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I Want God More Than Control

I Want God More Than Control

Back when we had permed hair and were twentysomething vibrant, we used to talk about how we hoped God would never send us as missionaries to Africa.

My best friend and I recently revisited this twenty-year-old conversation: how while we walked the halls of a seminary where we studied God, we secretly feared a call on our lives that would make us do something radical and hard. Now, on one hand, we cringe at this. We want to judge it and call it ignorance or selfishness or being really young or thinking life was just up to us, but then we step back, pause, and get honest.

Were we really that different from most believers? We say we want God but sit with fingers crossed behind our backs, hoping He will never ask us to do something too sacrificial.

The truth is that our fear was never really about Africa. Africa just represented something that was unknown. Africa got blamed for what was really a small faith—a mindset whereby we could love God but never let that love interrupt our plan for a beautiful house, a handsome husband, three kids, a dog or two, manicured nails, church on Sunday, and cute jeans. It was never about Africa. It was about wanting life both ways.

Somewhere in the midst of the daily whirlwind of life, we have convinced ourselves that we can live in the in-between when it comes to God. We are convinced we can make our faith what we want it to be— customize it like we do with food at restaurants, ordering faith to fit our tastes. But when we become followers of Christ, we don’t get to make up the script. It’s either all God or no God, He says.

Our desire for control—for logic, for reason, for that which makes sense to us—is one of the biggest factors in why we don’t have more of God. It’s not that God is displeased with our logic or that we shouldn’t seek spiritual understanding through the study of Scripture. In fact, this is the essence of spiritual growth: we want more of God the more we know Him. But if we truly want God, the piece that must be abandoned is our demand for logic. We have to want Him more than what we can understand since intellect gets in the way of unvarnished love. When we demand that God make sense, we overstep our role and show our sense of entitlement. In life, God calls us to scary places we can’t understand, and we must have an open heart of faith to take the leap with Him. We must come as children who know and care nothing of formulas, calculations, and risk. That is faith. That is what makes a Father glad.

Life with God was never meant to be a calculated risk; it was meant to be an illogical surety. Logical people are at risk of stepping in the way of the supernatural. We don’t mean to—it’s just that often there’s a core incompatibility between what is known (tangible, flesh, earth) and the Unknown (God), and when we choose logic, it hinders His work. Don’t misunderstand—God doesn’t need us to understand to do His thing. He can work under any conditions, at any time, in any way. But whether we submit to His working is in our hands.

He wanted us to choose things and see things and experience things from a free will and an open heart. Otherwise, He would have created robots to simply do His bidding. But He didn’t. Because He is God, a part of Him will always be unknown to us as humans with limited minds. Yet so much of Him can be known by way of Scripture, experience, the heart, the mind, and the senses. We don’t need logic and reason to know we love and trust God.

And while logic feels good because it is a controllable entity, God often calls us to illogical and unreasonable places to expose what position control holds in our lives. He calls us to the things we fear because they’re foreign and require sacrifice. The things we don’t want to face because they seem too hard.

I wonder: What is your Africa? It took twenty-five years, but my best friend finally met hers. It started with a simple phone call, a “simple” inquiry about foster children in her county who needed a home, but it really started before that. The heart change had to come first, and did. It started seven years before with a trip to Colorado for couples struggling in their marriage. She went with her husband, fighting long-held private struggles. But she came back herself having changed. My best friend wasn’t the same best friend when she came back. She was a better version of the same one I loved. Something inside of her had met God in a different way in those Colorado mountains— something that made her more God-hungry than ever before. She was just . . . different.

So I wasn’t completely surprised when she called me a few years later to tell me the news. “We’re going to look deeper into foster care, Lisa. I don’t have a clue what I’m doing. I just feel pulled to do this and I can’t explain why.”

I didn’t need her to explain. I knew from my own life that wanting God means doing things that move His heart—which we want to do. People will no longer have to pitch us on God-causes; our heart for Him compels us to pursue them.

