The person I have had the most difficult time telling the truth to is myself. I was not raised in a Christian home and chose to develop many false ways to get my needs met for love, respect, and acceptance. I didn’t know the truth about a lot of things and lied to myself as a result. I told myself I would be more important if I got good grades. I lied to myself that I was not acceptable unless I was of average height. And I needed to be an engineer to be respected. All were lies.

I suffered a lot of anxiety and pain because of not believing the truth. My life would have been far less stressful if I told myself and believed the truth that I will always be important and respected by God. I don’t have to earn respect by good grades, being tall, or by being an engineer.

In recent years, I have intentionally tuned into my self-talk and have been shocked at how many lies are still embedded there. Some of these lies have been there since childhood. Lies like the world is always watching to judge me, look to other people to tell me who I am, and I have no importance unless I earn it.

I have also discovered many new lies vying for my attention.  For example, I recently went to a medical clinic to deal with a minor injury. I noticed I was feeling increasing anxiety as I walked into the clinic. I then tuned into what I was saying to myself. It was “You are in danger; you are in danger!” No wonder my anxiety was high. But was I in danger? No, for many reasons. The one reason I used to combat Satan’s lies was God’s promise to be present and to keep me safe (Isaiah 41:10). My anxiety began to drop as I repeated to myself, “I am safe, I am safe.”

I am learning to attack these lies with the truth. These truths come from primarily the Bible and verses I have memorized. For example, the lie I tell myself that the world is watching to judge me, I meet with the truth that in God’s eyes, I am precious, honored and loved (Isaiah 43:4). This truth sets me free from being a slave to what others think of me.

My hope is that I will continue to grow in my capacity to tell myself the truth. As I do, I will experience more of the peace Jesus has promised he has given to each of us. My expectation is that this peace will gradually replace the anxiety that I have struggled with all my life as I tell myself the truth that Jesus is my place of safety.

When I was twelve, I often feIt unsafe and alone. I was adjusting to starting junior high, being at a new school and not having friends, beginning to experience the changes of adolescence and feeling tension in the home. No one in our immediate family of five were Christians. And we were a thousand miles away from any extended family. I did not feel incredibly loved.

I felt anxiety and depression as I entered this new phase of my life. I also did not feel I could confide in my parents or anyone else how much I was troubled within. Then, my parents decided to move our family 2,000 miles to Illinois.

The good part of this move was relocating to the same town where my extended family lived. This included visiting with my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents on a daily and weekly basis. My emotional disturbances melted away within a month of arrival because of the steady and unconditional love I felt coming from my extended family.

Experiencing God’s Incredible Love for Us

Trust in and experiencing God’s great love for us helps us to feel safe and at peace. We sense that God is our place of safety because he is strong and loves us. Our fears begin to melt away. We become less afraid of all the dangers and what could happen, and more confident that God will protect us from the worst-case scenarios we imagine. But how do we know he loves us?

My grandmother best modeled God’s love for me. She was a Christian and deeply loved God and as a result he lived through her in a powerful way. She was safe to be around. No fear of being hurt by her in any way. She accepted, enjoyed and respected who I was.  I felt loved especially when she gave me big hugs. I could relax and be myself. No need to be on my toes to avoid criticism or punishment. This is what Grandma’s love felt like and is a microscopic representation of how God loves us.

Imagine what it would feel like if we could comprehend and rely on God love for us that is “as great as the height of the heavens are above the earth” (Psalm 103:11, NAS). As I grow in the experience of this immense love, this is my reasonable expectation of the benefits for me:

  • Much more peace and less anxiety
  • Expecting more of the positive to happen rather than the negative
  • Much less dependence on demanding good treatment from others
  • Much more content with my circumstances in life
  • More capable of loving others deeper
  • More pleasing to God because loving others is the top of God’s list of what pleases him
  • Less turmoil as I focus my attention on giving love rather than just receiving it
  • Less fear of people as I depend on God’s stable and overwhelming love rather than my ability to impress others to get their love

Why it Is So Hard to Comprehend this Love

It’s impossible to fully comprehend God’s incredible love for us. His love flows from who he is, not who we are. He loves us because he chose to love us, not as a reward for being good little boys and girls.

We experience his love in his patience and kindness with us, and his protection (1 Corinthians 13). But we have a hard time accepting this love because it is so radically different from the way the world operates. We have been programed by our parents and society to earn love through our performance. Often, we do not experience love when we fail but only when succeed and please. Because our need to be loved is so strong, we will do almost anything to earn this love.

But God is different. He doesn’t require us to earn, please and impress. Just trust in him to give us incredible love by just accepting it as a gift. That’s why many of us reject it. It doesn’t make sense.

