“Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, ‘The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.'” -Nehemiah 4:10
I’ve felt this way. I’m sure you have, too. You look at the task before you and can’t even imagine removing all the rubble within your lifetime, much less rebuilding the wall. God’s people wanted to give up before they even began. Sometimes we do, too.
But if God has called us to do something, we have to set our minds to do it, and if we perish, we perish. Queen Esther gave us those words. Until we go to face the king, as she did, or start picking up heavy rocks, as God’s people did under Nehemiah’s leadership, we will not know how much we can accomplish, what the outcome will be, or how God will use our obedience. Focusing on the size or danger of the task can cause paralysis. Instead, we can concentrate on picking up that first rock . . . and then the next . . . and the next . . . until our God says, “Well done, Child. Time to stop.” That’s when He will show us what a difference He made through us.
Lord, You helped Your people to accomplish the tasks You gave them. Please help us to do so, too. Please make a difference through each of us for the good of everyone around us and for the glory of Your name. Amen.
At the start of my most recent reading of Nehemiah, I learned something interesting. Bible scholars believe this book wasn’t just Nehemiah’s historical record of an event; it was also his private journal. I learned this just before I read the book, then noticed that there are many places where Nehemiah switches from chronicler to journaler. What I loved most about this was that his journaled thoughts about this event were often sentence prayers. Nehemiah journaled the way I do, recording what he wanted to remember and pausing to reflect and pray about those things. Perhaps you journal this way, too!
Today’s insight is about one of those journaled prayers. At the very end of the book, Nehemiah prays, “Remember me with favor, my God.” In the context of the book, the story of Nehemiah helping his people, God’s people, to rebuild the wall and reestablish Temple worship in Jerusalem, this prayer is one of release and surrender.
Here’s a quick summary:
Nehemiah had given up a cushy, albeit dangerous, life as cupbearer to the king in order to take on the impossible task of rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall in order to keep recently returned residents safe. With God’s help, Nehemiah led the people to succeed in record time under severe duress, but then God’s people neglected their duties, abandoned the Temple, and married their enemies’ children. That’s right – the priests’ kids actually married the kids of the people who tried to sabotage the rebuilding of the wall! Nehemiah must have felt a deeply frustrated, what’s-the-point hopelessness. Perhaps he even felt that he had failed.
Instead of wallowing in failure, however, he wrote a matter-of-fact report of what he’d done, gave God the glory for helping him to obey, and asked to be remembered with favor. Nehemiah had done what God told him to do. He had given God his best efforts. He left the results in God’s care.
Father, thank You for Nehemiah’s example. Please find me faithful to do the tasks that You have given me even when I feel inadequate or sabotaged. Please glorify Your name through my efforts and, when I’m done, please remember me with favor. Thank You, Lord! Amen.
“If the ax is dull and its edge unsharpened, more strength is needed, but skill will bring success.” -Ecclesiastes 10:10
My husband and I have been having a lot of fun introducing our girls to some of our favorite movies from the past. We did this with our boys when they were teens, and now we get to watch again! This time around some of our old favorite movies are movies we watched as brand new with the boys. Some of their favorite movies came out before the girls were born. Our boys might be surprised to learn our girls think those movies are old.
Our most recent introduction was to a movie that came out before any of our kids was born, Karate Kid II. In this movie, the karate kid’s mentor teaches him that he doesn’t have to be the strongest to win a fight. He only has to be the smartest. Both the karate kid and his mentor apply this lesson throughout the movie.
I kind of think that’s what the teacher in Ecclesiastes is telling us in chapter 10, verse 10, applying the wisdom to work instead of fighting. The axe might be dull and need sharpening, but a skilled worker can get the job done anyway. (Though a smart worker will find a way to sharpen the axe and simplify his task.)
But since I don’t plan to cut down any trees in the near future, I took a little time to consider how the teacher’s wisdom applies to me.
If I am feeling too weak or unskilled for a task I need to accomplish, I need more strength. This may mean I need to practice or study or get some rest. This is how I, in my own power, can sharpen my axe, so to speak.
Since my own power isn’t always enough, and even if I think it might be, I need to ask God for an edge, a power boost! He can and wants to provide the strength and skill and any other resource I might need. In fact, though I believe God wants us to do what we can do in order to develop our own strength and skill while trusting Him for help, I also think that I think the skill that brings success is learning how to access the resources God is offering to us every day. He promises to give us everything we need. When our axes are dull, we’re smart to go to Him.
Father, we know You have all the strength and wisdom and other resources we need to succeed at any task You give. Please provide. When You want us to work to develop our skills or build our strength, show us how to do this most effectively and where to go for help. When our axes are too dull, add Your strength. We need You, Lord . . . every day. Thank You for working alongside us as we work to serve You. In Jesus’ name, amen.
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” -2 Corinthians 12:9
Since my husband and I adopted three children last year, people sometimes comment that maybe we’ve bitten off more than we can chew. They’ll shake their heads and say they don’t know how we do it. We don’t know either, we just know that day by day by day, our family is blending, our girls are adapting, and we’re all still breathing. Our God is working miracles.
On days when I feel overwhelmed, though, I’ll sometimes hear those voices in my head. “You’ve bitten off more than you can chew. This is going to get the best of you. You cannot do this!” That lying voice is my cue to take a break and get some rest, to intentionally seek the strength I need. “Jesus often slipped away to be alone so He could pray,” (Luke 5:16, NCV). I need to do that, too.
There are four things I’ve learned to remind myself whenever I think about biting off more than I can chew:
I bit off more than I could chew because God led me to. My husband and I made our home available to children in need of a permanent home and family. The girls we adopted are gifts from Him, handpicked by Him for us—and us for them. Little by little, He’s helping us all to adapt. Daily He’s showing us how this works.
If I never bit off more than I could chew, God would never have the opportunity to show His strength in my weakness. Whenever He leads me to do something that feels overwhelming, that’s my cue to pay attention and watch Him work—through me! Yes, it’s tiring, but it’s also exciting. A God-given challenge is a privilege and a blessing.
Though this may be the biggest big bite I’ve ever taken, this isn’t the first time I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. God has led me through many challenges; He will lead me through this one, too.
If ever I physically, as opposed to metaphorically, bite off more than I can chew, I have the choice to spit it out and throw it away or just keep chewing. If I just keep chewing, it probably won’t be pretty and it will be awkward and uncomfortable, but eventually my teeth will break the food down, so I’ll be able to swallow and continue eating my meal. Challenging tasks are just like that. Life gets messy and awkward and uncomfortable and less than beautiful (though I suspect God finds it even more beautiful), but eventually everything settles down into a new normal—and everyone who has been involved or been watching can rejoice at what God has done.
Father, thank You for the blessing of big bites! Please give us the determination to just keep chewing. Provide Your strength, wisdom, humor, and any other resource we need to continue on. Remind us of our calling and Your faithfulness. Display Your glory as You work in and through us. We love You, Lord. Amen.
“because of the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever:” -2 John 1:2
Jesus taught His disciples that He is the truth. If we have received Jesus as our Savior, His truth now lives in us. This truth is something that we must nurture and protect. Jesus doesn’t need to be nurtured and protected; He is our strength. But His life within, His truth, is something we must feed and care for in order for it to grow. We do this by reading, meditating on, and memorizing God’s Word, praying continually, participating in worship services, and spending time with other Christians who are nurturing the truth inside themselves.
Think of this truth within your life as a newborn baby. When babies are loved, fed, held closely, protected, cleaned, comforted, and cared for as they need to be, they grow healthy and strong. They change from helpless, little beings to mature, thriving adults, who are able, in turn, to bring their own children into the world, nurturing, protecting, and providing for their needs.
When we care for Jesus’ truth within us, holding it dear and keeping harmful things away, we grow up in Jesus and become able to help others to do so too. Jesus’ truth lives in us and will be with us forever. Let’s nurture and protect it, so that we will continue to grow up in Him.