And I knew this, too—that God doesn’t typically ready us in ways we think work best and look best to others. He readies us on the inside when we can’t see it ourselves. (It’s a myth to think we will ever be ready for anything that is a God-sized undertaking. We can position ourselves but can never fully prepare.) My friend would never be ready to do foster care. But she was already ready to do it because of her desire for Him.

She’d done some form of foster care for many years, but I remember her first two years as a foster mom well. Many phone calls where she cried in frustration because it was hard and heartbreaking. Many moments when she felt like she wasn’t enough. I would tell her I loved her but offered little more than that because I just couldn’t help like God. She was bitten and spat on, and held children deep into the night while they told her they heard voices. She was in way over her head, way “underqualified” for the things she could and would tell me about. My little khaki-wearing friend became a woman who walked in and out of jails and spoke to the courts like an expert, without batting an eye. She loved her foster kids. They loved her. They became family. She cried, even when she knew it was right, the day the baby she’d had since birth left their home. I watched, from afar, as an observer. None of it made sense.

But it was all God. It’s what she could not unknow after she knew it.

We have both learned much since those seminary days. About life, God, and what messy looks like. We have learned that life is not our script to write and God lives in the illogical sureties, which are abundantly superior to the calculated risks.

And there is much more to learn. But some things about God we never will. So we keep going and make peace with the not knowing, understanding it is an important part of wanting Him first and most.

Article adapted from I Want God: How to Love Him with Your Whole Heart and Revive Your Soul by Lisa Whittle. Copyright © 2023. Use by permission of Thomas Nelson.

Lisa Whittle, a bestselling author, speaker, podcast host, and Bible teacher is the author of I Want God: How to Love Him with Your Whole Heart and Revive Your Soul. Lisa is the founder of Ministry Strong and the popular Jesus Over Everything Podcast. www.LisaWhittle.com

Back to the Basics

Back to the Basics

“I have learned to hold all things loosely, so God will not have to pry them out of my hands.Corrie Ten Boom

Materialism. Something I would argue to be one of my biggest sin struggles. What is it about this sin in particular that takes my eyes off Jesus so easily? I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the root of this struggle and I think I’ve come to somewhat of a conclusion. We live in a world where everyone has material things which is normal, of course. I’ve got plenty of my own. But where my struggle comes in is when I begin feeling like I need to play catch-up with everyone else. “Wait that looks SO cute on her, I want that!” “Oh, this is what’s trending, I’ve got to get it!” “If I can just get this one thing, I’ll be satisfied!”

And in today’s society, when so many people are fixated on the same worldly things, it’s easy to feel like whatever we’re doing is okay, good or bad. Like we’re safe to continue doing what we’re doing because other people around us claim to be believers and are doing the same things. But the danger in this is that when it turns into a chain reaction and everyone starts feeling like it’s all “okay”, there’s no-one around to correct with Truth. And steadily, sin (of any kind) creeps in and becomes normalized. Now, more than ever, is the time for us to point back to Scripture in every decision we make and truly ask ourselves the cliché but insightful question, “what would Jesus do?” 

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with owning things. But when our main focus shifts from what satisfies Jesus to what satisfies us, our lives begin to reflect self-indulging culture, and our idea of our purpose on Earth gets skewed.

I often think about this scenario: What if there was no-one else on Earth except me and God? If there was no-one to impress or compete with. If there were no distractions from my sole purpose in life: glorifying Him. While I do know God intended for us to be in community and there is no likelihood for this scenario to ever occur, I find myself with the desire to live with this mentality. Pure joy. Obedient to whatever He asks of me. Not worrying about whatever “cool” thing the person next to me is doing or chasing after. No comparison and no insecurities. No distractions. And I have this urge to carry that joy, love, peace, patience, all the fruits to everyone around me. 

