Above the Clouds

Sometimes our life circumstances are dark clouds that overshadow us and feel like more than we can bear. Well-meaning people try to comfort us, often by saying, “God will not give you more than you can handle.” But this can lead us to doubt God’s goodness or believe we have done something wrong to deserve trouble. It robs us of far more life.

I think that sentiment is a misquote of this Bible verse:

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (I Corinthians 10:13, NIV)

What God actually said is He will not give His children more temptation than they can handle. If you have a relationship with God through Jesus, He will never allow you to be in a situation where sin is your only escape; He will always provide a righteous way out of temptation.

While that is a relief, does it mean that God allows more than we can handle to come our way? Consider this Scripture passage: 

We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers.  (2 Corinthians 1:8b-11a, NIV)

Paul felt like his situation was more than he could handle. In fact, he thought he was going to die. But he states a perspective on his difficulties often eludes us: “…This happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God…on Him we have set our hope…” There is a higher purpose: God wants to draw us to far more life in Him above the clouds!

Let’s be honest: we are proud, independent people. We put a lot of faith in our own abilities. This makes sense, because there is a lot that we can do in our own strength. God has created us in His image with incredibly powerful minds, reasoning abilities, and creativity. But we are not all-knowing or all-powerful. We cannot do everything. We need God’s help. Far more life recognizes that God is our ultimate source of hope and help, especially when we are facing more than we can handle. And we will face more than we can handle in this life.

Consider these verses Paul wrote earlier in the chapter:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, NIV)

When you face storms in life, do you think of it as a call to seek God’s comfort? As I write this post, my niece is having a stormy week. When she feels fear, hurt, or insecurity she toddles over to a trusted adult and lifts her arms, seeking to be picked up. She snuggles as close as she can and accepts our comfort. When she is filled, she wiggles out of our arms and toddles off to play. Like a toddler, God wants us to seek comfort from Him during our storms. He loves to fill us up and give us what we need to keep going.

This verse points out another truth: experiencing trouble enables us to relate to others. And turning to God for comfort equips us to share the power of a relationship with Christ with those suffering apart from Him. This has prompted me to pray this during some of the hardest times of my life: “Lord, I do not like this storm and wish I was not in it. But I trust You will use it to help me connect with someone else and offer them the comfort You are giving me now.” God has been faithful to make this happen and allow me to see good come from hardship.

Notice the verse says God comforts us in all our trouble so we can comfort others in any trouble. We are tempted to think only those who have experienced similar storms can comfort us. Sometimes that creates a special connection, but the comfort God gives is able to transcend a lack of specific experience.

How do we face more than we can bear with far more life?

  • Far more life is admitting we have more than we can handle and crying out to God for help.
  • Far more life is seeking His comfort.
  • Far more life is placing our hope in God, His written Word, and wise counsel to guide us through our challenges.
  • Far more life is renewing our mind by replacing worry and fear with His peace.
  • Far more life is offering God’s comfort to others.
  • Far more life is remembering that God will more than make up for our struggles in this life when we are with Him in Heaven. (2 Corinthians 4:17, John 16:33)

God will allow more than you can handle in your life. But He loves you and offers you hope, help, comfort, and more. Far more life allows Him to lift you above the clouds. What a wonderful place to be!

Sisters,
Have you believed God will not allow more than you can bear? How has that hurt your relationship with Him?
When you face hardship, what temptations come with it?
What barriers do you face in turning to Him for comfort?
Is there someone with whom God wants you to share His comfort?
Fly above the clouds this week as you find far more life in Him!
-Shari

Copyright 2019, Shari Damaso

Far More Joy and Thankfulness

This article title jumped off the page at me: “How Complaining Physically Rewires Your Brain to be Anxious and Depressed”. Immediately this Bible verse came to mind:

Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life. (Philippians 2:14-16a, NIV)

I had always thought this verse said when my mouth does not complain, others see God shining out of me. But God wants to change more than my speech:

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (I Thessalonians 5:16-18, NIV)

Joyfulness, prayer, and thankfulness involve our hearts, not just our actions. And notice God wants them to be constant. Why is this His will for us? Hearts that are joyful, thankful, and connected to God are living far more life. They are transformed by the Holy Spirit and change our thoughts and actions. Not only does that allow us to be a better image of Christ to those around us, it also — according to the premise of that article — protects our brain wiring from serious consequences.

