How The Lord Is Restoring Me

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So… this happened.

Last week I spoke to about 200 women (#stress) at a summer women’s Bible study based on Psalm 51. I got a few requests to post my talk on the ol’ blog, so here it is! As difficult as it is to post (so much vulnerability, so many feels), I’m praying it encourages and blesses you! 

What was going through your mind the last 30 seconds? Did you think or assume something was wrong? Did that conclusion lead to action? Maybe you looked around at those sitting near you or to the back for someone frantically rushing to the stage, realizing they had missed their cue? Remember those feelings, the conclusions you came to based on what you did, or didn’t, see.

The Lord is so funny y’all. I’ve known since agreeing to speak tonight that the Lord wanted me to share with you my struggle in singleness, how He is continually working out restoration in me and continually bringing me back to joy and hope found only in him, not in my circumstances. What I didn’t know was that a week before I would stand on this stage, I would go on three dates, with three different guys. I can’t even make that up. Let me let you in on how much I date. I don’t. Before last week, I considered one date per year, #winning. Not that the desire isn’t there, believe me it is, but the process, the pressure, the lack of single men that love Jesus… Let me tell you, it is stressful. So stressful that I wore the same outfit on all three dates. That’s the truth. The sheer thought of picking out multiple outfits was too much. But I must say, my hope for an end to my singleness came alive, especially on date number two. I got in the car to meet this guy and God Bless The Broken Road was playing on the radio… so that clearly means something. However, I stand before you fighting for joy in the midst of days that are hopeful, and days I’m pressed with doubt and disappointment – sometimes contingent on a single text message. So silly.

The afternoon prior to date three of three, and as I was preparing to speak to you tonight, I abruptly realized that, when it comes to my circumstances, I have absolutely no clue what is happening. We have no clue. Praise the Lord we don’t have to know what God is doing, to have joy in the midst of it. Our circumstances are entirely out of our control (whether we admit it or not) and things rarely ever go the way we plan or expect. While that sounds like such terrible news, would you allow me to convince you that this is actually a gracious provision and freedom from a God that loves us? What we miss when we believe circumstances tell us anything at all about our joy, is that God is sovereign, He is in complete control and He knows better than us. And in the midst of whatever is before us, He is no less good, no less faithful and no less loving. When we believe who He is, we gain freedom, rest and joy, no matter the circumstance. Our circumstances become a wash in the goodness of our Father. They don’t change anything!

I have spent most of my adult life thinking that my joy was contingent upon finding someone to love me. Flesh and blood to affirm my worth, to provide true intimacy and companionship, to save me from my struggle with discontentment, loneliness, insecurity and comparison. And I’ve worked at it tirelessly, putting forth endless effort to make myself, both internally and externally, good enough for love. I thought, if only I had a husband, like everyone else, I would be ok. I would have joy. Before you feel bad for me, hear me say this, regardless of the tears I have shed over this area of my life, I believe my joy runs deeper than it ever could had the Lord given me what I wanted already. My heart knows His goodness well.

Just like Adam and Eve, we think satisfaction (and therefore, joy) may in fact come from the things of this world, don’t we? From that thing we don’t have, but if we did, it would make us truly happy.

Those of you that are married, I know what you are thinking, “Sister, marriage will not solve your problems, in fact, it will more than likely intensify them.” But sin, rooted in the lies of the enemy, takes us over. Before we know it we are blind to truth, we are apathetic to godly wisdom, we doubt God’s goodness and we take matters into our own hands. And then like David, we are left in ruin wondering where is the joy we really longed for. We’re really not so different, are we?

What do you believe is that one thing that will bring joy? What would your life say, based on what you are daily pursuing?

Have you, like David, ended up knee deep in sin, despair and death – all in an effort to find joy in the fleeting pleasures of this world?

Isaiah 55:2 says, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?”

“What gain is there to him who toils for the wind.” (Ecclesiastes 5:16)

Jeremiah says his people have forsaken God and built cisterns for themselves that hold no water. Have we done the same?

So, after three weeks of digging into Psalm 51, what do we do? What do we do with this idea of restoration, being restored to the joy of our salvation. Allow me to recap.

First, we can assume God’s mercy.