Father, please help us to remember that Your Son’s Spirit of Truth lives inside of us. Help us to make choices that will strengthen that Spirit of Truth within. Help us to mature in You, so that You can transform us from helpless to helpful, able, with Your Spirit’s help, to nurture other souls. Thank You, Lord. Amen.
“This is my story, this is my song. Praising my Savior all the day long.” -from the hymn, Blessed Assurance, by Fanny Crosby
I’ve mentioned before that of all kinds of prayer, praise most often perplexes me. When I determine to dedicate a part of my prayer time to praise, it often feels more contrived than sincere, though my heart is sincerely full of praise, awe, and wonder at the incomprehensible greatness of our God. I feel I praise Him best by praying the songs of David as I read my Bible or by singing worship songs at church or along with the radio in my car. Those are good things to do, but I want to learn to give God more. It’s kind of like the difference between buying a greeting card with just the right words or writing the sentiment yourself. The words on the card may perfectly express what’s in my heart, but the message would be more meaningful if I could give my own words.
So often, though, I feel my attempts fall short of what’s in my heart. When I pray, “Lord, You know all things,” I’m reciting a fact, not offering praise. How does one find words worthy of a praise offering to God? How does one dig so deep?
I’ve been thinking on this a lot this week, and I have a few ideas:
1. Praise begins with noticing. We need to ask God to make us aware of His work in our world, all around us everywhere. As we learn to see what He is doing, His work will inspire us to live in awe of Him. Talking to Him about the things we notice He is doing, things only He can do, is offering praise.
Notice the hair on the plant in the picture above, for example. God’s attention to detail is amazing! And those little hairs that we rarely notice have a job to do, helping to keep the plant healthy. Our God is incredibly detail-oriented, providing for the needs of everything He creates. Noticing this leads us to praise.
2. Praise is born of passion and personal experience. The worship songs we sing and the Psalms that resonate most deeply are the ones we can relate to personally; we recognize the truth of the words because we’ve experienced their truth for ourselves. Therefore, we can draw on our past experiences and current circumstances, proclaiming God’s work in them, in order to offer our own praise.
For example, instead of praying, “Lord, You know all things,” I can pray about something specific I know He knows: “Lord, You know how I feel about this situation. Someone is treating me unfairly, yet You know her heart and her motivations as well as mine. You love both of us and want what’s best for us. You are able to bring resolution to this situation. Help us both to see what we need to about the other, so we can understand each other and get along.” This prayer is a request, but it’s a request full of sincere praise, recognizing God’s work in our lives and offering trust, one of the greatest forms of praise.
Another example: “Lord, I am feeling pressed for time – so many demands on my life! But You are the very Creator of time. When Joshua needed more time to win a battle, You made the sun stand still for him! Because I know You are able to do that, I know You have given me all the time I need as well. I will trust You to guide me in using this resource wisely because I know You love me and want me to accomplish Your good purpose for my life, also a gift from You. All of this world’s resources – even time – are Yours. You give Your children everything they need.”
To praise God sincerely, we don’t have to sit down for this purpose and struggle to find words to say. Instead we live our praise, noticing God at work as we go about our day, giving Him credit and naming His attributes in action. As Fanny Crosby proclaimed, our stories give Him praise; they praise Him throughout every day.
Father, please help us to live aware of Your Presence and work in our lives. We want to notice, so we can proclaim praise! You are worthy and we love You. Thank You, Lord. Amen.
My name is Janet. I am a perfectionist. I wish I could say I were a recovering perfectionist, but that would only be wishful thinking. It isn’t for lack of trying, though. I’ve read many books on the subject. Perhaps you have too? If so, you know escape from this, um, malady is quite elusive.
God’s been talking to me about this today, though. Bombarding me with thoughts from every source. I think maybe I’m starting to catch on. Perhaps if I share some of these thoughts with you, one or two will stick with me . . . so someday I can be perfect! (You see how defeating this tendency is?!) But someday I will be because God is perfecting me. He just isn’t done yet, and I keep trying to hurry Him up.
