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Did you know that worrying only leads to evil (Psalm 37:7-9)? Think about it . . . when has anything we’ve worried about ever lead to good (the worrying, I mean). No, it wastes precious time and energy and our own resources for thinking good instead of fretting about anything–especially things we have no control over. Worrying also tells us our true state in trusting God (ouch, that one hurts). In other words, do we really trust God? With everything? Even that thing we are worrying about RIGHT NOW??? Worrying is one of the hardest things to try to stop doing. And I know as I do it far too much.
The other side of that coin in waiting. Nobody likes to wait, especially in a society like ours where most of our whims can be satisfied in a moment’s notice (as in 24/7 access). And when God reminds us to “Be still and know that I am God” and to “wait patiently for him” (Psalm 37:7), we wiggle–a lot.
And wait well . . .
Everyone has to wait. I don’t know of anyone who seeks to wait. We are forced to wait. We wait for the doctor; we wait in traffic; we wait in the grocery line; we wait for results; we wait for opportunities; everyone is confronted with the necessity to wait. Therefore, we get a lot of practice in how to wait well.
The advent of Smartphone game apps makes waiting a little more bearable for me. I play solitaire on my Smartphone to pass the waiting moment. I…
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Depending on how we grew up (e.g., our family dynamics), or what denomination we might have been raised under (if we were a part of a church at that time), or our personality type, or our own bent towards legalism instead of freedom (it’s a hard one to break), dancing is something we don’t easily do when it comes as a part of praising and worshiping God. Lifting up or waving our hands in the air and/or swaying slightly from side to side is most likely the extent of what we do if we even do that much, and even that might be frowned upon, depending on the denomination, in a public worship setting (the “frozen chosen” comes to mind but it’s not limited to any particular denomination or group). And it’s a real shame.
As my friend, Steve Brown, at Key Life Network, has stated, “It’s hard to hug a stiff kid,” (see his book, published in 2008, titled, “Approaching God”). It’s also hard to make a stiff kid dance (and that includes the adult variety, too). And it’s that stiffness that keeps us so confined. Here’s a test of our own stiffness: How often do we smile throughout the day for no particular reason at all (and not just at jokes)? It’s that “stiffness” that keeps us from truly being free.
Our ability to dance when we worship God is directly related to our gratefulness in being set free (which also includes being “set free” from what others think about us while we are doing it or anything else). And Jesus Christ paid the ultimate price to give us that freedom. To be freed from the slavery of self with all of its wants, needs, and idiosyncrasies is no small thing. In fact, most of the world doesn’t even recognize their own slavery to self. Our own society here in America worships self-promotion and success defined in worldly terms including that whole “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality that wears folks out and keeps them deep in debt while continuing to strive for “the good life.” And it’s usually not until something happens, often in the disguise of a crisis, that we even realize how totally enmeshed we were in that whole futile way of living.
One of the definitions of freedom is “the state of being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint; personal liberty, as opposed to bondage or slavery” (source: Dictionary.com). While we may not recognize the quest for “the good life” as being a source of slavery, it is. What are we willing to give up and/or be enslaved to in order to achieve it? And what price do we end up paying if we are successful at it? And even if we became millionaires or billionaires, aren’t we really enslaved to all that money, power, possessions and trying to keep that status up until we die? And are the few years or decades of living in that lifestyle–if we can even attain it–worth the price we pay in the end? If the answer is yes, then we haven’t got a clue what real freedom is really all about.
With that being said, freedom isn’t about money or what it can buy. And it’s not about being a millionaire or a billionaire or being at the opposite end of that spectrum, either. In fact, real freedom doesn’t have anything to do with money, and it can’t be bought. I brought up what I wrote in the previous paragraph because as I’ve traveled through this life I’ve been amazed at the number of people, including Christians, I’ve run into who are constantly seeking after “the good life” and all it can buy them. In fact, many folks think it is a sign of God’s favor, and there are ministries that have been built on this very premise. However, a reading of the “Hall of Faith” chapter in Hebrews 11 clearly shows how contrary seeking after “the good life” really is in God’s economy.
It’s not about our assets–it’s about our availability.
The “stiffness” that my friend, Steve, mentioned, is what happens to us when we pursue life on our own terms, and then ask God to bless it. The focus is really on us, and not on God. We can’t dance because we are too busy singing our own song or our own praise, and we forget the price that was paid by Jesus Christ on the cross to set us free from ourselves, and, as Romans 12:1-2 reminds us, “the sin that so easily entangles us.” In our striving after “the good life” we have left the only life worth living in the dust, and that can make us very stiff indeed. And there are so many of us doing it in today’s world that we don’t even recognize our error until a crisis comes up in our lives that takes our focuse completely off of ourselves and puts it back where it has always belonged . . . on Jesus Christ. He didn’t die to give us “the good life;” he died to set us free from seeking after it instead of him.
