Heart Stuff

  • How Do You Picture God?

    Have you ever stopped to think about how you picture God? Not what you know about Him, but how you picture Him. People are very visual and even if we have never seen God, our minds will still conjure up an image that we picture when we come to God in prayer.

    Sometimes when I come to God in prayer, I picture Him sitting on this magnificent throne. When I was 5th grade my family took a trip to Washington D.C. I can still vividly picture all the monuments and places I saw. They definitely left an impression on me. My favorite one by far was seeing the Lincoln Memorial. The vast proportion of the size of Lincoln sitting on what seemed like a big throne. It was so big in fact that I barely came up to the middle of his shoe. He sat there with his arms on the sides of the throne chair looking so majestic and dignified.

    Ever since then, when I think of God on His throne, that is what I picture. That He is so vast and so magnificent that I am grateful to be able to gaze upon Him. Even though this picture might make Him seem a little more distant like He is watching from above, there are times when I need this view of Him. When I am facing something so big in my life that I can’t see a way through it. I need the God who is big enough to handle it—who is on His throne in the Kingdom of God and who is in control.

    Other times when I come to God in prayer, I picture Him receiving me like a loving father. When I was a kid one of my favorite things was to curl up on my father’s lap when he was sitting in his recliner chair watching tv. I would climb into the big oversized chair and snuggle into his big strong arms. I felt safe and I felt loved. Now, when my heart is feeling tender and vulnerable and afraid, I come to my Heavenly Father, picturing Him as a loving Father opening His arms up wide and allowing me to snuggle into His embrace. There I find shelter from the storm, a peace in my soul that everything is going to be alright, and that I am loved by Him.

    What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

    A.W. Tozer

    What we think of when we think of God is one of the most important things about us. Our view of God and his relationship with us, especially how he deals with us when we stumble and fail, is critical to us growing in our faith. If we don’t have an accurate view of God or how He sees us, then it will keep us from coming to Him. The way we follow Jesus, how we read the Bible, how we live out our faith, how we see ourselves, all revolve around and are influenced by how we see God.

    Sometimes we struggle with coming to God in prayer because we are afraid of His reaction. The more we walk with Jesus, the more we try to actually do what He says, the more we are going to start running into our weaknesses, limitations, and sins. Unless we are equipped with grace, shame will rear its ugly head and we will give up.

    This is why what we think of when we think of God is so important. Do we picture Him looking upon us with disappointment? Do we see Him looking angry and ashamed of us because we just can’t get it right? Maybe we just see Him as aloof and uninterested, or even simply absent.

    Dear friend, making us second-guess God’s love is one of the devil’s oldest tricks. He will twist our thoughts and parade our failings before us until we shrink away in shame and self-doubt. He’ll tie us up in knots, until we are prisoners of self-loathing. He wants to make us forget who we are, and believe that we’ve wandered beyond God’s reach. It’s the biggest lie ever.

    We need to confront the lies of the enemy with the truth of who God is. This is why it is so important that we have an accurate view of God and of His character. The God we carry around in our minds needs to align with the God we see in the Bible. We read about Jesus interacting time and time again with compassion for the people He encountered, but it can sometimes be harder to see God this way. It is easier for us to have a screwed up picture of God, to see him more distant and stern and upset with us. What we need to remember is, if you can picture Jesus doing it, then you can picture God doing it, because Jesus is an exact representation of God (Colossians 1).

    When we approach God for help and go to Him in prayer, we need to know who we are encountering. Scripture tells us that He is a God of love, and more specifically—of grace. Remember the song? Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. We know this in our heads. But how far down into our hearts does this go? Do we truly believe this to be true about us?

    Here’s what we know to be true….God is love and it is the defining thing about him. “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love.”  1 John 4:16

    God is not just loving but He is the embodiment of love itself. He knows no other way. Born out of His great love, He chose to create us and give us life. Out of His love He also chooses to give us His grace, mercy and forgiveness.

    The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17 (NIV)  

    If you have children or a niece or a nephew, how do you feel about them? You probably have a fierce love for them–the feeling that you would do anything for them. Now, If they came to you upset because they messed up or feeling repentant, how would you respond? If it were my kids, I would want to receive them well and be a safe place for them to come and tell me anything. I would want them to know that their mistakes don’t change the love I have for them. That they are now and forever will be my children and nothing can change that. Now imagine your best version of yourself and how you want to be or respond as a parent, aunt, grandparent, etc. God is this times 100 million.

    God does it the right way every time. He doesn’t look at you with scorn or disappointment. He isn’t shaking His head because you messed up again. When we see God this way, it is because it is how we see ourselves. We end up making God in our image, assuming He would feel as we do or act as we would. We end up transferring our shame on Him, because of how we feel about ourselves.

    What’s so amazing about God is that He isn’t us and He isn’t a broken human–His love is not dimmed by the Fall. He is love itself! He knows no other way.

