Is God Enough for You?

When life hits us hard we question everything, including ourselves.

  • Why did you let this happen, God?
  • If you are good, why am I going through so much pain?
  • Why didn’t I get out when I could?
  • Why did I say that?

What we are really asking, though, is this:

God, are you enough for me?

When your marriage gets difficult, when your work situation takes an unexpected turn, or when your children disrespect you, is God enough for you?  When a friend speaks badly about you behind your back, or when someone takes advantage of you, is God enough for you?

Much of my life I unwittingly placed my value in what others thought of me.  When they spoke or thought poorly of me, I was devastated.  When they questioned my integrity, I was crushed.

I was feeling beat up because I was viewing myself through the eyes of others rather than through the eyes of God.

I still find myself slipping into that same trap from time to time, but when I am able to see myself as God sees me, I have strong, enduring peace.

God knows you and me more intimately than any one person will ever be able to know us. He made us.  Psalm 139:13 says God knits us together in our mother’s womb.

He knows why you are hurting better than you do, and he knows how to heal you better than any self-help book or counselor.  (Counselors are invaluable, by the way; I am not knocking them.  You need a counselor who is a believer, though, for you to really find healing.)

God is enough for me and for you, and he will always be enough.

Where in your life do you need to remember that God is enough for you?

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Re-Post: What to Do with Your Past

Throughout the month of April I am taking a break from writing in order to focus on other things.  As a result I am re-posting some of my most popular articles.

Lots of people have suggestions about what you should do with your past.  Most ideas sound something like this:

  • Don’t bring it up; why reopen old wounds?
  • My future is ruined because of my past.
  • I keep track of how others treat me so I can do the same to them.
  • Focus on what is working, not on what is broken.
  • Don’t cry over spilt milk.
  • Suck it up.

Some of these statements have an element of truth, but ultimately every one of these approaches will take a toll on you and your relationships.

Before I was a teenager I endured some very difficult experiences (not from my family, gratefully; they are and have been wonderful).  I kept those experiences hidden for at least 8-10 years and carried the shame with me as a teenager.

When I finally let someone know what had happened, I was more relieved than I could have imagined.

Throughout the years since then, whether through friends or relatives or counselors, I have unpacked those experiences and dealt with them, each time gaining greater freedom.  Up until a week ago I felt like I had dredged all of the available wisdom and healing from those experiences.

Last week, however, God showed me something in those tough experiences that I had missed.  I was blown away at how one detail of those experiences had made its way into deep parts of my life without me even knowing it.

As soon as I realized what God was showing me I felt freedom and rest enter my soul, freedom and rest I did not know I needed.

If you are human you probably have had many painful experiences and carry around numerous wounds, some which you probably do not even know you have.

Here is my advice to you:

  • Don’t be afraid to go there.  When you air those wounds and experiences you will ultimately find healing in your present life.
  • Pray.  God will shepherd you through your past if you let him.  Remember that he was betrayed and mistreated beyond our comprehension, yet he was able to rise to a completely new life.  You can rise, too, with his help.
  • Find a safe friend or counselor.  If you need to talk, carefully choose someone rather than talking about your pain with every person you meet.
  • Trust.  The pain of re-opening old wounds is worth it.  If you are truly looking for healing and restoration for you and your relationships, go for it.
  • Let go.  If you have done all you know to deal with your past, let it go.  This is easier said than done, I know, but with God you can do it!  If there is more to be done, God will bring you to that point at the right time.
  • Keep short accounts.  The best way to avoid a painful past to live a healthy present.  Confront issues instead of skirting them.  Forgive everyone.  Love unconditionally.

I am still learning, but God continues to prove that he can revive the tired areas and heal the broken parts in me.  I know the same is possible for you.

How have you successfully dealt with your past?  What experiences do you need to re-visit for your good or the good of those around you?

What to Do with Your Past

Lots of people have suggestions about what you should do with your past.  Most ideas sound something like this:

  • Don’t bring it up; why reopen old wounds?
  • My future is ruined because of my past.
  • I keep track of how others treat me so I can do the same to them.
  • Focus on what is working, not on what is broken.
  • Don’t cry over spilt milk.
  • Suck it up.

Some of these statements have an element of truth, but ultimately every one of these approaches will take a toll on you and your relationships.

Before I was a teenager I endured some very difficult experiences (not from my family, gratefully; they are and have been wonderful).  I kept those experiences hidden for at least 8-10 years and carried the shame with me as a teenager.

When I finally let someone know what had happened, I was more relieved than I could have imagined.

