“Don’t put a label on me, but if you refer to me incorrectly, I’ll be upset.”
Everyone wants to be there own person – unique in their own way.
And while I think we should never try to conform to be someone else, God does not call us to be a singular person!
He calls us “the flock”. We are a peculiar “people”.
Yes, each of us is seen individually in His eyes, but if we go out on our own, we do not have the protection of the united front with all His children!
“For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body.” 1 Corinthians 12:14-20 (KJV)
You are a leg, and I am an arm. Without each other, we are not going to get very far.
The church is such an important part of our Christian walk. It is about the fellowship that we gain, the support system that comes with it, and the cheerleaders rooting for us. These all allow us to walk confidently among those of the world.
The church helps us to grow, when we learn from the preacher who is lead by the Holy Spirit. It helps lift us up when surrounded by prayer warriors, and it helps keep us connected to His people by allowing us to pray for others!
At my church, our covenant ends by saying that when we feel led to find a new church that we will seek a new church as soon as possible to be able to carry out “the principles of God’s word.”
This is such an important point to remember, because sitting out on one church service can seem simple. With your second missed service, you feel guilt, but you have that excuse ready. By the third and fourth, you do not feel AS bad. It is a slippery slope.
If we stick with God’s teachings and choose to be in His presence and with His people, we grow, and it becomes easier to hear His calling for our life.
So, where are you finding your identity? Is it in your style? Is it in your job? Your label of mom/dad?
What if you seek to find your identity within the church? Within the community God has placed around us to keep us strong?
God gives us a community so that they can lift us up to find our personal calling in His kingdom. The world around us only wants to drag us further and further away from Him.
This “Me” focused world is not, and cannot be, a “God” focused world!
Be the peculiar people. Stand out from the world and stand strong with the Kingdom!
For me, it is the story of the paralyzed man in the gospels.
“A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’” Mark 2:1-5 (NIV)
Most recently, after hearing this story for what seemed like the millionth time in service, I could hear Jesus ask me, “How desperate are you? How far are you willing to go?”
It was kind of like a “what would you do for a Klondike bar” moment.
What would I do to meet with Jesus? How far would I go to see His glory? How desperate am I for His presence?
I was baffled, and honestly, I wanted to say “Lord, I would do anything, go anywhere just to be with you.”
That was my heart’s intentions and cries because of how much I love Jesus, but as I have looked at my life, I have seen where I have fallen short. It has made me reevaluate my desperation for Christ.
You see the level of our desperation depends on the level of our want. How bad do we want it?
If a drug addict can sell everything they own for something that ultimately destroys their body, then why are we not more desperate for Christ who is good and ultimately the giver of life?
Maybe our problem as Christians is not that we are addicted to Christ’s goodness and the work of His glory, (it is very easy for most of us to pray about things we need or want), but maybe it is that we have not spent enough time with Jesus to have developed an addiction for more of Him. Just more of what He can give us.
Just as the four friends who carried their friend on a mat showed Jesus their faith, we must also be willing to go the extra mile in our actions. They could have spoken their desperation and later brought Jesus to their friend, but that was not good enough for them. They needed Jesus to see him, to see their hunger, to feel the intensity of how badly they wanted their friend healed. When our actions match the intent of our heart, we have stepped into pure desperation.
Those friends could have seen the crowd and the impossibility to get through, but they reasoned in their minds that turning back seemed more impossible than getting to Jesus. We have to come to a point when we are so utterly desperate for the presence and glory of Jesus that the impossible seems logical.
We have to be willing to climb those mountains, dig those openings, and lay ourselves paralyzed by the world, but desperate to sit at the feet of Jesus.
Looking for a job can be lots of hard work. Most of us have been there. Our enthusiasm at the beginning slowly drops and changes to discouragement, and suddenly, we are only a step away from frustration.
That is what happened to me a few weeks ago. After a dreadfully difficult season, I came to a point when I was applying for any and every job that I came across, but nothing seemed to work out in my favor. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, an ad popped up in my browser saying a Christian youth working organization was hiring.
The position seemed like all I ever wanted – working with young people from various backgrounds and organizing projects to bring a bit of Jesus into their lives. It would even work around my part-time studies and the other job I do – perfect. So I applied and started praying:
“Lord, I’ll be honest. This job looks amazing, and I’d absolutely love to do it, but if it’s not something you want for me, make it clear. Your will be done!”
The time went by, and I still had that prayer in the back of my head – you know the best, Lord, do your work.
