Hi friend, I am so excited to share my message from Passion 2022 with you! I pray this encourages you and speaks Truth into your life!
Starting out, I need to say that what I know more than anything is that the enemy does not want you to receive the message I’m about to share. I know the enemy doesn’t want you to be reminded of who you are and what you’re called to do. But the enemy cannot stop the move of God.
I want to take this time to remind you of who you are. I want to talk about identity, which should be a great conversation, right? As a culture, we love to talk about identity. We’re actually obsessed with it. We love talking about the enneagram, myers-briggs test, or any kind of online quiz we can take. We even like to talk about our childhood self and how we became who we are today. But it’s kind of strange, because even though we love talking about who we are, nobody actually likes to be hit with the question, “who are you?”
If you’ve ever been in a group setting like the first day of school, and the teacher says to go around the room and say a bit about yourself, it’s pretty awkward, right? All of a sudden, you’re hit with so much insecurity and awkwardness and you start questioning who you are, what you’ve ever done, and what to say in that moment that’s not too cocky but still cool. And that’s kind of a funny moment with silly insecurity and anxiety. But for some of us, the reality is there is true anxiety and insecurity around the thought of “who am I.” Because truthfully you might be sitting there right now thinking, “I have no clue who I am.” And not only is that the case, but you don’t know you’re purpose either. That’s a tough place to be, but you are not alone.
Then there are some of you who are just confused about who you are. You identify with all types of things but none of them are really fulfilling. A few weeks ago, I asked this question on Instagram: What do you identify yourself with? And I had thousands of answers. Some of which included looks, sororities, grades, gender, sexuality, race, disabilities. Then I had tons of people say, “I don’t know.” But then there are some of you who are confident to answer the question of “who am I?” Your answer is simple. “I am who You say I am.” But I want to follow up with this question: Has that actually changed who you are? Has who He says that you are actually changed the nature of who you are? Because we can say it all day long with confidence, but that doesn’t mean we’re confident people. You see, there was a time in my life when I could tell you all about who He says I am. Yet, I was still insecure and living in shame. So, what He said about me didn’t actually change me. Friend, you can know everything He says about you. But what ultimately matters is who He is to you. If He’s not on the throne of your life, then what He says about you isn’t going to change who you are.
So, as we dive into the topic of identity, I have another question for you. The answer to this question is going to tell us who we are and what we’re going to do with our lives. I want us to take a look at Matthew 16:13. But before I get there, I want to paint a backstory of the situation. Jesus is having a conversation with His disciples. It’s a huge conversation between Peter and Jesus in Caesarea, Philippi, a city known as the gates of hell. At the time, Caesarea was the central place for false worship. If you went to this city, you’d see temples lined up everywhere, all serving different gods. It’s a little strange that this is the place Jesus decided to have this conversation. But I know He had a purpose for it. So, as he’s surrounded by all these people worshipping other gods, he asks the question, “who am I?”
“When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:13-19)
I want to emphasize how big of a moment this is. Here at the “gates of hell,” Jesus is telling Peter He was going to use him as a rock for His church. Notice that when Peter recognized who Jesus was, Jesus in return, told Peter who he was. Peter’s identity was not found in who he or anyone else thought he was. It was found in who Jesus said he was after first establishing that Jesus is God. That’s the most important question you can answer. Who is God? Because whoever is on the throne of your life is going to be the one telling you who you are. Therefore, if God is God to you, then that should change everything about who you are. Who we believe we are will directly impact us to do the things we do in life.
After Peter was given his identity, he then was given his mission to build the church. What we’re trying to do as a culture is allowing the world to tell us who we are, attempting to establish ourselves in the world, then trying to have purpose and live with intention for the Gospel of Jesus. But those two things contradict each other. Because who the world tells you that you are, and what God calls you to do are typically not going to go hand in hand. We find ourselves studying the enneagram to find out who we are more than studying the Word of God to find out who we are. We’re scrolling through social media trying to find answers to these massive questions about who we are instead of leaning into the voice of God.
Let me clarify, I’m a big fan of those things. I’m a 6 wing 7 on the enneagram and could tell you all there is to know about it. I’m an ENFP and I know my zodiac sign. But none of that could tell me more about who I am than the one who knit me together in my mother’s womb. See, what happens is when I say those are the things I identify with, it excuses me to not have to be who I am called to be. I could say, “I’m a 6 so I’m just going to be afraid because that’s who I am.” But the Word of God says that you’ve not been given a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and self-control. So, we have to ask ourselves if we believe more about what the enneagram says about us or what God says about us.
