Peace in Difficult Times

MBA

A few months back, a friend posted on her Facebook page the following question:

Where do you find peace during the difficult times?

Once upon a time when I struggled with things, I internalized them.  Playing the scenario over in my head, dwelling on what I can’t change, angry at the person who was at the root of it.  I knew, even then, that all of this worry or dwelling on things wouldn’t change the outcome.  It was, what it was.  In someways I think I was hoping I would learn something from the replay.  Catch where I made the mistake, or clues that would have alerted me to the person’s un-trustworthiness.  I could learn how to avoid that scenario or personality in the future.  I was relying on my own self to figure out the complexity of relationships and circumstances that were almost always outside of anything I could control.  As habits repeated, I learned an important thing… I couldn’t rely on myself and my own thinking to resolve every situation or deal with every person.  I was human. Flawed.

For a period of time, I tried to seek the counsel of others.  Guess what?  They are human too, flawed as well.  There were definitely occasions where I was given good advice but more often than not it was biased advice.  These were people who loved me, cared about me, and often sided with me.  They might give me a pass for something I should be accountable for.  Or, try to solve the problem for me.  They immediately blamed the other person, because they knew my heart and intentions.  They were on my side.  But not always on the side of truth.  I learned that I couldn’t rely on others to give me the truth I needed to hear.  Not because they were bad people, but because they loved me.

What I know now is that there is someone who loves me more than anyone else.  Someone who sent his Son to die for every sin I would commit.  Someone who took the penalty but at the same time was holding me accountable to truth.  Christ calls me to be honest with myself.  Christ compels me to forgive others, and myself.  Christ beckons me to his shoulder to cry out in my sin, speak truth to that sin, and set me on the path to reconcile with others (and myself).  I’ve learned that when the times are really difficult, I need to turn to Christ for truth.  What is the truth of this difficult time?  What do the scriptures advise me to do now that I know the truth?  What would God have me do in this situation or with this person.  I can rely on God because His Word is unchanging, infallible, and loving.  He loves me so much that I will face Truth and be better for it.

I find peace at the Cross, because there Jesus did exactly what He promised.  Just prior, he told the disciples that He was leaving peace for them so they wouldn’t be troubled.  He didn’t say that there would be no difficult times, but instead left us with the hope that we can persevere (Romans 5:1-5) until He returns.   When difficult times find me, I turn to the Cross for peace, hope, perseverance, and patience as I await the day… the glorious day… that the difficult times are gone.

27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

28 “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. 30 I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, 31 but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me.

“Come now; let us leave.

John 14:27-31

A friend once told me, during a particularly difficult moment, “I am sorry you are in this, but I am so excited to see what happens when you are on the other side of this”.  Now when I face trials and difficulties, I go to the Cross and deposit them there.  Then I leave with excitement to see what the Lord is going to do with that trial, through me, or through those He will put in my path.  Difficult times become a learning experience where I learn how loving, faithful and true the Lord is.

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#Write31Days – Post 18 – Spiritual Strongholds

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Have you ever found yourself in a building, standing under a chandelier… and suddenly your mind is flooded with every movie you have ever seen in the past.  The chandelier falls, someone dies.  Over the course of your life, subconsciously you have made the decision to never stand under a chandelier.  So, you take a few steps the left and breathe a sigh of relief.

When you were a child, perhaps, you were splashing in the ocean.  Suddenly, a current sweeps your legs out from under you, pulling you out to sea.  A hand grabs you, pulling you to safety.  You were so traumatized by what could have happened, you no longer go into the ocean.  You don’t take your kids to the beach.  You make a conscious decision that the ocean is not safe and to be avoided.

Everyone has some sort of stronghold in their life.  These are beliefs or opinions that are strongly held and fortified in our minds to the point that reason and logic will be locked out.  These strongholds can be based in reality or in our perception of reality. They are often formed by our past experiences, the environment we were raised, and by the people whom we respect or were authorities in our lives.

I have seen plenty of movies where a chandelier falls, on accident or on purpose, and a person dies.  I have personally never known anyone this has happened to, nor have I read about it happening the paper.  Logic and reason stand that the chandelier in any given building isn’t going to just suddenly break loose and fall on me.  It really isn’t a logical fear.  However my perception of that truth can be swayed when I allow those imaginary scenarios to root themselves in fear and paranoia.

The scenario at the beach, that actually happened to me.  It is a reasonable fear, logic would stand that I would be afraid of the ocean.   This was a real life experience for me.  However, that reality also must root itself in fear in order for it to become a stronghold in my life.  I still love the beach, take my children there, and I am not afraid of the ocean.  I do, however, respect it.  I am not careless.    I have not allowed this real life circumstance to impact the logic that being swept out to sea is very rare and small percentage.

As Christians we not only are faced with strongholds in our lives, based on our past or perceptions, that affect our daily decisions.  We also have spiritual strongholds, that have embedded certain beliefs or “truths” into our minds.

For example, if you were raised in a denomination or area of the country where dancing was considered a sin, and you accepted that belief to be true.  You now have a spiritual stronghold, that is going to impact how you engage with the rest of the world.  But, the questions we must ask is:  Is it true?  Is dancing a sin?  What do the scriptures say?

In most instances of spiritual strongholds that come from our environment, how we were raised, or the influential people in our lives… if we truly want to let go of spiritual stronghold… we go to the Word.  When faced with generational or denominational “truths” it is really quite easy to open up the scriptures and do the research for ourselves.  We can see what the scriptures say about any number of subjects, and find truth.  We can study the history of the scriptures, to understand the who, what, where, when, and why of a piece of scripture and then apply that to our own beliefs and perceptions.

We may be right.  We may be wrong.  And, in the grand scheme of things, it may not matter.  Personal convictions are no less important than scriptural mandates, they are just individual verses general.

The most difficult spiritual strongholds are the ones we are self imposing on ourselves based on our past experiences and decisions.  They arise when we live in guilt, shame, and failure.   We become so engrossed with who we once were, that we disregard any of our potential to be better person or live a better life.  We feel unworthy of God’s love, which keeps us from having a true relationship with Him.  This, of course, also means that our faith and spiritual growth is going to be stunted.

And, the enemy loves to use our spiritual strongholds against us.  He knows how to spin our past in a way that makes our sin look greater, more disgusting, and deeply shameful.   Satan puffs up our sin to look so horrible that we feel it would be impossible for God to find us worthy of anything.  We allow this to discount us and discredit us from God’s love, and Kingdom work.  People tend to respond in one of three ways.

  •  They do nothing.  They attend church, read their bibles, pray.  But, they never do anything more than that.  They disqualify themselves from being able to lead a bible study group, give their testimony, or even volunteer for the simplest of things at their church.  They say “who am I, what do I have to give?”
  • They run away.  In this case, the person is so haunted by their past that they are actively running away from God in shame.  They may run to a different religion or no religion, but they are running.  They attempt to hide like Adam and Eve after biting the fruit, hiding from God in their shame.
  • They go extreme.  This person is the one who is not running from God but actually chasing after Him.  They think that God has turned his back on them, or at minimal is deeply disappointed in them.  What they attempt to do is to win back His favor, His affection, by going to the extreme as a believer.  For example, if they had a history of immodest dress and immoral behavior… they will be entirely the opposite now, to the extreme.  Her ultra mini skirts have been replaced by ankle length skirts.  Her long flowing locks may be tempered by a tight bun, her make up drawer has been emptied into the trash.  He may have traded a life of drinking and parties for weekend long, isolated, and silent meditation.

I am certain that at least some of you are looking at the last one and thinking: this is a bad thing?  Yes, and no.   If the reason you have made these changes is out of deep, personal conviction… then NO, this is not a bad thing.  You are to be obedient to the Holy Spirit’s conviction.  However, if you are making these choices to try and earn back God’s love and favor, then YES … it is a very bad thing.  Keep reading, because I will explain why.

