Laying It Down for Love

 

A single friend once asked me why parents take their children on vacation. Why not go alone, without the hassles: whining and disputes, added cost, giving up your adult agenda to eat at McDonald’s, go to water parks, zoos, or marine land? Shouldn’t vacation be about getting away from the stress of life?

Most parents I know can relate to the idea that parenting can be stressful. But despite the unpredictability, parents take joy in granting their children’s dreams and watching them delight in simple things like swimming, hiking, collecting shells, or identifying the stars. Laying down our desires in the best interests of our children is a part of parenthood that comes easily to most of us.

My husband and I had the opportunity to visit Disney World and many other theme parks when we served as sponsors for high school trips where Dan taught. But the first time I visited Disney World with our children, I cried tears of joy. We were giving our son and daughter an imagination-filled, memorable trip I thought would be impossible.

Love motivates us to lay down our preferences for those we love. 

Last night I slept on a well-used couch and couldn’t care less. Why? I’m visiting my beloved daughter’s family and grandchildren who I seldom get to see. Love keeps the main thing the main thing. My husband Dan and I are with them and our family is together. Who cares about sleeping on a couch? Not me.

1 Peter 4:13 says, “Rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings…”

Our deep love for Jesus should stir us to willingly partake in His sufferings.

But what does it mean to partake in Jesus’s sufferings? His suffering was unlike you and me can experience because He suffered according to the will of God, according to 1 Peter 4:19. Because Jesus understood God’s will, He knew what He was to do in every situation. Our job is to “partake” or choose to imitate Jesus in these acts of obedience out of our deep love for Him.

Lay down our agendas and preferences to serve others. Jesus’s purpose was to carry out the Father’s will. Jesus was compelled by love for God the Father and submitted every thought and action to Him. Do we willingly lay down our plans and ambitions so God can conform our heart and our desires to His own?

  • Love does not insist on its own way (1 Cor. 13:5).
  • Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit (Phil. 2:3).
  • In humility count others more significant than yourselves (Phil. 2:3).
  • Look…to the interests of others (Phil. 2:4).
  • Have the same mindset as Jesus in your relationships with others (Phil. 2:5).Cloth
  • Lay aside sin and weight that causes conflict, discouragement, anger, resentment, and bitterness (Heb. 12:1).

Learn to see through other people’s eyes. To teach us this, God often takes us through experiences that force us to think differently and confront our prejudices and blind spots. He may ask us to serve people who are difficult for us to be around because He needs to teach us important lessons in humility, compassion, empathy, listening, patience, gentleness, and give us insight into our motives and goals.

  • Clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience (Col 3:12).
  • Comfort others with the comfort God gives us (2 Cor. 1:3-4).
  • Be united in Christ (Phil. 2:1-3).
  • Practice honest self-examination (Matthew 7:3-5).
  • Incline your heart to understanding others (Prov. 2:2).
  • Be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19).

In recent years, God gifted me with challenging relationships that taught me to see the world from other people’s perspectives. Without these relationships, I would not have learned lessons of compassion, grace, mercy, and evaluated blind spots in my spiritual life. The greatest lesson I learned was that spiritual growth and following Christ are not about comfort but about joy and fulfillment.

In laying down what I falsely believe to be my rights, I find my greatest freedom and joy.

What about you? Have you been challenged to lay down your rights, your goals, your plans, your dreams for God’s greater vision? How did you respond? What was the result? I would love to hear from you.

Growing in Gratitude

I chose the word growing as my focus for 2019.

Grant this former English and writing teacher/professor a little grace as I throw in a brief grammar lesson. Growing is the present continuous form of the verb grow. “So what?” I hear you asking. Well, this means the action of growing is happening now, and it’s also continuing into the future.

 

I want growth that produces
momentum for greater growth.

 

I don’t want to just grow, I want to bloom in every aspect of my life. But even more importantly, I want my growth that produces momentum for greater growth–especially in the most important dimension of my life, my spiritual life. One important goal for growth for me this year is growing in gratitude.

I struggled in this area for many years. It’s not that I didn’t say “thank you,” and feel grateful for the things I had. I took people for granted. I took God’s presence and blessings in my life for granted. These things showed up in a critical spirit and a victim mentality. I was pretty much blind to these things until people who loved me graciously held me accountable. I talk about this journey more fully in my book The Silent Seduction of Self-Talk: Conforming Deadly Though Patterns to the Word of God.

 

God gives us the ingredients for growing in our spiritual life:
the Word of God,
the Spirit of God,
and the people of God.

