Wandering in the Wilderness

“Everyone wants the promise, but no one wants to be pruned.” – Kris Vallotton

The journey of life is full of new beginnings, unexpected turns and course resetting. Often times, when we feel like we’ve arrived, a new change shakes us or grows us. Many times, this process is painful, but necessary for maturity.sand_sm

I have experienced many of my own twists and turns throughout my life journey; but through it all, God has been with me, guiding my steps and whispering reassurance to my heart along the way. You can read about my testimony and God’s goodness through my life struggles on my About Me page.

Earlier this year, I found myself at an unexpected crossroad in my career and life in general. I call it “unexpected” because I had known for years that God’s will for my life was to remain within my place of employment where I had been for the last 15 years in different positions. He confirmed His will for me to remain where I was many times by providing opportunities for me to minister to others through love and encouragement. He gave me moments to share His love and His nature with the lost, hurting and broken. He gave me lifelong friendships for encouragement, correction and growth. He even used my workplace to bless me with a husband who is the love of my life.

Amid the blessings were also job struggles and pains associated with maturing and disappointments along the way. In many ways, I believed my place of employment was my long-term “Promised Land” because it was where God had sent me. But then it happened — change.

Sometimes, the change in course is obvious, but sometimes it isn’t. In many previous crossroad situations, the choice was often not obvious; but in this particular case, there was no mistaking it.

Months earlier, I began to feel a deep stirring of the Spirit, nudging me and telling me it was a season of change. It was time to move. To be honest, I wasn’t excited. I know I should say I was giddy with anticipation about the prospect of moving on to a new adventure, but I wasn’t. I was finally feeling settled and comfortable in the position which I had been placed. It certainly had its challenges and issues. In fact, there was a storm going on in that area of my life; however, I assumed it was one of those issues that would eventually get better. Plus, I knew I would give up many blessings to change careers — daily interactions with amazing friends, a position that gave me direct access to the organization’s decision makers and knowing how my role fit into the organization. But my heart became restless and many nights were sleepless.

I realized the first day I felt tug of the Spirit on my soul that God was also giving me a choice. Although He told me it was time to change course, I also felt Him telling me I could remain where I was and He would bless me and others for His Kingdom’s purposes. However, I knew if I moved, it was the best choice that He had for my life. Even so it was not an easy decision.

I asked God, “Where will you move me? Where do you want me to go?” When I didn’t receive an answer, I prayed and waited.

Although I really hate change and my stomach was quite unsettled, I answered one morning, “I am willing to go wherever you called me.” In that moment of submission, I felt like God was saying to me through unspoken words to my heart, “Understand there will be a sacrifice; but if you lean on me and relinquish control, I will give you new coordinates for your life and career. I know you’ve dreamed for many years about a specific type of job. If you go where I’m asking you to go, your dream will be realized. But it won’t be without a cost. Spiritual growth and trust in me will be necessary to see it through to the end.”

When I asked God what the path ahead would look like, desperately wanting a roadmap to make the process less intimidating, I felt like He was telling me it would look nothing like what I could anticipate, and I wouldn’t know all the answers until the end. But He knew. I just had to trust Him. As I considered the terms, I took a deep breath and watched as my season of change was set in motion.

The trust aspect became my greatest trial I faced. There were plenty of twists and turns and lots of confusion like a complex maze, just as God had warned. The process of moving took much longer than I thought it would. Patience is still an area in which God is constantly teaching and correcting me. Several days, weeks and months passed before the process was complete. Also, there were multiple interviews at different places. When something appeared to be working out, it suddenly fell through, and I really didn’t know what or where to go until the last minute. Even after I arrived in my new workplace, I was in constant transition and helping in a couple different areas for several weeks. Although I struggled and change was hard, God was faithful and kept His promises, and I suddenly found myself with options to go into the field I love.

“Almost there! Just keep going!” I would tell myself. Some days, I said it to myself through tears. Did I mention change is hard? Sometimes, I wondered if I’d be in the Wilderness forever. For a restless heart, sometimes the waiting period can feel that way. It can be easy to lose your way and lose hope if you take your eyes off of Christ and focus on all the uncertainties. But God kept every word of the promises He gave me.

