Category Archives: Practical Tools

Never Going Back to Perfect

This is Part 4 of a 4-part series on Opening Toward God: our part in letting God work. Go here to read the intro and find links to the additional posts. 

We all have times of wrestling with God. One of my most profound began when I sat in my first Bible study class in Bible college, trying to find out the meaning in an Old Testament book, desperately seeking the “right” answers to my questions about the words written there. A classmate looked at me across the library table and said, “You really think there’s a black and white, right and wrong answer to everything in life, don’t you? Well there’s not! You’d better get used to it!”

Those words shook my perfection-seeking soul down to its core. That day God began to wrestle perfectionism and legalism out of my heart.

As an oldest child who loves to make people happy, you’d better believe I love perfectionism. To prove my point, I was one college class grade away from a perfect 4.0 on my college graduation day. I should probably be proud of that but the memory also reminds me of how stressed I was as I pursued that almost-perfect status.

God did not create us to be enslaved to getting everything right in life. In fact, sometimes the very things that he calls one person to do he may lead another person away from. Why? Because we are all living, moving beings in individual relationships with him.

Paul wrote about this. Read these excerpts from Galatians 5 and breathe in the freedom:

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision [following the letter of the law] counts for anything, but only faith working through love. For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 

There are black and white commands from God. Those are in place to protect us and help us to live in harmony with others. They remind me of the black and whites I give my children: Don’t hit your brother. Don’t play in the street. Lay down and sleep. Eat your dinner. We need to know how life works best for us.

opening-toward-god4But in our daily lives we can try so hard to make everything black and white. To find some perfect balance or rhythm to our days so we feel like we have it all together. That feeling leads to a sense of control or security. Instead God brings us toward intimacy with himself, so that he can lead us with his voice, and grow his fruit in our hearts. Our souls are not an office or a gym where we accomplish great things, but a garden of rich soil where he can make beautiful things grow.

I only have two practical points today. To overcome the habit of perfectionism in my daily life, I have learned these practices.

Let go of the expectations 
Does the nagging inner voice of guilt make you feel like a failure? We can either let it keep eating at us, or we can evaluate it and shut it up. For instance, I’m not the housekeeper I wish I was. But I can either walk by the piles of stuff every day and let them scream at me, or I can make a list of what needs to be done and do it when I can. I can choose not to worry about what others think, or what my inner June Cleaver tells me. I have a perfect wife, mom, friend, employee, Christ-follower, etc, image in my head. But am I really letting others down when I fall short of my self-made ideals? What do people actually need from me? What am I realistically capable of? What does my calling really look like? We have such a load of expectations we can let roll off our backs.

Grow in relationship with God
“Acknowledge him in all your ways and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:6). “All your ways” is the Hebrew way of saying “everything in your life.” So in other words, know God, recognize him daily in everything you do and he will guide you. We are following Jesus, a person. We aren’t checking off a list of assignments for a grade from our heavenly Professor. That would seem simpler to me, but God wants more than a teacher-student relationship with us. He wants a dynamic, growing relationship that covers every aspect of our lives: friend, parent, lover, rescuer, teacher, protector, brother, leader, and more. Following and loving a person causes you to grow more than keeping the rules does. So God calls us to walk with him daily and as we get to know him more, the easier it becomes to hear his voice and understand where he’s leading us. This protects us from falling into legalistic perfectionism.

Our initial verse from Ephesians said
Throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

Each day we get to choose to take off our old habits and make room for the Spirit to work in our lives. We take our hands off the wheel and say, “Here I am, Lord. What do you have for me today?” Then we can walk in that real life relationship with an amazing God who never stops working in us and for us.

Not Holding On Anymore

This is Part 3 of a 4-part series on Opening Toward God: our part in letting God work. Go here to read the intro and find links to the additional posts.

I have an embarrassing confession. When I was in high school, I excelled at “running into” people I wanted to be around, most specifically, my crushes. At camp I’d wait just until that guy whose attention I wanted got into the food line and then I’d nonchalantly slip into line behind him with my friends and start being the life of the party, telling a great story, like about that amazing catch in ultimate football. If I got a look or a comment my mission was successful. Even better if we all ended up at the same table for lunch. Score.

