The Surprising Path to Overcoming

Do you ever feel like life is not fair? Of course, you have. We all run into those situations in life, but what are these circumstances telling us about God and our relationship with Him?

I have heard it said that there are two types of people in the world. There are mercy people, and there are justice people. Mercy people want to make the world right by giving others a second chance. Justice people want to make the world right by defending people who are suffering. I tend to lean towards being a justice person. Wait, does this mean I can be in the next Justice League movie?

Being a justice-oriented person causes me to feel the pain of mistreated people. When I see someone taking advantage of others, it hurts my heart and stirs me to action. Cut to workout montage where I prepare myself for battle like Rocky and Apollo Creed in Rocky III. 

The problem is, I cannot always correct the wrongs of the world. In my mind, I will overcome injustice, but that is not always the case. It is similar to when you are watching a show, and the bad guy gets the upper hand and then the show ends on a cliff hanger. Doesn’t that make you grit your teeth in frustration? I know it does for me, and that is how I think you should feel when you read Psalm 73:2-8,10-12:

But as for me, I almost lost my footing. My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone. For I envied the proud when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness.They seem to live such painless lives; their bodies are so healthy and strong.They don’t have troubles like other people; they’re not plagued with problems like everyone else.They wear pride like a jeweled necklace and clothe themselves with cruelty.These fat cats have everything their hearts could ever wish for!They scoff and speak only evil; in their pride they seek to crush others.And so the people are dismayed and confused, drinking in all their words.“What does God know?” they ask. Does the Most High even know what’s happening?”Look at these wicked people—enjoying a life of ease while their riches multiply.

Psalm 73:2-8, 10-12 NLT

If you use social media as your guide, you might believe that overcoming mistreatment and unfairness is to put people on blast, stir up the mob, complain, criticize, and attack. For Christians, the surprising path to overcome mistreatment is different.

Getting stronger than those that come against us is not the solution. Running away is. That’s right, pull a Forrest Gump and solve your problems in a nice pair of Nike Cortez. When our problems are too big for us, then we should run – run to the one who is bigger than our problems, God. 

Not being able to overcome every injustice does show us something about God. It also teaches us about our relationship with him. It shows us God is merciful and gives people time to repent. Sometimes they do not. That is ok because God is also just. He will not leave us hanging, but He also wants us to learn something from situations where it seems we cannot overcome the bad guys in our story. 

We can see the solution in Psalm 64:1, 10 

O God, listen to my complaint. Protect my life from my enemies’ threats. The godly will rejoice in the Lord and find shelter in him. And those who do what is right will praise him.

Psalm 64:1, 10 (NLT)

We overcome by finding refuge in the Overcomer. We run away from our flesh’s and the world’s way of responding to problems and difficult people and run to our God. Not being able to be stronger than every difficult circumstance does not make you a weak person; refusing to admit that does. Unfair circumstances are just another (shall I say, good) reminder of how much we need God.

Digging Ditches

Inspiration to Reach Your Mountaintop

By: Suzannah Driver

What could go wrong?

If you can do any other job other than church planting and pastoring, do that!” Joe and I looked at each other and joined the chuckles coming from other future church planters sitting in the room. We had a combined twenty-two years of ministry under our belts and knew God had called us to plant a life-giving church in Pensacola, Florida. So, what could go wrong?! The short answer is: Everything

Nearly three years into leading and pastoring Echo Life, I think back on the cautionary statement spoken to the eager church planters. Would we have ever chosen a different route? No. We know through and through this is exactly where we are supposed to be and what we are called to be doing. But this has single-handedly been the most challenging and difficult three years we have experienced in ministry. 

Reaching the Summit

Mount Fuji, though it is a mere 12,388 feet tall, is no joke. I have had the opportunity to summit this mountain twice. On both occasions, we began the ascent at midnight, guided only by our headlamps and a small, braided cord leading to the top. The climb is virtually straight up. The terrain is made up of unstable pumice stones. The air is thin, making it difficult to breathe. Most of my climb was alone, in the dark, feeling light-headed, stumbling my way up, and rolling my ankles at least 30 times. This is also church planting. 

I would love to say that everything has been a beautiful mountaintop experience, but that would be so far from the truth. It has been a lonely uphill climb full of bumps and bruises. For several months now, I have felt like I have been struggling up a mountain and have only seen the light of day for a moment. This is the kind of discouragement that leaves you sitting on your laundry room floor weeping and asking God if this really was the right move (by the way, the enemy is a jerk and loves to kick you while you’re down. Don’t pay any attention to the thoughts you have in these dark moments. Find a friend who can share a light with you and show you that you are still moving in the right direction). 

