The Worry Fight

Have you fought a few rounds with worry lately? More often than we would like, many of us find ourselves in the ring trying to knock worry out. We fret about things like beauty, money, success, health, family and …. even worry itself! Gradually, worry becomes a fact of life, part of the human condition, or something we expect to come with responsibility.

We stay in the ring, routinely fighting one worry after another, even though we know our efforts are futile. There’s no winning against worry, and we know this. It doesn’t solve anything, but tossing it around in the ring seems to make us feel productive somehow. Then, circumstances change and our current worry opponent becomes weaker. We’re ready to take off our gloves, but then a fresh worry shows up and relieves the old one. So, we stay in the ring, and we keep swinging.

One day a large, unfamiliar worry shows up in the opposite corner. This fight drags on longer than the rest. The punches surprise us. We can’t stay on our feet. Staggering and out of options, we fall against the ropes.

Where do we go from here? Have you been there? I have. I spent a lot of my life in the ring fighting worry, day in and day out. One opponent after another, I stayed on my feet. But, one day the worry was too big and too unknown. It wore me out. I spent some time hanging on those ropes, searching for a way to end the fight with worry.

I read what God had to say about worry. Did you know the Bible tells us ‘not to fear’ hundreds of times? Some sources say 365 times — interestingly, the same number of days in a year. Regardless of the exact number, it is clear God never intended us to fight with worry at all. How did he intend for us to cope?

Humbly Seek God’s Help

 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:6-7 New International Version (NIV)

In Christianity, humility means to hold a modest opinion of one’s importance and abilities in relation to God. Humbly seeking God’s help requires us to overcome any barriers like pride, shame, or even ignorance which stand in the way of our relationship with him. Admitting we cannot find answers on our own opens the door for God to help. Our prayers start a relationship with him, thus serving him in one of the best possible ways.

As we grow in faith, we realize that no problem is too big or small for God. Everything that happens to us concerns him because he loves us, no matter what. We were not meant to handle our problems without his help. However, if we don’t ask him for help, he certainly lets us try (free will). God does not occasionally want our worries. He does not only want to hear about certain things. God wants every concern; he wants ALL our anxiety.

Trust God’s Care and Plans for You

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. Proverbs 3: 5-6 New Living Translation (NLT)

When worries weigh heavy on our hearts we try anything to remedy our situation – even more worrying. Urgent situations may cause us to forget to pray or to delay it. We might doubt God’s ability to help us. Or, we might wonder why God would even want to help us. Prayer can become our last resort. Trusting God with “all your heart” means trusting him FIRST, not last.

God wants us to rely on him. We cannot control or fully understand our circumstances, but God does. He has a plan for our lives, and he wants to help us find our way. Prayer provides the time we need to free our conscience and voice concerns. Do our problems magically vanish? No. But, prayer can relieve worry by rejuvenating us with God’s hope and new direction. Scripture brings us reassurance and helps evaluate decisions. We start noticing how love shows up for us in times of trouble, and we may discover how our experiences can help us love others. Trusting God, in good times and in bad, helps us discover paths away from worry. 

Share the Load

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matthew 11: 28-30 NIV

Many of Jesus’ teachings in the Bible use farming metaphors. Farming was a common activity people could relate to. A yoke is a harness worn by oxen to pull a load behind them and complete work. In this Scripture, Jesus asks us to share the yoke with him, so he can help pull our burdens in life. Our troubles may not be removed, but Christ’s strength makes our load lighter and more manageable.

Sharing the yoke allows us to focus on the work we can do and leave the rest up to God. Worry only distracts us from seeing the ways God is helping. Dwelling on the what if’s stall us from walking forward in faith-filled directions. Those directions might include things like asking others for prayers and support, exploring resources, taking care of our health, seeking professional help, or enjoying God in new ways. Focusing on God’s guidance and results, instead of worry, makes us more productive in our circumstances.  

Find Peace and Rest

I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. John 14:27 NLT

As God in human flesh, Jesus knew what suffering lay ahead. Praying in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before his crucifixion, he was overcome with anguish and deep sorrow regarding the agony ahead (Matthew 26:36-39). Yet, because of his faith in God’s sovereignty and good, he left willingly with the Roman soldiers who came for him.

