Handling Life's Problems

How Are Your Roots?

In 2020, 60% of Americans struggle with anxiety…

In my back yard, I have a peace lily I planted almost a year ago. Throughout the winter and spring, it thrived. But when the hot Florida summer blasted on us, the lily wilted. The blooms disappeared. The leaves turned yellow. I had to bring water out to keep it alive.

I also have a big old tree in my back yard. I don’t know what kind it is, but I know it isn’t bothered by changes in the weather. Spring or fall, winter or summer, rain or shine, it flourishes. It continuously provides a habitat for birds, squirrels, and lizards, it shades my back porch, and I never have to water it.

What’s the difference between the lily and the tree? The difference is in the roots.

Are we the peace lily, wilted and distressed when we face difficult circumstances? Or are we the tree, confidently thriving regardless of our circumstances? It depends on our roots.

The Bible compares a person who trusts God to a tree planted by a river.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8

A tree planted by a river always has access to water because its root runs deep and far. In the hot summer, its leaves stay green. Even in a dry spell, it still bears fruit. Regardless of circumstances, it is fearless because it has roots in the life-giving river.

This is how God wants his people to live—rooted deeply in him. When our roots run deep, we aren’t afraid, anxious, or stressed out when life get bumpy and unpredictable. We’re at peace because we’re rooted in a God of peace. We experience joy during trials because we’re rooted in the source of joy.

It’s sad and a little shocking that in April, 2020, a Gallup poll found 60% of Americans plagued by stress and anxiety. This isn’t God’s plan for his people.

The antidote for anxiety isn’t yoga or valium. It isn’t even a change in our circumstances. The antidote for anxiety is trust in God. When we feel anxious about the future, we can choose to focus on God’s sovereignty. We can dare to accept that those who trust God really are blessed. We can be audacious enough to believe that God’s promise to work all things for good applies to us.

Anxiety passes as trust in God increases.

– Max Lucado

We weren’t meant to live in a constant state of anxiety. We are meant to live calmly and confidently because our roots of trust to grow so deeply our anxiety evaporates.

God wants to heal that part of us that struggles with anxiety. For some, that healing may come with the help of a counselor or a doctor—and that’s OK. For all of us, our nights don’t have to be restless and fearful, and our morning doesn’t have to bring anxiety and stress. On the contrary, God wants us to sleep in peace and greet each morning with confidence in his fresh mercy, unending grace, and complete sovereignty.

Sovereign God, help me trust you more completely. Help me truly believe you are in control and good things are in store for my life. Give me roots embedded so deeply in you that anxiety has no power over me. Guide my steps and guard my heart. In Jesus’s name, amen.

God's plan

When the Clay Knows More than the Potter

What we perceive as trouble may be the potter finessing the clay.

I’ve never thrown pottery on a pottery wheel, but I’ve played with Play-Doh a whole lot. I’m really good at making Play-Doh snakes and, with enough snakes, I can create a lop-sided bowl-type vessel. I have decades of Play-Doh experience.

In all those years, the Play-Doh has never grumbled back at me.

The Bible often refers to people as clay and God as the potter. Just as a potter creates what he wants to from the clay, God creates us just as he chooses. But unlike real clay, we humans often complain about how he’s shaping our lives. When things go wrong, we question God’s presence. How could God allow this to happen to me? Doesn’t he care about me?

The Bible explains that when we complain about God, we’re like clay criticizing the potter. How ridiculous is it for the creation to criticize the Creator? Isaiah 45:9 says, “What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator. Does a clay pot argue with its maker? Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’ Does the pot exclaim, ‘How clumsy can you be?’”

The potter, out of his wisdom and creativity, shapes the clay into whatever vessel he sees fit. And God, out of his wisdom, creativity, and abounding love, shapes us in the way he knows is best for our lives and for his glory. How absurd is it for us to second guess God’s plan for our lives?

God dropped some knowledge about potters and clay on all of us through Jeremiah. (See Jeremiah 18:1-6.) At a potter’s shop, the vessel the potter was forming wasn’t turning out as he wanted, so he broke it down to a lump of clay again and reshaped it to make it the vessel he envisioned.

There are times when we are broken, like that vessel on the potter’s wheel that’s been crushed into a lump of clay. I know—I’ve been there. Some of you may be in that place right now.

