The Things that Aren’t Ours

Have you ever wanted to do “more” to share hope with those around you…but you weren’t sure where to start? Here are some of the “secrets” I’ve learned about moving toward others.

It’s happened to me more than once.

…and probably more times than I realize.

As I go about my day, God will often set me in the middle of an opportunity. I wish I would pray for these opportunities more, but whether I remember to ask for them or not, God is faithful to send me tangible reminders of His intimate care for our lives.

In these moments, girls tell me, “Shelbie, that is exactly what I needed to hear” or “I don’t know how you knew what to say!”

And I tell them, “I didn’t know.”

When I feel an “opportunity” coming on, my conversation with God usually has a quick upspike as I plead for help for the next words. “Help, Lord!” or “Please help me know what to say” are some of my go-to “arrow prayers” when God places someone in front of me who needs a special sort of encouragement. These are desperate, wisdom-seeking prayers. And they are so often answered, with impeccable timing.

It’s true. I have no idea what to say. My personality tends to be tactful and wary of offense, and this approach seems to put people at ease. My mom jokes that I could tell one of my music students how much trouble they were in, and they would still walk away with a smile on their face.

When people start baring their souls to me, I try to listen, ask probing questions, and point them back to their only hope, which is Jesus.

Amazingly, God sometimes uses imperfect channels like you and me to spread His love. 

Here are a few things I’ve learned about finding and embracing God-given opportunities:

1. Be an Approachable Seeker 

Depending on how desperate they are, people may not come to us for help. Moving toward others as Christ moved toward me is a challenge and can nudge me (or downright catapult me!) out of my comfort zone.

Look around.

This is hard, at least for me. It can take a lot of effort to take my gaze off myself and lift my eyes to those around me. Not only that, but it can be just as much of a challenge to actually see needs. As humans, we can be good at covering up just how in-need we are at any given moment. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been shocked at the pain and emptiness hidden behind smiles and polite conversation

Ask for eyes to see the need, to see what other people are missing. And then, go to that place of need. Dare to ask.

“A person’s thoughts are like water in a deep well, but someone with insight can draw them out.” –  Proverbs 20:5, GNT

2. Arrow Prayers

I love the Nehemiah-style “arrow prayers” that I referred to above. When Nehemiah heard about the ruins of Jerusalem and  then spoke to the king, he demonstrated the short, desperate prayers that I turn to often in a challenging conversation.

“Well, what should be done?” the king asked.

With a quick prayer to the God of heaven, I replied, “If it please Your Majesty and if you look upon me with your royal favor, send me to Judah to rebuild the city of my fathers!”

 – Nehemiah 2:4, TLB –

Whether you have to walk across the room to engage that hurting girl or whether she appears in front of you asking for advice, an arrow prayer is in order. Help is needed right away, for both her and you, and—thankfully—it is only a whisper away. God is faithful. I’ve been amazed time and time again.

“The Lord is close to everyone who calls out to him, to all who call out to him sincerely.”
 – Psalm 145:18, CEB –

3. Strive for “Liminal Space.”

Liminal space comes from the Latin word limen, meaning threshold. Basically, liminal space is an attitude of setting aside your own opinions for a moment in order to understand someone else. It is “willing suspension of disbelief.”

Liminal space allows me to step into someone else’s shoes. While fully recognizing the sinfulness of sin, I can try to understand why someone made a decision or feels a certain way. Even if their reasons are inadequate or misinformed, I can set aside myself for a moment and truly listen. Liminal space can take me a long way in a conversation.

Relational liminal space is not a call for Christians to set aside their convictions, but it is a call for us to set aside harsh criticism to make room for compassion.

A situation will often call for you to speak Biblical truth, but first, listen. Seek understanding. Because, at the end of the day, what is liminal space, really?

It is dealing with grace.

“Try to help those who argue against you. Be merciful to those who doubt. Save some by snatching them as from the very flames of hell itself. And as for others, help them to find the Lord by being kind to them, but be careful that you yourselves aren’t pulled along into their sins. Hate every trace of their sin while being merciful to them as sinners.”
 – Jude 22-23, TLB –


4. Be Ready

How do I prepare for these spontaneous moments of ministry?

Well, I do prepare…and I don’t.