Kings Digging Ditches

As I have been fighting my way through the deep, dark, discouragement, my time with Jesus has landed me in 2 Kings 3. Three kings have come together to fight against Moab and they find themselves wandering in the desert and completely out of water. They call for a prophet and Elisha shows up on the scene and gives them a word. “Dig ditches all over the valley.”

I imagine these kings looked at each other in disbelief. Surely they knew about the exodus story (kind of a big deal). They knew God had provided water from a rock, manna from heaven, so surely He could do it again! But no, God instructs the people to…digditches.

This is the desert. The sun beating down, the tools are primitive. The prophet continues, “You won’t hear the wind, you won’t see the rain, but this valley is going to fill up with water…This is easy for God to do; he will also hand over Moab to you.” (2 Kings 16-19 MSG) 

Can you imagine crying out to God for help and then Him telling you to do some back-breaking work in the desert. “Dig ditches.” How many? How deep? For how long? When is the rain showing up again? How are these going to be filled? The people had no answers but instead had an opportunity to operate in faith and obedience. 

Filling Up the Valley

Like many other believers and pastors, I am in a season of digging ditches. I am asking God for provisions, and I know He will provide, but the nagging question of when and how make faithful obedience even more difficult. Add to that the age of social media and I’m over here looking at other churches wondering why they got the provisions and I’m still having to dig with no end in sight.

This is where I have been the last several months. Many days of tears, frustration, anger, and feeling abandoned by God. Then I remember, “ You won’t hear the wind, you won’t see the rain, but this valley is going to fill up with water…this is EASY for God to do…” My responsibility is to be faithful. My responsibility is to obey. My responsibility is to dig in where I am placed and not check to see whose ditch is already finished. 

Maybe you’ve been digging for weeks, months, or years. Maybe you feel like your ditch is significantly deeper than the people around you. Maybe God is preparing you to be a well of great depth for future generations. Maybe He is preparing you for far more than you could ever imagine. Don’t give up! Don’t keep looking for the wind and rain, but know and believe that He is faithful. He sees you. He will answer you! Keep digging! You are not alone. 

Suzannah Driver

You can follow Suzannah on social media at @SuzannahDriver. You can find out more about the church she pastors along with her husband Joe in Pensacola, Florida, at echolifechurch.com.

Remember the Candlesticks

Misconception: Grace Is a Get Out of Jail Free Card

*What you are about to read is Chapter 3 from my book, Grace Is A Dirty Word. I put this together as an ebook about 3 years ago. It was the first free download I ever offered on my blog. Recently I updated it and am making it available for free when you subscribe to my blog. This is the last week you can get it for free. After this, you can get it amazon in paperback or kindle.

Going to Prison

I don’t have much experience with being arrested or going to prison. At least not that I would like to share at this time. I am just kidding. I’ve never been put in cuffs or had to ride in the back of a paddy wagon. I have unfortunately been pulled over for speeding.

Seeing the blue lights in your rearview mirror is one of the worst feelings ever. When this happens, you can try to argue, but you know you are guilty and without an excuse. Most likely, you will get fined with a ticket. On top of that, your insurance will go up because you are now a certified menace to society.

Every now and then, you get #blessed, and the officer lets you go with a warning. Although you broke the law, you’re let off the hook. That’s not only a good feeling but usually makes for a great story as well. It’s not possible to escape getting a ticket and not tell someone in the same way it is impossible to vacation at the beach without posting in on Instagram. There are certain laws to the universe that keep things together, and these are two of them.

My absolute favorite example of being caught red-handed and still being allowed to go free is from Les Misérables.

A Criminal and a Priest

 Jean Valjean was a homeless criminal when he shows up at Bishop Myriel’s door. Consistent with his nickname, Monseigneur Bienvenu (which means welcome in French) accepted Valjean, feeds him, and gives him a bed for the night. This behavior towards an outcast sounds like grace to me.

How does Jean Valjean repay the good Bishop after receiving this undeserved favor? He steals most of his silver and vanishes into the night.

When no one else would take him in, the Bishop did, and Valjean returns the favor by taking his most valuable earthly possessions. Man, that’s cold enough to make even Elsa shutter.

Later, as he is trying to leave town, the police discover the silver in Jean Valjean’s bag. He claims they were given to him by the Bishop, but the police know better. He is then captured and returned to the church for the truth to be discovered. At this moment, we see how far grace will go to love the unlovable.

An Act of Grace

When the police tell the Bishop that they found his silver in Jean Valjean’s possession, they were probably expecting him to thank them. That is not what happened. Instead, the Bishop tells the police he gave the silver to Jean Valjean. He even goes so far as to chastise Valjean for not taking the silver candlesticks, the most expensive of all the silver, as well. The unexpected beauty of this scene is overwhelming.

