This Sunday at church, we enjoyed a casual, family-style service in which we expressed our gratitude by sharing our God Moments—stories about times when God has shown up to reveal His love or to see us through hard times. I cried like 18 times, because our God is so good. It was one of those wondrous times when you can actually feel your faith growing. We heard about…
-God sending strangers to encourage and strengthen a young, scared couple as they arrived at the hospital to witness the birth of their soon-to-be adopted child.
-The night before the first day of school, a nervous kindergartener and her even-more-nervous mom ask God to help the girl find a friend before the mom drops the child off the next day. The next morning, they walk up to the school hand in hand, join the back of the registration line, and are immediately greeted by the girl standing in front of them. She spins around, flashes a grin, and says, “Hi! I’m Sophia! Can I be your friend?”
-A ten-year-old girl announcing, “I am going to be a missionary in Africa one day.” She feels it in her heart like a promise from God. But years pass. She has no idea how she could ever end up ministering in Africa—she’s from the Midwest and she’s not in the full-time ministry—but the promise and dream never leave her. And then in her fifties, God opens up a dream job…in Africa. She and her husband spend years there strengthening a small church.
-And this one—this from a faith-filled 11-year-old boy who had us all in a puddle on the floor: When he was three, he asked God for a dad because his own father had abandoned their family. He also asked for a brother and a sister. Within two years, God gave him all three.
Then I encourage you to watch for more God Moments. They happen every day, if we’ll only keep our eyes and hearts open enough to notice. To rejoice. To savor. And then, like the leper who came back to Jesus, let us come back again and again to thank and to praise.
Want to give God glory by sharing a God Moment in the comments? How has He shown up to reveal His love for you? I’d love to hear!
You know those days when you send a sad kid off to school? Maybe it’s friend problems, or loneliness, or just the growing pains of life—but whatever the reason, they leave the house and it’s not better? Welcome to my morning. Everything in me wanted to pull her into my lap (though she doesn’t really fit anymore), tell her to stay home, then wrap her in spiritual bubble wrap so no one and nothing can ever hurt her. I wanted to fix it, to put on my Mommy Cape and swoop in and straighten out her whole world.
But of course I can’t.
So we talked for a while—I shared my stories of angst and loneliness and how God used those times to teach me what real friends are (and aren’t), and to help me find comfort and friendship in Him. To show me that He is the only One who is always reliable, never petty, never in a bad mood—but honestly, I don’t know if it helped much. In the end I did what my wise mother always did with me when I was crying and she couldn’t fix it: We prayed.
We sat on the couch and cried to God and begged Him to pay attention to her problems and give her comfort and wisdom and relief. We prayed as specifically as we could about all of her worries. And you know what? That’s the best I know to do for my beloved kids. That’s the greatest gift any of us can give our children, the gift that will outlive all our advice and intervention: Teaching them that God is real, a loving Father who is truly concerned about their everyday life. Actively engaged in helping them face their concerns. We can show them that when we bring problems—even preteen-drama-in-the-lunchroom problems—to Him, He cares. He listens. He draws near. So to all my fellow heavy-hearted parents out there, wringing hands over the growing pains we cannot fix, wondering what to say and how to help, let’s do this one thing for our kids: Let’s teach them to pray to the God who cares. The God who goes to school with them. The God who sits beside them in the lunchroom. The God who will walk with them every day for the rest of their lives. The Father who will be with them, comforting and guiding, even when we are long gone.
“When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son….
It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
taking them by the arms;
but they did not realize
it was I who healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness,
with ties of love.
To them I was like one who lifts
a little child to the cheek,
and I bent down to feed them. (Hosea 11:1,3–5).
*Read to the end for a chance to win a free audiobook!*
Confession: I struggle with the word surrender. At least I struggle with the way some people use it. The way many Christians talk, it seems like surrender means we are supposed to achieve a Zen-like place where we no longer want…and no longer feel. We should be completely, perfectly happy exactly as we are. No wants. No needs. No regrets. No desires for the future.
But honestly? I don’t see that definition—or that example—in the Bible. When I read the Psalms, I read heartfelt pleas from unhappy people begging God to change their circumstances. Wondering where He is in the wait. Thanking Him for what He has already given, yes; maintaining deep respect for His sovereignty, always (or maybe I should say usually!)—but not giving up on what they’re praying for. Not letting it go until God gives the final “No.”
I don’t see David, living on the run from the murderous King Saul, praying, “Never mind, God. I know You told Samuel to anoint me as Israel’s next king, but don’t worry about it…I’m good. I’ll just live in caves as an outlaw forever. I surrender to being trapped in this situation.”
I see David saying,
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart? (Psalm 13:1–2)
We don’t see the man whose son was tormented by demons saying to Jesus, “Lord, I’m content for my son to continue throwing himself into fire and water. I’m surrendered to his illness.” No, we see him kneeling desperate before Jesus and pleading, “Lord, have mercy on my son” (Matthew 17:14–20).
Jesus urges his followers to be persistent in prayer when He says, “Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7 HCSB). Jesus even tells the story of the feisty widow who basically annoys her local judge until he gives in and gives her what she needs! Jesus concludes the story by saying,
“And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.” (Luke 18:7–8)
What can we take from this?
It’s okay to ask.
It’s okay—and hang with me, because we’re going to talk more about this—to be unhappy.
Our goal is not to shut off our feelings and hopes so we can robotically surrender to whatever happens…our goal is surrenderedfaith. And what is surrendered faith? Surrendered faith is about learning to hold onto conflicting emotions at the same time: hope in one hand, submission in the other. Hope that God can change our situation…but submission if He doesn’t change it now (or ever).
What do I mean when I say “submission”? I mean that even though we’re sad, we still thank God for our other blessings, and we do not resent Him for saying, “No for now”—or even “No forever.” We submit to God’s almighty, mysterious timing and ways, acknowledging that He knows things we do not (Isaiah 55:8–11)—even as we continue to plead our case. We fight to be content in the sense that we are okay—we choose to get up every day and live a Christ-focused, selfless life—even as we still pray for and long for The Thing we desire. We don’t shut off our feelings and hopes and mindlessly surrender to whatever happens…we seek surrendered faith.
Hope in one hand, submission in the other: it’s a picture we see many times in the Bible. And what does that picture look like? What does it feel like?
It looks like people tearing their robes and mourning and grieving for things that are lost…but then getting back up again. Learning to live a different life than the one they had planned. Choosing to still live and love and serve God in spite of heartache and loss. (See 2 Samuel 12:12–25. It’s a complicated story, but in it we see both persistence in prayer and surrender to God’s sovereignty…and, eventually, the grace of a second chance.)
It looks like Paul clinging to contentment and gratitude even through persecution, financial hardship, and loneliness: “I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12–13 HCSB).
It looks like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego standing boldly before King Nebuchadnezzar, knowing they could be thrown into a furnace if they refused to bow down to an idol, but saying, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:17–18, emphasis mine).
It looks like Jesus in the Garden, asking God to take away the sacrifice and pain to come…but wrestling in prayer until He could say, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done” (Matthew 26:42).
It means still honoring God’s wisdom and ways (and timeline) even when they don’t match up to ours. Still obeying Him even when we don’t like the way our life is going.
It means being grateful for what we do have now, even as we pray for what we don’t have yet.
It doesn’t mean pretending to have a full heart when our heart has a hole.
It doesn’t mean flogging ourselves with unnecessary guilt by saying, “I must be sinful—and God must be angry with me—because I still feel sad about a loss or an unfulfilled prayer request.”
More specifically, it doesn’t mean saying, “I shouldn’t still want to be married after all these years being single. I should banish that desire completely and be completely content with God.” (Should we all, single and married alike, be content with God as our greatest love? Of course. But I suggest we can feel both things at the same time: we can be content with God as our Husband even as we still desire a godly husband on earth!)
It doesn’t mean saying, “I shouldn’t still want my wandering child to turn back to God. I should let them go.”
Maybe surrendered faith means we can say, “I may never stop wanting…to get married…to be a mother…to see my child come back to the Lord… but even if God never grants those desires, I will still love Him, serve Him, and trust Him, and I will still live a life filled with love and purpose.”
Maybe faith is taking our prayers from,
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart? (Psalm 13:1–2)
But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me. (Psalm 13:5–6)
When David starts praising God, his problems haven’t gone away yet. (Notice these verses come from the same psalm!) David is likely still hiding in caves, fleeing his enemies, waiting for God’s promise to come true, but his faith is intact. Even as he waits and questions and prays, he finds gratitude and praise. He knows he is safe in God’s hands. He thanks God from the cave. He trusts God in the wait.
Now that’s a definition of surrender we can all fight to embrace. That’s surrendered faith.
Photo courtesy of Unsplash. Photo credit TJ Holowaychuk.
My husband, Mr. Dreamer, loves this time of year with its resolutions and new beginnings; I, Mrs. Over-analytic and Fearful, find the whole new-year-new-you thing kind of exhausting. Scary. Overwhelming. We have a running joke in our marriage: Kevin likes to live in the future; I can’t get out of the past—so somewhere, between the two of us, we find a way to live in the present.
Every January, we get pummeled by the same message: Look ahead! Dream big! Pray brave! But sometimes it’s hard to look ahead. Tiring to dream big. Scary to pray brave.
And that’s where remembering comes in. Remembering what God has already done: love already shown, gifts already given, prayers already answered. Sometimes we become so consumed with the future, so eager to move on to the Next Big Thing, that we forget to celebrate what God has already done. The astounding miracles we have already witnessed. The crazy prayers that have already been answered. The progress we have already made—imperfect progress, sure; incomplete progress, yes; but still—progress! Forward motion! Growth!
The other night we had a fun talk as a family. We intended to make a list of family prayers for the new year, but then we went off on a tangent. Kevin and I started telling the kids our favorite stories about times when God has answered crazy prayers for us—prayers that once felt impossible. We talked about everything from our miracle Christmas baby story after years of infertility (a story the kids have already heard ten thousand times and will hear ten thousand more because it’s the greatest God story of our lives); to the time when, after decades of unbelief, Kevin’s beloved relative turned to God, thanks to a run-in with a falling oak tree; to the “smaller” stories, like a time when we were working like crazy but still couldn’t pay our bills, and Kevin and I both secretly and independently begged God to mail us money—and when we went to the mailbox there was a check for the exact amount we needed!
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Reliving these stories, the miracles big and small, was a powerful reminder for me and Kevin, a reminder that we have already seen God perform staggering, “HOW DID HE DO THAT?!” deeds many times; a reminder that even when the road ahead feels scary, our problems overwhelming and impossible, we already have so many reasons for great faith. . . It made me—me! faithless, scaredy-cat me!—get excited about daring to write down big prayers for the new year. It made me faithful that the powerful God who has done great things in the past can—and will—do great things once more—in His own time, in His own way. It made me confident that God hears us even when His answers come more slowly—or in different form—than we had imagined. And it reminded me just how loved—how deeply, personally loved—we are by our heavenly Father. Best of all, as we recounted these stories, we watched faith light in our kids’ eyes. I could see their faith blooming even as we spoke. They laughed, they grew wide-eyed, they stood in awe of God.
As you ponder your hopes and prayers and needs for the new year, I hope you’ll first take an hour to sit down and remember. To remember all the prayers God has already answered, all the miracles you have already seen. To celebrate and thank Him once more for gifts already given. To bask in His love, which He has proven time and again. If you have children, sit them down and tell them your God stories in the spirit of Exodus 13:14: “In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.'”
When all that is done, then you’ll be ready to start dreaming for the future, drawing hope and faith and confidence from what God has already done for you.
As for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more.
My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds, of your saving acts all day long— though I know not how to relate them all. I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, Sovereign Lord; I will proclaim your righteous deeds, yours alone. Psalm 71:14–16
Gratitude is so good for our hearts. It reminds us to look past today’s temporary troubles to see the big picture of God’s everlasting care and concern. It reminds us that life is not as dark as it sometimes feels. It heals our wounds and protects us from bitterness. It reminds us of God’s faithfulness in the past, which gives us confidence as we look to the future. Gratitude strengthens our faith, cures our self-centeredness, and makes us happier people. The minute we start thinking about things we are grateful for, our mood and perspective start to shift. (Try it! Quick—think about 5 things you are thankful for. I bet you feel happier already, don’t you? Keep going with that list and you might even hit warm-and-cozy-in-a-cuddly-blanket-on-a-cold-fall-day levels of happiness!)
With Thanksgiving upon us (How is that possible? I just vacuumed the summer sand out of my car!), we are all looking for ways to express gratitude. I love borrowing words from the psalms to guide my prayers. I start by reading the psalm aloud to God, and after a few verses I usually find myself taking detours, adding praise and thanks of my own inspired by the psalmist’s words. If your prayer life needs a boost in gratitude, try praying through these three psalms! I abbreviated them a little here, but they are (of course) beautiful in their entirety.
How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty! 2 My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. . . . 4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.
5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. 6 As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. 7 They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion. . . .
10 Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked. 11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.
12 Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you.
I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations. 2 I will declare that your love stands firm forever, that you have established your faithfulness in heaven itself. 3 You said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to David my servant, 4 ‘I will establish your line forever and make your throne firm through all generations.’”
5 The heavens praise your wonders, Lord, your faithfulness too, in the assembly of the holy ones. 6 For who in the skies above can compare with the Lord? Who is like the Lord among the heavenly beings? 7 In the council of the holy ones God is greatly feared; he is more awesome than all who surround him. 8 Who is like you, Lord God Almighty? You, Lord, are mighty, and your faithfulness surrounds you.
Shout for joy to God, all the earth! 2 Sing the glory of his name; make his praise glorious. 3 Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! So great is your power that your enemies cringe before you. 4 All the earth bows down to you; they sing praise to you, they sing the praises of your name.”
5 Come and see what God has done, his awesome deeds for mankind! 6 He turned the sea into dry land, they passed through the waters on foot— come, let us rejoice in him. 7 He rules forever by his power, his eyes watch the nations— let not the rebellious rise up against him. . . .
12 You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance. . . .
16 Come and hear, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me. 17 I cried out to him with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue. 18 If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; 19 but God has surely listened and has heard my prayer. 20 Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me!
Thank you for reading, and for sharing a bit of life with me here on this little corner of the Web. Wishing you a wonderful holiday with the ones you love.
Looking for a great gift for Thanksgiving or Christmas? When God Says “Wait” is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and ChristianBook.com. I am deeply thankful to all of you who have read, reviewed, and shared WGSW. You are on my heart and in my prayers.