When no one but God is watching 

     On the third floor of the Church of God of Prophecy International Offices there is a painting that says: “Character is who you are when no one but God is watching.” It doesn’t matter how many times I come across this painting, every time I see it, it compels me to meditate and continually ask myself the question: “Who am I when no one but God is watching?”
     The current society we live in and where we carry out our lives highly values the concept of productivity. What we do and what we can show for ourselves is what defines who we are. We are impressed by titles, we thrive on trophies, awards and other symbols of merit and acknowledgement because we view them as proof of our success and self-sufficiency, and they have become a tangible representation of our purpose and worth.
     Because of this concept of productivity we are continually surrounded by, being busy begins to say a lot about us and what we are busy with says even more. And once this mentality has found its way into our minds and hearts, it discretely creeps into our churches and we begin to slowly focus more and more on doing for God.
     We would not be wrong to say that works and the product of our hands are important and are directly connected and related to who we are. However, the problem is in which order we put those two things. Who we are deep inside always defines what we do, but what we do doesn’t always define who we are deep down inside and where no one but God can see. The most important thing is where our focus is.
     I love the story of Martha and Mary because it reminds me what the better part is. In Luke 10 we find Martha so preoccupied with the details and focused on working and doing. Her desire was to offer Jesus her best and for his stay at her house to be pleasant. However, Jesus tells her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Martha’s desire to serve Jesus was a gesture of love and kindness, yet Mary was the one who chose what was more important. Mary didn’t feel the need to impress Jesus with her service or use her work as a symbol of her love and attention, she understood that the simple act of being before Jesus was more important that doing for him. Jesus wasn’t interested in her service; he was interested in her heart.
     As a worship leader I began to meditate on how this mentality of productivity and defining ourselves by merely doing has filtered itself into our hearts and affected our lives of worship. When we draw near to God in worship with this productivity mentality, we become like Martha. We come with the mentality that we need to impress God, earn his love by doing, or that we need to put out some kind of performance. We sing a couple songs, we throw our hands up in the air, we may even dance a little, we let a couple tears run down our cheeks and we succeeded at feeling overwhelmed by an emotional experience. If we had some kind of combination of these expressions then we go home happy and satisfied because we believe that was a ‘true worship experience’. It is wonderful when such expressions are genuine and come from the inside-out, however, when our worship becomes about our expression rather than the recipient of our worship, then our hearts are far away and disconnected from God, and we have failed at choosing what is better.
     Worship goes beyond a song; it is far more than a combination of expressions or an experience. To define worship as an experience is to limit it and constrain it to a short period of time, either a couple minutes or even an hour, when in reality worship is something that transcends an experience. True worship is who you are from the inside-out and the state your heart is in; the place that only God can see. What is in your heart will dictate who you are when no one but Him is watching, and who you are lasts longer than a couple minutes or an hour; it will take up your entire existence and will extend even further into eternity. And that is why true worship becomes not a moment or a series of experiences, but rather a lifestyle.
     I love how The Message Bible expresses John 4:23-24 in a contemporary language: “It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.”
     What we do is not the most important thing in life. Who we are in relation to God is the most important thing in life. The things we do and the decisions we make should be motivated by who we are deep down inside, instead of the things we do define who we are.
     We need to regenerate our minds. We need to give priority to who we are before what we do. Because you can do great things for God and your heart still be far away from God. However, if you genuinely love God with all your being, you won’t help but do great things for God and offer your genuine worship in each heartbeat.
     Let us remember that God doesn’t look at what society looks at. He watches our hearts! So whether we are singing at church, or working in an office, or cooking at home, learning in school, or enjoying a day of rest, we can worship with our being. And from the purity and transparency of your heart will stem your works, like fruits of a life that has chosen what is better.
     Perhaps you need to ask yourself today the question I ask myself every time I walk by that painting in our offices. “Who am I when no one but God is watching?” Could it be that my works are mere fruits of who I am deep down inside, or could it be that my works and accomplishments are nothing but a disguise masking who I am with the person I pretend to be. Is my worship more than just a song? Will I choose like Mary what is better?
     Who are you when no one but God is watching?