    Ephesians 1:5-8 reminds us of the truth:

    “God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.” (NLT)

    Dear friend, I want to invite you to take a moment today and think of how you see God. Are there insecurities or broken places in your heart that are affecting how you perceive God’s love for you? Are you projecting how you feel about yourself onto God and how He feels about you?

    Take stock of some of the things that come to mind and then go over the Scriptures in this devotional again. Meditate on the truths of God’s character and how He loves you. Sit in that space with Him for a little while and ask Him to help you form a more accurate view of Him.

    I pray that as you begin to see the truth of who God is and how He sees you, that you will not fear coming to Him. Invite Him into your mess. Bring Him all your fears and your doubts. May the truth of His love settle deep in your heart. Your Heavenly Father delights in spending time with you. You are God’s beloved daughter, and you are so very precious and loved.

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  • There’s Room At The Table

    When my kids were little and I was just starting out in campus ministry with my husband, God revealed to us the need to have people in our home for a meal and games. I will admit that this was not a calling I had wanted. I was nervous. I had seen the magazine headlines on the covers of home and garden magazines, “How to Wow Your Guests in 3 Easy Steps.” Included with the heading was a picture of a nicely dressed woman, with perfectly styled hair, serving mountains of gourmet food on a crystal platter. The dining room in which she was serving her smiling guests was the size of my kitchen, dining room, and living room combined and was perfectly decorated. 

    After seeing those pictures, I knew having people over to my house for a social gathering was not a good idea. First of all, my hair is never perfectly done. Second, my house was a total of 1,008 square feet. And finally, I am not a gourmet cook. If I try to make something fancy, it never ends up right. Just ask my family. I was overwhelmed and incompetent, or so I thought.

    God continued to nudge me, and I took my first step toward hospitality. I decided the four-person table that barely fit my family of four needed to be replaced with something bigger. I headed to Craigslist to find a used table. If I was lucky, I could find something similar to what the magazine cover showed, but for a reasonable price. My house was not big, but perhaps I could wow my guests with a beautiful table. All the used beautiful hardwood tables still cost thousands of dollars. I simply couldn’t afford them. 

    After a couple of weeks of looking, I finally found a table that was larger than the one I had, and for the price I could afford. It was not solid wood. It was made out of pressboard with a plastic laminate top. I was disappointed. How was I going to do good hospitality in a small house with a pressboard table? It turns out, with the help of God, I could do a lot of good hospitality with unimpressive things. 

    Because you see, God saw what I could not: that there is an epidemic of loneliness in the United States. Harvard University came out with an article recently that discusses this very thing.  They found that one in three Americans frequently feel lonely. For mothers with young children, the percentage goes up to 51%. Then an amazing 61% of people ages 18-25 struggle with extreme loneliness. 

    That means that as we go to work, walk in the stores, and sit in our churches, we are surrounded by people who feel deprived of meaningful relationships with others. Perhaps you even fall into one of these categories. 

    This epidemic of loneliness is heartbreaking and it is a real problem that affects not just our hearts and minds, but our overall health as well. According to the study, “loneliness is linked to early mortality, and a wide array of serious emotional and physical problems.” 

    The fact is that many people just don’t feel loved and valued. They don’t feel they can be open and vulnerable and still be worthy of love and included in relationship. And it’s no wonder when we were created to be in community. We were made to rejoice with one another, and share each other’s burdens. 

    How do we combat this pervasive epidemic of loneliness? God, in His infinite wisdom, tells us the remedy. Hospitality. 

    Romans 12:13 simply states, “Practice hospitality.” A simple command to practice hospitality. But when I ask people if they intentionally invite people into their lives for a game night, a meal, or even a walk around the neighborhood, a majority tell me they couldn’t do it. When I ask why they are hesitant, they say they are afraid of doing it wrong. What if my house is too small? What if I cook the wrong thing? What if I say something wrong? All the what-ifs make them too afraid to ask another person into their life. 

    This fear comes from thinking of hospitality from a worldly view, instead of from a Biblical understanding of hospitality. In America, when we think of hospitality we think of the hospitality industry. Their goal is to make sure customers have every need met and are always comfortable. If we approach personal hospitality with this mindset, it’s so easy to overthink things and let the what-ifs take over. If we think we have to anticipate and cater to our guest’s every possible need to be a good host, it can feel like we’ll never truly be up for the task. But the hospitality industry is trying to make money. Biblical hospitality is about caring for souls. 

    The Greek word for hospitality in the New Testament literally means ‘loving strangers’. It’s not fancy dishes, perfectly decorated homes, or fancy food. If you have these gifts and you love to share them, by all means, do it! But in a country where our physical needs are often met, loving strangers is less about perfecting all the physical details, and more about addressing the emotional needs. It’s about creating an environment where meaningful conversations happen. A place where people can feel loved and valued. 

    This can be done in large, beautiful homes with gourmet food, or over frozen pizza on paper plates in a cluttered house. It doesn’t have to look like a Pinterest-perfect event. The key is being present with those you are with. It is simply loving the person in front of you with your time and attention because they are worth it and loved by God.