I’ve always been pretty good at controlling things the way I want. It’s my personality and my firstborn status rolled into one. I used to feel pretty good about my skills. But when you say, “Lord, do whatever you want to in my life,” he says, “Okay. You can’t keep thinking you’re in control anymore. I am.” What follows is long and painful but so, so good.

We like to control life for so many reasons. Fear is a big one. Fear of being hurt, or let down. Fear of being triggered by past pain if things don’t go as we hope. Fear of the future not going the way we have planned. Pride is another. Believing that we know better than God or other people how things should go. Wanting to save face and not let other people see our vulnerability or brokenness.

Proverbs 16:20 says “The one who deals wisely in a matter will find success, [but] blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord” (NET). We can maneuver life with all our natural wisdom, but our success is more related to our trust than our actions.

Control has controlled much of my life. And often, when I think it’s something I’ve mastered, God takes me deeper to show me how I’m still hanging on and need to loosen my grip. So how do we recognize and let go of this deep-rooted way of living?

Evaluate your anxiety
Worry indicates lack of trust. Generally we try to control because we don’t fully trust. What are you anxious about? Make a list. (My recent list was so long I can’t even tell you.) What of those things are you personally responsible for? If you take care of your part, does the anxiety subside? Or do you do the thing, then worry about the outcome? Do you try to manipulate the results by arranging everything you can?

opening-toward-god3Check on your people-pleasing
Pride motivates us to go the extra mile to make people like us. For instance, maybe I email someone I don’t know well, and they don’t respond right away. I start second-guessing myself, and email them again to clarify what I said, or even apologize for something I’m worried may have offended them. The reality is that they are slow to respond to email. But I work myself up, afraid they didn’t like me or that I’ve offended them. We can really pay attention to what we do to get people’s approval. Those actions are often controlling.

Let people fail
Okay. This one still feels so “off” to me that it’s hard to write it. I’m a detailed, practical, responsible person. So I remember things most people forget. So of course, when people I love might be about to forget something, or not work hard enough to pass a test, or make some mistake, everything within me wants to fix them before they fail. Sometimes this is helpful. For real. But rescuing people is not my job. It’s God’s. And when I step in every time, I’m denying people the opportunity to learn from their mistakes or to take responsibility for their own lives. I’m being controlling. I was never entrusted with managing the lives of the people I love.

Exercise letting go
Make it a daily prayer, “God, today I let go of my control. I can’t make things happen according to my plan. Your plan is better. I choose to believe that today.” Choose not to text your spouse and remind them of that thing yet again. Choose to let people help you without monitoring their work. Choose to not replay that incident in your mind 350 times to see if there’s anything you should have done differently.

Once, in college, I took a walk with my camera and photographed my hands, open, stretched out, not hanging onto anything. Other times I’ve stood by a pond and thrown stones into the water as I named the things I want to control, figuratively letting go. We can open our hearts to the Lord’s leading us to release all that isn’t ours to hold.

This is a huge topic, really. Keep Your Love On, by Danny Silk, is a book I read recently that opened my eyes to even more truth on it. To give the Holy Spirit room to work in our lives we must let go of our need to feel in control and trust him, one small step at a time.

No Longer a Victim

This is Part 2 of a 4-part series on Opening Toward God: our part in letting God work. Go here to read the intro and find links to the additional posts. 

My kids play this crazy “Rolling Game” with their daddy. He rolls over the bed, back and forth, and they try to jump over him. Sometimes they make it. Sometimes he catches them and squishes them on the mattress. Then come my son’s piercing shrieks and tears that tell me Daddy caught him, at a level that seriously makes me want to rip my hair out. And then my husband says, “You can get out. You’re not stuck.” He makes him worm his way out while I inwardly beg, “Please let him go, for the love of my sanity.” The kids always get free and my husband claims they are learning good things. No doubt. Now let me go find a silent place for a week or two, thank you.

