I hate pressure!

I hate pressure.
High-pressure sales-people.
Financial pressure.
A to-do list that is too long with days that are too short.
Demands on my time and attention.
The weight of not measuring up to my own standard, let alone God’s perfect standard.

I love pressure.
Strong water pressure in the shower.
The pressure of my hair stylist’s fingers as she gives me her trademark scalp massage.
The wonderful homemade canned goods that we can enjoy year-long because they have been in my Mom’s pressure canner.
The (mostly) happy pressure of preparing for a wonderful upcoming event, like a wedding or baby’s arrival.

It is a part of life.
Every single day.
I can’t escape it – the good and the bad.

And sometimes often it is a mixed bag.
That thing I prayed for and am delighted by brings with it added stress, added pressure.
I am relieved to be heading out on vacation but stressing about the details left behind and the ones that lie ahead.
I love getting together with a friend, meeting halfway around the Beltway; I hate the stress and pressure that come from driving halfway around the Beltway.
I am grateful for the new air conditioner that will be installed this week; I am stressing about how to pay for it.

Pressure. Stress.
Good and bad.
And always there.

And because it is always there, I love this verse that is tucked away in the longest chapter in the Bible. David says to the Lord, “When pressure and stress bear down on me, I delight in Your Word.” (Psalm 119:143). Or, as the New Living Bible translates it, “As pressure and stress bear down on me, I find joy in Your commands.”

Notice David doesn’t say, “IF pressure and stress bear down on me, THEN I will delight in Your Word.” Nope.
It is “When”.
And if anybody knew anything about “when”, it was David.

Plucked out of obscurity as a young teenager by God, through the prophet Samuel, he knew he was to be the next King of Israel.
But that didn’t happen for approximately 17 years.
And in between, the current King, Saul, called him a variety of things.
First Saul called David “shield bearer” and “harp player”.
Then it was “hero” for defeating the giant Goliath.
“Commander” of his troops.
“Captain of my body guard.”
And even “son-in-law”.
But then it became “rival”.
And even “one who must die”. “My enemy.”
And “enemy” quickly led to “fugitive” as David fled from Saul for years.

The man knew about pressure and stress. From good sources and bad. The stress of being a leader. Of going to battle. Of being in the King’s Court.
And the stress of being misunderstood. Falsely accused. Betrayed. Hunted.

The stresses of life are constant.
They may not be as extreme as those that David faced.
But they are constant.
And they are even promised in Scripture.
Jesus said it.
He said, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.” (emphasis mine)
The pressure comes.
Sometimes of my own making. Consequences of my sin. Reaping what I have sown.
And sometimes because I live in a fallen, sin-soaked world.
Often because I have an enemy who hates God and therefore hates me. And I am always on the battlefield in the spiritual realms, just as you are.
Constant. Pressure.

But David knew the secret.
God called him “a man after My own heart”.
One who followed after God with everything that was in him.
One who persevered for all those years between the promise and the fulfillment.
One whose prayer life has given us over half of the book of Psalms.
One whose life is (for the most part) a terrific example to follow.

“When pressure and stress bear down on me, I delight in Your Word.”
David clung to the promises of God.
He consciously remembered the history of God’s people as well as his personal history with the Lord.
As he chose to remember God’s Word, he heard God’s voice – above the tumult that was his life.
And he not only knew it in his head, he cradled it in his heart.
But even that would have been useless if he had not applied it to his life.
He lived God’s commands.
Even when it was hard.

Like the two times that he had the opportunity to kill Saul and immediately become the next King. Both times happened while he was actively running from Saul and the thousands of soldiers accompanying him who were determined to annihilate David. And both times, men that David loved and trusted encouraged him to kill Saul! But both times, David clung to God’s Word, obeyed God’s commands, and chose to honor God above his own life. And God honored him for it.

“When pressure and stress bear down on me, I delight in Your Word.”
When I don’t know how I will pay the bill that is coming, I will trust You, God, to provide instead of worrying about it.
When I am in conflict with a brother or sister, I will first turn to You in prayer before I respond.
When I am sad, lonely, stressed, depressed, overwhelmed, frustrated, anxious or afraid, I will turn to You first.
Before I phone a friend.
Or reach for chocolate.
Or lose myself in a TV show.
Or exercise.
Or do anything at all.
Before all that, I will turn to You. And Your Word. Praying. Reading. Listening to God-centered music. Being still before You. Pouring out my heart before You.
Choosing to believe that all of the above will make a difference. Regardless of my emotions.
Or my circumstances.
You will be my first thought, not an afterthought.