When I think about this scenario, I picture a specific place in my mind. It’s the place I’ve gone for years to just be with God. Something about this place brings about feelings of peace and serenity. When I’m there, it feels as if God is holding my hand and walking alongside me as I talk with Him. Let me be clear, God is omnipresent. He is in your car, your house, your workplace. Anywhere you go, He is with you. And we have access to Him wherever we go! But there’s something about seeking out a place that’s special to just you and Him. For me, it was a game changer. There’s nothing else I associate my special place with other than God. I encourage you to do the same! Seek out a spot of your own to meet with Jesus, whether it’s a room in your house or a spot in your backyard!

James 5 has been on my heart recently and I can’t seem to get it out of my head. 

“Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! … You have lived on Earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourself in the day of slaughter.” (James 5:1-3,5) 

It might sound a bit harsh, but sometimes I, personally, think I need harsh correction to snap me out of the disillusionment that worldly possessions are our source of fulfillment. 

But when I sit in the silence with Jesus, and everything else fades away, I’m reminded that nothing in this world rivals the beauty and glory of our Savior. 

My pastor and his wife spent this past Sunday’s sermon discussing the little details of the Christmas story that are often overlooked. A baby, our Savior, entered this world, not in a fancy or ornate way. But in a manger. And He did it so personally. Because He’s such a personal God. He came to Earth knowing every flaw and every imperfection, every sin and every mistake we’d ever make. And He still chose love. He still chose the cross. He still chose you. 

He loves us in spite of our mistakes, even when we do fall short and take more delight in the things of this world than the things of Him. But when we fall, we get up, and run back to Him, because He’s waiting with open arms.

I’m challenging myself to recognize the sin at the forefront of temptation. For instance, when I feel the urge to make an unnecessary purchase or indulge in the material things, I’m learning to think about how I could use that same money or resources to contribute to God’s Kingdom.

I’m reminded of the scripture: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

Materialistic things may seem temporarily fulfilling, but the satisfaction of Jesus is eternal. 

It can be a dangerous game when you find yourself debating if you “can” pay your tithes or not from a paycheck because there are other things you want to buy instead. I have found myself in that mindset more than I’d like to admit. But when I go back to what I know to be Truth, that everything I “own” has been God’s since before He ever loaned it to me, that He loves me beyond the worth of anything I could ever offer Him, there’s a shift in not just my actions, but my intentions and perspective. God wants us to give back to Him because we love Him. And when our minds stray to the wrong place, there are hearts will stray as well. But in the same way, when our minds shift to the right place, there our hearts will shift as well. 

“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)

What is it that when you sit in the silence with God with no distractions, you feel Him urging you to shift in your life? Ask God to show you through His Word or however He chooses, and then follow those convictions. We are a team running the same race toward Jesus. And one day, when we reach the finish line, we’ll see why the things of this world’s value were incomparable to what Jesus has for our eternity. 

I love you, friends! And I encourage you to keep running the race with endurance!

Elizabeth is a member of Team LO and is passionate about Jesus & writing! She enjoys spending time with her husband, Chaz, having coffee with friends, and helping lead worship at her church. 

Keep up with Elizabeth on Instagram @elizabethmtrichel

A Shift in Perspective

A Shift in Perspective

Fear and discouragement inevitably knock on the door to my dreams. When I answer now, I politely welcome them in, acknowledge their presence, and then escort them out before they invade my refrigerator and linger on my couch. I tell them I’m too busy this time, that I have God’s business to attend to, and that they don’t have any business tending to me. I can make up a lot of reasons why I can’t, or shouldn’t, or don’t deserve it; that dreaming is reserved for other people, people who aren’t like me. But here’s something I often remind myself of: I technically don’t have to believe in myself. Instead, I can lean entirely on God’s abilities, which are perfect and never-ending.

To prevent crippling fear from creeping in sometimes, I do an exercise called “Fear Setting.” It’s been so effective in my life throughout the years that my husband started recommending it to his clients in therapy. Here’s the exercise in case you want to try too:

  1. Write down one goal that you are afraid of (in question form).
  2. Now, make a list of every fear you can think of as it relates to this goal. These can be realistic, highly irrational, or dramatic. Write down any and every little thing you can think of that could go wrong. This is not a time to be judgmental toward yourself or your fears. The more you write down, the better.
  3. Then make a list of ways that you can prevent these fears from occurring. This is a great place to work on your brainstorming abilities and problem-solving skills.
  4. Finally, if some of your fears do come true, list ways you can repair your life and recover from them.

