Losing and Finding

“If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it” (Matthew 10:38-39, NLT).

Jesus was not playing in Matthew 10. The chapter is filled with some truths that are hard to hear, and honestly, verses 38 and 39 aren’t even the most uncomfortable. In fact, I find verse 39 to be rather poetic.

This scripture goes back to being both alive and dead at once, like zombies. If we choose to keep our lives, we die. If we give up our lives, we live.

So what is Jesus talking about? And why did I include verse 38 if our main point is in verse 39?

Paul used the same symbolism in Galatians 2:20, which we discussed last week, and what he said there is not altogether different from what Jesus is saying here. Paul said he was crucified with Christ, and Jesus is telling us that to be His, we have to pick up our crosses and follow Him. Paul meant that when he accepted that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, the sinful man Paul was died. Jesus means that if we’re not willing to let go of the people we were before Him and if we’re not willing to shoulder any of the changes and shifts in our lives that come from following Him, we don’t deserve to belong to Him.

We’re not used to hearing Jesus talk this way. I’d even take it a step further and say that we don’t like to hear Him talk like this. We view Jesus as a great guy who understands us, who loves us, who will forgive us. All of that is absolutely true, so please don’t think for a second that I’m trying to tell you otherwise. But He is so much more than that. He loves us, yes, enough to be honest with us. He’ll forgive us, of course, but He knows the difference between a genuine and an insincere heart, and He knows that if there’s no correction or consequences, we’ll just run out and hurt Him again. He understands us, sure, and He understands how difficult it is to carry a cross, which is why He instructs us to follow Him so He can help us.

This is where the next verse comes in because it’s an expansion of what He was saying before. If we cling to our own lives– what we want, our priorities, how we see things– we will die. Eternally. If our lives remain centered on us and sin and ways that don’t align with God’s, we will ultimately and truly die. We’ll live and then die like typical humans.

To die and then live, however, is the way of the zombie. To lose our lives– accept Jesus as our Savior, seek God’s will instead of our own, be directed by the Holy Spirit– gives us eternal life. Our entire existence becomes centered around God, and when that happens, we find His gifts all around us and in us. We’ll die a mortal death, but then we’ll spend forever in light and love.

I’ll reiterate for any newcomers or for anyone who hasn’t read last week’s post: Losing your life does not mean losing who you are. You are still you, still the person God designed you to be, still capable of doing things in the kingdom of God that not just anyone can do. You’ll have your convictions– places you can’t go anymore or people you have to set up boundaries with or things you used to do that you shouldn’t. And that’ll change parts of your life, but it won’t take it away. God may reign in your life, but that doesn’t mean you no longer get to enjoy it.

I’m a zombie. Are you a zombie too?

Have you given up your life only to find a new one? If you have, you know that it’s filled with hope, joy, mercy, provision, and love unconditional. If you haven’t, would you like to? You can trade in your sorrows, burdens, and bitterness when you die to yourself. And you’ll come back to life forever.

By Carrie Prevette

The Fourth Commandment

I love not having anything to do on Sundays. Resting on the Sabbath is no problem for me. I ordinarily just go to church, eat, sleep, and watch T.V. For what it’s worth, I’m a fairly lazy person, so this isn’t hard for me.

If you’re an active person, resting on Sunday may not come as easily to you as it does to me, and that’s okay. Because ultimately, the whole point is that what you do on your Sabbath isn’t labor.

“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy” (Exodus 20:8-11, NLT).

So no labor. But what about those who have to work on Sundays?

The most important part of the Sabbath is not the day of the week that we observe it. The seventh day is important because that was the day God rested after creating everything and because the number seven is symbolic of completion and wholeness (i.e., the seventh day of the week is the last day of the week, signaling its completion). If we have the option to observe the Sabbath on Sunday, we should because it is the seventh day. Life doesn’t always fall neatly into seven-day increments, though. The most important part of the Sabbath, whenever one can observe it, is that it is a day dedicated to God. This follows with the theme of the commands that precede it.

We do not get gold stars for not working on Sundays nor do we get gold stars for simply going to church. If the Sabbath is to be dedicated to God then we have to engage with God and the conversation about Him.

When the worship band plays, don’t just think about whether or not you like the songs. Think about what the lyrics are saying, and if a song resonates with you, express that to God, whether it’s by singing or dancing or raising your hands or meditating quietly. There’s no one way to worship, but we do need to worship.

When they’re taking up tithes and you are able to give, give. Whether you view it as a form of worship or sacrifice, do it for God by giving to God.

When someone prays aloud, don’t just stand there and listen to them. Talk to God by praying.

During the sermon, interact with the message. Personally, I take notes, and if it weren’t for this blog, I doubt I’d ever look back at most of them. I write down the points the speaker is making, but I also write down scripture that fits the message that wasn’t used and my own perspective on the scripture and points being made if they differ from the speaker’s.

