Day #20

Psalm 119:165-167

As a young seeker, I spent time at a Christian commune with a group of other young people. While I learned much about the Bible, the group unfortunately developed some fanatical tendencies. Strictly forbidding alcohol, drugs, parties, rock music, dancing, and all other worldly vices, but not encouraging healthier forms of recreation, the leaders created a dismal atmosphere. Many turned to food as an escape—it was all we had left! Fearing that trap, I pretty much went on a starvation diet, ending up with a case of anorexia.  

We saw the law of God as strictly prohibitive and prescriptive—as in “don’t do this; do this.” Yet it is, even more essentially, descriptive. In fact, Moses was the first one to codify the law; it existed since the beginning of time in an uncodified form. The law of love had always governed the unfallen universe, from the inside out. Every being lived in a state of continual self-giving, generosity, and joyful others-focus. Angels had no need of a checklist of do’s and don’ts. 

At the same time, love has a form and structure, a moral integrity and boundaries. Like the stalk, leaves, and blossom of a plant hold its life, the structure of love serves its sustenance. The law explains this. Lying breaks trust. Adultery violates intimacy. Murder instills fear which expels love. The law, at its core, is a description of how life and love actually work. 

Understanding this will help us love God’s law as a thing of beauty rather than a set of impossible rules designed to make us fail.  

Jesus said to consider the lilies, so let’s think about flowers for a moment. Imagine a tiny seed swelling in the moist ground. It bursts as a shoot emerges, which, craving the sunlight, finds its way through the soil to the surface. Now it emerges, tender and green, fanning out into stalk and leaves. Then a tiny bud forms, with the promise of gorgeous petals wound tightly inside it. The day comes when the sweet sunlight beckons it to burst open, unwinding slowly in rich, glorious color. That flower is you. God has created you according to a design. He grows you according to that same design. Just as He brings forth the blossom, He guides you into showing forth the colors of love. This is His law of love at work to make you all you can be. 

Heavenly Husbandman, grow us according to your design. Help us to live the law of love, and love the law that shows us how to live. In Jesus’ name, amen. 

“Great peace have those who love Your law, and nothing causes them to stumble. Lord, I hope for Your salvation, and I do Your commandments. My soul keeps Your testimonies, and I love them exceedingly.” Psalm 119:165-167

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Day #19

Jude 24-25

I partied my way through high school, a rowdy, boisterous girl who loved to laugh with friends. And I imbibed in my share of weed and wine to help that happen. A religious conversion at 19 years old turned wild child me into a pin-straight, prim-and-proper young lady that my friends couldn’t even recognize. When two of my best friends from high school came to visit, they stared at me, confused, feeling the urge to say, “What have you done with Jennifer?” 

I’ll admit I came across pretty austere and joyless. The truth was, underneath the severe exterior there brewed a fear of falling back into my old ways. I believed that while God had forgiven me for the past, He now left it up to me to straighten myself out. This belief may have been reinforced by childhood experience with a strict father who, although he placed high expectations on me, found cultivating a close relationship more difficult. 

In reality, the same heavenly Father whose expectations loomed high before me, came alongside me to walk me through the process of reaching them. The impossibility of reaching those standards on my own served to keep me dependent upon Him. And He did not offer the goal of reaching those expectations as a means of obtaining righteousness, but He gave me His righteousness at the outset, as the means of reaching those expectations. Jesus’ free gift of His righteousness told me that He believed I could walk without falling. 

When I first learned to walk, I knew two things: One, that mommy and daddy believed I could—otherwise, why were they wildly waving their arms and cheering on the other side of the room? Two, I knew that if I fell, they would graciously scoop me up in their arms, set me upright, and cheer me on as I tried again. 

God loves you! 

Imagine yourself as a child learning to walk. God stands on the other side of the room, cheering for you. You take a few steps, then stumble. He picks you up, sets you upright, and you try again. Now imagine yourself one day running straight into His arms. 