Because pressure breaks me down.
But You make the broken beautiful.

Pressure, heat and time – these are the ingredients for diamonds.

In this world, I will have trouble, trials and tribulations.
There will be pressure.
But You have overcome the world.
So I will delight in Your Word.
Including the example of Your servant David.

The Why Behind the What

I have been working with kids for 33 years. In middle and high school it was babysitting and teaching Sunday School. During college it was nannying and doing various placements for coursework; for 9 years it was in the classroom as a professional educator and since 2003 it has been at South Potomac Church as the Director of Children’s Ministries. As I have navigated the world of kiddos, I have learned a few key principles. One of the most sustaining, transferable, and useful principles is “the why behind the what”.

I think most people would agree that rules are good things, especially when it comes to kids. The rules are boundaries set so that everyone can stay safe and accomplish whatever the purpose is for that time and place. They tend to look different in different settings, of course. For example, when I was teaching 3rd grade the rule was that the kids had to their hands to answer a question or speak. That was not a rule when I was nannying – it would have been ridiculous in that setting. The difference? Managing 25 kids versus managing 2. But in both cases, there were rules – boundaries established that kept everyone safe and on course.

And that is the “magic” of the why behind the what. When I am dealing with a child, I can simply enforce the established rules. I can lay them out and then punish the child when they are broken. However, experience has taught me that it works much, much better to explain the “why” behind the rule from the get-go – and to remind them of it every time I enforce that rule. In the end, the child has to obey my authority either way – with or without the explanation. But if she knows my heart, my thinking, the purpose of the rule, it makes it way easier for her to follow. It is the difference between, “Be nice to your sister!” and “Be nice to your sister because she is a gift from God to you. It is a privilege to have a sister!” Big brother may not agree that his sister is a gift in that moment – but that is the bottom line reason for him to be kind. His sister was created by God and is a gift to the family and to him. Another example – The teacher says, “Stop running!” It is a command based on the rule that we don’t run in the building. But if the teacher says, “Stop running – there are too many people in here and someone may get stepped on”, it demonstrates that the rule is not there simply to make my life miserable – there is a reason behind it.

A side note – is there a time for “Because I said so”? Most definitely. And I am not suggesting that you get into a debate with any child about the rules. Hopefully they have been established, are consistent and are necessary for the time and place. But that would be a whole other post on rule-setting… There certainly is a time for a child to obey simply because you are the authority. However, when you show them your heart, when you show them that there IS a “why” behind the rule, the results are more likely to be heart-change and not just for-the-moment behavioral change.

But here is the real power in the “why behind the what” that goes well beyond working with kids. It is a powerful tool for dealing with temptation in your own life. God has set boundaries over us to keep us safe and help us to accomplish the purposes He planned in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2). Those boundaries are clearly laid out in Scripture. And He always, always tells us the “why behind the what” when it comes to those boundaries.

For example, sexual sin. Doesn’t matter what kind of sexual sin you care to discuss – adultery, sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, lust, pornography (verbal, like certain romance novels or pictorial, like certain magazines), sodomy, fantasies – every bit of it is wrong for the same reason (and all equal in the eyes of God). It distorts the object lesson that God designed marriage (and sex within marriage) to be. Marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church. Christ is the groom; the Church is His bride. The husband is the head of the family; the wife submits to him. The husband loves the wife sacrificially; the wife respects the husband. (Ephesians 5) The intimacy of the marriage bed is a picture of the exclusive relationship and ultimate community that God wants to have with you. No others in first place in your life – Him and Him alone. The one who meets your needs. The one you turn to with every emotion and every breath. That is the why behind the what. God does not say that the sins I listed above are off limits because He is against you – or against love – or freedom of expression – or because He is a celestial prude. He designed and instituted marriage to be a testimony to the watching world of who He is and the kind of relationship He longs to have with us. And when we mess with it in any way, we are messing with one of His great object lessons. And that is why all of the sins listed above are wrong. Sin means “missing the mark” – and all of those cause us and the watching world to miss the mark of His good plan for us and His object lesson.