I tend to get irritated quickly when I see people living with a victim mentality. People who act like they’re stuck and there’s nothing they can do to get out. Yet I know I feel irritation because it’s one of my weaknesses, and I don’t like seeing it reflected in others.

“The primary source of feeling like a victim is the feeling of powerlessness, and because we don’t like feeling that we are powerless, we tend to blame someone or something for causing that feeling.”  Any time that I merge into the “poor me, mean them” attitude, I’m acting like a victim. “My kids are so stressful. That friend is so irritating. My spouse always does that thing that drives me crazy. Nothing ever goes the way I want it to.” Or it can be turned inward: “I’m terrible at making friends because of my personality. I always lose my cool because of my hormones.”

Sometimes, we don’t even verbalize it. We just feel paralyzed and go into hiding because our situation seems hopeless.

But this isn’t the truth. And it’s a hard, hard way to live. The first time I read Romans 7, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. It’s a section where the strong, bold leader, Paul, catalogs his wrestling with sin. “For I don’t understand what I am doing. For I do not do what I want—instead, I do what I hate.” Powerlessness. Believing that I, as a person, am unable to get through this. Yet like my 4-year-old, who can actually free himself from being squished by his dad, I am capable of escaping victimization.

opening-toward-god2I get to choose, like Paul, to trust God’s victory over sin, pain, fear and death and walk in freedom. “Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

This is the truth. So how do we walk in it?

Catalog your thoughts
When we think a negative thought, we can grab it, write it down, and evaluate it. See, these victimizing thoughts creep in constantly. They take over our minds before we even realize it. We are up to our knees in muck before we know we’re off the path. Note when you use the words “always” and “never.” Those absolutes often reveal false beliefs.

Sort out the truths and half-truths
Is someone really hurting you? Maybe you are either sweeping that hurt under the rug or wallowing in it without naming it. So recognize it for what it is, name it, and accept that it’s true. Or is your household really nothing but chaos all the time? Maybe there are just a few things about your family and home that bug you, like the noise level between 4 and 6 pm or the dirty clothes covering your bedroom floor and those things overtake everything else that you really do love.

Address what can change
God has given us the will to choose how to think and respond. He doesn’t expect his children to stay victims when he won the victory over our death at such a personal cost. If we are being hurt by someone, it’s not loving them to ignore it or to burn with bitterness toward them. It is loving to address it, both in our own hearts and with them personally if need be. If we are ruled by chaos or frustration, we have power to change our perspective and our habits that need to change.

Trust God with what can’t change
Some hard things in life don’t go away even when we look at the situation differently. We live in a broken world and pain will always exist here. But no matter what our situation, our God is greater. He is holding us in our pain. He daily will give us victory over temptations to complain or fear. Paul faced these kind of hardships himself and wrote this about his experience: “I am content with weaknesses, with insults, with troubles, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). God gives us the strength to endure anything he allows us to face – so we are far from victim status.

We will be hurt in life. We will be victims at times. But remaining in that place drags us down and sucks us back into our former way of life. As I identify the areas I’m acting like a victim, and make choices to let that thinking go and be strong in the Lord, I’m allowing the Spirit to do his work in making me righteous and holy through the pain and disorder that can come with this life.

Show Me the Lies

This is Part 1 of a 4-part series on Opening Toward God: our part in letting God work. Go here to read the intro and find links to the additional posts. 

There are two things every Christian should remember every day:
Jesus loves me, no matter what.
Satan is shooting lies at me.

If we forget the first one, we forget our worth.

And if we forget the second one, we expose ourselves to the enemy’s attacks

Almost every time the Bible mentions Satan, he is either spouting off lies or being called a liar. Jesus said, “[Satan] was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” John 8:44

When we follow Christ, we don’t fight a losing battle. Satan is a defeated enemy. God wins. Both now and in the end. So the key for us is to examine ourselves and expose the lies we are believing so we can speak truth over them. Where do we start?

Open the door for soul-searching
Carve out a block of uninterrupted silence where you can really think. Find something to write on. Start with prayer: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

Spit it out on paper
Whether you prefer to make lists or ramble in paragraphs, write out your recurring negative self-talk or inner feelings. Don’t analyze yet. Just empty them out. Keep going long after you think you have nothing else to vent. Don’t write like you’re going to post this on Facebook. These words are for God’s and your eyes only.

