God created us with two hands. Hands are wonderful things, useful things. Our hands allow us to hold on to things. And, there are times in life when we need to hold on to things. There are some things in life that we should on to tightly and never, ever let go of. I think the most important and precious thing we can hold on to in this life is God. We need to hold onto Him, His love, His grace, His forgiveness, and His promises.
But, let’s be honest, there are also times in life when we need to learn to let go. I know, I know, letting go isn’t always an easy thing. Actually, I have personally found that it can be very hard. However, as we grow in our spiritual lives, it is imperative for us to learn how to let go. This is a key component in being spiritually mature. We must learn to let go of anger, bitterness, shame, disappointment, failure, stress, and hurt.
Once we let go of these things, our lives will become lighter and more peaceful. And, who doesn’t want that?
The problem is learning how to let go.
This is something that I struggle with often. I think we sometimes get a sick satisfaction out of holding onto things that are bad for us. Somehow, for some reason, we can get a kind of joy out of holding onto our anger and bitterness. Or, we take satisfaction in proving that we are right, even if that means we hold onto our disappointments, failures, and hurts. This has got to stop!
With this in mind, I am trying my best to let go of things that are harmful to me. And, I stumbled upon something recently that is helping me do a better job of this. (At least a little bit anyway. This is a baby-step process for me, just like everything is in my life.) So, I wanted to share this nugget with all of you. So here I am.
Question: What happens when you let go of something? Answer: You open your hands.
When you open your hands, two things happen: you let go and you set yourself up to receive.
We so often focus on the “letting go” part, but don’t think about the “opening up to receive” part. And, this is an essential part of the process, don’t you think? This second part never even occurred to me before. I was listening to a meditation app on my iPhone the other day and it was mentioned in that day’s meditation. It was a small revelation for me. (One that has the potential to be huge!)
When I think about letting go of things that are harmful to me, I occupy my mind with getting rid of the bad. What I should be centering my attention on is not only getting rid of the bad, but taking in the good that comes along with that. It’s a two part process – out with the bad, in with the good.
We can open our hands to let go of all the negative things that are weighing us down, and at the same time set ourselves up to receive God’s love, forgiveness, and peace. We just need to retrain our brains to think of the positive effects we will get. By opening our hands to receive we can rewire our minds; and this will in turn rewire our hearts. We can learn to open our hearts and minds, as well as our hands.
So go ahead and open your hands. Receive all the good things God has for you. This practice of opening our hands to God’s love is just the beginning. Once you get the good stuff, you will want others to have it too. And, every good gift is from above. That is what we should be holding onto. So, will you join with me today and open your hands? I know that we will all be better for it.
Growing up, I heard people talking about how God gives and takes away. This always seemed scary to me as a kid. I started thinking about this phrase in two different ways. One, was that God was an Indian giver. I know this is a horrible colloquialism. But, it is an expression I grew up hearing and it seemed to go right along with God giving and taking things away. The second, was that I only thought about God giving us “good” things and then taking said “good” things away. I guess they both boil down to the same thing though; God gives us things, but He also takes them away.
I think the scary part for me as a kid was the fact that at any time, without any notice, God could take something good away from us. I didn’t like that. It was almost as if the giving part had to be accompanied by the taking part. Also, I have no idea why I thought God would only take “good” things from us, but that is what I thought.
Now, as an adult who is growing spiritually, I am learning to view this remark in a different light. First, I should point out that the saying comes from Job 1:21—“He said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’”
If you read this verse and think, yes, God can give and He can take away. Or, at the very least, He allows bad things to happen. Read the book of Job and you can see that Job has been blessed, but then he suffers great and terrible losses. From my point of view, Satan is the one taking things from Job, not God. Satan is the thief that we read about in the Bible. In John 10:10 it says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
Reading the book of Job can also show you what a blessing it is to fully trust in God with everything you have. Job was not perfect, and yes, he lost a great deal in his life, yet through it all he kept his faith and trust in God. And, that faith and trust in God was eventually rewarded by God’s grace. Through God’s grace, Job got back everything he had once lost.
