Freedom Friday: Totally Surrendered

I mentioned last week I’ll be starting a series on Jesus, what He said, why He came, and what He asks of us.

When people ask me the key to learning to walk in freedom, I answer without pausing:

It’s total surrender.

“He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.” Matthew 10:39 (NASB)

Yet my heart aches. I see so little surrender in the people around me.

I became a Christian in college. So did many of my friends. We attended campus ministry together.

Mike O, my spiritual mentor, and myself (looking rather zombie-like)

The campus ministry I’ve been part of has a strong emphasis on sharing Jesus with the world. And thus, many of my friends and me left college, ready to take on the world for Christ!

Or so we thought.

A good number of these people are no longer even following Jesus.

Some of those that do follow Jesus live a pretty standard American life. Some attend church regularly, some give financially, some are involved in humanitarian and/or evangelistic efforts.

But not many.

I’ve found myself wondering, Why? What changed?

I need to first look at myself.

While I’d like to believe that I live a totally surrendered life, I am self-aware enough to know I have plenty of blind spots.

Self-reliance is always a challenge for me. So is pride. We want what Jesus has to offer. We also want the Christian life to come easily, without sacrifice on our part. We don’t really want to do what Jesus requires of us in order to live the life He desires us to live.

What does Jesus require of us?

A lot. More than we care to admit.

Did you ever notice that Jesus would often try and talk people out of following Him? He said this, as recorded in the gospel of Luke, chapter 14:

If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.

But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. They would say, ‘There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it!’

Or what king would go to war against another king without first sitting down with his counselors to discuss whether his army of 10,000 could defeat the 20,000 soldiers marching against him? And if he can’t, he will send a delegation to discuss terms of peace while the enemy is still far away. So you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own.

Does that sound like the gospel of today? Where is total surrender spoken of today?

Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31, 32 NLT)

As I found myself heartbroken over a recent conversation with a friend, I had to stop and pray, Let it begin with me, Lord. Break my self-reliance and my pride. Strip me of the things I cling to that keep me from living a fully surrendered life. All I want is all You have, Jesus.

Let the truth set me free, Jesus, by empowering me to being faithful to Your teachings. Let Your words sink so deeply into my heart that a totally surrendered life naturally flows out of me.

Let it begin with me, Lord.

Freedom Friday: How Do We Live in the Meantime?

I’ve shared here that my family is in the middle of many possible transitions. Big life changes with lots of uncertainties. Challenging stuff.

Someone asked my husband and I what God has been speaking to us during this time.

My husband spoke of God’s comfort, nearness, and reassurance.

All I’m receiving is correction.

I feel a bit like Paul right now. In the midst of some amazing things, he was kept humble by a thorn in his side. The things God is showing me are humbling, to say the least.

I’m responding better to the correction than when I first wrote this blog post about responding to God’s discipline. I’ll be honest, though, and say I’m still hoping for some direction eventually and not just correction.

I’m living in “the meantime.”

The space between where we were and where we want to be, between God’s initial promises and direction and their fruition. The time of earnest waiting. When we try to push our doubts and fears aside.

This is the meantime.

How Do We Live in the Meantime?

1. Remain open.
A Sara Groves’ lyric inspired parts of this post.

I will open my hands, will open my heart
I will open my hands, will open my heart
I am nodding my head an emphatic “yes”
To all that You have for me

In the meantime, we need to remain open. Am I really in a posture that I can nod my head with an emphatic “yes,” no matter what God asks of me?

We can remain open, open-hearted, and open-handed, so when God’s direction does come, we are ready.

2. Move forward with the direction you have.

“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” Hebrews 11:8 (NIV1984)

I’ll confess that I have really struggled during this time with how to proceed. I’ve taken on an additional job, and I’m just plain tired. A few weeks back, I began questioning everything. Am I really called to be a writer/speaker? This book that I’ve been working on forever, is it even any good? Is it necessary? How do I know God called me?

I went back to my journals, to prayer, to God’s Word. Nothing had changed. I was just tired and feeling weary.

The meantime is like that. Abraham wasn’t given the whole picture of what God had for him, but he had enough information to continue forward based on the information and vision God had given him.

Move forward with the direction you have, with the passion God has given you, and the vision He has instilled in you.

3. Don’t compromise.
Character is vitally important in the meantime. Integrity is imperative. Who you are in the meantime is a direct reflection of the state of your heart and the solidity of your character.

