How to rejoice (even when it’s somebody else’s big win)

(This post about knowing how to rejoice with other people – to celebrate when someone else has a win – ran earlier this week over at Club31Women.com, a place where you’ll find all sorts of good things for yourself and your family. I’m sharing the message again today, partly in case you missed it but mostly because there’s no such thing as too much cheering for one another!)

“Friendship doubles our joys and divides our griefs.”

I’ve read that quote countless times over the years, starting in high school when my English teacher chalked it on the top right corner of the blackboard.

The thought made sense to me then, and it dovetailed neatly with what Paul wrote to the Romans when he explained what love should look like in everyday life: “Rejoice with those who rejoice,” he said. “Mourn with those who mourn.”

Now, some forty years removed from that English classroom, I still believe friendship—loving others well—has the power to multiply joy and divide sorrow. But I wonder why we’re so much better at the second part of Paul’s command than the first. Why do we find it easier to weep with a friend when she’s hurting than to magnify her delight when she has a win?

Maybe it’s jealousy: We want what she has.

Maybe it’s insecurity: We compare ourselves and feel like we don’t measure up.

Maybe it’s a critical spirit: We know who she is; she doesn’t deserve the blessing.

Or maybe it’s fear: We worry, somehow, that if God showers his gifts on somebody else, he won’t have enough left for us.

Whatever the reason, the Bible is full of examples of folks who loved well—who entered into each other’s joy—and those who didn’t.

Consider how Elizabeth greeted Mary, when the young mother-to-be showed up at her house. “Blessed are you among women,” she cried, “and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:42-43) Elizabeth could have been bitter or jealous (Why had it taken her so long to conceive? Why hadn’t she been chosen to bear the Messiah?), but she wasn’t. Instead, in humility, she shared Mary’s joy, fueling the younger woman’s faith with affirmation and blessing. What a gift!

On the flip side, there’s David’s wife Michal, who stared out the window as her husband danced and celebrated when God’s ark came into the City. King David and his entourage—Israel’s elders, commanders, Levites, musicians—“went rejoicing,” Scripture says, but Michal (who found David’s conduct shameless and vulgar) “was filled with contempt.” (1 Chronicles 15:25-29)

Elizabeth became the mother of John the Baptist; Michal remained childless to the day of her death.

How do we become like Elizabeth instead of Michal? Put another way, how do we cultivate a spirit of humility—one that is quick to celebrate someone else—instead of a spirit of criticism and contempt?

How do we rejoice with those who rejoice?

First, we can anchor our identity not in who we are or what we do, but in our status as God’s beloved. God loves us—and wants to bless us—just because we are his, and an awareness of who we are in his sight can keep things like jealousy, insecurity, and fear from gaining a foothold in our lives.

Rejoice with those who rejoice

Second, we can pray with expectant joy for our friends, interceding for them when they struggle and giving thanks when they succeed. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) Praying for someone else gives you a vested interest in their well-being and opens the door to sincere and generous love.

And finally, we can ask the Holy Spirit to help. We don’t have to worry that he’ll see our warts and our weakness; he already knows all about that and he is always praying on our behalf.

What about you? Where have you found it hard to enter into someone else’s joy? What keeps you from celebrating when a friend has a big win? Confess any jealousy, insecurity, or fears to the Lord and ask the Holy Spirit to help you anchor your identity in your status as God’s beloved.

Psalm 112:5 says, “Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely.” Let’s be generous with our love, coming alongside others in their hard times and, even more, in their rejoicing.

❤️

You can read more about joy-sharing friendships–and how to cultivate them–in Praying the Scriptures for Your Life:  31 Days of Abiding in the Presence, Provision, and Power of God.

 

 

 

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Lay the track (and look for God’s power!)

Note:  Watchman Nee’s quote about how we “lay the track” is one of my favorite depictions of how we can partner with God through our prayers. This post ran earlier this week at Club31Women.com. They’ve got a brand new website filled with all sorts of encouraging goodies – check it out!

Our prayers lay the track graphic

I don’t know about you, but I spent a lot of years thinking that prayer was basically a one-way conversation in which I’d ask God for what I thought would be good and then see what happened. If my relationships or circumstances lined up with my requests, I would know that God had said yes. If not, he said no.

