Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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Assuming God is Good- No Other Gods Session 6

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Giggling from the backseat, my son read the completed Mad Lib aloud to his brother and friends. At the time, the boys were in elementary school—a prime age for reveling in the silliness of this classic fill-in-the-blanks activity. You probably remember doing Mad Libs of your own in younger days: one person acts as the scribe and asks the group for nouns, verbs, adjectives, and other parts of speech to write into blanks in a pre-written story the participants haven’t read. The results are usually funny—especially with boys who strive to choose the most ridiculous words they can think of.

As we get older, we continue filling in the blanks mentally, but the results are usually less fun and often reap more negative results. We get in the habit of making assumptions and filling in gaps of information with our best guesses. For many of us, these are more negative than positive. We do it all the time with other people. We also do it with God.

That’s why I find the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of his son, Isaac, so astounding. As a test, God asks Abraham to do the unthinkable and kill his cherished child as an offering on the altar. Yet never once do we see Abraham getting angry with God or assuming he’s cruel. Scripture gives us a few clues about how Abraham saw the situation. The first is in Genesis 22 as Abraham prepared to take Isaac up the mountain to sacrifice him:

“He said to his servants, ‘Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.’” (Genesis 22:5, NIV)

Despite the plans he had to sacrifice his son, he told the servants both he and Isaac would return. Why would he say that? I used to think he was just trying to act casually to cover up what he was about to do, but now I see that it may actually have been an example of his faith in God. A few minutes later Isaac asked his father where they would find an animal to sacrifice and Abraham replied:

“`God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.’ And the two of them went on together.” (Genesis 22:8, NIV)

Again, I used to think Abraham was stalling and giving an excuse to Isaac, but now I see that he really believed what he said. At the moment Abraham raised his hand to kill his son, an angel called out to him, showing that God was, indeed, trustworthy:

“`Do not lay a hand on the boy,’ he said. ‘Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.’ Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, ‘On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.’” (Genesis 22:12-14, NIV)

In Hebrews 11:17-19, we discover more insight about Abraham’s perspective on God, especially regarding the sacrifice of Isaac:

“Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.” (NIV)

This story is hard to grasp on many levels, but what strikes me as I read it this time is Abraham’s unwavering trust in God. Never once did he accuse God of being cruel or unfair, even though what he was asked to do would cut any parent to the core. Abraham believed God was good and trusted him to provide.

I’m humbled by Abraham’s faith as I recall the many times I’ve filled in the blanks with negative assumptions about God. How many times have I fretted over a difficult or uncertain situation instead of simply laying it at his feet, knowing he is trustworthy? When have I demanded to know why God allowed pain in my life instead of trusting that he would use it for his perfect purposes? If I’m honest, there are many times I’ve struggled to believe the promise of Romans 8:28:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (NIV)

Instead of filling in the blanks with positive assumptions about how God will work in the unknown, I tend to fret and worry he won’t come through. For many of us, we assume God is either not paying attention or not going to act in time, so we turn to idols. We want God to work for good according to our purposes instead of his. So we look for comfort, security and control in other things instead of trusting him and waiting for him patiently. We “fill in the blanks” with idols when God doesn’t do what we want, when we want, how we want. All the while, we’re forgetting what Abraham remembered, even in his darkest hour. God is good. God is for us. God loves us. He has plans for us. He knows us. He knows what we need. He keeps his promises. His timing is perfect.

For me, the best way to remember this is to fill my mind with truth about God. I’ve found listening to good music with sound theology is a great method for doing this. So often, I find myself mentally playing a song that reminds me who God is and keeps me from filling in the blanks with negative thoughts. I’m always drawn back to my good, good Father. Click on the link to marinate in truth about God by listening to Chris Tomlin’s “Good, Good Father.”

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Good Goodbyes-No Other Gods Session 5

To my wonderful Life in Focus subscribers: Please note that I have a new website that includes identical  blog posts to the ones you read here plus many other great resources (plus all of the archives).  I plan to phase out lifeinfocusblog and to post exclusively at www.marybethmccullum.com in the near future. Please consider subscribing to my new site to continue receiving my posts in your inbox.  Thanks for considering!!

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The mama swallow clung to the wall just below her peeping chicks. Perched on the edge of the mud nest in the eaves, her babies flapped their tiny wings. Every few minutes, she would take flight, circling back to the nest and squawking at her chicks, encouraging them to spread their wings and fly. One by one, the babies wobbled out of the nest, plummeted a few feet and then discovered what they were made to do. There was one tiny bird, however, that clung to the nest long after the others had flown off. The mama squawked insistently, darting back and forth near her little one to encourage him to fly. When he finally did, we couldn’t help cheering, feeling privileged to have witnessed his momentous first flight.