But, back to God taking “good” things away from us. I do think He can and does take “good” things away from us. However, taking “good” things away from us isn’t always a bad thing. Our definition of “good” may be skewed. What we think of as “good” may not really be that good. Maybe God has something better in store for us. Maybe there is lesson we need to learn. Maybe that “good” thing is hindering us and we don’t even realize it. Maybe that “good” thing is causing us to love things more than we love God.
In other words, just because we think something is good, doesn't mean it is. As Jon Bloom, has observed, “Prosperity tends to conceal idolatry and false faith. Loss reveals what we really love and believe.”
I truly believe that God loves us and only wants good things for us. God is a giver. No matter what He is doing, whether it makes sense to us or not, He either does things to benefit us, or He can work bad things out, so that they can be blessings. God’s ultimate intention is never for suffering or death, but for blessing and life. Two of my all-time favorite Bible verses are: Romans 8:28 (…all things work together for good to them that love God…) and Isaiah 61:3 (…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes…)
I also like to think about the fact that God takes “bad” things away from us too. He can and will take away our pain, our sorrow, our guilt, our worries, our shame, our remorse, our stress, our fears, and our sins. God loves to take away all those “bad” things that harm us.
And He will take them away, if we let Him. That is why He sent His son, Jesus, to die on the cross for our sins. It is our job to trust and believe in God and accept His gift of grace with a thankful heart. For, it is by His grace and love that He sent His son Jesus to save us. And, save us, He did. And, that same grace and love will heal us of all the “bad” things we fall prey to.
So, as a conclusion, I believe that our God is a loving God, a kind God, a God who gives and gives generously. He takes too, but not in the negative way that I thought of for so long. When He takes, He does so to help us and bless us. And, that is just another way of giving to us, another way of loving us. He is after all, our good, good Father.
Have you ever heard that expression, “Fake it ‘til you make it”? It is an English aphorism which suggests that by imitating confidence, competence, and an optimistic mindset, a person can realize those qualities in their real life. Some people believe in this strategy, others do not.
Personally, for a long time I thought it was stupid. If your heart isn’t in something, why try and force it? Well, a few years ago, I decided to try this method out anyway. I mean, what did I have to lose, right? My goal was to be a more thankful person. I wanted to pray more and count my blessings.
I came across this quote from Stormie Omartian about four years ago. I printed it out and it has been hanging at my desk at work ever since. I have shared it before, but it is so worth sharing again. This is what prompted me to start faking it until I made it.
“One of the ways we can learn to completely trust that God is a good God is to praise Him for His goodness. Every time we do, it opens up the channels through which that particular aspect of His nature is poured into our heart.
The more you praise God for His goodness, the more you will see it manifested in your life. That’s the hidden power of praise. You will be amazed when you pray this way how God will open your eyes to see things you haven’t seen before.”
After reading this, I really wanted to see if it would work. I began thanking God for everything I could possibly think of as I laid down to sleep each night. I didn’t praise Him, per say, but I thanked Him. Even if I was not in a good place, feeling down and depressed, or just stressed, I thanked God anyway. To tell you the truth, I felt like a phony con artist for a while. Often my heart wasn’t in it. But, that is what faking it until you make it is all about, right?
After a while, I started to see subtle changes in my life. I was looking around me, at my life and the people in it, and the lives of others, and it started dawning on me how much I truly have to be thankful for.
I was raised in a loving home. I have an amazing husband who loves and supports me. I have a nice home and clothes to wear. I have food to eat and clean water to drink. I can get out of bed each morning and clothe myself and feed myself. I have a job that allows me to contribute financially to our family. I have friends who rally around me whenever I need them. And, this is just for starters.
Now I am at a point in my life where not only am I thankful for all these things (and more), but I am grateful for them. And, not only do I pray and thank God for them, I praise Him for all these things as well. The more I open my eyes to the blessings God has given me, the more blessings I find. Stormie was so right. And, I can tell you from personal experience, faking it ‘til you make it, well, it works. (At least it did for me in this case.)
