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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How do you handle life when God doesn’t answer your prayer like you hoped He would? What do you do with that disappointment?
I’ve mentioned before the heartbreak and disappointment I have experienced with the unexpected deaths of my infant son in 2011 and then my mother this past year. I ran to God after we lost Jude because I had nothing left, nowhere else to turn. God carried me through and still does. I have to walk with Him every day because I can’t do it on my own! At first, I asked God to take the pain away because it was too much. For months, I begged for God to remove my “thorn.” The pain was overwhelming. But through His Word and prayer, God has revealed to me that the pain will not be as sharp as it was on day one, but it will remain because His grace is sufficient for me (2 Corinthians 12:9).
I’ve walked it out again this past year as we adjust to life without my mom. I’ve questioned God. “Why? Why do I have to walk this path yet again?” The walk has been similar because their deaths were both so unexpected. There was no time to process. But God in His love and mercy is so gentle and patient with me. He reminds us through His Word that He doesn’t like it either. Death wasn’t the plan. It grieves His heart just as it does mine! The hope I cling to is…God knew. He knew the plans, even though I didn’t see it coming. God wasn’t surprised, just as He isn’t with your life. The prayers you’ve asked for, the people you wanted God to heal but He didn’t…He heard you. He knows. It just isn’t always the answer we want. He doesn’t always heal in the way we desire.
I’ve been reading a book recently, “When God Doesn’t Fix It,” by Laura Story. She wrote the popular song, “Blessings.” It has reminded me of some powerful truths about God and His generous love for us. “If you find yourself struggling in a situation you didn’t see coming, consider it an opportunity to trust God. When we trust that God is for us and not against us, we can see our future as He sees it. It is a future filled with plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. And plans that will ultimately draw you closer to Him” (Pg.79). Isn’t that so powerful? Allow that truth to wash over you today.
And if you’re in that place today, can I tell you how sorry I am? Loss of loved ones is so difficult for us! The heartbreak of moving on with life without people who are so important to us is difficult. Finding the new normal can take some time. Allow God to have your pain and He will restore you. I am telling you this because I have received it. The pain still hurts, but I am still following God because I love Him and trust that He has this all under control. The plans for my life were put into motion even before I was a thought. Let the Bible guide you and your life, and when life’s devastating events come, it will be your anchor in the waves. He will be your anchor when life doesn’t make sense.
Through this process, God has revealed to me so much of His heart. He never leaves me! He sustains me. He keeps track of every tear I cry. All I can do is continue to lean on Him and continue to trust He knows what He’s doing. We can’t understand His ways, because if we could, He wouldn’t be God, the Alpha and Omega, the only One highest and deserving of all glory!
But he said to me, “My grace is all you need. My power is strongest when you are weak.”
So I am very happy to brag about how weak I am. Then Christ’s power can rest on me.
2 Corinthians 12:9
But you, LORD, are a shield around my glory, the One who lifts my head high.
I call out to the LORD, and he answers me from his holy mountain.
You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book.
“In the drama of life, God is the Director behind the scenes.” I read that quote one day last week and wrote it down. I found it this morning as I was doing some planning for the week ahead. I don’t know about you, but I am pretty good about including a cry to God as I experience the “drama of life.” What about the other less climactic, non-dramatic parts of life? Do you allow God to direct those, too?
I had started working through the book of James a couple verses at a time about the same time Pastor Matthew started the teaching series. James is blunt, isn’t he? I’m always that diplomatic friend who doesn’t like to see her other friends be offended, so I’m often the one saying, “What he/she really meant to say was...” I feel if James were alive today, he’d give me a run for my money. I can almost imagine him looking at me and saying, “What I really meant to say is exactly what I said!” No sugar coating, soft edges, or ruffles allowed.