His pure heart had never felt guilt, anxiety, or fear until he chose to become sin for us. By accepting our sin while on the cross, he endured not only physical torture, but infinitely worse, a spiritual separation from God (Matthew 27:46). Because of his sacrifice, his believers will never experience this kind of separation from God; they receive the gift of eternal life.

As believers, we never have to endure anything as horrific as Jesus did. But like Jesus, we must remind ourselves not to fear because we also trust God is in control and working things for good. Faith allows us to face concerns one day at a time and remain assured God will meet our needs (Matthew 6:25-34). 

Before he died, Jesus told his disciples he would send peace to dwell within his followers through the Holy Spirit. Our faith ignites the Holy Spirit to offer peace, so even in the most difficult circumstances we know we will be okay. The world cannot offer us that kind of lasting peace.

Fighting worry requires us to bring all our best moves, fancy footwork, and endurance. We’re good fighters, but eventually worry wears us out. Crawling to the ropes, we try hoisting ourselves up. Beaten, tired, and struggling, our minds run out of options.

But wait…someone is on the other side of the ropes. Offering a hand, he pulls us clear of the ring. Turn around. Look at worry now. He’s dancing around, throwing jabs in the air, and searching for an opponent. He can keep swinging. We are done. As our friend and rescuer says, “It is finished”.

When you run out of options, you run into Jesus. 

“Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage! I am here!” -Mark 6:50 (NLT) 

Press on in faith my friends.

Dear God,

Thank you for your gentle reminders not to worry. You show love and care for me daily through your blessings, people, and opportunities. Keep my eyes open to the ways you work on my behalf so I do not take any of it for granted. Continue teaching me humility so I bring more worries to you in prayer. When I get caught up trying to fix or control circumstances, help me remember to trust your plans and come to you first not last. Help me focus on what I can do instead of worrying about what I cannot. Lead me in finding the plans you have for me. As I feel and see the way faith lightens my load, I pray my peace will also grow. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Related Posts:

Learning to Pray

Psalm 23: A Shepherd’s Meanings and Motivations

Embracing God’s Plan

Trusting God Along the Eagle Trail

Three Ways Gratitude Boosts Faith

Notice Me: Our Quest to Matter

Notice me. Two simple words. Like a broken record this phrase plays unspoken in our minds throughout our lives. During our youth, it shakes us at full volume as we search for acceptance from classmates and look for love. In mid-life, it annoyingly chants at us while we work hard to achieve career goals and possibly to raise a likable family. As we progress in years, the “notice me” noise might quiet down along with life’s demands. Or, it could ramp up as we worry about being cared for and our legacy.

Whatever phase of life we are in, it is likely that a “Notice Me” soundtrack is playing in some way. We confront a natural human desire to be noticed by our family, friends, love interests, colleagues, employers, communities, and social media.

Knowing that we matter is important to us. Our culture tells us to get affirmation we must stand out, be glamorous, and accomplish extraordinary things. We can easily get off track and become consumed by quests to be noticed.

Do you find yourself getting caught up in the rat race for attention and acceptance? Do you feel torn about how much to promote your work, family, or volunteer efforts? After all, sometimes being noticed can bring good things, not only for yourself, but for others and for God. How do we figure out where our boundaries are?

Lately, I found myself wrestling with these questions as I worked through a decision in my life. In thinking about what to do, this Scripture verse came to mind:

Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. 1 Thessalonians 4:11 (NLT)

This Scripture is part of Paul the Apostle’s letter to Thessalonian Christians. In this portion of the letter, Paul’s words are written as a guide on how to live a life that honors Christ. He lays out three goals for Christians to pursue:

Live a quiet life…

A quiet life, huh? Most of our lives are brimming with physical, mental, and emotional challenges from ourselves and others.

In Paul’s time, life was also anything but quiet. The Thessalonians faced constant threats of being persecuted for their beliefs and many died young. Their lives were full of worry and sadness.

