God Says No; Why Can’t I?

I’m sick–with a people-pleasing disease. My symptoms include:

-Avoiding use of the word “no” in my everyday vocabulary.
-Physically cringing at the idea of letting others down.
-Filling my calendar with 27 hours worth of tasks within a 24 hour period.
-Having unrealistic expectations of myself; over-exaggerating my interpretations of others’ expectations of me.
-Anxiety through the roof.
-Gut reaction to “Can you..” is “Of course.”

But here’s the thing. This “disease” is not of God. He would never call me to such a destructive and unhealthy habit. In fact, God says no. He celebrates no. His no’s are beautiful, life-giving, wonderful no’s. He models heathy no’s for us in scripture and in our daily life. So why is it so hard for us to say that two letter word?

Society condems no. The world around us is fast-paced. Everyone expects immediate responses. Everyone craves instant gratification. We lack focus and drive towards one thing, instead dabbling in bits and pieces of a million different things. We share our lives on multiple platforms and function in a time where communication is virtually instant. Thus, we strive to been seen as perfect; we say yes to everything and everyone, no to nothing and no one. The only problem? We can’t do it. It’s physically impossible. 

And we weren’t designed to do it all. God sets our boundary lines in pleasant places. Scripture tells us to let our yes mean yes and our no mean no. In Christ, we can find freedom from our unhealthy people-pleasing habits. We are called to do everything to the glory of God, to work as if we are working for the Lord not for man, and to live not to win the approval of others but to glorify our Father. 

Christ–dare I say it–let people down. People wanted Him to come in and have an earthly reign, they expected Him to crush their oppressors, and they longed for Him to show them signs (on top of His already miraculous works). But Christ, in acknowledgement of God’s control and perfect plan, and in humble submission to His will, denied people these things they wanted of Him. He said, “no.” And what a beautiful no it was. Could you imagine Christ working only for the sinful pleasure of people rather than the holy glory of God? What a mess we would be in. 

Thankfully, Christ said “yes, Father” to His plans. And because of that, His death and resurrection, we can enter into a relationship with Him. We can receive the gift of salvation and the Holy Spirit can enter us. By God’s sovereignty, by Christ’s humility, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can learn to fight this people-pleasing disease. We can grow into children of God who are driven solely by the glory of God, rather than the pleasure of others. We can learn to listen to His leadership and say yes to the things He calls us to, and no to the things He doesn’t call us to. 

Praise God that His plan for us isn’t to make humanity “happy” — but to spread the Gospel so humanity can experience true JOY. 

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The New Song I’m Singing

sing to the Lord a new songMy prayer the past couple of months has been for the Lord to give me a new song to sing. I didn’t know what exactly I was asking for when I began praying, I was just longing for something fresh to bloom in the depths of my weary soul. I didn’t know if a new song meant a refreshed spirit or a different state of mind or a literal song. I’ve been finding myself getting lost in the Psalms referring to new songs, yearning for understanding and crying out to feel the joy that the Psalmists must have felt when they declared that the Lord put a new song in their heart.

As I journeyed through the Psalms and through the book of Lamentations, phrases I read were sticking with me, clinging to my heart; I couldn’t shake them off. I began to see the linking together of these verses written so long ago. They were telling the story of God’s people, the aches of their heart, the struggles of their soul. They were telling the story of the Lord’s redemption of and care for His people. They were telling the story of my turmoil in a way I could not do myself. My new song, tells the story of my weary soul being pulled out of the pits by my loving Father. It speaks Truth and Promises for me to cling to as I continue to walk with Him.

Here I am in the deepest and darkest despair
Here I am in the valley of shadows
I know You are near, but I cannot see You
Why have You hidden Your face from me?

Why are you cast down o my soul, my soul
Why are you in turmoil against me
Why does my heart ache when I should feel joy
Where have You gone, God of Comfort?

You lifted me up
And You called me out
You brought me from darkness into Light
You gave me a new song
To proclaim Your glory
You found me worthy to save

As You bend down to listen, Lord hear my cry
Please do not forget me
You know when I sit and when I rise
Lord, won’t You walk with me?

