Sept. 18 – Oct. 30
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Back in college, there were around 10 of us who would drive to Johnny Carino’s in Abilene every Monday night for Family Night. We would fill up on bread, salad and soup, and then take our giant portions of pasta home to share over the next three days. They’ve probably ended that deal by now because of people like us. My favorite part of the meal was the bread. Loaves of bread that flaked and crunched when you tore off a piece, still hot from the oven. There were little white plates filled with olive oil and vinegar with red pepper flakes, and we’d wipe each one clean with the bread. Italians really do the whole eating thing well.
I’m learning prayer is like oil and vinegar1. The oil is our offering. It’s the oil of the Old Testament that women used to press with their hands and then use as both sacrament and nourishment. The oil is our thanksgiving, our gratitude, our praise.
Then there is the vinegar. Vinegar is acidic. Vinegar holds our fears, our struggles, our nightmares and our brokenness.
I’ve always thought oil should come before the vinegar in prayer. Perhaps it’s the opposite.
When I’m praying to Jesus, my brain knows that he knows my heart. But I feel like he doesn’t deserve my vinegar. He deserves my oil. I have so much to be thankful for. I have a husband who loves me, and together we have two healthy little girls. We live in a city where we feel safe, and we don’t have to worry if there will be food on the table. We go on dates and trips. We get to spend many of our evenings reading books or watching The Office — whatever we're in the mood for. Last weekend, we drove to Colorado to celebrate our dear friends getting married in the middle of the mountains while a sunset took place before our eyes. There is much oil in my life.
So, when I battle thoughts of feeling worthless, I don’t want to take those thoughts to Jesus. He shows up in my life every day. He showers me with grace upon grace, and still I find myself thinking thoughts like, "You are nothing. Everyone else is contributing to this world, and you could so easily be replaced. You are worthless."
My vinegar — in the form of an anxious spirit — feels self-inflicted, so why on earth would I hand that burden off to Jesus when he has real issues to deal with?
But that’s just it. He already knows my vinegar. He wants me to trust him with my vinegar. It’s only after I release the vinegar in my heart that the oil can find its richness.
The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
— Philippians 4:5-7
Gratitude is vital for a healthy day. Neglecting to pinpoint what I have to be thankful for leads to greed and taking gifts for granted.
Jesus doesn’t just want my gratitude, though. He wants all of me. He wants my fears, my doubts, my hurt. He wants my vinegar. He wants my vinegar because he wants to trade it for peace. He wants to trade it for teaching and growth. He wants my vinegar so he can fill me with oil.
1. Shauna Niequist’s new book, Present Over Perfect, is where I started learning about prayer as oil and vinegar. This book is phenomenal, and I highly recommend it for anyone recovering from perfectionism.↩
True peace, though we strive for it daily, is not something that can be achieved. It can only be received. Jesus said:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
— John 14:27
Jesus not only left us in peace, he left us his peace. This peace that Christ left with us does not affect our surroundings or circumstances — it affects our souls. This peace is the peace of reconciliation with God through the sacrifice of his Son and the knowledge that he overcame this world and went to prepare a place for us.
It doesn't seem that Jesus expects us not to suffer emotionally and physically from our surroundings and situations. After all, according to Luke, upon the prospect of his imminent and violent demise, Jesus was so distraught that he sweat blood and, in prayer, asked God to take the burden from him if possible. Certainly, his heart was troubled. But within this fierce emotion, Christ spoke the words, “not my will but yours be done,” knowing that it is God's perfect will that encompasses all of the prospects and knowledge of good and peaceful outcomes.
Through prayer, Jesus let God know of his fears and desires. Leaning into God’s will grants us the knowledge that, whatever we must go through, there is goodness on the other side. There is no greater peace than this knowledge. The peace of submitting to God’s will in all circumstances is the peace of knowing that you have submitted to the greatest and most perfect good of a perfect Father who has plans to give us hope and a future.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
— Jeremiah 29:11
If we seek perfect goodness, if we seek God, we cannot go wrong. Though our circumstance may be bleak, the knowledge that we are with God and are submitting to his perfect will allows us soulful peace within the most distressful of situations in this world, to which we have become foreigners.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
— Joshua 1:9
I usually drive, but occasionally my wife gets behind the wheel. Don’t tell her, but I don’t really like being in the passenger seat when she drives.1 I never feel like she is paying as close attention to the road as she needs to be. She goes faster than I am comfortable with, and she has the tendency to drift into other lanes. There have even been a few times when the situation seemed so desperate that I reached for the steering wheel from the passenger seat!