The Les Miserable musical quotes the Bishop this way,

“But my friend you left so early, Surely something slipped your mind, You forgot I gave these also; Would you leave the best behind?”

Monseigneur Bienvenu, Les Miserables

With the police now gone, and Jean Valjean given yet another chance at freedom, Monseigneur Bienvenu leaves him with these words,

“Forget not, never forget that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man…. Jean Valjean, my brother: you belong no longer to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God!”

Monseigneur Bienvenu, Les Miserables

Jean Valjean was not given a mere chance to escape. He was granted an opportunity to become a new man. The real gift of grace is not that it gets us out of jail for free, but gets us out of our old identity for free – when we least deserve it.

This act of grace from the Bishop transformed Jean Valjean from a slave of sin into a slave of righteousness. The darkness in him was transformed into a light for others by the goodness of the priest.

This is what should happen when we accept the price Jesus paid for us on the cross.

Grace is Not a Free Pass

Jean Valjean might have received the silver for free, but it cost Bishop Myriel significantly. You see, grace is not a free pass. It’s much more than that. The beauty of grace is that it exchanges the priceless for the worthless so that which was once without value can become priceless itself. 

Jean Valjean had received grace when he was given a place to stay when no one else would accept him. That alone would be a great picture of how God welcomes us when we are unacceptable. But how do you explain the Bishop forgiving the theft after such a tremendous betrayal? And then giving him even more silver – his best pieces?

The Motive of Grace

The gift of the candlesticks shows us the motive of grace. God does not want us just to go free; He wants us to be free to be who He created us to be. Grace doesn’t stop giving until it brings out the giver in us. It is a light that pierces the darkness in us until we begin to shine as well.

The goal of grace isn’t to help you escape condemnation, but rather to transform you into a person that no longer desires the things that will lead to condemnation. Grace does not just set you free; it makes you new.

By every observation, Jean Valjean had earned his punishment. And while I’d like to see myself in the priest, I’m afraid it’s Valjean I identify with most. His number as a prisoner in the story is 24601. I think about that number often as a reminder of the fate that awaited me without grace. I was 24601, but now I am a son.

Like Valjean, we have all sinned, and therefore earned the wages of our evil deeds.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

-Romans 6:23

When we sin, we earn death. It is like going to work and getting a paycheck. The only difference is this is not a paycheck you want to cash. Death is the “reward” for our efforts of sin.

Grace is different.

The difference between grace and guilt is that one is earned and the other is a gift.

A Scandalous Exchange

No matter how hard we work, we will never be able to earn grace. Like the Bishop in Les Misérables, God gives it to us freely. That doesn’t mean that it didn’t cost him something. In fact, providing us with grace cost God everything.

When God sent Jesus to die in our place, he bankrupt heaven to pay our fine. He didn’t just give precious silver to redeem our souls. He gave His only Son. If Jesus was just a good man or a wise teacher, this would have been a tragedy, but He was much more than that. He was perfect in every way. Every intention, motive, thought, attitude, and action on his part was pure, yet in response, we gave him the most horrific death that humans have ever conceived.

God came to give us life, but we gave him death. Jesus healed the hurting, gave hope to those in despair, fed the hungry, and accepted the rejected. Our response was much like Jean Valjean’s. We, in turn for his acts of kindness, betrayed him with the cross. 

God left the beauty of heaven to make a way for us to join him there, and we respond by giving His Son the cruelest death imaginable. This may have always been God’s plan of redemption, but what does that say about us? More importantly, what does it say about Him that He loves us anyway?

I think it means He gives us grace, not as a get out of jail free card, but as an exchange. He wants to take slaves of wickedness and turn them into sons and daughters of righteousness.

You Can Never Have Too Much Ice Cream

Misconception: Grace Is All We Need

*What you are about to read is Chapter 2 from my book, Grace Is A Dirty Word. I put this together as an ebook about 3 years ago. It was the first free download I ever offered on my blog. Recently I updated it and am making it available for free just a couple more weeks when you subscribe to my blog. After that, you can get it amazon after that in paperback or kindle.

Running to Extremes

Too much of a good thing is a bad thing. It’s true with queso and ice cream, as well as religion and grace.

When you have experienced too much of one thing, the temptation is to swing to the other extreme. Balance is the more appropriate response.

This pendulum swing is especially a problem for me because I am a man of extremes. For me, balance is going in every direction at full-speed at the same time.

Too Much Ice Cream

Have you ever noticed it becomes more socially acceptable to eat giant portions of ice cream at an ice cream parlor compared to someone’s home? They can scoop a whole pint onto your cone after you wait in line for it and no one bats an eye. Ask for more than one scoop after dinner only if you want people to be known as someone with no self-control.

