Tag Archives: faith

The tiniest seed

Have you ever had one of those weeks, or months, where you keep seeing the same message over, and over again?

Usually when that happens to me it’s because God is trying to get a message across. And for the last several weeks it’s been all about a seed.

A mustard seed, to be exact.

How many of you have seen a mustard seed? It’s pretty small, right? Smaller than a 1 carat diamond, tinier than a grain of rice. But did you know it can grow into a tree that is between 6 – 20 feet tall, with a 20-foot spread of branches?!

I only know this because God has put this verse in front of me so many times over the past month that it instigated my need to understand more.

And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he has seizures and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.”  And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.”  And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” – Matthew 17:14-20

One moment Jesus tells his disciples that they are lacking faith and that’s why they could not heal this little boy. But then in the same breath he says all you need is the tiniest amount of faith — just the size of the smallest seed you can imagine — and it is enough to overcome seemingly impossible obstacles. At first, I could only gather that Jesus is telling the disciples that their faith is seriously lacking and doesn’t even amount to a tiny seed.

But as I continued read and research more about the mustard seed, and the other times Jesus had used that analogy, I began to understand that it was less a rebuke of the disciples lacking faith, and more a picture of just how big God’s part is compared to ours.

I think what Jesus is really saying is that all you need is a little bit of faith, and God will provide the rest. He will provide the sunshine and rain, and fertilize the soil so our mustard seed size faith can grow and expand to be a 20 foot tall tree.

We bring just a little to the table in comparison to what He brings.

I don’t know about you, but this is such a comfort to me because sometimes I feel like I have just the tiniest bit of faith. When I’m filled with fear, doubt, and anxiety my bold Sunday-morning, tree-sized faith starts to crumble and crack.

When things get really, really bad I let the words from the enemy consume me and my faith shrinks even more.

And then, just when I think I’ve been through every kind of hard there is, when I think my faith can’t possibly be stretched any further, I find myself on my knees sobbing, and crying out, “Lord I don’t think I can do this, I don’t know that I have enough faith to get up off the floor and move forward.”

And He whispers back, “I will pick you up and be your crutch. Lean on me.”

When I think that I’ve done everything God has asked of me, and I’ve trusted him with my future, my marriage, my children. But then my husband is in the hospital, or my child is suffering and scared, I find myself driving down the highway saying, “God, I don’t think I can do this. I don’t know that I have enough faith to trust you to heal them.”

And He says, “I am the divine healer.”

When I’ve said, “Yes, Lord, I want to obey your calling in my life, I am prepared to be your follower, your disciple, I’ll lead small group Bible studies and women’s retreats.” And then right in the middle of a really bad day, when my son is melting down and my husband and I are fighting and 8 friends are about to walk through our front door for Bible study, I think, “God, I am not equipped for this, my faith is too small to offer hope and encouragement to others.”

He says: “It is my hope they seek, not yours.”

This verse reminds me that God does the heavy lifting, not us. We don’t need a huge, mountainous supply of faith because we have a God who more than makes up for our shortcomings. He knows that I will struggle and sometimes my faith will feel really, really small. He knows there are times I won’t feel bold and brave, but scared and broken.

His promise is that as long as I cling to Him with just the thinnest thread of faith, HE will do the rest. He will give me power to move mountains. Because my strength comes from Him, and not from me.

 

 

Matthew 17:20

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The work in waiting

Waiting. It seems like a passive activity. I mean the idea of waiting is that you aren’t actually doing anything. The waiting is what happens before or in between action.

You wait for the bus.

You wait in line at the grocery store.

You wait for the microwave to ding.

There are rooms built just for waiting and they usually involve magazines and/or TVs to help people sit quietly and…well, wait.

But of course assuming that waiting is always easy or comfortable is false. Just ask anyone who’s waited for the doctor to call with biopsy results. Or the 17 year old girl waiting for that college acceptance letter. Or the parent waiting for the phone call that her son arrived at his destination safely after flying alone for the first time.

Sometimes waiting is arduous, even agonizing.

