I often find myself rooting for the underdog in life. Whether it be children, a friend, a single mom in need, or even an injured animal, I find myself seeking to provide hope and support for the most defenseless. The roles that seem to define who I am in this world often remind me of the African philosophy of “ubuntu” — a concept in which our sense of self is shaped by our relationships with other people. It’s described as a sense of moral obligation regarding our responsibility for others even before thinking of ourselves. The community members surround or encircle an individual and remind them of who they are and all the good they have done. Unity and affirmation help restore and strengthen the individual.
This philosophy captures my desire to encircle the vulnerable people in my life. But as I help to remind others of their worth and value, I can find myself feeling depleted and needing the same “ubuntu” I can so easily give to others. With the rush of the day filled with commitments that “fill up” everyone else’s cup, my cup at times can feel so very empty. Sometimes it brings me to tears and ultimately to my knees.
It’s on my knees though where I find the fountain that can refill my cup. The one true “pitcher” filled with love that graciously pours until my cup runneth over.
In Ephesians 3:14-19, Paul reveals where we can find fulfillment when we are weary:
For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
When it comes to refilling our own cup, we often set aside our mug with just a swig left at the bottom and save it for later in hopes it will quench our thirst. It’s not long before we realize that our own emptiness is not healthy for our well-being. And even less for those that we are trying to come alongside and affirm.
In Psalm 23, David says, “My cup runneth over”. He uses these words to help us understand the overflowing, endless nature of God’s presence, protection, provision, and power. God wants us to bless others, but He also reminds us that in order for us to extend the love of Jesus to others, we need to be filled with Him.
God has more than enough to help us, regardless of the situation. His presence has no borders, His provision no end, HIs protection cannot be penetrated, and His power can’t be equaled. He is the ultimate example of “Ubuntu”, and His overwhelming love for us is what makes us His instruments. David shares with us that God’s blessing upon us wasn’t just for our use, but was designed to spill over so we can bless others.
In the moment when the tears are near and we are on our knees, lean on God to be the pitcher filling your cup. For when we are full of His love, we are then able to pour into others’ cups and point them to a deeper relationship with God.
And when you feel you just can’t go on, can’t give another ounce of yourself to others, remember God will keep His word! God is faithful and true, and he will uphold His word. He is the source of your hope, your peace, your comfort, and your strength.
My prayer for each of you as you head out to battle the day is that you can continue to provide a loving circle of support for the vulnerable in your life, but never forget that God is ever present to fill you up and make your cup run over. He will never leave you, and He is using you to bless others. May you enjoy the fullness of God in every aspect of your life!
There’s a song that I used to sing at church when I was in college that gets stuck in my head often. And this past week it’s been living there rent-free, on loop.
The lyric starts, “To come into the presence of the Lord is to be changed. You cannot come into His presence and remain the same. So change me, Lord, remake me, Lord, reshape me in the image of your Son…”
It had a simple melody with a simple message: being in God’s presence leaves an indelible mark on our hearts and lives. It’s something we see time and time again in the Bible. When a person spends time with Jesus, there is a startling transformation in them that can only be attributed to the Lord.
One striking example (and one of my favorites) is in the story of Mary Magdalene. The first time she meets Jesus, He heals her from being possessed by seven demons. She joins Him in ministry from that point on, as a believer, supporter, and friend.
In John 20, after Jesus is crucified and buried, Mary returns to the tomb with a few others, only to find it empty and Jesus’ body gone. Not knowing yet that Jesus had risen from the dead, she was in deep grief and despair. It is then that the resurrected Jesus meets here there, calls her by name and she recognizes Him, and runs to Him. Jesus commissions her to go and tell the disciples that He has risen and she doesn’t waste a second. She goes straight there and exclaims, “I have seen the Lord!”
In the presence of Jesus, her despair was transformed to joy, her sorrow to elation, and any doubts she had were transformed to confident faith.
Later that evening, Jesus appears again, this time to the disciples that are gathered. He shows them His hands and feet where the nails had held Him to the cross and his side that had been pierced during His crucifixion. They are in awe and overjoyed at the sight of the Risen Lord standing before them.
And in the presence of Jesus, their confusion is transformed to clarity, their despair is transformed to hope, and any lingering questions are transformed to a joyful proclamation, “We have seen the Lord!”