I was at a friend’s wedding recently and everyone was sharing speeches at the rehearsal dinner. So, the mom of the groom stood up to speak and started her speech off with a very profound statement. She said, “Son, although nothing about giving you away feels natural, it is extremely biblical.” When I heard this, I couldn’t help but think about how true that is for so many areas in life. There are a lot of things in life that won’t come natural to us, but are extremely biblical. It’s not natural for me to turn the other cheek when someone slaps me across the face, but it’s biblical. It’s not natural for me to want to go the second mile with someone, but Jesus says that if a brother asks you to go one mile, then go another. It’s not natural for me to forgive someone who has hurt me, but the Word of God says to forgive seventy times seven. It’s not natural for us to even want to live sometimes because we wake up and feel like a failure. But it is biblical that your life has meaning and purpose.
Friend, there will be times in life when some things might legitimately feel natural, but even more legitimate than those feelings is the Truth of what God says that you are. Notice that I didn’t say your truth or my truth. I said THE Truth. One day I googled the verse John 8:32, “and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Jesus was listed as one of the many who said that the truth will set you free. But the reason it was so powerful when Jesus said it is because He is the Truth and He actually has the power to set you free. He is the way to freedom and will lead you to the Father. Culture will tell you that your truth will do the same thing, but that is a lie. So many of us want to be our own version of truth. Love, power, control. But what we have to consider is when we try to take on these God-like attributes, we’ve got to carry the weight of our sin. And we’re not able to do that. It’s the same thing Eve faced in the garden. She desired this apple, then the enemy tried to convince her that if she ate the apple, she would be like God. It’s that same temptation for us. We want to be like God. As soon as Eve took a bite of the apple, she realized that was all a lie.
My daughter, Honey, is the best little girl ever. I’m obsessed with her, if you haven’t already been able to tell from my social media. She is so fun and such a wiggle worm. So, with that personality, you can probably assume that she hates the car seat. If Honey could talk, she’d probably tell me that sitting in her car seat is not natural and it is her truth that she doesn’t need a car seat. But what I don’t do is agree with her and excuse her from the car seat. Instead, I strap her in as tightly as I can. Not because I’m trying to hold her back from who she truly is, but because I know what’s best for her life. Just because her truth may be different, it doesn’t mean that the effects of a car crash would be any different for her.
Just because we have a different truth doesn’t mean the effects of sin will be any different for us. Proverbs 16:25 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end, it leads to destruction.” And we have to trust God enough to know that He created us with beautiful intention and design. There is something amazing about the fact that He made us all original and diverse. But we can’t go find out more about our originality and identity by who the world says we are. We have to find that in who God is.
There’s a part in The Lion King that represents this so well. Simba had been living his hakuna matata lifestyle after he’d run from all his worry and shame from his past life. Then one day, as he was going to wash his face in the water, he looked and saw his father’s reflection instead of his own. All of a sudden, he was reminded of who he was and what he was called to do. Then he realized that he had to go back to his homeland of Pride Rock where destruction had been taking place. As he shows up back home and lets out a huge roar, Scar, the enemy in the move, turns around and with fear in his eyes says, “Mufasa?” He recognized Simba’s father’s voice in him.
Friend, when you get a good look at who God is and you know who you are, the enemy will no longer try to intimidate you, because he’s intimidated by who God is in you. “It’s no longer I that live, but Christ who lives within me.” (Galatians 2:20)
It doesn’t matter if we try to figure out who we are. What really matters is us trying to figure out who God is. Knowing who God is has changed everything about me. There’s a message from Priscilla Shirer that I’ve likely listened to 1,000 times because I need a reminder of who God is every day of my life. It’s called “Who’s Your Daddy.” I want to declare the same message over you.
Priscilla says she looks in the mirror and asks, “Girl, who’s your daddy?” Then she reminds herself, “He’s the beginning and the end. He’s the keeper of creation and the creator of all. He’s the architect of the universe and the manager of all time. He always was, always is, always will be, unchanged, undefeated, and never undone. He was bruised, but brought healing. He was pierced but eased pain. He was persecuted but brought freedom. He is risen to bring power and He reigns to bring peace. He is light, He is love, He is longevity, and He is the Lord. He is goodness, power, faithfulness, and He is God. He is righteous, powerful, and pure. His ways are right and His will is eternal. His mind is unchanging and His mind is on us. He’s our Savior, our God, our peace, our Lord, our comfort, our joy, and He rules our life. He is the wisdom of the wise, the power of the powerful, the leader of all leaders, the ancient of days, the ruler of all rulers. His goal was a relationship with me. He’ll never leave you, never mislead you, never forsake you, never forget you, never overlook you, and never cancel your appointment in His appointment book. When you fall, He will lift you up. When you fail, He will forgive you. When you are weak, He is strong. When you are afraid, He is your courage. When you are broken, He will mend you. When you are blind, He will lead you. When you are hungry, He will feed you. When you face trials, He is with you. When I face persecution, He shields me. When I face problems, He will comfort me. When I face loss, He will provide for me. When we face death, He will carry us all home to meet Him. He is everything to everyone every time everywhere and in every way. He is your God and that is who you belong to.”