I’ve never been particularly good at waiting. Patience does not come easily and waiting for big news, a decision, or even for my kids to get their shoes on can start to give me anxiety.

I like deadlines and predictability. I am a planner and need to know everything that’s going to happen and when. Back when I was a senior in college, my then-boyfriend and I had been dating for over 2 years and were talking about marriage. I knew he was going to propose, but not knowing when, where, or how was killing me! I would look for hidden meaning in every phone call or letter, trying to figure out his plans. Every time he came to visit me at school I would get incredibly anxious thinking this may be the day, only to be disappointed when the visit ended and there had been no proposal. Finally, one day I said, “are you EVER going to propose to me?” Just what every guy wants to hear, right?

Thankfully he didn’t scare easily and finally got down on one knee two months before graduation. We’ll be married 16 years this month.

Some things are definitely worth the agony that comes with the waiting. And some things just shouldn’t be rushed. I know this intellectually, but in my heart I struggle to be at peace in the midst of waiting.

When I was a teenager, God put a calling in my heart to be a writer. A few years later, God put another calling in my heart to serve Him in ministry, although I wasn’t sure exactly what that would look like. As I entered the great big adult world after college I applied for countless writing or editing jobs and got no response, not even an interview. And because I said yes to that proposal, I put on hold any plans to go to seminary or do missions work.

Being young and impetuous, I decided I had misunderstood that call to be a writer. And I thought maybe the calling to go into ministry was misheard, and I was really just supposed to volunteer at church more. I gave up waiting for God to reveal any more, and did the practical thing: I got a job in corporate communications and moved forward with my life as a wife and, eventually, as a mother. But every few years I would feel restless. I would start to think about those two callings I felt early on in life and wonder: what if?

Then, two years ago, I found myself in a bit of a perfect storm. I was finishing up grad school and thinking about the next chapter in my career. At the same time I was part of a group of people planting a church in our community. What had started out as a small group Bible study was turning into a new church, and God was working in my heart and spirit in big ways. For the first time in years I felt the familiar tug of that call to go into ministry.  At the same time, I had been writing for my University’s student blog and remembering how much I loved writing.

Suddenly, I felt so certain that God was saying: “Now! This is the time. This is what you’ve been waiting for!” Things moved quickly for the next few months. I started this blog, I met with an editor who showed interest in a book idea, I went to a conference and learned about book proposals and building a platform. The rate at which it all started to come together, made me certain God had something big planned for me, and it was just right around the corner.

But it wasn’t long before momentum slowed considerably. The editor I’d spoken to left the publishing house and no one could tell me what had happened to my proposal. While I continued to write for my blog, readership did not grow as I had expected. Inquiry letters to literary agents went unanswered, or I got the “thanks, but no thanks” email. I applied for all kinds of jobs at Christian schools and non-profits. But any leads I got fizzled quickly.

I started to question again if I had heard the call correctly. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to write, or maybe it was never going to be more than a “hobby”.

the waiting might just be the journeyBut while the things I thought were part of the plan weren’t happening, God also presented some unexpected opportunities in my life. My husband and I started to lead a small group Bible study. I had the opportunity to plan and lead my first (and second) women’s retreat. I was called to go on a mission trip to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. I was encouraged by my pastor to start a women’s ministry at our young church.

Then, about three months ago I was invited by some friends to join in an Experiencing God class. At first I almost declined because I felt I just didn’t have time for it. But after some prayer I decided to go forward. (I won’t go into too much detail about all the ways this class has impacted me and my spiritual walk, because it deserves a post all on its own, but let me just say I highly recommend Experiencing God to anyone seeking to know God more intimately.) A recurring theme in Experiencing God is that God will invite us to become involved with Him in His work, but it will lead to a crisis of belief, requiring both faith and action, and ultimately a major adjustment in life.

Faith and action. I’m really good at the action part, but faith requires waiting and trusting. And that is where I stumble. Because letting go of control doesn’t come naturally. And because waiting can be hard work.

