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Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin…
Zechariah 4:10 (NLT)

I have been delaying starting several things for the Lord. In one case it’s simply a matter of not wanting to add something to my calendar. In another case, I’m not sure what the first step should be. In yet another case, I just haven’t blocked time into my schedule for it. In all cases, they are projects I believe the Lord initiated. (Do I really want to admit to you that I’m pausing at taking steps on projects the Lord initiated? I’m guessing you’ve done that too – sometimes we all need a bit of encouragement to follow the Lord’s promptings!)

Zechariah has been providing that encouragement to me. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book over the last couple of weeks.

I have been asking the Lord a question in my special holiday getaways with Him“Lord, what in my life brings you joy?” Here’s one of the answers to my questions: “The Lord rejoices to see the work begin.” (Zechariah 4:10) My goal is to please the Lord – to bring Him joy because He gives such joy to me. Beginning these tasks is one way to bring Him joy.

I’m not climbing on a merry-go-round of beginnings (because we’ll see in future posts that the Lord is also pleased with continuing the effort begun). Nor am I overloading my schedule with things God is not calling me to. I am being encouraged, however, to begin those things that He’s prompted me to. And I don’t have to have a grand plan for the full accomplishment of them. Yes, I need a plan because without one, the projects are likely to die on the vine. But the full Scripture is this: “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin.” God doesn’t diss small beginnings. Rather, He rejoices that the project has begun.

I love that about God – He is such an encourager! I think I’ll go add something to my calendar and block some time into my schedule! But first…I get to finish decorating a Christmas tree that’s half covered in lights. Let the Christmas season begin!

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When everything seems to be going wrong, we don’t like to think it might be our fault. “You did your best” a well-meaning friend might say. Or “sometimes things just happen.” Or perhaps they look at your circumstances with you and commiserate “it is what it is.” Well, yes, that’s obviously true – it is what it is. But why is it what it is? Sometimes it is what it is because we’re outside God’s will. The wise person steps back when everything seems to be going wrong and asks the Holy Spirit to lead them in examining their life.

The book of Haggai reminds us that our actions have consequences and sometimes it really is our fault.

The Israelites just couldn’t seem to get ahead:

5This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says: Look at what’s happening to you! 6You have planted much but harvest little. You eat but are not satisfied. You drink but are still thirsty. You put on clothes but cannot keep warm. Your wages disappear as though you were putting them in pockets filled with holes!
Haggai 1:5-6 (NLT)

Been there, done that! Didn’t have money to buy a T-shirt.

“Let me explain further”, God says:

3Then the LORD sent this message through the prophet Haggai: 4“Why are you living in luxurious houses while my house lies in ruins? … 7“This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says: Look at what’s happening to you! … 9You hoped for rich harvests, but they were poor. And when you brought your harvest home, I blew it away. Why? Because my house lies in ruins, says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, while all of you are busy building your own fine houses. 10It’s because of you that the heavens withhold the dew and the earth produces no crops. 11I have called for a drought on your fields and hills—a drought to wither the grain and grapes and olive trees and all your other crops, a drought to starve you and your livestock and to ruin everything you have worked so hard to get.”
Haggai 1:3-4, 7, 9-11 (NLT)

God is very gracious. He doesn’t point out a problem without giving a solution.

8aNow go up in to the hills, bring down timber, and rebuild my house.
Haggai 1:8b (NLT)

He also promises blessings for obedience.

8bThen I will take pleasure in it and be honored, says the LORD. … 18“Think about this eighteenth day of December, the day when the rebuilding of the LORD’s Temple began. Think carefully. 19I am giving you a promise now while the seed is still in the barn. You have not yet harvested your grain, and your grapevines, fig trees, pomegranates, and olive trees have not yet produced their crops. But from this day onward I will bless you.”
Haggai 1:8b, 2:18-19 (NLT)

Is your life a mess because of your own actions? Maybe you’re using all your money for your own benefit and not giving to God the tithe (tenth) that belongs to Him. Or perhaps you’re using all your time to pursue your career or leisure instead of spending an appropriate amount of it to get to know God better? Or just maybe you’re allowing things into your life that you clearly know are inconsistent with God’s plan for your abundant life.

God used the prophet Haggai to point the Israelites in the right direction. The Holy Spirit will do the same in our lives. The question is “will we listen and respond.” It’s up to each of us to choose God.

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1The LORD is my shepherd; I have all that I need.
2He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams.
3He restores my soul. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name.
Psalm 23:1-3 (a compilation of phrases from the NLT and NASB )

My soul was a little bruised today. A sadness hovered around me, constantly bumping me and causing me to lose my train of thought.

It wasn’t a good day for working. But then it wasn’t a good day for not working either, because work provides a bit of structure and the need for focused concentration which shelters me a bit from the constant bumping.

Throughout the day I had worship music playing in the background. It kept trying to assert itself to the foreground and I kept resisting it. I was supposed to be working. I was supposed to be sad. You can take your pick of reasons. Both pulled me away from the worship music.

