It seems that Jesus liked to teach his disciples important faith lessons in the middle of storms, especially storms at sea. He taught them lessons about who He really was and how they could trust Him because of who He was.
I’ve never been on a little fishing boat in the middle of a storm on the Sea of Galilee, but I have been in the middle of life-storms before. I believe God still puts us in the middle of storms so that He can teach us lessons we wouldn’t learn any other way.
I went through one of those storms once and my faith was just as weak as that of the disciples when they asked Jesus if He didn’t care if they perished in the middle of the storm. It was one of those periods of my life when Bible study and prayer had become much less than a priority. I was attending church and volunteering but I just didn’t take the time to feed myself.
So, when I found myself in the middle of this storm, I felt like my ship was going to sink and that God probably really didn’t care. After all, I hadn’t been bothering to take time with Him – why should He care to rescue me? Wow! See what a lack of time in the Word and a lack of prayer can do to your thinking?
That storm finally ended and the lesson I learned in the middle of that storm? Connect with the God who created and controls the storm before you find yourself in the middle of it.
A year or so later, another storm came up in the form of a miscarriage. I won’t sugar coat it and say that because I had been spending good time with God that I sailed right through the middle of that storm without any problem. However, I was confident that God was with me in the middle of it and that He was going to bring me through to the other side safely. And that lesson has stuck with me ever since then.
Jesus puts us in the middle of storms. Jesus walks with us in the middle of storms. Jesus teaches us in the middle of storms. Jesus brings us through the middle of storms.
And when you come out on the other side? Your faith has been built up just a little bit more, making you a little bit more ready to go through the middle of yet another storm.
photography by Unsplash.com
Today I’m joining many other bloggers over at Five Minute Friday – writing about the word “middle” from many different points of view. Come on over and see what others are writing.
It’s January 10th already. Did you resolve to resolve? Have you broken any of those resolutions yet?
Or, are you like me – resolved not to resolve?
This New Year’s, as I considered whether or not to resolve, I got to wondering. Where did this crazy ritual of New Year’s Resolutions come from anyway? Who started it? And why?
So I decided to Google it. I didn’t really expect to find anything, but searching for the origins of New Year’s Resolutions turned up some interesting information. Skipping over Wikipedia, I came to an article from History.com (you know – the History channel!) and found out that the tendency to resolve has been around for at least 4000 years.
Wow, 4000 years of resolving and breaking and feeling guilty! Can you see why I’m resolved not to resolve?
Anyway – back to the origins. It seems that the Babylonians got the whole thing rolling during their new year’s festivities which happened in mid-March. To gain the favor of their gods, they promised to pay off their credit cards and to return their past-due library books. Well, not really – they promised to repay their debts and return anything they had borrowed that year.
The difference between the Babylonian resolutions and ours? Theirs had nothing to do with improving themselves. It was all about staying in the good graces of their gods. Makes you stop and think. They had to buy grace from their gods. Our God gives it to us freely. Hmm…
If we move along on the timeline to the Roman empire, we’ll see that the urge to resolve continued. Julius Caesar changed the name of the first month of the year to January after the two-faced god, Janus. With his two faces, Janus was looking back into the past and, at the same time, looking forward into the future. So, in January, the Romans offered sacrifices, presumably to make up for their failings in the past year, and made promises to do better in the coming year.
Again, I can’t help but be thankful that our God does not expect payment for the sins of last year. That very expensive payment has already been paid. And promises to do better? No, instead, we have God’s promise that He will finish the good work that He started in us.
The last thing I learned from History.com is that Christians have been resolving for a long time too. John Wesley led Methodists to celebrate a Covenant Renewal Service during which they would prayerfully look back at the past year and at the year to come, resolving with the help of God to march on to spiritual maturity. Some churches call these events watch night services.
I remember attending watch night services. The hours up to midnight were filled with games and singing and food. Then, as midnight neared, everyone would get quiet as the pastor led us in repentance and in seeking forgiveness and in looking to God to lead us in the new year.
This I can understand. But to save it just for New Year’s Eve? I don’t think so. Surely the whole year should be filled with times in which we go to God with our sin and allow Him to forgive and rest in the knowledge that He always offers us second chances.
So…my resolution for 2017? I resolve to go to my heavenly Father just as often as I need a new start – which, of course, is every day.
Ever have one of those years when the Christmas decorations linger longer than you want to admit? And when the idea of eating any more of the Christmas leftovers makes chills go up your spine? Yeah, we’ve all been there and it’s just a sign that it is time to get back on track.