If you believe that is who your God is, you will not be confused by who you are because He’s not confused by who He is. And He is not confused on the purpose of your life. Friend, you must know that the gates of hell shall not prevail past His Kingdom. The God in you can do more than you could ever think of, ask for, dream, or imagine.
There he was, nearly 80 years old, living in a sleepy village outside Rome, Italy, with his books and seven cats. His wife had been dead for seven years and his only daughter worked in Afghanistan. He lived a silent rhythm, seldom venturing out, rarely speaking to others.
He was lonely. And on the day, he decided to do something about it, Giorgio Angelozzi put himself up for adoption. That’s right – the octogenarian sought a family. He placed a classified ad in Italy’s largest daily newspaper: “79-year-old seeks family in need of a grandfather. Would bring 500 Euros a month to a family willing to adopt him.”
The ad changed his life.
The paper ran a front-page article about him. Inquiries poured in from Colombia, New Zealand, and New Jersey. Angelozzi was an overnight celebrity. He we went from having nothing but time, to having scarcely enough time to handle interviews and requests.
A pop star responded. A millionaire offered servants and a seaside villa. But one letter stood out, Angelozzi explained, because every member of the family – father, mother, sister, brother – had signed it.
Last reports have him happily settled in their ground floor apartment, taking walks in the garden, helping with dishes and homework. “I couldn’t have chosen better,” he says, “Maybe it was luck, or maybe it was God looking after me, I don’t know.”
The latter option makes the best sense. Loneliness is never the product of heaven. Among our Maker’s first recorded words were these: “It is not good for man to be alone.” (Gen. 2:18 NIV).
He gets no argument from us. We may relish moments of solitude – but a lifetime of it? No way. Many of us know the language of loneliness.
- No one knows me. People know my name, but not my heart. They know my face, but not my feelings. I have a social security number, but I don’t have a social life or a soul mate. No one really knows me. Moreover:
- No one’s near me. The last two years have taught us the meaning of words like social distancing and quarantine- leaving us lonelier than ever. We want someone to be near us. Ever since Eve emerged from the bones of Adam – we’ve been reaching out to touch one another. We need to make a connection. And, we need to make a difference. The anthem of the lonely heart has a third sad chorus:
- No one needs me. The kids used to need me…The business used to need me…My spouse never needs me…The lonely fight feelings of insignificance. Desiring to be remembered, one wealthy mid-west man had an ATM machine installed at his gravesite. When his heirs wanted cash from his estate, they had to go to his grave – enter a PIN number and take the receipt to the bank. He didn’t want to be forgotten. The lonely think they will be.
What do we do? How do we manage thoughts of isolation? How do we cope with loneliness? Some stay busy, others stay drunk. Some buy pets, others buy lovers. Some seek therapy. And a few, a precious few, seek God.
This is God’s plan. His ultimate solution for loneliness isn’t found in a bar or a dating service, a spouse, or a social club. God’s cure for the lonely heart lies in a manger. The babe of Bethlehem. Immanuel. Remember the promise of the Angel? “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call his name ‘Immanuel’, which is translated ‘God is with us’.” (Mt. 1:23 NKJV).
Not content to be an “above us God” or a “somewhere in the vicinity” God. He came as the “with us God”. God with us.
Will you say these three words aloud with me? God with us.
God with us. Not just: “God with the rich” or “God with the religious”. But God with us. All of us. God with Russians, Germans, truck and taxi drivers, librarians, and libertarians. God with us.
God with us. We love the word, with. “Will you go with me?” We ask. “To the store, to the hospital, through my life?” God says he will. “I am with you always,” Jesus said before he ascended to Heaven, “to the very end of the age.” (Mt. 28:20 NCV). Search for restrictions on the promise, you’ll find none. Nothing like: “I’ll be with you, if you behave, when you believe. I’ll be with you on Sundays, in worship, at Mass.” No, none of that. No “withholding” tax on his “with” promise. He is with us.