In my childhood home I was a busy beaver looking for ways to be safe, important, respected, and loved. What do I have to do today to feel safe? To do nothing, relax, and be myself felt suicidal. I would be crushed by criticism and sometimes much worse. To be loved was something to be earned.

Not so with God. He us loves because we are ourselves, not the gushy up self we present to our parents and others- but the real us with all the weaknesses and sin we practice daily. Jesus took care of that messy stuff we try to hide.

But many of us lean too much on our understanding and reject this truth. Instead, we get busy trying to obey the Bible in our own strength. We miss the grace he offers us to be treated as prince and princess and instead try to be workers who are worthy of this status.

It is stunning and unbelievable to realize that Jesus loves us so much that he died for us. He did not do it for himself when he went through the most agonizing death devised by man. His only reasons were to save us from going to hell, qualify us to live with him forever, and to see his glory. That’s love! As Jesus said, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13, NAS). And that’s what he did.

How To Experience God’s Incredible Love for You

Because our understanding and experience of unconditional love is so limited, we need to rely on God for the capacity to comprehend it more. We need to live in the power of the Spirit. Paul knew this when he prayed for the church in Ephesus.  He asked God to give them “the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is (Ephesians 3:18, NLT).” He further prayed that they “may experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully (Ephesians 3:19, NLT).”

Another way we can experience God’s great love for us is through godly mentors. I came from a childhood in which I experienced conditional love. If I pleased and achieved, I felt some form of being loved. But that is not the way God loves. Through a godly mentor I had as a young Christian, I felt unconditionally loved. He was like a loving father who answered my questions, was interested in me, and cheered and showed me the way to live in this new world of spiritual warfare. This experience helped me to get a taste of how God loves me.

Another way we experience God’s love is through the love of a godly spouse or other person who is close to us. The woman God led me to marry is tenderhearted, kind, affectionate, gentle, fun, and loving- all traits of God and gives me a daily experience of his love which is flowing through her life throughout the day.

Thankfulness gives God the credit for the daily ways he shows his love to us. His wisdom to make a good decision, his protection from injury and disease, the courage he gives us to face our fears and grow stronger and listening to us whenever we talk to him. These experiences help us to grow in realizing that God really does love us.

Another way to comprehend God’s love for us is to compare it to the love we have experienced from the world. Reflect on instances when we felt loved by the world and then on the love we know and experienced from God. What differences do we see? It is important to lay aside the understanding of the world’s kind of love and accept the truth that God loves us differently. There is no pressure and no end to God’s love like there is in the world. We are safe in never fearing losing it. As Paul says, “I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love” (Romans 8:38, NLT). It is important to lay aside our preconceived experiences of being loved by the world or we may fail to grasp God’s much different and deeper love for us. We may project onto God the world’s way to love and think that God’s love is the same.

God makes no secret about his great love for us. It’s all over the pages of the Bible. Meditate on these verses and passages where God makes clear how much he loves us. He loves us so much he died for us (John 3:16). He delights in us and calms our fears (Zephaniah 3:17). He will never abandon us (Deuteronomy 31:6). And he loves us just the way we are (Isaiah 43:4).

Also, we can repeat to ourselves how he views us until the truth moves from our heads to our hearts. Truths like “I am precious and loved” (Isaiah 43:4), “I am the apple of his eye” (Psalm 17:8) and “Nothing can stop God from loving me” (Romans 8:39,39).

A difficult way to grow in experiencing and understanding how much he loves you is embrace challenging times that encourage us to lean hard on him. We often make idols out of safe and good circumstances that keep us from trusting in his love to get us through. We cling to this world and its benefits instead of abandoning ourselves to his tender and faithful love and care. And because we don’t have to, we often don’t. But when our backs are against the wall, we must trust and rely on his love or else.

I experienced one of those “or else times” soon after I became a Christian. This is a time in which my back was against the wall, and I had no other choice but to depend on God. The job was as a Development Engineer in the Air Force, and it was overwhelming. I had so many projects on my plate that I couldn’t even think about projects in the next week. This worked to some degree, but one night I had to develop next year’s $25 million budget in one night to present the next morning. The night before was as soon as I could make time to do it. And it was a disaster the next morning!

I also led large meeting of engineers in developing improved missile systems even though I had to rely on the competence and honesty of the engineers because of my limited expertise.  God was who I depended upon to enable me to meet the demands of this impossible job. I had no other choice. And he came through miraculously for me enabling the projects to be done timely and in a quality manner that resulted in me receiving a Commendation Medal for meritorious service. How do you figure, if not God? He loved this new child in the faith by enabling me to succeed.