I thought about that moment as I read Kelly Minter’s fifth lesson in No Other Gods entitled “Good Goodbyes.” Like the mother swallow urging her chicks to take flight, Minter encourages us to examine the things in our lives that we might need to bid farewell if we’re serious about eliminating idols. For many of us, staying in the cozy, warm nest feels a lot more comfortable and secure than launching out. Although the freedom of flying beckons us, we’re more worried about plummeting to the ground.

Ironically, some of the things God calls us to bid farewell didn’t start out as idols, they were actually good things that helped us to grow. But once we start relying on them to fill us or to provide comfort or security, they can become idols.  And then it’s time to say goodbye. For me, this has often been related to the desire to belong. I’ve spent a good portion of my life viewing myself as an outlier, someone often on the outside looking in. So when I’ve found a person or group where I feel accepted and included, I can latch on pretty tightly—to a degree that often becomes unhealthy. Regardless of whether it’s people in a women’s Bible study, an accountability group or a few close friends, I always need to monitor how much I’m looking to them for identity and reassurance. There are times when God has had to remove me from a group before I’m able to see that I was clinging to it more tightly than I should have been. Here are a few other situations where good goodbyes may be in order:

A role you’re used to playing:

Maybe you’re so accustomed to being in charge, leading or hosting that you’re preventing others from having the opportunity to grow and be stretched in new ways. This could be true in a family, a church, a small group, a volunteer organization or at work.

On the other hand, maybe you’re used to being served and being a participant. You like having little or no responsibility so that you can come and go as you please. Or maybe you’re accustomed to playing the cynic, always seeing what’s wrong with a group so that you have an excuse for never engaging it on a deeper level.

Regardless of which description you identify with above, if you’re in a position that is causing you to be stagnant or that is preventing others the opportunity for growth, it may be time for a “good goodbye” to that role.

A person you’re depending on:

 God brings people into our lives at different seasons to pour into us, to nurture us and to help us develop our potential. Sometimes he blesses us with a partner in ministry that brings the perfect amount of balance and support. But just like the mama bird has to urge her chicks out of the nest, there comes a time when we need to spread our wings and fly. When we begin to depend upon a specific person to continue feeding and supporting us, we may be unintentionally making a new idol.

Even Jesus, the ultimate mentor, left the earth so that his disciples could learn to rely on the Holy Spirit (see John 14 for more on this). Jesus’ physical departure from earth catapulted Peter and the apostles into key leadership roles in the burgeoning Christian church. Think about the power and authority Peter showed in the book of Acts compared to his impulsivity and immaturity in the gospels. Through relying on the Holy Spirit, he led many disciples in spreading the good news of the gospel in Jerusalem, “Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8b, NIV)

Similarly, there may come a time when you’re called to move on from people you depend on or partner with. It can be a “good goodbye” if you take the things you’ve learned from them, rely on the Holy Spirit, spread your wings and fly.

 A group you value:

 As Christians, we are called into community. When we find like-minded people we can journey beside in life, this is a true blessing. In Acts chapter 2 the fellowship of believers enjoyed meeting together daily to break bread and grow in faith. We know they weren’t a closed group because Scripture tells us “they added to their numbers daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47b). Eventually, however, the believers scattered in the face of persecution and in the process they spread the gospel far and wide.  It was probably painful for the fellowship to break apart, but ultimately it enabled them to impact many more people.

Sometimes a “good goodbye” may be in order when we want to remain part of a particular group so much that we’re holding ourselves back from a new calling God has for us. If we lock arms with others and look inward instead of trusting God’s leading, we are dangerously close to making that cherished group into an idol.

Jeremy Camp’s song “Christ in Me” challenges me to remember that when I relinquish my idols and fix my gaze on Jesus, I find true freedom. Click on the link to hear a musical inspiration for saying “good goodbyes.”

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Bad Year, Good God

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I’ve heard people joke that 2016 is a year they’d like to forget. Daily headlines remind us our nation and our world have seen more than their fair share of ugly circumstances: tragic accidents, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, disturbing racism and political upheaval. Our nation is deeply divided, confused and disillusioned. Our world is in turmoil. People are losing sleep and shedding tears as they agonize over the variety of complex issues that have plagued us this year.