List the lies
Pick apart what you wrote. Do you initially recognize anything as contrary to God’s Word? For example, maybe you wrote “I feel like nobody loves me,” or “I feel completely alone.” Those feelings directly contradict what God says. He loves us. He is always with us. So you could write down “Lie: Nobody loves me. I’m completely alone.” But maybe you have to dig deeper. Maybe you wrote (like me), “I just can’t find or make the time to spend with Jesus. My kids wear me out too much.” So what is it you’re really saying? The lie I recognized in my situation was, “Sleep is more important than time with Jesus.”

Root out the root
Every lie begins somewhere: words spoken to us, how we see our circumstances, expectations placed on us. Dig deep for the root and pull it out. For the lie about sleep versus time with Jesus, I realized that I love sleep, I hate being tired, and that growing up I resented being expected to get up early. Maybe you feel like a failure because you’ve never been able to live up to your parents’ expectations. Maybe you feel ugly because of what someone told you in junior high.

elizabeth cravillion opening toward god letting spirit work lies truthFind the truth
Once you’ve identified the lie, search for the truth in God’s Word. Most importantly, ask God to show you truth in his word. He will speak his living Word into the deep needs of your heart. Then practically, look for verses that address your struggle. You might need to use a tool like the Bible Gateway concordance or an online topical Bible search. Or ask someone else who knows the Bible well. The truth I needed is that God is my rest (Matthew 11:28). He is my hiding place and my shield – more than sleep. I hope in his word (Psalm 119:114).

Claim the truth
Speak the truth over the lies. “I need God’s Word more than I need sleep. He is my hiding place. He will give me rest. I have all I need for life and godliness in HIM, not in getting enough sleep.” Then act on it. Let the Spirit of God change you as you believe his Word. As I committed to starting my morning every day in God’s word I began to believe the truth more. God proved to me that he really can be my resting place.

Fighting the good fight of faith takes strategy. It’s hard work, but God’s Spirit shows us what we need to know. He both reveals the lies and speaks the truth. We only need to give him space and permission to speak.

Off with the Old, On with the New

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I would turn myself into a morning person who could function on about 5 1/2 hours of sleep. Helpful in this season of motherhood. Or I would erase my emotions’ ability to go from 0-60 in 0.5 seconds flat. Helpful in all of life.

A friend of mine, a fitness coach, uses her social media to challenge people to eat well and work out to care for their bodies. More than anything, as I scroll through her feed, she reminds me that everything we do comes from a choice. Our choice. We can stay where we are, or we can choose to grow stronger.

And not just physically, but also spiritually, emotionally, and mentally, every day we get to choose our direction.

Will we continue to disappoint ourselves by staying stuck in mental habits we want to shake? Will we try to handle life on our own or let God have control? Will we let life happen to us or will we overcome? Are we going to believe the truth of God’s word over the lies in our head?

Lately I’ve felt prompted to share some of the practical side of my journey toward self-discipline in a 4-part series addressing mental habits that drag us down spiritually. This series is for you if you want to change but don’t know how to begin. It’s for you if you’re discouraged because you can’t see God working in your life. And it’s for you if you are wondering how following Christ makes a difference in a person’s everyday life.

elizabeth cravillion opening toward god letting spirit work
Paul wrote in the book of Ephesians:

Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

The longer I walk with Christ, the more he peels back my inner layers. I think one issue is resolved, like my struggle with anxiety, then five years later, it rears its head again in a new way. So God pulls back that layer to show me new steps to following his design for me more closely.

I stumble when I think there is anything good within me. There isn’t. Deep in my core, the natural side of Elizabeth craves self-worship, self-satisfaction, self-pleasure. But that’s not the new me. I am created to be like God, truly righteous and holy. So the old woman has to go. My hands have to let go of their grip on what I want.

I can’t do this alone. I heard this recently spoken this way: Christ is the only one who can live the Christian life. It’s his life, and it’s our job to let him live it through us. As Paul stated it – “Let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.” The Spirit does the work. We get to let him do it.

