The Power of Choices

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“I wish the world would slow down,” I thought to myself this morning.  It feels too. . . too rushed.  Too agend-y.  And so far from the peace of God’s presence.

And then, as if on cue and cutting across my own thoughts was this, “I’ve given you the power to do that you know.”  He said casually, as if He were sitting across from me eating toast for breakfast.

“You have?” I thought hopefully and internally revving up.  Here we go, prophetic training 2.0.

“You’re the one who sets your schedule, you choose who you spend time with. . .” and then like He’s leaning in for emphasis, “you’re the one who chooses whether you’re going to operate from a getting stuff done mentality or a slow down and smell the roses approach to life.”

And suddenly, what I thought was going to be a deeply spiritual, supernatural conversation has suddenly become very practical and loaded with fatherly advice.

Slow Down. Be Aware. Be Intentional.

And don’t forget that this life is full of choices.

Choices about how we spend our time.

Choices about who we spend it with.

Choices about what we think.

Choices about whether or not we will slow down and enjoy this life.

So, as I switch gears myself and sit here with my cup of coffee and watch the snow fall lazily on the ground, my prayer for you is that you too will come back to the place of  peace and choosing the pace of  your own life.

 

You can purchase Joyce’s latest book, Scattered, Finding God in Your Story at Amazon.com

 

 

Scattered, Finding God in Your Story

 

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When They “Should” All Over You

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My husband and I have this saying that we stole from a former commercial fisherman named Jack*.

Jack used to say people will “should” all over you, if you let them.

As in, You “should” do this.

You “should” do that.

So when we feel the inward pull to do more than we want to, we say that “People are shoulding on us.”

And we’ve had to learn the hard way that people “should” on each other.  We all do it.  We place expectations on each other that we don’t realize are slowly suffocating the life out of the ones we love.

And so we’ve had to learn how to get very good at saying “No”, “No, thank you”, and “I’m sorry that’s not going to work for me”.

Because ultimately, it’s no one else’s job to guard our own hearts except our own.

God has tasked us with that responsibility.

 

Keep vigilant watch over your heart;
    that’s where life starts.

Proverbs 4:23

(The Message)

 

God wasn’t kidding.

Everything that flows from your life starts with your heart

And nothing kills our hearts quite like “should”.

We can get so caught up in looking ahead that we forget to live in the now, the present of our lives.

We worry and fret that we aren’t doing enough and so we redouble our efforts to get more done.

To not only do more but to produce more.

And that is death to our hearts.

It is not up to us.

We are in God’s process of learning to listen to our hearts just as we listen for His.

And if His spirit is within us  – it is Him who works in us BOTH to work but also to want to do good things.

But we have to pay attention.

It’s far to easy to drift into auto-pilot and just do what we believe is the “right-thing” rather than allow God’s spirit to direct our steps to do the “God-thing”.

And there is a huge chasm between the two.

We can be so busy doing the “right thing” that we miss out on God’s “best thing”.

For it is [not your strength, but it is] [a]God who is effectively at work in you, both to will and to work [that is, strengthening, energizing, and creating in you the longing and the ability to fulfill your purpose] for His good pleasure.

Philippians 2:13

(The Amplified Bible)

 

So what if instead of tackling our to-do lists and striving to meet other people’s expectations of us, we stopped to ask ourselves what we WANT to do today and from there asking the Father what he thinks about that?

What would your day look like?

Would you have more peace?

Would you have more fun?

Because you were created to live in freedom.  And the choice to give to others can only truly come from that place of freedom.

 

 It was for this freedom that Christ set us free [completely liberating us]; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery [which you once removed].

Galatians 5:1

The Amplified

 

And so for the past 2 years, we have been learning as a church how to walk in a season of stewardship.

That means that God is giving us the freedom to choose to take care of ourselves and the things and people he has placed in our care.

 

As a mother, that means taking care of yourself so you have energy, time, and the mental clarity to love on your kids.