People often think of the Wilderness as punishment. They think of the Israelites wandering in the desolation for 40 years. Instead, it is usually a time of testing and trials intended to grow and strengthen us. It is a time of preparation for our next life chapter which requires more than previous situations had demanded. Wilderness moments, although sometimes extremely lonely and discouraging, is never without God’s grace (Mark 1:13). For me, the greatest experiences and often the closest I have felt to God occurred during my Wilderness moments. It makes the life struggles worth the perseverance when we see God move miraculous ways.

If you find yourself in your own Wilderness experience, take heart! You are not forgotten. God is preparing you for your next adventure. He’s giving you an opportunity to see Him move and to mature spiritually. You will see He is faithful, and you will eventually reach the end and discover your Promised Land.

May God’s peace, love and joy accompany you along your life’s journey.

Spiritual Warfare: Finding Victory in the Midst of Battle

If you’re a follower of Christ and you’re trying to live out the Great Commission,savior prayng you’ve probably experienced spiritual warfare at some point or another. That’s not to say everything that happens to us is spiritual warfare. In a fallen world, bad things sometimes just happen, or we experience hardship or pain because of our own sin or the sin of someone else. In contrast, sometimes as Christians we are not prepared for true spiritual attacks because we don’t expect them to happen or don’t believe they happen. Jesus faced temptation; therefore, I believe the battles in the spirit realm are real. Scripture reminds us in 1 Peter 5:8 to always be vigilant of Satan who is always looking for ways to destroy us. Since spiritual attacks are real, how do we learn to recognize and overcome them?

In my own life, I have experienced hardship, difficulty when trying to pray, threatening dreams and other unexplained events that seem to happen without reason. Do I believe these issues were caused by spiritual warfare? It is possible and likely that not everything I just described came from the Devil, but some of it certainly seemed to be. Why would I assume the cause was spiritual warfare instead of something else?

The Bible says the spiritual realm is always active around us, fighting for us or against us. At the time, I was purposely attempting to spend quality time with the Lord because I wanted to grow closer to Him, and I wanted the friends around me to know Him. I also wanted to encourage and assist those friends with restoring hope in their lives during difficult situations they were walking through. Within a couple days, the craziest things began to happen. Everything in my life that was a stability point for me (my basic needs, financial needs and my health) was turned upside down. I also experienced trouble in my prayer life. I couldn’t focus. I went from feeling closer to God than I ever had felt to feeling like I was unable to hear His heart at all. I felt alone and completely separated from Him. If you’ve ever lost your connection to your Father then you know it feels like your whole world has ended. Then the dreams started, and they were awful. I would dream things that were not normal nightmares for me. In one of my dreams, I found myself standing alone in my house. Suddenly, I heard a disembodied voice laughing sardonically and taunting me by saying, “You keep doing what you’re doing, and I’m going to destroy you. Give up.”  This dream repeatedly occurred over several weeks. At the time, I didn’t make the connection that I might be battling spiritual warfare, but before all of those strange events were over, they intensified and got much worse and much more troubling.

What should we do when we think we’re being attacked spiritually? Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:10-18 to “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.”

In addition to following Paul’s instructions, I generally try to analyze the situation before anything else. Was I going after the things of God when the bad things started to occur? Did I cause my own grief? Did someone else hurt me? Did the issue seem to happen randomly? If my sin appeared to be the root of the problem(s), I should ask God for forgiveness. If the problem involved harming another person, I should ask the offended person for forgiveness and reconcile the relationship. What if someone else harmed me? Christ says I must forgive and pray for the person. Basically, forgiveness leads to healing and restoration. Both of these scenarios could include elements of spiritual warfare, but they are likely caused by my actions or someone else. If the issue appears random, sometimes it’s harder to figure out what to do. In any of these situations, I try to keep my eyes on Christ. I ask for protection, wisdom and help. Through God, we find our victories. As Mark Batterson puts it, “I have an unshakable sense of destiny that as long as I pursue God’s calling on my life, then God is ultimately responsible for getting me where He wants me to go.”

The verses below have helped remind me who is in control in the midst of strife. They are written on paper and affixed to my computer to remind me every day of His goodness, provision and protection:

  • Isaiah 41:10: “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”
  • Isaiah 43:2: “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.”
  • Isaiah 58:9a: “Then when you call, the Lord will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.”
  • 1 Peter 5:7: “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.”
  • Psalm 121:1-2: “I look up to the mountains— does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!”

If you’re looking for a visual reminder, you are welcome to pin, download or print these Pinterest quotes:

Why Does God Allow the Innocent to Suffer?