 

Gratitude means more than saying “thank you” or acknowledging that we’re blessed. We convey gratitude in actions we choose and the attitudes we convey to others. We express gratitude in our nonverbal language. We show gratitude through joyous generosity that flows from humble awareness of all God’s given us.

Gratitude is the rain
that nourishes the seed of forgiveness.

 

Gratitude is the sun that melts the proud heart and graces the humble with quiet power.

But how does growing in gratitude work on a practical level?

 

I love my husband, and I’m enormously grateful for many things about him. I can tell him I’m grateful for him a dozen times a day. I can write my thoughts in cards. I can display them on the bathroom mirror in red lipstick.

But my words mean nothing if my attitude and actions don’t match. I negate what I say if

  • I ignore him because I’m too engrossed in my own priorities.
  • I use sarcasm and criticism that disrespect him.
  • I do things behind his back that I know he disapproves of.
  • I talk disrespectfully about him when I’m with friends.

True gratitude expresses itself in ways
that can be seen and sensed.

  • Sacrifice
  • Humility
  • Service
  • Respect
  • Looking out for the best interests of the other
  • Forgiveness and reconciliation

For me, this comes down to paying attention to my self-talk. This is where I discover my true motives and priorities. As I examine my self-talk, I discover that my self-interests often crowd out gratitude and love for others. You can find more information about self-talk in my book The Silent Seduction of Self-Talk: Conforming Deadly Thought Patterns to the Word of God.

Gratitude grows as I grasp God’s love for me and compels my heart to conform to His.

Ask God to magnify your appreciation for all He’s done for you. Ponder the blessings of your life–large and small. Then ask Him to increase your heart of sacrifice, humility, service, respect, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Gratitude is a lifestyle and a mindset.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul,
‘therefore I will hope in him.’”

Lamentation 3:22-2

 

What about you? How do you show gratitude in your life? How do you want to grow spiritually this year?

 

 

Five Things to Tell Yourself Every Morning

I don’t know about you, but I don’t spring out of bed in the morning with a smile on my face and a song in my heart. My body hurts. I’m still tired. I don’t want to sweep the kitchen again and find spatters on the mirror that I washed yesterday. I need to hit the shower and grab breakfast.

The thing I need most each morning is to start my day affirming who I am, why I’m here, and how much God loves me.

Why? Because every day untrue messages about our identity and purpose inundate our mind, soul, and spirit. For instance,

  • You’re not enough.
  • Your purpose is to be good, do good, and just keep on swimming.
  • If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.
  • Money, sex, and power are the keys to happiness.
  • Revenge is sweet.
  • You can never really trust someone’s love.
  • In order to be worth it you need to (fill in the blank).

The only truth we can ever rely on is God’s truth. He alone is unchanging, all-knowing, and forgave every sin and mess we would ever create before we took our first breath. We are incapable of understanding His love for us. In a messed up, broken world, He alone is LOVE we can rely upon in our darkest moments.

  1. I am limitlessly, exuberantly, endlessly loved by God.

God’s love gives me purpose. He chooses to partner with His children to bring purpose from chaos in the world. We are His disciples, the light of the world. When I get up ever morning, I know that my words and actions set into motion eternal ripples of cause and effect.  Ephesians 2:8 tells us, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

2. God gives me a purpose for and in every second of my life–especially in moments when I can’t see it.

God has a plan for your life. He created you with a purpose. One of the most important purposes we can fulfill is one we often overlook and take for granted: God created us to enjoy an intimate relationship with us. We enter into that relationship by believing in Jesus. The Bible tells us that if we have seen Jesus, we have seen the Father (God).

Having a close relationship with God is like any other relationship. We need to spend time with Him. We need to talk to Him in prayer. We need to read His love letter to us–the Bible–to help us better see and understand His profound love for us.

We are also created to glorify God in all we do and say; to praise Him; to grow in the fruits of the Spirit; to use our gifts and talents for Him, and to share what God has done for us with others.

3. I am enough because I am God’s daughter.

God’s opinion is the only opinion that matters. He created me and orchestrates every atom in the universe. No one can diminish my value. God willingly gave His Son Jesus as a sacrifice for my sins. God loved me more than the love that has ever filled the hearts of mankind. He says I am enough and I am His.

4. The most truthful things about me is that I am who God says I am: beautiful, chosen, forgiven, and free from shame.

Jesus paid it all,

All to Him I owe,

Sin had left a crimson stain,

He washed it white as snow.

I am free. I am forgiven. I am chosen. I am God’s beautiful child.

5. I am free to love even my enemies as freely as God loves me.

We find true freedom when we forgive our enemies as God forgave us. Of course, this is not actually possible. We do not possess God’s capacity for forgiveness. But through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to love our enemies and those who spitefully use us.

