The “Gift” of Worry

I am really good at worrying. It’s also pretty common for me that when my stress level increases, so does my worry and anxiety. I’ve been feeling the weight of that this morning.

I pushed myself a little too hard this week, and I woke up feeling the physical effects of my “keep-going mentality.” So, I stayed home from church to rest and spend time with the Lord while lying in bed. And surprise, surprise, my mind wouldn’t rest. My to-do list raced through my head. When I attempted to read the Bible, my mind reminded me of the laundry to get done, the emails I need to send, the travel plans to solidify. I stopped reading because I couldn’t concentrate, and I again picked up my phone to add more items to my “To-Do” note.

And then came the kicker, when God asked, Are you resting?

No, I replied reluctantly. I need help.

Let’s just say that it wasn’t the easiest of battles. But finally, I put my phone and iPad aside, made tea in my edelweiss Switzerland mug, and climbed back in bed to start over. I searched for sermons to listen to, and found one by John Piper on fear and anxiety. That seems fitting; I bet I need to hear this.

It wasn’t a typical sermon on Matthew 6, about storing your treasures up in heaven and not being anxious about tomorrow. (That passage is really great, and I highly suggest you check it out.) But instead, Piper focused his message on Isaiah 41, and particularly Isaiah 41:10.

“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.”

But in order to understand verse 10, we need to understand who God is.

In the verses leading up to Isaiah 41:10, Isaiah speaks about characteristics of God — God as Judge of the nations, God as the Ruler over all rulers, God as the Creator and the First, and God as gracious. This is so crucial in understanding that our God is not like the idols spoken about in the passage. God is not one who was created by human hands. He’s not one who is lifeless or weak. He is real and personal. He is righteous and just. He is love and grace. He is the holy and perfect judge over the nations, He is more powerful than all worldly powers combined. He is the alpha and omega.

And even more than that, God says in verse 9, “I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are My servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you.”

God promises that verse 9 is true of those who have accepted the gift of life through Jesus’ atoning sacrifice. If we are in Christ, we need not fear. We need not be anxious because God says, “I am your God. I am with you. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you.”

This is amazing news! Not only did Jesus willingly sacrifice Himself so that we can have a restored relationship with God, but God promises that all who receive Him and believe in Him are His. He promises that He is our God, that He is with us, that He will strengthen and help us, and that He will uphold us.

If this is true, why am I so worried or anxious? Why am I so afraid? Ultimately, our fear and anxiety come from unbelief, idolatry, or an incorrect view of God. We worry and stress because we want control and we forget about who God is. Or when we attempt to find security in temporary things, we are basically saying that these things will save us.

Everything in this world is temporary, except for a relationship with God. So, when I’m tempted to worry or fear or be anxious, which is a lot, I need to remind myself of the truth of Isaiah 41:10: that I am His, I am secure in Him, and that He is always with me.

What tempts you to be fearful or anxious? How can you allow the perfect peace of God calm your spirit?

 

For some other passages on worry, check out Matthew 6:19-34, Luke 12, Luke 10:38-42, Philippians 4, II Corinthians 4, Matthew 11:28-30, and 1 Peter 5:6-7.

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Mold Me

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.” Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.” — Jeremiah 18:1-6

In the days of the Old Testament, clay for pots came straight from the ground. The lump of clay was dirty and had no beauty about it, especially with its disarray of twigs and pebbles. The potter would have to pick out the impurities by hand if he were to use the clay properly. Kneading and pressing the clay, the potter also removed air pockets so the clay wouldn’t explode in the heat of the fire.

Even today, as in the Old Testament, skilled potters have a vision for each lump of clay. There is purpose in every measurement, in every stroke of the hand, in every tool used, and even in the speed of the wheel. Eventually, the dirty lump of clay, full of sticks and stones, is shaped and molded by the potter’s hand to make a beautiful vessel to be used and to be shown for the glory of the potter.

It’s not easy for us today to fully comprehend this imagery of the potter and the clay, especially because most of us are not skilled potters. But this week, our team ventured out of Ljubljana, to Radovljica, for a day to learn about this Old Testament imagery and the chance to put ourselves in the potter’s shoes. (And let me tell you, if you’ve never used a pottery wheel, it’s harder than it looks!)

