Suffering with chronic pain, praying for adult children (enough said), struggling with standing by as loved ones hurt or spiral into sin, trusting God as He refines my character through individual conflicts and painful situations, and sometimes feeling like I’m battling with my best friend and husband over ridiculous things can destroy every hope of peace.
But, by the grace of God, these moments haven’t snuffed out my Spirit-empowered peace, joy, or gratitude.
While I’ve had to process my feelings, take action and make boundaries when necessary, and release each situation into God’s capable hands through prayer, I’ve been blessed with a strange sense of contentment during these tough times.
Through these trials, I’ve realized the “secret” to contentment has nothing to do with positive thinking, avoidance, or minimizing my emotions. In fact, it’s not about self at all.
The first step toward true contentment begins with complete surrender to God, which grows from accepting our total dependence on God.
As we adjust to the concept of living completely surrendered to and dependent on God, our vision changes and our choices become simple and clear.
A. Rebel against God by questioning His character, criticizing His plan, doubting our value, comparing ourselves to others, or complaining about the hand we’ve been dealt.
B. Trust God’s unchanging character, unconditional love, sovereign goodness, and immeasurable grace, as we rely on His Holy Spirit to help us live according to His life-transforming truth.
If we choose to cling to the wisdom in option B, we can expect God to help us do these six things during difficult seasons of our lives:
1. Trust God’s Word as inerrant, relevant, and purposed truth, the flawless inspired words of God Himself.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God will be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NIV)
We can rely on the Holy Spirit to help us understand and obey Scripture as authoritative, even when we’re tempted to compromise our faith or base our beliefs on our opinions or popular theories, rather than the Bible. There is one truth: Jesus. If we believe in Him, we’ll believe Him.
2. Understand we can do nothing without God.
Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5, NIV)
God won’t force us to obey Him, because true love is not about bondage. But He loves us too much to allow us to remain separated from Him forever; and sin has and always will separate us from God. When we realize how much we need God, we’ll be able to depend on God to help us surrender to God. Living in that sweet spot of surrender that leads to the freedom of obedience to God, we won’t be bound or controlled by fears, limitations, feelings of inadequacy, or our sinful nature.
3. Live like we believe we are saved by grace, not works.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith− and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God− not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8, NIV)
When we believe we’re saved by grace, we won’t feel the need to attach our value to our accomplishments, failures, struggles, or abilities. We’ll know who deserves the glory in all things and for all things. We’ll know we’re wanted, not needed, by our all-sufficient and self-sustaining Creator and Redeemer. There’s great joy and freedom in knowing we’re saved by His power, because of His goodness and love, and used for His purpose as He sees fit.
4. Serve God and people, knowing nothing we do is useless when we’re motivated by love for God and people.
“Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58, NIV)
God commands us to love the Lord with all of our hearts, souls, minds and strength. He doesn’t command us to just believe in Him, or to just be a good person. The demons believe in God, and tremble. Jesus says if we love Him we’ll obey Him and obedience will not be a burden to us. Love motivates us to give everything, to risk everything for the object of our devotion. Whatever we do in the name of Love is a gift of gratitude and adoration. God uses every love offering in the way He deems necessary. Our Almighty King of Kings is never wasteful.
5. Accept our small part is a deliberate and important part of God’s bigger purpose for the Body of Christ.
“But God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” (1 Corinthians 12:18, NIV)
Comparing ourselves to others stems from being dissatisfied with ourselves. In essence, we’re saying God didn’t know what He was doing when He created us and planned every day of our lives before one of them came to be. Comparison is a rebellious expression of doubting His sovereign, loving goodness and forgetting this world does not revolve around us or for us. We’re each valuable members of the body of Christ, each designed with purpose for the whole and as a part of the whole. Loving God means trusting Him enough to believe He knows what’s best, which helps us rejoice as He uses us and others according to His will.