A day before the application deadline, I was hanging out with a friend who happened to be looking for a job too. She was a youth worker as well. As her friend, I told her about this opportunity. Long story short, she got the job, and I did not.
Did I know it was not the most strategic move? Of course I did. Did I help her find the application and figure out what to do? You bet I did. Was I upset when she told me she got the job? Well, how could I be?
Throughout the whole time I was praying, “Lord, I trust you, do it your way.”
So when I had that chat trying to convince her to apply, I knew it was not lowering my chances to get the position.
I knew if God wanted me to work with those specific young people, I would. If He had someone better than me, great! I would not want to be in God’s way of blessing others. So when she came to me with a deep regret in her eyes and told me she was offered the position, I was filled with joy, not only because she needed this kind of change, but because God’s will for the place was to use my good friend who I became so proud of.
“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:10 (NKJV)
Often, it is so easy to pray for God’s will to be done here on earth, but how many times do we actually trust Him as strongly as we proclaim we do? To be honest, my reaction surprised me a little bit too. I thought I would have been hurt much more if I had not gotten the job, let alone if my friend got it instead.
But you know what? It does not matter.
It does not matter because if we pray for God’s will to be done, we give up all of our expectations, humble ourselves and choose to trust no matter what happens.
We give up the right to think we know what is the best; we are willing to follow God even if it does not match our own plan. Praying for God’s will to be done does not mean everything will work out for us, but we can be sure it will work out for His Kingdom, if we only trust Him enough to rejoice in that.
Take a minute now, close your eyes if you can and pretend you are all alone. Forget everything you need to do or what you have just done. It is only you and the Lord.
Can you see how good He is?
How mighty and loving He is?
That He is on your side?
Are you going to trust him and pray for His will to be done, leaving your hopes and ideas behind? Do not worry. He is a good Father, and He is holding you in His mighty hand. His will be done.
Growing up in the church, you would find 5-year-old me standing with my hands raised at church singing one of my favorite songs, “The Heart of Worship.”
“And it’s all about you, it’s all about you, Jesus,” I would sing with a large smile on my face.
Worship was always my favorite, but somewhere along my journey with Christianity, I complicated the once so simple act of praise and worship.
This year, prayer became a big part of my life, and it transformed my life in more than one way. One thing God placed on my heart to pray with expectation for was my fertility, and boy did he show up. I am currently expecting a sweet baby boy in February 2020.
The week following my positive pregnancy test, the only words I could utter were “God, you are so good.”
I found myself always praising His mighty name for the miracle He worked in my life, the promise He had brought to pass. I felt like I had “A Heart of Worship.”
However, a few weeks later something changed. I am not sure whether it was pregnancy hormones or just a rut, but I became emotionally numb. I tried to read and would not comprehend a single word. I would pray and easily get side tracked before completing a sentence. I would put worship music on and felt absolutely nothing.
Here I was with the ideal circumstances, and I could not find the heart to worship the one who controlled those circumstances. I felt immediate guilt. I had been so adamant in pursuing God while praying for my blessings. Now that I had my blessings, it seemed the passionate flame in my heart had been stifled. So there I was, numb and guilty.
The devil came at me saying God was going to take my child from my ungrateful heart and that I had earned my blessings only to lose them.
Thankfully, God’s blessings are not dependent on our actions because then none of us would receive them. His blessings are a gift that comes from being in God’s will and trusting His hand (but that is a whole other topic).
My guilt made it difficult to worship because it put the focus on ME, my actions and my worth. I had forgotten about 5-year-old me at church singing, “It is all about you, Jesus.”
Worship and praise focuses not on our abilities, our emotions or even our circumstances. It focuses on the one who created every one of those and remains good until the end.
Psalms 136:1 (NLT) says, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! His faithful love endures forever.”
The psalmist continues to repeat the last phrase a couple dozen times in that single chapter. His worship focused solely on who God is.
When my emotions go numb, God’s love and goodness still endures. Whether my circumstances are good or bad, His love and goodness endures.
In my recent devotional on the She Reads Truth App, the writer made a statement that hit me hard.
“In corporate worship, in private prayer, in the smallest moments, and in the most earth-shattering ones, we always have reason to thank God for what He has done and what we know He will do. Whether or not we feel grateful or not, whether or not we feel worshipful, there is always a reason to worship in gratitude: because His faithful love endures forever.”
The Heart of Worship is not about the emotions we feel in our heart. It is about choosing in our hearts to recognize who God is and what He is capable of.