James totally convicted me as I read through his teachings and dug into the Word with my study tools. (I’m often equipped with a concordance, my study Bible with a commentary, and at least one other translation of the Bible while I study. Thanks Pastor Chris, for that advice!) I was reading James 4, and in the last section of that chapter, I saw my name written virtually in big neon letters between the lines.
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there,
carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.
What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
James 4:13-14 NIV
Ouch. That was difficult. I am a planner. Even now, while I’m in the midst of a career transition (read: unemployed), I have very detailed notes of tasks, appointments, and errands for each day. I ask God every morning about the dramatic parts—to guide me in my job search, to make it clear if I should pursue a position in a certain company, etc. That’s not hard, because I am totally clueless and at His mercy in this situation. I have no idea what’s next, and I have to lean on Him to show me.
The “easy” stuff, however...wow. I am totally guilty about filling up my time with menial tasks, etc., without going to God first and asking if there’s something He wants to use me for that day. Should I be volunteering somewhere? Taking someone a meal? Writing a devotional? Visiting a sick friend? I think you can see where I’m going. Totally convicted.
I wrote down these two pieces from my commentary so they really stick with me. They hit me HARD. They made me immediately ask God for forgiveness and ask Him to help me do better. The first: “A clear characteristic of having an affair with worldliness is making plans without consulting God.” The second: “Sin is not only actively committing evil deeds, it is also passively failing to do what you know God wants you to do.” An affair with worldliness. Passively failing. Powerful phrases!
My prayer for you as you fill your schedule with summer vacations, bucket list check- offs, and other fun adventures, is that you remember to seek God in the small stuff, too. He’s there —we just need to be obedient and ask Him to participate, too. Ask Him to be at the center of your plans and include Him in your day!
“…But now, O God, strengthen my hands.” Nehemiah 6:9b
I am reading through the book of Nehemiah right now in my personal devotions. It’s about a man who was so moved by the state of his people (the Jews) and his city (Jerusalem) that he left what he knew (a successful career as a cupbearer to the king) to go and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. It was an arduous task. Nehemiah not only has the struggle of rebuilding destroyed city walls, but he has to motivate the people to join him in the task and on top of that there are those who don’t want him to succeed. All in all, you may say Nehemiah has a pretty “big” task ahead of him. Something that was outside of his capabilities to handle. And yet he was called and responded to that call.
I often find myself in a lot of similar scenarios. No, I am not repairing battle damaged walls, but as I follow Christ and as I heed His calling on my life I more often than not find myself in situations “bigger” than me. Being a Pastor, building a house, installing and running AVL for a church are all things I have never done before, all things that are “big” and arduous tasks. My role at the church calls me to things that are “bigger” than me all the time.
This call is not just relegated to biblical characters and pastors. The calling of God is on each of our lives and at times that calling is “bigger” than us. The call to be the husband/wife God wants us to be, the call to be the parent God wants us to be, the call to love our physical neighbor or co-worker, the call to overcome an addiction or change a bad habit in our lives, or see our marriage restored. All these things are “big”, all of them are hard at times, all of them are a great calling. And all these things require something more than we have inside of ourselves to do...
Nehemiah’s story goes on to say that in 52 days he and the people of Jerusalem finished the walls.
How? Well, throughout the entire book, runs the theme of God’s hand being on Nehemiah, God’s strength providing for Nehemiah…God providing, protecting, and sustaining them. There were trials and there were set backs…but through it all Nehemiah trusted that God would see the mission through.
That same promise holds true for us as well. Following God will inevitably lead us to situations that are “bigger” than us. And in that moment, we have the choice to shrink away or trust and rely on the promise that if God has called you to it…He will see you through it. He will be the hand that guides you and comforts you and strengthens you every step of the way.