Why do we complain instead of being joyful and thankful? If I am honest, I want to be in control. I want smooth sailing — as I define smooth. When that doesn’t happen, I view the situation as troubling and am tempted to complain. But smooth sailing is an unreasonable expectation. Jesus clearly stated:

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33b, NIV)

As long as we walk this earth we should expect trouble, not be surprised by it! Far more life trusts God’s ultimate control and follows Him through the troubles and good circumstances. The Bible makes it clear God has a bigger plan for us and challenges us to have this perspective:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds. (James 1:2, NIV)

The verses that follow tell how trials mature our character until we “lack nothing”. Far more life understands trouble is a God-approved spiritual growth plan. My pastor says, “I love trials!” because he understands their purpose. We, too, can walk through troubles with joy when we believe God has a purpose for them.

Jesus faced a more difficult trial than we will ever encounter: the cross. How did He overcome temptation to resist God’s plan?

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus…who for the joy set before him endured the cross. (Hebrews 12:2, NIV)

Jesus remembered the purpose for His suffering. He looked to the future rather than His current circumstances. And He did it with a focus on joy. The Bible does not record this, but I think Jesus was grateful for the opportunity to reconcile us to God. And that perspective allowed him to do the hardest thing ever without complaints even entering His mind. We, too, can do hard things without complaining when we remember that God is using them to mature us so we lack nothing.

God never commands us to be thankful FOR everything, simply to be thankful IN everything. He doesn’t expect us to be thankful for divorce or cancer, for example. But He does want us to remain thankful as we navigate those challenges, whether we are thankful for support from others, hope for a better future, lessons we learn along the way, or anything good we know about Him or receive from Him. We also know that our character and understanding of God can grow most during our most difficult experiences; we choose whether to grow better or bitter through our troubles. Like me, you may have life experiences that you wouldn’t want to repeat but are thankful for the closeness to God that developed through them.

I was recently challenged to not complain for 3 days. And to go beyond swallowing my complaints to replacing those thoughts with gratitude. I gave my family permission to lovingly point out my complaining, which one of my teens eagerly embraced. I was surprised by the lightness in my heart as I chose to embrace a new perspective. “I am so tired,” led to thankfulness for a comfortable bed and hope for better sleep that night. “There are so many dirty dishes,” was replaced with thankfulness for my family and ample food. When chronic pain flared I was able to be thankful for the things I could do — even if I had to move slowly and carefully. During those 3 days I realized complaining makes my mind feel gray and overcast but gratefulness makes it sunny and bright. I have committed to choosing gratitude so I can continue to enjoy far more life. (And my family continues to point out my complaints!)

Will you take that 3-day challenge grow in far more life? It will be a battle! You will need to examine your thoughts and determine whether they come from a grateful or complaining heart. When you aren’t sure, ask if they fit this criteria:

“…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8, NIV)

These are the thoughts that help us constantly be joyful, thankful, and prayerful. They remind us that troubles lead to growth. They protect us from spiritual anxiety and spiritual depression. They are the far more life we crave.

Sisters,
Are you more likely to argue and complain or be joyful and thankful?
How do you respond to trouble and not getting what you want? What helps you respond with joy?
What promise can you look forward to that brings you hope and joy?
Will you take the 3-day challenge to practice thankfulness rather than complaining?
Enjoy far more joyful and thankful life this week!
-Shari

Copyright 2019, Shari Damaso

Perfect Peace

You, Lord, give perfect peace to those who keep their purpose firm and put their trust in you. (Isaiah 26:3, GNT)

Perfect peace. A quiet mind. A content heart. No worry or anxiety. No fear or dread. A firm purpose. A solid trust in God that allows you to rest. This is far more life.