God with us.
Let this be the Christmas you come home to Christ. I’d like to close this article with a prayer – a prayer of decision. A decision to follow Jesus. Many of you reading this have made this decision already. Others of you have not – but you want to. Whether you are re-affirming an earlier decision – or making a first decision – will you pray with me?
“Immanuel – you are with us. You are with me. You became a person and took on flesh. You became a savior and took on my sin. I accept your gift. I receive you as my Lord, Savior, and friend. Because of you, I’ll never be alone at Christmas again. AMEN”
Max Lucado is a San Antonio pastor and best-selling author. His most recent book is You Were Made for This Moment: Courage for Today, Hope for Tomorrow (September 2021, Thomas Nelson). He is also the host of the “Max Lucado Encouraging Word” podcast. Visit his website at www.MaxLucado.com or follow him on Twitter: @MaxLucado
One Christmas, just a few years after my graduation from Wellesley College, I travelled home to Virginia to be with my family for the holidays. My brother, Tim, who had recently returned from studying at L’Abri, a Christian community in the Swiss Alps, was there too.
Tim had been struggling for years to find his way, having dropped out of three universities, even though his grades were excellent. The Tim I encountered that Christmas, however, was remarkably changed. I was amazed to find him to be warm, loving, and much to my surprise, very concerned about my spiritual well-being. He was, simply, a new person.
Tim had become a Christian.
I was not a Christian, and I had given up on my search for truth after majoring in philosophy in college—looking for answers but finding none. Tim gave me a copy of Francis Schaeffer’s Escape from Reason and asked me to read it. I found it so fascinating that I read through it in one sitting! In this small book, I was astonished to find answers to big questions that I’d long ago dismissed as unanswerable. As a result of Tim’s loving concern and Schaeffer’s brilliant book, I decided to reopen my quest for truth.
Eventually, I wrote to L’Abri, where Tim had become a Christian, and asked if I could become a student there. After sending the letter, I got back into my routine and forgot about the request. Then, much to my surprise, I received a letter from L’Abri notifying me that I had been accepted to study there for three months. I wasn’t so sure that this was a good idea. I had to decide if I really wanted to leave my job and my familiar lifestyle in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Instinctively, I knew that if I left, I would never return to my current way of life.
It was a struggle, but eventually I made the life-changing decision to go to L’Abri. I was hoping that my studies there would help me find a solid foundation to build my life on. The stakes were high: I was searching for absolute, unchanging truth!
When I arrived in Switzerland a few months later, Tim and his newlywed Swiss wife were living in Lausanne. I stayed with them for a few days while I recovered from jetlag. Then, on a gloriously snowy Sunday morning, they drove me to nearby Huemoz, a lovely Alpine village where the main branch of L’Abri is located. That night, while trying to sleep on a mattress in the middle of the floor of an overcrowded bedroom, I began to question my decision to leave everything behind. Thankfully, I was soon sent to French L’Abri in Thollon, a tiny village in the French Alps. There were only about fifteen students at this branch, and I was grateful to have my own bed—even though it was the creaky top bunk of an ancient metal bed.
I spent my mornings at a desk in the audiocassette library, listening to tapes of Schaeffer and other brilliant Christian teachers. Increasingly, I became convinced that Christianity was real and true. I was also helped by my conversations with a gifted Christian counselor. I remember my first meeting with her quite clearly. I went into the room where she was waiting, and she told me to close the door. Before I even had time to sit down, she asked me: “Are you a Christian?”
“I’m not sure,” I answered.
I told her I wanted to be a Christian and I was convinced Christianity was true, but I didn’t really understand why I needed Jesus. At the time, I thought that knowing God might be enough. Then, she asked me a question that cut through to the heart of the matter.
“What can you not forgive yourself for?”
Suddenly, I was brought face-to-face with my sinfulness; immediately I understood my need for Jesus—to save me from my many sins.
It was nighttime, and after I left this meeting, I went walking alone in the dark. I needed time to ponder what had happened and to absorb the life-saving truth of the gospel. For a few days, I went through a tumultuous time—engaged in a spiritual battle. Eventually, however, I broke free from the powers of darkness that were trying to keep me captive. I was able to ask Jesus to forgive all my sins; I trusted Him as my Savior.