I felt the call to make big changes and adjustments, and I was ready! But I couldn’t discern exactly what it was God wanted me to do. I kept waiting for some clear direction and in the waiting I grew increasingly frustrated.

Then I read something in my Experiencing God book yesterday that really hit me: “Let God use times of waiting to mold and shape your character…God’s great task is to adjust His people to Himself. It takes time for Him to shape us to be exactly what He wants us to be…The key is your relationship with God. The God who initiates His work in a relationship with you is the One who guarantees to complete it” (Blackaby, 2007).

And it finally seemed so clear. My struggle with waiting has been that I’ve always seen it as wasted or lost time, taking away from the important things, the getting on with life. Time spent in line, when I could be at home cooking a meal; time spent reading a magazine, when I could be talking to the doctor; time spent waiting to hear God’s call, when I could be out there doing His work.

In my haste to get to my destination, it never occurred to me that the waiting might just be the journey. And in the journey, there is anticipation and excitement. There is time spent with those travelling with you. In the journey there is beauty and there is joy.

Yes, there is work in waiting, but the real work isn’t mine; it’s the work God is doing in the midst of the waiting to refine me, to prepare me.

A few weeks ago I hosted the second Renew and Restore Women’s Retreat. Our verse for the weekend was Isaiah 40:31. For the retreat I used the NIV version, which says “but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Then last week I discovered a slight, but poignant difference in the New King James Version of the same verse, which says:

“But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

So, I wait. But I wait with anticipation and excitement over what is to come. I find renewal and relationship in the midst of the wait. And I look for the beauty and the joy that is unique to this journey.

 

photo credit: sit and wait via photopin (license)

 

One year and counting…

One year.

A lot can happen in one year.

On June 26th, 2014 I took a deep breath and officially launched Neither Height Nor Depth. Not sure at the time what it would turn into, who would read it, or exactly why the Lord was calling me to do this, I took the leap of faith and, wow! What a ride the past 12 months have been.

Firstly, I want to thank everyone who took the time to read, comment and share. To date I’ve had over 5,100 visits to Neither Height Nor Depth, with 613 Facebook followers and 56 people subscribed to receive posts via email. You can imagine my surprise and excitement when I started to find out people other than my mom were reading my blog!

But really, what has meant the most to me are the personal messages. Every time one of you sent me a private email or message, or even stopped me in person to say how something you read touched you. Or how you had “been there, too”. Or even how you were struggling alone to heal a marriage, keep your cool with your kids, forgive a family member, or recover from sexual abuse, and my openness helped you feel less alone…this made all the difference. These notes let me know that God has a plan, and you and I are part of that plan. It reminded me that my writing isn’t really about my words at all, but it’s about His word.

Thank you for that.

I don’t really know what the coming year will bring, except that I plan to keep writing, keep sharing, keep encouraging, and hopefully keep laughing! And maybe sneak in a post or two about Michael W. Smith. Hey, some things never change!

I’m working on planning a women’s retreat in September in Strasburg, VA (more details coming very soon), and still working on that book proposal and trying to own the title of writer. But the rest I will take as it comes, and keep working on giving it up to God and letting Him lead the way.

Thank you for being here for the first year. I hope you will continue on this journey with me.

Lots of love,

Jelise

 

 

photo credit:  via photopin (license)

 

It is well with my soul

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.

Do you know that old hymn “It is well with my soul”? It’s one of my favorites. I love everything about it…the responsiveness and harmonies in the chorus, the building melody, and of course the hope and promise in the lyrics. But most of all I love the story behind the song. Horatio Spafford wrote these words while mourning the loss of his four daughters, killed at sea. This tragedy was one of many Spafford suffered, including the death of his only son several years before, and the loss of his business to the Chicago fires. And yet, in his grief and sorrow he was able to say “it is well with my soul.” Oh how I aspire to affirm these words and posses the faithfulness of Mr. Spafford.