I think the key to all of this is “faking” it the right way. Your motivation has to be in the right place, even if your heart isn’t necessarily in it. You have to make sure that you want to be changed from the inside out. If you truly desire change—significant change, then you can get to work “faking it”.
So, if this is something you would like in your life, just start small. (Like I did.) Thank God for the small things. Your list doesn’t have to be long or extensive. You can be thankful for air to breath, sunshine, and flowers.
You can even make a game out of it. Sometimes I would pick a letter from the alphabet and focus only on things that began with that letter that I was thankful for. (For example, take the letter “A”. I thought about apples, animals, Aaron (my brother), the arts, my appendix, and avocados.) You can also spend time reading your Bible and looking for verses that inspire you. Have fun with it!
Before you know it, you will see your cup overflowing with blessings. You will see blessings that you have never seen before. You will be looking at everything in a different, more positive light. And, your brain and outlook on life will change, for the better.
Before I go, I thought I would share with you ten of my favorite verses about renewing your mind. (Which, is, after all what faking it until you make it, really is, right?)
Do you know someone who claims to be a Christian, yet acts anything but? They say they believe in God and go to church each Sunday. But, their words and actions tell a completely different story. You witness things they say and do on a weekly basis and wonder if they even know what the word “Christian” means.
Well, I am currently in that situation. (I have been for a while.) And, I have a feeling many of you have been in the same spot. You know that old saying, “Perception is reality.”? Well, it’s an old saying for a reason; because it’s true. It also makes me think of, “Walk the walk and talk the talk.” If you are a Christian, you should not have to tell me that, I should just be able to figure that out by your words and actions. (At least, in an ideal world, I would. Especially if I spend any significant amount of time around you.)
Part of me becomes dubious about anyone who must proclaim things about themselves. If they say something like, “I am a great person. I donate lots of money to deserving nonprofits.” I often wonder where their intentions lie. Are they telling me this to impress me? Do they think it makes them look good? Why would they ever say that out loud? Are they trying to convince themselves that they are a good person? Are they that insecure? I honestly do not get it.
At any rate, I am sharing all of this because it got me to thinking; I am learning a lot about how I want to live my life. Or, in this case, how I do NOT want to live it. The person I have been referring to above has been teaching me that I want to be sincere Christian. I want my words and actions to be clear. I want them to match up and not allow anyone to question or doubt who I am. I want to be kindness and love personified. I want to be a true reflection of Christ. This is called sanctification.
It is all a process in sanctification. I am becoming sanctified. Day by day. I am allowing the Holy Spirit to tear down the old me and renew my mind day by day. This process will continue until the day I die. But, man, am I ever grateful for it.
I am trying to take the lemons in my life and make lemonade out of them. It is my goal to use every possible opportunity I can to learn and grow in my spiritual life, and this is no exception. It is a good reminder to be able to look around at my environment and find places that I can work on. And, this is a huge opportunity for growth. Actually, this particular issue allows for growth on many levels.
What about you? Do you have any “lemon” areas in your life that you can make some lemonade out of? There can be opportunities that are glaringly obvious, and other tiny ones you have to dig for. Either way, it will do us all a world of good if we start to look at these irritants as opportunities for growth. When we start to make positive things happen from seemingly negative situations, that is where our power lies. That is where true growth happens. And, the lemonade you make from these situations will taste so, so good and satisfying.
There are people I know who don’t believe in God. Or, if they do believe in Him, they see Him as an angry God, who, if He truly loved and cared about us, would never allow bad things to happen. (This is another topic for another time.) Even for those of us who love God and earnestly believe in Him, it can sometimes be hard to reconcile the “angry” God we read about in the Old Testament to the “loving” God we read about in the New Testament. Add into this mix the many verses throughout the Bible that tell us to “fear God” and I can start to see why people can be so confused about the kind of God He is.
Now, I will be the first to tell you that I am no scholar on God or the Bible. However, I do want to share with you what I have learned and come to believe. And, many of you may think that this is a simpleton point of view, but the older I get, the more I understand that often the most straightforward path is the best and makes the most sense.