But not everyone was there. Thomas was not at the empty tomb. He was not with the disciples that evening. We aren’t really sure where he was. It was Jewish custom for friends, family, and loved ones to remain in town throughout the week during this most intense part of the mourning period. So it’s likely that Thomas was around, but he still had not seen Jesus.
Everyone grieves differently, and it’s possible that Thomas was so overcome by grief, so lost in confusion and sorrow, that he simply could not bear to be with the very people that reminded him of all he thought he’d lost. Maybe it just made the loss and pain all too real.
I can imagine the pull to isolate himself would have been powerful. But in being away from the very people that could surround and support him, he had missed seeing Jesus face to face not once, but twice.
When the disciples told Thomas that they had seen the Lord, he struggled hard to wrap his head around it. Maybe it seemed too good to be true, or maybe his grief was clouding his faith that Jesus had already done the impossible and still could. You can almost hear the pain in his voice when he responds, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
Thomas gets a bad rap for doubting what the other disciples had experienced, but it wasn’t necessarily Thomas resisting faith. He was someone who was inquisitive by nature, often asking for specifics and logistics as he earnestly strove to understand Jesus and follow Him well. Thomas was struggling to reconcile what he thought he knew about Jesus and the crucifixion his own eyes had witnessed, as well as process this new news of his resurrection. It not only defied reason, it seemed too good to be true. But Thomas doesn’t walk away. He continued to wrestle and wonder and question. And that is so incredibly important.
Suzie Eller shared something that she heard recently from a friend: “The opposite of faith is not doubt, it’s indifference. If you are doubting, you’re still in the game.”
Suzie went on to say, “How do you come to an understanding unless you wrestle, unless you ask the hard questions and you’re honest with how you are feeling? God is the safest place to go with that. It’s essential.”
Thomas was not indifferent, he was wrestling. He was hurting but he was still in the game.
A week later, at just the right time, Jesus appears again to the disciples. And this time, Thomas was there.
Almost as if to finally break Thomas’ dependence on his own faculties and reason, Jesus suddenly shows up inside a room with a securely locked door. I can’t explain the physics of it except that Jesus can do whatever He wants. He is God. And maybe it’s a hint that our resurrected bodies in the next life are going to be way cooler than the ones we have now.
The point is, Jesus’ entrance defies logic once more, reinforcing His power and sovereignty in every circumstance. Jesus knows Thomas’ doubts, and He lovingly meets Thomas at the exact point of his need. He shows Thomas His hands and his side. Finally face to face with the resurrected Jesus, Thomas can’t help but exclaim, “My Lord and my God!”
In the presence of Jesus, Thomas’ doubts are transformed to confident faith, his reluctance to believe is transformed to stalwart conviction, and his hesitance is transformed to bold proclamation.
But the scene doesn’t end there. Jesus addresses Thomas again, but He also has a message for us: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Friend, that’s us! Jesus didn’t say “blessed are those who never have questions or doubts”. He says blessed are those who believe even though they haven’t seen him in the flesh.
Jesus wasn’t asking Thomas to check his brains at the door, and he doesn’t require that of us either. He created us to reason, think and question. But Jesus is calling us to something deeper: to fully trust Him and have faith, even when it doesn’t seem to make sense, to depend on God more than our own understanding and experiences, and to believe that God has the bigger picture in view, even before we see it unfold.
There are no questions that are off-limits or too big for God. Being a Christian doesn’t mean we never have doubts and always understand how God is working or where. But at the end of the day, we have a choice to believe that God is still God and that His ways are the best ways.
As Easter approaches, maybe you find yourself longing to see Jesus at work in your life. Maybe you are struggling to see where God is in the middle of a difficult circumstance and how you’ll ever get through. Maybe your heart is hurting for someone close to you, and you want to help them “stay in the game” as they wrestle with their faith. Or maybe you just are aching to feel God’s presence in your life once more.
Please don’t wrestle with this stuff alone. We are not meant to work these things out as a solo mission. Thomas may have missed out on experiencing the presence of Jesus sooner because he was off on his own. It was when he was surrounded and supported by the faith of others who had been with Jesus, that Thomas’ own faith was strengthened.
We experience the love and presence of the Lord when we are together. He works in us and through us to build one another up and to support one another. Jesus knew it would be hard to believe when we haven’t had a chance to see His hands and touch His side. That’s why He gave us church families and community. It’s why we have His Word to guide us and comfort us. It is time spent in God’s Word and with His people that transforms us and our faith.