Finally near the end of the day my Pandora station played Chris Tomlin’s song Let Your Mercy Rain. I was swept away into worship. And God spoke to me about my own resistance to letting Him restore my soul. Psalm 23:3 is often quoted as “He makes me lie down in green pastures.” I like the New Living Translation above – “He lets me rest in green meadows.” Sure, God sometimes “makes me lie down,” but isn’t it so much more wonderful to know that He “lets” us rest? He gives us permission to step away from the world. And during that resting, He restores our souls.

As I closed my eyes and listened to the words, healing poured over my soul:

God, You have done great things
God, You give grace to the weak
And bless the brokenhearted
With a song of praise to sing
You reached down and lifted us up
You came running, looking for us
And now there’s nothing
And no one beyond Your love

And I lifted my hands in worship and petition as the chorus started:

You’re the overflow
You’re the fountain of my heart
Let Your mercy rain
Let Your mercy rain on us

It lead me to expressively sign the words to the rest of the chorus:

You’re the faithful one
When the world’s falling apart
Let Your mercy rain
Let Your mercy rain on us

Yet as the song continued, I felt this internal pressure to get back to real life. It occurred to me that we often focus on living purposeful lives, accomplishing things for the Lord and “numbering our days aright” (Psalm 90:12) and seldom focus on letting ourselves rest by the green pastures God leads us to and allowing Him to restore our souls.

Sure, we give Him our devotional time in the morning (and/or evening), but often during that time we don’t allow Him to restore our souls. We rush through our reading and our praying. Even when God speaks to us and it is a special time, we don’t allow enough time for His voice and the impact of it to fully restore us. We rush on to what’s next.

I’m thinking that living without our soul being restored on a regular basis is setting ourselves up to be knocked down. Our enemy roams around like roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). When our souls are malnourished, we are easily devoured.

In God’s to do list for our day, allowing Him to restore our soul isn’t number 101. I’m thinking it might be in the top three.

Yet we push it down the list so that we can concentrate on getting our work done – our work. His work is restoring our soul so that we can bring glory to Him. A malnourished soul is a soul screaming for God. If it’s been so long since we’ve fed it properly, we may no longer recognition nutrition when we see it.

How does God nourish your soul? Worship music is a key element of a healthy diet for me. God’s telling me that when my soul is weary or sad I need to take in extra nourishment. His Word often nourishes my soul. Biblical fellowship nourishes my soul. Sleep nourishes my soul. Play nourishes my soul.

What we see as frivolous – a waste of time or something just for our enjoyment, God may well see as feeding our soul.

Have you allowed God to nourish your soul today?

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34“So don’t worry about tomorrow…32bYour heavenly Father already knows…”
Matthew 6:34a, 32b (NLT)

I’m tired today. I’ve been tired for awhile. I’m having some medical tests done in a few weeks, but in the meantime, I’m tired. And frustrated that treatment for the tiredness won’t begin until the tests have been completed. So I feel like I am looking at a (small) tunnel of tiredness and lack of productivity.

Do I have faith that God can interrupt that cycle? Absolutely and I trust that He will. I just don’t know if it will be today, tomorrow or six weeks from today.

So today I’ve been reassessing – what can I reasonably expect to do over the coming weeks, what’s most important to God, what should I put at the bottom of the list? I’m sorry to admit that this exercise has brought me perilously close to worrying! If you’re a regular reader of ApprehendingGrace.com, you know that I work hard at not being a worrier. It is the antithesis of faith and there’s simply no profit in it.

Which brings me to laying my schedule for the week before the Lord and asking Him what gets weeded out. As I was doing that, I was scrolling through my journal backwards, looking from today back through previous days to review God’s lessons to me. I came to an entry from a few weeks ago in which I had copied Matthew 6:24-34 into my journal thinking I might blog on it. That blog never got written – I guess God was saving it for today because when I came to it, I was so comforted by the Holy Spirit I knew I had to begin to write. Our God is such a God of peace. There is no stress, no uncertainty and no busyness in Him.

Let me share with you how I read the passage.

Since I was scrolling upward in my word processing document, I came to the last verse of the passage first:

So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
Matthew 6:34 (NLT)

Sandy (the Holy Spirit said) – remember – don’t worry about tomorrow. I’ve got it covered. Don’t fret about that list of things you want to do and the list of things you have to do. I know about all of it, and I know about everything that hasn’t even hit your list yet. You deal with the immediate. Let’s talk about what you need to do right now. Let’s refocus.

Ahhh. I can let go of all my concerns for the week. I don’t have to keep track of it right now. I’m not saying that God doesn’t want us to plan. I strongly believe that good planning honors God. But as I said, sometimes planning brings me perilously close to worrying and that’s what was happening today.