Introduction

When I watch the news and read persecution stories, I’m bombarded with images of injustice and pain around the world. I likely don’t have to convince you evil exists because we see it all around us, but why? If God is real and He is always good, why do bad things happen? Why does God allow the innocent to suffer and injustice to reign?Staring out the window

As I thought about this topic, I was reminded it is deeply personal and based on experiences. I want to be sensitive to your experiences and not be flippant or over simplify this discussion. I don’t have all of the answers, but here are some thoughts I hope will bring you comfort.

The Debate

If God exists, did He create evil? After all, He created everything, right? This question frequently surfaces in discussions about God and why some people believe a basic flaw exists in the Christian faith. Although this question seems to bring attention to a paradox, I believe it can be answered. My thoughts: God didn’t create evil. Evil and our imperfect world result from our poor choices and a fallen world. I realize this is a highly controversial statement, but let me explain.

In the story of Adam and Eve, we learn God created mankind in His image and gave them the option to maintain a perfect existence without suffering or death; however, He also gave mankind free will. Free will means we have the ability to choose between right and wrong. Just as we can choose love, peace, joy, patience, kindness and other good things, we can choose the opposite. We can choose to reject. We can choose to hate. We can choose to do the unspeakable: destroy, murder and hurt others. Free will exists in full range of good and bad choices from the seemingly insignificant to the most extreme; and there are consequences that result from every decision we make.

In discussions I’ve had with others, I’ve been asked the question, “Why would God even give us the ability to do bad things? Why not just make us perfect?” This idea sounds great on the surface, but would we really be free to be who we are? Would God truly have created us to have a loving relationship with Him if we were forced to love Him back or to make the right choice? Would we be robots? It seems our free will is deeply interwoven with our humanity and who we are individually.
One of my friends likes to use a wonderful analogy about free will. When you choose to have a relationship with another person; but they don’t want to love you back, it is his or her choice to leave. No matter how painful it is to let the person go, if you really love your significant other, you let them go — even if that means your beloved ends up with someone else. You wouldn’t force him or her to stay because you want that person to love you. If you imagine why God gave us free will in this analogy, it seems we were created out of absolute love: given the ability to completely reject the One who created us even as He knew it would cause Him tremendous pain to watch us walk away.

Life and Our Freedom to Choose

Yes, terror and tragedy at the hands of another are terrible things. We are never promised life will be easy; many times it isn’t. We are only promised He will walk alongside us, sharing our burdens and our sorrows; and we know this life isn’t the end of the story. Evil reigns temporarily, but it doesn’t have the final say. Also, we may have no ability to change what others have done to hurt us; but we have free will to make our own decisions about how we will affect others. If you feel paralyzed by the immensity of suffering in this world, remember Jesus’s example. Be the difference. Do what is right. Show mercy and love even when it is hard. Pray. Always do your best to choose to what is right.

Stop Lying to Yourself: find freedom from mental bondage

We all struggle with things we’ve told ourselves we can’t escape. In some ways, what we’ve told ourselves is true because we give a self-fulfilling prophecy: “I have an issue (doubt, anger, hopelessness, a sense of worthlessness, etc.). It’s just the way it is, and I can’t escape it.” And guess what? You won’t escape because you’ve fulfilled what you’ve declared to be a truth in your life, but the whole truth is you do have power over your struggle.Staring out the window
 
Identify the lies and choose not to believe them. The Devil, our enemy, will lie and twist truths to convince you that you’re a slave. You may feel you’re not worthy, it’s something you can’t change, or you’re a victim. Those thoughts are lies.  Don’t listen to them.  In addition, we are good at lying to ourselves by making self-defeating statements like, “That’s just the way it is”, “But I’ve always struggled with that”, “That’s just something I can’t change”, or “I’m working on getting over that issue, but I guess it’s just going to take a while.” The enemy knows if you allow yourself to be enslaved, you will be distracted, paralyzed by your circumstances, and useless to the call the Father has put on your life. You have a choice to let enemy control you. You also have a choice to evict the thoughts, feelings, or negative emotions before they take root and darken your mind.
 
Confess the sin to the Father. Ask the Father to forgive you for the mental thing to which you’ve allowed yourself to be bound. For example, if you’ve struggled with bitterness over a situation that happened to you and you’ve used that as an excuse to become a hopeless or angry, confess those things to the Father and ask Him to forgive you. If you’re not sure where to look for inspiration about how to confess and talk with the Father for the issue you’re battling, here’s a great blog post from a fellow Christian blogger that may help: http://revivedlife.com/blog/prayer-to-release-anger/. There’s no magic formula or prayer template, but if you are sincere in confession and forgiveness, the Father is always faithful to forgive.
 
