Understanding

As a youngster, my son regularly proclaimed, “You don’t understand!” in frustration when I did not agree his way was best. He was convinced that if I accurately grasped his perspective, I would embrace his idea or plan.

We can feel the same way about God’s instructions and decisions. We trust our wisdom and experience because they usually serve us well. So when God’s Word tells us to do something that disagrees with our assessment, we may look for loopholes: “Surely He did not literally mean to resolve all anger before the sun set” (Ephesians 4:26) or “He cannot expect me to love someone who abused me” (Matthew 5:44). Or we may outright reject His instruction by saying it is outdated or does not apply in our circumstances.

These responses are part of our limited human understanding. And they are not new. Despite the changes in circumstances, we face the same basic temptations, challenges, thoughts, and responses as people who lived centuries ago. King Solomon noted:

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9, NIV)

People have always doubted and questioned God. One contributing factor is that He does not usually reveal His reasoning to us. I was surprised to find this verse describing God’s choice for the Israelites’ path when they were escaping Egypt:

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. (Exodus 13:17-18, NIV)

I’m sure some of the Israelites thought God made a bad choice. We have the benefit of knowing His reasons, even though they did not.

When questioned why He was washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus only offered this cryptic and unsatisfactory answer:

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” (John 13:7, NIV)

In reality, we do not understand. We know some things. We have some experience. But we overestimate ourselves and underestimate God. As a result, we are tempted to fight against God’s ways. We may argue, beg, plead for Him to embrace our ideas and preferences. We may reject, dismiss, or despise His ways and pursue our own path.

But we have another option, one that leads to far more life.

But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me. (Psalm 131:2, NIV)

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. (Psalm 62:5, NIV)

We can rest in God, trust Him, and yield to Him. But we must humble ourselves and acknowledge His superiority. He states this truth bluntly:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9, NIV)

There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death. (Proverbs 14:12, NIV)

For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (I Corinthians 1:25, NIV)

When we accept these truths, we can focus on understanding Him instead of proving ourselves. We can trust His intentions toward us rather than fighting to prove our worth. We can rest in His knowledge and character rather than having to protect, defend, and promote ourselves. In this way, we bring Him honor and glory.

But, to do this we must have an accurate view of Him. Many people think God is cruel, distant, harsh, judgmental, apathetic, or uninvolved in their lives. They do not want to obey a god like that — I would not, either! Fortunately, those are inaccurate descriptions of the God of Scripture.

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (I Timothy 1:17, NIV)

He is the King. He is at the center of His realm and holds it together. He is aware of what is happening. He is engaged and decisive. He has a plan and is implementing it. He is not afraid of anyone or anything. He takes on responsibility for the wellbeing of His people. He provides for them, protects them, and genuinely cares for them.

He is eternal. God created the time in which we exist, but He is outside of time. Unlike us, He has always existed and will always exist. Our lives are just a moment of His existence. His reign will never end.

He is immortal. God will never die. He is indestructible. He is always alive and active.

He is invisible. Although we cannot see Him with our eyes, God made His nature and power visible through creation (Romans 1:20). He exists in a dimension we cannot access, yet makes Himself accessible.

He is the only God. There is no pantheon, family, or council of gods. There are no changes as different gods take control. There is no threat to His rule. He exists as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, but He is One.

That is just a taste of His character! God understands us better than we understand ourselves. He invites us to understand Him so we can follow Him wholeheartedly and find far more life.

Sisters,
What tempts you to think God does not understand you or your circumstances?
Looking back, can you see times when His way was better than what you thought was best?
What makes you reluctant to rest in, trust, and yield to Him?
What aspects of His character have you experienced? Which do you need to better understand to follow Him wholeheartedly?
Thank Him for offering you far more life each step of your journey!
-Shari

Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso

Restful Rest

Is there a song that draws out your feelings every time you hear it? For me, it is this one:

“I’m tired. I’m worn.
My heart is heavy from the work it takes to keep on breathing.
I’ve made mistakes. I’ve let my hope fail.

