Distraction has become a habit.
The world is a busy place. “Busy” is the new “fine.” How are you doing? How are things? How’s life? It’s fine. It’s busy. Busy but fine.
Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the most distracted one of all?
Huh, that’s funny. The reflection’s not changing.
I am a full-time high school student, scrambling to not just get college applications in but also to do interviews, apply for scholarships, fill out information for honors programs, and schedule visits. In addition, I work about 20 hours a week, volunteer twice a week, head the school newspaper, and try my best to have a social life.
It’s funny how even the busiest of us still find times for our phones, though, isn’t it? For the internet? Goodness, I love the internet. I think it’s a wonderful place. But it’s another
meant to ease our minds. But does it?
Listen, the reality of it is, I can’t really simplify my life all that much. I have to go to school, I have to navigate this college chaos, I have to work in order to save for said college. But I can change my outlook on it.
I’m a fairly anxious person. I don’t show it that much. I’ve gotten better in the last few years at dealing with it. There were some cool but not super fun ways God has made me more resilient. But I have this color-coded schedule glaring up at me as I type and it’s just so
Most of my anxiety is future-oriented. I’m a pretty future-oriented person. I have a hard time relaxing now knowing I have work to do later. Even when I’m in the moment of something part of my brain is worrying about the other three things I have to get done that day and mentally calculating the time I’ll have to do them and when on earth will I have the chance to refuel and it’s completely crowded, drowning,
Learning to live in the moment is less about not planning for the future and more about, as my dad says, “controlling the controllables.” When I’m in school, I can’t also be working or planning. When I’m with friends, I can’t also be writing an essay or doing an interview. So controlling the controllables means looking at where I am and saying, “What am I doing right now?” and doing that to the best of my ability, with my whole mind, rather than letting it splinter.
“For I have learned in whatever situation the secret of being content.” I was talking about this verse with my Pre-K Sunday school class this morning and I asked them why they thought Paul could be content, why he could be joyful and satisfied, even when crazy things were happening. The answer? “When I am afraid I will trust in God, I will trust in God, I will trust in God. When I am afraid I will trust in God, in God whose Word I pray.” I will trust in God, whose Word I pray.
(This is a quick side note, but the Word of God is the most incredible thing. The words wash over you in this way that is both refreshing and restorative and cleansing and yet also cuts straight to the heart.)
Lord, teach me the secret of being content! Let me trust you not just with my words or even actions but with my heart. I will go out on the limb, I will scale the mighty summit, I will step into the waves, just keep my eyes above. Thank you, Jesus!
“Lift up your eyes on high, and see! Who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power: not one is missing.
“Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God’? Have you not known? Have you not heard? He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.” (Isaiah 40)
It’s funny how when we remember who exactly our God is, everything else goes strangely dim.
May you not strive to control the uncontrollables, but remember who can.
The anglerfish, aka Lophiiformes, are an order of bony fish that dwell in the deep, empty reaches of the ocean. Both prey and others of their own kind are few and far between.
Female Lophiiformes are characterized by their unique method of predation, in which a fleshy growth from the anglerfish’s head, called an esca, acts as a lure. The luminescence of the esca, which draws its prey from the dark and turbulent depths, comes from a bacteria that dwells in and around the esca and exists in a symbiotic relationship with the anglerfish. In addition to luring prey, the glow of the esca also serves to attract the attention of males during mating season.
Some deep-sea anglerfish also employ a unique (and slightly disturbing) method of reproduction. It was discovered when scientists first began capturing anglerfish of the ceratioid variety, and they found that all the specimens they received were female. They also noticed that almost all of them had what appeared to be smaller parasites attached to them. These “parasites” turned out to be the male anglerfish.
Ceratioids rely on parabiotic reproduction, meaning that free-living males never fully mature until they parasitize a female. Some species even experience stunted growth of certain glands, which prevents feeding, meaning that if they are slow to find a mate, they are quick to die.
The depths of the ocean are a battleground for these species, a constant struggle for survival. In the turbulent waters, life is rare, sustenance is hard to find, and the darkness is overwhelming.
Sounds like someplace else I know.
Psalm 82:5 says, “They wander about in darkness, while the whole world is shaken to the core.” Proverbs 2:13 says, “These men turn from the right way to walk down dark paths.” Finally, Ephesians 6:12 tells us, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Our world is like the depths of the ocean–full of darkness with no way to see, a spiritual battleground, a struggle for survival, turbulent and chaotic.
But, that is not the end of the story. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world; whoever knows me will never walk in darkness.” 2 Corinthians 10:4 says, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” John 1:5 says more simply, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.”
More than that, “because of God’s tender mercies, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death (Luke 1:78-79).” He gives this light to us, so that we are “more than conquerors” through Christ. Like the anglerfish, the light we hold is not our own. It comes from God. And like the anglerfish, others are drawn to this light. But this light is not one that leads to destruction, but to life.
Like the anglerfish, we may feel alone, adrift in a massive, impenetrable sea. But like the anglerfish, we, indeed, are not alone. “You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world (I John 4:4).” Much as the male anglerfish depends upon its mate for survival, we depend on God. John 15:5 says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” It is from God that we receive our light and our life; apart from him, we can do nothing.
