Reclaim

Normally I wait until the end of the year to explain more of why I chose that particular word for the year and what God has taught me about that word. But this year is different. (It’s actually different for a lot of reasons but more on that in the months to come.) My word for 2019 is “reclaim” and here’s why…

I have been reading Genesis and Exodus in my personal Bible study time and it is no coincidence that we are covering those exact books in one of my seminary classes. I am sooo thankful that the Word of God is alive and active because even though I’ve read these passages before, this time God taught me something else: I have already admitted defeat.

Before we go any further, here’s a brief overview of the beginning of the Israelites who are identified as God’s chosen people. Back in Genesis 12, God tells Abraham that He will give him land (the Promised Land), seed (descendants), and blessing (provision). God blesses Abraham and before long he is incredibly wealthy (Gen 13) and has a son with his wife Sarah (Gen 21). One of Abraham’s grandsons is Jacob (Gen 25), who God later renames as Israel (Gen 32). Israel has twelve sons (Gen 29,30, 35), who were then fruitful and multiplied (Ex 1), thus forming the Twelve Tribes of Israel, aka- the Israelites (Ex 1). While the descendants and provision parts were going well, the Israelites did not have possession of the land. In fact, they are enslaved to the Egyptians (Ex 1). God anoints Moses to petition the Egyptian ruler to let God’s people go (Ex 3), and after the tenth disastrous plague, the Israelites are set free (Ex 12). A year-ish of trekking towards the Promised Land God’s people finally arrive at the border (Num 13). Twelve spies are sent to scout out the land that has already been promised to the Israelites (Num 13); ten return and say “no can do, the current inhabitants are giants” and two say “God has given us this land so let’s do it!” (Num 13). The people side with the majority and accept the defeat, rebelling and complaining against God for not giving them what He had promised. God’s response: I said I was giving it to you but you chose not to believe me; therefore, you will wander in the wilderness for forty years and you’ll know that I am displeased (Num 14).

Yikes.

Thankfully, I believe that God deals differently with us now than He did with His people in the Old Testament. So when I don’t please God He won’t set me in the Sahara and say “good luck, see you in four decades.” But even without the desert wanderings, I can’t help but see the similarities between the Israelites and myself. Just like them, I doubt God.

Both the Israelites and myself were/are not believing Truth about God; that He is good and loving and wants good for me. Instead, we are believing the lies of the enemy. Ephesians 6:12 says that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against Satan. Since the very beginning of time, Satan has been trying to deceive us into believing lies about God (Gen 3). The problem is, just like the Israelites, I sometimes think the promise of God is too good to be true.

We have the complete written Word of God and the redemption of Jesus which means we are not on the pursuit for land, seed, and blessing, but rather for the Kingdom. Jesus says that we should pursue the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Matthew 6:33). And for me that means I have to uproot the lies that I believe about Him. I need to reclaim the Truth of who God is in my life. He has already given me the promises of who He is, His perfect character, and now it’s up to me to live believing those.

Here are a few of the things I am reclaiming:

  • God is good. (Psalm 145:9)
  • God is for me. (Matthew 7:11)
  • God is love. (1 John 4:7-12)
  • God is perfect. (Psalm 18:30)

I am super not perfect which, for the record, does not mesh with a holy and perfect God. Thankfully, Jesus’ death was payment for my imperfections and brought me into the family of God. Because I am a child of God, I have been given access to know the Father. (Seriously, I have been given that!) When I use my circumstances to determine how I feel about God, I get a really misconstrued view of the Father.

I like the word “reclaim” because it implies action. I have to be active in identifying what lies I am believing to have an accurate view of God. I have to be active in fighting off Satan to remember that God is the good ruler of my life. I can’t just look at what has been promised to me and instead turn around and throw the world’s most pathetic pity-party because it doesn’t look probable that God will come through. No, God is who He says He is.