An example of this is my post on the woman at the well. The way I see her and her story is different from how Alan views it all. We read the same scripture, but our life experiences (specifically, his as a man and mine as a woman) create different lenses through which we see and analyze the text. Thinking about these different perspectives and writing about my own was a way for me to interact with the message and the scripture.

This interaction with God and His word is what He wants from us and, I believe, what He ultimately commands us in Exodus 20. Not time when we’re with Him and ignoring Him, but time when we engage with Him.

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always take the advice I’ve given here. (I believe it’s Alice in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland who says, “I give myself very good advice, but I very seldom follow it.”) I don’t always do or want to do these things, but if I want to observe the Sabbath and dedicate my time to God, I need to focus on Him, be mindful of Him, and interact with Him.

This is the importance of the Sabbath, whenever that may be for you if not on Sundays: dedicate your time to God. Not that we always want to or that we always find it easy but that God is always deserving of our best efforts and our affections.

By Carrie Prevette

P.S.- For more on resting and spending time with God, check out this post of mine from quite a while back. I hope you find it useful.

Persecution and Growth

While the opening chapters of Acts empower and equip the apostles and other believers, the following chapters demonstrate why that was necessary.

The first recognizable theme of chapters 5-8 is suffering. At every turn, it seems, the apostles are told to stop preaching the Gospel, to stop speaking in the name of Jesus. These weren’t idle irritations as they were arrested and stood before councils. They were flogged, which served as a consolation for the elders and authorities who wanted to kill them.

The authorities’ irritation at the apostles was due to how much they disliked Jesus, but their persecution was justified under Roman rule not because of their beliefs but because they didn’t want an uprising from the believers.

Because despite the public pursuit and persecution of the apostles, the Church was growing rapidly.

This is the context in which we are introduced to Stephen. There is an ongoing paradox here of persecution and growth, and Stephen proves to be the highest point of tension within that paradox.

Stephen was wonderful. He was full of grace and power. He was eager to do for God. He had charisma and his face was like an angel’s.

Not everyone was smitten with Stephen, though. Some people plotted against him and said he was speaking blasphemy. Stephen faced a council, and his case was damaged by false witnesses. They asked Stephen what he had to say for himself, and he went into what can be considered both a defense of the faith and a history of it. He ends by calling the council “stiff-necked” and “uncircumcised in hearts and ears,” and he said they “received the law as ordained by angels, and yet [they had] not kept it” (Acts 7:51-53, NRSV).

You would think that Stephen would take this time to make himself a more sympathetic, non-threatening character. Instead, Stephen uses this time to insult the people who are already wanting loud-mouth Christ-followers dead. Stephen believed what he said to be true, and we have no proof in scripture that the last minutes of his life were plagued with regret for what he said. The fact remains, though, that this did lead to the end of Stephen’s life because they stoned him.

While Stephen was being stoned to death, an ambitious and devoted man called Saul stood by monitoring the situation as everyone’s coats laid at his feet. Saul approved of them killing Stephen.

Then the floodgates opened.

The first three verses of Acts 8 are chaotic and disheartening. The persecution spread from the apostles to all believers, and people were dragged out of their homes to be thrown in prison.

But the story doesn’t stop there.

The rest of Acts 8 shows the growth and preserverance of the Church despite the danger of proclaiming the faith. Believers preached everywhere they went. Word of mouth was incredible. People came to listen and believe in groups. And believers were eager enough to share that they would go out of their way to witness to even one person, as Philip did when he left thriving Samaria to meet who turned out to be the treasurer of Ethiopia.

The point of all this summarizing and what we learn from this chunk of scripture is that God is always at work. Even in our suffering. Even when the world around us is crumbling and makes no sense. When we’re scattered. When we’re hurting. God is always working for our good.

It doesn’t make it easier. It doesn’t make our issues or troubles go away. It doesn’t even increase our understanding. But I refuse to believe that I’m the only one comforted by this.

The God who made you is pulling for you. He loves you. He believes in you. And He’s doing everything He can for you. All we have to do is ask and believe. I know that’s not always easy, but God will never leave us disappointed if we keep our eyes on Him.

The early Church was not perfect. It experienced new ground, new people, and a new era, and they had to learn how to navigate all that. As relentless as the persecution was, had the Church not been focused on God and the message of Jesus, they would have been easily snuffed out. But because they focused on God, they survived and prospered.

If you’re in a difficult season or if you’re spiritually weak or frustrated or confused, I hope you can find the same hope that I find in Acts 8. The Church’s story wasn’t over, and neither is yours.

By Carrie Prevette

Distractions and Idols

One of my favorite professors once told my class on the first day that he didn’t want us to have our phones out in class because distractions make people stupid.

Five years later, I still agree with him.