And yet, in the midst of all of these ugly and awful things, I am thankful. Not because of them, but in spite of them. As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving this week, I am thankful that my hope isn’t in human leaders, or manmade institutions. My hope isn’t in people, prosperity or earthly peace. I’m thankful because my hope is in the living God, who is sovereign over all things. I’m thankful because my ultimate citizenship is not in this world, but with God in heaven.

One of my favorite passages of Scripture seems especially fitting this week as I reflect on my thankfulness for God and his sovereignty. Below I’ve included excerpts from Isaiah 40 that cause me to feel thankful, hopeful and reassured, no matter what is going on in our nation and world:

Isaiah 40:21-25

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff. ‘To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?’ says the Holy One.”

Thankfulness Point #1: People who seem important or influential in this world may make a positive or negative impact for a time, but they will ultimately blow away like chaff in the wind. No earthly leader, no matter how wise or respected could ever compare to God. Likewise, no earthly leader, no matter how corrupt or questionable, could ever thwart God’s plans.

 Isaiah 40:26

“Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.”

Thankfulness Point #2: God knows the stars by name and calls them out one by one. He also knows the number of hairs on my head and the head of every other person who has ever lived. (Luke 12:7) Nothing escapes his gaze. I am deeply thankful that the God of great power and mighty strength knows and cares about me personally.

 Isaiah 40:27-28

“Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God’? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.”

Thankfulness Point #3: Even when we don’t understand what God is allowing in this world, we know he is trustworthy. His understanding is beyond anything our miniscule minds could comprehend. We can be thankful even when God’s ways and purposes are hidden from us. He is everlasting and sees world events from a vantage point that has a much larger scope than anything we can see.

 Isaiah 40:29-31

“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

Thankfulness Point #4: God renews our strength. No matter how weary and beaten down we become, we can always find refuge in him. His strength is available and accessible to us whenever we seek it. Not only does he renew and restore us, he enables us to soar like eagles so we can rise above even the most distressing situations.

Final Thought

No matter how ugly or distressing the events in the world are, we never have reason to despair. We can put trust and hope in the living God. He is our rock and refuge. Anything else we’re thankful for builds on that one truth. God is God and we are not. And that’s something we can celebrate at Thanksgiving and all year long.

For further reassurance on God’s sovereignty, click on the link and enjoy Natalie Grant’s song “King of the World.” Make it your prayer this Thanksgiving season.

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The Sword of the Spirit- The Armor of God Week 7

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To say I was going through a rough patch would be an understatement. One of my boys was a toddler and the other was in pre-school and although life at home was good, some hard situations outside our household were weighing heavily upon me. Looking back, I see that there was an element of spiritual attack I hadn’t even considered.

I remember one morning in that season I awoke feeling especially burdened with dark thoughts and anguished emotions. Sitting at the breakfast table flanked by one son in a high chair and the other chattering beside me, something triggered a flood of tears. The lump in my throat couldn’t hold back the sobs as I pushed my chair back and abruptly left the kitchen. Throwing myself face down on my bed, I wasn’t even sure why I was crying, but the tears wouldn’t cease.

A tap on my shoulder a few minutes later gently reminded me I had little people to tend to and forced me to gather my emotions. Wiping tears away, I tried to regain my composure as I looked up to find my older son standing in front of me. He held out his Beginners Bible and with wisdom that defied his tender age simply said, “Here Mom, read this. It’ll make you feel better.” I’m still not sure how he knew to bring me a Bible, but I’d been following his advice since long before he was born.

I’ll never forget the first time the words of Scripture jumped off the page, making me feel like a passage had been written just for me. I was a freshman in college, struggling to find true friends and to live by God’s standards. It was not the easiest time in life to decide to follow after Jesus whole-heartedly. The many worldly temptations of college had wooed away the one friend from home I’d depended on for spiritual support. Trying to shine a light for Jesus in the dark was not easy. I felt utterly alone, but undaunted in my desire to pursue Christ without compromise. And then one morning I stumbled across this passage:

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:6-7, NIV)

Armed with this verse in the face of deep discouragement, I sensed God telling me not to lose my perspective. The trials I was facing were temporary, but if I persevered through them, my faith would prove genuine, which was eternal. Eventually, God also brought me friends who were godly, encouraging, and just plain fun.

