Encourage and Build Each Other Up

Tucked away in an alcove of pine in Door County, Wisconsin, there is what many consider a treasure. Towers of precariously stacked stones populate this short stretch of shoreline at Lake Michigan’s Cave Point County Park.

Some towers are short and dainty looking, assembled quickly by someone passing through. Other structures clearly showcase much time, effort, and of course, patience. They are miracles of height and structure, balancing at six feet or more.

I visited this shoreline on a cold and windy autumn day. There were no builders in sight, just this evidence that many had been here and worked with their hands. Carefully, I made my way around the towers and down the shore. I wondered what inspires the visitors here to stack stones? What do they gain from building? Could this process of stacking represent anything similar in our own lives? Consider this verse:

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 NIV 

Therefore encourage one another…

In this passage of Scripture “encourage” translates to mean comfort. The apostle Paul wrote this verse in a letter to the Thessalonians who were persecuted for their new Christian faith. Their loved ones were punished and killed daily for their beliefs. In his letter, Paul reminds them to comfort one another and to live knowing their future is secure with those they have lost.

Our problems may not be as dire as the Thessalonians, but we still understand hardship. Everyone has problems, even the people who visited this rocky beach. Perhaps they walked next to the water like I did and tried skipping stones. Maybe seeing the towers around them calmed their spirits or inspired them to build too.

Whatever issues we face, knowing we are not alone helps us cope. Our faith comforts us and helps us comfort others. As companions in faith, our presence can encourage (comfort) others through hardship with compassion, hope, and thoughtfulness.  

and build each other up,…

Throughout his letter, Paul likens the members of the church to the parts of a body. Each person or part contributes to the welfare of the whole. His request to “build each other up” means to edify or improve each other intellectually, morally, and spiritually.

Our faith is always growing and in need of tending. We build each other up by praying together, discussing the Bible, and sharing how God touches our lives.

When we work with others, whether it is on faith…or stacking rocks, we soon learn people think and do things differently than we do. Comparing ourselves to others or judging them limits the learning and growth we can gain from them.

In the relaxed setting of these open waters, I imagine strangers building towers side by side. They learn from each other, share balancing tips, laugh, and cheer each other on as yet another huge rock remains in place.

It is not our job to fix or change people, but to build each other up (edify) as a community growing in a faith which benefits us all.     

just as in fact you are doing.

In this last part of the Scripture, Paul recognizes the Thessalonians for their supportive efforts. He gives them praise for holding on tightly to faith in the midst of tragic and challenging circumstances.

In today’s stressful and troubled world, confidence in our faith and purpose can become wobbly as well. We question if we are doing the right things for God and struggle to keep our balance.

Taking time to slow down and giving ourselves space to think about how we show up to love others brings meaning and purpose to our lives. For some understanding may come while on a walk, studying the Bible, or looking at the stars. For others, it may come stacking stones on a desolate shore. Paul’s words travel to all those places and more, imploring us to go a little higher.

Stacking Stones
by Jamie Trunnel

Wandering souls sometimes stack stones.
Marks of patience,
Balance,
And time free from phones.

Expressing their bliss
With careful luck.
Escaping from problems,
Or calamities which have struck.

What if each placed rock
Represented a problem someone had?
And, the stacking process made him feel…
Not so bad.

Standing back and taking a look
Put things in perspective;
Told him he had what it took.

Life could be organized
And balanced as such.
See all these other souls
Who thought just as much?

We all have problems.
We all struggle.
If we saw others’ towers,
Maybe ours would not crumble.

Standing vulnerably tall
With our problems on display,
Maybe we could all find
Peace,
Hope,
And a little less judgement along the way.

Stacking Stones is a poem from my new book Simple Wishes which releases in early September. Be sure to join my email subscriber list to receive upcoming sneak peeks of the book and other special offers!

Related Posts:

Love on Ordinary Days

A New Kind of Resolution

Judged Instead of Loved

Some Clowns Showed Me How to “BE” the Church

And Just a Note: Some outdoor enthusiasts consider rock stacks like these an unwelcome reminder of humanity. There are concerns about the natural erosion process and the habitat of insects or mammals which burrow under the rocks. This blog post is not intended to support or discourage rock stacking. 🙂

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.