Dear loving Father, we reject the stern, severe image of You that the enemy tries to put into our minds. And we reject the notion that you don’t care whether we walk or not. You want us to reach our potential! We embrace the image of You as a patient, loving Father teaching His children to walk. Fix this image in our minds, in Jesus’ name, Amen. 

“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy. To God our Savior, Who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen.” Jude 24-25

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Day #18

Thessalonians 5:23-24

Due to health problems, I fell into a deep depression. I’d been conscientious about taking care of my body, eating the right foods, getting exercise, and staying fit. As a health nut, I’d believed that all illness had a present, fixable cause. Now as I tried every remedy under the sun from fasting to juicing to herbal remedies, I began to realize genetics had a mind of their own, and that I might not be able to cure myself. 

In other words, some of my problems were outside of my control.  

So I began to feel that all problems were outside of my control. And it was then that my frantic efforts gave way to a melancholic paralysis. I joined Abraham Lincoln in what he called “the dungeons of despair.” 

Did you know that God created us for power? He wants us to feel powerful. Wait, how can that be? We’re sinful and weak. Well, that may be true of our fallen condition, but the Creator’s design calls out to us from Eden lost, bringing with it dissonance between our fallen weakness and the strength for which God created us when He said, “Have dominion . . .” (Genesis 1:26-28). 

He waits to restore us to power through Christ who strengthens us. 

When circumstances outside our control sting us with the realization that there are some things over which we lack control, we can gather together our remaining options and “have dominion” over them. 

Scan through the problems in your life to identify just three choices you can make today to exercise dominion over your circumstances. 

Thank God that you still have this freedom, even if many things are outside of your control. Use this freedom, and then thank God for it. Tell at least one person today how God has helped you. 

Dear Creator-God, thank you for giving us free will, agency, individuality, and choice. You have said that without You we can do nothing, but that we can do all things through Christ Who strengthens us. Strengthen us now, Lord Jesus, to redirect our attention to the choices we can make for good, and then give us the strength to make those choices. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who will also do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

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Day #17

Psalm 55:16-18

People often come to me with what I call an “overwhelming problem load.” Problems have stacked on top of problems, until the stack seems ready to topple over and bury them. 

Part of my job is to sit with them in their suffering. Not many people do this very well. Empathy begins the process of helping. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. 

But part of my job is also to help problem-loaded people transition from what’s called an external locus of control to an internal locus of control. An external locus focuses on all the people, circumstances, and conditions over which we have no control. This includes, by the way, our own past choices. By focusing on these things, we raise our frustration level. 

Switching to an internal locus of control means saying, “What are my options now?” It means focusing on things over which I do have control, the choices I do have. 

Edith Eva Eger lived through the Holocaust. She watched her parents carted off to the gas chambers. A German guard broke her back. She survived a mid-winter death march in a starving condition. She remembers starving, lying in the grass, trying to decide which blade of grass to eat, rejoicing that she still had a choice. In spite of all our circumstances, we still have a choice. 

One thing we can always do, regardless of circumstances, is call upon God. Start the process of regaining your internal locus of control by “going vertical,” crying out to Him. 

Imagine yourself sitting in a room with your problems. They’re hideous, gnarly-looking things, and they crowd around you, squeezing and even smothering you until you feel like you might pass out. Suddenly a door opens up in the roof, letting in a stream of light, and a ladder falls down to you. God calls to you, telling you to climb out, and you spend some time with Him as He helps you identify several of the problems you can change. You make a plan with Him to make those changes, climb back into the room, and begin. 

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen. 

“As for me, I will call upon God, and the Lord shall save me. Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud, and He shall hear my voice. He has redeemed my soul in peace from the battle that was against me, for there were many against me.” Psalm 55:16-18

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Day #16

Isaiah 26:3-4

At a certain point in my life, everything that could go wrong, went wrong. Friends failed me. Family stresses came. Health problems appeared. Money ran out. All my attempts to improve circumstances came to nothing. The odds stacked up against me, pushing me toward my favorite, old coping technique of self-pity. 

