Chalk-Line Faith

          “The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.” Proverbs 16:1 (ESV)

A few years ago, I was praying for a close friend. She had made choices that created a personal crisis. It had the power to destroy almost everything she cared about. As I prayed for her, I asked, “Lord, what can I do?” Though I was asking God for help, I was already on task.

I would offer wisdom. I would be her accountability partner. I would give encouragement to support her through the hard days ahead. I would help her navigate this crisis.

As I prayed, however, the answer tumbling into my heart was not what I expected.

This is not your assignment.

This was surprising. It seemed right to offer words of wisdom or help her make a plan. It seemed best to help her take the next step.

But that’s not what God was asking of me in this situation. As the weeks passed, I started seeing this journey with my friend as “chalk-line faith.” It was like God had drawn a chalk line around my feet. Everything within that chalk line was something I could do. I could pray. I could be present. I could love her.

Everything outside of that chalk line was either my friend’s assignment or God’s.

Years later, I’ve realized the power of chalk-line faith. It’s something God has brought to mind in other situations. It’s not easy, but I’ve learned from it.

In today’s key passage, we find a wise saying that helps us when we’re making plans, especially if those plans concern someone else.

Proverbs 16:1 says, “The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.”

My plan was to rescue my friend, because I loved her. Chalk-line faith recognized that God loves her even more than I do.

My plan was to offer words of wisdom, perhaps even a plethora of them. Chalk-line faith meant I held back my well-meaning words because the Lord may have had something different to say.

My plan, though I may not have admitted it, was to help fix the situation and soften the consequences. Chalk-line faith meant God wanted to do His work in her and for her to trust in Him as she did the hard work.

Chalk-line faith wasn’t easy in the beginning. There were multiple times words bubbled inside of me dying to get out, but each time, I imagined that chalk line.

One day she called and said, “Thanks for listening. I really appreciate all the words you spoke to me. They were so wise.”

I smiled at this. I had not given one piece of advice, and the words I did share contained no plans, no fix-its, but simply let her know I was praying and I loved her.

Instead, she and God were talking daily, and He was doing an incredible work in her heart. It wasn’t an easy or consequence-free path, but it was one that was changing her.

Proverbs 17:27a says, “A truly wise person uses few words” (NLT).

My friend was not the only one God was teaching through “chalk-line faith.” I was learning as well.

Wisdom is not found in our plans or our words. Wisdom is found in allowing God to have the first and final word.

Heavenly Father, my instinct is to rush in and make plans, especially if someone I care about has made mistakes. Remind me of that chalk line around my feet, Lord. Show me when I start to step outside of my assignment. Give me the courage to trust You and allow You to work in this person’s heart and life. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

You Are A Place of Prayer

Under the Old Covenant, the temple was the house of God, the place of prayer for His people, the children of Israel. The temple had three compartments, one of which was the Holy of Holies, and it held the presence of God! Amazingly, now our renewed and sanctified spirit is the place where His presence dwells!

Under the New Covenant, the apostle Paul tells us that God’s presence is now a mystery revealed, which is of Christ in us, “the Hope of glory” (see Colossians 1:27).

Because of the union you now have with Christ, you can be close to God because you are God’s living temple. You are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, a building still under construction, but nonetheless His house, His tabernacle. Paul goes to great length in encouraging us to live a holy life because we are the temple of God.

Whereas the children of Israel had to go to a specific place to offer their worship with detailed instructions, we have the incredible privilege of worshiping God anywhere and at any time. Therefore, we can be called a house of prayer.

Prayer Starter: Oh, Lord, I thank You for Your Holy Spirit Who lives inside of me. Thank You that Your awesome presence goes with me everywhere I go! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

The Ultimate Father Son Relationship

John 5:19-20

God is called by a variety of names in the Bible, and each one sheds light on an aspect of His nature. Jesus’ favorite title for Him was Father. Surprisingly, this name for God is rarely used in the Old Testament, but in the New Testament, it’s used often—by both Jesus and early Christians.