I didn’t begrudge God when he turned me down (I knew verses like Isaiah 55:8-9, which explain that God’s ways and his thoughts are higher than ours), but I much preferred it when I’d put in a prayer and get the answer I wanted.

I liked it when prayer worked like a vending machine.

But that’s not how Jesus sees prayer. His model for prayer is based on attachment. “If you remain in me,” he says, “and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.” Put another way, when we stay connected to Christ and allow his words to soak into our souls and give shape to our prayers, we can pray with the full and wholehearted expectation that God will answer.

And we don’t know (we can’t know!) all the good things that God might have in store as we ground our prayers in his Word. He specializes in doing more—immeasurably more—than all we ask for or imagine.

“Immeasurably More” than we ask or imagine

One year, for example, I decided to pray 2 Peter 1:2 on behalf of one of my dearest friends and prayer partners. Suzanne (not her real name) is a gal whose zeal for life is almost unmatched—she lives big, you might say—and the word abundance in that verse caught my eye.

“May grace and peace be hers in abundance,” I prayed for my friend, again and again.

What I didn’t know—what I couldn’t have known—was that Suzanne would come up against some incredible challenges in her workplace that year, including rumors and lies that eventually led to her leaving her job. Had she not been thoroughly covered in God’s grace and peace, the fear and anxiety that tried to capture her heart during that difficult season might have succeeded. As it was, Suzanne courageously weathered a six-month-long storm. And when she came out of the darkness, she found herself in a new job—one far more fulfilling (and financially rewarding) than anything she could have imagined.

I was asking God for abundance. He was willing to provide that (and he did) but he knew my friend would need his grace and peace even more.

Be a conduit for God’s power

And here’s the thing about praying the Scriptures. We don’t do the blessing, the healing, the providing, the protecting. That’s God’s job. Our job is simply to be the conduit for his power. Our prayers release God’s provision.

Watchman Nee, a Chinese Christian writer, put it like this: “Our prayers thus lay the track down which God’s power can come. Like a mighty locomotive, his power is irresistible, but it cannot reach us without rails.”

Let’s lay the track and look for God’s power to come down in ways that go immeasurably, abundantly, beyond anything we could ask for or imagine.

❤️

Where do you long to see God’s hand at work in your life? Do you believe he is able—and willing—to give you all that you need? What would it look like for you to “lay the track” through your prayers?

The Bible says, “God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8). Ask God for what you need today—lay some track—and then look for the locomotive of his power to come!

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Hearing God’s Voice in a Noisy World

(Note: This post about Hearing God’s Voice ran earlier this week over at Club31Women. If this topic is of interest to you, you’ll find a deeper discussion, along with some questions for reflection and prayers you can pray, in my new book, Praying the Scriptures for Your Life.)

praying the scriptures for your life

“How,” my six-year-old daughter Annesley wanted to know, “can you tell if it’s God speaking to you, or if it’s just your own voice in your head?”

A fair question, and one that many grown-ups might be asking today. And my answer, I thought, started well.

“For one thing,” I said, “God’s voice will never contradict Scripture.”

Annesley looked a bit blank, so I plowed ahead (and here’s where things got a bit dicey). “Like, the Bible says things like ‘Thou shalt not kill’ and ‘Honor your father and your mother.’ So if you ever feel like God is telling you to kill your mother, you can be sure that this isn’t his voice.”

(Okay, okay. I’d just had four kids in six years. I was not at the top of my intellectual game.)

“Kill your mother?” Annesley repeated, incredulous (which I took as a good sign.) But then she folded her arms and gave it some thought.

“If that was God,” she finally concluded, “he’d have to have a pretty good reason.”

Anyhow.

I know my example may not be the most appropriate one, but it’s theologically true. When God tells us something, it will never run counter to what he says in the Bible. That’s one sure way we can check to test whether the voice we are hearing is his.

Another plumb line is that God may convict or correct us, but he never condemns. You know that inner voice that says, “You’re pathetic… You stink… Shame on you”? Yeah. That one. That one is not God. That’s our enemy, the accuser. Also known as the father of lies.

Don’t listen.