God does not have to explain Himself to me. And I do not get to reason with Him, arguing Him out of enforcing a rule He has established. But when I realize that He is for me and not against me; when I realize that the boundaries He has established have purpose and meaning behind them; when I remind myself of that in the middle of temptation, it is easier to obey. It shuts down the lies of Satan that he started whispering in the Garden of Eden and keeps spreading to this day. He whispers to us as he said to Eve, “God isn’t good. He isn’t on your side. He doesn’t know what He is talking about. You are wiser than Him.” But the Truth is that God has given me the why behind the what in His Word – for every temptation, every time. It is why Jesus used Scripture against Satan when He was tempted in the wilderness (Matthew 4; Luke 4). And it is why the best way to battle ALL temptation is to know God’s Word. Get to know His heart. Get to know His “whys” and His ways. And then apply them when you are tempted. It will lead you to a life of blessed obedience every time.

The Formula for Success

I have an exciting, life-altering formula that I can’t wait to share with you!
It comes with a guarantee – several, actually.
And the benefits are amazing!

How would you like these words to describe YOU?
– Joyful
– Successful children
– Blessed
– Wealthy in all the ways that matter
– Known for your good deeds
– Full of light
– Generous
– Compassionate
– In right standing with God and people
– Fair in all your business dealings
– Not overcome
– Long-remembered in a great way
– Never fearing bad news (not that it won’t come – but you won’t be afraid of it)
– Confident
– Fearless
– Triumphant
– Full of influence
– Honored

And when I say “formula”, that is truly what it is.
Very many temporal things in this life are “plug and chug” – I plug this in and get that out. (Soda and candy machines, online purchases, amount of time practicing leading to better ability to perform, etc.)

But very few eternal things are like that.
And let’s face it – everything in that list above is really about the eternal side of life.
The fact is that you are right now living “eternal life”.
Because YOU – the real you – is going to live forever.
With God.
Because you have accepted the gift of His Son, Jesus, taking your punishment on Himself when He died on the cross.
Or without God.
Because you have rejected that gift, believing you know better or have a better handle on eternity.
But either way, you are an eternal being.
Starting from conception.
And ending never.

But back to how eternal things are rarely “plug and chug”.
Prayer doesn’t work like that. I don’t get to plug in a certain amount of time spent or a certain sincerity level to get the result I want.
Salvation doesn’t work like that. I don’t get to plug in my good deeds or my comparison of myself to some other human and then receive eternal life.
Tough times don’t work like that. I don’t get to plug in a certain attitude or action and automatically get the end of my trial in return.
Even my words don’t work like that. I don’t get to say something and it automatically becomes so.
Because I am not God. I do not see the big picture. I am not perfect.

But this formula does work like that. Because it is a big-picture formula, relating directly to the forever-ness of it all.
And it really is “plug and chug”.

Or, put another way, it is conditional.
You CAN have the things on that list.
IF you do this one thing:

Fear the Lord.

How can I say that? I can’t.
But God says it in Psalm 112.
Here it is, emphasis added by me:

How joyful are those who fear the Lord
and delight in obeying his commands.
2 Their children will be successful everywhere;
an entire generation of godly people will be blessed.
3 They themselves will be wealthy,
and their good deeds will last forever.
4 Light shines in the darkness for the godly.
They are generous, compassionate, and righteous.
5 Good comes to those who lend money generously
and conduct their business fairly.
6 Such people will not be overcome by evil.
Those who are righteous will be long remembered.
7 They do not fear bad news;
they confidently trust the Lord to care for them.
8 They are confident and fearless
and can face their foes triumphantly.
9 They share freely and give generously to those in need.
Their good deeds will be remembered forever.
They will have influence and honor.

What a list!
What benefits!

And I know one objection you may be voicing this very moment – that this makes life with God sound like it is all sunshine and roses – and it is not. And that is true. In fact, Jesus put it this way: “In this world you WILL have trouble – but I have overcome the world.” (John 16)  But let me point this out – all of the benefits in this list are about overcoming this world. And the writer of Hebrews expounded on that when he exhorted us to “Come boldly to the throne of grace to find help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4) These benefits have to be viewed through the long-angle, wide-view lens of life. They don’t mean that you won’t have a flat tire today or that you won’t have to fight the urge to choke your co-worker – but they do mean that overall, this will be you.