Many of God’s names speak of His majestic and lofty attributes that distinguish Him from mankind, but Father conveys intimacy. Jesus used this name not only because He was God’s Son but also to help people realize that Jehovah isn’t some unapproachable deity gazing down on them from a distance. Rather, He is their loving heavenly Father, who cares about them and wants to be involved in their everyday lives.

Throughout His time on earth, Christ revealed by example what this kind of loving relationship is like. He fully depended on His Father for daily direction, power, and provision and obediently carried out His every instruction. Jesus often took a break from the demands of ministry to find a secluded place to be alone with Jehovah. We know the Lord successfully conveyed to His disciples the riches of this relationship, because Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father” (John 14:8)—he wanted to know Him the way Christ did.

Do you long for that kind of intimacy with God? He wants to relate to you as a father does to His child—and He’s given you the privilege of drawing near to Him. In fact, He chose you before the foundation of the world and waits with open arms for you to enter His loving embrace.

Contentment In All Circumstances

Philippians 4:10-13

Think about the times when you have felt truly satisfied. What caused you to feel that way? For most people, a sense of well-being comes when their environment is just the way they want it, but that wasn’t the case with Paul. He learned to be content in every circumstance, good or bad.

We’d do well to learn a few lessons from him. After all, we can’t avoid all difficult situations, so we might as well discover how to face them with a tranquil, settled spirit rather than with frustration and anxiety.

Contentment isn’t governed by external circumstances. Changing the situation may bring temporary relief, but satisfaction based on circumstances will always be sporadic and fleeting. It’s a matter of how you think, not what you have.

Contentment flows from an inward attitude. The apostle’s inner calm came from a mind set on Christ. Choosing to trust the Savior no matter what, Paul allowed the Holy Spirit within him to rule his emotions and shape his responses.

Contentment is learned experientially. This isn’t something you can acquire from a book or sermon, because it’s a process that must be lived out. Paul learned contentment—in persecution, suffering, and prison. The Lord used every difficulty to transform him.

Situations that cause frustration, anxiety, and displeasure are also the ones God uses to produce contentment in us. When you are fed up with your own grumbling, disappointment, and dissatisfaction, then you are ready to let the Lord teach you His new way of living—in joyous trust.

Proud Hearts and Dirty Feet

The gentle and humble lifestyle of the Savior is nowhere more evident than in the account of John 13, where He washed the feet of His friends, the disciples. In that event, He left us some timeless principles we dare not ignore regarding serving God.

The scene is first-century Jerusalem. Paved roads were few. In fact, within most cities they were unheard of. The roads and alleys in Jerusalem were more like winding dirt trails, all covered with a thick layer of dust. When the rains came, those paths were liquid slush, several inches of thick mud. It was the custom, therefore, for the host to provide a slave at the door of his home to wash the feet of the dinner guests as they arrived. The servant knelt with a pitcher of water, a pan, and a towel and washed the dirt or mud off the feet as each guest prepared to enter the home. Shoes, boots, and sandals were left at the door, a custom still prevalent in the Far East.

If a home could not afford a slave, one of the early arriving guests would graciously take upon himself the role of the house servant and wash the feet of those who came. What is interesting is that none of the disciples had volunteered for that lowly task . . . so the room was filled with proud hearts and dirty feet. Interestingly, those disciples were willing to fight for a throne but not a towel. Things haven’t changed a lot since then, by the way.

Read rather carefully the account of what transpired:

Jesus . . . got up from supper . . . and taking a towel, He girded Himself. Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, “Lord, do You wash my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.” Peter said to Him, “Never shall You wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.” Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, “Not all of you are clean.” (John 13:3–11)

Jesus Values Our Obedience

Reading the words of our Savior, we need to realize the tremendous emphasis He put on obedience. As I think about appropriating Christ’s model and commands, three specifics seem important enough to mention.

First, obedience means personal involvement. Jesus told His disciples, “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14). We cannot serve one another in absentia or at arm’s length. It means if someone is drowning in a troubled sea, we get wet, we get in touch. It means if someone drifts away, we don’t ignore that person, we reach out to help and restore. Think about this. Honestly now, are you willing to get involved and help at least one person in need? Willingness must precede involvement.

