Deadly Thoughts

Psalm 3:1-2 “O Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, ‘God will not deliver him.’ Selah”

armyYou know the story. Good guys surrounded by the enemy, wondering how in the world they can defeat the undefeatable. The bad guys are bigger, stronger, wield more powerful weapons, and show no mercy in their faces. Sound familiar? It should, if you’ve ever seen any superhero movie (yes, we recently saw the latest Avengers movie). The only difference with the movies is that we, the audience, know the good guys always win in the end. If not all, at least most of them. No matter how intense the battle scene is, how much it may appear that evil will overcome good, the movie continues until there’s a happy ending!

Unfortunately, we don’t always have that same assurance when we’re faced with a similar situation in real life. Or do we? While David was no stranger to real-life battles, I believe he also experienced many mental battles. You see, often the enemy armies can be so strong and powerful in our minds that we hear voices saying, “God will not deliver you. Look at you, you’re so far under it’s hopeless.” And don’t tell me I’m the only one who hears voices in my head. If you don’t, listen harder. You will. Any time we’re tempted to think we’re not good enough, we can’t do it, or it’s too much to bear, that’s the enemy whispering those thoughts into our minds.

In the verses above, the word “Selah” means to pause and think. I’m not sure why David wanted to stop and reflect on the fact that his enemies were so strong that he wondered if he’d make it out alive. I wonder if as he thought about it more and more, he knew he needed to make a decision to change the way his thoughts were headed. We’ll see below the change in his thinking in the next verse.

For me, it was the whispers telling me that God had left me, that He didn’t care about me anymore, and had no desire to hear my prayers or comfort me in my deep grief. In fact, I remember one moment when I told Him I wouldn’t be surprised if He chose to take my husband from us (he underwent surgery during this time so this wasn’t a completely crazy, out of the blue thought). The enemy armies were rising up against me, closing in fast, and the more I let myself meditate on these thoughts, the more I sunk into a numb depression. I couldn’t even compile words to form a good blog post. I had nothing left.

If you’ve ever seen God’s Not Dead 2, you’ll nod and smile before you even finish reading this paragraph, remembering the wisdom given to Grace from her grandfather. There’s a part in it when she can’t see anything positive in her situation. She feels despair as she has prayed and asked God for help. The scene I remember vividly is when she confides in her grandfather, expressing her confusion at not hearing from God. He was silent, offering no comfort or guidance, very much like He was doing with me. Grace’s grandfather asked her very simply, (I’m paraphrasing as I can’t remember the exact wording), you’re a teacher, when your students are taking a test, do you help them or give them the answers?

Does It Matter What We Think? God promises us that He always cares for us and will never leave us. Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit (or whose spirits are crushed).” But sometimes, I guess we need to go through things at times when He is silent. It doesn’t mean He’s not there. It means we need to regroup mentally and stand up against the enemy armies with the weapons we have before they defeat us. I will tell you, it may seem impossible, when you’re down for the count, bleeding, bruised, broken, and weak. But remember, God’s name is YHWH. “I Am.” He is with us to “get it done.” God doesn’t lie.

Recently I had a very low time. We just happened to be at church one morning when I was really struggling. A dear woman I’ve known for years sat behind me. As I sat there with my head in my hands and prayed that God would somehow let me know that He heard me and was there, she leaned forward and spoke a wonderful word of encouragement to me that God had given her. The part I want to share with you is this. God wanted to say to me, “let’s go together and get this done.” In other words, stand up and put on your armour because I Am with you to the finish.

What armour? Ephesians chapter 6 describes it: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, or the word of God. David was no stranger to battle so he must’ve known this and realized it. As we see in the next verse, Psalm 3:3, he begins to turn his thoughts around. Yes, Lord, I am outnumbered. I cannot handle this on my own, it’s too much. I don’t feel Your presence. “BUT (my emphasis) You, O Lord, are a shield for me, my glory and the One who lifts up my head. I cried to the Lord with my voice, and He heard me from His holy hill.” Put on your armour, and together, let’s finish this life strong!

Joy in the Midst of Rejection

“In Your presence is fullness of joy.” Psalm 16:11

Rejection concept.Oh yippee, a new struggle. I was finally getting things under control where my emotions were concerned, and wa-bam! Within seconds I experienced something that left me feeling utterly rejected. I suppose this feeling follows insecurity around like a shadow. Sort of like how Robin follows Batman. I guess it’s not a complete stranger to me, then, since I’ve struggled often with insecurity. This time, however, it decided to ditch Robin and transform itself into the Dark Knight as it spread its wings over me. I apologize for the Batman analogy. Not sure where it came from but I liked it!