6. Understand reliance on God, who cannot be thwarted by our shortcomings, means we aren’t limited either.
“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13, NIV)
Though we can feel puny in this big ol’ world, God is and was and always will be limitless. We can do everything through Christ doesn’t mean He’ll empower us to do things for our benefit or to satisfy our greed or pride, though. Paul’s message in Philippians 4:13 is a reflection of David’s confidence proclaimed in Psalm 29: “The LORD gives strength to his people; the LORD blesses his people with peace” (v. 11). The vital detail, that many might like to skim over or ignore, is that both David and Paul have recorded histories of living fully surrendered to and completely dependent on God.
A life surrendered to and dependent on God is a daily commitment requiring a willingness to trust His unchanging character in and through seasons of stillness or hardship.
We can experience heart-deep peace once we accept our lives are secured and valuable because of who God is and what God has done, not what we do, what we have, what we accomplish, or the details of our current circumstances.
In the light of His truth, we begin to see our current circumstances are just that, current circumstances.
We can praise Him with every breath as we remember God’s ultimate purpose magnifies God’s limitless power.
Lord, thank You for revealing Your unchanging truth and trustworthy character. Please give us wisdom and courage to be completely dependent on You, as we experience the freedom, peace, and joy of being totally surrendered to You. In Jesus’ name, Amen
Photo taken by and Meme created by X.E. Dixon
Over the last week, while people planned breakfasts in bed, sent flowers, wrapped gifts, made cards, and prepared for the yearly calls, visits, or video chats to celebrate motherhood, prayer requests trickled in from friends dreading Mother’s Day.
While some people are excited about the festivities, some are wrought with worry, wondering how they’re going to make it through the day without falling apart.
Some people are spending Mother’s Day grieving the loss of a parent or grandparent.
Others are distraught over estranged relationships with their children or stepchildren.
Some are mourning over their inability to conceive a child or the obstacles preventing them from adopting a child.
Others are missing a grown child who lives across the miles.
Some are aching for their children lost through miscarriage, at birth, as a young child, or as an adult.
And so many others are feeling burdened by hurts I can’t even begin to describe in this post.
Sadly, while some deliver fragrant flower bouquets around the world, some smiles will hide deep pain.
Though our pain can tempt us to slip into resentment or depression, Psalm 73 reveals five ways we can prepare to experience God’s power and grace as He turns a heartsick Mother’s Day into a hope-filled Mother’s Day.
- Be honest about our feelings and our situation.
“When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.” (vv. 21-22)
When we express our true emotions to the Lord through prayer, and to a safe person when we ask for intercessory prayer, our emotions won’t be able to get out of control or make us spin out of control. We can ask God to show us where our attitudes need adjusting, where boundaries need to be made, or when we just need time to accept and process how we feel about our circumstances.
- Acknowledge God’s constant and mighty presence.
“Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.” (v. 23)
Making time to rest in God’s presence and allowing His Word to penetrate our hearts will increase our sensitivity to His Spirit. We’ll recognize His voice and His touch and realize we’re never alone, forgotten, or forsaken.
- Trust God’s eternal sovereignty and faithfulness.
“You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.” (v. 24)
Through our prayerful reading of His Holy Word and our surrender to His Holy Spirit, God affirms His plan for us in this world and helps us navigate through each day with our eyes fixed on Jesus, the hope of our eternal glory.
- Live like we remember God is truly enough.
“Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.” (v. 25)
Remembering who God is, and who we are because of what He’s done, helps us embrace the completeness of His sufficiency. People will let us down. Life will include sorrow, pain, and loss. Only Christ can truly satisfy all of our needs and love us perfectly and completely. Once we embrace this truth, we can stop expecting others to fulfill us and be freed to give generously and serve fearlessly from the excess of what God gives us.
- Accept our weaknesses and depend on the Lord alone.