Dr. Hoyt’s whole point was that we weren’t stupid, but that all the texts, links, and apps that our phones offered us could steal our attention and make us stupid as a result. Which is true because the act of me paying attention to my phone instead of the instructor of a class I’m paying for is stupid as well as remaining ignorant on information I know I’ll be tested on.

I believe spiritual distractions make us spiritually stupid.

This week’s bumper sticker – “Don’t let the car fool you. My treasure is in heaven.” – alludes to idolatry, specifically money. It’s by far and away the weirdest form of materialism I’ve ever heard. It speaks of pride in an eternal possession which somehow cheapens it. I think it’s funny when used sarcastically, but without any context, it sounds a little bratty.

Suddenly, what we have in heaven is compared to what we have here. Heaven feels like it comes with a price tag or like it’s been sealed tightly under dirt waiting for someone to come along with a shovel and some patience. It feels less like a celebration of God and His loving grace. It becomes more like a trend or collector’s item than a paradise for our weary souls.

The bumper sticker takes a gift from God and turns it into the focus of our attention. It distracts us. Jesus said in John 10:10 that the enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy, and I do believe he does all of those things to our focus as well as to us.

At the bottom of my tithe checks, on the memo line, I always write my favorite scripture about money, 1 Timothy 6:17-19, which reads, “Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life” (NLT).

The NRSV states that last part as “so that they make take hold of the life that really is life.”

All of this goes hand-in-hand with the rest of John 10:10, where Jesus says that He came to give us life more abundantly.

Paul warns us in 1 Timothy 6 about making money an idol, how it can distract us from doing good or looking to God first. And he speaks of how a life of looking to God does store up eternal treasure, but he says that this is done when we turn our attention away from the blessing or the distraction of money and turn it towards God.

The bumper sticker is a Catch 22. It speaks of treasure stored in eternity, but in making that the focus, it becomes the idol.

The truth is, it’s easy to talk about money this way. As long as currency has existed, it’s easily been made an idol. Power, greed, etc. But the issues of spiritual distraction and idolatry can apply to pretty much anything. Success can be a distraction if it’s causing you to neglect your relationship with God, if it’s all you want or think about, if a fear of failure drives you. Marriage can become an idol if you’re too focused on your spouse or fighting and bickering without seeking God’s help. It can also be an idol if you’re pursuing marriage more than you’re pursuing God. Even striving for happiness can distract us if what we’re doing doesn’t align with what God wants us to do. Anything, regardless of how seemingly innocent or helpful, can be an idol or distraction if we allow it to come between us and God.

Enjoy the blessings and gifts of God. More than that, spend them on others. If you have a lot of money, enjoy it, but give to others. If you’re successful, celebrate, but help others succeed. If you have an abundance of joy, don’t hide it, but try to bring others joy as well. God gives to us abundantly so that we may give to others from the overflow, and we can only have that abundance if we keep our focus on God.

By Carrie Prevette

Closed Doors

We all have our share of failed plans. Grand plans that just didn’t work out. Plans to study abroad or have kids or make it big in that band right out of high school or get on the fast track to promotion at work. Plans that – no matter how ridiculous they sounded or how encouraged they were – would have certainly changed our lives.

But doors close, right? There are certain things that I want to do that I shouldn’t do, regardless of whether or not I know why. And my understanding of that doesn’t necessarily change how upset I get about those paths being closed off. It does mean, though, that if I trust God enough to ask Him to guide me, I should trust Him enough to actually let Him do it. If I claim to believe He knows better than me, I should at least try to let Him lead me to “better.”

Paul, evidently, was pretty good at that. Or at least he was at the time of Acts 16. Paul and his people originally wanted to go to Asia, but were redirected by the Holy Spirit to Phrygia and Galatia. Then they wanted to go to the province of Bithynia but were redirected to Troas. That’s where Paul had a vision from God to go to Macedonia, and he did. Specifically, Paul’s group went to Philippi in the district of Macedonia (Acts 16:6-12).

“Why?” is probably the most human of questions. We always want to know the reason for something. And as much of an uber human as Paul was, I also find Paul pretty relatable at times. Luke, the author of Acts, doesn’t say that Paul questioned God here, but it would’ve been understandable if he had.

So Paul and his crew are in Philippi, speaking to people, even doing a little baptizing. One day they’re on their way to the place where they pray when they encounter a demon-possessed fortune-teller. She was good, but she got on Paul’s nerves. He eventually cast the demon out of her. The guys she worked for were mad and took Paul and Silas to the authorities. Everyone was all worked up to the point that a mob formed. So Paul and Silas were stripped, beaten badly, and put not only in prison, but into the inner dungeon of the prison and into stocks (Acts 16:13-24).