Since that time, many more verses have felt especially relevant and personal in different seasons of my life. So much so, that I could make a time line of events in my life with corresponding Scriptures that spoke directly to me with words of wisdom, comfort, and direction. God’s Word has provided truth and light when I’ve been deceived by lies or have lost my way. It’s given me encouragement in times of trouble and hope when I’m tempted to despair.  I guess that makes sense considering Paul lists it as the final piece in the armor of God when he says, “take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”  (Ephesians 10:17, NIV)

The Bible has been my greatest weapon to fend off attacks of the evil one throughout my adult life. And because it is the spoken Word of God, it is always fresh, relevant and personal. “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart”  (Hebrews 4:12, NIV).  Scripture is so much more than just words on a page.  When we engage it and apply it to our lives, it changes us.  It changes our attitudes, our desires, our relationships and the things we value.   It is a guide for every aspect of daily living.  It is our solid foundation and the plumb line that keeps us aligned with God’s will.

I’ve begun to notice a clear difference between the lives of people who are actively engaging God’s Word and people who simply embrace the Christian lifestyle and its values.  People who study the Bible consistently and apply what they’ve learned have a passion and a sense of purpose in what they do.  They serve others out of gratitude to God, not as an obligation.  They grapple with hard truths and have teachable spirits.  They are hungry to know more about God and how He’s calling them to live.  They don’t follow rules and checklists–they abide with Jesus and let the Holy Spirit guide them.  Their lives are not safe and predictable.  They trust God when things get messy and complicated.  They have too much integrity to worry about whether or not they are “showing well” or impressing the “right” people. They are profoundly aware that they are sinners only saved by Gods’ grace.  Their resulting gratitude causes them to give their lives for God’s Kingdom purposes.

Putting on the armor of God daily means putting into practice what we say we believe. And when we do that, the enemy doesn’t stand a chance.

I can think of no better song to include than Third Day’s “Your Words.” Click on the link to enjoy a musical reminder of the value of God’s Word:

Priscilla Shirer, The Armor of God, Lifeway Press, 2015.


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With Every Broken Bone, I Lived

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Squeezing the handbrakes on my bike, I pulled to a stop next to my husband and scanned the trail ahead.   A stream with submerged rocks stretched across the path, still flowing after a rainy winter. We had a decision to make: press on knowing that we were going to get wet or turn back the way we came. Never ones to shy away from an adventure, we opted to continue.   There were several creeks to cross on the trail and getting muddy was inevitable. Still, it was a beautiful day and worth the time it would take to clean our bikes once we got home.

As we pressed on, I thought about what a great analogy our bike ride made for life. So often we have the choice to play things safe or to take risks knowing things might getIMG_1571 a little messy. Thinking about the blog post I would write once we returned home, I stopped several times to take pictures that I wanted to include with it.

Little did I know that our adventurous ride would end with an accident that would leave me with fractured bones, a black eye, and a bruised ego.   The worst part was that after crossing streams, climbing rocky trails and navigating challenging terrain, I fell on the street just a few blocks from home.

And yet, six weeks later, the inspiration that I discovered on that bike ride remains true. I would still rather take risks and feel truly alive than avoid them and play it safe. I’m not only talking about physical activities like mountain biking and waterskiing, I’m referring to the risks we take to grow spiritually and to spread God’s kingdom on earth.

Maybe this example will help: A little over three years ago a friend asked me to pray about  leading a Bible study with her. She wanted to reach women who had questions about God but were too intimidated to join a study held at a church. She agreed to open her home weekly if I would lead the group. The first year, we invited eight women to commit to twelve weeks.  At the end of that season, all of them wanted to continue meeting.

As I look at this group three years later, it’s evident that God has been at work in mighty ways. These women have transformed and their families are taking notice. Their kids are clamoring to go to camp with the youth group and several of their husbands are exploring faith with other men. My co-founding friend was so inspired that she organized a Bible study at her church that is now thriving.  Another group member volunteered to be the new host and co-leader with me, despite feeling hesitant and inexperienced.  A previous member that moved away now runs a study in her home.  Still another member is starting a prayer group for parents from the local high school. All of these women felt fearful and unsure of themselves, but they trusted God and took risks that are causing them to grow. And they are blessing others in the process.  A ripple effect has occurred in the group and the circles seem to be ever-widening.