So, what did Paul mean by a quiet life? Obviously, then and now, most people cannot leave their daily lives behind to inhabit a peaceful tropical island. And, most would not stop pursuing their goals even if it meant things quieted down. Ups and downs and turmoil continue to be part of life. So, when we can’t change our circumstances, we change how we react to them.

We set limits on our involvement in drama and aspire to live peaceably with everyone. Providing ourselves enough time for rest and thought helps us not overreact in situations. Exercise, healthy food, and personal care cultivates an environment for calm virtues and an even-temperament to grow.

Spending time with God hushes the world around us and motivates us to take care of ourselves. In quiet moments God can help us discover how to handle our relationships and what our energies should be applied to. The world around us will not provide a quiet life, but spending time with God helps us create one. 

Mind your own business…

The preoccupation humans have with each others’ lives began long before Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Nosy neighbors, gossiping acquaintances, preachy know-it-alls, and better-than-you busybodies have always existed. Social platforms are just new tools of the trade.

Not minding our own business starts innocently enough through curious conversations and pre-conceived notions. The subject arises again, maybe while chatting with someone at work or at a coffee house. We just thought others should know. Or, we want to get another opinion. Then perhaps, we do a little more Google investigating and justify it to ourselves.

The process is so subtle, so sly that we may not even notice it happening. But, it does. Our curiosity, our enthusiasm to be in-the-know, and our simple unawareness overtakes us. We slip quickly down the slopes of boasting, gossiping, obsessing, comparing, judging, envying, etc. It’s not a fun fall; we feel it in our gut.

Paul warns the Thessalonians to mind their own business. God crafted us uniquely for specific purposes. He does not compare us. Each of us has the capacity to love God and to love others in different and amazing ways. If we are always preoccupied with everyone else, then we cannot discern what the Holy Spirit is trying to do in us. Rather than focusing time and energy on the lives of others, God asks us to devote ourselves to learning from him and helping his plans unfold in our lives.

And work with your hands…

At the time Paul wrote this letter, some Thessalonians mistakenly believed that Christ’s second coming would be immediate, so many of them became lazy and relied on others to fulfill their needs. Manual labor was also often avoided because the Greek culture deemed it an unworthy cause. So, Paul reminds his audience to put their hands to work for whatever cause God has called them to. Respect from others is not earned by remaining idle.

Paul’s lesson applies to our lives today also. The work we can do for God waits in our careers, our homes, and elsewhere. It might involve the use of our hands literally, meaning we actually build, drive, cook, draw, write, dig, etc. And, it might mean the work of our hands metaphorically, as we brainstorm, crunch numbers, manage teams, make decisions, help people, etc.

Whatever the effort, our mission should be to think about what God wants to do through us. How has he gifted us to love and serve others? While working for him we need to mindfully consider our motivations. Are they self-serving or God-serving? By demonstrating God’s love in action, we will naturally draw others closer to him.  

Do you see a pattern emerging from understanding this Scripture? In helping the Thessalonians learn how to live Christ centered lives, all three of Paul’s goals focus on one thing – stop seeking the world’s attention and start inviting God’s attention.

Spending time with God builds a quiet life. Exploring our own personal instructions from him helps us keep everyone else’s business in perspective. And, displaying God, his love, and his good causes to the world is the quest that matters.

Let’s hit pause on the distracting “Notice Me” soundtrack playing in our heads. Then, let’s crank up the volume on “Notice Him”. It is such a better tune. Press on in faith my friends.

Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before.
1 Thessalonians 4:11 (NLT)

Prayer for the Week:

Dear God,

Thank you for watching out for me and calling my attention to the slick spots in my life. There are times when life sweeps me away in dangerous currents of things like judgement, worry, and envy. Help me rise above all the forces battling for my attention and see the ways you rescue me. Teach me how to build a quiet life for myself in the time I devote to you. Remind me to direct more energy toward the things you are doing in my life instead of evaluating the lives of others. Guide me as I strive to reveal my love for you every day through the work that I do. May the people I meet notice you instead of me.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen  

Standing Out
by Jamie Trunnel

When is the last time you stood out?
When you felt loved without a doubt?

