Category Archives: Learn it

Return to Me

I was ten or eleven years old the first time I had what I would consider a prophetic dream. Not that I am a prophet or in anyway make claims to that, but this particular dream was recurring. I lost count of the number of times I would wake up in a cold sweat and silent tears running down my face throughout my teen years. I can’t remember sharing it with anyone at the time, but I may have and just don’t recall it. What I do remember is the feeling of being trapped in this endless cycle of dreaming and feeling like I had no control over it when I closed my eyes. It was so vivid and I dreamed it so many times I still remember it 20 some odd years later.

I hear yelling. Not screaming exactly, but yelling and chaos. Suddenly I’m gripping the side of this sloping hill. My hands held tight to a clump of grass and my knuckles are turning white from exertion. The yelling hasn’t stopped, but all around me I see people tumbling down this hill into a pit below. The pit is engulfed with flames, sometimes they look like a campfire, and sometimes they glow blue. I can’t feel the heat and I’m too afraid to look down, but I know it’s yawning beneath me and waiting for me to let go. Next to me, someone else falls. It’s someone I know; I can’t see their face, but I somehow know that I know them. I reach out to try to catch them, but our fingertips barely touch and they fall away. This happens again and again, person after person falling into the pit. My fingers ache and I feel like I’m slipping. But I never fall. I always wake up, scrambling away from the pit and watching everyone I love slip away.

I type the dream now and my palms are sweating. Just reading it probably makes you wonder what about that dream was so traumatizing to me as a kid. It’s not really graphic and there are more unknowns than knowns within it, but the palpable, choking fear I couldn’t shake at the time, still feels tangible somehow.

I blame the Left Behind series. They were super popular at the time, and a kid version even released when I was about 13. Fiction? Sure, but for some reason I really internalized this fear of being one of the ones left behind. I feel pretty certain this is where the fear began, but where it ended, I didn’t quite expect.

The Prophet

Not a lot is known about Joel, but this short book (only 3 chapters) reveals a lot about the Lord and our relationship with Him. During Joel’s time, the people of Isreal experienced a literal invasion of locusts that ate up their food supply and threatened to wipe them out entirely. It was devastating for the land and the people. And it wasn’t just one instance; it was recurring. Joel lays it out for them in chapter 1 verse 4 when he addresses the cutting locust, the swarming locust, the hopping locust, and the destroying locust. Some scholars even believe it was multiple years, as it may be addressing the life cycle of the locust. Others say it’s just multiple swarms back to back to back. Either way it’s not just 1 devastation, but 4. FOUR.

Utter destruction of everything.

Loss. Heartache. Tragedy.

The people want to know why. They are begging for an explanation.

And God heard them.

God chose Joel to speak to the nation in their time of crisis and give them a deeper understanding. He didn’t explain why the locust destroyed everything and left them with a lack of food or provision. I mean, we already know why the world experiences such devastation and loss, don’t we? Natural disasters such as these are a direct result of sin and death being introduced by humanity for humanity, and because we live in this broken world we will sometimes experience tragedy and loss that are inexplicably hard.

No, asking God “Why are you doing this?” in the midst of tragedy is not our best question. That gets complicated, and messy and because we don’t know the bigger picture and we aren’t God. Even if He answered us and broke it down into cause/effect, we would likely not understand. The better question is, “What is God teaching me through this”? Because no matter what we experience in this life, God always has something to say to us if we just shut up and listen.

As it turns out, this book really isn’t about the tragedy at all. Joel addresses it, but it is less about that and more about the people and their heart postures toward God.

The better question is, “What is God teaching me through this”? Because no matter what we experience in this life, God always has something to say to us if we just shut up and listen.

You see, the people had gotten distracted. They were sinning and disobedient. They were ignoring God and doing whatever they wanted. Whatever felt good.

Then, when tragedy struck, they wondered why God wasn’t there? They kicked him out of their lives…and then wondered where He was.

God didn’t send Joel to give an explanation. He sent them to offer the people restoration.

Despite their attitude and sin, God still claimed them as his own. One of the great things about our God is that no matter what, God over and over again proves how He loves and cares for His people even when they repeatedly screw up.

Even when they don’t love Him.

Through Joel, God uses the locust tragedy as a symbol for what awaits the people if they do not turn from sin and return to Him. It encompasses the bigger picture, and as such applies beyond this one tragedy. As humans we sometimes let our pride blind us from the truth: Life is fragile and we cannot control it.

And the real message is this: Return to me.

The Promise

Joel 2: 12-13 is worth your time to memorize. I’m still working on it, but it is a direct promise from the Lord to His people:

Yet even now,” declares the Lord,
    “return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13     and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
    and he relents over disaster.

Joel used the locust tragedy for his message, but doesn’t it also apply to financial ruin? Lost jobs? Global pandemics? Chronic illness? And a myriad of other tragedies that exist in this world. The things we use as excuses to separate ourselves from God’s love and care? The things we blame on God?

