Obedience. Not An Easy Thing.

Truth Moment: I’m a procrastinator.

I know the things that I should or need to be doing, but I always put it off- at least for a little while. I have even learned how to procrastinate while I’m in the middle of procrastinating (pretty sure that’s a talent). 

Over the years of growing closer in my relationship with Jesus- I have learned that He is not a dilly-dallier. One thing that accompanies being a follower of Jesus is a little thing called ‘obedience’. Real obedience, like immediate response type of obedience. Not the kind of obedience that you put on the shelf until you can get around to it.

I have learned over the years that our obedience to God is not optional (even thought at times we would like it to be). The more we grow in our relationship with the Lord, the more we see His greatness, and then our response to His commands become more immediate. Obedience to Him becomes a reflex. It becomes who we are, not what we do.

Obedience can begin to feel like a burden if it’s just something we have to continuously stay on top of. But obeying Jesus isn’t about making sure we do one thing and don’t do another. He tells us in John 14:15 that obedience is the result of time spent with Him and flows naturally from our love for Him.  He says, “If you love Me, you will obey Me”.

Over the years I’ve learned that there are different stages of obedience.

First, submitting our lives to Jesus.

This is the start of our relationship with Jesus. Of course, submission is always voluntary. Jesus does not force us to follow Him, but He invites us. And what I love most is that He will never stop inviting us to have a close, intimate relationship with Him. But in order to have that relationship- we need to be willing to submit our lives to Him and His will for us.

Secondly, getting to know Jesus.

A strong relationship with Jesus can’t be built overnight. It takes time. And we get to know Jesus by spending time with Him in prayer and in reading His Word. Even when times are tough and uncertain, the Holy Spirit is there to remind us of how much Jesus had to endure on earth; how He dealt with all life’s struggles and decisions. The more we get to know Jesus, the clearer we can hear and understand His desires for us.

And thirdly, obeying Jesus.

As much as we try to be consistent, we will continue to find it impossible to obey Jesus in our own strength. (Trust me, I have tried). It’s Jesus and His strength that does it for us. Jesus says in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” Our life of obedience is the result of the Holy Spirit in our lives and the fruit we bear from our relationships with Jesus. This fruit shows everyone around us that we belong to Him.

As long as we (the branches) remains in Jesus (the grapevine), we receive the nourishment we need in our lives to produce fruit. Obedience is supernatural evidence of what abiding in Jesus looks like. All of our good deeds and true successes come from His nourishment, not from our own natural abilities, good sense or cleverness.

In John 15:1, Jesus calls His Father the gardener. While I don’t know much about gardening, I do know that a good gardener reaps a good harvest only after putting in hours and hours of work. Rocks need to be removed, weeds pulled, and plants watered. But then there is also pruning. Pruning is when the gardener has to cut away all the dead and overgrown branches. Jesus goes on to say in John 15:2 that “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” Pruning can be painful, but it’s necessary in our walk with the Lord.

Obedience was honestly a tough lesson for me to learn; and immediate obedience even more difficult. We all have our moments and seasons of rebellion.We yell out when God wants to get rid of something we are holding onto so dearly; whether pride, relationships, dreams, etc. But God’s ultimate goal is for each and every one of us is to be fruitful. So when those tough lessons, moments, and seasons arise- remember to submit, listen, and obey.

God’s grace is abundant and it’s through His grace that we experience the fruit of immediate obedience.

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F R I E N D S H I P .

“AS IRON SHARPENS IRON, SO ONE SHARPENS ANOTHER” (Proverbs 27:17)

Growing up, my best friend knew everything about me. She knew which boy I liked, my favorite song, all my dreams. She even knew my secrets. I have learned as I get older that those type of friendships are rare, and these days I find myself longing for a friend like that.

Making good friends in our constant, fast moving society feels like it’s getting harder and harder. It’s not that we don’t want close relationships, but people come and go so fast it’s difficult to establish those long-lasting friendships. But I think it’s more than that. Some of us have been hurt and betrayed so often by those we love and whose friendships we valued that we keep others at arm’s length. Whatever hurt lies in our past, we suffer from that hurt, and we allow unforgiveness and distrust to find a home in our hearts.

I often times find myself praying for solid, godly friendships and while it’s tempting to wish God would just bring me a good friend, more often than not, He asks me to be a good friend to someone else first. That’s when I find that I need to go to Scripture for a reminder of what true friendship looks like- because I have been hurt in the past, so trusting and being vulnerable with others is definitely not comfortable or easy.