When we can’t see God working, how will we respond? We get the urge to strive, to take things into our own hands (above & beyond the direction God has given us), to stop resting and trusting.

Sarah & Abraham had this struggle (then called Sarai & Abram, before God changed their names). They didn’t believe God was working quickly enough to fulfill His promise that they would have a child. So Abram slept with Sarai’s servant so that they would have the child God promised. He compromised his values when he couldn’t see what God was doing in the meantime.

“Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” Proverbs 19:21 (ESV)

We need to continue to grow in character and integrity of faith in the meantime and not compromise our values.

4. Keep your eyes on God.
Though it’d be quite easy to become discouraged and lose sight of the God who loves you and has good things for you, the meantime should not be viewed as purposeless, or a useless period of waiting and delay. In John 11, Jesus delayed going to see the sick Lazarus, and Lazarus died.

Why did Jesus allow this? Why didn’t He hurry up and get there and heal Lazarus?

Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

And they did see the glory of God when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.

God is glorified when we look to Him, wait on Him, and trust in him.

Keep reading the Word. Pray. Spend time with people who can encourage you as you move toward God and His plans. Keep your eyes on God.

The meantime can be a fruitful time of waiting on God, trusting in Him and growing in your relationship with Him and others. Look to Him. Don’t compromise your values. Move forward with the direction you have in the meantime.

Freedom Friday: Responding to God’s Discipline

God is doing a work in me
He’s walking through my rooms and hails
Checking every corner
Tearing down the unsafe walls
And letting in the light

Sara Groves Help Me Be New

I’ve been practicing living a lifestyle of hearing (mentioned last week). A lifestyle of waiting on God.

“My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.” Psalm 130:6 (NIV1984)

I was hoping through all this waiting and listening to hear some sort of massive revelation about what’s next in our lives. Or to catch a glimpse of some grand plan that God has for me.

Instead, what I’m receiving is correction.

I wish I could say my response to correction is always thankfulness and receptive humility. Not usually. Instead, I respond as my children often do to discipline: I alternate between wanting to lash out in anger or denial and trying to hide in shame.

I mostly just mope. It’s not fun to have your imperfection revealed to you. Isaiah knows what this feels like.

“It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the King, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.”

It’s easy to write, speak and sing about how I desire to be all God wants be to be, how the cry of my heart is to be more like Him, how I want to learn to walk in the fullness of all He created me to be. But the reality of correction is that it’s painful and challenging.

When God puts His finger on something in our hearts or lives that needs to be changed, how should we react?

1. Gratitude. God is speaking to us and doing what a good father does: discipline His children. Discipline is not a dirty word. It simply means to disciple or correct. Discipline is how we grow. So we can thank God for caring enough about us to speak to us about things that are keeping us from living in the fullness of who He created us to be.

“If you reject discipline, you only harm yourself;
but if you listen to correction, you grow in understanding.”
Proverbs 15:32 (NLT)

2. Humility. False humility, overwhelming grief, self-punishment: these are all forms of pride. Pride declares that the cross is not enough. Pride says I must hide in shame, just as in the garden. Pride says I mist somehow punish myself or make up for the fact that I’m not perfect. To punish myself is to deny the cross.

“The punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5b (NIV1984)

We can choose to accept God’s correction without moping or denial, but rather with true humility and thankfulness. True humility exercises our surrendering muscles and declares to God, “You are able to take care of me, to shape me, and I trust You to do just that.”

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” 1 Peter 5:6

3. Prayer. We can go to prayer with the thing God has shown us. Sometimes, we need more guidance and direction. Other times, we need His peace to confirm what we’ve heard. Mainly, I think we just need to experience His love & acceptance in that moment and gather the strength and grace we need in order to accomplish whatever He has asked of us.

“But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31 (KJV)

4. Action. Whether the thing God speaks to us requires a simply tweaking or a complete overhaul, we need to act on what He has said. Write it down. Tell a friend. Pray with someone. And act. Hearing and responding to God takes practice. You may not always get it exactly right. Remember that God is a good father. Good, healthy parents never expect their children to be perfect. Their kids are not mocked or shunned for trying to be obedient, but making a mistake. As we try to be obedient to what we thought we heard, God will give us grace and rejoice over our effort.

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11 (NIV1984)

Sarah Groves puts it well in her song:


I am working hard
To clean my house and set it straight
To not let pride get in the way
To catch an eternal vision of
What I am to become

True freedom is learning to walk in the fullness of all God created you to be. We can accept the Lord’s discipline with gratitude, humility, prayer and action because He is a good father.