The sun had already set as its typical backdrop for my struggles. Sure enough, here I was, once again struggling. As I lay in bed, wallowing in my grief, or my rejection, I started to feel myself sink deeper and deeper into the familiar abyss of self-pity as I concentrated all my attention and energy on this rejection. This time, however, something amazing happened. God whispered to me! It wasn’t an audible sound, like, “Traaa-ccyyyy, where are you?” in a sing-song voice. It wasn’t even a real whisper. No, it was silent, but so loud. I was lying on my back when it happened so all I needed to do was lift my head and I found Him! The Psalm above replaced the thoughts of self-pity and pulled me out of the abyss that night. “In Your presence is fullness of joy. In Your presence, is fullness of JOY!” God was telling me He was there with me. All I needed to do was just welcome His presence and I could have complete joy. I decided to stop dwelling on my current situation and instead focus on being face to face with my Maker and my Redeemer, my Friend, who was right there with me.

The prophet Isaiah said that Jesus, “is despised and rejected by men.” (Isaiah 53:3) It still amazes and reassures me to know that Jesus, in the form of man, felt every feeling and emotion we do. Interestingly, Isaiah said He “is” despised and rejected, not He “was.” He said this years before Jesus was even born. As I reflected on that, years after Jesus died, I applied it to what I was going through and felt comforted in knowing He still feels what I feel today. I know He may feel what I feel as I go through it, but He doesn’t want me to stay there.

It struck me how blessed I felt after the fact to have been given that experience. Each night as I lay in bed now, first I say goodnight to my sweetie pie, then I roll over onto my back and turn all my attention to my Maker, spending a little time with Him before falling into peaceful dreamland.

Does It Matter What We Think? It was all about how I perceived my situation. Imagine if I ignored God’s silent call and let myself sink deeper and deeper into my rejection and self-pity? I would have missed out on sweet, one-on-one quiet time. Recently my pastor preached on King Saul and his son Jonathan. King Saul was ready to give in to the Philistines because of what he saw, but Jonathan stepped out in faith and faced the battle. (See 1 Samuel chapters 13 and 14). During the message, something my pastor said really struck me as he talked about Saul’s disobedience to God’s instruction. The Bible says Saul, “felt compelled” (13:12) to take matters into his own hands when he started to feel afraid. I don’t want to be like that. I want to care more about the kingdom and winning the battle than feeling offended or rejected!

Be Anxious for Nothing…Except During a Panic Attack

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-8

AdobeStock_145889681.jpegSure. It’s easy to say, but how easy is it to put into practice? Don’t worry. Be anxious for NOTHING. But what about my stressful job, God? Be anxious for NOTHING. But what about my kids, God? Be anxious for NOTHING. But what about my health, God? Be anxious for NOTHING. Or my finances, etc.? God’s reply… Do not worry about anything, but instead pray to me with a thankful heart, and you will be surrounded by my peace. Period.

Recently I had a major panic attack. Anyone been there? You know, the chest pains, (which of course make you think you’re having a heart attack), the hot flashes, followed by the chills, headaches, trouble breathing, that awful unsettled restless feeling. You’re not sure whether you need to call 911 or wake your spouse to drive you to the ER, only to be told that there’s nothing wrong with you. Make some “lifestyle changes”. Or, like mine, your spouse would tell you that there’s nothing wrong with you and to just relax and go to sleep. Right.

Now I’m no stranger to periodic panic attacks, but I’ve never experienced anything like this one before. It was during a time where everything seemed to be closing in on me all at once. Honestly, I thought I had been handling things relatively well. I guess not.

It was just before bed when it started. By the time I crawled under the blankets, I was convinced I’d be in the walk-in before the night was over. I had a choice that night. I could either choose to succumb to the thoughts that incessantly banged on the door of my mind…

OR I could have chosen to pray and cry out to God for His help in my time of need. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18) In Hebrew, brokenhearted, or “nishbar lev”, means those of us that are broken (one description I read used the word “shattered”) on the inside and need God’s help because we realize we just can’t do it on our own. This verse, then, tells us that God is right next to us when we feel like we are completely helpless and can’t put ourselves back together. Sound familiar? This is exactly what a panic attack feels like. That night I chose to stop being a victim of anxiety. I’m not saying it was easy, but instead of entertaining heart attack thoughts, I began pleading to God for help, clinging to the hope that only He could give me.