Moments of opportunity have no script, but…

The more I fill myself with Scripture, the more truth is in my heart, ready to be drawn out at a moments notice.

The more I look out for others more than myself, the more I see opportunities to speak truth and comfort into the lives of others.

The more ready I am to drop my plans and embrace God’s leading, the better my attitude will be when unexpected situations come up.

Actually, spontaneous ministry is fueled by moment-by-moment faithfulness. Every moment that I love Jesus, every choice I make because I want to glorify Him, and every time I deny my sinful self, I lay a paving stone for others to use to walk toward me.

Moments of ministry spring out of consistency. Not perfection–no, not perfection! I know I am a far cry from all that my Savior calls me to.

But that is the beauty of it.

He can use me — a flawed, redeemed, growing girl — to live out His truth and, sometimes, to speak it into others’ lives.

5. These Things Are Not Ours

At the end of a conversation, when someone asks, “How did you know?” the answer is always, “I didn’t know. But God did.”

With matchless skill and wisdom, God places His children in just the right places at the just the right times…and then His Spirit gives wisdom.

These things–these answers we give to others–are not ours.

It is not our intelligence, our intuition, our skill with language, that wins over hearts or gives encouragement to a weary soul.

These things aren’t ours at all. They are too wonderful.

Jesus alone receives the glory for a “word fitly spoken.”

But, as His co-heirs, we are swept up as well in the swells of His glory. His joys become ours. His loves become ours. His thoughts, slowly, become ours, because “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16).

When God puts someone in my path, it is pretty much my favorite thing ever…

To think!

I get a part in the grand drama of history.

My God allows me the joy of joining Him in the dance.

“But even though we were dead in our sins God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, gave us life together with Christ—it is, remember, by grace and not by achievement that you are saved—and has lifted us right out of the old life to take our place with him in Christ in the Heavens. Thus he shows for all time the tremendous generosity of the grace and kindness he has expressed towards us in Christ Jesus. It was nothing you could or did achieve—it was God’s gift to you. No one can pride himself upon earning the love of God. The fact is that what we are we owe to the hand of God upon us. We are born afresh in Christ, and born to do those good deeds which God planned for us to do.

Do not lose sight of the fact that you were born “Gentiles”, known by those whose bodies were circumcised as “the uncircumcised”. You were without Christ, you were utter strangers to God’s chosen community, the Jews, and you had no knowledge of, or right to, the promised agreements. You had nothing to look forward to and no God to whom you could turn. But now, through the blood of Christ, you who were once outside the pale are with us inside the circle of God’s love and purpose.

For Christ is our living peace.”

 – Ephesians 2:4-14a, Philips –


Trench Love


“Then I read that Jesus was a friend of sinners. This still bothers me. Not because Jesus was a friend of sinners (because that came in really handy in my case). It bothered me because if I’m trying to live like Jesus, that means I’m supposed to be a friend of sinners too.”
― Dillon Burroughs, Undefending Christianity ―

Maybe the whole world is brimming with rough-cut trenches.

Have I spent too long on the ridges in between? Or am I a friend of sinners?

My God stepped into the trenches and touched lepers with open, running sores. He blessed the faith and tears of dark-eyed prostitutes. His hand dipped into meals with the dusty, money-rubbing hands of hardened thieves. He frequented the places that the Religious Right of the day called inappropriate and sinful. He had a band of ragamuffins: fisherman, half-breed Samaritans, government workers, wives, radical freedom fighters, women of the night, peasants.

But I do not have to find a leper colony, a brothel, or a gang of bank robbers to get in the trenches. Yes, those are needy trenches indeed. But that is not the idea.

Trenches are everywhere, crisscrossing the whole earth. And people are in those trenches–needy, hurting, growing, sinning people.

People just like you and me.

Some of them have Jesus. Some of them don’t.

Some of them have hope. Some of them can’t stand to think that the sun might come up again.

Some of them wear Prada and shop on New York’s 5th Avenue. Some of them wear Levis and push a cart at Wal-Mart. Some of them wear second-hand rags and dig in the dumpster for scraps.

Find them. There is a trench beside you. Get in it and see what you find.

See who you find.

