Embracing His Commandments

Psalm 119:47–And I will delight myself in thy commandments, which I have loved.

Sometimes it’s hard to love the rules that feel like they are fencing us in, especially as we are growing up. It gets easier over time for most of us. We begin to see the validity of those rules. We begin to acknowledge the fact that they are keeping us and others safe. And, we see the morality of them as we grow and learn right from wrong.

God’s commandments and rules are for our own good. They keep us on the “straight and narrow” and we should be thankful for them. The above verse says we should even delight in and love them. God was kind enough to give us a road map of written rules, and we need to delight in that love He has for us.

It’s pretty easy to follow the ‘big’ commandments. Don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t commit adultery. But how about the ‘smaller’ ones? Sometimes it seems they aren’t so important. We don’t get a physical law punishment for not observing the Sabbath day, or for coveting what someone else has, or for swearing. But, God wants us to observe all the commandments (not just the ten, either) that He laid out for us in the Bible. Above all else, we are to love. If we can find it in ourselves to love God’s rules, then loving others will come easier. Following all the commandments, which is a tall order for anyone, will become easier. Finding delight in walking within the boundaries of what God desires, too, will become easier. Once we embrace the virtues He prescribed for us.

I’m so glad God is patient with me. I am a work in progress. Every. Day. And every day He teaches me something new and reprimands me gently for the things I am falling short in. I want to delight in his laws and commandments and love them each so that I can become the person I am meant to be!

 

Above picture, moss on a log, taken by me at … yep, you guessed it, Cades Cove!

Obedience is Better than Sacrifice

I Samuel 15:22–And Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.

Being obedient with a willing heart is an important part of serving God. When He lays something on our hearts that we are to do, it is crucial that we listen. Doing things, even scary and intimidating things, exactly in the manner God requests means shoving aside our personal comfort zone. But, unless we commit to do the work like He needs us to, we can’t be fully obedient. Partial obedience–doing the thing He wants us to but tweaking it so it is a little our way too–isn’t obedience. Hearing God ask us to sing a song or hug a neck or donate to a certain charity and saying, “Okay, I hear you, Lord, but what if I do this instead. I’m still serving you,” is not obedience. It may be personal sacrifice or offering, but if it is not what He requested to the letter, then it isn’t right. God has reasons for doing everything He does. So, if He is asking you to step out on faith and accept a new work for Him, do it. I promise He has a good plan. And, no matter how scary it may seem, if you are obedient, God will be greatly delighted.

 

Picture above taken by me at Cades Cove, TN. Sweetgum tree, I believe.

Trials are Lessons

Luke 22:31–And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat.

You can’t make a loaf of bread with a stalk of wheat until it is ground up and made into flour. Sometimes, I believe, God must first grind us up with our trials so that He can make something out of us. He needs me for a specific job, and as a stalk of wheat I don’t fit the bill. So, He works me, lets me get a little beat up so that I can learn and become the person I need to be in order to do the necessary work. My trials are lessons. Each one I go through teaches me something brand-new, and each one can be used to make me into the exact ingredient God desires. Once I am ground into flour, I can be used for a greater purpose. I can be more useful in my new form. The trials aren’t always easy, and they aren’t what I would necessarily choose for myself, but God knows who I need to be. He puts the exact mountain in front of me that will teach me the lesson I need to learn. Patience. Love. Gratitude. Humility. Thankfulness. Understanding. Sympathy. Empathy. All these are products of trials that can be expanded and molded to suit the next work God has for me. If I am willing to look at my trials as lessons, as growing experiences, then I can become what God needs me to be.

Measuring Up

Zechariah 2:1–I lifted up mine eyes again, and looked, and behold a man with a measuring line in his hand.

I suppose this week’s devotional is a bit of a follow-up to last week’s devotional, but that’s okay. I truly desire for God to find me measuring up to His standards. It’s awfully hard some days, and I am better at certain times than others. But, God knows the desires of my heart, too. And He knows how hard I try every single day.

So, how can I measure up and not be found wanting? For my life, and it varies for each person, my work each day includes: Get up, get kids fed, STUDY my Bible and pray (this one is key), stay patient with kids and husband and piling-up chores, teach kiddos, write, blog, fix dinner, get kids ready for bed, hope everyone actually goes to sleep, me get in bed. Busy day. Let’s pick out the parts that are elements of my faith and spiritual walk each day.

