About Lindsey

Lindsey is a member of the Women's Leadership Team at First Free Church.

“All We Can Do Now Is Pray.”

I suggest, for the sake of our prayer lives, we stop saying this: “Well, I guess all we can do now is pray.” I know what people mean when they do say this. They mean they need a miracle and God’s the only one who delivers in that department. They mean they’ve stopped looking to a human, a doctor perhaps, to fix their loved one. They mean they’ve lost any hope in whatever issue they’re dealing with being resolved by anything other than God’s sovereign intervention. Those are good declarations to make. On the other hand, this kind of language may expose us for the mixed priorities we have.

I’ve probably said this myself. Even if I haven’t said it in so many words, I’ve lived it, thought it. Here’s a silly example, but it makes my point. I recently told someone, half-jokingly, that I was praying that God would potty train my 3 year old. When I said it “half-jokingly” actually I was dead serious. I had started praying that God would potty train him, so to speak. I had told God I was done trying. I had no more ingenious ideas; I was tired of begging, bribing, cajoling a toddler. I was tired of worrying about it and hearing everyone’s advice. I was tired of apologizing to all the people who still had to change his diaper. I was tired of something so stupid making me so angry. I was done. I told God I had run out of my own solutions and I needed help.

I suppose that’s a good place to end up with anything you’re dealing with in life. Whether it’s something small like this or something large like waiting on an obvious miracle, God sovereignly brings us to places where we rely on him. When David is completely surrounded by enemies—without any way of escape, no back door option—he cries out to God: “Hear a just cause, O LORD; attend to my cry! . . . Wondrously show your steadfast love, O Savior” (Ps. 17:1; 7). The place God brings us to is the place where we realize we have to rely on him, because we don’t have any other options. God lovingly removes options to bring us to our knees, to make us stop and face Him, and say, “He sent from on high, he took me; he drew me out of many waters. He rescued me from my strong enemy and from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me” (Psalm 18:16-17). It is a good thing to cry out to God in our distress and frustration and confusion.

But David is not a great example for prayer just because he cried out to God in his distress; he is a great example because his first impulse is to seek God’s direction in stressful situations. David prays, “O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch” (Psalm 5:3). In this Psalm, David is asking for God’s direction in dealing with a big problem: “lead me . . . because of my enemies” (v. 8). So, David awakes and seeks God’s favor and direction first thing. David lays his request before the Lord and watches and waits for the Lord to “make [His] way straight” before David (v. 8). David takes refuge in the Lord first, not after he drew up all his own battle plans and tried them out, only to realize all his great plans weren’t really all that great after all.

I don’t think David developed such a habit by only seeking God when he was in distress, though. Such a habit developed because David sought God all the time in every circumstance. Even in good times when his people were secure in the land, David praises God for the counsel He provides (Ps. 16:3,7). David has access to this counsel because he sets the Lord always before him. The Lord sits at David’s right hand, the preeminent advisor, whispering in David’s ear continually.

Some times in life we live “as basically independent,” though, thinking we’re “on the right track, but occasionally in need of a little input from the Deity, a little blessing called down by an appropriately formulated prayer” (Carson). Waiting to pray and seek God’s direction until we are out of alternatives can reveal just such an independent attitude. David did not think of himself this way. Instead, David’s life revolved around dependence on God and seeking God’s direction and divine intervention through prayer. David knew that his plans were nothing if God did not cover David with favor; that favor was David’s shield (v. 12).

Do you daily lay your plans before the Lord? Whether that’s simply the mundane errands you have to run or some large decision you have to make that day? Does your life revolve around dependence on God and seeking His direction? Only then can we develop the habit of seeking God first when distress comes. What if instead of having to come to that place where we say, “We’ve tried everything we can think of to try. All we can do now is pray,” we started at a place like David that said, “Let’s pray, laying our requests before the Lord. And then we’ll see what we can do. We’ll wait to see what paths He makes straight.” Ok, maybe that’s not as catchy, but perhaps foregoing the cliché would benefit our prayer lives.

“I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.” Psalm 16:8

Carson, D.A. Call to Spiritual Reformation. Kindle Ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1992. 650-54.

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Life Goes On . . . but NOW with Joy!