 

As someone in a ministry position, that means having interests outside of church so that you are recharged and able to face the demands and needs of others.  This also means, being completely comfortable saying “no” to others.  It was never your job to save them – only to point them to the One who can.

 

As a human being, that means saying “no” to the requests of others so that you have space and time to recharge and just be.

 

 

There are seasons and times when we slip into absolute apathy and God does challenge us to give more, but not this time.  This is a season of stepping back and allowing God to do what He does best.  This is a season of being present.  Present with Him.  This is a season that is all about lifting our eyes upward to connect with the Father and is less about reaching out to others, which is why there is such an opposition to it.

 

 

This is a strategic move of the enemy because:

 

“Should” will burn out all of our energy to seek God first.

 

“Should” will leave you wondering and striving and exhausted.

 

“Should” makes it very difficult to experience the presence of God.

 

So today, I challenge you to step away from all of the demands of others, whether they be spoken or unspoken.  And to step into what the Father has for you.  I promise you it’s worth it and full of more of His presence and grace than you or I could contain.

 

You can purchase Joyce’s latest book, Scattered, Finding God in Your Story at Amazon.com

 

 

Scattered, Finding God in Your Story

 

 *Jack Frost was a commercial fisherman before God caught ahold of his heart.  You can check out more of his resources at Shiloh Place Ministries 

The Prophetic Process

Prophetic words.

I love them.

They open our eyes to see our potential.

They help us see ourselves as God sees us.

But I think there is great danger in receiving prophetic words without understanding God’s process.

Disappointment can set in when we grow weary in the waiting for God to fulfill his promises for us, but if we truly understand His process then we learn that the waiting seasons are more about developing our character to carry the largeness of his vision and less about figuring out where things went wrong.

Not only should we hold our prophetic words up to the word of God to judge them but I think we could save ourselves so much disappointment if we remembered that our enemy also wants to use our prophetic promises against us.

If he can get us into the place of trying to make a prophetic word come true – we’ve stepped out of faith and into striving.

God can’t bless that.

Why not?

Because he is a God of rest, never burn out.

Remember, come to me all who are weary and I’ll give you rest??

Yeah, he said that.

Will he use that experience down the road for our good?

Absolutely.

But the promises of God are for Him to perform.

Not us.

Our job largely is, to watch and wait.

If we blur the lines, we’ve stepped into no longer being yielded to God which verges on rebellion which opens the door towitchcraft.

Yeah, witchcraft.

The promises of God are yes and amen but not always now and immediately, because the best things take time and patience to create.

If you thumb through your Bible all of the great heroes of faith waited and waited for their dreams and promises to come true.  There was so much journey between the delivery of the prophetic word to the actual fufillment.

Why?

Because God was developing character.

This is why the Bible says, “a man’s heart plans his way but God directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9)

Because there is character building to prepare us to carry the vision.

It is very possible that there are in fact people in your life that have held the doors closed that God meant for you to walk through.

Or it could be that maybe you’ve made some ummm, let’s call them lapses in your better judgement.

But it wont matter.

Not really.

All of this works together to build character and God is the God of the scenic route.

He’s faithful to get you to your destination.

And He can use the detours to heal some lies you may have believed about yourself, or others, or even about God himself.

Just remember to keep your heart right before him in a posture that puts him above all else. . . and trust him.

He’ll see you through.

You can purchase Joyce’s latest book, Scattered, Finding God in Your Story at Amazon.com

Scattered, Finding God in Your Story

Did Somebody Say Repost?

Onionized

Hey guys, reposting tonight!

Hope you’re encouraged by this to keep going. . .

 

ONIONIZED

I’ve heard that ogres are like onions, they have layers. . .

and I guess people are kinda like that too.

We ebb and flow, we have seasons of triumph, seasons of what feels like defeat, we have these high seasons with God where we touch the miraculous and then, wham!

We are thrust into a season of onion-ness.  Where we have a layer pulled back and we are exposed.  Motivations, fears, struggles all right there out in the open.