Looking back, it was a huge risk for me to agree to start this group. First and foremost was the fear of being rejected. I’d been stung by people in the past when I had reached out to them and was not eager to be hurt again. I also feared the time it would take to create a study and to research answers to their questions. I worried about adding more responsibilities and relationships to my life.  I fretted about how I would handle “hot topics” and controversial issues.   If I had given into my fears and decided to play it safe, I would have missed out on so much. Pouring into these women has made me feel truly alive and filled me with joy. Watching the impact the group has had on others outside of it is awe-inspiring.  The opportunity to be used by God with this group has given me a deeper understanding of the abundant life Jesus promises in John 10:10.

The pages of Scripture are filled with examples of people who took risks for the sake of God. Most of them experienced tremendous hardships, but they also experienced profound joy and a depth of relationship with their Creator that surpassed every difficulty they faced. Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Rahab, Ruth, Daniel, Mary, Peter, and Paul come to mind immediately.

Maybe the reason many of us are averse to taking risks today has to do with our culture’s view of hardships. We equate a “normal” life with smooth and easy living. As long as things go the way we want and expect, life is good.   We like things that are comfortable, predictable, and not too challenging.

Somehow, I don’t think this was what Jesus had in mind when he said: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10b, NIV) He also said: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33b, NIV)

The risks we take and the hardships we face are all a part of living an abundant life. When we embrace them and learn from them instead of lamenting them, we leave room for God to transform us. Our faith and trust in him grow deeper and others around us are impacted mightily.

Someone recently asked me if I was going to give up mountain biking as a result of my accident. The thought hadn’t ever crossed my mind. As soon as the doctor says it’s okay, I’ll be back out on the trail (when I’m not waterskiing, of course). I won’t be reckless but I’m not giving up activities that make me feel alive, even if they have the potential to cause injury.

The other day I heard a song that made me smile because it characterizes risk-taking in a positive light  (it also gave me the inspiration for this post’s title). Click on the link and enjoy “I Lived” by OneRepublic.

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Productive Pain

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Cradling my broken arm in his hands, the physical therapist gently straightened it and bent it, testing for flexibility. I felt vulnerable without my wrist and elbow braces, but was motivated to do what was needed to help the healing process. After kneading the muscles and tendons around my elbow, he said, “I’m not gonna lie to you, this next exercise will hurt pretty bad.” With that, he began rotating my lower arm slowly back and forth. I squeezed my eyes shut as every muscle and tendon surrounding my fractured wrist and elbow reacted with searing pain.

I was relieved to put my braces back on when he finished; they made me feel less vulnerable and provided some stability and comfort. Before leaving, I asked the therapist how I could differentiate between “good” and “bad” pain. Knowing which motions would help the healing process would motivate me to push through the pain.  Almost as soon as I asked the question, I realized there was an obvious analogy in our spiritual lives. Just as there are good and bad kinds of pain in the physical realm, there are also good and bad kinds of pain in the spiritual realm.

Later that day I found the passage that I’d been thinking of as I winced on the table at the physical therapist. It focuses on the “good” kind of spiritual pain we sometimes experience:

 “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. ‘Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.’” (Hebrews 12:7-12, NIV)

The word “discipline” comes from two closely related Greek words: “Paideia” and ”Paideuo.” Both involve correcting, instructing and educating another person.   The words were originally used to describe rearing children, but were later used in reference to teaching those young in the faith. One word that was not part of either definition was “punishment.” There are nine different Greek words for punishment, but none of them includes these words. Discipline has nothing to do with revenge or seeking justice after someone has violated a moral code. Although our culture sometimes uses discipline and punishment interchangeably, they are two entirely different things.  Discipline is not for retribution, but for our benefit.

The Hebrews passage tells us that hardship is a form of discipline. This means the difficult experiences we face in life can all be used for good. Sometimes God allows painful circumstances to refine our faith or to build our trust. Other times, he wants to get our attention or to show us we’re putting our hope in something other than him. Occasionally he allows good things in our lives to be removed to make way for better ones. With our eyes on God, even the worst situations can make us spiritually stronger.

I’d never paid much attention to the last part of the Hebrews passage until breaking my arm. It says we should accept discipline to “strengthen our feeble arms” so that “the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.” If I were unwilling to do the painful therapy required to restore strength and flexibility to my arm, I would ultimately be disabling myself. Although my fractured bones would heal, the stiff tendons and muscles would never become flexible again without some serious effort. The result would be limited mobility that would keep me from doing both daily tasks and fun activities that I love.