We are saved by an act of faith, but we grow through living a life of faith. We need to be connecting with God’s life throughout every day by practicing spiritual disciplines that help us to access his life. Disciplines like praying Scripture, praying for our needs and for others, reading the Bible, meditating on it, making applications, and committing our problems to God as they occur. We are in a partnership with God and practicing disciplines is part of the light load we carry to have the power to experience his awesome love for us at the heart-level.

It is also helpful to identify the substitutes or idols we use to not depend on God’s love for us. We can be too reliant on the approval from others, the love of a spouse, conforming to popular opinion, and not being real with others. When we get a measure of satisfaction from these substitutes we are not as likely to lean hard on God’s love for us to free us from our fears (1 John 4:19).

Application Questions and Exercises

1. Meditate on John 15:13. As you think about what Jesus says in this verse, what feelings do you have? Any thoughts come to mind that would cause you to doubt Jesus’s love for you despite dying on your behalf? Are these thoughts true?

2. Visualize a person who is or was in your life that has made you feel loved the most. What are your feelings and thoughts? Now, picture yourself in God’s presence and experiencing his love for you which is “as great as the height of the heavens above the earth” (Psalm 103:11, NLT). Are your feelings and thoughts different?

3.  Imagine how your life would be different if you lived throughout the day in comprehending his awesome love for you. Describe some of the differences. What is your response to these differences?

4. What makes it hard for you to live in the experience of his great love? Ask God what is one change he wants you to make that will help you grow in relying on his love for you more.

5. Think of some of your weaknesses and sins. Imagine presenting the worst of these to God. What does he do? Does his imagined response support his incredible love for you? If not, what does the Bible promise is his response to your sins and weaknesses?

6.  Describe the love you experienced growing up in your childhood home. Compare that love to God’s love that you have experienced. In what ways is God’s love for you deeper and richer?

7. We know God loves us because the Bible says he does. Do you trust and rely on this truth to live your life? What evidence in your life reveals you live in this reality? What shows you do not fully depend on this truth?

8. Reflect on your life and recall situations God put you in in which your back was against the wall. How did you grow in faith through these situations? Thank him for each situation and what you experienced from each one that helped you trust that he loved you.

What It Means to Rely on the Spirit

When we become Christians by relying on what Jesus did for us when he died on the cross, we are given God’s Spirit as a pledge of our salvation and to enable us to live a powerful life. However, we often don’t lean on him and instead try to muscle our way through the Christian life in our own strength. We must choose to rely on this Spirit to help us to love the unlovely, serve the needs of others sacrificially, and let others get the credit instead of us seeking it for ourselves. We often think we can do all these good things just by trying harder. But we can’t.

As a Christian, we have “become a new person. The old life is gone: a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NLT). But we don’t become a new person in our experience if we continue to rely on our human efforts and not the supernatural power of the Spirit. We don’t want to try to live the Christian life without Jesus’ help. For our Christianity will be fake and powerless.

Why It’s So Hard to Rely on the Spirit

My background emphasized knowing the Bible. But it did not emphasize as much relying on the Spirit to live the Bible. To some extent, I was left on my own to figure out how to obey it from the heart. As a result, my spirituality had a lot of legalisms in it, which is trying to live the Christian life without relying on the Spirit.

I realized this about myself 17 years ago when I started seminary. I seemed to think that all I needed was to know the biblical principle and then I could do it. However, at that time I began to trust in a deeper way that apart from God I could do nothing of eternal value (John 15:5). Nothing? Are you kidding? That’s right. Nothing of eternal value.

So, I was motivated to learn how to do live more with Jesus instead of just for Jesus. I had to humble myself and learn to let Jesus into my day to help me with whatever came along. But where’s the glory in that? If God and I are doing life together, how can I take credit for what happens? I would have to die to myself (John 12:24)– and that is one major reason few of us walk in the Spirit because we are too proud to live in the reality that apart from Jesus, we can do nothing that counts.

Another reason we often choose to live without God’s power is it is hard to live by faith. Up until the time we became Christians, we always relied on something we could see. That was usually us or good circumstances. If we couldn’t see it, it didn’t exist. And this bent carries over into our life after we become a Christian. We like to see, feel, and touch what we put our faith in. But in the case of trusting God, we never see him, feel him, or touch him directly. But through the eyes of faith, we experience his love and power through a loving wife, compassion living through a godly person and wisdom through a Spirit-filled teacher.