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The first and only time I used a pottery wheel was in eighth grade, and it was kind of a disaster. But I decided to give it another go this past week.

I started by throwing the clay onto the wheel and struggling to adjust it to the center. (If the clay isn’t centered, it will be unstable and will most likely collapse.) When the wheel starts to spin, I learned I needed to keep my hands steady while putting tremendous pressure on the clay. This was no easy task, because the clay wants to move from the center. So, I had to continue applying pressure until the clay stabilized (nearly 10 minutes!), all the while keeping the clay from drying out by sprinkling water on it.

Next, I pressed both of my thumbs into the middle of the clay to start the formation of the mug. Slowly, as I continued pressing the clay with my left hand, I was able to start forming the design I wanted with my other hand. I was so excited at the shape it was taking. But soon, the clay started to shift because I didn’t keep on as much pressure. I struggled to keep it from distorting, but eventually, I decided I needed to collapse the clay and start over. I was sad, but I knew that I wouldn’t be satisfied with a distorted mug. I wanted a pretty mug. So finally, after more pressure, more struggle, more shaping and guiding, my product was finished on the wheel. But I wasn’t satisfied with just a clay mug, I wanted to give it color and decoration. So I painted it and added some decorative flowers, and finished it off with my initial, signifying that it was my work.

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As followers of Jesus and believers in His promises for us, we are the clay. We came from the ground, being dirty and full of twigs and pebbles. Through the sacrifice of His Son, He cleanses us of all our impurities and gives us relationship with Himself. But He doesn’t stop there; God envisions beauty from clay.  He puts us in the middle of His wheel and applies pressure so we are centered and stable. And He keeps us centered throughout the process, always keeping one hand on us to direct us and shape us into who He wants us to be. When we start to dance away from the middle or go lopsided in our sin, He pulls us back, for He is not satisfied with a second-rate, distorted lump. He desires beauty. He has purpose. He desires to mold us into exquisite pieces of art that resemble Him and are used for His glory. And He desires marking us with His initial, saying, “She is mine.” If God, our perfect and personal Father, is the potter, what better hands could I ever be in?

Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. — Isaiah 64:8

365 Days

This year has been difficult in a lot of ways. If you remember, last year at this time, I wrote a post about the discouragement I was facing and the joy I was fighting so hard to experience.

I wrote, “So, what’s my New Years resolution? To fight for the joy that God has already provided for me. To pray constantly that the Lord would open my eyes to see His kindness and grace in all circumstances, not just the ones that go the way I want them to go. To walk through my circumstances with thanksgiving and trust that God will not leave me unchanged. That I would see and experience the Gospel. That my heart and actions would glorify my Savior.”

Did I stick to my resolution? Well, honestly, no, not all the time. But I can tell you that God was faithful in those areas. And I can tell you that God did not leave me unchanged – physically and spiritually.

As I write this, I’m sitting in a hostel in London, sipping a decaf soy latte with sugar-free hazelnut syrup and eating gluten-free, sugar-free cookies from Whole Foods. When I started treatment for lead and mercury toxicity on Jan. 3, 2013, the thought of Starbucks or cookies was out of the question. Traveling, even an hour away proved daunting. Going on weekends trips for Cru conferences in the states felt tedious – having to cook all my meals and transport all my food with me because of the strict rotational diet. I couldn’t have chicken for six months, let alone eat out. I remember rejoicing on Potato Day, every fourth day. I remember the first time I ate a meal out in six months. I remember when I could start traveling without having to bring all my own food. I remember how I was able to exercise well for the first time since high school, and I remember the progress of my blood work with each follow-up appointment. I remember the day when all the mercury was finally removed from my mouth through extensive dental work. I remember sitting at STINT briefing in Chicago, with 400 other Cru missionaries, and thinking, “It’s a miracle that I’m here.”

