Tag Archives: heart

Am I Loving Something Else More than Jesus?

We know that Christ’s proximity to us never changes, so if I’m walking through a moment, a week, or a season where He feels distant, there’s a chance there’s something going on in my heart. I question my heart when I’m feeling anxious, apathetic, or overwhelmed. If I’m wondering where Jesus is or having trouble hearing Him, I compel my heart to evaluate: Am I loving something else more than Jesus?

 

That’s not to say that His silence or my emotions are always tied to some prioritization, sin-issue. Sometimes we walk through desert seasons, unprompted by our actions, where He is actively silent. Sometimes our emotions just don’t make logical sense. Yet, in asking these questions, I’m able to better identify if something emotional or spiritual is going on that’s causing whatever disconnect my body and soul are feeling, or if it’s something that I’ve consciously or unconsciously stepped myself into.

 

Over the years, I’ve found a couple of good indicators that help me answer this question honestly. If any one of these things is true of my recent habits or thought patterns, it’s often an indication that something has stolen or is in the process of stealing away my first Love.

 

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1.) If I’m not tithing. . .
This is often the first place I can go when it comes to checking the priorities in my heart. Since I was little, giving generously hasn’t been a strong suit of mine. While the Lord has been gracious, patient, and convicting, it’s still one of the first things to go when I’m keeping a tight grip on my life or am needing some semblance of control. If I’m not tithing or have pulled back on the 2 Corinthians 8:2 and Mark 12:44 kind of generosity I so long for, it’s a good indication that I’m loving something else more than Jesus.

 

2.) If I’m planning my future with lots of pragmatism, worry, and details. . .
There’s a tension here, because on one level, I need to be planning my future. I’m graduating undergrad college in less than three months, and in just over a year I’ll be done with my masters program. I’m actively taking steps towards what the Lord has my future and I’d be remiss and unfaithful if I wasn’t. In and of itself, the planning for my future or moving towards open doors isn’t a bad thing. However, there’s a difference between trusting the Lord, walking into the things He’s doing and living in a place of control, surety, and self-assurance that often leads to worry. Oftentimes, the more details I’m including or searching for, the better the indicator of my own desire for control. When the focus of my planning is myself, my ability to manipulate the details, and my sense of ability, there’s a good chance I’m loving something else more than Jesus.

 

3.) If I’m spending lots of time watching TV (especially in leu of other restful things). . .
Another tension one, because there are times when things like watching Netflix or napping are the most restful, spiritual things that I can be doing. There are times where I’ve tried to spend deep time with Jesus and He told me to watch a movie with Him instead – not because studying Scripture, processing what He’s doing, and interceding in prayer aren’t imperatively important but because sometimes I can get so wrapped up in them that I forget to rest. To just be. I’m convinced that anything can be done as an act of worship in the right moments. However, these things of rest can also be a form of escapism if I’m not careful – things to draw me away from dealing with my life, emotions, or relationships. Ways of shutting down because I’m avoiding myself, others, or the Lord. If I’m actively avoiding other things that are restful, such as walks, drawing, working out, writing, or reading, because they might require more introspection and difficulty, there’s a good chance something has taken the Lord’s place in my heart.

 

4.) If I find myself doubting or questioning things that the Lord has said in the past. . .
There’s a place for questioning and testing the work of the Lord in our lives, especially as ongoing maturity lead us to new levels of illumination of who He is. We should approach everything with a level of humility in how capable we are of getting it wrong (that’s the whole point of the Gospel). Yet, when I find myself wondering if things the Lord has done or spoken in the past are trustworthy, it’s usually an indication that something else has slipped into my soul. Because for as capable as I am of missing it, I also know that He is near and who He is can be trusted. Changing views should be a progression of growth and grace, not a sense that the Lord can’t be trusted, and if that’s what it feels like when I think back to His work in my life, then there’s a good chance something else has snuck it’s way in.

 

5.) If it’s becoming easier to justify things that I know are wrong. . .
 Like number 4, there’s a level of growing into maturity and new understandings of what is and isn’t sin, however there are certain things that I’ve established as either universally or personally wrong. Things that I’ve committed to or things that Scripture has previously called me out on are usually a pretty good baseline for what I should and should not be doing. This is less about my ability to slip up or to make mistakes and more about my conviction in justifying things. If I’ve found myself in a place where I’m rationalizing things that I’ve previously committed to not engage with, there’s a pretty good chance I’m avoiding the Lord and something else is competing for His love.

 

6.) If I’m overly critical or praiseworthy of others, in a way that stems from comparison. . .
This is not a sense of encouragement or noticing the work of the Lord in others – this is noticing beauty in them for the sake of putting myself down. Or conversely, this is not a sense of being aware of other’s shortcomings for the sake of growth and care, but rather a sense of hypercritical frustration with who they are. If I’m being judgmental and altogether hateful in my thoughts, actions, or interactions with others, particularly those who’ve seemed to rub against specific insecurities, it’s a pretty good indication that the issue is with me, not them. If it’s proving harder and harder to love others, there’s a good chance the Lord is not #1 in my heart.