    Don’t worry if you don’t feel totally at ease the first couple (or ten) times you practice hospitality. Just like anything else, stepping outside of your comfort zone to try something new takes practice. 

    After placing our “new” table in our dining room, I began my journey into the world of hospitality and I’d love to say I immediately felt at ease. Honestly, for a while, I was a complete wreck every time we had people over. I still stressed over all the details. Was the house clean enough? Did I cook the right thing? I had toddlers, so in my eyes, my house was never as clean as I wanted. I would try to bake or cook fancy things, but they never looked like the magazine picture. After a couple of years, my husband gently told me, “Quit stressing. Nobody cares about those details but you. They are here for the conversation and the company. Not for your fancy punch recipe.” He was right. No one complained about the food or the cleanliness of my house. They always left saying they wanted to do it again sometime.

    And once I got past stressing over details, I realized God had been working in my clumsy attempts of hospitality the whole time. Over my laminate table, I got to listen to people share their joys, fears, and sorrows. 

    God provided the space for a young married couple to share that they were pregnant after only being married for 6 months and their fears of how they were going to pay for a baby while still in college. 

    At my laminate table, I listened to an Iraqi couple share the horrors of Saddam Hussein’s genocide of the Kurdish people. I got to rejoice with a couple who had recently eloped but hadn’t told many people yet. I celebrated job promotions with some and cried with others as they shared family heartaches. 

    We prayed with all of them and parted a little closer, a little less lonely, and feeling much more loved. In the process, my heart overflowed with the joy of being with each person, and the little details that once felt so huge and important paled in comparison to what God was doing. 

    I share my story because I want you to know the joy God has in store for you when you practice biblical hospitality. Not only will you be battling this national epidemic, but God will walk with you and bless you. You don’t have to invite someone over for a meal and games like my family does. You could invite them on a walk or to a playdate in the park. Maybe you could invite someone to a conversation over a hot beverage at a local coffee shop. Do what fits you and experiment. The goal is to simply love that person by giving your time and attention. Look at your calendar and find a time to ‘love a stranger’ and start transforming loneliness into community.

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  • Fully Known & Loved

    As my toddler, Daniel explored our backyard, I could feel my leg muscles starting to burn a little as I followed him around in a weird, traveling half-squat. Watch anyone with a toddler at the park and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about. As silly as I looked, I wanted to keep Daniel within arms reach in case he ventured into terrain he wouldn’t be able to handle quite yet. At the same time, I also wanted him to enjoy the victory of conquering the yard without too much help from Mom. So I told myself the traveling half-squat would be my workout for the day and around the yard we went.

    I watched him closely, keenly aware of his every move. I anticipated potential trips and stumbles, steered him around obstacles, and was ready at a moment’s notice to scoop him up in my arms or let him take a soft landing so he could learn what he can do under the safety of my watchful eye. It didn’t matter if Daniel was my third kid or my first, nobody knows him better than I do. I’m his mama, and I know him like the back of my hand.

    We played in the yard for a while and after Daniel went down for his nap, I curled up on the couch with my coffee and my Bible. In this rare and precious moment of quiet, I was especially moved as I read Psalm 139:1-5.

    O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me.

    You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.

    You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do.

    You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord.

    You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. (NLT)

    It is a verse I must have read a hundred times, but today, it just struck me in a way that felt more real. You see, there are lots of days when it is easy to feel unseen, invisible, or unappreciated. But I realized reading this passage of Scripture, that today would not be one of them.

    Instead, today would be a day when I could settle down into the truth that God knows everything about me, the good, the bad, and the ugly. While there was a time in my life that would have felt like a scary prospect, today I could rest comfortably in the knowledge that there’s not a moment in my day when I am not seen and loved beyond measure by my Heavenly Father.

    He knows when I am going to sit down or stand up. He sees the obstacles in my path and steers me around them. He’s ready to scoop me up in His arms and rescue me from danger or let me take the soft landing so I can learn under the safety of His watchful eye.

    Because of this, I can lean into the love of a God who knows my every thought, even before I have found the words. I can rest in the comfort of a Father who never gives up, who welcomes me with open arms, even after seasons where I may have wandered far away from Him. He is the God who knows my daily rhythms. He sits with me as I sip my coffee in the stillness before the chaos. He sees me when I am changing diapers, wiping noses, and folding laundry. He is there when I succeed, and when I cry in the shower after a hard day.

    The truth is, I can go through every day secure in the One who goes before me and follows behind me, in a Divine traveling half-squat, lovingly leading me at every turn. And at the end of the day, He places His sweet hand of blessing on my head, as I close my eyes, safe and secure because my God never sleeps. He watches over me day and night and tomorrow, He’ll do it all over again.

    My friend, there is not a moment that God does not see you fully, know you completely, and love you beyond compare. He’s got you, more than you can comprehend. You are safe with Him. You need no explanations with Him. There’s no place too far that He cannot reach you, no height or depth that He cannot go to save you. Lean into His love. Hunker down in that truth, wrap up in it like a warm hug. You are absolutely precious to Him, simply because you are His.

