Are You a Competitor or a Co-Laborer?

annablogFULLpic

By: Anna Faith, an Unshakable Girl Staff Writer

 

I have a love-hate relationship with Pinterest. Nowhere else can you inspire your culinary skills, realize what goes into sewing a dress, discover what the color “sea foam” really looks like on a wall, and realize how little you exercise. All at the same time. You can go from “I want to do that!” to completely overwhelmed by your inadequacy in .37 seconds. [Side note: Check out the Unshakable Girl Pinterest page, for inspiration and encouragement.]

 
Sound familiar?
 
In a world swarmed with a suffocating amount of pressure to perform–to succeed–to do well in all things, sometimes it feels like a hopeless case just being a girl! As I scroll through my media sites yesterday, I felt completely done. Who am I compared to these Diploma holding, fit, super stylish women? They’re hip enough to be trendy, yet personable enough to be relate-able. But it is not simply a comparison of lifestyle to which we fall victim. Even amongst other Christians (!), we play the comparison game. We compare even our relationships with God based off of what we perceive in other’s lives. The glossy, edited versions of their lives that we see flood our screens. The “put together” smiles they seem to show when we pass them at Church. How many scriptures do they post on Social Media? How unique are those verses (bonus points if they’re an Old Testament verse!) ? How many people do they mentor? How many girls are in their Bible Studies? What kind of reviews do they get on their blog? How many places do they volunteer at?
 
We measure ourselves by our perception of others. We test the worthiness of our lives by a “Pass or Fail” label. Little do we realize, in “testing” ourselves, we are also quietly opening deadly doors within our hearts. If we grade ourselves as “Pass”, we are saying (even in our hearts) that we have become better than another person. We are more fit, Spiritual, a better friend, more fashionable, funnier and quietly pat ourselves on the back. Woosh! The door swings open as the suave figure of Pride saunters into our heart. In just a few seconds, we have held ourselves in esteem over another person. On the flip side, when we find ourselves lacking, we stamp a “Fail” onto our outlook.  We aren’t as beautiful, fit, healthy, Spiritual, talented, happy homemaker as they are–and we feel DONE. We crawl into a dark hole of depression and self-pity. 
Creeeeeeaaaaak. The dark, woeful silhouette of Despair crosses the threshold of our hearts. 
 
As uncomfortable as it is to admit it, I am guilty of this exact thing. I have frequently found myself measuring my own life in a “Pass or Fail” standard that I have set. More often than not, I find myself wrestling with Despair as the label “Failure” is sealed on my mind.

 

Sisters in Christ, do you see how painful a cycle we set for ourselves? And how typical of the Deceiver to creep in and turn us into rivals? For we are not rivals, but instead instead co-laborers! YOU are my co-worker, in Christ. For those who are seeking earnestly to expand the Kingdom of Heaven, we are working in the same line of work! We are planting seeds, cultivating, and (by God’s grace) watching the Holy Spirit grow eternal fruit! What an incredible blessing to realize! We are  not working against one another–but WITH one another!
 
So what do we do with all of these thoughts bombarding our minds and infiltrating our hearts? What do we do when we fall into depression?
dawn-nature-sunset-woman
 
1) Repentance. No matter how “good” we may seem to others, we have to get our hearts right with God. Hearts that are full of sin and deceitfulness (Jeremiah 17:9). Simply by looking at others, we puff ourselves up with pride OR we begin to doubt God and His character (through despair, which is the “absence of Hope”). We must realize that our attitudes–our secret striving to be better–is not streaming from a godly heart. We must ask the Lord to forgive us–to fill us with the sweet humility AND Joy which is found in His own dear character! 
 
2) Take Every Thought Captive “to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).  Now, I’ve never really heard of someone “accidentally” binding up a prisoner, nor have I heard of a situation where a man was simply walking through the woods and happened upon the VERY person he was hoping to capture. This being the case, we actually have to be looking for those sneaky little thoughts. Carefully on the watch. Although avoiding people forever may seem appealing at times, we technically can’t live in a cave. We have to learn how to bind up those prideful or despairing thoughts–and refuse to let them stay in our minds. When you’re faced with a thought of “wow, I’m so glad I love the Lord more than they seem to” OR “wow, I’ll never be as beautiful or Spiritual as they are”, take that thought and force it out of your mind. Say “NO, I refuse to indulge the devil in his schemes! I belong to Christ and I refuse to dwell on these things!”
 