Throughout the years since then, whether through friends or relatives or counselors, I have unpacked those experiences and dealt with them, each time gaining greater freedom.  Up until a week ago I felt like I had dredged all of the available wisdom and healing from those experiences.

Last week, however, God showed me something in those tough experiences that I had missed.  I was blown away at how one detail of those experiences had made its way into deep parts of my life without me even knowing it.

As soon as I realized what God was showing me I felt freedom and rest enter my soul, freedom and rest I did not know I needed.

If you are human you probably have had many painful experiences and carry around numerous wounds, some which you probably do not even know you have.

Here is my advice to you:

  • Don’t be afraid to go there.  When you air those wounds and experiences you will ultimately find healing in your present life.
  • Pray.  God will shepherd you through your past if you let him.  Remember that he was betrayed and mistreated beyond our comprehension, yet he was able to rise to a completely new life.  You can rise, too, with his help.
  • Find a safe friend or counselor.  If you need to talk, carefully choose someone rather than talking about your pain with every person you meet.
  • Trust.  The pain of re-opening old wounds is worth it.  If you are truly looking for healing and restoration for you and your relationships, go for it.
  • Let go.  If you have done all you know to deal with your past, let it go.  This is easier said than done, I know, but with God you can do it!  If there is more to be done, God will bring you to that point at the right time.
  • Keep short accounts.  The best way to avoid a painful past to live a healthy present.  Confront issues instead of skirting them.  Forgive everyone.  Love unconditionally.

I am still learning, but God continues to prove that he can revive the tired areas and heal the broken parts in me.  I know the same is possible for you.

How have you successfully dealt with your past?  What experiences do you need to re-visit for your good or the good of those around you?

The Holy Trinity of Relationships

We have all heard about the theology of the Trinity in evangelical Christianity.  Whether or not you support this foundational belief is not the focus of this blog.

Did you know, though, that there is another trinity in life?  I call it the holy trinity of relationships.

Humans, by nature, were made for connection.  The statement, “No man is an island,” is foundational in many ways, one being the fact that every person needs relationship in order to thrive.

Before we talk about the trinity, the three relationships you need to have in your life, let me say this.  Without a meaningful, grace-based relationship with God these other three will be insufficient.  While interpersonal relationships are critical, a relationship with God is absolutely essential.

I am talking about this subject not because I have a psychology degree (the LAST thing I want) or because I am a counselor or because I have my life figured out.  I have discovered these relationships are necessary for me to lead a fulfilled and overcoming life.  Throughout my divorce and difficult times in life one or more of these relationships sustained and encouraged me.

The Holy Trinity of Relationships

Close Friends

Everyone needs two or three close, intimate, know-everything-about-you friends.  I am talking about friends who support you through thick and thin, who listen more than they talk, who cry and mourn with you, and who celebrate as loudly as you do when something beautiful happens.  Close friends have to be truly selfless people.  The trick is that you have to be truly selfless in order to attract those kinds of people to yourself.

Throughout my separation and divorce one friend of mine (you know who you are) met with me for lunch every Thursday and just listened.  He had been a pastor for many years and had a lot of experience encouraging people, but he simply listened and spoke only when needed.  He even picked up the tab often because he knew I was short on money.  I am eternally grateful to this man who continues to be one of my closest friends even though we are a thousand miles apart.

Mentors

A mentor is someone familiar with your walk of life and who is about 10 years older than you.  They have been down the road you are walking and can speak wisdom into areas of life you are still discovering for yourself.

Around 10 years ago God brought a mentor into my life.  This man is about 10 years older than me and has been in worship ministry for many years.  He also has a doctorate in composition and understands personal struggle.  Throughout my ministry life and throughout my separation and divorce we have talked and collaborated and encouraged each other, and he has guided me in many decisions.  I am so grateful for him.

Mentors and close friends are hard to find, but most people agree that you need them.  The next relationship, however, can be much easier to find; this relationship requires a lot of humility, however.

Counselors

Many of us could benefit greatly from some time with a godly, encouraging, but strong counselor who can speak into areas of life we do not understand.  Seeing a counselor requires you to admit you need someone, however, and you have to invest financially.

Warning: Once you decide to see a counselor, you need to be willing to open every closet and corner of yourself for your time to be truly worthwhile.  Some see a counselor but hold back certain pieces of information.  In that case you might as well take your cash and light it on fire.  The counselor will only be able to provide moderately helpful information if you withhold a part of yourself from him.

I will admit that I have been reluctant to see a counselor at times.  I can say unequivocally, though, that my relationship with my counselor is possibly the most influential relationship I have had in my life aside from my family.  He has given me encouragement and challenge, grace and firmness, truth and compassion as I have needed it, and I am eternally grateful to him.