“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (v. 26)
Knowing the extensiveness of our powerlessness apart from God is the first step toward experiencing the freedom and power experienced through our total dependence on God. Our hope in Christ secures our eternity as He empowers us to persevere through the pain. God refreshes our hearts with His truth, which fills us with grateful praise that overflows into the countless ways He enables us to love Him and others.
While our heartache is real and should never be minimized, our peace and joy don’t have to be hijacked by the troubles of this world.
We can’t control our circumstances or the choices other people make, but we have complete control over whether or not we’ll choose to put our trust and faith in Christ alone.
When overwhelmed by hurt, we can raise our arms in sweet surrender and persevere through the power of Holy Spirit, who lives in us.
We can praise the name of Jesus, King of Kings, Lord of Lords.
Yes, some days feel impossible to face.
Yes, some obstacles feel too big to overcome.
Yes, some pain feels unbearable and some brokenness feels beyond repair.
But by the grace of our almighty God, we can echo the heart cry of King David when he says:
“But you are a shield around me, O LORD; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head. To the LORD I cry aloud, and he answers me from his holy hill. I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.” (Psalm 3:3-5, NIV)
Lord, thank You for Your loving and all-sufficient grace. Please keep our heart-deep peace and joy rooted in who You are and what You’ve done, not what we’re going through. Fill us with endless gratitude and complete contentment in You, so that we can bless others through the overflow of Your limitless love and immeasurable mercy. Your goodness and faithfulness are more than enough to warrant our total trust and change our heartsick days into hope-filled days. In Jesus’ name, Amen
Meme Created by Xochitl E. Dixon with Photo Taken by and Used with Permission by Begona Maier.
Years ago, we feasted during a dinner show at Medieval Times in Southern California.
Waitresses served our four course meal on metal platters piled high with large stalks of broccoli, a half of a chicken, and a baked potato the size of a nerf football.
Smiling barmaids poured soda refills before our large iron mugs reached the half-full mark.
Jousting knights faced one another in the center arena. Swordsmen performed an intricately choreographed dance of clashing metal. Clouds of dust rose and fell to the rhythm of each mighty steed’s pounding hooves.
We finished our meals and raised our mugs as the king led his army in a victory lap.
The crowd cheered louder.
Eyes wide, I appreciated the diligence of the knights in shining armor. They must have practiced daily to become master swordsmen.
As a follower of Christ, I understood the necessity of learning how to wield a mighty weapon.
The apostle Paul prepares believers for the war this world rages against the King of Kings.
Paul writes, “Take up the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17)
He says the sword of the Spirit is the Word of God, not like the Word of God.
He proclaims our need for the Holy Spirit in order to battle with courage, confidence, and clarity.
But before we practice, we must be nourished.
Our strength must be fueled as we recline at the King’s table, prayerfully feasting on God’s living and active Word.
Jesus says, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I said to you.” (John 14:26)
All three Persons in the Trinity are present in this one power-packed truth verse.
Jesus spoke, just as He continues to speak through Scripture now. The Father sends. The Holy Spirit teaches and reminds, just as He does while dwelling within Christ’s disciples today.
Power surges from the sword of the Spirit. And it’s our responsibility to learn how to use the sword the King has so graciously given to us.
“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:12-13, NIV)
God’s Word reveals, transforms, empowers and brings understanding.
And Jesus, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, demonstrates how to stand firm on the mighty Word of God.
In Matthew 4, the Holy Spirt led Jesus into the wilderness. The devil tempted Jesus, twisting Scripture, challenging the Son of God by spouting the Father’s words out of context.
The lies didn’t stump Jesus, Creator of the Sword of Truth and Master of Swordsmen−Jesus, the Word, the Truth, the Way, and the Life. He battled satan with Scripture.
The enemy attacks relentlessly, seeking to devour, discourage, and destroy the people of God.
Like the valiant knights in the Medieval Times dinner theater, we need battle drills.
Our practice requires nourishing our spirits and developing muscle memory through the study of and obedience to God’s Word, daily.
