Six Promises When Words Fail Us

Photo/KarenJordan

What do we do when we don’t know what to say or pray?

Where can we find the words to express our thoughts and emotions?

What can we do when life places us in unbearable circumstances? Where can we go? Who do we run to? What should we cling to when we’re drowning in a sea of our sorrows? And what can we advise others who may be walking through a difficult life crisis?

My younger sister Leslea just endured another health crisis that led to life-threating surgery. My heart aches for my little sister. A single mom of three, Leslea has experienced so many unbearable tragedies and losses in her lifetime–the tragic death of her youngest child, breast cancer, and now major heart surgery. And as her older sister, I often do not know how to respond to her overwhelming needs.

As a writer, my words often fail me when I don’t know how to respond to a difficult issue. And when a friend or family member faces a tragic loss or painful failure, mere words seem inadequate to express my emotions and concerns.

Now, after surviving many trials and crises in my own life, I do know who to turn to when a crisis hits close to home. And I know who I can cling to when I’m overwhelmed by confusion and doubt. I have discovered peace and rest in a storm.

Are you searching for the words to express your thoughts or your faith? God’s Word offers us the promises we need to encourage others.

  1. Help. The Lord promises to help us when we don’t know what to say or pray. “… the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Rom 8:26 NIV).
  2. Hope. The Holy Spirit offers promises of hope, even if we never understand why these things happen. “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom 15:13 NLT).
  3. Assurance. God’s Word provides the assurance that Jesus will bear our grief and carry our sorrows. “He suffered the things we should have suffered. He took on himself the pain that should have been ours” (Is 53:4 NIRV).
  4. Peace. God’s Word can speak peace to the storm ravaging our dreams. And He promises to throw us the lifeline of His Word. “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:7 NIV).
  5. Confidence. We can have the confidence to know that in Christ, we will survive. And we can expect Him to provide the power we need to overcome any circumstance in our life if we trust Him with the situation. Healing and hope for the future can be found in Him. “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him” (1 John 5:14).
  6. Rest. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus said, “Come to me, all who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Place my yoke over your shoulders, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble. Then you will find rest for yourselves because my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (NOG).

Show, don’t (just) tell! As you tell others of your faith, don’t forget the power of your story. As we share our own faith stories, we invite others to see, feel, and experience what we have experienced.

Are you facing a loss, a failure, a decision, or some other difficult situation? I pray these promises from God’s Word will also give hope to you and others who may be suffering under a heavy burden.

Remember, the Lord knows your needs—even better than you do. He understands. And He wants to assure you of His presence right now and in all the days of your life.

I lift my friends up to you, Heavenly Father. I pray they will give you their heavy burdens. I thank you for your promise of rest and peace.

The Lord answered my prayer about one important concern the weekend before my sister’s heart surgery. Leslea had asked me to take her to church as she prepared for her surgery. She had been unable to attend church for years because of her job schedule. But since she was unable to work, she was free to attend church.

Since I live in a different state than my sister, I prayed that God would lead us to the right church service that Sunday. And the Lord met all of our needs that day with the perfect church, sermon, and worship experience. In fact, the words of a song, “My Heart Is Yours,” expressed Leslea’s prayers in ways I never anticipated.

How has God’s Word helped you through a difficult situation or as you responded to someone else in crisis?

Impossibility: Five Important Truths

Photo/TaraRoss

Sometimes God leads us to do the impossible.

This morning as I waited for the sunrise to go on my walk, it started raining. I thought, Oh, no! If I don’t go for a walk now, it won’t happen today.

Simple problems. Sometimes the simplest challenge can seem impossible. I also know that my emotions lead me to exaggerate my problems at times.

Life and death issues. I don’t intend to compare my insignificant problems with the life and death issues that others are facing right now. I’m aware that many people face horrific, painful circumstances every day. And as I look at my circumstances in light of the needs of others, my problems often seem trivial.

Photo/KarenJordanCrises in Spain. My writing life often pushes me out of my comfort zone toward some “impossible” dreams. It led me into the academic world where I faced all kinds of uncomfortable situations. My most memorable learning experience occurred in Spain.

I wrote a previous post on the WordServe Water Cooler about my academic journey in Salamanca, Spain, “Sergio: A Memoir from My Writing Life.” During that summer in Spain, God revealed His faithful guidance and strength as I faced my limitations and weaknesses.

Photo/KarenJordanImmersed in another culture and language, I discovered I had taken on an academic endeavor far beyond my abilities, and I felt totally incompetent to complete it. My personal weaknesses became painfully obvious, as I experienced the reality of my limitations.

I’d been pacing myself as I pursued a course of study as a nontraditional student, commuting to school from home. But after a few weeks in Spain, without warning, I crashed—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Like an athlete, I hit the wall, suddenly losing all my strength after a long, difficult journey.

Spiritual Truths. I rediscovered five important spiritual truths about impossibilities during my painful summer of learning in Spain.

  • Some things are impossible to do in my own strength. “Humanly speaking, it is impossible …” (Matt. 19:26 NLT).
  • All things are possible with God. “… But with God everything is possible.” (ibid.).
  • I can do anything God calls me to do. “… I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13).
  • God will complete the work that He began in me. “ And I am certain that God, who began the good work within (me), will continue his work until it is finally finished …” (Phil. 1:6).
  • God gives me His strength, when I am weak. “That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).

Reflection. These promises from God’s Word continue to encourage me as I face the impossibilities of my writing life. And I’m thankful that God offers His powerful promises to all who choose to believe His Word.

I’ll never forget some of the painful lessons I learned in Spain—and I still bear some of the scars from that experience. Now, I try not to take on more than I can handle, since I’m more aware of my limitations. In fact, I hit the wall faster and more frequent than ever as life takes its toll on me. So, I’m trying to stay focused on the course set for me.

Remember this promise as you face your impossible dreams and goals: ”Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.” (Matt. 19:26 NLT)

What seems impossible for you today? Does your situation seem hopeless, difficult, or ridiculous to even consider?

Oh Yeah, It’s Not About Me

Praise for my work is as difficult for me to handle well as rejection. In a different way, of course. Praise doesn’t crush my self-esteem, destroy my confidence, and send me to bed with a carton of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream. But it has the potential to be just as destructive.

woman prayingPraise for my writing can go straight to my head.

Don’t get me wrong. I love it. But sometimes I love it a little too much. Occasionally I take the very dangerous turn from loving it to needing it. Craving it, even. I collect the glowing adjectives carefully and methodically, like rookie baseball cards, and store them away in my mind to bring out in times of flagging faith in my writing ability.

I forget that this isn’t about me. That I didn’t give myself the gift. I didn’t invent imagination. I didn’t come up with the ideas for the stories. I’m not my own source of creativity. And my glory is not the intended result of any of the above.

It is all from him and for him. This is supposed to be my mantra. I’m having it engraved on a piece of jewelry as we speak. To remind me why I do what I do. How I do what I do.
And I need to be reminded, constantly.

Christians have long found themselves in a quandary over how, when and to whom to extend praise. As a kid, I attended many churches where the congregation refused to clap after a performance. The idea, I assume, was to impart to the musician that he or she should not expect to receive any kind of affirmation or reward for using their talents. God alone should receive the praise.

I understand the sentiment. But even as a kid I had trouble seeing how the awkward silence following a performance, the deliberate withholding of an expression of gratitude and pleasure, truly glorified God.

On the one hand, as believers we are to support and encourage one another, and to give the workman his due. On the other hand, it is true that every gift and ability we have is a gift from God and is intended for his glory and not our own.

I wrestle with this tension, and I suspect I am not alone. Yes, I enjoy and appreciate receiving affirmation of my work and in affirming the work of others. And yes, I believe all glory belongs to God without whom I am nothing and can do nothing. Can these two truths be reconciled?

Only when, through the grace of God and the working of the Holy Spirit, I am able to examine the attitude of my heart and the motivation behind my work to ensure both are pure.

If my sole purpose for writing is to share the stories he has given me in order to bless others and draw them to him, I can in good conscience accept the affirmation from someone that the blessing has been received.

And when I do, I will thank God for the gift he gave me and for the privilege of using it to bring him glory.

Learning to Listen

Have you ever noticed that there is a deep inner peace that descends when you truly listen to someone? Think about it. You focus on what they are saying, sifting through the verbal noise to the subtext that is being laid bare. You take a back seat, allowing them to drive the conversation so that you can lovingly respond. There is a strength in this passivity, a calm in conceding control.

Isn’t that exactly what we are called to do with the Lord?

My world is loud. My email constantly demands my attention – four different accounts for four different reasons. My job revolves around communication and social media, the deadly noise of an electronic culture.

We’ve forgotten the value of letters and phone calls, the connection that comes with face to face. We’ve forgotten how to have a conversation longer than 140 characters, and we sure don’t remember the bond developed by vocally sharing the depth of our thoughts, our hearts. As writer’s we get to connect the gap, to share vulnerability on the page and communicate with the world around us. All too often, I fight that vulnerability. I fight to speak without letting people see the depths of my heart. But as much as I have been called to use my voice in some form or fashion, I must first be willing to listen to my audience of One.

Kariss Lynch oceanI remember a crowded beach in California. Surfers rode the waves, entertainers lined up around the boardwalk, and this misplaced Texas girl walked with my group enjoying the show. About sunset, I found myself alone near the water, the waves roaring in to kiss the shore over and over. All other noise dissipated, and I truly listened.

I see and hear my Creator in the waves and the ocean – His power, His gentle nature, His vastness, His beauty. And I can hear His still small voice in the waves that lap the sand, asking me to drown out the other noise and just listen. He speaks in the quiet moments. He answers when I truly surrender.

Shadowed Kariss LynchWe can’t discern His voice and direction until we give up our need to control and sit back as He shares His heart and mind. I love the childlike faith of Samuel in the Old Testament and the way he simply answers the Lord with “Here am I.” Then He listens and obeys. I want to be defined as a person who delights to do what God desires, who uses my gifts for His glory, who writes without fear. But my surrender comes first. As I finish up my third book, enter a season in between contracts, and pray through what’s next, I want to make sure I am listening more than I am telling the Lord what I want. I want this in between season to be marked by a quietness of spirit as I rest, dream, pray, and enjoy where the Lord currently has me.

With no beach nearby, I’m learning to find my ocean moments in the roar of the big city. He speaks most when I commit to listen. And I’m tired of the noise. I’m sitting on the shore, listening to His voice whisper in the waves.

You’re In My Heart, You’re In My Soul

water droplet pixabayAs the hart (deer) pants and longs for the water brooks, so I pant and long for You, O God.

Psalm 42:1 AMP

When deadlines loom, relationships are challenged, and we get weary in the work to which we are called to perform, our souls can feel like dry, brittle sponges in desperate need of the touch of clear, cold water for refreshment.

Most of us reading this give more than we take or receive. For many of us, our Christian beliefs compel us to give, give, give and then give some more without taking the necessary breaks from performing in order to be nourished and replenished ourselves. Because of this, far too many believers in Jesus are operating out of our fumes, running on an empty tank, rather than out of the overflow of what Christ has for us in His fullness.

When we read the above passage of Scripture, we can easily imagine a deer panting for a drink of water. It isn’t hard to visualize and empathize with a deer who has been chased by dogs in the heat of summer, striving for survival – longing, even crying out, for just a drop of water. While the majority of folks reading this haven’t been in those exact circumstances, it doesn’t take much imagination to know what it feels like to be chased down by the ugly experiences in life like unpleasant financial woes, devastating diagnoses, irritating interruptions, hurtful behaviors by loved ones, and even our own struggles with sin and temptation…just to name a few!

Undealt with Weariness Leads to Unhealed Woundedness

What a refreshing drink of cool water it is to remember that we are no longer like David. We are no longer in need of searching for a place to get a drink of cool water when our throats are parched. While we may need to find a place for our minds and bodies to get necessary rest, our souls are no longer separated from the place of our greatest refreshment!

Here is how I know this: when Jesus came onto the scene and into our humanity, He offered a new way of living, a new way of relating to God and others, and a new way to experience God!

He explained this when he met the Samaritan woman at the well. Take a peek with me into their conversation,

“Jesus answered her, ‘All who drink of this water will be thirsty again. But whoever takes a drink of the water that I will give him shall never, no never, be thirsty any more. But the water that I will give him shall become a spring of water welling up (flowing, bubbling) [continually] within him unto (into, for) eternal life.’” John 4:13-14 AMP

Do you see the difference between David’s experience when he couldn’t get to the temple to worship and what Jesus said He alone could provide to the thirsty woman who had been searching everywhere for love, acceptance, validation, and relationship and never ever experience satisfaction, much less a “continually flowing, bubbling up” source of life?

Read the rest of John 4 and I Corinthians 6:19 (as well as so much of the New Testament) and be reminded that we can now experience God’s refreshment and renewal anytime, anywhere because His very Spirit now resides within us and He has made us one with Him!

niagara-218591_640 pixabay
Our place of quiet refreshment now resides within us!

While I am grateful beyond expression for places like the beach, the mountains, a city park or even a library or local spa to enjoy body/mind refreshment, I am in awe of the reality that those places and those experiences cannot come close to providing my soul what it really needs: a holy moment with the One who created my soul for Himself and is always, always, always available to me in full measure.
(This might be a good time for a “Selah” – i.e. a pause-and-think-about-that moment.)

Dearest Lord Jesus, my friend and Savior, thank you for this new way of relating to you, in the Spirit; this new way that allows me to be with you always; to know I’m never alone, I’m never depleted, I’m never lacking what I truly need and desire. Show me in clearer ways how to tap into this truth for my own life so that I grow and mature in this area of soul refreshment, drinking from the Living Water you’ve placed within me in abundance – and may my life reflect this beautiful reality to others out of the overflow of this ever-fresh spring that is operating in my life.

Cutting Out the Frivolous Stuff

song sparrow singingLast week, during a series of presentations on writing-related discoveries, which I always make first-year composition students do at the end of the year, one student said, “I learned that writing shorter is harder than writing longer.”

“Why’s that, do you think?” I asked.

He thought before answering.White-crowned-Sparrow

“Because to make something shorter, you have to make all these decisions. Like, what’s important and what to get rid of. And then, after you take stuff out, you have to change other stuff to make it sound right.”

“You mean, you have to revise—like, you know, re-see it,” another student chimed in.

“Yeah. It is like that,” he said. “Like seeing that it could be a different way and still be what I wanted to say. Maybe even better. I never thought of that. I always used to think revision was just fixing stuff.” The two students grinned with that mixture of embarrassment and pride students always have when using the language of the course.White-Throated_Sparrow

That night I led a professional development session for graduate faculty on the subject of assessing final projects.

“Everything students hand in is a draft,” I remarked in passing, “and drafts are hard to grade. If you want your students to revise, you have to trick them into it.”

Field_Sparrow“How?” one professor asked.

“Lots of ways,” I said, “but the most successful way for me is to give maximum word limits on assignments rather than minimum word limits.”

“How does that make them revise?” she persisted.

I knew that being made to write short did force students to revise, but it took me a second to come up with a reason why on the spot. “I guess it’s like when you fill out an online application and have to answer a question in a little box that limits you to only so many characters, including spaces,” I told them. “What you write is always way too long. So you have to keep paring it down, getting rid of unnecessary stuff, often the parts you’re Harris's Sparrowproudest of, so you can get down to what’s essential. And, in the end, it’s not only shorter but better. Or, anyway, I always think it is. In my experience, the same thing happens with students when I give them word limits. I get all these emails, begging me to let them go longer. But I never do. Not one word. So they have to revise. And what they turn in is lots better than what they turn in when they’re just trying to fill pages.”

Everyone wrote that down—the most useful grading takeaway, even though it wouldn’t be relevant until they started building assignments the next semester.

The next day, at an end-of-year luncheon of honors English students, my department chair asked those about to graduate to share the moment they realized they wanted to study English, and two women talked about learning to write short.

lark sparrow“Being forced to cut made my writing so much better,” one said. “I knew how to improve my writing after learning that.”

“I had this revelation that every sentence matters,” said another. “That was the moment for me.”

Finally, yesterday, my novel workshop students were talking about their revision strategies for the three chapters I’d be grading at the end of the semester.

“I’m cutting out a lot of frivolous stuff,” one said. “That’s the main thing I learned in this class: You don’t need half the stuff you write.”Chipping_Sparrow

As always, whenever I have one of these clumps of similar messages, I figured it wasn’t just coincidence—or the more obvious reality that people were saying back to me what I’d been preaching all semester—but the Holy Spirit weighing in on the ssavannah sparrowubject. It seemed strange, though, that the Holy Spirit was interested in revision.

Then it occurred to me that I’m the one who needed the cutting message I’d been preaching. My own novel is a frivolous (and practically unpublishable for a first novel) 130,000 words.

There’s no getting around it, I told myself. You need to cut another 30,000 words.

That doesn’t begin to answer the question—if you’re still wondering—of why cutting words from my pages might interest the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it’s that, as I like to tell my students, revision is a key part of the creative process, and God has always been into that. Separating light from dark, water from land. Fiddling with it, examining it, considering, until it’s good, or very good.

Or maybe God’s interested in revision for the same reason he pays attention to sparrows: namely, all of his creation—birds, us, our minds, words, our little improvement plans—fascinates and delights him.

(PS: To whatever fellow birdlovers are out there, I saw all the sparrows pictured this morning: song, white-crowned, white-throated, field, Harris’s, lark, chipping, and savannah. I feel so blessed!)

Facing a Change?

Photo/KarenJordan“Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed … ” (1 Corinthians 15:51 TNIV).

I first noticed this scripture many years ago displayed on a wall mural in our church nursery. I laughed at the clever inference to the care of the babies. But the verse prompted me to research its biblical context.

I discovered differing opinions about the end times. But I also found Someone who never changes: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8 NIV).

Possibilities. Change is inevitable. And many times it arrives when least expected—like an illness, untimely death, or even an opportunity you never dreamed possible.

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future” (John F. Kennedy).

Politics. Politicians also promise us change. But their promises often prove to be just as empty and meaningless as their rhetoric no matter how well intended.

Such shallow commitments remind us of what the Bible says about keeping our word:

And since you know that (God) cares, let your language show it. Don’t add words like “I swear to God” to your own words. Don’t show your impatience by concocting oaths to hurry up God. Just say yes or no. Just say what is true. That way, your language can’t be used against you. (James 5:12 MSG)

Projects. I embrace change at times, especially with my writing projects. The writing process requires many revisions. Some people believe writing is just a three-step process—pre-writing, writing, and re-writing. But most writers agree that each of these steps involves much more.

For instance, the beginning of the composing process includes things like brainstorming, asking questions, researching, outlining, and other pre-writing strategies. Even the simplest blog post requires multiple revisions. The first draft of this post needed a lot of editing and changes.

Promises. The Bible also reminds us, “… in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye … we will be changed” (15:52).

But even though God’s Word promises change, it also encourages us to “… stand firm. Let nothing move you … ” in our faith (15:58).

So when you face change or resist it, remember, “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (15:58b).

What changes are you facing right now?