Verda is in one of my trenches–an 83-year-old nursing home resident, hard of hearing and frail body swollen with excess fluid. She wiggled her finger at me, and soon I was kneeling beside her wheelchair, praying and clutching her bony fingers.

Jake is in a nearby trench–just a boy, a teenage boy I don’t even know, but his half-sister goes to my church. See, Jake is in ICU today. He shot or sniffed or smoked so much at once that his body began to shut down from a drug overdose. Is he living or dying right now? I only pray he will have one last chance to hear that there is hope. And maybe, just maybe, he will live to tell of a Redeemer.

Brent is in one of my trenches, strong and growing stronger in every way. I was put into his trench by Divine arrangement. See, he is my brother. Even brothers have trenches, and even brothers have needs and prayers and growing pains. But the good thing about being a brother is that there is someone else born right in your trench, right in your family, ready-made to do trench warfare on your behalf. That is why I am here–to fight for him, beside him, in the trench.

Destiny is in a trench nearby. Maybe 9 or 10 years old, on ADD medication, Mormon by family choice, living with her grandmother because her mother, for whatever reason, just couldn’t handle raising her. And she’s picking up a violin for the second semester. So every two weeks, I get to kneel by her and show her how to coax a song out of piece of wood and a bundle of horse hair. And maybe I get to show her a little love that she doesn’t get too often.

My friend Lizzie told me this:

“No one can prepare you for the ways this [getting in the trenches] changes you. If any of these encounters are NOT something, they are not heroic. They are not inspiring. They are not dramatic.

But. If God calls you to those trenches, in whatever field He chooses, you will bury your hands in the same dirt as He.”

Yes. I will be sinking my fingers into the same dirt, maybe writing mercy in it for the scarred and wandering, just as He did (John 8:6).

The point is not to find a glamorous trench, or an especially dark and dirty trench, or even a new trench. The point is that if you are walking on the ridges instead of getting down in the middle of life–where people and problems and pain are, you can’t be living like Jesus.

Because Jesus didn’t stay up safe on a plain above us.

He got down and got dirty, stripped away His heavenly beauty and invulnerability, and became one of us. Subject to our temptations. Exposed to cold, hunger, homelessness, misunderstanding.

For us.

I can’t NOT go into the trenches. Whether my trench tomorrow is new or old, a nursing home or my own kitchen, a violin class or an unexpected counseling session, a women’s prison or a road trip with my brother, I’m surrounded by trenches calling me to come to the battle.

So I will go. Not armed with hate for the sinner. Not looking for sensation and easy fixes. Truly, and blessedly, overflowing with love that can’t wait to get out and see what God will do with a life that belongs to Him.

When I’m rubbing Verda’s swollen ankles or showing Destiny just where to put her fingers on the violin string, something happens.

The cares and worries and tiny, unnecessary, meaningless chaff of my life drift away and I realize what I was made to do:

Be a friend of sinners, pointing them to their Ultimate Friend.

In whatever trench I happen to find myself.

“ ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.’ These men without possessions or power, these strangers on Earth, these sinners, these followers of Jesus, have in their life with him renounced their own dignity, for they are merciful. As if their own needs and their own distress were not enough, they take upon themselves the distress and humiliation of others. They have an irresistible love for the down-trodden, the sick, the wretched, the wronged, the outcast and all who are tortured with anxiety. They go out and seek all who are enmeshed in the toils of sin and guilt. No distress is too great, no sin too appalling for their pity. If any man falls into disgrace, the merciful will sacrifice their own honour to shield him, and take his shame upon themselves.”

― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship ―

Late for The Great Appointment


“Faith don’t come in a bushel basket, Missy. It come one step at a time. Decide to trust Him for one little thing today, and before you know it, you find out He’s so trustworthy you be putting your whole life in His hands.”
― Lynn Austin, Candle in the Darkness ―

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“With the entirety of your heart, trust in Me…”(Prov. 3:5)

Oh, how cerebral is this, my trust! How prone to wander from its Object. My trust has myopia. Its legs are lame.

I’ve prayed and wrestled with a heart that lashes with as much powered angst as the sweeping timber-tail of a Texas gator. To this moody, carnivorous heart, I’ve begged more than once, “Trust Jesus. Trust Him.”

And with mind assenting,

lips confessing,

even heart, at last, bowed

I trust.