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  • The Day Jesus Wept

    Jesus wept.

    The shortest sentence in the Bible yet one of the most profound statements ever uttered.

    These two words can seem so insignificant–they are just two words in the midst of a bigger story. In fact, it’s so easy to even blow right past them as we are reading the story of Lazarus. They are just two simple words but they have been speaking volumes to my heart.

    In recent days, I find myself understanding the depth of those words more and more. They are resonating with my soul. My heart has been so heavy these past several weeks. The shooting in Uvalde has me weeping for all the mothers and fathers. I’m a mother and I can’t even begin to comprehend this horrific tragedy and so many like them. As I see the news and hear reports from missionary friends in the Ukraine, my heart breaks yet again for the people who are experiencing such great suffering and loss. Two weeks ago, I lost my Aunt who has been struggling with multiple sclerosis for many years. She was too young to die.

    It’s not supposed to be this way. Every time I face the death of a loved one, every time I hear of a tragedy on the news, every time a friend gets bad news from the doctor, these words ring in my ears. It’s not supposed to be this way.

    I can feel deep in my soul–this ache that is more than just heartache, it is a deep longing for what God had intended for this world. He never intended for us to have to live in a broken world full of such suffering and loss. As I struggle with all the emotions that come with the heartache of this world, my heart has found comfort in the story of Lazarus in John 11:1-44. Starting in verse 17 it says:

    On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.  Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

    “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

    Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

    Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

    “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

    After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.

    When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

    When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

    Jesus wept.

    Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

    Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

    Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

    When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

    Reading this story recently, I was caught off guard by the two little words, “Jesus wept”. When I usually read this story, I get so caught up in what is about to happen and how Jesus is going to save the day, that I miss the middle part where Jesus stops to weep with Mary and Martha. Have you ever wondered why Jesus wept?

    Jesus knew he had the power to fix this. He knew he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, yet he still stood next to Lazarus’ loved ones, in front of the grave stone and wept. Why did he weep? Why didn’t he just turn to Mary and Martha and say, “now, now it’s going to be ok. No need to cry. I’ll fix everything.”?

    What I find so comforting about this story is that Jesus didn’t just rush past the grieving and move straight to the resurrection. No, instead he took the time to stand next to them and weep with them. He met them in their grief. He came alongside them, into the midst of their situation and wept with them.

    Lazarus was his friend too and he loved him dearly, but I believe that Jesus wept for more than just the death of his friend. Since he knew he was about to bring him back to life, there had to be more to his tears. I can only imagine that Jesus wept because it pained him to see those around him in such heartache. I believe Jesus wept over the brokenness in this world. He wept for the fall of creation, he wept for the pain his beloved were in, he wept over the heartbreak of death itself.

    It’s not supposed to be this way.

    I can imagine that was what was going through Jesus’ mind too as he stood there weeping. Weeping for the pain of the world, weeping for what had been lost.

    Heartache and pain was never God’s intention for the world or for us. Humanity sinned in the Garden of Eden and death stole in–decay, destruction, evil, malice and the like. The world is now broken, we are broken and our hearts break again and again each time we are reminded that the world isn’t as it should be.

    Maybe your heart is breaking too. Please know Jesus is right there beside you. He is strong enough to stand in the midst of your grief and weep with you too. Your heartache is his heartache. God longs for so much more for his children. When we grieve, He takes the time to comfort us but he doesn’t stop there. God has been at work since sin first came and broke the world, to restore everything to the way it was supposed to be.

    Even though Martha had hope of the resurrection someday, Jesus gives her even greater hope. He sits with her in her grief and isn’t content to leave her with the hope of someday, but gives her hope in the present by revealing that he is the resurrection and the life. Through our belief in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we have hope right now that death does not win. It may think it has won but the story isn’t over.

    Jesus has already conquered death and defeated the evil powers of this world and will return someday to complete the restoration and resurrection he has started. Like me, maybe you have a deep longing for that day! We long to see God finish His glorious work of restoring this world to its original intention. To bring us to the day where He will wipe every tear from our face. A day where there will be no more need for tears because He has made all things new again.

    Revelation 21:2-4 paints a beautiful picture of the hope that God is bringing about:

    I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

    Until then, we wait in hope knowing it’s not supposed to be this way—and it won’t always be this way. Just like when Jesus stood before Lazarus’ tomb, he knows that there will be a day when he is coming back to make things right again. And until that day comes, we can be comforted by a God who will stay by our side through the trials of this life and weep alongside us in our grief, reminding us that the day is coming when there will be no need for tears anymore.

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  • Even Though, Hope

    Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights.

    Habakkuk 3:17-19, NLT

    This past month, I had the opportunity to catch up with a friend who’s been going through a challenging season. She told me that for the past few years it has been one thing after another. Her difficulties ranged from the things like COVID, unrest in the world, returning to the workplace, a serious medical condition for a family member, and inconveniences like her washing machine breaking down, finding new daily rhythms in life as her kids still do a mix of in-person and online schooling and feeling a lack of energy. She told me every time she thinks life is going to get back to “normal” something else happens.