Even with this soothing exercise in reach, there are some days when fear can be so paralyzing that moving forward feels more like navigating the forceful hands of quicksand. On days like those, I refer to the basics: What does God say about fear? I’ll thumb through the concordance and choose one word that I need to focus on that day. Sometimes it’s “fear” itself or “anxiety” or “worry.” Then I’ll look up each recommended scripture, reading them aloud to myself, pacing around the room, desperate for peace. Eventually, I’ll be so consumed with the Holy Spirit that putting in the work becomes an expression of my excitement rather than something to dread.

This is what I read today: “I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Corinthians 2:3–5).

Graduating from a fear-based mindset to a faith-based one has been the most liberating and useful thing I’ve done these days. Maybe “graduating” isn’t the best word to use because it’s more like studying. It’s an ongoing process, not some place I’ve arrived. But it’s influencing everything—how I listen to God in my prayer life, who I call for help, and how authentically I try to parent and live and work. I don’t know anyone who lives without fear, not truly. But the skill I’m trying to master lately—I’m calling it a skill because it takes practice—is to welcome that fear, sit with it, pray through it, and then do the thing anyway. This skill has the power to change the course of my life if I let it. It’s entirely challenging, but I’m building childlike faith in the process. Even though caving into the fear, and the ice cream, is a much more natural solution, I’m gaining spiritual muscle by spending time reading my study Bible and praying every day when I’d rather put it off. I’m letting God know that I’m eager to be used and that my character is forming. He can trust me with a specific assignment, big or small or in between.

Fear might stop by to say, “Hello,” from time to time, but it no longer stays the night. Faith is the sink-or-swim moment in all our stories, and maintaining trust in God and His voice is essential, like clean water. Fear is its counterpart, entirely dirty, dark, and toxic to the insides.

I know it seems daunting to step out in full faith, like being the first one in a relationship to confess those “three little words.” The fear of not being loved in return is terrible and haunting and sickening all at once. Yet somehow, you clear your throat, look the other person in the eye, and muster the courage to say, “I love you.” Why? Because there’s a slight chance that person might say, “I love you too,” making that leap of faith worth any future rejection. So as fearful as I might be today, I have a choice: I can believe God, or I can ignore His calls, continually sending them to voice mail. I hope I choose faith. That hour after hour, I look to God as intensely as my husband and I looked for his wedding ring in the middle of the electric-blue Caribbean waters. We never found the wedding ring, but we always find God when we keep searching for Him. “Come near to God and he will come near to you” (James 4:8).

I hope with this newfound perspective—this shift from fear to faith—that my mindset grows stronger with experience and repetition. That the more I do it, the more confident I become in the process. Because when God trusts me with something, He never reveals all of the steps to take. Not for me not asking him 24/7 though. I’ve pleaded with Him many times for clarification, requesting details and fretting over the what-ifs. But still, He does not unveil anything else until He wants to, and it’s usually never when I’d like Him to. I know, I know. Faith wouldn’t be required if I knew all the answers ahead of time. It’s okay. I’m starting to appreciate that, or at the very least, I’ve become more used to it. Now when God speaks, I jump with what appears to be a hard landing and no net. Then, like clockwork, like Superman, He catches me at the very last second, easing my anxious mind and glorifying Himself in the process.

Taken from Glasses Off: Seeing God When Your Vision Is Gone by Ciara Laine Myers (Westbow).

Ciara Laine Myers the author of Glasses Off: Seeing God When Your Vision Is Gone. She loves her family and friends, and she loves to read. Like you, she’s not just one thing. She’s a mother and an award-winning business owner. You can find her in the pages of this book and in Prosper, Texas, where she lives with her husband Paul, her daughters Audri and Averi, and her dog Zoey.

Keep up with Ciara on Instagram at @ciaralainemyers

The Power of “Even If”

The Power of “Even If”

If you are anything like me, it’s easy to worry about anything and everything! Sometimes it can be the simplest things in life, like worrying if I said the right thing to someone in a conversation. But other times, it feels like the weight of the problem is so big that all I can do is worry about the outcome or solution. In those moments, it’s easy to feel so hopeless and scared. You start thinking, “what if this happens” or “what if that happens” and from there, you can spiral at all the negative possibilities. If you’ve found yourself in a similar situation, you are not alone. Actually, you are in the right place. I can’t wait to share with you the power of “Even if” and how my faith in God has been forever changed.

5 days after turning 19 years old, I had one of the scariest surgeries I’ve ever had. At the time, I was a collegiate long distance runner and had been running my whole life. In 2017, I started having back pain that was preventing me from running and even doing simple life tasks. After months of doctor appointments, physical therapy, and injections…I still had pain and no answers. I remember feeling like no one believed my pain. I remember feeling alone. I remember begging the Lord to heal me and take away the pain as I knew he could. But in this season of my life, the Lord didn’t do that. Once I finally got answers, I learned that I have Degenerative Disc Disease and because of this, I was going to need a 360 back fusion. This is a surgery where they go through the stomach and put in a cage with stem cells and then they flip you over and go through your back and add rods and screws. As you can understand, I was terrified! I started worrying about everything. “What if i can never run again, what if relearning how to walk is so hard i can’t do it, what if my surgery has complications, and what if i don’t get to go back to school next semester?” I gave power to the worry in my life and those questions started to consume me. Thank goodness for wise, loving moms. It was before my surgery that my mom told me this verse, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s troubles are enough for today. Matthew 6:34” This verse is a hard concept to understand, especially for those who worry and fret about the future we can not see. We shouldn’t worry about things we can’t control. At the end of the day, we are not the maker of the universe or the one in control of our own lives. However, the good news is our God is! He already has tomorrow planned for us. He will take care of us day-by-day and moment-by-moment. During this season of my life, I really learned what it looks like to trust God even when I didn’t know what the outcome would look like.

Have you ever wondered what would happen if we just trust God in everything we do? I mean like REALLY trust him. It’s easy to trust God when life is going your way, but what about when you’re held to the flame? Where does your faith go then? When we are lacking in faith, we start to stand in the power of “what if” statements.

  • What if I’m not pretty enough?
  • What if I’m not good enough?
  • What if I never get to be a mother?
  • What if my friends judge me for following Jesus?
  • What if I disappoint the Lord?
  • What if my marriage won’t last?
  • What if I never get married?

According to the dictionary, “What if”, is used when something is RARELY done or just IMAGINED. Every time we use a “what if” statement, this is just the worry talking about something that may not even happen or an idea that our imagination came up with. Our emotions control these “what if” statements…and let me tell you, sometimes your emotions lie. “What if” statements only take emotions, but “Even if” statements only take faith. The word “Even if” is used to say that if something is the case or not, the result is the SAME. Is this as mind blowing to you as it is to me? Whether this happens to you or not, the result is the same! This is who Jesus is! He is good, no matter what happens, no matter if he answers your prayer or not, he will always be good. If we stand in the power of “what if”, then we will never get to experience the faith of “even if”. There is even a story in the Bible that proves this.

My all time favorite Bible Story is about 3 young men and the faith they had in the one true God. In Daniel 3, we learn about King Nebuchadnezzar and a huge golden idol he made. He told everyone that when they hear the musical instrument, they must bow down to worship the gold statue. Anyone who refused to obey would immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace. When it came time to bow down to the idol, 3 jewish men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, would not do it. The King told them that they would be thrown into the furnace if they didn’t…and this was their response:

“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17 -18)

The 3 men were thrown into a furnace that was seven times hotter than usual. Then the King saw a 4th man standing in the fire with them. He called for them to come out and saw that they had not been burned. King Nebuchadnezzar then praised the Lord and told everyone to follow the one true God.

