Focus on the Family

Verbs for Dynamic Christian Living

byShana Schutte

Discomfort and reward are not always exclusive. Discomfort sometimes accompanies me when I write. The blank page that must be filled and a prayer that I’ll somehow, some way have something worthy to say is behind every sentence, every semicolon, every period. But great reward always replaces discomfort once the puzzle pieces of thoughts and ideas fit into a harmonious outcome. Then when the last period is put on a page that moves me, a deep satisfaction resonates inside my soul.

This is what I was made for.

I sense God’s pleasure and His delight because I am fulfilling His aim for my life; but I would never know this satisfaction without discomfort.

Why do we insist on reward without discomfort? Why do we believe that life and our God-given aim should be easy before we pursue it? Why do we hide behind security , responsibility and what’s “safe”?

Why do we refuse to risk?

When we refuse to risk, we lose our hearts

One day as I sat in the airport waiting to board my flight, I spoke with a young woman, a graduate student studying medicine at John Hopkins University. “If there was one thing you could do with your life, what would that one thing be?” I asked. “I’d have my own overseas medical lab,” she said. “But I don’t think that will ever happen,” she said. “That’s just too big of a risk and there’s too much to lose.”

I took a second look at her. She was beautiful, articulate, young and intelligent. What do you have to lose? I thought. More than you can imagine.

When we insist on ease, when we demand that God’s plan for our life be comfortable, when we want reward and satisfaction without the difficulty of the unknown, we lose more than we imagined.

We lose our very life because killing our dreams kills our hearts.

The greatest saints of the Bible didn’t experience reward without discomfort or callings without chaos. Moses was mocked and scorned by those he wanted to rescue; Joseph was abused and ridiculed by his brothers, and every one of the disciples was persecuted for their faith. Even Christ was crucified.

Should we expect success without discomfort?

Joy follows the discomfort of risk

Perhaps you’re thinking, “Ah ha! That’s exactly why I’m not going after my calling! Look at Jesus! He followed God’s will and they killed him.” If so, you have missed the point. Jesus endured the pain, the discomfort and the torture of taking on the entire sin of the world because he knew there was “joy that was set before him” (Hebrews 12:2 NIV). He knew that the punctuation on his page of pain would be turned to exclamation points of joy.

Imagine that you are on your death bed. Your best friend comes in the room and asks you, “What do you wish you would have done with your life?” Would you say that you wish you would have colored inside the lines a little more, lived life more carefully? If you’re like most people, you would feel that you should have lived with a little more reckless abandon. Loved more. Dreamed more. Adventured more. Most of us live life far too carefully. God places dreams in our hearts and we find every reason under the sun why we can’t accomplish them. He nudges us to act and we run. Yes, we risk far too little and so unlike Jesus, we experience little joy.

This is the value of discomfort and the redemptive value of pain. When it’s waded through with God, because He is calling you to something new, there will always be a reward on the other side, just like there is deep satisfaction on the other side of the page when I finish writing.

God’s calling is never be comfortable, but you will never experience deep satisfaction without stepping out into the unknown. Will you risk discomfort to experience the joy of knowing you are in the center of His will?

Risk is never done alone

One of the most well known Scriptures in the Bible is Proverbs 3:5-6 which says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” (NIV)

One of the greatest fears we have when we risk is that we do it alone, and that rather than have straight paths, that ours will be crooked, a messed up life that can never be fixed. A closer look at this Scripture provides hope for these concerns.

In this passage, God says that risk (or any decision we make) is not to be made independent of Him. Instead, we are to trust Him and acknowledge Him. According to the original Hebrew language in the Old Testament, the word for trust is the word batach and it means to “rely on.” The word acknowledge means more than just glancing God’s way as if to say, “I see you there.” Instead, this acknowledgement is about knowing God within the context of relationship the way you know a good friend. God is saying that when you risk, rely on Him, be dependent on Him and you will experience the straight paths Proverbs 3:5-6 describes.

What absolute joy for the person who wants to take a risk! In the end of life they will be able to say, “I would have done it all over again because I did it with God.” When you risk with God you are never alone. God is in your risk with you.

Your passions will show you where to risk

In his book, "Soul Cravings," Erwin Raphael McManus writes, “The maddening reality is that each and every one of us has been created with a soul craving to become—to become something—something better, something different, something special, something unique, something admired, something valued, something more than we are.”

No matter how much we wish it was otherwise, the “something” that McManus describes never happens outside the context of risk, but it always happens within the context of passion. When you discover where your passion or “something” is, you will discover where you should risk. This place of passion will also make you feel terrified to do it. Why? Because it’s where your heart is the most vulnerable; it’s where you have the most emotionally invested; it’s what you want most.

It’s like desperately wanting a romantic relationship with a particular young man or woman, and because it’s where you feel most passionately, it’s also where you can feel the most afraid.

In this fear you can find comfort in God if you go to Him and ask you to meet you in your passion and the fear it brings. Ask Him to help you overcome your fear. And He will, because He has given you your passions.

Are you ready to take the risk?


Loving: It All Begins With God

Can you imagine the freedom that would come to our hearts from having full confidence in the love of Christ? Would it help us love better?

by Shana Schutte

It recently dawned on me that if I could create a magic pill to help people find love, get love and keep love that I would be rich.

Think about it. The number of books in your local book store on learning to love well are astounding. You can find instruction on how to love your spouse better, your dog better and your kids better. You can find info on how to love your mother-in-law more and get along with the hard-to-get-along-with people in your life. Not only are bookstores filled with helps on how to love well, but the Internet, television and magazines all provide "insight" on becoming a love guru.

So why is there so much info out there on learning to love well? Because no one has mastered the art of loving well—except Jesus.

Because Christ is God, He loves perfectly. So. . . when we learn to give and receive love from Him, we can love others well. Here's how receiving and believing in God's love for you will help you love well without spending a lot of dough on books.

Begin with God's love to give love

In his book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning writes:

"Imagine that Jesus is calling you today. He extends a second invitation—to accept His Father's love. And maybe you answer, 'Oh, I know that. It's old hat. . .Lay a new word on me. I know the old one.'

"And God answers, 'That's what you don't know. You don't know how much I love you. The moment you think you understand is the moment you don't understand. I am God, not man. You tell others about Me—that I am a loving God. Your words are glib. My words are written in the blood of My only Son.'"

Can you imagine the freedom that would come to our hearts from having full confidence in the love of Christ? Would it help us love better? You bet it would. We would be freed from the fear of criticism, the prison of being performance driven and the tragedy of being ungracious. All of this would equal loving well.

Embracing God's love destroys the fear of criticism

If love is like a motor, then fear of criticism is like a big wad of bubble gum that gets stuck in that motor so it won't run. Fearing what others think always ruins the ability to love well. Why? Because it makes it impossible to be transparent with those we want to love. After all, how can you open up to someone you fear?

Thankfully, embracing God's love for ourselves destroys the fear of criticism.

When you accept the reality of God's love for you, you will no longer fear others' opinions. Therefore, you'll be able to focus on the object of your love instead of on yourself. God's love will create a new sense of security and confidence in you.

Don't get me wrong. No one feels secure all the time. I can't think of one person who hasn't feared criticism one time or another. However, it is possible to live a life that is generally characterized by freedom from the fear of criticism so that loving others well and in transparency is standard practice.

Embracing God's love destroys the fear of emotional pain

I once read that there are only two things that can pierce the human heart: beauty and pain. Isn't it interesting how closely the two are connected? Sometimes the thing that brings the greatest beauty is the thing that brings the greatest grief. For example, loving a spouse "for better for worse, for richer, for poorer," through the ages of life can usher in immense beauty, but when death steals our mate away, it can usher in immense pain. For this reason, loving can sometimes feel frightening when we wonder if we can handle the pain that comes from "putting our heart on the line" whether it's with a mate, friend or co-worker.

However, when we know that God loves us with agape love, which means we are confident that He has our best interest in mind, and that He is in control of our lives, we will find the confidence that we need to entrust our hearts to Him as we love others. God's love provides us with the security we need to make it through all heartache that loving well may bring.

Embracing God's love helps us to give grace

Have you ever thought that if you just had perfect people in your life that you could love better? If you only had a nicer mother-in-law, a more gracious wife, a more patient friend, you could finally love well.

Hollywood has fed us a lie that the good love only exists between perfect or almost-perfect people: the beautiful, the successful, the rich, those who look like they have it all together.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Love is not only experienced by those who are perfect. Instead, love can thrive between the unlovely and the imperfect, between average people like you and I. Why do I say this? Because love is never produced by the object of my love. Instead, love exists in me first when I choose to love in spite of someone's flaws.

This can only happen as I accept God's love and grace for my own imperfections. When this happens, humility will settle into my being and I'll know that if God can love me, that I can love others with grace, too. Therefore, no one in my life will be required to be perfect. Instead, they can just be. As I receive grace from God for my imperfections, I can pass that grace in love on to others.

Don't you find that knowing you can love well by living in a love relationship with God refreshing? I sure do! It frees me from stress of always trying to do everything in my relationships flawlessly. If I truly believe that God's love is transforming, then I know that all I have to do to love others well is to stay in a close love relationship with Him. Could there be anything better?


Forgiving: Receiving and Giving

God forgives you just because He loves you. But He didn’t have to forgive; He chose to forgive, compelled by an innate, deep and abiding love.

byShana Schutte

I recently spent several hours with my 7-year-old niece at a park in my hometown. For a time, my adult self took a back seat to a younger version of me, a girl-like Shana who likes to giggle at silly things and look wide-eyed at the world. Madalyn and I held hands while we walked along a tree-lined trail, laid under a big pine and compared our “tummies” to see whose is whiter, made a verbal list of all the beautiful things in the park that God made, took a picture of ourselves in front of a large waterfall, and sang silly songs, starting our tune slow, then going faster and faster until we were almost out of breath.

As I drove her back home, it dawned on me that I love her just because. Not because she’s funny or because she looks a lot like me, but just because she is part of my family. This innate love makes me take note of how smart she is and her witty sense of humor; it also makes me delight in her and want to do the best for her—it even means forgiving her if I need to.

This is how it is with God. He loves us just because He made us and if you belong to Him, He loves you just because you are a part of His family. Out of this love for you comes a delight in you even better than I have in my niece and the desire to do what is best for you—even forgive you, which He needs to, because after all, no one is perfect.

God forgives you just because He loves you. But He didn’t have to forgive; He chose to forgive, compelled by an innate, deep and abiding love.

Forgiveness is a big surprise

It’s sometimes hard to receive forgiveness, isn’t it? Why is this so? Because at our core many of us know we are unworthy of it, hopelessly filled with a multitude of issues. We struggle with pride and shame, hatred, bitterness, jealousy, fear, insecurities, selfishness and other betrayals of the human heart. Therefore, our biggest surprise doesn’t come when someone is unkind, ungracious or unforgiving, because after all, this is familiar; and sadly, if we’ve lived long enough, many of us have come to expect that we won’t be forgiven. Rather, our biggest surprise is when we are forgiven in spite of all that we are and all that we aren’t.

One time in particular receiving forgiveness from a friend brought me to my knees in tears and I wondered how they could still love me in spite of myself.

When we receive forgiveness, our hearts are softened. We no longer have to hide our flawed selves. We can live out of our imperfections because we know that love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). When we know forgiveness, we also know that inadequacies don’t mean the end of love; instead they give love and forgiveness a chance to shine in the darkness our imperfections.

God’s forgiveness is powerful. It’s freeing. It liberates the human heart to just be. And once we come to know God’s forgiveness, we can pass it on.

Give someone else the liberating gift of forgiveness

Sadly, few of us encounter God’s version of forgiveness in our relationships. We rarely receive it or give it. After all, there are divorces motivated by selfishness, murders, scandals, resentments, and divisions happening everywhere all the time. The Bible says that in the end times that people will be lovers of themselves (2 Timothy 3:2), which means they won’t be lovers of others.

However, some people do know the humbling of heart that comes from getting more than they deserve, like one woman I know who had an affair, became pregnant with “the other man’s” baby and was embraced by a forgiving husband; like the father who wronged his daughter and was forgiven when he came home; like the gambling addict who had a change of heart and was embraced by those in her community which led to her healing.