    Have you ever experienced a season like that? I have and so did the prophet Habakkuk. In chapter 3, we read that Habakkuk is watching as the country he lives in keeps experiencing one setback after another. First, the fig trees didn’t blossom, which meant no figs to enjoy. Maybe not a huge problem, if you are like some folks who don’t like figs to begin with. Then they lost the grapes, which meant no wine to be had. Again, if you are not a wine drinker, you can live with this loss. However, losing the olive crop started impacting everyone because that meant no oil for cooking or lighting lamps. Then the grain fields didn’t produce, which impacts the food supply chain and the last blow is they lost their livestock. Things looked bleak. Yet, Habakkuk doesn’t end his writings with despair, but rather with delight.

    What caused him to have remarkable hope even though the world seemed to be falling apart? Habakkuk knew that his hope was not rooted in his circumstances, but rather in his Creator. Even though the crops and everything else may fail, Habakkuk knew that God never fails. Habakkuk drew joy and strength from his hope in the God of His salvation.

    Habakkuk’s hope was not built on wishful thinking or just positive affirmations, but on God’s character, acts and promises. So, what can you do if you are in a season in your life when things seem to be falling apart all around you and things on the horizon don’t look any better?

    1. Refocus on the Bigness of God: On my water bottle is a sticker that reminds me to “set your mind on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:2, NLT). I use it as a daily reminder that all of my “even thoughs” are just temporary and that even though they may seem impossible for me, for God they are not. The truth is, the challenges that we are dealing with might linger on longer than we desire, but God cares deeply about the hurts, the frustrations, and the annoyances we feel. However, we must intentionally choose to refocus on the bigness of God not the bigness of our problems or emotions. How do we refocus? By remembering who God is and the promises He gives like: that He is loving, that He cares about the details of our lives, that He promises to rescue us, that He is ever-present. As we hold onto and declare these truths, we can then refocus on the bigness of God who promises to always be with us no matter what season we are going through.
    2. Yield to Yet: In verse 18 Habakkuk utters three little letters, but together they produce a powerful word–”YET”. He says that even though all these challenges were happening “YET, I will rejoice in the Lord.” He creates a new perspective. So, the next time your day is falling apart, try this practice. Grab a scrap of paper and write out: Even though ___ and _____; even though ___ and _____; YET I will rejoice in the Lord! It might sound something like this: “Even though I am losing my job and income; even though my hot water heater needs to be fixed and I cannot get a repair man here until Friday; even though my kids are fighting and not getting along; YET I will rejoice in the Lord!” This can be your way of declaring your trust in the Lord and His faithfulness, even when you are feeling afraid and out of control.
    3. Grab on to Gratitude: I was listening to Brene Brown’s “Unlocking Us” podcast recently and her guest talked about how she had been practicing gratitude for many years and because of this habit she was able to find something to be grateful for even as her family dealt with the tragedies from hurricane Harvey. She said that even though her house was filling with water, there were kind friends who opened up their house and gave them shelter from the storm. Gratitude allows us to turn our focus away from our problems and turn our attention to the ways that God is providing for us in the midst of the storm. Gratitude enabled Habakkuk to rejoice in a bad-to-worse situation. I know it has definitely helped me through some tough seasons. And it can help you with any challenging situation you are facing, too.

    There have been a lot of “even thoughs” these past two years globally and personally, but we don’t have to lose hope. Even though there is war, even though there are gas shortages, even though we may be experiencing loss or failure, YET we can return to joy in God and be lifted to new heights.

    Heavenly Father, please help us to remember that nothing is too big for you to handle. Help us to be grateful instead of grumbling when hard things come our way. Remind us of your greatness so we are not overwhelmed by the size of our problems. Thank you that you are with us always and that our strength lies not in ourselves but in you. Like Habakkuk, we choose to root our joy in you and rejoice in the God of our salvation! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

    Dawn Kaiser

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  • Be Still and Know

    As the war in Ukraine stretches on, my heart has been heavy for the friends I know there, for the families separated, for those mourning losses, all while fighting for their freedom. I’ve heard countless stories of people helping one another and of God working in their midst through neighbors and friends. Stories of neighborhood women feeding soldiers on the front lines, moms leaving strollers at border train stations for parents who had to leave all their belongings behind, and soldiers throwing a birthday party for a little boy who was waiting with his family to flee to safety. 

    From where I sit, in peace and safety, I feel helpless to intervene, and frustrated and overwhelmed by all I see and hear in the news. My heart breaks for the tragedy I see unfolding and I find myself longing for God’s comfort and reassurance that He is present and working in this terrible situation. 

    A friend of mine in Ukraine was recently sharing how much comfort and hope she, and other people in Ukraine are finding in the Psalms. Another missionary echoed her thoughts, saying  “The heartfelt pleas, angry outbursts, explosions of joy and moments of peaceful stillness -all match the rollercoaster of feelings happening within my own heart.” 

    One of my favorite verses that has brought me comfort and peace is Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God”. In the past it has been a gentle reminder of God’s sovereignty, love, and provision, especially in times of stress and difficulty. When life feels overwhelming and I feel helpless to change my circumstances, this verse invites me to rest before the Lord and remember that God is already powerfully at work.

    Today, however, I read the whole Psalm instead of just my favorite verse and noticed some things I hadn’t noticed before. My favorite verse that brings me so much peace is surrounded by scriptures describing chaos and destruction. In verses 2 and 3, Scripture paints a picture of a world in tumult and crisis—mountains falling down, and oceans roaring and foaming. In verse 6 it speaks of nations in uproar and kingdoms falling. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the state of the world today and all we are witnessing in Ukraine. This part of Psalm 46 that had once felt so removed and abstract in times of peace, now hit hard and close to the heart. 

    But all of this chaos described in Psalm 46 is also contrasted with the true and steady character of God. He is described in verse 1 as an “ever-present help” in trouble, our refuge, our safe place. In verse 7, we are reminded that God is with us. And in verses 8-9 our eyes fall upon the hopeful promise that God will bring about an end to fighting and strife and make wars cease. 

    The truth is, God is far bigger and more powerful than any worst-case scenario we can imagine, and I can imagine a lot! Even when the world seems out of control, God is always in control, so there’s no reason to be afraid. This amazing truth was exactly what my heart needed to remember. 

    In verse 10, God is giving a gentle but powerful command to us to “be still” and know that He is God. He speaks to our frantic hearts with the same loving authority that He commands the winds and the waves. He calls us to surrender, cease striving, and rest assured with absolute certainty, that He is God. 

    So dear friend, when our newsfeed is filled with turmoil and chaos, and we feel helpless against the overwhelming troubles of the world, be still and know that He is God. He is the same God who parted the Red Sea, who freed captives and delivered nations and is at work this very moment. He is a mighty fortress and faithful deliverer. He is an ever-present help and He hears our prayers. We don’t have to fear, He is mighty to save. 

    Almighty God and Father,

    Our world feels chaotic and overwhelming. As war and turmoil continue in Ukraine, our hearts are heavy with sorrow for those who are suffering. We pray for those who are weary and long to find refuge and rest under your wing. Be their ever-present help and hope. Be a fortress around them, and shield them from evil. Make wars cease, that you may be exalted in all the earth.

    When our own anxiety rises, help us to be still, and remember that you are greater than anything we will see or experience in this world. You alone are strong enough to hold us steady when the wind and waves threaten to take us down. Help us to lean into your loving arms and feel the power of your presence and peace. 

    In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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  • Tangible Hope

    Have you ever stayed up way too late reading a good book? You know, those stories where the characters seem to come alive and practically jump off the page? You can picture each one vividly and envision the landscape all around them as if it were painted on a canvas in front of you. That happened to me recently. I was so engaged in the book that time seemed to stand still and before I knew it, it was 1:00 am! 

    If you’ve ever been consumed by a good book like that, you know that by the end of the story, you can almost begin to predict what the characters will say and do. They feel more like familiar friends than just words on a page. And while there may be plot twists and turns, if the author is good, the nature of the characters is consistent throughout the entire book. 

    As Christians, sometimes it can feel challenging to get to know the character of God as well as we know some of the characters in our favorite books. I’ll admit, sitting down to read the whole Bible can feel intimidating. It can seem impossibly long and in many places downright confusing, but ultimately, the Bible is a book that reveals the very nature of God. From beginning to end, the Bible is a story of God’s tireless and unfailing love for us, and His willingness to stop at nothing to secure our future with Him.

    It is through the pages of the Bible, and especially through the life of Jesus, that we see God’s character unfold. We can see it in the way Jesus interacts with people and loves them. We can taste the dust in the air as the crowds shuffle and press in to see Jesus heal another person in desperate need of a miracle. We can smell the salty sea and feel the mist on our faces when Jesus walks on water toward the disciples and pulls Peter up from the waves. We can witness how Jesus turns society upside down, elevating the lowly and championing the marginalized. It’s thrilling when we notice that He is calling people to more than mere survival, He’s inviting them to live abundantly as citizens of God’s Kingdom. And it’s humbling the moment we realize that we are invited to that same abundant Kingdom-life too.

    In Romans 15:4 we read that “everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” 

    The Bible was written to help shape us and to give us hope! As we spend time in God’s Word, we begin to know Him better, and we see His character unfold in the scriptures. Before long, we begin to recognize glimpses of Him working in our lives all around us, because we recognize Him. This, my friend, is tangible hope. 

    It’s a hope that is perceptible, we can reach out and grab it and feel it and experience it because our relationship with God is a real one. We are not talking about placing our hope in a pleasant thought, nice idea, or imaginary friend, but in the one true and living God who sees you, and loves you, even as you’re reading this sentence. 

    The word remember means to relive, hold dear, to know by heart. When we keep the truth of God’s character close, we can know Him by heart and look back to see how He has worked in the past and is working now in our lives. Remembering God’s character grounds us in truth and gives us a hope that we can hold on to.

