Twenty Fifteen

faceless person jogging in empty park

Do the next thing: Wisdom from Elisabeth Elliot

As a young teen, I read her books and articles with a voracious appetite for her wisdom. When I was 20, I attended one of her conferences and met her in person. Even now, one of her books sits at my bedside. Few women have had the influence on my life that she has had. It wasn’t that Elisabeth Elliot was perfect—far from it; it was the fact that she knew Christ’s strength in her weakness and made the clarion call for others to do the same. And while her wealth of wisdom shaped much of my thinking in my formative years, there is one particular piece of her advice that has helped me navigate seasons of depression, stress and uncertainty. It was advice she herself had gleaned from an Old Saxon poem: Do it immediately; Do it with prayer; Do it reliantly, casting all care; Do it with reverence, Tracing His Hand, Who placed it before thee with Earnest command. Stayed on Omnipotence, Safe ‘neath His wing, Leave all resultings, DO THE NEXT THING. It was that simple: Do the next thing. And I’ve rehearsed it a thousand times to myself these many years. Do the next thing. In a culture obsessed with celebrity and novelty, emotional highs and experiences, we’ve forgotten that real life is mostly lived in the daily mundane. It’s not lived on mountaintops and it’s not impressive enough to be a Facebook status. It’s a series of uncelebrated steps, of hidden habits. This week you’ll do a hundred unspectacular things: brush your teeth, eat food, wash dishes, do laundry, answer the phone, pay bills, gas up your car, wash your hands, make your bed, etc. You’ll do the next thing. And then, after that, you’ll do the next thing. One little (seemingly insignificant) moment at a time. But God has often written his story in the midst of everyday affairs. Consider the lives of King David, Moses and Ruth. David was a shepherd boy who wielded a sling and stone to keep his sheep safe from predators. One swing at a time, one predator at a time, until one day, “David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone” (1 Sam. 17:50). He wasn’t setting out to be famous, eagerly awaiting the day when his name might top the “50 Most Influential Israelites” list. He was faithful to do what was before him, even when that was caring for a bunch of sheep. And Moses, after enjoying the life of a prince, spent four decades in the wilderness. We know little of his time there except that he tended sheep. When God revealed himself to Moses through a burning bush, he posed the question, “What is that in your hand?” And Moses answered the obvious: “A staff.” It was this simple utilitarian staff—used for prodding and protecting sheep—that God would use to show his glory to Pharaoh, the Israelites and all of Egypt. Then there’s Ruth. Apparently she had extensive experience gleaning in the fields. So when she arrived in Israel with her mother-in-law, destitute and hungry—she did what she’d done a thousand times. Never could she have known what God was accomplishing in the midst of her hard, tireless labor. How many times did Moses carry that staff in his hand? David wield his sling? Ruth work tirelessly to provide for her family? Dozens and hundreds and thousands of times. Years upon years. But the mundane became the soil in which the miraculous grew. Sometimes the next thing to do is hard. It’s the last thing you feel like doing. But it’s what he’s put before you, and it is good. Many years ago, a young widow took her small child and moved into the very tribe that had killed her husband. When folks made a fuss over her heroic faith, she quickly declined their praise and said she’d simply learned to “do the next thing.” “What is that in your hand?” Take it and do the next thing. What is your stone-and-sling, your staff, your field to glean? You take care of the task before you, even if it’s mind-numbingly mundane or breathtakingly scary—and as you offer up your obedience to him, he’ll make it into something miraculous.

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On your 40th

She was the It Girl in college: drop-dead gorgeous, smart, with a slew of handsome suitors and a voice that earned her a recording label. She was going places, and we all anticipated the day when we would say, “I knew Lisa Kolbo before she was famous….” We thought we knew what life should look like back then. The beautiful and the gifted—those were the ones God put on platforms and used in mighty ways. Because she was the whole package, Lisa and her music ministry would be unstoppable. But He was scripting such a different story. We could not have guessed what was going on behind the scenes and what the next two decades of life would hold. But He knew, and He was holding it all together in love. Although Lisa and I shared a propensity for music, coffee, and laughter, it was eventually our brokenness that bound our hearts together. I began to see a strength in Lisa that I could no longer attribute to beauty or giftedness. In unexpected suffering and disappointment she was pressing herself into God, and I saw Him. I could relate to her because she was weak, like me; but unlike me, she could poignantly express what was going on in her heart. I listened and learned. We talked of love and waiting and marriage. And I watched her fall in love with and marry the best man she’d ever known—her lifelong friend, Michael Hamel. It was now Lisa Hamel, not Lisa Kolbo. But it wasn’t just her name that changed. After six years of marriage, God gifted her with her firstborn—a beautiful boy with special needs. This former campus celebrity was now quietly caring for an autistic child behind closed doors. Day in, day out. No applause could be heard but His. And Lisa went deeper with Jesus. And as she did, she took us with her. Sure, her giftedness and gorgeousness could wow us, but her suffering by faith with eyes fixed on Jesus would forever change us. Today my dear friend turns 40 years old, and I’m reflecting on God’s kindness—to her… to me through her. I’m thanking Him for derailing small dreams, for saying no to some prayers, and for birthdays that mark His faithfulness. Happy birthday, dear Lis. Your life has made mine unspeakably rich.

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Raise that warrior

I don’t write much about motherhood because I don’t know much yet. I have one son, and he’s just four years old. But it doesn’t take experience to know what I’m about. I am raising a warrior. I’m not called to raise a cute conversation piece or a popular kid. I’m not laying down my life so that my son can set the curve, break the record, or earn me bragging rights. I’m about the business of raising a warrior of wisdom who loves Jesus, for “those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above, and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever” (Daniel 12:3). Through years of teaching other people’s kids, mentoring youth, and counseling teenage girls in crisis, I saw and heard a lot. I don’t need years of parenting to know that the enemy of our souls wants to devour my son. It’s war out there, and I’m called to raise a warrior—to intercede for, train, love, and prepare him “to shine…in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation” (Philippians 2:15). And I’m scared. I’m scared because I’m called to an unspeakable task—the nurture and care of an eternal soul. I’m just one insignificant woman who has monumental weaknesses. I’m scared because I don’t get guarantees for how my son will turn out. Just because I train him to be a warrior, doesn’t mean he will be one. He has his own soul and accountability before God. I’m scared of raising a young man in Southern California where flesh is god and entertainment is king. But God understands my fears and speaks to them. In Nehemiah 4, when the Israelites were working tirelessly to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, their enemies came to taunt them and thwart their efforts. Nehemiah rallied the people to continue their noble work in the midst of hostility and danger: “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.” Fight for your son, Colleen. But how? Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and don’t be afraid of: …weakness, …failure, …worst-case scenarios. This great endeavor called motherhood is worth fighting the fear that accompanies it. Faith is not the absence of fear; it is the ability to believe God in the midst of great fear. Faith says, “I cannot, but God can.” Because God is great and awesome, and because His Spirit lives in me, I can fight for my son, for his eternal joy in Jesus, no matter what. FEAR VS. GOD Fear complicates things and tempts me to find refuge in methods and formulas and reactions. What kind of education and home life and church and social circle will ensure my son’s safety and success? Fear takes my eyes off of Christ. When I fear, God gets small and my what-if’s get big. Unlike fear, God doesn’t complicate things. In Deuteronomy 6, He lays out the task of parenting with such simplicity it’s shocking: love God with everything I’ve got; keep His words close to my heart; then teach those words to my child as we go about our day together. Fear makes the goal feel unattainable, but God says, “Colleen, do the next thing—and while you do it, tell your son about Me.” When I recall to mind what I am about (raising a warrior to shine in a crooked generation) and Who it is that’s actually accomplishing this impossible feat (Christ Jesus Himself!), I can move past my fears and faithfully plow the fertile soil of my son’s soul. In other words, I fight by faith. I believe God. I take Him at His word. And I fight on my knees. I pray. (I need to pray more.) A soul is at stake, and there is only One who can rescue and redeem him. So I talk to my Lord, I plead with Him, weep before Him for my son. God has begun this good work in my motherhood, and He will be faithful to complete it. I will mess up a thousand times, and brokenness will mark my motherhood, but God will always draw me back to Himself, to the cross and the empty tomb, reminding me that the power that raised Christ from the dead is at work in me. I have only a handful of fleeting years to “train up my son in the way he should go” (Proverbs 22:6). I have no idea what tomorrow holds, but today is such a gift, and I have been given everything I need to accomplish the task before me. So today this weak inexperienced mama can, by God’s grace… Raise that warrior. This article also appears on the ERLC blog.

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A word to the wise

When my son was only a few months old, I had a mother-of-four walk by me and say, “Oh, I remember the days of only one child. Enjoy it—you have it so easy!” She was right, you know. Mothering one child is enjoyable, and it is much easier than taking care of four small children as she was. But she was also wrong. Enjoyment doesn’t come merely from having only one child. And easy wasn’t what I was feeling that particular day: I was in the throes of post-partum depression, suffering from serious health issues, surviving on three hours of sleep every night, and learning to be a mom for the very first time. … During my 14 years of singleness, I had more than one married woman tell me, “Once I surrendered my singleness to the Lord and was completely content, God brought my husband along the very next day!” (Why was it always the very next day?) Was contentment a destination or a daily choice? Moreover, was perfect contentment supposed to win me the prize of marriage? … Over the years, I’ve heard myriad people say, “Parenting is the most sanctifying thing in the world.” What does this mean then for those who are single or barren? What happened to Jesus’ statement in John 17 that God’s Word is what sanctifies us? Do parents have a corner on the market of spiritual maturity? A BETTER WORD It would be easy for me to resent such misguided comments, except for the fact that I’ve been guilty of similar words myself. When we’re hurting, self-absorbed, or simply wanting to validate our season of life, it’s easy to think and speak “extra-biblically.” We offer commentary and advice that’s rooted in our own experiences or emotions, not in the Word of God. “For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” Proverbs 2:6 “[A wife of noble character] speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.” Proverbs 31:26 Where does wisdom come from? The Lord. So if I want to speak with wisdom, if I want faithful instruction on the tip of my tongue, I go to the Lord, the source of all wisdom. Sure, I can draw from my own life lessons and share my experiences, but “apart from the Lord, I have no good thing.” My Word-less words have no power of their own. But His Word? Oh, His Word is… “perfect, refreshing the soul trustworthy, making wise the simple right, giving joy to the heart radiant, giving light to the eyes.” (Psalm 19) If I really want to refresh a friend’s soul, give joy to her heart, and light to her eyes, I’ll be slow to dish out my own advice and quick to direct the conversation toward the beautiful, life-giving truths of the Word. For example, instead of comparing plights with a friend and telling her, “You have it so easy!” I might focus on the goodness of God I see in her life. Or I can steer the conversation away from the differences in our situations and instead focus on what we share in common in Christ. Or instead of telling a single girl to be perfectly content so that God will reward her with a husband, I might share how I learned to cling to Isaiah 54 (“your Maker is your husband”) and 1 Thessalonians 5:24 (“the One who calls you is faithful, and He will do it”). God’s Word will never return empty; it will always accomplish what God desires. It’s alive and active, piercing to the joints and marrow of our souls. And if we could speak with that kind of wisdom, then it would be said of us, “Faithful instruction is on her tongue.” {Scriptures referenced: Psalm 16:2, Isaiah 55:11, Hebrews 4:12} This article also appears on

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Finding rhythms of rest (even through the holidays)

I’m exhausted. To the marrow of my bones, I am spent and weary. A few days ago, I drove up a winding hill, fresh after fall’s first storm, alone in my car; and the tears started. They were longing to spill out before Him, to be seen by Him. Despite my daily Bible study, I felt like I hadn’t experienced Him in weeks. My soul was made for this One. Everything about me—my personality, my frailties, my history, my hurts, my hopes—it’s all meant to sing His song, to spill out the melody of His gospel on those around me. But a season of crisis and nonstop needs can dry up the soul until the only thing that seems to be spilling out is a monumental mess. Can you relate? These days I’m easily given to a heart that’s crabby, negative, and ungrateful. I often feel exhausted and numb, and I find myself shifting into autopilot in my marriage and motherhood. And yet, He’s still wooing me. He’s still calling me by name and whispering, “You are mine.” Dear one, I wasn’t made for this American pace of life. I wasn’t made to be a miracle wife and mom all while keeping a calendar that hemorrhages with busyness. I’m not hard-wired to press through another day on nothing but old fumes. I was made to know Life, to consider everything else a loss compared to the breathtaking beauty of knowing Him. Please hear my heart: I was absolutely made to work hard, to invest my time well, to lay down my life for those around me. I was meant to serve in such a way that requires supernatural strength and, at times, leaves me physically and emotionally exhausted. Jesus modeled this for us and commissioned us to do the same. WORK FLOWING FROM REST But that kind of meaningful work and eternal investing must flow from an abiding rest—the kind of rest I can find only in Him. He modeled this for us too. And squeezing in a “quiet time” during my son’s short nap each day just doesn’t cut it. I need to find rhythms of rest in my weeks and days: to say “no” to even the best of activities so that I can say “yes” to Him to savor thoughts of Christ, again and again throughout my day to post Scriptures on the walls of my home, so I can stop and read and believe what is true in the midst of a day that feels like “too much” to prioritize my calendar so that it points to His sufficiency, not mine I truly don’t know how to do this yet and may not for many years to come. But even my pursuit is precious in His eyes. And when I feel like no rest can be found in this season of nonstop needs and ministry, He continues to show up and say, “This is the way; walk in it.” As I keep His Word before me, it’s as if a little lamp lights my way and leads me into His rest. MAKING REST HAPPEN Are you weary and exhausted, dear one? Are you numb? Have you been in crisis mode for too long? May I encourage you in the same way I’m encouraging myself today? We are not victims of our circumstances—we can make space for rest, no matter what season of life we’re in. We can know Him in the most mundane or insane moments of our day. The holiday season is fast upon us, but He is even more important than the coming festivities. This month, what if we booked a few sessions of REST? What if we dared to clear our calendar—somewhere, anywhere—to make room for Him? What if the rhythm of our lives sang with the hymnist, Ever lift Thy face upon me, as I work and wait for Thee; Resting ‘neath Thy smile, Lord Jesus, earth’s dark shadows flee. Brightness of my Father’s glory, sunshine of my Father’s face, Keep me ever trusting, resting, fill me with Thy grace. Dear one, because Christ became our eternal Sabbath rest, we are no longer slaves to temporal weariness. Body and soul may grow exhausted, but as we rest in Him, we move from strength to strength. {I originally wrote this article in November 2014. It also appears on}

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