Where do we find Mercy, Grace, and Help?

Some days are hard. Some days I can’t help but wonder if God even sees my despair. In my head, I know He does, but in the difficult moment, in the darkened folds of my heart where my flesh battles the Spirit, I dare to ask: Do you see me, God? Do you care?

We are at Muskoka Bible Campgrounds this week enjoying a family holiday and biblical teaching. Pastor Rick Baker brought a strong Word yesterday that spoke directly to my questions. The remainder of this post is the response the Lord stirred in my heart to his message.

HOLD FAST TO OUR CONFESSION

In dark moments I must remember the decision I made to trust Jesus and hold fast to that decision. Jesus knew sorrow, yet He remained without sin, making it possible for me to approach the throne of God with confidence.

DRAW NEAR TO THE THRONE OF GOD

When God seems quiet, when I am tempted to doubt His presence, I must draw near to Him. He is the one I have staked my life upon. He is the One who forgives me, and He promises me that when I draw near to his throne, I will receive mercy and find grace in my time of need.

MERCY. GRACE. HELP.

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Mercy. Christ shows me mercy by forgiving me every time I sin. I must show mercy to the one sinning against me. Mercy is undeserved, that is what makes it mercy. It is kindness toward the offender – of whom I am the worst.

Grace. Christ shows me grace. I am a sinner, born into sin and guilty of breaking God’s law. Grace came in the form of Jesus Christ providing victory over my sin. It is undeserved, a free gift to the recipient but paid for in full by Jesus Christ. In light of this, how can I do anything but extend grace and love to my offender?

Help. Where does my help come from? Psalm 121 tells us our help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. This passage tells me 6 times the Lord will keep me and 9 times it refers to the Lord. This God, who made the heaven and earth, who spoke it all into existence, can keep me. My eternity is safe. Earth will hold many troubles, but God has secured my eternal joy in Him.

WHERE DOES YOUR HELP COME FROM?

Where does your help come from? Lift your eyes up. Mercy, Grace, and help come from the Lord.

The Answer is Hidden in the Command

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. ~ 2 Chronicles 7:14

This landed heavily on my heart. I had been praying for quite some time for specific relief from God. I am called by His name. I was humble before Him and desperate for his favor. But day after day, and week after week, and month after month, and year after year the situation remained unchanged. I was left with one desperate prayer.

Fix this. Please.

Blind to my disobedience, I struggled to understand why God’s answer was slow to come. Why did it feel like He wasn’t answering at all?

Seeing myself in my child

My child ran to my side. “Mom, can I go outside?” He eagerly shifted his weight from foot to foot.

“Clean your room first.” I smiled to soften the gentle reminder that he had to complete his chores before he could reap the rewards of playing.

“Can I go outside?” he repeated a little louder.

“Clean your room,” I spoke in a firmer tone.

“MOM, I want to go outside!” He accentuated his frustration with flailing appendages.

“And I want you to clean your room.”

We cycled for quite some time. My frustration rose with each repeat. He wanted to know why I refused to answer him, and I wanted to know why he wasn’t listening to the answer I gave.

Bang. Just like that, I saw my sin.

I am just like my child

Clean the rooms in your

All those times I pleaded with the Lord for an answer, He WAS answering. It just wasn’t the answer I wanted.

Please, fix this.

Repent.

Please, God. I need you to fix this.

Turn from your wicked ways.

God, why aren’t you answering me?

Pray and seek my face.

Acknowledging my struggles and frustration while waiting for God’s perfect provision is not the same as repenting of my sin. It is not the same as being broken before the Lord and owning the nails I drove into His palms and owning my part in this present trial.

God does hear my prayers. He has told me what to do. Humble myself and pray. Seek His face. Turn from my wickedness. Then, He hears from heaven, forgives my sin and heals this land. He has told me to clean the rooms of my heart.

Lord, I have sinned greatly. You have called me to more than this. You have called me to be more than I am and promised it can be accompished by the power of your Spirit. I have, in many ways, hindered your work in my family by refusing to seek You in this hardship, by refusing to turn from my wickedness that contributes to this problem. Today that ends. Your loving kindness had led me to repentance.

The greatest obstacle to your working in my family is me. The greatest obstacle to your answering my prayers is my lack of obedience. I repent. By your power, I deliberately turn from this pattern of disobedience and choose to walk in a new direction toward new life in You. You are my God. I am your daughter.