Pamela Praniuk

December 2011

Dear broken-hearted

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”  – C.S. Lewis

Love ANYTHING and your heart will be wrung and possibly

There are thousands of things that can break our heart, the most common probably being uncorresponded love, the ending of a romantic relationship, infidelity and other things that fall under the “romance” category. HOWEVER, there are so many other things that can break our heart, like perhaps betrayal from a dear friend, a dream that is shattered, a door of opportunity that closes, rejection from someone you look up to, being unnoticed and feeling invisible, a failure, having a dysfunctional family, or even a vocational disappointment; the list goes on and on and it could be something big or the smallest detail.

I’m gonna take a guess here and say that we’ve all been there. I bet we all know exactly what a broken-heart feels like, and if you don’t, chances are that at some point in your life you will. So this letter is for all of those broken hearts out there. I may not know what your story or situation is exactly, but I know the feeling and I know it well; and so this letter is for you.

Dear broken-hearted 💔

I know you are hurting, probably trying to pick up the shattered pieces and stitch up what’s left of your heart. Your hope threatened by the shadow of your fears and your faith deafened by the lies.

Do you feel like you may never be able to love again?

Does the idea of trusting someone with your heart terrify you?

Do you wonder if anyone will ever know how to hold your heart; when will someone see you for who you really are and who you are be more than enough?

Do you wonder if there is such a thing as “the one”; that once in a lifetime kind of love?

Do you wonder when will it be your time to shine?

Do you wonder if trusting, waiting, hoping and believing are worth it after all?

You know, i’ve been there too; with a shattered hope and a scattered heart, trying to pick up the pieces left and make sense of it all. But i never could, not on my own that is, not leaning on my own understanding. Sometimes it took time to heal, add to that forgiveness, it took tears to surrender, prayer and worship to fix my eyes on the bigger picture and a lot of persevering; holding on to faith and never giving up on hope.

I’ve been where you are, i’ve been through that process you must undergo and I am on the other side, where you long to be … and let me assure you the answer to all of those questions is:
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You are so much stronger than you think. It is in the undoing that we find ourselves. To feel is to be alive! We are not numb or absent; pain proves we are alive. Feel every emotion, cry and free your heart of the pain and burden and then simply let it go. Your heart feels fragile but it can be made whole again. You can and you will love again.

*But remember that love starts not within yourself but in God and through Jesus; the source of true and the purest love. And your heart was made to love HIM first and above all. THAT is our first & foremost PURPOSE: to love HIM & be loved by HIM.

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Who you are is more than enough! We are all works in progress, learning, growing and becoming, but all those things that make you “you” and make you “different” is what makes you beautiful. You are lovable, valuable and that doesn’t change or diminish with someone’s inability to see it or appreciate it.

*Remember you are valuable and so much that someONE gave his life for you; Jesus saw you were worth it all! Now that’s an unmatchable worth and a high price to pay!

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Somewhere in this world, there is someone who one day will look at you and love you for who you are and will only see beauty in what you see as imperfections. Don’t blind yourself; a man who makes you feel like you need to apologize for being strong, determined, shy – whatever makes you “you”- is not a man worth your time or your heart. Be confident and stand up for yourself. People can talk all they want and they WILL push and pull you in many directions but at the end of the day what matters is what you tell yourself and come to believe in your heart.

*But remember that the only voice that defines you is God’s voice of truth. Fight to keep HIS voice ever present and the loudest in your life.

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There is such a thing as “the one” … the one you were made for and was made for you … but understand that “The One” is God! You were made to love Him and be loved by Him! That should be your heart’s purpose and desire! And IF God’s divine and perfect plan for your life includes a companion for life, a future husband, being a God of details, you can bet He knows who would be the best fit for you. If God cares for the littlest of details like knowing how many hairs are on your head, how much more would He care for something as big as the person you’ll share your life with and influence your existence, path and decisions. If You let Him take control of your heart and place His will above yours, He will be faithful to guide your steps and synchronize your heart to His.