Today’s barrage began with these verses:
“The Spirit of the Lord will come powerfully upon you, and you will prophesy with them, and you will be changed into a different person. Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you.” -1 Samuel 10:6-7
These were Samuel’s words to Saul as he prepared to crown him Israel’s new king. Saul wasn’t anybody, and he was far from perfect, but God chose him, and God’s Spirit changed him. Had Saul embraced this change, God’s Spirit within him – God’s guiding Presence all around him, he would have done no wrong by doing whatever his hand found to do! Unfortunately, he let being a king go to his head and chose to go his own way. Things went badly for him after that. But for a longing-to-recover-perfectionist, these words are quite freeing. So long as God is with me, His Spirit within me, my heart devoted to Him, I don’t have to fear making mistakes. I can do whatever my hand finds to do for Him, and God will use it somehow. In fact, I trust that even if my attempt is misguided, He’ll recognize my heart in the right place, redeem the intent, and use it anyway! He is able to do that because He is God.
After reading that passage in Samuel’s first book, I found these words in a devotional:
“God’s grace changed me, so over time I stopped thinking about all the things that were wrong with me and I started thinking more about all the things that were right with Jesus. I have since discovered that we become what we behold, and as I beheld Jesus, I started to become more like Him because God’s Spirit was at work in me.” -Christine Caine, Unshakeable, p. 46
God’s Spirit changed Saul. God’s grace changed Christine. God changes you and me, too! But when grace changed Christine, it taught her to refocus her thoughts. I love that she learned to stop thinking about all the things that were wrong with her, thinking about all the things that are right with Jesus instead. To me, this sounded like a new Parachute Prayer. Let’s call it the Parachute Prayer for the Perfectionist! Whenever we catch ourselves trying to fix ourselves, we can praise God for Who He Is instead. In time, He’ll do the fixing. Our job is to behold Him and wait.
Next, I came across this verse:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” -Ephesians 2:8-9
I gave myself this lecture in my journal:
“Get off the performance treadmill and embrace grace! Focus on Who God Is and all He has done. Worship Him instead of berating yourself. He will gently change you. Let Him do the work while you wait and worship and do whatever He leads you to do. ‘Wax on. Wax off.’ Some day it will all make sense.”
For those who don’t understand the waxy reference, it’s from the movie, The Karate Kid. The kid wanted to learn karate. His teacher had him wax his car. He didn’t understand, but he obeyed. Later, it proved to be a valuable part of his training. Sometimes God works with us in the same way. We do whatever he leads us to do; He does His mysterious work in us.
And finally, our pastor preached from this verse as he wrapped up his Trust Issues series from Psalm 23:
“Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” -Psalm 23:6
Now I’ve really enjoyed this series and took careful notes all the way through, even today! But God was still talking to me about perfectionism, so I got two messages this morning at church. I’m mostly going to write about what God was saying to me. To illustrate his message, our pastor chose a picture of a girl hiking up a mountain. The photographer focused on the back of her head, shoulders, and backpack, so it felt as if we were following her. All morning, God had been telling me to focus on Him instead of my imperfections, to do whatever he led me to do. That picture and verse made everything clear to me in a unique way.
Because my husband is in the military, we’ve moved many times. This means there have been many times that I have gotten into a fully loaded car, pulled out behind my husband driving a fully loaded truck, and followed him across the country, always with a child or two or three, and sometimes a dog in the seats surrounding me. And when we started doing this more than twenty years ago, we didn’t have phones with GPS’s on them to tell us where to go. My husband had the map; I followed him. In fact, because I wanted to get where we were going and have a terrible fear of getting lost, I followed closely. I matched his speed. I stayed in the same lane. I got off the road if he got off the road. I focused on the back of his vehicle, knowing it would lead me where I wanted to go.