We can choose to worship our circumstances and live according to our current state of emotions, or choose to worship the God who is more constant than our ever changing emotions and circumstances.
“But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15(NIV)
Worship is not a feeling that comes when the music reaches a crescendo, or the amount of tears we shed as we do it. It is not about how high we raise our hands, how loud our voices echo or how much we dance. Worship is simply a heart that recognizes the goodness and love of God.
Let us make it all about Jesus. Because, “His Faithful Love Endures Forever.”
“Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is evidence of things we cannot see.” Hebrews 11:1 (NLT)
In the summer before my senior year of college, I felt a tug on my heart to commit to a year of full-time ministry. As I sat before God in my devotions each morning, I heard Him whisper, “Take this leap. I’ll catch you.”
My breath caught in my throat every time I thought of it. The idea was ludicrous. I was an international student. What about my plans to move on to medical school? I was an only child and from a single parent home. How would my family feel about this break in my education? It just was not reasonable. I must have gotten my wires crossed. But the gentle, insistent urging would not go away.
One morning, I went to a youth Bible study where the speaker got up and simply read Hebrews 11. I would read this chapter myself at least a dozen times, but that day I saw it through different eyes.
I saw each scene in my mind’s eye as the chapter laid out example after example of how faith played a role in a believer’s life. By faith, Abel offered a sacrifice, Enoch was translated, and Noah prepared an ark on dry land. Abraham said yes to God’s call to travel to an unknown place that would become his home. Barren Sarah was able to conceive a child, becoming an ancestor of a great nation. Abraham offered Isaac back to God, being as ready to return the promised son- his only son- as he had been to receive him. Isaac blessed his sons. Moses chose hardship with his Hebrew brothers over a life of sinful ease with the Egyptians. The Israelites walked through the Red Sea on dry ground. They marched around Jericho and saw the walls fall flat. Rahab believed in their God and was delivered from the destruction.
Gideon. Samson. Jephthah. David. Samuel.
“By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the flames of fire, and escaped the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight.” Hebrews 11: 33-34 (NLT)
These heroes of the faith held on to God’s promises because they trusted Him. They saw by faith what God saw, often only in part. However, they trusted the heart of the Father, that He would not lead them where He would not sustain them. Of course, this did not always mean a happy ending in this life.
“Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword… destitute…oppressed…mistreated. They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.” Hebrews 11:36-38 (NLT)
The apostle Paul continues that while their faith was commendable, they did not see the complete fulfillment of God’s promises. That is because this story is still being written. It continues with those of us who are still carrying on the faith, still holding the banner of Christ in a dark and troubled world. I decided to accept God’s call to dedicate a year to Him in missions and felt a peace and assurance beyond any I had ever experienced.
The next year was one of triumphs and hard lessons, close fellowship and intense conflict, numerous joys and frustrations. With a team of nine other young people, I was able to travel across the United States ministering at schools, churches, and juvenile detention centers. The year culminated with two unforgettable months in Guyana where dozens of people accepted Christ and were baptized. The experiences of that year will stay with me forever.
What is God calling you to do for Him today? Is He asking you to make a sacrifice? Abel did that, and his faith still speaks to us today. Has He placed a project on your heart that does not make sense to anyone else? Noah obeyed and his family was saved. Does He seem to be asking you to give up a cherished dream? Abraham obeyed and God provided. Is He calling you to be a voice for an oppressed group? Moses was faithful, and he led Israel out of slavery to the borders of the Promised Land. Has He brought you face to face with what appears to be an impossible obstacle? The Israelites obeyed Him and saw Jericho’s gigantic walls collapse.
If God has called you to take a leap of faith, do not deny Him the opportunity to work in and through you. Take a leap and His arms will be there to catch you.
“God will make this happen, for He who calls you is faithful.” 1 Thessalonians 5:24 (NLT)
I am on a journey back to find her. The girl I once was. Maybe you can relate to this…
Once upon a time, I was a young fifteen year old girl who tasted Jesus for the first time. I ran into the arms of my Heavenly Father for everything and wanted nothing more in life other than to see people run to their Father’s arms as well.
I remember the days following my salvation, seeing the world in a totally new light. The world seemed brighter than it once had been before.
But Somewhere along the way, I lost her. I lost that girl who had the ability to see the brightness in the world that outshines the darkness. Maybe that’s adulthood for you or maturity, but I find as a 26-year-old woman that I do not see life as brightly as I once did when I first gave my life to Christ.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” John 1:5 (NLT)
The world at times just looks dim. I am now aware of the world’s problems, I am aware of the church’s problems, I am aware of my personal problems in a way that sometimes clouds my once singular focus of simply seeing Jesus in the midst of a dark world.
