Well, today is the last day of our “Clearing the Stage” blog posts. Jimmy’s record releases tomorrow and we are so thrilled! And what a better way to usher in a new record than by Jimmy and I actually seeking to live out the message of this record. I hope that you have been challenged to do some stage-clearing and idol-crushing in your own life. I also hope you will get yourself a copy of Jimmy’s new record tomorrow, either on iTunes, jimmyneedham.com, or at your local Christian bookstore. I really believe that this record will minister to you, encourage you, challenge you, and give you something fun to dance around the house to.
I have recently been studying through the Psalms and noticed the recurring phrase of “wait on the Lord.” There are many promises for those who wait on the Lord and many psalmists who promise to be people who wait on Him. I’ve written about waiting before (see my blog, “What are you waiting on?”), and am always amazed at how little I wait on God. I usually find that I am waiting on many other circumstances in my life: waiting to graduate from college, waiting to be able to have a healthy baby, waiting to get to a more “financial stable” place, waiting for Jimmy to get home, waiting, waiting, waiting. It seems that I’m rarely content in my current circumstances.
This also seems to be the trend in the lives of those around me: always waiting to arrive at some better situation. Whether it be waiting to not be single, waiting for a hard season to pass, or waiting for a spouse to change, we’re rarely content where we are at. The problem with this is that the only thing the Bible commands us to wait on is Jesus! So is it wrong to want our situation to change? I don’t think so. I think our problem is where we are placing our hope.
I read a New American Standard Bible and many times when the word “wait” is used, there is a note in the margin that says “or hope in.” Waiting is often synonymous with hoping. I don’t often think of what I wait on as what I place my hope in, but I find it to be true in many circumstances. When I was a sophomore in high school, I had orchestra practice after school every Tuesday. As I didn’t have a drivers license, I often found myself waiting outside the fine arts building for my mom to pick me up. I hated being at school longer than was absolutely necessary and was very anxious to get home. So I would sit outside watching the very farthest place that I knew I would see her car pull around to get me. Waiting for me was a very active thing as I kept my eyes focused and looking for my one hope to get home: my mom’s car.
In the same way, when I am waiting on a set of circumstances, it is usually because that is what I have placed my hope for peace and joy in. It is what I have my eyes and my heart fixed on. But even if I get to whatever place I’m hoping to be, I’ll find something else I’m not satisfied with and create a new hope to wait on. How do you know what you are waiting on and hoping in? If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself thinking and saying things like: “When I (…fill in the blank…), then things will be better/great, or then I will be able to have peace/have a better walk with God.” No matter how bad our circumstances, how undesirable our situation, Jesus is enough for us. Do we believe that? Usually the answer is no, but I think it is worth fighting to choose to believe this and walk it out.
“Whatever I can’t stop thinking of is an idol” – Lyric from “Clear the Stage” I pray that all of us, myself included, would begin to make Jesus the thing we can’t stop thinking of. That we would be people who wait on Him and Him alone and truly begin to experience the reality that Jesus is enough for us, even if our situation never changes. May we being to wait on the Lord alone and keep our eyes on Him, for those who wait on Him will never be ashamed, their strength will be renewed and they will not grow weary. (Ps 25:3, Is 40:31).
Check out Jimmy’s last blog on his facebook page.
I hope you have all had the opportunity to read Jimmy’s “Clearing the Stage” blogs this week on his facebook page. They have been phenomenal and full of truth and wisdom. He has mentioned a quote from Tim Keller defining idolatry as “turning good things into ultimate things.” I love this definition because it reminds us that it isn’t always something inherently evil that takes God’s place; often times it is something good.
I began praying this morning that God would reveal more things that push Him out center stage in my life. As I wrote down things that came to mind, none of them were bad things: my desire to be a good wife and mom, my desire for a clean and orderly house, to be a good friend, just to name a few. All of these things are good and righteous desires, but often they are the very things that keep me from God. When my desire to be a good wife, mom, friend, or homemaker compete with my desire to know God more, it’s my time with God that usually gets cut. I justify this by telling myself, “I can spend time with God any time I want to, but right now I need to (fill in the blank).” I am have become so quick to cut out my Jesus time because “I can fit Him in anywhere.” But usually, the end of those days come sooner than I realize, and I find I haven’t thought twice about my God.