For the better part of twenty years, I allowed a spiritual stronghold to stand in my way.  I was totally ashamed of myself and some of the decisions I had made.  I would pray to God for forgiveness, but I was unable to let go of these things.  I held onto them with a tight grip.  His Word tells us that when we ask for forgiveness are sins are washed clean.   Every time I prayed to God to forgive those sins that haunted me, I was putting them at the foot of the cross & walking away.  Yet, in a very short amount of time, I was running back to cross and snatching them back up.

I was saying to God, I believe you can forgive me for so many things… but not this.  This is too big, too dirty, and too shameful for you to forgive.  I’d begin trying to work them off.  If I read more of my Bible.  If I pray harder.  If I volunteer more.  If I alter my dress, my speech, my thoughts, my life, my everything… then I can make up for this shame.

I was sinning against God, every single time I took them back.

I was saying, God … you are not enough.

When we are sinning, we create a division between us and God.  So, no matter how many good, noble, and wonderful things I was doing… they meant absolutely nothing because I was in sin.  I was doing things for a God that I didn’t trust.  I was reading a Bible, but not believing in the promises within it’s pages.   I was praying to a God that I thought wasn’t capable enough.  I was volunteering for Kingdom work, while believing I wasn’t worthy of being in the Kingdom.

You can change your manner of dress, the way you speak, and your daily study habits. You can pray from dusk to dawn.  You can give every cent you earn, volunteer every waking hour, and take up every noble cause.   Man can look at you in wonder and awe, you can have a million gold stars on your chart.  Women can hold you in high regard, men can respect your dedication and loyalty.  However, you will never feel good enough.  You will still feel guilty.  You will keep doing more and more to win the affection of God, because your guilt tells you that you are not worthy of His sacrifice.

We must let go of these spiritual strongholds, and cling to God.  We must surrender WHOLLY…. EVERYTHING.  We leave nothing behind, we hide nothing, we don’t hold anything back from God.

I know that I am not worthy.  That is why God is gracious and merciful.

I know that I never will be worthy.  The Old Testament reveals this every time the Israelites would turn from God.  The New Testament reveals this as Paul shares that he struggles doing what he knows is right.  I see it in my own life, every time I mess up and have to confess to God.

It is in this knowledge that the beauty of God’s love unfolds.

I am not.  I never will be.  I deserve death.

I was given the gift of Life.

There is nothing I can do that will separate me from God’s love.  I can not run or hide from Him.  There is nothing I could ever do, in my flesh, that will repay God for his mercy, his blessings, or his Son’s sacrifice.  It is arrogant and prideful of me to look at God’s gift, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, and say:  Sorry God, that isn’t enough to cover MY sin.

God asks so little of us.

Love God with all of your heart and understanding. – When I love Him, I trust Him.  I know His word, and His promises.  I believe Him.  I hold nothing back from Him.  I am washed clean by HIM and HIM alone… not anything of my own doing.

Love others as you love yourself. – I forgive as I wish to be forgiven.  I love as I wish to be loved.  I help others as I wish to be helped myself. 

I believe, the very first step in letting go of those crippling spiritual strongholds begins when we acknowledge it for what it really is.

Sin.

Confess this sin, ask God to forgive you for taking back what you have put (or keep putting) at the foot of the cross.  Pray for His Word to quiet the voice of the enemy who haunts you.  When you feel the urge to pick it back up, rebuke Satan’s hold on your life.  Then remember you are not who you once were, you are a new creation.  The past has faded, it is gone.  Today, you are a child of God, adopted into his family to start a new life… a far better life than you could ever imagine.

