicked spiritual forces at work. I can’t afford to see this attack in the natural! I will ask what the devil is trying to accomplish if I accept his bait—for that is exactly the post I can’t afford to abandon! I refuse to leave my family, my church, or my assignment over becoming offended!

Finally, I will exercise more caution in the way my words or decisions affect others. When I know I’ve hurt someone, I will man or woman up and go make it right. I won’t just let that person simmer and stew in offense. I won’t just write it off as the other party needing to grow up. Maybe that’s the case and maybe it isn’t; but God isn’t judging me on someone else’s actions. He judges me by how I handle things from my end! I will take the high road. I will at least initiate the conversation that opens a door to reconciliation.

And finally, Father, I thank You for not leaving me comfortless! In a fallen, unfair world, Your Holy Spirit consoles and gives me peace. In the name of Jesus, I go forth today declaring that I AM NOT A VICTIM! I WILL NOT LET THE DEVIL MOVE ME FROM WHERE GOD HAS ASSIGNED ME! I am a Psalm 1 believer who refuses to be influenced by the negatives of others—a tree thriving in rich soil, which bears fruit and whose leaves aren’t withered. I am not ignorant of the devices (strategies, traps) of the devil. I won’t miscarry my destiny because of a vagabond, offended spirit. I am strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Amen and amen!” 🙌🏼🙌🏼🙌🏼

Celebrate, The Weeping Time is Over

wailing wall“…be not grieved and depressed, for the joy of the Lord is your strength and stronghold.” -Nehemiah 8:10 (AMP).

If you look at the context of the above Scripture and the time period in which it was written, the Jews had just completed a hard process of reconstruction of the wall of Jerusalem that had been torn down for at least 70 years. The whole city, including the beautiful temple constructed by Solomon, had been reduced to ruins by the Nebuchadnezzar in the Babylonian conquest of Judah in 586 BC. The Jews been exiled (or “carried away”) to Babylon, and those who’d been left as stragglers had endured unmentionable atrocities. A huge proportion of those now back within the borders of their homeland hadn’t even been born yet when it had all been destroyed, to remember the grandeur of how things used to be in Jerusalem. Now the wall was back up, and the fact that it went up in a mere 52 days was enough to shake the rumor mill and put the fear of God into their enemies. Jerusalem was back, and it would be restored. And it was known that they had God’s strong arm on their side. So as the people were gathered and the Word of God was being read by Ezra, they just began to weep uncontrollably. Ezra comforted them and told them, “Today is not a day for crying–it’s for rejoicing! Go home and prepare a feast for celebration!”

Sometimes when we have been oppressed for so long, the response we have when the cloud has been lifted is just to weep uncontrollably. It’s like all that time you were having to be strong, putting on a tough act; and once you can relax, the natural reflex is to just begin to cry. I’m like that. I’ll be a rock until a crisis is over then I just turn into a weepy mess.

But for God’s people that day, the reading of the text of the law seemed at first to grieve them–they were reminded of where it all went wrong, the choices they’d made, the God and His blessings they had taken for granted, and the people who were lost along the way.  But then, as they deliberately began prepare for a time of joy, the hope of those Scriptures begin to soak in and they understood that, even with judgment, God’s ultimate plan is for our deliverance. I think that this as the perfect example of putting on the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness…something that involves choice. See, God was never NOT for them–and He was bringing them full circle because He loved them! And He had just enabled them through supernatural means, good leadership, and favor from unexpected sources, to rebuild what seemed impossible. Yeah, He’s all about that restoration. All things new.  True repentance does indeed take us through a feeling of grief over what we didn’t get right, but it also shifts to rejoicing when we allow the Holy Spirit to reveal to us that there’s a chance to move forward.

Reach for the joy of the Lord, at wherever on the timeline of trial you find yourself today. I don’t know if your situation arose from bad choices, or whether you have just been facing one attack of the enemy after another.  Lots of different scenarios can bring us to an emotional pitch-point.  And maybe now that you don’t have to be so strong, you find yourself unable to stop crying. Let it out…and then let it go.  The joy of the Lord is earmarked for you–has your name on it. It’s in reserve for the taking. It will not only empower you, but it is a safe place whose walls hold off the enemy’s attack! Thank the Lord today that He is doing for you what He did for the exiled of His people–He is setting you free, He is sending help from the most unlikely people/sources, He is strengthening you to start all over again, and He is setting you up for safety in His presence.  Why not take a moment, right now, and call those things out specifically in a prayer of thanksgiving?  Thank Him especially for those items on the list that haven’t materialized just yet…they’re on the way.  God wants you. He doesn’t care that you have had years of bad decisions, bad circumstances, bad everything–He wants you to be His “comeback kid” with a testimony that glorifies what He’s done in your life.

Think once more about that 52 days it took to rebuild the wall. It was hard work. Their enemies were interfering. There were grumblings and disagreements among themselves. And it still went up and the gates still got hung and pulled shut and order restored! Right now you are at a potentially pivotal time. What if the answers to your biggest prayers were only 52 days away from coming to pass? Another Old Testament prophet wrote this: “The vision will still happen at the appointed time. It hurries toward its goal. It won’t be a lie. If it’s delayed, wait for it. It will certainly happen. It won’t be late.” (Habakkuk 2:3 NET) Whether your prayer is 52 years, 52 days, or perhaps even 52 minutes from being answered, it will not be too late. God will sustain you and yes, He will even help you to have joy and peace in the place of waiting.