While perfect peace sometimes feels elusive, once we enter a relationship with Jesus it is always available to us. It is a gift from God, a product of the Holy Spirit coming to live inside of us. Like all gifts, we must choose whether to set it aside or use it.

But perfect peace — as appealing as it sounds — can feel unfamiliar and strange to us, especially in difficult circumstances. We may feel more comfortable with familiar emotions: stress, anxiety, fear, defensiveness, withdrawal. Perfect peace requires us to know when to “let go and let God”.  It is rooted in trusting God.  It requires us to believe He is aware and involved, He knows what is best, and He is working for our good.

Let’s be honest: there are times we trust ourselves more than God. We trust our actions will make a bigger difference than praying and waiting for Him to act.  We trust our own wisdom rather than seeking out His wisdom.  We trust it is better to protect ourselves from hurt than expose our pain and pursue healing.  God doesn’t judge His daughters for this; He knows our wounds and blind spots better than anyone else — and still loves us. But He longs for us to have what is best: perfect peace and far more life.

I appreciate this Scripture passage’s vivid depiction of our trust struggle:

Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. ‘It’s a ghost,’ they said, and cried out in fear.

But Jesus immediately said to them: Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”  (Matthew 14:25-31, NIV)

Look at Peter’s response again: “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.”  It seems that Peter did not trust it was really Jesus out there, he wanted confirmation. But he knew if it was Jesus calling, he would be safe. Peter believed that Jesus could do the impossible. That Jesus cared about his well-being. That Jesus would not allow him to drown. Whatever fears or doubts Peter had, he trusted Jesus had power over the wind and water.

That trust gave Peter courage to get out of the boat; he walked on water!!  Imagine yourself in his place: would you even consider getting out of the boat? Would you feel excited or nervous — or maybe both — as you locked eyes with Jesus and walked toward Him…across a lake?  I’d like to think that when Peter looked at Jesus, he experienced perfect peace and all those negative thoughts and emotions faded away.

But Peter is human. Along the way he took his eyes off Jesus. He remembered his circumstances; he was no longer in the relative safety of the boat. He was exposed, standing on water that was being blown into waves by the wind. He no longer felt safe. His peace evaporated. He was overcome by doubt and fear. He may have asked himself, “What am I doing? What was I thinking?” He started to sink. Perhaps he was flailing and trying to keep himself upright. Fortunately, he still believed that Jesus could rescue him and called out for help.  And of course Jesus caught him.

Like Peter, when we are in difficult situations we can look at either our circumstances or our God. When we focus on our circumstances, we see how big the problem is, feel overwhelmed, and fixate on the obstacles. We believe we are in danger of drowning, especially if the problem intensifies and the pressure mounts.  But we have another option! We can focus on God, truths about his character, truths about his love for us, and truths about his limitless power and knowledge.  Focusing on our circumstances robs us of peace and leaves us battling negative emotions. Focusing on God offers us perfect peace, even when we’re standing on the lake in the middle of a storm. Despite the wind, waves, and rain that surrounds us, we can feel peaceful, calm, and secure.

Jesus knows how tempted we are to look away from Him.  He told His disciples some of the challenges they would face then shared this perspective:

“I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33, NASB)

Suffering is unavoidable. Circumstances that tempt us to strive in our own power are unavoidable. His words remind us to courageously put our trust in Him, keep our eyes firmly on our God-given purpose, and be blessed by His gift of perfect peace. That is far more life.