Pray

Study

Patience

Love

Caring

Educating

Writing the words God gives me

These are my daily jobs. The ones that I try to do well enough that God will be proud of me. The study my Bible and pray part is essential to my success. If I don’t take the time to study each morning and meditate in prayer with Him, it seems my days are even more hectic and hard to handle than usual. And, I pray all throughout the day too. When I feel my temper slipping or my energy fading, I pray.

Have you given thought to your daily works for God? The ones that are part of living right for Him? We don’t all have the opportunity to preach or fly to a foreign country for a mission trip each day. But, we can all find the faith and spiritual parts of our days and strive to do our best in them. I desire to measure up as closely as I can to God’s standards each moment of my life. I may not always do a great job of it, but I am praying and studying and trying to improve!

 

(Picture taken by me at Cades Cove)

God’s Go-To Person

Zechariah 1:3–Therefore say thou unto them, Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Turn ye unto me, saith the Lord of hosts, and I will turn unto you, saith the Lord of hosts.

How many times in my life have I turned away from God, instead of turning to him? Too many, I am ashamed to say. God makes a request and I acknowledge Him, but then I don’t act on it. I say, “Give me time to think about it. And pray, and then I will give you my response, Lord.” When I do that–when I take too much time to process–sometimes I miss my opportunity altogether. Was I supposed to really sing that song at church? Really supposed to text and check on someone I haven’t spoken to in a while? Really supposed to witness to that stranger? I’ve missed the boat, so they say, and the ship has sailed with no way for me to get on board. How sad! Who knows what kind of blessing I would’ve received, and the people around me may have needed to receive, when I refuse to turn the direction God asks me to when He asks. If He can’t count on me to do the tasks He needs me to, what good am I to Him? I want to do better. I desire to be bolder, readier for the next time God says, “Move right now.” I want to turn to Him, so that He can learn to rely on me and turn to me when He needs a job done. What an honor it would be to be a “go-to person” for God!

Your Best Work

Haggai 2:4–Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the Lord; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest; and be strong, all ye people of the land,saith the Lord, and work: for I am with you, saith the Lord of hosts:

God has called each of us to different journeys. Some are parents, some are not. Some are spouses, some are not. Some are preachers, others are teachers. Some are singers, others are pray-ers. We share some commonalities, but none of us have the same kids or spouses or exact voice, so we each have a unique job to do for God. My daily life is not identical to another’s. I face different struggles, and they affect me differently than they may affect my neighbor. But, one thing is certain, each of us are to do our best work each and every day for God. To put our best foot forward, our best prayer-minded dedication to the job before us each day. I am not a preacher, but I can still spread the message of God’s love to my children and the people I encounter. Sometimes God asks me to sing at church, but not very often. What I do do everyday is sing in the car, and my children see me praising God while I’m driving. The way I live–the way I work (these are synonymous to me)–for God teaches my children something. What do I want to teach them? That I am strong because of my faith in God. That even on the rough days, I lean on Him. When Mommy is a little grouchy, I still love them and I am sorry. My daily work mostly revolves around my children. Yours may not. But, whatever it is, whatever environment you live in each day, make sure you are doing your absolute best work for Him. He is with you.

GodProvides!

Ezra 6:9–And that which they have need of, both young bullocks, and rams, and lambs, for the burnt offerings of the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, and oil, according to the appointment of the priests which are at Jerusalem, let it be given them day by day without fail:

The people of Jerusalem were trying to rebuild God’s temple but running into some roadblocks. Lack of resources and funding was a biggie. Governor Tatnai wrote a letter to King Darius to find out if the people of Jerusalem even had permission to rebuild. King Darius’ reply was firm: give them what they need! God provided them with the necessary permission to build and resources in the form of support from the earthly king himself. Darius instructed the king’s treasury to be used to purchase basically whatever the people needed.

Isn’t that like our Heavenly King? I pray, He provides. He has never failed me, and I don’t believe He will. I have never been hungry or without a place to lay my head. We’ve never failed to pay a bill. He gives me resources to raise my children, love my husband, write my books, and get through my day. I am so thankful that He never fails to provide day by day without fail for us!

 

(Photo taken by me at Cades Cove, TN)

God Hears His Child’s Cry

Psalm 34:17–The righteous cry, and the Lord heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles.

Have you ever been so heartbroken, so utterly lost, that you have cried out to God with your heart only and not used words? I have. Cohesive thoughts didn’t get through. Just the innermost anguish of my heart. I prayed and God heard me, though I didn’t even understand the prayer myself. And pretty soon, the answer to my prayer came along, and it was perfect and comforted me. God understood my efforts at communication and provided exactly what He knew I needed, though I couldn’t ask for it with words.

When our children cry, it means something. As infants, it’s pretty easy to interpret. Hunger. Need to be changed. Tired. Physically uncomfortable. Their needs are basic and physical. As they grow into toddlers and two-year-olds (yikes!), they keep those basic physical needs but add a layer of complexity with emotional needs. They are starting to understand they are little people with wants and desires that sometimes have nothing to do with physical needs. Yet they still lack the communication skills to properly tell us exactly what they want. When you add a child whose sensory, vestibular, and proprioceptive processing systems struggle to give them proper input, well, that adds a whole new level to the complexity.

Take our two-year-old for example. At church last night she removed the ice pack from the cooler and began licking it. It was covered in milk that had leaked out and pretty icky-looking. She laid it down on the pew and I quickly realized a big mess was in sight, so I told her that we needed to put it back for now. She cried and it was my job to figure out why. I could’ve looked at the situation and assumed she was just angry at not getting her way, or I can look at it deeper and address the more specific issue. Was she hungry? Probably not. Was she upset? Yes. Why? Because I took away the ice pack? Yes. But why did she want the ice pack in the first place? She was bored. Was she bored because church isn’t as exciting for a two-year-old as it is for me? Probably, yes, but was she also bored because her sensory system wasn’t getting enough stimulation? Ah, yes! How can I redirect her and provide her with more stimulation that is not disruptive during church? Fidget toys, coloring, small (not too small) pieces of things to play with, therapy brushing, massage?

I’ve now taken the time to figure out the exact problem, which is not a behavioral-I’m- being-bad issue. It’s a physical need that she couldn’t express to me in words. And as soon as I provided her with another sensory-stimulating activity, her cries stopped.

As parents we have a huge responsibility. It isn’t always easy to interpret a child’s unspoken messages, but it’s incredibly important that we take the time to figure them out and not dismiss them as ‘being bad’ or ‘she’s just upset.’ Upset means so many different things!  If God answered our cries in a way that was inappropriate–say we need marriage help and he gives us financial help. Though it would be nice to have a million dollars, did it fix my marriage? No–how long would we continue to go to Him and cry out for help? Probably not very long. God gives us what we need, when we need it because He is a great parent. He takes the time to listen to our sometimes jumbled and incoherent cries and provide the solution–or the tools we need to work toward the solution ourselves–that fits our problem. And each time that He does, our trust in Him grows.

When a child comes to a parent crying, he or she is asking (in a not so graceful way) for something. They are begging us to figure out the problem and fix it. If we give them a solution that doesn’t answer the real problem, how long will we continue to build trust with that child? Probably not very long. More than likely we will have a gradual dissolution of trust until the child doesn’t cry out to us anymore-and then the real problem will be anger and resentment towards us.

Our pastor preached Sunday morning that we need to make sure we parent by the Bible. I couldn’t agree more! God is the PERFECT example of a perfect parent. While we can never be perfect (trust me, I am FAR from it), we can strive to follow His example. Not just the parts of the Scripture that we choose to focus on, but all of it. Lazy parenting picks out portions of the Bible that give us excuse to be lazy. Thorough and loving parenting looks at each example of God’s amazing kindness, teaching, and love to us, and aims to replicate it. Aren’t you glad that even as an adult, maybe whose earthly parents are gone or not doing such a great job (not me-I have amazing parents and what a blessing they are), you still have a heavenly Father who answers each and every one of your cries in the perfect way? I sure am!

Respect vs. Fear

Proverbs 14:26–In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence: and his children shall have a place of refuge.

There are two meanings for fear: afraid and respect. I believe in every instance that the Bible tells us to fear God, it means respect Him. He is the perfect Father, and we can learn from the way He parents us.

