The Sigh of the Most High

“Keep going. They’ll eventually get it.”

This was a pep talk from my wiser than her years 15 year old. I am that person who needs affirmation from their own progeny.

We both knew how rough the morning had been. No one could find what they needed for a successful day – despite my rule about having your things together the night before. Attitudes were not stellar. Mouths were moving and excuses were flowing, but ears were closed and sense was halted.

It was a frustrating morning to say the least. I’d be lying if I said it was the first one.

And I sat there doubting in my minivan. “They will never get it!” I told myself.

Something no one tells you when you start your maternal journey is that children don’t typically learn something the first time. Repetition is key to successful parenting. And it may drive you slowly insane.

“Did you brush your teeth?” “Don’t forget to put your homework in your bag.” “Did you remember you have practice tonight?” “Mommy said you can’t wear that to school.”

The reason gray hairs come fast and furious is because you must often be the brain for however many children you have. It’s exhausting.

Parenting is a plodding work. Results are not usually instantaneous. It can take a lifetime to see results. And you most likely cannot take credit for the end product. (I can honestly say it is ALL of Jesus!)

Before you go swearing off children altogether, let me say this: the raising of children is the most important work on planet earth. The time, energy and money you spend is an investment in the future. It is of primary importance.

But in the mire of everyday life, motherhood doesn’t seem so life altering.

I arrived home from dropping my sage off at school so she could procure more inspirational quotes. I plopped down and opened my Bible to the prophets. And as I read I realized something.

I am just like my kids. They are just like me.

God gets my frustration.

How many times does humanity have to be reminded of the same things over and over by our holy God?

The Lord chose Israel, not because of their own merit, but because He could show His power through them. He gave them a code to live by. He repeated it several hundred times. Even the kings of Judah would write out the Torah to have their own copy handy.

But they broke the covenant. “All you have commanded we will obey,” they vowed to Jehovah. It didn’t take long to go back on their word.

Time and again God would forgive His wayward, forgetful children. He was firm, but patient. True to His Word though, this rampant careless disobedience would have to be punished so they would forget no more.

There is an interesting and much debated response that God has for His wayward children throughout Scripture. He repents them. Literally, He sighs over them. How often have you seen kids making obviously bad choices and just… sighed?

I do it. I sorta get what God was doing in those instances. It isn’t regret for creating, but a holy frustration with continual error.

The interesting thing is, this repenting (or the ESV word, relenting) also gives the idea to let up on or turn. The notion is that despite our sin and stupidity God shows mercy. He does not give us the punishment we truly deserve. Ever.

Millennia later, not much has changed. I sit here forgetting often as the cares of life and my own sin blur God’s presence and practices in my mind. Oh, He is still there. My perception prevents me from noticing.

And just like my kids who think mom will never find out, I play the same game with God. The difference is, He sees not only my actions, but the thoughts behind them as well.

At this point, if I am at all serious about my relationship with God, I must run to His Word to see the reality of my life. To be reminded of what I have forgotten.

In the Bible, through the Holy Spirit’s enabling, I find the means to adjust my perspective because I am reminded of what is true about myself, my children and my God.

He knows we will forget. He has provided the Holy Spirit and Scripture to remind us. And what’s crazy is that He never goes crazy in reminding His wayward, careless children of His ways. But He may sigh.

Still, God sees something in us that seems unattainable- we will eventually get it. We will someday no longer need the reminders and drilling because it will all be written on our hearts and ever before us.

Until then, press onward and upward. Live in the knowledge that God understands the frustrations of reminders. He does the same for us.

The Scariest Prayer

There is nothing quite as frustrating as a medical condition with no cure, or no answers to a physical ailment. I’ve seen this play out in my family many times.

One of my kids has several issues that have been tested over the years. The doctors look at results and just say, “Huh. We don’t know why this happens.”

Or there’s the time I went to the chiropractor and developed a case of vertigo. When I presented the issue to my practitioner, he just said, “That’s weird.”

Not the words you want to hear from the “expert”.

If we have problems, we want clear cut solutions that work in our favor every time. Bonus points if we can be in control of said solution.

Then we go to church, or turn on our favorite telepreacher. And he shares with us- from God’s Word- that if we just pray harder and have more faith, God will answer our prayers. Problems? Solutions. He will heal us. He will supply our need. He will take away the problems we face.

And that preacher isn’t completely wrong. It is Bible. The verses are there: If was ask in Christ’s name He will do it. (John 14:13-14) Ask and it shall be given. (Matthew 7:1) If you have faith of a mustard seed, you can move mountains. (Matthew 17:20) The effective prayers of a righteous man avail much. (James 5:16b)

So we ask, and God will give us what we want, right?

God is treated like our genie or administrative assistant. We just call out and He does our bidding. Our problem is we just don’t pray enough. We just don’t really believe.

