My “one word” for 2012 was still, based on the verse, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) I chose this verse with the hope that my life would slow down so I could actually sit still in God’s presence. But as the saying goes, don’t pray for more patience because then your patience will be tested. I guess the same could be said for stillness: don’t ask for a slow life because it will only get busier.
I say that because my life last year was more chaotic than ever. And since my life has only gotten busier, I’ve had to learn, instead, to still my heart in the midst of chaos. No matter what is going on around me, I’ve found that I can always be with God in the inner sanctuary, created deep in my heart. It is there where I find peace in His presence, where my soul is refreshed, and my strength renewed.
I’ve also learned the importance of knowing that He is God. When life is spinning out of control, I tend to try to take back control. With my to-do lists and organized calendar system in hand, I attempt to manipulate the situation to fit my desires. I fret, worry, and anticipate what to do next. All the while, I forget to turn to God. Over the past year, I’ve heard Him telling me that to find the stillness I desperately seek, I need to know that He is God and that He’s got it all under control.
In my journey this past year, stillness has taken on new meaning for me. I’ve found that it is a calmness of heart in the midst of a ferocious storm. It’s a peace that passes all understanding despite the chaos of life swirling around me like a tornado. It’s knowing in the depths of my heart that He is God and that I can trust Him. Stillness means that I know that the very One who spoke the world into being cares about my daily struggles and worries. Just as I trust Him for the very air I breathe, I can trust Him with all my cares.
I didn’t know what to expect when I chose the word still and the accompanying Psalm. I had great hope that my life would slow down, that I could spend hours of quiet contemplation at His feet. But God had other plans for me. He took me to deeper places to learn what stillness truly is. He helped me to see beyond my first impressions of the word still to where true stillness lies–in knowing and trusting that He is God. Because it’s the knowing that He is God which stills my heart, even when my life just keeps spinning.
Photo: courtesy Christina Fox
It started with the dryer breaking, then the car, then the pool pump, then the well, and ended with the garage door. One after another, all in the space of a few weeks. They say that bad things come in threes. What does it mean if there’s more than three?
James says to “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” (James 1:2) It was a trial when everything broke at our house, but count it as joy? How? How do we count the trials in life as joy, and as Paul admonished, rejoice in all things?
Even when a job is lost, there’s a scary diagnosis, and a child runs away?
It is impossible for me to see the hard things in life and count them as joy unless I wear the lenses of a different perspective–eternity. When I place that lens in front of my vision, I see a greater purpose for all suffering–the salvation and transformation of our souls for eternity.
Because isn’t our greatest joy in life, the salvation from our sins, actually the result of great suffering?
Death precedes resurrection, pain comes before healing, and darkness advances the rising sun. All the pains in life point us to our hope–Jesus Christ. He is the One who walked before us, who showed us the way of the upside down kingdom, where happiness comes through suffering.
It is possible to give thanks for the trials in life. For none of them are wasted. God uses each and every one in the process of transforming us into His likeness. He is preparing us for the big Party, where one day, there will be no more trials, suffering or sadness. Having this hope for tomorrow, we can give thanks in today.
Admittedly, it was a struggle to not complain and worry as one thing after another broke in my house. The cost of repairs was enough to bring on panic. But I knew that it was not without cause. And I did count it all as joy, knowing He was at work in and through me. I thanked Him for the opportunity to trust and rely on Him in the midst of uncertainty. For I know that He holds the future, and it is bright indeed.
He was only four-years-old.
Already a veteran of numerous tests and procedures, the doctor finally had to recommend sinus surgery. We drove over two hours to the university hospital. The waiting room was full of patients waiting for their own surgeries. We joined them and sat down on the ragged, stained, institutional upholstered chairs. My stomach tight with fear, I stared at the grey, sterile, hospital walls. The sound of doctors and nurses speaking in medical jargon became like white noise to my ears.
We had woken early that morning and brought him straight there in his pajamas. The minutes ticked away. The longer the wait, the more anxious I became. Every few minutes my son asked why we were sitting for so long. I kept saying, “We’re just waiting for them to call your name.”