Why has this year been so difficult? So often during this past year, I’ve doubted or questioned God’s goodness and His provision. I’ve questioned His love for me and His willingness to heal. A lot of things did not go according to my plan or meet my expectations. When I get discouraged, I often can’t see beyond my circumstances. I overlook all the other ways God provides for me. I forget how good He’s been to me. I forget the Gospel, and it’s much harder to experience His presence. This especially characterizes my past few weeks. I’ve been so frustrated with my lack of progress in feeling better. I’ve been so tired of not feeling myself, emotionally and physically. I’ve been tired of having to always worry about food or medicine or insurance claims or getting blood tests. In the past few weeks, many times I’ve cried, Lord, I’m so tired of being refined. Can’t I just get a break?

But as I sit here writing this, I’m almost brought to tears, not only by the sadness over the attitude toward God, but also by the joy over the fact that God is faithful to me even when I question Him. Just looking at the list above of all the ways that God provided (and there are so many more), makes me sit in amazement. Because of the Gospel, my sin hasn’t kept Him from keeping His promises. Because of Jesus’ perfect obedience through death on the cross, my failures no longer separate me from God. I’m overwhelmed thinking about the unfailing grace, unconditional love, unending joy, and everlasting peace that God gives to me through Jesus. Through this experience, though I’m not physically “there” yet, spiritually, God is constantly changing my heart and showing me Himself. He has been allowing me to see my need for Him and the Gospel in new ways. I’ve experienced more depth and understanding in my relationship with Him, that I don’t think I would’ve experienced without this 3.5-year trial. Even if nothing else happened, experiencing Jesus and Gospel makes this all worth it.

This year, my New Years resolution is two words – abide and rest.

Jesus says in John 15, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

A dear friend would always remind me, “Your only responsibility is to abide.” While I believed it then, I’m seeing my need to do this more and more. Jesus commands us to abide, because He wants us to experience His presence, and He wants to produce fruit in our lives. By fruit, I mean character like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control and also spiritual influence in others’ lives. When we do things in our own power or when we resist Him, this doesn’t produce fruit, and I’ve definitely experienced that. (There’s so much more that I can say about this passage and this topic, but I’ll save that for other posts.)

So, resting and abiding. Though it sounds so simple, resting and abiding in Jesus are two of the hardest things for me to do. It’s hard for me to let go of control, and it’s hard for me to trust Jesus, even though He’s the only One worthy of my complete trust. If in His presence is fullness of joy, then that’s where I need to be.

I hope you’ll stick with me as I learn to abide and rest in Jesus this year. And I pray that we will all come to a greater understanding of what it means to rest in His presence.

Until next time, I’ll leave you with a song that’s been my prayer recently.

Happy 2014!

Birthday in Budimpešti

“But for all our fears we are not alone. Our trouble is that we think of ourselves as being alone. Let us correct the error by thinking of ourselves as standing by the bank of a full flowing river; then let us think of that river as being none else but God Himself. We glance to our left and see the river coming full out of our past; we look to the right and see it flowing on into our future. But we see also that it is flowing through our present. And in our today it is the same as it was in our yesterday, not less than, nor different from, but the very same river, one unbroken continuum, undiminished, active and strong as it moves sovereignly on into our tomorrow.” — A.W. Tozer, God’s Pursuit of Man

Last week in Budapest, as I sat in a room full of fellow STINTers to Eastern Europe, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed at the work the Lord is doing throughout our region. I listened as the speaker, John, a Cru staff member working in the regional headquarters in Budapest, used Tozer’s analogy to explain how God is moving.

“God’s work is flowing now,” he said, encouraging us to not simply focus on the future, but also to open our eyes to what the Lord is doing now.

I’ve said this before, but STINT can be discouraging at times, especially when you don’t see instant results. And to be honest, I can really let discouragement get me down. It takes a toll on my attitude and can make me think that there’s no hope.

But I’m thankful that God doesn’t allow me to remain in this state of mind. And STINT Weekend in Budapest was just another way that the Lord reminded me that our labor is not in vain and that ALL of God’s promises will come to fruition. Not just some of His promises. But ALL of them. I was reminded of God’s goodness and His desire for Jesus to be glorified throughout the whole earth. I was reminded of the Gospel and my need to depend fully on the Spirit, otherwise I can’t do anything. And I was reminded of God’s love, not only for the world, but also for me, His child.