Sometimes I wonder if I treated one of my friends the way I treat God, how would she respond? I have a lunch date planned with her to catch up, but the kitchen is really dirty and I had better clean it. So I cancel about 5 minutes before with no more reason than it isn’t a good time any more. Or I tell her she is really the best friend I have and I want to meet at least once a week, but I only show up to half of the dates we set because I forgot or had something “more important” come up. I don’t think she would be my friend for very long. Yet, sadly, this is often how I treat Jesus, the savior of my soul. Yes, it is true that if we have trusted in Jesus as our Savior, His spirit dwells within us and we have access to Him 24/7. But should that really give me the right to treat God such flippancy and disrespect?
I think even more telling are the times that I am most desperate for God and consistent in prayer. It’s usually in very difficult seasons when I am seeking Him for something. My tendency is to use God as a means to an end, instead of the only end that I really need. Let me share a quote from one of my favorite booklets called “The Abba Cry” by Don Lessin:
“Jesus must never become the means to an end. If your self-interests are the loudest sound within you, Jesus will become a means to that end. We may never admit it outwardly, but in our hearts we will know if Jesus is no longer the end we live for. If human relations take the place of Jesus, those relationships will become the loudest sound within you. Christian ministry can become the loudest sound that you hear. Ministry, marvelous ministry, can move Jesus into the shadows, even in the midst of working hard for Him.”
Don shares from his own experience in ministry saying “Walking in and out of the presence of God, and looking to Him for quick answers, I found that Jesus had become the means to an end. I never ceased loving and serving Him, but He was not the center of my being.” Oh how true this is in me at times. I let the peripheral things (family, friends, hobbies, cleaning, and ministry) take center stage in my life, pushing Jesus to the sidelines.
The more aware I become of this tendency in my heart, the easier it is to identify when I am slipping into this form of idolatry. Here are a few ways I have begun to notice Jesus becoming a means to an end: When my times with God become about what I can get from Him instead of how I can get to know Him. When my prayer life is only full of asking God for things, instead of talking with God about things. When I am quick to cancel my appointed time with Him for other lesser things. May this trend in my life come to an end as Jesus becomes the central theme and song of my heart. I pray that my heart becomes so bent on knowing Jesus more that my life would scream, “everything is a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ!” (Phil 3:7-8) and that my time with Jesus would become so precious and dear to me that I will sacrifice other things to preserve my time with Him.
Let me close by sharing a challenge for us all by Don: “Is Jesus what you really want? Is He enough? It’s not that ministry is wrong, or that having a beautiful family is wrong, but these things should be an outflow of our passion for Him. Way down deep, do you hear the voice of the Spirit of God talking to your spirit? Do you hear God saying, ‘Turn off all the sounds within you, but My voice. Turn off the sound of business, family, and ministry. Turn off the TV, the radio, and the music. Turn off the call of sports and movies and entertainment. Let it all be silent within you, and hear My voice’? As you listen to His voice what do you hear? Do you hear the Spirit saying, ‘Are you satisfied with Jesus? Are you really interested in taking time to be beautiful inside?’ I encourage you to get quiet before Him today and nail down in your spirit what is the loudest sound that you want to hear.”
Please, do yourself a favor and order a copy of “The Abba Cry” here. It costs $3 and will take 30 minutes to read through. I try to read it once every couple months simply as a heart check. Since it is so cheap, maybe order a few copies and give one to a friend or someone in vocational ministry.
Take a break from all the plans that you have made
And sit at home alone and wait for God to whisper
Beg Him please to open up His mouth and speak
And pray for real upon your knees until they blister
Shine the light on every corner of your life
Until the pride and lust and lies are in the open
Then read the Word and put to test the things you’ve heard
Until your heart and soul are stirred and rocked and broken
-Lyrics from “Clear the Stage”
Oh how I love the lyrics to this song. And yet the dangerous thing is that while the Spirit inside me testifies to how good it is to sit and wait on God, this rarely turns into action. I am often so bent on being productive (as I wrote about in yesterday’s post), that I forget what it means to sit still and wait on God to speak. I tend to fill every second of my day with something in hopes to make the most of my time. But if I were to look at my time with spiritual eyes, the reality would be that I am filling my day with so much noise that there is very little room for God to speak.