When we follow Jesus, our Shepherd, this way, His goodness and love follow us. In fact, our pastor said the Hebrew word means they literally chase us. In my mind, being perfect is being Christlike which is being perfectly loving and good in every circumstance. Therefore, instead of me pursuing perfection, I follow Christ – with the intensity of one who does not want to get lost! – and then the very thing that’s been eluding me all of my life will begin to chase me – as Jesus leads me home.
If I try to be perfect, I will fail. If I follow Jesus wherever He leads, God will eventually perfect me. And I will dwell in His Presence forever. You can, too!
My name is Janet. I’m a child of God. I want to be whatever He wants me to be, so I’m watching to see what He’s doing and where He will lead. I know He’s working through all things for good, to benefit His Kingdom and glorify His Name. I am thankful He’s invited me – just as I am – to be part of His work.
Father, You’ve given us so many reasons to take our eyes off of ourselves and to put them on You. You are worthy of our worship and of all of our thoughts. Please help me to remember today’s lessons. Expand on them as You will. And use them to help others who struggle as I do. I thank You, Lord. Amen.
Today’s Parachute Prayer is a prelude to more extended prayer. Let’s start with the Parachute.
Sometimes when you’re going about the business of your day, you may sense God saying, “Pay attention. There’s a lesson here.” or “This is what I’m like.” or “This shows what I’m trying to accomplish in your life!”
This happened to me a few days back while our family was watching a movie. The main character had a mentor. The mentor was hard on him and often left him feeling frustrated. But he came to learn that the mentor was hard because she cared, because the lessons he needed to learn were crucial, not only for his own good, but also for the good of the world – perhaps the universe! It was a silly movie, but in the moment when the main character realized the truth about his mentor, God got my attention. Yes. Sometimes He is hard on me, but He always loves me. He pushes me because He’s training me to be the person He created me to be, to fulfill a purpose He designed me for and it for me. The hero in the movie learned what his mentor was trying to teach, and it made all the difference. Learning from God makes all the difference for me as well in all things small and big.
If you’ve been following this blog, you know I call these random thoughts from God Wildflower Thoughts. I encourage you to stop and think on these thoughts, to discover where they lead, what God is trying to teach. He can speak to us through anything, and He will if we’ll take the time to listen, to let His thoughts work their way into our heads. So let’s turn talking about them in the moment into a Parachute Prayer!
Then let’s be intentional about taking them back to God for a more extended discussion later in the day. I like to write these thoughts out; sometimes I share my discoveries with you. As we take the time to write, pray, and study (to see what God’s Word has to say about the matter), God’s Spirit will more fully develop God’s lessons in our lives.
Pay attention! God is speaking. Talk with Him about the thoughts He puts in your head today.
Father, thank You for finding unique ways to get our attention as You are continually teaching us new things: about You, about Your Kingdom, about Your work, about Your purpose for our lives. Help us to pay attention then to talk to You about these lessons. Remind us to bring them back to You for deeper insights in light of Your Word, cementing Your thoughts in our minds. We love You, Lord. We long to learn what You love to teach. Help us, please. Amen.
“Now the priests who carried the ark remained standing in the middle of the Jordan until everything the Lord had commanded Joshua was done by the people, just as Moses had directed Joshua. The people hurried over, and as soon as all of them had crossed, the ark of the Lord and the priests came to the other side while the people watched.” -Joshua 4:10-11
I have to be honest. Technically, this isn’t this morning’s message. It’s a message from a few days ago. I’ve just been too busy to write out my thoughts. This is kind of funny considering what the message is. Read on to learn why.
As I read the account of Israel crossing the Jordan to enter the Promised Land at last, my thoughts were snagged on the phrase hurried over. I pictured myself taking my children by their hands and urging them to cross the street quickly so impatient drivers on either side of the crosswalk wouldn’t have to wait . . . you know, in case they decided not to.