I love that this Psalm starts with, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy.” God has so much grace to give. It is truly a well that never runs dry. Regardless of our sin, whether it is outward and obvious to the world, or it is hidden deep within, He is gracious according to His lovingkindness. His grace is more powerful than our sin. It always wins.

If you’re like me, maybe your sin is easy to hide. No one knows when I chronically compare myself to others around me. No one knows when my pride judges harshly in an effort to make myself feel better. No one knows when I allow jealousy to creep in and steal the joy Jesus came to give me. No one knows when I use possessions of this world in an attempt to fill a void in my heart. I’m a sin-hider. But the thing about hiding sin is that it becomes easy to ignore, easy to forget… yet it’s lodged deep in our hearts. Luke 8:17 says, “For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.” Believe me, though it is hidden, the effects are no less, the consequences show up. As a single woman, the reality of unmet desires and unmet longings, both physical and not, are sometimes a burden I resent the Lord has asked me to bear. My bitterness and resentment toward the Lord are an obvious consequence of the discontentment and distrust I have harbored within. Relationships suffer, we lash out, we demand control. But you know what happens when sin comes out of hiding? It is met with the glorious light of Jesus. The truth that our sin has already been taken up, paid for with the precious blood of Jesus.

In light of what David has confessed, verse 12 says, “Uphold me with a willing spirit.” But whose willing spirit David is referring to? Does God ask us to cultivate a willing spirit toward him? Yes. This is very much a biblical idea. But lets be honest, the willingness we muster up, the willingness the Spirit in us produces amidst our fallenness, is no match for God’s willingness to be gracious to us, to uphold us when we are crushed by the weight of sin.

Grace is scary, right? A few months ago, I sat across from a sweet high school girl as she admitted the gravity of recent sin in her life and that she resisted coming to God for fear of His grace. Not because she thought grace would be absent and God angry with her, but she knew she would be met with grace. She simply couldn’t reconcile God not dealing with her according to her sin and instead pouring out mercy and love. After all, this is not what she deserved. Yet Psalm 103:10 says, “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.” Are you afraid grace has run out? Scripture says His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22). You are not the exception to His grace.

Second, we assume God’s Word as truth.

Some time ago, Tianne Moon taught a message about singleness at a nearby church. Following her introduction, she remained off stage, lights down, letting silence fall heavily over the room – just like you experienced tonight. Her audience sat and waited, wondering why nothing was happening. After what I’m sure seemed like an eternity, she came on stage, asking those in attendance what went through their minds in those long silent moments. Her point? The audience saw nothing happening, and assumed something must be wrong. Our circumstances have an influence over, and many times dictate, what we believe to be true. We see or hear something (or in this example, nothing), and we draw conclusions based on our limited human knowledge, understanding and perspective, and we operate under these conclusions. But where is God in this? We’ve written Him out, haven’t we?

What lies are you believing today because of your circumstances?

In my singleness, my circumstances scream at me. “You are unlovable. God is withholding from you. There is no hope. God does not hear your prayers. God does not care. He does not act on your behalf. God’s only answer for you, is no.” What do yours tell you?

Look at the example of Job. Job’s circumstances told him that he must have done evil, God must be punishing him and everything being taken from him was the consequence of his wrongdoing. But we know this is not true. Scripture says Job was perfect, upright, a man that feared God. Friends there is far more than we can see. And because our sight is limited, we must not let our perspective be our truth.

God’s Word is our only hope here. This is where we start and end, the truth we must cling to regardless of what our circumstances tell us. We are fooling ourselves if we think that what we see is it. Praise God for that! If God was limited to our human understanding, would He really be worthy of our lives?

This is what is true, from the absolute truth of God’s Word… Allow me to speak these truths over you tonight.

For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you. Psalm 86:5

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is an everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Isaiah 40:28-29

Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you. Jeremiah 32:17

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8

Be strong and courageous! Do not be frightened and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:26

Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall. Psalm 55:22

With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. Matthew 19:26

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

If God is for us, who can be against us? Romans 8:31

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are temporary, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

We must pick up the sword of the Spirit, the word of God – and, like David, even when we seem hopelessly caught in sin and despair, believe God rather than what we might see.

Third, we can assume the reason for telling is the need for hearing.