What does this noise look like? Lately, it’s been way too much “screen time:” TV, internet (Facebook, pinterest, email, etc.), and iPhone apps and games. I begun thinking about how much time is wasted through these avenues a few weeks ago before the season of Lent started. Jimmy and I have never given anything up for Lent, as it often seems to be for so many simply a religious practice with little or no meaning. But we have some wonderful families around us that have redeemed this practice with more purpose, using the denying of ourselves as a reminder in this season of the sacrifice Christ made for us. So we both decided to fast from something. I knew Jimmy was going to be gone much of this Lenten season and I tend to turn the TV on more in his absence. I think it makes me feel less alone. So I decided to “give up” all TV watching for these 40 days until we celebrate the resurrection of Christ.
It was interesting that the first couple days of this TV fast, I spent an abnormally large amount of time on my computer. Jimmy’s comment to me as I was talking about this with him was: “So, essentially you’ve just replaced your TV time with a different form of distraction.” Ouch. But unfortunately true. What is it that makes me so averse to sitting still in silence? Is it our culture that pushes productivity, our highly technological society that keeps us continually busy, or my own selfish desires to do what I want rather than wait on God?
In 1 Kings 19, Elijah hears from God as he is fleeing for his life from the evil Jezebel. God tells him to go stand on the mountain as He passed by. First a great and strong wind came, breaking the mountains into pieces. “But the Lord was not in the wind.” And then an earthquake, “but the Lord was not in the earthquake.” And then a fire, “but the Lord was not in the fire.” And finally, the sound of a gentle blowing… and it is in this quiet form that God speaks to Elijah. What a wonderful reminder to my distraction-prone heart that it is often in quiet whispers that God speaks. And I will never hear this treasured whisper of God unless I quiet my life and my heart enough to make room for it.
Since the conversation I had with Jimmy, I’ve sought to use the time I’ve freed up during this fast to seek God through more time in the Word and prayer, listening to podcasts, and playing worship music. And as would be expected, I have felt more filled with the Spirit and more sensitive to His voice than I have in many, many months. Slowly I am being reminded of the beautiful discipline of waiting in silence for God. Just yesterday, I had the opportunity to experience this. As I was hitting the last hour of my drive home, the sun was setting. I turned the music down and drove in silence, watching one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen in years. I kept asking, “Lord what are you saying to me in this?” and simply waiting to hear from God. And sure enough, He brought a couple different things to my mind and revealed subtle errors in my way of thinking. What could have been a busy, distracted, and rather thoughtless drive home became a wonderful time of repentance and fellowship with God.
I wonder how many of these sweet moments I’ve missed because I have my face glued to a screen all day. It saddens me to think about how little time I leave in my day for God to speak. I don’t want to miss any of the marvelous truths He has to share with me about Himself! I want to truly wait on Him with quietness of heart and mind.
God, please give me spiritual eyes to see my day how you see it! Help me to see time spent with you and waiting on you as my most valuable time! Forgive me for the hours upon hours that I’ve wasted on pointless things that don’t matter. Grant me the discipline to leave space in my day for quietness, denying my urges to mindlessly read facebook and twitter feeds, play games, and surf the web. Give me the heart that David had in Psalm 62:1,5: “My soul waits in silence for God only.” Only You Lord can give me the ability to make these changes in my life for good. I trust in You and long for Your voice to be the loudest voice in my life. In Jesus name, Amen.
Check out Jimmy’s “Clearing the Stage” blog for today on his facebook page.
I am a hopeless “Martha.” If you are familiar with the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10, you will remember that Martha was the sister who was constantly serving and all the while forsaking the most important thing: simply sitting at the feet of Jesus. This is the story of my life. I love to accomplish things. I love to do. It makes me feel good about myself and gives me a way to quantify the successfulness of my day. Consequently, it is extremely hard for me to just sit. In fact, this is the main reason that I hate napping. What a wasted few hours! When I end the day without having accomplished anything on my to-do list, I feel like I wasted my day.
Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with getting things done and having a strong work ethic. It is when I can’t stop doing those things or thinking about them that they become a problem. Since our daughter Lively still takes a morning nap, that has become my “Jesus time.” I spend that time enjoying who God is through the Bible and prayer for as long as her nap lasts. But heaven forbid that she sleep longer than her normal hour and a half. I can’t lose that precious time to get to the important things I want to accomplish!
How unfortunate that I am often so anxious to get to the “more important” things on my to do list. As if a day spent in communion with my Savior would be a wasted day. It’s in these moments that I relate to Martha as she watched her sister simply sitting and listening to Jesus wondering why she isn’t doing more. Life isn’t all about the doing, at least in a physical sense. Because in all reality, there is a lot happening when I choose to sit at the feet of Jesus: my Spirit is strengthened, I grow in my love for God (the greatest commandment by the way) and for others, and I am freed from sin. But none of these things have results that I can see with my eyes. But a freshly painted bathroom… I can see that progress and it makes me feel good.
Oh that God would give me spiritual eyes to see not what is seen, but what is unseen! For what is seen is only temporary but what is unseen is eternal (2 Corin 4:18). Jesus’ words to Martha always speak right to my heart: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”(Luke 10:41-42)
Lord God, I beg you to do a deep work in my heart. Uproot the idol of my to-do list and my accomplishments as they so often hinder me from a deeper relationship with You. Please help me redefine what a successful day looks like. Teach me that a whole day spent with you, without doing anything, is more successful and fruitful in eternity that a 1,000 days where I got everything checked off. Show me how to balance serving my family and working hard with a heart that ultimately longs to do nothing else but sit in Your presence. Free me from thinking that my time with you is something to check off a list rather than the greatest privilege and most fruitful time in my day. I am hopeless to bring about these changes, so Lord work in me. In the powerful name of Jesus, amen.
Read Jimmy’s post for today on his facebook page.
So if you weren’t aware, my awesome husband Jimmy is releasing a new record called “Clear The Stage” in 5 days! This record is unbelievable musically and lyrically and is all I have been listening to lately. The album title comes from a song on the record also called Clear the Stage that was written by a friend of ours, Ross King (Check out his music here. And please buy his album “And All the Decorations Too.” It is phenomenal lyrically.). This song has had a powerful effect on both of our lives and is one we regularly listen to as a way to check our hearts for idols. To give you an idea of the message of the song and this record, let me share a portion of the lyrics:
Anything I put before my God is an idol.
Anything I want with all my heart is an idol.
Anything I can’t stop thinking of is an idol.
Anything that I give all my love is an idol.
We must not worship something that’s not even worth it.
Clear the stage and make some space for the one who deserves it.
In anticipation of this record, Jimmy and I will be doing some “stage-clearing” in our own lives and will be blogging about it for the next five days until the record releases. We invite you to join us in this with hopes that we can give God the rightful place in our lives: center stage.
With that being said, it was a no brainer to decide what idol in my life needs to be dealt with first. People. I have a problem in that I am way too obsessed with what other people think of me. When I read through the lyrics posted above, “anything I can’t stop thinking of is an idol,” I am faced with the reality of how I idolize the approval of others. While I might say I am a generally confident person, I spend way to much of my thought life imagining what others might be thinking about me. I contemplate what my neighbor might think if I drive away without saying hello. Or what that woman at church might think if I have to ask for her name again for the 3rd time. Or what my friend will think if I forget to call her on her birthday. Way too often, these thoughts consume me.
The problem with being so preoccupied with my image to others is that it leaves little of my attention to be focused on God! In addition to that, these thoughts are simply a surfacing of my ever-recurring problem with the sin of pride. I may be thinking about others and what they think of me… but in the end, I am simply thinking of me! “What do they think of ME?” “How do I look?” “I want to make sure I don’t look bad.” I am way, way, way to concerned with myself.
So maybe a better title for this post is this: “Clearing the Stage of ME.” Self-worship will probably always be the biggest threat to my true worship of God. I do seem to get in the way a lot. I’ve also noticed when God truly has center stage in my life and in my heart, I forget about myself all together in light of the greatness of who He is. The lyrics from Shane & Shane’s song “Vision of You” come to mind: “Let the vision of You be the death of me.”