Listen, instead, for encouraging words. Words that build you up and prepare you to live a purpose-filled life. God’s voice is like his written Word, “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training” so that we “may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

And finally, God’s voice is never scattered or frantic, and it’s rarely loud. It may even come as a whisper. And it may take a while to discern. Moses knew the value of seeking God’s counsel before plowing ahead. “Wait,” he said to a group of ceremonially unclean Israelites who were eager to celebrate the Passover, “until I find out what the Lord commands concerning you.” (Numbers 9:8)

These three signs—consistency with Scripture, convicting rather than condemning, and focused rather than frantic—are hallmarks of God’s voice. There are others, of course. But the main thing to remember (and this whole concept kind of undoes me) is that God wants to be in conversation with us.

He longs to reveal himself. To give us direction. To bend down, incline his ear, and talk with us—as he did with Moses—“as one speaks to a friend.” (See Psalm 116:2 and Exodus 33:11)

What a privilege we have as believers to be able to enter into conversation with Almighty God.

Hearing God's Voice questions

Is there a decision you’re currently facing? A situation where you need to know how to respond? A place where you long to experience unshakable peace, instead of worrying that you might do the wrong thing?

Meditate on the incredible opportunity you have to talk things over with God. Ask him to provide the direction you need. Pay attention to anything the Holy Spirit whispers to your heart as you listen for God’s voice, and allow his word—as revealed in the pages of Scripture—to shape your perspective and show you what to do.

Here’s a simple, but powerful, prayer you can pray:

Heavenly Father,

Teach me what is best, direct me in the way I should go, and help me pay attention to your commands so I will experience your peace. (Isaiah 48:17-18)

Amen

Isaiah 48:17-18 prayer

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Do you trust me?

Do you trust me?

That’s a question God’s asked me, again and again, when my prayers don’t get answered in the way, or the timing, I want.

Or when I can’t see what he’s up to.

Or when I think I’ve got God all figured out—his plans for my children, my schedule, the desires of my heart—but it turns out that I actually don’t.

And when a friend (let’s call her Grace) told me what happened with her nephew and his back-to-back birthdays, I saw myself in the story. Maybe you’ll see yourself too.

A good and perfect birthday gift

What do you give a little boy for his birthday?

Thinking an airplane might elicit some smiles, Grace wrapped up a model flyer, the styrofoam kind, and gave it to her nephew. Sure enough, the boy LOVED the gift—and promptly launched it over the neighbor’s privacy fence, where the plane crashed upon landing, never to be played with again.

The following year, Grace tried again. And when she called to wish the child a happy birthday, she learned that the second present had not yet been opened.

“I know you got him another airplane,” Grace’s sister explained, eyeing the long gift-wrapped box, “and he will be so happy. But it’s pouring down rain and he can’t go outside, so we’ll open your present tomorrow.”

Grace burst out laughing. The gift wasn’t an airplane. It was an umbrella. Perfect for jumping in puddles and playing outside on a rainy birthday!

Boy with umbrella

God knows what you need

I don’t know about you, but I’ve lost count of the times when I’ve thought that God had an airplane for me (or for my child), but it turned out to be an umbrella—and once I stopped questioning or complaining, I recognized the goodness and perfection of his gift. And if I lost you somewhere in that sentence, here’s what I’m trying to say:

God rarely repeats himself. (See Isaiah 43:19.) When we spend our time looking back at last year’s presents, thinking we know what God has in store for us next, we risk missing the new thing. We risk missing God’s perfect provision for now.

God’s ways are not our ways. (Isaiah 55:8-9) We can trust that his thoughts, and his plans, are higher (and better) than ours.

God knows what we need, even before we ask him. (That’s Matthew 6:8.) We might sit there blathering on and on about how much we love airplanes, but God knows when it’s going to rain. He wants us to be ready. He wants to give us what we need—and what he already knows we will also want.

God wants to give us what we need

Trust with all your heart

So where does that leave us when we know God is good and that he’s got a plan, but we don’t understand (or like) what he seems to be doing? What do we with the gap between notion of what we think we need and the reality of what God provides?

We trust.

Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

(Or, as the Message puts it for mule-headed people like me:  “Don’t try to figure everything out on your own.”)

If trusting God in the face of uncertainty or disappointment feels iffy, or even impossible in times of grieving or loss, that’s okay. Just like we don’t have to create faith on our own (think about the father in Mark 9 who asked Jesus to help his unbelief), we don’t have to position ourselves in a posture of trust. We can ask the Holy Spirit for help.

We can turn Proverbs 3:5 into a prayer (and if you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you may have seen this one in my stories today):

Trust in the Lord with all your heart

Help me trust in you with all my heart instead of leaning on my own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)

When we come before God in surrender, he will make our paths straight. And as we lay our requests before him, we can do so knowing (as Tim Keller puts it) that “God will either give us what we ask or give us what we would have asked if we knew everything he knows.”

We can unwrap the umbrella, thank God for his provision, and go out and dance in the rain.

❤️

P.S. Trusting God is an area where I often struggle, particularly when I am *sure* that my idea, my way, or my timetable is better than his. If that’s where you find yourself too, here’s a little bonus material to chew on today.

For further reflection…

Read Psalm 84:11-12. What does God promise in these verses? What do you think it means to walk “blamelessly”? (Hint:  See Colossians 1:21-22.) How does verse 12, coming so close on the heels of verse 11, shape your understanding of what God promises us?

Read Isaiah 26:3-4. What does God say he will do when we trust him? How does the image of God as the “Rock eternal” encourage or embolden you?

Finally, allow the words of Romans 15:13 seep into your soul as you turn this verse into a prayer:

Heavenly Father, God of hope:

Fill me with all joy and peace as I trust in you, so that I may overflow with hope by the power of your Holy Spirit.

Amen

 

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Why does God allow suffering?

Robbie and I were in Colorado last week. We had a blast hiking with friends and taping a couple of shows (Focus on the Family and Rebel Parenting; I’ll keep you posted on air dates in case you want to tune in), but there were at least two other highlights on our trip.

The first was that we did not get eaten by a bear. (There’s a story there, but it will keep. Maybe next week.)

The second big plus was seeing our friends, Ann and Ty Saltzgiver. Ann’s the one on the left in this pic…

…and Ty, as you know, is our featured author this month. We spent some time catching up, the way that friends do, and as we looked back on the peaks and valleys of our lives, Ty made an interesting observation:

“If I graphed my life by the times I was experiencing more of Jesus,” he said, “and then overlaid that graph with another graph of the difficult times in my life, the lines would match up. The graphs would be nearly the same.”

That was both a sobering and an encouraging thought. I mean, given the choice, I’m pretty sure I’d “just say no” to pain…but if difficulty or suffering serves as a kind of conduit to Christ, I want to at least be open to experiencing it. Or rather, to experiencing him.

Ty writes about suffering in his book, Longing to Experience More of Jesus“Suffering, pain, trouble, and affliction happen to each one of us,” he says, but it’s never “all right.” It’s a mess. It is crushing. And it can sometimes lead to despair.

And also to questions.

A lot of people, Ty says, find it difficult to trust God in the face of their hurt, or someone else’s. “How could God allow pain and suffering, when he could so easily fix it?”

There are, of course, no easy answers. We may find it hard to read Scripture in the midst of our pain, and our prayers can seem pointless or empty. We long for God’s presence, for some reassurance, but when we feel like we need God the most, we don’t sense that he is anywhere near. Ty quotes St. Teresa of Avila, who once said to God, “It’s not at all surprising You have so few friends, considering how You treat the friends you have.”

We get that.

But we also, if we are honest, get what Ty means about graphing his life. Pain has an uncanny way of making us realize that we are not in control. And in our desperation (marked, as it often is, by a diminishing sense of independence), we may find ourselves moving closer to God.

And when we come near to him, he comes near to us, enfolding us in his embrace.

In writing about the place suffering has in our lives, Ty says he is not trying to “put a smiley face” on our pain. Rather, his aim seems to be to remind us that Jesus took on the crush of our hurt (Isaiah 53:4) and that he understands exactly how we feel. After all, he he has been there before (Hebrews 4:15-16).

Suffering is just one of 30 sometimes-challenging topics Ty covers in Longing to Experience. There’s also stuff about trusting God, going deeper in prayer, discovering your true identity, and much more. None of the chapters are long–they’re designed for use as a daily devotion–but they’re rich.

And if you’d like to win a copy…

…hop on over to Instagram (@jodie_berndt) or Facebook (@JodieBerndtWrites) and leave a comment. Or tag a friend who might want to experience more of the Lord.

Which is what I want to do.

Even (and I’m struggling to type this next part) if it means also experiencing pain. I think it was maybe Joyce Meyer who said that, having tasted the incredible blessing of God’s comfort, she found herself almost hoping she’d need it. As in, she was open to the hurt because the hug was just so much more.

Yeah. I’m not quite there yet. But…I want to be.

Heavenly Father,

You are close to the brokenhearted, you comfort us in all our troubles, and you know exactly how it feels to be despised, rejected, and familiar with pain. (Psalm 34:18, 2 Corinthians 1:4, Isaiah 53:4)

Come near to us as we come near to you. Draw us into your loving arms, and may we take refuge in your embrace. (James 4:8, Song of Songs 2:6)

Amen

❤️

P.S. This post marks the end of our September with Saltzgiver…but there’s more to come! In fact, Ty has a brand new book that’s set to release on November 1. Designed especially for families, Ready or Not (clever title, eh?) is an Advent devotional that will help prepare our hearts and our homes for Christmas. You can’t pre-order the book, but jot yourself a note to visit SaltResources.com in early November and pick up a copy for everyone on your “nice” list! 🙂

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How Can We Know God’s Heart?

If you’ve been around this blog for awhile, you know how much I love sharing books and other resources to help us grow closer to Christ. This month features a series of powerful little books by Ty Saltzgiver, and we’ll be giving away a different one every week.

Today’s post is from My First Thirty Quiet Times, a day-by-day devotional that has sold more than 600,000 copies. In this excerpt from Day 5, Ty asks some really good questions: How can we know the Father’s heart? How can we be sure that God really is GOOD, and that He truly CARES for us? And how can we be sure we can trust Him?

Here’s Ty:

So often, Christianity is presented to us as a set of beliefs to adhere to and a set of rules (or commands) to obey. In other words, we must believe what is true and do what is right. If we do, then we are a Christian, or to the degree that we do these well, then we are good Christians.

Certainly, there are things to believe and a way God wants us to live, but they are not “in order to be” a Christian. Rather, they are “because of” the reality that we have a relationship with Jesus, where we’ve received His love and invited Him to live in our hearts and trusted Him with our lives.

It is a huge thing to entrust our very lives to God, to give Him the thing most precious to us–our hearts. Therefore, to trust God, we must be convinced His heart is GOOD and that He truly CARES for us. How can we know the Father’s heart?

(That’s a great question. And the answer, Ty says, is not by knowing doctrines or following rules or even seeing God’s beauty in nature. The answer to knowing God’s heart is by looking at Jesus.)

Jesus says essentially, “Let me tell you a story to try and describe for you my Father’s heart.” And then he tells the Prodigal Son parable. He says His Father is always standing on the porch waiting and looking for us who are lost or hurting. Then, when He sees us, He rushes to meet us and showers us with kisses, healing and restoring us.

Jesus represents (and therefore reveals) His Father as the One who pursues and accepts us. Even when there is infidelity or inattention on our part, God’s acceptance is always absolute, no retribution or payback is required. No one could invent a god like this–one who pursues and accepts sinners, one who becomes human and hangs out with us.

All other gods despise sinners, condemn them, and withhold blessings from them.

Not Jesus’ Father. Not our Heavenly Father.

Of course, Jesus’ death on the cross tells us more about the Father’s heart than anything else. Can you imagine the Father’s agony over His Son’s suffering and death, all so we could be in a relationship with Him? When someone dies for you, you no longer question if that person cares for you, or if you matter to them.

You can trust their heart with yours.

❤️

Heavenly Father,

No one has ever seen you, but Jesus–your one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with You, has made you known. (John 1:18)

Thank you for sending Jesus to not only be the way to You but also to show us who You are. Help me to know You more and trust You more.

Amen

 

P.S. (and book giveaway scoop):

Salt Resources

Ty Saltzgiver (above) spent over 40 years with Young Life, and he’s particularly gifted at making complex spiritual issues easy to grasp. My First Thirty Quiet Times comes with short scripture readings, thoughtful application steps, and a prayer every day. The book is designed for a new Christian, but I’ve picked up it up countless times over the years when I want straightforward answers on topics ranging from sin and forgiveness, to what to do when doubt comes, to knowing God’s will for my life.

If you’d like a free copy, post a comment here or on Instagram (@Jodie_Berndt) or Facebook (@JodieBerndtWrites) for your chance to win. Or, since the books cost just $1.99, go ahead and order one–or ten!–and share this great resource with someone you love!

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