Problem was, it was a deeply flawed technique. Self-pity turns inward in an attempt to coddle emotions, often partnering with blaming, resentment, and fatalism. “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, I’m gonna eat some worms” type stuff. 

Self-compassion has been identified as a means of improving mood and well-being. How does it compare to self-pity? The differences is this: Self-compassion leaves room for me to also feel compassion for others. I’m not the center of the universe, I’m one of many suffering people who needs a break, and in self-compassion I choose to be a channel of God’s mercy, giving myself, and others, that break. But self-pity focuses entirely on my suffering to the exclusion of others’ suffering. 

The universal reality of human suffering provides a pathway out of self-pity. When we notice the people around us in similar circumstances to our own, we cry out to God to pity us all. And He does. Oh, how He does. As we sense the compassion of God toward us, we learn to trust Him who gives us strength for the day and peace for our pain. 

Scan your mind for ways you haven’t reflected God’s mercy to yourself. Have you beat up on yourself, taken blame that didn’t belong to you, or worked beyond your strength? Have you stuffed painful emotions, trying to be tough? Just now, choose to give yourself a break. It’s probably not God who’s being hard on you; it’s probably you. So let go of your need to be your own worst taskmaster. Let God’s compassion flow down into your soul till it overflows to the others around you. 

Dear Compassionate One, make us clear channels of your kindness. Help us to stop being our own worst enemy. Let us not lapse into self-pity, blame, and resentment, but let us learn how to accept compassion. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

“You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You because he trusts in You. Trust in the Lord forever, for in Yah, the Lord, is everlasting strength.” Isaiah 26:3-4

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Day #15

Psalm 40:1-3

They come with bleeding hearts. They come ravaged by circumstances. They come as victims of abuse, of acrimony, or of just plain apathy. They’ve been manipulated by fanatics, married to narcissists, violated by sociopaths. They come having grown up in happy, loving homes, dysfunctional homes, and abusive homes. They come anxious, depressed, traumatized, and sometimes even dissociative and delusional. 

They are counseling clients. 

And they’re some of the most impressive people I’ve ever met. Because they fight. They fight hard enough to seek out help and pay for it. They struggle mightily to make it out of their various pits. I don’t do the fighting; I toss them the tools. A rope. A stick. A machete. They’re the ones emerging from the hole, beating down their demons, and slicing through the underbrush of their damaged souls and tangled histories. I’m so proud of them. 

I’m the one who gets to hear them come forth with a new song in their mouths. I see them avail themselves of God’s mighty power to change the course of history from the momentum of the past sucking their feet back into the mire to a new direction that places them upon the solid foundation of Jesus and His healing love. I do this work for a living, but I should really pay them for the privilege.

Imagine yourself in a pit. You dug the pit yourself, then fell into it and now can’t escape. God comes to the pit, looks down to see you, jumps into the pit with you, and struggles to the edge alongside you. Then he takes you to a solid rock. The two of you sit down on the rock and discuss how you can live so as not to fall into any more pits. Then God teaches you a song, which you sing together. Fix your mind on these images of God helping you rise, stabilizing you, and giving you pure, sweet, joy. 

Dear God, You don’t deserve the pit and we don’t deserve Your help. But because You are a being of utter generosity, and because you don’t hold our sins against us, we sit with you on a solid rock where you daily establish our steps. Praise You, God! Amen and amen. 

“I waited patiently for the Lord, and He inclined to me, and heard my cry. He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps. He has put a new song in my mouth—praise to our God. Many will see it and fear, and will trust in the Lord.” Psalm 40:1-3

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Day #14

Psalm 139:3-4

In an ongoing conflict with my daughter, I would get hurt feelings and imply she didn’t love me. I was so blinded by my own feelings, I didn’t see how much my implication worsened things. When I finally got my eyes off her faults long enough to see my own, I suddenly had some leverage to change things. 