Let my stronghold be the Lord. (Psalm 18:2)

#Write31Days – Post 17 – Difficult People

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Dot was an ornery woman.  I had just transferred work locations,  and I was being given the tour.  Introductions to the staff, learning where everything was located, etc.  When I was introduced to Dot, that was the description whispered to me as we approached her.  She was an older woman, who had been with the company since it’s inception.  Her employee number was a single digit (mine was over 7 digits long).   I realized quickly that she was someone who should have retired a long time ago.  She smiled at me as we were introduced, but quickly that smile turned to a scowl as she barked orders at a fellow employee who had passed by.

Ornery indeed.

The thing about me is that I see people like this as a challenge.  In that moment where her smile turned to a scowl, the challenge was issued… and I accepted.

For the next year, I poked that bear every single day.  I was going to make her smile, I was going to make her laugh.  She was going to like me, and I was going to like her.

I learned a lot about Dot.  I learned that she was married and had a son.  I learned that her husband went in for routine surgery, and died.  About two years later, the same happened with her son.

Dot was alone.  Dot was still grieving.  Dot was angry with God.

This would culminate into a woman who was very, very difficult.  She wasn’t pleasant to be around.   To be brutally honest, she was MEAN.  She wasn’t respectful to others, no one wanted to be around her, and she made life difficult for every employee in that building.  Despite her attitude toward others, the more we unraveled about her … the more compassion and empathy people had toward her.  It took one person willing to invest some time in trying to break through her wall, to understand who she was and what she had gone through.  The softer their hearts grew toward her, the more she began to let her guard down.  She was starting to smile more, and then began to laugh… a lot.

It first revealed itself when she fainted during a morning meeting, and she was able to see the concern that everyone had for her.  It was several of the men on staff that insisted she leave with the paramedics, and one even followed her to the hospital.  Several years later, Dot was waiting for the building to open and she was brutally assaulted when a man robbed her.  The staff surrounded her during her recovery and sat with her during the trial.  Due to the injuries she sustained and her age, she was unable to return to work.  That didn’t keep the staff from rallying around her until the day she passed away.

Dot was a difficult person.  She was raised to be tough.  Circumstances made her hard.

What I have observed over, and over again, is that people who are difficult are rarely so for no good reason.  Something has happened in their life that has shaped who they have become.  It could be a result of childhood trauma, abuse & mistreatment, discrimination, suffering, or even just a culmination of smaller difficulties in their life.

When dealing with difficult people, my first response is always:

If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.

Romans 12:18

In order to do so, I remind myself that there is a reason why they are such difficult people.  I would rather assume that, then accept that they are choosing to intentionally behave this way.

I will always be nice & respectful, regardless of how mean or disrespectful they are to me.

I will give the benefit of the doubt, instead of assuming the worst, about them as a person.

There will be times, however, where no matter how nice we are … the person is bent on being difficult, angry, mean, hateful, etc.

  • Limit Time :  You do not have to spend every waking hour with this person.  Limit your time around them to only the occasions where you must be present.  Get your task done quickly, and leave.  Also, avoid giving them presence in your head once you are not around them.  Do not spend a moment thinking about their negativity, or replaying that day’s encounter.
  • Pray Regularly:  If we are going to assume that there is a reason they have turned out the way they are, then we ought to be praying for them.  Choosing to pray for someone who is difficult is different than replaying that day’s encounter.  Praying for them is a positive action, that comes from a place of love and compassion for God’s creation.  We can pray for a person while creating boundaries that keep ourselves emotionally & mentally healthy. 
  • Involve Authority:  I am not suggesting that you call the cops on someone who is just being cranky all the time.  However if you must work or serve with this person, and their attitude is creating problems in your workplace or in the ministry… involve your manager at work, or your leader/Pastor if it is within the ministry service. 

Some practical advice for the every day:

  1. Keep your answers short, sweet, and too the point.   Answer their questions, assign their task, and move on.  You can be polite, respectful, and even nice without engaging in their negativity.
  2. Purposefully go out of your way to do something nice for them, even if they don’t deserve it.  This doesn’t have to be an every day thing, but a simple pat on the back for doing a good job, a card on their birthday, etc. are small gestures that can mean a lot.
  3. Do not feed their attitude by being exclusionary.  If your team is going out to dinner, you invite the person.  They are part of the team, it is the right thing to do.  Let the difficult person decided if they are going to come or not.