On one of my first trips with ARC, there was a Ben-n-Jerry’s Ice Cream shop across from the hotel where we were staying. I did not know such a place of wonder existed. I thought Ben-n-Jerry’s decadent treats were only available in tiny proportions from the grocery store freezer section. 

This was different. Mere footsteps away from my room was all the ice cream I could ever hope for. The unending possibilities enamored me. I wasn’t on a work trip. I was living in a fantasy world.  The magnetic pull on my heart, mind, and soul – the very essence of my humanity, was undeniable.

There was some talk of going there after dinner, but I could not wait until then. What if by some travesty the group changed their mind and decided to go somewhere absolutely horrible, like a fat-free yogurt shop, instead? I was not willing to roll the dice and take such an unwarranted risk. So, I quickly unpacked, and then walked across the street to indulge in cold, creamy goodness before our meeting.

Now I could have gotten one scoop, but that would almost be an insult to Mr. Ben and the great gentleman that is known as Jerry. So, I got two scoops. One was a marvelous mound of peanut butter cup and the other a refreshing ball of mint chocolate chip. I couldn’t allow these spectacular creations to go unnoticed in a small paper cup either. They needed to be exalted on a pedestal of waffle dipped in chocolate and covered in sprinkles.

There couldn’t have been anyone happier in a 100-mile radius. I walked down the sidewalk, licking and holding up my hand-scooped gluttony in the air for all to see.

I had gone overboard for sure, but I wasn’t finished yet.

The group did decide to go to Ben-n-Jerry’s after our meeting, and I again got yet another scoop of ice cream.

The guilt was too much for me, and so I confessed my sugary sins to one of my co-workers. After telling him of my previous trip to the ice cream shop, he said, “Sounds like you have a problem with balance.”

Finding Balance

You see, dedicating myself to eating broccoli for the rest of my life would not have solved my problem, because eating ice cream was not the issue. The real problem was that I was not able to enjoy ice cream in balance.

If you have come out of a controlling home or rigorous religious environment, then you may think that rules, religion, and commitment are the problem. Maybe you think grace is all you need.

If this is the case, then adding grace will not cure your sickness. You will just take grace to the extreme you once took your religion, rules, and commitments.

This was a temptation for me once I realized I had become out of balance with my religious commitments. Was grace all I needed?

Grace and Truth

The answer to that is as simple as looking at Jesus.

The Gospel of John has an excellent description of the Son of God:

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” 

John 1:14

The only thing we really need is Jesus. He came in grace and truth. This is important because, in a day and age in the church when people are pitting grace and truth against each other, we need to understand that God put them together in His Son.

Grace and truth work together, not against each other. A lack of either would be the equivalent of a bird with only one wing. No matter how much you focus on making that one wing stronger, without the other, you are just going to crash and burn.

We can’t sit on the beach and eat ice cream all day, or we will grow overweight and unhealthy. We need moments of refreshing but should also remember our mission. God wants us to enjoy life, but life should never become about ourselves.

We need grace, and we also need truth. We need refreshing and also refocusing. The key is to find balance. Going to any extreme is simply unhealthy. 

When Grace Is a Dirty Word

Misconception: Truth is all we need

*What you are about to read is Chapter 1 from my book, Grace Is A Dirty Word. I put this together as an ebook about 3 years ago. It was the first free download I ever offered on my blog. Recently I updated it and am making it available for free for the next few weeks when you subscribe to my blog. You can get it amazon after that in paperback or kindle. You can read the introduction in last week’s post.

A Five-Letter Word

Grace is not a four-letter word. In fact, it is a five-letter word. What does the number five mean in the Bible? You may be surprised to know it is symbolic for grace.

When God used David to do the impossible and slay Goliath, it was with five stones in his pocket. This great victory was given, not because of David’s effort (this would have been impossible), but as a gift from God. With grace, we can do things in God’s strength we could never have accomplished with our own ability.

One of the simplest ways to define grace is the gift of God’s favor. So, if grace is such a wonderful gift, then why is it sometimes treated as a dirty word?

Explaining Grace

What I mean is, why do we sometimes feel like we have to quantify grace, measuring it out in small amounts before giving it away, so people don’t run away with it? One way we do this in conversation is by using the word grace and then explaining everything we don’t mean. Have you ever had a conversation like that? For a long time, I couldn’t talk about grace without assuming the person I was talking to could be thinking I was talking about “greasy grace.”

Another example of this is when we use the word grace when teaching and then add a “but” to turn the focus back to our works. For example, “God freely gives us grace, but we need to commit, meet the standard, live up to expectations, etc.” When we do this, we treat grace like a dirty word we have to clean up to make sure it doesn’t create a mess when we give it to others. 