This world, it is a fickle place.
There’s no rest from its race.

Be better, be smarter, be wiser they say.
Then, we will applaud you at the end of the day.

God says let me help you
Build a quiet life.
Spend time with me,
See how peace conquers strife.

God says avoid busy chatter.
Trust what I can do.
Mind my promises,
Listen for a word or two.

God says your hands are my tools.
Work for my glory.
Others will respect you
And, be drawn to my story.

God says I know the last time you stood out.
Yesterday, tomorrow, and today.
I love you,
There is no doubt.

 

Other related posts:

How to Perform for an Audience of One

Judged instead of Loved

Love on Ordinary Days

Embracing God’s Plan

Good books related to this topic:

Smith, James Bryan. The Good and Beautiful God. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009. Print.

Ehman, Karen. Keep It Shut. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015. Print.

Lucado, Max. Great Day Every Day. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012. Print.

*Note: All photos with the exception of the flowers/fence photo are courtesy of Pixabay.

Embracing God’s Plan

 

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Sometimes things don’t go according to plan. I am working on accepting this as a good thing. Like many of you, I enjoy the satisfaction that comes with meeting deadlines and crossing items off to-do lists. I get frustrated and negative when my accomplishments fall short of my goals. Then, it takes awhile for my motivation to rebound and to get back up to speed.

But, life interferes with the best laid plans and the strongest of ambitions. Unanticipated problems occur, accidents happen, people need our help, the weather changes, income declines, health issues arise…and so it goes.

There are days, weeks, months, and seasons in life when we feel like we can never do enough and we will never be enough. We wonder if God really has a plan for our life and an agenda for each day. How do we accomplish his plan when all these problems keep slowing us down? Why doesn’t he help us out a little more?

Recently, I took these questions to Scripture and found reassurance. When things don’t go according to plan it can be a good thing. It can be a God thing. Here are a handful of truths to help us welcome God’s plan in our days:

  • God is sure of his plan for us.    

For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11 New Living Translation (NLT)

God made a plan for our lives even before we were born. He continually works in our hearts and minds through the Holy Spirit to encourage our faith in his plan to grow. He leads us to try new things, puts teachers in our path, and instills confidence in our abilities. He nudges us to consider how the gifts he gave us might help others find faith and feel loved.

The decisions we make and the paths we take do not surprise God. He is there for us always, through everything that comes our way. He does not promise a life free of suffering, but he fills his believers with hope, and ultimately he brings good from all their hardships.

Of course, our free will allows us to embrace or resist God’s plans for us. But, he never stops pursuing and trying to reach us. His love for every one of his children is unconditional and unrelenting. Our humanity loves shortcuts, but there are no shortcuts to understanding God’s plan. Ultimately, understanding God’s plan requires understanding God.

As long as we are on this earth, it is never too late to invest time in getting to know God. Like any other relationship, we get to know God by spending time with him. This means spending time studying the Bible, reading Biblical interpretations, learning from pastors, and discussing faith questions with others. The more we learn about God, the clearer our role in his story becomes.

Embracing God’s plan means we commit to developing a relationship with him in our daily life.

  • God’s plan differs from our own.

My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts, says the Lord. And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9 (NLT)

Oh, how we love the illusion of control. We get so caught up in busily achieving our goals that we can forget God may have an entirely different strategy in mind. He will not conform to our purposes; we need to strive to fit into his.

Throughout our lifetimes, we will cope with a myriad of difficulties perceived as obstacles in the way of achieving our dreams. Maybe these difficulties are not really problems, but possibilities God puts on the agenda to carry out an even bigger plan.

Perhaps God allows difficulty to enter our lives to capture our attention, to encourage us to check our direction, and to build a relationship of trust with him. Once we realize we cannot control our life, we start to contemplate and even anticipate the opportunities God sends our way.

Embracing God’s plan means we work on being flexible, good-natured, and inquisitive when unexpected events change our daily agendas. 

  • God promises to fulfill his plan.

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. Philippians 1:6 NLT

God’s work for us began when Christ died and offered us eternal life. His work continues within us through the Holy Spirit during our lifetimes, up until the moment we die. As faith grows, God helps his believers discover their talents and gifts which help carry out his plans.

Those slight nudges we get to serve others are also the Holy Spirit’s way of directing us down God’s path. Through our offerings of food, clothing, money, shelter, prayer, talents, friendship, etc. we deepen our faith and help the faith of those around us grow.

When we feel like we are not making any progress, it helps to remember God’s promise to finish his work. By diligently seeking and including him in our lives, we give him the green light to go to work. He will not give up on us.

Embracing God’s plan means remembering each of us is a good work in progress, and God promises to complete every one of his projects.   

  • God will always help us.

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. Isaiah 41:10 NLT

Fear and worry are part of our world. There’s no getting around that. God knew this, and thus packed the Bible full of his strength and compassion for us. When we feel stressed, the Bible is the greatest resource for renewal. We can find Scriptures and stories that relate to any situation and bring us guidance.

God also sends help in a multitude of other ways such as people, prayer, intuition, and events. When facing trouble, tuning into the world around us (instead of tuning out) opens up our eyes to the ways God helps us. We naturally start developing the trusting attitude God desires – that he is working all things together for our good, in his own time and way.

There will always be days when we wonder if God knows what he’s doing. Days when we are at the end of our rope and frustrated by our trials. God’s Word tells us time and time again, do not worry. He is always there for us. He loves us, and he holds us up.

Embracing God’s plan means reaching out to him for help and trusting him to follow through.

God makes an agenda for every one of our days. This agenda often will not match what we have planned. But, that’s okay. God’s plans are good and far beyond what we could ever imagine. We can meet each day with an air of expectancy, and be ready to embrace the opportunities God sends. For we know, there is a lot of work to be done in and through us. We fight against fear and worry because we trust God’s promises to help us. Rest assured, one day, he will raise up our hands, victorious in his plans.

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A Prayer for You:

Dear God,

Thank you for creating me with a plan in mind. Help me learn more about your goals for my life as I grow in faith. Teach me to remain flexible in my schedule and to see my problems as your possibilities. Thank you for trusting me with the assignments you have given me, and for your reassurances that I can handle them. Lead me as I work to conquer worries and fears, and as I strive to make you proud. May the first item on my to-do list always be: “whatever God hands me.”

In Jesus’ Name, Amen

How to Perform for an Audience of One

magic moment

In her 1984 Oscar acceptance speech, Sally Field famously declared, “I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me!” Her buzz worthy words were quickly adapted into the more quotable expression, “You like me. You REALLY like me!”

Many snickered about her statement afterwards, belittling Hollywood’s need for accolades. But, as much as we try to believe otherwise, truthfully, we can all relate to this drive for approval, and the success which often follows it.

Recently, I discussed the difficulties of writing a blog with some friends at church. I told them many things we do in life receive immediate and visible feedback, but that’s not the case with writing a blog. I asked questions like: How do I know I’m on the right track? Should I be concerned with approval? How do I measure success?

I received some wise advice stated in this one simple sentence, “You need to write for an audience of One.”

For a couple of weeks now, I have thought about that sentence, and how it really applies to everything we set out to do in life. Replace the word “write” with whatever your heart calls you to do for God.

In what areas has he gifted you? Is it in encouraging, teaching, healing, giving, leading, or organizing? Maybe you’re not certain what your gifts are or how to use them – that’s fine too. You can contemplate for an audience of One!

The point being we should seek to please God, not others. In everything we do, we can measure success by our drive to know, serve, and please him. Of course, we hope if we perform for God that our results also please others, but that is not something we can control.

Human nature desires results in large numbers, but God sees even one life changed as significant. Can we try to rest in knowing that? Maybe the difference we make will never be known to us here on this earth. Should it matter? If we work for God’s approval, not others’, we clearly see the success in our endeavors.

Here are three Scriptures teaching me how to perform for an audience of One:

Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:10 New International Version (NIV)

We spend so much time working to please other people – family, friends, neighbors, teachers, employers, and co-workers. Then, long after the effort, we worry whether we met their expectations…if they approve of us.

How would our actions and attitudes differ if we dedicated ourselves to meeting God’s expectations first? Yes, we will mess up – it’s guaranteed. So, is forgiveness.

Sometimes we may be asked to do some hard and unpopular things. As difficult as it can be, serving Christ faithfully requires us to stop worrying about what others might think and seek his approval above everyone else’s. Give God your best performance.

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4:10 (NIV)

Misusing our talents, using them only for our own enjoyment, or pushing them aside is not what God intended for us. It is never too late to pay attention to the places in our lives where God’s goodness or grace can shine through us.

If pinpointing your gifts is difficult, keep in mind that God may be preparing you before enlightening you. Or, perhaps he is protecting you from acting too soon. There is a right time, place, and person planned especially for your contribution.

Even with uncertainty, we can ready ourselves by serving in different ways and considering what trusted people tell us we are good at. God is glorified when others see him working through our talents. Dedicate your talent to serving him.

Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. 2 Corinthians 3:5 (NIV)

It is so easy to claim all the glory for our accomplishments. I wonder, if we take all the credit, all the time, then do we truly reach our full potential? Scripture tells us that no one is competent enough to carry out God’s calling in their life without his help.

Our own natural abilities can only take us so far; we need God’s strength to move beyond our limitations. If we invite him to our performance and ask for feedback, who knows what might happen? Thank him for coming to the show.

So here’s how I think it goes. You give God your best performance. You dedicate your talent to serving him, and you thank him for coming to the show. One day the curtain falls, and you wait to hear a call for an encore.

Peeking between the curtains, you see no one but God remains. Empty seats all around. Yikes, were you performing only for him all along? I don’t know.

But, here’s what I do know. After a performance like that, he will be standing, clapping for all he’s worth. There will be no denying that he likes you. In fact, he loves you. He REALLY does.

Prayer for the Week:

Dear God,

Blessed be your name above all earthly measures of success. Help me look past the things that represent approval in the eyes of this world, and find it by serving you.

Lead me to people and activities that shine a light on my gifts. Show me the places to use these gifts to the best of my ability. 

Thank you for entrusting me with an assignment designed specifically for me. I pray that through my efforts others will see your goodness.

God, teach me to trust whatever plans you’ve got for me. Let me lean into you when the corners ahead look uncertain, and steady me with your confident hand to go beyond the limitations I place on myself.  

In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Love on Ordinary Days

Love

 

“The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:31 New International Version (NIV)

She stood on my doorstep, her face mirroring my own, shadowed with concern. It was September 11, 2001, and the world would be forever changed. Our family had recently moved from New York to Iowa. My husband, however, was still working in New York City, not far from the Twin Towers. “I just heard the news,” my neighbor said. “Are you alright?”

Unreachable by phone, his safety was finally confirmed via email late that day. Stories of a city that looked like a war zone. Heavy sadness regarding the fate of colleagues. People uniting for aid and sanity.

This past weekend another tragic scene of terror took place in Paris. Witnesses’ testimonies resound and horrific images roll across our television screens. Hearing accounts of shopkeepers and residents ushering people off the street into safer havens brings back the hard memories of 9/11 once again.

Days like this come all too often anymore. Bringing their own brand of fear and sorrow, they compel us to broaden our definition of who “neighbors” are and how to love them through painful times.

In the midst of chaos, we become keenly aware of the call on our hearts to express love to others despite differences or distance. Somehow this call diminishes once life returns to normal. Why?

Maybe because when life is “ordinary”, there is ample space for human judgement and disregard to creep in. Sometimes, unintentionally, our “humanness” deflates our power to love. It is so much easier to love someone when they are nice, when they agree with our opinions, and when their lifestyle is comparable to our own. If differences arise or time is scarce, then demonstrating love challenges the best of us.

Scripture clearly emphasizes loving others as we love ourselves. Jesus commands us to love intentionally this way every day – even ordinary days. How can we amend our human nature to better fulfill God’s expectations to love? Here are some ideas I’m working on:   

  • Learn: Study acceptance through examples of love. Every week we hear extraordinary stories of love, service, and even forgiveness.

In late 2014, a couple (Deborah and Donald St. Laurent) in New Hampshire lobbied to release their son’s killer, Chris Bazar, from prison, then gave him a job and a place to live. The two young men were best friends up until the night of the shooting, when drinking and marijuana impaired Bazar’s thinking. The Christian Post offers this quote from the bereaved father: “I think he’s done his time. I think it’s something that he’s gonna have to live with for the rest of his life. I also believe that people deserve a second chance,” added Mr. St. Laurent. (Web. 12 November 2015)

Headlines like this are reminiscent of teachings in the Bible. Modeling neighborly love throughout his life, Jesus also befriended those others turned away. He continually counseled and assisted the sick, the poor, the elderly, and the imprisoned.

God does not ask us to decide if someone is worthy of love; he declares love for all people, regardless of circumstances. He instructs us to simply and obediently demonstrate his love and acceptance.

  • Listen: Hear needs for love around us. Identifying needs help us understand how our talents can showcase love. Is it in the form of encouragement, comfort, resources, wisdom, ministry…?

Gustavo “Goose” Alvarez spent more than ten years locked up in prison. While there, he discovered a valuable food commodity – instant ramen noodle soup cups. Prisoners could buy them at the commissary, trade them, and concoct elaborate feasts with random ingredients.

For example, instant ramen combined with strawberry jelly and soy sauce makes a delicious teriyaki soup. Add Flamin’ Hot Cheetos to a cup for a tamale flavor. Alvarez and a childhood friend wrote a book detailing recipes collected from prisoners, along with some intriguing stories about serving time. Prison Ramen: Recipes and Stories from Behind Bars is now sold in bookstores both inside and outside of prison.

Alvarez paid attention to the needs around him. He saw that swapping stories and recipes brought the prisoner community closer together, leading to fellowship instead of hostility. His storytelling talent benefits not only the prison community, but many others who enjoy a good tale and cheap meal.

  • Lead: Use our own pain to love others. We are all messed up, imperfect, and broken. Our pain ideally positions us to help someone else on a similar path.

The Woodward family of Atlanta, Georgia is using their experience in battling Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis to help others. Three of the four members in their family cope with these conditions. All successfully achieved remission through the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD). Sharing their experience and helping others became their website’s mission. And, their foundation assists in funding unprecedented SCD research at the Children’s Hospital of Atlanta and the Seattle Children’s Hospital.

The Woodward family bravely shares their journey to help others cope. Their story illustrates how one family can generate a ripple effect of love through their own hardship.

These examples illustrate how we can work to better “love our neighbors” every day. Learning how others overcome judgement helps us think differently about people. Listening to needs for love identifies ways to use talents. And, leading others out of brokenness provides proof of God’s grace.

God’s heart breaks when his people are in the midst of tragedy. He calls us to help revive their hope. Then, he asks for our best effort in remembering this same assignment when order is restored.

Prayer for the Week:

Dear Lord, Prayers for our neighbors in Paris to feel the comfort of your embrace. May they receive your love through those faithfully serving as your hands and feet. Show me how to love even when it is difficult. Teach me how my talents can help others overcome challenges. Enable me to confidently use my own hurt to boldly love others. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Scriptures to Apply:

Mark 12:31, “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (NIV)

Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” (NIV)

Luke 6:31, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (NIV)

Questions to Help Make Sense of Life:  What situations or people make it difficult for me to love? If I ask God to help me think about this differently, what might I learn? Where do my talents match up with needs for love? How can I use the brokenness of my life to help heal other lives?

Resources 

http://www.christianpost.com/news/people-deserve-a-second-chance-in-unusual-case-of-forgiveness-parents-give-sons-killer-home-and-job-128346/

http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/11/04/454671629/behind-bars-cheap-ramen-is-as-good-as-gold

http://gutharmony.net/index.php/2015/08/26/scd-helped-this-whole-family/#more-784