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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The Benefit of Writing Psalms as a Devotional Practice

From time to time I have written on various devotional techniques, and today I want to share one that has become a favorite of mine: psalm writing.

notebook and pencil

Why Write Psalms

A psalm is simply a sacred song or hymn, particularly modeled after the psalms of David.  While many psalms are laments, and sometime I will write one of those, many psalms are pure adoration and praise.

I find my attitude and spiritual perspective improve greatly when I spend concentrated time praising God. Praising God means focusing completely on who God is and what he has done. During this time I do not confess my sins, thank God for personal blessings, or ask him to answer my requests. This time is devoted to recognizing God for who he is and what he has done.

I can begin writing a psalm of praise in a spiritual dull and ambivalent mood, and by the time I am done my spirit has been lifted, encouraged, and strengthened simply because I have been reminding myself who God is. This is why God told his people to always be talking about God and his works; we are encouraged through who he is.

How to Write a Psalm

Begin by choosing an attribute of God, and then start writing down the ways God shows himself in your life as that attribute.

That’s all.

This is not a time to be grammatically perfect, but to be perfect in spirit.

An Example

Here is a psalm of praise I wrote earlier this month. On this particular day I decided to focus on God as my Provider. Here is what I wrote, with only one name edited out for privacy.

God, you are my Provider
on my left hand and on my right;
in difficulty and ease
you fill my heart and life with good things.
I will meditate on all your wondrous deeds.

When I was depressed and overwhelmed
by my guilt and shame
you sent encouraging angels
and friends to comfort me.
When I was struggling under poisonous stares,
you were my shelter,
my umbrella in the rain of accusations.
When I needed nothing material
you were the satisfaction of my heart
and the source of all my good.
When I was desperate and without hope
you became my hope and assurance.
You showed me a way when I could not see
and gave me a hope I did not know.
I was rejected, and you welcomed me
and said, “I was rejected, too.”
I was distraught, and you encouraged me,
for you wrestled with God at Gethsemane.
I was poor and you made me rich;
your people brought me money out of their abundance
and paid my bills.
I was tired from weeping and despair,
and you revived my spirit.

All my life you have been my good;
and nothing good have you withheld.
Your grace and mercy are greater than I know
and more integral than I can express.
You are the blood in my veins and the breath in my mouth,
O God, my Strength and my Provider.

What attribute of God would be most beneficial for you to meditate on?

The Importance of Encouragement

Today I was reminded of the importance of encouraging others.

Orange Glory Restaurant

We live in a negative world.  Every time I drive on the highway I see billboards trying to sell us things by telling us we do not have everything we need or that we are inadequate as we are.

Political arguments swirl around the drain hole of who is or is not getting their “fair share.”

Satan himself is out to “steal, kill and destroy,” and we would be naïve to ignore that spiritual reality.

The point is that you and I are inundated by negativity and the affects of sin every day.

We all need to be encouraged.

One of the greatest blessings of going to counseling over the years throughout and after my divorce was meeting with someone who continually encouraged me in spite of regularly hearing the worst about me.  I would walk into an appointment tense, bound up with guilt and shame, and at the point of tears, and I would walk out refreshed and ready to try again.

During that time I also met with a friend for lunch every week, often at Orange Glory in downtown Rochester, NY, and he would listen, ask good questions, and more often than not pay for my lunch.  He is still one of my very best friends.

We all need two things:

  1. Christ.  As Shauna Nieguist puts it in her fabulous and transparent book Bittersweet, the most important part of dealing with difficulty and pain and loss is the comfort of Christ.  Without him we have no hope; with him we have strength to carry on and a guide through the maze of life.
  2. Encouragement.  Other than Christ the one thing we need is a genuinely encouraging word from someone.  We don’t need to know if everything will work out, although that would be nice.  We need to know we are loved and not alone.

Who has encouraged you?  Have you thanked them recently?  Who do you need to encourage now?

Practicing What I Preach

The trouble with giving advice is that eventually you have to follow your own advice.  Lately I have been reminded of my advice to others on creating space in their lives for themselves, and of how poorly I have been doing that myself.