One night, shortly after my conversion, I decided to go walking alone in the pristine snowy mountains. I went into a deeply wooded area, awed by the cold, moonlit beauty. The air was crisp and dry, piercing to inhale. After a while, I came into an open area, and stopped walking. Time seemed to stand still as I gazed around me in wonder. Suddenly I became aware of a loving Presence with me, and I found myself whispering, “Sweet Jesus.” This experience of Jesus’ Presence was far more personal than just finding answers to my intellectual search for truth.
The moment I trusted God as my Savior, He forgave all my sins – past, present, and future. This glorious gift of grace, however, not only ensured that my ultimate destination is heaven, it also enabled me to have a relationship with the Creator of the universe!
On that first Christmas, so long ago, God gave us the gift of Himself. The first people to hear the good news of God’s great gift were a group of lowly peasants, shepherds who were watching over their sheep. Suddenly, an angel appeared before them with a proclamation that would change the world forever.
“’Do not be afraid;’” the angel said, ‘for see- I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger'” (Luke 2:10-12.)
As I ponder the angel’s wondrous proclamation to the shepherds, I rejoice in my beloved Savior.
Jesus was, and remains, the greatest gift of all.
Sarah Young’s devotional writings are personal reflections from her daily quiet time of Bible reading, praying, and writing in prayer journals. With sales of more than 35 million books worldwide, Jesus Calling has appeared on all major bestseller lists. Sarah’s writings include Jesus Calling®, Jesus Listens, Jesus Today®, Jesus Always, Jesus Lives™, Dear Jesus, Jesus Calling® for Little Ones, Jesus Calling® Bible Storybook, Jesus Calling®: 365 Devotions for Kids, and Peace in His Presence – each encouraging readers in their journey toward intimacy with Christ. Sarah and her husband were missionaries in Japan and Australia for many years. They currently live in the United States.
Sarah Young has penned a brand-new daily devotional, Jesus Listens: Daily Devotional Prayers of Peace, Joy, and Hope. This is Sarah’s first title in the Jesus Calling® family of books to feature prayers written from a reader’s perspective. With an emphasis on praying God’s Word, Jesus Listens offers a scripture-focused prayer for each day of the year.
GIVEAWAY! We are giving away 10 copies of Sarah’s new devotional inside LO sister, YAY! Head on over to the LO sister app for all the details on a chance to win a copy of Jesus Listens! Happy Thursday, friend 🙂
As I’ve talked to others about prayer on my blog over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time making it more palatable. I’ve tried to emphasize how it can fit into our busy lives. I’ve talked about prayer on the go. I’ve comforted the busy mom with toddlers who has trouble spending more than two consecutive minutes talking to God.
That’s not to say two minutes of prayer is a waste. It just means we shouldn’t come with faulty expectations and then, when they’re not met, use them as the excuse to quit that we were looking for.
If we were sitting together, I’d look in your eyes and express to you how important it is that you keep praying and do not give up. I know you know that, but so much in our world wants to keep us from persevering in prayer. We need the reminders.
We can experience lives that are full of God’s presence, responses, and miracles. We can be part of his Kingdom work and be the ones who constantly point people to him. But we need to put in the time.
We’re always going to have a valid reason not to pray, but an intimate prayer life will remain a mirage until we admit the changes we need to make as we pursue Jesus.
I want to be the person who doesn’t “grow weary of doing good” (Galatians 6:9). Who prays “at all times” and who “keep[s] alert with all perseverance” (Ephesians 6:18). Who has such a sweet rhythm of prayer that calluses develop.
Through prayer, we can be involved in Kingdom work that we’d never be able to do in person. We might have no expertise at building schools, but we can pray for those who are expanding education in remote places. We might have no experience changing laws or healing diseases, but through prayer, we can be actively involved in work God is doing to bring justice and show mercy through medicine. The reach we can experience through prayer is incredible.
Take action. Decide right now what you want to change about your prayer life.
- Grab a friend to take the journey with you.
Having a friend who’s chasing after the same goals makes it easier to stay committed. It’s why the fittest people are often surrounded by other fit people. Our habits rub off on one another. Imagine doing life with a few friends who constantly ask what they could lift up in prayer for you—friends who, when the hard conversations or the tears come, react first by praying. We’re going to have hard moments when we want to give up. I’ve had those seasons where praying felt almost impossible, and I coveted the prayers of others over me that I could echo. Do this with someone. Don’t feel awkward asking. You might just be the answered prayer they’ve been waiting for. (The Val Marie Paper community is a great supplementary resource online, but we highly recommend going on this journey with someone in your everyday life.)
- Figure out your heaviest weights.