One of my favorite moments of Jesus interacting with his disciples occurs shortly after Jesus feeds the five thousand. There were huge crowds following him after that event, hungry for more, but as time passes, they begin to disperse. They heard more of Jesus’ teaching, and realized that this teaching wasn’t a philosophy that just gave out free food, this was something much bigger. Much harder. And they begin to fall away. Even the disciples said, “This is a hard teaching; who can listen to it?” Eventually, the Twelve are the only ones left. And then Jesus says, “Do you want to go away as well?” And Peter–always the first to speak–asks the simple question: “Lord, to whom shall we go?” There is no one, nowhere else that provides what Christ provides: life.
If you get discouraged by the darkness around you, remember the anglerfish. She isn’t pretty (the image above is a cartoon representation, safe for children. This is the real deal) but she reminds us that we have a light that is not our own. Let it draw you in, deeper and deeper, into dependence on him.
Joy is literally my middle name.
Some days, it seems all I do is grumble or complain. I quarrel and I snap back at the slightest provocation and I can’t control my tone of voice. Quick to anger, quick to speak, but slow to listen.
I’ll never forget how one of my friends laughed when someone asked her why she was so happy all the time. “Because I have Jesus in my heart!” she exclaimed, eyes shining. You could see it, too.
But I have Jesus in my heart, too, and last time I checked, “happy all the time” was not a part of my daily experience.It wasn’t until later in my life that I began to see the difference between happiness and joy. It’s a lesson I’m still learning, in fact.
Because “happy” isn’t something you can be all the time–but joy is. Happy is something you feel; joy is something you choose. Happiness is an emotion; joy is an attitude. Happiness is an experience; joy is an outlook. Happiness depends on circumstances; joy exists regardless and in spite of them. Happiness is earth-bound; joy is heaven-found. A lot of lives have taken a turn for the worse because of confusion between the two.
Righto, but that still doesn’t answer the main question: how can I get me some?
As I’ve been writing this, a number of old children’s songs have been running through my head:
“I’ve got that joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart! Where? Down in my heart! Where? Down in my heart! I’ve got that joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart! Where? Down in my heart to stay!
Or, how about this one?
Joy to the world, the Lord has come!
And then, there’s this one:
The fruit of the Spirit is love-joy-peace, patience-kindness-goodness-faithfulness, gentleness and self conro-o-ol! Love-joy-peace, patience-kindness-goodness-faithfulness, gentleness and self control!
Oh wait, that’s a Bible verse too, isn’t it? “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
Joy is the fruit of the Spirit. It is the product of having Jesus dwelling inside you.
*Raises hand* “But wait, Miss Bre, didn’t you just go in a circle? Didn’t you just say that even though you have Jesus in your heart, you don’t always feel joyful?”
*Pats head fondly* Why yes, that’s true, young child. But what I mean is…oh wait. that’s a good point.
Look, here’s the thing. Living life God’s way isn’t easy–otherwise everyone would be doing it, and my friend Amanda who is
happy joyful all the time wouldn’t have sparked any comment, ’cause we’d all be walking around turning the other cheek until we were literally spinning in circles. But the product of choosing the narrow gate instead of the broad is this: joy. Love. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Joy.
You ever feel conflicted? Like you want to do what’s right, but you just can’t help yourself? Well, you’re in good company; so did Paul. Romans 7 says, “I do not understand what I do. For I do not do what I want to do, but I do the thing I hate….Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
(Oh look, I’ve found something in common between me and the greatest missionary of the New Testament! This is a good sign!)
There’s a reason for this. It’s that there’s actually two natures dwelling inside you. A sin nature, born at the Fall, and, if you believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, the actual Spirit of the living God. And believe it or not, every Christian has exactly the same measure of this Spirit as another. There’s enough to go around. You have it just as much as me or Paul or Corrie ten Boom or the person sitting in the pew beside you. The only difference is how much you choose to listen.
Many people are familiar with the old Native American story about the two wolves in a fight, and the famous saying: “The one who wins is the one you feed.” If we all have the Spirit of God living inside us (something not Abraham nor Moses nor Elijah nor any of the other heroes of the O.T. had access to, by the way) then the determinant of our joy is this: how much we feed it, and how much we choose to listen.
“The thief comes to steal and kill and destroy, but I have come that they may have life, and have it to the fullest (John 10:10).” The thief wants to steal, kill, and destroy your joy. Your peace. Your patience. I’m ashamed to say that he often succeeds. He lies and tricks us into chasing happiness instead of joy, and we build up treasures on earth rather than recognizing that this is not our home; we’re only passing through.
So the source of joy? I guess we’re back at the original answer: Jesus. But it doesn’t come from a passive, one-time decision; it comes from a lifestyle where you’re feeding your soul with truth and grace, and choosing to focus on the real thing instead of chasing shadows.