The truth is, God knows the agony of broken relationships. We see those stories throughout His Word. But then those are those stories about friendship that give our hearts hope.  One immediately comes to mind- I absolutely  L O V E  the friendship between David and Jonathan.  It’s awesome that we’re allowed to look into their lives and their friendship. That we can see a glimpse of two biblical characters who succeeded at a long, intimate friendship- despite all the tragedy, hurdles, and pain that life threw their way.

Jonathan was the son of King Saul and was David’s closest friend. You may know David from the story of ‘David and Goliath’. Goliath was the giant that David defeated with just a sling shot when everyone else from King Saul’s army was too afraid to fight him. It was actually because of Davids rise to fame that King Saul grew to despise David. David was growing in popularity and God had anointed David to be king — instead of Saul’s own son. Apparently, King Saul did not like that ONE BIT. These things enraged King Saul, and he commanded his aids AND Jonathan to assassinate David. Whenever I read that story- my heart just breaks. Imagine being Jonathan and being commanded by your father to kill your best friend. I CANNOT EVEN IMAGINE! Jonathan knew that David did nothing wrong and had so much love for his friend that he refused his father’s command to betray David.

Yay for Jonathan!!!

And love isn’t the only fruit of true friendship. It consists of sacrifice too.

Jonathan is a picture of sacrifice. In 1 Samuel 18:4, we see that he removed his robe and gave it to David, along with his armor, sword, bow and belt. Jonathan was the potential heir to his father’s throne, but this gift showed that Jonathan recognized that David would one day be king of Israel. Rather than being jealous of David, Jonathan submitted to God’s will and sacrificed his own right to the throne. His actions teach us that true friendship means having a willingness to sacrifice for one another. It is the choice to put ones needs, desires, and wishes above our own.

Loyalty is also a mark of true friendship.

We’re told that Jonathan went to his father and spoke well of David. He reminded the king that David had done nothing wrong. In fact, David had been loyal to King Saul. It can definitely be tough to do the right thing and stand up for what is right. We learn by Jonathan’s actions that a true friend will protect and defend one another. True friends are committed to being loyal and will stick up for each other. Yes- even in the hard times, and even when they’re not around.

And finally, true friends trust each other enough to be themselves.

When Jonathan told David that his father was out to kill him, the two were forced to say goodbye in order to keep David safe. After Jonathan told David it was not safe and to flee, we see in 1 Samuel 20:41 that they wept together”.  They were deeply saddened  to have to say goodbye. I love that.  It shows the genuineness of their friendship and how they were able to be completely vulnerable in their friendship.

When our hearts are broken, we can fall apart and a true friend understands. They won’t try to correct you in your misery or tell you to straighten up. True friends will let each other hurt. They weep together, laugh together. They listen to fears and insecurities. They don’t bail- they stay, especially in the hard times. They allow each other to be themselves.

I am always so challenged by this story of Jonathan and David’s friendship to be a better friend. To check my heart to see if I’m a loyal, loving, selfless and trustworthy friend. To encourage and love on those God has placed in my life. Then I ask the Lord to help me; to help me to become that kind of friend and to bless me with those types of friends.

A good friendship takes time. If things get rocky, it doesn’t mean you just walk away. Friendships take work and you have to be willing to work it out. Give your relationship time to grow- because a true friend is a rare and precious gift.

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Life Lesson Learned While Playing With Play-Doh.

Yes, I learned a life lesson while playing with play-doh. Here is what I learned:

First, play-doh is extremely entertaining to children. It can keep them occupied for hours.

Secondly, it can seriously get stuck all up in your nails for days.

And thirdly, I need to be more like play-doh.

I get the honor of babysitting my best friends son while she is busy making brides look stunning on their wedding days. Recently while I was babysitting, her son asked if we could play with play-doh together. I was super excited, like kid in a candy store excited. I always loved playing with play-doh as a kid, so of course I wanted to play.  It was while I was attempting to make different creations out of play-doh for him, I was overcome by emotion. Side note: I definitely failed at making them look anything like what he wanted. However, I realized that just as he was asking me to mold things for a purpose, God desperately wants to mold His children and shape them for His purpose.

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I was reminded of Isaiah 64:8.  “Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of Your hand”. 

I   L O V E   T H A T !

Play-doh is very similar to clay.  Both can be molded, shaped, and both can dry out.

I once took a pottery class where I learned all the ins and outs of making pottery. I’m not going to lie, I’m extremely uncoordinated, so my experience was an epic fail at the beginning. I definitely knew why becoming a potter and making pottery was not my calling; nor was making cars and tractors out of play-doh for a two year old.