You lifted me up
And You called me out
You brought me from darkness into Light
You gave me a new song
To proclaim Your glory
You found me worthy to save

Preserve me, O Lord, in You I take refuge
You are my God, I’m no good without You
You’re my chosen portion and great delight
Your words are pure and your promises right

You lifted me up
And You called me out
You brought me from darkness into Light
You gave me a new song
To proclaim Your glory
You found me worthy to save, worthy to save

An Ephesians 5 Man

This week in small group, we decided to toss the questions provided to guide discussion and simply dig into scripture on our own. Just your average college aged girl leading a group of high school girls in a study solely looking at the word of God, without any outside curriculum… A truly crazy idea, am I right?

Wrong. It’s not crazy at all. It’s a beautiful thing when you let God’s word speak for itself and allow room for the Holy Spirit to move. It’s an exciting thing to see young women read a passage of scripture, pull out information, put it in their own words, and grasp its relevancy.

The topic of the night was boys. I didn’t want to have a surface level discussion about crushes and peer pressure. Those are all things I as their small group leader am there to talk about with them, but are also all things that scripture can speak to. That night I wanted to have a discussion rooted in scripture that taught them that God’s word is as relevant now as it was 2,000 years ago.

So listen up, ladies. My high school girls are about to teach you a thing or two about what a man of God really looks like. Here’s what we learned by walking verse by verse through Ephesians 5:

v1: He is an imitator of God.
v2: He walks in love.
v3: He isn’t characterized by sexual immorality, impurity, or covetousness/idolatry.
v4: His speech isn’t full of filthy/foolish talk or crude jokes. He also exudes thankfulness.
v6: He doesn’t deceive you with empty words.
v7: We are not to enter into intimate relationship with people who are characterized by these things because they will “dull your shine.”
v8-10: He walks in light and strives to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.
v15: He walks wisely.
v16: He uses his time wisely.
v17: He seeks God.
v18: He doesn’t get drunk and is instead filled with the Spirit. Real life quote of one of my girls: “He’s not hunky if he’s a drunky.”
v21: He reveres (has great respect for) Christ.
v23: He is a Christlike leader.
v25: He loves you as Christ loves the church and makes sacrifices for you.
v26: He is interested in your sanctification (your growth, your process of becoming more like Christ).
v28: He loves you as he loves his own body.
v29: He nourishes and cherishes you.
v33: We are to respect him.

Note: These qualities are things we should all strive for, whether we are a man or a woman. In this context, though, we were finding qualities we should be looking for in a future husband.

We were able to walk through this passage and gain an understanding of the type of guy we should be looking, praying, and waiting for. We talked about understanding that we are all sinful and will all fall short of these things (so not to hold ourselves and others to outrageous or legalistic expectations), but to be aware that if someone is continually showing a pattern of red flags we should reevaluate whether a relationship with them is healthy or not. We shared stories, struggles, and spent time encouraging each other. It was truly a sweet time together, and guess what? All we needed was God’s word and His presence!

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A New Song

sing-to-the-lord-a-new-song

“Sing to the Lord a new song…”

I was sitting at a conference about six weeks ago listening to a session taught by Richard Chin. He began by reading verses from Psalm 98. “Oh sing to the Lord a new song,
for He has done marvelous things!” Chin kept reading but my mind stopped there. In that moment I got stuck on this idea of singing new songs, and I have been mulling over it for about six weeks.

Come to find out, the phrase “new song” is found nine times in the Bible:

Psalm 40:3 – He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God…
Psalm 96:1 – Sing to the LORD a new song; Sing to the LORD, all the earth.
Psalm 33:3 – Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy.
Psalm 98:1 – O sing to the LORD a new song, for He has done wonderful things…
Psalm 149:1 – Praise the LORD! Sing to the LORD a new song
Isaiah 42:10 – Sing to the LORD a new song, sing His praise from the end of the earth!
Psalm 144:9 – I will sing a new song to You, O God…I will sing praises to You.
Revelation 5:9 – And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You…”
Revelation 14:3 – And they sang a new song before the throne…
I am also reminded of Mary’s song in Luke 1. Oh how I long to be like Mary, singing praises to the Lord because I am so full of joy.
All of these verses appear to be speaking about songs of joy and praise. Do new songs have to be joyful ones? What if the songs in my heart are more so songs of lamentation?