What’s the difference between fear and respect? Fear, effective for a while, breeds one of two things: more fear or disrespect. A child who is afraid of a grown-up will only remain in that state until they realize the adult is not scary. Or, will reach a plateau where the adult no longer seems scary and the adult must react by intensifying their intimidation. Won’t this eventually reach a point where the violence escalates to physical harm, abuse, maybe even death? If you are to follow the pattern of parenting solely by fear-expecting your child to listen, respond, obey, be subservient at a moment’s notice-then in order to maintain that level as the child grows, the adult’s tactics must, by definition, escalate.

So fear equals reaction by child until child matures enough to realize the adult is a bully. Then adult gets scarier so child will react. Until child matures enough to realize that level of fear tactic is a bluff too-or they get beaten and stay afraid.

What about respect? Real, mutual respect breeds loyalty and deepening trust. Respect between adult and child arises from adult realizing that child is a person just as they are-with goals, intelligence, and the capability for understanding complex thoughts and desires. Instead of governing by suppressing child, a respectful adult governs by set guidelines, expecting a child to live to their highest achievable potential, and ruling with authority bred from mutual trust. A child who respects an adult-and the adult continues to treat child with respect and continues to earn child’s respect himself-will aim to please, aim to impress the adult in their life. When a rule is broken, the respectful parent will punish justly according to the severity of the crime. Not with physical abuse or mental or verbal, but with practical and applicable and repetitive patterns. Praise will abound for the positive things the respected and respectful child does. Negative behaviors will diminish because they understand the just consequences to their own actions. They are given the chance to use their brains to process the wrong they have done, to expect to be punished in the same reasonable way next time, and given the chance to demonstrate the correct behaviors.

Fear is temporary. Respect is lifelong.

The people in my life whom I fear, I avoid. I do not want to bond with them or draw near to them. When I am forced to be in their presence, I have a heightened sense of alarm the entire time. My flight instinct is at a maximum. I am uncomfortable. How pitiful for a child to have to live in that state continuously!

The people in my life whom I respect, I tend to want to spend time with. I want to learn from them. I want to hear their stories and experiences and glean what I can from them.

God, our perfect Father, is the best example of how to raise a child with respect. He left us specific instructions in His word, and when we mess up He doesn’t threaten or beat us into submission. He takes our hand and guides us to a better place. He teaches us His values, again, and reminds us of what is right and what is wrong. So, the effects of both fear and respect are lifelong. But which one would you rather affect in a child? I suppose you have the power to choose, but when you do remember that the life, the mental peace, the emotional stability of a child hangs in the balance. A whole next generation of fear-instillers or respect-instillers is watching every move the adults in their lives make, copying their behaviors, and mimicking their values.

(This little guy doesn’t have much to do with the message today, but he’s cute! Caterpillar @ Standing Stone State Park taken by me)

Follow Me

Matthew 4:19-And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.

Cody Haynes preached at our church a couple of weeks ago about this, and it has really stuck with me. He pointed out that in today’s world in order to have a career, most of the time we must attend college and learn about our trade in order to become qualified to attain that particular job. But, with God, it is the other way around. God calls us to do a certain job–preach, teach, sing, etc.–and then teaches us and guides us on how to do it for His glory. I totally agree!

There have been a few challenges in my life that God has called me to that I felt unprepared for. Marriage. Motherhood. Foster mom-hood. Author. Women’s Sunday School teacher. Homeschool teacher. Occasional singer for Him. Devotional blogger. Witness. Okay, more than a few! I got my Bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee in Animal Science with a minor in Agricultural Business. None of the above God-callings have anything to do with that degree. Yet, I have felt led by Him to venture into each one. And, you know what, not one of them has He left me by the roadside fumbling for direction or tools. As scary as each has been when I first began, God has never failed to equip me with the proper knowledge to complete the task (most of these I am still in the middle of). God is our Father, but He is also our professor. Who better to learn from than the One who knows it all?

If God is calling you to do something new–maybe something terrifying that you feel unworthy or unprepared for–do not worry! He will provide the learning (and grades on a BIG curve in your favor). If He is calling you to it, He will qualify you for it. My advice is to take that first step and follow Him. He won’t lead you astray, and He won’t leave you hanging. And, if you do it, please share with me your new journey. I can’t wait to hear all about it!

(Photo by me at Cades Cove, TN-Fall 2015)