A soft, safe mental believing that I’ve fought to wrestle, reason, and generally talk myself into.

If a mustard seed’s portion of faith can shake mountain ranges, I’m ashamed to think how miniscule my own belief’s seed must be. I’m barely shaken myself.

Trembling, a question. “How much trust is enough?”

Cue the calipers, the electron microscopes, a scale so attuned that slightest breath of air sends a shiver through its needle.

Let’s crank up the old faith-o-meter.

“What Lord?” What’s that You’re saying?”

“Lean not on your own understanding…” (Prov. 3:5b)

“Oh–oh no. Not my understand…well, just this analysis, You see. I have to find out how much trust in You I have, and if it’s enough.”

“Oh, you of little faith. Why do you doubt?”(Matt. 14:31)

Flood of images, all He has brought me through. “Well…well, You–that’s my point. I have little faith, Lord. Why shouldn’t I doubt–doubt myself, at least?”

“By grace you have been saved through faith…not of your own doing. It is a gift from Me…”(Eph. 2:8)

“Grace is a gift from You, yes, I know. But faith…”

“It is the gift of God…so no one may boast.”(Eph. 2:8,9)

My deflated ego is fast surpassed by elated realization. “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”

“In all your ways, acknowledge Me and I will direct your paths.”(Prov. 3:6)

Some things are too simple for over-analysis.

Acknowledge Him. In all my ways. Just that simple. Just that terribly, terribly difficult.

Ridiculous, this penchant of mine to give God my whole life, but not offer up the next moment, as if my whole future is not made up of myriad present instants. When will I ever serve Him if I always hold one second–the next one–back?

Honestly? It’s easier to “surrender” my general being, pledge my all, than to give up the next breath. Yielding to Him, this “acknowledging Him,” in the present takes more courage, more trust, because it requires immediate response to the belief I claim.

Far easier, to check off the boxes and keep up the monochrome coloring in the lines and let life come to me on my terms.

But He’s challenging me.

Challenging me to enter into my surrender with my whole heart.

My whole, new heart.

I’m not just to lay down my life, but to rise again in new power.

To ask, this instant, for God to meet me in a thousand places,

to show me Himself in a million ways.

To pray for The Great Appointment,

that in every person He takes me to,

something will be sparked.

That the God of this Song will orchestrate my moments

so that the verse I sing will spill music

into other ears.

“You say, ‘But how can I serve the Lord? I’m not important. What I do is common and of little consequence. Anyone can do what I do”….And I say to you: ‘There are no useless, minor meetings. There are no dead-end jobs. There are no pointless lives. Swallow your sorrows, forget your grievances and all the hurt your poor life has sustained. Turn your face truly to the human before you and let her, for one pure moment, shine. Think her important, and then she will suspect that she is fashioned of God.'”

– Walter Wangerin, Jr., from the essay “Edification/Demolition” –

Who are we, we who claim Jesus? Who are we kidding, if our words don’t breathe Him, our faces don’t shine Him, and our hearts do not reach out as His?

Who do we fool, we who claim to be daughters of God? The world is not fooled–we prove ourselves to be just what they suspect.

Empty of power.

Unless our surrender is more than a token and our repentance is more than a show of tears.

If God’s grace settles down deep and we bow to its transformation.

If we embrace the faith He has measured out for us as a glorious gift.

And if we live for Him NOW.

Now, our all our ways must demonstrate in Whom we have put our trust.

Not someday. Not tomorrow. Not later in spare time.


“But when anything is exposed and reproved by the light, it is made visible and clear; and where everything is visible and clear there is light.Therefore He says, ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall shine (make day dawn) upon you and give you light.’

Look carefully then how you walk! Live purposefully and worthily and accurately, not as the unwise and witless, but as wise (sensible, intelligent people),

Making the very most of the time [buying up each opportunity], because the days are evil.Therefore do not be vague and thoughtless and foolish, but understanding and firmly grasping what the will of the Lord is.”

– Ephesians 5:13-17 AMP, emphasis mine –

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In what way is God calling you  to leave behind your own understanding and trust His leading?

What step of absolute belief must you now take?


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Thank you, Petr Kratochvil and Public Domain Pictures, for the lovely photo.