John Piper said, “There is a deep release and a relief that comes when we find a way of seeing and saying some precious or stunning reality that comes a little closer to closing the breach between what we’ve glimpsed with our mind and what we’ve grasped with our heart.”

As much as I long for the songs from deep within my soul to be ones of pure joy, I think my songs of sorrow can bring just as much glory to the Lord. In this season of my life, I have experienced more heartbreak, pain, anxiety, and despair than I ever knew was possible. One thing after another, it seemed, was being thrown at me. The Lord, though, remained faithful.

I experienced new depths of His grace and mercy. Even in the deepest and darkest corners of my mind and heart, His love and light broke through. I experienced His relentless love and comfort in ways I never had before. I learned to rely on Him to supply my needs. As what I knew in my head to be true of God was being taught to me in real ways through my circumstances, my heart began to grasp the knowledge in a new way. My new song began to form.

When driving home alone late at night reflecting on my day, when waking up in the morning to an overwhelming day, and when spending time with sweet friends that speak truth to me, the Lord works in me new songs. He puts words to my aches and to my laughs, and helps me to piece together the displays of His sovereignty so that I may articulate His character in such a way that brings Him honor and glory.

I wish I could say that I have been fully delivered from this season of heavy depression and anxiety and that I am singing new songs of great joy. The truth is, I am still walking through it. But, the Lord, in His goodness, has put a new song in my heart that I will gladly sing as I fight to rest in Him.

As I’ve learned from David’s psalms, it is okay to cry out to the Lord. It is okay to be honest, to speak of our sufferings, and to be transparent about our broken and crushed spirits. In fact, there’s roughly 65 Psalms that do just that. How encouraging to know that others before us have also cried out songs of lamentation to God.

It is important to remember that we must combat our struggles with the truth of God. In the psalms of lament that I’ve read, I’ve noticed a pattern. The writers speak of their pain, but also speak truth about who God is and what He has done. That is the beauty of the songs we sing; that they reveal sweet truths about our Father, whether they are songs of joy or songs of sorrow.

As I wrestled with the idea of what a new song should look like, I realized this simple truth: Regardless of my circumstances, and despite the groanings of my soul, my songs should praise God for who He is and what he has done. This I can do when I am overflowing with joy and this I must fight to do when I am drowning in pain.

 

The People on the Fridge

hold-onSome people have alphabet magnets on the fridge. Some people use their fridge to display achievements; like an A+ on a test, or an awesome behavior report. Some people keep their doors bare, and others stick everything they can onto them–calendars, invitations, coupons, etc. For as long as I can remember, my grandparents’ refrigerator door has been covered with pictures.

With the exception of a few pictures of my family, the majority of the faces on the fridge were faces of people I did not know; faces of people who gave up comfortable lives in the States for lives spent working in foreign countries. I remember so many times standing in their kitchen staring at the door, reading the names and locations written in the corners of each picture. I loved hearing stories of these people from my grandparents, and I loved hearing stories of my grandparents’ own travels.

My grandparents used to go on month-long trips each year. I distinctly remember one year, after we picked up my grandparents from the airport, we went back to their house to hear about their trip and to get our gifts they brought us (because let’s be real, that’s the part kids care about the most). They brought me a doll, as they did each year, and some Thai Winnie the Pooh books. That night, they were talking about long-term workers they met, and I remember thinking how cool those people were and how cool their job was. Some of these people were added to the fridge.

Fast-forward roughly 10 years, and there was little 15 year old me hopping on a plane to Nicaragua for my first international trip. I honestly signed up for the trip because I thought it was the cool thing to do. I wanted to have the pictures of manual labor, hugging orphans, and be able to tell others that I brought people to Him. My heart aches thinking about how self-centered I was going into that trip, but my heart also rejoices at how much my mindset changed during that week.