How has the Lord been disciplining you lately? How have you chosen to respond?

Freedom Friday: Battling Fear

I’m battling fear today.
There are several scary situations I’m facing right now. My fears are random and widespread. Most are founded; some are unfounded.
For most of my life, fear dictated my choices and what I did & didn’t do. Fear of rejection & abandonment. Fear that I wasn’t good enough and would never be. Fear that I wasn’t lovable. Fear that I would not have the strength to make it through the challenges I was facing.
Fear paralyzed me.
Fear could easily rule my life, if I allowed it to. Today is a good reminder of that.

My husband told me I needed to write Freedom Friday about fear. So here I am, writing these reminders mostly to myself. I hope they are helpful to you as well.
Once you recognize that fear is affecting you, here are some ways to address it.
1. Name your fears.
Write down what you are afraid of, and, if you can pinpoint it, why you battle those fears. I blogged before about fear of the unknown. It goes hand in hand with fear of discomfort, fear of new suffering. A common one I’ve been addressing lately is fear of failure; another is fear of success. I actually believe they go hand in hand. Fear of failure is often rooted in self-image issues. Not only are we afraid we are worthless, we are also afraid we are full of worth. We are afraid to shine, to walk in freedom, to live out our amazing.
Name your fears. Don’t be shy. Journal about them or just speak them out to God in prayer. Lay them at the cross, and then….
2. Address your fears with Scripture.
Fear can have an enormously crippling effect on our journey toward living in the fullness of all God created us to be.
Fear is not something to be ashamed of. People make mistakes. It’s part of being human. Jesus knew we’d be afraid. God knew fear was a part of life; that’s why He continually reminds us in His Word to not fear, but rather rely on His strength and trust in Him.
Search the Word for Scriptures about not being afraid. Find God’s direction about walking in His strength, about having courage and finding hope. Read them aloud and ask God to make the words come alive, that they would ring true in your heart & life. Remember that God is a God of peace:

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” John 14:27

3. Choose to trust.
Give your fears to God. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego chose to trust God when Nebuchadnezzar was going to throw them into the fiery furnace. Their response is so challenging to me: “We do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”
Even if He doesn’t?
I blog a lot about trust. In one of my first posts, I shared about how I trusted God with the child who was growing inside me, and yet, that child died.
Even if He doesn’t.
Trusting God is not about “believing for” a sunny outcome. It’s a choice to trust that God’s perspective is far above mine, that He is good, that He is faithful, no matter what occurs.
4. Do it afraid.
Joyce Meyer says when we are too afraid to do something, we should “do it afraid.”
As I wrote this blog post, I thought of a story Steve Arterburn shared on his radio program, New Life Live. Early on in his career, he came up with what he thought was a fantastic idea for a conference. He felt God was in it. He booked a hotel, a ballroom, advertised, and waited. The event day came, and the turnout was pitifully small. By all perspectives, he had failed.
Then he had another idea for a conference. A rather strange idea coming from him, as it would be an all women’s conference. While he could have chosen to be paralyzed by fear because of his past failure, he rather decided to move forward, full-throttle. It would be called “Women of Faith.
I imagine most of you have heard of it.
I read over on their site today that 388,000 women made first-time decisions to follow Jesus at a Women of Faith event. What would have happened if Steve Arterburn had let fear dictate his choices?
Do it afraid. Michael Hyatt says, “Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is the willingness to act in spite of your fear.” So I trudge forward; I do it afraid.
As I wrapped up the typing of this, God reminded me of His goodness. If He is really good, who am I to fear? If He is able to speak the world into existence, is anything too much for Him to handle?
What fears are you facing today? How can you, with God’s help and sustenance, press through them to go to the next level?
A note to readers: if you follow my Facebook page, you know that I will be starting a new blog series, in addition to Freedom Fridays, called Monday Morning Meditation. Look for it on Monday! And if you don’t follow me on Facebook, do consider it. I often post speaking engagements and other news there. You can also find me on Twitter.

Freedom Friday: When God Calls For Silence

I had a conversation with a friend a month or so ago. It brought this thought to mind:
Maybe sometimes we need to be muted.I guess God was preparing me.
It’s a quiet time here. A thoughtful time. A prayerful place.God has called for silence.
I’m always sharing that healing happens in the context of community. This is still true. There’s certainly something very important about sharing life and struggles with others.

