Do you ever feel like you don’t matter?

Perhaps it’s because you’re pouring yourself into things that don’t matter.

“They pursued worthless idols and became worthless themselves” (2 Kings 17:14-15).

The things you devote your life to in your search for significance can be the very things that make you feel empty. Hear this: your value is equal to the value of the things you pursue. Only after you devote your heart to God—the worthiest of pursuits—do you get a genuine sense of your own worth as His chosen child.

Look again at that verse. “Worthless idols.” An idol is anything you give more weight or significance to than God.

What does that look like for you? Money? Status? Body image? Your kids? How about unforgiveness? Religious ritual? Perfectionism?

Replace your idols with worthy pursuits. Pursue God and His ways with all you have. Through these things He will establish your value in such a way that you’ll actually believe it. No more emptiness. No more aimlessness. No more searching.

When God made us, He gave us the incredible ability to make associations. We all have triggers that transport us from the here and now to past experiences. Maybe the smell of chocolate chip cookies takes you back to your grandma’s kitchen when you were a kid. Perhaps a certain song takes you back to prom night, 1988.

This weekend, I experienced the magic that is association. But it wasn’t good. It was terrible actually. Starting in middle school, I had an ongoing feud with a girl that lasted all throughout high school. I’m not the kind of person who thrives on drama or seeks to contend. I find senseless conflict, well, senseless. It drives me crazy. As much as I tried to put water under the bridge with this person, she refused to let it go.

Finally, graduation cut my ties with her. I could finally bury those feelings. No more anger. No more jealousy. No more competing.

Until I saw her the other day. By some miracle, I didn’t run into this girl for eight glorious years. But there she sat, behind the wheel of the car blazing past mine. The same car that had been riding my bumper for the last five minutes. And the same car that would cut me off at the intersection ahead.

I was immediately angry. All those ugly feelings I thought I’d buried rushed back and took over my mind. She would drive like a jerk. Hasn’t changed a bit. What’s her problem anyway?

And I thought I was more mature than that. Ha.

Time and space may hide your symptoms of unforgiveness, but only intentional forgiveness can take them away for good. I thought it was done and over with, but I never once asked God to help me weed those things out of my heart. I didn’t have to face her anymore so I didn’t think I had to face the issue. But it sprung up healthy and strong in a split second. And it wasn’t pretty. Just ask my husband who had to endure ugly me that day.

Who do you avoid? Who takes you back to an ugly place in your heart? Don’t be naive and think you’ve overcome those feelings when you’ve just swept them under the rug. Let God help you clean it all out or it’ll pop up years later and make you look (and feel) like a jerk.

*For more on the intense ramifications of unforgiveness, check out Have the Funeral by James MacDonald with your small group.

There’s no telling how much time has passed since I set out to write this post. It’s not that I’m stumped—I know what I want to say. What puts me on hold is figuring out how to say it. I want it to be just right. Not too long, not too stale, and in keeping with every writer’s dream, moving to at least someone out there. So I sit. And stare. And eventually shut it down for another day. After awhile, days and weeks have passed and I have nothing to show for it.

In some ways, this description fits the pattern of my faith—or should I say unfaith—as well. God plants a thought in my mind and gives evidence of its importance in my walk with Him. I feel excited to envelop myself in it, but what happens is—well, nothing. Nothing outward, at least. I research the thing. I pray about it. I may even talk about it with my best friend. But days and weeks pass and I have nothing to show for it.

I’m not stumped. I hear what God is encouraging me to do. But the compulsion to fully know and understand the details of the thing so I can proceed with perfection keeps me from actually moving forward.

See, I’m not much of a risk-taker. Somewhere deep down I’ve formulated the belief that I can’t honor God if I don’t take the exact steps He has planned for me. I don’t feel safe relying solely on my own judgment. You can imagine the time I’ve wasted trying to figure out what those steps are. For fear that I’ll mess up, I’ve become a passive Christ-follower. And isn’t that just the kind of Christian the Enemy loves?

Not at all what I was going for. The opposite, actually.

God’s so good, you know? He’s beginning to show me a bigger truth that has brought incredible amounts of freedom for this rule-follower. Picture a toddler about to take his first steps. For weeks, his parents have been working with him, teaching and encouraging and exemplifying what it means to walk. And finally, he steps. One foot. Then the other. He may go in circles or in a line. He may take one step or ten before falling down.

What do you imagine the parents are doing as they watch? What do their faces look like? I’ll tell you. They’re proud. They’re excited. They’re high-fiving and hollering as though their team has just made it to the Final Four.

Here’s what they’re not doing. They’re not marking Xs on the carpet for the little guy to step onto. They’re not picking up the toddler’s feet and planting them just so. They’re not even holding onto his hands and steering his body. And I can promise they’re not disappointed that he took only three steps instead of seven.

We’re the toddler and God is the parent. He doesn’t mark out every single step He wants us to take in life. Instead He shows us the goal, and then He watches proudly as we do our best to mimic Him. Whether we take one step or a hundred, He’s there watching like a proud Daddy. He celebrates progress—even baby steps.

What about you? How often do you let fear (or laziness or control or fill-in-the-blank) render you passive?

Don’t let anything get in the way of your willingness to fully give yourself to what God has put on your heart to do. You’re free to move!

I was recently asked to journal my response to the following question:

What behaviors reveal a different core belief than what I say I believe about You, God?

My mind, sorting through the technicalities of my religious activities, couldn’t come up with an answer. But the Spirit told me I am, at times, a fraud. A deceiver. An imposter to my faith, claiming one thing but doing another. Sensing God’s intention to use this opportunity to teach me a bit of truth about myself, I prayed He would be specific.

He didn’t disappoint.

In a way that only He can, God scooped me up in His arms and held me close while He tenderly chided me for not trusting Him to bridge the gap between my worth and His acceptance. He pointed out that when I tell myself I’m not good enough, I’m actually saying that He’s not enough.

That His atoning death on the cross wasn’t quite enough pay off the debt of my sin.

That His words in Isaiah 1:18, though true for everyone else, are less than true for me.

That His forgiveness, broad as it is, just can’t cover up my dirt. (Can you relate?)

Lies. Debilitating lies from the pit of hell. Lies that swallow me in self-absorption and that don’t even make sense in light of the proof God gave on Calvary and continues to give me every single day.

Why, having been given the opportunity to lay down the burdens, do I insist on hauling them around? Why do I choose to run around in rags when God wants to clothe me in glory?

I’ll tell you why: Because God’s character is unbelievable. It goes against everything we’ve learned about people. People hang onto the bad, but God throws it into the sea of forgetfulness. People heap guilt, but God lavishes mercy. People find us un-amazing, uninteresting, and unworthy of their time, but God knit us together in our mothers’ wombs, knows the number of hairs on our heads, and traded His life so we could spend time in His presence.

It’s time to kill the lies and believe the unbelievable. God’s actions prove His beliefs about you: You are forgiven. You are accepted. You are free.

Take a few minutes to answer the question I had to answer. Ask God to show you the discrepancies between your behavior and your belief, and let Him teach you how not to devalue what He has done on your behalf by believing the lies.

I’m no expert, but I’d say the average Christian anticipates (and would be content with) their life events landing somewhere in the middle of the spectrum—nothing too extreme in either direction. Logical people that we are (ahem), we realize we’ll face trials, but we believe God will keep us from the really bad stuff. After all, He is a God of love, and having accepted Him, we do deserve His protection and a few blessings … right?

So how do we reconcile the fact that some of us, the children of this loving God, will face divorce or lose a child or wander around in desperate search of the joy and peace promised in the Bible? What are we supposed to do when God allows our plans to shatter and fall in on us, leaving us cut up, exposed, and completely unprepared?

If you never have, take 10 minutes to read the Book of Ruth. In the first two verses, we’re introduced to a woman named Naomi, along with her husband and their two sons. By verse 3 Naomi is a widow. By verse 5 she is childless, save her two daughters-in-law. Shocked? I bet she was too. We can probably add depressed, angry, terrified, and hopeless to that list as well. And definitely bitter.

When our plans shatter and fall to the ground, we beg God to reveal Himself, and if we’re bold, we demand that He explain Himself. In the midst of all the talking we’re doing, we sometimes miss His reminder that it was our plans that shattered—not His.

God didn’t write Naomi off when she lost it all and became bitter. Instead, He restored what she had lost in a great and unexpected way.

Maybe your plans haven’t been shattered. But I bet you know someone whose plans have been. How can you impact their life? How can you be a mouthpiece for God?

Maybe you’re in the middle of terrible struggle or loss. Will you allow yourself to trust in God’s plans? Will you believe that He is sovereign?

Learning to trust in the perfection of God’s plans,

Hannah

P.S. If you need a reminder of your worth in God’s eyes, listen to this.

I don’t know about you, but over the years I’ve put a lot of effort into getting myself to small-group meetings only to sit there like an empty shell. Either I completely zone out and take advantage of the one hour a week someone isn’t depending on me for something, or my mind is a flurry of activity, covering every topic under the sun—except, of course, God.

(And maybe it’s just me—you who ride to your small-group meeting with a spouse and/or kids can verify this—but doesn’t it seem like more arguments occur during the ride to church activities than during the other 167.5 hours of the week? If I’m not frazzled and totally distracted before I leave the house, I certainly am by the time I get there. Enemy tactic, perhaps?)

We come to meetings, having the opportunity to feel the very presence of God, to unite ourselves with other believers, and to see the Spirit move in the hearts of the people.

Yet we somehow manage to leave un-amazed.

Unaffected.

Empty.

