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Purpose Redefined

Slowly, painfully, God began to redefine purpose in my heart.

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I love children’s ministry. Since age 15, I taught children at church. Preschoolers, grade schoolers, Sunday morning, Sunday night, mid-week programs, and even an after-school Bible study for fifth-grade girls. But a few years ago, my heart began to change. I still wanted to teach, and I still loved children, but more and more, I sensed the Lord prompting me to stop.

At first, I ignored Him. Then I reminded God that children’s ministry was my “thing” -— that He must be mistaken. When the nudging didn’t stop, I stepped back from teaching a little, leading only part of a lesson rather than directing an entire class. I hoped my compromise would be enough obedience.

It wasn’t.

The day my pastor-husband came home early to announce that he was being moved on the church staff — from children’s ministry into the small groups department — we both knew it was God’s unmistakable leading. This was more than a nudge now. This was a stop.

Andy transitioned into his new role and thrived in it. As our lead pastor had foreseen, Andy’s responsibilities in that position were right in his giftedness. He hadn’t been so happy in years.

I, on the other hand, was less enthusiastic. In truth, I was scared. No teaching meant no role at all. What was I to do with myself? And who was I before God, if I had no “work” to do for Him?

“When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window,” I told myself. Quoting Maria from The Sound of Music isn’t exactly biblical, but it sounded optimistic. I looked around for the open window, predicting that it would only be a matter of time before God would reveal the new job He had for me.

But, no fabulous ministry appeared, and I still had nothing to do. I felt useless. Week after week, I attended church without working in any capacity.

“God, I am capable of more than this,” I told Him. I listed my talents and made a few suggestions, in case He needed ideas. Still, nothing happened.

Nothing except a lot of complaining on my end.

Finally, when the stillness lasted long enough for the complaining to subside, I realized that I had lost a right purpose. In all those years of teaching, somehow I came to believe that my worth hinged on my role. I had been trying to earn God’s approval, and impress Him with my efforts. I was worthless unless I was working.

Slowly, painfully, God began to redefine purpose in my heart. My purpose isn’t to just stay busy for God. My purpose is to know God. He wants my heart, not my hard work.

A Bible study on the Book of John led me to look closely at John 15. In an intimate conversation with His disciples just before His crucifixion, what did Jesus say? What “parting thoughts” were pressing on the Lord’s heart as he said goodbye? Jesus didn’t leave his friends with a list of to-dos or how-tos. He didn’t offer a suppertime lecture on spiritual gifts — ways to work hard in the kingdom. Rather, in John 15, Jesus repeatedly gave hHs disciples one instruction: to simply, continually, remain.

“Remain in me, and I will remain in you” (John 15:4). Remaining is about being, not doing. To remain in Christ is to live in Him, to stay in a relationship with Him, just as a branch stays connected to the vine. Recently I asked my friend Kathy if she thought God would be “OK” with something I wanted to do. She answered with John 15 wisdom. “Amy, it’s about connection, not performance. Remain in Him, and enjoy whatever you want.”

Prayer is central to remaining in relationship. Unfortunately, prayer is difficult for me. My prayers often turn into complaining to God, rather than conversing with Him. Listing what I would have Him to do, rather than listening to Him. Last spring, I picked up a Bible study on prayer, hoping to glean a few how-to tips on the subject. I smiled when I read the book’s first objective: memorize John 15:1-8. There it was again — God’s instruction to be, not do. To, as Kathy said, connect, not perform.

“If you remain in me and my words remain in you” (John 15:7). In 2009, I participated in a scripture memory program with Beth Moore’s Living Proof Ministries blog community. The arrangement was simple: on the 1st and 15th of every month, we chose a Bible verse to memorize. By the end of the year, we’d learned 24 passages. In short, we determined to let God’s words remain in us. And what a life-changing year it was! Many times, a verse I’d memorized early in the year came back to mind months later, just when I needed its encouragement or instruction. I gained so much from scripture memory that year that I recruited my friend Debbie to join me in doing it again in 2010.

It’s hardly a new, earth-shattering idea: Christians should know the Bible. And yet, I imagine God often shakes His head at my ability to overlook the obvious. “Child, in order to know Me — in order to be acquainted with My ways and My heart at all — you must know My Word.” God wants me to read it, and memorize it, and most importantly, live it out. He wants me to remain in His Word, because His Word is life.