We see in verses 17-18 that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had faith that God could save them. They trusted God enough to say that even if he doesn’t save them, THE RESULT IS STILL THE SAME. Whether they turned to ashes or they were saved…God is still good & God is still King. God may work a miracle in your life or he may not…but that can not change how you respond to a test of your faith. It’s easy to let pain and sorrow lead your life, but look at the 3 jewish men. They still had to go through the fire and experience the flames…but the Lord was WITH them through it all. God is with you in the moments you feel alone, he is with you when you feel hopeless, he is with you when you don’t know what’s going to happen next, and he is with you when the weight of worry comes crashing down. I encourage you to change your “what if’s” to “even if’s” and stop giving power to worry. Today you can be set free from worry, but you have to declare your faith to the Lord. Not 10%, not 50%, not even 98%…you have to give 100% of your worries to the Lord. When you do, just like King Nebuchadnezzar, people around you will see your faith and will be encouraged to follow after the one who truly knows the plans for our future.

After having major back surgery, the Lord answered my prayers. I relearned how to walk, I went back to college the next semester, and I even finished out my college career as a long distance runner for my school. And let me tell you…Jesus got all the credit. In that season of my life, the Lord chose to heal me, but I had to have faith. I’m not saying that having faith is easy or after you give up worry, you won’t ever struggle again. The truth is your faith will always be tested in life, but if the Lord has done it before, I know He will do it again. But even if he doesn’t, I know He is still good and the plan he has for my life is better than I could ever imagine. My faith forever changed the moment I started changing my “what if’s” to “even if’s”.

Mya is a member of Team LO and enjoys spending time with her husband, Isaac, and their dog Bevo! Keep up with Mya on Instagram @mya.d.ramirez!

Feasting on the Word of God

Feasting on the Word of God

I was sitting in a restaurant in the Newark airport on October 7, 2023. It was a lazy travel day as I was enjoying a cheese plate and waiting for my flight to Tel Aviv, Israel. I was headed there to join up with 300 people for our biblical study trip together. My phone lit up beside me to notify me that my flight to Tel Aviv had been cancelled due to “unrest in the region.”

My heart seized. I knew right then and there, sitting at that table in the airport, that something had gone terribly wrong. I’ve seen some news outlets say that October 7, 2023 was the singular bloodiest day for Jews since the Holocaust. I’ve heard it referred to as “Israel’s 9-11.” An attendant helped me book a return flight home to TN, and I read my Bible all the way home.

That was 9 days ago now. And I wonder why reaching for my Bible was the reflex, the instinct on such a dark day? It wasn’t to read or learn something. I reached for my Bible because I needed to interact with Someone. Jewish culture has gifted us with rich imagery when it comes to humans interacting with the Bible and the Living God of the Bible. It’s about feasting on the Scriptures, taking them in, letting them do their work in us.

We never simply read the Bible. We interact with it. It is living and active and so are we. It is life with life. It is dynamic. Whether you have thought of this or not, you have a relationship with your Bible. We are not orphans and we are not the fatherless. We do not have to scrape and scrounge our way through the Bible. The Living God as our Father has prepared the feast for us – we posture ourselves to receive it. A biblical passage I often pray as I open my Bible –

“I am the Lord your God,

who brought you up out of Egypt.

Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.”

Psalm 81:10

There are three concepts of interacting with the Word of God that have guided me for several years after studying in Egypt and Israel. These three ways of interacting with the Word of God and the Living God of the Bible quicken me, encourage me, convict me and remind me of the best and truest Story ever told – the Story of the Bible.

Feast

There are some interesting passages in the Old Testament where the Scriptures are referred to as tasting like honey. Psalm 19:7-10 says that the law of the Lord is “sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb” (v.10). An angel told the prophet Ezekiel to eat the scroll, and Ezekiel said, “So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth” (Ez. 3:1-3). The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight” (Jer. 15:16).