This is why I’m God’s problem child: at this point in the story, I would be mad. In every way, Paul is not where he wants to be. He’s in the most secure part of a prison in Macedonia, not preaching to people in Asia. God gave Paul a vision after He closed two doors, and Paul followed, and now he’s seemingly stuck in a bad situation. I would be scared and grumpy and ready to just get through it and go.

Paul and Silas’ situation seems very hopeless. But hopeless is where God shines brightest.

Paul, unlike me, didn’t dwell on his bad circumstances and failed plans. Unlike me, he didn’t question or doubt. No, Paul prayed and sang. Everyone listened to them, and around midnight, there was an earthquake. The foundations shook, doors opened, chains fell off. The guard thought everyone had left and was going to kill himself. But Paul stopped him. And the guard asked what he had to do to be saved. Paul told him to believe in Jesus. After his conversion, the guard washed their wounds and took them to his house where they baptized him and all of his family. And the next day, the authorities let Paul and Silas go (Acts 16: 25-36).

Thinking of what we wanted to happen but never did rarely puts us in a great mood. Thinking of opportunities missed and roads not taken cause us to look behind and not forward.

In December, I’ll have been on this Earth for a quarter of a century. And despite the fleeting feelings of awe and aging I have towards that fact from time to time, I think most of us, if not all of us, can agree that’s not very long. Yet I find myself owning up to the fact that I haven’t done some things I would’ve liked to by now, items on the bucket list that I thought would be crossed off already, like having a book published or traveling to certain places. It’s not to say that I’m running out of time so much as I sometimes worry that the timeline doesn’t look good someone like myself who gets comfortable and stuck in ruts a lot. So at almost 25, I already look back too much.

What good does that do me? What can I do to change anything that’s already happened even if I wanted to. And would I really want to considering all of my experiences from both successful and failed plans have made me who I am?

Plus, how does that make God feel? I say I trust Him and want Him in control, but the second our plans for my life differ, I huff and pout and try to compromise. Surely it must hurt Him to know I’m not trusting Him, to know that something like that could affect how I see Him or how I feel about Him. And to know that I look back at failed plans that I made for myself like they could’ve been better than His? How does He still love me like He does?

Because He’s God.

Paul must have known this because he doesn’t dwell on what he wanted. He was focused on what was right in front of him. But Paul saw just as much value and potential in Macedonia as Asia. He was open to God and had faith in Him.

Paul’s faith even carried him though the dungeon. Dark, dank, secluded, and guarded. Had God not shook the foundations, Paul would have stayed there, but Paul’s faith in God’s faithfulness was bigger than Paul’s opinion of his circumstances.

Let’s try something crazy. Let’s trust God. Let’s have faith in Him. Let’s be bold enough to see what “better” looks like. Take God up on His promises and plans. Be open and obedient to Him.

By Carrie Prevette

Keep Your Heart

I have the most trouble explaining to people that I like being single.

I like being able to go see whatever movie I want and sit where I want in the theater. I enjoy driving alone, singing loudly to the music that I get to pick and turn the heat or air conditioning up as I please. I love being able to wear whatever clothes and make up I want without worrying about if anyone else likes it. I like cooking for one. I love being able to go to concerts, hang out and take selfies with cute band members afterwards without anyone getting clingy or jealous. I enjoy my space and freedom and being able to do what I like with the energy and time both of those allow me.

Until a guy comes along who compensates for all of that and truly adds even more joy to my life and feels the same about me, I’m not giving up the freedom I get from being single.

The problem with all of this is that we’re taught from a very early age by people – be it society or the media or even family members – that our happiness cannot begin until we’re in a romantic relationship that’s headed for marriage. So when I tell people that I’m happy being single, a lot of them either think I’m crazy or don’t believe me.

Listening to someone talk about a breakup they’re going through always seems to validate my singleness. If I’m not terribly close to the person or the situation, I sometimes internally smirk and pat myself on the back for not putting myself in a position to maybe end up a ball of emotion or a bitter wreck. I’ve done well to guard myself and my heart.

And to demonstrate just how much emphasis our society places on romance, we take spiritual advice and turn it into romantic advice.

“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Proverbs 4:23, NRSV)

Pretty, isn’t it? Not terrible dating advice either. Guard your heart because it’s valuable and important and bad people will corrupt it in some form. Wise. Practical.

And not at all what the author’s getting at.

Let’s read around it. “My child, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them escape from your sight; keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh. Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you. Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Keep straight the path of your feet, and all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.” (Proverbs 4:20-27, NRSV).

The author, presumably Solomon, is telling his kid to listen to him and remember his words because they are helpful, healing words. He says to keep them in the heart and then to guard the heart because it gives life.