Throughout this book we’ve looked at weight after weight that can keep us from running free in prayer. As you read through the chapters, which weight resonated the most? Which ones felt the hardest to shake? Share them with your prayer friends, and ask the Lord to help you remove those weights. Then take the practical steps forward that we mentioned in the book.
- Study the prayer life of Jesus.
The Gospels are filled with beautiful examples of Jesus escaping from the world to pray. He threw off the weights that could have easily entangled him, and often he chose quiet moments with God over the spotlight or sleep. Learn from his teaching on prayer too, as we talked about in chapter 2, reading it in context of everything he taught.
- Keep learning.
I love that you’re reading this book right now, and I encourage you to read other books on prayer. If the topic is on our minds, there’s a better chance we’ll remember to do it. More knowledge about prayer will also build your confidence. If you’ve still got lots of questions, talk with a trusted friend or pastor.
- Make prayer visible.
Prayer is always available to us, but it’s also invisible, meaning that we can easily forget about it. This is why goal experts encourage people to make their goals visible. When you can physically be reminded of your goals—perhaps by listing them on a paper taped to your refrigerator or on your desk—you will naturally think of your goals more often. One way to make prayer visible is to write down your prayers in a prayer journal and record your answers. I love our prayer journals at valmariepaper.com, but really, just get something that works for you and will remind you to pray. You could also use an index card with prayers on it as a bookmark, or tape a prayer to your bathroom mirror.
- Remember the benefits of consistent prayer.
The benefits are extravagant. In the breakout box below, I’ve shared several that can remind you in those moments when it feels like you’re just talking to the ceiling. So much is happening behind the scenes that we cannot see! Prayer is so worth it, and this list can keep you encouraged.
- Make an actual commitment.
I love this quote that’s often attributed to Karen Lamb: “A year from now, you will wish you had started today.” Commit today. Write out a prayer, and tell the Lord what you are committing to. Is it a regular practice of fasting? Is it more confession? Is it a specific amount of prayer or a new prayer routine at a certain time each day? Invite God in as you commit to growing in your most important conversation.
What happens next in your prayer story? For too long, I’ve felt like I was destined for the same song but second verse of prayer failure. What changes all that is knowing that the things weighing us down in prayer don’t have to be permanent. And the Lord is ready and willing to help us. Are we ready to throw off every hindrance? When we throw off the weight of the journey and avoid giving up too soon, we experience the fruit of a thriving prayer life.
Adapted from Pray Confidently and Consistently: Finally Let Go of the Things Holding You Back from Your Most Important Conversation by Valerie Woerner. Copyright ©2021. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries. All rights reserved.
Valerie Woerner’s mission is to help women live intentional lives that are an outflow of a fruitful, focused prayer life. She is the author of Pray Confidently and Consistently, Grumpy Mom Takes a Holiday, Springboard Prayers and The Finishing School and the owner of Val Marie Paper, where she designs prompted prayer journals and other practical products that eliminate distraction and increase focus in prayer. Valerie lives in Lafayette, Louisiana with her husband, Tyler, and their two daughters. Visit her online shop at valmariepaper.com.
I have a confession to make. What I’m about to share with you was once a triple-top-secret, pinky-promise kind of thing. I’d make you promise not to tell anyone, but the cat is out of the bag. You now have my permission to laugh or cringe. You ready? I bought my dream wedding dress when I was twenty-two years old and completely single.
No, I’m not kidding.
So, the year was 2011. Ancient, I know. My sister was engaged to her now-husband, Zack, and we were in full wedding-planning mode.
One day, we were out shopping for the perfect wedding dress for Kristen. We had hit up a few shops with nothing to show for it. Kristen was feeling discouraged. One by one the dresses went on, then off. After a few rounds, Kristen put on the most gorgeous dress I had ever laid eyes on. The top was filled with sparkles and faux diamonds. The bottom was elegant, full, and flowing with a beautiful chiffon fabric. She looked dreamy.
Unfortunately, when Kristen looked in the mirror, she didn’t quite see Cinderella. She thought the dress was lovely, but it wasn’t her. She must have seen my glowing eyes, because she commented on how this dress looked more like me than her. I nodded my head in agreement.
“You should try it on!” Kristen said with a smile.
Now hear me out. When I walked into the store that day with Kristen, I had zero intentions of buying a wedding dress for myself. That was the last thing on my radar. I was completely single. No wedding in sight.
The minute I walked out of that room to show Kristen and our mom the dress, they both erupted in small cheers. “It’s one hundred percent you!” Kristen said, shaking her head and smiling. “It’s like you times a thousand, actually.”
