7 Ways to Strengthen Your Spiritual Core

coreexerciseI didn’t see it coming.

I was coming out of one of my favorite stores heading to my car and I took a giant step off the curb thinking it was part of the parking lot.

I instantly felt like my spine had just been skewered on a shiskabob metal stick ready for the BBQ. Now I know that sounds kind of wacko, but then, I wasn’t looking when I stepped off into midair and so anything is possible.

Because of my amazing athletic move, I have been walking around like I have been mounted on a pole, moving like a statue and only as necessary and cramping over when I move too fast. It’s a sure sign of the facts.

I have a weak core physically.

I am doomed. My back doesn’t work right because my front is lazy and doesn’t want to work.

It’s my own fault, I know better and I should be doing those exercises that I’ve heard about for so many years. I didn’t listen well enough and only did them part way and now I am paying. So guess what I am doing? Trying to carefully strengthen my core as I am healing. It only took me a week to discover that my front couldn’t be lazy if I wanted a strong back. Go figure!

I don’t like to be weak. I want to be strong. But I have a part to play in keeping my core strong. It occurred to me as I have been resting my back that if my spiritual core is weak then mostly likely something is going to give out, just like my back. And if I am not careful and allow myself to get lazy spiritually, when that curb shows up unexpectantly it could disable me more than I would like. What do we do then?

I reread this week my old time favorite, Proverbs 3:1-7 and in it I find 7 ways that we can trim up our lazy spirituality and strengthen our core. Here is what it says:

My child, never forget the things I have taught you.
    Store my commands in your heart.                                                                                     If you do this, you will live many years,and your life will be satisfying.                                           

Never let loyalty and kindness leave you!                                                                                    Tie them around your neck as a reminder.

    Write them deep within your heart.
 Then you will find favor with both God and people,
    and you will earn a good reputation.

 Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
    do not depend on your own understanding.
 Seek his will in all you do,
    and he will show you which path to take.

Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom.
    Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil.

Do you see the seven most important truths in these very familiar verses?

1. NEVER FORGET God’s truth, his teaching, his commands. (vs.1) Which means we need to review, retain and renew our minds continually with God’s Word. The only way we won’t forget is to actually read it constantly whenever we can. I have God’s word on 3×5 cards, quotes all over my house, my purse, my iPhone, everywhere to remind me to never, ever forget these treasures of truth that guide my life.

2. NEVER LET loyalty and faithfulness leave you. (vs.2) In some translations the word “loyalty” is love.”Tie them around your neck and write them on your heart.” In other words, we need to live by loyalty and faithfulness to God which translates to every encounter and relationship in our lives as reflecting God’s love.

3. TRUST in the Lord with ALL your heart. (vs. 5) Not some, not part, but ALL of our heart. It is tempting to give all of our heart to our spouse, a friend or even our kids and then trust them with our very lives. Proverbs says we are to give ALL of our heart to the Lord and him alone. He is the only one who can guarantee to protect and keep our heart, He will not disappoint.

4. DO NOT RELY on your OWN understanding. (vs. 5) God gives us a mind to seek truth and understanding. The key is to NOT rely solely on your own wisdom and insight. Make God the primary means of reliance for wisdom. It’s so easy to fall into becoming too independent and forget to consult God.

5. SEEK HIS WILL IN ALL YOU DO. (vs. 6). Another version says to “Think about Him in all your ways.” Let God be the number one person we consult and ask, not number two, three or seventeen. (Oh I confess, am so guilty of this!) Ask God for wisdom in all things and He promises (James 1) to deliver if we believe.

6. DON’T BE IMPRESSED with your own wisdom. (vs. 7) Pride doesn’t look good in our spiritual core because it whispers that we know enough, we don’t need anyone and we are okay the way we are. Humility is the opposite virtue and runs to acknowledge God in everything.

7. FEAR the Lord and turn away from evil. (vs. 7) In my early years as a believer I would often lose my temper. I didn’t care. I was mad and I justified my anger. I hated myself after I got angry. I felt shame and deep repentance. I learned that in the heated moment, I lost my fear of God and crossed the line and made bad decisions. Fearing God in a healthy way protects us from making bad choices with our behaviors and attitudes.

