So, what is YOUR word?

psalm143“What will you do?”

As I’ve heard sermons, read books, and sat through lectures throughout the year, I’ve heard the voice of the Spirit resounding loud and clear, “So, what will you do about it?” God has strategically batted that ball back to my side of the net over and over—spurning me to embrace an active faith, and it makes me uncomfortable. But then I remember a prayer I uttered, albeit not well-thought through at the time, for God to make me uncomfortable. Really, that prayer should be right at the top of the list of “things you don’t ask God”, right behind praying for patience or a spirit of forgiveness. Well, I’ve learned my lesson—God answers prayers for sure, especially the character building ones.

At the start of 2012 a friend of mine posted a blog about a challenge (read it here: MY One Word), a challenge to ask God about what “word” to focus on for the following year. That sounded neat, so I gave it a go. I cheerfully got on my knees and asked God what my special word for the coming 2012 year would be, I anxiously listened, hoping to hear prosperity, success, purpose, or anything along those lines. Instead, after a few moments of silence, I heard “perseverance”.

“Um, Lord, really? I mean…really?” Some of my friends were getting words like “go” and “action” and I got perseverance? I didn’t like it; I wanted to take back the prayer. What was God thinking, anyways? I had always been somewhat known for starting things and losing interest over time, eventually abandoning the project or idea. But looking back on 2012, I can see how God used the trials of one of the most difficult years I have faced to break my pride, provide me with ultimate spiritual freedom, as well as teaching me self-discipline and yes, perseverance.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t happy to start a new year, because even though it’s just another day on the calendar, somehow turning the page and writing a new number (2013) just feels like a fresh start. I’m looking towards 2013 with great expectation—expectation in God’s revealed will (HIS Word) and not my own clever ideas. I still haven’t prayed about the new word for next year, but I’m not as scared about it as I was last year. Looking back I know that no matter what, God knows what He is doing and I can really, in fact, trust Him in all things, even the hard, painful, and uncomfortable things. That no matter what the situation, His character is constant, even if I’m not feeling like it is.

His character is constant, yes, perhaps the biggest lesson I learned this year. My character? Not so much. Which is why the prayer, “Lord, change me” has been cried out more times than I can accurately recall.

So, mingled in with words like illness, death, betrayal, loneliness, slander, hatred, consequences, loss, depression, despair, relapse, and uncertainty have been the words of truth—healing, restoration, freedom, hope, peace, purpose, fulfillment, grace, mercy, understanding, and love. All of the awfulness has actually taught me how to be an optimist of sorts. An optimist in God, not in myself. An optimist in His character, not in my ability.

I’ve asked, He has answered, and none of His responses were as expected. Through all of this I am learning that maybe, just maybe, He really does know better than I do.

“Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.” Palm 143:10

What theme has God brought to your year? What “lesson” have you learned through trials or blessings? Post your comment here or join the discussion on facebook.

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profilepic3Rebecca Aarup is an author and freelance writer. She is also a health columnist for The Christian Online Magazine, a contributing writer for Encourage 365, creater of S.E.R.V.A.N.T. Sisters women’s ministry (online), and has written devotionals/studies/articles for a variety of publications. She just released a new Bible Study The Word: Six Lessons from Psalm 119 which is available as a free download on her website or in print form from Amazon. Beyond writing, Rebecca is a wife, home-schooling mom, and Bible student at Liberty University. She lives in Glendale, Arizona with her husband Chris and 5 year old, Samantha.  You can read more from Rebecca by subscribing to her blog (it’s free) and following her on twitter and facebook.

Just Need a Little R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

I awoke at 3:30am to the struggling gasps of my husband. I’m not going to lie, it frightened me. He’s struggled with his weight and some other harmful habits, so I wondered if he was having a heart attack. He got up, gasping, and went to lie on the couch. Later he said he thought he might have had a bad dream, but wasn’t sure what had caused the difficulty breathing.

I found myself praying for him in ways I don’t usually do. Along with prayer, I was reminded of the way I’ve struggled to be a Biblical wife. Our relationship tends to resemble really good friends who sleep in the same house but otherwise live different lives. I know I can’t control how he acts and feels, but I can allow God to re-shape my thinking.

First one on the list is my respect level. Admittedly, it’s hard to respect someone who disagrees with me about nearly everything, especially spiritual matters. Regardless, I am called to respect (Eph. 5:33₁), and submit to my husband (1 Pet. 3:5₂, Eph. 5:22₃, Col. 3:18₄) whether or not he is acting as spiritual leader of the home. (“Submit” in Greek literally means to obey, be under obedience, put under, subdue unto, or subject and “respect” [used in Eph. 5:33] can be translated reverence, fear, or to be in awe.)