I had to agree with her. It was totally me. It fit perfectly too. Before I could talk any sense into myself, a wave of fear washed over me. What if this dress no longer exists when I get married someday? What if they discontinue it? What if I search for months and months and can’t find anything even close to this?
That fear drove me to make a drastic and totally weird decision. I bought the dress!
The sales clerk was completely confused when we asked her to package up this dress for me. As we walked away from that store, a thrilling sensation washed over me. Maybe my wedding day wouldn’t be too far off after all. Little did I know that my perfect dress would hang in the back of my closet for many, many years to come. That little secret would remain hidden in the shadows of my life while my dreams to get married went unfulfilled.
You can read the entire wedding dress story in my new book, Not Part of the Plan: Trusting God with the Twists and turns of Your Story.
Maybe you’re in a similar situation. You desire marriage, but it just isn’t happening for you. Maybe it’s a disappointment with your career. Maybe it’s losing a loved one too soon. Maybe it’s having to move cross country leaving behind all of your friends. Maybe it’s not getting accepted into your dream university.
Sister, I don’t know exactly what you’re going through but I do know this. We all experience disappointment, unfulfilled longings, and unmet expectations. I’ve been there and I know you’ve been there as well.
So how do we trust God and remain faithful in the midst of disappointment?
There’s a short passage found in Proverbs 3 that has become an anchor in my life. It’s literally been my life verse and rock. It’s what carried me through when my wedding dress would stare at me from the back of my closet. Let’s look at it together:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (vv. 5–6)
Let’s dig into each line a little deeper.
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart.”
God doesn’t want part of our heart. He doesn’t want the part that’s easiest to give. That’s not what this verse is saying. This verse makes it crystal clear that He wants all of it. He wants the full surrender. Why is it so easy to give all our heart to other things, like guys, work, friends, or a television show, but so hard to totally give it to God? I wish it were the other way around. Don’t you? By trusting in the Lord with all your heart, you’re humbly admitting that God’s ways are better. That God is wiser. That His character is perfectly good and loving (which we know it is). That it would be foolish to rely on our own finite wisdom rather than trust our mighty Creator. Trusting in the Lord with all your heart is an act of humility. It’s acknowledging how great God is and how very small we are in comparison.
“And do not lean on your own understanding.”
That’s the contrasting piece to the verse. We are to trust in the Lord with all our heart and not lean on our own understanding. Why? Because our understanding is incredibly limited. We have a teeny-tiny view of life, of this world, and only mere speculation about the future. God sees and knows everything. He knows where we’ve been and where we’re going. Leaning on your own understanding would be like taking the paintbrush from Leonardo da Vinci and asking him to step aside. Yikes! How foolish and silly would that be? It would be crazy! Insane, in fact. And yet, that’s what we try to do with God. Not leaning on your own understanding is acknowledging that God is the Master Artist and you are not. It’s letting Him paint the portrait of your life.
“In all your ways acknowledge him.”
This means acknowledging God in the little things and the big things. It’s saying, God, I’d really love for this relationship with this guy to work out. He seems so awesome, and I think we’d make an amazing couple. Even though I really want this, I’m opening my hands and surrendering this to You. Please give me wisdom. Please help me to listen. Please bring out anything in our relationship that is not honoring or would not be beneficial to him or to me. Please end this if it’s not Your plan for me. I trust You. I want Your will. Acknowledging Him is wanting what God wants long term, not just what you want in the current moment. It’s being willing to follow God down a different path than you’d imagined for your life if He makes that clear. Acknowledging God is simply living a surrendered life one day at a time.
“And he will make straight your paths.”
This is beautiful. God promises that He will direct your paths if you do the above things He’s listed. He will guide you, and He will do it one step at a time. One moment at a time. One day at a time. If you’re trusting in Him with all your heart, not leaning on your own understanding, and acknowledging Him in all your ways, you better believe that He absolutely will direct your paths. He won’t always direct them where you want Him to direct them. But He will always direct them where He knows is best. Imagine a little toddler who’s starting to walk. Toddlers need a lot of guidance and assistance for every next step. If left to themselves, they would most likely end up hurt or somewhere they really don’t want to be. We are like the toddler. We need God’s guidance for every step of the way. In those moments when you’re struggling and want to go your own way, take a deep breath and remind yourself to trust in Him with all your heart.
