Saturday, March 31, 2018

Thinking About Thoughts.

This month has been filled with some unexpected things. A funky molar that needed a better look (and a couple extra dental appointments) and  a toilet that destroyed a solid chunk of our house are just two examples. The molar is almost done being dealt with (phew!) but the bathroom situation is a little more intense. It will require a lot more work and us potentially moving out for a short stint. You can guess how I feel about packing up much of our belongings again. Ha!

There have also been other unexpected things that are relatively minor but changed my daily habits, which is always a challenge to figure out. My hoopla stopped giving me access to all the books I used to listen to, so I haven't been able to finish the books I set out to get through this past month. My book proposal I've been working on since September took longer than expected, which is kind of frustrating since it was already taking much longer than I thought it would. I'm figuring out that most writing, especially writing books, is far more arduous than authors let on. I have a feeling I'll be learning that lesson for a while. But the proposal part is done, several chapters are written (which I'm sure will still be edited at some point during the process) and I'll be sending it off to a couple agencies and publishers. I still cannot believe it is done!

But the biggest lesson about unexpected events I have learned this month is how God works in unexpected ways. Not always outside of us, but usually inside. The key is allowing it to happen.

I am often grumpy on Sunday mornings. Church starts just a touch earlier than I like and I don't have the time to just linger in the morning the way I prefer. But with our Call this month to Receive the Mind of Christ, I have found myself more quickly changed than usual. When my mind says "Let's see what God wants me to think about this" I tend to get over my selfish pouting faster than had I just obsessed over what I don't like about it. It's been such a nice change that I'm shocked, and a little embarrassed, I don't do it more often. And I definitely had times during the month I could have been better about making an effort toward that end. I'm still a work in progress.

I really wanted to have this lovely blog post all figured out and perfectly in order last week, but I prioritized my proposal and decided that a late, more "real" and unstructured blog post would still be better than nothing. I don't have a ton of thoughts, or any super deep, insightful analogies to share with you; just a bit of encouragement, a bit of comfort for seasons of struggle or slowness.

Last week I finally received a book I had won a couple months ago. The author, John Eldredge, really resonates with me. He is passionate about Christians not becoming dispassionate in an attempt to live a good, Christian life. He argues that God made your heart and moves you through your longings, so to just tune them out or disregard them is not wise or healthy. God uses our longings and they need to be carefully directed toward Him. We need this kind of encouragement! To not just throw away our hearts when we decide to follow God, but to give them over to Him.

The book I won is called All Things New and I am eager to get to it (right after I finish The Brothers Karamazov). I'm feeling the exciting culmination of the months leading up to April and Easter and pray that these changes I am experiencing are more permanent and lasting than other seasons of my life. Here are some of the things I am now doing after working through my Called series so far, things I really want to keep doing:

- searching to Know God more deeply
- asking God what He is doing
- asking God what He wants me to do
- seeking to understand God's perspective on my situations
- following through on tasks that I don't love in order to honor God and serve others

Am I perfect? Heck no. My house still isn't as clean as I'd like (or I'm sure my husband would like) and I've let go of a couple endeavors that, while fun and could have potential, were just diverting me from what I am really committed to and caused me stress. My kids still get on my nerves and I still often react poorly when I am tired, hungry, or under a time constraint. But I see improvement in my heart and it is slowly bleeding out into the rest of my life.

While many Christians have a day and night difference in their lives once turning their life over to Christ, mine has been a slower pace, forming since I was just a child. And I've gone through seasons of wrestling with that, wondering if my testimony would be "weaker" or less important. But God has been so gracious to encourage me this year in all of that. We are all in this for the long haul, and even those dramatic conversions will have periods of time where progress feels slow, where hearts are tempted to turn back to the things they loved before. It is in the consistent, slow, almost invisible work we do that God grows the seeds of the fruit we will bear. And preparing our hearts is a pivotal first step in creating a fertile ground for all of that growing and working.

What is God working out in you this month? If you've followed along with the Five Minute Challenge, what have you seen God changing in your mind? In your heart? How has thinking about having God's perspective on your life enabled you to better live for Him?

Next month I will look at how the bible Calls us to Prepare for Jesus' return. How fitting that Easter is in April this year?! I will not be posting on Easter, but by April 4th I will have a new post and new goals for us. I am feeling the culmination of all our efforts building to this weighty tasks. I am also seeing how God has been so kind to align so many different teachings in my life to guide me in thinking through this endeavor. Every time I go to church it seems like God is giving me a small seed I need either for this series or for my book. It feels a little ridiculous that He would be so gracious. It's not like I'm a huge blogger or prominent figure, yet He still reaches down and shows me He is preparing a good work for me. Just as He wants to do for you!

May you feel the blessings of God this week. Especially the blessing of a promised eternity that is waiting for you. This life will bring trouble, tribulation, and hardship, but it doesn't end with those things. The best is yet to come! He has risen!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Receiving the Mind of Christ.

Last week I reached the point of the year where I felt ready to give up on all my goals. Two months have gone by fairly quickly, but lately I am looking at everything I've done, everything yet to do, and everything still not getting done on a regular basis and I feel like I am beginning to crumble. Maybe it's a phase, maybe it's a response to overcommitting and my desire to achieve, but maybe it's because my mind is not where it should be.

I'll be the first to admit; I have a hard time letting God have His way.

Yes, we just finished the month about obedience, but my thought-life is still trying to get on board. I have a lot of "ifs" that need worked through and a lot of insecurities that need tossed. It feels easy to trust God with something big and important, but I am struggling to surrender my life over to the sacrifices that are required of me right now, day after day. I know my perspective is skewed. And while I can still choose to obey, the heartache and frustration from still wishing things were different, easier, more glamorous and less blah, are wearing me down.

This is where I'm going to take a public leap of faith, say a million prayers, and go to bed each night hoping God does His work.

I am hopeful that if I truly have the same priorities as God, if I can fully gain His insight, and understand what He wants for my life, my heart will eventually come around.

Let's all pray that "eventually" is more like tomorrow, or even next week; the sooner the better!

My head insists on thinking about what my days and my life should look like. I know it's not how God says I should spend my time and thoughts, but it is a challenge getting my mind to stop. I'm overwhelmed but feel like I'm not doing enough. I'm exhausted with my to-do list but it's never close to being done. I go back and forth between wanting to rest and wanting to get the work done, hoping one of those options will enable me to truly be at peace for a bit. But even when I am obeying the best I know how, my mind is still not tracking the way I believe God wants it to.

This month's Call is all about our thought-life. Not just all this "positivity" and "good-vibes" but spending our time focused on what it means to Receive the Mind of Christ. We are called to use our minds for His glory. We are commanded to filter what comes in (Romans 10:4-6). Not only is our mind one of the ways God uses the Holy Spirit to speak to us, but our minds inform our hearts (Proverbs 4:23). And I desperately need my mind to start informing my heart of what is true, honorable, lovely, and more.

The verse I want us to focus on this month really stands out to me. It was actually really challenging to pick just this one because the whole section in 1 Corinthians 2 is truly amazing. Go read it all! For now, think about what is said in verse 12:

"Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God."

Earlier in the chapter, Paul is talking about how we cannot fathom what God has in store for us, and that no one can know the thoughts of God. BUT, and it is a really big BUT, the Holy Spirit searches even the depths of God and then speaks to us. Isn't that amazing? What a gift!

Not only are there riches to fathom in receiving the mind of Christ, but there is wisdom to be had as well. And Proverbs is chock-full of advice about seeking wisdom. We need it, and we need it to come from God. Not just from friends on Instagram, not only from that non-fiction author who mostly talks about biblical stuff, but from God Himself.

I know getting your mind right with God might feel like strange business. I mean, He has to do the work, so what exactly are we supposed to do?

We need to start by making ourselves available. If we are constantly filled with the world, we have left no room for the things of God. If during every free second of our days we turn to social media, email, or communicating with others, we have left no open window for God to come in and communicate with us. We will need to learn to sit, be still, quiet our thoughts and simply listen. We will need to search the scriptures without an agenda. We will need to meditate on what we read and become willing to sit without immediate answers. We will need to stop thinking our thoughts and instead, ask God about His thoughts.

I was kind of dreading this post because I feel like I am doing such a lousy job of this lately, but after writing about all of that slowing down and sitting in silence, it sounds incredibly ideal and brings me refreshing hope. Are you up for it? Will you put your phone down, wait for God to move His Spirit and tell you what He has freely given you?

My book list is quite a bit shorter for this month's Call. I may add some others in a week or so, but since my goal is to sit and let God do the speaking, I want to clear my schedule a bit and stop filling my mind with everything I think is best.

Per the recommendation of my pastor, I am listening to Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God by John Piper.  I am only about 45 minutes in and am thoroughly encouraged.

I have already read David Mathis' book, Habits of Grace, and listened to it via the app Hoopla twice. I HIGHLY recommend it. It is practical, spiritually deep though, and a great encouragement no matter where you find yourself in your walk with God.

I will also be reading a few chapters in Proverbs each day. I might skirt around and check out other books as I feel lead (especially Ecclesiastes) but I want to really understand the gravity of how important wisdom from God really is and should be to us. I want to want it as bad as Solomon said we need it.

Like I said before, I hope that focusing on what needs to be in my mind and spending time allowing God to work in my thoughts will bring a peace to my heart that I am currently lacking. I need God's perspective on my life and I desire my heart to just play along nice and quit making it so hard. On one hand, I am comforted that even Paul felt like this (Romans 7:15-24), wanting one thing that you know you don't actually want, and doing the things you don't want to do, but I cannot force myself out of this place. I need to set my mind on the Spirit and allow Him to move in my mind, changing the desires of my flesh and bringing me genuine peace.

I'm guessing you need that too, right? Let's work on it together!

I am also hosting a Five Minute Challenge this month, every Monday through Friday on my Instagram (@joellen.armstrong). We'll spend five minutes in silence, allowing God to speak to us. No phone, no journaling, no praying even except for asking God to fill our minds with His mind. I'm excited to see so many women becoming more connected to God and more aware of His working in our lives. Follow me there and let me know you'll join in.

Make sure you also sign up to receive my monthly newsletter here (and get some cool bookmarks while you do) and then join our Facebook group to receive some other freebies and be encouraged.

I'm praying this is a month that makes an impact for all of us. I am asking God to fill my mind with what He desires, with what He wants me to know about Him, about life, about salvation and more. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to help get your thinking going. Feel free to answer in the comments or write them down to ponder alone. May God bless your efforts in understanding Him better.

What thoughts against myself am I constantly battling?

What do I know about God that can change how I am looking at this difficult, annoying, frustrating, or even tragic situation?

What truths has God given me that I can cling to?

How can I "set my mind on the Spirit" as Paul says in Romans 8?

What personal desires are keeping me from wanting the life God wants me to enjoy living?

If you are wrestling through life, trying to get a handle on everything, please don't hesitate to reach out for prayer. It is a powerful tool and it builds community and encourages authentic relationships. Whether it is me or someone else you know, ask someone to pray for you! You won't regret it.