Below are some verses and passages that God has been using to re-orient my heart towards Him. I’ve found more significance in what these verses say about who God is, rather than what pertains to me. As I study God’s character, I reclaim the “broken” areas of my life because my perspective is realigned.

This year, I’m asking myself what has God promised to me that I have given up on? What parts of His character am I struggling to not only see, but also to trust in? Which circumstances am I allowing to cause doubt about God? And I’m also remembering that even when I fail or give up, God’s character is not dependent on me.


“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7)

“Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” (1 Timothy 4:7-10)

“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4)

“Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” (James 1:16-17)

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:10)

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

“[Jesus] emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him ehe name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should boy, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:7-11)

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)

“For this we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:5-6)

Gentle

It is no secret that 2018 was not my favorite year. I shared a year ago that my 2018 word was going to be “gentle.” It’s true that God has taught me about this particular Fruit of the Spirit. He deals gently with me. I am slowly learning to be more gentle with others. (Soooooo hard for me to admit that I’ve not perfected this and that it doesn’t come naturally.)

I’ve always thought of gentleness as a very calm, almost passive characteristic. Most of the people I would describe as gentle are in fact some of the most patient, relaxed, and compassionate people I know. These are all incredible attributes, but I think the “gentleness of God” has a little bit more to it.

The following definition is in fact unoriginal (thank you Pine Cove Baby Ruths), but I love it: to be gentle is to use the least amount of force necessary. This means that different situations need different levels of force.

In my own life I’ve seen how God, the perfect embodiment of gentleness, sometimes gives me a subtle nudge back on course. Other times I’ve been so defiant that He needs to practically scream. In these moments of what seems like intense force, I question God’s goodness. In the moment, it doesn’t seem like gentleness…but would I listen otherwise?

But correction is not the only aspect of gentleness.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

I love the picture created in Matthew 11. Much of this year I have felt weary and burdened. I have learned that the best thing I can do is to run to Jesus. He provides rest for my tired soul. He gently comforts and nurtures me.

I am thankful for God’s gentleness. I’m thankful that He knows exactly what I need and exactly how to deliver it. I would miss so much if He wasn’t gentle.

Below is my video from 2018. These videos each year have become some of my favorite things. I watch them and cannot help to praise God for what He has provided. So without further ado, ladies and gentleman, 2018…

Solitude

If you had asked me two months ago to name the spiritual disciplines, my list would have included prayer, Scripture memory, reading/studying the Bible, and accountability. Turns out there are a good number of additional practices. One of those additions is something called “solitude.” And turns out that it’s not just for monks.

Y’all. Over the past 6 weeks, the longest I’ve gone without hearing some mention of solitude has been three days. NOT KIDDING. Books for fun, books for a seminary class, friends, podcasts, more friends, sermons, more books…everywhere I turn, there has been some nugget about the importance of solitude.

I’ve also had the exact same “it’s showing up everywhere” experience with a new-to-me author, Henri Nouwen. (And also with Chick-fil-A…but I still have five months left of my CFA fast so we don’t talk about that one.) Would you believe me if I said that it took me two weeks of these “solitude” and “Nouwen” bombardments before I realized Henri Nouwen has a lot to say about solitude? And here I was thinking they were two separate occurrences. Ha.

By that point, there was no denying that God had my attention. If everyone (including this Nouwen dude) is claiming solitude is so essential, why was this the first I was hearing of it?

Solitude is counter-cultural. In a world that demands go and do, solitude demands that we stop and sit. 

This nugget was from a seminary book:

“The practice of contemplative prayer––learning to quietly sit in God’s presence, gazing upon him, and allowing him, not our worded response, to fill our consciousness––is a transforming discipline for Christians more accustomed to prayer of the head than prayer of the heart.” (David Benner, Care of Souls)

Not only that, but I would venture to say that we also live in a world that demands we have a response to everything. We are trained to have a thoughtful opinion, witty rebuttal, or insightful analysis. If we don’t, well…you just failed 10th grade English, or you’re the laughingstock of the dinner party. Solitude can be super uncomfortable because it forces us to stand, unmasked, before God.