Then Solomon says to get rid of “crooked speech” and “devious talk,” and this is incredible spiritual advice. I’m not going to get into what qualifies as bad language or lecture you on what words you should or shouldn’t say, and I don’t fully believe that’s what Solomon means here either. I believe that Solomon is referencing the power of our words and what our words say of us as people. It’s less about the actual words we speak and more about how we mean them. Do I mean to insult someone? Am I speaking kindness into someone’s life? Am I talking about someone, and if so, am I being hurtful?

I believe Solomon is addressing two problems with communication here that affect us spiritually. One is gossip and lies. Gossip and lies profit no one. Spreading things, churning speculation and rumor so much that people believe them as fact just hurt people. It makes them feel judged and devalued, and anyone who generates that isn’t being very loving and peaceful. Two is using language with intent to hurt people. Do we insult people or put them down all the time? Do we say things that drain their self-confidence or dull their self-view? Are we giving them life to give to others or taking what they have of it? Doing such things doesn’t point back to the God of love.

Solomon tells us to keep our eyes looking forward and to keep on the path. But what do the two have to do with each other?

In basketball, it’s easy to fall victim to a trick play. A lot of times defenders look silly because someone will give a no-look pass and that team will score. If you watch, this is because the offensive player is looking one way and is passing another. Usually the body goes where the eyes go. If a player is looking at a teammate, it’s a safe bet he or she will pass to said teammate. If the player looks at the basket, the player will likely shoot. So the defensive player prepares for the ordinary, the way the eyes are looking, and is tricked when the body doesn’t go where the eyes go.

The same applies to our spiritual lives. If our eyes linger on sin, our hearts will take interest in it and we will turn to it. By looking forward on our straight path, we see only the beauty and promise of our straight path. Not looking around us and focusing on where all the sin and masquerading pain exist. Not looking behind us and focusing on our dark and rocky past where we see imperfections or maybe even fun times. Looking forward to hope and countless blessings and focusing on God.

Our focus is what it all comes down to. Are we focused on God, on serving Him, on loving others like He does, on keeping our hearts and lives on the path He has us on? Or are we letting corruption enter our hearts and exit our mouths through a turnstile while looking for something we think will be better but will leave us empty?

Look at your heart. Where is its guard? Where are your eyes looking, and where are your feet turned to? I encourage you to remove anything that’s causing your heart to harden or turn from God. It’s hard, but it’s rewarding. And fill those empty spaces by letting God in. It’ll make your heart feel so full that you won’t hesitate to guard it anymore.

By Carrie Prevette

P.S. – I wrote another blog post that heavily involved Proverbs 4:23 earlier this year. At the risk of sounding super conceited, I’ve got to say that I really like that post. It’s probably one of my favorites that I’ve ever written, and I think it’s a more in depth post about the function of the verse in our lives than this post. You can read it here if you’re interested.

Seek and Find

Our guest preacher, Peter, spoke very nicely on Sunday about looking for God. If you’re a longtime reader of this blog, you may remember that I’ve discussed this a few times before. But I want to speak a little on it here for the newcomers and because it’s sometimes helpful to revisit things. This post won’t be long by any means, but I want to leave you with something to read or think about. And I thought it’d be nice to end 2015, which was a very lovely year for me, with a blog post.

I took a class on Eastern religions my senior year in college to complete my Philosophy and religion minor. One of the religions we covered in that class was Hinduism. “Hinduism” is basically a large umbrella term the incoming British use to categorize everyone who wasn’t a Christian when they arrived in India. So Hinduism isn’t monotheistic because one can worship more than one god as a Hindu and it slams together different people who worship different gods. Some Hindus worship gods who are huge and helped create the world according to their theology. Others worship very intimate gods who inhabit food or drink and are in someone once the substance is consumed.

People probably think I’m crazy when I say that this class helped me grow in my Christian faith, but it’s the absolute truth. That class made me marvel at God in such unique ways. For example, where Hindus pick and choose if they want to love a huge, universe-making god or a god who knows them personally and can be alive within them or both, I don’t have to decide because I worship one God who is both big and personal. I worship a God who is everything.

Maybe it’s because I’m such a spiritual person, but I believe we can find God in everything. I always tell people there’s a silver lining in everything if you look hard enough.

Truth be told, I’ve lived a pretty fortunate life. I won’t deny that for a moment. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t suffered or struggled. I’ve been through things that I thought would end me, but I’m still here because I found God even when it was hardest.

In Jeremiah 29:13 (NIV), God says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

Maybe you’re at a point in your life where you want that to be true, but you just don’t know. Maybe you can’t wait for the new year because you need some kind of new beginning to start over or give you hope. Maybe you don’t want to look for God because you’re scared that you won’t find Him and that you’ll be left disappointed once again.

What do you have to lose?

I can’t promise you many things, but I can guarantee that God is always going to be there. God will always show up, whether it’s in a monumental way or a surprising way. So if you think that finding God is a gamble, I’m here to tell you it’s the safest bet you’ll ever make. If you truly want to find Him, He’ll be there. He’s always there. We just don’t always realize it.