I am working to strengthen my physical core so the next time I accidentally step off a curb, the damage won’t be as severe because I will be stronger.

Next time you see a curb coming in your life, you might slip, and might even fall. But if our spiritual core is strong, we will be able to brush ourselves off, maybe have a small setback but will  be able to get back up, stand strong and keep on the path that God is leading us on.

Which of these seven do you need to strengthen?

 

 

 

4 Ways to Keep Your Hope Afloat

RowingCynthiaWhat happens when a storm arrives on your door step?

Bad news

Betrayal by a close friend

Divorce, Disease, Disaster

Loss of someone you love, loss of a job

Moving~unwanted transitions

If you are like me and claim to be a faithful follower of Jesus, we pull out our treasure bag of hope filled with bible verses to comfort us and we try and lean in and hunker down to wait it out. We pray because that is what we are exhorted to do in the midst of trouble. We call our friends, post on social media, HELP! Please pray! We make daily faith withdrawals to sustain us through the journey. We work on focusing on the positive and thinking good thoughts submitting in obedience to the sovereignty of God in our lives. This is all good but….

What happens when the storm decides to stay for awhile, a long while? A much, much, much longer while?

What we try and deposit in our faith bank has a hard time keeping up with the withdrawals. And we find ourselves running out of hope. Empty,tired and afraid because the future seems so uncertain.

We doubt.

We fear.

We second guess ourselves and God.

We wear out our friends and feel they are getting tired of hearing us complain and whine.

We get weary.

We wonder has God abandoned us and ask constantly, when will it be over?

I am beginning to realize that sometimes there aren’t answers to the questions that are swirling around in my head during a storm. I am not a quitter, I like resolution and I will keep at it until it gets fixed. But it doesn’t always work out, because life isn’t perfect and we are broken, flawed human beings. I live in a cycle of exhaustion because I try to figure it out when God is really telling me to “be still” (Psalm 46:10) cause’ he has this one. “BUT IT IS TAKING FOREVER and I am running out of patience GOD.”

Elijah was in such a place. His story is in I Kings 17-19. He was so distraught at one point in his prophet career that he even told God he wanted to die after he found out Queen Jezebel was chasing him to end his life. Elijah had been battling a famine, reckless evil in Israel for nearly two decades and losing his peers at the bloody hands of the monarchy. Not to mention having to hide as a fugitive from the Queen. Talk about a storm and a long one at that. I identify with Elijah and yes, more than once I have said to God, “Wouldn’t it be easier just to give up and die?” A storm can wreak such havoc that it hurts too much to keep hoping. The pain is louder than anything in your life and we want to do just what Elijah did, give up and call it quits. You’ll have to read the rest of the story in I Kings 19 and see how God gave Elijah hope to get up and try again. It’s so God, patient, merciful, loving and full of grace.

How do we keep our hope afloat when the storm keeps raging and there doesn’t seem to be an end? Here are a few ideas, I call them the lock, look, love, and leave tips for sustaining hope so we can keep breathing in a storm.

TIP # 1 LOCK YOUR EYES ON THE TRUTH. I believe truth is a person and it is Jesus Christ. Jesus says, in John 14, “I am the way, the truth and the life…” It’s easy in a storm to forget the truth and focus on the wind and the rain. Ask God and write down what you hear, what is the truth in this storm? What is God saying to you about what’s happening? Defeat the lies that the enemy would throw at you like, “God doesn’t care about you, he’s punishing you, you deserve what’s happening to you, blah, blah, blah.”

TIP #2 LOOK AHEAD. You won’t be in this place forever. Storms don’t go on for eternity. It might seem like it, and some of them can be quite long, but it will end someday. During my five year bout with clinical depression my favorite verse in the bible was, “And it came to pass.” It was all I could remember in my darkness, it kept me anchored and gave me the ability to sustain hope.

TIP #3 LOVE WITH EVERYTHING YOU HAVE. My mother always told me that if I wanted to feel better when I was struggling I should do something for someone else. I have to say that my mother was right. DUH!!

In my darkest moments, when I make an effort to love someone else by doing acts of random kindness I am depositing hope in my faith account. Being in pain can tempt us to isolate ourselves. Don’t do it. You need others in your life in a storm. We weren’t meant to walk alone. Even Jesus had companions on his worst days.