3) Put On A Garment of Praise. One way the Enemy gets us distracted from our mission of pursuing CHRIST and seeking to bring people TO Christ is getting our focus OFF Jesus. He gets us wound up in our problems. Our feelings. Instead of listening to these emotions knock on the door of your mind, what if we filled our hearts with songs of Worship? What if we poured out actual thanksgiving to a God who cannot lie–a God of Truth, Mercy, Justice and Purity in Heart? Pop in a worship Cd–one that focuses on CHRIST and not on how YOU feel–and let the adoration of Christ fill your room! 
 
4) Practice Honoring and Encouraging. We, as humans, tend to look at numbers. In the Body of Christ, one of the Church’s biggest stumbling block is often “attendance”. How many numbers they can get (and maintain) in their buildings. When we stumble across other blogs or sites, we often look at how many “followers” they have. What if–instead of scanning to see what they have–we viewed it as their “field”?  Those girls that they are surrounded by–what if we view them as the “seeds they are nurturing”?  PRAY for those women you see which hold a high degree of influence. Pray hard for them. Whether they realize it or not, they hold a position of authority within their sphere of influence. Pray that the Love of Christ would be their true desire. Pray for humility. Take time to encourage them with a kind word (or comment on their website)! 
 
It can also be so very easy to look at someone who the Lord is blessing in certain areas and, instead of rejoicing with them and being glad for God’s blessing on their lives/ministry/etc., we are jealous, grumbling, criticizing — perhaps without even realizing it — because, deep inside, we want what they have. We think, “I’m serving God just as much as they are…so why did God bless THEM in that way, and not ME?” “I have been working longer and harder than they have…but I haven’t seen nearly as much fruit as they have in just a few short weeks/months/years.” “We both love the Lord, but why did God bless HER with an uber-godly husband, and leave me still laboring on my own? She shouldn’t have more blessing than I have!”
 
Again…this self-righteousness and pride can so easily slip in – especially when you begin serving the Lord, and find out what a long road of self-denial and labor pains it really is…and how firmly you must hold fast to the Lord’s promises in faith, when everything around you looks bleak and difficulties arise and surround you.
 
But we MUST fight against these attitudes, because we are not trying to promote ourselves! We are called to simply be faithful in whatever God has called us to, proclaim the Gospel, and leave the rest up to Him. Fruitfulness is not the ultimate test of our calling and purpose. The ultimate test is our FAITHFULNESS. And the only way we can truly remain faithful is to fix our gaze on Jesus, and rest in His good character, and hold firmly onto His promises, which will never fail us. We cannot measure our success, or the greatness of God’s love based on outward signs of fruit and favor and everything always going perfectly for us (or the lack thereof)! But we look to His promises, which are unchanging, and trust in His love, which does not fade. And remember, that we are all working together, in the unique ways that He has called each of us…and we are called to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep”. Not gazing at ourselves and our own struggles continually, but forcing ourselves to look outward — into Heaven, and into the needs and blessings of others…and loving them with HIS love.
 
Above all, pursue Christ. Truly pursue Him. Not just in a “I’ll get around to having a close relationship with Him one day. I’m just too busy right now”. No. TODAY is that day! Sisters, if we are to be Salt and Light in a world that is (very quickly) perishing before our eyes, we must set our priorities straight. We must thwart the schemes of the Devil by building one another up in a true sacrificial Love. A love where we think LESS about ourselves–our feelings–and more on serving others with JOY. The world is to know us as Christians by our love for each other (John 13:35). Let us seek to Love Christ with all our hearts, souls and mind–and to truly love our neighbor (or Sister in Christ) as ourselves.
 