Life goes on after Christmas . . . as it had to for Mary and Joseph. Can you picture a higher high to come down from? All the angelic appearances, thoughts, emotions, hopes, fears, and not to mention “new-mother-not-sure-what-labor’s-going-to-be-like” nervousness come careening into this one day. And there was God’s very presence with them in flesh and blood, and that had to feel like something amazing. But then eventually the shepherds have to go back to tending their flocks, the angels leave (at least in earthly vision) and go back to their angelic duties, and Mary and Joseph have to go back home to take care of a new baby. And they don’t know what they’re doing any more than other new parents. Life went on, and maybe it was hard to remember the “high” when they were so tired and they had soiled diapers to change all day.

Maybe that’s how you feel after Christmas too. Before-Christmas lines don’t bother me so much, perhaps because I’m thinking about baking and wrapping presents and anticipating seeing family. The after-Christmas lines seem much grumpier to me, and then there are the return policies to navigate. The Christmas decorations that were such a joy to bring from the basement look like such a chore to put away now. It’s hard to “re-feel” the feeling that had you all choked up singing Christmas carols with friends or family once you’ve slid down from your own Christmas high. It’s hard to tell the 3-year old with a “Now what?” expression on his face that Christmas is all over. I mean it can’t be all “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” every day. Right?

This year, I got the song “Winter Snow” stuck in my head, a Christmas song by Audrey Assad (on the Chris Tomlin Christmas CD).

Could’ve come like a mighty storm
With all the strength of a hurricane
You could’ve come like a forest fire
With the power of Heaven in Your flame

But You came like a winter snow
Quiet and soft and slow
Falling from the sky in the night
To the earth below

When I first heard it, I didn’t pay too much attention to it. A little theologically shallow compared to, say, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, I thought. But the more I considered the metaphor, the more it struck me. It’s like watching the weather, hoping for snow, any snow, so your 3 year old will get a chance to play in it. And you wait and wait. It gets colder. Maybe now? No, no snow. Then there’s a possibility, maybe Friday. Nope. Maybe Saturday. No, still no snow. This goes on for a while (You know, in pretty typical Kansas weather fashion.) Then, you wake up one morning and it’s just there, quiet, blanketing the world. You didn’t even know it was falling while you slept. That’s a lot like how Jesus came.

That’s amazing when you think about how Christ could have come, should have come, in the way he deserved. He could have come like the king he is and always has been. He could have showed up at Herod’s palace door exactly how Herod feared and none of those baby boys would have died. He could have tipped Caesar off his throne with his pinky finger, kind of like he threw Pharaoh into the Red Sea with “an outstretched arm.” Pharaoh had brought his best chariots and horses. Laughable really. He could have overthrown Rome like that, like the disciples wanted and expected. But he didn’t. He could have, but he didn’t. He came in the “low whisper” (1 Kings 19:12). And 99.999999% of the world didn’t even know it.

We should tremble in thankfulness, though, that Jesus did not come as He deserved. Because if he had come as he deserved, it would have been with a flaming sword and all the power of heaven to bring judgment and condemnation on men’s sinful hearts. The angels would not have been singing “Peace”; they would be avenging angels pouring out God’s wrath. But instead of coming to bring judgment, he bore judgment. He did not come to condemn but to save (John 3:16-17): “he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near” (Eph. 2:17). If he had come as he deserved, He would have destroyed Herod and Caesar all right. . . and every other sinful person on the face of the planet . . . which would have been everyone. But the fact that Jesus came as a little baby means that, Hallelujah, God didn’t come as a consuming fire! God postponed final judgment, so that we would have a chance to repent and turn to him.

And by now, you’re probably wondering what in the world does this have to do with the day-after-Christmas lines and putting away the tree and getting back to the business of daily life. And the point is, you can’t. In Flannery O’Connor’s short story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” a hardened, escaped criminal gets it exactly right when he says, “Jesus threw everything off balance.” You see, you can’t just “get back to normal” or go on as if Christmas didn’t happen. Just like Connor’s “misfit” knew, Jesus’ coming was a turning point that everyone must confront eventually. Final judgment has only been postponed and so we must battle “ordinariness.” We cannot let this temporal life numb us to the eternal. Jesus’ coming on Christmas day should be the beginning of joy that carries us through the whole year, not the end of an emotional high. We must live extra-ordinary lives that are filled with the Holy Spirit, proclaiming the good news of Christmas: “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). Christ came to deal with sin once, for all, and he will come again. So does your life show how “extra-ordinary” your life is after Christ’s coming? Or is it back to the “hum drum” like the rest of the world?