So often in conflict we become consumed with the faults of the other person. Now, there’s nothing wrong with being honest when we’re mistreated, but we have to be careful with faultfinding. Each and every time we rehearse another’s faults in a conflict, we potentially reinforce our sense of self-righteousness—something quite toxic to our human nature. The more righteous we feel, the less inclined we are to identify our own contribution. As a general rule of perception, as other’s sins grow, ours shrink. 

Prayer reverses this. As I come into the presence of One I can trust, One I know loves me, and only points out my sins for my own good, I can allow Him to shine a light on my part in a conflict, even if it’s smaller or less obvious then the other person’s. The psalmist asked God to search him and to “see if there be any wicked way in me.” That “wicked way” is a mysterious Hebrew word meaning something like “way of pain and idolatry.” Out sinful conflicts with each other are essentially our idols at war. As God leads me to repentance for my idol, I find the strength and wisdom to take my idol out of the fight. And once my idol is out, the other person’s idol has nothing to fight with. 

Conflicts with others can be perplexing and difficult, robbing us of peace and joy. Imagine your current conflicts as idols at war. Now imagine God untangling your idol and placing it in front of you. What is that idol like? Very likely it is just as selfish, even if smaller than the other person’s. What forms does your selfishness take? Imagine yourself laying that idol on the altar before God, asking Him to take it away. 

Dear Searcher of hearts, thank You for helping us see our individual contribution to conflict, even though it is so very hard to see. Help us to move our focus from the sins of others to our own. Deepen our repentance. Lead us on to a better way forward, to being our best selves, and living our best life. We ask this in the name of Jesus, the only One who can make these things possible. Amen. 

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139:3-4

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Day #13

Jeremiah 29:11-13

Because I was a stay-at-home mom, my husband and I depended upon his income. When he fell off the roof of the home he was renovating, losing the ability to work, we worried. Making matters worse, we’d just moved into a new house with a large mortgage. We worried even more. 

And then one day they came. One carried a 50# bag of rice, another a bag of oats. Still others bags of groceries, and finally cards with cash and checks enclosed. Our friends had thrown a surprise housewarming party. Our friend Charlie gave us a $4000 check, which paid our mortgage until my husband could work again.  

God had moved upon the hearts of our friends to lighten our burdens. What if, instead, He had sent a text message saying, “Sorry for your hardships. Prayers!” It wouldn’t have meant as much. 

God knows that life is hard. He lived here for a time, and He ended up suffering through the most painful experience a human can endure—death on a Cross. Yet this God who bore the ultimate pain has empathy for our pain. And so He sends us tokens of His love in the little things of life. That ray of sunshine on a tear-stained face; that perfect piece of fruit so sweet we can’t help but thank Him; that random act of kindness from a stranger. Every earthly blessing is a message of love from God, signed with the Cross of Christ. Those blessings fall upon the just and the unjust because God loves each and every one of us as His very own child. 

Think of three things you normally take for granted. Speak them out loud right now, thanking God for each one. 

Dear Giver of all good gifts, not because we deserve these blessings, but because You love us, we receive them with open, grateful hearts. Help us step away from our constant striving for worthiness into the realm of gift-receiving. Thank you for lending Your compassionate ear to our sorrows, Lord, for we have not always been compassionate to others. Thank you for hearing our prayers, because we do not always hear others. Thank you for speaking hope into our lives, for we do not always speak hopefully to others. Help us to be more like You, Jesus. Amen. 

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:11-13

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DAY #12

Psalm 46:1-3

One of the things a world pandemic has taught us is that human beings need touch. My husband went to see his mother as she lay dying in the hospital, but he couldn’t touch her or even be in her presence. He spoke to her through the window of her room. She passed a few days later. I wonder if she would have lived longer if he’d been able to touch her.  

When babies are not held, they develop an infant form of depression. Touch is the most highly-developed of a baby’s five senses. Through skin-to-skin contact, they receive the unmistakable message that someone loves them. Without that touch, they conclude that they don’t matter. God gave us breastfeeding for this reason. It allows for skin contact and eye gaze, building the brain of the infant. 

Many of the other things we naturally do with infants also build the brain. Prosody, the high-pitched vocal singing, as in “Coochee-coochee-coo” comes forth, the voice naturally floating up into the high range when we notice an infant. Even this has a purpose: the infant’s ears resonate with higher pitches; the child becomes afraid at hearing lower pitches. We snuggle, tickle, rub noses—all communicating love and affection, and building that infant’s brain. 

Sometimes humans just need a hug, or other physical token of love. How then, can we feel the presence of the invisible God? Well, he may not show up in flesh and blood, but we can go to the trees standing tall like strong arms and legs, and the rivers running like a bloodstream through the earth. We can surround ourselves with nature, asking God to send us His Holy Spirit to comfort us while the world around us falls apart. 

Imagine yourself walking along a path through a forest. The mighty trees stand tall, swaying gently in the wind. Now imagine coming into a sunlit meadow with soft, green grass, bright flowers, and a little brook singing its way along. Imagine sitting in the soft grass. Jesus joins you there, sitting beside you as a Friend, interested in your life, your thoughts, your feelings. Oh, how sweet to be with Him. Suddenly, the sky darkens; the earth rumbles and shakes. Trees begin to snap and rocks shake loose from their foundations. Jesus takes you by the hand and leads you to a strong tower, built to withstand the storm. There you continue to enjoy His presence as He holds you until the storm passes. 

Dear God, thank you for being a strong Protector of our souls. Thank you for giving us courage to face the storms that come upon us. Thank you for touching our lives with your presence. Help us feel you near. Amen. 

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though its waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with its swelling” Psalm 46:1-3.

DAY #11

DAY #11

I fell in love too young, got in too deep, and stayed down too long. When the relationship finally ended, I went in search of another, then another, then another. Each new relationship served to medicate the pain of the last. 

I have never been addicted to substances, but from relationship cycles I understand addiction. We call these “process addictions,” and they mean being addicted to our own, naturally-occurring opiates. Falling in love gives a high; breaking up means withdrawal. Round and round and round and round . . . 

Typical addiction cycles begin with an emotional wound. Something or someone breaks our hearts, terrifies our souls, and/or robs our dignity. We engage in a numbing, distracting substance or practice, feeling temporary relief. But consequences and hangovers come as raw nerves reawaken, screaming distress. We see the empty bottle of our numbing agent and that old, familiar black cloud of mingled guilt and shame rolls in and settles, deepening the distress until we turn again to our numbing ways, starting the cycle all over again. One thing leads to another such that it takes on a life of its own. We watch ourselves spiral, helpless to stop. 

But it doesn’t have to end like this. While cycles tend to self-perpetuate, God can break them if we allow it. He does so at the point of guilt and shame, channeling them into true repentance. Rather than simply lament the consequences of our sin, we lament the sin itself. God’s Spirit redirects our myopic self-focus to the harm our habits inflict upon Him and his children. The sorrow of the world leads to death, but godly sorrow leads to repentance, a new heart, and a fresh start.  

How have your addictive cycles affected you? How have they affected other people? Take a moment to consider this. 

Now decide to allow God to transform your guilt and shame into lasting, ever-deepening repentance. Repentance is the most healing experience we can have. It doesn’t deepen guilt and shame, it resolves them. It teaches us we have no righteousness of our own. It leads us to place ourselves in God’s hands, where he can heal and transform us. 

Dear God, give us lasting, ever-deepening repentance. Justifying ourselves is too much work. We fall down at your feet, broken by sin. Renew our spirits and fill us with Your Holy Spirit. Give us the joy that can only come from You. Thank you for these gifts., in Jesus’ name, amen. 

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit.” Psalm 51:10-12

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