I had a really rough “mom” day last Friday. Not just part of the day, but the entire day was extremely difficult. I had to say everything three to four times, and both of my girls (I have an almost 2-year-old and a 5-year-old) still wouldn’t listen. I felt like I was constantly yelling all day long, and I was exhausted and frustrated. I was feeling defeated, feeling like a bad mom and about to start to cry when out of the blue I hear my 5-year-old softly say, ”Mom, you’re doing a great job. You are a great Mom.” As soon as she said that, I just felt this weight lifted off, and I got a reality check. I felt like God wanted me to know that I wasn’t a failure and that I was doing a good job. in that moment I also felt God was reminding me that I am going to miss this. I am going to miss them being little and to stop rushing, to stop yelling and to just take it all in. It’s okay if the dishes aren’t done. It’s okay if there are toys scattered everywhere. That stuff isn’t important. What is important are the memories that I am making with those little girls.
God knew that I needed that reminder. It was even sweeter that He used my daughter to speak to me. Little moments like this impact me in such a BIG way. Knowing that the Creator of the universe takes the time to meet me in the middle of my hot mess of a life to encourage me is humbling and softens my heart.
Knowing how much that one statement from my 5-year-old impacted me makes me think of how many times I may have missed an opportunity to do the same thing for someone in my life. I don’t want to miss those opportunities that God so graciously gives me. I know that, sometimes, if I feel the Holy Spirit putting someone on my heart to reach out to, I can make excuses or downplay the importance of it. By doing that, I am missing out on an opportunity to lift someone up and to glorify Him.
Let’s be purposed in listening to God and following His instructions. Let’s lift up the people around us. Little doses of encouragement and kindness go a long way, and God’s timing is ALWAYS perfect. He knows what your friend needs before you do, so listen to Him.
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 ESV
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
John 14:26 ESV
Recently a few of us were talking about some of the past sports that we played in high school and we remembered some of the conditioning that went along with preparing for the season. My husband told a story of the first day of practice when he was coaching high school boys basketball. My husband had all the players lined up in the gym and was explaining how they were going to do a huge amount of running during the season. He explained the importance of being in shape to keep up and even have an advantage in the games. He then proceeded to explain the running/speed drill that he was going to have them do next. It consisted of running down to the other end of the gym and then back again over and over in a certain time frame. When he said, "Go" the team started sprinting down to the other end of the gym. One of the boys looked like he was participating in the drill as he sprinted down the floor, but instead sprinted right out the door of the gym. He never returned to practice again. He had heard what was going to be expected of him during the season and realized he either wasn't interested in putting his body through the conditioning or didn't feel like he could put his body through the conditioning. Most of the other boys stuck it out and the team ended up being in really good shape and had a great basketball season that year. Unfortunately, that one player who ran out of the gym the first day of practice missed out on experiencing the joys of the successful basketball season. His unwillingness to endure the hard practices prohibited him from experiencing the payoff.
I'm sure there were many times throughout the difficult practices that some of those team members wondered why they were having to do the drills that they were doing. They may not have understood what the practices or drills were preparing them for in games. But Matt had a plan. He knew the drills and practices were for specific skills that they would need in order to win games. I wonder if this is comparable to what we experience with God at times. At times, as Christians, we experience situations or periods in our lives where we wonder what God is doing. We wonder what the purpose is. We question why God does't lead us out of the difficult season of life. We may be waiting for something (a child, a job, a spouse, reconciling a relationship, having someone we love accept Christ) or we may be waiting for a difficult season to pass. Whatever it may be, it can be tough to wait on God even though we know He has a plan for us.
I wish I could give you the perfect answer in this devotion on exactly why you may be experiencing a time of waiting or desire for a season to pass in your life. But, here's what I do know: God is good and has a perfect plan and purpose for you. It's during these seasons that God wants us to fully trust Him, to press into Him through prayer and the reading of His Word. Somehow when we do these things God works in us. God changes us. God reveals Himself to us. God sustains us. Take comfort this week in remembering that we aren't doing life alone. Remember that in our confusion, in the middle of the process, God is still God and has a perfect plan for us!
For the Word of the Lord is upright, and all His work is done in faithfulness. Psalm 33:4