    There are reminders about who God is throughout Scripture:

    God is…Love (1 John 4:8)

    God is…Holy (1 Peter 1:15)

    God is…Steady and unchanging (Hebrews 13:8)

    God is…a promise keeper (2 Peter 3:9)

    God is…strong enough to carry you (Isaiah 41:10)

    God is…the Redeemer (Psalm 103, John 3:17)

    God is…Creator of all things (Isaiah 40:28)

    God is…Giver of all that is good (James 1:17)

    God is…perfect and true (Psalm 18:30)

    God is…present in our circumstances (Isaiah 41:8-10, Matthew 28:20)

    God promises that if we when seek Him with our whole heart, we will find Him. He won’t hide, he wants you to find Him. He’s been pursuing you all along. 

    So take a little time this week to learn more about the character of God. If you need a place to start, pick one of the verses or stories in this devotional. Ask God to show you His love that is woven throughout Scripture, and to help you see where He is working in your life. As you spend time with Him, you will begin to know Him by heart, recognize His handiwork, and experience the tangible hope we have in God.

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  • Hope for the Hopeless

    A few years back I was rehearsing with my church choir for our annual Christmas program. To be honest, I didn’t want to be there. My Christmas spirit had up and left. It was difficult for a spirit of joy and anticipation to thrive in my mental state of mind on that day. There was just no place for joy to take root in my spirit of negativity and self-doubt. I had been fighting intrusive, negative thoughts most of the year and I was tired. Tired of not being good enough. Tired of the world being a broken place to live in. Tired of fighting to put one foot in front of the other. And that tiredness was manifesting itself into hopelessness. I was starting to believe things would never get better.

    Then, we sang the first verse of “O Holy Night”: “Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till he appeared and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices. For yonder breaks, a new a glorious morn.” 

    These words spoke directly to how I was feeling. Pining means mental and physical decline, especially because of a broken heart. That explained my heart exactly. By allowing negative intrusive thoughts to rule in my life, my heart was broken, and it was hard to feel joy. When I read the news headlines or ran into an unkind person in the store, it added to the sense of brokenness I felt. But “O Holy Night” revealed what God did to help that broken heart.

    “Till He appeared…” Those living in the times of Jesus, were living in a broken world as well. They were under a harsh Roman rule. There were high taxes. Roman soldiers on every corner watching you. The religious leaders had created a law that was impossible to follow. It indeed appeared hopeless. Those that tried to throw off Roman rule were killed. Those that didn’t follow the man-made religious law, were outcasted. Their one lifeline of hope was the promise of a Savior. The promise of the Messiah, God’s anointed.

    “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices…” One evening some 2000 years ago, the long awaited day arrived. The promised Messiah, our hope of salvation, entered the world. Luke 2:10-11 describes the angelic birth announcement:

    “The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.’”

    Luke 2:10-11

    Isaiah 9:1-7 shares the hope the Messiah would bring to broken, hopeless hearts.
    “No more gloom for those who were in distress.” (vs 1)
    “People walking in darkness will see a great light.” (vs 2)
    “He will increase their joy.” (vs 3)
    “The yoke that burdens the people would be taken away.” (vs 4)
    “He will establish justice and righteousness.” (vs 7)

    The Messiah was coming to take away the hopelessness and replace it with joy. He gives us hope that brokenness is not a place we have to live in any longer. In the gospels, we see time after time how Jesus shared hope with others. Jesus, forgiving the sins of the lame man on the mat, gives hope that living in the depth of sin is no longer a reality we have to live. Talking with an outcast woman at the well, He gives us hope that despite our past choices we can receive love and acceptance from Jesus. Jesus’s death and resurrection secures our victory over death giving us hope that no matter what happens in this life, we will rise to an amazing eternal life with a loving God.

    The gospels show Jesus offering and proclaiming hope to those who believe, so why was I living as if Jesus never came? I struggled with living in the hopelessness that I am not good enough. That God will never fully accept me because of my shortcomings. That there is no hope for my brokenness or my broken world. As I lived in my false sense of hopelessness, I found myself giving up, becoming a recluse inside myself and my house. I realized, that is exactly where Satan wants me to be–living a life disregarding the fact that Hope has already entered the world, ignoring that Hope had chosen to live inside me though the Holy Spirit. When I live that way, I am unable to use the gifts and talents He gave me to bless the broken world I live in. But I don’t have to live in hopelessness and neither do you! God already gave the remedy for it–He sent Jesus on that “O Holy Night.”

    “Yonder breaks and new a glorious morn…” The Christmas story reminds us of the ‘hope to which we are called’ (Eph 1:18). Hope came into the world, but we have to claim it. We no longer have to live in the darkness of hopelessness, but we can choose to stand in the light of a new morning filled with the hope and joy that we are loved despite our faults. To live in the joy that God still works and lives within us, transforming us into his vessel of hope and joy. To live in the truth that no matter what happens we have victory over sin and death, and a promised eternal life with God. Beloved, I hope that this Christmas you will be able to lay down any burden or hopelessness you carry and run like the shepherds did, to the presence of Jesus and rejoice.