In times of brokenness, we have a choice to make.

We can choose to complain about our Creator, criticize how he orders our lives, and doubt his ability to craft us into vessels that bring him glory.

Or, we can choose to rest confidently in his loving hands, acknowledging that he knows best.

Our choice shows who is really sovereign in our lives. When we act as if we could do a better job running our lives than God does, we dethrone God and put the crown on our own head and the scepter in our own hands. And, friend, no good can come from that.

But when we yield ourselves to God’s plan and trust him through the difficult and broken times, we discover he is worthy of our trust. Our faith grows stronger. And we find enduring joy as we become the glorious vessel he always intended us to be.

Dear God, I acknowledge that you are the Creator and I am the created. Help me trust your wisdom and your plan through the difficult times of my life. Give me faith and courage to embrace your order for my life, even when it may not make sense to me. Use me for your glory. In Jesus’s name, amen.

Handling Life's Problems

Redeem the Wait

“Lord, how long must I wait? Will you forget me forever? How long will you turn your face away from me?” (Psalm 13:1)

I grew up on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. Our winters were monstrous. Snow began in October and some years didn’t let up until May. We didn’t get a few inches, we got a few feet. In April, I foolishly thought it might start to warm up. Most of the time it didn’t, and all I could do was wait for the misery of winter to end.

Waiting is frustrating. It tries our souls. Does anybody enjoy waiting? No? I didn’t think so.

Waiting for cold weather to change is frustrating; waiting for a difficult season in our lives to change is much more frustrating.

Maybe we’ve waited for years for our child or spouse to give their heart to Jesus. Maybe we’re struggling with health problems that just don’t seem to resolve. Maybe we’ve prayed for a turnaround in our finances so long we’re starting to wonder if things will ever change. Perhaps we’ve waited and waited to find a spouse or start a family and it just isn’t happening.

Waiting happens to everyone. That’s just part of life. But how do we handle a season of waiting? What do we do to redeem the wait?

Consider these three ways to redeem your wait:

  1. Look for ways to serve others. “Every believer has received grace gifts, so use them to serve one another as faithful stewards of the many-colored tapestry of God’s grace” (1 Peter 4:10).  Even when Jesus was on the cross, he was still concerned about the thief hanging next to him and about forgiveness for those who crucified him. Don’t allow a waiting season to keep you from caring about others. While you wait, find a way to serve.
  2. Seek a closer relationship with God. “Search for the Lord and for his strength; continually seek him” (1 Chronicles 16:11). Don’t let your relationship with God grow lukewarm during a waiting season. Read the Bible and pray. Go to church. Participate in a small group. Listen to worship music. Redeem a season of waiting by drawing closer to God.
  3. Believe God is working while you wait. “But those who wait upon God get fresh strength…” (Isaiah 40:31).  It may seem God is silent as you wait, but believe he is working on your behalf, even if you don’t see it. Believe he has a perfect plan for your life. Trust that your season of waiting is part of that plan and will result in fresh strength.

Sometimes, the words, “God’s perfect timing,” start to feel like a synonym for pain and disappointment. I get it. Sometimes the hope of spring in Michigan seemed like a cruel joke. But the truth is, spring always came, and God’s timing really is perfect. His plan is motivated by love, drenched in wisdom, and executed with impeccable timing.

Embrace the season you find yourself in today. If it’s a time of waiting, choose to redeem the wait. Trust that God’s ultimate plan for your life is flawless and his timing is precise and perfect.

Dear God, it’s easy to become impatient when things don’t happen according to my timetable. Help me trust in your wisdom and your plan. When I am in a waiting season, help me to be patient and redeem the wait. In Jesus’s name, amen.

God's plan

Yet I Will Rejoice

“Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will be happy in the God of my salvation.” (Habakkuk 3:18)

As Habakkuk observed the state of his nation, Judah, he was worried and confused. Judah was flooded with immorality and iniquity. How could God allow such evil? How long would God remain silent and let evil thrive?

Habakkuk questioned God in Habakkuk 1:3: “Must I forever see this sin and sadness all around me?”

Sin and sadness surround us today, just as it surrounded Habakkuk in his day.

Evil exists. Evil is real. But so is God, and God will triumph over evil.