The instructor of this class had to teach me how to handle the clay. He told me there were two important things to remember, that I needed to keep the clay wet during the process and that I needed to keep the clay centered on  the wheel. If the clay is not centered on the wheel, it will eventually tear apart before I would even have time to finish the process. And it’s only when the clay has enough water and is centered on the wheel that the molding process can begin.

If we want God to mold and shape our lives, then we need to be in His Word daily so that we can become shapeable and not dry out. And we need to be properly centered in Jesus Christ before God will be able to start molding and shaping us.

When we try to live our lives in our own strength, away from Christs leading, and not centered on Him- our lives will eventually fall apart. Just as the clay would if not centered on that wheel.

We all have experienced lives ups and downs at one point or another. We are going to feel pressure, especially when being shaped. Think about the clay, it definitely feels the weight of the potters hands when they are adding pressure to make the desired shape. Think about the play-doh, you have to apply pressure in order to create the shape you desire. Now think about your life, it is through life’s trials that God is able to stretch you and shape you.

God is able to mold us, transform us, and sanctify us when we are open to His will for our lives.And He will mold us and make us the vessel of honor that He desires for us to be. “In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use. Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work2 Timothy 2:20-21.

Just as the clay (or in my case play-doh) needs to fully trust the creator, we need to fully trust in our Maker.

PS…I love how God can speak to our spirits in the most simplest of moments. It was in playing with the play-doh that He reminded me of His greatness, His power, and His love for me. Look for God throughout the day- He is there!

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Is a Less Hectic Life Possible?

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”  John 10:10

For the past couple years, I took pride in being overly busy. Between the needs of  work, friends, home and church my days were filled to overflowing. Although my schedule felt chaotic and I felt like I was going crazy, I preferred to think of myself as a “highly productive person.”

Friends and coworkers would ask, “How do you manage all you do?” And I’d respond “I guess I’m just wired that way.” I know, it’s a humble brag- not something I am proud of. But I honestly thought it to be true. Maybe I was wired differently. Maybe I could handle more than others. Sadly, my heart enjoyed the recognition of all the work I was able to accomplish and I hungered for that type of response; it fueled me to keep pressing on.

But, at the end of the day when it was time to relax, my to-do list whispered another truth. The truth that I haven’t done it all, that there was more to do. My friends don’t see that side of me. They have the advantage of seeing all the things that I am able to accomplish; not all the things left undone. But I do. Its there staring me in the face.

Perhaps I’m not alone in this feeling. Perhaps you feel it too? That no matter how much you accomplish, what bothers you most is that you weren’t able to finish all the tasks. That long to-do list keeps you up at night. You sit there thinking of all the things yet to accomplish and mark off the to-do list.

It’s not all the undone work, but those everyday tasks like cleaning the house, laundry, making a menu for the week, and paying bills. But there’s even more. There are the dreams that seem too far out of reach. Like taking a vacation. Or making the time we want to be intentional with those we love, including God, but can’t seem to manage.

Recently my ulcers started to act up more often than usual, and I slipped back into losing large amounts of sleep each night. A couple weeks ago, as I was sitting on the couch, I found it hard to breathe and anxiety arose, but there was no apparent threat- just a lot of stress. The looming deadlines, the demanding work load, and mounting emails beckoned. My life felt completely out-of-control. I was burned out from having too much to do, and always feeling behind.

The fear of disappointing someone chased me constantly. I was busy, but simply didn’t know how to stop the endless cycle. Turns out I didn’t have an anxiety problem. I had an over-commitment problem. I committed to almost everyone and everything.

In order to start making changes, I had to honestly face some hard things about myself. My hunger for significance drove me to take on more than I could handle.  Before I could live the less hectic life that I desperately longed for, I had to address the root issue of my heart’s need. And part of that was identifying the lie that drove me to overwork myself.

Jesus promised an abundant life, but also told us there is an enemy plotting our downfall. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

Our enemy, “the thief,” is also a liar, always twisting the truth. So while Jesus promised an abundant life, Satan spins it so we think that life is found in an abundance of activity and commitments. And before we realize it, life has stolen from us what’s best…room to breathe, time to focus, and space in our schedules to fulfill our God-given priorities. The abundant life Jesus offers isn’t filled with to-do’s (even though I believed that to be the case for far too long). Tasks and commitments only satisfy us from the outside in, never reaching the core of who we are. However, Jesus’ satisfies us from the inside out, as we experience the depth of His love, His purpose and His peace.

This is no easy change- and I know it won’t just happen overnight. But each day I am learning to trim my responsibilities so I can experience the abundant life that Jesus promised. Jesus promises a less hectic life, and it’s a promise He can fulfill when we look to Him to fill our days, instead of an endless to-do list.