This Psalm is congregational in nature, it is to be prayed and sung by the church, by us… together.

What would it look like for us to fight sin… together? To spur one another on to faith… together? To believe that God is good in the midst of pain and suffering… together? To sing His praises… together?

God uses us to remind each other of who He is and of where joy really comes from. Maybe our joy isn’t just about us. In the midst of restoration, a natural result for David is that he would teach transgressors, his tongue would sing aloud, and his mouth would declare priase. Yes, God wants us restored, but God also wants His ways taught to sinners and His righteousness proclaimed – for our good and His glory. Beth Moore says, “The end He desires to bring about is never just for those involved. It’s also for those who hear. For those who see.”

When Jessica asked me to speak tonight (about two months ago) I legitimately asked the Lord to have me married by tonight… true story. I wanted to stand before you with this pretty set of circumstances, with a desire and dream fulfilled, and tell of God’s goodness and faithfulness. Friends we don’t have to wait to tell of God’s goodness. He is good each and every step of the way in our journey toward restoration. Sometimes I think what we need to do is throw out our own idea of what is good, what the world would tell us is good. Tonight, it is good for me to be single and to proclaim to you that God is good, no matter how many tears I cry or how many times my circumstances bring about doubts. For you, as you battle illness, disappointment, insecurity, comparison, brokenness, persecution… God intends to glorify Himself by bringing us through it, by being bigger. After all, it is here that we boast only in the Him.

I love that David asks God to open his lips. I think I need that too (I needed that tonight). When the battle is hard and the weight is heavy, I need Him to open my lips to declare what is true. We can be sure of this, when God asks us to speak of His goodness, or when He Himself opens our lips, there are ears needing the sweet murmur of truth over their circumstances. Let’s open our eyes and hearts to those around us. We are in this together. And while my mess looks different than yours, truth has the same power over it. We all need words of life, words of hope, words that shine the light of Christ in our darkness.

Finally, we can assume restoration won’t always look like we think it will.

Verses 16-17 say, “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

Just a few verses before, David asks that his broken bones would rejoice. Is it possible that David knew it is in brokenness that we have true joy and gladness?

I don’t know about you, but joy and gladness aren’t the first emotions that come to mind when I think about broken bones. Joy and gladness come from getting the job you always wanted. Joy and gladness come from that child behaving perfectly, developing perfectly. Joy and gladness come when physical healing becomes a reality. When we lose those extra pounds. When we can pull ourselves together. When we look like her or have what she has. Joy and gladness come when my dream of being a wife is fulfilled. Right?

Friends, we’ve created our own formula for joy haven’t we? We are all seeking happiness, pleasure, true and lasting joy, without exception. David was pursuing joy too. And when he acquired what he thought would provide it, it came up short. Many things promise joy but if they are anything less than Jesus, do they really follow through? I hear David saying no, begging God to be restored to the joy that really satisfies. Think again about what you are seeking because it promises joy, that one thing. Is it Jesus?

Two years ago, I began pursuing God in prayer about a specific relationship in my life. I had met a guy who loved Jesus but was absolutely consumed by cycles of sin, and the shame and guilt that accompanied them. My heart was burdened for him, sometimes to the point of physical pain and exhaustion. I wanted to fix it, and I wanted to see God redeem and restore him to life. And of course, I wanted this man to eventually be my husband. To this day, I believe my intentions were fully for God’s will, to see Him do what only He could do in the life of this man. I thought if I prayed consistently, submitted intentionally, and believed wholeheartedly, God would give me joy in the form of this relationship. So I went all in by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit in me. And you know what? I wasn’t wrong, at least not completely. God did give me joy, but not in the outcome I expected. It was found simply in the presence of God. As I drew near to Him relentlessly (in confession, repentance, petition and intercession), He was faithful to draw near to me (James 4:8). Joy and pleasure truly are at His right hand (Psalm 16:11). Maybe this is why David cried out, “Cast me not away from your presence.” The relationship I wanted – that I thought would bring joy – never happened, my circumstances never changed. I didn’t get what I thought I wanted, but I got joy… and it has never run deeper.