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink;  For you will heap burning coals on his head, And the LORD will reward you

Proverbs 25:21-22

In the verse from Proverbs above, I am reminded that when I am good to a person who is my enemy… it affects them.  It may even convict them of their poor attitude toward/about me.  When we are nice to those who don’t deserve it, it softens their hearts.  That process can take a very, very long time and will require copious amounts of divinely given patience.

God has loved us far more than we deserve, shouldn’t we at least, in kind, love His children (our brothers and sisters in Christ) in the same way?

Christ, at the crucifixion, even prayed for God to “forgive them, they know not what they do”.   His love and compassion fell on the heads of those who drove in the nails.

What right then do we have to be angry with those who we view as enemies? Or, to mistreat those who are being difficult to get along with?  Are we being Christ-like in how we respond to them?  Are we following the scriptures?  Or, are we giving into our flesh?

Keep in mind, however, that the heart of our intentions will also be revealed.  If we are being nice as a show to others, we are not being sincere.  If we are being nice to make the person feel guilty or convicted, we are not being sincere.  At some point that insincerity will be revealed to those around us.  Others will know it was just a show, not authentic.  It won’t change that difficult person, it will damage our relationship with others, and it will ultimately have a negative affect within ourselves.

When we respond in kindness to difficult people with sincerity, we are being Christ-like, we are being obedient, and we are being genuine.  Over the long term, it will have a positive affect on those around us, including our own selves.

There Are Some Things You Simply Can’t Fix

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My husband and I were talking the other day, about friendships and just relationships in general.  Sometimes we mess up, we say things we shouldn’t have even though we were joking.  Or, we speak into a person’s life when we have no authority to do so…. or at least were not invited to share our opinions.  Sometimes the person is carrying emotional baggage and is extra sensitive & you were unintentionally careless with your words.

In situations like this, my husband and I can recognize we messed up.  We even try to fix it and make it better.   But, unless the other person is just as invested in the relationship… it’s going to be a one sided battle.  And no matter what you do, how many times you apologize, how many different ways to try to repair it… you can’t fix it alone.  It won’t matter if you saw it coming and tried to be proactive, or if the damage is done and you are trying to repair… you can’t force the other person to value the friendship like you did.  Repair and reconciliation must be something both people want and are willing to work toward.

And, if the other person doesn’t want it…. you have to be able to let it go and move on with your life.   You learn from it, grow from it, and become (hopefully) a better person from that experience.

Romans 12:18 – If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

Only God can soften someone’s heart, once they have hardened it.  Only the Holy Spirit can move them and convict them into the path of reconciliation.  But through Jesus, we can pray for that person.  Because of Jesus, we can extend copious amounts of forgiveness and grace…. and ask for the same in return.  We can confess our wrongs to Jesus, and seek His forgiveness, even when others have become unforgiving.

And we can have hope that reconciliation with our brothers and sisters in Christ will happen, it just may not happen on this earth.  But, we will be reconciled in Heaven as a body of believers.  And then, as we are celebrating together, whatever it is was that separated us will be like grains of sand at the bottom of the deepest ocean.

INTERNAL MAKEOVER

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I love watching shows about makeovers. I want to glean from the experts tips I can apply to my own life.  And, to be honest, there are moments I wipe the sweat from my brow and think “Whew, at least I’m not that bad.”

Brutal honesty folks, I’m not perfect.  Clearly.

More exciting to see, however, is when internal makeovers happen.

That is why we are drawn to romance stories.  The woman with the hardened heart that opens up to love again, swoon.  The bad boy that couldn’t be tamed, but that sweet girl changed his ways, swoonier.   For us believers, couple any of the above with someone coming to Christ in the process, swooniest.