So I scrolled up a bit further…

32bYour heavenly Father already knows all your needs, 33and he will give you all you need from day to day if you live for him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern.
Matthew 6: 32b-33 (NLT)

Ahhhh. My heavenly Father is so good. He already knows my needs. Before I knew about the first thing that was going to be added to my schedule this week, He already knew about it. In fact, He’s on top of it – and has been since the beginning of time.

He already knows all my needs. Not just some of them, but all of them. He knows about those things that I don’t yet know about. He’s on top of those things, too. He’s got me covered. He will give me all I need each day.

Wait a minute…didn’t I just blog about this? Yep. Less than two weeks ago!

Give us our food for today,
Matthew 6:11

And going back to read that blog, I see that I quoted verses 25 and 26 of the passage we’re looking at today. OK, God. I’m getting the message. Slowly sometimes, but I’m getting it! (Yes, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that after writing and living that blog so recently I am in need of its lesson again today…but we all fall short of the glory of God and I’m SO thankful that He is gracious and forgiving of sins.)

God knows all our needs – even before we do – and he will give us all we need…if we live for Him and make the Kingdom of God our primary concern.

That surely defines our priorities, doesn’t it? As I look at my week, there are still as many tasks as there were when I started this blog, but I can begin to create a plan in faith that God will supply all that I need.

8And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
2 Corinthians 9:8 (NIV)

Continuing my scroll up the passage, I see the beginning of verse:

Why be like the pagans who are so deeply concerned about these things?
Matthew 6:32a (NLT)

Ouch! The Holy Spirit gently reminds me that pagans worry about what they will wear and what they will eat – because they have no God to trust. My God is faithful and worthy of my trust. Today, I can choose to trust in the Living God who will supply all my needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19, NIV)

Finally, I scroll up just a little farther:

28“And why worry about your clothes? Look at the lilies and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, 29yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 30And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow, won’t he more surely care for you? You have so little faith!
Matthew 6:28-30 (NLT)

As I read this passage, I “felt” the care God has for the beautiful flowers. I was overcome with the emotion of an artist taking great care as He creates a great work. He or she moves slowly, tenderly, selecting the proper tools and shaping the work into something beautiful. Colors are mixed until they are the perfect shade and applied with the master’s touch. Things are worked and reworked until they are in complete harmony. God cares for the lilies of the field in this way. Scripture says He placed all the stars in the sky and knows them each by name. It’s not a far stretch of to say that He also placed each flower in the beautiful field of wild flowers. And He cares for me more than that.

As an added kiss on the cheek by the Holy Spirit, I remember that lilies are my favorite flower. I friend gave me some a few weeks ago. They are still beautiful in the middle of my table. God cares for me more than that.

Yes, even when my faith is strong, I have such little faith. Lord, increase my faith!

So I tell you, friends, as Jesus told His disciples – don’t worry about every day life – it consists of way more than whatever you’re worrying about. God has it under control. He knows all that you need and will meet (even surpass) them. Keep your focus on Him and His priorities. And when even those priorities are about to overwhelm you, take a step back and refocus. He’s got you covered!

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February 13-19, 2012 is RAKWeek – that’s Random Acts of Kindness Week for those of you who missed the memo.

I am a big fan of random acts of kindness, although I confess to not doing them as often as I’d like. I think they are a great way to soften people toward the Gospel. Christians are frequently viewed or portrayed as judgmental or negative (we shouldn’t be either, of course). Random acts of kindness combat that stereotype. That’s a good thing.

A couple of weeks ago I was reading Proverbs 11 and learned that kindness has another great benefit:

Your own soul is nourished when you are kind, but you destroy yourself when you are cruel.
Proverbs 11: 17 (NLT)

We can nourish our souls in many ways, but being kind has a double kick – when I practice kindness (whether planned or random), both my soul and the recipient of my kindness are benefited.

I love the word “nourished.” It has the connotation of caring for something so that it becomes healthier and more beautiful. Wilted or brown edges are restored. Strength is revived. Flowers bloom and fruit grows.

In the context of this verse – that is, nourishing our soul, it also carries the connotation of bringing an inner peace and joy – a resting from toil and strife. Say it with me…Aaaaahhhhhh.

All that can be yours and mine through the simple act of kindness. Want some creative ideas? I’ve included a few below, but check out the Random Acts of Kindness website for more.

Lack of kindness is a spiritual issue. It is conceived when one sees the world through earthly eyes instead of the eyes of Christ. It takes root when we focus more on ourselves than others and is watered by impatience, jealousy and pride. Each of these things is called sin. Each keeps us from stepping outside ourselves to show kindness to others.

Yet that’s exactly what we need to do –remind ourselves that we are not the center of the universe, ask God to allow us to see others through His eyes, and commit to reaching out to others in kindness. It doesn’t take a lot of money, and it doesn’t even have to take a lot of time.