There is also a place for silence and solitude.

“Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray.” Mark 1:35

“But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.” Luke 5:16

I have a deep sense of reverence these days. That I just want to get down on my knees and stay there. I did just that for a while today.

“Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him.” Psalm 62:5 (NLT)

This verse has been the pulse of my heart for this current season and prior.

Quietly, in other Bible translations of the above verse, is also translated “silent” or “still”, so I wanted to see what light the Hebrew word had to add to the passage.

Other possible meanings are:
to be struck dumb
to be silenced, be made silent, destroyed
to make quiet
to rest
to be still, die

Let me tell you – there is certainly a dying involved in the call to silence.

I’m a talker. In fact, I’m a loud talker. I’m also a loud laugher. People will often say to me, “Brenna, I knew you arrived because I heard you laugh.” Ask any of my good friends. They have likely said this to me.Silent? Reserved? Uh, not so much. Struck dumb? Never.Yet God is calling me to silent spaces.

There is a tearing apart, a preparation, a refining of sorts. An awe of the jealousy of God’s heart, that there are times when He asks me to pause, to be still before Him. To go straight to Him before anyone else.

A call to silence. A drawing into His heart.

Have you experienced this? What did you learn in that time?

Here’s a bit of what I’m learning in my process.

When God calls for silence
1. Pray
If we look at Jesus’ example, this seems obvious. But not necessarily natural. When God asks me to be quiet, my natural tendency is to pout! A call to silence is a call to prayer. It’s a call to seek. It’s a call to rest and trust. And ask. It’s not necessarily a call to ask for specific things you want for yourself (a new job, a new car, or a specific outcome), but rather a call to ask for openness, general direction and sovereign guidance.

2. Fast
I really wanted to leave this one out. Really. I paused. And then I added it.Fasting seems big and scary and – well – so pre-21st century.That’s exactly why you need to do it.In the Old Testament, fasting was often tied with repenting or seeking the Lord. Jesus talked in Matthew 6:16-17 about “when you fast”. Fasting is mentioned in the book of Acts as well.Fasting can mean a lot of things. It could mean skipping one meal for a time of prayer, or skipping a week’s worth of meals for a time of prayer. It could be a Daniel fast (traditionally 21 days of a vegetarian diet). It could mean giving up sweets or coffee for a week.

It doesn’t have to be about food. You can fast from TV, movies, or Facebook. The time that would normally be spent in food prep, eating, or sitting at a computer is now used for prayer and seeking the Lord.

Isaiah 58 is an excellent explanation of why & how to fast.

3. Wait.
Waiting is about slowing down. It’s about pausing. It’s a reminder that there’s more to life than jumping from one activity to the next. It can also be a place of preparation.

Oh, how I used to hate waiting.

I don’t love it now, but I’ve learned to, as David talks about in Psalm 5, wait in expectation. Waiting is not passive. But I believe the call for silence is more for a waiting as described in Psalm 130:

“My soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.”

We watch and wait. Watch for the first sunshine of morning, or hope, to peer into our silence. We are being prepared.

4. Listen.
Something I said in that conversation back in December about being muted was this: maybe those times when we feel most alone, or during the calls to silence, are really the times when God wants us to reach out to Him. He wants to be heard by us. What a powerful thought.

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” Jesus in John 10:27

“I will bless the LORD who guides me; even at night my heart instructs me.” Psalm 16:7

God’s voice often comes through His Word, or a sense in our spirit. Sometimes it’s just a gentle prompting in our hearts.
Ask for ears to hear. Wait, and listen.

5. Obey.
What you do hear, even what you think you hear, obey. Take a step. Pray about it first. Fast about it. Remember that God will not ask you to do something that goes against His Word. Ask 2-3 others to pray if it’s a particularly radical step. (Despite the call to silence, I do believe that asking for assistance and confirmation through the prayers of a few trusted friends is wise.) God will not punish you for trying to obey what you think is His prompting, even if you sometimes make a mistake.

6. Rejoice.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” Philippians 4:4

Enjoy the process. Honestly, this call to silence is not a happy place for me. Neither is it exactly sad. It’s sort of a heavy place, a solemn, holy pause. At the same time, if I stop and wait, I can occasionally feel a little firework of joy going off in my heart. Since joy is often a choice, I will not choose sackcloth for this call to silence. I will choose to rejoice.If God is calling you to silence, there is much to learn and experience in this process.

Pray. Fast, Wait. Listen. Obey. And rejoice.