The woman who had the affair said to me, “There aren’t words to describe how you feel when someone accepts you like that. My tendency was to put up a wall because I couldn’t believe that my husband would forgive me. I felt so much shame.” She knew she deserved judgment, but instead she received love. Any rocks her husband could have thrown at her, he laid down in obedience to Christ. He modeled God’s love. The result has been a deeper and more meaningful restored relationship. Has it been easy? Not way; but it’s changed both of their lives for the good as their hearts have been enlarged to love and transformed by the power of forgiveness.

Don’t get me wrong; God may not always call us to remain in relationship with particular people because doing so would be detrimental and would go against His will for our lives—but He always calls us to forgive (Colossians 3:13). It’s our job to ask Him who we are to remain in relationship with and who we aren’t.

Forgiveness is a blessing to you, too!

Sometimes forgiveness can feel like a unilateral contract, like we’re doing all the work while the other person gets off. Remember that the refusal to forgive flows from a desire to right the wrong, to make sure we are exonerated and the other person pays. We want justice! Ironically, if we got what we deserve, we would get justice, but instead God has chosen to forgive.

I’m not perfect at forgiving by any means. Unfortunately, there have been times when I have fallen short of God’s standard. I’ve held on to my hurt because I felt that I had the right to. But in reality, the forgiveness I refused to grant was only hurting me. When we forgive, we experience peace because where there is no forgiveness there is always anger and anger and peace cannot co-exist peacefully inside the same heart.

Friend, when you choose to embrace forgiveness and extend it to another, you will experience peace. But when you hold onto wrongs done to you, there will be the opposite: torment, anger, frustration and anxiety.

What it means to forgive

Forgiveness means that we lay down a grievance and let go of the right to take revenge. We let go of bitterness. We choose to stop dwelling on what the one who hurt us has done. One of the definitions in Webster’s Dictionary says that forgiveness means to: allow room for error or weakness.

What would the world be like if we all did just a little more of that? Author and teacher Beth Moore says that we are never more like God than when we forgive.

So, what will your response be? Will you choose to give the next person who wrongs you and forgive because God has forgiven you? Will you lay down your grudges and give up your “rights” because God gave up His when He died on a cross? Will you be the giver of the good gift of forgiveness that is out of this world? Will you let God help you if you feel you can’t forgive?

Let your grievance go, friend. Give it to God and then give someone the gift of forgiveness even if you feel they don’t deserve it. Granted, it may take time. Press into God. Ask for His help. He will not fail you.


Trusting: Let God Do the Driving

I don’t know about you, but I have never had any success trying to boss someone around while attempting to trust them simultaneously. Trying to be in control and relinquishing control at the same time just doesn’t work.

byShana Schutte

Have you ever had a drive home that didn’t turn out like you planned?

When I was a junior in high school, my cousin, Barbi, and I, drove home together following cheerleading practice. As always, that day was a “never-a-dull-moment-with-my-cuz” day.

As I drove along a country road toward her home, Barbi spontaneously and enthusiastically shouted, “Hey! Let’s trade places!” When she started climbing on my shoulders like we were doing a cheerleading stunt, I knew that she had no intention of waiting for me to stop the car before she pushed me out of the driver’s seat.

Why did she want to do something so dangerous? I don’t know, but a few weeks ago I learned that the frontal lobe of the human brain which controls reasoning and long-term consequences isn’t fully developed until we hit the age of twenty. That explains it. She had part of her brain missing. Poor thing.

“Get off of me!” I shouted. She persisted. Because she was blocking my view, I foolishly surrendered to the unhappy exchange. Within seconds the car slid into the ditch where we stayed until someone came and pulled us out.

When life isn’t going how we’d like, and we don’t trust God, it’s easy to try and take the wheel from Him, to boss Him around, and try and force Him to do things our way. Sadly, this will land even the best person in an emotional and spiritual ditch. Why not let God drive your life instead? Here are three benefits of doing so, especially when life is hard.

Peace

Psalm 46:10 says, “Cease striving and know that I am God.” (NASB) I don’t know about you, but I have never had any success trying to boss someone around while attempting to trust them simultaneously. Trying to be in control and relinquishing control at the same time just doesn’t work; they can’t co-exist inside the same heart. When we let God drive our lives and trust that He knows best, we are able to rest and stop striving, which means that we will ultimately experience peace.

In the original Hebrew language the phrase “cease striving” indicates giving up by letting our hands down. Interesting, huh? This means that you can’t hold the steering wheel and let God drive at the same time if you want to experience the peace that comes from trust. Nope, you’ve got to let your hands down. Let go of the wheel, friend.

Rest

When you trust and decide that you will let God drive, there is a natural rest that will occur. Imagine a woman who is trying to wrestle the driver’s wheel away from her husband. Now imagine a woman who is sitting in the passenger’s seat allowing her husband to drive without complaining, correcting or cursing. Which one do you think is experiencing rest? The one who trusts and is sitting in the passenger’s seat, of course. She is enjoying the scenery. She is not fretting about how her husband will get her where she needs to go. She is just relaxing and resting while she is enjoying her frozen mocha from Starbucks.

But, the other woman doesn’t have time to enjoy a thing because she is too busy trying to be in control. But if she would only choose to trust, she could rest, too.

Which woman will you be like?

Contentment

There are a lot of things that I like to do, but there are some that I don’t. I don’t like to suck water through my lungs like a fish; I don’t like to stay up for days without sleep, and I don’t like to read books about quantum physics. Why? Because God didn’t design me for sucking water, foregoing sleep and reading books that make my brain feel like it’s been put in a vice. And because God didn’t design me for these things, if I did them, they would make me feel exhausted, fatigued and lifeless.

When we try and take the wheel away from God because we don’t trust Him, it will lead to emotional and spiritual fatigue. Why? Because we’re doing something that we weren’t created for. God made us to lean on Him in dependence—to let Him drive—which leads to contentment, and the confidence that we are exactly where we need to be, doing what we need to do, and fulfilling the role He created us for. This will usher in deep contentment.

Communication

Have you noticed that it’s difficult to effectively communicate with someone that you don’t trust? When you are trying to take the wheel from God, it’s a for sure thing that you won’t be talking to Him the way you would if you were letting Him drive.

Again, imagine the woman who is trying to steal the wheel from her mate. Imagine what she is saying. The words coming out of her mouth aren’t nice, are they? They aren’t edifying. They’re just plain mean. She’s loud. She’s obnoxious. She’s bossy. Now imagine the woman who is resting in the passenger’s seat. It’s like she has honey under tongue. Her words are sweet. Because she is relaxed and she doesn’t feel threatened, she is kind. She just chatting away with her mate like it’s all blue skies and sun.

When you’re trying to steal the wheel from God, your communication with Him will be hindered. Words of gratitude will be replaced by complaining, and praise will be ruined by criticism. You will find that you won’t be able to communicate with God easily because you’ll be thinking that He should be driving you better or somewhere else.

Love

In his book, "Reflections for Ragamuffins," Brennan Manning writes, “You will trust God only as much as you love Him.” You will also only love God as much as you trust Him. As you drive along your journey in life, you’ll find that confidence in God’s love is always coupled with trust. As I said, this means letting Him drive. When love and trust are combined, they are a like a match to faith. They will set your confidence on fire so that you can ride anywhere that God is taking you without fear.

Are you convinced that allowing God to drive is best? If so, I challenge you to let God take the wheel. Granted, this can be hard, especially when life is tough and you’re not sure where the road may lead. However, moment by moment, if you choose to trust Him; if you let go, you’ll find peace, rest, contentment, communication and love filling you up. You’ll also stay out of the emotional and spiritual ditch in your relationship with God—and you’ll get to sit in the passenger’s seat and enjoy that refreshing drink. Could there be anything better?


Obeying: God's Way Is Always Best

Desperate longings can tempt us do desperate, disobedient things. Desire not submitted to Christ can make us to lose our sensibility, justify our behavior, and make excuses.

byShana Schutte

When I was a teacher, one of my co-workers posted a quote on his classroom wall: "The moment you settle for less than what you want is the moment you get more than you bargained for."

This is how it is with disobeying God. Once we settle for not going His way, we get less than we imagined and more than we ever wanted. Here are three truths about disobedience that I pray will help convince you that going God’s way is always best.