Show some kindness. Here are some ideas:

  • Smile – REALLY smile – at strangers.
  • Shovel your neighbor’s sidewalk or cut their grass.
  • Cut flowers from your yard and give them to someone.
  • Buy two pizzas the next time you order and give one to a friend.
  • Pay for the Starbucks of the person behind you in line.
  • Invite the child of a friend to help you create a scrapbook for another friend.
  • Leave a generous tip the next time you eat out.
  • Pick up a candy bar for your coworker the next time you hit the vending machines.
  • Pick up trash from your neighbor’s yard.
  • Play with your neighbor’s children for an afternoon.
  • Call someone who needs to hear from you.

God has lots of ideas – ask Him! He’ll bring them to your mind.

My mom (Happy Birthday, Mom!) lives in a heathcare facility and has been for more than a decade. Yet she finds ways to be kind to other residents every day. Often they can’t reciprocate and sometimes they can’t even show any appreciation. But mom knows that when you give kindness away, your own soul is nourished. She laughs every day in the midst of very difficult living circumstances. I know that her laughter comes from a well-nourished soul.

What fools we often are! We hurry through life and worry about so many things, when slowing down just a bit would enable us to see the needs of others, respond in kindness and receive nourishment for our own souls in the process.

The New King James Version translates our key verse with a slightly different slant:

The merciful man does good for his own soul,
But he who is cruel troubles his own flesh.
Proverbs 11:18 (NKJV)

Kindness and mercy go hand in hand – showing mercy is showing kindness. Both require seeing someone’s need and moving to meet it. God has shown all of us tremendous mercy. He’s forgiven our sins – all of them.

Lord, help us to respond to others as you have responded to us. Help us to show mercy – kindness – to those around us.

Let’s nourish our own souls – let’s perform random acts of kindness – not just this week, let’s make it a lifestyle! Feel free to share your ideas for random acts of kindness as a comment or on Facebook.

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King Solomon spells them out in the first six verses the book:

  1. Attain wisdom (v2)
  2. Acquire discipline (v2 and 3)
  3. Gain understanding (v2)
  4. Develop a prudent lifestyle (v3 and 4)
  5. Learn to do what is right and just and fair (v3)
  6. Receive knowledge (v4)
  7. Develop discretion (v4)
  8. Add to our learning (v5)
  9. Receive guidance (v5)
  10. Learn to understand proverbs and parables (v6)

Do those things excite you? I have to confess that upon reading them this week they left me a little flat.

I looked up the word prudent in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary:

1: the ability to govern and discipline oneself by the use of reason
2: sagacity or shrewdness in the management of affairs
3: skill and good judgment in the use of resources
4: caution or circumspection as to danger or risk

Those things, and the other nine in the list above, sound like good qualities to me – practices that will enhance my personal, professional and spiritual life. Why would I not want that? Perhaps because sometimes I want what’s easy and these things take work. Perhaps it’s because living in America in the twenty-first century, I am overwhelmed by television, magazine and online ads that encourage me to “go for the gusto” and “indulge myself.” I’m encouraged again and again to live the good life and to give myself a break because “I deserve it” or “I’m worth it.” Our environment cultivates a self-centered lifestyle that is passionate about enjoyment and rarely encourages discipline and prudence.

When I’m constantly bombarded by messages to the contrary, it can be hard to remember that pursuing discipline and prudence – making them the by-product passion of my passion for pursuing God – is what will bring the most satisfaction. As we look at Proverbs 1, I am reminded of the first three verses of Psalm 1. These verses were written by King Solomon’s father, King David:

1 Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.
2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.
Psalm 1:1-3 (NIV)

King Solomon learned from his earthly father that blessings abound for those who pursue God, His laws and His ways. They are blessings that surpass the “good life” this world wants me to pursue.

The first six verses of Proverbs may not hold the pizzazz of the most recent sixty-second commercial I watched, but they hold the potential for tremendous blessing – both in this life and the next.

Lord, deliver me from my sinful nature that wants what this world is selling. Grow in me that hunger and thirst that only You can fill. Help me develop the discipline that turns to you when I am looking for escape and rest.

As I finished reading Proverbs 1, I found this verse:

For the waywardness of the simple will kill them,
and the complacency of fools will destroy them;
Proverbs 1:32 (NIV)

Lord, keep me from my foolishness and complacency.

How about you, friends? Do you find yourself pulled by this culture into a leisure-focused lifestyle? Do the words discipline and prudence sometimes cause you to turn and walk (or run) in the opposite direction? May the Lord encourage you (as He has me) to put aside your complacency and your foolishness and run hard – with all you’ve got in you – toward Him. We do that by following His plans for our lives, not the world’s.

I pray that as we read the book of Proverbs, the Lord draws us into discipline and prudence while giving us wisdom and understanding. May He bless our reading this month.