Many of us are high-control people. We don’t feel safe unless we control our circumstances. It is very difficult for us to trust others. Instead, we strive to understand so we don’t have to trust an unseen God. But God says, “Trust in Me with all your heart and don’t lean on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge me and I will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5,6, NLT). But that is scary. We have less anxiety when we trust in something we can see. But the truth that often escapes us is that our circumstances are never under our complete control.

As a result, many of us opt for a safe Christianity that lacks God’s presence and power. We miss the exciting adventure of allowing God to transform us and use us to make this a better world. We fail to live life in the Spirit, in God’s power. We miss much of the joy and peace of living in partnership with the living God. We refuse to pay the price. It takes work, perseverance and trust in God. It can be uncomfortable and painful and not for cowards. Few Christians live this way.

One of the shocking things I learned when I became more aware of my thoughts, feelings and motives of my heart through spiritual formation disciplines was how depraved I was. For example, I was trying to earn worth by serving God. Being a leader in the church sometimes was more about trying to be important to church people than pleasing God and doing what he wanted me to do for his purposes. I pretended to be what I thought would get the approval of others, instead of what was right for me. And trusting in good circumstances rather than a good God to keep me safe.

A reason it is hard for us to rely on God is that we often want to rely on lies more than the God of all truth. We don’t want to believe that we can’t do anything of eternal value without God doing it through us. We don’t want to believe that God’s plan for us is better than our plans for ourselves. We don’t want to believe that what others think of us has no value in who God thinks we are. We want control and we want to cling to the fantasy that we have it. But in order to rely on the Spirit, we need to be trained to turn away from lies that contradict God’s truth and promises. We need to develop the skill to identify and validate the accuracy of what we depend on.

How to Rely on the Spirit

To rely on the Spirit, we must trust what the Spirit says is true. It’s not something to file way on the bookshelf of our minds, but something to be used today to live our lives. Unless we step out and depend on the Spirit to make his promises active and alive in us, they are powerless. “And without faith it is impossible to please him” (Hebrews 11:6, NAS). God wants us to be a doer of the Word and not someone who knows but doesn’t trust or do.

When God says to us, “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely, I will help you, surely, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10, NAS), he doesn’t want us to go on acting like we are at the mercy of our wits and wisdom. No, he wants us to act on the truth that we are never alone, and God’s powerful and faithful help will get us through whatever challenges we are facing.

Meditation on God’s word helps us to stay focused on God’s truth instead of Satan’s blizzard of lies. For example, I recently had a delicate procedure done by a vascular surgeon. The procedure did not go perfectly when he made an error in judgment on the size of the stent and left a pinhole leak. He also let the incision get infected and prescribed an anti-biotic that I was allergic to. After a couple of other expectations that were not met, I began to feel like I wasn’t safe. Then God reassured me through meditation on Isaiah 41:10 that he was with me and was my reason to feel safe. He impressed upon me that all the human errors were under his control, and he still would work these mistakes together with other things for my good. Without relying on Isaiah 41:10, I would have been much more anxious than I was listening to Satan’s lies that I was in danger.

Final Thoughts

Finally, the dirty little secret is that we can’t live the Bible by just knowing it. We can know and want to do but still not do. God must live his life through us to live according to God’s incredibly high standards. Standards such as loving our enemies, forgiving those who have hurt is, and loving our neighbors as much as we love ourselves.  We can’t do this through human strength. We always must lower the standards to make our Christianity work when we refuse to depend on the Spirit.

God tries to persuade us to try his Spirit out to live by his standards of perfection. We need to get out of the way and let God live his life through us. We need to rely on the fact that Jesus has rendered powerless our sin nature. When we rely on this reality, God gradually makes it true in our experience as we follow and trust in him. When we don’t depend, we continue to not be transformed and fail to connect to the life of God and his joy, peace, and love. May we all persevere, never give up, and try again even if we fail a thousand times. To experience God’s intimate love for us and his power, makes it worth the effort.

Application Questions and Exercises

1. What about you makes it difficult to rely on God to do his will? What are some reasons you think you need God’s help? What is one lie you believe that keeps you from trusting God to live through you?

2. Ask God to help you see some alternatives you have trusted in instead of placing your faith in him to meet an important need. Why did you do this? How did it work?

3. Imagine what this week would look l like if you lived it in God’s power. What are some differences you see in your feelings and actions from your usual week?

4. What has helped you to live by reliance on God? Why? What has hindered you? What action(s) are you going to take?

5. Think of a truth you sense the Holy Spirit is wanting you to trust God to make real for you in your experience. Picture what it would look like in your thoughts, feelings and actions if you acted and trusted God to provide what he has promised.

6. We are given God’s precious and magnificent promises so that our life can become supernatural as we rely on Jesus to make them real in our experience. Ask him to show you one of those promises to rely on today. How do you expect your day to be different as he keeps his promise to you?