Sisters,
In what situation are you tempted to look at your circumstances rather than your Savior?
Are you willing to obey Jesus’ instruction: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid”? 
If not, ask God to help you identify what is preventing you from trusting Him.
Then ask for courage to take the next step in trusting Him.
Remember to thank God for conquering the world, offering you perfect peace, and meeting you where you are on your trust journey.

-Shari

Copyright 2019, Shari Damaso

What is Far More Life?

One of my favorite Bible verses is John 10:10 where Jesus says, “I came to bring them life, and far more life than before” (Phillips). Did you catch that: Jesus brought us FAR MORE LIFE! But “far more” in what sense? There are some parts of life where far more is appealing. And other parts where far more would be overwhelming. Maybe your life is good. Or at least good enough. But what if it could be better? 

First Jesus offers life, not the physical life we are already experiencing, rather spiritual life. We have some good experiences in life, but in our hearts we know something is missing or dead. A meaning, a purpose, a connection. The Apostle Paul explained, “We were dead because of our sins, but God loved us so much that he made us alive with Christ, and God’s wonderful kindness is what saves you” (Ephesians 2:4-5 CEV). It’s God, our Creator, that is missing! Sin separates from God even though a part of us longs to connect with Him. In His wonderful kindness, God made a way for us to reconnect through Jesus. Jesus took the punishment for our sin, saving us from what we deserved. He then overcame death and earned the right to offer us a restored relationship with God. This restored relationship is spiritual life. And it lasts forever. Spiritual life is the best gift we could ever hope to receive. But Jesus didn’t stop there. He went on to offer us far more life.

Before Jesus walked this earth, people who wanted to please God had to follow a lot of rules — over 600 of them — governing all aspects of life from the food they ate to who they touched and from personal grooming to when they could work. People followed this set of rules, referred to as “the Law” in the Scriptures, in an effort to lead a good life and make God happy. But it was impossible to keep all the rules, and it took a lot of energy to even try. Even then, James 2:10 tells us God’s perspective: “Remember that a man who keeps the whole Law but for a single exception is none the less a law-breaker” (Phillips). What a difficult situation! When Jesus said “far more life,” His audience may have heard “far fewer rules” and had hope that they could finally please God.

When Jesus was asked which of the 600+ rules were most important, He didn’t give a top 10 list. He summarized them ALL in just TWO commands: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind” and “Love others as much as you love yourself” (Matthew 22:36-40 CEV). That’s it! To experience far more life: love God and love people. So simple to understand. Yet so hard to live.

Love the Lord. With all your heart, soul, and mind. This is an all-in love that directs each thought, feeling, word, and action. It is the outgrowth of a restored relationship with God; the life inside prompts us to be like Him, the perfect depiction of love. When we let this love direct us, we find a satisfaction and richness that was missing before. We experience far more life than before.

But there’s more! As we grow to understand God’s love our view of people — including ourselves — changes. We can examine both faults and strengths, seeing people as neither better nor worse than they truly are. We can celebrate strengths and help each other use them to live out our love for God. And we can work together to overcome faults so that they no longer control us. We can experience far more life through a healthy love for ourselves and others than we ever thought was possible. This doesn’t happen overnight. And the process can be painful.

You see, while having the power to transform every aspect of our life, far more life does not make us exempt from trouble. Instead it offers a different perspective on our problems. Jesus said, “While you are in the world, you will have to suffer. But cheer up! I have defeated the world” (John 16:33 CEV). Far more life lets us focus on the future, on our eternal relationship with God, and live out each challenge with peace, hope, and joy in our hearts.  We understand the temporary nature of this world and anticipate the perfection — far more life than we can imagine — that awaits us.

Sisters,
Do you want to start experiencing far more life now?
Will you risk letting go of what is good to pursue something better?
I can’t promise the road will be easy, but I guarantee the destination is worth the effort.
You will lose some baggage along the way, and you may find your passion.

Join me on the journey to discover and embrace far more life with Jesus.
-Shari

Copyright 2019, Shari Damaso