Choose.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

-Matthew 6:21

I’ve recently started helping with a youth group every week.  Slowly, I’ve been able to build relationship with the students there.  There is one girl in particular that the Lord has put on my heart, we’ll call her Anna.  Now Anna professes to be a follower of Christ; she comes to church on Wednesday’s and Sunday’s, she desires to do the right thing, she’s been baptized, but the question still comes: what gives her joy?  She’s learned enough to know the difference between happiness (which is entirely of this world) and joy (which is entirely of God).  But it’s finding that joy that’s the problem.  Just the other week she said, “I just don’t know how you can get joy from God cause he isn’t here.”  Right in that moment I had nothing to tell her, no verse came to mind, no earth shattering explanation, all I could think to say was, “It’s really hard.”  But I have not been able to stop thinking about it.

How do we find joy in Christ? I know for a fact that Anna, along with the rest of the students in the youth group, live hard lives.  Her home life is not ideal, she gets picked on in school, and she moves every 2-3 years.  For a seventh grader that’s a lot to handle.  How on earth is she going to be able to find joy?  The best explanation that I’ve come up with is that in order to have joy, we must first choose it.  Our choices define us, choose joy and choose Jesus.

Now, let me clarify some things.  The Lord has done a lot of things that we have no control over.  While we were still sinners God sent His son, His one and only perfect son, to die for us (John 3:16, Romans 5:8) and the Lord chose us, making us capable of bearing fruit (John 15:16).  These things are completely out of our control.  No amount of sin could ever change what the Lord has already done and will continue to do for us.  But there is a point where we need to make a choice.

We’ve become a people completely controlled by feeling; we drink, we smoke, we do “whatever our gut tells us”.  We’ve begun to base all of our decisions on whatever feels right.  This is a slippery slope when it comes to our walk with Jesus.  There are times when we feel like we are right there at the feet of the Lord and other times it seems as if He is only a figment of our imagination.  In those dry seasons He is no less real, no less powerful, and no less sovereign.  God is not changed regardless of how we view Him.

It is really easy to follow God when we feel like it, when we’re just getting back from a church trip, or when He has just done something miraculous in our lives.  But those feelings don’t last; there will be seasons of spiritual plenty and spiritual drought.  Experiencing a season of drought does not make us bad Christians, it simply means that we need to choose to pursue God in this time.

Matthew 6:21 says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  First, to treasure something means “to keep carefully”, this is an action.  We don’t accidently treasure something; it takes a conscious decision to complete an action.  Much like a pirate devotes his entire life to finding that treasure, so must we devote our lives to seeking Jesus.  To experience the fullness of the treasure, we must devote every moment, every day, every year, and our entire lives to finding it.  Second, the Lord promises that when we choose to treasure something, then our heart will begin to desire it.  This can be both positive and negative.  When we treasure sin, then that is what our heart desires, but when we choose to treasure God, then after some time, that is what our heart desires.  When we treasure the joy of the Lord, our hearts will find it.  Choose Jesus and your heart won’t be far behind.

Now we have a choice.  Do we continue to live a life controlled by feeling or do we choose to live a life that is ultimately going to bring us more joy than we could ever imagine?  My challenge for myself, for you, and for Anna is to choose to chooseEvery day choose to pursue God whether you’re feeling it or not, choose to find joy in the Lord, and choose Jesus.

Church.

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” – Hebrews 10:24-25

Something was different this fall, I had decided to be myself.  Now, that didn’t happen all at once, but I slowly took some water out of the diluted version of myself.  Things changed this year.  I made great friends that love me so well, but that was only the beginning.  By the end of the school year I built true friendships with people who would be there for me, no matter what.  They not only accept me for exactly the person that I am, but they encourage me to be the best version of myself.

I have friends who confront me about my relationships.  They tell me that I deserve better, that he isn’t worthy, and that I need to be valued.

I have friends who don’t let me apologize for things that I shouldn’t.  They don’t let me apologize for who I am (because that’s nothing to apologize about) or for things that aren’t my fault.

I have friends who are so similar to me that I don’t need to explain myself.  They simply smile and reassure me that I’m not crazy.

I have friends that force me to do things.  They force me to go outside of my comfort zone and inadvertently are showing me that I can be “that girl.” That I can be a girl that stands out.

I have friends who don’t allow people to walk all over me.  They stand up for me when people say things they shouldn’t and they remind me that it’s okay to say no.

I have friends that continue to love me after sharing some of my most hidden insecurities.