“Now remain in my love” (John 15:9). I see three aspects to remaining in God’s love. First, I must be convinced He loves me. I must know, “deep down in my knower,” that I am completely, unconditionally loved. Imagine the difference such an assurance would make! What freedom and life, from living in His love.

Secondly, remaining in God’s love is about obedience. John (and Jesus) repeatedly tied love to obedience. “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15). When I live in His love, obedience naturally follows.

Finally, remaining in God’s love is about people. Because I know God’s love, I’ll naturally love others, too. As an off-the-charts introvert, this isn’t easy for me. Frankly, I’m happy enough in my closed-off shell. A friend lovingly pointed out that although I’m often busy with people, I don’t have many close friends. I don’t let people in. But remaining in God’s love means letting myself be loved by the Christian women around me. It means actively, intentionally building relationships with others. Remaining in His love means that I live every day in community, in obedience, and in confident assurance that I am loved by God.

After many months of having no role at church — after a year of intentionally remaining rather than doing — an unexpected ministry opened up. I started teaching again, in another capacity. Now I teach women, but this service is different. It flows easily, out of love, not duty. It wasn’t contrived by me, but orchestrated by God. It was birthed from a relationship with Him.

And incidentally, one of the first passages that I taught the women in my new class should come as no surprise: we studied John 15. After all, my purpose isn’t to work hard for God. My purpose — redefined — is to remain in Him.

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Amy Storms is a wife, mom, and writer in Joplin, Missouri. An Oklahoma girl at heart, she lives with her pastor-husband Andy, their kids Nathan, Anne, and Molly, and about a hundred other "sons" in a dorm at her beloved alma mater, Ozark Christian College. Along with guacamole and Dr. Pepper, words are some of her very favorite things. She loves to read words, craft them on the page, and, of course, say them. Too many of them.

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When Doing Justly, Loving Mercy, and Walking Humbly Stand at Odds

If your compassion far exceeds your capacity, here’s one way you can be sure to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.

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One of my life verses is Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

It is one of my favorite verses because my heart has been so moved by the love Jesus has for me and the sacrifice He made for me that I am grateful to have a way to express my gratitude through acts of justice and mercy while walking humbly with God.

I have found at times, however, the call to do justice and love mercy come in conflict with the call to walk humbly with God. For me, one of the ways to walk humbly with God is to recognize my limitations. I have to put skin to the fact that I am not God which means saying, “no” to ministry requests. It means going to sleep when I could be spending time advocating for the harrowed and helpless in the world. It means limited seats at my table, limited funds in my bank account, and limited energy in my body cannot be ignored but respected and adhered to.

This is hard for me at times, especially when I scroll my Facebook feed and see friends who are caring for their really sick children, spouse, or other family member all while millions of refugees flee war torn countries and babies are slaughtered by the hundreds each day in our country through the abortion industry.

As I scroll, I receive texts about one family member’s surgery gone wrong and another family member announcing a new baby is on the way. I have in mind my neighbor who has inpatient surgery scheduled this week and another neighbor who is trying to hold down a full-time job, care for twins all while battling profound “morning” sickness.

Folks at church are fighting for their lives in physical and spiritual ways, and strangers who pass me on the road are clearly battling something as demonstrated by their impatient honking because I won’t take a right turn on red. I want to meet the needs of all; I want to do justice and love mercy, but I’m daily confronted by the fact that I am so limited.

What am I to do when doing justly and/or loving mercy seem to come in conflict with walking humbly with my God?

God keeps bringing me to this answer: prayer.

God invites us to cast our cares before Him because He cares for us.
God tells us to be anxious for nothing BUT WITH PRAYER present our requests before Him.
God commands us to pray without ceasing.

And, when I walk humbly with God, I see the immense kindness in His command.
He gives us a way to do justly, love mercy WHILE walking humbly with Him.
It is by praying without ceasing.

I cannot take a meal or give money to every sick person or family I know. I cannot extend kindness to all my neighbors all at the same time they’re in need nor conjure up sustainable solutions for the refugee crisis and contact all the necessary world powers to make it happen.

I cannot heal all, but I know the Healer.

I cannot provide for all the needs, but I know the Provider.

I cannot rescue everyone in need, but I know the Rescuer.

I cannot comfort all the broken, but I know the Comforter.

I cannot speak peace over every situation, but I know the Prince of Peace.

I cannot be all to all, but I can go to the Great I Am through prayer, lay all the people, problems and pleas for help before the Omniscient and Omnipresent God of all Creation.

I can do this through prayer.

Recently, via an Instagram contest of all things, I came upon A–Z prayer cards designed by blogger/author/speaker, Amelia Rhodes. It is a simple concept packed with a powerful prayer punch. It has served me personally in this tension of wanting to do far more than I practically can do. It provides prayer prompts starting with each letter of the alphabet along with a scripture that coincides with the prayer focus. It ranges from Adoption to a creative “Zero Prejudice” for the letter “Z.”

The cards are well thought out, color printed on sturdy cardstock with blank lines for the user to write in the names of people and/or organizations that are personal to them.

If, like me, your compassion far exceeds your capacity, pick up a set of these prayer cards and unload your burdens onto a God whose competence matches His kindness, both boundless.

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Facing Our Fears in Motherhood

Do you have fears tied to motherhood? If so, here’s encouragement for you.

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“Are you scared?”

I was taken aback by his question. Scared? Of what?

“Of anything,” he answered.

I had just shared my due date with a new class of trainees.

“He has three boys,” another new hire volunteered. So fear is to be expected, I reasoned. I’m just about to face the most frightening experience in my life.

Of course I was scared.

I was scared…

  • I’ll lose my temper.
  • I’ll whine about sleepless nights.
  • I’ll breastfeed too often or not often enough.
  • I’ll leave piles of unfolded onesies in the middle of the nursery floor because I’m too tired (or lazy?) to fold teeny-tiny baby clothes for the upteenth time.
  • I’ll go with disposable diapers when the better choice would be cloth.
  • I’ll work too many long hours at the office and miss precious moments with her.
  • I’ll sign her up for too many activities and push her to become Miss Achieve-It-All.
  • I’ll pass on to her my ugly pride, self-righteousness, and perfectionism like a dreadful contagious disease.
  • I’ll miss countless little joys in life while pursuing worthless dreams.

Facing Our Fears in MotherhoodIn short… I was afraid I was going to fail miserably as a parent.

And now, holding my second-born daughter in my arms, thinking back on that brief exchange just a few years ago, I realize those fears were well-founded. I’ve failed many times. I’ve lost my temper. I’ve raised my voice. I’ve worked too much and played too little. I’ve seen my own sinfulness reflected in my daughter.

Yes, I’ve failed, but over and above it all, God’s grace has covered my parenting imperfections and made me run to the cross day after day. The writer of Proverbs puts it this way:

Whoever fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge.
Proverbs 14:26

When it comes to fears, we have two choices: Will we fear the unknown or will we fear the Lord? Will we allow the uncertain to grip us in its clutch or will we turn to God’s Truth to set us free?

Scared? Oh yeah. There was so much to be scared of that day. And even now, if I’m completely honest, there are still fears nibbling at the edges of my consciousness. Fear that we won’t outgrow the temper tantrums. Fear that the two girls won’t get along. Fear that I’ll mess them up and cause them interminable hours on a psychologist’s couch.

I’m sure you have fears, too.

But rather than allow those fears to consume and paralyze us, we can take them to the Lord, acknowledging His sovereignty over our parenting, pleading His grace over our mistakes, and entrusting His provision over their futures. He is not only able to handle it all — He is far more capable to be trusted with it all.

If I say one thing to that frightened 9-month-pregnant me standing in that room years ago, I would say this: Don’t let fear rob today’s joy with tomorrow’s unknowns. Each day has enough worries of its own (Matthew 6:34).

Instead, let us keep seeking God, running to Him as our secure fortress and resting in the knowledge that He will care for us and our children one day at a time.

What are you scared of today? Name your fears and bring them to the Lord, allowing Him to replace them with His peace that passes all understanding.

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He Gives Shade To The Weary

If anxiety is a struggle for you right now, remember that He gives shade to the weary.

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Do you ever have those moments of fear because you don’t know what lies ahead? When do those thoughts tend to happen to you?

For me, most of those thoughts happen when I lay my head down to sleep at night. The vulnerability comes forth every time. That’s what happened the other night to me. I shut my eyes and immediately anxiety welled up inside me.

What if we don’t succeed in this new venture? What if we have to move? What if we can’t pay our bills?

I laid there with the covers drawn tight over my head (I still think that I am safer if the covers are over my head), praying scripture over my anxious heart. Assuring myself that God sees me and that He cares.

In the morning, I turned to Isaiah 41, specifically verses 10-20.

“Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10, NASB)

Yesterday, the “what if’s” piled up as I anxiously looked about me. My daughter needs tutoring, however at this point in life, tutoring feels like a luxury we can’t afford. So I listed some items online to sell hoping to make just enough to cover the tutoring. I’m buying groceries on a Visa reward card. I’m holding my breath until the next paycheck comes. But what did God speak over me: Do not fear. Do not look anxiously about you.

“For I am the Lord your God, who upholds your right hand, Who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’ Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel; I will help you,” declares the Lord, “and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:13-14 NASB)

Why shouldn’t I be anxious? Because God will hold me up. God will help me. When I first read the word “worm” as a description, I took it as a slam against Israel. Like, gesh, God. What animal does He relate me to? But through further study, He calls them a worm because worms are helpless. They are viewed as insignificant, despised and weak. God will help me — seemingly insignificant, helpless me — because He is my Redeemer. He is my go’el — my next of kin. The Redeemer is the one who provides for all my needs. Rent. Car payment. Credit card bill. Gas. Food. Clothes. Debt. God will redeem.

He Gives Shade to the Weary

“Behold, I have made you a new, sharp threshing sledge with double edges; You will thresh the mountains and pulverize them, And will make the hills like chaff. You will winnow them, and the wind will carry them away, And the storm will scatter them; But you will rejoice in the Lord, You will glory in the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:15-16 NASB).

God is transforming me from a helpless one to a powerful one. The description of that type of threshing sledge is like a modern day earth mover. Powerful. Strong. Immovable.

“The afflicted and needy are seeking water, but there is none, And their tongue is parched with thirst; I, the Lord, will answer them Myself, As the God of Israel I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 41:17, NASB)

He will come to our rescue. God, Himself, will answer you and me. Can you hear how personal that sounds? Have you ever pleaded with someone important whether your boss, public figure, or even a parent, and they responded to the need themselves? You expected for them to send their assistant, but instead they — the most important one — responded to you.

“I will open rivers on the bare heights And springs in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water And the dry land fountains of water. I will put the cedar in the wilderness, The acacia and the myrtle and the olive tree; I will place the juniper in the desert Together with the box tree and the cypress.” (Isaiah 41:18-19, NASB)

This passage describes the wilderness-like times in life. You are barren. You are thirsty. You are hot. You are in need. God will provide what you need. God will quench your thirst. He will provide shade when you are weary. During those times, God can provide in creative, innovative ways. He can provide something out of nothing. Doesn’t that give you great hope? Even when you can’t answer how He will do it, He is creative enough to figure it out even when the odds are stacked against you.

“That they may see and recognize, And consider and gain insight as well, That the hand of the Lord has done this, And the Holy One of Israel has created it.” (Isaiah 41:20 NASB).

God will do all of this so that His glory will be put on display. People — including yourself — will see that He is powerful.

So you can see how after a night of wrestling with fear and anxiety, reading this was like shade and water for my soul. God is a god who sees. And God is a god who acts on your behalf.

What do you need His help with today? What are you fearful about today? What keeps you awake at night? Where do you need some shade?

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Hi, I'm Ashleigh Slater, founder and editor of Ungrind. Here at Ungrind, it’s our goal to churn out biblically-based encouragement for women. We strive to be honest and transparent about our struggles in a way that inspires hope, faith, and perseverance.

As you read, we hope you consider us friends, the kind you feel comfortable sitting across the table with at the local coffee shop. You can read more about me HERE and our team of writers HERE.

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Purpose Redefined

by Amy Storms time to read: 5 min
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