When we wonder about God’s purpose in the world, and in our lives, we must remember that God has a plan and it will not be thwarted. God told Habakkuk, “Look and be amazed! For I am doing something in your own day, something you wouldn’t believe even if someone told you about it” (Habakkuk 1:5). God was already doing something. God had a plan, and it was a plan beyond Habakkuk’s comprehension.

We may not understand God’s plan for our lives, and that’s OK. If we always understood God, he wouldn’t be any smarter than we are, and what a mess that would be! But even when we don’t understand it, we can be confident his plan is for our ultimate good. God’s plan is always gracious, wise, and loving. And it’s always better than our plan.

God’s job is to guide our lives. Our job is to trust him. Because he guides us and because he is worthy of our trust, we can rejoice in any situation.

Habakkuk 3:17 starts off with these words, “even if…” For Habakkuk, it was even if the fig tree doesn’t grow figs. Even if there are no cattle in the barns and even if the fields lie empty and barren.

What is your, “even if?” Even if I’m sick. Even if I lose my job. Even if I never get married. Even if I don’t understand what God is doing in my life.

You know what comes after, even if? Verse 18 says, “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord!” Whatever your “even if” is today, remember the words that come next: “Yet I will rejoice.”  

Be filled with courage and determination. Trust in God’s plan. Rest confidently in his love. And, regardless of your circumstances, rejoice in the One who saved you and holds your life carefully and lovingly in his hands. “Even if…yet I will rejoice!

Father, thank you for blessing me and my family. Thank you for your love for me. May I rejoice in your salvation every day, in every circumstance. Even if I don’t understand your plan, yet I will rejoice. I put my faith in you. I trust you with my life. In Jesus’s name, amen.

fruit of the spirit

Joy Part 1: Steadfast Assurance

“I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!” (John 15:11)

Most people can look back on happy moments in their lives. Yes, I got my dream job! Yes, I’ll totally marry you! Yes, I’m at a luau in Hawaii! When we look back on the highlight reel of our lives, we remember the feelings of bliss and satisfaction, and we associate those feelings with joy.

But what about those other times when our lives fell apart and we were faced with struggle and pain? When we look back on those times, we may remember feeling disappointment, despair, and desperation.

Where is joy in those moments? Is it possible for joy and tears to dwell together? Is it really possible to be joyful in every season of life?

The answer is, yes! We were created by God to be filled with joy at all times. We can be disappointed, in pain, or weeping but still have joy. It’s common and easy for us to confuse happiness with joy. Happiness says something about our circumstances. Joy says something about our faith.

Kay Warren wrote the book, Choose Joy. Here is a quote that gives an interesting and valuable explanation of joy:

“Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be all right, and the determined choice to praise God in all things.”

Today, let’s talk about the first part of this definition of joy: Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of our lives. “The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives” (Psalm 37:23). A “settled assurance” means we made up our mind about it, it’s settled, and nothing will change our mind. In this case, what we’ve settled is that God directs our steps, he has a vision for our lives, and he controls every detail of our lives.

Settled assurance means we trust God regardless of the ups and downs we encounter in life.

St. Theresa of Lisieux is an example of joy and steadfast assurance. She had an encounter with God at age 14 and entered a convent to devote her life to God. She lived each day with unshakable confidence in God’s love and direction. After a long struggle with tuberculosis, she died on September 30, 1897, at the age of 24.

In the last month of her life, struggling with disease, she said, “What God chooses for me, that is what pleases me.” She wanted what God wanted for her life. St. Theresa lived with joy because of her settled assurance of God’s control of her life.

Really, how could we ask for anything other than what God chooses for us? Could our feeble human brains construct a life better than the life God plans for us? Of course not!

To live with joy, we must give up control of our lives and offer that control up to our Father who loves us. In the words of Carrie Underwood, we let Jesus take the wheel. We rejoice in his plan, find joy in living out his will for our lives, and fully trust his direction.

God has a perfect plan for our lives, and that plan includes a heart overflowing with joy.

Dear God, I give you glory. I praise you for your love, mercy, and grace. Lord, in the middle of the good, bad, awesome, and overwhelming, let me rest in you. Quiet my doubts. Give me a settled assurance of your goodness, your love, and your involvement in the details of my life. As I delight in your plan, let me experience your joy. In Jesus’s name, amen.