The Holy Spirit strengthens our stride and arms us for battle, but we do not fight alone.
God fights for us and with us. He gives us troops to fight alongside us−the Body of Christ.
We need God. We need His Word. We need each other.
Running through daily drills, practicing and more practicing, familiarizes us with our trusty sword’s sharpened edge and prepares us for unexpected attacks.
By God’s grace and in His power, we can lift our hands in praise as our King leads us into victory, one battle at a time.
Lord, thank You for the honor and privilege of being invited to feast on Your Word. Thank You for empowering us to practice our swordsmanship through a lifestyle of worship and obedience. Please fill us with a sense of urgency and excitement to spend quality and quantity time with you every day. Arm us with clarity and understanding. Empower us to stand firm against the enemy’s attacks. And nourish our souls with Your Truth as we share Your story with boldness of faith and courageous confidence. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
What is one thing you can do to make prayerfully reading and applying Scripture more of a priority in your life?
“Wielding the Sword of Truth” by X. E. Dixon was previously published on the FBC Blog – June 11, 2015
A portion of “Wielding the Sword of Truth” by X. E. Dixon was previously published at www.xedixon.com on February 26, 2012
Six months into my pregnancy, Mom decided we needed counseling from Pastor Herbert C. Wilkens.
I was so not feeling it. I hadn’t been to church since the beginning of what Mom called my downward spiral. There was no way a complete stranger could understand what I was going through.
Besides, the last time we asked for a pastor’s help ended up being a complete fail.
Mom had dragged me into Pastor Jim Rosenthal’s office for prayer and guidance, post baby-surprise.
His eyes bore into my belly, forehead creased deep as the tread on brand-new tires. He encouraged me to avoid youth events until after I had the baby, so I wouldn’t feel embarrassed or awkward.
I told Mom he probably thought I was contagious. She laughed, but the vein on her temple throbbed.
The new guy, Pastor Wilkens, welcomed us with a grin splashed ear to ear. He reeked Jesus Freak from his pores.
“It’s nice to meet you,” he said, looking me straight in the eyes. He clapped his massive hands. “Change of plans. I was hoping Melissa could help a friend of mine with a big job.”
“Sure,” I said. Anything was better than being lectured, or even worse, suckered to buy into this pastor, whose eyes still hadn’t dropped to catch a glimpse of my bulging stomach.
He led us into a classroom with yellow walls and introduced us to his friend in need.
I bit my lip. No way!
Shawnee Pearson squatted on the floor arranging piles of paper hearts. Decked in black, including her chipped nail polish, she sported piercings and purple hair.
After Pastor Wilkens and my mom ditched us, I braced myself for the inevitable belly stare.
Shawnee hopped up and worked a staple out of the bulletin board with her fingernails. “Are you going to help me, or what?”
I lifted my chin and huffed. “I never figured you for an undercover Christian.”
“You would’ve known I was a Christian if you ever bothered to talk to me at school.”
Ouch! “Whatever.” I helped her cover the bulletin board with white paper. “White’s kind of boring, isn’t it?”
Shawnee’s laugh flitted like hummingbird wings. “It’s better to start with a clean slate.”
She handed me a poster board with Romans 5:8 written across the top. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
I pressed my lips together, tight. Why now?
I didn’t cry when the pink plus sign filled the second window on the pregnancy test. I didn’t cry when Jacob blamed me for getting pregnant and ruining his life.
I didn’t cry when my friends suddenly got too busy to hang out with me.
I didn’t even cry when Mom broke down after I aired my dirty little secret.
Or when Dad left the room, without a word, and transformed into The Master of Avoidance.
“It’s not the end of the world, you know,” said Shawnee.
She handed me a red strip of border decorated with white hearts. “There’s always adoption. And if you keep it . . . well, the kid will be in pre-school when you go to college.”
“College? Are you kidding me?” I held the border in place while Shawnee stapled. “My life is over.”