If you are confused about God and wonder if He truly loves you or if He is just an angry God, I can tell you with one hundred percent surety that God does indeed LOVE you. And, yes, He can get angry sometimes too. You get angry every now and then, don’t you? I know I certainly do. I am not proud of that fact, but I am only human after all. And, God created us in His likeness, His image. (See Genesis 1:27)
But, we should never look at God and see an angry God. On the contrary, God is our loving Father and we should see Him as such. Because, that is what He is—a good and loving Father. And, like any good father, God can become angry when we do things that can be hurtful to ourselves or others. He can become angry when we don’t follow His rules.
As a little kid, did your earthly father get mad at you for running out into the street? I hope so, you could be hit by a car. As a teenager, did your earthly father ever get mad at you for staying out past your curfew? I hope so, because he made rules to keep you safe. That anger comes from a place of love. The same rule applies to our heavenly Father. God wants to bless us, and keep us safe from harm.
Once you start reading and studying your Bible, you will find plenty of verses that tell us that God is slow to anger. That is His true nature. He is patient toward us and He is full of mercy, grace, and forgiveness. He gives us chance, after chance, after chance, after chance, adnauseam. Psalm 145:8 tells us, “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” 2 Peter 3:9 tells us, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
So, why does the Bible so often tell us that we should “fear God”? Well, I think we are interpreting the word “fear” incorrectly. And, if you see God as an angry God, it can be easy to understand this confusion. But, once you see for yourself what a good and loving Father God truly is, your knowledge and understanding of the word “fear” will change too.
If you look up the word “fear” in the dictionary, the first definition you see is: a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid. And, this is how most of us associate the word “fear” with God. We think we should be afraid of Him. We shouldn’t be.
Now, if you keep going, you will eventually find this definition of the word “fear”: reverential awe, especially toward God. This is a very different interpretation of the word “fear”, don’t you think?
Let’s look at the word “reverence”. Reverence means a feeling or attitude of deep respect tinged with awe; veneration. When we think about God, Our Father, shouldn’t we have deep respect for Him? I think so! He created us, this universe, and everything in it. Plus, He loves us unconditionally.
Next, let’s take the word “awe”. Dictionary.com defines “awe” as an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear, etc., produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful, or the like. In other words, we should be amazed by God because He is extraordinary. We should be astonished and overwhelmed by God and His love for us. Or, as the Bible says, we should “fear” God.
It is just a change in our mindset. (I say that like it is an easy thing—it’s not. At least, it isn’t always.) Once we spend some time with God and read His Word and get to know Him better--the REAL Him, His true colors come to light. We are able to see Him in all His radiant glory.
We can look at the world around us; at the trees, flowers, and sunsets and see His handy-work. We can be awed by Him and have reverence for Him. Our definition of “fear” changes once we comprehend for ourselves what a loving God we have. We can fear God the right way.
It is that time of year again. You know—that time when we look back over the past year and start thinking ahead to the new, up-coming, year. Many of us will be making “New Year’s Resolutions” and trying to figure out ways to make said resolutions do-able and achievable.
Now, I am not here today to talk about looking ahead with hope. (Although, that is what you should be doing.) Nope, today I want to talk to you about looking back, about being retrospective.
When I was in high school, our yearbook was called “Retrospect”. I always thought that that was a cool and fitting name for a yearbook. Having a yearbook allows us to “look back” and contemplate and remember the past. And, if you enjoyed high school, this is a nice way to reflect on those happy times. If you didn’t enjoy high school, well, I suspect you would not want to even own a yearbook. Who wants to be reminded of anything painful?
Many people will tell you not to look back. There is a popular saying that goes something like, “Don’t look back, you’re not going that way.” The Bible even tells us in Luke 9:62, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” And, while I agree that it is better to focus on the future, I do believe there can be significant value in looking back. (Just don’t stay there too long!)