  “May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!”   Psalm 29:11

GLYNNIS WHITWER

Winning My Battle With Instagram.

I spent a lot of this weekend doing something I know I shouldn’t have—something I know I hate, something I know makes me feel small every single time. Yes, I spent most of this weekend scrolling through my Instagram, hitting refresh again and again, trolling other people’s profiles, and wondering why the heck so many more people follow them than follow me. While this is so humbling to admit, it’s extremely disgusting as well. I’d much rather pretend I’m above this kind of behavior–that I never succumb to the temptation to compare.

But I do, and I did, and I spent the majority of the weekend feeling rather small as a result—all of the things I don’t have at the front of my mind, center stage. Have you ever found yourself doing this? I’m betting I am not alone in this.

It’s easy to compare our lives on Instagram. A big part of it is that it’s all about the numbers. Just like our weight or our pant size, there’s this number at the top of each of our pages, and hearts on our photos that say how many people like us, how many people care what is going on in our lives, how many people want to see what we have to share.

Sometimes this number sits there peacefully, allowing us to be us, and not taunting us with the fact that we should be more. But other times, it begins to whine—softly at first, but louder the more we listen to it. The longer we look at the number, the smaller we feel too, the more significant that small number feels and the more insignificant all of our other dazzling attributes become.So what if I’m a good friend, or a good writer, or a good counselor? She has more Instagram followers, nothing else matters.

It’s ridiculous, but if we’re honest, I think most of us have felt this way—our worth and our likability dictated to us by tiny numbers on our touch-screen.

I’m mad that I let myself feel this way—that I let my mind get small and narrow like that. I’m mad I spent my weekend feeling so small, that all of my accomplishments, relationships, and who I am as a person faded into the background because of an insignificant little number and how it measured up to the number of other women I admire.

I would love to tell you that I got over it, or that I found some sort of magic Jesus cure that made me feel better, but I’d be lying. I found a way to feel better, a way to win the battle, but I know comparison is a war we’ll wage as long as there are people who are better than us at things—or in other words, forever.

So instead of ignoring it, or feeling defeated under the weight of the war comparison wages against us, I started reminding myself of what I have, the amazing people I have in my life, and that I am special. I spent this morning thanking God for the people I love, and reminding myself of how much they mean to me and I know I mean to them. I started reminding myself of what I’m good at, and thanking God for how He’s blessed me and skilled me. And I started reminding myself that I’m still growing—that I’m in process, that I’m not finished.

And slowly but surely, the number at the top of my profile started to fade into the background of my life again, back to where it belongs. I’m sure it’ll pop out again when I’m feeling small, or in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep. But I’ll do the same thing I did this last time. I’ll take the truth of who I am, and why I matter, and stab at comparison until he goes away—exposed as the little jerk that he is. Comparison may always try to sneak into our minds and our lives, but we don’t have to let him win.

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Releasing A Dream I Clung To So Tightly.

“They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the LORD”.      Psalm 112:7

I didn’t release my dream for my life over days or even weeks. It was a long journey. I was terrified that if I truly surrendered it to God, that He would make sure it didn’t happen, just because He could. I was certain that letting it go would be the nail in the coffin, as they say. I believed that He wanted to take this away from me as a punishment for wanting it so badly.

What He began to show me is that I truly didn’t know Him. If I did, I wouldn’t doubt Him or His ways so much. I had a very warped sense of who He was.

So I started searching everything I could find about the attributes of God. Books. Sermons. The Bible. Friends. Anything and everything that could possibly help me to better understand  God I wanted to dig into deeper and deeper. I will be honest and tell you that I really struggled, especially when it came to learning about the characteristics of God. For example, I understood  that God was unchanging, but to me He seemed so different between the Old Testament and New Testament. I was terrified of the God I read about in the Old Testament and yet infatuated with the God I read about in the New Testament. This took me on the journey of how, why, when…It took me on a journey of chasing Jesus. I read and prayed, and prayed and read.

I was determined to understand God to the best of my ability. And the more I grew in understanding God and His character, the more I felt like I wasn’t losing a dream. I felt like I was gaining an understanding and a path that was truth.I realized- I wasn’t losing anything, I was replacing my longing with contentment. I was gaining an eternal perspective. I was standing in the center of His will (which is right where I wanted to be).

I wouldn’t have started the journey of discovering who God was, if He hadn’t prompted me to give up my dream. I wouldn’t have know this unshakeable, unchangeable, full, rich, complete, perfect love of my Savior. Simply put, I wouldn’t have been an active participant in my relationship with God. I would have been a bystander, with His love, mercy, grace, conviction, power, authority, and Spirit swirling around me, but never being a part of me. This journey is why I know who God is. It is why I trust Him.