Too young to understand what the surgery was about, driving so far from home was probably like an adventure to him. All he knew was that the doctor would help him with his nose so that he wouldn’t be so sick all the time. I wondered, did he sense my fear? Did he notice me fight to hold back tears?
We were finally escorted to a room where they prepared him for surgery. Again we waited. The medicine to help him remain calm had already worn off by the time they were finally ready to wheel him away. As they pushed the gurney toward the dark blue double doors marked “staff only” he sat up on the gurney and screamed for me. My husband ended up accompanying them into surgery to help calm him until he was sedated.
I’ve never felt as weak and helpless in my life as I did that day when my son had sinus surgery. I had to leave him in the hands of a surgeon. I had no control over what happened. One wrong move in the sinuses could have caused brain injury.
Truthfully, I cried a lot that day. I worried. I feared. And I prayed.
Even when we are at our weakest, there is hope. There is a source of strength greater than all our worries and fears. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1
Photo: Courtesy Christina Fox
For God to be our strength in the midst of our weakness, we have to abandon all control. We have to release our hold, giving our worries, burdens, and weaknesses to Him. God then works through us, becoming our strength. The apostle Paul boasted in his own weaknesses because he knew that God’s power was made perfect through his weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9-12)
Sometimes we forget how strong our God is. We get so used to trying to do it all on our own. We whimper and complain under the load of our burdens, forgetting that He has the strength to carry it all.
“Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.” Isaiah 40:27-28
The Old Testament frequently reminded the Israelites of God’s faithfulness in delivering them from slavery. When they faced challenges, they were to remember His promise that He would be their God and they His people. That day at the hospital, I had to remember all the ways God had delivered me in the past. I had to remember His deep love for me. And then I released my worries into His hands.
Do you ever feel too weak to handle your burdens? Remember His faithfulness in your life. Recall His enduring love and providential care for you. Look to the cross and see the depths to which He will go to rescue you.
Admit your weakness. Give up trying to do it alone. Trust Him today with your burdens and cares. No matter how heavy your burdens, how severe the trial, or how great the battle, God is stronger. He is stronger than even our greatest weakness. He never tires or grows weary. There is no challenge or burden too heavy for Him to bear.
After all, didn’t He bear the sins of the world on His shoulders? And at His final breath, didn’t He cry out, “It is finished!”?
It is finished! We don’t have to bear any burdens. We don’t have to try harder. We don’t have to be good enough. Jesus did it all for us at the cross and freed us from every burden.
Remember. Trust. Hope. And be weak, so He can be strong.
“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31
Welcome! We’ve created a Special Series for you this month! We’ll
take 4 weeks and focus on 4 elements to ‘Reset’ our lives for Him.
We’re calling it ’4×4 Reset’. If you missed the introduction, you
can find more details here. Each post will feature a READ IT
(scripture verse), a SEE IT (motivation), & a DO IT (challenge/
call to action). Our 4×4 Reset Toolbox is available and has links
to all the posts and to our resources, including our Build a Firm
Foundation Printable tracking page. Be sure to subscribe to not
miss a day, & join us on Twitter & Instagram using our hashtag
From Despair To Praise
The last month or so, my life has been a bit off. You too? I haven’t felt like myself. My mind has been focused on a hundred different things. Emotionally, I’ve been stressed, irritable, and distracted.
Recently, feeling overwhelmed by life and self-imposed pressures, I sat down with God’s Word. Just touching those thin, almost opaque and familiar pages, I felt peace begin to wash over me. When my emotions are intense, I always go to the Psalms. As Calvin once described it, the Psalms are an “anatomy of all the parts of the soul.” In it, I find my own heart reflected back at me. Not only do the writers of the Psalms express similar thoughts and feelings that I am struggling with, the structure of the Psalms guides my feelings where they need to go.
I turned to Psalms 147-150 and read the very words of my Heavenly Father. The theme of each of these Psalms is the same, praising God for who He is and what He has done. As I read, the Spirit gently tapped me on the heart, showing me that my life has not been one of praise.