Do we do this because others have “abused grace,” or are we abusing it by not giving it away freely? When we do not freely give God’s grace away, we abuse it just as much those who use grace as a license to sin. No matter how good the intentions might be, it starts people off on the wrong foot. I am convinced this makes our message man-centered instead of God-focused. 

Getting Puffed Up

I didn’t always believe this. I had to go through a transformation that was sparked by a lack of grace. I remember one time saying, “I would rather aim to be too holy and be wrong, instead of too grace-filled and be wrong. At least when I get to heaven, God won’t say, ‘Josh, you were too holy down there! You shouldn’t have worked so hard to please me!’”

Man, how wrong was I! What I thought was something God would never say is exactly what He already said in His word:

“Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself?”

Ecclesiastes 7:16

Well, there it is! I had destroyed my life by pursuing truth to an extreme while undervaluing my need for grace in the process. Without grace, you can be out of balance and become puffed up. This cycle leads to becoming critical, competitive, and eventually too discouraged to keep going.

Here is a New Testament example of the same principle:

“…We know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up.”

1 Corinthians 8:1

Seeking only knowledge puffs up, but embracing God’s love, builds up. I want to build up my faith; not puff it up.

Again, it is not the pursuit of truth or knowledge that is wrong (or puffs up). We get in trouble when we forsake our first love and believe grace is only intended to start our race and not carry us to the finish line. Ultimately, getting out of balance with grace will lead tp depending on our effort instead of God’s finished work.

Nothing separates us from God like pride, and that is why we need to rely on His grace continually.

God’s Gift

Maybe the idea that grace is a dirty word is a foreign concept to you. This is probably true if you are from a spiritual background where grace is something that is celebrated. But even if that is the case, it could be possible you are not taking advantage of all God’s grace (the gift of His favor) has to offer in your life. In that case, grace has become a dirty word, and you aren’t even aware of it.

We need to fully unwrap this wonderful gift God has given us to cause or lives to shine the brightest for Him.

Greasy Grace and Sloppy Agape

Grace Is A Dirty Word Part 1

*What you are about to read is the introduction to my book, Grace Is A Dirty Word. I put this together as an ebook about 3 years ago. It was the first free download I ever offered on my blog. Recently I updated it and am making it available for free for the next few weeks when you subscribe to my blog. You can get it on amazon after that in paperback or on Kindle.

Avoiding Grace

I used to think grace was a dirty word. It was something that needed to be explained if you were going to talk about it. Sometimes it was avoided altogether when sharing from the stage, so no one got the wrong idea about the kind of Christian I was.

Have you ever felt something similar about grace? Maybe your church culture focused on holiness, standards, and truth to such an extreme that it made talking about grace a little uncomfortable. For many, this is a foreign concept. But those stuck in a performance-oriented faith will know what I mean.

If your first assumption when you hear someone talk about grace is they are making an excuse for compromise, or if you don’t know what to do with the idea of grace after salvation, then I encourage you to continue reading.

Greasy Grace

One of the reasons I considered grace a dirty word, is because I thought people who celebrated grace were out of balance. It seemed they only used the word to justify a life of sin. If you didn’t love holiness as much as I did, then you probably practiced “greasy grace.”

Where did the phrase “greasy grace” come from? I don’t know, but it sounds like something that leads to all kinds of slimy wickedness and makes the devil grin.

Don’t get me wrong. I liked grace. I just didn’t know what to do with it. I thought too much of it was unhealthy. I guess it was like spiritual ice cream. It tastes good, but too much will give your soul a bellyache. I celebrated God’s grace at the moment of salvation, but things got confusing after that.

I didn’t want to be guilty of taking advantage of grace in the same way an older kid may con a younger one into trading a valuable baseball card for a handful of throw-a-ways. It was almost like I was approaching grace in a guarded way as not to accidentally take more than I deserved. The assumption here is that at some point, I could earn what I had.

There was no “Sloppy Agape” for me at the theological dinner table. I’ll just have a little grace by myself after dinner when no one else is around. Because let’s face it, whether we want to admit it or not, we all continuously need the grace of God. We may not want to give it out and may even publicly warn against getting carried away with, but we’re all counting on it being there when we need it ourselves.

Abusing Grace

The lack of the grace of God in my life caused me to live exhausted and hurting. I was also a drag on others. The impossible standard I was trying to maintain meant I was not good enough for myself, and neither was anyone else. I felt it was my duty to keep everyone accountable and to maintain an external religious rigor that was tearing me up inside. I was God’s hall monitor of truth. That guy may feel like he has more power than anyone else but usually sits alone at the launch table. #persecution

In reality, I was abusing grace by not taking advantage of it, which is something that probably did make the devil grin.