I pray all of you just get saturated today in the joy of the Lord, and that you encapsule yourself in the protection it gives. You can still have that joy even if all hell is breaking loose around you…it’s not governed by your circumstances…it’s existent in SPITE OF them. If you don’t have it, ASK GOD for it! Keep asking until it floods your soul! Now dry your eyes, understand that God’s Word points to a good and expected end for you, and prepare that feast of celebration. Even if you’re just going to have a peanut butter sandwich for lunch, look at it as a celebration meal. The vision hurries to its goal! And you are greatly loved by the God who watches over His Word to perform it!

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”

Repentance: Don’t Hide–HEAL

Don’t let the enemy guilt you out of your #destiny. If you have sinned or otherwise failed or fallen short, repent. Yes, I know there’s seemingly nothing profound in that advice, but it’s still true. I didn’t say resign; I said #repent.

#Repentance isn’t just being sorry for something you’ve done (or in some cases, haven’t done), it’s evaluating where you went wrong and making the necessary corrections to keep it from happening again: a change of heart and action. Maybe you’ve done something or allowed something and it’s wrinkled the fender of your reputation and distanced you from God. Maybe you’re just disappointed in yourself and it’s easier to bail than to humbly start all over. The first thing Adam and Eve did after they sinned was to HIDE. And may I even say, the more we are respected and admired, the harder it feels to get back up when we stumble because the accuser wants our shame to be very public.

Yeah, Satan’s goal is to take us out and damage as many people as he can in the process…but friends, when we’ve taken a faceplant, the world needs to SEE us recover, even if a few folks (and particularly some who are supposed to be on our “side”) hurl a few insult-and-accusation stones as we are picking ourselves up. Sometimes we privately recover, but truthfully, sometimes what we resolve to just do in private enables us to wallow a little longer in the mess–and kept hidden, sometimes we fix it, but sometimes we just choose to stay broken. Don’t stay in that place. It’s a rat’s nest.

There may be shame in failure but there’s no shame in turning to God to fix us when we have failed. Last night before I went to sleep, this verse went through my mind and I just meditated on it as I drifted off: “So now, those who are in Christ Jesus are not judged guilty. Through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit that brings life made me free from the law that brings sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2 NCV) The KJV says there’s “therefore now no condemnation.”

Because of our trust in the redemptive power of the cross, we can machete our way through the choking, dense growth of sin’s effect on our lives and emerge back onto the right path intact. Paul realized the possibility of preaching to others but himself becoming a castaway–so he held himself accountable. So should we.

It’s just where we are. Sharing the good news is relatively easy. Being the “living epistle read of every man” part, not so much. The best thing to do is to keep ourselves holy, on guard, prayed-up, free from bondages. It’s a lot easier to maintain than to break down and repair. But if you are reading this from the cave where you went to hide after your embarrassing fall, please know there is HOPE for you. Sure, there’ll be a few who would remind you of your inadequacy, but there is a whole host of witnesses crying out just beyond your earshot, “Get up! Try! Finish! Keep going! You’re almost home!” There’s a Father checking out the window, pacing in the roadway, wanting to put a ring on your stinky, stained hand and restore you with full privilege instead of demoting you from sonship to servitude.

I remember once when I was still in school, one of my schoolmates wound up getting badly burned when he threw gasoline on a bonfire. The kid was ashamed/afraid to tell his parents because it was a foolish act of disobedience, messing with fire and flammables; and because he hid the terrible burn under his clothing without getting help, the burn got badly infected and became a serious, dangerous problem much worse than a parent’s chastisement for disobeying. No doubt the scars are still on that leg, decades later. We hide our burns too, sometimes, don’t we?

Peter had to repent when he fell. Yep, one of “the three amigos” whom Jesus kept privy to His most important missions actually betrayed Him in a most contemptible way when things got too dangerous. But Jesus WANTED him back. He even said to him, “when you’re restored, strengthen the others.” See, your recovery is never just about you. Jesus didn’t choose to just gloss it over and strengthen them Himself in Peter’s absence; He in essence told Peter, “YOU do it.” There’s going to be a visible restoration of the part of you that needs healed, friend, and the people who’ve been let down by your absence are also going to be strengthened…by YOU. It is this action that will bring you full circle and it will keep you accountable in the future because of its humbling quality.

As much as it feels to the contrary, you aren’t expendable. God needs you on that front line. Replacing you is not His ultimate will — redeeming you, however, IS! He saw in ages past where a you-shaped piece of the puzzle needed to go, and He created you to fit exactly right there in the big picture. He doesn’t have a bunch of spare you’s just lying around in case you malfunction! Repentance says you are willing to let Him rebuild you to keep doing what He created you to do. And sometimes, we need rebuilt not only because of our sins, but also even from just being battle-weary, worn-out, and hyperextended. Let Him.

Lay aside what’s holding you back. Phooey on what anyone might say or think, don’t you wallow in condemnation one more day. Your destiny is right where you left it, and Jesus can recalibrate the driving directions from WHEREVER this moment finds you…to make sure you arrive safely. Come home.