My soul feels crushed by the weight of this world.
I know I need to lift my eyes up, but I’m too weak.

Life just won’t let up.
And my prayers are wearing thin.

I’m worn even before the day begins.
I’m worn, I’ve lost my will to fight.”
(excerpted from “Worn” by Tenth Avenue North)

Sometimes this song reminds me of hard times from my past. Other times it describes the burdens I am carrying at that moment. Burdens many people carry. Worry. Depression. Guilt. Anxiety. Shame. Regret. Loneliness. Doubt. Fear. Confusion. Worthlessness.

Where do we find rest? The escape of sleep? The numbness of alcohol or substances? The distraction of hobbies or shopping? The indulgence of comfort food or media binges? The comfort of sex, self-harm, or careful planning? The thrill of risk-taking? Those may bring temporary relief, but it never lasts. We must resume the struggle before our strength is fully restored. This cycle breaks us down more and more over time. We grow tired and worn.

Friend, have you tried resting in Jesus? He has extended an open invitation:

Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. (Mathew 11:28-29, CEB)

Come to me. How do you go to Jesus? With a humble heart through prayer. A humble heart is willing to confess your weakness, emptiness, exhaustion, and hopelessness. It admits what you are doing is not working and you need help. Prayer is simply talking to God. There are no rules about what or how to pray. It can be out loud or in your mind. Your eyes can be opened or closed. You can pray anywhere at any time while doing anything. There are no special words and no forbidden words. Since Jesus already knows everything you are thinking, feeling, and experiencing, it is safe to be open and honest with Him.

All who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads. Who can go to Jesus? Anyone who is tired. You do not have to figure anything out first. You do not have to “clean house”. You do not have to get your act together. Go to Jesus just as you are. He will welcome you with open arms.

I will give you rest. Jesus is not offering a temporary escape or distraction or numbness. He offers rest that will refresh and replenish your heart, mind, soul, and body. He wants to permanently relieve you of heavy burdens.

Put on my yoke. A yoke joins two oxen together so they can share the workload. Wise and caring trainers start young oxen with a very light yoke and increase the weight and bulk as the oxen grow strong enough to handle it. When correctly fitted, the yoke does not feel heavy, even when the oxen are pulling a heavy load. Jesus wants to share our yoke and help carry our burdens. He offers a perfectly-fitted yoke so we are no longer exhausted and crushed under their weight. When we yield to Him, trying things His way, we find the lightness and joy He has promised His followers, even in hard situations. Jesus calls this far more life:

I came to bring them life, and far more life than before. (John 10:10, PHILLIPS)

Learn from me. Yoked oxen learn to follow their trainers’ commands. The trainer prepares them to navigate the field successfully, avoiding dangers and obstacles. Jesus can teach us to navigate life successfully. He can empower us to overcome worry, depression, guilt, anxiety, shame, regret, loneliness, doubt, fear, confusion, and worthlessness. The more we learn from Him, the more consistently we experience far more life.

King David describes resting in God this way:

I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure…
You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand. (Psalm 16:8-11, NIV)

If you have never tried resting in Jesus, try an experiment. Go to Jesus. Give Him your burdens. Agree to learn from Him. I suggest you read the Gospel of John in the New Testament, one chapter a day (21 days). Each day ask yourself, “What can I learn from Jesus?” and write down a thought or verse you find meaningful. When you are done, evaluate whether resting in Jesus brought you far more life.

If you have a relationship with Jesus but have not been resting in Him, start again today. He will not criticize you for pulling away. He is always ready to take your burdens and share the yoke of far more life.

The song quoted above continues with these lyrics that fill my heart with hope:

I know that You can give me rest.
So I cry out with all that I have left.
Let me see redemption win. Let me know the struggle ends.
That You can mend a heart that’s frail and torn.
I want to know a song can rise from the ashes of a broken life and all that’s dead inside can be reborn.