And like any onion – it makes your eyes water, vision momentarily blurs, and you’re left sobbing like a girl.  Saying things like, “I’m not crying, my eyes just sprung a leak.”

I’ll be really honest here and say, I’m not a big fan of being peeled back like an onion.

It’s like being sat down on an old musty couch while loved ones sit around you in a circle.  Corralling you in like cattle. . .just in case you wanted to escape, meanwhile you’ve been cornered in your own personal intervention.

This is how God does that.

He onionizes you.

You find yourself in situations you’d rather not be in and you get to watch as your fears, trust issues, thoughts and behaviors all rise to the surface.

And it’s really hard to take an honest look in God’s mirror, especially if you’ve been walking with him for a while.  There is a naive part of me that thinks this part of the process will somehow get easier, but the truth is it doesn’t.

How’s that for a ray of hope for your 2014?

But it’s true, at least for me.  When life is sorta predictable, it’s easy to settle.  To stay on this side of the Jordan (check out Numbers 32).

But it is hard to be vulnerable with God sometimes.

Maybe harder still to be honest with ourselves.

I mean, after all I totally trust God to provide for me, to protect me, to heal me, to comfort me . . . you know, that is until I don’t.

Onionizing – totally effective at showing us what we really believe.

And the truth is that nothing else will heal those areas.  We can slap a bandage over them but now that they’ve been onionized, we’ve got to bring it to the Healer.

And then we’ve got to stay there.

I’ve tried the whole, lob a quick prayer up, “God, I’ve got issues.  Heal me.” and that’s an okay start but sometimes he wants us to linger in the healing with him.  You know actually, park ourselves before him and listen to what he might have to say about our wounds.

Some might require forgiveness.

Some a change in the way we think.

Some might be allowing God to take you back into childhood memories to face old fears.

The thing is, only the Healer knows.

And how, he knows.

He knows us through and through.

I feel God tugging gently on my heart to allow him to go places into my memories.

Places in my heart.

Places that hide dark monsters from my past.

And I know he wants to walk with me there.

Because these monsters of fear and mistrust keep me from him.

And here is what has come to the surface, I am afraid he really isn’t the protector the Psalms claim he is or that I don’t quite fit the mold of what he’s looking for or that he will just tell me to just stop whining and suck it up. . .and so I unknowingly (okay sometimes knowingly) hesitate to bring my onionized self truly before him.

But here I am once again.

I’m hearing the quiet whisper of God across my heart saying there are some deep places of fear and mistrust.

Places he wants to heal.

Places he wants me to trust him with.

And inwardly I hear myself let out a little bit of a groan.  Partly because he’s right, I need healing.  It’s a cyclical process, just as the human body is constantly healing itself from scrapes and paper cuts, we need that in our souls too.  Not only is it okay.  It’s necessary.

But mostly I groan, because the last 5 years have been an intense season of discipline.  Seriously, someone hand me some Ben-Gay because my faith muscles are sore!

Transitioning from discipline to healing sounds brutal.

But as I pull myself up from the trenches and haul my carcass off to God’s infirmary, I’m sane enough to know it’s necessary.

 

Photo Credit: “Food” by Pentapfel, permissions through C.C. by 2.0

The Grace To Be Human

When we reduce ourselves and others to merely "what need can be met", then we have failed to understand what it is to be human.

The overwhelming needs of other people can cause us to just live on auto-pilot where the highlight of our day is checking every one else’s needs off of our list.

Because that is what successful people do.

They git ‘er done.

 

But that is not and has never been the picture of life that God has had for us.

Paul said it this way:

Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you.

Galatians 5:1

(The Message)

 

I guess what I’m trying to say is that what you do is important, whether it’s a career, or it’s a title like mom, or maybe you have this burning desire to do something great – it’s your destiny, your calling.

These are so critical.

But only if you are free to be you – no strings attached.

 

Even in the best of situations, positions and titles can easily become something they were never meant to be.

Things like our “vision” and our “purpose”, our “calling” and our “destiny” can easily slip in and replace the core of who we are.

Our identity.

And vision, purpose, calling, and destiny should always come secondary to our identity.

 

Keep vigilant watch over your heart;
that’s where life starts.

Proverbs 4:23

(The Message)

 

You and I see it all the time.

We can find a false identity in our careers and feel completely lost when we no longer have the 9-5 grind due to an illness or a company downsizing.

Those crazy stay at home, homeschooling moms who no longer have any identity outside of what they do for their children and husbands.  You know the ones, they spend hours either posting or trolling for new ideas on Pinterest.

It can even be as simple as identifying with a group or organization rather than seeing ourselves and others as human first.

 

And it’s a temptation, lets be honest.

We end up selling out our relationships with ourselves and others on the altar of our false identities.

 

For the overly responsible ones, relationships sour into a place of quiet resentment as they continue to quietly pick up the slack for those who were ambivalent or who failed to see their responsibility.

For others, life can become a place of broken and shallow relationships, as they never understood what it meant to be accountable to others and to willingly ask for feedback so that a true connection might occur.

Because when we reduce ourselves and others to merely “what need can be met”, then we have failed to understand what it is to be human.

We fail to understand that as God is, we are.

We just are.

He loves us just as we are.

Without performance.

Any changes He may ever ask of you are only out of three reasons:

  1. to benefit yourself
  2. to strengthen your relationship with someone in your life
  3. to deepen your connection with Him

 

The life He desires for us is so much more than the cheap quality of life that comes just from fulfilling a purpose or meeting a need.

 

Keep vigilant watch over your heart;
that’s where life starts.

Proverbs 4:23

(The Message)

 

And so every once and awhile, God allows life to shake us up a bit.

Please understand me, God is not orchestrating horrible things so that he can get your attention.  But like any good parent, he does step back sometimes to allow us to experience the consequence of our poor choices.

So that we can see how self-destructive our patterns have become.

 

Several years ago, my husband and I both lost our jobs and I was pregnant with our oldest son.  We also had just bought our first home.  We were rocked.  We had no idea how we would make it. And we were both wondering why God had left us up creek without a paddle.

But you know what.

We survived.

More than that.

We grew and thrived and learned the hard lessons that God was teaching us about ourselves.

And as brutal as that season was.

I don’t regret it.

Don’t misunderstand me, I wouldn’t be the first to raise my hand to do it again, but I definitely don’t regret it.

Our lives had become so efficient.

We were successful.

We had plenty of money.

We both worked hard.

But the truth is, that we weren’t really living.

We were just really efficient at getting things done.

 

But what kind of life is that.

And what had all of our efficiency reduced us to?

 

Human vending machines.

 

I can honestly say that I am more alive today than I was back then.

 

My house is messier, because I have shifted from focus from just having a clean house to teaching my kids how to pick up after themselves.

Our financial state is still considerably less than when I was also working (now, I’m one of those crazy stay-at-home, Pinterest-trolling, homeschool moms), but I wouldn’t trade the freedom of being able to be with my kids during the day as they are learning and growing. (just as long as I don’t lose my identity in it!)

It also gives me the freedom to hang at Starbucks and write.  The other amazing gift that has come from having less disposable income is learning how to do things for myself.  I just reupholstered my dining room chairs for $60 instead of shelling out $1000.00 for the drool worthy Pottery Barn version.

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My Pinterest stalking habit paid off.  I reupholstered our dining room chairs.  This picture is before the nailhead trim was finished.

I have more peace.  And that, my friends, is maybe worth more than anything else.  I am not running around trying to meet everyone’s needs all the time anymore.  I still slip up and fall back into old patterns but far more often I can just chill and let the unimportant things go.

I could keep going.

The list of all of the things we took out of that season is long.

But it can be summed up in this:

When we reduce ourselves and others to merely what need can be met, then we have failed to understand what it means to be human.

 

And it’s so easy to do, whether it’s in a career, a church position, a praying mama pulling for her kids, a public speaker, a role that we have put on ourselves, I mean really you can lose your identity in just about anything.

Because of the needs of other people.

And the false expectations we have of ourselves.

Whether they are real or perceived.

 

So today, I hope that you’ll give yourself some grace.

 

Grace to be patient in the learning process.

It will occur whether we want it to or not.  Our choice is will we allow God to teach us something new about ourselves or not.

I hope that you’ll accept the gift of grace he’s giving.

It’s his grace to be human.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Mountains Won’t Move

 

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I’ve had several requests for help this past month, some really fun opportunities and others that were heart-breaking pleas for help.

One was extremely hard to say no to, due to the sadness of the situation, but I knew with everything in my heart that I needed to say “no”.

It was such a difficult thing to say no to, that afterwards, I crawled into the shower and sobbed.

It is excruciating to say “no” to people.

People with very real need, people with very tender hearts.

And that’s really hard, especially when you know that you could change the outcome of the story.

That with God’s help, you could move mountains.

 

And yet, I hear the Father’s heart saying, “No, not this time.”

 

Why?

Why would God say no to something that is very much in his power to give through another person?

 

Because there are some journeys that were meant to be taken alone with only him.

Those mountain roads that only He can navigate with you.

No person, no church, no gifting can ever replace that.

 

I think sometimes, that it can be a good thing when our churches and the people in our lives disappoint us.

It’s a healthy reminder that at the end of the day, you and I are just people.

But I can only imagine how hard it must be for God to delay things that are in his power to give.

He is still the God who heals.

He is still the God who is with us in our loneliness.

He is still the God who sees and knows and is all powerful.

 

But sometimes He doesn’t come through like we hoped.

And sometimes the Christians we know, and the churches we attend don’t come through the way we thought they would.

And this is hard to swallow, whether you believe in God or not.

Disappointment is never easy.

 

But disappointment can be an opportunity to make room in our lives for God to be God.

Not the idea of a grandiose God who hovers above us, punishing us for our sins.

But a God who loves us better than we know.  Who loves like a Father and gives us his best, even if it might cause us to misunderstand him.

It’s about making room in our lives to tell God things that hurt us and that disappoint us.

And for those of us who have been through a season like this – it is one of learning to let go.

Learning to let God do what only he can do in the lives of those we love.

To step back, and not be the hero of the show.

To let him do what only he can do.

Remembering that he is faithful and able to be trusted.

 

 

 

Photo Credit: “Mountains” by Skeeze, Permission through C.C. by 2.0

 

 

 

 

Humility

Humility

Pride is a funny thing.

For that matter, so is humility.

They aren’t quite what I thought they were.

On some surface level I had a general idea but if I was going to be real honest with you, I don’t know if I could have told you why God hates pride so much.

But I’m in the know, now.

You want to know too, don’t you?

Okay, but you owe me a latte or something.

 

God hates pride because. . . (drumroll, please) it’s a relationship killer.

 

Yep, that’s the big secret.

God hates pride because it breaks down authentic, heart connections.

And on the flip side, God L-O-V-E-S humility because it promotes very real, very close relationships.

 

So this got me thinking.

What the heck is humility anyways.

And I don’t mean a definition out of the dictionary.

I mean if I take humility off the rack, what does it look like on a person?

 

 

It’s not self-depreciating.

If you’re good at something, own it.

No, seriously.

I told you, humility is not what we think it is.  When we self-depreciate ourselves its so we LOOK humble, but inside we are high five-ing our awesome selves.

Might as well just get it out in the open.

Besides, self-depreciating yourself is no laughing matter. . . unless you’re a writer then it’s just plain funny.

 

It’s not comparing yourself to others.

It’s like those old Nintendo racing games.

Every car had some pluses and some minuses, which kinda all evened them out in the end.  We’re all in this race together, except if you had the cheat codes, then your car was definitely the best, but if you have cheat codes, you owe it to the rest of us to share the love.

 

It takes time to rest.  

Whoa.

Hold up.

What does rest have to do with humility?

I know, right?  I was thinking the same thing.  We could be besties, the way you read my mind.