What a privilege it was to hear stories about life-change and how the Gospel is spreading in Montenegro, Bosnia, Russia, Poland, and Ukraine. We were also able to share needs with each other and spend time praying together.

It’s amazing to think that just 20+ years ago, in my lifetime, most of these countries were closed to missionaries and the Gospel. But since the fall of Communism, we’ve watched as the Lord has opened door after door to allow for His life-giving and life-changing message. Just with Campus Crusade for Christ International, we have campus ministries in nearly 100 cities! And we’re praying for another 100 cities to have student-led movements by 2020. We know that the Lord can make this happen.

Even just in the last few years, since we began the partnership in Slovenia, we’ve seen God raise up students to help lead the movement here. We’ve watched as the Gospel has captured the hearts of young people and how God has used these 18-22-year-olds to reach their friends and families.

While the conference was incredibly encouraging, I also just had a lot of fun exploring Budapest! (Not to mention, I got to celebrate my 24th birthday!)

Budapest — or Budimpešti in Slovene — is a beautiful capital city beside the Danube River, with charming castles and glorious Austro-Hungarian architecture. The city bustles all day, but becomes magical at night, especially around Christmas. Bright lights illuminate the most beautiful of buildings — the Opera House, Parliament, and other government buildings — as well as the vibrant and classic Christmas markets in the city center.

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The narrow streets are aligned with stalls of mulled wine and cider, sausages, roasted and sugar-coated almonds, chimney cakes (large cylindrical cinnamon rolls), candies, chocolates, and handcrafted pottery and ornaments. Shoppers, families, couples, and friends happily stroll around the stalls. There’s an air of excitement in anticipation of Christmas.

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And I was even more excited, not just for Christmas and a chance to explore a new city, but also to celebrate my birthday with my team, complete with a gingerbread latte (soy and decaf) at Starbucks on Friday and a day full of dietary cheating on Saturday. (I didn’t go overboard, or make myself sick, but I did indulge a little.)

The best part was dessert, though, at Alexandra Bookcafé, a café located in a former French department store. I felt like I was dining with royals in Paris, just by the elaborate décor. And the desserts were divine — coconut hot chocolate and chocolate cake with fluffy chocolate and vanilla mousse filling. I savored every minute.

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Let’s just say that it was marvelous to feel normal for 24 hours, not concentrating on my restrictions, but enjoying freedom.

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And the next day, I got to relax and detox at the Szechenyi Thermal Baths, a popular destination for tourists and nationals alike. The 100-year-old baths have 15 indoor pools, 3 outdoor pools, and 10 sauna and steam chambers. Don’t worry, everyone was clothed.

After an afternoon of hot-tubbing, the STINT teams gathered together for a traditional goulash dinner, singing Christmas carols, and just spending time with each other before we all left Budapest.

I’m so thankful to have been able to spend my birthday and the weekend being encouraged, not just in ministry, but also in the little things, like chocolate cake.

Frustrations

“I’m not touching you,” says the mischievous little brother, pointing his finger as his older sister. “I’m not touching you,” he mocks. “I’m not touching you.”

I remember that commercial well. You empathize with the sister, wishing that the teasing would just stop already.

Well, recently, I’ve felt much like the older sister. In the last few weeks, I’ve dealt with quite a few minor annoyances — exhaustion and frustration over my health, confusion over not knowing what more I can do to get better, chaos over the month-long period it has taken to simply order supplements, figuring out how to get blood tests, lack of motivation, confusion over my future after this year, and a random assortment of things popping up on my never-ending to-do list. But one thing I’ve noticed in all of these oh-so-enjoyable occurrences is my immediate reaction. It’s like clockwork. First comes annoyance, then comes discouragement. Then come the tears and the pity party I throw for myself.

For example, one night a few weeks ago, I was on the phone with my doctor’s nurse about not feeling well. It felt like my physical health was reverting to its previous state before treatment, and that did not feel good at all. She asked about my diet and if I was eating too much sulfur. That question triggered discouragement and tears. I’ve been trying so hard, I’ve been doing everything I was told. I’ve been faithful, what more can I do? I thought. As I battled my cracking voice, I managed to tell her that I’ve been doing everything I’m supposed to do. Within the minute, she concluded it wasn’t my diet, but that I’ve been taking too much medicine. This turned out to be excellent news! I can now lower my dose of medication because I don’t need as much.