7. Do you passionately desire to live a supernatural life experiencing daily God’s power and intimate love for you? Why would you want this? Why wouldn’t you want this?

My wife and I were taking our usual morning walk when we noticed a neighbor who seemed to be upset. We found out that she was agitated about how crazy our world was and how it seemed to be falling apart. She told us, “I am sure glad I’m 65 and don’t have to stay here much longer.”I agreed that there seemed to be overwhelming pressures that are attacking the stability of our world and our capacity to live quiet and peaceful lives.

So, how are we to live in this ever-changing and chaotic world? The first thing that comes to mind is where do we go to find safety, guidance, and truth. Is it politics? Good circumstances? Alcohol and drugs? Religion? Ourselves? Or is it a strong relationship with God?

Where we go to find answers will make a big difference in our future. If we choose foolishly, we will suffer the consequences. If we choose wisely, we will be richly rewarded. So, where do we go to become wise and learn how to thrive in this world we live in?

When I was a young man, I decided to invest considerable effort in trying to find out what made life work.Although I had earned a degree in engineering, my education did not prepare me to live well on my own. I had to learn quickly, for example, about how to do a job well to avoid getting fired again, like what happened in my first job out of college. I had to abandon some of my parents’ ways and embrace the ways that were right for me. This search involved seeking for a compelling vision of a purposeful life. I had tried career success, finding a good woman to marry, becoming popular, and getting a good education. As I gradually reached these goals, I discovered they didn’t satisfy me. They did not fulfill my desire for meaning in life. “Is that all there is?” I said to myself.

A few years later, I found that the missing ingredient was faith in God. I learned that he was the one who ruled over the nations. The Bible teaches that to God,”all the nations of the world are but a drop in the bucket. They are nothing more than dust on the scales. He picks up the whole earth as though it were a grain of sand” (Isaiah 40:15, NLT). Now, that’s power!

When I was in the Air Force, I was an engineer working for an organization that designed and tested the Minuteman Missile System that carried nuclear bombs. Our unit’s primary responsibility was the testing of the missiles and other weapon systems to ensure they would work in time of war.

I would worry at times about either the Soviet Union or the United States accidentally launching their missiles that could destroy the world. I finally found peace by putting my trust in God working to protect us from mistakes or evil intentions by either country. I certainly did not put my confidence in the launch officers always acting wisely, since many of them were my friends, and I knew they were all too human and imperfect.

We all yearn to live quiet and peaceful lives. But how? By chasing some utopian dream that may not be true, such as the belief that people are basically good and can always be trusted? A Roman leader 2,000 years ago asked,”What is truth?”

We need to constantly ask ourselves this question. For me, I have found a good source of truth is the Bible, which claims that it is the truth (John 17:17). Another source of wisdom and insight is a close relationship with God that can enable us to follow him.

Where do you go to find truth that will help you to overcome these difficult times? There are many voices who claim they have the truth. Many of these voices try to deceive you into taking roads that will be dead ends for you.

My hope is that you will choose to follow Jesus, who says” I am the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6, NLT). If you do this, you will be taking the most important step in learning how to live.

Questions to Ponder

To what or whom do you go to learn how to live?

Is this a wise dependency to have? Explain.

How is having this dependency working for you? Any changes needed?

My doctor said to me recently, “It is growing, and we will need to operate soon.” I felt disappointed and scared. I had hoped that my abdominal aneurism would remain small and never need to be operated upon. But no. Circumstances ruled otherwise. Another instance when circumstances failed to give me the peace of mind I had longed for.

So, how do we deal with our anxiety when circumstances fail to meet our need to feel safe?

Living a restful, peaceful life seems to be a goal worth having. But how do we pull it off? Life is scary, confusing and often hard. Dealing with all the problems often makes us feel tense and stressed out. Even with God’s help life can be tough.

The Bible says we can rest because God offers us his help in carrying the heavy load of the challenges we go through. “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:29, 30, NAS). We can choose to lean on him for the energy and wisdom to address the many problems we have as we do our part.

He also tells us that resting in good circumstances is impossible. They are seldom good enough to allow us to relax. There are problems coming at us constantly. But he says, “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NAS). This means that he will provide the additional resources we need to overcome our daily challenges as we rest in him.

But we often lose focus on the truth of his control over our challenges and believe lies. These could be “I can’t do this” when we can with God’s help, or “I can’t rely on God coming through for me” when we can because he is faithful.

Where do these lies come from?