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  • Grateful for God’s Enduring Love

    As we get closer to the end of the year, I don’t know about you, but I’m beginning to feel a little worn out from all the ups and downs that this year has brought. In my moments of stress or fatigue, it can be easy to forget the many ways God has lovingly brought me through each thing I have faced this year. But the great thing about the end of the year is that we typically end the year with a season of gratitude followed by a season of giving!

    There is no better way to close out a long, hard year than with a opportunity to remember all that we do have and the ways God has brought us through this year. This season is a time that we have set aside to appreciate our family and friends and all that we have. It’s a time to pause and remember that God is good. Even through the hardships we are currently facing, God is still good. He is with you and upholds you with His love.

    Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever…Give thanks to the God of Heaven. His love endures forever.”

    Psalm 136:1, 26

    We give thanks because His love for us endures always. He is God yesterday, today and forever. He has made us in His image and we are His children. His faithfulness to us never ends. His love for us started at the beginning of time, it broke into the world the night that Jesus was born, and He demonstrated His love for us when His son Jesus went to the cross.

    Not only did He love us then, He loves us now, and He will love us tomorrow. His love endures forever. His love lasts, it remains firm, it is unyielding. In a world where love seems to come and go with no real certainty, knowing this kind of secure love from God brings us so much peace and joy. Romans 8:38-39 says in Christ, there is absolutely nothing that can separate us from God’s love.

    As we reflect on this past year, we can see the many ways God has shown us His love through the people in our lives, His blessings and provision, through answered prayers, and even unanswered ones. We can look back and see His loving touch in so many details of our lives.

    Thank you God for loving us with an unending love. It is hard to grasp “forever”, but we are thankful for your love that is both ancient and new every morning. As we reflect on the ways you show your love to us each and every day, we give you thanks. In Christ, Amen.

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  • Praying When The World’s Got You Down

    Lately it feels as though the world has been falling apart at the seams. A couple of weeks ago, I was feeling especially bombarded and weighed down by the mess of the world around me. I had been consuming more news than was healthy for my well-being and had ended up in tears, finally admitting to my husband how sad I felt about the state of our world.

    But as I talked through it, something began to happen. We got to a place where, in the midst of all the hopelessness, we started speaking truth to each other about those problems, pulling each of them back into the warm glow of God’s presence. I began to sense God’s clear, calm voice piercing through the fog of all my fears, saying, “It’s alright, my dear. Take some deep breaths. I’m with you and I’m still on my throne. Come talk with me and tell me the things that are troubling you. I know the world feels chaotic right now. I can see everything you’re seeing and much, much more. Give me your worries and let me carry these heavy burdens. I can handle ALL of it – don’t be afraid.”

    In that moment, God’s Spirit shone so brightly through the dimness that I saw with clarity the reality of our fragile humanity and my own desperate need for God and prayer. Not the tidy, practiced prayers we say around the dinner table, or the flowing ones we read into a microphone from a church platform, but the raw cries for help driven by fear, sadness, uncertainty and grief. The prayers we whisper with tears streaming down our faces as we fear the worst. Prayers that offer all those fears and worries back into the hands of our eternal and omnipotent God, asking for His help and direction through each and every step. These types of prayers exercise our faith in a way that stretches far beyond our limited human capacity.

    Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

    Hebrews 4:14-16

    How often we forget! We have a high priest – the most powerful advocate possible, Jesus the Son of God, working daily on our behalf. He longs for us to come to Him, partnering with Him in prayer. That time in prayer not only informs and directs our actions, but also reminds us to entrust the end results to God. No matter how ill-equipped we may feel to bring all the change we want to see in a chaotic world, we are far from powerless – in fact, we have been granted full-access to the most powerful One through the gift of prayer. This truth is foundational to our faith. As we pray, Jesus the advocate, hears our prayers with compassion and works on our behalf, tending to the wounds of a world we ourselves are unable to heal.

    I call on you, my God, for you will answer me; turn your ear to me and hear my prayer.” Psalm 17:6

    “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Romans 12:12

    These are just two out of countless verses from the bible that speak of our human need to turn to God in times of trouble. Today, let’s decide to remain faithful in prayer, no matter what happens. Communicate with God about what’s going on in your life today and in the world around you. There is so much more happening behind the scenes than we can even begin to see or understand – but God sees and knows all. His Word tells us that He can and will supply ALL of our needs. So instead of getting lost in the maze of trying to solve all the world’s problems, we can pray to God, the one who supplies all our needs, as we give our burdens to Him.

    There is power in prayer to connect our hearts and minds to the all-powerful God. Our Father knows that we are not capable of bearing the weight of the world or of knowing all the answers to every problem, so why do we think we can? Let’s continue to come to the feet of Jesus, one day at a time, knowing that He’s still got the whole world in His hands.

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