 I understand you might not radically step in and change my circumstances. But as the pain in the moment comes, I will choose to believe that you are supernaturally working out your perfect plan for my family and me. I don’t know how it will come together, I don’t know when it will come together, but You are writing our story and You have already told me it ends in victory.

Put Your Hope in One Basket

We’ve all heard the popular saying, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” It is a caution against risking everything on one plan or one endeavor. It’s an encouragement to diversify and learn many skills. In many ways, this is good advice, but when it comes to eternity, our faith, and our hope for the future all those eggs belong in one basket: Jesus Christ.

Put All YourHope in One Basket

The church is in a crisis much like the church in Galatia when false teachers added back old rules and restrictions to salvation. They were trying the blend an old system of belief with the new system of belief. In Galatia, false teachers were telling the believers they needed Jesus PLUS circumcision.

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Salvation is not Jesus PLUS. Salvation is Jesus only.

Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no other, there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father except through me.”

Ephesians 4:21-24, “assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,  and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Jesus PLUS a checklist?

I spent some of my early ministry years trying to justify myself before God by following extra rules. They were weighty and exhausting and I was unable to keep them. I tried to do everything perfectly, trying to earn the favor of demanding people as if pleasing them was congruent to pleasing God. Here is a sample of the checklist I tried to follow to earn God’s favor:

  • Sing loud enough for people on the other side of the church to hear.
  • Teach in Sunday school
  • Play the piano
  • Lead women’s craft nights
  • Be a best friend to anyone who desired it
  • Become a counselor
  • Be a great problem solver

Believers in Jesus already have God’s favor

Your hope for the future is not connected to your ability to lead a craft night or deliver a meal. Just like the hope for the people in Galatia was not in circumcision. Your hope is in one thing: Jesus resurrected. When God looks at those who have trusted in Christ, he sees Christ, who is the perfect image-bearer of God.

When you believe in Christ, He covers your sin with his holiness, and God sees you as holy. For God’s chosen ones, those cleansed and made pure by the blood of Christ, our present identity in Christ is holy. Col 3:12, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved…” 1 Pet 2:9, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation…” We are holy, not because we have earned it or completed a checklist, we are holy because those adopted into the family of God are made holy by Christ.

Put your eggs in that basket.

Feeling Overwhelmed?

You probably saw it somewhere on social media today, another loaf of homemade bread. It was perfectly golden and swollen to impossible heights of fluffy goodness. Scrolling down the website page makes you feel worse. Picture after picture of perfect living spaces with bare counters and fresh flowers are arranged in spring colored palettes. Recipe after recipe boasts images that would make Martha Stewart salivate.

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Most of the days I’m trolling social media, I’m looking for recipes tagged easy and quick with five ingredients or less. I need directions I can follow while navigating the minefield of Lego covering our not-so-bare counters and floors. All those stylish outfits and home staging images on Pinterest make my closet and house look like a second-hand store after a 50% off sale.

Combat being overwhelmed by being overwhelmed

Consider something like fear. I fear lots of things, especially when it comes to putting myself out into the world through teaching, speaking, or writing books. Most of those fears can be listed under the subheading of fear of man.

I don’t fight against the fear of man by inflating my self-esteem or by convincing myself that I am all that and a bag of chips. (Great, now I want chips…) I fight fear with fear. The only way to defeat a sinful fear of man is by cultivating a right and healthy fear of God. Only then, will God’s opinion of me matter more than man’s opinion. Yes, there is space to correct poor biblical thinking regarding who I am in Christ, but ultimately fighting a fear of man is not about feeling better about myself. It’s about knowing who God is, what God has said about me, and believing His word to be true.

Be overwhelmed by the right things

Fighting against feeling overwhelmed is quite similar. I don’t fight being overwhelmed by throwing everything “extra” into the trash, although there may be space for that kind of application in my life. Ultimately, I combat the feeling of being overwhelmed with life by cultivating a heart that is overwhelmed with God. When I know who God is, what He has done for me, and what He has promised me for the future, pleasing Him captivates my heart. Suddenly, I want to pursue Him, obey Him, and walk in submission to Him. I want it more than I want to post a social media snapshot of my so-called perfect life. I am always overwhelmed when the pursuit of image or status overcomes my pursuit of God.

Keep the first things first

When my heart is fixated on the many blessings already received from God, on following His direction rather than the direction in which culture points me, listening to His voice rather than the voice of doubt, the other things fade away.

So bake bread from scratch, if you want to bake bread. Decorate with a minimalist flair, or layer nick nacks and pictures and doilies and lace. Stay caught up on your laundry with daily loads, or work through the wash one day a week. Find the rhythm that works for you in regards to how you manage your responsibilities, but even more important than that, find God.

If I keep the first things first, the rest tends to sort itself out. The most important decision I make every single day is the decision to enter into the presence of God, to seek Him first, to understand His call on my life, and to respond to Him in obedience.

And sometimes, after that, I bake bread. But most days, I do the laundry.

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The most important decision I make every single day is the decision to enter into the presence of God.

3 Lies that Kill a Marriage

Lie #1: Marriage is about my happiness.

My husband delights me. He really is my best friend, and we have a happy, happy life. But if my joy in life rests entirely with him, I am setting myself up for disappointment and setting him up for failure. Marriage takes compromise and compromise is not always pleasant. Marriage requires forgiveness, and forgiveness is hard. Marriage is about working together with the end goal of a union that brings God great glory. So marriage isn’t about my happiness, although it may bring me much. Marriage is about God. It is, in part, about making me more like Christ. It is a sanctifying journey that requires me to love someone like Christ loves me, with endless grace and patience.

I love you

Lie #2: I have to feel love to show love.

We have been married for 20 years. My love for my husband has grown and changed over those years. Our marriage could not sustain those electrifying moments of courtship for two decades. No marriage can.

But, my ability to love my husband does not hinge on those feelings remaining or on him reciprocating my gestures of love. It is entirely up to me whether I will act lovingly toward him. The decision to love, even if he is unlovable, glorifies God and sustains a marriage. And his decision to love me, when I am unlovable, glorifies God. When I serve my spouse instead of complaining about him, when I acknowledge and praise the things he is doing to provide for our family, when I pray for him and with him, when I work on becoming the woman God has called me to be, I am showing the world that love is a choice. I choose to never give up on my marriage because Christ never gave up on me.

And if I’m honest, I’m glad we didn’t stay in that crazy, tingling, wonderful dating phase. Our relationship has evolved into something much deeper and far more real than it was when we promised forever. The transition from infatuation to intentional and committed love can be hard for some couples, but marriage is worth fighting for.

Lie #3: My spouse should meet all my needs.

No person will ever meet all your needs perfectly, only Jesus Christ can do that. At some point, my spouse will fail or disappoint me. At some point, I will fail or disappoint him. And when we hurt each other in our brokenness, we can find rest in the One who will never fail to love and understand us exactly as we require. I must find my identity and worth in my Saviour.

Just as no one can eat your food for you, or accept the truth of the gospel on your behalf, no one can love your spouse for you. You are in charge of that decision. Will you decide today to love the partner that you promised forever?

 

*none of this implies a spouse in an abusive relationship should remain in a dangerous situation. If your partner is harming or threatening you, it is imperative that you find a safe place and seek biblical counseling. 

 

**from the archives

This one is for you

For the one buckling under bad news, for the one who tugs her sleeves over the track marks of her past, for all of us limping barefoot down the broken and narrow road, this post is for you. This post is for me.

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God invites the wretched to come. He takes all that is true in the enemy’s taunts and places it upon Jesus. In the greatest exchange known to mankind, He takes our sin and gives us Christ. We can’t earn it, we don’t deserve it, but He does it anyway. He is for you. His plans are good, even when this busted world makes the opposite seem true. His Word promises that beauty will rise from the ashes of disappointment and heartache.

The Gospel for Every Day

The gospel truth is life-changing not only in that first moment of salvation, but in every moment that follows. The gospel truth matters today because we need God today just as much as we needed Him yesterday and just as much as we will need Him tomorrow. The gospel is good news for the guilty, good news in the mundane, and good news for the shamed. It is good news for every day.

The gospel truth declares us clean, holy, righteous, and able to stand before the Lord because Jesus makes it possible. We can approach His throne with confidence knowing He hears our prayers, has gone before us and walks beside us even now.

Enough

He is good even when life is not. And when the shame of sin, the weight of guilt, the hugeness of needs overwhelm, God remind us that he is enough. He is more than able to cover sin, remove shame and meet every need perfectly. We praise the Lord. In all the earth there is none like Him.

The end of the story

When you don’t know how this trial ends remember how this story ends. God is victorious. Nothing can steal victory from Him and from all who believe in Him. If you belong to Him, you are cupped in the palm of his hand and no one can steal you away.  Thank you, Lord!

 

*from the archives

Mean what you pray

Lord, cause my children’s actions to reflect the true state of their hearts so I know how to pray for them. Lord, open their eyes to their need for you. Cause them to grieve their sin and lead them to repentance. Lord, do whatever necessary to save them. Lord, give me patience and wisdom. Create in me an urgency to pray for my children. Do not let me fall into a slumber of false security.

Pray what you mean and mean what you pray

I meant these prayers. I meant every word. But I was in no way prepared for God’s answer. I wanted the victory without the conflict. I wanted parenthood to be a party when it’s actually a war. Raising children in the ways of the Lord is an all-in, no-holds-barred, the enemy-fights-dirty battle and eternity is at stake. Sometimes, even after suiting up in the armor, we get speared right through the heart.

raising children is an

Parenting gets HARD. Not every day. But some days. Sometimes days and days and days strung together. And you’ll have to decide what you’re going to do when God’s answers to your prayers don’t line up with your expectations.

“God’s answers frequently do not look at first like answers. They look like problems. They look like trouble. They look like loss, disappointment, affliction, conflict, sorrow, and increased selfishness. They cause deep soul wrestling and expose sins and doubts and fears. They are not what we expect, and we often do not see how they correspond to our prayers.” ~ Jon Bloom, The Unexpected Answers of God | Desiring God

Am I really ready for God to do whatever is necessary to save my child’s soul? That is a scary prayer – yet it is the one that matters more than many others that slip into its place. It matters more than health, more than physical protection, and more than happiness. It’s the kind of prayer that only God can answer. Only God can transform a heart of stone into a heart of repentance. Only God can put back together a heart broken by sin. But before the heart can be rebuilt, it has to be broken. Nothing grieves a parent more than watching her child break.

The urgency to pray for my children increases as I see the battle escalate in intensity. This too is an answered prayer. There is no false security as swords clash in the spiritual realm and the kingdom takes ground in my child’s heart.

“We can feel like we’re going backward because we are not clearly moving forward. We cry out in painful confusion and exasperation (Psalm 13:1; Job 30:20) when what’s really happening is that God is answering our prayers. We just expected the answer to look and feel different… With regard to God’s answers to prayer, expect the unexpected. Most of the greatest gifts and deepest joys that God gives us come wrapped in painful packages.” ~ Jon Bloom, The Unexpected Answers of God | Desiring God

So, tonight, I choose to praise the Lord for answered prayer. I choose to believe He is moving mightily, and as I fix my eyes on Him and redirect my child toward Him, He will have his way in our family and in our home.

I’m am praying with GREAT expectation.

 

*from the archives

Fractured Bones Rejoice

An albatross of sin drives nails through innocence. You are blameless in judgment. Yet, my fractured bones rejoice. Steadfast love and fragrant mercy blot out transgressions. You teach wisdom and lead the penitent heart to repentance. You absorb my stain, leaving me clean. Not for me, but for You.

And I sing a new song, a song of righteousness, praising you and only you. I bring you the sacrifice of my broken spirit, my fragmented and contrite heart, myself brought low to you. I offer praise and choose joy when life is not joyful. I trust that you, God, and only you, are in control when life spins out of control. I worship you with a joy-filled heart and choose to believe you are good, even when life is not.

When I don’t feel your goodness, and when circumstances whisper you have betrayed me, my praise is a sacrifice. When I lay on the altar my unfulfilled desires and choose to trust the God I cannot understand – it is a sacrifice of praise.

sacrifice of praise

This joy is not happiness, it is not a bubbling of thanks spilling out in gratitude. It is a settled belief that you are good. That despite feelings, circumstances, uncertainties, and unanswered questions, you hold it all. And when I worship here, in the difficulty of now, my praise becomes an offering of trust and adoration that does not hinge on getting my way. It is a beautiful, full-surrender, that might be scary, but is oh, so good.