May you be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. May you learn kindness, and patience, and joy.
the angel asked. It was as if he was mocking their astonishment at their Teacher’s ascension. Didn’t you know this was going to happen? his merry eyes seemed to say. He’s going to come again, too. Will you still be standing here staring?
“We’ve never seen anything like this before!” they could have exclaimed. But they had. They’d been with him for three years, watching him heal the sick, turn water into wine, make the blind to see and the lame to walk. Peter, James, and John had been with him at the Transfiguration. They’d seen far more dramatic things than a simple disappearance. In fact, you’d think they’d be used to it by now! Jesus had been coming and going like a wizard with a hole in his Floo-powder pouch for several weeks, appearing and disappearing from the Upper Room and on the road to Emmaus. So why did this event leave the disciples staring?
Maybe it was his words before he left. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses.” What was this Holy Spirit? Maybe they were waiting around for it to descend right there–not that the disciples had a great track record for taking Jesus at his word.
To be fair, who could blame them? He had an awkward tendency to say the craziest things. “If anyone comes to me and does not despise his mother and father…yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.” “If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.” “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again.” Whaaat?
The disciples sometimes take a lot of flack from the modern-day church for this. He’s talking about himself, you idiots! But seriously, what would it look like if we started taking Jesus at his word? “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” “If anyone slaps you on one cheek, turn to him the other also.” “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” “Seek, and you will find; knock, and I will answer.” “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Think our lives might look a little different?
Before Jesus left, the disciples had asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom of Israel?” His answer? Not yet. Wait and see. And in the meantime, he had a job for them.
“Why do you stand here?”
Maybe it was because they didn’t know what else to do. Maybe because the weight of Jesus’ last charge hadn’t fully sunk in yet. “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
“Men of Galilee, why do you stand here? This same Jesus, who you have seen go up into heaven, will come back in the very same way.” The angel spoke with urgency, galvanizing them into action. These were the words that lit a fire in the early church! The disciples had to prepare for their Lord’s return!
But he didn’t come. Not yet.
I think the two thousand years since then have made us complacent. We metaphorically stand and stare into heaven every day, blinking into the sunlight and wondering what to do.
“Why do you stand here?”
If Jesus came back today, would he ask you the same question? Don’t just stand here; move! In your current vocation and location, what is he calling you to do?
Maybe you don’t know. Overwhelm is an understandable feeling. Maybe you should start by taking Jesus at his word: “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.”
“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”
Ours is the same charge as that of John and Peter–of Paul and Joshua and Timothy and Moses. Maybe we should spend less time squinting into the sky and waiting for answers to come to us, and a little more soaking in his word and letting him teach us how to love. Maybe that’s where the answers really come from. Maybe sometimes, when we think we’re waiting on God, God is really waiting on us.
So why do you stand here?
This poem comes from Isaiah 51:12-16.
Who are you, that you fear mortal man?
That you lose sight of the Lord’s mighty hand,
That you get lost in the bland finances and advances
Seeking canned, secondhand romances
With the things of the land.
You swim with the school, having forgot how to stand.
Though your days are as sand,
You ignore every chance,
Fearing to be looked at askance.
So focused on man
That you forget the Lord your Maker,
Invader of the hearts of the clay-born,
Who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth,
Who quenches every thirst
And deserves to be first
He’s a sunburst
You serve a God who reversed
Places, took the curse on himself,
Defeated the worst hell had to offer
And yet you live in constant fear because of the wrath of the oppressor,
Impossible to measure up,
Despite your endeavors.
But where is the wrath of the oppressor?
I feel a tremor–
The cowering prisoners will soon be set free
No more fatigue or defeat;
His promise complete
Taste and see,
The sweet freedom for which he bleeds.
They will not die in their dungeon,
Nor will they lack bread.
No fear or dread,
No longer dead or beset by impossible debt
But instead a seedbed, a witness of what he has said.
For I AM is the LORD your God,
Who churns up the sea so that the waves roar,
Who transforms and adorns,
Raises you to soar–
The LORD ALMIGHTY is his name!
Who covers us in grace and sets our souls aflame,
Who reigns awesome over an endless domain,
Whose faithfulness always remains,
Who lights the way,
Who’s never swayed,
Who rules the day
Yet knows my pain–
The LORD ALMIGHTY is his name!
For, says the LORD,
“I have put my words in your mouth,”
Arouse the silent houses,
Impossible to douse or to doubt,
Louder than thunderclouds,
The water in the drought.
“I have covered you in the shadow of my hand,”
Able to withstand any demand or attempt to disband
For all the earth is under his command,
Establishing the heavens and laying the foundations of the earth.
I no longer thirst
But headfirst am submersed
In the unreserved light of your glory that burst
From the sky, raining down on the earth.
He says unto Zion, “You are my people,”
I will lift you up on wings as eagles.
I will guard you from evil,
And my grace will sustain.
Through the joy and the pain,
Through the loss and the gain,
I will show you the way
If you only have faith.
My truth will remain;
It cannot be restrained.
I’ll give you a new name
In my arms you are safe.
He is King, and he reigns;
To the world I proclaim–
The LORD ALMIGHTY is his name!