So while, no, we don’t live in a world of daily angelic appearances, where life does slide into the routines of just living, we can still resolve for the joy of Christmas to continue with us all year long. You and I can still cry out “Hark!” (which just means pay extra special attention to what I’m about to say):

Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth

You can resolve (with the help of the Holy Spirit) to live in such a way that the eternal shines through the “just-getting-on-with-life-ness” and sing that all year long! So, yes, it can be “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” every day of the year.

Celebrating Advent Through a Jesse Tree

Last year, we instituted a new Christmas tradition at our house with Aiden who was then 2 ½ yrs. old. I had been thinking about how to establish some of our own family traditions, and John and I talked a lot about how we wanted Christmas presented to our children. We wanted Christ to be the all of Christmas without a lot of the other distractions, and the Jesse Tree seemed like a great way to do this. We kept our Jesse Tree very simple the first year and mostly read to Aiden from his children’s Bible. I’m excited to see how much more he will understand this year for our 2nd annual Jesse Tree!

If you too are looking for something that puts Christ at the center of Christmas in the midst of everything else our culture throws into the mix or if you have been thinking about how to establish or re-establish some of your own Christmas traditions, I humbly submit the Jesse Tree, a way to celebrate Advent and talk about what Christ’s birth means. To use a Jesse Tree, you will read Bible passages each day of Advent, beginning with Creation and tracing the “main events,” to tell a story of God’s faithfulness to His people in providing a Messiah. That story ultimately, of course, brings us to Christ’s birth on Christmas day. After reading the Bible passage for the day, hang an ornament representing that story on a tree. As you progress through the Advent season, you will “build” Christ’s story.

You can keep it simple, of course, and just read the stories to your children, talking about how Jesus fulfills the promises God made. Or along with reading the Bible stories, you can create an actual Jesse Tree by making a banner or poster and attaching paper ornaments or by using any variation of a tree with the ornaments hung on its branches. You can use a small tree, hanging one ornament for each day, or decorate a large tree with many people handmaking their own ornaments to hang all over the tree. A traditional Jesse Tree is a large stump with a single green branch growing out of it. The ornaments are attached around the branch, usually with a star as the last symbol at the top. We use a small tree I got from the after-Christmas clearance rack, and our ornaments are a collection of ornaments I bought or made.

Since some of the stories are recounted over many chapters in the Bible, they may need to be summarized or shortened depending on the ages of your children or your time. You may also choose to read the stories from a children’s Bible geared toward the ages of your children. Two extremely good children’s Bibles are The Jesus Storybook Bible and The Big Picture Story Bible. Other characters or events may be substituted for some of those I’ve included on my outline (for instance, the story of Rahab or Samson) as long as the main storyline of human failure and God’s grace and renewed hope through a coming Messiah is clearly presented. If the Jesse Tree becomes an annual practice at your house, different aspects of the stories may be emphasized in different years.

I have included on a separate page (look at the menu at the top) an explanation of Advent and the Jesse Tree and the outline of Scripture readings I created for our family to help you get started. Share the meaning of Advent and the Jesse Tree with your family as you set up your tree and get ready to start. If nothing else, you can read some of the Scriptures yourself, preparing your own heart for the coming of the One True Savior in the form of a little baby. As you read the stories beginning in the Old Testament, look for how each story points to a coming promise: Christ. I pray that in the end you will see that “all the promises of God find their Yes in [Christ]. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (2 Cor. 1:20).

The outline I’ve created starts tomorrow (Nov. 26) if you’re wanting to start right away! If not, ease into it or only do what works for your family. The point is not to check off all the boxes; the point is to prepare your heart for Christ’s coming!

Spiritual Introversion: “You Don’t Need Me”

(This is part 2 of 2 on Spiritual Introversion. You can see the first post–“I Don’t Need You”–here.)