TIP #4 LEAVE A PATH THAT OTHERS CAN FOLLOW. I once had someone tell me at work in another department that they were watching me. It kind of creeped me out. Actually, it was meant as a compliment that she was watching my life and how I handled things.

When we are in a storm, we aren’t alone and others are watching. They are watching us from the shoreline how we are handling the wind and the waves in our boat. In a storm our very character is tested. It determines what we are really made of down deep. I have to admit I have blown it horrifically in some storms in my life, but it is what I do after I’ve blown it that makes the difference. I  surrender, confess and course correct to stay on the path that God has lovingly placed me. How I handle myself through a dark time creates a path for others to follow. I want to make sure that the path is helpful and not harmful. How I navigate the storm has everything to do with making God famous as the well known quote says, “Live to make God famous.” I think it applies more when we are walking a hard road.

When I am in a storm that lasts longer than it seems it should and I feel like I can’t go on, God in that moment  reaches down through my cries of desperation and brings me the hope I need to go on. It has amazed me as I have looked back at the times I felt I was literally going to die from the disappointment when God throws me a life jacket of hope that keeps me afloat.

He is truth, He is hope and He will give you everything you need to weather this storm you are facing. I am believing with you and for you because I have a history of hope to recall just like you do. Hang on today, because tomorrow might be the end of the storm as you know it.

 

 

Hope in the Storm

 

I got up today and made an effort to try and catch up with the news. I’d heard about the floods, the shootings and the continuing crisis in Syria but hadn’t tuned into the details. I’ve been on a crazy schedule the past few weeks, but knew that I had to stop for just one hour and try and fathom what’s going on beyond my little world.

It made me sad.

My heart breaks for families who have lost so much around the globe.

I asked questions, why? Another shooting? Why Colorado again, more storms, more devastation?

Then I listened to the stories, read the names of the victims, and I stopped to pray for their families that they could find peace and comfort in such a storm.

With our instant ability to tune in around the world it would be easy to stay focused on the tragedies, add to our discouragement and lose hope, but as I listened to Rick and Kay Warren being interviewed about their son’s suicide, they said some profound statements about finding hope in the storm. Kay Warren at one point said, “I have to rebuild a new hope.” That’s what the people in Colorado will do after the flooding subsides, rebuild new lives. The families in Washington, DC will need to heal and rebuild their hope and find their purpose to keep living without their loved ones. The Syrian people will have to rebuild after so much devastation.

Hope is the key, it is what propels us to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Hope is what we need to keep breathing emotionally.

Hope gives us the courage to be able to move forward.

Hope is a person. Jesus Christ, God the Father and the Holy Spirit who engages us and infuses our hearts with comfort and peace when we are hurting.

Several years ago, I was in a pit of depression, and I felt hopeless. I felt lost in the storm. I had lost hope. One Sunday morning this is what I got up and wrote:

June 1st

It is Sunday morning and for the first time in many years, I could not bring myself to go to church. Not that I didn’t long to worship and hear your Word. But I’m not ready to answer questions from others. This morning I slept to avoid the despair and pain that I feel deep in my heart. I feel as though my insides have been sliced and gutted with no way to repair them.

Lord Jesus, if I didn’t have you, or the history of hope you’ve demonstrated through the years, I would just lie down and die. This is more painful than I could ever imagine and at this moment I am totally overwhelmed. My body is shaking, I have chills, and my stomach is in knots. Help me to rest Lord Jesus in you. You are my perfect peace, my refuge. I feel as though I have a threadbare existence emotionally. Any energy that is left is toppled and is truly like grasping at the wind. Lord Jesus I’m frightened of what lies ahead even tomorrow. Hold my hand, carry me Lord, I am at the end.

A “history of hope” that is what I held onto, knowing that God was going to hold my hand through the crisis in that season. Psalm 84:5,6 became an anchor for me during that time and I never forgot it.

 Psalms 84:5, 6

Happy are those who are strong in the Lord, who set their minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. When they walk through the Valley of Weeping, it will become a place of refreshing springs, where pools of blessing collect after the rains!

Stumbling around in the valley of despair with torrents of rain drenching the soul makes it difficult to see the pools of blessing that are just around the corner. But the pools of blessing after the rain are our hope, our promise after the storm. These verses remind us that after every storm the clouds do part for us to see God’s blessing and His provision.

Just as an umbrella becomes a blessing in a rainstorm as we travel, Jesus is our covering through the valley of weeping.

He weeps with us, and grieves as we do over whatever situation we are faced with.

What does the psalmist mean when he says “Happy are those who are strong in the Lord?” I believe the writer intends for us to understand that no matter what storm we face in life, our only strength to survive the torrent is to put our hope and trust in God’s strength and His strength alone.

Can you trust that God is your hope today to walk through the storm?

Can you ask Him for strength for you to lean on?

What glimmer of blessing can you see in the rain pool already?

2 Chronicles 16:9 says, “The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.”

This is our hope in the storm. To know that God’s eye is searching you out to strengthen you today is a promise of great meaning and treasure. To shield you like an umbrella and cover you with His great love in this storm! I pray you find HOPE today and that it gives you the courage you need for today.

3 Steps to Take When You Feel Overwhelmed

Today I feel overwhelmed. Okay, submerged actually. If I was really honest, I would say that I just want to crawl back into bed and sleep the day away hoping that when I wake up I will be motivated to tackle everything on my to-do list. This is not good. As a person who has wrestled with depression in previous years, I have to watch for the signs. Am I overwhelmed or am I scaling the wall of the pit falling back into depression?

I have decided that I am overwhelmed and here is why….

I am tired.

I have a headache.

It’s raining.

I have too much to do and don’t know how I will get it all done.

Blah, blah, blah…need I say more?

Here is my cure and three steps to follow if you can relate to being overwhelmed.

1. SURRENDER ALL emotions to the one who created them. GOD. My feelings are screaming louder than my ability to embrace life today. Summer is over, no more lazy days and it’s raining today! Yuck! I know we need it, but really God this doesn’t help my well-being. At least that is the lie I tell myself. Forgive me Lord for complaining about a creation phenomenon that is a gift you give to replenish the earth.  I need God to help me get centered in my soul and hand over to him conflicting emotions. Here is what he reminded me of today from Psalm 142:1-3.

I cry out loudly to God, loudly I plead with God for mercy.

I spill out all my complaints before him, and spell out my troubles in detail:

 As I sink in despair, my spirit ebbing away, you know how I’m feeling…..

THAT’S IT!! He knows how I am feeling, it is no surprise to him. In surrendering, I am safe. I can trust the one who made me and knows every thought before I think it or speak it out. (Psalm 139). I am comforted by this.

2. IDENTIFY THE CAUSE and ask questions. Why am I feeling so overwhelmed right now? Am I tired? Do I need to take a mini-break? Sometimes it’s really simple of why we feel overwhelmed. Yesterday was a crazy busy day, so I should be tired. I need to readjust my expectation of how much I can really get done today. Name the cause of the root of feeling overwhelmed, the emotion that is attached to it, and then go back to #1. If you are like me, I can be so very hard on myself at times with negative self-talk not allowing myself to actually be human. God knows, he sees, he understands. Trust him, he’s not waiting for you or for me to beat us with a stick because we are overwhelmed.

3. MAKE A LIST. Now that we know the root of why we might be feeling overwhelmed, make a list of what needs to get done. Sometimes we just need to get all those swirling thoughts out of our head. Making a list and breaking down the tasks helps make it manageable.

I ask myself questions like, okay, what should be at the top of the list?

What has to get done today, tomorrow or by the end of the week?

From there, I can make a plan and fit it into my calendar. It’s also important to leave some margin, like today for the headache I woke up with. I can’t work on some projects when I have a headache because it’s hard to concentrate when I get these types of headaches, so what can I do? Again, back to #1 ~ SURRENDER. God knows, He sees, and we can plan our steps but God directs our steps. (Proverbs 16:9 my paraphrase).

On your mark, get set, ready to go? Life doesn’t have to cave when we feel overwhelmed. We just need to break it down into smaller chunks so it can be managed better. I am preaching to myself right now…and headed to making that list!