Some of them come from the lies that we have lived by all our lives, and we never have challenged or overcame them. Lies like “If something bad could happen, it will”. Or “I can’t do it because I’m not good enough for God to help me.” Other lies come from the people around us that give us daily messages that are false, such as pleasures are the way to happiness or impressing people is how to be important. Finally, our enemy, Satan, is quietly working through our thoughts and circumstances to lure us into sin.

But we find peace of mind when we turn to God’s truth and rely on it. He promises, “But all who listen to me will live in peace, untroubled by fear of harm” (Proverbs 1:33, NLT). And there is a lot to listen to as he talks to us throughout the day through a variety of ways. “I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go” (Psalm 32:8, NAS). But will we listen to him?

Often, we don’t want to listen to God. We want to be in charge and make things happen so we can feel important and self-sufficient.

As I face this medical procedure next month, I feel peace. Although the operation is reasonably safe, it is delicate. My wife and I have confidence in the surgeon. However, my security is in listening to God’s promise that he is in control and guiding the surgeon in properly stenting the artery. Only trusting this truth comforts and quiets my fears to the point of experiencing peace. May I and all of us learn to look to God as our place of safety instead of relying on undependable circumstances. “He alone is my refuge, my place of safety” (Psalm 91:2, NLT).

Questions:

What is an issue you are facing where you need to rely on God’s care?

What are you going to do to face this challenge and experience God’s peace?

My COVID Story

When COVID first hit, it took some time for me to grasp that I would need to alter my life in many ways. I did not know I would have to deal with a “plague of biblical proportions.” For a long time, there were no trips to get my hair cut, no Fourth of July as I knew it, no birthday parties, no church as usual, and few friends to spend time with (I am retired). I often felt bored and lonely

There also were no vacations, Writer’s Conferences, or times to mentor men to help them grow in their faith.

Zoom helped me reach out to some extent, but it never was as good as being with them.

I did keep the hope alive for a long time in 2020 that we could still have a family reunion at Yellowstone National Park. But often the parts of the park we liked weren’t open.

But we did finally go. We went by car because we felt it was safer than by air to avoid COVID. It was a great time both going to and coming back from Wyoming. It was one of the best times of the year. There was white water river rafting, sights that awed us, and good times with brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces and in-laws.

Nature gave a lift to my spirit in the springs of 2020 and 2021 and at other times of the year. This brought some joy to my life. Also, I often took a drive in the car to lift my mood. I felt less lonely as I saw people going about their lives.

I often looked to God to feel safe and to not be so lonely. I also told the Lord “Thank you” often for my wife being in my life to bring some human warmth to me in the sad and empty days I had to face.

I think I felt more fear than most since the start of the pandemic due to being over seventy and having pre-existing conditions. Many were dying who had my characteristics.

Getting the vaccines gave a great boost to my confidence and peace of mind.

I often asked God for his safe path as I tried to be wise about the risks I took to be out in the world. I grew in my trust in God to keep me safe. So far, I have not had COVID.

I also felt fear due to riots, chaos with the elections, lockdowns, and bad health news in the media. These fears often drove me to my knees to pray to gain some peace.

God has been a rock in a scary world.  He has been a place to go to in order to feel safe, as the Bible says, “He alone is my refuge, my place of safety” (Psalm 91:2, NLT).  When the usual things I would rely on to meet my needs were not there, like friends and going out and doing things, I would experience God’s help to get me through the day. My focus grew to only want to do what his will was, in his power, and for his glory.

The verse I most clung to during this time was in Isaiah, “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10, NAS). I still lean on this promise of his as I face the uncertain times ahead and the COVID threat that never seems to end.

I have struggled with low self-esteem since childhood. I have tried to overcome it by impressing, achieving, and conforming. But I couldn’t seem to impress or achieve enough to rest in just being me.

When I became a Christian in my twenties, I heard about how much God loved me and how important I was to him. But it seemed that a lot of this teaching just lodged in my head and did not seem to penetrate to my heart.

Meanwhile, I continued to strive for worth, approval, and achievement, but in Christian ways now. At the heart-level I still did not have a strong sense of being loved and important to God. One idol I adopted was to substitute the identity I got from the church, for the wonderful identity God gives me from being his child.

My Christianity was knowing the truth and then doing it, largely in my own strength. I was unaware of whether I was trusting God and his Word to do it. 

As the years went by, I was alert to anything that was useful in growing in my faith and helping others to grow. One day, a friend introduced the idea of going to seminary and studying Spiritual Formation.  It soon became apparent this was God’s leading, so I enrolled.

One of the first things I discovered was that I had a heart. Up until that time I assumed that if I knew the Bible, and applied it, then I would trust it. But no. Many times, I was surprised that my head and my heart disagreed. I was introduced to a new world of my heart and discovered idols and lies that were holding me back from growing in my faith.