If you put your heart into God and put God into your heart, if you seek Him, you’ll find Him every time, without fail. It’s a matter of where your focus is, where your eyes are. If you’re at the bottom and you’re looking down or beside of you, you won’t find hope. You’ll just see misery. But if you look up, you’ll see where you want to go and you’ll be driven. If you look up, you’ll find God and every blessing He wants to bestow upon you. If you look to Him, you’ll rise to where He wants you to be. It may not happen immediately, but it’ll happen. The saying goes that the heart wants what the heart wants, and if your heart wants God, it’ll find Him.

By Carrie Prevette

Gifts that Differ

I woke up on November 13 excited for the day ahead. Yes, it was Friday. The weekend, full of free time and possibilities, was approaching. Mostly, I was excited because my favorite band, One Direction, was releasing their new album, Made in the A.M., and I was finally going to listen to it in its entirety. It was new music, another gift from four of my favorite people before their hiatus next year, that caused me to actually enjoy waking up that day.

When I went to bed that night, my excitement for something small and harmless had been replaced by concern and hurt from world events. France, Beirut, Japan, Lebanon, Baghdad, Mexico. Terrorist attacks and natural disasters. Death and destruction. Physical and emotional wounds around the world.

If you look at my Facebook page, you’ll see a French flag laying over my profile picture. It’s not because I’m aware of the Paris attacks and none other, although I do truly hate that the attacks in France are getting far more attention than elsewhere, but that’s not France’s fault or the victims’ faults. It’s not because I care more about France than any of the other countries hurt last Friday. For me, it’s a symbol. A tiny, week-long symbol of love and support for my fellow human beings who are in great need of love and support.

A friend of mine answered the backlash about the overwhelming response to the Paris attacks instead of all the recent tragedies. She said very honestly and eloquently that she did feel bad for everyone and that she was praying for everyone, but the incidents in France affected her more than the others. She had just gotten home in the past few weeks from Paris. It’s nothing against Japan or Lebanon or anywhere else. It’s not about race or culture or anything like that. Her heart just has more of a connection with Paris.

And that’s okay.

I don’t know if God’s trying to tell me something or use me to tell someone else, but there have been three distinct times in less than a week that God has shown me this: We are called to care. We are always, without a doubt, called to love and care for others. But we won’t always play large, active roles in every cause and every case.

I’m one of the youth ministers at Abstract, and I love it. I love teenagers, and I enjoy teaching them and listening to them and hanging out with them. I like investing in them and encouraging them. I’ve known since I was a teenager myself that I want to work with youth. I feel called to do it.

My family used to be heavily involved in a nursing home ministry. We would attend church services there and help at other events. It was nice and sweet and most of the people were kind, and it’s a great, necessary ministry, but it’s certainly not my calling. I don’t have a huge drive or passion for it. I don’t mind helping out with it at all, but I can’t imagine myself constantly doing so or leading in that sort of ministry. That’s not for me.

But aren’t both ministries important? Aren’t they both helpful to individuals and the entire community? Aren’t both groups of people loved immeasurably by the Father?

Our first instinct is to help as many different causes as we can. The homeless need help, domestic violence victims need help, starving children need help, veterans need help, cancer patients need help, and so do many other sorts of people. So we want to help them, all of them, but when we try to do it all, we spread ourselves too thin. What starts as a labor of love turns into simply more labor.

We want to be God’s hands and feet in this world. We want to be the salt of the Earth. What we don’t often realize is that we can be those very same things if we focus our gifts, time, and energy on a few things instead of everything.

Romans 12:4-8 (NRSV) says, “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.”

My callings – writer, youth minister – are mine because they fit with who I am. I’m good with words, and I’m not too bad with grammar and punctuation, so I write. I feel the need to tell people who are going through difficult times what God can do for them, and I like encouraging new believers and helping those who are just starting to grow in their faith, and I understand young people, so I teach teenagers.

Maybe you’re good at cooking, so you volunteer at soup kitchens. Or you like organizing, so you plan outreaches or clothing drives. Or you have a loved one who served in a war, so you visit veterans. Whatever you’re good at, I can assure you that there’s someone out there who needs it. And while we should pray and help those who need it, regardless of what our callings are, we shouldn’t get so caught up in doing everything that we forget what God told us specifically to be doing. It’s not to say that we can’t help or pray or donate to worthy causes. It’s just to say that we shouldn’t take on so much that we lose sight of God or neglect Him.

So I want to encourage you all to do two things. First, find what God wants you to do, and pursue it with all your heart. You can do others things too, but don’t abandon what role the Creator wants you to play. Second, pray for everyone. As I see it, the world’s in a pretty fragile state, and even if we can’t go to the edge of it all and make it right, we can talk to the One who can.