Last Sunday our amazing praise band sang this song and by the second line a giant lump had formed in my throat preventing me from doing more than mouth the words. Then the tears began to pool until they flowed over my lashes and down my cheeks. I wept for the beauty of the song. I cried because of the promise of the words. But more than anything, my heart broke because I so desperately wanted to say those words and believe they were true. To trust in my Father so deeply that even when I’m in the middle of a raging storm I can be confident that He will whisper peace to my soul. But the tears came because I knew all that I was lacking.

It’s been a difficult couple of weeks. Stress, overwhelming responsibility, lack of sleep, lack of focus…lack of faith. I have felt like the “Jordan above me” was sweeping me into its current. And I most definitely have not felt like all is well in my soul.

It is hard to face this part of myself. This part that lacks faith and falls short. That doubts and mistrusts and turns away. That focuses on the unfavorable and overlooks the blessings. That sees adversity without opportunity and cries out “when?” and “why?” instead of “I can wait” and “I put my trust in You.” In the midst of horrible tragedy and loss Horatio Spafford was able to have peace in his soul, but I have a rough week at work or struggle with my kids and I start to fracture.

Patience, trust, faith. These are the things I try to teach my children, they are prayers I lift up for friends who are struggling, encouragement I pass on to colleagues, words I share with all of you who read this blog. Yet so often I forget them for myself.

But our God…He knew I would. He is so good and merciful; He caters for my lack of faith and meets me where I am. The living word says, “…there is one ray of hope:  his compassion never ends. It is only the Lord’s mercies that have kept us from complete destruction.  Great is his faithfulness; his loving-kindness begins afresh each day.  My soul claims the Lord as my inheritance; therefore I will hope in him” (Lamentations 3:21-24, TLB).

His loving-kindness begins afresh each day. Can we just sit together a moment to soak up the warmth of that promise?

Lamentations 3:23

He doesn’t just love me; He doesn’t just forgive me. But He is kind and gentle with me. No yelling, no losing His patience, rolling His eyes or sighing heavily and muttering under His breath, “you’d think you would have gotten this figured out by now.” Instead His loving-kindness is there, refreshed and renewed every day. Which means I get a fresh start every day. We all get a fresh start every day.

Every. Single. Day.

Yesterday my soul was weary. My faith wavered.  My trials consumed my thoughts. The river rolled over me and I struggled to keep my head above.

But today? Today is a new day and His gentle, loving kindness is pure and bright and fresh. It glows like a rising sun and I have another chance to bask in its warmth. To let it wash over me and straight into my soul. Another chance to choose trust, patience, and faith instead of doubt, worry and fear. To choose to say: it is well, it is well with my soul.

Why church?

If you haven’t picked up on it by now, this will be the blog post that assures you I fall short in my faithfulness in so many ways!

True confession time. Prior to January, if you asked me if I thought that weekly church attendance was critical to my spiritual well-being I would have said “eh, not really.” Big moments of spiritual growth didn’t happen for me on Sunday morning; they happened at retreats, where intense focus, study and community for 48 hours straight set my spirit to overflowing. Or it happened in small group Bible studies where there is a measure of safety that allows me to be raw and honest, sharing real truths. Or large conferences where amazing key-note speakers reignited the passion I felt as a young believer and being in a room with 800 other people singing 10,000 Reasons moved me to tears.

Sure, it was important to have a church home, someplace to feel connected. But church for me was primarily an entryway to learning about those conferences and retreats, finding a small group Bible study to join, or getting connected to other Christians. It was a chance to serve and give back (if the area where I served even required me to be there on Sunday morning, which often it didn’t). But Sunday morning service? It was not something my soul yearned for each week. It was just a means to an end. And the truth is I’m not the only one to think like this.

According to “Sacred Roots: Why the Church Still Matters” by the Barna Group, 51% of people surveyed say church is not very important to them, and 40% of that group say they find God elsewhere — outside of church. That means at least 20% of believers aren’t looking to Sunday morning worship to be a source of spiritual growth. And those that do think church is still relevant? Well these days going to church once a month is considered regular attendance by that group, compared to my parent’s generation where 3 or more times a month was considered regular attendance. And I get it, because until very recently I fell into that group.