Every one of us needs to have close friends and mentors, and most of us would benefit from having a counselor as well.  I know I have.

What relationship are you missing in your life?  What are you going to do about it?

[Repost] The Best of 2011-12: 7 Steps That Can Rescue You and Your Marriage

Just over a year ago I began blogging.  This is the second of five posts that will be re-posts of the top five blog posts this past year.  Thanks for making this year great by reading what I have written and commenting.  I appreciate it!

When it comes to communication, I already have two strikes against me: I’m a guy and an introvert.

Guys are notorious for unclear speech when they do speak, and for not speaking enough. Introverts like to process by themselves and avoid interaction with people.

Do some swift math and you will rightly conclude that communication has been a challenge for me all of my life, and will probably continue that way for the rest of my life.

Here are some of my past pitfalls.

I don’t communicate for fear of hurting myself or my wife. My internal processor determines that my wife will respond a certain way; therefore I do not say certain things to avoid hurting her or myself.

I communicate unclearly for fear of hurting my wife or myself. My internal filters guide me to soften and blur the edges on what I say in order to avoid conflict, which only results in completely obscuring my meaning and intent.

I communicate harshly. This seems like an oxymoron, but because I fear hurting myself and my wife, and because I avoid conflict, when I do get the truth out my words can often be harsh because I am working so hard to communicate what I know needs to be said.

I am unable to verbalize my feelings and thoughts. Because I am filtering everything I say based on the supposed feelings and preferences of my wife I eventually replace my preferences with her perceived preferences.

Confused yet? Have a headache yet? Exactly. Fear of conflict, fear of getting hurt, and fear of hurting your spouse’s feelings (wanting to please) will introduce tension and frustration into your life and marriage. This tension and frustration combined with a complete focus on the happiness of your spouse will quickly blind you to yourself and make the simplest questions (What do you want to eat?) impossible to answer.

Familiar with this scenario?

Left unchecked these issues can ruin your marriage. Address them and you will see your intimacy soar.

Here are several strategies for counteracting these pitfalls.

1. Get help. If you are stuck in the mindless circle of pleasing others, find a counselor or friend who is very good at seeing through your verbal masks and who is able to challenge you. Trust me. You cannot get out of this cycle by yourself.

2. Pray. Like I said, you can’t make a change by yourself. God created you and made you unique. Ask him to reveal to you who you really are and to give you the courage to be that person.

3. Observe yourself. My counselor gave me this valuable assignment at our first session. For a week pay close attention to your moods and feelings and record them in a journal with your opinion on their origins.

4. Be honest with yourself. Admit the truth about what you have observed. You have to tell yourself the truth before you can tell the truth to your spouse.

If you have been hiding behind masks for very long this exposure will be very difficult. You will make a lot of mistakes and will probably need to ask forgiveness from your spouse for foot-in-mouth disease. Just remember that God accepts us just as we are, so we should do the same.

5. Value yourself. Value yourself enough to say and do what you need to say and do in order to be at peace with yourself and God. If you base your words and actions on what your spouse thinks (or what you think they think!!), you are placing the value of yourself below them. You are equals.

For all of you devout Christians out there, “considering others better than yourself,” as Paul puts it, does not mean ignoring what you think and feel at the expense of others. He was talking about humility and deference, something completely different.

6. Set boundaries. Allow the opinions of your spouse to penetrate only so far into your psyche. Far enough for you to consider the validity of what they are saying, but shallow enough that their opinion never comes close to compromising your beliefs about yourself.

7. Love through honesty. The greatest love you can show to your spouse is to be honest with them. In a world where everyone is selling something or pretending to be someone they’re not your spouse needs you to lovingly speak your mind, to be real, to be strong enough to take a little blowback and conflict.

How are you going to love your spouse more today?

7 Steps That Can Rescue You and Your Marriage

When it comes to communication, I already have two strikes against me: I’m a guy and an introvert.

Guys are notorious for unclear speech when they do speak, and for not speaking enough. Introverts like to process by themselves and avoid interaction with people.

Do some swift math and you will rightly conclude that communication has been a challenge for me all of my life, and will probably continue that way for the rest of my life.

Here are some of my past pitfalls.

I don’t communicate for fear of hurting myself or my wife. My internal processor determines that my wife will respond a certain way; therefore I do not say certain things to avoid hurting her or myself.

I communicate unclearly for fear of hurting my wife or myself. My internal filters guide me to soften and blur the edges on what I say in order to avoid conflict, which only results in completely obscuring my meaning and intent.