With all the burdens on my heart, all the stress, concerns, and worry, I had not been living a life of praise. My heart was focused on me and my problems rather than on God. Yet the Spirit never leaves me alone in my sin and guilt. He shows me my sin and then always points me to my Savior. Reading these Psalms reminded me of where my strength lies. It reminded me that God is the Creator and sustainer of all things. He is my Provider and my source of peace. He alone is my rescuer and Savior.
I don’t have to live under a weight of overwhelming emotions and heavy burdens. Christ came to set me free from it all, bearing it all on the cross, out of His immense love, mercy, and grace. These passages reminded me that because of all God has done, my life is to be one of praise. I was created to love and glorify Him. When praise and thanksgiving is my priority, my joy and delight, everything else will fall into place. When Christ is my Center, everything else is on the periphery. When I fix my eyes on Him alone, I have all my heart desires.
photo courtesy Christina Fox
photo courtesy Christina Fox
photo courtesy Christina Fox
There is something about a vacation that makes the heavy burdens of life fall off our backs. Everything seems brighter and clearer. The senses are heightened as we take in the beauty of God’s creation. Getting away is often restorative not only physically, but spiritually as well.
God somehow seems closer the farther from home I get.
I was gone for three weeks this summer. To be honest, I didn’t want to return home (and I live in the land of vacations!). I didn’t want to lose the closeness to God I had experienced while away. I didn’t want the burdens of life to creep back on my shoulders. I didn’t want the peace in my heart to fade.
But does it really have to?
Do those burdens which weigh me down really have to return?
I don’t believe so.
The same sense of calm we feel on vacation can be with us every day. The same connection we feel with God while away exploring His creation can be with us at home as well. The same awareness of the world around us, the tastes, sounds, and smells, can be with us everyday–not just on vacation.
Because wherever God is, there also is our peace and joy. He is not only with us on vacation, He’s with us everywhere and all the time. He longs to carry our burdens and not just on our summer vacation, but each and every single day.
Ways to keep summer vacation in your heart all year round:
1. Live in the moment: Appreciate the time spent with family or friends, not focusing on the past or the future, but enjoying the present. Be attentive to all the gifts of God’s grace around you. Savor the tastes, enjoy the smells, and appreciate the sounds of life as they happen.
2. Release your burdens: Each day, intentionally give over your burdens to God. Release to Him all your worries. Trust Him to handle your trials and struggles. Be in continuous prayer and communion with Him.
3. Cut out what weighs you down and distracts your heart: One of the benefits of vacation is the break from all the little things that burden our lives. Cut back on those little things in your daily life that build up to create heavy burdens. Perhaps reduce computer or tv time. Make life simpler by cleaning out the clutter in your home. Organizing your living space so that it is more functional can allow you to live with more freedom and less stress. Make a goal to fill a bag every month with items for donation. Commit to using your time for what is most important. And then fill the extra time you have by being alone with God, playing with your children, or talking with your spouse.
The peace we feel during a vacation or break from our normal life doesn’t have to stay at the hotel when we leave. It can be with us all the time. Because God is the Source of all our peace and the Great Burden Bearer, we can rest in His presence each and every day of our life. Give Him all your cares and rest in His peace that passes all understanding.
“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:28-29
Freedom: liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another
Flags are waving. Firecrackers are sounding. Grills are smoking. Our nation’s freedom is celebrated with family and friends, each July 4th. Amid the sounds, sights, and smells of celebration is the underlying reason for this holiday: our freedom from tyranny and oppression.
We have another reason to celebrate, not once a year but each and every day. We have been freed from another oppression–sin. This oppression is more sinister and deadly than even political oppression. It has eternal consequences for our very heart and soul.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36
Our freedom from sin not only frees us from eternal consequences in the future, but because of Christ, there are every day freedoms we enjoy in the present.
1. We are free from having to always get everything right. The pressure to try to earn God’s love has been taken away. The yoke of slavery to the law is removed. Because of Christ, there is nothing we can to do make God love us more and nothing we can do to make Him love us less.
2. We are free to live for Him. Because Christ lived a perfect life of obedience in our place, we are presented perfect in the sight of God. Right now, when we sin, God sees the righteous life of Christ. We’ve been given the Holy Spirit to help us battle against the sin that lingers. By focusing each and every day on His love and what He accomplished at the cross, our own love for Him grows more and more. From this love flows an outpouring of grateful living.
3. We are free from worry. Because we are completely accepted by God, we are free from worrying about what others think. We don’t need the acceptance of others; we are loved and accepted by the God of the universe! With God as our Father, we have no need to worry about our daily needs because He will take care of us. We don’t have to worry about all the “what if’s” in life because He holds us in the palm of His hand.
The same joy in celebrating our nation’s freedom ought to be our same joy every day in celebrating the freedom we have in Christ. Let’s light up that grill. Wave those sparklers. Laugh with friends and family. And let us remember all the ways we have been set free.
“In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” Ephesians 3:12
Finally, summer is here! Time to relax, change the routine, and maybe even sleep in a little later.
As a homeschooling family, slowing down for the summer months is a nice change of pace for us. However, even though it is summer break, we don’t stop learning at our house. In fact, we continue doing school for about an hour a day.
The simple fact is that if we stopped completely, it would be that much harder to get back into the school routine come fall. The kids would probably lose momentum and we’d have to relearn some things before we could move into the next year’s curriculum.
Spiritually speaking, the same is true for our growth in faith. How many times have I been on vacation and the change of routine has kept me from my daily bible reading? How often have I been so distracted by the fun of a trip away that my prayer time gets lost with my baggage at the airport?
In the summers, I tend to sleep in later, I relax in front of the tv a bit more, and let’s face it, I grow lazy.
This summer, rather than taking a vacation from God, what if we went on vacation with God?
When we’re at the beach, soaking in the sun’s rays, let’s also soak in His Word. Let’s splash in the waves of His love and grace.
Courtesy: Christina Fox
When we are relaxing by the lake, let’s also relax in the peace of God that passes all understanding.
Courtesy: Christina Fox
When we stand in awe and wonder at the beauty of the mountains, let’s also stand in awe at the power and majesty of the God who created them.
Courtesy: Christina Fox
No matter the changes to our schedule or routine this summer, may God always be at the forefront of our minds and hearts. May we see His love in bigger and brighter ways. May His mercy and grace become increasingly magnified in our hearts. May we also see His hand at work in all the places we visit and in each new discovery and experience we enjoy.
This summer, let’s jump in and grow deeper in love with our Savior.
Courtesy: Christina Fox
Source: Christina Fox
We recently spent the day at a botanical garden. Though the last of winter’s chill lingered in the air, the flowers were in full bloom. I breathed in their heavy scent and marveled at the variegated colors. I was mesmerized by all the different kinds of plants and flowers, snapping pictures at nearly every step I took. I could have stayed there for days, soaking in the aromas and enjoying the beauty around me.
Flowers are a reminder that warmer days have arrived. Like all living things, flowers follow a seasonal pattern. All of nature has an ebb and flow, seasons of life and death. The flowers blooming today notify us that winter has passed, spring is here and summer is on its way.
Source: Christina Fox
Our lives have a similar seasonal pattern. There are dark, cold nights of the soul as well as warm periods of utter joy. There are seasons of suffering and seasons of blessing. We go through trials and challenges, unexpected events, times of hunger and bouts of pain. No matter the season, our trust in God’s love and faithfulness brings us through one season and on to the next.
“I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” Philippians 4:12
The flowers of spring bring a sweet aroma, reminding us of the faithfulness of God. His covenant love for His children is stronger than the fiercest winter in our soul. The beauty of God’s creation tells of His generous loving care for all He has made.
Christ pointed to flowers as a reminder of God’s love and providential care, “Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!” (Luke 12:27,28)
The Bible speaks repeatedly about remembering all the ways God has loved and cared for His people. Following the first Passover, the Jews in the OT were told to celebrate and remember for generations to come the way God rescued them from Egypt. These celebrations occurred year after year. They were to look back in their past and see the way God had redeemed them from slavery and blessed them as a nation.
Remembering his faithfulness and counting the ways he blesses, propels us forward during difficult times. When a cold season approaches, we can reach back into summer past and remember all that God has done. Looking back on past grace gives us faith in His future grace.
Source: Christina Fox
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus… I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:4-7,13
Seeing God’s handiwork in the brilliant display of flowers reminded me of God’s vast and amazing love. This season of growth and new life reminds me that resurrection follows death. Even though I experience challenging seasons in my life, light always shines at the end of the darkest night.
We need to seek and savor the sweet smells of blessing in our life today. Trials will come, and when they do, we need to remember all the ways He loves and blesses us. When the cold and the darkness of winter visits our heart, we need to recall the warmth of His light and cling to His faithfulness. Spring follows winter; joy comes with the morning light.
How can you remember His love today?
I know a few things about storms.
It was late summer of 2004. My husband had gone to join the mob at the gas station. I was home packing boxes with photo albums, important papers and a few childhood mementos. I stood in front of the china cabinet, staring and considering. If we lost everything, what would I wish I had saved? There was the vintage snack plates that were my great-grandmother’s, my white milk glass collection, a Depression era cut glass candy dish that was my grandmother’s, a full china set–but there wasn’t room for it all. I chose a teacup and saucer, inherited from Grandmother’s collection, carefully wrapped it and placed it in the box.
I was nine months pregnant with our first child. The thought of a hurricane bearing down on our part of the coast had me filled with anxious thoughts. “What if the baby comes during the storm?” “What if we return to significant damage?” “What if…?” These thoughts and more filled my mind as I drove myself and the boxes an hour and a half inland to my in-laws house. My husband headed south to his fire station to help with any emergencies during and after the storm.
Those three days were long, as we waited for the massive, slow-moving hurricane Frances to finish making its way across Florida. It had come on shore near the town we live in, leaving a broad path of damage in its wake.
Three weeks later, hurricane Jeanne followed the same path through our town. This time, it precipitated the birth of our first son.
In Florida, we spend half the year prepared for hurricanes. We always keep the garage stocked with water, batteries and non-perishable foods. Empty gas cans line the shelves, ready and waiting to be filled. I’ve gotten used to this routine of preparedness and usually breathe a sigh of relief come November, at the season’s end.
In addition to meteorological storms, I know something of life storms as well. I’ve experienced deep grief and loss. Depression is also a storm that has followed me since adolescence. It always hangs there, like storm clouds in the distance, threatening and looming. When the depression comes, it comes on fierce and often leaves its own wake of damage.
One thing I know about storms, atmospheric storms or those from suffering, is the importance of being prepared ahead of time. It’s during times of sunshine when we stock our hurricane supplies. And it’s before painful trials enter our lives that we need to prepare our hearts. We prepare by spending time in the Word, stockpiling verses of hope in our heart. It’s important that we learn and grow in our faith in the sovereignty of God before a storm arrives. Trusting and believing that God’s sovereign hand is at work in all things, including the storms we face, will shelter our heart during times of suffering. It’s also important to prepare our heart in advance of a storm, because in the midst of suffering, we are too distracted and emotionally distraught. Now is the time to grow in faith and trust in God, in His love for us, and in the knowledge that He is in control of all things.
The disciples experienced a rough storm of their own in Mark 4. This storm was both atmospherical and deeply emotional as well. Their faith in Jesus wasn’t yet strong and secure. They still didn’t quite know who Jesus was. They didn’t realize that He was the One who was there when the wind and rain was created and the One who had absolute control over all of creation. When the storm came upon them, they waited until they had lost all control, and then they called out to Jesus to help them. They didn’t realize that though He was asleep, He was in complete control the entire time.
Source: Christina Fox
We cannot stop storms from coming and they will continue to do so until that Final Day. Sometimes, it may seem like God isn’t there when we need Him most. Being prepared for life’s storms, seeking shelter in our Strong Tower, and feeding on the Word stored in our heart will help us know that He is indeed there. Before the first winds blow, we need to have our theology about God and suffering in place. A firm faith, grounded in the Word and the gospel of grace, will keep us secure during life’s difficult storms.
Is your heart prepared for future storms?