Every time I roll my eyes, think to myself how right I am and how wrong he is, talk about him in a negative manner, or choose to do something he has made clear he’s against (even if it’s a church function),  I have disrespected him.

Just because I am a Jesus follower and he is not, doesn’t mean I am any better than him (Col. 3:23-25₅, Phil. 2:3₆). He still commands my submission, as my husband. Most hear the word submit and assume it demeans the woman, involving slave work. I  look at it as “servant” work. I am to serve my husband, whether I work outside the home or not, he is my husband and I am his wife, he is the head, I am the help-meet (Gen. 2:20-24₇). Sometimes that means allowing him to make the decisions, even if they’re not Biblical. Who do I think I am, anyways? Do I not serve a God big enough to change my husband’s heart? Does God really need my help to show my husband “the light”? I think not. My biggest witness will be my attitude (1 Pet. 3:1-2₈).

So I am on a new mission to revisit some books and studies I dug into last summer about Biblical womanhood and living in a spiritually mismatched relationship. This morning I opened up “For Women Only” by Shaunti Feldhahn. In this book the author interviews thousands of men about issues like respect, sex, and self-esteem so the entire book is written for women from the view-point of men. It’s an eye-opener for sure.

“Several men confessed that they felt like their opinions and decisions were actively valued in every area of their lives except their home. Some men felt that their comrades at work trusted their judgment more than their own wives did…more than one wife has made the mistake of ordering her husband around like one of the kids.” (pp. 29-30)

Lord, help me.  There is so much dirt in my heart that still needs cleaning. Most importantly I must remember that service to my husband is not an attempt to manipulate or change him, but rather an act of obedience to the revealed will of God in His word. That alone should motivate me. I may not always get my way, and I may have to set aside my desires to allow my husband to make the decisions, but it will be noted by the One who designed the marriage relationship. After all, it is not really my husband whom I serve, but my Lord, Jesus Christ (Eph. 6:5₉)

The following Scriptures were taken from the New International Version

  1. Ephesians 5:33b “The wife must respect her husband.”
  2. 1 Peter 3:5 “This is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands.”
  3. Ephesians 5:22 “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.”
  4. Colossians 3:18 “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.”
  5. Colossians 3:23-25 “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism.”
  6. Philippians 2:3 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”
  7. Genesis 2:20b-24 “But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called “woman,” for she was taken out of man.’ For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”
  8. 1 Peter 3:1-2 “Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands, so that if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.”
  9. Ephesians 6:5 “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.”

Inward

Inward

“I pondered the direction of my life and I turned to follow your laws.” Psalm 119:59 NLT

Any type of conversion or repentant experience has to start with something. A person doesn’t just decide one day to change; there is usually some motivating factor. What leads a person to desire change for themselves? The Psalmist said, “I pondered the direction of my life.” He thought about it. Where was his life going, how was his attitude, what was the end result of his life going along the current path he was on? He pondered it and decided something had to change. This change required a decision to move or turn from his current course, and go along a new course, the course of God’s word.

The beginning of change within us starts with a time of self-examination. We ask God to search us, but we also look within ourselves to see if there is something wrong. If I keep going on the path I am on, where will that lead me? Is there anything about my choices that needs to change?

Is self-examination biblical? God designed us with a free will, and within that free will is the ability to choose our direction. It’s up to us to make the choice of whether or not to maintain our current heading or put in a new route.

“When you are on your beds search your hearts and be silent.” Psalm 4:4

Before we go to bed is the perfect time to reflect on the day. Take a good look inward and see if there was anything that didn’t line up with the person of Jesus that we seek to represent. Anything less than a perfect representation means turning from that action/thought/attitude and getting back on his path. It is most certainly biblical to examine ourselves.

Do we feel regret over the short-comings we committed? Is there remorse? This remorse is necessary to lead us into a genuine repentance that alters our current actions. Does this mean we won’t ever commit that “sin” again? Of course not! We are human and we fail, but the genuine repentance will put us on a new path moving closer to the character of Jesus. Ups and downs are sure, but a consistent pattern upward will be evident of the repentant heart.

There is a counterfeit remorse, however, and its name is “self-pity”. This destructive behavior appears to be regretful, sorrowful over sin, yet it dwells on the wrongs and the failures rather than moving on and up in Christ.  Self-pity will always distance us from the voice of God. We must not allow self-pity to destroy our fellowship with him. Confess, repent (turn), be restored and move on!

 Unless we are looking in the direction of Jesus (through his word), we cannot know what light and life even look like. The joyful life is the holy life. Anything less will lead to a false sense of “happiness”. This false “joy” is the type of feeling that is easily tossed about whenever circumstances are uncertain. A lasting deep abiding joy comes in the life that is on the path to holiness. Those who appear to be happy in their “sin” will fall at some point, and deep down they will always be searching for the next “thing” to satisfy when all along Jesus has already given the answer to fulfillment!

“These people have stubborn hearts; they have turned aside and gone away.” Jeremiah 5:23

In order to know true joy I must be walking upward in my relationship with Jesus, moving closer to becoming like him. The only way I can see him and know him to be transformed into his likeness is to spend time with him in his word and prayer.

“The Spirit searches all things.” 1 Corinthians 2:10

We ask the Spirit to turn us to the light of his face through his word. We cannot see him unless we turn to look at him!

We look inward then we turn and look upward.

Prayer

Jesus, help me to take an honest look into my heart. Lead me into a time of self-examination and speak to me through your Spirit. Open my eyes to the truth of what lies within me that I need to turn from. You are truth, and your word is truth, so I ask that your Spirit guide me into the truth no matter how much it hurts. I want to press on towards a life of holiness in becoming more like you, and I don’t want anything to hinder that.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way of everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24)

Preparation

“Before I was afflicted I went astray.” Psalm 119:67 NIV

Preparation

What types of events might you find yourself preparing for? Perhaps it’s a musical performance, teaching a class, taking a test, promoting a product, making a speech, or running in a marathon. At one time or another we have all experienced a time of preparation. If we prepared well, we likely did well in the event, however if our preparation time was lax, our performance probably showed the effort.  I remember a piano recital where I did not give my best. Truthfully, I didn’t even give 50% of my best. I was a teenager, and I was consumed with the object of my current affection; piano recitals weren’t really a priority. Over a decade later and I still remember that day, what a humiliation! It was a dreadful performance to say the least, and I couldn’t wait to get out of there! I was too focused on what I thought was more important. It may have taken several years for me to learn my lesson, but God has drilled it into my heart that when it comes to musical performance, I can never be “too” prepared.

“…I went astray…” vs. 67

This word should be translated “to sin ignorantly”. We’re talking about a major lack of preparation.  To keep our feet on the path planned for us we need to prepare for the journey. We must know the word of God in order to follow it! If we do not know the word well, we will come under affliction, or discipline, until we have learned what is necessary to mature.

“I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Psalm 119:11

We prepare for life by memorizing the word, storing its truth in our hearts to be ready for spiritual warfare, sickness, doubt, discouragement, confusion, or any other arrow hurled our way.

Our natural inclination:

“All of us like sheep have strayed away. We have left God’s path to follow our own.” Isaiah 53:6

We prepare for the journey by studying the word of God and being able to discern what’s “good” from what’s “best”. We need to know the difference between a counterfeit happiness and a true joy. We want to stay on God’s path, because our own path will inevitably lead to personal pain as well as pain for those around us.

“A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it. Humility and fear of the Lord bring wealth and honor and life.” Proverbs 22:3-4

Wisdom foresees temptation and has discernment; humility brings true wealth in God’s economy which leads to the life God intended us to have!

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10

When we are ignorant in the word we will stray from the path He made for us. We will fall into error and we will be disciplined (Hebrews 12:6) by our loving Father until we return to the life he designed us for.  This doesn’t mean that every “bad” thing that happens is a result of our ignorance, or sin. There is a whole book in the Bible dedicated to this common misconception (Job). However when we do find ourselves in trials, tests, and difficulties we should take that time to make sure our feet are on the path they are meant to be on. We must ask God to search our hearts and make sure we have not wandered away, chasing after a counterfeit happiness. Are we on God’s “best” path, or just our own “good” path?

The Psalmist was thankful for the affliction that brought him back to God’s path, and back in line with where he needed to be spiritually. He declared

“…now I obey your word.” vs. 67

Let us never find that our sin was caused by ignorance of God’s plan for our lives. His will is laid out in his word; it’s our responsibility to be prepared.

Prayer

Thank you for your word that guides my path! Thank you for designing a perfect plan for me and loving me enough to discipline me when I wander from your directions. Lead me to the truth that you would have me hide in my heart and help prepare me for the battles ahead. Give me wisdom and discernment that I might not ignorantly sin against you.