He is also a God who knows us well, just like He knew Thomas. He knows how we are made, what we need, and what will strengthen us and build up our faith at just the right time and in just the right ways. We can bring our doubts, worries, and questions to Him and He will meet us there with grace and an invitation to deeper faith. As we lean on Jesus, He gives us an eternal perspective, and our fears are transformed to faith, our doubts transformed to testimony and our hearts are transformed to look more like His. He is loving and patient with us and He won’t ever give up on us. He will show up for us over and over so that we too can victoriously proclaim, “I have seen the Lord.”
Part of living the “Made For More” life that we have been talking about so much lately, is learning how to trust God no matter what, with everything we have and everything we are.
But I’ll be the first to admit that it isn’t always an easy thing to do. Especially when we find ourselves facing big, difficult situations that we just can’t see a way through. When we are staring down an impossible situation, one where we are unsure of the outcome or where the money will come from or when the healing will come, we just want to know how it will all work out. We can feel tempted to let despair overtake us. We long for a peace of knowing that it will all be okay.
In these times, the only solution is to turn to God with our situation and our fears. But, for most of us this can be difficult because we are in essence surrendering everything into God’s hands–including our control over the situation. We like to think we are in control, even if we know deep down that we are not. So, in order to surrender and trust, we must believe that God has our best interest in mind and that His love for us runs deep–that He delights to give us all that He has and all that He is. We must first believe that He is a good God and wants good for us.
Psalm 34:8-9 says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him! Fear the Lord, you his godly people, for those who fear him will have all they need.”
Sometimes the best way to see this truth in our lives is to look back on God’s faithfulness to us in the past. When we are in the middle of our current circumstances, it can be easy to forget how God has been there for us or answered our prayers in the past.
Leaning on our remembrance of God’s faithfulness to us, helps us to trust Him again when the future is scary and unknown. We can look back on a history of His loving faithfulness and kindness to us–the ways He has gone above and beyond all we asked or imagined. And in times when we can’t even see His hand in our lives, we can look to the ways He has shown up for His people throughout history.
Just a glimpse through the Bible we see even our Bible heroes didn’t always have it so easy. History is full of adversity and triumph. Suffering and blessing. Even the people of God aren’t immune from facing hardships–it’s become a normal part of living in this broken world. Every person we read about in the Bible faced difficult situations just like we do, and they all had to decide if God was on their side and turn to Him for the outcome of their situation.
For example, David was a scrawny teen who was the youngest of all his brothers, and yet He trusted God to help him defeat the giant Philistine.
Esther was faced with the opportunity to save her people from destruction. Knowing that coming before the King could cost her her life, she sought the Lord and then confidently said, “I will go to the king on behalf of my people, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”
Ruth was a woman who had suffered great loss and found herself without a home or security. Yet she chose to trust her future to her mother-in-law, Naomi, and Naomi’s God, and went to a foreign land, believing that God would provide.
Mary, a young girl who probably wasn’t much over the age of 14, was just told that despite being a virgin, she would now conceive the Son of God. Knowing that this situation would bring judgment, accusations, shame, and rejection, she could have easily said, “Yeah, this sounds too much for me–I’m out.” But instead, confidently said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”
Everyone of them faced an uncertain outcome, but they knew enough about God’s character to know that choosing to go with God was better than anything they could do on their own. They might have been young, poor, desperate or scared, but we are still reading their stories today because they are a living example of trusting in God no matter what they faced.
Their faith and trust in the Lord is what gave them the strength to face their situation, boldness and courage to know God would provide. They entrusted and surrendered all they were and all they had to their God who could be trusted. They knew that He had everything they needed to face whatever circumstance came their way. He WAS all they needed. They knew this because He was a God that was active in their life and they could recount His past faithfulness and goodness.
And He is a God who is active in our lives too. His faithfulness and goodness have followed us all of our lives as well. But at times, we still find ourselves wondering if God is even there, and if good really can come out of what we are going through. When doubts begin to rise and our hearts start to race with questions, we must remember who He is and what is true: God is FOR us and He LOVES us.