The irony is that I am told by my passengers that I am a terrible driver myself! I hate to admit it, but they’re probably right. I’ve been in my fair share of wrecks, I frequently get pulled over by the police for breaking various traffic laws, and I am probably not as risk-averse as I should be. Yet, when things get scary from my view in the passenger seat, I reach for the wheel. How funny is that? What help do I think I can possibly bring from the passenger seat‽ I’m a bad driver from the driver's seat, much less the passenger side!
Whatever your driving skills are, my guess is that there are places and times in your life when you are prone to reach for the wheel. You get some bad news concerning your health. Your relationships are crumbling. Debt is piling up, and your reflex is to reach for the wheel.
So often, when life gets a little bumpy we freak out, and we reach for control. I don’t know if you’ve ever really considered it, but you’re probably not the best one to be in control. You don’t possess the ability to change many of life’s problems. And for many more of life’s problems, you're the one who got you into the mess in the first place. We want to be in control, but we’re not really qualified for it.
The good news is that there is one who is qualified to be in control. He is all-powerful, so no situation is too much for him. Best of all, he loves you and wants what is best for you! Who is this one? His name is Jesus. If we can bring ourselves to not wrestle the wheel away from him in times of uncertainty, we will find that we are in very capable hands. And when we are in those hands, we can find peace — even in the most uncertain of circumstances.
1. I hope she’s not reading this devo today! Lauren, if you are reading this, I don’t mean any of this stuff. I’m just making it all up for the sake of making a spiritual point. You’re the best driver I know.↩
This week at c|Life, we talked about the fact that during turbulent times we almost always reach for something. We reach for our seat belts in an airplane. If we are walking down the stairs and hit something slippery, we naturally reach for the handrail. During financially turbulent times, we have a tendency to reach for our portfolios. We almost always reach for something when the world gets shaky around us.
When we forget to remember God’s perfect character, as well as how faithful he has been in the past, it’s really easy to reach for the wrong things.
In the book of Jeremiah, God says through his prophet:
for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living waters,
and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
broken cisterns that can hold no water.
— Jeremiah 2:13
The truth is that when we turn to something other than our Heavenly Father for support, help, comfort or security, we are turning to something that will never fail to fail us. Like trying to draw water from a broken well that is empty, we find ourselves trying to be helped by something that cannot provide assistance.
I love the way the Psalmist wrote it in Psalm 86:
There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,
nor are there any works like yours.
All the nations you have made shall come
and worship before you, O Lord,
and shall glorify your name.
For you are great and do wondrous things;
you alone are God.
Teach me your way, O LORD,
that I may walk in your truth;
unite my heart to fear your name.
I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
and I will glorify your name forever.
For great is your steadfast love toward me;
you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.
— Psalm 86:8-13
As you go through your day today, remind yourself that there is none like God. He stands alone as our provider, redeemer, creator, savior, help, healer and way maker. Remind yourself throughout the day that any thing you reach for other than your Heavenly Father will disappoint you and leave you wanting. Reach for your Heavenly Father today and take refuge in him.
Turbulence is inevitable in our lives. If there were some formula out there for dodging it or for behaving your way around it, all of you rule followers would have surely found a solution. Life just doesn’t work that way.
One of the hardest times in my life happened when I was walking closer to the Lord than any in other season that I can remember. Someone else’s sin nature collided with my life and sent me reeling. The fear that came over me literally put me behind closed doors in my own home, gripped with fear, hiding under my covers. (And this wasn’t even sin of my own doing.) I am saying this because, as hard as we may try, our lives are literally out of our control.
Your company could downsize, and you’re out of work. The pregnancy that you have so carefully protected could be lost. The doctor could call with bad results. A tornado could wreak havoc on your home. And the list goes on and on.
All of these things happen in the blink of an eye and, usually, without any warning.
What do we grab on to in these times? We tend to reach for the quickest fix: the numbing alcohol, or the spouse, or the friend, or the temporary satisfaction of the internet. None of these things can bring us the “peace that passes understanding” (Philippians 4:7). There is only one thing that has proven itself time and time again, and that's the Word of God.
When the enemy comes into our minds and tries to “kill, steal and destroy” (John 10:10) our lives through our thought life, the only way to combat his evil schemes is through Scripture. He cannot stand against it. He has to flee. We must be ready with the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17) to fight the enemy’s fiery darts. Everything else is temporary and, more often than not, will lead us to an even greater pit than where we started.
I am closing with a list of scriptures for you to hang on to. Choose one, write it down and have it ready for the enemy’s attacks. Be on guard. He is coming. But remember, he has already been defeated. You can overcome. Just pick up the right ammunition!
The LORD is my light and my salvation–whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life — of whom shall I be afraid?
— Psalm 27:1
Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always.
— Psalm 105:4
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
— Isaiah 41:1
So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me.
— Acts 27:25
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
— 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong.
— 1 Corinthians 16:13
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
— Psalm 23