This is perhaps the most difficult affirmation to claim–especially when we watch others abuse our loved ones. Forgiveness does not mean “off the hook” or forgetting about consequences. Forgiveness means to pardon or cancel a debt. That individual no longer owes you anything. They may owe a penalty to the law or an institution or someone else, but you free them from bondage to your anger.

I challenge you to begin your morning for one month with these five affirmations. Say them out loud as you look into a mirror, and use your name as you speak them. Write them on a card and carry them with you through the day. Then observe how the Spirit of God works in your life.

–Shelly

Taste and See that the Lord Is Good

by Shelly Beach
© 2017

strangelemons-Pixabay

When I was a kid, my dad used to bring home unusual food for our family to try: cherimoyas, dandelion greens, sassafras, fiddleheads, jackfruit, jicama, grasshoppers, various assorted animal meats and organs, smelt, lutefisk, and I’ll end the list there.

Taking that first taste took a bit of courage for me. Often the food looked distasteful and  unpalatable. My dad seemed to think it a mark of moral character to force us to try something new that would expand our palate and our experience. And he also wanted us to understand that judging by what we see can often be misleading.

The Bible tells us to “taste and see that the Lord is good.”

Life serves up both the bitter and the sweet. We’ve all faced distasteful, horrible experiences. You know, things that make us want to cover our mouths and cry “No!” like toddlers being asked to eat parsnips. Something unwanted stares back at us from the table, when we’d much rather down  our favorite foods.

bread-Pixabay

When something unwanted is placed before us, God asks us to trust Him, and like children we often clamp our mouths shut.

We don’t want to.

It’s too hard, too terrible, too painful, too frightening.

And the truth is that terrible, hard, painful, and frightening things are often unsavory and hard.

But the greatest truth is that nothing is sweeter than God’s goodness and love for us.

When we trust God in the terrible and the hard, we “taste” His goodness, His faithfulness, His perfect peace, His incomparable presence.

But tasting God’s love and care for us requires several things of us:

  • Trusting God implicitly because of who He is. This requires acting on our will and commitment to God’s Word, not our emotions. Trusting God is also a learning process.
  • Looking at life from God’s perspective. Circumstances are temporal realities with eternal implications. Conversely, God is an eternal being who works for our good in our temporal circumstances. What we see now is superficial. God is at work in the whole of eternity to work out even dire temporary circumstances for our good.

Are you facing the terrible, the hard, the frightening, the disastrous, the overwhelming? Taste God’s goodness. Trust who He is. Look at life from His perspective, and trust Him to be at work for your good.

“I will bless the Lord at all times;
    his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
    let the humble hear and be glad.
Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
    and let us exalt his name together!”  Psalm 34:1-3 ESV

The Our First Calling: Be Like Jesus

Blog by Shelly Beach
Author, Speaker,
& Consultant © 2017

Award-winning author of
The Silent Seduction of
Self-Talk, Love Letters
from the Edge, Precious
Lord, Take My Hand,
Hallie’s
Heart & other fiction & nonfiction titles

We’re imperfect people. All of us. Definitely me, and yes, you too. 

Even the most godly Christian you’ve ever known is an imperfect sinner. And if they’re honest, they can humbly point out their flaws because they know them well and do battle with them on a regular basis.

But we can’t be complacent about our gossiping tongue, bitter spirit, unforgiving heart, angry outbursts, private moments with porn, potty mouths, condescension toward (spouse, children, siblings, boss, MIL, you know who). Not at least if we claim to love God.

As Christians, our first calling is to become more like Jesus.

This is a lifetime calling. As long as we’re still on earth, we’re going to be working on “the sin[s] that so easily besets us.” You know…the moment when you say or do the things you regret the next instant. But as followers as disciples of Jesus, we should all desire to become like Him. This means intentionally assessing our motives, priorities, attitudes, and actions on a regular basis.

Accountability is a necessary, bittersweet part of growing.

Our love for God should compel us to please Him. He has made us complete in Christ, but we to become more like Him as the Spirit of God transforms us. This is a lifelong process. Unfortunately, we don’t go from sinners to perfect people the moment we receive Christ, even though positionally in the spiritual realm, God sees us as sinless and complete because He sees Jesus’ righteousness in place of our sin.

Instead, we grow as we learn more about God’s love for us. The more we know Him, the more we love Him and release the rights we have falsely believed we had to rule life our way. We begin to substitute His will for ours, which is the essence of Jesus’ heart. His every breath, word, motive, and act were to glorify the Father.

Doing “good things” has nothing to do with a moral checklist.

We measure “good things” by arbitrary preferences or personal and cultural biases. Or we do good things to bolster our pride, gain value in others’ eyes fit in, or for other self-serving reasons.

God defines doing good things as doing the things Jesus would do and being conformed to His character. Paul said, “This will continue until we are . . . mature, just as Christ is, and we will be completely like him” (Ephesians 4:13 CEV).

As believers, we all are works in process. God is on our side and wants to build our character so we become more like Jesus, not so we live from a list of dos and don’ts.

We become like Jesus as our minds are transformed and renewed. 

Transformation is more than following a list of dos and don’ts. It’s learning to live by the fruit of the Spirit–fruit that grows naturally from the spiritual nutrients that flow through our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit.

We lost much of the divine image of God when Adam sinned in the garden of Eden. Jesus restored it on the cross, and our calling is to show the world God’s goodness reflected in Jesus as we bear His image.

What a humbling partnership and blessed calling. Amazing grace…

 

Thistles: Pulling Out the “Pricklies” in Our Lives

Thistles: Pulling Out the Prickly Sins in Our Lives

By Shelly Beach

© 2017 Shelly Beach

Recently I’ve come to enjoy pulling weeds. I’d like to think that this is an indication of growth in character, rather than old age. Luckily, our half-acre yard gives me lots of opportunities to weed, but usually the sun, heat, and humidity discourage me from spending more than a few minutes outside in the summer, due to my health.

On good days I work on one small area near the rose bushes, the garden bench I bought in memory of my mom, or in the back yard flower bed (more weeds than flowers, unfortunately). I enjoy pulling out weeds that come easily, room and all, with one quick tug the most. I don’t mind digging or yanking a bit. I expect a bit of a challenge, but I hate pain, and I certainly don’t choose it for a leisure activity.

I hate thistles the most.

They are prickly, ugly, and grow into monstrosities that are almost impossible to grip without being pierced—even if you’re wearing gloves. For this reason, thistles have been the last weeds in our yard I’ve attacked.

 

Tending the Garden

Many of us have a regular devotional life. We pray, read the Bible, pray, and even do so on a regular basis. It can be easy to focus on sins that have more shallow roots–the ones that don’t ask us to truly change or look deeply at our motives.

For instance, may drop five dollars in the offering plate but not want to honestly consider sacrificial giving to God.

We may say we forgive a friend but be unwilling to lay down the bitterness in our heart.

Or perhaps we fence off areas of our lives and justify behavior we know contradicts the Word of God, because we want to do what we want. These areas are usually deeply rooted in attitudes and motives that say

Thistles grow in all of our lives,
prickly, ugly sins we don’t want God or anyone to touch. 

Weeding Thistles

Weeding thistles takes more work and commitment than pulling out the weeds that have weaker root systems and  no protective thorns. The job requires special weed killer, thicker gloves, running the risk of drawing a little blood, and/or the effort of digging down to the roots of the weed.

Pulling out the thistles in my spiritual life has meant committing to honest self-examination and prayer, shifting my focus from other people to myself, focusing on God, and asking Him to change me. It’s meant constantly evaluating my motives and attitudes, and listening to God’s Word and Spirit for direction and correction.

Are negative attitudes, preoccupations, resentments, bitterness, anger, or ungodly behaviors choking your spiritual growth? Ask God to show you where the thistles have taken root in your life. Then pray and seek godly counsel about how best to uproot them.

 

 

Partnering in Suffering

  Photo Credit: Pixabay

 

I hung up the phone and cried. I wasn’t guilty of my friend’s accusations, and my heart was broken.

At one time or another, we’ve all been unjustly accused, betrayed, abandoned, blamed, rejected, or used. Sometimes the pain seems unbearable. The world seems unjust. Our suffering seems pointless. and we often feel alone.

At times the world seems unjust

and our suffering seems pointless.

We can’t understand others’ anger because we know our words and actions were motivated by love but somehow met by misinterpretation. The result is agonizing. “What’s the point?” we may think.

God’s word promises a purpose in our suffering: to partner in Jesus’ sufferings. In other words, when we suffer, we are also suffering with Jesus.  “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” 1 Peter 4:13 ESV

When we suffer, we are also suffering with Jesus.

Think of it like running a marathon at the side of a friend as an encourager and co-participant. This is one of the greatest purposes of our suffering–standing with Jesus in His suffering. What a privilege!

Jesus experienced pain beyond comprehension and gave His life for me. My perspective as co-sufferer with Jesus changes my attitude when I understand I suffer out of love for and in partnership with Him.

What about you?