 

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They aren’t end-all-be-all markers of my relationship with the Lord. Sometimes these things come up when I’m walking closely with Jesus. This isn’t to say that all six have to be present for me to acknowledge that I’m avoiding the Lord, nor that if only one is present I’m in a good place spirituality. They manifest with different reasons and different intensities at different times. But in general, they are pretty incongruent when my heart is focused solely on Jesus. Which is what makes them a great, practical, often painful, indicators of my true heart condition.

 

How Gratitude is Changing My Heart

Confession time: I can be a real cynical and prideful sinner.

People have been telling me for years to keep a gratitude journal. And, in my flesh, my reaction was always something like, “my relationship with Jesus is deeper than just a superficial list of things that I liked during my day.” A little less prideful reaction would be something like, “I just don’t want to ever be more focused on the gifts God is giving me than I am on God Himself. I feel like only writing down things I’m grateful for would orient my heart that way.” Either way, I was convinced keeping a list of things I’m thankful for was too childish for my obviously spiritual mature ways. Ha.

Oh Maddie, when will you learn. . .

A few weeks ago, the Lord convicted me, through His Word, in my quiet time, through chapel speakers, friends, and mentors, that I was not keeping an attitude of thankfulness. The posture of my heart was focused on what I couldn’t control, things I felt like I’d failed at (or other’s had failed at), and the things the Lord was doing that I didn’t understand. I figured it couldn’t hurt to try writing down a few things every night, specific to that day, that I saw the Lord’s blessing in that I was grateful for. At the very least, it was an excuse to buy a new notebook and the worst that could happen is I would waste $2 on said notebook. And if it did turn out to be a source of joy and renewal, well then go Jesus.

Y’all. Gratitude is changing my heart.

I don’t say that lightly. And I know other, more eloquent and wise people have already discovered this, but seriously. It’s changed the way I approach the Lord when I journal about my day. It fights my tendency to overthink – because instead of freaking out over whether or not I should or shouldn’t have said something, I’m focused on the fact that I’m grateful for that friendship and unexpected conversation. When I’m frustrated at something small, I read back over the past few days and realize that my negative emotion is a temporary response to the messy world I live in. And, what’s even more amazing than all of that, is it hasn’t shifted my heart to focusing on the temporal gifts and blessings of the Lord – it’s led me into deeper places of trusting in His goodness and faithfulness. He’s teaching me to be grateful for things I don’t yet understand because I’m focused on His movement in the things I do.

The thing is, life is messy and it’s hard and people are complex and everything is unknown. And even if I’m trusting God, if I choose to focus on the chaos of my world, it gets overwhelming. I’m not even forcing my heart to be grateful – I’m simply letting it recognize what I have to be grateful for, silly or not. And gratitude leads me to joy and joy leads me to laughter. And, like lament, laughter points me back to the heart of Jesus.

I laugh when I do things like dropping my ID card in the toilet or lose it . . . in my room. I laugh when I forget that Chicago is the Windy City and I spend a whole tour holding my dress down. Or I have to give a “date” tour (which is just myself and a guy). I laugh when my heart chooses to feel like a middle school girl with a crush. Or my roommate and I stay up until 1 in the morning dying laughing over what songs were popular on the days we were born. I focus on the blessings, because they lead me back to the one who gives blessing. I let myself sit in the goodness of what the Lord is doing around me – whether it feels good or not.

There’s a lot of heavy things going on this week. On my campus. In people’s lives. In the world. In myself. Emotions have been high, tears have been welling up, and my heart hurts. And while lament is an inseparable part of my walk with Jesus and my life in community, so is laughter. I can’t stay in a place of deep empathy without becoming completely overwhelmed with my own helplessness and grief. And, hard as that is, it is so wonderful when it leads me back to a place of dependance on Jesus and His easy yoke.

I don’t know if any of that means anything to you or not – maybe you are way ahead of me on this race and have been letting gratitude change your heart for years. Wherever you are, let’s celebrate the Lord and His faithfulness together.

Just to give you an idea of how the Lord is moving and blessing this crazy, broken life of mine, here are some pictures of things that I’ve written down recently:

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Be Still, My Soul

Oh hi. Me again.

Because it’s been two months since I’ve posted anything, but I’m not really in the mood to sift through my journal entries and try and compile what the Lord has been teaching me in the crazy past few weeks, I’ll give you this gem of a poem.

I’m not even sure where I found this, but it’s been a constant prayer of mine these past few weeks. The combination of commanding my soul to be still in the midst of so many unknowns, being reminded of the overwhelming trustworthiness of Jesus, and resting in the power of The One who stills the seas has been putting my tumultuous heart at ease.

As I lean on the words of others to give a voice to the depths of my heart, I pray that you find some joy and peace in this truth today. Know that you are loved more deeply than you could ever imagine!

Be still my soul, your God will undertake

To guide your future as He has the past

your hope, your confidence

let nothing shake

all now mysterious shall be bright at last

Be still, my soul!

The waves and winds still know His voice

who ruled them while

He dwelt below

K von Schlegel

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Specificity Makes My Heart Squeal

As I’ve set up my dorm room the past few days, the issue of light has been central. My roommate and I refuse to use the awful, dreary florescent overhead light to brighten our white cinder block residence hall. That has meant strategically placing three lamps throughout the room, since the command hooks refused to hold the Christmas lights to the ceiling. And while the lamps make our room about a million times homier, it also means there are places the light doesn’t reach.

It’s funny, because that’s exactly what’s going on in my heart.

Satan works in the things in the dark. In the secrets of our heart. And only Jesus brings light and freedom to those deep, tumultuous places.

I’m good at processing things in general terms. I die to my flesh and then I erect graveyards in my heart to remind of where I came from. But these graves in my heart become the breeding ground for darkness. The specific people, circumstances, feelings, actions going unconfessed. I know that the Lord knows them, so I assume that’s enough. Speaking it to myself makes it real; writing it means that someone else could read it and know the specific failings of my heart, the deep brokenness in my journey towards more of Jesus.

The Holy Spirit changes these places, has victory over the lies, brings new life. But the stones have to be turned over first. The darkness cannot be given a foothold. We cannot take our gaze from Jesus.

“Maddie, center your heart on Me. I’ve given you freedom that only comes from a place of abiding in My love. You need to feel secure and trust in My truth.”

“We don’t want you in the dark, friends, about how hard it was when all this came down on us in Asia province. . .I can see your faces even now, lifted in praise for God’s deliverance of us, a rescue in which your prayers played such a crucial part. Now that the worst is over, we’re pleased we can report that we’ve come out of this with conscience and faith in tact, and can face the world – and even more importantly, face you with our heads held high. But it wasn’t by any fancy footwork on our part. It was God who kept us focused on Him, uncompromised.” 2 Corinthians 1, MSG

The Enemy likes to speak this lie to me that if I don’t speak things or confess things or write things, then it doesn’t make them real. I hate using people’s names in my journal. The places of total vulnerability is hard because I don’t want to be honest with myself; Jesus already knows, can’t He just change my heart without my having to admit it to myself?

That’s just one of the little lies Satan likes to speak to my heart. Here are some other ones: it’s not “go have sex with that guy. . .” it’s “forget that the Lord’s promises of marriage are faithful, that waiting is for my good and His glory, that my desires are from Him.” It’s not “when you feel out of control, go do drugs to escape from your world. . .” it’s “subconsciously eat and then feel guilty, feel like your worth is defined by what you can control, let your mind be consumed with physical things and what you are doing about them.” They are a little harder to recognize, and typically hide themselves in the specifics – the names, the emotions, the actions I’d rather ignore. Can’t I just say I’m struggling “being content in Christ” and call it a day? Nope.

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Because they do sneak in. I don’t invite them. They aren’t welcome. But I’m living in a broken world, in a continually redeemed flesh.

And it’s only God who keeps me focused on Him, uncompromised.

When I was little, my sister and I used to love playing this game called “roar.” It was something akin to a tickle version of hide-and-seek. My dad would go and hide somewhere, then as we would go to find him, he would sneak around to catch us. We simultaneously tried to avoid being caught by him, but we also wanted to get as close as possible. My sister and I would tiptoe around the house, waiting for Dad to grab us from behind, yelling “roar,” tickling all the spots he knew best, and then freeing us as we squealed, screamed, giggled, and wriggled our way free. . .only to do it all over again.

If anyone else had ever tried sneaking up on me, shouting, and grabbing, it would have terrified me. It was the fact that I knew I was being surprised by my Dad, and his tickles, laughter, and love, that made all the difference.

I love it when Jesus “sneaks up” on me. He pours out blessings that I don’t expect. He reminds me of prayers I’d forgotten about. In His goodness and faithfulness and love, He comes up behind me and moves so beautifully in places that I’d given up on. I laugh and smile and let gratitude wash over me. The Lord gives us good gifts; I’m learning how to expect Him to surprise me with His power and grace.

But when the lies sneak it, it’s not as pleasant. I’m not smiling or giggling. And as much as I want to say that they don’t sneak up on me, that I’m always focused solely on Jesus and centered on His love for me. . .I’m not. In my flesh, I really am nothing good. It’s all struggle and distraction apart from Jesus, y’all. I’m learning what it means to find His strength in my weaknesses as I push past my gut, which is screaming to keep the things in my heart in the dark. To stay away from the specifics. To turn my eyes upon Jesus, just so that I can ignore what I’m really feeling and seeing in myself.

I have to be honest with my Jesus. I have to be honest with myself. Because how can I preach the Gospel of grace and radical salvation and immeasurable, undeserved loved, if I’m not seeing clearly the depth from which He pulls me? How can I expect His light and freedom to dispel the darkness if I’m not willing to carry the lamps over there?

I have to center and root myself in the security and goodness of His love. And I can only do that when I look down at the places of dark, rocky ground that I’ve buried in my heart and let Him overwhelm them with His brilliant light!

Praying for y’all as you go to the deep places of your hearts, with Jesus.