Similarly, submitting to God’s discipline heals and strengthens us so that we don’t go through life emotionally and spiritually stunted. Trusting God through challenging times keeps us from becoming bitter or from wallowing in self-pity. Instead, we lean into him through the pain, knowing that he is using it to produce a “harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

I’m learning anew the importance of letting God use difficult circumstances. The twinges of pain in my arm regularly prompt me to ask what he’s trying to teach me through this challenging time. My broken arm is an outward manifestation of something all of us experience inwardly. Each of us carries wounds, scars and memories that impact us daily, whether we realize it or not. When we let God use those painful things to draw us to him, we allow him to bring peace, healing and strength to our lives. You may not have a broken arm, but there may be some other hardship in your life that God wants to use to teach you. Will you let him do it?

Click on the link and be encouraged by Lauren Daigle’s song “Trust in You.” Let it be your prayer today.

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The Myth of Self-Sufficiency

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Setting the plate in front of me, the waitress smiled and offered a cheerful “Enjoy your meal!” before walking away. My salad looked delicious, but I frowned. The chicken breast displayed on top would be difficult to eat without using two hands to cut it into smaller pieces. I’d hoped what I ordered would be easy to eat one-handed since my right arm was tucked in a sling. Staring at the food and shifting with discomfort, I weighed my options. The women around me at the table were engrossed in conversation, unaware of my predicament. Finally I turned to a friend next to me and apologized for interrupting. “Um, do you mind cutting up my chicken?” Realizing my problem, she happily obliged while I tried to act casual.  There was no reason to feel embarrassed, but I still felt like a child.

I’ve had an independent streak since I was little. It might have been my position as the youngest of five. It might have been the four-year gap between the next sibling and me. My independence led me to a college far from home. And it led me to a job as a teacher where I was isolated in a classroom instead of regularly working alongside colleagues. “Capable” and “efficient” were good descriptions for me. I didn’t know much about being a team player or learning to work well with others. The idea of delegating responsibilities made me cringe with fear and mistrust—whether it was at work, at home or serving at church. I had friends and meaningful relationships, but tackled much of life as a Lone Ranger.

Getting married, raising children and gaining life experience have changed me incrementally over time.  I’ve begun to recognize that many things I thought I could handle on my own were actually better and more enjoyable when I shared them with others. Whether it was planning class reunions, leading Vacation Bible School or facilitating Bible studies, I’ve learned the value and joy of working with others.

One thing I’ve struggled with, however, is asking for help or receiving it when it’s offered. This changed drastically when a bike accident left me with a broken right wrist and elbow recently. “Capable” and “efficient” are no longer words used to describe me. Instead, they characterize the many people who have stepped in to help me during this challenging season. I’ve been blessed and humbled by the numerous ways friends and family members have come alongside me.

Self-sufficiency has its place, but when it is over emphasized, it leads to isolationism and a lack of community.   It’s also a breeding ground for pride. Although it’s been humbling, the outpouring of support I’ve received since my accident has provided clear evidence of God’s love. It’s also reinforced the blessing of Christian fellowship. I’ve learned to accept help when it’s offered and to ask for it even when it isn’t (which is not easy to do). I’m depending on my family more. And I’m learning to let them do things their way instead of mine (which is also not easy to do). My lack of self-sufficiency has blessed my marriage in ways a book or couples’ seminar never could.

This experience is enabling me to understand an old familiar passage in a new light. King Solomon, perhaps the wisest man that ever lived, wrote these words:

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:

If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.

But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.

Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.

But how can one keep warm alone?

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, NIV)

Solomon was rich and powerful, yet he understood the value of relationship and community. He knew life was better when shared with others.

Self-sufficiency only works when things are going smoothly. Although we like to think that “normal” life equates with the absence of trouble, we are only fooling ourselves. Jesus assures us in John’s gospel: “In this world you will have trouble.” Fortunately he follows this with this assurance, But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33b, NIV)

Here is the truth: only God is sufficient. Thankfully, he never intended for us to be on life’s journey solo. He’s given us the blessings of fellowship and community as tangible ways to meet our needs.  They also remind us that we are never alone.

If you can relate to my struggles with pride and self-sufficiency, I invite you to pray and ask God to show you one area you can surrender to him by letting someone meet a need you have. Maybe you won’t have to break your arm to recognize that sufficiency in anything other than God is just a myth.

The song ‘”Brother” by the band NEEDTOBREATHE celebrates that life is better when we’re in it together. (Ladies, don’t get too hung up on the title, just substitute “sister” if it makes you feel better). Click on the link to enjoy this inspiring song.

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