But it’s so overwhelming! How do you do it when you’re not even sure where the track is?
I’m offering four steps to putting the holiday hullabaloo behind us and getting back on track.
1. Draw Away
Did you know that Jesus taught His disciples to do this one? Mark 6:30-32 says, “The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves.” Obviously what was good for the disciples is good for you and me too.
Draw away…to do what?
Draw away to breathe – just rest. Remember what Jesus said, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.”
Draw away to pray. When things get really busy and deadlines are closing in, I tend to focus on the to-do list and figure out how to get it done without even thinking about praying. We need time to just sit still and go back to our Father and talk to Him and give Him our schedules and trust Him to make them work…or to change them. (More on this later.)
Draw away to read. Get your Bible open. If you haven’t already chosen a Bible reading plan for 2017, pick one out and get started.
Draw away…where? Again, remember what Jesus said, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place…” So draw away to…
Someplace with some privacy
Where would a quiet, private place be? It’s going to depend on you and what distracts you. I love the idea of going to a coffee shop, but all too often I am distracted by the people doing business there – interviewing potential employees, making sales pitches on the phone. I can’t do it. It also can’t be at home because all the things that need to be done there will distract me. For me, the best plan has been to go through the coffee drive-through and then head to the reading room at our local library. Very few people go there and the ones who do expect perfect silence. Works for me, but maybe not for you. Find your place and get ready to go.
Oops, but what about Draw away…how?
If you’re a mom with little kids at home during the day, you probably think drawing away is a pipe dream. It just can’t happen. Don’t give up on drawing away yet. Let’s think about just a morning or just an afternoon. Then think about another mom that you can trade babysitting with. She needs time to draw away too. If you have relatives in the area, explain your plan to them and ask for help. Which of your relatives would not want to help you get back on track? And, if nothing else works, pay a babysitter. Just one morning, just a little time in a desolate place to get back on track.
One little note – if you’re an empty nest mom like me, look around you to see which frazzled mom needs a morning of free babysitting from you.
2. Revamp Schedules
Take an hour out of your drawing-away morning to look at last year’s schedule and to think about ways to make this year’s schedule more workable and more beneficial. Consider these things as you plan out a daily and weekly schedule:
Your daily Bible study. I kind of harp on this, but it’s because it is essential – not just important – but essential for your spiritual health and growth. You say you only have fifteen minutes? Great, use that Bible reading plan to read a chapter or two a day. You can do it in fifteen minutes.
Dates with your husband. Yes, you need them. Your husband needs them. Yes, they can be cheap. Google it – there are plenty of fun, cheap date ideas out there. Find them and then put it on your schedule – hopefully once a week, but you and your hubby know what will work for both of you.
Regular mom time. More time to draw away – maybe once a quarter. Time to spend with your friends – and, yes, play dates count.
Cleaning, work, and kids’ schedules. All the stuff that takes up the bulk of your time. Plan it out and spread it out.
And one more word about scheduling – no, wait, two more words! First, use pretty paper. There are lots of free printables on the web. One of my favorites is at https://thepostmansknock.com/category/freebies/. The second word about scheduling – hold it loosely! Schedules are meant to be a guide, not a judgment.
3. Sleep and Drink Water
Pretty simple, but I believe these two are important in getting back on track. I often try to get away with 6 hours of sleep and it never works. I need as close to 8 hours as I can get. As for water…if you’re trying to live on coffee and sodas, you’re not doing yourself any favors. Don’t kid yourself by saying your body just needs liquids. It needs water. Just drink it!
4. Throw It Away
This is your official permission to throw it away. Throw what away? Any number of things – leftover holiday food, Christmas decorations that are broken or faded or that you really don’t like, Christmas cards, all those empty gift boxes that you could use next year, and anything else that is cluttering up your life and making it impossible to get back on track. Just fill up your garbage can with them. It’s okay.
That’s it – that’s all my wisdom on getting back on track for 2017. But, seriously, do it! Take some time to draw away to breathe and pray and read; revamp your schedule (on pretty paper); take care of yourself by sleeping and drinking water; and throw away the junk that can drown you.
I just set my Goodreads Challenge goal for 2017, but before I jump into that goal, I really want to look back on the books I read in 2016 and give you a quick review of my favorite books of the year.
Just to be clear – these are not necessarily books released in 2016. Sometimes I get to new releases, but not too often.
