We all wear many hats. I am a child of God first, then wife, mother, homeowner, friend, writer, and employee. As I started this year, I set goals for myself in each of these areas. I wrote out my goals for work, my dreams for this site, my intentions and prayers for deeper friendships, home projects to be completed, several things to focus on with my children and in my marriage, as well as a few health goals.
“Teach me your way, LORD, that I may rely on Your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear Your name.” Psalm 86:11
But as I said: first and foremost, I am a child of God. Should I be setting a spiritual goal? I didn’t like calling it a “goal”, which implies something I want to accomplish. Rather, I formulated my wish as a prayer. When God teaches me, it is Him in control, not me. I will elaborate on “spiritual goal setting” more in my next post, but today, I would love to share with you what God taught me this last year.
2015 had been a year of learning to trust God for both little and big things. I could probably write a whole other post on how He slowly but surely taught me to rely on Him, His providence, and His wisdom in everything I do.
As 2016 rolled around, I felt a burden on my heart that I prayed for God to address in me this year. I had a hard time even explaining what it was. It certainly had to do with feeling insecure and worrying about my reputation or what other people thought of me. I know I'm not alone in this. Many women struggle with this issue. I wasn't even sure what was at the bottom of it. Was it a fear of man? It felt like something else. I needed God to show me.
“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.” Psalm 139:23
So, the first few months of the year, I simply asked for God to show me the true issue behind that insecurity. I did a lot of listening. I have to admit, sometimes it was painful. I heard God point out some things in my life that I did not want to admit. I still remember driving one afternoon, when I was suddenly hit with one of those negative thoughts, wondering what so-and-so thought about me. I brought the thought to the Lord and said, “Please show me why this is weighing on my heart so much?” God answered, “Is there truth to the accusation you're feeling?”
Now realize, nobody had actually accused me. This was all in my head. But this worry, was it coming from a place of conviction? I was scared to answer the question. What if the thoughts were true? What if I was guilty?
As a long-time believer I know the answer. I know that God has forgiven me. I know that Jesus died on the cross for all of my sins. I know that when I do wrong and see it, forgiveness is only one prayer away. It costs me nothing, because it cost Jesus everything. The price is already paid. I do not need to be afraid of admitting my sin. Instead, healing and forgiveness is waiting for me right on the other side.
“But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display His immense patience as an example for those who would believe in Him and receive eternal life.” 1 Timothy 1:16
God showed me another lie that I believed. I thought, “But if I'm such a sinner, can You really use me? Can I have this dream of writing a blog about You, of teaching others how to study Scripture, when I myself am a sinner and still struggle to obey You?” Again, my head, of course, knew the answer. Jesus chose the most unlikely people to be His disciples. God chooses to use sinners to advance His Kingdom. Yes, leaders in the church are called to live above reproach (1 Timonthy 3:2), but sin will always taint us while on earth. I believe, that in some sense Satan was attacking me with insecurities and trying to have me believe that I was not good enough to serve God.
The other side of it though was pride. You see, for a number of years, my husband and I raised support to be missionaries. In 2015, our plans had changed. We moved, and are now ministering stateside. A full year had passed. But the truth is, that when you raise support to be a missionary, you want to show people how capable you are, how their money will be well-spent on you. Sure, you never claim to be perfect; you know you are a sinner and in need of forgiveness. But you also show how good you are at what you're doing and have been called to do.
Now, God was calling me to fully admit my sins that I had been hiding from others and even myself. He encouraged me to ask for help, to admit that I struggled even as a mother, as a loving wife, and often in fully relying on God. He did none of those in a harsh way. Instead, God encouraged me, “Ellen, healing is right on the other side of admitting your sin and asking for forgiveness.” What a gift!
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2
This lesson ultimately gave me the freedom to fully take responsibility for my actions and my reactions to others. I suddenly recognized that I had been pushing away a lot of responsibility, making excuses or writing it off as "normal struggles”. Now however, I was beginning to take responsibility for my actions. It might sound scary, but it was freeing. Because freedom from sin is… well, like shackles falling off.
There's another side of that coin. Yes, I have to take responsibility for my actions and reactions, but that is all I can do. I am not in control of the outcome. That is in God’s hands. Well, sometimes it's partially in other people’s hands, isn't it?! When I explain to another mom on the playground that my daughter is having a meltdown, not because she is a spoiled brat but because she has autism and sensory issues, all I can do is help my child through the moment and verbally help the other mom understand what's happening. I can't change her reaction. That's between her and God. I can't make her believe me. And I don't have to. My responsibility is to my daughter and to the Lord. It is to do what is best for her according to the wisdom that God gives me. No more, no less!
“Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from Him. Truly He is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; He is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge.” Psalm 62:5-8
You are not in control. Does that scare you? It doesn't scare me anymore. That is because of the second thing that God has taught me this year. It is to rest in Him! It is to rely on the Lord to ultimately fulfill His plan. Let's take this blog, for example. I don't know God's plan for it. I feel called to write here, to teach here, to use this as a platform to reach many, who desire to learn to study the Bible confidently. I have responsibility in it. I have to write good articles and promote them. I have to do my research on how blogging works. I have to listen to you all to find out what you need from me. But ultimately, I can rest in the fact that whatever God has planned with this blog, He will bring to fruition.
This is not the prosperity gospel. I'm not saying you can decide to rest in the fact that God will make you rich and famous - that He will give you a new car or a brand-new house. Instead, you can rest in the fact that whatever God has planned, He will fulfill. And His plans are better than ours. When our hearts are focused on Him, and our treasure is in heaven, not here on earth, then our desire is for His name to be glorified. I trust He will accomplish this mission, even through my pain, my waiting, and my imperfections.
“As you come to Him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to Him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 2:4-5
"Rest and responsibility" became my motto. I am responsible for my actions and reactions, no more no less. Beyond that, I rest in the knowledge that God is in charge. He's got this. Nothing is too complicated, too sin-filled, or too broken for Him.
As the months went on, I struggled to implement this lesson. When strong emotions like frustration or impatience arose, I tried to pause and ask myself, "What is my responsibility here? And in what sense do I simply need to rest in the Lord?"
We really have a gift in knowing that the Creator of the universe loves us and is in charge of our lives. This principle should make us calmer, more patient, and less stressed. I wish I could say I have arrived there. Instead, I still find that some of those are my biggest struggles. In 2017, I ask that the Lord would allow my life to be characterized by calm and patience rather than stress and anxiety. It seems like a logical lesson to follow what I learned this year. In fact, in some ways it feels like I should've already learned it…
“[…] Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has set down at the right hand of the throne of God." Hebrews 12:1-2
Oh, what a patient God we serve, who teaches us step-by-step just what we can handle and never allows us to coast or plateau, but always continues to grow our faith.
I'm getting ahead of myself. Look for my article next week on setting a spiritual goal/asking God to teach you something specific in 2017. Today, however, I hope that you will share with me what God has taught you this year. There's nothing more exciting than sharing with one another how God is active in our lives and continues to bring glory to Himself even through our struggles, even in our sin and slow-learning. Praise be to God!
Please share in the comments below. I would love to hear from you. What has God been teaching you this year?