I love Psalm 4:8. It’s encouraging that I’m not the only one who has ever experienced anxious nights. David prayed, “I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; For You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” I can pretty much guarantee that he was feeling anything but peaceful and safe when he prayed that prayer. Yet he chose to cry out to God and proclaim what he already knew God could do instead of succumbing to the other thoughts that threatened to overtake him.

I don’t know about you, but it seems that anxiety tends to strike more at night. Why is that? Because Satan loves darkness! It’s his playground. Ephesians 6:12 talks about the, “rulers of the darkness of this age.” 1 John 1:5 declares that, “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” Satan wants to take advantage of the night and get into our minds when we are at our weakest. But if we remember God is light, and He is in us, then we are the light too and no darkness can survive in us!

Does It Matter What We Think? I hesitated to publish this blog because I wasn’t sure it really held the emotion and passion I intended. This is so important. Anxiety is very prevalent in our society today but I want to remind you that we have the tools to fight it. I love the band the Newsboys. In one of their songs they sing a line taken from Psalm 30. “There may be pain in the night, but joy comes in the morning.” How encouraging is that! As I prayed that night God did show up. He always does. He promises He will. I know this isn’t the last time the enemy will try to trick me into thinking I’m having a heart attack or dying. But I can stand firm on the knowledge of the fact that if I hold fast to God and choose cry out to Him instead of “fulfilling the desires of…the mind,” (Eph 2:3), the joy WILL come in the morning and I don’t have to be anxious for anything!!

Knock, Knock

“And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13

Blog pic knock knockIt was a dark and stormy…morning? What? Yep. I know, cliché. But that’s exactly what it felt like. It was a Friday morning, usually the best day of the week when we get to spend the “Free-form Friday” in our dress-down jeans with seventeen preschoolers who have finally succumbed to the last four days of our structured routine. This particular Friday, however, was anything but roses. It seemed that the earth had shifted terribly on its axis, causing its inhabitants to feel anxiety, worry, and stress. Literally, the weight of the world seemed to be rolling slowly, its sole purpose to crush one particular forty-something teacher right in front of a bunch of four-year-olds.

By noontime, I knew there was a desperate need for a Dunkin run. Collecting orders from my classroom staff (and principal-ok, yes, come on, this woman runs the entire school), I drove the few miles to sanity-a small (which should have definitely been at least a medium) chai latte with almond milk.

Spending the first four minutes decompressing, singing in my head to the radio, I spent the next three minutes praying. It wasn’t so much as a prayer, as a pleading to God. Where was He? Didn’t He see what had happened that morning? Did He care? I have to admit, so many days I begin the morning with a wonderful quiet time, reading and praying, and then before I know it the entire day goes by and while I may have acknowledged God, or even encouraged another friend to stay strong in Him, it’s three o’clock and I’m hustling to pack up so I can be out the door for the second half of my day, and I’ve forgotten all about the real Him. My real Dad (the omnipotent one).

As you can imagine, these particular three minutes in the car were like priceless gems for me. My thoughts and prayers quieted down as I still waited to feel Him, or for some miraculous sign from above that He heard me and still loved me, (knock, knock, God, You there?) I turned into the parking lot and happened to glance at one of the parked cars. There, glaring at me from the back, was a large silver cross that had been fixed to the rear of the car. Immediately I felt a wonderful peace and joy as I lifted my eyes and silently thanked God while exhaling a deep breath at His goodness. He had heard me! He hadn’t forgotten me even though I had forgotten Him in the midst of my dark and stormy morning.

After I ordered my five drinks I was pulling back onto the road and one of my favorite songs came on the radio. It was Casting Crowns’ “Just Be Held.” Another word from my Dad. My favorite verse of that song is when Mark Hall sings, “your world’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place. I’m on the throne, stop holding on and just be held.” Wow. Why is it that we (I) get so bent out of shape as soon as a little bit of stress is applied to our even-keel life, when God’s promised that He is always with us. All we need to do is search for Him during the storms of our day and stop holding on.

Does It Matter What We Think? I know you can’t tell me I’m the only one who’s ever asked God if He’s still there, if He hears me or if He’s listening. But if we meditate on those thoughts for too long, they can be destructive. God promises us He will never leave us nor forsake us. Instead of treading through the storm, wondering how on earth you will get through it, focus your mind on Him and let go. He is on the throne!