I can look at myself and be discouraged by how I continue to fail. I can look around and be defeated by the brokenness of the world around me. Or I can rest on the fact that God is working. It is his work: in me and in the world. And all he asks for is my willingness to let him work in and through me.

This series will include
Show me the Lies
No Longer a Victim
Not Holding on Anymore
Never Going Back to Perfect

Salvation Before Jesus Died: the OT in Short

“How can I be saved?” A man asked Paul. His answer? “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). This is how we, in the age of the church, understand salvation. We follow Jesus.

So reading the Old Testament seems like jumping into a time machine. It’s like trying to imagine living without cell phones – how did our great-grandparents stay connected? We can’t fathom it. How did people know God before Jesus came? It feels just as foreign – or more so.

Old testament in short elizabeth cravillionThe answer actually begins with the names of the Old and New Testaments. The word “testament” means “covenant,” which is a historical term we’re not used to today. Covenants were legal agreements between allies. People would set up the stipulations of their agreement, and then each party would bring an animal from their herd and sacrifice them together as a visible sign of your agreement. Different variations of covenants existed but with similar patterns.

From the beginning of time, God chose to connect with mankind through various covenants. Most prominently, he made one with people before Christ, the “Old” Testament (covenant), defining how they would relate to him.

God gave Israel his law, recorded in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. He gave them many specific instructions about life all summed up in two big ones: Love him and love others. In return he promised to be their God, provide for their needs and give them abundant life. Those were the stipulations of their salvation agreement.

To seal the agreement, Israel sacrificed animals yearly. Why death? Why animals? Because God’s law also states that when people break the law, they cannot be forgiven unless blood is shed. Sinning separates man from God. Only death can pay for a broken agreement between God and man. We could physically die immediately when we sin, but we’d be dead by the time we reached our toddler years. God never wanted people to be separated from him, so he set up a system of substitution to save us.

God planned for Jesus to be the ultimate substitute. But until the time was right for Jesus to step into history, God wanted his people to think of animals as the substitute for their sins. When people sacrificed animals in the Old Testament, it was like they were using a debit card. Jesus’ future sacrifice was the money in the bank, so to speak, and by sacrificing animals, people swiped their card in faith that God would send a Savior to once and for all save them from their sins.

Every story in the Old Testament in some way points to Jesus. Israel waited for centuries to see God’s promised Deliverer to arrive. In the meantime, they obeyed his laws as much as they could, but ultimately their faith in God’s promise saved them. Paul wrote in Romans that God gave us the law to show us how on our own we struggle to keep our end of the agreement and need a savior. Today our Savior has come and we look back to how he died and rose again and believe he saves us. Before he came, people waited eagerly for his coming to save them.

salvation before jesus died elizabeth cravillion old testament covenantJesus told his disciples at the last supper, before his death, that he was establishing a New Covenant with them. His blood was the sign of the new promise. Animals would no longer need to be sacrificed because Jesus was going to become the once and for all substitute for sin. Hebrews 8:13 says that the new covenant makes the old one obsolete.

Think about it: if the blood of bulls or of goats, or the sprinkling of ashes from a heifer, restores the defiled to bodily cleanliness and wholeness; then how much more powerful is the blood of the Anointed One, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself as a spotless sacrifice to God, purifying your conscience from the dead things of the world to the service of the living God?

This is why Jesus is the mediator of the new covenant: through His death, He delivered us from the sins that we had built up under the first covenant, and His death has made it possible for all who are called to receive God’s promised inheritance.
Hebrews 9:13-15 The Voice

From beginning to end, our salvation has always come by faith in God. God started it, God worked it out, and God finishes it. We simply believe and follow him.

Love your Enemies?

Old testament in short elizabeth cravillion love your enemies

Often when people read the Old Testament they are confused about the stories about enemies, wars Israel fought with God’s blessing, and phrases in books like Psalms such as “dash my enemies in pieces like a jar of clay.” How can the same God “destroy enemies” in one part of the Bible and tell us to love them in another part?