It is far too easy to show up every Sunday and never really show up. And Lord, I want to show up. I want to be present, invested, all-in, for your plans for your ultimate glory. I know it won’t be easy. I am trying to hold loosely. I tremble over what might lay on the road ahead. But I believe this is your calling for me – for all of your children – to praise you on the narrow road during the good and the bad, the hard and the easy, all for your glory.

It is my sacrifice of praise. These fractured bones rejoice.

 

*from the archives

Cracked Open and Ugly

How long, O Lord? How long until this suffocating weight lifts and lungs fill with breath? How far will the greedy fingers of darkness reach? How deep must I dig to bury grief? Crippled and raw, I drop at your feet weeping fresh wounds and blackened bruises. I cannot withstand this avalanche of calamity.

where are you lord

The winds batter your faithful. The tempest abuses your chosen. This reed drowns in the very water that once gave life. Where are you, Lord? Why do you wait? Where is your redemption? Why isn’t it now?

My cracked open heart spills out ugly. The short-suffering, inpatient, unloving, unforgiving, resentful, discontent, unrested, harsh-hearted sin that stiffens against accepting anything but good from your hand. And the wind blows.

But even here, You lead me. Even here, Your hand guides me. Even when the angry gusts twist and tear and push and pull, You are here. And I can no longer resist your presence. This empty heart ringing hallow beats chooses praise. Praise to the God who never changes, who never walks away. Who understands empty because He spilled out empty for love. Praise to the God who allows the hardship and tears – but doesn’t waste a single drop on the ground, who keeps count of my tossing, my sacrifice of praise.

Praise to the God who sees beauty in broken, who receives praise from fractured bones, who promises one day to press a nail-scarred hand to my cheek and wipe away every tear.

O Lord, do not tarry.

 

*from the archives

Be Overwhelmed

Be overwhelmed.

When my husband and I attended the 2018 Senior Pastor and Wives retreat hosted by the Great Commission Collective Doug Long, one of the speakers, opened with those words. “Be overwhelmed.”

He instantly got my attention. Sometimes parenting through a problematic moment overwhelms me. Sometimes it’s the unchecked items on my to-do list at the end of the day. Sometimes it’s looking ahead to the packed calendar and wondering where I will muster up the energy to not merely survive the upcoming month, but enjoy each moment as a God-given gift. Why should I embrace this feeling of being overwhelmed?

I asked on social media what overwhelms other people, and I received a variety of answers. They ranged from emotional struggles (loneliness) to physical hardships (finances, household chores, illness) to the general response: life. All of life overwhelms. And Long says we should embrace this?

No, he doesn’t. Stick with me.

Underwhelmed by God

The deeper issue is not that I’m overwhelmed by life, but I am underwhelmed by God. When was the last time the goodness of God, the fact that He intervened in my life and saved me, the way He sets my feet on solid ground, and makes me lie down in green pastures, and leads me beside quiet waters has overwhelmed me? Maybe, just maybe, when we kick the One meant to overwhelm us from His proper place every other circumstance rushes in to fill the void.

How can we cultivate a heart that is overwhelmed by God more than circumstance? How do we train our mind to go to God first in a crisis moment and common mundane moments? Long addresses this in his message. My paraphrase will never be as powerful as his exact words, but I’ll share what I learned:

We don’t want to be overwhelmed. We long for things to be comfortable and we pursue anything that makes life less complicated. We need to “get over” wanting to feel less overwhelmed and instead embrace it: be overwhelmed, BUT be overwhelmed by the right thing.

Be Overwhelmed

When was the last time the magnitude of your responsibilities overwhelmed you? Last week? Last month? Yesterday? We all likely have an answer, but can you answer this:

When was the last time you were overwhelmed by the love of your God?

When God goes into the background, circumstances take the forefront, but the opposite is true as well. When God stays in the forefront, where He belongs, circumstances remain behind Him.

“When we are overwhelmed by God’s love our theology dictates how we feel and perceive a situation, not our feelings.” ~ Doug Long

I asked those same people I polled on social media how they could train their hearts to go to God first. Although they didn’t use the words “train themselves” in their responses, there was a consistent theme: run to God. Practice going to God first to create the habit. Surround yourself with encouraging people. Ensure my heart is right before the Lord. Surrender to his plans.

They all seem to capture the idea of teaching our stubborn hearts through the discipline of seeking God through our trials to be overwhelmed by His love for us.

Be overwhelmed.