Photo by LP

Party Time

“Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy-meditate on these things.” Philippians 4:8

B8BA2660-4225-4699-8BD1-7B608016AD51Recently, I was really struggling (again) with feeling forgotten, used, and hopeless. I felt like I wasn’t getting the attention I deserved. Basically, I was throwing myself a pity party. Big time. I was entertaining all sorts of thoughts and questions about how bad things were in my life, what’s the matter with me that people are treating me this way, etc. I didn’t want to talk to anybody, I wanted to climb into bed and curl up in the fetal position and think, think, think.

The problem was, I was thinking! But I was thinking the wrong things. I was allowing the devil to control my mind and it made me feel terrible. The other problem was my focus. All my self-pity was just that-on my self! When we switch our focus from God and others, and narrow it on to ourselves, all we find is emptiness, depression, and anxiety. Nothing good.

And don’t think I didn’t know what I was doing. That little voice in the back of my mind kept saying, “Tracy, this is the enemy. These are not good things to dwell on. Refocus your mind back to what you know is true.” Think about the verse above. It says to, “meditate on these things.” According to Vine’s dictionary, to meditate means to think about something in earnest. Not a passing thought. To me, it means that when Paul wrote this letter to the Philippians, he knew they would struggle with their thoughts.

Anytime we want to change a habit, or get better at something, we have to practice and work at it. It’s no different with training our thoughts. If someone wants to be a good basketball player, they have to work hard and practice…a lot. Not only physical practice, but they have to get the right mindset. To do that they need to repeatedly say positive things and think positive thoughts about their abilities. Often, they pump each other up by encouraging each other.

It took me a while, but when I finally decided that I was tired of feeling down and depressed, I started to change my thinking. At first it was just as simple as saying “thank you, God,” for who He is and what He has done for me. Then, I started to verbally say positive things that I knew were true, even if I didn’t feel it inside. But as I continued to say them (notice how I said them out loud), something amazing happened. I began to change how I felt inside! I began to believe what I was saying. A a result, I felt better.

As expected, it didn’t take the enemy long, and by the next day the devil kept trying to put those yucky thoughts back into my mind, but this time I was prepared. I immediately spoke the positive confessions out loud, and as I did I felt stronger. I felt brave. I felt loved. I felt, and knew, that God was taking care of me and would help me through it. Because, “greater is He who is in me than he who is in the world.” I John 4:4

Does It Matter What We Think? In this struggle I faced, the more I dwelt on all these negative things about myself and others close to me, the worse I felt. Psalm 141:2 says, “Let my prayer be set before You as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” When I made a decision to change my mindset, to throw my hands up to God, it definitely felt like a sacrifice. I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t think I had the strength to do it. But once I did, in faith, God saw it as good and it was like incense to Him! Greater is He who is in YOU!!

Keep On, Keeping On!

“But one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead.” Philippians 3:13

20171224_082430Recently I had the opportunity to visit and reflect on mistakes I’ve made in the past. This was not an opportunity I welcomed. Nor one I enjoyed much. It reminded me once again how far from perfect I am. I saw every flaw and felt the embarrassment, pain, and suffering all over again. I began to think about how many people noticed these flaws and who might be talking about them behind my back. It made me feel awful.

As we celebrate the beginning of a New Year, this verse is a reminder to me to put the past behind and look to the great things God has planned for my future! We have all made mistakes, but that’s the awesome thing about God. He knows that, and it’s ok. He still loves us despite them if we have a repentant heart.

As I began this post and thought about what to write, I reflected on a comment I overheard someone say. In a nutshell, they said now that it’s a new year we can forget everything from last year and move on. I knew what they meant, but it made me stop and think. I wondered if that’s really what God wants. Does He want us to forget last year? Yes, I know we are to press forward, to look forward to the new year, but did Paul really mean forgetting everything that happened last year? Or was he more specific, like maybe we aren’t supposed to dwell on our mistakes from the past but instead learn from them and move on?

The next day I had my answer. I started a new devotional for the year, and the title for that day’s devotion was “Remembrance.” I chuckled at the irony of it and let God speak to me. When I finished, I closed the book in awe of what God reminded me. When things get difficult, it’s important to remember the times when God showed up for us. When did we feel His presence? When did we see His hand working in a difficult situation?