As I’ve thought about restoration in my own life over the past weeks, it has been a concept fairly difficult to grasp. I need it to be black and white and I’m not sure it is. I want a process that can be mapped out – if I do this, this will be the result – and one that has a definitive end, that I will one day arrive at.

Friends, as much as it pains me to say, no matter what you face today, there’s likely no easy fix for your circumstances, or to find joy in the midst of them. One of the things God impressed on my heart to tell you tonight is that complete restoration comes only when we are together in heaven with Him, apart from sin and the schemes of Satan. However, we are being restored daily and continually, to joy in the process. Because we will never arrive this side of heaven, we remain completely and utterly dependent on Him, which I believe is His intention for us. We are pressed in to His presence and we actually get the joy we are longing for. I love what Vicki said about repentance leading to restoration, restoration leading to obedience, and obedience leading to the desire to see others restored. And its not so much linear as it is circular, right? We are in a continual restorative cycle with a God who loves us and wants to bring us to healing and wholeness. While we might come full circle in one area of our lives, we might be coming to God in complete confession and repentance in another. And there may be areas of our lives where restoration remains ongoing until we are face to face with Him in heaven. But hear and hope in this, we can be sure that when Christ comes in final victory, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

Our efforts now are fully dependent on His Spirit at work in us. Is it just me, or is anyone else a doer? We’ve not only created this formula to get us joy, we have enlisted ourselves, our own efforts to make it happen. David says the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart. This brokenness happens when we recognize God for who He is – perfect, righteous, holy – and the weight of our sin. A weight that breaks us. God’s desire is for us to come to Him right then and there. To cease our efforts of striving and admit that we need Him more than even the air we breathe. Let Him do the work of restoration in you. Truly, His kindness leads us to repentance. His Spirit works out divine joy in us, as we come to Him. His power in us drives our obedience. And His merciful compassion ignites a fire in us to see others restored. Restoration isn’t up to us y’all. We are desperate and broken vessels, He is the one forming us, molding us and restoring us to His glorious intentions. Make no mistake, in this process there is death taking place in us and it will pain us at times. But it is being replaced, day by day, with more of Christ and His abundant joy.

I’m still in the throws of this battle for joy and this journey toward restoration, likely you are too. Make no mistake our circumstances will change a thousand times, there will always be something, that one thing, fighting for our attention and promising joy. But God wants to restore the relationship He died to bring us. So as we tarry, let’s assume God and His grace to meet us. After all, we have the ultimate picture of His love and mercy in the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf. Let’s hold fast to His Word, let’s choose to believe it is true, regardless of what surrounds us. Let’s be each others biggest fans, recognizing in order for our ears to hear truth, we need to start speaking it to one another. And let’s let go of our formulas and our striving and let God do the work in us daily.

Easter, Bleachers & Deception

Easter marks two years. Two years ago, I met this guy. Let me quickly assure you, I loathe this guy. He is a terrible human being. Absolutely awful. He will hurt you and he will make you cry. And he will do it while running his mouth in a way that makes you want to punch him in the throat.

Oh who am I kidding… He’s one of my favorite people on the planet.

He says words like “huge-er-er” (yeah, not a word) and, “Hey Erica, where you stay at?” (Translation: “Where do you live?” Don’t worry, I had to ask too.) But don’t be fooled y’all, he is brilliant. Maybe not grammatically, but he is a brilliant trainer. He is evidence that God intends for our talents and our passions to collide, that God has gifted each of us uniquely and wants us to do that which He has called us to with great excellence. So this trainer, this fitness FREAK OF NATURE, this friend that I love to hate, he does what he does, what God has so clearly called and gifted him to do, and he does it well. In that sense, I am an admirer more that he probably knows.

Two years ago I attended a class he taught with much hesitation and even more self-doubt. Tonight, I write having finished one of his workouts that involved bleachers and 40s and crunches and yards-on-yards-on-yards of lunges. I am better and stronger than I ever thought I could be and, you might not be able to tell from the outside, but I’m a different girl than the one that walked into that class two years ago. And for that, I am grateful.

Here’s my point. Tonight, I had an epiphany. I realized, as I ran down a set of bleachers for what felt like the thousandth time, how deceived we are.

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I’m Holding Your Place In Line

To a dear friend (and to countless others who need a spot holder).