We want to take the Word of God in so that it becomes part of us. We carry it with us as it guides us, informs us and strengthens us in the journey of life. The Scriptures are to be enjoyed – processed, pondered, discussed and lived out in embodied faith. Great food is best experienced with great people. The Scriptures are best experienced together as a community. The Word of God is a rich table for us to gather around.

Hagah

The book of Psalms is by far the largest book in the Bible. The psalter opens with this grand pronouncement…

“Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked

or stand in the way that sinners take

or sit in the company of mockers,

but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,

and who [meditates] on his law day and night.”

Psalm 1:1-2

What image comes into your mind when you think of meditation? I often envision it as a quiet, contemplative practice. This word “meditate” in the Hebrew of the Old Testament is the word “hagah”. It carries the idea of growling – think of the way a lion growls as it devours its prey. It’s energetic, focused, active and all in. The psalter begins with the wisdom that the one who hagah’s the law of the Lord will be blessed. We are meant to devour the Word of God. In this, we too are blessed.

Parasha

I grew up in a Christian home where daily Bible reading was encouraged and practiced. We called it our daily “quiet time.” There is a Hebrew word called “parasha,” and it’s where we get the English word “portion.” The parasha is the portion of Scripture read in synagogue each week. I often think of the food practice of portion control. Yet again, we see rich imagery of taking in our portion of the Word of God, feeding on it and letting it have its way in us as we are being formed more and more as followers of Jesus.

Sometimes I attend a local messianic congregation for their Shabbat services on Saturday mornings. When the big Scripture scroll is taken out of the ark, the people begin rejoicing, celebrating, singing and dancing, welcoming the Word into their midst. They often stand for the reading of that day’s parasha. They reverence the presence of the Scriptures among them. When I go, I wait for this moment. It’s one of my most favorite experiences ever.

When it comes to our interactions with the Word of God, we never simply read it. We will never master the Scriptures. That’s not the point. God, as our Father, has given us the best and truest Story ever told in the Bible. We are invited to feast on it, to hagah it, to take in our daily portions (parasha) of the Word. As we experience the Scriptures and the Living God of the Bible, we find ourselves located IN the great Story. We have a part to play as the New Testament church. We are following Jesus, walking in his way and inviting heaven to earth.

Kristi McLelland is a professor, speaker and author of Rediscovering Israel. She teaches the Bible in its historical, cultural, geographic, and linguistic contexts. Kristi leads biblical study trips to Israel, helping Westerners discover the Bible within the context in which it was written. Keep up with Kristi on Instagram @kristimclelland or at KristiMcLelland.com

Israel: How to Process It All

Israel: How to Process It All

What do you feel when you hear about what’s going on around the world? The evil, pain, and unbelievable circumstances some people find themselves in are hard to comprehend. Sometimes you might feel numb to it, like it’s another sad event in our world and sometimes it will hit you deeper. Something about that specific story connects with you. You are drawn to every detail and every first person account, so you watch the news non stop and read every article at your disposal. We turn to social media to watch real time videos of what’s happening to innocent lives. The problem with our access to every news outlet, opinion, and first person account is we feel pressure to over educate ourselves. To have our stance on what’s going on in the world, and while there is wisdom to educate yourself over educating yourself can be harmful. That’s what we’re all facing as the war and violence is taking place in Israel and Gaza. We are pressed to take a side, have a strong opinion on what we’re thinking and feeling.

When I first heard of what was going on in Israel I felt sad. My spirit was heavy for God’s people, but it didn’t make me anxious until the idea of the end times came up. It caused me great anxiety because my first thought was, “I’m not ready to die. I have so much life I want to live. I’m bringing a little girl into the world and I want to be able to watch her grow up and live a full life.” I was anxious because I wasn’t educated enough in the right areas. Bits and pieces from friends, preachers, news outlets, and my own education that were incomplete made me feel unaware of the truth. 

The first thing I did was pray about my anxiety. I prayed about how I was feeling, not because it’s more important than what’s going on in Israel, but because I know that God cares about me as His daughter. He cares that I am anxious because of what’s going on with his people. I confided in my husband about how I was feeling and let him in on my unfiltered thoughts and feelings. He helped me see that my anxiety had clouded my ability to see that my hope is in God, not what’s happening in the world. 

Sometimes we have to ask ourselves the hard questions to get to a place of peace, we need to explore with trusted people what’s actually going on in the depths of our hearts. Sometimes we have to understand we need more education in the right areas to have peace. Sometimes we need to take a break from the searching, reading, and watching to allow ourselves to be regulated and present to where we are. 

For most of you reading this; you’re not in Israel. You’re reading this from your couch, desk, bed, or kitchen table. You are most likely safe. You are not in immediate danger or worried about a terrorist group taking over your neighborhood. But your emotions might tell you otherwise. You might have deep anguish over what’s happening in Israel. Your heart might feel heavy, confused, shocked or anxious. Maybe you don’t feel any of those ways but you’re convinced you are supposed to because everyone else is. I don’t think there is one right way to feel or process what’s happening in Israel, but I do think there is a harmful way. Allowing it to overtake your peace, ability to be present, and create unnecessary stress and anxiety is not creating anything good within you. 

You don’t need to convince yourself you are in danger to find empathy within yourself for what’s happening to the people of Israel. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It’s not absorbing someone else’s pain and suffering as your own. I think the enemy uses news, education, and first person accounts to create second hand trauma within us. Which is exactly as it sounds; “emotional duress that results when an individual hears about the firsthand experiences of another.” You don’t have to have second hand trauma to have empathy and have a broken heart over what is breaking God’s heart. Thats a lie from the enemy to create disruption within you. 

So what do you do? How do you balance education and boundaries to not cause yourself second hand trauma or unnecessary anxiety? 

Know your limits – If you are not accustomed to hearing trauma on a regular basis, hearing someone share their story of being kidnapped might cause you great distress and anxiety. If you’re currently facing something traumatic personally, reading into the trauma of the war in Israel could enhance your emotions in your own personal trauma. If you’ve been a refugee of war, reading about this war could trigger some painful memories which could cause potential re-traumatization. Know the level of sensitivity your spirit has when it comes to hearing traumatic stories. You don’t have to turn a blind eye to the reality of our world, but maybe you don’t need to read every detailed story the internet has to offer. Spark notes are enough for you. The hardest part about knowing your limit is having self-control to stop yourself. You might feel tempted to keep digging, but just because you want to doesn’t always mean you should! 

Be mindful of what educating yourself is causing within you: Notice I said educating yourself. Being aware is a good thing, but if your desire to be aware turns into obsession, put up restrictions on yourself. We cannot be all-knowing, so burying yourself in every video, article, and news report is probably not producing an empathic spirit, but maybe a controlling spirit. You can obtain enough knowledge to be up to date while limiting yourself to the amount of times you check the news in a day. Know the basics, and maybe for you that’s where you stop because the more you read the more anxious you feel. Now on the other hand; know why those feelings are coming up in you. Is there something specific causing those emotions? There is a high chance there’s a root in your feelings. Maybe you are digging deep into these stories because it distracts you from your own or because this feels like a way you can control what’s happening by knowing everything.

Read truth to know the truth. 

As much as this is a physical war, it’s also a spiritual war. Educating yourself in what’s happening in both the physical and spiritual side of this is crucial to create peace and remove anxiety. When you educate yourself about what the Bible says about war, Israel, and the pain and suffering in this world, you won’t feel defeated and hopeless in the stories. You can see hope even when there is no hope, because our hope isn’t in the stories of the world. It’s in the redemptive and saving story of Jesus. When we can’t make sense of our reality, we need to hold onto something or someone. Take time to look into God’s perspective of the war so that you can have comfort in knowing He cares about what’s going on and He is in control, no matter how out of control it seems to be.

Everything going on around us in our world today can be overwhelming and lead to many emotions, which is why it’s important to know how to personally process it all. Let’s continue to pray for our brothers and sisters and remember that our hope is found in Jesus.

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