Why New Year Is in the Dead of Winter

It’s fascinating to me that our New Year here in the West occurs in the dead of Winter. I know other cultures’ New Year occurs at different times of the year, and that’s great. I’m sure God is speaking to all cultures with the timing of their New Year celebration, but I’m only qualified to write about my own culture. What is God saying to us in the West?

Wouldn’t it make more sense for the New Year to be at the start of Spring, when everything’s budding and coming back to life? Maybe in some cultures it is; what an awesome time that must be. But God worked through our history to make our New Year when all the leaves are off the trees and everything’s dead. Why do you suppose that is?

I’ve heard a pastor say that leaves don’t actually change color in Fall. They reveal the true color they actually are when not getting overridden by all that green chlorophyll. The point he was making is, in the Autumn of your life, your true colors will show.

What are your hidden colors? Do they reflect the grace and healing of God’s empowerment in your life, or do they still reflect your wounding?

There’s nothing wrong, by the way, with being in a place of wounding. Acknowledging where you’re at is the first step to get healing. Run to God in those times, not away from him. The problem comes when we run away from God and to our chlorophyll of choice to hide our wounded colors, in our own strength.

What is your chlorophyll of choice? Control? Addiction? Entitlement? Performance? (Personally, I’m really good at performance, more about that later.)

Have you ever wondered why we don’t go straight from Fall to Spring? After all, why can’t the new leaves just push out the old? Why do we have to go through a cold, bare-root season first? Why do we have to get stripped down to nothing? Maybe there’s something necessary going on inside the trunk of the tree that’s getting ready for Spring. Maybe Spring couldn’t come without this time of preparation.

What happens when circumstances and struggles reveal our wounding and our chlorophyll of choice stops working? What happens when all the leaves are off the trees of our lives? Maybe when we’re stripped down to the bare trunk, maybe that’s when we hear God best. Maybe because then we have to and we don’t have any other choice. Maybe out of his great love and mercy for us, he’s stripped away everything that distracted us from his voice.

I think God considers that place the beginning. That’s where his New Year starts. Because when all the outside is stripped away, there’s nothing left but to work on the heart. And that’s what he’s always wanted, to heal our wounding and give us a new heart.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26)

I’m up for that. My hidden colors were worthlessness and rejection. The lie I believed was, “I am unlovable.” My chlorophyll of choice was being nice, being a servant to all. Dying to myself, literally, to a fault. My bitter root expectation was, “You’re going to reject me. So I’m not going to give you a reason. I’m going to be as lovable as possible, so that when (not if) you reject me, it’s on you.” We call this performance orientation, and I got really good at it, unfortunately.

God had to take me through a bare-root, cold Winter season. He had to strip away all the false leaves and false colors I used to protect my heart, in order to take that structure of lies and inner vows and bitter root expectations down.

Ironically, it’s when I started coming out of those lies that all disaster broke loose. My family fell apart and disintegrated. It hurt. But it was a season. It was only a season (a long season, several years), and I’m coming through it now. Sometimes the enemy’s greatest deception is to trick us into believing the painful season we’re in is forever, which brings desperation and despair. It’s not forever. It’s only a season. Trusting God brings hope through the pain.

He’s still working on me, but I’ve come a long way. He’s brought me into a fresh, bright Spring the last few years. He’s restored relationships I thought would never be restored, while others I still wait for. And he’s using his chlorophyll to work his colors into me.

How about you? What season are you in, here at the turn of the New Year? Tell us in the comments. If you’re in a cold, Winter, bare-root season, we’d love to pray with you. If you’ve come through such a season, please share your story; it will encourage others. And please share on social media if you think this post would bless others.

The Kingdom of God Is Not a Buffet

Ever order a medium rare filet mignon, and it comes out warm-red-center perfect, but with mushrooms on it? What made them think putting fungus on my perfect steak was a good idea?!? At least I can scrape off the mushrooms—Janet will eat them. But when I order Jesus’ resurrection power off the menu of my life, I can’t scrape off the suffering God uses to bring me that power.

The Kingdom of God is not a buffet. We can’t take an extra scoop of God’s power in our lives and just pass on the suffering. The power and the glory come through the suffering. If you’re like me, you’re going, “Really, God? What’s up with that?” But Paul said it best:

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10-11)

Do you see the mystery in these verses? In scripture “know” means “experience”. So experiencing the power of Jesus’ resurrection in our lives is tied to sharing in his suffering. Hmmm. Not my idea of a good time. The suffering part, that is.

