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.