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And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
2 Corinthians 9:8 (NIV)

Lately my days have been stolen from me! At least that’s how I would have viewed them in the past. I am learning to view them simply as God having other plans. As my parents age, it’s not unusual for me to get a call that has me drop everything and drive an hour to Cleveland to spend hours at the hospital then drive the hour home. That’s usually followed by phone calls to make, e-mails to write and fallout to deal with the following day or days. That fallout might be more trips to Cleveland, making arrangements of one sort or another, or just dealing with my own emotional condition following the crisis.

I’m not complaining. I am blessed to still have my mom and step-parents around. I’m just saying that God is using this time to teach me in a new way that my time is not my own any more than my money or my possessions are not my own. Learning that my money and possessions were not my own was much easier!

I like my time being my own. I like scheduling out my days and having a plan. I’m even pretty good about things happening that change the plan – because things always happen and plans always change. But the situations I’m facing these days are not changes to plans, these situations are the demolition of plans with little likelihood of being able to develop an alternate plan.

Have you been there? How have you dealt with it?

God is teaching me to let go and trust that He is the author of time and He will and does make it possible to either accomplish what’s necessary or give grace for what isn’t finished as planned. I love that about God.

1) God is teaching me…He doesn’t expect me to just know it. He doesn’t expect me to get it right all the time. He understands that this doesn’t come naturally to me, so He gently pulls and shapes me until I am malleable clay and am formed into the image He has in mind. OK, sometimes it doesn’t feel so gentle, but the end product is pleasing to Him. And if it’s pleasing to Him, I’m good with it.

God has me in training and training is grueling and painful sometimes. Other times it’s repetitive and boring. That’s where perseverance comes in. The Apostle Paul had a few things to say about racing and perseverance:

24Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (NIV)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Hebrews 12:1 (NIV)

2) He enables me to accomplish things I can’t believe can be accomplished in the time available. Wow! I preached a sermon once about the power of a time-warping God. That sermon was about how He has worked in the past, even before I was born, He works in my present and He is somehow at work in my future – to set things up and help me become the woman of God He wants me to be. That’s pretty powerful stuff. This is a different kind of time warping. This time warping somehow accomplishes four hours worth of work in one – which doesn’t do much for my income when I bill on an hourly basis, but He takes care of that too and it keeps the clients happy which causes them to be repeat customers.

3) He gives grace for what isn’t accomplished that I thought needed to be accomplished. Sometimes I’ll learn that a client was on vacation when I thought he was expecting a project, or I’ll receive changes that would have made all my work a waste had I had time to do it. And sometimes clients are simply understanding as we humbly admit we won’t be able to deliver when we expected to.

Both this point and the previous one are reflected in our company’s key verse:

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
2 Corinthians 9:8 (NIV)

The sum of those three lessons teaches me one other thing – that I truly can do all things through Christ who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13).

I love that God deals with us where we are but takes us to a greater place. He not only has plans for us – plans to prosper us and to give us a hope – but He turns those hopes into reality by walking through our every day life and especially our every day challenges.

My challenge for each of us is to look for what God is doing in each of those 3 areas:

  • What is He teaching you through your most significant challenges this week?
  • How is He helping you get through those challenges?
  • What extra-ordinary grace is He extending to you or others that makes your life work?

My prayer is that we become partners in our growth – recognizing God’s work in us and allowing Him free reign to conform us into the image of Christ – for His glory in heaven and on earth.

Blessings, friends, as you are molded into something greater than you are!

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Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Psalm 90:12

I apologize, readers, for blogging so infrequently over the past eight weeks. I have been working unusually long hours and have had little energy or brain-power left for blogging. As I get back into the habit, I thought I’d start with a short blog about dealing with over-busy times.

We all find ourselves unexpectedly over-scheduled at times. This blog is about those times. Let me start with a caveat, however. If you find yourself perpetually over-scheduled, may I suggest that you take a time out (yes, you can – really!) and evaluate your life. I truly believe that God is not honored by a life that is perpetually over-scheduled. Some of these tips will help you, but stronger medicine is required to heal the perpetually overly full schedule.