Grace became this dirty word that made me feel like I was not grateful to God. I felt like I was disrespecting God every time I needed forgiveness. Something God had given me for my benefit became something wrong to use.

Fuel for Our Faith

Eventually, I was honest with myself and admitted avoiding grace wasn’t working for me. I wondered, “Why don’t I pursue it a little bit and see what happens?”

Taking this first step was when the magic started, and it is why I wrote this book.

Many of us begin with grace but leave it at the start of our race. As a result, we become discouraged before the finish line. We can’t make it through this marathon of faith if we think grace is a dirty word.

In this book, I share eight common misconceptions about grace. Most of these come from my own struggle to embrace grace along with a few other observations I have made along the way. I hope they all help you run your race well.

You can subscribe here to receive a free copy of Grace Is A Dirty Word..

Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself

The Case for Enjoying Life

I used to think exhaustion and spirituality went hand-in-hand. I bragged about not taking time off to rest. I felt I always had to be doing something if I was truly committed to the cause. I now know finding time to relax, and having fun outside of religious activities are not things that should cause me to feel guilty.

The truth is, you don’t have to be hard on yourself to be a deeply spiritual person.

Reading through Ecclesiastes recently reminded me how much God wants us to enjoy life. Religious obligation doesn’t want you to know that. If the enemy can convince God’s most devoted servants that pleasure is sin and rest is a weakness, then zealous believers may give up after experiencing exhaustion, depression, and frustration.

5 Keys to Enjoying Life from Ecclesiastes


Don’t be too good

It seems the key to lasting happiness is balance; not religious extremes. Enjoy life but also don’t be foolish. Remember, we will give an account to God.

“So don’t be too good or too wise! Why destroy yourself? On the other hand, don’t be too wicked either. Don’t be a fool! Why die before your time? Pay attention to these instructions, for anyone who fears God will avoid both extremes.”

Ecclesiastes 7:16-18 NLT

Enjoy what you have

It’s also not useful to always be dreaming about what you could have or wishing for what you don’t have. Appreciate what God has given you.

“Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don’t have. Just dreaming about nice things is meaningless—like chasing the wind.”

Ecclesiastes 6:9 NLT

Have a party

Do you know anyone who could use a splash of cologne? Then send them this verse! I love that God doesn’t always want me on a diet, counting calories, and making my own clothes. He’s ok with me getting in line at the buffet every now and then and finding something nice to wear. Life was meant to be enjoyed!

“So go ahead. Eat your food with joy, and drink your wine with a happy heart, for God approves of this! Wear fine clothes, with a splash of cologne!”

Ecclesiastes 9:7-8 NLT

Most of my youth was wasted on being out of balance. I was much too hard on myself because I thought that was required to be holy and pleasing to God. In college, I avoiding many “fun” activities that were not sinful but would take away from doing “spiritual” things. Looking back, I wish I would have taken more of that time instead of being so serious.

Find balance

Again, balance is the key. Not going to either extreme is the answer to an enjoyable, meaningful Christianity.

“Young people, it’s wonderful to be young! Enjoy every minute of it. Do everything you want to do; take it all in. But remember that you must give an account to God for everything you do.”

Ecclesiastes 11:9 NLT

Learn to rest

This is where I am now. I love to learn. I can also develop anxiety from my continual pursuit of knowledge. God doesn’t want His children to be worn out. He wants us to enjoy life and remember we will give an account to him for every secret thing, whether good or bad. This is something I need to remember.

“But, my child, let me give you some further advice: Be careful, for writing books is endless, and much study wears you out.”

Ecclesiastes 12:12 NLT

What do you think? Did any of this strike a nerve with you? Agree or disagree, I’d like to hear from you!

LIVING IN THE MIDDLE

Finding passion and purpose in the process.

by Elizabeth Demarest

A Smelly Mob

Hundreds of teenagers crowded the wooden altar. The mob smelled like typical teens in the 90’s – a blend of cheap cologne, Country Apple body spray, and the occasional stick of Teen Spirit deodorant.

I didn’t even care. I was wrecked, and I was ready. The presence of God poured over me like a waterfall, and all I could muster through hot and salty tears was a resounding, “YES.”

The next morning, my sixteen-year-old self was ready to seize the day. I was on mission – God gave me a Word, and I fully expected that to come with the authority, permission, and resources of my new title – CALLED. In the coming weeks, months, and even years however, I learned much too quickly, too painfully, that the fulfillment of that call was far from immediate.

The Furnace of His Process

I’m a visionary, a planner, so I blazed forward in the assumption that I could help God make my purpose transpire. I assumed my passion and fervor for Jesus were meant to unfold God’s plan for my life, and although I was radically wrong, the grace of God led me on a journey to placing that drive and ardor into the furnace of His process. Here I am, two decades later, waking up with willingness and embracing that four-letter word we all know and love: TIME.

Truth be told, anything significant requires time. Time can be painful. It can cost us something, if not everything (2 Samuel 24:34). It takes a heart of surrender to wait and to be content in the waiting. God reminds us in Genesis 8:22 that “there is no shortcut from seed time to harvest” (Genesis 8:22). Our time in the middle, from birth to death, from call to completion – every season in between contributes to our growth and God’s perfect plan for us (Isaiah 25:1).

[In the middle] of everything be always giving thanks, for this is God’s perfect plan for you in Christ Jesus. Never restrain or put out the fire of the Holy Spirit. And don’t be one who scorns prophecies.

1 Thessalonians 5:18-20a

We can easily scorn the prophecies of God by living in frustration and despair rather than walking in faith and trust. Many times, I’ve been so focused on the future that I didn’t even get to experience and enjoy the present. I’ve had to intentionally choose to let God orchestrate events and unfold promises in His timing so that I don’t “restrain or put out the fire of the Holy Spirit.”

Content in the Middle

And let’s get real – the culture we live in does not promote the lifestyle of being content in the middle. I recently saw a quote that read, “Don’t let the Internet rush you. No one is posting their failures.” Our culture does not celebrate the middle; it does not endorse the beauty of the process. Society loves to highlight the mountaintop in all of its Photo-shopped glory, and it’s hard not to cringe with discouragement when picture-perfect montages mock our unanswered prayers.

God is fully aware of how destructive comparison is and calls us to “examine [our] own work, and then [we] will have reason for boasting in regard to [ourselves] alone, and not in regard to another” (Galatians 6:4). Albeit, social media may make that difficult, but it’s why we have to cling to the truth of the Word rather than the lies of comparison.

Don’t Hurry God

If I could go back and change anything, it would be my posture while I was waiting. I’ve spent many seasons longing for God to hurry up with my destiny. How naïve of me to think that the God who loves me so much would skip the process of which my calling depends so much on. God was always more interested, and still is, in the development of my character, my walk with Him, and the internal work that no one sees. In fact, I am writing from a place where many of my inner victories are tucked away in the secret place. Man can’t see them, but God knows every intricate detail of my process. I am not forgotten or hidden from His sight.

Finding Purpose and Passion in the Middle

Have you grown impatient while waiting for the promise? Take heart, for it is not in God’s nature to break a promise. It is not in His nature to withhold good from His children (Psalm 84:11). Learn to hand your feelings over to God in exchange for His truth – that He is good, His timing is perfect, and His promises never fail.

It’s in that exchange where you will learn to live passionately in the middle, to live on purpose in the middle.

It may just be the most significant thing you ever do.

Elizabeth Demarest lives in the Dallas area and is a member of 
Gateway church, serving alongside side her husband Aley and their three children

Elizabeth Demarest grew up in the Amazon Rainforest as a third-generation missionary. Her mission now is to speak life and healing and purity to young women, including those whose trust has been violated. She addresses her induction into this involuntary sisterhood in her book, Amazon Girl: Dare to Dream. Also, in her second book, Kissing Toads: A Christian Girl’s Guide to Dating and Falling in Love, Elizabeth gives practical tips on how to date well, encouraging girls to choose purity–against the cultural norm –believing that every girl can have their fairytale. Find out more at elizabethdemarest.com.

The Struggle Is Real

What to do when we doubt?

If you don’t struggle with faith, then you may not have it. Often times, we believe the opposite is true. We doubt because we doubt. But to question our faith, there must be something on the line, or there would be no reason to doubt.

Fishing and Faith

I grew up fishing. Most of the time it was in the muddy waters in between the barrier islands of the Mississippi Gulf Coast and the man-made made beaches that make up the shoreline along Highway 90. Recently, this love of fishing has been rekindled. A friend bought me a fly fishing rod that I have been really enjoying. Fishing is a great way to relax and, also spend quality time with my two girls.

Yesterday I went out to the pond in our nieghborhood and didn’t catch anything. There was no struggle. Nothing pulling on the line. Today was different. I was only out there five minutes when I felt a tug. The tug became a pull, and then the pull became a struggle to bring in the fish.

The Collision of Dirt and the Divine

I think faith is a lot like this. There is back and forth; give and take. At times, the real thing is a struggle. It is messy. It’s a mixture of the temporary things of earth and the eterna things of heavenl. It’s the dirt and the divine colliding. When there is nothing on the line, there is no struggle. But the bigger the fish, the more significant the faith, the messier it can be.

Faith is not a supernatural power reserved for the spiritual elite. It is not cold and clean formulas that spit out what we want when we give what it demands. Neither is it a checklist we can feel good about as long as we complete and shame-ridden if we do not. Our faith is a system of beliefs rooted in the trust of a real-life relationship with God.

The Struggle Is What Makes It Real

God never changes. We can trust that, but our experience with faith will continue to grow and change. We are hoping in the invisible while having to work with the tangible. Blindly ignoring that may get rid of some anxiety, and may cause you to appear more spiritual, but it also isn’t real. There will be a struggle, but that should remind us that our faith is genuine.

What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts! Make sure to leave a comment on social-media and share this with a friend you tink it would encourage!

Acres of Hope

Finding Hope in the Midst of Heartache

by Amy Roberie

It’s August 2012, and it seems as if my worst fears have materialized. Homeless. Jobless. Sickness. Loneliness. Loss. Heartbreak. All of these words are accurate descriptions of my new life. We made a major change and left our ministry positions, and all that went along with them. In many ways we were on “top of our game.” This decision would be one that few people in the world we left behind understood and many on the outside couldn’t identify with.

A Valley of Heartache

Homeless – We lived with my parents and leased our house to tenants so that we could keep paying our mortgage.

Jobless – We planned to move and go immediately into another ministry role in a new city. After wise counsel, we decided to spend a season outside of vocational ministry to detox, rest, process, and heal. We made this decision a few months after our transition. By this time, we had spent our savings. This meant moving in with my parents and Josh just taking whatever job he could to bring some money in. This season turned into two years, and I spent those two years at home, something I had not done up to this point in our married life. 

Sickness – During this same time, my Dad was diagnosed with cancer and died less than six months later. I held his right hand, my Mom held his left, and my Aunt Cathleen talked of Jesus as he took his last breath on earth. 

Loneliness – Every relationship we had revolved around one place and one group of people. It felt like I moved to a remote, foreign country that was separated from civilization by oceans and 15+ hour plane rides. There was no internet or phone service in this new country. In reality, I was down the street. My address changed, but I was in the same city with the same phone number just fewer texts and calls.

Loss – I think in one way or another, we lost everything. At best everything changed, but mostly there was loss. Loss of friends and relationships. Loss of home. Loss of security. Loss of position. Loss of identity. 

My heart was broken in this season in what felt like every way. No area of life was spared. It was in the midst of this heartbreak that Lamentations 3 became my daily anthem. It both reflected my current heart ache and loss and also shined a glimmer of light on what seemed like an endless night.

“The thought of my suffering and homelessness
    is bitter beyond words.
 I will never forget this awful time,
    as I grieve over my loss.
 Yet I still dare to hope
    when I remember this:
The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
    His mercies never cease.

 Great is his faithfulness;
    his mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
    therefore, I will hope in him!”

Lamentations 3:19-24 NLT

Dare to Hope

Yet I still dare to hope….” I sat at the kitchen counter of my Mom’s house with Daniel Tiger playing in the background keeping 19-month-old Sophie entertained and wept. Hot tears streamed down my face as I read it again and again. Suffering and homelessness, bitterness, grief and loss, every word summed up my current state. “Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this.

My tears were still flowing, but a warmth began to fill my heart. God was still faithful. Even when I’ve lost everything, He is faithful. I decided that morning that the Lord would indeed by my inheritance and that I would hope in him. Even if my situation did not change, I had an eternal inheritance in the Lord and nothing and no person could change that. Everyone and everything could go wrong and let me down, but God is faithful, and because He is faithful, I can place my hope in him. 

Before this, hope was foreign to me. There were two common words in the “Christian Language” that I was somehow not literate in – hope and grace. This was the beginning of my journey with hope. Hope means – to look forward to with desire and reasonable confidence; to believe, desire, or trust.

My hope in God and God alone meant my desire was Him. My confidence was in Him. My trust was in Him. I didn’t need a home or a job or people or any circumstance to change. I only needed Him. In fact, I learned that my heartache had become the catalyst for me discovering hope and ultimately discovering God and His nature in a whole new way. As Hosea puts it, my trouble became my gateway to experiencing hope.

“But then I will win her back once again.
    I will lead her into the desert
    and speak tenderly to her there.
I will return her vineyards to her
    and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope.

Hosea 2:14-15

The Message paraphrase says, “I will turn heartbreak valley into acres of hope.” Today, I pray that whatever you are facing that the very heartbreak that should otherwise destroy you will become a gateway for you to walk into a spacious and wide-open acres of hope. 

Amy works at ARC, helping pastors start new churches across the country. Her heart is for women to find their true identity in Christ and become all that God intends for them.
You can follow her on Instagram at @amyroberie.