In Old Testament times, spiritual blessings were very closely tied to the physical world. This began when God called Abram’s family as his chosen people (Genesis 12). Their family would found a nation that would be a channel of blessing to all the other families on earth. Through them, God showed off who he is and how he works. In turn Israel demonstrated how to follow God.

God clearly stated, “I alone am God” (Deuteronomy 6:4). He called Israel to build their whole lives around worshiping him. Other people and nations who followed their example, worshiping God, and living in peace with the nation of Israel would be blessed, but those who didn’t would be judged. This was one of God’s covenants, or agreements, with Israel.

Because of this, Israel is unlike any other nation in the world. God has never promised to protect Americans just because we are part of this country. But God himself chose this people group to show the world what it looked like to be in relationship with him.

This covenant explains why Israel could call out for vengeance from God on their enemies. When they were attacked, the people would say to God, “I’m trying to follow you and my enemies are hindering me. God, judge them like you promised.”

David, who wrote many of the psalms, was king of Israel. During his reign, he had many personal enemies, as did the nation of Israel. He literally had people trying to kill him on a daily basis at times.

I don’t know about you, but that’s a rare occurrence in my life! So how can we relate to things David wrote like in Psalm 3:7?

Arise, O Lord!
 Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked.

Since Christ’s death and resurrection, the spiritual world meets the physical world in a new way. Peter writes that those who believe in Christ are the spiritual nation of God (1 Peter 2:9). We are now the ones who demonstrate living in relationship with him. Unlike Israel, the church has not been promised the same blessing for blessing and cursing for cursing treatment on our flesh and blood enemies. Instead, Jesus actually calls us to love our enemies.

Here is our reality: our battle has never been against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12). Even when people attacked Israel, Satan was behind it. He is our enemy, and he attacks us with spiritual lies as well as physical danger.

So while reading passages in the Bible about war and enemies, we can recognize what the Old Testament writers were facing – literal enemies hindering their ability to serve God – and apply it to our own spiritual battles, where Satan tries to keep us from worshiping God. He may still use humans to persecute us, but that’s just one of his many tactics.

I can pray the same prayer David did, but not in reference to men. I can call out for God to save me from my spiritual enemies who attack me. I can run to God for mercy and protection from Satan’s attacks of lies and pain and fear. I can pray, like Jesus did, “Your kingdom come, Lord.” Even for Israel, God has always been ultimately focused on protecting his people from evil and the temptation to fall into evil rather than on only keeping us physically safe.

the Old Testament in short: Zion

The Bible is a big collection of books put together. It spans thousands of years and major shifts in culture. There’s a lot to piece together. I’m doing a study in Psalms with a friend right now and as I go along I plan to blog through some topics in the Old Testament that may help bridge the gap between ancient Israel and life today. Join me for a miniseries, the Old Testament in short. 

Old testament in short elizabeth cravillion

Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised in the city of our God! His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion, in the far north, the city of the great King. Within her citadels God has made himself known as a fortress. Psalm 48:2

If you’re like me, you connect with the first few words of this verse, but skim over the rest. Why all the location talk? What is all this about Zion? Maybe you’ve heard it before? When Jesus was on earth, he taught that God is a spirit, and that we could worship him from any location (John 4:21-24). That’s normal for us now as his church. So when we read the Old Testament, verses like Psalm 48:4 may not mean much to us. Yet the word “Zion” is used almost 170 times in the Bible – defining it could help us understand the Bible itself a little better.

The word “zion” in Hebrew means “stronghold,” a safe place where people could defend themselves against their enemies. Geographically, the name “Zion” referred to a hill outside Jerusalem, Israel’s capital city, where its guard tower stood. Eventually, people began to call the whole city of Jerusalem Zion.

Differently from us today, the Israelites worshiped God through a system of animal sacrifices. They came yearly to the city of Jerusalem with an animal they would give to the priests at the temple, who would kill it and burn its body on an altar as a sacrifice to God. It was a very physical and visual reminder that unless something bled and died, sin couldn’t be paid for.

So to Israel Jerusalem was more than just a political capital city. It was their center for worship, the place where they connected with God. “The city with its towers, bulwarks, and palaces stood as proof of their eternal reconciliation with God” (Encyclopedia of the Bible). When the Jewish authors wrote about Zion in the Bible, they were linking it with their relationship with God.

God says in Isaiah 46, “Listen to me, you stubborn of heart, you who are far from righteousness: I bring near my righteousness; it is not far off, and my salvation will not delay; I will put salvation in Zion, for Israel my glory.”

God always planned to save the world through Jesus, who was crucified in Jerusalem, in Zion. Christ’s act of sacrifice for our sins, opening the door for our own relationship with God, took place where so many animals were sacrificed for centuries.

When we read about “Zion” in the Bible, we can relate it to our own salvation. Look back at our original verse.

Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised in the city of our God! His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion, in the far north, the city of the great King. Within her citadels God has made himself known as a fortress. Psalm 48:2

God deserves praise “in the city of our God [Jerusalem]” because of how awesome our salvation is. Especially see the imagery in the last part: “within her citadels God has made himself known as a fortress.” God used Jerusalem and all it represents to show us that he himself is our safe place.

One more note about Zion – God isn’t done with Jerusalem. When Jesus returns to earth, he will rule from Mount Zion. Micah 4 describes this time and at the end says, “The Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion from this time forth and forevermore.”

Balance: Recognizing your Season

This is part of a series on balance. Begin here to read more.

journey toward balance elizabeth cravillionWhen my soul starts questioning life, I always find my way back to the book of Ecclesiastes, written by King Solomon, who is even in secular history books considered one of the greatest rulers who ever lived.

God offered a young Solomon whatever he pleased and Solomon asked for an understanding heart to lead his people well. God loved this and gave Solomon so much more than he asked for. He gave Solomon incredible wisdom and gave Israel great wealth and influence under his reign.

balance elizabeth cravillion season ecclesiastesSolomon lived a long life, making both good and bad choices. He experienced it all. He wrote several books but he wrote Ecclesiastes at the end of his life, looking back and tackling big questions. Why am I here? Has my life even mattered? What’s this all about? He lived to have everything he ever wanted and yet found it wasn’t enough. As he writes the book he comes to several conclusions that always leave me with a quiet sense of peace.

Solomon wrote the famous passage you’ve probably heard, “To everything there is a season…a time to be born, a time to die; a time to weep, a time to laugh; etc, etc.” At the end of this section, he wrote this,

“I have concluded that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to enjoy themselves as long as they live, and also that everyone should eat and drink, and find enjoyment in all his toil, for these things are a gift from God.” (3:12-13)

To live a balanced life, it’s crucial that we recognize the season we are in and embrace it. We must live fully present and accept each moment as a gift from God. Sometimes I would like to be able to live all the seasons at once. In college I worked hard but was constantly being filled with spiritual truth and encouragement. As a mom, I’m not being poured into like that. Authors I follow online release books and travel around speaking and working and I don’t have that freedom. There are days I cross off my to-do list like a pro and other days when keeping my kids alive is my major accomplishment.

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Life will never look exactly like we wish it would – at least not all of it at once. If I want to live in balance, I must learn to be content. To soak up the blessings around me and thank God for them, even in the face of disappointment, grief or struggles.

Every season is necessary. Sometimes the earth needs plowing, weeds need pulling, seeds need planting and watering, and bushes need pruning. If I chafe at these chores because I’m not enjoying the fruit of harvest yet, I won’t appreciate the value of my current task. We work toward harvest but it is not everything. Like Solomon, we can find enjoyment in the hard work before the harvest as well.

In any given day I can be in several seasons. I can be in a season of giving all morning while I care for my kids and run errands and text friends needing encouragement. Then I can enter a season of receiving as the kids nap and I rest and read God’s word or listen to a podcast. Sometimes it’s time for me to write, and sometimes it’s time for me to live out what I’ll be writing about later.   A key to balance is resting in this moment where God has me and walking forward in that.

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Maybe you’re in a dark or stormy season. Lean hard on God to carry you through it and keep moving forward. Maybe you’re in a season of harvest after your hard work and life is just good. Savor it and give God credit for the joy.

Discontentment always pulls us out of balance. Accepting our present life with open hands as a gift from God brings peace no matter what our circumstances may be.

Balance: Looking Beyond Today

journey toward balance elizabeth cravillion*Note* Today I’m sharing some biblical facts about God and Satan. If you wonder where on earth I’ve found these concepts, click the hyperlinks and they will take you to the verses that spell out the truths I’m explaining.

Watching my little boy climb up the rock wall at the playground, I ask myself again, “Where did the time go?” Just yesterday he was learning to crawl. Now his spindly legs race across the park as he yells, “I win you!”

Why do we always marvel at the speed of time? Because a timeless God created us with eternity in our hearts. Time is strange to our souls. As is sin, which has infected the world around us. We rebel at the passing of time and pain in life and the separation of death because our souls were created to be pure and whole and to live forever. This paradox tends to throw us out of balance.

People often ask why an all-powerful God allows pain and suffering in the world. It’s a deep question that I’m not going to delve into today. But through the Bible I understand that God has allowed his enemy a period of time to rule this world, within certain constraints. Our world is presently “groaning” under sin’s corruption, and we suffer with it. Bad things happen to us because we are stuck in the world’s system.

God’s word emphasizes that we live on a battlefield. Spiritual forces, invisible to our human eyes, fight for dominance over this world. We know that with every war comes pain, suffering and every form of evil.

In my naive Western mind, I’m tempted to view life as a classroom, where every hard experience equals a test from my teacher, God. It’s pristine and orderly and I just have to check off the right boxes and I’ll get an A. When life becomes more painful and messy I start questioning God – what’s going on? Are you torturing me? Why do I deserve this horrible essay test when my classmate over there gets an easy multiple-choice quiz?

elizabeth cravillion balance peace spiritual warfare

In March our family experienced some spiritual oppression through seemingly unwarranted defeat and dark discouragement. We prayed our way through it but suddenly I, was flat on my back in pain in the hospital with pneumonia and blood clots in both lungs.

We felt blindsided and I really struggled spiritually as I recovered. Clearly I could have died but God spared me. Why did he allow all this? Instinctively, I searched for the lesson he might be trying to teach me. Was he trying to get me to admit he was in control? Was he out to prove something to me? I really feared God for quite some time and couldn’t put my finger on why.

So I spent several weeks searching my heart and God’s word for answers. This is what God spoke to me. I’m living in a war zone. As believers in Christ on mission for God’s kingdom, our family fights in the front lines. God didn’t attack me with physical sickness. Satan did. God wasn’t out to prove his toughness to me. He’d been shielding me from a fatal attack from the enemy. He love my family and me so deeply that he protected me that way.

As I saw this, I wept. And I learned some rich, beautiful truths about my God in a way I’ve never seen them before. I may never have learned them this way if it hadn’t been for this experience.

Did God allow them so I would learn a lesson? Do I really need to ask that question? How pain and suffering purify me and make me like Jesus is a mystery. This we know: the Bible declares God as our protector – not our antagonist. He does redeem the corruption of sin in this world, meaning, he makes beautiful things out of the ugly, but he doesn’t take pleasure in our pain!

So in daily life, I fall out of balance when I forget to expect hard things from the invisible spiritual world. I forget Satan and his demons are attacking me with their lies and corruption. Satan masquerades as an angel of light and blends his lies so easily with the truth. He wants to destroy me. He’ll use anything to defeat me, from my baby’s teething to my coworker’s attitude to my dad’s diagnosis to my chronic pain.

When I forget about Satan, I get discouraged, or beat myself up, or doubt God. But when I put my mind on things above and remember that while physically in this world, I can separate my circumstances from spiritual reality. This provides clarity I desperately need in this hard life.

The truth is, this life is not everything. My comfort today is not the end goal. And as a believer, I have confidence that,  because of his death and resurrection, Christ wins in the end over Satan. Sin and pain don’t win. Temper tantrums don’t win. Dirty laundry doesn’t win. Cancer can’t win. Jesus does. And I am his.

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