Coming to Terms with Your Calling

Have you ever read the story of Jonah? And by that I don’t mean, were you ever in Sunday School when they talked about the guy who got swallowed by a whale? I mean, have you actually read it for yourself? In the Bible?

The basic summary of the story is that Jonah runs from God, God finds him, God delivers him, and Jonah fulfills the calling God gave him in Chapter One. Sounds like a pretty standard story. But here’s the thing that I find sets Jonah apart from all the other Biblical heroes: There’s absolutely no turnaround in his life. No repentance. Sure, Chapter Two is one, big, flowery prayer in which Jonah cries out for deliverance, but he never actually apologizes for disobeying God. Not once.

With a heart every bit as bitter as it was the day he first ran, Jonah goes to Nineveh where he preaches this big sermon of, “God will pour his wrath out upon you sinners.” He doesn’t tell them to repent… but they do.

And instead of rejoicing in the miracle God has performed through his message, Jonah gets angry and storms out of the city, begging God to take his life. “I’m angry enough to die,” he says. And that’s where our story leaves him.

It would almost be laughable if it weren’t so sad.

I wonder if Jonah ever got it. I wonder if he ever came to terms with his calling. I wonder if he ever went back to rejoice with the people of Nineveh, or if he avoided that city for the rest of his miserable existence.

Perhaps we’ll never know what happened to Jonah, but we can make sure this doesn’t become our story. I can’t speak for you, but I know that I don’t want to be the kind of person who is so full of hatred that I refuse to answer God’s call. I don’t want to be the one who flees from the miracles God would perform in and through my life.

I want to be the kind of vessel that would bring repentance and instill life in the hearts of hundreds and thousands of people. But I know that repentance starts right here in this heart of mine.

So this is me, apologizing for all the times I’ve run away—all the times I’ve sought Tarshish when there are 120,000 people awaiting the words I’ve been commanded to speak. This is me, coming to terms with my calling and determining to find joy in doing the will of God.

For those of us who desire to glorify God with our lives, this is the point of surrender.

May He Find Us Faithful

“Gideon’s army.”

The words came to me in the middle of a message and I hurried to write them down on my yellow legal pad, wondering what relevance they have in my life today. So I went home, looked up the old story, and found that the words spoke deeply into my world today.

If you don’t know the story, you can look it up in Judges chapters 6-8, but the long and short of it is, Gideon was called to deliver his people from the hand of Midian. He set out with an army of 32,000 men, but God told him that his army was too big. So Gideon commanded anyone who trembled with fear to turn back.

This left Gideon with 10,000  courageous men – less than a third of his original army. You would think that would be good enough, but God still wasn’t satisfied. See, God knew that men are prone to take all the glory for themselves, and He didn’t want the Israelites to claim that they had defeated Midian by their own power. If God was going to deliver Israel from the hand of the enemy, He was going to do so with a faithful few. So Gideon stood by as God sifted through his army until there wasn’t much of an army remaining.

And the entire Midianite army fled from a mere 300 men.

I feel this is what God is doing in our world today. I look around and see so many people in church, but only a few who are truly committed to the cause. All around the globe, God is sifting through His army, looking for the ones who will remain faithful to the end.

In many areas of the world, Christians are fleeing their countries, running from the persecution that  threatens their very lives. In Egypt alone, an estimated 300,000 believers have abandoned their homes since the revolution began last year. And while it’s good to know that they are safe, it also makes me wonder… Where does that leave the rest of us? Who remains to fight for Egypt? Who remains to fight for my world?

Because sometimes it isn’t about being safe. Sometimes we must take risks. Sometimes we must go into battle with a mere 300 men, trusting that God knew what He was doing when He sent everyone else home. Because when you look at statistics like these through physical eyes, victory seems unattainable; but when you dare to look into the spiritual realm, you’ll find that God is about to do something that borders the miraculous.

And what I know with most certainty is that when the option is given to turn away from the upcoming battle, I don’t want to be one of those who tremble in fear.