Make declarations over the situation. Know that you have power over the enemy because Jesus has given you that authority. Just as Jesus spoke directly to demons and disease to cast them out and bring healing, you can do the same thing. You can make declarations by stating something like the following: “In Jesus name, anger (or whatever it is you’re battling), be gone! You have no power over me. I chose to set my eyes on things that are good and righteous because they please the Lord. I cast out feelings and emotions that are not of God. I have been purchased by the blood of the Savior, and He is worthy to purchase my freedom.”
 
Troubles may come and go. Life happens, but you choose whether or not to allow your circumstances to open doorways to negative feelings, thoughts, and emotions. As soon as a new negative thought tries to enter your mind, immediately offer it up to God and choose not to allow it to take root. As a trusted friend once told me (and he was right) when I was swimming in self-pity and doubt, “You are a strong soldier of God. Now start acting like one!”
 
Believe and trust that God has freed you and move on. The keys to your chains have already been purchased. Live free. 🙂

My Encounter with the God of Love

I suffered from an anxiety disorder most of my life. In addition to this disorder, I felt shame and unworthy of God’s love and grace even though I had been a Christian for almost 20 years. But now, I can’t deny I’m loved.

In September 2012, I found myself sitting in a prayer service thanks to the strong urging Joy and freedomof a good friend. I remember listening to the live praise music and other Christians around me worshiping God with a love and adoration I didn’t yet understand. I felt nothing. After months of crying and begging God to pull me out of a desperate situation that had only deepened my anxiety and depression, I was completely drained.

“I know you’re real and powerful God, but where are you?” I remember thinking.

The prayer service message that night was all about oppression, mental and physical bondage and how our spirits are affected by these things. As the prayer director spoke, I realized I was the person who needed to hear the message.

“What an odd coincidence,” I remember thinking. But now I know it was a divine appointment.

When the message concluded, there was an opportunity for prayer and worship before we were dismissed. That’s when I felt a tug on my heart as if God was saying, “Go ask for prayer” – so I went to the alter. As the prayer director began to pray over me, she motioned for an intercessor to join us. The girl who assisted didn’t know my story, but immediately said words I’ll never forget, “God wants to know He hears your cries. You think He’s not listening; but He hears you, and He loves you. He calls you His precious daughter.”

After the young intercessor spoke, the prayer director placed her hand on my forehead and prayed for God to break the hold of spiritual oppression and restore my joy. Suddenly, I was overcome with an immediate feeling of immense love and joy. It struck me so hard and so fast that I felt like I might stagger backwards during the prayer, and that’s when the giggles started — and I couldn’t stop. During prayer, happiness overpowered me and the silly giggles increased into laughter. I felt the love of the Father completely engulf me, sweeping away the pain and the darkness that I have suffered from for so many years.

When the prayer ended, I realized I was a different person. My anxiety disorder was gone and peace had replaced it. I undeniably know that God loves me. I will never question His love for me again. For the first time in my life, I have learned to trust with my whole heart.

Thank you for reading to my story, and I hope it has encouraged you.

The Artist

The blog post below was written by a godly man and a good friend of mine.  It was inspired by a dream and provides perspective of how to understand the world through someone else’s eyes.  Enjoy!

– The In-Place Missionary

Perspectives

Once, I had a dream. There were two brothers. Both liked to paint. Both men were well regarded for their craft by their neighbors. One loved to create magnificent landscapes on large sheets of canvas. Using vivid colors, he always managed to capture the very essence of nature. The other brother preferred to do portraits of people and particularly enjoyed painting portraits of his friends and family. The images he created almost seemed alive and full of emotion.

Which brother is an artist?

The two brothers have an uncle. He has made a living painting buildings for others. He gets up early to gather and prepare the materials he needs. He then labors during the day as long as the sun is up and he can see. His customers are very happy with the quality of his work. The paint he uses is of the finest quality and provides the perfect balance between bright color and being long lasting. He never tarries or wastes time while on the job. He always completes his tasks within the timeframe he promised. His customers appreciate that fact that he minimizes disrupting their shops and households while he works.

Is he an artist?