Some of those lies included that I am what the church thinks I am, not what God thinks I am. I am only as important as my achievements are in the eyes of man. And I am only safe when I have good circumstances, not because God is with me.

I was fascinated by the unseen world of my heart and surrendered myself to learn to live in the truth at that level, no matter what the cost.

By this time, I had gotten pretty good at getting my needs met through the lies and idols in my heart. So, it has been particularly hard for me to die to these sins. In my desperation, I have experienced new life as I have earnestly prayed and leaned on God to show up in places where I have died to the old ways of getting my needs met.

Evidence of the resurrected life includes my growing desire to only do the tasks God gives me, in his power, and for his purposes. Another evidence is that we do life together now. I not only live life for God, but also with him. And I’m growing in finding my security through God’s presence, and not in good circumstances.

We talk to ourselves all day long. Some things we say are true and some are lies.

When I was a child, I told myself I needed to be taller to be important. That was a lie. Instead, I needed to tell myself the truth that I was important even though I was the shortest kid in the class. Because I believed this lie, I struggled with self-esteem through much of my early years.

As an adult, I told myself I could do any job. But that was a lie. I boldly applied for many jobs just because they were promotions. I told myself once I got the promotion, I would be able to figure out how to do the job. But that didn’t happen. There were a few jobs I just couldn’t do – and I had to endure much pain and humiliation to discover this.

In recent years, I have told myself I was immortal. But that was a lie too. I’m not. It took a life-threatening physical condition for me to face the truth I was going to die someday. This lie had kept me clinging to life too much and hindered my hope of living in a future life that is far better than this one.

So, why do we lie to ourselves? 

Sometimes the lie may feel better. “You can do any job you set out to do.” Feels good, doesn’t it? But is it true? No, it isn’t. But God says we can do any job he leads us to do if we depend on him (Philippians 4:13). May we tell ourselves the truth when we are contemplating a new job and avoid the pitfalls of a bad decision.

Another reason we lie to ourselves is that our culture has so much “fake news” in it. We become brainwashed into thinking like everyone else. We are surrounded by lies because the culture is strongly influenced by Satan, who is the father of lies (John 8:44).

A third reason we don’t tell ourselves the truth is our pride. We deny the obvious – that there is a God. When God tells us we are important and acceptable to him, we reject this truth and instead lie to ourselves that we can impress and achieve our way to respect.

So, how do we learn to tell ourselves the truth?

We will need to become aware of the conversations we have with ourselves. We will need to exam our self-talk to ensure it is truthful. “We are destroying speculation and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God and bringing every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5, NASB). We can correct any lies we are telling ourselves, for depending on them will surely lead us the wrong way.

But first we must know truth. A good place to go is the Bible (John 17:17). As we increase our knowledge of the Word, we will need to practice it in order to gain an experiential knowledge of truth. Not just a head knowledge but also a heart one from which we genuinely embrace the truth from deep within us.

Another source of truth is knowing ourselves – what we want, what’s our passions, and our strengths and weaknesses. These truths are hard to know for we often deceive ourselves. “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, NASB). But as we ask him, the Holy Spirit will reveal to us what we are really like.

Finally, the Bible says “as he thinks within himself, so he is” (Proverbs 23:7, NASB). We need to think about was is true, right, and noble so we can tell ourselves the truth and not speak lying words (Philippians 4:8). A quiet time every day is helpful to meditate on scripture to transform our self-talk into life-giving conversations with God. 

In closing, quiet yourself for a minute or two and focus on what you are feeling. Experience the dominate emotion for about a minute. Then, ask God to help you identify what thoughts are causing this feeling. Are these thoughts true? If not, ask God what the truths are.  Correct your self-talk by denying the lies and telling yourself the truth. Pray he will help you to tell yourself these truths often and enable you to depend on them.

May this exercise help you to stop lying and to better tell yourself the truth..

Do you feel like quitting sometimes? What’s the use?, you may think. I will never meet my goal. So, what should we do when we feel this way?

Probably the greatest political leader of the 20th Century, Winston Churchill, said in a speech when facing the wrath of the Nazi’s,

“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

And he didn’t give in and led England to help save the Western world from being overcome by the Nazis. He persevered.

What made Thomas Edison keep trying to invent the electric light bulb after 10,000 failures? Perseverance.

But where does this perseverance come from? Why do many of us fail to persevere?