I pray that you will find the courage to stand strong in the face of adversity. May you never lose sight of the vision God casts before you and may you always cling to the hope that is given to us in Christ Jesus.

The war is already won.

May He find us faithful.

Not 4 Sale

Yesterday was Freedom Sunday, and in honor of this protest against human trafficking, I proudly wore the words “NOT 4 SALE” on my arm. I’ve always been passionate about this issue, and after my trip to India with Bombay Teen Challenge, both the horrors and hope have become even more real to me. So here I am, championing this cause until I wake up this morning and stumble across a passage of scripture that makes me feel like a hypocrite.

“But you have lived as a prostitute with many lovers –
would you now return to me?” -Jeremiah 3:1

The words stung my heart this morning because they reminded me of an important truth I had allowed myself to forget. There I was with the words “NOT 4 SALE” tattooed across my arm while I was selling myself short of God’s best for me. Somewhere along the way, I had allowed myself to get caught up in the little things – the petty distractions of life – when all the while God has been standing by the wayside saying, “Hey Rebekah, I have something so much better waiting for you if you’d only take the time to notice.”

It’s amazing how easy it is to stray from God’s perfect will. Even more amazing how difficult it is to see that you’re slowly slipping away from Him. Like I said, it’s the little things that make the biggest difference. Once you allow your life to get so filled up with little things, there’s no room for the truly important things.

Yet all along, God stands by the wayside with open arms, begging us to return to Him. Loving us when we are undeserving. He opens Himself up and gives us the opportunity to bring Him joy… or to break His heart once again by turning our backs on His desperate plea.

Let me make this clear: You are not for sale, so stop selling yourself short. God has something amazing in store for you, so stop chasing fantasies and let Him restore you to His wonderful reality. He doesn’t care what you’ve done or where you’ve been; He misses His little girl. He is begging you to return to Him, but ultimately, the choice is yours. Will you retreat into the shadows or run into His open arms?

As for me, I choose life.

Don’t You Know Anything?

About six weeks ago, I read the most haunting book about the Nazi regime. Since then (which is ironically the name of the book ~ Then), the catchphrase of one young character has lingered in my mind: “Don’t you know anything?”

Sort of random, but a well-written book will do that to you. Anyway, the phrase resurfaced as I read through the book of Isaiah and found words of a similar kind:

“Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and His understanding no one can fathom.” (Isaiah 40:28)

“Don’t you know anything?” Isaiah seems to be asking. And I could feel guilty, but I don’t. Instead, I’m merely thankful for the reminder. This verse started a whole list of questions in my mind.

Do you not know… that God is bigger than any problem you may face?

Have you not heard… that the Lord is mighty to save?

Do you not know… that God is in control of both the big and little things?

Have you not heard… that He’s going to win in the end?

Do you not know… that God loves you with everything He is?

Have you not heard… the song of love He sings over you?

Do you not know… that He’s waiting with arms wide open?

Have you not heard… how He desperately calls your name?

Do you not know? Have you not heard? Don’t you know anything?

I realize how little I do know. More importantly, I realize that it’s okay to not know everything… just as long as I know that I can trust God with the things I don’t understand.

The In-Between Places

“Egypt’s prince became Israel’s deliverer – but somewhere in the middle he had to become Midian’s shepherd so he could learn how to lead in a godly way.” ~Shannon Primicerio

I’ve probably read those words about Moses a minimum of five times without ever really seeing them. This time, they jumped out at me. I’m going to blame it on the fact that I’m smack dab in the middle of the “Midian phase.”

Midian for Moses was an in-between place – a step away from where he didn’t want to remain, but not quite where he wanted to be. It’s a place most of us dread – a place of transition and change. Midian was a necessary tool in shaping Moses into the leader God desired for him to be, but he didn’t know that when he fled Egypt.

That’s the thing about in-between places. They never make sense while you’re in them. Sometimes you look around and ask, “God, why am I here?” But He never seems to answer, unless He gives you the occasional, “You’ll see.” But it would seem that you never “see” soon enough.