This isn’t to say that their specific sin caused this to happen. Please hear me when I say I don’t believe that sinning will give you cancer etc. I’m speaking overall, sin in general, the introduction of this into our world broke it and even the best of humanity suffers as a result.

It also doesn’t promise that if they stop sinning and return to God that they will never experience tragedy again.

No, it’s not saying that at all; really returning to God isn’t about us or what we get out of it. It’s more about the character of God and acknowledging that he is worthy of our devotion.

The flip side of that rings true too. Because God is good and worthy of our devotion, He chooses to bless us and give us new and abundant life in spite of the tragedies we face (and sometimes cause through our sin) in the world. Ultimately, returning to God will redeem us and, though not always in this life, will reward us beyond our wildest dreams.

Because God is good and worthy of our devotion, He chooses to bless us and give us new and abundant life in spite of the tragedies we face (and sometimes cause through our sin) in the world.

Joel even gives us a road map, a process by which we can return to God:

  1. Acknowledge sin
  2. Be sorry about it
  3. Confess and pray/fast
  4. Bring in accountability to avoid sinning again
  5. Cry out to the Lord

By doing this we can be prepared to fight our real enemy. Spiritual warfare rages all around us all the time, and our weapons are fasting and praying — together in a holy assembly— everyone calling out to the Lord and placing God at the head of the army. We need to be prepared so the Enemy can’t turn us away from what is right and important to God. The Enemy strikes when we are the most vulnerable, when these tragedies threaten our very souls. BUT if we are prepared we can stand up and stand strong behind the Lord no matter what the Enemy throws at us. When we are operating outside of his protection, when we are caught off guard, that’s when we are rendered powerless and we fail. That’s when the real tragedy happens.

Separation from God.

Sometimes…and most tragic of all…Forever.

My dream seems pretty straight forward, right? A lot of people I know falling into a pit of fire? Come on, that’s straight out of symbolism 101.

Except, things aren’t always what they seem.

I don’t remember how old I was the last time I had the dream. I’m not sure, but it ended differently. Do you want to guess?

This time…I let go.

Photo by Tom Sodoge on Unsplash

That’s right, I let go and fell right into the fire.

I didn’t wake up in fear, though. I wasn’t burning up or in hell as you might have suspected (as I might have suspected). Instead, I woke up feeling calm and reassured.

And that taught me something important.

That dream taught me that sometimes holding on is a mistake. We think we know what is right and true. We think we see the bigger picture. We think we have to save everyone around us, when all along we just need to let go.

Let go of our anger.

Let go of our pride.

Let go of our hurt.

Let go of our need to know why.

Let go and let God consume us. Let him refine us. Let him redeem us so no matter what we can rest assured that He is good. He is worthy. He is in control.

Let go and let God consume us.

Consider your Ways

The other day I was talking to my co-workers about the way my brain works. It came up because we were all in the same meeting, but our takeaways were actually quite different. What it came down to was this: we talked about several ideas as part of the conversation in clarifying our next move. When the conversation ended, I discarded all previous ideas and focused in on what was said last. To me, those previous things were no longer needed, so why even think about them? As the conversation later unfolded, it seemed that others were still lining up all parts of the conversation rather than just focusing on the end goal. I couldn’t quite understand why at the time, but in looking back now I see how each of our perspectives beautifully rolled into a full on team effort to create something pretty great.

That said, reflection does not come easy to me. I tend to be very task oriented. I set a goal, meet it and then set another goal. I’ll do a little reflecting on what I could have done better to achieve that goal, but as far as self-reflection where I have to analyze all the pieces — and especially emotions — that go into it…thank you, I’d rather not.

This is not particularly healthy. All it does is lead to a spiraling surge of emotions that eventually spill over into a chaotic version of myself and the fallout isn’t pretty.

I know this to be true, and I am working on it (I promise!).

Maybe that’s why the messages in Haggai tap into a real part of my soul and help me want to do better.

The Prophet

Haggai is another prophet that I truthfully haven’t paid a whole of attention to over the years. This book is buried deep in a list of names/titles that are hard to pronounce and intimidating especially if you have already struggled wrestled with Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Haggai’s message pairs with Ezra and Zechariah, encouraging a returned people to rebuild the temple that was destroyed when the Israelites were carted off to Babylon 60 years earlier. For those of us who don’t know the history, or simply get bogged down by it, this may seem outdated and overwhelming, but the messages of Haggai are every bit as relevant today as they were when he first preached them.

What it comes down to is 4 main ideas:

  • Consider your ways.
    • Look up.
    • Look within.
    • Look ahead.

Consider your ways

Twice in the first few verses of Haggai chapter 1 we are told to consider our ways. I can understand why. We often go through the motions of living without ever taking time to really consider why we do things we do. As Tevye would answer, we do it because “it’s tradition!” or at least the way we’ve always done it. Why, you may ask? Well, Tevye has the same answer we all often do… “I don’t know, but it’s tradition!” Now there is nothing wrong with a good tradition. I’m down with that as much as the next person. However, Haggai’s main message is that no matter how hard we try at something or how much work we put into it, we will (like Hamilton) never be satisfied unless our heart posture is in the right place with God front and center.

Side note: I firmly believe that musicals can pretty much teach you any life lesson. Best teaching tool besides the Bible. Prove me wrong.

Which is why God asks us to consider our ways.

He doesn’t want us to just think about them, mediate on them or even study them. He wants us to consider them.

Consider is a heavy word, really. It includes thinking AND action.

One way to follow this command is through regular self-reflection.

Self-reflection is a great practice, often neglected in our go-go-go world, but if we practice it daily, we can learn to shift our priorities to what matters and stop wasting time on what doesn’t. So, what exactly are we to consider about our ways?

Good news. Haggai breaks that down for us, too.

Look up

Often when we consider our ways, we are looking to the wrong things to guide and fulfill us. The Israelites were looking to their material wealth and social standing to complete their lives and had stopped looking to God. They spent gobs of time rebuilding their own homes, perfecting them and making them shiny and new, but they completely neglected rebuilding God’s temple.

This was a direct indicator of what they believed about their lives: Me first, God second.

We still see this mentality today with the ever popular self-care movement. And yes, we need to be careful with our own mental health, but not in the way the world would have us do by putting our needs above all else. Christians are not called to put ourselves first, or to love ourselves first. We are called to love God first and foremost. To put him above all else, including ourselves. In fact, we are called to deny ourselves (Luke 9:23), renounce all that we have (Luke 14:33), and even crucify our passions and desires (Galatians 5:24-25).

So as part of our self-reflection, when we consider our ways, are we looking up to God, or looking out for ourselves?

Look Within

When things don’t go as planned or seem to be spiraling out of control, I’ve noticed that we are quick to complain and ask God, why me? Rarely do we look to ourselves and consider what we can change to change our circumstances. I’m not saying that we can always change something, because let’s face it: we live in a sinful and broken world, and sometimes life likes to kick us in the shins without warning. BUT, often we can at the very least, change our approach and reaction to these (often quite painful) circumstances. When reading Haggai, we can extract the following plan of action:

  1. Look up to God who promises to be with us and to enable us with his spirit.
  2. Choose to face the problem(s) head on, with our eyes wide open and our hands spread out to Jesus.
  3. Make confessions, not excuses. Sometimes circumstances result from our own sin and we have to get right with Jesus before anything else can move forward.
  4. Declare your strength and courage is in God (Joshua 1:9).
  5. Lean on the promise of God’s presence rather than on the false hope that you can do it all yourself.
  6. Claim your peace, given to you by Jesus (John 14:27) and rest in it.

Again, we can ask ourselves, are we looking within to the choices we can make to live out God’s purpose and plan for our lives? Or are we complaining and excusing our own behavior because the hand we’ve been dealt is just ‘not fair’?

Look Ahead

We aren’t asked to consider our ways so that we will feel bad about the choices and decisions we are making, but to look ahead to the promises God has made for those who are actively pursuing his purpose, plan and holiness. If you are a follower of Jesus, you have been given a purpose and you already know what it is: Spread the good news to all nations, and do everything to bring glory and honor to him.

And here’s the deal: God always provides for the needs of what he has called you to do.

The Israelites returned to their homeland, provided with all materials they needed to do God’s work and rebuild the temple, but somehow by the time Haggai comes on the scene, the supplies had either disappeared, been misappropriated, or run dry. When we rely on earthly powers to supply our needs, there is never a guarantee, but we can trust that God’s promises will never run dry. Sometimes it may feel like God is not moving, but his promises come in His time and not ours. We can look ahead and trust God to provide for our needs every day.

I’ll confess that I’ve been hanging out too much with my nephew lately, so I’ve got Mario on the brain, but the game truly does work as a metaphor for the next part of our plan of action. Check it:

  1. Always read the instructions first. We’re tempted to skip through the rules or explanations, but there is more than just a plot line hidden in those words. The instructions help us succeed where our own intuition would lead to failure. The word of God will always be our instructions, giving us a good start, sustaining us through the challenges, and leading us to success.
  2. Choose your companions wisely. Mario and Luigi are talked about in tandem for a reason. They trust one another and help one another, lifting each other over goals and obstacles in ways they could not do on their own. We can’t do the work of God alone. Community matters. Find your tribe and hold on tight.
  3. Sometimes the challenges seem too hard and we “die” 76 times in a row looking for the way out. However, when things seem impossible, there is always a way if we keep trucking. Often it’s in what we overlooked the first time: a hidden block to jump on, a cave, a passageway… Haggai gave us the best instructions: we consider our ways by looking up, looking within, and looking ahead and we count on God to provide what we need.
  4. Mario’s motivation is never for himself. Sure, he gets to collect coins and have great adventures, but the only reason he goes in the first place is to save the princess. Our goal, to bring glory and honor to God, should always be our motivation in all that we do. And let’s face it, putting God first will guarantee us the best blessings. Does it mean it will be easy? It wasn’t for Mario, so we shouldn’t expect that either. But is it worth it in the end? You bet.
  5. The journey to save the princess would be impossible if Mario didn’t have ways to power up. He uses all the resources available to give him power and strength to complete the goal. We have similar powers (no, not magic fire flowers, though I admit that would be cool). We have the Holy Spirit and without tapping into his power and strength, none of this would be possible.

Ultimately, Haggai’s point is that we need to stop making excuses for why we can’t do what God asks us to do and start serving the Lord with selflessness and dedication. Once that becomes our priority, our actions become intentionally focused on God’s purpose and plan rather than mindlessly following a tradition.

The promise

In Haggai 2:9, the Lord promises to give greater glory in the future than they have ever seen in the past and that he will give us his peace. And he for sure fulfilled that promise through Jesus; not only did Jesus bring ultimate glory to God, but he left us with his promise of peace too. John 14:27 reads:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

In a world where everything seems to be more chaotic and out of control with each passing day, knowing that God promises us peace should bring great comfort and joy. This peace doesn’t mean that our lives will be perfect or even calm by any means, and anyone who says it does is lying. No, this peace means that in spite of the tumults and tempests of life, we are able to respond with the assurance and calmness of Jesus who promises to be with us, which is the greatest promise of all.

Yet now be strong...declares the Lord. Be strong...Be strong all you people of the land, declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts....My spirit remains in your midst. Fear not. (Haggai 2: 4-5)

From Valleys to Mountaintops

I enjoy hiking, even though I don’t go very often…life, you know? Also, I don’t enjoy hiking alone, so coordinating schedules can be a bear… still though, I like it. When I get the chance to hike, I admit I’m not always in the best of shape, so I have to take it kind of slow… and I kind of like to know what I’m getting myself into before I start.

That said, let me tell you about this hike that I took once with friends. I went into it blind, but I’d actually been doing pretty well about walking and hiking pretty regularly, so I was pumped and ready to take it on. The beginning of the hike wasn’t bad and honestly we reached the top pretty quickly and it was beautiful. We took all the photos to post and high-fived each other on our accomplishment. In short, we were feeling pretty good about ourselves.

And then we started down the mountain and that’s when we discovered that we had climbed the mountain backward (or at least against the recommended trail direction). And we quickly learned why. The way down… this direction… was steep. Like super steep. We were only halfway down when my calves started their initial complaints, so by the time we’d finally reached the valley, my calves were legitimately cursing (who knew they had such a colorful vocabulary?), and I was pretty much done.

Except, we weren’t done. We were far from done.

So. Very. Far.

We looked around for the parking lot, but it wasn’t in the valley. And that’s when we discovered that the real reason our hike to the top had been so, well easy. The parking lot was halfway up the mountain and we’d done the end in the beginning. So, to get back to our car, we had to go back up. This time stairs.

So. Many. STEEP stairs.

(Oddly, if we had started on the stairs going into the valley in this direction, our calves would have been saved. Someone had really thought this hike through; those someones were not us.)

Have you ever seen the old cartoon Cinderella? You know that mouse, Gus-Gus–the little chunky one who is so incredibly cute, but not in the best shape. Remember when he has to save his beloved Cinderella from the tower and looks up at those steps in front of him and they just seem to grow bigger and taller?

Actual footage of me looking at those stairs.

Yeah, that’s what these stairs looked like from the valley edge after coming down the steepest trail from the other side of the mountain.

I may or may not of asked my friends to call me a med-evac half way up (and I may or may not have been kind of serious about that…). At one point, I stood there halfway up the stairs, exhausted and in actual pain (for some perspective: my legs were physically shaking when I stood still and I literally couldn’t make them stop. I mean I can be kind of a baby about physical exertion, but seriously. Shaking. Trembling, if you will), I considered that maybe I’d just live in that valley the rest of my life. I could pitch a tent and be super happy away from society and never having to climb up another set of stairs. I’d just give up.

Yeah, there were no flaws in that plan at all, right? (Like where was I going to get said tent anyway?)

Obviously, I did not stay in that valley. I kept going, mostly with the encouragement of my friends (maybe a few threats). And when we got back to the car, I’d never been more grateful for modern transportation and combustible engines that don’t require any leg movement.

That taught me something, though. I got to thinking about how sometimes when the valleys in life come at us in unexpected ways, it’s really tempting to just stay in the pit. Especially when climbing out is a lot of work — painful, exhausting work. Work that when you start, you want to give up halfway through because it feels that bad. We want to just pitch our tent in the valley and spend the rest of our lives feeling sorry for ourselves when we don’t get to experience anything new or exciting. When we don’t grow. When we don’t feel the wind on our faces or see the land stretch out before us, we blame the valley, not ourselves, because, after all, it’s not our fault we are in this valley, right?

And, sure, we don’t always choose the valleys in our lives. They come at us hard and fast, or we fall into them sometimes. Sometimes they are a result of our making poor choices. Regardless of how we ended up there, we do have a choice about coming out of the valley. We can put in the work, we can lean into encouragement of friends and family, we can work through the pain. We can choose to trust that God has a good, sovereign plan for our lives.

Because one of God’s many promises to us is to meet us in our valleys and help us back to the mountaintop.

But it’s not magic. It’s a choice. We can pursue the promise, or sulk in our sorrows. As it did many years ago for Habakkuk the prophet, our choices will determine the scope and enjoyment of God’s promises in our lives.

It’s not magic. It’s a choice. We can pursue the promise, or sulk in the sorrows.

Habakuk the Prophet

Though not as well known as Isaiah, Jeremiah, or even Jonah, Habakkuk and his short book (3 short chapters) is one of the most relatable struggles in the modern world. His very name is somewhat of a paradox, meaning both ‘to embrace’ and ‘to wrestle’. The basic premise of the story is this:

Habakkuk begins by looking at the corruption that has absolutely infiltrated the Jewish nation. People are living how they want to live, turning a once holy nation into a hedonistic hot mess. He knows they’ve been warned because Jeremiah’s been singing that tune for about 40 years, and still the nation refuses to turn back to God. And God? Well, Habakkuk wonders why God refuses to fix the problem himself. So the questioning begins. God, how long? God, why? God, where are you?

I told you it was relatable, or is that just me? At different points throughout my life I have whispered and yelled these words to the heavens, wondering these same things. How long do I have to wait for healing from this crushing depression? Why do I still not have a family of my own? Where are you, God, when there is so much suffering all around me in the world? Why didn’t you heal my incredibly brave and beautiful friend?

Now, granted these questions are on different levels of intensity, but the sentiment is still the same.

There are times when I know God is good; I know God is faithful; I know God is sovereign, but it feels like he is indifferent to my situation or the world around me.

I mean, just look at the world we live in. Habakkuk points out the violence in his society (um, hello…according to the CDC, in the US alone there are at least 1.2 million reported assault related emergency room visits each year and over 19,000 homicides…violence is definitely a staple in our society). He mentions iniquity, wrong, destruction, strife, and contention, ending with an all-encompassing statement about the law and justice having been so corrupted they are ineffective, ‘perverted’, and ‘paralyzed’. Are we reading the Bible, or social media? I mean seriously, verse 4 seems like it could be straight off someone’s news feed these days.

So the law is paralyzed and justice never goes forth, for the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted (Hab. 1:4).

Habakkuk is confused and frustrated by God’s lack of intervention, so he hits his knees and asks all the questions. Then, God answers, and it’s kind of surprising. God assures Habakkuk that he sees and that he’s got a plan—a plan to use a more violent group (the Babylonians) to execute judgment on the people, overcome them, and teach them a lesson about their own violent ways.

There are times when I KNOW God is good; I KNOW God is faithful; I KNOW God is sovereign, but it FEELS like he’s indifferent to my situation or the world around me.

Um…yikes. Not the answer he was looking for, so this does not comfort Habakkuk. In fact it worries him to the point that he begins to wonder and question God’s nature. If God is good, how can he use such a violent means to teach his people a lesson? If God is holy, how can he allow such evil in the world, let alone use it? And he says all this to God. He begs God for a different answer. Habakkuk hoped for a revival, not for a violent and bloody downfall.

Yeah. Relatable. At least to me. I’ve certainly asked similar questions about suffering and evil in a world where God is supposed to be perfectly holy, good and sovereign.

Unfortunately, we may never really understand this side of heaven. Romans 11:33-34 puts it this way:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? 

Now, don’t read this the wrong way. I am in no way saying that all the evil of the world, the diseases that people suffer from or even the violence is God’s judgment on mankind, but what I am saying is that God knows more than we know and we may never know the exact reason why he allows for such things to continue. But we can be assured that God cares about his people, but he also cares about justice. And justice isn’t always pretty and rarely can you put it in a box and label it because there are too many abstractions that factor into what justice looks like and means. What gives me the greatest comfort here is that God hears Habakkuk’s concern, and He responds with kindness and wisdom.

First, he tells Habakkuk to write what he is saying down in plain words so everyone will see, hear, and understand what he is saying. God pronounces woe to ALL people who participate in iniquity and he lists 5 that are still very much prevalent today, and honestly encompass most, if not all, the iniquity of humans.

  1. Selfish ambition – getting to the top no matter who you have to lie to, stomp on, sleep with, or manipulate; that encompasses a lot of wrong-doing by pretty much anyone’s standard.
  2. Covetousness – keeping up with the Jones’ to the point where you act selfishly, gossip, steal, lie, manipulate, or even impersonate others; wanting what others have just because they have it and you don’t.
  3. Exploitation of people – human trafficking would be at the worst part of this spectrum, but not paying people an honest wage or taking advantage of people also fall under this heading.
  4. Drunkenness & violence – drunkenness doesn’t just mean alcohol either; drugs and other addictions can lead to poor decision making and iniquity and violence. Well, we’ve already talked about how prevalent that is.
  5. Idolatry – putting any creation above the creator; money, power, social media; anything you give your time, attention, and devotion to can become an idol.

In the end, God points out, humans will eventually reap what they sow. God had tried many methods to get the nation’s attention and to urge them to turn back to him and his perfectly holy ways. He’d offered them forgiveness, protection, and even prosperity. They said ‘no thanks’ and continued to take part in and feed the corruption of their society. God could have protected them from the Babylonian invasion. He was always capable of it, but they stepped out of the umbrella of his protection and God, having given humans free will when He created them, let them go. He wants us to choose Him, but he won’t force it. And when we step out of that umbrella, there are consequences. And it isn’t usually pretty.

Again, I’m in no way trying to explain all of death and destruction and disease in this world through this post. I am summarizing what we see recorded in Habakkuk and pointing out how we can relate to what we see. Death, disease, destruction, corruption, iniquity, all that came about when sin entered the world and will continue until the New Heaven and New Earth reign, but that’s a conversation for another day.

Back to Habakkuk.

He started off the chapter in the valley of despair, calling out to God and desperate for answers. God hears him and responds. Habakkuk doesn’t like the answer, so he enters into a debate with God.

God isn’t afraid of our questions, by the way. He welcomes them. We see this in how He responds to Habakkuk. God reminds his prophet of the consequences of sin, dating back to that fateful moment in the Garden when Adam and Eve decided to take a bite out of the fruit from the tree of life. Sure, they got knowledge, but they also got death. The consequence of sin is death.

But what’s really interesting is how Habakkuk handles that response. He could have pouted and whined about it being ‘not fair.’ He could have walked away and given up on God. He could have stayed in that valley of despair. But he doesn’t. He sings of God’s past mercies and holiness. He reminds himself of what all God has done to bless and uphold his promise to his people. He praises God for his power, might, and protection.

Then his body trembles, and he feels all the weight of the coming future in his very bones. He is emotionally spent. Weary. He is uncontrollably shaking because of the exertion. But he doesn’t give up.

He chooses to rejoice in the Lord.

He chooses joy.

And God meets him there, giving him strength in his faith to “tread on my high places”, out of the valley and onto the mountaintops.

The Promises

There was a lot to unpack in that story and I may have been a little long winded, so I’m sorry about that, but it felt important to give you the full scope of what Habakkuk was dealing with because I’ve been there (and not just out of shape on a hike). I’ve been in that valley of despair and I didn’t always choose to rejoice in the Lord.

And that, my friends, is not fun and there is little to be gained by pitching your tent in the valley and avoiding the process of moving back up toward the mountaintop. I’m sure you know what I mean.

So how did Habakkuk get from the valleys of despair to the mountaintops of joy?

With discipline.

And that’s God’s promise to us. To take us from the valleys to the mountaintops when we seek to follow and obey him.

Habakkuk gave us a little roadmap too. Mind if I share? Great. Here goes.

The Discipline of PrayerThe Discipline of Solitude & SilenceThe Discipline of Reflection & Discernment
Habakkuk prayed for God to see the violence and iniquity, bring justice to the nation of Isreal, and turn them into a holy people once more.Habakkuk remained isolated from the people, stopped talking, listened, and expected God’s response. Habakkuk listened to what the Lord said, and reflected on his own knowledge of who He knew God to be. Discernment is wisdom making a choice; he chose to wait for God to answer before acting again.
Discipline of Reading/Knowing God’s wordDiscipline of Humility & SubmissionDiscipline of Worship
When God gave him a vision, Habakkuk reminded himself of God’s sovereignty and reviewed all the mighty works and power God had displayed and how he’d always kept his promises to the people.Habakkuk accepted God’s word and direction and put faith in God’s plan rather than his own idea of what is right.Habakkuk rejoiced in the Lord and chose joy rather than brooding or pouting or rebelling.

So for us it looks like…

Our circumstances may not change, but we always have a choice in how we live in those circumstances. When we practice spiritual discipline in the mundane, everyday moments of life, they become our defaults for when we are going through the valleys that threaten to overwhelm us. Those same disciplines help us choose to live life more abundantly, just as Habakkuk discovered. In the end he says,

yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord is my strength (Hab. 3:18-19a) 

Despite his confusion and bewilderment, he still chooses to trust in the promises of God.

And we can too.

Our circumstances may not change, but we always have a choice in how we live in those circumstances.

Prophets & Promises

I don’t know about you, but I haven’t spent a lot of my life studying the prophets of the Old Testament. I love God’s word and I spend a lot of time reading my Bible, but the prophets always felt kind of…depressing. Sure, there are a lot of good nuggets in there that look great on a coffee mug or wall art deco, but most of what you read is a lot of doom and gloom—or at least it feels that way. So I always kind of just glossed over them in my reading. Hello, Malachi, how are you? A cursory ‘fine’ in response was all I was looking for before I skipped on to Ruth or Esther, or James.

So when I ran across a study on minor prophets, I kind of dragged my feet on starting it, but it just kept haunting me (thanks Holy Spirit) and I gave in. Eventually.

I don’t regret it.

Over the past few months I have come to appreciate all that I’ve uncovered in these hard to pronounce, but kind of amazing little books. The history alone is mindboggling, but when you really dig in, these books really speak to my current struggles, and, I’d hazard to guess, yours too.

So in this new series I’m starting (finally; I know it’s been like a year since I’ve posted anything. Life. You dig?), I’m going to dig into some of the prophets and promises of God, what I’m learning, and how it might teach you a little something too.

Investing in Prophets

This word can be a bit scary. Prophets. It feels kind of funny on the tongue, foreign and funky. Most people hear it and think it’s synonymous with ‘fortune teller’ or ‘psychic’. Prophets do sometimes talk about the future. I won’t deny that, but they do so in a much different way than what mainstream media tells us. They don’t gaze into crystal balls or look to anything human or mystical. No, a prophet is inspired by one thing and one thing alone: God. Whether it’s through His word or through constant meditation and prayer, prophets speak revelations. The sovereign will of God, which (as it happens) can apply to the future, but interestingly just as often focuses on the present and past. They rely on spiritual discipline, not on whims of unknown spirits.

I’ve been learning a lot about that concept of discipline lately, too. I used to think I was pretty good on that front, that I had a lot of discipline. And in some ways that is correct, but in other ways I have a long way to go and a whole lot to learn. Building spiritual discipline is arduous and often heartbreaking, but in a way that allows the Lord to move in and redesign your motivation and focus.

And sometimes it hurts.

The OT prophets would be the first to tell you that discipline is hard and painful, yet they’d also be the first (most of them) to tell you that it is 100% worth it to walk that closely with the Lord and to rely on His word and will for your every move.

Building Spiritual discipline is arduous and often heartbreaking, but in a way that allows the Lord to move in and redesign your motivation and focus.

Spiritual Discipline for the 21st Century

If we are honest with ourselves, we’d admit that our society lacks any kind of discipline, spiritual or otherwise. We rely on instant gratification to fulfill our needs and get angry and impatient when we have to wait in line or our computer runs slower than we’d like. So how do we build spiritual discipline in a world that thrives on a me-first mentality? Believe it or not, we build these disciplines in the same manner as the prophets. Sure, it looks a little different for us (we’re unlikely to clothe ourselves in sackcloth when we are grieving over our troubles), but the problems and trials we face have no different roots than what we see in the Bible and so the examples and words of wisdom and warning still apply to us today. Humans are humans, sinful and ugly in all their me-first glory.

Elisabeth Elliot wrote a fantastic book on this very subject called Discipline: the Glad Surrender. The book gets to the heart of spiritual discipline in the 21st century starting with the title itself: glad surrender. We don’t like to surrender and we certainly aren’t happy about it by nature. Especially in the US. It connotes weakness and humility that our society puffed up on pride and self-sufficiency can hardly stomach let alone pursue. But we’d be wise to at least try, especially if we are wanting community with God, which inevitably will lead to amazing growth opportunities we would never find otherwise.

Discipline is the wholehearted yes to the call of God.

Elisabeth Elliot Discipline

So what are these disciplines we are to surrender to? This is not an all inclusive list by any means, but in this series these are the ones I’ll comment on most frequently:

  • Solitude & Silence
  • Fasting
  • Sabbath & Rest
  • Submission
  • Humility
  • Reading the Word
  • Worship
  • Prayer & Vision
  • Faith
  • Community: Family, Friends, & Neighbors
  • Service
  • Reflection & Discernment
  • Evangelism
  • Contentment

Promises of God

The whole point of becoming more disciplined really comes down to the promises of God. When we start living by the promises of God rather than explanations (or lack thereof), we see true transformation in our minds, hearts and souls, but we can’t live by His promises if we don’t even know what His promises are. And that begins by spending time with Him in his Word, in solitude and community, to build and strengthen our spiritual muscles that focuses on something far greater than ourselves.

We can’t live by His promises if we don’t even know what his promises are.

The prophets managed to do this without indoor plumbing, sliced bread, or penicillin, so I figure we can too if we are willing to surrender a bit of ourselves for a lot more of Jesus.

Photo by Julia Weihe on Unsplash

5 Things I learned when I started my new job

So many of you may not know (because quite frankly I’m about as bad at updating people on my life as I am at keeping this blog current. Go figure.) BUT I started a new job in August. I’m still working in the same school district, but I have a new title–and it is a doozy. I’m out of the classroom and in the district office as one of the Technology Integration and Implementation Specialists. Try saying that 10 times fast, I dare you. Don’t worry, I’ll wait…

Yeah, I thought so.

Anyway, I realized within about the first 10 minutes of starting the job that I was going to learn a whole heck of a lot in this new position. You know that saying, you don’t know what you don’t know? Well, I do know now. I know that I know very little and it’s very humbling when you’ve been the girl with all the answers for the vast majority of your life.

Not that I’m all that smart, but I tend to give off a kind of “she knows what she’s doing” vibe and that has taken a lot of time and effort to cultivate. Now, that doesn’t mean I really do know what I’m doing. And that certainly doesn’t mean I actually have all the answers (because trust me, I don’t) BUT I usually can fake it till I make it. And I don’t really fail. Does that sound arrogant? I don’t mean for it to, but it is one of the primary reasons why I struggle so much with pride.

So, here’s just five important things I learned when I took on this job.

Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

Number One: Broaden your thinking

I like to think of myself as a pretty open-minded individual. I like to learn. I love hearing others’ ideas. I even like a healthy debate–as long as there is no shouting. I don’t like shouting. As an English teacher though I had a pretty narrow focus: make sure you are meeting the standards and doing what is best for your students. The other stuff was just..well it was just stuff. Hoops to jump through if you will so that I could do my job the way I believed it should be done. That was fine and all, but about fifteen minutes into my new job I could see that sometimes what I thought was just a hoop actually had a purpose. Something that felt, as a teacher, to be a roadblock was actually a guardrail. I couldn’t see the cliff on the other side because I didn’t have the right view. Sometimes it was by choice and sometimes it was just because those that did have the view knew something I didn’t. Now, I’m not saying that all the bureaucracy is good or purposeful because it’s not. BUT I am saying that there are a lot of moving pieces in an organism as complex as a school system and sometimes you get to see the bigger picture and its pretty eye-opening.

Something that felt, as a teacher, to be a roadblock was actually a guardrail. I couldn’t see the cliff on the other side because I didn’t have the right view.

Number Two: Don’t let your first impressions of people blind you.

One of my favorite books is a pretty well-known classic called Pride and Prejudice. Depending on how much of a geek you are, you may not know that the working title for this novel was actually First Impressions, so believe me when I say that Lizzy Bennet would totally back me up on this. First impressions are rarely correct, and even when they are people can and do surprise you. I’m really quite introverted, despite years teaching in the public schools. In the past few weeks, I have met an innumerable amount of people. Students, parents, teachers, administrators, publishers, vendors, pretty much everyone who has an interest in how schools work has somehow been a part of my working life in the past few months. Some have made a great first impression, and others not as much. Either way, I’ve learned that when you make a first impression into a box in which you place a person, you can miss out.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Number Three: The best people don’t seek attention and their humility is often misunderstood.

People think that humility is putting yourself down, but really that’s not true humility. Humility is accepting responsibility for something that’s not your fault, but you do it because it’s the better choice than wasting time playing the blame game. Humility is shrugging off an insult to yourself, but getting so angry you can’t stop the tears when someone insults or threatens your people. Humility is not taking credit for decisions that make life easier for people, even though you totally deserve a little praise. Humility is hard, which is why there are few truly humble people in the world. I’ve met a lot of them recently and other than highlighting my massive pride problem, it is changing the way I see the world.

Humility is hard, which is why there are few truly humble people in the world.

Number 4: Just because you believe something to be true doesn’t mean it is.

Over the past few months, I’ve had to eat a lot of crow. Some things I hardcore believed to be true about people and ideas were shattered as I realized how scope and context can be manipulated to serve others’ agendas. Uncovering those agendas is a tough reality that I’ve had to come to terms with as I move forward. Not only that, I’m having to sort out what I believe vs. what I’ve been told to believe or what I thought I believed or what I believed that turned out to be false. Sound confusing, it is. Most days my brain is spinning. Just a quick example: the job I do now, I honestly didn’t understand as a teacher. I wondered what they did at an office all day. I wondered why we needed so many (I think we had 4 at the time) and what they could possibly be contributing. I wondered what I would do in the same position. Turns out I still can’t explain this job to people in a way that makes sense, but I will say that I am nonstop. Ever listened to Hamilton? That whole “Why do you write like you’re running out of time?” question is for real when it comes to my job, but you can substitute ‘write’ for ‘research, type, talk, respond, create, reply, collaborate, design, record, request, etc.’ . My job varies from day to day–actually hour to hour really–and I have to be flexible and willing to move at a moment’s notice. Yeah, I spend a lot of time on the phone and in front of a computer, but I’m also out at schools and in classrooms. I’m collaborating with my team and brainstorming new ideas. I’m learning new programs and solving problems…and sometimes failing to solve problems (which I hate. I start to growl when I can’t solve something. It’s not pretty).

Photo by noor Younis on Unsplash

Number five: People just want to be heard

I know there are a lot of problems in the educational world and when you add technology to that, the fact is we may never solve all the problems that exist. And for every problem we solve six more pop up. Programs work great in some capacity but there isn’t a panacea program. Trust me, I’ve looked. Even so, the vast majority of people, even the ones who complain the most, simply want to feel seen and heard and understood. And this is true in life as well. I’m learning that I’m not very good at concentrating on what people are saying to me for more than a few minutes and I am learning to focus and not just listen but actually hear what people have to say. And those voices are beautiful (and sometimes angry). Unfortunately I don’t have a lot of power to change the world. I wish I did (well, sometimes I do. Other times that feels like way too much work and responsibility). What I do have the power to do is hear people and work to help them find a solution–even if it’s not perfect, I can still show them that I care. And that’s how you change the world. One listening ear at a time.

The vast majority of people, even the ones who complain the most, simply want to feel seen and heard and understood.