Side note:
I do want to mention the fact that if you are struggling with a particular issue, PLEASE email us. We are here to pray, encourage and love on YOU. Yes, YOU. We want to be a friend, true sisters, and a blessing to you. If you are going through a difficult season of life, if you are struggling with self-hate or depression–please contact us. We would love to connect with you and pray for you personally. 
Also, please share this post, so that we can spread the truth and encouragement of God’s Word far and wide! There are “Share” buttons below to make it quick and easy to share this post with your circles of friends.

Highways to Zion

Old stone castle with towers and bridge at dawn

“Blessed are those whose strength is in You,

in whose heart are the highways to Zion.

As they go through the Valley of Baca [lit. “Weeping”]

they make it a place of springs;

the early rain also covers it with pools.

They go from strength to strength;

each one appears before God in Zion.”

(Psalm 84:5-7 ESV)

God pointed this passage out to me not too long ago, and showed me some neat things about it, that I wanted to share with you. These are very encouraging promises, showing us what blessings and assurance we can find as we diligently frequent His throne room.

“Blessed are those whose strength is in You, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.”

As I meditated on this verse, I had to push aside my unappealing mental pictures of noisy cars and Mac trucks zooming down a 6-lane highway, and ask God to help me to take a step back, to be able to see what He was really getting at by using the word “highway” as an illustration of what our hearts should be like. I knew it was intentional, and I knew it was important enough for God to have put it in there for us to read, so I didn’t want to just read through it and say, “Oh, that sounds like a nice verse,” one more time…maybe highlighting it, but not having the true meaning birthed in my heart. So, I fought against the urge to just move on to the next verses, and as I waited on the Lord…this is what he showed me:

Back in Biblical times, before cars and trucks and pavement, a highway would have simply been a path that was well-placed, and well-used. It wouldn’t have been a noisy, obnoxious slab of pavement, but a road that was well-worn, and frequented by many on their way to the city — in this case, the city of Zion, which is often used as a Biblical representation of the city of the Lord – the Great King! So, this verse could be paraphrased to say, “Blessed are those in whose heart are the well-traveled roads to meet with their King.” This is how our hearts should be. There are many “roads” that our hearts can have…and many “ruts” we can easily get into on those roads — the road to waste time on the computer, the road to get angry, the road to go to work, the road to watch a movie when we’re bored, the road to go shopping…there are just SO many “roads”!! I’m sure you can think of a few roads that your own heart travels on daily. And, while there are plenty of downright worthless and sinful roads, there are also roads that are important and which have to be traveled each day. But what this verse is encouraging us to examine is whether the most frequented, well-traveled roads in our lives are those leading to fellowship with the King — because we just have to be with Him all the time, and we can’t think of being apart from Him for very long; because…well…because we LOVE Him!

This verse is the building block for the rest of this passage, so it is important to really understand what it means, and to let it sink in; the rest of the promises in the passage are dependent on us finding our strength in Christ – continually going to spend time with Him, so that He can actually live through us, and fill us with His power, so that we can live in a way that pleases Him, and find our joy, our strength, our hope, our purpose — our ALL, IN Him, and WITH Him. When this is our reality, we don’t go down every other road looking for something to fill our needs, but we instead go  straight to visit the King because we know that it is only with Him that we receive the help we seek. People will look at our lives and easily see that we don’t have any strength of our own, but that when we go to spend time with Jesus, we receive the power we need to overcome in every situation that presents itself…and that is one reason we frequent the courts of the Lord so very often — ‘cuz there are an awful lot of circumstances that arise each and every day that we simply don’t have the wisdom, or courage, or energy, or desire to face. It’s just not in us. But we now know that all we must do when these things arise is set off to visit the King. One more trip down the highway. One more trip to make the way smoother, more clear, and more emblazoned on our hearts.

“As they go through the Valley of Baca [lit. ‘Weeping’] they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools.”