8 Things to Do When You’re in a Short or Temporary Season of Over-Busyness:

  1. Pray specifically asking God where your priorities should be. Ask Him for guidance about the big picture (i.e., those tasks that should be dropped or handed off for a period of time) and ask Him about your priorities each day. Here are just a few ways that God might make His priorities known to you:
    • A persistent thought or leaning toward one project or another.
    • A peace about passing some tasks to others or leaving them undone.
    • A change in your passions for specific tasks.
    • An unexpected person offering to shoulder some task you were wondering how you’d accomplish.
  2. Be obedient – Do those things that are God highlights as priorities. Sometimes you may want to do other things instead. Trust that God knows best.
  3. Act with integrity – Be proactive about asking others to help and advising others when you will not be able to accomplish something you’ve promised. Don’t wait until the last minute or until you’re already late with something.
  4. Trust that God is in control – When we are over-busy, it is easy to become stressed about the many, many things we ought to do. Trusting God brings a confidence that pushes that stress away. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve reminded myself over the past two months that none of this unexpected busyness took God by surprise. When each person created the schedule that I’m responsible to meet, God knew about it. He will either enable me to meet that schedule, provide someone else to meet it for me, or He will give me the grace to honestly admit that I cannot meet it. Guess what! Even though I am quite tired from my busyness over the past eight weeks, it’s been fun watching Him in action.
  5. Don’t beat yourself up for not accomplishing those things that God has said is not your top priority. I have hated not writing my blog more regularly, but I’ve also been confident that it was lower on the priority list than meeting working deadlines, maintaining some ministry locally, and visiting my parents. It would be easy to feel remorse or guilt for not blogging regularly. To do so, however, would be acting as if God’s priorities for my time were wrong.
  6. Don’t neglect Bible reading. You may not have time to do as much study or meditation of the passages, but be sure to read.
  7. Be thankful. It’s so easy to become overly task driven and forget to pause to be thankful. It will change your day.
  8. Don’t neglect church and continue to observe a Sabbath. Scripture says that we are to observe the Sabbath even during times of harvest. This is a harvest time at work and it is so tempting to spend just a bit of time on Sundays “catching up” so that Monday will be better. Trust me. God knows best and you will be more “caught up” on Monday if you fully step away from work on Sunday. (No, I’m not legalist about Sabbath being Sunday – any day of the week is fine, so long as you are careful to observe it.)

I know it doesn’t seem like you need 8 more things to do when you’re already over-busy. Trust me, put these 8 things first and God will control the over-busyness. Of course that’s not to say you won’t be tired for awhile! Blessings, friends!

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Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Hebrews 10:25 (NIV)

4 Reasons to Go to Church

  1. Scripture commands it. Our key verse makes it clear – “let us not neglect our meeting together.” Early Christians met together regularly for worship and teaching. The writer of Hebrews warns the early Christians not to neglect those meetings, and stresses that it becomes even more important as we see the end times drawing nearer.
  2. You need it! It is exceedingly difficult to maintain a passionate pursuit of God without participating regularly in corporate worship, receive biblical teaching on a regular basis, and be encouraged and sharpened by other Believers.
  3. Your family needs it! It doesn’t mattered whether you are married or single, your family needs you to go to church. Sometimes the person in your family who you least expect to impact is watching. Your consistent pursuit of God will impact family members over the long haul. A spotty church attendance sends the message that God does not play a significant role in your life, that He can be pushed aside when other things come up.
  4. Your friends need it! As with your family, your friends need the witness of you attending church regularly. We don’t live in isolation. Our friends are influenced by what we do. Even those friends who try their hardest to persuade you to participate in other activities on Sunday morning or late Saturday night are sometimes secretly disappointed when you abandon God to join them.

4 Reasons You Might be Tempted to Skip Church – This Week or Every Week

  1. It’s the only morning you get to sleep in. I understand. The temptation is pretty strong some days. I would even endorse the rare missing of church to rest or relax with your family – rare means about once a year, not once a month! Rearrange your schedule if you need to. If you’re absolutely unable to, trust God to give you the rest you need at another time.
  2. It’s the only time you have to yourself. You’ve just made serving and worshiping yourself an idol above serving and worshiping the Lord God Almighty, Creator of the Universe and Savior of your soul. Did you really want to do that?
  3. You’ve been hurt or offended by someone in authority. You have a “sacred cow” that was swiped at by someone in authority and you’re unhappy about it. Get over it. Jesus was abandoned and betrayed but He forgave. Don’t cling to your offense. Forgive.
  4. Unresolved conflict with other attendees. Again…get over it. Forgive and pursue reconciliation.

When I look at the reasons for not attending church, they seem so small compared to the reasons for attending church. Setting aside God’s desire for us to regularly worship with other Believers (which is a pretty big thing to set aside), the personal benefit and potential for impacting those around us is so strong that they far outweigh the inconvenience and discomfort I might experience.

I have gone through long spells of spiritual dryness – long periods of time when I had no desire to attend church every Sunday and during which I felt like I gained nothing by being there. In hindsight, I am so thankful for the commitment God put in me to continue attending each week. I know without that regular food and fellowship, my walk with the Lord would have deteriorated significantly.

So let me encourage you to be a practicing Christian in this area – don’t forsake your weekly attendance at a local church. There are rich relationships waiting for you there and God deserves your devotion.

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Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.
Exodus 20:8

Yesterday’s blog introduced the Biblical injunction for Israelites to “honor the Sabbath and keep it holy.” While many believe it is not a requirement for Christians to observe a weekly Sabbath, I believe there is great blessing when we live as God designed us to live. Today, I give my six most compelling reasons to observe a weekly Sabbath. Tomorrow’s blog will address some practical issues surrounding observing a Sabbath without falling into legalism.

1. It is the Fourth Commandment
I have difficulty moving away from the fact that honoring the Sabbath is a part of the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments were given as a covenant between the Lord and His people, the Israelites. As Christians, we have become a part of that covenant community, grafted in, as it says in Romans 11. Yet, we are also not a part of it. The covenant we have with the same Lord is no longer based upon the Law as providing a means for our righteousness, but upon our faith in Christ’s substitutionary death – His blood (once for all) instead of the blood of an annual animal sacrifice makes atonement for our sin and enables us to be righteous in God’s eyes. Hence, we are not under the same covenant. We are no longer under the Law, but the spirit of the law is still relevant. (In fact, it is the supremacy of the spirit of the law that Jesus repeatedly stressed in His teachings.) The spirit of the fourth commandment is a day in which we end our work (our striving), and enjoy God and His good gifts.

God’s covenant with the Israelites offers both a blessing for obedience and a curse for disobedience. A review of Israel’s history illustrates not only that God was true to His word in both cases, blessing and punishing Israel for her obedience and disobedience, but also that He was long-suffering – He didn’t bring immediate punishment. So while we might not see an immediate affect from not honoring the Sabbath, we can be sure that it is building, that the long-suffering God we serve will reach a point when He removes His hand of protection and we experience the results of our non-stop lifestyle. (Is it not arrogance and pride on our part that disagrees with our Creator that we need a Sabbath?)

2. The Purposes for the Sabbath Still Exist
A study of Old Testament Scriptures shows that God had three purposes for the Sabbath: (1) serving as a day of remembrance, (2) establishing a testimony that we are God’s people, and (3) to provide a day of rest from our labors. Can anyone argue that there is still need for each of these things today? Each purpose continues to have validity in today’s world. With the many sounds and voices clamoring for our attention 24/7, setting aside a day each week when we intentionally remember the goodness of the One who set us free is more needed than ever. In a world that sees little difference between the people of God and everyone else, choosing a lifestyle change that focuses on God one day out of seven might begin to be a change that people notice. While research shows that the average American gets less sleep than they require, few of us need research to convince us of the truth. We need a day set aside each week for the specific purpose of “resting the body…replenishing the spirit…[and] restoring the soul.”[1]

3. Observing the Sabbath Demonstrates My Trust in God
Further, I find that observing the Sabbath (specifically, committing to setting aside one day each week in which we will not work) to be very similar to tithing in that it demonstrates my trust in God to provide for my needs rather than in my own efforts. When observing the Sabbath, the primary activity that we are to abstain from is work, whether paid or unpaid labor. To honor God, then, I must choose a lifestyle that can be lived within the limits of the six available days I have for working. When life gets crazy and I need the seventh day to “catch up” on work, I face a choice much like the choice I face when there are more bills than my 90% will cover. I can trust God and keep our covenant or I can choose to accomplish all that needs to be done in my own strength. I am reminded of Psalm 20 in which David says “some trust in horses and chariots, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”

Note that trusting God does not mean that I continue to accept deadlines at work and schedule too many activities in my life, trusting that God will allow me to accomplish in six days the same things I’ve been doing in seven days. Trusting God means that I change my work habits, working less hours if necessary, trusting that God will meet my needs. Trusting God in this situation means saying “no” to some activities, believing that God will find others to accomplish whatever needs to be done.

4. Observing the Sabbath Enables Me to Focus on What’s Most Important
When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus replied “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31) In Matthew 22:40, he expands this teaching by adding, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” In other words, if we do only these two things, we will have met all the demands of the law and the prophets. Observing a weekly Sabbath enables me to do these two things better by giving my heart, soul, mind and strength a respite from toil and an opportunity to be refreshed and restored.

Sabbath keeping requires that we stop everything that might be considered work, pulling ourselves away from the toil and burden of it physically and emotionally. During the time of Jesus, the Jewish rules for keeping the Sabbath included not even being allowed to talk about work. The wisdom in this is that to talk about work brings it into one’s reality, even if one isn’t actually doing the work. Much of the work that is done in modern businesses is conducted in meetings. Talking about work is essentially just another business meeting. Accommodating these discussions on the Sabbath opens the door for any other kind of work as well.

I find that such discussions almost immediately change the atmosphere in the room and the focus of the day. By definition, it is no longer a day of rest. It is some hours of rest. My experience shows that there is a very large difference between a day and some hours. The interruption of even a short conversation about work is far greater than the time spent talking about it. For most people, their minds and bodies shift slowly into Sabbath and quickly back to the rest of the week. In other words, that short conversation can very easily trigger our minds and bodies back into “work mode.” The conversation may have been ten minutes, but the mind and body don’t return to their “Sabbath” state for another hour.

My husband and I learned many years ago that there were some subjects we should not discuss on the way to church. It’s not that these subjects would cause arguments, but that they would put us in too “earthly” of a mindset. It becomes too easy for those thoughts to encroach on our worship if we’ve discussed them on the way to church. It might seem like an innocent question that pops into our mind on the way to church but if it has any potential of carrying additional baggage, it is best left for another time. (Any question beginning with “did you remember to…” almost always falls in this category.) Sabbath keeping honors those kinds of rules for the entire day

5. My Heart and Soul are Transformed by the Sabbath
Entering into regular rest allows one to appreciate the “little” things of God – a beautiful sky, the wonder of nature, the nuances of His Word, or even His goodness in providing the life He’s given us. When in “work” mode, these things often go unnoticed and unappreciated. They are often an interruption or even an annoyance. But on a day when all we are supposed to do is enjoy God, we have time for these things and they refresh our souls. Mark Buchanan writes:

“When we get too busy everything becomes either a trudge or a scramble, the doldrums or sheer mayhem. We get bored with the familiar, threatened by the unfamiliar. Our capacity for both steadfastness and adventure shrivels…Busyness makes us stop caring about the things we care about.”[2]

Those things include God, family and the world around us.

Slowing down calms my heart and enables me to love God with my whole (healthier) heart, and to love my neighbor because neither is an “inconvenience” in my otherwise busy life. Instead, slowing down, loving God, and being kind to my neighbor are exactly the things I’m supposed to be doing on the Sabbath.

Ruth Haley Barton describes the “sabbath transformation” as follows:

“I know what it is like to rest for hours until I have energy to delight in something – good food, a good book, a leisurely walk, a long awaited conversation with someone I love. I know what it’s like to feel joy and hope and peace flow back into my body and soul though I had thought it might never come again. I know what it’s like to see my home and my children through the sabbath eyes of enjoyment.”[3]

How vital these things are for the Christian! How dramatically they impact our ability to show Christ to those around us. Sometimes it seems that few people truly enjoy their children today. Perhaps it is because they never experience a Sabbath that allows them the rest needed to care about the things that are most important to them.

6. My Mind and Strength are Transformed by the Sabbath
Only the most hardened against rest would argue that being over-tired weakens both our mind and our physical bodies. Nevertheless, let me cite a recent German study that provides:

“hard evidence…that creativity and problem solving appear to be directly linked to adequate sleep… Scientists at the University of Luebeck in Germany found that volunteers taking a simple math test were three times more likely than sleep-deprived participants to figure out a hidden rule for converting the numbers into the right answer if they had eight hours of sleep…the results support biochemical studies of the brain that indicate memories are restructured before they are stored. Creativity also appears to be enhanced in the process.”[4]

Dr. Nilesh Davé, medical director of the Sleep and Breathing Disorders Center at UT Southwestern Medical Center was quoted in the Dallas News explaining that being awake “longer than you should be for a few days” causes stress to your body. This stress leads to higher levels of cortisol, which “leads to higher blood pressure, more sugar in your blood…and an increased appetite.”[5] Notice that he says “for a few days.” Sleep deprivation does not mean living on four hours of sleep for days or weeks on end. It can mean getting only six or seven hours of sleep a few days in a row. God has provided a “backstop” to counteract the stress on our bodies. It’s called a Sabbath, a day in which we rest physically and emotionally and in which we allow God to restore and revive us spiritually.

7. Observing the Sabbath is the Only Way I Can Enjoy God’s Gift of the Sabbath
Both in yesterday’s blog and in today’s, I have used the word “gift” when referring to the Sabbath – it is God’s gift to His people, as are all the Commandments. The Sabbath can only be received and enjoyed as God’s gift when it is observed. This might seem so basic as to have no need of being included in this list, but were it so, we would be spending more time Sabbathing and less time rushing from church to work or meetings or even leisure commitments. One can only enjoy a Sabbath by placing oneself under the Sabbath’s authority – by saying the Sabbath has priority today, nothing else. The root of the Hebrew word for “sanctify” means “to betroth.” “When we betrothed – pledged to be married – it is a pledge that we honor whether it is convenient or not. Just as in a marriage, it is the honoring of that pledge in times when it is not convenient that strengthens the relationship and love between spouses. Honoring the Sabbath, the day God sanctified at the creation of the world, when it is not convenient makes its observance all the more special (and all the more needed).

That is quite a compelling list to me. How about you? Let me know what your thoughts are, and  join me again tomorrow for a discussion about observing a weekly Sabbath without becoming legalistic.


[1] Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms, Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation, 142-143.

[2] Mark Buchanan, The Rest of God, Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006), 47, 48.

[3] Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms, Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation, 137.

[4] _____ (AP article), “Study Confirms Sleep Essential for Creativity,” posted on CNN.com on Wednesday, January 21, 2004 (http://www.cnn.com/2004/HEALTH/01/21/sleep.creativity.ap/index.html).

[5] Leslie Garcia, “How Getting a Good Night’s Sleep Helps During the Day,” posted on DallasNews.com on Tuesday, July 22, 2008 (http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/latestnews/stories/DN-nh_sleep_0722liv.ART.State.Edition1.2ca4973.html).

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