Starting with fiction:
84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
This book took me by surprise because it is a collection of letters written between an American reader and an English bookseller. Sounds dry as dust, right? But this is one of those books that sucks you in and won’t let you go until you finish (only 112 pages so that’s really not that bad.) The relationship between the writer and the people in the English bookshop develops through the letters and becomes so real. I loved it.
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien
I know, I know, you’ve heard this before from Tolkien fans who just can’t let it go. Too bad because here we go. If you have not read these three books (and The Hobbit) what are you waiting for? I read them again this year for the umpteenth time and I will read them again in the next three or four years. Just let go and enjoy the incredible mythology of a superb storyteller!
Still Life (and the rest of the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache books) by Louise Penny
I’m crazy about these mysteries set in Quebec, primarily in the lost little town of Three Pines. I’ve read eleven out of the twelve books in the series and have grown to love the characters. Chief Inspector Gamache is somebody you want to be your boss or your dad or at least your neighbor. He’s a rock of strength, but completely human with normal, believable weaknesses. And the people of Three Pines – well, for their population they have an awful lot of murders, but I still want to live there and hang out with them. Of course that tells you nothing about the mysteries themselves – they’re good too, but it’s the characters for me.
Then there were two good ones that I’m going to classify as memoirs:
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
First of all, I think I have to admit that I have never read one of Stephen King’s novels. Now that that’s out of the way, I loved his thoughts and advice and pushiness about writing. He even gave a homework assignment to start a story based on a paragraph he suggested. Yes, I did start it and, no, I didn’t finish because I was scaring myself! If you want a very good read on writing, pick this one up.
Giddy Up, Eunice by Sophie Hudson
I love Sophie Hudson. She’s one of those writers who gets you laughing and then pops you over the head with a solid biblical truth that you’ve been hiding from or ignoring. You can’t ignore it anymore. I think one of the reasons I love Sophie so much is because her descriptions of her Southern family sound so much like my East Texas in-laws. She sees the humor in her family and yet also the warmth and acceptance that they offer so freely. This particular book is all about women needing to encourage and equip and mentor and love each other. For a introverted hermit like me, it was perfect.
The next four books are non-fiction and I’ll end up with a set of Bible studies.
Think It Not Strange by John Piper and others
When I read this book I was in a small group that seemed to focus on everything that is wrong in our country but that did not help any of us to live with what is wrong with our country. This book was perfect for me at that time. As you would guess from the title, the premise is that Christians must expect to suffer for the cause of Christ. Persecution is the norm and we must prepare ourselves and our children and our churches to expect it and to thrive in the midst of it. Go to http://www.desiringgod.org/books/think-it-not-strange to download a copy now.
The Four Dimensions of Extraordinary Leadership by Jenni Catron
This year my boss encouraged me to read a couple of leadership books and I chose The Four Dimensions of Extraordinary Leadership. The book is based on the Great Commandment – Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all you mind and with all your strength. The four dimensions are heart (relational leadership), soul (spiritual leadership), mind (managerial leadership) and strength (visionary leadership). I usually use Kindle, but I would recommend buying this as a real book so you can mark it up and refer back to it quickly.
Running on Empty by Barbara Bancroft
I’ve already written a review of this super book which you can find here: http://wp.me/p4ntu4-jB. If you are a woman in ministry or married to a man in ministry, please read this book!
What Grieving People Wish You Knew by Nancy Guthrie
This may be my favorite book of the year because I needed it so badly. Maybe you do too. Have you ever had that awful feeling that you should do something or say something to a grieving person, but you are petrified that you will say or do the wrong thing? So you do nothing? Nancy Guthrie’s book is full of what grieving people have found helpful and what they have found hurtful. It’s a gentle, non-judgmental guide to being a good friend to a grieving person. You can get a taste of the book by watching a twenty minute video of Nancy at https://www.crossway.org/blog/2016/09/what-grieving-people-wish-you-knew/.
Everyday Love, Everyday Hope, and Everyday Faith by Katie Orr
I’ve saved these Bible studies for last so that I can preach to you a little bit. If you are a follower of Christ and you are not immersing yourself in the Word of God you are effectively cutting yourself off from the vine and you are trying to work out your sanctification in your own power. Sorry, but that is just not smart and I so want you to stop it. I know that life is ridiculously busy, but if you will just carve out 15 minutes every day, you will be able to do these FOCUSed 15 studies with Katie Orr. You can go to http://katieorr.me/about/ to find out more.
So that’s my list of favorite books from 2016 plus a little preachiness – sorry, can’t help myself!
What did you read this year that you’re dying to share? Let me know!