By Carrie Prevette

Distracted and Overwhelmed

The old saying goes, “Idle hands are the devil’s playground,” but the same could be said for busy hands as well. The adage refers to the trouble one can get into with no plans, hobbies, commitments, etc. What of an excessively occupied mind, full hands, or a clock without enough time? Aren’t those spiritually risky as well?

Busy lives are spiritually risky, not because being busy is a sin or even frowned upon, but because being busy often distracts us or overwhelms us to the point that God becomes an afterthought.

Just about anything can become a distraction – work, money, hobbies, family, church. If it’s capable of consuming the largest part of your heart or time, it can be a distraction from God and your relationship with Him.

“I’d like to go to Bible study tonight, but I need to get in overtime at work before the holidays get here.”

“I know God wants me to start this devotional, but I’m wiped out and my favorite show’s coming on in ten minutes.”

“I skipped my quiet time with God this morning to sleep in, but now something’s come up. I’ll just do it tomorrow.”

It’s not that we ignore God for people or reasons that are intrinsically bad. Most of the time, it’s for things that should be high priorities. It’s our habit of putting things as a higher priority than God that ruins us.

There’s nothing wrong with volunteering at church or spending time with family and friends or furthering your career. There is something wrong with burning ourselves out on something to the point where there’s not much, if anything, left to give to God.

The receiver of our first fruits is the receiver of our worship.

All of our running runs us ragged.

Personally, if I’m given the choice to sit and relax while snacking and watching a show or movie or to read and think and really study, I’m far more inclined to choose the former over the latter.

Our everyday lives can overwhelm us so much that we don’t want to do much in our downtime.

Let me rephrase to better iterate my point: We’re so busy that, most of the time, we want to spend our free time doing things that require minimal mental and physical activity. We sometimes choose not to do what we really want or need to do because we’re too exhausted.

Where’s the joy in that?

Jesus tells us that we’ll have joy in Him. It’s a fruit of the Spirit. No, we may not always be happy, but we’ll have a deep, profound sense of joy. And if we’re not turning to Jesus to fuel and refill us, if He’s not our source of joy, it’ll be a more generic, fleeting form of joy that we do receive.

I’m reading a book called Playing with Purpose by Mike Yorkey. The book tells the stories of some professional athletes who use their talents and positions in life to glorify God. One such athlete is Jeremy Lin, the center of “Linsanity” in early 2012 and current point guard for the Charlotte Hornets.

Lin signed with the Golden State Warriors his rookie year after going undrafted and after the Warriors were bought by two men, one of whom had coached against Lin when Lin was a kid and knew his talent and work ethic. Later that season, the Warriors sent Lin to their Development League team in Reno. Lin’s first season in the NBA involved being moved around, few playing minutes, and a losing record.

Lin says of this time in his life, “People don’t believe me when I say my rookie season was the toughest year of my life, but it was. I had a lot of long nights and struggles. I had to really learn how to submit my will to God and learn to trust Him while going through difficult situations that I thought were maybe unfair at times or things that I had wished would have gone in a different way. What I learned was to lean on God in those situations, and to make my relationship more intimate by spending more time with Him every day. I did a lot of reading and I did a lot of praying. More praying than I had ever done. I just learned a ton.”

Lin could’ve been bitter and upset at how everything was turning out, and he was so busy that it would’ve been very easy to neglect his relationship with God. He chose to trust in God and carve out time for Him instead. He made sure that God was first in his life and prioritized spending quality time with Him.

I’m not telling you to neglect parts of your life altogether or to sacrifice healthy aspects of your life. I’m advising you to look at the parts of your life, what’s necessary and what’s not, and determine what’s most important.

Because in addition to joy, Jesus gives us just what our busy lives need: rest. Jesus says in Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT), “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Doesn’t that sound nice? Doesn’t that sound exactly like what we need is this crazy, busy world? Jesus offers it freely and gladly. Rest for our souls. Relief from our burdens. Relaxation for our minds. All we have to do is turn to Him. He’ll replace our busy with joy. He’ll refresh us in a way that only He can. We just have to take the time to give it all to Him.

By Carrie Prevette

P.S. – My mom says that the saying is, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” but I’ve only ever heard “devil’s playground.” Despite the fact that the two offer different images and connotations, the meaning remains the same. Although I am kind of interested in hearing any other different versions of this phrase now, so if you’ve got a different one, feel free to share it with me!

Coming Into Focus

My brother and I like to joke around with my sister, Sunnie, about how she’s not spontaneous at all. She’s a woman who likes a plan, and while I respect that, it’s not always very much fun. Derek and I will go to the movies or to play putt putt on a whim. But when we invite Sunnie to go with us, it throws her off. It’s not how she had planned on spending her afternoon (a valid point and reason not to join), so she usually won’t do it with us. If she does go with us, she kind of takes a minute to just freak out.