But I want Jesus’ resurrection power in my life. In my family. Don’t you? I want to see miracles in my life. I want to see my family members healed when they’re sick. I want to just speak and have the natural world obey me. I want to have an impact on this world. A Kingdom impact. I want to live who he created me to be.

There’s just one catch. Experiencing Jesus’ resurrection power is tied to sharing in his suffering. And Paul uses a very interesting word to describe that sharing. Fellowship. It’s in the suffering, not in the miracles, where we experience fellowship with Jesus. That seems really counter-intuitive to me, but thank God—that’s where we need him the most.

Actually, we could pass on the suffering, or try to. And we will live very mediocre, powerless, “safe” lives, and a lot of people do. Or. Or. Or. We could, just maybe, dare to trust God. Chin up, bear up well under whatever suffering and pain he brings us through, and come out the other side living a wild, Kingdom-of-God adventure like we never even dreamed possible.

What do you think? I’ll take the wild ride. Will you? Does this resonate? Tell us your story in the comments or shoot us an email. We want to hear from you. And please share on social media if this blessed you or made you think. (Click the share buttons below.)

Suffering Is A Blessing

What?!? Dave, have you completely lost your mind? I know that’s what most of us (including me) think when reading that title. But it really is true. The suffering we pass through really is a blessing.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

I don’t know about you, but my first reaction to suffering is to certainly consider it something – but not pure joy. What was James smoking? I want some.

We rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us. (Romans 5:3b-5a)

I think Laura Story has it right in her song Raindrops – suffering really is God’s blessing in disguise.

There are two reasons we suffer. One we bring on ourselves, and the other God brings on us. Either way, it’s a blessing.

The suffering we bring on ourselves is the logical consequences of our unrighteous actions. I’ve heard it said that God doesn’t punish sin as much as he allows it to punish itself. He removes his hand of protection and lets us taste just a bit of the stew we’ve cooked. Just enough to bring us to repentance. This is a blessing – God doesn’t leave us in our sin, but he uses its logical consequences to free us from it. He brings us to confession and repentance, getting our attention through suffering the logical consequences.

If we keep a short tab with God and repent quickly when he allows stuff to catch up with us, we avoid longer-term consequences. The suffering is a blessing – it keeps us from something worse.

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. (Hebrews 12:7a)

The second type of suffering is the type God brings on us for his glory and our benefit. Remember the debate God and Satan had over Job? Who brought Job into that conversation? God did! Twice! (See Job 1:8 and Job 2:3.) “Have you considered my servant Job?”

Often, God brings difficult things, suffering, into our lives to give us something we can endure. Not only to build character into our lives, to make us more like him, but also so he has something he can reward us for. That’s a tough pill to swallow, especially when you’ve suddenly lost a loved one or you’re going through some other tragedy in your life. I don’t want to make light of that or be flip about it. It’s not easy. It hurts. It hurts bad.

But God is in there. I went through a tragedy in my life and was on my face for a year-and-a-half crying out the Lord. He met me in that place, and in the very difficult years that followed. My story is a testimony to his faithfulness and presence through great pain.

A lot of times the suffering doesn’t seem fair. And it’s not. The suffering is only for a season, but the rewards of bearing up under it well and with faith are forever. Totally not fair, but not fair in our favor.

Worship (corporate and private) is the greatest comfort to me in my times of suffering.  How about you? Has the Lord been faithful? Can we stand with you in something while you’re waiting? Tell us in the comments.

The Blessing of Suffering

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Brother Yun, a severely persecuted house church pastor in China, was talking prayer requests with Western Christians. (His story is told in the phenomenal book, The Heavenly Man. Totally recommended reading!) They said they’d earnestly pray that the Lord would end their government’s persecution of Chinese Christians.

“On no, don’t pray that!” Brother Yun responded.

The Western Christians were shocked! “Why don’t you want us to pray for an end to your suffering?”

Brother Yun answered, “Because then we’d become complacent like the Western church. Pray instead that we can bear up under it in a way that honors our Lord Jesus.”