She showed me a sheet of paper blanketed with multi-colored crayon scribbles. “What do you think?”
I sniffed, wiping under my eyes, hoping my mascara wasn’t running. Brown streaked fingertips guaranteed that, once again, hoping wasn’t going to be good enough. “It’s a big mess.”
Shawnee matted the picture onto a piece of red construction paper and stapled it to the bulletin board. She stepped back, tilted her head and plopped her palms on her hips. “Look at the whole picture.”
The frame embraced the twirling, swirling colors, highlighting speckles of orange and yellow. “It’s still a mess.” I shrugged. “But, now, it’s kind of pretty.”
Shawnee grinned. “That red frame is like the blood of Christ. God’s love surrounds us, transforms us, and makes our mess beautiful.”
“My mess is so not beautiful.” I tried to stretch my jacket over my bulge. Fat chance! “You don’t understand.”
“Jesus understands. He knows what it feels like to be rejected, abandoned, and alone.” Shawnee brushed her fingers over the crayon scribbles. “He understands hard times and temptation.”
“You believe that?”
“Uh, Yeah. God wipes our sin away because He loves us, Melissa. And the Holy Spirit helps us not to repeat our mistakes.”
“I’m stuck with my mistake forever,” I said, cheeks flaming. “What do you know, anyway?”
She raked a hand through her purple locks. “I was in rehab before we moved here.” Her eyes welled. “I tried to overdose after I had an abortion.”
Whoever said silence was golden must have never been right smack in the middle of an awkward moment.
I wanted to race out of the room. But, I felt a strange urge to hug the girl. Pregnancy hormones would be the death of me, moods switching quick as twists on a rollercoaster.
I picked up an oversized heart and the stapler. “You could use my help when you change these theme boards,” I said.
Shawnee’s eyes narrowed. “You’re not scared that hanging out with a drugged up Goth will ruin your reputation?”
“It’s a little too late to be worried about my reputation.” I pointed to my belly. “Besides, you said God gives us a clean slate, remember?”
Glancing at my swollen stomach, she shook her head and stapled another scribbled masterpiece onto the board. “The baby’s not the mistake, you know. The sin was stepping out of God’s will and having sex before marriage.”
She touched her flat abs. “Your life’s not over. But you can have a new life, a better one, with God’s help.”
“Read His instruction manual, for starters. You know, the Bible. And talk to Him like you would talk to your best friend.”
“I don’t have a best friend.” The words were sour milk in my mouth. “I don’t have any friends, anymore.”
“You’ve got me.” Shawnee nudged me with her elbow. “More importantly, you’ve got Jesus.” Her laugh tugged my smile out of hiding.
As I tossed useless scraps into the trashcan, I prayed for the first time in forever.
Lord, thanks for giving me a new friend. Please help me know You better so I can live like I believe what You say about me. Help me trust that because You love and understand me completely, even when I make mistakes, I’m a beautiful mess.
Have you ever thought your sin was too big to be covered by God’s grace and forgiveness?
How does knowing God loves us so much that He’s willing forgive and redeem the biggest sins change the way you think about confessing sins and believing in the hope of forgiveness?
“A Beautiful Mess” by X. E. Dixon was previously published in ENCOUNTER−The Magazine on January 30, 2012.
Photo taken and used with permission by Lindsie West
During the last few months of my mom’s life, she embraced God’s ultimate healing, testifying with a gentle smile and a mantra of unshakeable peace and heart-deep joy:
“God is good. And that’s all there is to it.”
In a recent study of Psalm 100, I discovered 7 truths that help me echo my mom’s mantra and experience joy that doesn’t depend on my circumstances, my abilities, or my feelings.
- Joy is a contagious attitude and a community adventure.
The psalmist begins with a simple invitation.
“Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth.” (v. 1)
The privilege of proclaiming Jesus as our Lord and Savior is reason enough to shout joyfully, but the psalmist’s use of the phrase “all the earth” affirms an aspect of joy often neglected.
We need personal relationships with God and others if we want to thrive in pure joy.
Sure there are conflicts in the church. We’re sinners in dire need of a Savior, learning how to love Him and others. But, community also offers a God-given support network.
When one struggles, the rest serve and encourage with prayerful support. When one rejoices, praise bursts through the sanctuary.
We exalt God as we commune with God and each other, and true joy becomes contagious to the world.
- Serving is a privilege to rejoice in, not gripe about.
The psalmist writes, “Serve the LORD with gladness . . .” (v. 2a)
Selfless service always results in gladness. But we often serve to fulfill selfish needs for attention, affirmation, and acclamation. This squelches joy and can damage relationships, as well as our testimony.
People who don’t know God watch closely when believers face hardships or handle conflict while working together. If we’re complaining or displaying crotchety attitudes or critical spirits, serving becomes more of a chore than a blessing.
But when we’re motivated by love and gratitude for all God’s done for us, the genuine joy of Christian interdependence and service becomes desirable to us and to those who have yet to experience the joy of serving.
- Entering God’s presence is cause for joyful praise.
The psalmist beckons God’s people to “come before Him with joyful singing.” (v. 2b)
This joy is not evidenced by faking laughter, smiles, or a positive attitude.
Authentic joy is a result of experiencing God’s love so deeply that we respond in grateful praise.
Genuine joy stems from confidence in knowing who God is, was and always will be, in accordance to His Holy Word.
When we think about the One True God inviting us to spend time with Him, simply because He loves us unconditionally and completely, how can we not sing happy songs?
- Joyful confidence in knowing God minimizes pride and the pressure to be self-sufficient.
The psalmist declares, “Know that the LORD Himself is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves.” (v. 3a)
Although it’s often hard for us to believe, life does not revolve around us or depend on us.
When we rely on self and neglect spending time with our Savior, our strength eventually depletes, our worries rise, our peace wanes, and our joy fizzles out.
But as we draw near to the Father daily, the Holy Spirit affirms our value is determined by our intimate relationship with Christ.
Joy becomes as natural as breathing when we remain dependent on God, not ourselves, and focused on God, not our mirrors.
- Joy roots deep in hearts that know God loves and cares for us, just because we’re His.
“We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.” (v. 3b)
We belong to God.
As beloved members of His flock, we’re never alone unless we choose to wander. Even then, our Good Shepherd remains with us, reins us in, redeems us, and renews us through His unconditional love and forgiveness.
Loving Him leads to loving others.
True joy abounds within authentic relationships, as we experience the nurturing power of intimacy with God and His family.
- With repentance and obedience to Christ, our joy is as secure as our place in eternity.
Because of the Lord’s glorious adoption, we can . . .
“Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name.” (v. 4)
No matter what we’ve done or from where we’ve come, God offers us an opportunity to repent and receive His life-transforming forgiveness.
Once we belong to God, joy rests in His worthiness, now and forevermore.
We have countless reasons to be thankful as we bless His Holy Name.
- God’s unchanging character fuels our joy, until He comes again.
The psalmist writes, “For the LORD is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations.” (v. 5)
God is simply and completely, altogether good.
His truth is constant, dependable, relevant, and trustworthy.
His love crosses generation lines and penetrates all generations to come.
When we believe God is the only one who will self-sufficiently endure forever, joy infuses every aspect of our lives.
As we experience the power of these seven truths in our day-to-day living, we can offer God grateful praise in all circumstances.
And like my mom, we can joyfully declare with quiet and confident strength, “God is good. And that’s all there is to it.”
Lord, please help us draw near to You daily as Your truth affirms our joy is secured in Your unchanging character and limitless love for us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
An early version of “7 Truths about Joyful Living” by X. E. Dixon was published on the FBCVV website on April 8 2015.