IF you “fear the Lord”.
What does that mean? I am supposed to cower in a corner, constantly afraid of lightning strikes or the earth opening under my feet if I am not perfect?

Absolutely not.
After all, is that what you want from your children?
Do you want them to cower in your presence?
Always anticipating your wrath?
Afraid to be near you?
Are you always looking to punish them, seeking opportunities to inflict pain if they step out of line?
(If that does describe you, seek help. Don’t even finish reading this. Seek it now.)

Your Father in heaven is a good, good Dad.
He adores you!
He is crazy about you.
Because He made you.
And He sees every moment of time, past, present and future.
He sees it all.
And He knows the very best ways to guide you through it all.
He has been kind enough to lay it out in His Word.
How to live.
How to handle your money.
How to raise your kids.
How to do marriage well.
How to treat people who mistreat you.
How to treat your boss, no matter your job.
How to deal with your sexuality.
How to navigate through temptation.
How to dress – even how to handle alcohol and food!
And what to do when you blow it in any area.
It is ALL in there!

And fearing Him simply means taking Him at His Word – and then acting on it.
Even when you don’t like it.
When culture doesn’t like it.
When your friends and family disagree.
When it may cost you your job.
When the financial bottom line doesn’t makes sense.
When it is uncomfortable.
When it is painful.
Even then.

Valuing His opinion more than anyone else’s.
Seeking His approval more than anyone else’s.
Aligning your priorities with His.
THAT is fearing the Lord.

And, according to the Psalmist, it has some AMAZING benefits.

And it really is that simple in this complicated, messy, confusing world.
Seek God.
Read His Word.
Ask Him to help you understand it – and apply it.
Study it.
Where it confuses you, seek godly counsel from those you trust, those who can read it in its original language, those who have a track-record of faithfulness.
Believe it before you believe your Facebook feed.
Or your friends.
Or the media.
And just don’t be a hearer – or even just a believer of it – act on it.
Change your actions so that they match His Word.
Seek Him first. Choose to obey Him no matter what.

That’s your end of the deal.
That’s the formula for success – eternal success.
And He promises you an amazing, long-term benefit package in return!

Wanting to Want You…

I want to want just You, God.
Not what You can do.
Not what You can give me.
Just You.

I want to love You simply because You are God.
My Creator.
My King.
THE King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
The Great I AM.
The Rock.
My Fortress, Strong Tower, Deliverer.
And, more than any of that, my Savior.

I want to love You simply because You chose to love me first.
I want to love You because You saw my life before time began and made a plan to redeem me, to take the justly deserved punishment for my sins, to give me eternal life, to call me Your precious child.
I want to love You for Your goodness, Your kindness, Your mercy and grace.

And I do love You for all of these.

But I fear that I love Your hand more than I love Your heart.
Or rather, my love for You is based on Your hand rather than Your heart.
When things go my way, the ways I think are best, I immediately say, “Wow, God must love me.”
And when things go sideways, I immediately think and sometimes say, “Wow, God, don’t You love me?”
Like the disciples in the boat in the middle of the night, in the middle of the storm, I cry out to You, “Don’t you CARE IF I DROWN???”
And of course You do. Because You are in the boat with me, riding the storm with me, there with me through it all.

But instead of remembering that, I spend more time telling You what to do and less time asking, “What would YOU have ME do?”
I stomp my feet and flail with the very best of the two-year olds when I hurt – or when I cannot have my way.
And I assign You blame for my pain, even when I have caused it by my own choice, my own sin.

Sometimes the pain IS from You and has nothing to do with my sin and everything to do with my character and Your long-term agenda.
Just as a doctor often causes pain to prevent illness, with shots, exams, and treatments.
A gardener often uses sharp tools to cause greater growth, by pruning, cutting, mowing.
And a good parent often allows natural consequences to occur in the life of their child, knowing that sometimes controlled pain is the best teacher.

And sometimes, there is no pain. Instead, there is great joy.
You answer my prayer in the way I want.
Or You give me an unexpected positive answer to a prayer I never even thought to pray.
You kiss my face with sunshine and sprinkle my days with laughter.
You give me a glimpse at the end of the story, the ways You are working things together for good, the ways You are at work on my behalf.

And I fear that I love You more on those days – what I would call the “good days” – so much more than I love you on the “bad days”.