Jesus asked, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Matthew 16:26, Mark 8:36, Luke 9:25). Jesus never emphasized seeking after material possessions or worldly wealth or even worldly accolades. No, he stated, “But seek first his [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). What things? The previous verses in Matthew give us the answer (see Matthew 6:25-34):
“Do not worry about your life . . . what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.” (Matt. 6:25)
“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable then they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matt. 6:26-27)
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you–you of little faith?” (Matt. 6:28-30)
“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or “What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” (Matt. 6: 31-32)
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of it’s own.” (Matt. 6:33-34)
Jesus said that our Heavenly Father will take care of our needs on a day by day basis if we “seek first his kingdom” instead of trying to build one of our own. So much in our society pulls us in the opposite direction luring us to seek more and more of what this world has to offer in any way that we can, but the future is not ours to know until it unfolds day by day. That lesson came crashing home to me five years ago when I lost my job and my livelihood, and I had no idea how I would survive financially is if lasted more than a year. And here it is, five years later, and he has taken care of every need I’ve ever had over the course of this time, but even more important than that (and that is very important), he got my focus off of myself and back on him and what he is doing in this world of ours, and it’s a whole lot bigger than what we can even imagine.
And, I’m finally learning how to dance. While it’s taken some time, I’ve left the stiffness behind. And the dance is the dance of freedom that King David (and others) danced (see source here) and for the reasons he danced (see source here). Once we start to take the focus off of ourselves and what we want in this life and put our focus back on Jesus, the stiffness begins to melts away.
In John 8:31-32, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” And then he stated in verse 36: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Jesus is the key to the only real freedom there is in this world.
I’ll end this post with the opening lines to the song, “Get Up and Dance,” (2013) by Salvador (see YouTube Video below). And as they sing in the chorus, “You’re gonna want to get up and dance,” and here’s why:
One dose is all it’s gonna take
You’ll find yourself moving in a brand new way
One little bit, that’s all you’ll need
And then before you know it you’ll be feeling so free
~Lyrics source here~
So let go of the stiffness . . .
And the sin that snares . . .
And get up and dance . . . .
YouTube Video: “Get Up and Dance” (2013) by Salvador:
Jesus Christ said it best (and He always does), “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes” (Matthew 6:34 MSG, from Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount”).
Worry is endemic in our American culture. And it seems the more we have or want or think we need and/or must have, the more we worry about what we have (or don’t have), whether it’s money and/or possessions, or our jobs, or our spouse and/or children (if married), or our significant others (if not married but in some type of relationship), or our friends, or even our enemies (gee, what are they up to???) or our government, or our economy (at this point you can complete your own list). And we worry about what is going to happen tomorrow, or next week, or next month, or next year and we try to plan for it in any way that we can.
Worry, worry, worry . . . it dominates our lives . . . . And it takes away from living life fully today . . . in the “here and now.” We spend so much time right now thinking about tomorrow or next week or next month or next year and planning for “future events” that may or may not happen that we lose our effectiveness and our focus in dealing with what’s going on right now–today.
Well, I have some news for you and it’s found in James 4:14, “. . . you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” The Message Bible states that verse along with two surrounding verses (vv 13-15) like this, “And now I have a word for you who brashly announce, ‘Today—at the latest, tomorrow—we’re off to such and such a city for the year. We’re going to start a business and make a lot of money.’ You don’t know the first thing about tomorrow. You’re nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing. Instead, make it a habit to say, ‘If the Master wills it and we’re still alive, we’ll do this or that.’”
An old friend of mine that I was out of contact with for a little over three years recently reminded me of the way I used to be when he knew me before the time of our last email correspondence. We had been out of contact since our last email communication nine days before I was fired from my job in Houston (April 2009). However, due to a comment from a mutual friend of ours this past May (2012), I decided to try to get back in touch this him this past summer. The biggest reason I had not contacted him during those three years was that the whole issue surrounding my unemployment and the sheer length of the unemployment situation itself was embarrassing to me and I wanted to wait to contact him until I was employed again. Well, as you know, I’d still be waiting if that was the case.
When I got back in touch with him this past summer it was like no time had passed at all since our last communication over three years earlier. I told him that after all this time I was still unemployed and that my unemployment benefits ended in May 2011 after collecting all 99 weeks but that I wasn’t broke and God had clearly provided for my needs through a small retirement account I had accumulated from my years of working in higher education. As we communicated through the summer and fall, he told me he noticed a big change in me from when he knew me before I lost my job in Houston. He said it was quite apparent that I was much happier, more content, and the worry about money that consumed my life before was now gone. None of that had actually crossed my mind until he mentioned it, but he was absolutely right. And he asked me if I remembered how consumed I was about money issues. Now, mind you, I never made a lot money in most of the jobs I’ve had over my lifetime but enough to pay bills, keep a roof over my head, and have a few extras like books, music, techy stuff, etc., but basically I lived “paycheck to paycheck” like a lot of other folks but managed to save some money and put a small amount into a retirement account. And, I’ve stayed out of debt, too. I never spent beyond what I earned and at the time I lost my job in Houston my only debt was the last six payments on my car which I paid off in October 2009.
Still, my friend’s comment gave me pause for thought. He was right, of course. For years I was consumed with worry about “tomorrow” with all of the “what if’s” that come from worrying about something I had little or no control over. And once I got into my 50’s I worried about having enough money in my “retirement years.” I even remember the fear that came over me when I left my job in Florida to move to Houston to start my new job as there were several days between my last day at the job in Florida and my first day at the new job in Houston when I was essentially “unemployed” and not receiving a wage for those few days. I say all of that to let you know how absolutely consumed I was with worry about money issues.
When I first lost my job in Houston, I was terrified, yet because I had started taking my relationship with Jesus Christ very seriously after years of semi-neglect when I arrived in Houston to start my new job seven months earlier, there was a very real underlying sense of His presence in my life that I had not felt in years. After receiving my last paycheck, it took me a month to get through the paperwork process before I received my first unemployment check ($550 for two weeks at $275/wk before taxes were taken out). Before I got fired, I was making $1500 every two weeks after taxes (that is the most I ever made at any job in my entire life).
I remember the day I received that first unemployment check and how incredibly grateful I was to receive it. I think I cried and thanked God profusely for it. At the time my apartment rent in Houston was $845/mo. and the lease wasn’t up until the end of September 2009, and with all of the rest of my monthly payments–car payment, cell phone & internet, electricity, water, etc.–my bills alone came to $1400/mo. before adding in other expenses like gas, food, and other essentials. The $1100/mo. I received from unemployment benefits didn’t cover it all, but my small savings paid off the rest each month and I learned to cut way back on my spending on food items in the grocery store and in other areas, too. At the end of my apartment lease I left Houston as I couldn’t afford to stay there living on Florida unemployment benefits and I came back to Florida. And by returning to Florida I was able to receive extended unemployment benefits which I would not have received had I stayed in Houston (although I didn’t know that at the time I left Houston).
Long story short, over the course of all of this time of unemployment, and totally trusting in the Lord to keep me going (with much fear and trembling in the beginning and at varying times throughout), I have experienced one miracle after another in seeing God provide for me during this time. And slowly (yes, it was slowly at first), He has taken that horrible compulsion of fear and worry away from me. But that’s not all He’s done. He has awakened in me the ability to see the world as it is, right now, and not just my own small world but the world at large. When I move about my day I pay attention to almost everything around me. I pay attention to what I read on the internet. I pay attention to a million things now that passed me by when I was working and consumed with work and worry. And, my life has gone from being “dull gray” to being filled with brilliant colors in high definition.
In short, what has happened to me in the past four plus years since I landed in Houston for that job in September 2008 that I lost seven months later is nothing short of remarkable–actually, it’s a miracle. God allowed the one thing I feared most in life–long-term unemployment and a consuming fear of not having enough money–to happen to me to show me that HE is enough and that HE will provide as long as I keep trusting in Him completely with every area of my life.
What I learned is that we can’t have the kind of relationship with Jesus Christ that totally changes every area of our lives by sitting in a pew once a week listening to a sermon or reading the latest Christian book to come off the press thinking that’s all we need to get us through this life. No . . . . It’s about a living, breathing, vital, life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ and getting into His Word (the Bible) regularly and praying (and not just when we need something) to really, truly begin to understand what this life is all about from His perspective and not from ours. For me, long-term unemployment has been the best gift He could have ever given me because it caused me to finally take my eyes off of myself and my own small world, and see Him and this world through His eyes and not just my own.
So, do you want to stop the compulsive fear/worry cycle in your own life? Then get to really know Him, and start now. You’ll be absolutely amazed at what He will teach you and bring into your life if you do this, but you have to give Him total control, and stop trying to control things on your own.
So do it now . . . .
You’ll never regret it . . . .
YouTube Video: “Don’t You Worry ’Bout a Thing” (1973) by Stevie Wonder: