Abu Da'ud

A bare willow tree

Pressure comes in life, sometimes stripping us bare. It can be persecution, pandemic or a panoply of crises. What are we to think, to do?

My neighbor’s willow tree reminded me of answers I’d learned long ago. In late summer and fall, it had gorgeous branches full of green leaves that would sway happily in the breeze. The tree looked like it was enjoying life and its freedom.

Then the seasons changed. Men came and cut off all its branches, stripping it down to the nub. It became a bare tree. To add insult to injury, when the rains came and fell on the exposed cuts, the bright wood began to dull and become gray. Everything that seemed to have so much function and beauty now looked like a dead pole stuck in the ground.

On some days, the pole looked like it was simply numb, feeling nothing. On other days, it seemed to want to rage at the sky, saying, “Why did you do this to me?”

We seem to ask the same questions when pressure comes, when things are taken that we value or even treasure. We experience many powerful, often negative emotions. We probably, like the willow, cannot fully see what is happening.

We can learn answers from the willow in spring. Slowly, little green shoots appear. They turn into branches, which quickly erupt with leaves. The tree looks even bigger than before.

God does not send calamity, but will often use it to prune us so that we can bear more leaves, more fruit (John 15). Rather than shut down, fear or rage at God and each other, we can reach out to God with thanks for the change in season and what He will accomplish in and through us. We can reach out to others in love rather than take out on them our frustration from thwarted expectations.

God is still in control, and loves you thoroughly. He is for you and with you. Be of good cheer, for He has overcome the world that threatens you. He gives grace and mercy for times like these. You, like the willow, may be experiencing a change in seasons, but please remember and trust that God is still Lord of the seasons

Keywords: seasons, change, trust

Crises sometimes contain tests

Maybe because my major crises started in college, crises often seemed like tests. The good thing is that the questions were usually the same, and I learned, by grace, to ask for the right posture, if you will, to pass the test. I also learned to repent and return to God where I missed a question.

Here are the questions:

Where is your faith? (In what or who am I putting my trust/belief?)

In whom do you trust?

Faith or fear?

Wisdom or panic?

Compassion or judgment?

Focused or frazzled?

Eyes on the King and His kingdom (and associated tasks) or distracted?

Fretting or listening to Him? (Martha or Mary?)

How’d you do? The questions are a self-test, and the answers are between you and God.

Regardless of the answer, please read all of the referenced passage, which contains God’s call to come to Him so that He could give you rest (Matt 11:28-30)

He loves you and will always take care of you. Also, His way is always the best. When you feel unduly burdened, cast your care on Him because He cares for you.

My after-test (and sometimes in-test) prayers were often something along the lines of, “I’m sorry for doing this wrong, I don’t know how to change, but want to, and I believe You’ll help me. Please help.” Not a long prayer, but one that was always answered by our good God. The answer may have looked different than expected, and sometimes not quickly, but it always came.

Keywords: Discipleship, testing

MBB identity is not based on performance

MBBs need to know that the extent of their obedience and performance, even good works from a pure heart, are not their identity in Christ. 

Christians are children of God, and their identity is a gift – given at salvation. What they do is different than who they are. God loves them because they are His. He does invite them to work with Him, but that is not why He loves them. 

MBBs, as well as all Christians, should ensure that they are doing the right things for the right reasons. To do so requires hearing the Holy Spirit, knowing God’s character and the new covenant. Learning how to do these three things, as well as many others, is covered in my book, Discipling Muslim Background Believers.

Keywords: MBB discipleship, identity, performance

Treating serious pain like a squeaky wheel

All Christians experience pain suffered at the hands of others, especially persecuted believers. MBBs tend to experience very high levels of emotional and even physical pain. How can serious pain be best dealt with?

Some would say to ignore the pain and soldier on. The problem with that is the cause of the pain may be preventing a person from living the way that he or she is called to live. It’s better to treat pain like a squeaky wheel – understand the symptom and treating the cause while soldiering on. It’s better to not ignore the pain. Much like putting oil between two metal surfaces rubbing against each other, find healthy ways to treat the pain so the MBB can function properly.

The greater the pain, the likelihood is the the wound, physical or emotional, is more serious. Sometimes serious pain requires professional help and even a support group. In every case, ask God to heal the MBB both physically and emotionally. The emotional healing will usually take time, sometimes many years, but He does heal.

I’ve talked to many MBBs that were disowned and disinherited. Some were even tortured. Surprisingly, the ones tortured said the deepest pain came from family rejection. Emotional pain can be debilitating to a person’s soul, psyche and personal interactions. However, the MBBs that asked God for emotional healing and were willing to get help, even from professionals, fared much better than those that did not.

It is also useful for the MBB to be in fellowship with other Christians that will love and minister to the MBB. Being part of a local small group or church can be a big part of God’s plan to heal a wounded MBB.

Often, when I hurt the most, rather than allow me to devolve into a cycle of endless self-analysis and self-pity, God would provide opportunities for me to serve other people, regardless of whether they were Christian or not. Afterwards, I was often pleasantly surprised to find that though I had been in my darkest hours, reaching out to help other people had very positive benefits for me. The pain usually abated, and sometimes did not come back with the same intensity. I am not talking about giving love to others in order to get help from God – that’s not real love, which seeks to benefit others for their good. I am talking about serving others with no expectation of return. It worked well for me and may be useful to keep in mind.

After dealing with the pain while soldiering on, have the MBB refocus and continue to live out God’s will for his or her life with greater energy and passion.

Keywords: Christian, discipleship, MBB, dealing with pain

Staying focused on Jesus as seasons change

While losing focus on Jesus can happen at Christmas time, this post is more about losing focus at the change of spiritual seasons: bad to good; good to bad; difficult to easy; plenty to little; and so on. Christians tend to do better when they keep Jesus as their focus because He is our source of life and joy.

Most Christians know that He is our source, but get distracted. The key to returning to a good focus is not simply following a checklist, nor is it simply trying to think more about Him. Thinking about Him is not bad. It must, however, be done in the context of a relationship that is living and vital.

All Christians are given a doorway into that relationship in Christ. Many then treat following Jesus as something that they do every now and then — usually at church or sometimes during prayer or even regular quiet times.

What God offers us is so much bigger and better. While He is always with us, He wants us to always know and experience His presence.

He calls us friends. We are not slaves, simply there to perform tasks of obedience. Rather, He calls us to an exciting life of serving and loving others with Him. We live and work in a vital, sustaining relationship with Him. He wants us with Him always, and died to prove it. Because He rose, we are members of His family, perfectly and fully loved.

Distracted? Lost focus? Then remember. Remember that you are part of His family, and He calls you sister or brother. He loves you with an everlasting love, calling you friend — the close kind. So close that He takes up residence in you. Ask Him to keep reminding you of His love, presence and friendship. Also ask Him to continue to reveal greater depths of His love an friendship, and how that revelation affects how you live. Do your part — seeking to know His friendship.

When we know we are truly loved for our benefit, we tend to respond lovingly. This response refocuses us, giving us the ability to properly live out our relationship with our Lord and friend, Jesus Christ.

p.s. Knowing you are in or out of focus often takes monitoring your attitudes, thoughts and actions. Regular short times of reflection can be enough, using even the simple question, “Is my priority of my relationship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit being lived out in my attitudes, thoughts and actions?”

Keywords: Christian, discipleship, love, friend of God, re-focus