These are notions I have heard often in my advancing years. I have even read scripture and gleaned these ideas, based on what I had already heard. But as I have watched many prayers answered in ways I haven’t liked, my faith has had to be re-evaluated. I did all the right things and God didn’t give me what I wanted.

I wanted my twins to not have a NICU stint. I wanted my church to be healthy. I wanted my back pain to go away. I wanted my Dad to live.

What was I doing wrong in my prayers? Why wasn’t God answering in the way I wanted Him to?

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The truth is, these teachings of “you-ask-and-He-gives” are subtle forms of Prosperity Gospel. The power is placed in your hands instead of you submitting your “power” to the all-powerful God. These prayers are not petitions to an all-powerful Creator, these prayers treat God like an employee. Our view of God errs on the side of blasphemy.

So in comes the story of a leper. He is taking a chance by approaching this Rabbi- an unclean man kneeling before the pure Son of God. Nothing else has worked. This man is known by his condition and lives away from everyone and everything. Leprosy was a life of pain and chronic rejection.

When this man approaches Jesus, he makes a remarkable statement: “If you want to, you can make me clean.” (Matthew 8:2)

He doesn’t really ask; he just makes a statement of truth. If it is in God’s plan, His Son can. That leprous man placed his life in the hands of his Maker for the outcome of his situation.

The undercurrent in all of Jesus’ teachings on prayer is this: We ask according to the will of God. We pray with the desire that, above our wishes, God’s will is ultimately done. We rest in the persuasion that whatever God deems best in the situation is really the best for us.

“Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:10

“And this is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us.” I John 5:14

And even Christ prays this way before giving Himself as a sacrifice: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” Matthew 26:39

The idea isn’t that we must pray harder or squeeze out more faith, as if we have to work hard for God’s will to be done. Our Creator’s plans will come to pass, whether we like them or not.

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So why pray, if God is going to do whatever He knows is best anyways? I have had to ask myself this question too, especially after a long string of requests not answered according to my desires. What’s the point in asking for things if God’s going to say no?

My kids do this to me. It’s frustrating. They don’t ask for something because they are afraid I will say no. Like that word is poison. Then they go and try to do the thing they could have just asked about, or they try to get thing thing they want without simply asking. These exploits often end in disaster and frustration.

As a parent, I want my kids to ask for things. I want to know their desires, I want to build that relationship with them. If I can say yes to them, I will. And while there are times when I do say no, the reason is always for their benefit even though it seems cruel at the time. I want to save them the time and effort of striving for something that is not right for them.

Prayer is communicating to our Father. Telling Him what we want. Understanding that He may choose differently for us. Our petitions are the sacrifice of our will to the altar of God’s sovereign plan. We place the requests before Him, asking Him to do His perfect will with our issues and needs.

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Praying according to the will of God feels scary, because we are taking our hands off the situation and giving control over to our Lord. And He doesn’t always answer the way we think He should. There is a reason the author of Hebrews writes, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Heb. 10:31)

But do you know what another purpose of prayer is? To pour out our hearts to our Father. To express our disappointment, heartache and suffering. To ask Him to stay with us (He always does), to ask Him to help us cope with the plan He has, to bask in the peace He does give freely. Prayer is an act of submission and rest.

I can tell you, living in surrender to the will of God is not always pleasant. It is hard. Jesus tells us countless times it will be. But I find the most peace, the most contentment, the most growth and the most love when I trust what He is doing even when it is a painful thing.

So let’s take a deep breath, and pray “Thy will be done.” And mean it.

An ode to the faithful layman.

“We need more young men called to preach!”

I cannot tell you how many sermons I have sat through that talk of this need for preachers. Don’t get me wrong, we do need to train young guys to shepherd the flock of God. I have the privilege to live a short distance from a school that does just that. Through the past 20 years, I have seen many preacher-boys come in and out of our church doors.

There are times where I would love nothing more than to pull those guys aside to share another needful and oft neglected ministry. It’s a role that is rarely spoken of, but critical to the church body.

It requires no special degree. It is often thankless, hard work, steeped in prayer. The only qualifications are a heart and life that desires to serve out of love for Christ and His bride, the Church.

It is the faithful church member.

We don’t talk about him/her enough. We don’t point out the critical asset that they are to ministry. I have rarely heard them mentioned at all.

Not that we do what we do for accolades. I’d rather wait till glory for mine. But we must encourage the generations to come to be not only “plugged in” to a body of believers, but to be investing in them as well.

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There’s a not so secret secret that churches fail to realize: the Pastor and his family cannot do it all. Nor are they supposed to.

Acts 6 tells us about how the Church had a problem: the widows were not all cared for fairly. It wasn’t out of malicious intent, but the church leaders had their hands full. Think about it. Thousands of people being converted in one sermon? That’s a lot of follow up and discipleship! Add caring for the fatherless and the widows, not to mention dealing with any doctrinal error or sin issues… it was understandable that something was slipping.

So the apostles called out seven men to be deacons. They weren’t called to preach (though they could), but their job was to serve the congregation. It was- and still is- a bonafide ministry.

I see examples all over the scriptures of people who were striving for faithfulness in daily life and extending that to service for God. Paul was constantly giving “shout outs” to his co-laborers in his letters, namely because he was so thankful for their dedication to the work. Not all of them were pastors. Women were not exempt from these praises.

We need laborers in all forms. The Sunday school teacher. The door greeter. The cleaner. The voice in the choir. The treasurer. The groundskeeper. The pianist. The bus driver. The nursery worker. The person who is present. The list is endless.

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There are far too few people committed to church ministry outside of a pastorate. The unverified but oft referred to statistic is 10% of the church body does 90% of the work. The faithful laymen are often casualties to the same burn-out that pastors experience.

People leave churches often carrying this excuse, “There is not enough here for us.” Programs. Same aged people. Classes. Outreach. And sadly, the things they believe are lacking can be areas where they could do the serving. The unromantic adage is still true: If you see something that needs to be done, you are probably the best one to do it.

We want all the things, but we don’t want to be the ones doing the actual work. It really is disobedience, because just as each member of the body serves a functional purpose, each member of a church has a functional job as well. When we join a body of believers, we are to joyfully find our function in that body.

And you, mama, wife, single gal, grandma, and all y’all’s (having a southern husband gives me double the pronoun power): we are not exempt. We are not to sit on the sidelines because of our kids, our jobs, our school schedule, our ailments… there is something we all can devote ourselves to for the sake of Christ’s church.

So yes- the church needs good Pastors who are faithful to the Word and gently lead the flock- but the church also needs an army of faithful men and women who are committed to their local body of believers. Desperately.

Truth in the Trench of Trials- #1

I couldn’t make this year up if I tried. Between several life changing diagnoses of loved ones, death of family members, bad news from even neighbors and distant relatives, the repercussions of a global pandemic, I can’t think of a single person I know who is not in a trial right now.

This has led to some moments of severe disbelief. I won’t even utter the phrase “This can’t get any worse,” because then life seems to do just that. And I just wrote it, so I am not sure where that puts me. I’ll let you know…

More than ever before, we need to be reminded of truth. This is one of the amazing purposes for God’s Word- to provide supernatural comfort and solace as we experience the very real effects of this cursed world on our lives. To remind us of what is true and point us back to the Source of truth in the middle of pain and frustration and grief.

All this pain seems like a bad dream. But it’s real. These trials are like none I have ever experienced in my almost four decades under the sun. It is so easy for me to go to worst case scenarios, over-reading every piece of news and overthinking every circumstance. I often feel like I’m putting waders on and purposely wallowing around in a tar pit.

So as I take this journey, I do hope to share some of what I am learning with you. Comforting with the comfort we have been comforted by. Reminders for myself in what seems like a wilderness wandering in many ways. Because, we all need reminders.

So this first truth is going to make every grammarian cringe, but it is the only way to word it: This ain’t it.

Humans are awful to each other. Disease eats at our bodies. Things fall apart. Relationships get messy. If this was all we have to look forward to- as many actually believe- life would be incredibly abysmal. And no amount of optimism would cure it.

For those of us who read the words of our Creator, we see there is a bigger picture at play. We have a future full of hope, beauty, unfailing love, and perfection waiting on the other side of the veil of death we see here on earth. And we must remember that. To be heavenly minded is life and peace.

This life, this world- it ain’t it. And yet so often we as Christian pilgrims treat this world like it’s our inheritance. We live like practical atheists, collecting our toys and awards and money and power. Gobbling it up desperately like a people starved for purpose and satisfaction.

Jesus Christ categorically and repeatedly points out the emptiness of these pursuits. He is the source of purpose and satisfaction. As you seek Him, you find these things.

Even so, the human heart has an intuition that there is something incomplete in life. As I do my seeking for Christ, I find Him, but I still yearn for more because He has more waiting for me. I call it a holy dissatisfaction, and the main difference between a holy dissatisfaction and a instinctual dissatisfaction is hope.

The holy dissatisfaction is in the statement “this ain’t it.” I long for a day when I will see with my own eyes all things made new. My eternal home is going to be better than this. So I will keep looking up to Christ in the trenches of pain.

Why My Kids Aren’t “My Whole World”

I love kids. You don’t have seven of them if you hate children. For as much as they can drive you up the wall and challenge everything you ever believed about humanity, they are amazing!

We love their sense of humor and their imaginations and the funny things they say. We adore the snuggles and kisses and “I love yous”. We breathe deep each stage, enjoying their milestones and cherishing the memories of their better moments.

Seeing as these little sweeties need so much of our time and attention- especially at the beginning of their lives- it is so easy to let their little lives consume us. They can become our whole world.

My kids have been my whole world many times. The most obvious time was after the twins were born. It seemed for at least a year that there was time for nothing else but them! Feeding two, changing two, bathing two, cherishing two… and then add the other five that still needed a mom as well.

There are seasons where we must spend a majority of our time wearing the hat of Mom. It is a worthy and God-blessed position to hold. But there does come a line where motherhood and family becomes idolatry.

Idolatry is when we put any person or thing or idea above the Creator. The basic commandment is Exodus 20:3- “You shall have no other gods before me.” The sentence presupposes that something or someone else can be put before God.

Sure, there are obvious examples. Wooden or metal sculptures representing lesser deities being bowed to and venerated. In Luke 16:14-15, Jesus calls out the Pharisees for making money an idol. Verse 13 points out that money can be served instead of God.

Matthew 6:21 tells us that what we place the most value in is where our heart is. Now, don’t mistake me here- our kids are precious. More precious than possessions and fame. Worth the investment of our time and energy and prayers…. but should they be our entire heart? Our whole world?

It really comes down to this: who do we love most and how is that apparent in our lives? In one of the harshest portions of Scripture, Jesus seemingly puts off his flesh and blood and declares that whoever follows God wholeheartedly is His family. (Luke 8:38-39) Never mind the countless times He talks about leaving family to take His cross.

So let’s set this straight. Your kids are an eternal work. They are precious souls you have been loaned to bring up in the ways of their Creator. You are a steward of souls-just as your parents were for you. You teach them the ways of God through your lifestyle, speech, and behavior towards them.

This is a vital calling. It is crucial to civilization and the eternal purposes of God. But parenthood is not the only calling you have. And I think, amidst the pouring of ourselves into these little ones, we need to remember God comes first.

When God comes before kids, we are going to make time to learn more about Him. We will make corporate worship a priority for every member of our family instead of making our kids the excuse for sitting out. We will say yes to the non kid tasks God has for us: whether it is discipling that new believer, or singing in the choir, or cleaning the church. Even if it takes time away from our babies.

This is all part of your training of their souls too- they need God first to be patterned in your life so they know what it looks like for their lives. They need to know that they are not the center of anyone’s world, and if they want to be great in God’s Kingdom, they must become a servant.

We have raised a generation that is, by and large, convinced that they are the center of the universe. They believe their parents are there for them alone. When diminished in any way- which will happen- their self worth crumbles. And the rest of the world is held hostage to maintaining their fragile egos.

You see, this idea of family idolatry isn’t an either/or situation. You can and should love your family. They ought to have your time and attention and affection in ways that no other earthly thing should. But not above God. And your utter devotion to God is not to the detriment of you family, but to their ultimate benefit.

I say that as someone who has been there. I have made my kids the excuse. I have not modeled a servant of Christ for them perfectly. And God gives grace… so much grace. But I fooled myself into thinking that my only job on earth was to be their mom… nothing else. And, eventually, the prospect is maddening because I knew that I was created to be their mom- and other things as well.

I’m a wife. I’m a very part-time accounts receivable person. I’m a writer. I’m a Sunday school teacher. I’m a comedian (in my head). I’m an Uber driver (for the kids). I’m a sewer and baker and historian and counselor and…. I’ve got other callings. They help me to be a better mom to my kids, but ultimately they help me to be a better servant for my Lord.

But guilt. Guilt will do a number on you. Make you do things that make no sense. Create a martyr instead of a mentor. I have thought that it is selfish of me to need a break from the kids. I have thought that getting together for a Bible study or coffee with friends was not something I needed. That my kids needed me more.

Truth reveals. It reveals that, in my case, I have plenty of time with my kids. I’m a stay at home parent. The few hours they are out of my sight are not likely to undo the countless hours I have poured into them. They need a mom who has her cup filled with Jesus more than they need her to watch another movie or play another game with them.

Another truth revealed: I am not raising children to stay children forever. They will become adults before you know it. And yeah, we can share lessons and formally teach them things about being an adult. The most they will learn is from the patterns you show in your own life. So what kind of adult do you want your kids to be? Model that, as best you can. You want them to make no time for individual pursuits? You want them not to be a faithful church member? You want them to be a taker and not a giver?

And since we must raise kids to be adults someday, we do have to teach them independence from us, painful though it is. Why? I, personally, want to be able to sleep when my kids leave the house. If I don’t start giving them independence at appropriate intervals, I will always doubt that they are able to handle the real world. Brief separation is healthy. Most seasoned parents never share this difficult but real part of raising children.

So, yes, I’m going to say it: Your kids shouldn’t be your whole world. It isn’t healthy for them and it isn’t healthy for you. Point your kids to the One we should be doing all things for- let Him be everything to you.

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