Rest is the simple act of acknowledging that hey, maybe I’m not Wonder Woman after all (or Superman, you choose.  They’re your tights).

And yeah, I’m human and I have needs.

Like a couch, some Netflix and a bag of Doritos.

Don’t knock it people.

Doritios, right there on the bottom of the Needs Pyramid.

What?!  It’s not there.

Well, they should be.

 

Humility is a team player.

It’s open to hearing new ideas. . . like putting Doritos on that dang Needs Pyramid.

 

And humility is okay with saying “no”.

Not to Doritos.

Humility would never say no to Doritos.

 

And maybe the most defining mark of humility is this. . . it’s cool being itself.

Humble people are comfortable in their own skin.

You know, like your grandpa when he wears his tank top and boxers with socks rolled up to his knees.  You know what I’m talking about – that is a man who is secure in his own skin . . . and fashion choices.

So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline

Colossians 3:12

The Message

 

I could use more humility in my life.

I could do with less comparison of what I think I should be.

I could do with more rest.

I could do with more saying “no”.

And I could definitely do more with just being me.

Maybe you could too.

We live in a world full of causes and needs – and we will get to them.  We will, because God has poured his spirit into us.  Those things won’t get left undone.  But in all of our doing, lets not forget that we are people and not vending machines.

Maybe that’s the truest mark of humility.

That we remember that we are human.

 

Love you,

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No

 

I am so loving the word “no” right now.

I would sing it like a choir boy if I could.

Do-Re-Mi-NOOOOOOOO.

 

 

“No” is the word that God gave us as freedom from distracting thoughts, over busy schedules, expectations to be something we are not.

I’m not talking about character issues.

I’m talking about feeling anxious all the time.

I’m talking about being afraid that we are not being who others think we should be.

Maybe even, who we think God wants us to be.

 

Remember: A stingy planter gets a stingy crop; a lavish planter gets a lavish crop. I want each of you to take plenty of time to think it over, and make up your own mind what you will give. That will protect you against sob stories and arm-twisting. God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.

2 Corinthians 9:6-7

(The Message)

 

Stingy and lavish.

So the moral is we should give more and not less right?

 

I don’t think that’s what it means.

Plus it’s all followed up with “God loves it when the giver delights in the giving”.

I think it’s about our motivation.

 

It comes back to heart.

I’ve had moments where I have given lots out of a stingy heart, because it was what I thought was expected, and I’ve given little with all of the love I had within me.

God was way more excited that I was excited about the little than the lot.

 

Geez, if I’m honest, I can’t remember the last time I was excited to give of my time or my money or my prayers.

I just got in the habit of giving because it’s what we Christians do.

But this burnt out girl is learning, it’s not enough to just give.

God wants us engaged in our giving- from hearts that overflow.

He’s asking us,

Why do we do what we do?

Do we give because we want to?

Or because we think it’s expected?

 

Which brings me back to my Sesame Street rant on why I loooove “No.”

“No”, protects our hearts and our motivations.

So if we are going to have and keep big hearts towards people, we have to be able to have and keep our big “no’s” towards the things that would cause us to feel less than delighted in our giving.

That’s really hard because it hits right at the heart of what people will think of me.

Yeouch.

I know, it’s hard to say no.

We want people to think that we are the awesome people we know we are- but sometimes the most awesome and sincere and honest thing we can do is nicely say “no”. It keeps our hearts from resenting people and it keeps what flows from our hearts pure.

“No” gives us rest.

“No” gives us breathing room.

“No” gives us space to really discern our own hearts and God’s.

 

So, not that you need it, but if you were looking for someone to give you permission to say “no”, I’m saying it.  Say “no” to things the things that have been slowly killing your joy and your relationships with others.  Say “no” to the false expectation to be something you’re not.

Because here’s the best part, in the “no” we have more “yes” for each other and for a God that loves us enough to give us a word like “no”.

 

 

 

Website: www.joyceackermann.com

Twitter:@joyceackermann