It’s frustrating to live in the in-between places. Sometimes all you can think about is how this isn’t where you want to be – even when you know it’s so much better than the place you left. Or worse, you turn out like the Israelites when they were waiting in the desert. You start to miss the place of bondage from which you fled. You start to think, “At least then I knew what was going on. I have no idea what’s happening here!”

But the thing is, God doesn’t want you to live in bondage. He doesn’t want you to merely exist; He wants you to thrive. So He takes you out of those places where you are slowly fading and He leads you into another place – the in-between place – because He knows the in-between places are necessary if you want to reach the other side.

So don’t dread the in-between places, even when they don’t seem to make sense. Don’t you know that God is making a deliverer out of you?

“But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” ~Job 23:10

Prophesy Illusions

They say to the seers, “See no more visions!” and to the prophets, “Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions.” -Isaiah 30:10

Prophesy illusions.

Those are the words that hit me hardest during my quiet time this morning, both for their poetic ring and their sad reflection of my world today. How many of us are living an illusion – a deceptive appearance of something that isn’t really there? How many of us pretend that all is well in our world when, in reality, we’re on the brink of a major meltdown? How many of us force a smile to our face as we tell ourselves we’re really just fine? We don’t need to change anything – fix anything.

We, like the obstinate nation in the book of Isaiah, ask for an illusion. We paint a mirage for ourselves of roses without thorns, hoping that maybe, if we pretend for long enough, our illusion will become our reality. We reject the truth because we’d rather live a lie, pretending that life is sunshine and rainbows. Have you ever tried to catch a rainbow? It’s impossible. You can see them, but you can never touch one because it isn’t really there. That’s the thing about illusions. They fade. Dissipate. They slip like sand through our fingertips and are gone forever.

I don’t want to be like the people described in the book of Isaiah. I’ll take the roses with the thorns, the sunshine and the rain, the laughter with the pain. I’d rather feel the sting of truth than know nothing but lies. So today I set aside my illusions – my fantasies and disguise – and beg for Truth to infuse my life with it’s healing blade.

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. -John 8:32

Mary’s Extraordinary Faith

Everyone has their own take on the nativity story. Mine has changed in the last week or so. I think I’ve always tried so hard to picture Mary as an ordinary girl that I overlooked the depth of her extraordinary faith.

I always imagined that Mary was too wonder-struck to say anything but yes. I figured that there wasn’t much room for logic in the midst of her awe, and imagined that it was only after the celestial being, mysterious message, and rush of excitement departed that reality set in. I pictured Mary instantly going from, “Wow!” to, “Oh snap, how am I going to explain this to my father?”

But then one of my co-workers got me thinking about some other Biblical heroes who weren’t quite as willing as Mary. Think about it:

When Moses heard his calling in the burning bush, he exhausted every excuse he could conjure up.

When Jonah was asked to go to Nineveh, he ran as far as he could in the other direction.

When Gideon was told he would lead his people to freedom, he asked for sign after sign after sign.

The Bible records at least three other cases of miraculous childbirths in which all of the parents had their doubts. They all wanted proof – a sign. Sarah even laughed out loud at the very idea of giving birth to a son (and she was a married woman, so it makes the miracle that much less miraculous than the one Mary was presented with).

Here I imagined that Mary simply didn’t consider the cost of her obedience when faced with the miraculous, but in reality, she was just like all these other doubters. Though she couldn’t fully understand the magnitude of what her obedience would cost her, she could at least imagine some of the challenges she would face – the ridicule, the gossip. Still, Mary didn’t make excuses. She didn’t ask for a sign. She posed only one question: “How?” And when she was assured that all things are possible with God, she said simply, “Let it be to me according to your word.”

That’s how extraordinary Mary’s faith was.

I think the way I once envisioned Mary was similar to what my response might have been. I might have said yes in a wonder-struck moment and been flooded with doubts once the angel disappeared. That’s why God chose Mary instead of me. Not that Mary didn’t have her doubts. I’m sure the shepherds’ words weren’t the only things she “pondered in her heart.” And there’s Biblical proof that she didn’t always “get it,” but she walked forth in obedience regardless of her understanding (or lack thereof).

Today I pray for faith like Mary’s. When I feel God call me toward the seemingly miraculous things of life, I pray that my answer will simply be: “Let it be to me according to Your word.”

The Word

So, I may have a slight fascination with words. (That’s why I’m a writer.) I used to think that this fascination was the reason John 1:1 jumped out at me. But then I began to wonder… Perhaps it’s the other way around. Perhaps my fascination with the English language is a reflection of my fascination with the Eternal Word.

I dare you to read John 1 and not be moved by it. Go ahead and try to study it without having your mind blown. It moves from creation to salvation in a mere eighteen verses.

Jesus is the Word that spoke life into being. The Word that became flesh and dwelt among us. The Word that came to rebuild and restore.

The Bible says that no one has ever seen God, and yet… the Word – who came and walked among us, lived our lives, breathed our air, dreamed our dreams, and died for the sins of us all – has made God known to us.

So during this Thanksgiving season, I’m thankful that the Word became flesh and stepped into my story in order to tear the veil inside my heart and speak new life into my existence.

The Door of My Heart

In light of my recent announcement that I’m stepping out and pursuing a new dream, a co-worker of mine decided to educate me on the subject of open doors. It’s his personal opinion that God doesn’t open doors. He claims that the doors are always open with the exception of one… the door of our hearts. Now, it’s a great theory, and I would agree that sometimes our hearts are the only door left to open. But that’s not always the case.

Sometimes my heart feels ready before the rest of me is. And sometimes I want to go barging through a door I probably shouldn’t open yet. A look through my journals will prove that I’ve been jiggling the knob on this door for a little over a year now. Trust me, if it wasn’t locked, I’d have gone right through it a long time ago and ended up who-knows-where. But it was locked. Because God knew I needed a little more preparation before starting this new journey.

Maybe the doors in my co-worker’s life are always open, but the doors in mine are definitely closed because God isn’t worried about having to fight with my heart; He’s worried that my heart is going to move sooner than my head.

And maybe there are doors that God has left hanging open, waiting for the day we finally have the courage to step over the threshold. But most doors are left closed until the timing is right, and then there is nothing that could keep you from walking into the great unknown.

“This is the message from the one who is holy and true, the one who has the key of David. What he opens, no one can close; and what he closes, no one can open.” -Revelation 3:7

Chasing the Wind

I was talking to a missionary friend about doctrine the other day. He said it’s something he’s been struggling with lately as he visits churches here in the States. He’s had a couple of churches tell him that they’d only be willing to support him if he and the pastors he supervises preach the doctrine these churches believe.

Now, I’m not saying doctrine is a bad thing. It’s great… until it gets in the way of more important things. The little details that define denominations are not the Gospel that my friend is proclaiming. And when people in India are dying without ever coming to know the Lord, what does it matter what they believe about predestination? The only thing that matters is that they are saved.

You can analyze the entire Bible and interpret it whatever way you wish, but there are certain truths that never change no matter how you look at them. As long as Jesus remains in the center of things, the other details are just details – and they shouldn’t keep anyone from getting involved in what God is doing around the world.

I couldn’t help but smile as my friend confessed that some of the driest seasons of his life were in seminary – with all that knowledge, all that theology, all that doctrine. It reminded me of the verse in Ecclesiastes that says, “Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind. For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.” (chapter 1, verses 17-18)

You can know everything there is to know about Christianity and still feel as if you’re missing something because it’s not doctrine that draws us to the heart of the Father; it’s His unfathomable love and mercy. And while it’s important to know what you believe, you can’t let the little things separate you from other believers. God never intended for doctrine to divide His church. Don’t get so caught up in chasing the wind that you miss the miracle of what God is doing in this moment here and now.