I have friends who don’t judge me when I say I want to start a blog.  They tell me that it’s cool, help me edit it, and then constantly ask if I’ve written another.

I have friends who are affirming. They tell me I should do things like sing and dance more and somehow get me to actually do it (even though we all know I’m terrible).

I have the greatest, sweetest of friends.

Without even knowing it they are pushing me to be the best version of myself, because they have accepted the current version of me.  For that my dearest friends, I am forever grateful.  I know I cry a lot, but I am moved to tears when I think about how the Lord has blessed me.  Thank you for loving me, for pushing me, and for showing me Jesus daily.  I love you to the moon and back a few times…. ‘like actually’.

“I know I don’t know them, but I love them because they love you,” she said through tears on our 2 am drive.  My sister had come to visit.  She had gotten a glimpse of my everyday life and the people that have let me be joyful again.  It’s crazy for me to think that in a few short days she would be able to see that kind of love.  But I think that’s what the Lord has created us for.

I think that this kind of love is what the church was made for.  The Lord has given us the two most important commands, the first being to love God, the second to love others (Mark 12:30-31).  First and foremost we must love God.  Most people who claim to be believers have this part down, it’s a given.  I would even say that most people know that you’re supposed to love others.  But I think people forget, at least I forget, that loving others is a testament to how Christ loves us.  It’s terrifying to think that we have that kind of power, but it’s true.  People look at professing believers and expect more out of them; believers claim to follow the God of love, so if we can’t love well, people start to doubt His love.  Whether this is a flawed way of thinking or not is irrelevant (we live in a flawed world).  Our easiest mode of sharing the gospel is to love one another.

This summer I’ve been able to experience the church in it’s purist form. I was able to accept the truth of God’s love for me, which made it possible for me to open up to people and allow them to show me grace.  Once those barriers were broken I was able to experience the love of Christ’s church.  I was able to sit in my brokenness with fellow believers who encouraged me to seek the Lord and pick up the pieces.

I don’t know how the Lord will use the little church we’ve built, but I know he will.  I pray that people will notice a different and want to be part of the love we share.  I pray that we would be a catalyst for people to seek God’s love.  We’ve built a church and I pray the Lord will grow it.

Beloved.

“Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.” – Brennan Manning

I have always had great friends, always.  That is one area that the Lord has constantly blessed me.  I have always been able to be completely myself without worrying about people leaving.  I’m a very insecure person so I needed that security in my relationships.  Curveball, I didn’t know I needed it until I didn’t have it.

It was time for me to go away to school and I had decided to be different.  All of my closest friends were going to the same school in West Palm Beach, only four hours from home.  However, I thought it would be a good time in my life to stretch myself.  So here I am, in Georgia, eight hours from home.  I had my brother (who had been here for two years and was very well established with his sports team) and that was it.  I didn’t know where anything was and I didn’t have a single friend.  The closest I got to knowing someone was when they asked, “Oh are you Nate’s sister?”.  It was then, I realized I was terrified to not meet their standards.

My friends from home are wonderful.  They are still some of my closest friends, but we had years to build our relationships.  They knew me when I was dressing in Nate’s hand me downs, when I insisted on playing tackle football with the boys, and I never cared to brush my hair.  We had been through each others awkward stages together.  At this point we had to be friends, because we didn’t know anything else.  You don’t have that in college.

I spent the first year of college shrinking into a shell.  I tried to be the most mild version of myself so that I never offended people, I never seemed weird, and I was easy to be with.  I just wanted people to like me.  I became the most watered down version of myself so that I could be accepted.

Freshman year of college was hell.  I was trying to adjust, make new friends, and do well in school all while keeping a front up. I longed for true relationships.  (Side note: The idea of having shallow relationships makes my soul die a little bit.  If I call you a friend I want to know every detail about you and I want you to know the same about me.  I love people and I love to be able to love people well.)

Honestly, I think you could say I was fighting depression. All of the signs are there.  I was sleeping more than any healthy person should; I slept through alarms and naps were scheduled into my daily routine.  I had gained twenty pounds and my appetite fluctuated; I would go days barely eating and consume an entire cow the next.  I had absolutely zero motivation to do anything; I was failing out of school and not involved with anything (which was a complete 180 to the go-go-go lifestyle I was used to).  And there was this feeling, a longing, for something more, something deeper, something authentic.  But just as quickly as it had started it was over.

That summer changed me.  The Lord had been working on my heart that year.  It seemed that everywhere I went I was being told how valuable I am to God.  I didn’t allow God to do much more than simply tell me; I heard the truth and knew the truth, but I didn’t accept the truth.  It wasn’t until I was home that I saw the changes.  I spent the summer with my family, one of my dearest friends, and serving in the church that had spoken so much truth into my life (I now realize that I was not healthy enough to be leading, but the Lord still worked through that).  I was being reassured left and right and still something was missing.  I was teaching middle school girls that the Lord loved and valued them and that was all that mattered.  But I didn’t believe it myself!  The Lord used people, who I knew loved me, to teach me that the love from people was not going to satisfy me.  I could be loved by all the people and still feel inadequate.

I now accept the truth that the Lord had been trying to show me: your worth is in Christ alone, because you are loved by the One that created the universe.  You were created in His image (Genesis 1:27),  He sent His Son to die for you (Romans 5:8, 1 John 4:9-11),  and He loves you with a perfect love (Psalm 136:26).  We live in a fallen world, people will fail, but the One that holds the stars in place will never fail you.  You are God’s beloved, find your worth it that.

Rest.

“There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God;

for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.

Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.”

Hebrews 4:9-11

    We as a society have begun to glorify the idea of being busy.  A busy schedule has somehow started to define your importance.  Being busy is the reality for most, but it’s how it has begun to determine the value of our efforts that I have a problem.  I think that this is a complete contradiction to what the Lord has created us for.

I think that being busy makes us feel more accomplished, but that it is only because society has decided it should.  I don’t want to go on about how the fallen world that we live in has stooped so low as to convince people that they’re value is completely dependent on how marked up their planner is (because you’re only important if you need a planner right?).  I just want to address the fact that we need rest.  I realize that there are some people who are able to accomplish great things in their busy schedule.  They may argue that it actually helps them work, that they don’t need to rest, or that rest makes them anxious and stressed out so they are somehow exempt from practicing it.  I’m sorry people, but you’re wrong.  Now, rest is defined as a period of ease or inactivity after exertion or labor. I am by no means encouraging laziness or apathy.  Rest is for those who labor.  I am addressing the truth that we are called to rest.  Now, rest is not one more thing to add to the checklist, rest is not sitting down for five minutes.  Rest, however, is a time for daily renewal.

Psalm 23 says, “He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He refreshes my soul”. First, let’s address the fact that the Lord makes us rest!  Do you remember when you were little and you didn’t think you needed a nap?  You’re mom would try to convince you that you did, but you’d never listen.  There was that one time that she let you skip your nap and you cried because you couldn’t walk straight, you screamed at the cat for staring at you, and how dare your mother help you tie your shoes!  But, it wasn’t until you fell asleep mid bite that you realized maybe your mother was right.  It’s funny how the people who love us make us do things that we don’t really want to do.  Secondly, let’s address where He takes us.  God doesn’t take us to rest in front of the television.  He takes us to green pastures and quiet waters.  These places replenish us, physically and spiritually.

If for some reason you still believe that rest wasn’t meant for you, God himself needed rest (Genesis 2:2-3).  Therefore, the idea that we don’t need rest is almost blasphemy.  Not only is the absence of rest disobedient to God (Hebrews 4:9-11), but it is in a way saying that we, finite little humans, are somehow stronger than God.  The idea of that makes me cringe.

I am simply speaking from another perspective that does not find it’s value in how much you do.  I do still believe that we should work and work hard.  But being involved in more things is not the measure of effort.  Imagine being so focused on one thing that you are so madly passionate about that it got your sole attention.  Simply imagine the kind of impact you could make in that area.  Now I know where your mind may be going: “But what about everything else that I’m involved with?”. Pardon my bluntness, but the world is capable of functioning without you in it; it functioned before you were here and it will function after you are gone.  Do you bring special characteristics to the table? Absolutely! But the idea that the places where we are involved are somehow dependant on our partial participation is prideful and naive.  Now notice I am referring to partial participation.  The world is full of people who can get the job done and done well.  We are in need of people who are capable of doing great things in few places rather than good things in many.

So here I am, writing this as a plea for replenishment, a plea for daily rest.  If that means resigning from a place of service I encourage you to do so.  Making time for rest is not making time for laziness.  We are called to be obedient in rest.  I promise the Lord is able to fill your absence.  Take time to rest in the presence of the Lord daily and remember this: you’re value is not defined by the check boxes in your planner.