Because I am very weak.
And very flawed.
Very human.
With very limited eyesight and even smaller faith.  I laugh at the disciples when they doubt Jesus – but I am just like them.
Very much like a flower quickly fading.

And yet, You love me.
You do not base Your love on how I love You.
This is not an equal exchange.
You have no scales to balance when it comes to love – or anything else for that matter.
Or rather, Your scales are always, always tipped in Your favor.
But they are moot.

Because Your love for me is not based in me.
My character.
My righteousness.
My performance.
My heart.
My talents.
My abilities.

Your love for me is based in YOU.
Your character.
Your righteousness.
Your performance.
Your heart.
Your talents.
Your abilities.

I want to stand steadily on THAT Rock at all times.
When the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and the water is calm, I want to stand with “arms high and heart abandoned” to You.
And when the clouds roll in, the thunder crashes, the lightning strikes and the waves are vicious, I want to stand with “arms high and heart abandoned” to You.
My circumstances will change, will fluctuate wildly, even in the course of one day.
But my heart does not have to change with my circumstances.
I can choose to stay standing on You. In You. Because of You.

Because You love me.
Whether it feels like it or not.
Whether I see it or not.
Whether I believe it or not.
Whether the world agrees or not.
You love me.

I want to love You like that.
Please, give me the grace for this day to begin to love You like that.

The ABCs of Insomnia…

I have an over-active brain.
I always have.
When I was a child I would lay in bed at night and make a plan for how to get the entire family, including the pets, out of the house in case of a fire. Had we ever had a house fire? Nope. But my fevered little brain just knew it was going to happen – and that it would be on me to save everyone. Never mind that I had two perfectly awesome parents and a fabulous older sister right there with me. It was on me to save us all.

Over-active brain.

As an adult, I still have that same over-active brain.
And it still loves to do its most creative, grueling and unreasonable workouts between 1 and 2 AM.
I don’t imagine disasters like house fires now.
Instead, the brain kicks in with a to-do list. And a problems list. And a “how-are-we-going-to-deal-with-THAT?” list.
During the day I do a much better job catching the lists when they start to march through my mind. I wrestle them to the ground by using these steps:
Write down what needs to be done.
Pray over it, releasing it to God.
Move on by simply doing the next thing.
Repeat as needed.

But in the world of half-awake, that process is much harder to do. I keep a pad of paper and a pen by my bed so that I can write it all down if when it wakes me up. And I used to have to do that A LOT.  And then I would toss and turn.  Look at the clock every few minutes.  Calculate how many hours of sleep I could get if I fell asleep THAT instant.  Insomnia at its finest. And face all those problems the next day in a groggy state.

But then I discovered a different strategy. One that works much, much better, at least for me. I use my A-B-Cs of God to redirect my thoughts. And generally, I drift off to sleep somewhere around the letter G. Once or twice I have gotten to Z and then had to start again. But that is exceptionally rare!

Here’s what I do:
I start with the letter A. I like to say that I use the names and characteristics of God, but it is more accurate to say that I use anything that starts with the letter that I am on, as long as it is about His character and heart.

Here’s what it might sound like (sometimes in my head, sometimes aloud):

“A: God You are awesome. Almighty. My All in All. The Alpha and Omega. All that I need. All around me. Abundant in your mercies. Absolute. Awe-inspiring.”

And I keep going until I am out of A’s. Sometimes that is in a word or two. Sometimes it is a long list. Doesn’t matter. When I can’t think of another A, I move on to B.

“B: God You are bold. Beautiful. The Best. The Bomb. (Sorry, readers, my ‘80s are showing!) Breathtaking in Your goodness, greatness and mercy. Beyond my comprehension. Before all things and the glue that holds all things together.”

And, by the way, that last line in the Bs was from Colossians 1. I will definitely use verses and snippets of songs to fill in my list!

I should add that I don’t stress about the Js, Qs and Zs, if I get to them. I don’t stress about anything on the list – I just keep naming things until I run out – or I am asleep.

Another version of this is to name all that you are thankful for alphabetically. I have not tried it, but I bet it would work as well. However, I like focusing on Who God is because it puts everything else in perspective. It is the practical working out of “taking every thought captive to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5) and setting my “heart on things above (Colossians 3:1). And 99% of the time I drift off to sleep without getting out the paper and pen, without looking at the clock, without fretting about the to-dos.

Praying for you as you “take every thought captive”, that you will sleep well tonight…