When we are having trouble seeing God working in our situation, we must first ask ourselves, “Have I invited God into my situation? Or have I been engineering my own outcomes, relying on my own strength?” As humans, our first instinct is to try and fix our desperate situation ourselves, but we must remember that God doesn’t need our help, He needs our willingness and surrender, our faith and trust.
When we let go and lay it all in God’s hands, willing to say “thy will be done”, that is when we will find the peace and joy we are longing for, because the outcome is now in God’s hands. Laying it all in God’s hands sets us free from our fear and anxiety over our situation. When we realize that God can see the bigger picture and He knows what we do not, that He is infinitely wiser and wants our best, we can confidently know that His way is the best way.
Jeremiah 29:11 (NLT) says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.”
Because of Jesus and the future we have in Him, we can face the difficult things in this life with a faith and confidence that just doesn’t make sense to the world. Jesus came to bring us an unshakable kingdom, one that is not moved by the things of this world. He came so that our souls would find a peace and joy that is also unshakable. One that nothing in the world can touch or take away.
Jesus says in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
When we choose to surrender to God’s will and God’s ways, entrusting Him with the outcome, all the provisions of His kingdom are now at our disposal simply because we belong to Him. He guards our hearts and minds and plans ahead for us. This is our reality no matter what new threat appears in our news feed. No matter what happens in this world, this reality is still true. We have nothing to fear, for we have the great King on our side. He loves to provide all we need as we seek to live in His unshakable Kingdom.
When we choose to lean into this strong and unshakable Kingdom of God, trusting Him with our circumstances, we find that our hope is strengthened and we begin to see God at work in our situation. And when we get to the other side, just like our Bible heroes, we have a story to tell. Just as our faith is bolstered by seeing their faith and trust in the Lord, others will see your story and how you chose to have faith and trust, and be encouraged to do the same. This is all part of what it means to be made for more.
When we believe that God is at work even in the difficult situation we are facing, we can begin to see how He will bring glory out of it. It is never easy, but it does get easier when we can keep looking back to God’s character and past faithfulness.
You will be able to proclaim God’s faithfulness, because you will have tasted and seen that the Lord is good. And that proclamation becomes an invitation to others.
Your witness and trust that God is working in even the worst of situations, points a watching world to the One who can bring them hope. Don’t underestimate the impact that your story of faith in times of trial can have on those around you. God will bring good out of the worst situations, and our story can point others to a God that is faithful and loves us deeply. Our job is simply to trust Him.
You only need to take a few steps with a willing heart and God will run the rest of the way. He just needs your mustard seed of faith, your few loaves and fishes, and He will do great things.
Maybe you are in a place where you are so tired of holding it all together. Maybe you are in a circumstance that is leaving you feeling hopeless. We all face trials of various forms each and every day. Please know God is right there with you, waiting for you to turn to Him with all that is troubling you and all that is in your heart. He is a good, good father and nothing is too big or impossible for God.
Father God, you are so good to us. There are times when we cannot not see your goodness. Help us turn to you. Lord increase our faith. Help us remember your faithfulness to us in the past and that you are faithful still, even when we are not. You never leave us and would never forsake us. Help us to trust you with our whole life. May we seek your will and your glory. In Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.
Worship is a remarkable phenomenon, as we are currently witnessing thousands of people gather in worship around the nation. We saw it unfold at Asbury college when one ordinary chapel session continued for 10 days before it was moved off campus to accommodate the flood of people who were arriving to participate. Worship continues to break out on other college campuses, churches, and communities inspiring believers everywhere and piquing the curiosity of a watching world. It’s no surprise that people are drawn to worship, and seeking to connect with God. After all, it’s what we are made for.
From the Garden of Eden to now, we were created to be in relationship with God. Our hearts are designed to long for Him, and worship plays a vital role in our relationship with God and in living the Kingdom life to which God has invited us.
Isaiah61:1-3 describes a glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven, the kind of life that Jesus came to bring and set loose in the world. “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”
When it comes to worship, we often limit our definition of worship to singing songs and reading a Scripture or two in church on Sundays. But when we look at Kingdom life, we see that worship is so much more. It is every aspect of our being pointing to God and living every facet of our lives as a sign and a foretaste of God’s Kingdom coming.
That means singing songs and hymns and reading scripture and praying, but it also means comforting a neighbor, fixing a meal for a new mom, or listening to the grocery checker when they are having a hard day. Worship can be loving your family, kissing boo-boos and helping with math homework. It can be helping someone cross the street, or treating one another with love and grace.