I’m sure the reasons for this trend of Christians moving away from church are varied, and I don’t proclaim to speak on behalf of any large group. But I do know what it feels like to be hurt by the church. To be disappointed or let down. I’ve been there. I also know what it feels like to be uninspired and unchallenged, walking to the parking lot thinking, “well, checked that off my to-do list.” I know what it feels like to enter the sanctuary doors and just feel like a number. These are all reasons that have caused me to leave a church. And maybe you have left the church, or rarely attend anymore for one of these, as well. But if I’ve learned one thing in my ongoing quest to find the “perfect church” it’s that no church is perfect.

Churches mess up because they are run by people. And people? Well we’re far from perfect and we mess up. A lot. All of us! And as long as we hold our church leaders to higher standards than we hold ourselves, we will be let down. If this is where you are and why you have left the church or don’t attend regularly, I encourage you to forgive and not give up.

Matthew 18:20

For me, despite having been let-down or disappointed in the past, my lack of regular attendance stemmed more from apathy than distrust. Church didn’t challenge me. It didn’t energize me. It didn’t fill my soul.

And this is where I found myself in the last couple of years, feeling like regular church attendance just wasn’t necessary to my walk with Christ.

But that all changed about 7 months ago. You see our church — the one I attended about once a month — decided to expand by adding a second site right in our neighborhood, and our small group Bible study was asked to be a part of the planning and leadership team. On the outside, I was all for it. But internally? I wasn’t sure I was fully on board.

Despite my uneasiness and resistance, I heard God encouraging me to be a part of this. To ride the wave and see what happened.

“Come on, Jelise, this is going to be really amazing! You need to share in this!”

“OK Lord, but I’m not making any promises for the long-term,” I bargained. “You know how I feel about Sunday mornings! I’m not sure I can commit to being there every week.”

So God laughed.

Then He found a way to get me there every week. I became part of the leadership team and my husband started playing in the band. Both of these roles required we be there every Sunday. The first few services, well they were good. I genuinely enjoyed them. But I still didn’t feel impassioned. I was going more out of obligation than some deep-seated desire to be in that chair every Sunday morning.

Then, about the 3rd or 4th Sunday things started to change. I remember standing there as the band played, singing along to the words and my throat started to close as my eyes welled with tears. I felt every word of that song. “Your love never fails, it never gives up. It never runs out on me. On and on and on and on it goes. It overwhelms and satisfies my soul.” And I was…overwhelmed and satisfied. Then the sermon started and I had a new-found intent and focus to how I listened. I was immersed in our Pastor’s words and I felt like God was using them to speak directly to me. And the next Sunday the same thing happened, and the next, and the next, and the…well you get the point.

Pretty soon it got so that I woke up Sunday morning yearning to go to church! Don’t you love that word, yearn? It so perfectly describes how I began to feel. Going to church was suddenly a must-have, a highlight to my week. It was no longer something I did if I wasn’t too tired to stay home, or a place I went out of obligation. And the work God has done in me and my spiritual growth in the last 7 months? Well, it’s been nothing short of phenomenal.

Matthew 18:20 says, For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Jesus himself tells us that when we gather with others to worship Him, He will meet us there! This is what I have experienced in the past seven months. God has met me there every Sunday, week after week. I just had to be obedient enough to show up!

It took some divine intervention to get me to start going to church every week, but once I did? Boy did I realize how wrong I was about the impact the church has on my spiritual well-being. I have been re-ignited. Each Sunday leaves my soul filled to the brim and overflowing with joy, peace, and desire to get into The Word.

If you feel like I did, that being in church every week isn’t critical to your walk with God. If you’ve been hurt, disappointed or uninspired by the church and feel like it’s become irrelevant and unnecessary, please, I encourage you, don’t put it off any longer. If you don’t have a church, find one. If you have one, but don’t attend regularly, commit to going every week for 8 weeks and see what happens in your life. I guarantee, God will meet you there.