Desperate longings can tempt us do desperate, disobedient things

One night, I dreamt I was being chased down a long, narrow hallway by a giant chocolate donut which screamed, "Eat me! Eat me!" Apparently at that point in my life I liked donuts more than I should—so they had become my enemy.

That's the way any great desire can be. If we want something too much it can become enemy number one to relationship with God, and a threat to obedience. Why? Because Satan can use what we long for most to seduce us into sin. This isn’t surprising. After all, when is the last time you were tempted by something you didn't desire? Our enemy knows what we want most and is skilled at creating custom temptations to match our deepest longings.

In Scripture, James wrote about this when he said, "...but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death." (James 1:14-15 NIV).

Perhaps you're thinking, This Scripture doesn't apply to my desires, because mine aren't evil. I just want to be loved, accepted, successful and have meaning in my life. There's nothing wrong with that.

I agree. There is nothing wrong with God-given desires, but when any longing is not submitted to Christ, it can still lead to disobedience, and therefore, the devastation that James describes.

For example, have you known a woman who wanted to be loved so badly that she was tempted and became involved with an abusive man? Or, have you heard about a man who had such a longing for success that he was seduced into a dishonest business deal?

Desperate longings can tempt us do desperate, disobedient things. Desire not submitted to Christ can make us to lose our sensibility, justify our behavior, and make excuses, which is very unattractive for God’s children. When we give in to temptation, it often means we're not trusting Him to provide. As a result, we settle for crumbs, when God wants to give us an entire cake.

Disobedience can make us partially deaf

When I telephone my friend, Suzanne, and ask her a question such as, "How was your day?" and it's not the positive response I'm looking for, sometimes I tease and say, "OK, let's start over." From there, I restate the question and wait for a more interesting or digestible answer. It's become a joke between us. Sometimes I get the answer I want the second time around, and sometimes I don’t.

This reminds me of a way that we sometimes communicate with God which hinders obedience. We ask Him for guidance. "Lord, do you want me to get a new job?" "Should I move to another state?" "Is it best for me to give my money to that woman in my church?" Then, because God is good and faithful, He answers. But sometimes we don't like His response, so just like I am with my friend Suzanne, we want to ask God to start over and give us a different answer. And sometimes if we don't like His answer, we may disobey and act like we haven’t heard Him at all.

I call this "selective hearing." It's what some husbands do when they are watching football and don't want to be interrupted, and what students do when they don't want to hear their teacher. Selective hearing makes us tune-out whoever is speaking; so it's like they never said a word. Tuning-out God will make us act like we haven't heard Him and pretend that we have obeyed him.

Obedience that’s partial isn’t obedience at all

I once felt the Holy Spirit nudge me toward obedience and let go of some potential opportunities, because I was giving them too much importance; and they were edging in on the place reserved for Him on the throne in my heart.

These opportunities were like a box full of chocolates. To my chagrin, it was as if God said, "Wait! Don't eat those. I've got something better." But because I didn't completely listen, I gave in to temptation, and "stuck my fingers in all my chocolates of opportunity," by still checking out what could still be if God didn't show up. I hedged the line without blatantly disobeying.

And because I hadn't completely submitted myself to His authority, panic ruled.

Sometimes we can commit the sin of partial obedience. Sure, we haven't completely "eaten the chocolates" that God told us to give up, but we're still holding them in our hand, because we want a back up just in case He doesn't come through. Whether we are only sinning partially or all the way, we won't experience the peace that is ours in Christ unless we fully obey.

It can be in small or great matters, in the purchasing of a dress, marriage to a mate, or attending a party. If God says to wait or choose something else, it might not seem like a big deal if we change things just a little, right? We can justify or make excuses for our sin and the next thing you know, we're stuck going down a path without peace we had no intention of walking on.

Whenever I visit my friend and her husband in Texas, I am amazed by their well-behaved children. Rarely do I hear my girlfriend ask her kids to do something more than once, because they've been taught that quick and full obedience keeps them safe from consequence.

I want to not allow my desires to rule my relationship with God; I want to listen the first time and completely do what He says. How about you? Will you join me on a journey of going God’s way?


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