All of these things can be acts of worship to the Lord, but I want to zoom in specifically on the time we set aside intentionally to worship the Lord both on our own and in our church families.
When we gather together for worship, we remember what God has done in the past, rejoice in what He is doing now, and look forward to what He will do in the future with eager anticipation. In worship, we have an opportunity to be close to God and grow in our relationship with Him. It’s a chance to recognize God’s Sovereignty, stand in awe of His love, realign our hearts with His, and surrender to His will. Worship is an act of our devotion to God and a source of encouragement and edification for others. (Ephesians 5:19-20)
But what astounds me, is that in worship, God meets us right where we are but He does not leave us there. His Holy Spirit works powerfully in our praise and we are truly transformed. In worship, we can encounter God, and in doing so find exactly what we need, right when we need it most.
When it comes to worship, especially in churches, it can be tempting to disqualify ourselves or to keep God at an arm’s length. Maybe we are keenly aware of our sins and imperfections and don’t feel worthy to be in the presence of the Lord. Maybe we are broken or hurting and feel like we have to pretend we have it all together before we walk through the doors of the church. Maybe we are scared that if we let our walls down, God may lead us out of our comfort zone into the unknown.
But in John 4:23-24, we hear from Jesus’ own lips the kind of worshipper He’s looking for:
“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
In this passage of Scripture, Jesus is talking to a Samaritan woman who was an outcast in society, known for having 5 husbands, and whose life was a complete mess. Because of her societal prejudice against her gender, race, and her checkered past, she had both disqualified herself and been disqualified by her community, from being able to worship God. There wasn’t a fake smile big enough that she could put on to distract anyone from the shambles her life had become. And yet Jesus assures her she can bring her whole heart and her whole mess to Him, and just worship.
He says it’s all about the heart. He will take care of all the messy bits, if we just give Him our whole hearts, and allow the Holy Spirit and the truth of God’s Word to work in us.
And there’s the miracle of it! When we bring our hearts to God in worship, if we are willing, He will not give it back in the same condition. He renews it, makes it whole, and restores us to right relationship with Him.
I know from experience.
There have been times in the past when I’d show up to worship in the worst mood. Cranky with everyone and sick of myself too. I’d sit down in my church pew like a toddler in timeout, with a scowl on my face and little in my heart that resembled gratitude or grace. My attendance was out of sheer obedience, but song by song, Bible verse by Bible verse, the Holy Spirit would go to work and my walls would begin to come down. In the presence of the Lord, my heart was softened and by the end of worship, I was filled with the love of God and overflowing with thankfulness and peace. I came to God with a heart that was ugly, and God made it pure.
I’ve gone to worship in seasons of grief and found there were times I could barely whisper the words. My heart was so heavy that sometimes I’d just sit when everyone else would stand. I just couldn’t muster the strength to rise. But bit by bit, as I listened to songs of hope, encouragement, and of our God who never lets go of us, my heart would start to lighten and I’d begin to experience a comfort that words could not describe. The circumstances of my heartache and pain had not changed, but I had. I felt held, safe, and secure in the arms of my Heavenly Father who met me there, to walk alongside me in my grief. It was in worship that I was reminded that God sees me, knows me, and will not let my grief consume me, because His love is stronger.
There have been other times still when my self-sufficiency and pride kept me from obeying God, from following Him with my whole heart, and doing the thing He has asked me to do. And yet in worship, I’d remember the Lord and who He is (and just as importantly, who I am not.) My heart would soften, not out of obligation, but in joyful willingness to join God in the work He is doing.
If I was unsure of myself, overwhelmed by insecurity, and stuck in a cycle of comparison, it was in worship that I was reminded of my belovedness as a daughter of the King. My heart was renewed and my vision cleared so that I could see myself and others more like Jesus does.
Isaiah 61:3 says that God gives us a “garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”
In the Kingdom of God, we are not stuck in despair, or even prisoners of our past. We are given a new heart and a garment of praise! When we allow God to transform our hearts and our lives, we become like mighty oak trees, displaying the splendor of the Lord for all the world to see. We are living the life we were made to live. We are living a life of worship.
Hebrews 12:28 says it beautifully: “Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe.”
