Encourage Your Hopes, Not Your Fears

I’m not really big on New Year’s resolutions, but people talk about them enough that the idea is something I think about. And so January has become a time for thinking about what happened last year, what I’d like to change in this next year, and how I plan to “show up” for my life.

Part of this focus in the new year comes along with participating in 30 days of yoga. I’ve been doing this Yoga With Adrienne program every January since 2015 and it’s a wonderful way to check in with yourself, get healthy, and focus on becoming a person who can serve others wholeheartedly. In addition to this, I happened upon an interesting blog post titled “Intentions Not Resolutions.” 

“I no longer make New Year’s resolutions – they’re too easy to give up on after week one and only become a source of guilt. … Instead, a few years ago, I began starting my New Years by choosing a word to inspire the kind of intentional living I wanted to focus on for the year.” — Jen of E.C.B.C

I’d sort of tried this last year when I discovered a site called My Intent that makes bracelets with a custom word on them. I couldn’t pick one word, though, and ended up with a bracelet that says “Balance” and “Connect.” I rarely wear it any more, though those two concepts still resonate deeply.

Encourage Your Hopes, Not Your Fears | LikeAnAnchor.com
Photo credit: MarrCreative via Lightstock

I’ve been thinking for a while now that if I made a new bracelet it would say “fearless.” What with working through my breakup and (finally) getting counseling for the anxiety I’ve been living with for 15+ years, 2018 was a year that I realized that 1) I have a lot of fears, and 2) I don’t have to let them control me.

There’s another bracelet that I picked up last year at an art festival that says, “Encourage your hopes, not your fears.” I’ve been wearing that one a lot. It’s the perfect message to combat my anxiety, which generally pushes hopes aside behind all the things that could go wrong because of all the things that I’m sure are wrong with me. But if I spend all my time turned inward thinking about my fears, then I’m just encouraging my anxiety to take over.

If, on the other hand, I encourage my hopes it changes things. And if I can learn to do that more consistently it might drastically change things. I hope I can keep growing this blog to reach and encourage more people. I hope that I’ll stop sabotaging myself because I’m scared of dealing with everything that might come with being a successful blogger and author. I hope I can climb out of my own head more often and connect with others (including God) in a deeper way.

My intention for 2019 isn’t just one word, but I do have one. I’m going to encourage my hopes, not my fears.

What about you? Did you set any intentions or resolutions for the New Year?

Advertisements

Even If You Don’t: Holding On To Hope In Dark Times

We know God can do anything. So how do you react when He doesn’t do something that you beg him to? When your loved one isn’t healed? When your heartbreak feels unbearable and then something else piles on top of that? When you just don’t know how to go on, yet you have to anyway?

I’ve been going through a rough patch emotionally, especially over the past few weeks but really for a few months now. And I feel like God has thrown me some songs as “lifelines” in this time. First it was “I Am Not Alone” by Kari Jobe and more recently it was “Even If” by MercyMe.

I know You’re able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone
I know the sorrow, and I know the hurt
Would all go away if You’d just say the word
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone

I didn’t much want to sing this when it popped into my head. Actually, I couldn’t at first since all I remembered was the “But even if you don’t” line. But I looked the song up, grasping for some hope to anchor my soul, and after playing through it a few times I could breath and pray again. I’ll admit, though, that there was still a part of me crying out, “Why?” when I thought about Him choosing not to take away the sorrow and hurt. And it’s okay to do that. As my counselor said, God is big enough to handle it when His kids are frustrated with Him.

Hope is one of the key things that gets us through the times when we’re frustrated with God and don’t understand what He’s doing. And it’s something I don’t think we talk about enough. Paul tells us “faith, hope and love remain”  (1 Cor. 13:13, WEB). They’re all three virtues that aren’t going away, but we talk about faith and love a whole lot more than hope. Which is a shame, because hope is something that’s very much needed in this world. Read more

Helmet of Salvation

No set of armor would be complete without something to protect your head. In our study of Ephesians 6, we’ve already taken up the Girdle of Truth, Breastplate of Righteousness, Footwear of the Gospel, and the Shield of Faith. Now Paul adds,

and receive the helmet of salvation (Eph. 6:17, LEB)

Just a short phrase in this list, but it’s an incredibly powerful piece of armor. As every Christian knows, salvation is one of the core tenants of our faith. We wouldn’t be here without Jesus dying to save us and continuing to work on bringing His followers into the family of God. But usually we think of salvation as something we’re given, like grace, rather than something that we keep carrying around as part of our armor. So let’s take a look at the idea of salvation in that context.