*But remember that wholeness or completeness won’t come with finding the love of your life, fulfilling a dream or accomplishing a lifetime goal. Nothing will fill your heart like Jesus; you can and will only find completeness in HIM alone. The rest are blessings that are added on.

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Trusting, waiting, hoping and believing are WORTH IT! Many times we place our hope on the end result, on reaching that for which we so anxiously await, that we miss the point, we miss the process. Life happens in the journey, in the lessons that lie between the now and the hope or the promise. It’s in the waiting that we show our consistency, in the uncertainty that we come to know hope, in the questioning that we find answers, in weakness that we are made strong, it’s the lessons learned that teach us wisdom and in our imperfection and humanity that we come to understand grace and experience unconditional love.

*So remember that life happens in the process, in the in-betweens, in the little moments. Live IN the right nows, while being eternity-minded, and face every moment full on; that is where your becoming lies!

 

And one more thing: sometimes it’s the scariest endings that turn out to be beginnings to the most exciting and beautiful chapters. A seed had to die in order for a flower to bloom.

Cry all you need to but don’t let your pain keep you stuck there. Stop being afraid. Stop letting your fears gain ground! Instead, conquer your fears and hold on to hope; let hope win! And be strong and brave enough to wait! Don’t settle for a “good enough” or a “for right now”. You were made for greatness! You hold greatness within you! Dare to be different, even if you have to stand alone.

So dear broken-hearted know that “broken” is not who you are

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Sincerely,

a heart made whole again

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written by

Pamela Praniuk

A letter to my 25 year old self

About 4 years ago, on my 26thbirthday, I found myself looking back and reflecting on life, my past, the future and wondering what I’d say to my younger self, and so I wrote “A letter to my 18 year oldself”.

Fast forward 4 years, and here I am turning yet another page and crossing over into a new chapter and uncharted territory: the big 3-Oh. I find myself meditating on life again and how much life has changed since. I remember the girl that wrote that letter and all of the things she had yet to learn and experience … and so here I find myself writing another letter but this time, to my 25 year old self.

I realize I am only one in a universe full of people, but I know that if there’s something we all have in common is that we all experience hope, pain, love, joy, etc one way or another and learn a lot of the same lessons in life. So I know that many, especially young women, will be able to identify with this letter.

Dear 25 year old self:

I know you believe your convictions wholeheartedly and you hope and you hold on tight to your beliefs … thank you for doing so because praying, hoping, believing and waiting are more than worth it.

I know you feel sometimes like waiting is all you know. Waiting seasons feel like forever and when you’re in the middle of a waiting season it may feel sometimes like that is all you know and will ever know, but your current situation will not be your forever situation, life changes and this will change tooSometimes, hope will keep you alive, but other times, you will need to keep hope alive. So during waiting seasons, keep hope alive.

However, don’t live life always waiting for what’s next at the expense of what’s nowWherever you are, be THERE. I know you dream of the future and the possibilities and dreaming is good, but not so much that you miss the here and now. There is purpose in the place you are and in that place in time; there are lessons and preparation for what’s next; life happens in the present; don’t miss it. Bloom where you are planted.

Your willingness to wait reveals the value you place on the object for which you are waiting. And anything worth while is worth waiting for. Times of waiting teach you gratitude and when you finally have what you’re waiting for, you will not take it for granted; hope does not disappoint.

I don’t want to spoil the surprise but all you need to know is that love will find you in God’s perfect timing, when you least expect it, when you’ve finally surrendered your heart to God’s timing, it will sweep you off your feet, it will be everything you wanted and more, it will take your breath away and it will only be the beginning of something amazing. Blessed is she who believe there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.” Luke 1:45

Everyone tries so hard to fit in and be like everyone else, but you’ll soon come to realize that you were made exactly for the opposite; you were made to stand out.