“Solitude is the furnace of transformation. Without solitude we remain victims of our society and continue to be entangled in the illusions of the false self.” -Henri Nouwen

Nouwen is adamant that even though solitude is hard work (I’ll affirm that claim), when we set aside time and space we will undoubtably be inundated by a thousand distracting thoughts as we are face-to-face with our inner chaos, but the result of perseverance is hope in the presence of God. We are reminded that God is bigger than we are.

But here’s what really got me: Did you know Jesus practiced solitude? Matthew 14:23 gives us a picture of Jesus practicing solitude in the middle of His ministry, “And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.” Did you catch that? Jesus left the crowd. Went by himself up the mountain. Where he prayed. By himself. For a long time. He also practiced solitude after hearing about John the Baptist’s death (Matthew 14:13), after healing many (Mark 1:35), before choosing the Twelve Disciples (Luke 6:12), and the night he was betrayed (Matthew 26:39). One last verse to drive home this point: “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. (Luke 5:16 NIV)

Here are some questions that helped me begin to practice solitude:

  • Where am I trying to use outer distractions to shield the inner noises?
  • When was the last time I stopped to listen to the quiet whisper of God?
  • Am I persevering, pushing into solitude?
  • What is my attitude toward solitude?

“In solitude we become aware that our worth is not the same as our usefulness.” -Henri Nouwen

Sometimes we choose solitude and other times God plops us down in the middle of it. Regardless of how we got there, God will always, always, always use those times to teach us about who He is.

Solitude is not just for monks.

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Full

Choosing a word for the year is not a new practice. Maybe it’s safer to say it’s a new fad. Regardless, I’m a believer. Here’s why: when chosen with care, as a result of submission and asking God to reveal what He wants to teach my heart, it can function as a spiritual barometer. It forces me to be really focused on one area. It gives me a centering point for prayer. I can ask myself, “how are you doing practicing or believing [word of the year]?” Am I resisting God or pushing in to Him?

2017 was my second year to claim a word. In 2016, my word was “worthy” because I wanted to see God as worthy of my affections, what He called worthy in the world/people around me, and how I am worthy as God’s beloved.

My word for 2017: full. Because I have Christ, my life lacks nothing. I chose it because so much of my 2016 prayer life had involved phrases like, “Help me be content with…” or “Why am I not…?” or “Why is everyone else….?” I would read verses about God’s gifts and while knowing the Word of God is True, I would have a hard time feeling it.

  • “No good thing does the Lord withhold from those who walk uprightly.” (Psalm 84:11) 
  • “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11)
  • “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17)

If I’m being quite honest, I felt like God was withholding things from me. I watched as friends received things I wanted. I watched as friends got their dream jobs. Got married. Traveled to cool places with their friends. Had (what looked like) effortless relationships with their families. And the list goes on.

I love what Chad Ashby shared in his article “Is God Keeping Something From You?” over on Desiring God. We make it three chapters into the Bible before we see people confused by God and convinced that God is withholding good from them. God gave Adam and Eve an entire garden and they wanted the one tree they couldn’t have. I would definitely recommend reading Ashby’s entire article, but here are two of my favorite excerpts:

“Look at your life. Is it possible that you’ve fallen for Satan’s oldest strategy against us? Are you fixated on the one thing God is withholding? Has the Serpent convinced you that God is actually wrong to keep something good from you? Is it possible that your life is really a garden full of fruitful trees, but you’re stuck on the one tree God won’t let you have now?”

“God withholds good things from us to teach us to treasure him above every good thing. When he refuses to give us the good thing we plead for, he is actually giving us something even greater: himself and his grace to us in Christ.”

When I got to the root of it, the only thing that can bring me complete, lasting satisfaction is God himself. What if I stopped trying to figure out why my life didn’t look like I thought it should, and instead started thanking God for what He had given me?