Prayer Over the Emotional Health of Those in Christian Leadership

Kneeling man“Dear brothers and sisters, pray for us.” — The Apostle Paul, in his first letter to the church at Thessalonica  (1 Thes. 5:25)

It’s one of the least talked-about issues in the church, because leaders oftentimes feel an obligation to appear stronger than their congregations; yet some of the greatest pastors and Bible figures have had struggles with anxiety and depression! We’re more than a little naive if we think that our leaders are immune to the struggles we ourselves face. I can tell you firsthand, a mature Christian can absolutely suffer emotional issues. Although we don’t sorrow as those who have no hope, we still suffer sorrow and loss, grief, oppression, and we still have to guard our hearts from the attack of an enemy who definitely doesn’t want leaders to be effective.

Look at King David, man after God’s own heart, who often wrote psalms that revealed despair and uncertainty—on the mountain in some of his songs, and hitting rock bottom in human desperation in others. Paul had a recurring or chronic obscure problem of which that he sought earnestly to be relieved. Jonah fell into depression after he’d completed the task to which God had assigned him. Elijah called fire down from heaven in between declaring a 3-year drought and declaring its end; and in the very next chapter, was hit by anxiety and asked God to just let him die. At age 23, Charles Spurgeon was hit with depression so great he nearly didn’t recover. On and on, the list would just continue to grow. My point? We have a completely saved spirit, but we have a soul and body that are still navigating a fallen world. Whether it’s environmental, trauma-induced, hormonal, generational, too-little sleep and exercise and quiet time, or just an attack of the enemy to derail a person—emotional issues can be just as huge a matter for a leader as they are for his/her followers!

So while we certainly need to pray for one another, we also need to know how to pray for ourselves. Our leaders are indeed there for us; but they are human too, and we all can lean too heavily on them at times. They wear many hats and get very little downtime. The person you’re counting on to listen to your problems and get that prayer through may be encountering an inner battle you know nothing of. That person’s spouse may not even have a clue that there’s a private agony of anxiety, depression, emotional exhaustion, burnout from packing a burden the size of a church on his or her shoulders. Ask yourself, in whom can your own spiritual leader(s) confide, go to for honest accountability and prayer, and feel comfortable being real? Leaders want to be bulletproof. Many don’t want to reveal their own struggles because the devil wants them to believe they are incompetent leaders if they’re not always on the mountain; that their followers will lose confidence in them or begin to view them as hypocrites! They don’t want to be judged as weak, out of God’s will, or flawed and unfit for service. So today, while I realize many of you are wrestling with depression and emotional issues of your own, could we just turn our attention away from ourselves and pray collectively for the front line leaders, apostles, prophets, pastors, evangelists, teachers, ministry workers, and intercessors who are oppressed?

Father, You already know our personal struggles and we trust You to finish the work You’ve begun in us. So in this prayer, we turn to the emotional health of our leaders and ask You to bless them and meet them where they are. Oh how they need Your angelic assistance, Lord! You alone know the agony they feel when they’re under pressure and feel they must put on brave masks in front of their constituents. You know the pressure of feeling as if they can never relax or come out from under the burden of other people’s miseries and suffering. You know the guilt they feel when they get weary of late nights and other people’s drama. You know every time they stand behind a lectern or pulpit or a writer’s pen feeling bankrupt—disqualified to help others because they too are wounded and bleeding. You know the very ones who’ve thought of suicide, who might be self-medicating, and who’ve thought of quitting the very ministries You’ve called them to. Lord, intervene! Teach us how to pray for those in authority over us, instead of expecting the prayer relationship to be one-sided!

O God, we pray, send Your ministering spirits to them! Father, we plead the blood of Jesus around our pastors, teachers, elders, public speakers, and believers who serve You as they work in civil government. Bring laughter and lightheartedness to their weary souls. Let a joy bubble up within, a calm and assurance and a FREEDOM, that actually matches the face they put on in front of others. Give them wise answers to the questions they often take to their pillows with them at night, so that they can sleep in peace. Give them opportunities for recreation and fun and keep insisting in that still small voice that they need to take what You’re making available to them! Father, we ask for special confidantes and mentors and accountability partners, for counselors, and for genuine friends for these in leadership. They need people they can “get real” with to talk about and pray about their private struggles, fears, and failures. Finally, Father, help them keep open doors of communication between themselves and YOU; and as You bring healing for their anxieties, and for the depression the enemy tells them they wouldn’t have if they were walking worthy of their vocation.

Father, ease their financial burdens and their family tensions we pray. Whatever issues are bombarding leaders tonight, we pray angels are released to do war in the heavenlies on their behalf. Give them days and nights where not one phone call fetches them away from needed rest or time with family. Intercept delays perpetuated by the enemy to keep them too busy to pray and invest time in study. Send laborers into the harvest so that they’re not doing all the work themselves; place armorbearers around them who will not bail and betray, and assign intercessors who not only pray daily for them, but who are awakened and sensitive to pray “emergency” prayers when that leader is silently suffering. May You keep those (including leaders on every level) in perfect peace whose hearts and minds are steadfast because they trust in You!

And Lord, for every fallen leader who’s given up, succumbed to temptation, walked away, or departed from the faith, we ask that angels and people You assign will go to their aid and help them regain their bearings. Remind them that it’s time to repent, get healed up, and strengthen others after they themselves are restored. Their latter days CAN be greater than their former ones!

Open up ministry centers geared toward the healing of wounded and weary leaders, where they can get help in a nonthreatening environment. Let this be the year when leaders have healed marriages, restored families, and renewed sense of purpose; not just painted-on facades of how they think they’re expected to look. And Lord, help us to cut the faltering a little more slack! Forgive us for not forgiving them their shortcomings, for judging them inappropriately, for speaking evil of them when we should’ve instead been on our knees in intercession.

We rebuke spirits of suicide, doubt and unbelief, pride, lust, delusion, anxiety, depression, fear, lack, mental illness, confusion, and afflicting spirits of every kind who are trying to take out godly people in authority. The Lord rebuke you and break your assignment off God’s chosen! We speak it in Jesus’ name and we release healing and a time of refreshing over the lives of apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, leaders on every level, intercessors, and godly civil servants. May these last days find Your called ones more determined than ever to make it and to bring in the harvest! Seal it, we pray, with good sleep, much laughter, and contagious joy, in Jesus’ name. Thank You, good good Father!

OCD NO MORE (Warning–read only if you want your life back!)

figure_measure_1600_wht_5484“Do not be anxious or worried about anything, but in everything [every circumstance and situation] by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, continue to make your [specific] requests known to God. And the peace of God [that peace which reassures the heart, that peace] which transcends all understanding, [that peace which] stands guard over your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus [is yours].” Phil 4:6-7 (AMP)

I believe one of Satan’s greatest deceptions is to convince people that the very things which hold them in bondage put them at some sort of advantage. He does this with unbelievers and believers alike. The belief that one drives a little better when drinking. Or that getting high helps release or enhance the talent of the singer or musician. The belief that cleanliness or fitness or aesthetic appearance taken severely beyond the norm makes us better, safer, more beautiful than the people around us–turning us into germaphobes, steroid-abusers, anorexics, addicts to plastic surgery. Any time our enemy can convince us that imbalance is helping us in some way, he will keep us testing its limits over and over, in increasing quantities, till he ultimately kills or cripples us with it.

Yes, we recognize the more obvious destructive misconceptions, but what about the more subtle ones? The belief that one’s tendency for worry or obsessiveness or unyielding perfectionism makes that person invaluable and better on the job or at home or in the church? Yes, it might bring some results, but the cost to that person’s emotional and physical (and perhaps even spiritual) health, not to mention its cost to relationships with those around him or her, is proof that it’s turned from mere attentiveness into a bondage that needs broken.

Bottom line: God doesn’t need you to violate His Word to accomplish His will!

If the Bible says, “Be anxious for nothing…” (and that whole verse is beneficial here) then it applies even that person who’s given to detail and excellence and finesse. So yes, friends, even you who are leaders, professionals, artists, even movers and shakers in the business realm, yes, YOU…are meant to be able to lie down and rest at night and be able to lay aside the garments which define you in the eyes of those around you. You’re not better at what you do by having your thermostat broken, you’re just suffering and nobody’s told you that you don’t have to in order to walk in the place of greatness! As a matter of fact, the devil wants a child of God, in particular, to believe that it’s ok for his/her controlling obsession to run unchecked because that person is letting it consume him/her “for God.” How cruel indeed this deception, and it’s not at all from the Father! Do good, godly people fall into that trap? Yes, sadly, all the time. It’s time for you to deal with yours today if this writing is resonating any at all with you.

Lord, Your Word says we aren’t ignorant of the devices of the devil (2 Corinthians 2:11). You are a giver of peace, of joy, of rest, of blessed assurance. Those of us who want to be fruitful and productive can sometimes let our zeal for excellence push us beyond Your safe boundaries. We can ticker down our lists of what we’ve accomplished but at the end of the day, our obsession and need to be in control of our environment makes us miserable, sick, exhausted, and it probably makes anyone tied to us equally nervous, tensed, stressed because they in turn are trying to appease our relentless nature. Our unforgiveness of our own perceived inadequacies can turn inward and manifest in autoimmune disorders, traumatic stress disorders, early death or disability due to stress-induced disease…if we don’t get a handle on it. So we release and forgive ourselves and others for not being perfect! The devil is crafty–he tries to make us feel guilty if we relax our hold. He has convinced many that this sickness and misery is the price they must pay to carry the talent, anointing, or advancement they’ve worked so hard to achieve. We are not going to be those people anymore! We reject the idea that our obsessive nature is just the cross we must bear, or that this type of bondage is a good thing. We don’t need it in order to be valuable–that’s a lie straight from hell! WE WILL NOT LET OUR GOD-GIVEN GIFTS BECOME OUR WEAPONS OF SELF-DESTRUCTION, IN JESUS’ NAME!

So we come into agreement with Your Word today and we are going to make a marked effort to surrender all to You. This is probably one of those areas Paul referred to when in 1 Cor. 15:31 he said that he “died (to self)” daily. You are teaching us the boundary at which we are to stop. We have the ability to work on something and release it as finished, in peace and trust that it is enough. Your Holy Spirit assures us that we can let go of a few things or that enough time has been spent on a particular detail. We crucify that driving force in us that won’t let us rest, that won’t let others rest, and that won’t trust You to keep what we commit to You!  We ask You to deliver us from perfectionism, the need to micromanage our lives and others’, from any spirits attached to this unhealthy belief that our best is never good enough or that we could have done more. We renounce any negative confessions spoken over us by ourselves or others, and we receive healing of any damage inflicted to our souls from someone who didn’t love or accept us enough.  We rebuke the spirit of fear that brings with it paranoia, inferiority complex, jealousy, inordinate competitiveness, domination, controlling spirits, and compulsiveness.  We ask you to forgive us when our own pride is the culprit. We will not confess OCD over ourselves–not even jokingly–like it’s a beneficial trait. It’s a curse and we have been redeemed from the curse! Remind us of how Satan has used this to the destruction of many brilliant people, like Howard Hughes, who became so obsessive he died a rich, alone madman in self-imposed exile, afraid of germs and people and imperfection. We rebuke the spirit of fear that tells us if we relax, we will lose our “superpowers” or our competitive edge. Our times are in Your hands, Father. You will keep us in perfect peace as we cast our cares on the One through Whom true promotion comes!

We will be excellent, we will be tenacious and we will work while it is day, but we repent, reject, and renounce all times in the past where we embraced this bondage as some kind of good thing. We are going to rely on You more and our own abilities less. We give this to You, knowing that You are setting us up to be MORE fruitful in the long run. When someone brings up OCD to us in the future (probably from times we’ve joked about it in the past), we are going to reply, “No, I’m not given to obsessive behavior anymore! I’m delivered! I have an eye for detail and I operate in strong gifts and abilities, but I no longer let perfectionism hold me in bondage. I do the best I can now to just plant seed, allow someone else to water, and trust God to give the increase…and with that, I’m resting while God is at work making my effort pay off! I’m healed!”

In Jesus’ name we pray today, Amen.

(Note: This and other issues I hope to be covering in the CALL THOSE THINGS: Bible-Based Confessions Over Mental and Emotional Health edition…available at some time in the future.)

Curing Chronic Unhappiness–One Day at a Time

despair-257x300Lord, deliver us from the #stronghold of chronic discontentment and #unhappiness.

Many of us are in an emotional limbo–counting on some future circumstance to unlock happiness in our lives. If only I could win the lottery, I would be happy. When I get old enough to leave home, I’ll be happy. If I could just lose weight or get a hair transplant, retire, find love, have a baby, travel, move out of this town, get a better job, get healed.

If only. Hope deferred and many sick hearts. So we rationalize that it’s ok to be unhappy now since we could possibly be happy later. But oh, that nagging question: if I ever get what I say will make me happy...will it? Or when I get there, will I find that I’m still discontent with my life? At what point do I cross the line from having a cryogenically-frozen hope into a place of being irredeemably miserable? What if I’m unable to even BE happy?

Boy, I just struck a nerve! Because unlike the diet and exercise and estate planning we rationalize that we’ll do “tomorrow,” this hits home on a deeper level. For sanity’s sake, there must be some point when we stop living out of our spiritual suitcases and emotional moving crates and say, “You know, I choose to be happy today. Right now in the middle of all this chaos and the things so desperately wrong and incomplete, I’m going to break out that bottle of bubbly I’ve been reserving and celebrate.” Bottle of bubbly? Yes, the dusty,”bubbly” happiness with the vintage label on it that we bought somewhere long ago, thinking we might store it away for a more deserving occasion.

Today might feel like a hollow occasion for celebration. There might actually appear to be no good reason to smile or be thankful. What if I break the seal on that happiness only to find out it’s not all that I’d hoped for?  Why shatter the fantasy?  Or, what if I wind up just wasting happiness on the place I’m in, and I never take steps to go after the things I feel I must have in order to feel complete? Isn’t it better to keep happiness in its display case and maintain the illusion that I can have a perfect circumstance eventually?

No.

Choose to be happy NOW. Now, at the worst possible time, while nothing’s going the way you it to.  While frustration is suffocating you and your circumstances make you feel claustrophobic, trapped. Choose happiness now, not because IT has an expiration date, but because YOU do. And whether you are someone whose face flashes neon discontentment, or one of the untold millions who bury their unhappiness deep behind a facade of pretending they’re fine…fine…I’m FINE…I pray that your cover is now blown and that you are forced to deal with the elephant in the room. Before you reach the end of life and find that, all along, there was enough happiness allotted to spread out over a lifetime if you’d only chosen it.

Pray with me: Father, this may be one of the most important prayers I pray, next to my salvation! I need You to help me with this issue, this spiritual virus of discontentment. It’s been with me for so long now, it’s become part of me and I don’t know how to detach from it. Save me! Not just my soul, my spirit, but please save my emotional well-being. Fix what’s broken in me that’s forgotten how to just be happy. Forgive me for allowing my surroundings to choke out my thankfulness.

Jesus came to give me abundant life, not an existence on autopilot. This chronic lack of happiness is a cancer and I need Your Word to surgically cut it out of me. Please, wash me clean! Your Word says Your mercies are new every morning. It’s been a long night. Day is breaking and I reach to You for that new mercy. I’ll need it today. Teach me to think on the good and pleasant things. Help me to meditate on Your promises. Forgive my backslidings.

David prayed to You to create in him a clean heart, to renew a right spirit, and he asked for Your Spirit and mercy not to be separated from him…and then he asked You to restore the joy of Your salvation. Lord, I ask for no less. Fill me with Your Spirit, and with Your joy. Give me unspeakable, glorious joy that trumps even the “happiness card.”  Your joy will get me through days when I don’t particularly feel happy. In reality, I may be in these circumstances for a while longer…your joy will undergird my choice to be happy even though things aren’t ideal just yet.

I trade up now. I’m swapping this feeling of heaviness for a garment of praise. I’ve been wearing black for far too long now. Please, hand me the loudest, most colorful, least circumstance-appropriate jacket on the rack! Until it comes natural, I will keep confessing happiness and wait for circumstances to line up with my confession.