God wasn’t asking me to give up my dream to hurt me, but to fill me up with more of Him. I never want to take His love for granted again. I want my passion for Him to ignite in my heart.

I promise, God will blow your mind with who He is.

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My Future Is In God’s Hands.

It can be so hard to trust God with my future because I have no idea what’s going to happen. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely trust God in so many OTHER areas, but when it comes to my future- I struggle. I don’t think I am alone in this. Anyway, the other day I was thinking about the fact that I would be turning 31 soon and was really struggling to trust God with my future, but more specifically my love life.

I decided to set out on a ‘Trusting God’ Mission. I wanted to trust God MORE and I wanted to completely surrender to Him my future (and my love life). I had no idea what this journey would look like, where it would take me, or the emotional roller coaster I was about to embark on, but I was excited. Excited to see what truths He would reveal to me. While trusting God with my future was one of the hardest things for me to do, I was tired. Tired of trying to do it all. Tired of thinking that my plan for my future was somehow better than God’s plan for my future.

When I began to think about my future, and why it was so hard for me to completely entrust it to God, my mind immediately started listing off all my “what if’s”.

“What if I never get married?”

“What if my best friend moves away?” 

“What if God calls me to do something I’m not good at?”

“What if…?”

“What if…?”

“What if…?”

Worrying about the “what if’s” can be the biggest enemy to our peace and our joy. I know this first hand and it’s definitely no fun. In fact, I have several “what if’s” in my life right now. Life is full of unknowns and unfortunately I don’t think that will ever change. But instead of fretting and worrying over my future, I’ve come to understand some amazing truths that have given me the confidence to totally trust God. (yes, even with my love life).

God brought me to the book of Genesis, and it was there that He encouraged my spirit. It was from an unlikely place in the Bible and from an unlikely man.  I came across a familiar story of a man who was facing a lot of “what if” questions, just like me. And you know what? This man was also struggling to trust God with His future. (God certainly has a sense of humor).

The story about about Abraham. At the age of 75 God told Abraham to pack up his stuff, move away from his family and friends, and live in a completely foreign land. Crazy, I know! But what is even more crazy to me than God asking him to do this, is that Abraham actually did a pretty good job at trusting God and obeying Him. The Bible says, “So Abram went, as the LORD had told him…” (Gen. 12:4a).

I think at this point it was easy for Abraham to trust God. Life seemed to be going exactly as planned. Plus, he was probably super excited about God’s promise: “I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great…” (Gen. 12:2). So off he went.

Not bad if you ask me!

Lets fast forward a little- it’s now that we begin to see Abraham struggling to trust God and His promise. He starts asking some “what if” questions about his future. Abraham is getting older and so is his wife. She’ s getting to the age where having children might be physically impossible for her. (this is not looking too good).

So what does Abraham do, he starts to question God. In Genesis 15, Abraham starts reminding God that he is still childless. (as if He didn’t know). I’m sure Abraham was like “Hello, God? Did you forget about me? Did you forget about Your promise? I kind of need a son if I’m going to have all those descendants you mentioned…”He was worried about his future. Let’s be real, I think most of us would have been. Abraham started losing faith in God. At this point, Abraham’s wife also began to lose faith in God. So they decide to take matters into their own hands. You know the story (Ishmael, lots of drama, etc.).

Now lets fast forward even more, at this point it’s been 24 years since God’s initial promise with Abraham, and guess what? Abraham still does not have his son. He is 99 years old- and I am sure he’s about to have a panic attack thinking about being a father at the age of 99. He is worried. He is old. His wife is old. But God sees the worry in Abraham’s heart and reminds him of the promise. Genesis 17:6 “I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you”.

Abraham was struggling to see the big picture. He couldn’t see down the road of his life and that worried him. He couldn’t imagine that nations and kings would come from him, considering the circumstances! He struggled with trust. Just like me and you often times do. Abraham had no idea how his future would pan out. The amazing thing is, God did.

What Abraham forgot – and what we too often forget – is that God sees the bigger picture. That He holds our future in His hands. God knew that nations and kings would come from Abraham. He just needed Abraham to trust Him. Just like He desires us to trust Him.

I love this story. It’s an amazing reminder to me to trust God with my future, no matter the circumstances. Life will be confusing, my circumstances will seem impossible at times, my future may continue to be unknown to me. But God is in complete control and regardless of how “uncertain” your future may seem, God is faithful.

We all have those “Abraham moments” in our lives, when we lose sight of God’s faithfulness. However, we can learn from Abraham’s life. We can learn the importance of trusting God with our future and yes, that even includes my love life.

Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

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