Jesus offers restful rest. Test Him out. You may find far more life.

Sisters,
What burdens are you carrying?
Where do you turn for rest? Is it restful?
Are you willing to try resting in Jesus? Why or why not?
Thank Him for giving you His light yoke and teaching you the ways of far more life!

(You are welcome to let me know how your trial period goes — or ask any question — at farmorelife@gmail.com. I am praying for you!)
-Shari

Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso

Untouched

The fear of the Lord leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble. (Proverbs 19:23, NIV)

What a fascinating verse! Concise, straight-forward, and yet hard to grasp. Can it be literally true? Is this the ultimate experience of far more life?

The fear of the Lord. Other translations use respect, reverence, surrender, awe. They all indicate an awareness of God’s authority over us. We recognize Him as the alpha male, our leader. There is competition for this place of prominence in our hearts and minds: we can give our ultimate respect to people instead of God; we can revere power and prestige over Him; we can surrender to a lifestyle of pleasure or ease; we can be in awe of money and its privileges. It is good for us to examine our hearts and ask, “What is my primary object of fear, respect, reverence, surrender and awe? Is it God or something else?” Fear of something is the foundation on which we build our lives. This verse instructs us to place that fear in the Lord. Other verses outline more benefits of following that instruction:

But be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you. (I Samuel 12:24, NIV)

The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. (Psalm 19:9a, NIV)

The Lord confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them. (Psalm 25:14, NIV)

The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. (Psalm 34:7, NIV)

…The Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children. (Psalm 103:17, NIV)

The fear of the Lord adds length to life. (Proverbs 10:27a, NIV)

Whoever fears the Lord has a secure fortress. (Proverbs 14:26a, NIV)

He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure. (Isaiah 33:6, NIV)

Leads to life. Whatever we fear (surrender to), it leads to something. Fear of people leads to a compromised life. Fear of power and prestige leads to a consumed life. Fear of pleasure and ease leads to a self-focused life. Fear of money leads to a greedy life. But fear of the Lord leads to far more life, a life marked by integrity, investment, eternal focus, and generosity. Consider these verses about such a life:

Whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:39b, NIV)

Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. (John 6:47, NIV)

The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. (John 6:63, NIV)

Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (John 17:3, NIV)

You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence. (Acts 2:28, NIV)

…Offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. (Romans 6:13, NIV)

…The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20, NIV)

For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. (I Thessalonians 4:7, NIV)

And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. (I John 5:11, NIV)

Then one rests content. It is only after we have placed our fear in the Lord and found far more life that we rest contentedly. This means that we can relax in peace rather than being tied up with anxiety. It means we have joy rather than being afraid or angry about our circumstances It means we are not burdened by the past, present, or future; instead we are free to remember, enjoy, and dream. When God occupies His rightful place in our hearts, everything else falls into place.

Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him…Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. (Psalm 62:1, 5, NIV)

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28, NIV)

…I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices, my body also will rest in hope. (Acts 2:25-26, NIV)

Untouched by trouble. At first glance, this appears to be untrue. Christ-followers are plagued by trouble: health trouble, job trouble, relationship trouble, financial trouble, and more. It certainly does not feel like we are “untouched”. But our eternal security IS untouched by trouble on this earth. And our ability to walk in the Spirit — to experience love, joy and peace and be patient, kind, good, and faithful — remains untouched by trouble. We have the power, through Christ, to view our troubles as He does: momentary light afflictions. When we stay focused on eternity, we can walk through them in far more life.

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. (2 Corinthians 4:17, NIV)

The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. (Psalm 9:9, NIV)

The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all. (Psalm 34:19, NIV)

The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him (Nahum 1:7, NIV)

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33, NIV)

 …I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds. (2 Corinthians 7:4, NIV)

Sisters,
What is your primary object of fear, respect, reverence, surrender and awe?
Is that leading to temporary things or far more life?
Do you rest content? If not, what is preventing that?
What perspective helps you be untouched by your troubles?
Thank God for offering you far more life today…and every day for eternity!
-Shari

Rest in Far More Life

By this point you may think you need to DO MORE to get far more life. Love God more. Love people more. Give God more glory. But God asks the opposite of us:

Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10, NASB)

Cease striving? Or “be still” (as other translations instruct)? Doesn’t God understand that if we let up everything will fall apart? Chaos will overtake our lives?  How can that lead to far more life?

There are definitely areas of life where we need to continue striving. We need to keep battling temptation, sin, and unhealthy patterns in our lives, striving to become more like Christ. We need to keep expressing God’s grace and truth, striving to share His life-changing message with those around us. We need to keep working on our relationships, striving to offer respect and love through each interaction.

But we can’t meet all the needs or fight all the battles. Some of us have tried and found it is impossible and exhausting.  So how do we decide where to work and where to cease striving? But Psalm 131 offers guidance:

O Lord, my heart is not conceited. My eyes do not look down on others. I am not involved in things too big or too difficult for me. Instead, I have kept my soul calm and quiet. My soul is content as a weaned child is content in its mother’s arms. Israel, put your hope in the Lord now and forever.” (GW)

We should find the places our soul is not calm, quiet, and content; these are the things that are too big or too difficult for us. Instead of positively impacting these situations, we are being negatively impacted by them. They are keeping us from far more life.

But what happens in the areas where we cease striving?  Some of them are big needs. And important to us. The text instructs “put your hope in the Lord”. God is big enough to handle it — ALL of it.  And, surprisingly, He can even handle it without us!

One Sunday I felt especially “full” and decided I would not volunteer for anything that popped up during the coming week. Instead, when I became aware of a need I would pray for God to meet the need. Three situations came up that week where I would have normally offered help, but each time I simply prayed. I was excited and humbled to learn that the person who stepped up to meet each need did it better than I could have. So not only did God meet the needs without me, He met them BETTER without me! Why was I surprised? He has a whole kingdom of resources at His disposal. A kingdom of people with a variety of skills, knowledge, resources, experience, and availability. A kingdom of power and wealth beyond my understanding. This experience reinforced my hope in the Lord. I don’t need to strive to make everything work. He can meet my needs  — and others’ needs — today and every day.  Placing our hope in Him is far more life.

Maybe you’ve been striving for so long that you don’t even remember what a calm, quiet, content soul is like. It experiences and radiates God’s character. Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-control. Forgiveness. When we feel and emit these, we are not striving to do God’s work. We are calmly resting in God, quietly placing our hope in Him, and contendedly investing our energy; we are living far more life.

But when we are anxious, exhausted, stressed, fearful, angry, worried, hopeless, overwhelmed, or stuck, our souls are not calm, quiet, and content. These feelings are indicators that we need to cease striving in one or more areas. We need to identify what is too big or difficult and turn it over to God.  At those moments we are like Martha in Luke 10, worried and upset by many things. But recognizing that we are striving enables us to make a choice: will we continue or will we choose to follow the example of her sister, Mary, sitting at the Lord’s feet listening to Him?  Jesus said Mary chose what was better. She chose far more life.

Some of the areas where we are tempted to take on too much are physical. We can overpack our schedules and push our bodies beyond their limits. But we more tempted to carry mental and emotional burdens that are too big or difficult. We worry about people and situations over which we have no control. We replay past events and conversations in our minds, asking what we should have done or said differently. We imagine all the bad things that could happen in the future. Let them go! Cease striving! Remember that God is holding you like a mother holds her child. Lovingly. Tenderly. Securely. Rest — quietly, calmly, contentedly — in His arms. Place your hope and trust in His goodness and strength. Embrace far more life.

My pastor often says, “Do your best and let God take care of the rest.” That helps me understand how to cease striving in a practical way.  There are things we can and need to do. But we must also recognize our limits and God’s limitlessness. Knowing God’s power and trusting His character frees us to cease striving. Rest in far more life!

Sisters,
Prayerfully examine your heart, asking “What am I involved in that is too big or difficult for me?”
Are you willing to turn those things over to God?
If not, why? What do you need in order to trust Him in those places?
Are you willing to ask Him to help you grow in trust?
Thank and praise Him for being big enough to handle all of it.
Enjoy less striving and far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2019-20, Shari Damaso

It’s Not Really Up To Me

A well-meaning advisor at my high school gifted me a coffee cup depicting one colorful woman amidst a jumbled crowd of outline people. She is holding up a sign that proclaims, “If it’s gonna be it’s up to me!”  This message resonated with me. I was proud that my advisor had noticed my dedication to picking up the slack and worked even harder to prove my new life motto true.

In college and early adulthood I enjoyed the doors that opened because I was a dedicated, hard-working perfectionist. But as my life responsibilities increased I didn’t always have enough time and energy to pick up all the slack. The burden I carried started to feel heavy.  But I was afraid to find out what would happen if I failed to do it all. (I was once asked in a job interview which was more important: turning in perfect work or meeting a deadline. I was shocked at having to choose. To this day I have no idea if I answered correctly, even though I got the job!) My passion started to wane as my stress climbed, but I kept pressing on. After all, it was up to me to make things happen.

One day a friend directed me to Jesus’ offer of far more life:

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, NLT)

I was familiar with this passage. It’s likening our life with Jesus to a pair of oxen, joined by a wooden yoke that keeps them close together and working as a single unit.

My friend asked me to describe the yoke I thought God was asking me to wear.  I pictured a bulky device that was heavy and uncomfortable. She said she used to think of her yoke like that, too. But now she imagines it being as light as a silk scarf.  Those ideas were so far apart that one of us had to be very wrong!

It turns out there are different styles of yokes used for different tasks. But a proper fit is critical; a yoke should never cause discomfort or be too heavy. It should help equally-matched oxen work at full potential without causing any harm. Some yokes allow more freedom of movement; others require the oxen to go exactly where the farmer commands.

God was not asking me to take on a yoke that would add to my load, rather He was offering to ease my load. He was offering far more life. As I wrestled with this new idea, it became clear that “If it’s gonna be it’s up to me!” was an ill-fitting yoke that was adding to my burden. Perhaps it was robbing me of far more life that Jesus offered. Was it really up to me?

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10, NIV)

I had always felt responsibility pile up when I read this verse. I had to finish the jobs on God’s to do list; I was under a deadline and had a lot of work to do. But what if that wasn’t God’s meaning? What if, while there are definitely things that I need to do, ultimately if it’s gonna be it’s up to God? What if I have a role to play in the projects He orchestrates, but HE’S going to make sure it gets done? And what if He knows my limits and ensures that my assigned tasks are not too much? That they strengthen me rather than break me? This new interpretation meant that God had custom-fitted yokes ready for me. He knew exactly what was needed and wanted to equip me to work at my full potential with Him.  He was offering me far more life!

I have since realized that when I am stressed, irritable, or apathetic — or if I feel a certain heaviness in my chest — I am struggling under that old yoke again. At those times I need to follow the instructions in Matthew and go to Him, rest in Him. I need to ask, “What am I taking on that is not my burden to carry?” and then analyze my life to figure out which commitments or responsibilities (or even mental pressures) are weighing me down. When I release those and join God in the yoke He custom-designed for me, the work becomes rewarding again. I feel my passion return. And I experience far more life!

Sisters,
I promised that on this journey to far more life you would lose some baggage.
Have you, too, fallen for the lie “if it’s gonna be it’s up to me”?
Are you carrying too much?
Is your passion drowning under the weight of your yoke?
If so, go to God.
Rest in Him.
Lay down your ill-fitted yoke and join Him in the one He custom-fit to you.
Take a step away from a burdened life.
And a step toward far more life.
-Shari

Copyright 2019-20, Shari Damaso
Note: I gave away my mug a few years ago. I found this photo at an on-line auction site.