I say this (whether or not I “feel” it):

Today is a good day. It’s Your gift to me, God. I will find the good in it. I will find the reasons to laugh and give thanks even if I have to write them down! I will stop putting my life on hold. Today, while it appears I’m still in debt, still sick, still lonely, still unfulfilled in my station of life, or still in some circumstance I’d rather not be in, I choose to be happy. While changing a flat or being stuck in traffic or in a smelly doctor’s office or the unemployment line, I choose to be happy. Though someone is betraying me, I choose to be happy. Though someone discriminates against or disrespects or mocks me, I choose to be happy. Though the devil tells me that my life will always be this bad (he lies), I choose to be happy. I will stop putting on fake happiness that people sometimes put on to make everyone think life is perfect–I choose to REALLY be happy.

I will stop saying “if only.” I will go into this day fully expecting and behaving as if everything in it is the best I’ve ever had. As I thank You, my gas station burrito becomes a feast. My mid-lot parking space is so much better than the one all the way out on the far end. And as I trust You, I receive Your peace to let go of hurts, to forgive, to release. I stop punishing myself for not measuring up and I will be happy now, though far from who I want to be. I can be happy later too; but until I get there, I will be happy while I work toward a better set of circumstances. I will be happy even though I’m needing more sleep and more money; though my knee is hurting or my kids all have the stomach flu or my neighbor’s dog won’t stop tearing open my garbage. I’m still alive; it’s not to late to make the best of what I’ve got, and be happy while I do it. It doesn’t mean I’m “settling” for less; I’m settling for MORE because I’m going to be happy now AND later, too!

Happiness (or, “hope-iness,” this first cousin of hope) is one of Your new mercies, Lord! I don’t need enough to last me a lifetime all in one day; I just need enough to last me for today. Like daily bread. There’s more tomorrow but I don’t have to wait till tomorrow for today’s portion. Those things I long for, You already know about. I put them in Your hands…but for right now, I’m no longer waiting till I get them to be happy. In Jesus’ name, today changes everything about how I view my life and my future. Thank You for helping me get it right. If I slip, hold me to this decision to be happy! Never again let me settle for hope deferred, Lord.

Cast Down, But Not Destroyed

on-bike
This is Dana and me, pictured just doing what we’d loved ever since 2001.  We logged thousands of miles on motorcycle rides and long road trips. Who knew that one seemingly uneventful night in October 2010, just miles from our home, it would all take such a frightening tumble?

 

 

In commemoration of God sparing our life on a cold October night, I’m expanding a little devotional I wrote in April 2011.  Most of what’s in here is taken from the piece, “Trust and You Won’t Be Crushed.”

It was just at the edge of dusk, 6 years ago this evening, when I woke up to find that I was lying flat on my back on the cold pavement. I remembered seeing the dog run out in front of our motorcycle; and I remembered us bracing and hitting it, then it was like being tumbled in a dark clothes dryer. There hadn’t even been time to be scared, much less avoid the impact. How long had I been unconscious? Someone had already stood up our motorcycle, and a couple of men were looking through the tour pack for some ID. I could see out the corner of my eye that Dana was lying about 10 feet away from me, but I couldn’t hear him speak and I couldn’t see if he was moving. People standing over us were saying things that indicated to me that we were both bad off.

At first I couldn’t even talk, and it was so hard to breathe—I suppose from having had the wind knocked out of me. My helmet was shattered. Later I would find that I had a basal skull fracture as well as a fractured bone in my neck. I vaguely remember a woman holding my helmet and talking about how messed up it was. Someone commented that my head was bleeding. I wanted to get to Dana but I couldn’t raise up; and they were trying to keep me still so they could put me on a backboard. My arm was twisted over my head and I thought it was dislocated, but was told later that the shoulder was broken in two places. In the midst of the confusion and the excruciating pain, reality began to set in about what had just happened.  The loud noise of onlookers and emergency workers was making me more and more uncomfortable as I struggled to get someone to tell me whether my husband was ok.  A couple knelt on the ground and asked if they could pray with me; and as they prayed, the Holy Spirit rose up inside me and I began to pray loudly in Him.  It sounded like an authoritative voice not my own was declaring boundaries around the two of us!  As the noise of urgency began to subside in His presence, I could hear, quite clearly, the Lord whisper just one word to me…“COVENANT.” And in that moment, I knew exactly what He meant. I began to cry and say, “Thank you, God, for rebuking the devourer for our sakes!” A peace I can’t even begin to describe rested on me, one that would get me through the longest night of my life.

I’m told for a little while at the first hospital, Dana was conscious, and he was giving them fits; wanting to come and get me and take me home.  We were airlifted, one at a time, from Williamson Memorial to St. Mary’s.  I begged the paramedics to elevate my head.  I felt like I would absolutely smother to death flat on my back, and would feel that way for the remainder of the night.  No one would move me though, for fear of a spinal cord injury.  I was more afraid of suffocating than I was of being badly hurt.  Once at St. Mary’s, my stepson Coby held my hand and coached me to breathe in sync with him while they repositioned my broken shoulder.  The only relief I had from the discomfort was to occasionally lose consciousness.  Then, as I lay on a gurney in the hallway, waiting to go into a CT scan, a doctor came up and with no expression whatsoever, told me, “Your husband is unconscious and has a serious brain injury. His brain has begun to swell. We’ll do what we can.” With that, she turned and left. I had to make up my mind right then and there…am I going to trust God or am I going to collapse under a weight of fear? I chose to trust God, and that’s exactly what I called out to her back as she was walking away.

For just a little while, they wheeled me into a holding room with Dana. He was lying there, eyes closed, not moving.  I reached my fingers through the bars on our gurneys, gripped his hand, and prayed for him. Looking back now, I wonder whether the doctors might have thought he was going to die, and they were giving me a chance to say goodbye. But I spoke to him this Scripture which came to my remembrance, before they wheeled us in two different directions, “(You) shall live and not die, to declare the works of the Lord.” (Psalm 118:17) 

dana-coma
Dana, lying near death and comatose for 17 days after our accident. Swollen almost beyond recognition, he had multiple brain bleeds, and fractures throughout his body, and had developed the deadly condition called Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome. This picture was a couple of weeks into the ordeal…I couldn’t bring myself to photograph him at first, and wouldn’t again for at least another month.

That was a long first night in the hospital.  Eventually, by the wee hours of dawn, I felt like I could breathe again, but I would have to watch for the next several weeks as a machine did the breathing for Dana.  Angels on assignment kept vigil over him, as did family and friends around the clock for the first nearly three weeks.  I was too sick and injured to sit up with him for the first week or so, even though I stayed nearby and spent as much time as I could in his room.

There are those times when we have to choose to believe, or be crushed under the weight of despair. And there are times when we can’t just think it or hope it…we have to hear ourselves say it—I CHOOSE TO BELIEVE.  I learned to say it out loud, and often, beginning that first night.  I stood on the Word and quoted Scripture as I stood in the gap, and prayed day and night over my husband.  When anxious or despairing thoughts tried to do war internally in my soul, I smiled on the outside in front of others; and I would privately share my sorrows and fears with Jesus.  I bet some folks thought I’d knocked my brains out on that pavement, when I’d counter the negative news with what God’s Word says… but I really didn’t care.  This was a battle for my husband’s very life.  The Holy Spirit cautioned me to set a watch on my lips.  Had I allowed myself to give voice to fear or unbelief, my actions would have followed.  Sometimes I actually wanted to let my vulnerability show, to cry on someone’s shoulder, but the Lord made me brave in the face of a lonely secret:  my words were declaring what I didn’t always feel in the natural!  Faith does it even when we are scared, friends.  And God proved faithful.  When pneumonia and infections came, He kept Dana from succumbing.  When acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) threatened to cause his lungs, one of which had already been collapsed, to just deteriorate and stop working altogether, God was there.  When Dana lay so long with his eyes partially open that the whites turned into what looked like pink sponges, God spared his sight.  Through blood clots, through huge wounds that were left undiscovered and untreated on the back of his head because of the position he had to lie in, through an unbelievably high fever that could have cooked his already-damaged brain, God kept him.  And when they had to bring the crash cart as he came out from surgery for being trached, God did not let him die.  When I had to sign consent for them to give him a special paralytic drug that totally disabled his functions so that his body would stop fighting the respirator, God gave me peace that He would keep Dana alive.  So many miracles that came, so much blessed assurance just in the nick of time.  I still marvel over how the Lord preserved my husband through the next six weeks without a bite to eat or even a sip of water in his parched throat and mouth.  He was tube-fed and intravenously hydrated all that time.

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Dana had to go 43 days with nothing by mouth. In this picture, he had not yet gained the ability to swallow and had to be fed through a tube in his stomach. We still had about 5 weeks to go before we could leave the hospital, and then another 5 months before we could move back into our own house.

When Dana regained consciousness in the second hospital, he couldn’t speak, but because he made eye contact with us and seemed to understand us when we talked to him, we assumed he was ok; however, when at last they capped his trach and he was able to speak,  it became apparent that the head injury was affecting his personality and his cognizance significantly.  He was hallucinating, saying things out of character, behaving not like himself.  I didn’t recognize the man inside the man; and I thank the Holy Spirit for holding onto me and numbing the pain of uncertainty of how long Dana would be this stranger.  His behavior begin to grow worse just as we moved him to the rehab hospital, and the brain injury made him very combative and angry and hard to handle.  Because he only slept for very short periods of time, so did I.  He acted at times like he despised me, but would go into an anxiety mode if I even left to step into the restroom.  He couldn’t even walk yet without a walker and a person or two at his elbows; but one night managed to get out of bed and wobble around on that walker, swearing he was going to find the exit and go home…in 6 inches of snow.  I had to lie to him (forgive me, Lord!) and tell him they bolted the exits from the outside after visiting hours were over…it was the only way to settle him down and make him go back to his bed!  At one point, the hallucinations were so bad, he even thought he was married to two different women at the same time–me and me.  He told me, “She’s good to me, but YOU are the one I love.”  Folks, this wasn’t a cake walk.  At times it has been downright scary and it took every ounce of faith I could muster.  If God hadn’t held us in His hand, we couldn’t have made it.  I only share these very private memories with you because I want you to understand what God’s brought us from, and how He kept bad situations from spiraling completely out of control. I knew from the start that there were ways this situation could’ve been infinitely worse…yet the Lord was merciful.

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Learning to stand—and walk—again. It was at times a very hard process.