I communicate harshly. This seems like an oxymoron, but because I fear hurting myself and my wife, and because I avoid conflict, when I do get the truth out my words can often be harsh because I am working so hard to communicate what I know needs to be said.

I am unable to verbalize my feelings and thoughts. Because I am filtering everything I say based on the supposed feelings and preferences of my wife I eventually replace my preferences with her perceived preferences.

Confused yet? Have a headache yet? Exactly. Fear of conflict, fear of getting hurt, and fear of hurting your spouse’s feelings (wanting to please) will introduce tension and frustration into your life and marriage. This tension and frustration combined with a complete focus on the happiness of your spouse will quickly blind you to yourself and make the simplest questions (What do you want to eat?) impossible to answer.

Familiar with this scenario?

Left unchecked these issues can ruin your marriage. Address them and you will see your intimacy soar.

Here are several strategies for counteracting these pitfalls.

1. Get help. If you are stuck in the mindless circle of pleasing others, find a counselor or friend who is very good at seeing through your verbal masks and who is able to challenge you. Trust me. You cannot get out of this cycle by yourself.

2. Pray. Like I said, you can’t make a change by yourself. God created you and made you unique. Ask him to reveal to you who you really are and to give you the courage to be that person.

3. Observe yourself. My counselor gave me this valuable assignment at our first session. For a week pay close attention to your moods and feelings and record them in a journal with your opinion on their origins.

4. Be honest with yourself. Admit the truth about what you have observed. You have to tell yourself the truth before you can tell the truth to your spouse.

If you have been hiding behind masks for very long this exposure will be very difficult. You will make a lot of mistakes and will probably need to ask forgiveness from your spouse for foot-in-mouth disease. Just remember that God accepts us just as we are, so we should do the same.

5. Value yourself. Value yourself enough to say and do what you need to say and do in order to be at peace with yourself and God. If you base your words and actions on what your spouse thinks (or what you think they think!!), you are placing the value of yourself below them. You are equals.

For all of you devout Christians out there, “considering others better than yourself,” as Paul puts it, does not mean ignoring what you think and feel at the expense of others. He was talking about humility and deference, something completely different.

6. Set boundaries. Allow the opinions of your spouse to penetrate only so far into your psyche. Far enough for you to consider the validity of what they are saying, but shallow enough that their opinion never comes close to compromising your beliefs about yourself.

7. Love through honesty. The greatest love you can show to your spouse is to be honest with them. In a world where everyone is selling something or pretending to be someone they’re not your spouse needs you to lovingly speak your mind, to be real, to be strong enough to take a little blowback and conflict.

How are you going to love your spouse more today?

getting help, for those in ministry

Too often leaders, particularly in ministry settings, fail to get help when they need it and end up burning out their lives and hurting their families.  That’s what happened to me, and I do not want it to happen to anyone else.  While those tough times made me a much better person, I believe I improved by God’s grace and not because he likes things like divorce.

Here are a few things I learned the hard way.

1.  You are not unique.  Sorry to break it to you, but your problems are not new to humanity.  Someone somewhere, and more likely many people, are experiencing or have experienced the same thing you are experiencing.  So avoid the martyr syndrome.  Been there, done that, not good.

2.  God accepts you and can use you right where you are just as you are.  God’s grace is unfathomable.  We will never grasp how wide and deep and long and high his love and grace extend to us.  He accepts you as you are, with the sins you are fighting, or the burnout, or the failing marriage.  He does not accept you because of who you will be or because of who you were.  The Bible says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (ESV – Romans 5:8)

3.  Pray for guidance.  Prayer is always first.  “‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God . . . Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” (ESV – James 4:6-7a, 8a)

4.  Get advice from a trusted friend.  If you do not have a trusted friend, pray for one.  While I was going through my divorce I had a friend come alongside me and meet me every week for lunch.  He gave advice if I asked for it, but mostly he listened, asked questions, and prayed for me.  He also bought me lunch a lot, which was very cool!  You need good friends.

5.  Consider a ministry coach.  Coaches are not counselors.  Coaches come alongside a leader to help him or her figure out their life plan, ministry goals, and how to get there.  Here is an excellent post by Michael Hyatt highlighting a new coaching service tailored specifically for ministry leaders, both in content and in pricing.

6.  Get a personal counselor.  Find a person of the same sex with whom you can go through all of the emotions and difficulties you are experiencing.  Once you find someone which whom you can relate, you will not feel alone in dealing with your problems.

If you have been through a difficult time or experience, what helped you get back on your feet?