Does It Matter What We Think? The New Year is a time to celebrate, and in a sense start over with a clean slate. But don’t forget the times when God was there for you last year. When you face the first difficult situation of the New Year, reflect on what God did for you last year, then look ahead and keep on, keeping on!

To Choose Or Not To Choose

“For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” 1 Corinthians 14:33

7E1CAD9C-0859-4217-B47D-960ED854A3E3Have you ever had a major life decision staring you in the face? A while ago my husband and I found ourselves in the midst of one. We weren’t sure what we were supposed to do. We had some ideas, based primarily on physical things, not a call from God.

We made a decision with a “let’s see what happens” attitude. After a few weeks of that, I felt really confused. Here we were, trying to make a better life for our family, yet I didn’t really hear God speaking clearly to me. At all. And the more I thought about it, the more confused I felt. I knew I needed to continue to pray about it, but as a Type A personality (I know some of you are out there) I found myself often thinking the situation through. First mistake. That made me more confused.

Then I realized I needed to work on trying to reason less, and pray more. I remember one day I approached my husband and said, “you know, I really don’t feel led to continue on this track.” He replied to me that he really didn’t either. What did this mean?

Soon after our conversation, my husband told me he believed we were called to do the opposite of what we decided to do. The problem was, I had that sense as well, but I didn’t really want to.

Each time I prayed about it I felt confused. I felt like God had big plans for us and everywhere I turned we seemed to be running into sermons and messages related to our plans. Someone he was talking to who he had just met that night encouraged him with basically, why not? Some of these messages we were getting we realized might not necessarily have meant making these big changes but smaller ones. The problem was we were both so confused we didn’t know what action to take.

Now I should note, that just a couple of months before, my husband felt God tell him to just wait, and be patient. But it’s hard to wait and be still when the world is telling you to move. The confusion began to strain our marriage, and we would engage in endless discussions that only went around and around the same questions. What is the right decision?

Finally, I recognized this for what it was. Maybe I knew it all along and tried to put it in the back corner of my mind because it was different from what I wanted. But it was the enemy, settling a spirit of confusion upon us. Often it is his way of keeping us from doing what God has called us to do, and ultimately advancing His kingdom here on earth. Or, to put it another way, God has a special purpose for each one of us here. You and I are here on earth at this particular moment in time for some reason. If you are a Christian, you have a special work that God wants to use you for. But if the devil puts confusion into our minds, we find ourselves spinning in circles as we wear a rut in the same exact spot instead of stepping out and moving forward.

When I finally stepped back and let my husband make the decision, I felt a great peace. An amazing peace. You see, I knew that if he was being led to do this, then I needed to be obedient to that and follow him. Regardless of what God wants me to do here, the first step was to do what I know God wants me to do now. And His Word, the Bible, says that God recognized man should not be alone. “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” (Genesis 2:18) My first job? Be a help to my husband. Ok, not too difficult until he wants to do something that maybe I don’t want to do. Then how do I help or support him?

Interestingly, I noticed that the verses which explain the true battle here, the battle not between husband and wife or siblings, but the battle in the spiritual realm, that often that takes place in our thoughts or our minds, I noticed that the verse comes immediately following the verses that encourage husbands, wives, children, parents, servants, and masters. “Let the wife see that she respects her husband.” (Eph 5:33) Wow. So, this is pretty much telling me that there will be times when I need to respect my husband, and follow his lead, even when I’m confused about the decision and don’t know if it will work. AND that it may be hard for me, but I need to recognize who the real enemy is. It’s the devil, trying to bring confusion into our family so that we are divided and unable to complete God’s great work for us.

Now I still don’t know if there is one particular reason why God showed us that decision for that time. But I do know that since we’ve (well, hubby), made the decision, I have had peace, and a content that God will work all things for our good, because we didn’t allow confusion to divide us anymore and because I did the one thing I knew how to do, support my husband.

Does It Matter What We Think? In this instance, the enemy was pushing me to “think” too much. To reason too much. Sometimes we can still meditate on things that we think are for good but really God is saying, “stop thinking so much and start talking to Me. I will show you what to do.” Twice in the book of Proverbs is says, “there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (14:12 and 16:25) I’m not saying we would’ve died if we made that decision. But I can assure you that if we allowed confusion to take over our minds, and we acted before leaning on the Lord’s leading, the way might’ve been a bit more rocky.