One reason is we don’t focus on the prize–the reward of not giving up. I had to do this in high school when my letter in cross country hinged on the final race of the season. I needed to finish ahead of a particular runner in a two-mile race to win a letter. As we entered the last part of the race I was ahead, but exhausted. Then I heard his pounding steps closing in on me, and I feared my letter was slipping away. I then reached deep within myself for just enough strength to speed up and  discourage my challenger  from overtaking me. After the race, I lay on the ground for a half hour trying to catch my breath. But I was rejoicing because I had won a letter. Keeping my eye on the prize enabled me to find the strength and courage to win the race.

Likewise, in the race of life we need to keep our eyes riveted on the prize, too–a successful life in the eyes of God. We can be unwilling to endure the pain and fail to see the value of receiving God’s praise of “Well done, my good and faithful servant….Let’s celebrate together!” (Matthew 25:21, NLT).

Instead, we often focus on our worries and making money or gaining influence, which sap our strength and keep us from finishing the race a winner (Matthew 13:22).

One thing to keep in mind to help us continue living a responsible life when it is hard, is that it makes us stronger. A caterpillar becomes a healthy butterfly by struggling to break free from its cocoon. Likewise, the trials and tribulations we endure and overcome equip us to face even greater challenges in the future.

Many of the blessings God promises only come to us if we endure in relying on them. Recently it dawned on me that one of the reasons I haven’t experienced more peace is that I haven’t relied much on this promise: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you” (John 14:27, NAS). “But where is it Lord? I seem to have a lot of anxiety for a person who has been given so much peace.” Then, it hit me. I don’t have more peace because I don’t expect it and rely on it.

Also, when we look away from the pain and fixate on the good that God promises from the pain, we can maintain a better perspective of it. Rather than “cursing the darkness” and despairing over it, we can give thanks for  the good God is doing through it as he promised in Romans 8:28.

Our ability to persevere is enhanced when we accept that life is difficult. We assume that life should be easy and comfortable. And when it’s not, we think that something is wrong. But famous Christian psychologist and author, M. Scott Peck,  wrote “Life is difficult and when we accept the fact that life is difficult, it’s not so difficult.” Acceptance of our pain as a necessary part of living helps us to not to be so frustrated by the setbacks we face.

May we press on and complete the journey that God has planned for each of us. May we persevere and not give up. May we live in the reality that our suffering is not in vain. “So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless” (1 Corinthians 15:58, NLT).

Choosing to be More

Do you measure your worth by what you do? Do you feel more important when others notice your achievements? Do you think, “I am what I think others think I am.”?

If you do these things, is your truth really truth?

Early in my career I was an engineer because I needed to regard myself as important by gaining the approval and respect of others. My need to fill the hole of low self-esteem was so great I ignored the reality I didn’t like engineering. I thought my worth was determined what others would respect. But I was wrong.

When I became a Christian in my mid-twenties, I had to make a choice – Do I trust in doing the job God wanted me to do and gain his praise, or do I chase the praise of others and disobey God.

For the most part I chose to follow God’s will and do his sometimes obscure and frustrating assignments. I sometimes chose to become less in the eyes of others. And that has hurt at times.

However, several times I have chosen to get out of God’s lane and pursue great things for myself. How did that work out? Two job downgrades, an early retirement, and a few jobs that were way-over-my-head. I did this to avoid thinking I wasn’t very important.

Many of us are led astray from simply knowing and doing God’s job for us. Instead, we seek the fame, fortune, and pleasures of this life that distract and sap our energies and keep us from experiencing a more rewarding life. We seek to gain more, but attain less.

We may pursue being fulfilled our way – not God’s. But God designed us and knows best how we should live this life. We seek to live in our strength and avoid God’s powerful and rewarding path. The result will be a disappointing life and a horrible eternity.

In order to choose to be less in this life, we need perspective. This life is not all there is. It is a drop in the bucket compared to the forever of the next one. $10,000,000,000 is nothing compared to the value of being in heaven forever.

We have to go beyond what we see and rely on what we don’t see; which is the high value of doing our obscure tasks here for future glory and honor as part of the royal family in heaven. The rewards of the next life is the treasure we need to set our sights on – not the temporary glitz and glamor offered by the few short years here.

We will have to swallow our pride and allow God to give us what we need most, like importance, acceptance and love. What we need to do is to cooperate with God in developing our relationship with him so that we can experience him meeting these needs in a satisfying way.

May we keep our focus on Christ and his future blessings to endure the hardships of this life as Moses did. “He chose to be mistreated with the people of God rather than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking to his reward” (Hebrews 11:25-26, NIV).

Let us choose to be less in this life, and allow God to take us on a supernatural journey that will enable us to become far more in the next.

What is a step you sense you need to take today to be more in the future, but maybe less now?