Not even 15 minutes later, I was on the phone with FedEx trying to arrange a pick-up for my supplements from the doctor to be shipped to Slovenia. And then FedEx broke the news that I need an import license from the Slovene government to be able to receive medication via FedEx. And what was my response? Discouragement and more tears.

This week, I called my mom crying because I thought the US Postal Service stole my Friends DVDs out of the package they shipped to me. (They actually didn’t steal anything, the outside box was just damaged.) In a fit of over-dramatization, I sobbed into the phone, “Why did I ever think STINT was a good idea? Everything just feels so difficult. I’m just so frustrated with the world.” Then I proceeded to laugh at my dramatic, woe-is-me attitude. “I take that back, I know STINT was a good idea.”

In this constant roller coaster of emotion, I’m thankful that God is constant. I’m thankful that He’s in control and that none of these occurrences is a surprise to Him. And I’m thankful that in the midst of this, He’s showed me my sinful heart that idolizes a comfortable and easy life. God has even revealed a truly ugly part of my heart that is bitter toward Him because I’ve felt like He constantly calls me to do difficult things.

Remember how 10 months ago I told you about my fight to find joy in Jesus despite my circumstances? Let’s just say I haven’t mastered that area yet. I think that’s obvious. I regularly have to fight resentment over not getting my way and the attitude of entitlement. My heart still needs the Gospel and God’s grace, and will until I die. But I’m thankful that His grace stretches farther than my sin.

And I’m thankful that God has used these frustrations to cause me to seek Him so He can encourage me again. And I’ve found peace in His words in the New Testament book of Philippians and also encouragement through music.

In Philippians, it is amazing to see Paul’s attitude and faith in the midst of imprisonment. He says that now counts any earthly gain as loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus. He says, “For His sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith — that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:7-11)

Paul rejoices in suffering because through it, He is sharing in the suffering of Christ. Paul longs to know Jesus and the power of His resurrection, and we share in this power when we die to ourselves for the sake Jesus.

(If I could, I would just type out the entire book of Philippians and give you that as a post. Since I’m not going to do that, I encourage you to do that for yourself. God’s words don’t disappoint.)

The Lord has been showing me that though things won’t always go my way (and they normally don’t), I can rejoice — rejoice in knowing that Jesus is shaping my heart to be like His, that He is removing idols from my heart, and that I get to share in the resurrection and power of Jesus because it is causing me to die to myself constantly. I can rejoice because although it feels like chaos and confusion are persistently surrounding me, Jesus is my rock and refuge. I’m not doing this alone. He is stable, and He is peace. When life pokes at me like the little brother, I know that Jesus leads my soul to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. His peace that transcends all understanding is guarding my heart and mind in Him. My future and eternity is secure in Him, because He alone is my living hope and He works all things for my good and His glory. And ultimately, He is sovereign, and He is good. This brings me joy.

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Because God has showed me all this about my heart and about who He is, I’ve been praying that instead of responding with discouragement when things come my way, that I would respond with joy in knowing that Jesus has it under control.

So, I’ll leave you with one final story from today, a story of how God has been transforming this area of my heart. This morning, I went to get bloodwork for my doctor’s appointment in a few weeks. My bloodwork is complicated for labs in the US, so I had no idea what to expect trying to figure out how to do all these tests in Slovenia. I went in for an appointment with a clinic here at 9. I was tired and hungry. (It was a fasting blood test.) After waiting, some discussion with the nurses, and more waiting, I was nearly in tears because I didn’t know if I would actually be able to do the tests. But in those moments, and this time before tears fell, the Lord prompted me to pray and to renew my mind with His words in Philippians. His peace calmed my heart, and my attitude shifted.

Eventually, they sent me to another clinic on the other side of town to get the blood tests. But all went smoothly from there. Praise God that everything worked out. Every little detail. Amazing.

How has God been working in your heart lately? Where have you found encouragement in Him and His words recently?