Wow, blows my mind. We in the West have no grid for that. But the Bible says to rejoice in our suffering:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James, brother of Jesus, in James 1:2-4.

“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and charter produces hope.” Paul, in Romans 5:3-4.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Jesus, in Matthew 5:11-12.

What if, when we get to heaven, we see Jesus on his throne (see Revelation 4), the most beautiful being in all of existence. Then we get it! “Oh Jesus, you are so beautiful, now I get it! Now I’ll sacrifice for others! Now I’ll be happy to give up my creature comforts to help someone else in need! Now I understand!” But it’s too late. This is heaven. No one needs anything now. There’s nothing we can do to sacrifice for anyone else no matter how much we want to.

In the whole eternity of our existence, God has blessed us with a brief, very brief compared to eternity, 70-80 year window where we have the privilege of sacrificing for someone else, of meeting someone else’s needs at the expense of our own.

Angels never have the opportunity to do that. That’s a blessing God has only given to us. That’s hardly fair.

And it’s even more unfair than that. Our temporary sacrifices here bring us eternal rewards in heaven (see the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46). God has stacked the deck in our favor.

It’s all about perspective, and where we have our eyes set.

When Brother Yun was being tortured in a Chinese prison with an electric cattle prod in his mouth, he had his eyes set on the prize, on Jesus himself. He endured horrific but temporary pain because he had his eyes set on eternity.

Even here in the First World, God blesses us with opportunities to suffer and sacrifice, to meet other people’s needs at the expense of our own. We discover who we really are when we’re willing to go outside ourselves and help others. That’s why it feels so fulfilling.

Have you had this experience? Have you ever begrudgingly helped someone, but afterwards you felt so good, feeling God’s smile, you wondered why it was such a hard decision? Tell us your experiences in finding yourself by helping others in the comments. And please, if you think this post would bless someone else, please share it on Facebook or your favorite social media channel.

Getting to Point B

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Sometimes we approach our healing as a destination rather than as a process. “If I can only get from Point A to Point B, my life’ll be fixed!” Point B might be a valid goal:

  • “Fix my marriage.”
  • “Stop my addiction.”
  • “Not be depressed anymore.”
  • “Control my anger.”
  • “Have a good relationship with my spouse, child, parent, sibling, boss, etc.”

Because we think our healing is in the destination, we come at it with a wrong perspective:

The False Belief: “I have to get to Point B.” Maybe, maybe not. Being at Point A may not be the real problem, and Point B may not be the real solution. Maybe there’s something deeper going on.

The False Myth: “There is a path to Point B.” The truth is, Point B may be unattainable, especially if it involves relationships with others. Healthy relationships depend on the other person as much as they depend on you, and they might not be willing to go there. What do you do then?

The Unyielding Demand: “You, O Pastor/Counselor/Friend/Whatever, are going to get me to Point B.” Already setting up the blame shift if it doesn’t work…

The False Formula: “I know I have a part to play.” When someone says that, they really mean, “If I do the steps, I’ll get to Point B.” Maybe, maybe not; life’s just not that simple.

The Big Denial: “I can get to Point B without looking at my heart, or my story, or my sin.” Good luck with that.

The Secret Fear: “What if it doesn’t work?” Or what if Point B’s not all it’s cracked up to be? What if I get there and I’m still miserable?

The reality is, God’s much more interested in the process than he is in the destination. The ends do not justify the means.

Romans 5:3-5 says, “We glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

It’s the character and the hope that God is after. Another word for hope is faith. It’s our faith in God, that he’s enough for us even while we’re stuck at Point A, that he’s trying to build in us through this process.

Here’s the right perspective to approach healing (and life) with:

The Truth: “There may not be a path to Point B.” But I’m trusting God anyway.

The Hope: “I will be different whether my circumstances are or not.” And it’s who I am, and who God is, that makes the difference of whether I can thrive in these circumstances or not.

The Right Question: “What are you up to, God?” What does God want to do in me through these circumstances?

If we approach our life with the right perspective, we will suddenly realize God has taken us to Point C!

Kudos to Dr William Clark from The Lay Counselor Institute for this excellent material.

Does this strike a chord with you? Tell us in the comments or shoot us an email with the Contact Us link above. And if you think this would be valuable to someone else, please share it on Facebook or your favorite social media (share buttons below). We look forward to hearing from you!