As many of you know, each year for the past seven years, God has stamped a theme for the next twelve months on my heart. Sometimes it has been more fun than others. Every year has challenged me to grow in new ways and shed unneeded baggage while running this race called life.
2014: Do Hard Things
2015: Reflect the Son
2016: God Writes Your Story
2017: Be Brave
2018: Come to His Table
2019: Be A Door Holder
At the dawn of this year, God made it obvious that this new theme was going to rock my style. Majorly.
Theme 2020: “Practice His Presence”.
God kept pressing these words on my heart. Even then…months ago while the letters began to be etched on my heart and mind…I had no idea what that would mean.
As often happens, every Scripture with the word PRESENCE jumped off the page and launched into my soul. In particular, Psalm 16:11, “You reveal the path of life to me; in Your presence is abundant joy; in Your right hand are eternal pleasures.”
It was like God speaking directly to me with His eyes staring straight into mine. I kept thinking about REST and BEING with Jesus and the ones I love versus always running around trying to earn love and acceptance. I knew one thing for sure: if I didn’t want to burn out, I desperately needed soul rest.
Another thing I’ve been doing since 2016 at the end of each year and into the beginning of a new one is reprioritize and pray through my life/responsibilities/goals. It helps me inventory what I am responsible for and what aren’t needful. I say no to a lot of things. I say yes to a few things. I try to simplify and declutter so I can focus on what really matters. This is a painful process of letting go and allowing God to put His finger on things that aren’t BEST for me. I’ve learned that good is often the enemy of the best. As I do regularly, I asked my parents and mentors to speak into areas that were broken and needed healed. Their perspectives are windows into my life that sometimes I can’t see and need clarity on. I’m grateful for their direction and reproof.
There are ways God immediately did surgery on my heart to remove things that didn’t need to be there in order to Practice His Presence. I fasted from certain things for a period of time before reevaluating and learning what holds (good or bad) those things had on my attention. This is still a process I’m in.
All that to say…I’m being renewed in 2020. Learning what Practicing His Presence means. Learning about soul rest so I can be stronger to serve Jesus. Seeing areas of my life that need to be sanctified and healed. I’d be a liar if I didn’t tell you that it hurts like crazy. Lots of tears. White-knuckle gripping the things I want to keep, but aren’t best for me. Surrendering isn’t easy because it requires death to self.
Practice His Presence.
Practice is something that we do because we are learning. Growing into. Never achieving fully, but hopefully becoming better and more experienced in. It’s a day-in-day-out activity that we have to intentionally schedule in, prioritize and place an importance on. If we never practice, we will never be able to actually make it a part of our character. Repetition is a way of weaving something into the fibers of who we are. Habit can be equally good as it is bad…depending on what you’re practicing.
Isaiah 30:15 says, “For the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, has said: ‘You will be delivered by returning and resting; your strength will lie in quiet confidence, but you are not willing.’” There have been a thousand times when I have thought that my victory was in me DOING. Achieving. Running around ragged…as if it were a spiritual gift or made me a better Christian. That somehow spending every last ounce of my energy, and perhaps even more than I actually had to give, would get me a place of position in God’s better graces. That when I crashed after weeks of expending every drop of sweat and blood in ministry, it was a good sign.
I’ve been a person to run myself ragged more times than I care to admit. Just a year ago I crashed in the middle of a ministry trip. Majorly. Not enough sleep and soul rest led me to the brink of burn out. I got up one day in the middle of a prison ministry week and couldn’t keep my eyes open for devotions. I literally stood up doing my Scripture time and dozed off standing up. My tank was bone-dry. It was pathetic at best. I had made the serving of Jesus more important than the being with Him. Rest would be there when I could get around to it! I had drove myself to a dangerous place physically. Unsafe, really. My team rallied around me in prayer and stepped up to lead. I went back to my bunk and slept for a solid seven more hours! That sealed the deal in my mind. I had to prioritize rest for the health of my body and soul…so I could serve well in a spiritual capacity.
There is nothing spiritual about draining your tank so low that your own relationship with Jesus suffers and your body can’t even stand up after a short night’s sleep. It actually show us that we think we are indivisible. Even Jesus Himself prioritized getting alone with His Father and refilling spiritually. Rest is key to our spiritual, soul, and body health. As this Scripture reminds us: “You will be delivered by returning and resting; your strength will lie in quiet confidence, but you are not willing.” Are we willing to practice resting in Jesus? Prioritizing our soul health so we can serve Jesus well? This is the essence of why God created the Sabbath.
Being like Jesus isn’t easy. In fact, it’s arguably the hardest thing to do. After all, He’s perfect and I am totally not. Psalm 73:28, “But as for me, God’s presence is my good. I have made the Lord God my refuge, so I can tell about all You do.” His Presence is peace. Our Identity. Our hope. Everything we need is in His Presence. Too often, I have gathered feelings about myself from the voices around me…whether they were good or bad determined how I felt about myself. The mirror had more of a voice than my Creator. I’ve let people who barely know me speak things into me that I took and gave them more weight than the One who made me.
His Voice has to be the loudest. The most valued. The biggest weight. That part is up to me. I choose who I listen to and how much I allow their voice to carry weight. It has to be HIM. HIS VOICE. HIS TRUTH.
This is the essence of being. Our loved ones would rather us BE WITH US than for us to give them all manner of other things and not ourselves. God wants our time too. He wants us to BE with Him. As He is with us. God with us= Emmanuel.
Acts 4:13 says, “When they observed the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed and recognized that they had been with Jesus.” It wasn’t what they were wearing or how they were carrying themselves or what was in their bank account. It wasn’t their job positions or educations. It was this one thing that set them apart: they had been with JESUS.
When is the last time I have BEEN WITH Jesus? Presence. When have I last sat with Him, given Him all my attention, and listened quietly? More often I am reading Scripture because I know it’s good for me and then rushing off on the next to-do list project.
As I’ve read about Jesus through the Gospels, I notice one major thing: He practiced BEING WITH people way more than I do. I like doing stuff for people. I like talking with people. I’m an extrovert who loves people.
But what if my doing and talking didn’t actually carry as much meaning as my BEING WITH those I love? That’s a disappointing truth…since I’m not very good at the BEING WITH part.
I’ve noticed that even my young nieces and nephews prefer my presence over my stuff. I have several nephews that want to sit next to me and just hold my hand. When there are more than two at a time, this presents a problem…but it is a visual reminder of what Presence really means. They want to be with me.
I can’t help but think that Jesus wants us to be this way too. He wants us to regularly crawl up next to Him, lean against His arm and hold His hand. When we do this, we can actually hear the rhythm of His heart beat and hear His Voice clearly. We can feel the security of being with Him. In His Presence is everything we need.
Practice His Presence.
For the rest of this year, I’m going to be learning what this actually means.