One time, the three of us went to Mount Airy on a Saturday. I can’t remember if we went to see a movie or to shop in the local stores, but when we were done, I said to Derek, “We should go to Virginia.” (For those of you reading this who may not know, we weren’t far from the state line.) Derek thought it was a great idea. Sunnie, however, who was sitting in the backseat, was not so excited about it. Talk of how that wasn’t the plan commenced. Derek and I realized that it was causing her some anxiety, so we ditched the idea pretty quickly after that.

That was the day I learned just how much my sister doesn’t like deviating from a plan. She says that she’s working on it. Her first move, from what she’s told me, towards being more spontaneous was purchasing Linkin Park tickets three or four months in advance. (Don’t ask me how that’s spontaneous because I don’t really understand it, but it makes sense to her, and I suppose that’s all that matters. Plus, she’s very excited about it, and I love seeing other people get excited about things they love or look forward to.)

To clarify, while I enjoy the freedom of not always having a plan, I have no problems with making plans. Sometimes making plans is not only smarter, but really important as well. Making a plan for what I’m doing when I get off work tomorrow isn’t that big of a deal to me. Making a plan for where I want to be in the next five years of my life is a big deal to me, and it’s important if I don’t want to end up exactly where I am right now.

Maybe you have some big plans for the New Year, and I think that’s great. Your plan could be to eat healthier or travel more or work harder at achieving your dreams. Whatever it is, I’m sure you’re focused and you have a strategy.

But sometimes our plans don’t work out. I’m not saying that to discourage you. I’m saying it because it’s true, and to let you know that while it is true, life goes on.

I won’t bore you with the details (if you’re really interested, comment or contact me and we’ll chat), but suffice it to say that I’ve made plans, some significantly more important than others, that didn’t work out. Not only did I survive and am alive to tell you about it, but I can tell you that I’m actually better off because they didn’t work out.

I could go on and on about how my experiences have made me who I am and how I love who I am, which would be very true. I mostly say I’m better off because I’ve gained a lot of things from what actually happened that would never have happened if my original plans had played out. I wouldn’t have met a lot of the people I’ve met, I wouldn’t have grown as a person the way that I have, and I wouldn’t have learned some of the things I consider pieces of wisdom that God has shown me.

The reason it’s all worked out is because when my original plans crumbled, I’ve somehow managed (with immeasurable help of God, of course) to find another strategy while maintaining my focus. There have also been times when I’ve had to refocus because my heart and mind weren’t where they should’ve been.

2 Samuel 7 tells of a situation where King David’s plans didn’t work out, but everything turned out for the best. If you don’t have the time or energy to turn there, I understand. It’s a lot of reading, so I’ll summarize it here.

David was talking to Nathan, and he said how it didn’t seem right that he was living in this nice, cedar house while the Ark of the Covenant stayed in a tent. (Imagine sleeping in a five-star hotel while God’s down the road a bit in a sketchy motel whose biggest draw is that they have colored TV.) Nathan tells him to do whatever it was he had in mind and that God was with him. But that night, God tells Nathan to tell David that He hadn’t lived in a house since He brought His people out of Egypt, and He never complained about it. He tells Nathan to remind David of where God brought him from, how He’s always been with David, and how He’s handled David’s enemies. He says He’ll appoint a place for the Israelites to live. And He says that He’ll give David a family and establish David’s son’s kingdom. David’s son, not David, will build God a house, and he will be a son of God, and God will be a father to him.

Nathan tells David, and God’s words humble him. He recalls what all God has done for him and praises God. David proclaims God’s power and God’s love for His people, and he takes heart in God’s promises.

Nowhere in the story do we see that David is upset that he isn’t the one who is to build God a house. We know that he wanted to and probably had his heart set on it after Nathan gave him the green light to do so. But instead of being crushed that God doesn’t want him to do it, David praises God for what He’s already done for David and what He’s going to do through David and his son.

David’s plan changed, but his focus never did. His focus was on God and His will, and that’s exactly why it didn’t bother him in the least when God told him not to build Him a house.

It’s not our plans that matter as much as our focus.

When I think of my failed plans, I realize that maybe they were a little selfish. I didn’t exactly consult God before making them. Had I done so, I would’ve saved myself a good bit of heartache. I wanted what I wanted, and I didn’t consider God’s input until after my heart was already set on it.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t make plans that we actually want. We should. We should just consult God as well.

If your plans change, don’t worry about it. Even if it’s not part of your plan, it’s certainly part of God’s plan, and He’s not going to lead you anywhere He won’t go or that won’t benefit you. Sure, it may not be what you imagined. In fact, it probably won’t; it’ll more than likely be better. Take it from someone who’s learned that the hard way.

By Carrie Prevette

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