Clearly, we miss out on something huge when we go there without being there. There’s a hymn you may know—it’s been around forever—called “Brethren, We Have Met to Worship.” I was listening to this song when God began to help me understand the elements of true worship. Check out the music with lyrics here. (This version arranged by Bart Millard.)

We’re aware of the physical things that have to happen for meaningful small-group meetings: literally, getting up and going, actively participating in discussion, interacting with people, etc.

These physical actions get us to the meeting and make us seem engaged, but it’s the unseen spiritual actions we take that ready us for what God wants to show us:

1. Prepare your heart. In my opinion, the best way to get ready for small group (or church meetings in general) is to get thankful. Thank God for who He is and what He’s done in your life. This helps us remember that He is worthy of our trust and our attention.

2. Pray for leaders.
Don’t forget that small group leaders and others in church leadership are no more immune to struggle than you or I. It’s important to pray that they will accurately and powerfully convey God’s Word.

3. Get humble.
Think about what and who God is—Creator. Faithful. Mercy. Forgiveness. Power. Then focus on the awe and wonder of being able to worship Him in a manner that actually pleases Him.

This is by no means a complete list, but taking the time to do even one of these things prior to your small-group or church gathering will help you start to turn your empty attendance into genuine worship. It doesn’t make sense, but God craves our undistracted presence with Him. And when we show up ready to engage with Him, He is faithful to bless us, to cheer us, and to steady us (Psalm 21:1-7). And I don’t know anyone who doesn’t desperately need these things.

I’d love to know what other things have helped you prepare for worship and how God has blessed your commitment to being fully present and ready to interact with Him.

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Thirsty. I was so thirsty. Not physically. Here in Tennessee, there’s so much humidity in the air you meet your water-per-day quota just by breathing in as you scramble from your car to whatever air-conditioned haven you’re headed for.

No, I’m talking about spiritual thirst.

My spirit felt dry and scratchy, and I couldn’t think of anything that had changed in my spiritual walk. So I assumed that my thirst was the result of some weak or sinful area of my life that God was trying to point out. Determined to fix the problem myself—whatever it was—I began examining all the activities that took up time in my life and passing or failing them based on two criterion: Does this honor God? and Does this contribute to my spiritual growth? I decided that activities which didn’t do one or the other were to be abandoned. Period.

This purging process went on for so long that when I finally glanced up to see the progress, I was shocked to find a desert. With the exception of work, church, and school—the things I had determined brought pleasure to God—my life was, well, lifeless. I had tossed out relationships, recreation time, and countless other small pleasures I had deemed unworthy of a “serious” Christian’s time.

Confused, frustrated, and even thirstier than before, I questioned God: Look, I ditched all that extraneous stuff so I could have more of You. Why do I feel so dry? I do the right things. I don’t place any value on meaningless activities. Don’t you think I’m more holy now?

God let me wallow in dissatisfaction and emptiness for a good while. But then He spoke. And, oh, what a lesson He taught.

(Let me just be honest: I’m a sucker for daily devotionals. So often they speak directly to an issue I’m facing and I’m pretty sure it’s because God finds pleasure in communicating with those who spend time in His Word. By the way, if you’re in the market for good devo, Jesus Calling by Sarah Young and My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers are both fantastic.)

On May 15th, I received Rick Warren’s e-mail devotional in my inbox, entitled “God Smiles When We Use Our Abilities.” I want to make God smile, I thought to myself. I’m tired of this emptiness. Here’s what it said:

“You may feel that the only time God is pleased with you is when you’re doing ‘spiritual’ activities.”
Yep, I sure do.
“And you may think God is unconcerned about the other parts of your life.”
Well, if they don’t honor Him or grow me spiritually, He probably disapproves.
“Actually, God enjoys watching every detail of your life, whether you are working, playing, resting, or eating.”
WHAT?? Is this true, God?

And as if the King of kings and I were having a face-to-face conversation, He answered my query with the words in the devotional: “Every human activity, except sin, can be done for [My] pleasure if you do it with the attitude of praise.”

Suddenly I understood why the purging of all those things had made me feel dry and dissatisfied: I had robbed my life of many of the gifts God gave me to enjoy. Of course He wants me—all of us who love Him—to honor Him and to put Him first. But in our pursuit of righteousness, who said we have to trade joy for burden? Who said holiness and happiness can’t go hand in hand?

I forget that God is a loving Father, eager to see His kids enjoy the things He made. So, I’m going to take myself a little less seriously. I’m going to let the Holy Spirit rather than my own criterion tell me what things in life are worth my time. Jesus said, and I believe Him now, that His “yoke is easy and [His] burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). I want that yoke.

What has God given you to enjoy that isn’t necessarily spiritual?

How do you pursue your spiritual life without completely checking out of your earthly life?

What heavy burden will you trade for His light one?

As you, small group members and leaders, continue down your spiritual journeys with God, I pray He shows you clearly how much He loves you and wants you to have all the fruits of His Spirit, including joy, even in the simple things.