Somewhere in the past two years, I started writing down the things God spoke to me.
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The single word whispered into the stillness of my heart.
The song lyrics that seemed suddenly, unexpectedly profound.
The words texted by a friend to say that while praying for me God had given her a message for me.
The verses that kept popping up everywhere like I just couldn’t get away from them.
The truths that weighed deeply on my heart while studying God’s Word.
The stories from friends and strangers alike that encouraged and challenged me to my core.
The words of conviction and rebuke spoken into my life by trusted counselors.
The promises God wrote into His word that I needed to remember.
I wrote it all.
Anything that stirred my soul or burned in my heart or would not stop showing up in the unexpected places.
And as I began to write these things, I began to change.
I began to remember more. I began to hang onto truth and courage in a whole new way. I began to remind myself of the truth in a way I hadn’t been able to before, because honestly, before I couldn’t always remember the truth when I needed it most.
As I wrote down when He speaks, and looked back at it when I needed reminding, I began to learn to notice and discern His voice more clearly than ever before.
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When the day wore long and overwhelming, I flipped that journal ragged, going back to remember what He had spoken that morning from His word.
When pain stayed open and raw for days and weeks and months on end, I found myself hurrying back to worn pages to reread and reremember what He had said in the past.
When I lost hope of feeling joyful and free and full again, I opened the journal to remind myself of the ways He had been enough for me.
When dark lies clouded my reason, I turned to the places I had recorded how He had come through in the past, the places I’d written His goodness to me before.
When I kept trying to take situations into my own hands, to control and manipulate, I turned to the words He had spoken directly to me, the challenge to let Him be God.
When the guest preacher taught from that one book of the Bible and it reminded me of something, I dug through to find the words I’d hesitantly written a year before.
I’d written down what I thought He was saying. I’d told my husband. But I’d also hesitated. Did He really say what I thought? Did it mean what I’d thought?
So I wrote it down and left it. Waiting. Testing. Unsure if I’d heard correctly. But there it was. Him speaking again through this same book of the Bible, adding clarity and confirmation to words from a year ago that I surely would have forgotten had they not been written down, but that I surely could not have fully understood when they were spoken into my heart.
I would cry if I ever lost this journal. It feels weighty and precious and so very important.
And it is.
This one small journal contains over a year of all the things God has spoken into my heart and life.
All the promises. All the encouragements. All the truth. All the corrections. All the moments that have stirred my heart and brought tears to my eyes and ushered peace into my soul.
I call it my When He Speaks journal.
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Maybe you should start one too. A log of all the ways He has spoken. A place to help us remember that He is good, He loves us, and He speaks. If you do, I hope it changes you like its changed me. I hope we can be changed together to be more aware of God’s voice, more sensitive to His Spirit, and more trusting of His goodness.
Over and over in the Bible we are told to “bear fruit” and that if we stay close to Jesus, if we have the Holy Spirit working in us, He will produce ”fruit” in us.
But only recently did I really think deeply about what this fruit really is.
I think it’s our natural instinct to think that fruit is the flashy stuff.
The amount of time you’ve spent serving at church
the biblical degrees you can display on your wall
the number of people you’ve led to Jesus
the books you’ve written about spiritual living
the Bible studies and small groups you’ve led
the number of homeless people you’ve given food to
the outreach events you’ve put on
the number of children you’ve raised to love Jesus
the amount of money you’ve given
These are not fruit.
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“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
These are wonderful things, and they are often the evidence of fruit, but they are not the fruit.
It sounds so strange to say, but I am the fruit.
My changed life. My heart and mind becoming more like Jesus. I am the fruit of a spirit filled life.
The fruit is the power of God transforming me from sinner into saint.
The fruit that I am called to bear is my own self becoming more like Jesus as I abide in Him.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
If I think that living a fruitful life looks like adding up accomplishments and accolades, then my life will be focused on doing things for God, and not seeking God Himself.
If I think that pleasing God and producing fruit to His glory means adding up a large number of lives I’ve impacted, then I’m forgetting that I cannot change people’s hearts and lives. Only God can do that.
If I think that the fruit I am called bear is the serving I do, then I will wear myself out doing things for other people and becoming prideful in all that I accomplish.
And we can swing so easily between these two wrong extremes: doing all the things because we think that how much we do and the effectiveness of our doing are the fruit, and doing nothing because we don’t want to risk doing something out of a wrong heart or attitude.
Our center, the place we must always swing back to, is Jesus.
When I find my heart filling with pride or anxiety over the things I’m working to accomplish, I must learn to swing back to the center of Jesus, serving Him because I love Him. Because He first loved me.
When I find myself afraid to do anything, afraid that I am working for the wrong reasons, I must swing back to the center of Jesus, trusting that He can wash the sinful attitudes from my heart. Trusting that He has prepared good works for me to walk in them and that He can produce fruit in me through them.
We will always find our hearts and attitudes being challenged, needing to change. Needing to recenter on Jesus. But that is the whole point. As we are changed more and more into the image of Christ, we should be doing more and more for God because we are falling deeper in love with Him. But as we do and give and serve and reach out, we must remember that we aren’t responsible for the results of those things. God is.
I am the fruit that God wants to produce through me. I have good works prepared in advance that God has set out for me.
I am going to keep doing for God and with God, but I’m praying that I learn more and more to leave the results and the glory to God, remembering that those things are not the fruit. I am.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed this time of year. With the to-do lists and the expectations piling up I’m finding my soul squeezed tight…even on vacation.
What about you? Is your heart feeling the pull of stress and anxiety too?
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Whenever I feel the grip of anxiety wrapping itself right around my heart I have to stop and reevaluate. Almost always the stress is because I’ve failed to seek and spend time with God.
So today, I opened my Bible to the book of Matthew, the beginning, the Christmas story. And every year it hits me again, the wonder and awe of these simple chapters.
There is a beauty, an awe, a peace in the story of God with us.
“”Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).”
God with us.
He left heaven, perfection and peace and joy. He left that to be with us. To walk with us. To teach us. To love us. To save us.
He left heaven to be born, helpless. He left heaven to grow and learn, humbled. He left heaven to die, wrongfully accused. He least heaven to return, glorified.
He left heaven for us. To make a way for us to be with Him, now and for eternity. He left heaven to bring His peace and joy to our hard, earthbound lives, to bring us steadfast hope in an eternity with Him.
God came to be with us on earth so that we can be with Him for eternity.
As my mouth whispered the words of the Christmas story, my heart breathed in hope. Because the word of Truth breeds hope and peace.
So in this season, and truly, every season, the anecdote for anxiety is truth…the truth of our position, our hope. The word of truth about the Truth Himself is the peace of Christmas.
Church planting is…
…not about the method.
…not about the plan.
…not about the systems.
…not about the schedule.
…not about the organization.
…not about the vision.
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Vision and direction and methods and plans are good, valuable, important things. But I often find myself getting so caught up in the plan and the system that I miss out on the main point.
And the main point is Jesus.
Always and only Jesus.
The main point is Jesus.
Loving Him.Serving Him.
And the systems and methods and schedules we use can be glorifying to God, but they cannot be God.
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Methods cannot lead people to repentance. Plans cannot humble and restore us. Systems cannot produce changed lives. Schedules cannot bring us into relationship with God. Organization cannot wash away sins. Vision cannot heal the brokenness this world produces.
“There is power in the gospel, not necessarily the method.”
Pastor Daniel Williams
And it is easy to get so caught up in our plans and our systems and our organizational structures that we forget these things are powerless.
They are powerless to save.
They are powerless to convict hearts.
They are powerless to bring repentance.
They are powerless to restore intimacy with God.
They are powerless to produce worship in us.
We need God’s Spirit with us and the gospel flowing from our lips and through our lives in order to produce any true fruit for God’s glory.
So don’t ditch your systems or your vision. Maybe you even need to work harder at your plans and methods. But all of those things will be a waste unless God Spirit is behind them and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is what is being taught through them.
*”When the ground beneath my feet gives way
And I hear the sound of crashing waves
All my world is washing out to sea.
I’m hidden safe in the God who never moves
Holding fast to the promise of Your truth
You are holding tighter still to me.
The Rock won’t move and His Word is strong
The Rock won’t move and His love can’t be undone
The Rock of our salvation”*
“The Rock won’t Move” by Vertical Church Band
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In those first few post partum weeks, I watched myself emotionally swing back and forth so quickly. I watched the way I handled the fears and the exhaustion (usually coming at the same time)…
And I’m thankful. I’m so thankful for all the ups and downs I’ve had in my life. I’m thankful for the things I’ve learned and the habits I’ve formed to this point.
If I hadn’t walked through hard days and battled to come to the throne of Jesus anyways…
If I hadn’t failed and failed and failed and had to practice the grace daily offered to me in Jesus…
If I hadn’t desperately needed to learn how to preach grace to myself….
If the storms hadn’t come and I hadn’t learned hard lessons in the past…
…then I wouldn’t have the tools I needed to handle the emotions of today.
If I hadn’t learned how to lean heavily on the Rock, then I’d be swinging hard on the pendulum of emotions.
Don’t get me wrong, these past thirteen weeks haven’t been all smiles and peace. I’ve had my tearful meltdowns and my fearful sleeplessness. But I’ve also seen myself pull up short when the emotions come swinging in. I’ve also preached myself back into leaning on the Rock. I’ve also humbled myself to listen when my husband has encouraged and challenged me to stick close to Jesus in the moments that I’m crumbling under the weight of motherhood.
And there’ve been moments, when I’ve found myself swinging hard on the emotional pendulum, but instead of leaning into the swing I’ve reached out to the Rock and He has caught me.
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And I’m thankful.
Thankful for His arm that catches me.
Thankful for His truth that steadies me.
Thankful for people who point me back to Him.
And thankful that I’ve see growth.
…that I’m not responding the way I would have a year ago or two years ago or five years ago. And thankful because the times I see myself still respond in ways that are wrong, I know he’s not finished with me yet.
I know this is just the beginning of a whole new process of sanctification. I know He’s going to keep growing me and refining me and teaching me.
And I know that someday, another storm will come and I’ll look back thankful for today’s lessons in steadying my heart on Him.
No matter how off track I get, He won’t move or change. Because He is the Rock of our salvation.