It’s Hard to Trust
Girl, I get it. I get how difficult it is to put this whole trust thing into practice. When life is messy, it’s hard to trust. When you thought God was doing one thing, and He closes the door and takes you in a different direction, it’s hard to trust. When something happens that’s totally outside of your control and you can’t fix it, it’s hard to trust. When you desperately want God to intervene for you in a certain way and He doesn’t, it’s hard to trust. When you buy a wedding dress and end up single for the next decade, it’s hard to trust.
You can actually read about my entire journey of learning to trust God in my new book, Not Part of the Plan: Trusting God with the Twists and Turn of Your Story. I think you would be super encouraged as you strive to fully surrender and trust God with your own life story.
I believe that God has a good work for you to do (Eph. 2:10). I believe that He has you here for a good purpose (Gal. 6:9). I’m cheering you on as you strive to trust God and thrive right where He’s planted you. I’m praying that you will choose to be faithful. Choose to obey. Choose to trust Him.
Bethany Beal is head-over-heels in love with her best friend and husband, David, and is the super proud mommy of Davey Jr. She is the cofounder of GirlDefined Ministries (www.girldefined.com) and the author of Not Part of the Plan: Trusting God with the Twists and Turns of Your Story. She is passionate about spreading the truth of biblical womanhood through writing, speaking, and mentoring young women. To her family and close friends, she is simply a tall blonde girl who is obsessed with iced lattes and can’t get enough of her sweet baby Davey Jr.
Have you ever been in a season where all you saw around you is lack? You wished you were further along in your journey, you wished you had more money in the bank, you wished you had a better job. You simply wished SOMETHING was different because you were not satisfied with the circumstances you were in? This thought is too common for us believers, and I believe God is inviting us to put on new eyes to see what truly is around us and the reality that joy and contentment is available to us right where we are at through Christ!
Let’s take a look at what the Word says about gratitude and thanksgiving
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Gratitude isn’t just a nice idea we try to do better at during the thanksgiving holiday, it’s actually God’s will for our lives. He sees it as an absolute essential for us! Gratitude isn’t a suggestion, it’s His desire and His will for us because of the fruit it will bear in our lives!
I wonder what would have happened if the Israelites chose to be grateful in the wilderness rather than be full of complaints. They were so stuck in their lack that they forgot that the same God who delivered them from Egypt was STILL with them. They forgot to be thankful! They chose to focus on what they didn’t have, rather than focus and remember what God did for them.
As we know, the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years. What should have been a 2 week or less journey on foot turned into a prolonged journey of wandering fueled by unhealthy cycles of complaining and defeat. They kept forgetting WHO their God was! They took their eyes off of God and onto the reality around them. They didn’t have the realization that their breakthrough lied in what they were sowing through their words and the thoughts in their heart.
Sis, when you choose gratitude, it turns what is around you into enough. God is inviting you to step INTO gratitude, where it not only becomes a discipline, but it becomes a lifestyle and essentially becomes WHO you are. Despite what feels as not enough around you, I truly believe God wants to show you the everlasting peace and joy you can find in Him, because Jesus is enough!
I want to remind you that God’s goodness is in fact around all you. Right in this very moment, as you’re reading this, God’s goodness is encompassing you. Ask Him to show you what that is. Maybe it’s packaged in a way that you haven’t recognized yet, but through His grace and kindness, I believe He will show you it!
Here are some practical ways to choose gratitude:
1. At the end of each day, write down three things you are grateful for that day.
By doing this you are retraining your mind and perspective. Sooner or later you’ll start to find those things more naturally! Recording gratitude is much more powerful than you know. 😉
2. Text a friend and tell them how meaningful your friendship is and something you’re grateful for about them. Bringing gratitude into relationships is a MUST. Telling someone you’re grateful for them can do wonders for their spirit (and create deeper connection!) It not only will strengthen your friendship, but it will leave the recipient feeling loved and seen by you and God.
3. Start your prayer time with gratitude for WHO God is!
Psalm 100:4 says “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.” Thanksgiving is the gateway into His presence. It takes us into a new reality! It shifts our focus back onto our amazing God and off of anything that may try and discourage us.
4. Take a trip down memory lane and dwell on all the beautiful things God has already done for you. Psalm 77:11-12 “I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.” When we remember the goodness of God, it strengthens our spirit. It reminds us that if God did it then, how much more can we do it now? He is the same God yesterday, today and forever!
I hope these words today could ignite a desire to cultivate gratitude in your life a little more. Friend, I promise you that on the other side of you choosing it, you will experience a perspective shift that will bring peace and joy in your life!
Have a blessed Thanksgiving!