The “they” in this verse is referring to those who frequently visit the King (see – I told you it was important! 😉 ). As you can see, I added in the translation of “Baca”, so that what I share further on would make more sense. “Baca” literally means “weeping”. What God showed me about the meaning of these verses is that, as those who love the Lord (finding their strength in abiding in Him) go through difficulties and trials (the “Valley of Weeping”), the difficulties WILL be turned into a blessing before them, AND a blessing also for those who follow after them, as they see the victories obtained by those who went before; as they see that rejoicing, victory, and blessing IS possible to take hold of in spite of trials. God will never leave us just wandering in the desert or in our trials, but will rain down refreshment upon us, if we seek His face as we go through these difficult places. I know of many who have gone through unthinkably heartbreaking things – things that would cause those who doubt God to turn their backs on Him…even on the world itself, and to become very hard and bitter – and yet, have clung to the Lord as they walked through the Valley of Weeping, and found that “joy comes with the morning”! Whenever I go through something heartbreakingly difficult myself, I have to remember that there are many who have gone before me who have had to deal with even MORE heartbreaking things, AND who have come through them with faith in Jesus and rejoicing and joy, instead of depression, bitterness, and despair. They are always an example to me, and an encouragement to not despair when hard things come, but to press into the presence of God and receive the help and strength that He so willingly offers to any who would come. And God will use US as that encouragement and refreshment for others who see us go through difficult and even terrifying things, and come forth with joy in the Lord, and unshaken faith in His promises! The difficult way that we must all pass through will be made a little easier for those who follow after us, as we hold fast to the Lord and continually dwell in the sanctuary of His presence; there will be springs of refreshment and hope bubbling up around them as they, too, pass that way. Be encouraged – it is not just for your own refuge that you hold onto Christ as the harsh winds blow, but also for those around you – that the power and redemption of Christ Jesus would be glorified, and seen to be a safe refuge for any that would take hold of Him.

“They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion.”

Again, the “they” in this verse refers to those who love spending time with Jesus. Yes, I had to bring it up again. Because it is an important factor, but if you take hold of it, these promises will be yours to hold onto, knowing that God always keeps His promises. And this promise is, indeed, a comforting one. Instead of our difficulties overcoming us, and causing us to become weak and timid, as we cling fast the the Lord in the midst of difficulties, God will cause us to become stronger with each testing, and more purified and effective in service to Him. He will not only simply get us through trials ‘by the skin of our teeth’, so to speak, but will cause us to come forth full of strength and rejoicing in Him, as we trust in our God. And God will not stop after just one trial, but as we steadfastly hold onto Him, HE will steadfastly be holding onto us…and He will see us through to the end, and “keep you from stumbling and….present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy” (Jude 1:24)!

Hallelujah!

Better Plans

One way sign

 

As soon as God directs you to have faith for something that seems impossible, or when He tells you to do something that doesn’t seem logical, or to wait for Him to act, instead of plowing ahead in your own plans, the devil is always right there, ready to slander God to you. The devil will whisper, “He won’t hold up His end of the deal.” Or, “You’re just a sinner, so why should God bless you like that, or hear your prayers?” And then, our first response? Fear. Fear and then our minds begin racing to think up a “better” plan. A plan that’s less risky, more likely to succeed, and – best of all -a plan that we can make happen ourselves, instead of waiting on God to bring His plan to pass in timing that is different than our own.

How do I know this? Oh…just many times of failing to hold onto faith. Many times of circumstances seeming too big and scary…and feeling like God wasn’t acting fast enough. Then my mind would start to whirl, coming up with a plan B, C, and D that all seemed more appealing than ‘A’: waiting for God. It seemed like, if I waited, the situation would crush me to pieces – and then, of course, it would be too late for God to do anything. At least, that is what my mind would tell me.

I am also a fairly resourceful person, so I was be able to think of dozens of ways to “get through” a circumstance in my own strength, without even having to pray or wait. And then, even when I did get up the courage to pray, the devil would have me convinced that I was just being selfish, and that I had too many needs, and that I was being a bother to God by bringing them all to Him…and so, in the midst of my praying, there my mind would start whirling again, coming up with options that were less “bothersome” to God; things I could do to “help Him out” a little. Does God need help? What happens when we try to bring things about with our own ideas?

There is an excellent (and sobering) example of this very thing in the Bible. It is an example that God showed to me, and helped me to realize that I was doing the very same thing, and it has caused me to be much less inclined to “make things happen” myself instead of waiting for God.

First, God promises Abraham (also called Abram) a son, in Genesis 15:1-6, “After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: ‘Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’ But Abram said, ‘O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.’ And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: ‘This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.’ And He brought him outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then He said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ And he believed the LORD, and He counted it to him as righteousness.”

Then, his wife, Sarai (also called Sarah), comes to him, and reminds him that he doesn’t have any children yet…and that she is not getting any younger. She then gives her servant girl as a wife to him (back then, this was a common pagan practice…however, it wasn’t God’s way), so that he could at least have a child somehow, even if it wasn’t through her.

Sarai’s servant girl does end up having a son, whom they name Ishmael. However, this is what God had to say about it, in Genesis 17:15-21: “And God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife….I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.’ Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, ‘Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’ And Abraham said to God, ‘Oh that Ishmael might live before you!’ God said, ‘No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.’”

And, just as God said, Sarah DID have a son! And he is the one who God used as one of the direct fathers of the nation of Israel. Now, it is very interesting to know what ended up happening to Ishmael…and who he ended up fathering. Most of Ishmael’s descendants ended up becoming the Arab nations…which have been a thorn in the side of Israel (as well as other nations) ever since. This is exactly the kind of thing that happens when we try to come up with our own, “better” plans, when we don’t feel like waiting on God’ s plans. Sure, He may allow them to take place, and even to “prosper”…but just think at what peace Israel would have had without the descendants of Ishmael surrounding them and continually making war against them! And, in the end, God still brings His own plans to pass. He still kept His promise to give Abraham a son through Sarah…even though it was years after Ishmael was born. He didn’t use Ishmael to bring forth the nation of Israel at all…even though it seemed like a “good idea” at the time. Waiting on God’s plans will always bring the greatest blessing, and without all of the “aftermath” mess that almost always comes attached to our own plans.

God knows what is best. He can see a much bigger picture than we can…and He is not only concerned about getting us where we need to be; He is also even more concerned about our hearts, and the lessons we need to learn along the way. His plans bring forth not only the best short-term blessing, but they bear lasting fruit in our hearts and lives! (“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” James 1:2-5)

When we cling to Him in faith, and press forward persistently in prayer, it is not only NOT a “bother” to God, but it shows Him that we really believe what He says, and we trust Him! In fact, when we let fear into our minds, it not only is telling God that we don’t trust Him and that He isn’t powerful enough or big enough to rescue us and to meet our needs, but fear is a playground for the devil. When we let go of our trust in God, is is like giving the devil a free pass at filling our minds with all of the lies he wants to. Trust in God requires holding onto the promises of God and His goodness. When we don’t trust God, it’s telling the devil that we really aren’t holding onto anything, and we aren’t sure what we should think, which makes us an easy target. When we don’t know what to think, the devil is all too glad to give us “suggestions”. The devil will use that open door to speak all kinds of hurtful things into our hearts about God and even about others! He will use it to destroy our peace, and to cause our hearts to be in turmoil and dread. He uses it to try to push us to the point of suspicion of God, and even thinking that God is purposefully being mean to us! If we could simply see what God sees, we would see that there is no need to fear at all – not even a little bit, and we could see that God’s plans are at work even before we can see the answers! (Isaiah 65:24, “Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.”) These are the sort of things that we must hold onto in the midst of the testing of our faith!  And, as Genesis 15:6 said, our faith and trust in the Lord is even counted to us as righteousness – meaning, that even though we have to daily cry out to God for His strength to fill us so that we can even keep holding on to him in faith in the trying circumstances that surround us, He still looks at that tiny mustard-seed of faith as something we did right (even though it’s only because of His strength that we could ever do it!), and it is a delight to His heart! It’s a mystery and a blessing. Our God is so gentle and gracious to us weak, frail humans! Any little effort we make toward Him and toward trusting Him, He rewards, and is blessed by it! It’s so amazing! He is so humble.