Teaching at the Tree is communicated in a practical, easy to understand way that is relevant to your everyday life. It’s not religious jargon, just the truth of God’s word presented in a loving and challenging way.
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Sometimes it’s just dark. As I sit and look out my window, a little more than a month after the first day of spring, it’s cold, rainy, and gray outside. My initial reaction is to see the darkness. I’m trying to see the beauty in the green grass, and daffodils popping up, but it’s hard to see around the gray. Sometimes it’s just dark.
I’m really fortunate that where I live, we are very rarely without electricity. Earlier this winter, though, just for a short time, the power went out in the middle of the night. You don’t realize how many things in your home provide ambient light until they quit providing it: the clock beside the bed, the nightlight in the hallway, the charger on my electric toothbrush, the clocks on the stove and microwave, the light coming from the satellite box, and several others. It’s amazing how much light those little devices emit. It’s really dark without them.
My mind always wanders to how unfathomably dark this world was before God created light. In the second verse of the Bible (Genesis 1:2), we read that the earth was void, without form, and darkness covered the entire planet. In just four words, God changed all of that. “Let there be light,” He spoke in verse three, and there was light. Light is a theme of hope and faith throughout the Bible from that point on.
There are days when I feel like my personal electricity has gone out, days I feel like the planet earth before God spoke light into it. Friends, this is not a place where we are meant to dwell. They are dark days, ones where I find myself reaching for God in my darkness. I find myself asking Him to be the flicker of a candle in my soul, praying for Him to “flip the switch” and give me just enough light to see all the goodness around me.
Let’s be real for a moment…spiritual warfare is REAL. The enemy is REAL. There are forces out there that want us to be consumed by the darkness, for these dark days to become the norm in our lives so we can’t focus on furthering God’s kingdom. It is my deepest desire, if you find yourself in these “darkness experiences,” that you are able to see that God’s light is still there, unchanging and shining as brightly as it ever has.
I think one of my favorite verses about the “darkness experience” is in the book of Micah. The prophet Micah was really feeling bummed out about the demise of religion in the society around him. He reminds the people that they need to constantly look up, claiming victory over their enemies because God will always win. He says to the people (really paraphrased), “Folks, God’s been really upset with us, we’ve sinned against Him. He’s chosen to reconcile Himself to us, and it’s all going to be good but we’ve got to get through this storm first.” Here comes my favorite part of this story: “Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light” (Micah 7:6). The people took hold of their situation and refused to let the enemy take hold during their time of darkness!
Yes, friends, sometimes it’s dark. I may be confused, lonely, sad, and scared…but instead of allowing the enemy to take hold of the darkness, I know my God will be my light, my comfort, my teacher, and my guide. Even if the light I can see at that moment is just a flicker, it’s still light. It’s power…heavenly power that restores us from these dark moments.
If you are experiencing a dark season in your life, it is my prayer you continue to seek the hope we’ve been promised in Him. He’s got something for you in this season, even if it’s too dark to see it right now. Don’t allow the enemy to have a stronghold over you! Look up, for the Lord Almighty is the light!
A Living Sacrifice
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
I spend a lot of time thinking about worship. My job at the church is to lead worship, and every Sunday morning I try to ask the question, "Am I doing everything I can to lead worship in a biblical way?" The last thing I want to do is get in the way of that process, or distract someone from God. That being said, I also have to live with the understanding that I can't make anyone worship. I can encourage people, and I can try to give them words to worship God through songs, but I can't physically make anyone worship. That's because no one can make another person offer their body “as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God…" That's what true worship means, and that’s something you can't force people into. It has to come from the heart. So rather than attempt to force people to worship, my goal is to create a space where people can participate in that sacrifice, without me or the band getting in the way. But what does that practically look like?
Worship means making God the priority in your life. It's offering everything to Him and putting yourself second. That's where verse two comes in: "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." To truly make God the priority and offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, we have to give a lot of things up. We have to transform. In Romans 6:6-7, Paul writes: "We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin." I think that goes hand in hand with what it means to worship. It means we have to sacrifice the things that pull us farther from God. We have to die to ourselves to make Him the priority.
Does that mean we can't worship God if we are not living the perfect life? No. But these verses tell us what the posture of our hearts should be. In moments of worship, we should approach God by offering our priorities, our desires, and our lives as a living sacrifice to Him. We need to give up our desire to conform to the world. The next time you enter into a time of worship with the Lord, I want to encourage you to approach that time with the kind of humble heart these scriptures describe, because that is "your true and proper worship."
And he said to the people of Israel, "When your children ask their fathers in times to come, 'What do these stones mean?' then you shall let your children know, 'Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.' For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever."
Joshua 4:21-24 ESV
I have had a monumental year. Through the graciousness of our God and His outpouring through His people, the Lord provided a house for us on the most beautiful piece of land I have ever seen. And the process so closely mirrors the walk of the Israelites, and their journey from slavery to freedom, that it’s scary.
My home is a story of God’s calling: I don’t throw that around lightly. Just like the Israelites, I felt like God asked me to do this…to go after this land that we purchased.
My home is a story of God overcoming obstacles: We didn’t face a pharaoh but a situation that put our plans to a halt. We were rejected by the village counsel the day we moved out of our old house. It was disheartening, as I am sure it was when the Israelites stood with an army on one side and the Red Sea on the other.
My home is a story of how rejecting God’s call can leave you wandering: The Israelites were promised freedom, yet they let fear drive them into a different kind of slavery, a slavery of distrust and disobedience. They chose not to go in because it was hard and scary, and that decision left them wandering the desert. We chose fear for a while, despite God’s call to push into what we really wanted (to build our house). It left us continually pushing our time without a home longer and longer. And we almost settled on the desert for our home.
My home is a story of God’s constant love and grace: We should have been left to wander, but through a good friend’s encouragement, we were able to pick up the fight and try something hard, which showed us a renewed sense of God’s calling and God’s hand.
I could go on and on about all the ways, despite my failing heart, that God showed up and came through and moved in our lives to bring us to where I sit today…
Two days from now, my family and I will walk into our promised land. Our finished home. Our testimony and memorial that God is good, He is present, He cares, and He is faithful to His promises.
Maybe it’s silly to compare the two…I know it’s just a material thing. But for me and my family, it is our memorial. We get to remember and tell the world that our God is good and He always can be trusted, because He always does what He says He will do.
“Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.” -Jon Acuff
I have seen this quote all over the place recently. I took it as a sign that God was trying to tell me something. Maybe you are like me, and often play the comparison game. It’s not something we want to admit, but I think if we are honest, we do this in some way with a lot of things in our lives. We compare our children to others; we compare our successes and failure. Often we will compare the way our house looks or even how we size up to others. But how often do we compare our faith journey to that of others? I do this a lot more than I realized. I often have thoughts in my head that my story isn’t nearly as powerful as so and so. I think that because a lot of what I do is unseen and behind the scenes, that my story and impact are not as great as those who are a little more vocal and out front. Sometimes I will look at other women and think they have it all together…and I feel like an incredible hot mess over here, struggling to keep it all together some days. I somehow think I have to be just like others, exactly where they are in their journey, or doing the things they are doing in order to really make an impact. I think we have all been there, thinking to ourselves “I wish I was more like him or her.”
But in typical God fashion when I find myself in that place I read something like this:
“God chose you for the story.” Angie Smith
The day I read that in my devotional, I literally stopped in my tracks and cried. It spoke exactly what I needed to hear for the state I found myself in that day. First of all, God did not intend or create all of us to be the same. We each have a different journey to walk, so comparing our journey to someone else’s is nonsense. We weren’t meant to walk someone else’s journey, just as they weren’t intended to walk ours. It is time to stop comparing and time to start living. I can be encouraged by the path others have walked, but I am not called to walk out their story. I am called to live out mine. God molded and created me uniquely for the path and the purpose He had designed for me from the beginning. In fact, I will be way more effective if I focus on my own journey and not someone else’s.
What does this look like for you? In what areas of your life do you compare yourself to others? I want to encourage you this week to take some time to reflect on this. Write down a list of all the characteristics and personality traits God has given you. Make a list of the pieces and parts that make you who you are, and then ask God to help you use those things for Him. Don’t ask to be more like someone else; rather, embrace who God designed you to be. He designed and needs your exact personality and skill sets to accomplish what He created you for. No one else can write your story. God chose you specifically for a purpose…it is time to embrace who you are and the story God is writing specifically for you.
Let’s be a people who no longer compare. Instead, let’s be a people who are living out our individual callings. God wants to use you, my dear friends, whether it is up front or behind the scenes. You matter, and your story is important. We each do ministry differently, and that was God’s plan from the start. Be who God created you to be and do the ministry He has set before you! That is how we are most effective and able to live life to the fullest. You were created with purpose! Don’t ever forget that.
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus,
so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.
Ephesians 2:10 NLT
How much are you giving to God? Give yourself a real grade on a scale of 0-100. What grade do you receive on how much you are giving to God and your walk with Him?
What aspects of your life are holding you back? In what areas are you giving God the cheap seats?
When we partially search for God, and only give Him a portion of our hearts, it is more difficult than He intended. We put things in the place of God that cannot and will not take His place. As you pray and spend time talking and listening to God, ask Him what areas you need to change.
And you will seek for Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.
There are two important things I want you to think about when you read this verse. First, God does not play tricks on us. If you want to find Him, you will. He doesn't say, "Look for me and I may stop by." No, He says, "You WILL seek for Me and You WILL find me."
Second, it is important that we search for God with our full heart. Every aspect of our lives has to turn to Him and long for Him to shape our minds and thoughts. You wouldn't bake a cake with half the ingredients, so why would you expect God to move in your life when you've only given 25% to Him?
I pray that God convicts you this week, and opens your eyes to the full potential He has for you.