Helmet of Salvation | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Photo credit: Thomas Quine via Flickr

A Helmet On God’s Head

One of the most interesting things about the Helmet of Salvation is that it’s one of the armor pieces that God Himself wears. We referenced the verse about God’s helmet a few weeks ago when talking about the Breastplate of Righteousness. It reads,

He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head. He put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a mantle. (Is. 59:17, WEB)

When we’re told, “receive the helmet of salvation,” we’re being given a piece of armor identical to one that God has worn on His own head. “Salvation belongs to Yahweh,” which gives Him the absolute right to wear it as a helmet and to share it with whomever He wills (Ps. 5:8, WEB). Read more

Expecting Persecution: Responding To The World’s Hate

Last year, the persecution of Christians during the past quarter century hit a record high for the third year in a row. The World Watch List, released by Open Doors every year for the past 25 years, examines the pressures Christians face and levels of religiously motivated violence to rank the top 50 countries where “Christians face the most persecution.”click to read article, "Expecting Persecution: Responding To The World's Hate" | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Here in the United States, I’ve heard the Christians around me talk about being persecuted. “It’s getting bad,” they say. You might lose your business for not baking a cake or go to jail for not issuing a gay “marriage” license. You might be scared to say “I’m a Christian” because people will laugh at or ridicule you. Your kid might be told they can’t bring a Bible to school.

While that does qualify as persecution, the U.S. isn’t anywhere on this list, nor on the expanded list of countries to watch. India, on the other hand, comes in at #15. There are 64 million Christians in India and “approximately 39 million experience direct persecution.” That means about “40 incidents were reported per month, including pastors beaten, churches burned and Christians harassed.” A little closer to home, last year “23 Christian leaders in Mexico and four in Colombia were killed specifically for their faith.”

In 35 out of the 50 countries, including most of the top-ranked countries, Christians are being persecuted by Islamic extremists. In a rising number of Asian countries, the driving force is religious and ethnic nationalism. In summary, “Christians throughout the world continue to risk imprisonment, loss of home and assets, torture, beheadings, rape and even death as a result of their faith.”

Why The World Hates Us

Many U.S. Christians don’t even know about the level of persecution our brethren face overseas. And if we do, I think all too often our response is an American knee-jerk reaction that the solution is to export more of our ideas like religious freedom, tolerance, and equal justice. Those same ideals drive the indignation we feel seeing any sort of persecutions happen here in the United States.

click to read article, "Expecting Persecution: Responding To The World's Hate" | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Photo credit: “Sign: Religious Persecution in Progress” by John Nakamura Remy, CC BY-SA via Flickr

As Americans, we think we deserve religious freedom. Under U.S. law, we’re right and I do believe we should continue to fight for that on a political level. But we should also realize the level of freedom we’ve enjoyed to practice our faith in the U.S. is an anomaly in world history. And while U.S. citizens should be able to count on freedom from persecution because of the Constitution, as Christians we’re never promised exemption from persecution. In fact, we’re told the opposite. Read more

Rooted In The Lord

After finishing last week’s Bible study, I opened my Bible at random and found myself in Jeremiah 17. Usually when I’m in this section of scripture it’s to quote verse 5 — “Cursed is the man who trusts in man” — or verses 9 and 10 — “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” But this time a different verse caught my eye.

Nestled in between these warnings against trusting in ourselves or other people is a lovely picture of what it looks like to trust in God.

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit. (Jer. 17:7-8)

This word translated “blessed” is baruch, the same word I wrote about in connection with the phrase “Baruch Hashem” — “bless the name [of the Lord].” In this context, it means to receive a blessing from God. The nature of this blessing is explained in verse 8, but first there are two prerequisites.

Trust and Hope

The verses we’re talking about start out by saying, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord.” The Psalms also have quite a lot to say about this idea —  both the necessity of trusting in God and the fact that He doesn’t disappoint those who do trust in Him.

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people from this time forth and forever. (Ps. 125:1-2)

This verse uses the example of Jerusalem to show how God protects His people. But Jerusalem has been a war-zone off-and-on for hundreds of years — what sort of protection is this?

God does not promise to shield us from every harm. We are in a battle, and “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Trusting in God doesn’t mean we won’t have to battle. It means we have a hope of winning the battle using His strength and His armor (Eph. 6:10-18).

Speaking of hope, the next part of the verse in Jeremiah reads, “and whose hope is the Lord” (Jer. 17:7). Hope is an integral part of being a Christian. It’s listed with faith and love in 1 Corinthians 13:13. It’s connected with Christ’s indweling presence in Colossians 1:27. Hebrews 6:18-19 calls our hope “an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast.”

For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance. (Rom. 8:24-25)

Hope’s even a part of our salvation process, described here in Romans much the same way faith is described in Hebrews 11:1. “Hope” in the Greek is elpis, (G1680), and it means “desire of some good will with expectation of attaining it.” That definition brings us right back to the idea of trust. We trust in God because we believe and have hope that He will be with us, and our sure expectation of that hope increases our trust.

Planted by the Water

Even before getting to a more thorough description of this person who is blessed by God, the words “trust” and “hope” are already giving us an idea of someone being firmly attached to God. They imply a focus on God, and an act of clinging fast to Him. Fittingly, the next phrase is, “he shall be like a tree planted by the waters.”

First, note that this person is “planted,” not growing there naturally or by chance. All of us who hope and trust in God have been personally selected by Him and purposefully “planted” into His family beside “the waters.” This isn’t physical water we’re talking about, any more than it’s a literal tree. This is what Jesus described as “living water” (John 4:10).

Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:13-14)

God is the source of the living, life-giving water that we need to flourish where He has planted us. If we forsake “the fountain of living waters,” we end up in a state opposite that of blessedness (Jer. 2:13). But if we stay close to Him, we will grow and thrive.

For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, and floods on the dry ground; I will pour My Spirit on your descendants, and My blessing on your offspring; they will spring up among the grass like willows by the watercourses. (Is. 44:3-4)

Willow trees have strong, fast-growing root systems that love water. When planted by a water source, the roots grow so quickly and densely that they actually help hold the banks of a stream or pond in place. That’s how firmly we must be attached to the source of Living Water. That’s also the next thing mentioned in Jeremiah, as the blessed person is compared to a tree that “spreads out its roots by the river” (Jer. 17:8).

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him,  rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. (Col. 2:6-7)

When Heat Comes

This tree, firmly rooted by the Living Water, is next described as having no “fear when heat comes, but its leaf will be green.” When I think of “heat” in the Bible, my mind usually goes to the idea of fiery trials. We’re going through a refining process that involves heating us up and seeing how we react so bad things can be purged away and we can become pure.

Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. (1 Cor. 3:12-13)

Walking through metaphorical fire is an inescapable aspect of being Christian (1 Pet. 4:12-13). If we’re firmly founded — or rooted — on Jesus Christ, though, passing through fire is not disastrous for us. In fact, it can draw us closer to Him and refine us to be more like He is. He doesn’t just abandon us “when heat comes.” He says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you … when you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you” (Is. 43:1, 2). Like the bush God spoke to Moses in, we can be in the midst of fire and still be green and flourishing because the Lord is in us (Ex. 3:2).

Yielding Fruit

The phrase “will not be anxious in the year of drought” had me a bit puzzled (Jer. 17:8). Drought means a lack of water, which in this analogy we’ve been describing as the Holy Spirit poured out through Jesus Christ. So, does the mention of “drought” mean that something is going to happen that makes God’s Spirit generally unavailable, but will not affect those who are already firmly rooted in God?

“Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord God, “That I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but shall not find it. “In that day the fair virgins and strong young men shall faint from thirst.” (Amos 8:11-13)

This is the first scripture that finally came to mind for this idea of drought. In the United States, we’re used to living in a country where we can pick up a Bible in most stores, search translations and commentary online, and find a plethora of Christian churches to visit. But that hasn’t been the norm for most of history, or most of the world, and it might not stay that way here. And even if the words are available, they won’t make any sense unless God gives His Spirit of understanding. That’s why we need to seize every chance we have to draw closer to God, and be tapped into the source of Living Water.

The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones; you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. (Is. 58:11)

And when this happens, we can not only be unworried by drought, but also not “cease from yielding fruit” (Jer. 17:7-8). Being fruitful is the subject of the opening verses in John 15. Here, Jesus describes Himself as “the true vine,” and tells us the only way to bear fruit is to be connected to Him.

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit …

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. …

By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. (John 15:1-2, 4-5, 7)

If we’re securely attached to Christ, our lives will yield fruit that reflects that relationship. We’ll be demonstrating the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), and walking “in all goodness, righteousness, and truth” (Eph. 5:9). And then not only will we be blessed, but we’ll be a blessing to others. Not only will we have access to living water, but rivers of God’s Spirit will flow out from us as well (John 7:37-38). Blessings from God affect us wondrously, but they don’t stop with us — they’re designed to overflow us and spill out to bless others, and show that we are indeed Christ’s disciples.

 

Five More Favorite Proverbs

Five More Favorite Proverbs by marissabaker.wordpress.comAs I continue my study of Proverbs, I keep finding more and more to put on my favorites list. Last week, I shared five favorites from the first 10 chapters of Proverbs. Here are my top five from chapters 11 through 20.

I’m having a hard enough time narrowing it down to five verses for every 10 chapters — I’m not sure how I’ll settle on just one favorite for our study discussion next month. Perhaps I’ll bring a list roughly organized by which one I want to talk about most, and then cross-off any that someone mentions before I do.

6: Graciousness

A gracious woman retains honor, but ruthless men retain riches. (Prov. 11:16)

It is for the first half of this verse that I have included it here. Ever since my career adviser at OSU told me I was very gracious in the way I responded when she had to take a phone call while we were meeting, I’ve paid extra attention to verses like this. I liked how it felt to be considered gracious — it was a description I’ve always thought held value, but this was the first time someone applied it to me. I want to be a grace-filled woman, and I hope to give people that impression of me.

7: Desire

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life. (Prov. 13:12)

There are many hopes I have that have been deferred (marriage and a family of my own, to name one). I have to believe, though, that God does not want to make our hearts sick. Therefore, when our hopes are deferred, it must be for a good reason. Perhaps it is to teach us to trust Him long-term — if all our hopes were fulfilled instantly I doubt we would appreciate His gifts very much. Psalm 37 says if we delight in the Lord, “He shall give you the desires of your heart.” If we trust in Him and commit lives to following Him, He will bring about our desires (Ps. 37:4-5). God wants to give us good things. He wants us to be delighted.

8: Peace

Five More Favorite Proverbs by marissabaker.wordpress.comA soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Prov. 15:1)

A cross reference in my study Bible gives an example of this in Judges 8:1-3. The men of Ephraim were chiding Gideon sharply for not calling them to fight with him against Midian. Instead of answering them in kind, he diplomatically diffused the situation and “their anger toward him subsided.” The flip side of this principle, of course, is that being snappish and peevish stirs up an angry response in others and leads to escalating arguments. We need to be moving toward peace instead of anger. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” Christ said, “for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9).

9: Thoughts

Commit your works to the Lord, and your thoughts will be established. (Prov. 16:3)

I find it interesting that in this verse, it says your “thoughts will be established.” Related verses talk about God establishing our ways and caring for our wants, but this one focuses on the state of our minds. It is like Philippians 4:6-9 in a single verse.

10: Quiet

He that hath knowledge spareth his words: and a man of understanding is of an excellent spirit. Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding. (Prov. 17:27-28)

How little we value the skill and gift of quietness in today’s society. Words fitly spoken are beautiful (Prov. 25:11), but there are also many times when it is more beautiful to be “swift to hear, slow to speak” (James 1:19).