Oh Lord, may that be true every day of my life. That I would daily choose to fix my eyes upon You and who You are in all Your glory so that all other idols melt away, including myself. By Your grace would You free me from the bondage of self-worship by being too concerned with what others think of me? Through the resurrection power of Your Son Jesus, bring freedom to me from this idolatry that You alone may be my sole focus and recipient of my worship. In the power and name of Jesus, Amen.
Check out Jimmy’s blog for today on his facebook fan page.
Well it’s been 4 months since my last blog post! And as I expected, God had a lot to teach me in this hiatus from writing and none of it has been what I expected. For those of you who have prayed for me and sent encouraging messages: Thank you!!
Just before this break from writing, I had been asking God to grant me humility. I am very aware of my struggle with pride and I feel that it is a stronghold in my life. Pride is very subtle and can take many different forms that we can’t see right away, so I felt very helpless in the battle against this sin and had been regularly asking for God to bring a new level of liberation from it. It was soon after I began praying for this that I began to sense I needed to take a break from writing.
As I mentioned in my last post, I also felt that this season would be full of temptation as well. And sure enough it was. There were numerous occasions where I was presented with a clear choice to walk in the Spirit or walk in the flesh. For example, there had been a miscommunication between Jimmy and I and it genuinely inconvenienced me. But I knew it was a complete accident and unintentional. He had been so sweet throughout our conversation about it and was headed home. I remember hanging up the phone and thinking, “I can respond in grace to my husband and be forgiving or respond in entitlement to what I feel like I deserve.” And without feeling like I could do any differently, I chose the way of entitlement.
This happened numerous times where I chose to be selfish, unforgiving, mean and focused on “what I deserve.”. And after each incident I felt totally bewildered at my actions! “How could I act this way? I know how to be a Christian! I’ve been walking with Jesus for years! This isn’t like me! What is wrong with me?!”
And boom. There it is… my pride surfaced. I had begun thinking way too highly of myself, assuming that when temptation comes that I know how to be a “good enough Christian” to get through it on my own. I had traded total dependence on God for self-sufficiency, which is just another form of pride.
In the midst of wrestling through all these things and processing them (which happened over a period of weeks), Jimmy was gracious to watch Lively for a few hours so I could have some dedicated time alone with God outside the house. While I was away, I decided to read almost the entire book of Romans and write down everything it had to say about me as a sinner in need of grace. It was unbelievably refreshing to read through these basic doctrines of the Christian faith: If I could gain my right standing with God through my own efforts, then faith is made void (Rom 4:14), righteousness is only found as a gift from God by faith (Rom 3:21-23), I am united with Christ in His death and am dead to sin and united with Him in His resurrection and have newness of life to walk in (Rom 6:4-7).
The more I read, the more aware I became of how incorrect my way of thinking had been. I had been looking to my own efforts, my own knowledge, my own “years of experience” as a Christian to help me in my fight against sin. Ironically, in thinking I am an experienced Christian, I forgot the very foundations of my own faith: that it is never through trying to keep the law that I find victory, but only through trusting in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus! We are not just saved by faith alone, we live by faith alone.
I have known that I tend to try and be good enough on my own throughout my day, but this was the first time I have associated that with pride. The reason I try to live life in my own efforts is that I think way too highly of myself. I need to have a sense of hopelessness in my own abilities apart from Christ which will naturally lead me to a greater level of dependence on Christ, which is the true key to success. Jesus Himself said in John 15, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.”
Unfortunately, I think my years growing up in church and struggling with very little outward sin have contributed to this deep root of pride in my life. You see the same struggle in the religious leaders in Jesus day, the Pharisees. Confident in their own ability to obey the law, they could never see their need for Jesus. While I know there is still much to do in the struggle against pride in my life, God has significantly uprooted this sin during these past few months. How grateful I am for an answer to my prayers!
There have been many other significant things going on during these months. My desire and passion for writing has been increasing and I feel like God is giving me more inspiration than ever. There have also been some very surprising topics that God has brought to my attention that I believe He wants me to write about and deal with on my blog. And I must admit I am slightly intimidated by it. But I trust His leading in this. To top it all off, I found out that I am pregnant in December! We will be having our second baby this coming August. What an eventful few months it has been.
Thank you again for your patience during my season off and I have many new blogs coming soon!