As I grow in my spiritual life, the main reasons I like to look back, are three-fold:
1. When I take time to consider my past, I can see just how much I have changed and grown. This is a good thing. It shows me how far I have come. Plus, it is great encouragement and motivation that will help to keep me moving forward and stretching myself. I long to be a reflection of Christ. And, while I will never fully get there in this life, I have a drive within to get as close as I possibly can.
2. Looking back allows me to see God working in my life. It allows me to see His hand at work. This is a marvelous thing! I can look back on situations that, at the time, I thought were horrible, but in hind-sight I can see the beauty that was created from them. It is a powerful reminder of how God can work everything for our good, if we let Him. (See Romans 8:28)
3. And, finally, mulling over my past grants me the opportunity to simply be grateful. As I shared in a recent post, having an attitude of gratitude is fundamental in our spiritual growth and in our everyday walk with God. Every chance we get to be grateful should be seized upon immediately. What better way to be grateful than by looking back at our past blessings?
So, as the new year fast approaches, I implore you to spend some time in active retrospect. Don’t be afraid to look back, draw out all the positive things over the last year, and use those things to grow into the person you long to be.
The key is to understand that you can’t live in the past. You can’t spend your entire life looking back and dwelling on things that have already happened. You need to move forward. But, by taking the time to consciously look back and use that occasion to grow spiritually, you can develop into the person you truly want to be.
Piggy-backing off last week’s post, I am still thinking about the views we have come to accept in our everyday lives. Or, as I am now thinking of them, the lies we have heard for most of our lives. They are the lies movies and television tell us, the lies we tell each other, and the lies we tell ourselves.
So, I am sure you are asking, why have I started referring to them as lies? And, what are these actual lies that I am speaking of? Well, let me start with the lies themselves.
The lies that have been top of mind lately are these: To be truly happy in life you need to do “________.” (fill in the blank – get married, have a baby, have a career, etc.), To have a happy marriage I must find my soulmate—the one person in this world who was made just for me., To be happy in life, I must find a job I love, et cetera.
Basically, they all boil down to being happy and finding happiness. And, isn’t that what we are all searching for? Or, at least, what we think happiness is? Well the devil has gotten into our collective minds and convinced us that these lies and more, will make us happy. Well, I am here to tell you from my own experience, they won’t.
The truth is, no matter how much “stuff” we get, we will always want more.
The truth is, no matter how many items we cross off our “must do in life” list, once we do those things, we still feel left wanting.
The truth is, there is no such thing as a soulmate. If you truly love your spouse and marry them, you must put in the time and effort to cultivate a loving and lasting relationship. And, you must choose to wake up every day for the rest of your life and say “I do” to them all over again.
The truth is your job won’t always make you happy. Maybe it will make you happy sometimes. Maybe it won’t. Even if you are fortunate enough to love your job, there will still be things about it that you don’t really like. Plus, as you grow and change, what you love will grow and change too. Thus, affecting what you do. Or, your work environment will change. Basically, there are so many factors that come into play in our professional lives, that getting everything we truly want from our jobs is impossible. And, thinking that your job will always provide your happiness is short-sighted.
So, what are we to do about all these lies? We replace them with truth. We send the devil and his lies packing. We spend our time with God and fill our hearts and minds with Him, His love, and His truth.
Rather than saying, “To be truly happy in life, I need to _______.” say, “To be truly happy in life, I need to know God and have a true relationship with Him.”
Rather than saying, “To have a happy marriage, I must find my soulmate.” say, “To have a happy marriage, I must put God first.”
Rather than saying, “To be happy in life, I must find a job I love.” say, “To be happy in life, I must remember that no matter what job I have, I must do that job for the Lord, not for anyone else.” (See Colossians 3:23)
Ultimately, what we must remember, is that the only way to find true happiness is to find God. John 14:6 tells us, "Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'" God will fill our heart, mind, body, and soul—which will bring us the only true and lasting happiness there is I promise you, this is NOT a lie. This is the truth.
I am so glad you are here! I am Erica Strickland, a girl who loves God. My goal here is to simply share His love and light.