Then I wondered why the Israelites felt a need to hurry. After all, God was the One holding the water back. I’m pretty sure He could have done so for eternity if He had wanted to, accomplishing everything else He wanted to all at the same time. And since holding the water back so His people could cross safely was His idea in the first place, there was no reason for the people to hurry across. I wondered if hurry meant something else like they immediately did what God told them to do. I decided to look it up.
According to the Key Word Bible, though, the Hebrew word translated here as hurried over means ran, as in raced. The Israelites were not immediately obeying; they were running to get across that river as fast as they could!
But why? Only Joshua, Caleb, and adults who were children at the time of the Exodus could possibly have remembered their first miraculous river crossing as God’s people, but perhaps recalling what happened to the Egyptians who tried to follow them gave them incentive to hurry everyone across.
Or maybe the sight of all that water piling up and towering over them made them nervous.
Or maybe they didn’t trust in God’s ability to hold the water back for however long it would take.
The Bible doesn’t give us their motivation, so we can only speculate. But my takeaway for today is that when God gives me a task to complete, I can trust Him to help me complete it. He offers all the resources I need, even time, so if I feel pressured to hurry, I’m not trusting Him to provide.
Yes. God wants me, and you, to obey immediately. But He also wants us to give Him our best work. Pulling our kids along by the hand as fast as we can is not necessary when God says, “Time to cross.” In fact, if a sea shell catches my eye, God will probably be delighted if I stop for a moment to stoop down and examine it, especially if I take the time to thank Him for pointing it out and then share my find with my kids. Better yet, we can stop right in the middle and look up at the awesome wall of water God is holding right over our heads, knowing we are safe because God is the One Who Is holding it back. Taking the time to praise Him at the busiest time of day is a powerful way to worship and practice trust.
Father, sometimes I get into such a hurry that I lose sight of what’s most important. Frantic in my own efforts, I carry an unnecessary burden while You do the real work. Help me to remember that You are all-powerful; You are in control. I can go about my business, the business You’ve given me, in the confidence that You will provide all I need. Thank You, Lord. Amen.
Ever have one of those days when every piece of mail, every e-mail or text message, and every phone call seems to contain an urgent demand, a problem to fix immediately? Days like that can leave one feeling frazzled and harassed. So can some people or circumstances if they keep coming at us day after day with some perceived need or complaint. Not being able to soothe them or fix things can fill us with unrest and stress.
This is a call for prayer. I have two suggestions for you today.
First, at the moment of harassment, as you open the letter or read the text, pray. Say, “God, I know You are seeing this right along with me. Please give me the wisdom, strength, and help I need. I commit this to Your care right now.” We are not alone in our struggles, and God is able to handle them for us, to grant us His grace, His favor, and His peace.
Second, whenever you feel overwhelming agitation, panic, or stress, find a quiet place alone and simply stop. Be still in God’s Presence. In fact, if your smart phone, watch, or fitness device has a stop watch feature, set it for 1 to 5 minutes. Sit where you won’t be distracted and pray until the timer goes off. Devote those minutes exclusively to God.
How you pray during these devoted minutes is important, though. You may be tempted to spend the whole time complaining about everything in your life that is pressuring you, but that will only increase your agitation, panic, and stress. Instead, give these to God quickly, as you did in the above first step, then spend the rest of the time praising God for everything You know about Him that makes Him able and willing to care for you, enjoy His Presence, and thank Him for His good gifts. If you have time, look for the gifts contained in the people or circumstances that are causing you stress. Thank God for these especially.
Jesus told us that in this world we would have trouble, but then He told us to take heart (have courage) because He has overcome the world. Sitting in His Presence reminds us that He is in charge and fills us with His peace. This gives us the strength we need to move forward through whatever tries to frazzle; Jesus will provide the self-control and calm spirit we need.
Father, please teach us to come to You when our spirits need soothing. Thank You for knowing who or what is harassing us in the course of a day. Thank You for being in control and able to handle it all! We’re so blessed to be Your children. We’re so thankful You are our God.
If you’d like to learn more about Parachute Prayer, perhaps develop a new habit in the coming year, my book on the subject is available on Amazon. To find it, click here.