Don’t apologize for who you are. You can apologize for the mistakes you make and your weaknesses, but the essence of who you are, that’s beautiful and it’s what makes you “you”. Those who love you genuinely will love the things that make you “you” and those who try to make you feel guilty for not being more extroverted, or who pressure you to be someone else, they’re not worth your time and heart. You may look in the mirror and see flaws, but someone else will look at you and only see beautyBut first, learn to love yourself; you’re God’s unique design and there’s beauty in loving who you are.

I know Dad says is it a lot but it’s so true, “everything you sow in life, you will reap.” You’ve dedicated your years of youth to serving God and people and you will never regret that, on the contrary, it’s something you can gladly look back upon. Time and love you invest in others has an eternal value and it’s love that will come back to you. So if anything, love and serve others every chance you get.

Stop comparing yourself to others; stop comparing your backstory to other people’s highlights. All comparison does is rob you of beauty, joy and purpose. If you are going to compare yourself, compare yourself to yourself, to who you were yesterday and who you’ve yet to become. And when people misunderstand you and criticize you for doing what God has commanded you to do, remember that your validation and authority come from the confidence of knowing who you are in Christ; He is the only one who defines you.

Change is inevitable so might as well start embracing it. The reality is that in order for there to be a new beginning, there has to be an ending and that’s okay. Endings, though sometimes painful, can birth the most beautiful new beginnings.

Also, just because things don’t happen like you expect them and on your timetable, it doesn’t mean they won’t happen at all. Be patient, everything will happen in due season. And sometimes you just have to spread your wings, and God will provide the wind. He is always working behind the scenes.

I know that open doors and prosperity look attractive, but don’t overlook seasons of rest, silence and “inactivity”. Times of quiet and rest are times to go underground; times to seek a new level of intimacy with God and deepen your roots. Though it may sometimes be feel like nothing is happening on the exterior, the most important growth is the one that happens from the inside out. A pure will heart will take you further than your talent; in times of silence, God is working on your heart.

And one last thing, You are becoming and that means you’re in a process. God is not finished with you yet and so it’s okay to not be okay sometimes, and it’s okay to not have all the answers or for that matter, not have all the questions.

You have been so blessed, you are blessed beyond measure and “the best is yet to come” is not just a hopeful statement; truly, the best is yet to come.

So chin up, smile, hope, believe and sing! One day you will be looking back on these days, ready to close the “20 something” chapter and you will realize how beautiful you were and how amazing life has been. I’m proud of you and the best is yet to come!

Pamela

A letter to my 18 year old self

Today is my 26th Birthday!

Birthdays are always such a retrospective and sentimental gush for me. They’re always filled with so much nostalgia for my loved ones who are so far away, and yet so much gratitude and tears of joy for the gift of life.

But I have to admit … this birthday tastes a little bitter to me. There is something about being closer to 30 than 20 that’s hard to swallow … and 26 puts me right over that line. (lol) And for some reason instead of dwelling on my uncertain future, today I find myself revisiting the past.

I find it funny how ten years ago, birthdays found me looking forward and today it finds me looking back. I can’t help but think about my 18 year-old-self. I find myself comparing her futuristic view versus my retrospective one; hope versus reality. And so I asked myself, if my 26 year-old-self could write a letter to my 18 year-old-self, what would she say? And so these are the unspoken words that in my heart I found stored:

Dear 18 year old self:

The innocence with which you dream and the determination with which you wait, grip it and hold on it to it tightly. Don’t forget the ‘why’ of your decisions because that you will need to recall more often than oftentimes. Remember: never doubt in the dark, what God told you in the light. These may be your years of light.

Sooner or later it’ll really hit you that the decision you’re making to guard your heart with zeal and not enter into meaningless relationships but instead wait for when it’s right, will turn out to be not so applauded after all. People, even your ‘friends’ will treat you as inexperienced, outdated, old fashioned, and naïve for it. You will have to wait longer than you think, and your friends, family and guys you will open your heart to, will pressure you into doubting the decision you’ve made. But you KNOW what you’re doing, you heart is in the right place, and remember this: The decision you’re making is not for them, it’s for God and you, that’s all the approval you need, and which you will always haveEventually, there will be someone who will blow you away and will know exactly how to hold your heart.

You are different … but different is okay … embrace what makes you YOU because it’s fun and satisfying. Don’t be afraid of people laughing at you, sidelining you, or belittling you. Remember that no one can make you feel inferior without your consent; so don’t give it. And you’re not an open book that people can just riffle through; what you need is people who will take the time & effort to unveil your heart and love you for that; those are the ones worth having in your life.

Friends … only time will tell you which ones are the keepers. But just remember this: just because something breaks doesn’t mean it’s time to throw it away. Some things need to be left behind, others need the time and heart to mend and become more beautiful. Friendships are work, selflessness and you will need them more than you think.

You know so many people and you will come to know so many more. But the least likely to be your friends are the ones who will end up being your good friends. Focus on being an amazing friend to a few people instead of a lesser friend to a lot of people. And your family … oh your family; they’re GOLD. So treasure EVERY SINGLE MINUTE with them that you can.

You will soon realize that fear is your greatest enemy and you will get to know fear like you have never before. Just remember this: fear is just a feeling; that’s all it is. So leap! God calls you … but YOU have to take the step! You’re not going alone.

You are so much stronger than you think you are. So don’t be afraid to stand up even with tears in your eyes. One day you will begin to see what God sees.

Pain is good. It reminds you how fragile you are but it gives you a chance to see how strong you are too. Don’t be afraid to feel pain; don’t feel ashamed when you do. Feel it for as long as you need to and then just let it go. You will know when that is.

And truth is … no matter how determined you are … you will mess up, your heart will break many times, and you will have regrets. But don’t be afraid to get up and try again. Remember that just because things don’t turn out as you planned … it doesn’t mean they won’t turn out at all and you should give up … give time its time and learn to accept and live with what fits in your hand and what doesn’t; not everything will. When you feel like you can’t go on anymore, though you’ve heard it a thousand times before, better days ARE waiting ahead and they are on their way. Do what you do best: hope!

You are capable of doing so much more than you give yourself credit for. You are scared of challenge but you’re going to learn to love it and sort of become addicted to it. Don’t put up a wall when it comes, let it come full force and take it on; challenges are what will make you the person you need to become.

The ‘potential’ everyone keeps seeing and pointing out, you never quite get there. Even when you begin to tap into it and reach a higher level, you will still be haunted by that word: ‘potential’. But that’s the exciting part; growth doesn’t reach a limit! There is ALWAYS room for more growth & improvement & new-uncharted territory. You are capable of so much more than you’re aware of; so don’t become stagnant and please, believe a little in yourself; it’s not always prideful to do so.

You think you are patient … you think you are strong … you think you are determined …  you think you know a lot … but all these things will put to a test. Just remember to LET GO and HOLD ON at the same time. And tests are not to humiliate you or merely expose your weakness; they are to make you strongerwhere you are weak; so let it be.

It might take a while for this to sink in … but you are beautiful & extraordinary. Not for what you do, your talent, your appearance or your accomplishments … not because everyone says so … but for your pure heart. Don’t LET anyone else tell you otherwise.

For every relationship that doesn’t work, for every dream that falls through, there is a reason and there is a time; either you trust that or you don’t. Your challenge won’t be to decipher it all, but rather learning to TRUST and WAIT PATIENTLY to see things as they truly are as they move from the shadows into the light. Remember this: God does not ask for your understanding but rather your obedienceAnd if something changes your life, let it; change is good!

God’s love is the best part of you but with the years your focus will shift, your heart will deceive you, but you will keep coming back to it: God’s love is the best part of you, of life & though you may feel the need to have God PLUS all these other things & all these other types of love … HE IS MORE THAN ENOUGH.

The years to come won’t quite fit into your pretty little box, but no matter how different it all turns out to be, seven years from now it will be beautiful; you will have become the person God needs you to become. And at the end of the day … after all is said and done … isn’t that the point of it all …

Pamela*