The Word and our prayer partners kept me together as I stayed for nearly three months either right there with him or close by.  I only left Huntington to come home a few times to catch up my work, to get clean clothes, pay bills, etc., then right back to the hospital.  Until he was able to be moved to the rehab hospital in December, I’d stayed at a hospitality house. I’d come come home on a Thursday afternoon, work for 24 straight hours on the parts of my job that couldn’t be handled remotely on my laptop; and then Dana’s dad would drive me back (I was in a neck brace and a sling, so I couldn’t drive for quite some time).  At the rehab hospital, I was finally able to move into his room with him.  I just set myself an office up in the corner and kept working! And, friends and family kept driving the nearly two-hour drive to Huntington to those three hospitals. We had a steady stream of visitors.  I’ll never be able to thank them for being there for us…that they even cared this much for us moves me to tears.

On January 21, 2011, Dana was finally released from the hospital.   Even now, he remembers nothing about his hospital stays except for vague little bits the last couple of days or so.  Leaving the hospital was another chapter, and another time when trusting God was critical to survival.  I still was concerned about his healing brain and whether I’d be able to do anything with him if he had another “episode” like the night he tried to leave the hospital!  We weren’t able to go directly home.  We would spend the next four months in his dad’s den–him in a hospital bed and me on a couch beside him, because Dana was still in a wheelchair and walker and couldn’t climb the steps to our house.  He also still had to have his liquids thickened and his solids very soft, to keep from choking on his food from his damaged trachea.  God bless Joe and Thelma for persevering right there with us.  We couldn’t have made it through this without them.  Near the end of May, seven long months after our ordeal, we got to sleep in our own bed again for the first time.

Dana spent 82 days in 3 hospitals, and couldn’t even swallow an ice chip for the first 43 days. He lay in the ICU trauma ward for 17 days comatose, and running an insanely high fever for several days. He had multiple fractures, multiple brain bleeds, and a series of serious complications; but when Satan tried to take him out, God drew the line and said, “No.”

Though it’s been at times a physically and emotionally exhausting 6 years for both Dana and me, we have not lost our joy and we have not lost our love for life and one another. God has been so good to us.  We have adjusted to a “new normal,” and part of it is to lighten up a little and find humor in what would otherwise be frustrating or difficult or just…different.  The head injury left Dana’s personality and behaviors a tad changed from before, but mostly in very good ways.  I think of it as “Dana’s personality—on steroids.”  😉   Dana has a childlike, literal faith that God can and will do exactly what He says.  I’ve watched the Lord transform a lukewarm/backslidden man who’d completely stopped serving God before our wreck into a mighty man of God who prays for hours each day, witnesses to others continually, and encourages folks to believe and speak the Word. (I will draw an exception here however, and I would be remiss in leaving this out:  when he had stopped professing faith and attending church before our wreck, he was still diligent to tithe and give.  He would repeatedly tell me on payday:  “Whatever you do, don’t forget to pay tithe and give offerings on my check.  I may not be living right but I won’t rob God!”  Could it be that, in the time where our lives hung in the balance, God honored a man’s tenacity in this small thing????). What God has done and continues to do in Dana’s life, inside and out, is quite miraculous.  We still confess and believe for the areas of restoration that are yet to manifest.  We believe that what still needs to become whole will be whole again– as our friend Cathy had confessed over us repeatedly, “nothing broken, nothing missing, nothing lost.”  We have surely come from a mighty long way.

And God proved to me that He doesn’t leave;  He didn’t leave me and He won’t abandon you, either!  Even on those days when you feel frightened, alone, ashamed of your personal struggles, numb to all emotion or crying uncontrollably, He’s there.  He watches over His Word to perform it.  Our job is to take that Word and keep speaking it over our lives even when there’s no evidence whatsoever yet that it’s doing a bit of good.  We are to speak it even when our hearts are hollow and the words seem to fall to the ground.  The answer will come if you and I will pray and not faint; or if we fall, we keep getting back up as often as it takes.  There were days when I was so overwhelmed that I wished I’d died that night on the pavement, but God restored joy to my life and a stronger faith in His faithfulness!  God helped Dana and me to emerge from a catastrophic situation to become more resolute in our faith, more devoted to one another, and hopefully better people for having persevered during this detour on our journey.

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10/28/2014 – Standing in the approximate area where our bike went down four years earlier. A sobering feeling of gratitude washed over me as we looked around this spot where God spared our lives! Even now when I drive through that area, sometimes emotion wells up inside me as I ponder the goodness and mercy of God.

I’m telling you, friends, you need Jesus. You need Him, your marriage needs Him, your family needs Him to carry you through times like this.  It’s not a matter of if you’ll ever have to go through hard seasons, but when..and when you do, faith in God can preserve your very sanity.  Covenant relationship with God doesn’t mean you’ll never face difficulty. It can, however, mean the difference between you surviving or being mowed down by the enemy.  It will keep you when you go through depression, through loss, through grave uncertainty, through the outright unfair happenings of life in this fallen world; and on the other side of your storm, God will pull out a mysterious parcel and hand back to you.  You will find that you didn’t lose your joy and innocence after all; He’d wrapped it securely in the Holy Spirit’s comfort and kept it from being annihilated by the tribulation of life.

Sooner or later, we all have to face the most difficult time of our lives. Are you prepared? God can keep you from falling apart. I can say that because, six years later, Dana and I are still held together by the duct tape of God’s wonderful, saving grace. Even these fractured pieces form something beautiful…like a prism of glass that scatters light in every direction, testifying that truly, love never fails.

“But the LORD God keeps me from being disgraced. So I refuse to give up, because I know God will never let me down.”  Isaiah 50:7 CEV

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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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