Everything changed the afternoon we spent at an orphanage/school/group home for people with intellectual, developmental, and physical disabilities. My heart broke when I saw the facility. It was so overcrowded and understaffed. Their uniforms looked like circus outfits. Their living quarters were minimal. There were even rooms that looked like cages for zoo animals. I remember being so broken, thinking about the differences in how the US views and treats individuals with special needs versus how Nicaragua does. At this point in my life, I already knew I wanted to go to college to study Special Education, but Nicaragua showed me how much other countries need change in their systems. It also inspired me to do more here at home.

Long story short, I went back to Nicaragua the next year and that is when I really started thinking about doing this long-term. I came home from the second trip with the perfect plan: I would graduate college, marry the man of my dreams, and we would spend two years living overseas before starting a family back in the US. There are so many things wrong with the plan I had. The first and biggest problem was actually having the plan. I think we get ourselves into trouble when we make plans like that; we invest so much into it that when things don’t work out according to the plan, we freak out. (Spoiler alert: things didn’t work out and I did freak out.)

Senior year…nothing crazy happened, but He was at work. It was a seemingly picture-perfect year. I had a boyfriend, won homecoming queen, made straight A’s, got into college, knew what I wanted to major in, earned amazing scholarships, the whole shabang. From the outside, everything seemed to be falling into place. On the inside, a lot of things were falling apart and I was freaking out. I was so dissatisfied with my life. Nothing made me happy. My joy was suppressed because I was trying to find fulfillment in having a perfect life. I was not spending time with the Lord; I was just going through the motions so people would think I was some great girl. I even fooled myself into thinking I was that great girl. Well, surprise! Going through the motions doesn’t offer any sanctification or growth. Lukewarm people get spit out. Branches that bear no fruit are thrown into the fire. This continued until my freshman year of college.

My first year of college was definitely difficult, but was also a time of great growth for me. The Lord led me to strip myself of some distractions and through that my reliance on Him grew each day. I earned straight A’s, had a great job, and was cultivating some really great friendships. This go around, my hope and strength and satisfaction was from the Lord. It’s amazing what putting the Lord first will do. It’s crazy how it can and will change everything!

The summer before my sophomore year of college I signed up for a 2 week, mid-semester trip to Nepal—so clearly, things were still going well, right? Sure…until I started to miss the familiar and comfortable things about my life that I “gave up.” I looked for answers from the Lord and when He did not give them or have one I didn’t like, I’d morph things so that they fit my plan. Time with the Lord decreased, I withdrew from friends, and the anxieties of work and school were taking over. I didn’t like my life. I felt like I was constantly treading water; my joy was suppressed.

One day, a million little things were going wrong (along with the regular college breakdown of “what am I doing with my life” mixed with a little bit of “can I drop out yet”) and a simple conversation with someone caused me to snap. I felt alone, incapable, and like I had nowhere to go. The things and people I was chasing were crumbling around me and rejecting me and I felt worthless. I remember walking to my car on campus trying to hold in tears until I got to my car; the floodgates broke 30 yards from the parking garage. I knew I had a choice. I could cry for a minute, suck it up, and go into work pretending everything was fine…or I could submit to being broken and search for help. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit gave me the boldness to do the latter. I got in my car and drove straight to work and walked right into a coworkers’ office.

This happened just a few days before I was supposed to hop on a plane to the other side of the world. So, combine school stress with work stress and now mix in crazy amounts of feelings of inadequacy and you’ve got a girl, 3 days before an important trip, who is being crippled by anxiety and fear to the point where she’s constantly crying and getting physically ill. I contemplated not going; I felt horrible inside and out and thought there was no way that I would be an asset on the trip with considering how weak (spiritually and physically) I was. Thankfully, though I had been tuning out the Holy Spirit’s guidance for so long I wasn’t even sure what it felt like, I felt that there was still some kind of purpose in me going.

The actual trip deserves its own post, so I’ll save the details for that and just give you the bare bones of what God taught me for now.