When I gave my life to Christ, He was the picture. He was everything and nothing else was crammed into the big picture that I saw Him in. It was all about Him and connecting with Him and connecting others to His heart.
I miss that fifteen year old girl. She was overzealous and a bit prideful at times, but she got what was important. She did not let the world’s darkness cloud her view of the world. She did not allow people’s judgements or opinions to cloud her focus, and she did not let world systems or politics cloud her mind. She did not care about climbing the corporate ladder or about buying a house by age 30. She simply abided in Jesus and enjoyed Him.
I am on a journey back. A journey back to find that girl. I think she could teach this woman a thing or two about simplicity.
The simplicity of the gospel.
Jesus makes it plain in Matthew 22:36-40 (NLT) , it says,
“Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
The gospel is plain and simple and beautifully laid out in scripture. We must love God with every fiber of our beings, and love our neighbor in the same way we love ourselves.
SO simple. Yet, as humans, we complicate it, or we allow the world to cloud our views of what is truly important.
Today, I want to encourage you to strip the things that cloud your mind. Maybe it is religious habits, politics, worry, anxiety, or comparison. Whatever it is, let it go and look to lock eyes with God like you once did when you first got saved.
It really is that simple.
“Look to Me, and be saved, All you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.” Isaiah 45:22 (NKJV)
Feeling stuck in life is not the easiest place to be. You begin questioning yourself and questioning where God wants you, but you cannot seem to put two and two together. Do not be discouraged in this season, but let God continue to shape what He has for you. God does not have you between a rock and a hard place. He is preparing you for this next season coming up.
After graduating college in 2017, God was throwing open door after open door for me, and I was having a great time walking through each of them. At the time, my friend and mentor Amber seemed to be clear from cancer, a guy was pursuing me, and I had some amazing friends. However, it all came to a crash by the end of the year. My beautiful Amber passed away from breast cancer, the guy decided not to continue his pursuit, and I lost a great friendship to confusing and unfortunate circumstances. Life did not pause for me, but I did stop. I stopped embracing everything God had for me.
For a year after that, I sank low in depression and just wanted the world to stop so I could mourn the many losses I had in such a short amount of time. God was still beside me, but I could not fathom how He would let so many things fall apart after He opened so many doors beforehand. In those moments, I just wanted to close those doors and stay in my bed forever. I had enough energy each day to get out of bed, go to work, and come home to lay in bed again. I did not make any effort to ask God to remove me from depression, but my spirit was crying out.
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:18-19 (NIV)
In December of 2018, God asked me what my heart wanted, and He broke through my depression and tears and made my heart beat again. I felt alive, and I felt like I could finally breathe. After God broke depression off of my life, I was ready to take on the world, but that did not happen. Months passed by, and I began to realize how much I was not doing with my life. My personality had gone from extrovert to barely leaving the house, I stopped serving in the many areas I was in, and my friend circle was smaller than it had ever been. I was no longer who I was.
When these truths hit me, I began crying out to God. I wanted to feel the Joy of the Lord again. I wanted to be the Gabby I was before tragedy overtook my heart, but that is not what God has planned for me. God has a new and fresh perspective for me, and He does not need the old Gabby to fulfill it. He needs who I am now.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV)
I was still wrestling with feeling stuck, up until a few weeks ago when I realized something; I was the reason I felt grey! I had begun to take a step back from God, and all the while, I was questioning why He was not there! I was feeling the pressure of depression because I decided to not seek God for His joy. God revealed this to me, and I began worshipping who He was and what He had done for me. I felt his joy rain down on my life again.
If you are feeling stuck in this season, I encourage you to hold on and continue praying that God will reveal His will to you. This is not an easy season, but God promised to be there with you no matter what. Keep seeking the face of God as He brings you out of this season into something new. Keep seeking His joy in your sadness, His peace in your chaos, and His love in your loneliness.
“Wait for the Lord ; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord .” Psalm 27:14 (NIV)
These are some of the thoughts I dealt with in the past. As a child, I was bullied in school. I was told that I would never measure up to anything because I was “fat” and that I “would never get married” because I was so ugly. These words scarred me. I would get in the car every day after school and just cry to my mom.
I would say things like “am I really that ugly?”
“Why are they so mean?”
I would take these words and meditate on them. I would think to myself, “Maybe they’re right. I may never get married. If I do, I’ll probably marry an abusive man and have a daughter who resents me.”
And I would get carried away with all these lies. Due to my choice to believe the lies, I dealt with severe depression. I was very insecure about the way I looked. I hated who I was. I wanted to die.
And as far as getting married, I would think that since a man probably would not love me, maybe a woman would. This led to me questioning my sexuality.
All of this was tied together by one thing; I did not know who I was in Christ. I did not recognize that this was the voice of the enemy. I thought all of this was me.
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 (NKJV).
This scripture basically says that Jesus loves us, no matter what we do. He loved us before we even knew how to love Him back. There is a song that I love, that many are familiar with, called “Reckless Love”.
In the bridge of this song, the artist sings the following: “There’s no wall You won’t kick down, lie you won’t tear down, coming after me!”
I love how he says that there is no lie God won’t tear down to get to us. This means that if the enemy puts a lie in someone’s head, God will tear it to bits. All we have to do is believe what God says about us, instead of believing a silly lie Satan puts in our head. Sometimes, it may be difficult. The lie may seem rational. It may be logical and line up with our circumstances, but God’s word is true, no matter what may surface.
There was another song I was listening to not too long ago. The artist went into a little spontaneous worship, and she sang these words: “Just a whisper, and You shut the mouth of the liar!”
Let’s say I am going to get in my car, and someone on the street, who I don’t know, and have never seen before comes up to me and says, “Your mom said I could buy your car, give me the keys.”
He is obviously lying, but he takes circumstances and tries to twist them to make me believe him. I would have two options: believe this guy and hand over the keys to my car. Or, I could just choose not to believe him, take my keys, and drive away.
It’s the same way with the devil. It seems so easy to just believe what he is saying because he has “evidence”, but it is just things he is perverting to make it look like he is right.
Just like in the Garden of Eden where the serpent (who is really the devil) tells Eve that God does not want her to eat the forbidden fruit because it will make her more powerful than God, when that is far from true. The truth is that it would give her knowledge of evil and separate her from God.
So, the enemy takes what is factual, not necessarily truth, and twists it to make it look the way he wants. For example, someone could go to a doctor, and the doctor could say they have a mass, but only one in a million of these are cancerous.
The devil will take it way out of proportion and say “You are the one in a million! You have cancer! You are going to die,” when the truth is that Jesus is the God of miracles, and He is stronger than any mass, malignant or benign.
“The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” John 10:10 (NKJV)
This means believing the lies of the enemy will not get anyone anywhere. It will result in death and destruction whereas pursuing Jesus and believing His word will result in an eternity in heaven.
In the end, everyone has a choice. Believe the lies of the enemy or walk in freedom and truth. Personally, I am done believing the lies of the enemy. Satan has taken a big enough toll from me, and I am going to take back my authority and say “SHUT UP DEVIL! You are a liar!” Because Jesus is the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, and I have chosen Him.
I grew up in one town that had two faces. One face was the glossy McMansion playground fully equipped with Trader Joe’s, an outlet shopping mall, and a Starbucks on every street corner. This upmarket face is a magnet for San Francisco foreigners hoping to take their Stanford or Berkeley education and retreat a small distance from The City with their children.
However, the second face came first. It is the remnants of a railroad town established in the Gold Rush. The former shanty town’s main drag by the river was converted into a quaint tourist attraction with its brothels and trading outposts repurposed into antique shops and old timey candy stores. The dingier remains lurk in the neighborhood next door.
Both faces of this town are imprinted on my very soul, and both faces are represented in my spiritual development.
My best friend Megan attended a megachurch on the new side of town. It was a typical model of two church services where those at the nine am service never saw anyone from the 11 am service. In fact, there was not much interaction between those who attended even the same service.
Attending Megan’s church made me feel small and anonymous. I liked their children’s program because they had great snacks and so many other children to play with. The worship seemed really professional, like a concert, and the people stood and listened. Very few people raised their hands which always struck me as strange. Twice, I gave poor Megan’s mom a challenge by revealing that there is a Devil, and that we will all die. The existence of evil in the world and life’s transience seemed natural to me. Megan’s church primarily taught on the blessings of following Christ.
My childhood church was lodged in the old part of town. It was housed in an old converted warehouse sandwiched between a print and mechanic shop. The bowling alley across from us reeked of stale beer, and bums lounged in the parking lot with their paper wrapped bottles. A large sign hung at the end of the street, “Where the West Came and Stayed”. Later, city council would remove this sign, and the western boots shop beneath it would close as we increasingly wanted to forget that we’re the Wild West and instead pretend to be in the 90210.
I spent at least half of my childhood in this building. The congregation was a family in all the best and worst ways. We were brought together by the strong convictions that God not only can but will heal and perform miracles, the day of Pentecost unleashed the Holy Spirit on earth, and prophecy is not just for the people in the Bible.
Pastor Don was a square-jawed software salesman who received no salary, but still took on all the burdens of a full pastorship. Instead of taking any of the money that we occasionally scrounged up to help support his family of five, he used it to bring in guest speakers. These guest speakers were often missionaries who made me cry with stories of starving children, but they were otherwise uneventful outside the four hour sermons they gave. However, I’ll never forget my first experience with a traveling prophet.
I left with my dad as usual that Sunday morning. His idea of proper church attire was a baseball cap and 49ers sweatpants, whereas my mom always arrived a solid twenty minutes late from taking so long on her hair. Dad and I stopped for coffee beforehand because the church coffee pot was continually used but never cleaned. He let me share his orange mocha with him and read the news to me. I loved being treated like an adult. We picked up our normal box of donuts to share and lounged about in the church kitchen with everyone before service.
We started every sermon by breaking into prayer circles insuring the whole congregation was personally prayed over. After, Pastor Don announced any larger prayer requests from the pulpit. If someone was sick or struggling we took volunteers on the spot to make sure they were consistently fed and had company. People always raised their hands to chip in. Pastor never had to ask twice. He personally filled in any remaining gaps. Looking back, I wonder how he had time to do so much. I guess he didn’t have time. People don’t have time laying around, they make time for what they care about. He cared about us.
The Pastor’s wife led worship and his eldest daughter played the piano. Worship was a raucous event. We danced in the aisles, some pounding the ground as if they were trying to stomp Satan right down into Hell where he belongs. Since the spirit was particularly present, Pastor broke out the shofar. People clapped and cried. A few of the more spiritually sensitive fell to their knees, faces lifted heavenward. The last speaker taught us about flag worship, and its power to usher in spiritual breakthrough. My favorite flags to grab at the start of worship was the set depicting a lion and a lamb. They looked like trembling watercolor when you spun them around. The pastor’s youngest daughter, Lydia, my nemesis, caught on that I loved those flags and always tried to beat me to them.
Lydia wielded her considerable hierarchical power to make my life miserable. She formed her own club with one entry requirement: to be one inch taller than I was. I was the shortest kid in our age group. All the kids in her club sat together in Sunday school, but Lydia exiled me to the little kids table. I usually ended up next to TJ who liked to squirt Capri Sun in my ear. My mom told me he did this because he had a crush on me, but that seemed like a really stupid reason to make the inside of my head feel sticky. I wanted to get out of Sunday school and into service as quickly as possible.
I was particularly excited for this sermon not just because it got me out of having snacks dumped on me, but because my mom told me that at the end the prophet would do an alter call and prophesy over those who came forward. I’d told her that I was excited to have my fortune told– like some lost princess stumbling upon a crystal ball. She corrected me saying that fortune tellers use the demonic to see the future, but prophets hear from God.
I can’t recall exactly what the prophet preached on, but I remember it having a “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” tone, and my mom wincing between her Amens’. My dad fell asleep. I, on the other hand, was eager for the actual prophesying to begin.
Towards the end, the prophet started hand selecting people out of the audience and giving them words the Lord laid on his heart for them. I was envious when I wasn’t chosen. I guessed those people just needed it more than I. A few of them fell down in the aisles, and I thought this was strange, so I asked my mom about it.
“Sometimes, when a word is given, the Spirit is released and knocks a person to the ground.”
“But not everyone is falling”
“It’s different each time you’re prayed for. God knows where you’re at and what’s going to move you.”
It seemed like an awful lot of trouble to fall. There were people standing behind whoever was prayed for to ease them to the ground, so it wasn’t like the impact was doing any damage. But I had fainted before and that wasn’t fun at all. I started to feel my excitement drain out of me.
Searching her face, I asked, “Have you ever fallen before?”
She smiled and nodded.
“Does it hurt?” I whispered.
My mom stroked back my hair, “No, it doesn’t hurt. God would never hurt you.”
I nod slowly, feeling consoled but still a little uneasy about the whole thing.The altar call begins and I get in line to receive my prophecy. Lydia and her crony, Lauren, cut in front of me. I hoped the preacher wasn’t too worn out by the time he got to me, but since God doesn’t get tired I decided not to fuss about it. Turn the other cheekand all that jazz.
They were whispering to each other in line.
“Is it cool to fall?” Lauren asked.
Lydia paused, “You get more attention if you do.”
They’d taken it too far this time. Falling down shouldn’t be some cool trend like the latest Hannah Montana song. If it’s supposed to happen, it should just happen. Leave it to Lydia to be such a fake, making a joke out of the whole thing.
Sure enough, when Lauren and Lydia got prayed over they both fell down. Lauren collapsed so quickly and dramatically the poor people behind her hardly had a chance to ease her to the ground. This received a chorus of “Hallelujahs” from the church. Lydia performed her fall with a bit more grace. Lauren’s was a cannonball; Lydia’s a swan dive. I wondered if God came to them at all or if the entire thing was a fake. If it was just a big joke, shouldn’t the prophet have caught it? My uneasiness returned, and it was my turn.
The prophet wore a starchy suit which struck me as stuffy and intimidating since Pastor usually wore Hawaiian shirts and Levi’s. He smeared oil on my forehead. My mom always hated when they did that because it’s bad for your skin, but I figured if it has symbolic meaning it’s worth it. I tried to focus my thoughts on his prayer. I was finally getting my chance to know God’s plan for my future.
I don’t remember the words the prophet started to say over me, but he took the palm of his hand and started to push into my forehead. I began to lose my footing, but it was in no way related to the Holy Spirit. It had everything to do with the considerable amount of force this man was applying to my elementary school sized skull. He was trying to knock me down.
He was a fraud! But I wouldn’t let him get away with it. He spewed a bunch of generic garbage to buy himself time until he could knock me down. I was infuriated that this joke had smeared oil onto my forehead and was now pressing it in with his stupid hands. I could picture a line of acne forming underneath his palm as he pressed. But I pressed back. His pressing turned to shove, and I had to take a step backwards. The people lined up to catch me stepped forward, but I dug my heels in and regained my balance. The prophet met my eyes, and I scoffed defiantly up at him. In that moment, we recognized each other as adversaries. He kept up his show “Hallelujah” and “Thank you Jesusing” onto the next schmuck.
I fled angrily to the bathroom. A cocktail of fury and shock fogged my mind. Had he pushed everyone down? Or, like Lydia and Lauren, were they all too willing to fall, so he didn’t have to bother? Where did it end? I wished he was a fortune teller even if that’s evil. At least then, he would have been honest. This man made a joke of something I believed in, and now I did not know who else was a joke too. I stuck my forehead in the sink and scrubbed off the anointing oil.
I sulked on the car ride back to the suburbia side of town where we lived. Mom could tell something was off with me, but I didn’t want to try and talk about it over the local sports station dad played in the car. When we got inside, I fell to the ground where Shiloh was jumping at my knees, and she bounded into my lap. I petted her somberly. My mom sat down next to us.
“How’s our honey?”
“She seems good. She’s wagging.”
“And how’s my other honey?”
I paused for a long time tracing the tiles’ grout lines. “He pushed me.”
Her eyes bulged, “Who pushed you?”
“The prophet. While he was praying over me, he tried to knock me down.”
To my tremendous surprise, she laughed.
“Yeah, they’ll do that sometimes. You didn’t fall though.”
“Of course not, he was nothing but a big stupid fraud! I’m not going to let him push me around.”
She smiled widely. “Good for you. I’m proud.”
I just stared at her, confused. I had expected her to be shocked, for this to change everything.
“But he was supposed to be a prophet! Everybody said so!”
She nodded. “We thought he was going to be a prophet. God may even speak through him sometimes, but with situations like this, it’s important to be very careful. You can’t assume people are who they say they are, or even always trust what your church says.”
“So our church is a joke?”
“No, I didn’t say that. I’m just saying that churches are run by people, and people mess up sometimes even when they try their best. You always have to take everything people say with a grain of salt. That’s why it’s very important to know the Bible for yourself, so you don’t end up being pushed around.” She smiled jokingly, but it was too soon for laughter.
She kissed my cheek. “You are my smart, strong girl. You have your own discernment. Use it. Prophets are real, and they can provide insight, but never forget that Jesus speaks to everyone. You don’t need some prophet to tell you your future. In fact, relying on prophets can be dangerous.”
“Because they can be frauds?”
“They can be frauds, or they can just rely too much on their own false interpretations. People never have all the answers, and if they say they do, something is wrong.”
I felt like I understood the world a little more after that. Although, this would start me on a path of distrust in people and preachers, it never once made me question the existence of God or the Holy Spirit. It is strange to look back and consider since God’s powerful presence in my life wouldn’t become apparent for years.
Believing in God always seemed the most natural thing in the world to me, I just couldn’t believe in people. The best you could ask for seemed to be loyalty and follow through, and I had those things in the congregation of Victory Life Church to a degree I may never find again.
I saw the world’s two faces. The face of mankind aiming for God, and the face of them missing the mark. The face of an undistinguished church on the wrong side of town, and the face of a steadfast family. The face of a large congregation worshiping in a beautiful building, and the face of those isolated by a crowd. The face of pioneers who braved the west, and the face of those who civilized it. I cannot reject any of these faces, because I wear them all.
Here’s a confession: I am a girl who loves a hot shower – rain or shine, summer or winter, springtime or harvest. I need my water pressure high and my shower just short of boiling. As the water flows, I think of the events of the day or plan for the day ahead.
I will stand under my shower head replaying conversations, analyzing interactions, deciding what I could have done or should have said. I feel free to share all of my feelings without biting my tongue.The timid girl from the office is free to have an attitude, to tell off that coworker, to yell out the car window at that inconsiderate driver. And sometimes, this version of myself that lives in my daydream rears her ugly head in the real world.
Do you ever struggle with the tension that exists between saying the right thing versus saying what feels good in the moment?
I certainly have, and too often, I have allowed myself to give in to the temptation to “put someone in their place.” Angry, vicious words have a way of making their way into a room and infecting the air with their invisible influence. Spreading like a sneaky virus, it can almost be impossible to stop those words. This does not only apply to angry words. Criticism, judgement, gossip, slander, sarcasm, cruel jokes, and complaining all have a way of making their way through a room.
It is especially easy to use words as weapons against the people we spend the most time with such as our family, friends, and coworkers. However, in this age of constant interaction via the internet and the ability to hide behind a computer screen, even strangers and people in authority are not exempt. It is a toxic culture where everyone seems to take an offensive posture, because anyone can be a victim.
Though times have changed, human nature has remained the same. Scripture describes this phenomenon in James 3:2, 3:5-6:
“Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way.” James 3:2 (NLT)
“In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.” James 3:5-6 (NLT)
Can you see it? The mean-spirited comment that changes the atmosphere in a room, spreading like wildfire? And just like a fire, once negative words are spoken, the initiator no longer has the power to stop the series of conversations and events that follow.
The gossip or mean-spirited comment has taken on a life of its own. When a person cools down, the comment rages on in another form, on another’s lips. Words said in the heat of the moment can break down friendships that were once solid.
Gossip cannot only destroy a person’s self-image but can ruin a hard-earned good reputation and lead to that person isolating themselves. Because words once spoken cannot be unsaid, this is a situation where an ounce of prevention is better than curing after the situation.
What steps can we take today towards taming our tongues?
Search for the source of the fire
“But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.” Matthew 15:18 (NLT)
Our words reflect our hearts, and fortunately for us, the Lord is an expert at heart work.
Ask Him to show you what is at the root of any patterns of negative speech. Is it insecurity? Bitterness? Pride? Ask Him for discernment to recognize your heart condition and for the desire to lay it down before Him so He can weed it out.
Practice fire safety
“Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth, but such as is good for edifying as the need may be, that it may give grace to them that hear.” Ephesians 4:29 (NLT)
Be intentional about speaking life. Keep an eye out for opportunities to encourage, comfort, praise, and build up. A kind word at the right time can change a life. Just as negative words can have a domino effect, so can positive ones.
Train as a firefighter
You may not be the one who started a negative conversation, but peer pressure is powerful and soon you can find yourself joining in with gossip or complaining because it is just easier not to swim against the tide.
Brainstorm ways to subtly redirect a conversation that is headed in the wrong direction. For example, many of us may find ourselves at work when the conversation becomes a session to sound off on everything that dissatisfies them about the job. This can be an opportunity to empower someone about their gifts and how their presence in the workplace can make a difference or make an improvement in the workplace.
Changing our patterns of speech can be uncomfortable and downright difficult at first. It is a lot like choosing to walk through the trees in the forest instead of the well-worn path, but the more we take this new route the easier it gets.
May we pray with the psalmist David daily,
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to You, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” Psalm 19:14 (NLT)