Second, obedience requires Christlike unselfishness. He said it Himself, “For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you” (13:15). Let your eyes dig into those words. To pull off this concept, we’ll need to see others as Christ sees them. We’ll need to risk reaching out, giving up the luxury of staying safe . . . giving up our preferences for His. Unselfishness never comes easy.

Finally, obedience results in ultimate happiness. I love Jesus’s affirmation, “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them” (13:17). Notice, in the final analysis, happiness comes from doing these things. Meaning what? Namely this, we have to carry it out before we can enter into the joy of serving. Just studying about it or discussing it produces no lasting happiness. The fun comes when we roll up our sleeves, wrap the towel around our waist, and wash a few feet . . . quietly . . . graciously . . . cheerfully like Christ who was “gentle” and “humble in heart.”

Does that mean it will never backfire on us? Am I saying those with servant hearts will not get ripped off or hurt in the process? Does this promise of happiness mean we’ll be protected from suffering? No, a thousand times no! To keep everything realistic, we must face the very painful consequences. Even when we have been “gentle” and “humble in heart.”

What else can we expect? The perfect Model of obedience finished His earthly ministry as a corpse on a cross.

Two Things God Remembers about His Servants

My favorite verse about how God faithfully takes special note of those who serve Him is Hebrews 6:10:

For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints.

I love that verse! God is not unjust to forget our service to Him. He is faithful. The verse goes on to tell two things God faithfully remembers about His servants:

  1. He remembers our work—each individual act.
  2. He also takes note of the love within us that prompted the deed.

No one on earth can do those special things. We forget, but God remembers. We see the action; God sees the motive. This qualifies Him as the best record keeper and judge. He alone is perfectly and consistently just.

Even the best of servants get weary. The Lord’s desire is to encourage us to be diligent and to trust Him in spite of the demands. That is why this same writer, before the ink is dry on verse 10, adds:

And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Hebrews 6:11–12)

Servants, you’re in good hands with the Almighty!

The Consequences of Impatience

Luke 15:11-21

How serious is a lack of patience? We generally write it off as inconsequential. It’s often seen as a weakness rather than a sin—after all, it’s not as bad as adultery, theft, or murder. But have you ever considered what your impatience reveals about your attitude toward God?

When we demonstrate an inability to tolerate delay, we are telling the Lord, “I don’t trust Your timing; mine is better.” Can you see the seriousness of this attitude? Impatience is a display of pride because we are elevating our understanding above that of our all-knowing God.

The prodigal son’s journey toward disaster began with impatience. He wanted his inheritance immediately and was unwilling to wait. After taking matters into his own hands, he faced the following consequences:

He brought sorrow on his family. Likewise, our impatience hurts those we love.

He left the security of home. When we run ahead of God, we often leave behind the voices of reason and wisdom in our life.

He found himself in ruin. God’s blessing accompanies our obedience, so we stand to lose a great deal when we ignore His timing.

He felt unworthy. We don’t experience fellowship with the Lord when impatience keeps us outside of His will.

Although the prodigal son was welcomed home, he could never regain the inheritance he’d lost. We, too, must often live with painful consequences as a result of jumping ahead of God. Let’s remember it’s better to wait patiently until the Lord moves us forward.

Three Things to Remember When Your Normal Gets Hijacked

“‘Abba, Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’” Mark 14:36 (NIV)

The only way I could fall asleep was to lie to myself. “If you can just fall asleep, when you wake up you’ll realize this is a nightmare that will soon end.”

But that wasn’t reality. The next morning, I woke up, and the devastation was there in an even more heartbreaking way. I reached across the covers and all my fears were confirmed.

My husband was gone.

Death hadn’t taken him. No, the hijacking of our normal was a slow erosion that led to an eventual landslide, wiping out everything secure about our relationship.

That awful morning happened nearly three years ago. And I promised myself if I actually survived looking my greatest fears in the face, I would eventually be a voice of help and hope for others thrust into a darkness they never imagined.

So, here I am. I survived. We survived. And we’re determined to turn our battle scars into a battle cry to help others.

Whether you’re reeling from a life-altering circumstance or you’re wrestling through something not turning out the way you thought it would, I know what it’s like to say, “It’s not supposed to be this way.” And I feel compelled to tell you three truths you must hear:

1. You are not alone in wanting things to be different and asking God to change your situation.

Did you know even Jesus asked God to change His circumstances and fix what God surely could have fixed in an instant? Listen to these words of Jesus right before He was arrested and eventually crucified:

“‘Abba, Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me …’” (Mark 14:36a).

I have found such comfort in remembering the humanity of Jesus. Yes, His divinity made Him perfect and sinless, but His humanity felt the brutal weight of human hurt. He understands loneliness, betrayal and being devastated by people He should have been able to trust. He knows what it’s like to be lied to, misunderstood, falsely accused and rejected. And because I know He’s felt what I feel, I know I can trust Him to lead me through my heartbreak.

2. There is a place to attach our hope, but it’s not to our desire for changed circumstances.

Our key verse (Mark 14:36) doesn’t end with Jesus’ request for things to be different. It ends with the strongest statement of trusting God that I can find in the whole Bible: “… Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

In other words, Jesus had a strong desire for change. But He had an even stronger desire to trust God with it all. This is hard for a girl like me who loves to suggest to God all the ways He could surely fix my circumstances. But God loves me too much to do things my way. His plan is always better, even if I can’t understand or see it clearly as it’s unfolding.

3. Though my story took the most unexpected twists and turns through the darkest valleys I’ve ever known, God’s plan was good.

Only God could take a string of really bad circumstances and add them together to make a good I never knew was possible. None of my suggestions to fix things ever worked. The good only came in God’s timing and in unexpected ways.

And though our normal will never look like it used to, it’s been replaced by something better. A deeper awareness of who God is and an unexpected strength that comes with truly trusting Him.

Don’t give up, dear friend. Don’t stop praying. Don’t stop hoping and believing. But also, don’t believe that your way of getting to the other side of your circumstance is the only way. God has a perfect plan for a path to a renewed joy and a redeemed future that’s probably one you can’t even fathom. Trust Him.

The hijacking is over. I no longer lie to myself. Now the only way I can fall asleep at night is to speak truth. God is here. God is near. God can absolutely be trusted with it all.

Father God, these devastating circumstances have left me so weary. But the truth of Your love leaves me hopeful. I’m trusting in Your plans for me and I’m lifting up these words to You — not my will, but Yours. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

The Subtle Sin

Do you know which sin is the subtle enemy of simple faith? Materialism and greed? Anger? Lust? Hypocrisy? No. All of these sins are certainly our enemies, but none of them qualify as subtle enemies.

The most notorious faith killer in all of life: worry. “For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing?” (Matt. 6:25).

Being something of a wordsmith, I find the term “worry” fascinating. To begin with, the word used by Matthew (translated here as “anxious”) is the Greek term merimnao. It is a combination of two smaller words, merizo, meaning “to divide,” and nous, meaning “the mind.” In other words, a person who is anxious suffers from a divided mind, leaving him or her disquieted and distracted.

Of all the biblical stories illustrating worry, none is more practical or clear than the one recorded in the last five verses of Luke 10. Let’s briefly relive it.

Jesus dropped by His friends’ home in Bethany. Martha, one of those friends, turned the occasion into a mild frenzy. To make matters worse, Martha’s sister, Mary, was so pleased to have the Lord visit their home that she sat with Him and evidenced little concern over her sister’s anxiety attack.

As Luke tells us, “Martha was distracted with all her preparations” (Luke 10:40). But Martha didn’t have help, and that was the final straw. Irritated, exasperated, and angry, she reached her boiling point, and her boiling point led to blame. “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me” (10:40).

But Jesus was neither impressed by her busyness nor intimidated by her command. Graciously, yet firmly, He said, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only a few things are necessary, really only one, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (10:41–42).

Worry occurs when we assume responsibility for things that are outside our control. And I love the Lord’s solution: “only a few things are necessary, really only one.” What a classic example of simple faith!

All Mary wanted was time with Jesus . . . and He commended her for that. Mary’s simple faith, in contrast to her sister’s panic, won the Savior’s affirmation.

Worry and faith just don’t mix.