  1. Nothing else matters when eternity is at stake. School, work, relationships…they all take the back seat to our call as disciples.
  2. When you are obedient to God’s call and are walking in His will, the details you were once so concerned about will seem so small.
  3. Everything else I learned can be traced back to #1 or #2.

The reason I took this long detour about my life in a post where I began talking about refrigerators is I wanted to show that after a lot of wrestling, prayer, running, and hiding…I feel like I’m supposed to be like those people on the fridge. In the midst of one of the most overwhelming times of my life and through the past few months of working through some difficult things, God has remained constant and His call (Matthew 28:19-20) has never changed. I’ve wished it would for the sake of comfort and I’ve tried to twist it to fit my hopes of an easy life in America—you know, by thinking/saying things like, “He wouldn’t really ask me to move across the world and leave my family,” and “Well, there are many people from other nations coming to the States, so maybe staying would be just as beneficial.” The first excuse is a flat out unbiblical lie (see Luke 9:23, 9:60, and 14:26). The second is an accurate statement, but is sinful for me to say because it is not what I truly feel the Lord calling me to. He may very well guide me that way, but right now, I cannot let myself diminish what I feel led to.

Despite my current struggles, doubts, and fears, I have full confidence in the Lord’s power to use ordinary, broken people to make His name great. I refuse to be lukewarm. I refuse to fall into the stereotypical American lifestyle. Praise the Lord that despite my disobedience and despite my inadequacy, He still can and will use me.

Pray for me as I continue to seek guidance from Him about my future. And friends, keep an open space on your fridge for me.

Mondays & Missions

It’s Monday. The weather is dreary. And I only have one more day of summer. My mind is flooded with all the things I need to do before classes start on Wednesday…I’m stressing out about juggling school and multiple jobs…And the problem is, I can’t blame my days filled with panic and anxiety on anything but my own lack of reliance on my Father. I find myself worrying too often about checking things off of my to-do list and fighting too hard to stay on a strict schedule.

God is bigger than my problems and better than my plans.

This is something I will need to be reminded of constantly this semester. To be honest, I’m really nervous about the next few months of school. Not because I’m taking difficult classes (although Calc II might kick my butt), but because I’ve decided to take a 14 day trip to the other side of the world in the middle of the semester.

My “plans” for this year did not involve begging professors to allow me to miss class and make up assignments, working extra hours to have money to save, or going to a country where I’m not even sure I’m going to like any of the food (I’m kidding…kind of). My “plans” involved maintaining my 4.0 GPA, stepping away from one of my jobs, and having a relaxed and fun semester. But God is bigger than school and work, and His plans are always better than my own.

Earlier this year, Nepal experienced a major earthquake followed by intense aftershocks. Because of its location near the Indian and Eurasian Plates, Nepal is likely to experience earthquakes of all kind; but quakes of this magnitude are only expected every few hundred years. Through this devastating event, an incredible door has been opened for people to enter the country and offer physical and spiritual aid. That is what I have the opportunity to do in October.

Along with a handful of amazing people from my church, I will get to spend roughly two weeks loving on the people of Nepal. We will help with disaster relief efforts and partner with some workers that are already there. I am so excited (and slightly terrified…in a good way) to go on this trip! I feel that God is calling me towards long-term missions, and am praying this trip will offer clarity as to where He wants me after graduation.

Will you pray with and for me as I prepare for this trip? Here are a few requests:

  • Pray for my priorities to be God-glorifying, and for my heart and mind to be set on the furthering of His kingdom rather than any personal gain.
  • Pray that my anxieties about missing school will be eased, and that my professors’ hearts will be softened so that those who have not already agreed to work with me will do so.
  • Pray that I can raise enough money for my trip, both by saving my earnings and by receiving donations. More specifically, that I can rely on God to provide and not on my own ability to do so.

If you feel led to donate towards my trip, you can make a tax deductible donation via my Missions Fund page, here. I can also accept checks made out to “Ashleigh Houser” or “Providence Church” and I have a PayPal account that I can direct you to. Any amount is helpful and is greatly appreciated.

-Ashleigh

P.S. – If you want to know more about my interest in missions and what God has been laying on my heart, be looking for another post soon.