The two brothers have a younger sister. She is a child and loves to finger paint. She dips her tiny hands in small jars of paint provided by her brothers. She giggles happily while she applies it to whatever her mother will allow. Sometimes the shapes are unrecognizable; but she would tell you it is a bird or sunflower. Watching her warms the hearts of all who see her.

Is she an artist?

The brothers have a friend. He struggles every day with addictions; and, as a result, he is unable to hold down a regular job. This friend occasionally draws on whatever paper he can find at a nearby dump. The pictures consist of dark creatures that are frightening and nightmarish.

Is he an artist?

What if I tell you that his renderings help him cope with his addictions? Through his work, he is able to recognize the demons that haunt him and it helps fend off their attempts to lead him down to the abyss.

While skills and focus of the work varies, isn’t each person an artist in his or her own way?

Today there are over six billion souls on this world, and each person views the world around him with different eyes. The lenses he uses to see through are colored by life experiences. What he has been taught, sees, and hears helps to make him who he is today and tailors his understanding of the world around him. If each person was to paint a picture of life and his world as he sees it; each picture would be different; and if each person present his understanding of eternity, heaven, or God in some form of artistic rendering, each would be different.

You can’t explain the unexplainable, and you can’t describe the indescribable because no one can see the whole picture. No one can comprehend the nature of the question, much less the magnitude of the answer. Just understand you can find joy in what you DO see. And revel in it!

Written by Leslie Hardin

He is Miraculously Wonderful

A Friend’s Curious Question

A friend once asked me, “How can you live in this day and age and possibly believe Jesus was anything more than a good man? How can you believe ‘miraculous’ events of the Bible like Jesus being born of a virgin, living a sinless life, performing miracles, or resurrecting from the dead can be real?” Years ago, I had trouble explaining why I believe these things beyond retorting something like, “I believe it because the Bible says it happened.” These days, I know it must be true from the deepest corners of my soul.

When I was walking through some of the darkest moments of my life a couple of years ago, I was struggling with life events that left me feeling like my problems were bigger than God could possibly be. My heart ached for a God who was in control of all things, but my mind and my physical person were beaten down and unwilling to believe. I didn’t even realize at the time I had already replaced His sovereign ways for a lesser version. Although I had seen Him come to my rescue several other times before, the memory and passion of those events dulled over the years because I stopped looking to Him to provide for my daily needs. Suddenly, I found myself aimlessly drifting through this life, attempting to provide my own self-sufficience when faced with problems, and I was regularly overwhelmed by my circumstances.

A Hard Look

Through my battle with darkness, I was forced to take a hard look at what I believed and who I was as a person. In those moments of soul searching, I found a frail person, clinging to faith and truth by a wisp of understanding. Thank goodness for His mercies in providing eternal life for those of us with so little faith! I realized at that moment I didn’t understand even a hint of who He truly is or what He is capable of doing.

Day of Truth

At the climax of my struggles, I realized I couldn’t move forward another step without divine intervention. I had reached my limits; and, in my complete brokenness, I cried out for Him to release me from the burdens shackling me.

As I’ve learned time and again over the years, the moments that cause us to release control is when we see His powerful glory manifest. He is a loving father. He is a powerful healer. He answers prayer and fulfills the needs of His children. He was powerful in ancient times, and He’s just as powerful now!

At the risk of sounding a little crazy, here is a list of what I’ve seen Him do in my life and in the lives of others:

– He redirected the path of my life in an instant of hearing my cries for help with too many coincidental factors for it to possibly only be coincidence.

– He completely healed a young man of an inoperable, supposedly fatal case of lymphoma.

– He healed a close family friend of spinal cancer.

– He healed a pair of legs (mine!) from severe shin splints without a trace of pain, discoloration, or swelling left behind — within an instant!

– He touched a dear friend of mine who was coming down with the flu, immediately curing her and removing fever from her skin during prayer.

– He has powerfully transformed the lives of people close to me who simply found the courage to trust Him as their Savior.

I’ve also felt His nudges, heard His voice, and literally felt Him peel away the oppression tormenting my troubled spirit through those dark days. I’ve never looked back because I’ll never be the same person. As promised in His Word, I am a new creation (Ephesians4:23-24). It’s undeniable to know He is real when He shakes us to the core!

Final Thought

As each day passes, I find it easier to believe what’s been written about Him in the Bible. After all that’s happened, how could I not believe He is real? What do you believe?