There are two sides to spiritual introversion. On the one hand, I can take an independent view of my sanctification, not participating in Christ’s body or in those things that “aren’t my thing,” even though God has called each of us to “upbuild” each other. I must pray that God would so fill me with His love for His body that I joyfully receive from my sisters’ lives. On the other side of spiritual introversion, I must pray for courage; I must ask God to make me a good grace-steward, to rid me of my unwillingness, fear, or laziness, anything that keeps me from giving to my sisters from the riches I have received.

God calls us to be good stewards of His grace: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace . . . by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 4:10-11). We become stewards of God’s grace because Christ stewarded grace to us from God. Paul demonstrates this to the Ephesians when he says that the grace of God was given to him for his brothers’ and sisters’ sake to preach the gospel to them (3:2). God’s grace was not meant only for Paul’s private use. He was given the gospel and the grace to use his particular gifts for the sake of others, for the sake of Christ’s body. Grace flows from the Father through Christ into Paul and to the lives of other believers. This is to God’s glory!

Sometimes it seems like we don’t have a lot to contribute (or at least we’re unwilling to do so) when we compare ourselves to others. At the beginning of Romans, Paul tells his brothers and sisters that he longs to see them so they could be “mutually encouraged by each other’s faith” (Rom. 1:12). Paul understood his relationship to the body of believers: he needed them for encouragement as much they needed him. He was not a spiritual introvert! It would be easy to label Paul as a great Christian not needing “help” from brothers and sisters. Imagine some of the Roman Christians hearing of Paul’s desire to be mutually encouraging and laughing: “What do I have to offer him? He’s a better teacher than I am. He prays better than I do. He’s more passionate than I am.” Or they could have thought, “What do I have to offer my brothers and sisters in the Roman church? They can get all they need from Paul.” They would have been willing to receive Paul’s stewarding of grace, but unwilling to be used by God to steward grace to others. How much the Roman church would have missed out on!

We too can hear of our need to encourage each other and ask, “What do I have to give my sisters? They can get ‘such and such’ blessing or teaching or encouragement from the leaders in the church.” The short answer to what we give is that whenever, whatever you receive from the mercies and grace of God, you give. Again in Romans, Paul writes for eleven chapters on what Christ’s work on the cross has accomplished. Then, when Paul describes the church as one body with many members, he asks them to give because of what they have received. He begins Romans 12 with “by the mercies of God, . . . present your bodies as a living sacrifice”: “Where mercies have abounded, you don’t conform to the world, you present your bodies to God to do his will in relationship with others” (Piper, Present Your Bodies). We can present our bodies because Christ presented His body: “I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:15). We can present our bodies to be living sacrifices (giving off the aroma of Christ—2 Cor. 2:14-16) because Christ died as a sacrifice for our sins: “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:2).

In order for the body to function as God designed, with all the gifts God has lavished upon it, the members have to present themselves for service first. This stems from understanding the great well of grace from which we draw: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. . . . And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:14,16). In Christ, we are blessed with every spiritual blessing the heavenlies have to offer (Eph. 1:3). Grace was given to each one of us in great and greatly varied ways; we are lavished with it. We each have a unique grace from God, a unique witness to His power; God has given us unique ways to glorify His name. Where one member may lack, another overflows with God’s grace for the body’s benefit. God’s gifts of grace, those daily ways He is transforming us by revealing more of His glory, are meant for mutual edification, to build up the whole body, not just for our own private sanctification: “[W]e are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body . . . makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:15-16). It is a strange thing to say the body makes the body grow, but Christ, the head, equips the members of His body to build His body up. This occurs “when each part is working properly,” that is, when, by the mercies of God, we all present our bodies to the body of Christ for its proper function.

When God’s grace transforms our own lives, we should be faithful stewards. We should pray for courage to participate fully and transparently in the body so grace can flow through us to strengthen other believers. If I believe I am unnecessary to the body, whether in words or through my attitude or actions (or lack thereof), I do not believe God’s Word, that He has composed the body and told us He would equip us all to function within it. I can confidently say that you do need me . . . because of Christ’s work in my life and the special grace He has given me to share with His body. He is my boldness to walk out of spiritual introversion and present myself for service.

“Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matt. 10:8)

“Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation” (Psalm 95:1)

Further Reading: