Have you ever noticed that some of your best traits also flip over to your worst traits? The same part of me that makes me cautious, careful, and escape trouble and pain also became the source of my biggest struggle over 2017 as I struggled with fear and anxiety.
When I was younger, my parents taught me a lot about trust. I learned to trust them, to believe them. They also taught me the importance of trusting God. Surrendering. Not having to have it all figured it out. They taught me how to balance caution and planning with my faith in God and the sometimes blind obedience that he requires me.
All of this was tested when God did something totally unexpected and completely beyond my understanding: he took my best friend, mentor, and father to Heaven.
The roller-coaster of emotions I experienced during 2017 is beyond description, and even thinking about what I went through, especially those first few months, exhausts me. I went back and forth between supernatural confidence and faith in God, to crushing fear, anxiety, and an overwhelming, oppressing sense of despair. One moment I had hope; the next I felt like I’d never have hope again.
Why? What was happening? How could I so quickly falter?
But there’s one another tool that has been huge in my life — it’s so simple, but so challenging. It’s something I recommend for homework with many of my counselees and students. However, because it’s so simple, and also so challenging, not many follow through long enough to see the benefit. And to be totally honest with you, there are many times when I myself didn’t see the benefit. Times when I stopped for a while. In fact, there was a period of over a year where I failed to do this. And I noticed the effect most profoundly when I found my notebook from 2014 just a few months ago.
I don’t remember a lot of the details, but I do remember that 2014 had a lot of ups and downs, as tends to happen in life. But as I flipped through this notebook, all I saw were the highlights; and all I remembered was the closeness I had with the Lord during that time; the answers to prayer I was receiving; the joy and the peace I felt. It was my gratitude notebook.
In verses 18-21, we see this contrast very sharply: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads
to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Oh, to find escape! Escape doesn’t have to be drunkenness; it could be blowing all your money shopping, or destructive eating habits, or any other excessive behavior we indulge in hoping
to numb ourselves. I understand the temptation to run, to hide. To give in to life.
But we who know and love Christ don’t have to hide anymore. He has given us everything
we need through our relationship with him to overcome whatever life may throw at us.
We just need to be focused on him, not the problems. We do this by submitting to authority,
by being thankful to God, talking about spiritual things, and singing to the Lord. These are all things that are challenging to us because they go against our flesh and what feels good in the moment; rather, they require us to choose faith, choose delayed gratification, and deny our flesh. The result is wonderful; I can’t explain it to you, though. You’ll have to try it for yourself.
You can’t give in to doubt and fear when you’re praising God and being thankful. Music was
one of the most powerful tools in my life over this past year to help me to focus on God instead of my problems, on His power instead of my weakness.
The hurt and pain of the past year is still very real and present in my life. I don’t intend to go
in-depth with the trials of this year. However, I thought I’d share some of the pivotal moments
in my life over the past year and the songs that helped me to stay thankful, stay focused,
and stay the course.
2017 was a hard year for me; my hardest yet.
I have had to rely on everything I’ve learned and been taught in my life; things that I have known since I was a child, yet, up until this year, had little opportunity to put in to practice.
Were it not for the grace of God, I would not be writing this.
I would not be at peace.
I would not have joy.
I would not be okay.
But God is gracious.
He gives us so many great gifts to help us in our times of need and struggle in life.
God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear,
Even though the earth be removed,
And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
Though its waters roar and be troubled,
Though the mountains shake with its swelling.
There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God,
The holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved;
God shall help her, just at the break of dawn.
The nations raged, the kingdoms were moved;
He uttered His voice, the earth melted.
The LORD of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge.
Come, behold the works of the LORD,
Who has made desolations in the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two;
He burns the chariot in the fire.
Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!
The LORD of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge.
I love this Psalm. Did you know that the Lord of Hosts is Jesus?
The same One who spoke with Abraham as a friend.
The same One who was with the three Hebrew children in the fire.
The same One who wrestled Jacob, who finally conquered him.
He is our defender. He does great and mighty things. He destroys armies. He stops people
in their tracks. He makes all things work together for our good.
Why, then, do we give in to fear?
Fear, my dad once said, reveals that we are walking by sight.
And I think, sometimes, we forget that during those times, while waiting for deliverance,
waiting for freedom, waiting for healing, they were doing just that — waiting. They did not know the end of the story. They did not yet see God’s intervention. They didn’t know how he was going to work things out for their good, how he was going to fulfill his promise to them.
So they waited.
Some waited well. They “strengthened themselves in the Lord,” as David did in 1 Samuel 30. They fixed their eyes on the Lord rather than their circumstances, they chose to trust him,
not their emotions, and they were determined to walk by faith, not by sight.
Others waited, well, badly. They focused on their pain. They focused on their circumstances. They took matters into their own hands, afraid that God would fail them. And the results
always proved tragic. The deliverance was delayed, their relationships damaged, and often, their testimonies tarnished.
I want to wait well.
We read scriptures such as Romans 5:8, John 3:16, John 15:9, and many more, and intellectually we know that God loves us. But personally? Heart and soul? We’re not so sure.
We struggle to believe that…
In a word: passionate.