Here is what I have often told others:

  • Meet with God often. God is your strength, not your own abilities. Just this morning our pastor was speaking from Galatians 3:1-5 and reminding us that everything – salvation, personal growth, and God’s miraculous work in and through us – is completely based on our faith in God. That faith cannot grow without time spent in the Word and in the presence of God. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.” Romans 10:17 (ESV)
  • Make yourself a high priority. If you do not take care of yourself you will not be of any use to others. In fact, you will drag others down. After your relationship with God you need to come next.

Our tendency as humans is to “white knuckle” our way through life. We see something that needs to change and we grit our teeth and try to make it happen. That is a recipe for failure. I tried that approach to saving my first marriage and failed. True change comes through Christ from the inside out, not by bootstrap determination. While there are things we can and should do to take care of ourselves, we cannot really take care of ourselves properly without a constant reliance on God.

Practically speaking and aside from time with God, here are a few things I am trying to do in order to keep myself a priority.

  1. Rest. Honestly, I don’t sleep enough. I get to bed late and then am not quite fully “there” first thing in the morning. Granted, I am not a morning person, but going to bed really late doesn’t help. This past week I went to bed twice after midnight, which is a serious no-no for me. I know some of you night owls can pull off pranks like that, but not me.
  2. Retreat. A week or so ago I took a partial-day retreat. Well, let’s say I tried. The goal was to get away from the distractions, spend some extra time with God, and then do some big picture thinking about work. I was able to do some of each, but family things distracted me. I was not able to fully unplug. I used to take these retreats every month but have gotten away from the practice. Next time I will be truly unplugging.
  3. Recoup. God established the Sabbath for a reason. He rested on the 7th day, but we motor right on through in our work and activities without a break because it all “has to get done.” Stop. Just today I had to remind myself not to do church work because I had the afternoon off. All sorts of details and plans were running through my mind, but I had to set them down so I could catch a nap and spend time with my boys.

These are just three areas where I need to improve.

How about you? How do you keep yourself as a priority in your life?

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?

The Joy of Generosity – A Story

Sometimes we forget that “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Acts 20:35

Just yesterday evening I spent time with a worship pastor I am mentoring and his worship team.  I was planning on enjoying myself, but I was not prepared for the experience I received.

This worship pastor and I have been talking about rehearsal effectiveness, training worship team members, music theory, piano, and so many other things, and I was looking forward to seeing how he was doing and how he worked with his team.

I had never been to one of his rehearsals before, though, and frankly, I was a bit nervous.  I have never had the opportunity to speak into someone’s ministry in this way.  Would I freeze?  Would I have anything at all to say?

My mentor, Stephen Michael Newby of Seattle Pacific University, has given me guidance and encouragement many times, and I have wanted to do the same for someone else. Now that I had the chance I felt a bit tentative.

Sometime during the evening I remember praying, “God, give me something to say.”  The human side of me selfishly wanted to avoid looking like I didn’t know what I was doing, but the spiritual side of me really wanted to make a significant investment into this worship pastor’s ministry.  I blog regularly and I meet with this leader because I want to help others with what I have learned, even as I am still learning myself.

As I said, I was not prepared for the experience I received.  His team was warm, gracious and open to suggestion.  We had fun and they had a great rehearsal.

This morning I met with the worship pastor and we talked for an hour and a half about what is going well and what he could be thinking about.  We talked about how he can figure out the next steps for worship at his church, how to keep his voice healthy, how to encourage the newer and younger musicians on his team, and a myriad of other topics.

By the time we were done I was seriously jazzed because God had given me something to share that was of value to this worship pastor.  I enjoyed giving to him, especially because he is open to suggestion and learning.

This week, ask God for someone you can encourage with what you have learned from your successes and failures.  Giving trumps hoarding every time.

Who are you going to encourage and invest in this week?

Why I Write – A Reader’s Story

Not long ago a friend shared with me how she had read a blog post of mine to a family member.  This family member was going through some very difficult circumstances similar to what I described in my blog post and was very encouraged by my words.

That story perfectly describes why I began writing in the first place.  I want others to learn from and be encouraged by my experiences.

Not because I have a better understanding than anyone else of all of the chaos God allows in this world, but because I believe all human experiences are shared experiences.  We are unique individuals who have common experiences.  We are not alone, and that fact is in itself one of the greatest comforts God has given us this side of heaven.

So thank you for reading, and if something I have written is encouraging or helpful to you or a friend, I would love to hear about it.  That’s why I write.

You’re why I write.

Has one of my blog posts made an impact on you in some way?  I would love to hear your story.