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:14-19)

Now let me get in front of one thing: moving to Greece did not automatically make my life more full. In a lot of ways, my life became a lot simpler. A big life change, such as I don’t know maybe moving half way around the world, can make your life feel more chaotic but when the dust settles, is still only a distraction.

Here are some questions I had to face over the last year that helped me practice seeing my life as “full.”

  • Do I believe that God is works for my good? (Romans 8:28)
  • Do I trust God’s timing is better than my own? (Proverbs 16:9)
  • Can God use suffering for good? (Romans 5:3-5)
  • Can loneliness contribute to fullness? (Luke 5:16; Hint: yes, it’s called solitude)
  • Is God’s presence what truly fills me up? (Ephesians 3:14-19)

One other way I practiced thanking God for my life being full is by recording a short video every day. Some days produced clips of groups of people together celebrating. Others were of still small moments I experienced by myself. As I watch this video (posted below) from the last year, I cannot help but stop and thank God for all that He has done and is doing in my life.

He is teaching me and meeting me here. My life lacks nothing because I have Jesus.

How full is your life?

Oh, and my word for 2018? Gentle. TBH, not very excited about it. But I trust Him to be a gentle teacher.

Prayer

10…..9…..8…..

The mental countdown had begun.

7…..6…..

I could feel the grooves on the inside of my cheek from where I had been biting it for the last hour.

5…..4…..

I could hear the fast “thump thump thump” of my shoes echoing down the tiled hallway.

3…..

I swallowed hard. The lump was still there.

2…..

If I could just make it to the bathroom I could avoid the questions. But what if someone saw me before I left? Flushed. Wide-eyed. Panicked.

1…..

The click of the stall lock functioned like a marathon gun. The gates opened. My tears freely flowed down my face.

I would be lying if I said this was a one time occurrence.

 

 

I really wanted this month’s focus to be on prayer. I have been practicing praying in different ways (journaling, through song, praying Scripture, setting reminders, etc.) As we walk around campus, I’m praying for the people we pass and those we are about to meet. I’ve seen God answer very specific prayers as well as what it looks like to come before Him daily to lay it at the foot of the cross.

But I wasn’t expecting God to teach me about prayer through weakness. With every turn He has been reminding me that I am nothing without Him.

It’s really natural for me to pray for other people. I am so grateful for this! But it is hard for me to pray for myself. I don’t want to admit that anything is wrong.

There is nothing that will humble you faster than living in a foreign country.

I have learned that I have to prepare for battle. Or what feels like battle: Language class. Campus evangelism. The grocery store. Every time I step foot out my door the enemy is looking for opportunities to get a foothold.

Y’all. The enemy attacks hard. And if I’m being honest, he’s gotten the better of me a few times. BUT, he hasn’t won. I’ve started getting faster at acknowledging the lies I’m believing. I’ve started getting faster at remembering to pray against the enemy’s attacks.

Here are a few of the lies I’ve heard, what I’ve learned to pray, and truth that I choose to believe.

I am not enough.
God, remind me that you have a purpose for me.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

I am a failure.
God, remind me that I am not earning your approval.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6)

I am a lost cause. 
God, remind me that you are making me more into your image.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)

I am not as loved or effective as my teammates.
God, remind me that I get to celebrate my teammates and not be in competition with them. You are using all of us for your glory.
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them…(Romans 12:4-6)

I am defeated.
God, remind me that you restore.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

I have let God down.
God, remind me that your power is made perfect in weakness.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

Prayer isn’t just an emergency flare. Prayer aligns our hearts with His’. I’ve noticed that as I pray more – for my friends, for injustices, for my own heart – I am comforted by His presence. There’s a familiarity that brings immense comfort…and as I spend more time with Him, I’m more in step with the Spirit.

If I wasn’t constantly faced with my weakness, I wouldn’t turn to Him.

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