First, let me paint this picture. Two singles girls, mid-twenties (just go with it), one dressed impeccably trendy with some mild hipster undertones, the other fresh from a workout in leggings and nikes (I’ll let you guess which was me), sitting at the edge of a bar at a reputable Texas steakhouse, eating steak and sweet potatoes, talking about faith and believing God for things we can’t yet see. I can only imagine what this looked like from the outside.

She’s my crazy friend. You will meet her one day and you’ll think I am normal. I can’t wait for that. But I love her crazy more than life. She’s Honest. Risky. Loyal. Passionate. She cries. She laughs. She prays for the impossible. Forget that I hadn’t seen her in seven months, it didn’t seem that way. Our conversation was scattered, like old friends with too much to say and simultaneously no words that seem adequate, and frequently interrupted while we made friends and conversation with the restaurant manager, who later picked up the tab (holla!). In the midst of our jumbled, halfway processed thoughts, my over analytical, more than likely separated at birth sister-friend, blurted out the most brilliant analogy. In the context of frustration and straining for faith, she said of a friend far from Jesus, “I feel like I am holding his place in line.”

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A Post About Yoga Pants That’s Not About Yoga Pants

So many posts about yoga pants. 

So many.

Too many. 

Too many likes. Too many shares. Too many comments weighing in. My head… and my heart… are about to explode. 

Yet here I am, about to add another. If you’re exhausted by it, you are in good company. But something gripped me differently today about the whole debacle. I was prompted to write and now to share. I know, I know. Give me grace. 

(If you quit now, out of sheer exhaustion on the topic, I understand and take no offense. Feel the freedom to tap out.)

Today I read probably my tenth post on the dreaded subject of yoga pants, in a sea of thousands more. Allow me to set the scene. I had decided to take a second stab at yoga-lates (a mix between yoga and pilates, but I lovingly pronounce it “yoga-LATTES”… for obvious reasons including increased appeal and thus participation) and in an effort to kill time before class, came across said post, shared by an old friend. Y’all I read it and wept. In the middle of yoga-lattes (that was on purpose), wearing… dun dun dun… yoga pants. 

First of all, you’re not supposed to cry in yoga. So let’s just throw that out there for laughs. No one else is crying in their down dog. Except me. Awesome. 

My heart hurt for us. For me. For you.

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Obedience Is My New Thing

I looked up (aka googled) the word obedience. Obedience means compliance. Compliance with a request, an order, a law or… an authority.

And there it is. I have an obedience issue, and as it turns out, an authority issue.

When we know Jesus, when we know, understand and accept who He is and trust Him for salvation, we fully come under His authority. It’s that authority that we submit to when we are obedient to His Word and to His Spirit at work within us, both in complete alignment to His will. We comply, or we should, because of who He is, because He is worthy of it. It’s not about our own inferiority, although we are, it’s about the goodness, the worthiness, of God. Obedience is hard, it’s something that we learn and something we choose. Learning means we don’t always get it right, and choosing means sometimes we choose wrong. The good news is that the grace of Jesus is bigger. He was fully obedient to the Father and His obedience counts as our own. 

This love, this great switch that was made on our behalf, our obedience for His, motivates us to keep learning, keep choosing. The love of Christ truly compels us and motivates us toward God. In order to pursue Him, we throw off every weight that hinders and sin that entangles. And friends, disobedience is a weight and a sin. I can tell you that with full confidence. It keeps us from fellowship with the Father, from enjoying His presence, from experiencing His peace and from seeing glimpses of His power. Disobedience clouds our view of the Almighty, and being with Him is our souls deepest longing. Without Him, we’re off. 

I’ve been off.

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Wanting To Forget

This post has been in my head for a few months. A few months, just stewing in my head. To me that is confirmation that this story and it’s implications are something to share. So here it goes.

A couple months ago a dear friend of mine made the hard decision to move from DFW back home to Arkansas. After the decision was made, the process began of either selling or packing every little thing she had to her name. Lucky for me, the sell list included some great couches, couches I had envied many nights sitting on them and chatting over life, our messy, complicated walks with Jesus and drinking cheap red wine. As soon as they were offered, I jumped at the opportunity to become their rightful, grateful owner.

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