Psalm 23: A Shepherd’s Meanings and Motivations

Around four years ago, long before I recited a single Bible verse from memory, I pulled into a parallel parking space downtown for an appointment. While lining myself up with the car in front of me, I noticed its personalized license plate read PSALM23.

Being a Scripture newbie, I did not know the words of Psalm 23 off the top of my head. I wondered why this person thought it was significant. What would inspire someone to take the steps necessary to display it on their license plate? I don’t see too many Bible verses on license plates. Do you? My curiosity piqued, and I pledged to look the verse up later.

Upon reading the Psalm’s first line, I instantly recognized its familiar words. I have since learned that it is one of the most popular and reassuring pieces of Scripture found in the Bible. It is often repeated by Christians in hospital rooms, in song lyrics, at funeral homes, and during prayers. These poetic words written by David, soothe and comfort the hearts of those in need:

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.     (Psalm 23, New King James Version*)

I know these words ring familiar with many of you. Perhaps, some of you know them by heart. I am working on that, but what intrigues me right now is learning the deeper meaning behind them. Let’s take a closer look:

The Lord is my shepherd

The very first line is a powerful statement about who can guide us through life. The author, David, a former shepherd himself, likens his trust in following God to that of the sheep who follow their shepherd. If we spend our lives worshiping lesser gods such as wealth, success, addictions, relationships, or vanity we end up carrying heavy burdens. If we work too hard at controlling life, then we become disappointed when it doesn’t follow our plan. We need God to carry our burdens and to guide us like a shepherd in this world we cannot control.

I shall not want 

All the stuff we buy cannot go with us when we die, and it does not define who we are in God’s eyes. We easily find ourselves getting caught up in acquiring the latest and greatest things. Practicing gratitude is one way we can help ourselves feel more content and worry less about what others think of us. By living a life under God’s care, we know our needs will be met.

He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters

Did you know that sheep have trouble falling asleep? I find this ironic since many of us count sheep when we cannot sleep. But, it’s true, and David refers to it here. The sheep rely on the shepherd for the right conditions to rest. He prepares their pasture, eases stress in the flock, and wards off predators.

Sheep trust their shepherd to lead and help them. They don’t look too far ahead; their only concern is the next step. Like sheep, our worries make us restless. When God is our shepherd, we trust him to handle worries, direct each step, and lead us to peace and rest.

He restores my soul

From time to time, sheep lose track of their shepherd. They find themselves confused, stranded, hurt, or scared. We can easily relate to the hopelessness of the lost sheep. Tensions escalate within us when we make mistakes or when life gets hard.

When shepherds hear a lost sheep cry out, they come to its aid. Upon seeing the shepherd, the sheep’s fear decreases as it senses a return to safety and security. Although not yet safe, the lost one feels better in the presence of the shepherd. No longer alone in trouble, the sheep knows it can rely on the shepherd. The same is true of us. When we are in a mess and uncertain if more trouble lies ahead, traveling with the One who knows the way gives us hope. God restores the soul.

He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake

 What is righteousness? The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines it as acting in accord with divine or moral law; free from guilt or sin. Can we call ourselves righteous? No, none of us can. Jesus was the only human who did not sin. Yet, he chose to die as a sinner to cover our debt with God. By doing so, those who believe in him are made righteous (free of sin) and given eternal life. Striving for a righteous life leads us to confess, ask forgiveness, and continually turn away from sin. The righteous path teaches humility and love; it helps us find our honorable purpose for God.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me

The shepherd comforts, steers, and adjusts the path his sheep follow using his tools – the rod and the staff. The sheep trust him and look to him first when they need help. Can we say the same about our Shepherd?

Like the shepherd with his sheep, God travels with us through the hardships of life and death. Tools like fellowship, worship, prayer, and his Word can comfort and lead us through dark days. Difficult seasons strengthen our relationship with him. Whatever valley we are in, he has a plan to deliver us from its evil. His love is always for good. David’s words reassure us we are never alone in trouble, grief, or death.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over

Shepherds in David’s day moved their flocks through the valleys and countryside to reach greener grass. Upon arriving at a selected location, the shepherd cleared a suitable pasture or “table” for his sheep. He removed thorny brush and poisonous plants. And, he looked for predators and dangerous snakes that could harm his sheep.

Placing an oil repellent on the heads of the sheep helped the shepherd keep insects and snakes away. Also used during mating season, the oil caused the horns of dueling rams to slide off each other’s bodies thus preventing injuries. If sheep were wounded by a bite, a horn, or pasture thorns, the oil served as a healing balm. Now, that sounds like an “essential oil”, right?!   

As our Shepherd, God prepares a place for us at his table. He invites us into a relationship with him. He does this in the presence of the world’s evil and in spite of sin. He loves us, forgives us, and keeps calling us back when we wander away. Anointing our heads with oil is symbolic of his loving protection and peace. Through prayer and relationship, we see how he soothes wounds, heals hurts, and offers understanding. The cup of our lives runs over with God’s blessings, goodness, and grace.    

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever 

David ends Psalm 23 with a sure and firm statement of belief in God’s promises. His goodness (loving nature) meets our needs. His mercy forgives our sins. He pursues us with these offerings our entire lives. Our free will allows us to decide whether we pursue him. In his care, God guides, provides, protects, and comforts us our whole life through. Ultimately, he brings us home to live with him forever.     

The meanings found in Psalm 23 offer comfort in knowing that God is always with us and always working for our good. There are happenings in this life that yank hard on our heartstrings. Illnesses, addictions, deaths, financial struggles, relationship issues, and the ongoing terror attacks can make us stumble unexpectedly or leave us lost. When these problems go on indefinitely or happen repeatedly, we question when and if we will recover.

Psalm 23 is a lifeline in those troubling times. Keep it close beside you. Write it on a notecard, memorize it, or save it in your phone. When trouble comes, you will be prepared. Pull out Psalm 23’s reassurances and pray them often. Let David’s words of wisdom encourage your heart to further strengthen your relationship with God. Always keep an eye open for license plates presenting Scripture. You never know what you might learn. Press on in faith my friends.

 

Prayer for the Week:

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.  (Psalm 23, NKJV)

Related Posts:

Resources:

  • Lucado, Max. Traveling Light. Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2001. Print.
  • Images courtesy of Pixabay.com

* Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Do We Disappoint God?

Perfection is a tall order on this broken planet. This becomes very clear in the middle of January when goals for improvement start veering off the course we charted for 2017. We cheat on diets, take a break from the gym, skip a weekend at church, spend money when we shouldn’t, drink too much caffeine, stop trying to meditate…(um, feel free to contribute at any time so I don’t feel so alone).

We are an odd species. One day we are full of optimism and vigor, and the next we are easily derailed by unexpected challenges or our own behavior. Letting ourselves down by breaking resolutions can easily lead to some disappointment. Often, we even grow accustomed to this feeling and shrug it off.

But, what about deeper flaws in our character that persist over the years? What if we make some big mistakes that change the course of our life and maybe even the lives of those around us? What if our mistakes are considered sins? How do we cope with those levels of disappointment? Does God feel disappointed in us too? Will he give up on us if we make a really big mistake?

God understands how hard this life is.

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. Hebrews 4:15 New Living Translation (NLT)

When God chose to reveal himself as Jesus he took on the hardships of human life. He sympathizes with our feelings and temptations because he endured them as well. He knows firsthand how difficult this life is to maneuver. He provides us hope because he faced the things we face, and he got through them without sin. We can look to his life for encouragement and strive to follow the example he set.

God chose to forgive us.   

Christianity believes that God wipes away sin and reconciles his relationship with us through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

Certainly, not every setback or mistake is a sin. Sin is an ugly, tough word. I don’t like the way it feels when I write it. But, the fact is we all sin. Jesus was the only perfect person to walk on Earth. It was his sacrifice that brings us forgiveness when we acknowledge, confess, and repent our sin to God.

For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:19 NLT

Jesus took God’s wrath on the cross and called it done, finished, paid in full. Sin no longer separates believers from God. Trusting in his care provides a fresh start and secures our future with him.

When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. John 19:30 New International Version (NIV)

God loves us. He has plans for us.

What remains for us as a result of Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice for sin is God’s unconditional love. We can’t earn it. We can’t change it. We can’t lose it. We don’t deserve it, but we have it. Forever.

We cannot surprise, frustrate, or let God down. Because he already knows what is ahead.

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

God may be disappointed for us, but not in us.

 

Of course, we have free will and therefore, we will probably make choices that lead us off course from time to time. In those instances, God may be disappointed for us, but not in us. He wanted something better for us because he loves us. But, in those moments when all we see is failure, God still sees opportunity. He uses our trouble to bring about good and to draw us closer to him. He extends grace.

And we know in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 NIV

We are flawed, but not forgotten.

God never forgets or dismisses us in times of trouble. It is never too late to seek his help and reassurance in our lives. We can start viewing problems as alerts for prayer and build a stronger relationship with him. An insightful look at our past experiences will show us how his good works pulled us through. We can reference Scripture for wisdom in any circumstance, temptation, and emotion we face. Lastly, we can obediently act when we sense his guidance encouraging us along a certain path.

This year, like every year, difficulties will come our way. We need willpower, forgiveness, and stamina among many other things to make it through. Sin, mistakes, and unwanted flaws will persist. We will make choices. What a blessing it is to be able to make choices!

One choice we have is whether or not we will work on our relationship with God. We can choose if we allow our trouble to lead us further away from him or draw us closer to him. He has a preference in that choice, but he loves us either way.

God will always pursue you. You are not forgotten.

 

A Prayer for Your Week:

Dear God,

Thank you for seeing me as I am and loving me unconditionally. I sin, make mistakes, and I am full of flaws, but you never forget about me. When I feel disappointed you stand beside me and encourage my heart to constantly seek more of you. Help me find the reassurance I need through past experiences, prayer, Scripture, and the opportunities you send my way. I trust you and patiently wait as you work in and through me, ultimately bringing all things together for my good. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

 A Few Scriptures of Hope to Battle Messages of Defeat:

  • When we say: “I really messed up today.”

Scripture tells us to try again tomorrow: Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. Lamentations 3:23 NLT

  • When we say: “Everybody is doing more or better than me.”

Scripture reminds us of our unique abilities: Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. Galatians 6:4 NLT

  • When we say: “I’ll never get it right. I can’t do it. It’s too hard.”

Scripture offers a lighter load: Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:29 NLT

  • When we say: “I’m confused, lost, broken, and giving up.”

Scripture provides hope: Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” Matthew 10:27 NIV

Inspiring Resources:

Idolatry: Worshipping Family instead of God

 

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Do you worship family instead of God? I did.

While my children were growing up, I gave my family priority over everything else. I devoted myself to their health, their safety, and their happiness. Getting up in the morning, my first thoughts revolved around them. What do they need? Where do they have to go today? How do they feel?

Going to bed at night, they were my last thoughts as well. Do they have friends? Is their school safe? Are they getting sick? What activities should we add or cut?

Like many parents, I did my best to raise them right. I volunteered at their school, taught them values, took them interesting places, hosted playdates, read lots of books, and loved them more than anything else.

More than God.

You see, in those days, I knew OF God, but I had yet to KNOW God.

Amidst the busy schedule of youth, we saved a place for God on some Sundays and for a week during summer’s Vacation Bible School. When I look back on those days now, I can see that I treated God as an afterthought. Worshipping him was something I would “try” to fit in. Faith was important, but not as important as my family. I worshipped my family.

When you worship someone or something more than God, the Bible calls it idolatry. Today, it is easy for many things to become idols. Money, achievements, food, fitness, entertainment, relationships, and family are just a few examples of some things we can unintentionally begin to worship. They evolve into gods gradually as we devote more time, energy, and thought to them. Eventually as idols rule over our lives, they become the cause of struggle or sin.

I know, you might be shaking your head saying, “No way, serving family is a good thing. Surely, God is for that!” Love for family is important, but God wants that love to be drawn out of our initial love for him. As the source of all love, God helps us love our families in deeper, better ways.

How do we change the focus of our worship from family to God?

Make God the Centerpiece

You must not have any other god but me. Exodus 20:3 New Living Translation (NLT)

Picture a long table with lots of chairs. Each of those chairs provides a seat for all the important things in life. There are seats for family members, work, vacations, hobbies, dreams, etc. In the center of the table is the most beautiful centerpiece you’ve ever seen. It is extremely long and wide, with fragrant blossoms extending the length of the table, and foliage flowing out to the rim of every place setting.

God does not want us to save him a seat at the table; he wants to be the centerpiece of the table. He wants to be the center of our lives, seen from every place setting and touching every aspect of our days. Becoming the centerpiece means he is involved in everything. And, his love becomes visible to others in everything we do.

When family is the centerpiece of the table instead of God, life can get – well, stinky. Family relationships can start to rule daily life, plans, and emotions. Parents and children both feel pressured to keep the family happy, to live up to expectations, and take care of problems they can’t control. The disappointments cause stress and hurt; they can drive families apart.

When God is the centerpiece of our lives we think of him first. Instead of trying to fix and control things ourselves, we remember to tell him our worries and ask him to guide our family. We listen and watch for his answers. Efforts are made to learn about his ways and his promises. We learn to trust his results rather than our own.

Model God’s Love

We love each other because he loved us first. 1 John 4:19 (NLT)

Putting God in the center of our lives helps us love our families the way he intended. This does not mean we love them less; it means we love them differently. Love for family flows out of our primary devotion to God. We love them using our love for God as a reference.

His love provides reassurances and hope we cannot find on our own. Our prayers direct us to people and ideas we did not consider before. Learning about his love teaches us to love family in healthier, more productive ways.

Modeling God’s love means we stop getting too wrapped up in the happiness of others. It means recognizing that each person we care for is on their own unique journey. We can lovingly offer guidance on this journey, but we cannot lead the way. Through love, God grants us free will and extends grace, so we must work hard at doing the same for our families.

Let Go and Let God Work

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)

In choosing us to be parents, God hands out some tough assignments. First, he entrusts us with the care of our children. Second, he expects us to model his love well to them. And, finally he asks us to stand back and let him work.

God did not intend for us to raise our children without his help. He has the instruction manual for each child, and he doesn’t even have to read it. Because he wrote it. He knows the plan for all of their days – where they will go, what they will feel, and who they will be. He gives them a purpose and all the skills they need to fulfill it. He will never be surprised by their choices or unsure of their destiny. He has already seen it all played out. He created them, loves them, and relentlessly pursues a one-on-one relationship with them.

Just like us, our children will also have trouble worshipping idols. Unhealthy temptations and addictions are difficult for all of us to resist. Other longings, which seem healthy and positive, like success, beauty, fitness, and love can also get out of control.  As children grow, many things get in the way of a relationship with God. We struggle, and so will they.

Ultimately, we cannot control who or what our children will worship. Like us, they are blessed with the freedom to make choices, to learn and grow, and to discover what faith means. We can, however, control our prayer life, and prayer is a very mighty thing. We can pray they come to know God and develop a relationship with him. And then we rest, knowing that our prayers for them will live on even after we are gone.

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A Prayer for your Week

Dear God,

Blessed be your name above all earthly things. Thank you for the family you have given me and for the intense love I feel for them. Help me as I strive to make you the centerpiece of my life, and guard my heart from worshipping anything but you.

Make me aware of the opportunities you provide each day to model your love. Keep me humble as I display you as the source of this love. Letting go and trusting my children in your care is hard. Reassure me of your plans for them, and strengthen my trust in your care as they walk with you.

I know you are at work in the lives of everyone I love, enlightening them to your plans. I pray that they come to know you in spite of the world’s distractions and whatever else competes for the devotion of their hearts. May they find faith to worship you alone.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Additional References:

For more on the various idols that compete for our hearts, I highly recommend the book Gods at War by Kyle Idleman on Amazon here.

For more on letting children go, read the previous post A Hand to Hold

For more on coping with family transitions, read the previous post Hot from Life’s Kitchen – Platefuls of Transition