As a mom, nothing gives me more hope than watching movies about prodigals… who went their own way, and then returned to mom, dad and God.  Swoonierest. (Yes, I am aware I am now making up my own words.)

We are drawn to internal makeovers because they give us hope, that anything that is happening our lives or  with those we love is not necessarily permanent. 

We hope that our husbands will change their boys nights out to family nights in.

We hope that our teenage kid will change from rebellion to joyful obedience.

We hope that our broken relationships will be mended because someone will see the error of their ways.

Internal makeovers give us hope because they mean there has been change, growth or progress.The problem with internal makeovers is that we can be paying to much attention to where others need change and ignoring that need in ourselves.

Matthew 7:3-5 NIV

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

The prodigal may be the person you are looking at in the mirror.

Human nature tries to deflect in order to protect.  It is easy to give yourself a pass, when you can point to someone else and say they are worse than you are.  It’s easier to blame someone else for the problems in your life, than to accept accountability on your part.   You can avoid having everyone looking at you & your failures… when you can get everyone looking somewhere or someone else.Magicians use distraction in their tricks.  They want you to pay attention to something totally unrelated to their trick, so you are not watching the hand or mechanism making the trick work.  Deflecting attention away gives them a chance to keep their techniques hidden.  We use deflection to hide the truth we don’t want others to see.

I was reading a devotion one day, and it ended with a prayer.  The writer was asking God for an internal makeover, and I couldn’t help but say AMEN for myself.  I know there are still areas in my heart, mind and life that could use a make over.  There are areas where I have failed others, and myself.  I have struggled with forgiving others, forgiving myself.  I have struggled with selfishness and self preservation. I have struggled with control issues and obedience.  I have struggled with faith and commitment.  I have struggled with relationships.  I have struggled with my own self.

I needed an internal makeover.  I need to stop looking at others, stop deflecting, stop blaming, stop justifying… and WHOLLY SURRENDER.

In doing so, everything changed… and it is still changing.  I began to see things differently, and what amazed me the most was that those changes were visible to others.  They could see the change in me.  God put the right people in my life to encourage me in these times, people to affirm and guide, correct and suggest.  God also removed people from my life, that were stumbling blocks and toxic.  He removed negativity and discouragers, those who were holding me back or holding me down.  I found a freedom I didn’t have before, in my life… my thoughts… my heart.  A freedom that continues to grow and has allowed God to move me to places I never expected, and use me in ways I never imagined.

When you wholly surrender, and God starts that internal makeover, it’s can be a slow start but it builds momentum.

I also learned that before I could wholly surrender, I had to be broken.

Leading up to that moment, where I was ready for that internal makeover to happen… changes had to be made.  They were not easy, I didn’t understand it at the time, some of it was very painful, and admittedly I didn’t want it to happen.  I was actively fighting to keep certain things as the status quo.  Now, in retrospect, I see the purpose of it … even the pain.  I had to be stripped of everything that was standing in the way of my relationship with Christ, and keeping me from seeing the the truth about myself.

Ephesians 4:22-24To put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Then something unexpected occurred.  The more I focused on myself and my issues, the less I cared about everyone else.  I was less interested in molding them into my idea of what was right & godly.  It isn’t my job to make anyone else more Christ-like, that is the job of the Holy Spirit…. a job I am entirely unqualified for.  My job is to keep my eyes on Jesus, my head in the Word, my heart filled with the Holy Spirit and do what God has called of me.
Lord, I pray that you will help me to keep my eyes focused on you, and my ears open to your calling.  So that when you call my name, I may answer that your servant hears you.  May I worry about my own righteousness and holiness over that of others so that I do not stand in judgment over others, but rather repentant over my own iniquities.  Continual renew to the new spirit your created in me, and allow me to be a teacher of words, but a living example of Christ. Amen.

Recommended Reading:  Romans 14:1-23