That is my prayer for all of us dear friend, that everything we say and do could be worship to God. And if you’re going through a difficult season, or you’re just not feeling it today, I want to encourage you to spend some time in worship-in your car, in your closet, or on a walk with a friend. If you’re a music lover like me, check out this song. Sit with the Lord and let Him give you praise for your despair, and beauty for your ashes. And as God transforms us to be more and more like Him, may our lives be a little glimpse of His Kingdom breaking through, like sunbeams filtering through the branches of a mighty oak.
As a mother of three boys, there was a stage of life, where all conversations revolved around superheroes. I could probably name all the superheroes (both DC and Marvel), but as far as their superpowers, I only know the supernatural giftings of a few. However, my boys knew all the superpowers and were always discussing the pros and cons of one superpower over another. One afternoon, my boys and I had just sat down for lunch. A few bites into the meal, my one son who would rather talk than eat food, asked his other two brothers a question. “Which superpower would you rather have: x-ray vision or the ability to read people’s minds?” I don’t remember how the debate ended up. I just remembered thinking, I hope nobody ever has the ability to read minds, because mine can sometimes be downright toxic, and I don’t want anybody hearing the negative soundtrack that can overwhelm my mind.
Don’t get me wrong, not every day is like that, but there are seasons in my life when I feel inadequate, anxious about making a mistake, or overwhelmed by my to-do list. In those seasons, my brain does a good job confirming that all those negative thoughts are true. A loud voice in my head tells me, “You didn’t handle that conflict right.” “You are so disorganized; you have no business being in charge of three kids!” “Don’t ask that person out for coffee. What would you talk about anyway?” “That family could use a meal this week, but you aren’t a very good cook, so don’t bother.” And the list goes on and on.
You know where that soundtrack comes from? It’s Satan on a bullhorn yelling all sorts of doubt in my head. He tries to get me to doubt the goodness of God and the gifts He has given me.He tries to get me to doubt the mission God has called me to do or the promise that God will thoroughly equip me for the task. Sometimes I give in to those doubts and instead of confidently moving forward to bless others, I stay locked in my jail of anxiety, shame, and overwhelm. Rather than living free, I hide away in my protected corner of the world, afraid of someone confirming the self-condemnation that spins around in my head.
But here’s the deal. Some of the negative thoughts contain a grain of truth. Sometimes I don’t handle the conflict right. Of course, I’m not a perfect parent and I make mistakes. But Christ did not die for me to live in a self-imposed prison of condemnation, and He certainly doesn’t define me by my mistakes. Romans 8:1 says, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Did you hear that? No more condemnation. That doesn’t mean we don’t make mistakes or need to repent. That doesn’t mean God wants us to ignore the unholy parts of our lives. It means that we no longer worry about suffering the punishment of being separated from God. We no longer have to be shackled by the guilt of sin. We were never made to live that way. Instead, we’re made for freedom.
Galatians 5:1 says, “It is for freedom that Christ set you free. Stand firm then and do not let yourselves be burdened by the yoke of slavery.” We were not made to be slaves to crippling condemnation, but to be free to be transformed into who God wants us to be. Now instead of overthinking everything, I am free to make a mistake and learn from it because I no longer live in fear of condemnation. I can know that God will mold me more in His image every time I choose the freedom He has given me over the fear and condemnation Satan tries to shackle me with.
So if we are supposed to be free from condemnation, what do we do with our freedom? For what purpose did Christ free us? In Matt 10:8, Jesus told his disciples “Freely you have received, freely give.” Since you have freely received the gift of freedom from sin and condemnation, you are now free to give of yourself. Free to live a life of loving others.
Can you imagine what the world would be like, if a host of women, living in the freedom of God’s grace and mercy, walked out of their doors on a mission to use their gifts to love the world? Ladies, we’ve all seen a woman on a mission get things done, and we know the world would be a vastly different place. It would be a much better place. If we live in the freedom and love of Christ, we don’t overthink asking the new person at church out for coffee. When we live in the freedom of Christ, we aren’t afraid to use that amazing art talent God gave us to bring beauty into others’ lives. When we live in the freedom of Christ we are free to encourage hurting people around us because we aren’t afraid of making a mistake. Many people would be encouraged, loved, and cared for because we would be living in the freedom of God’s love.
So let’s confidently live a life that honors our God who has given us such a joyous freedom. You weren’t made to be a slave to condemnation and self-doubt. You were made for freedom.
I clinked my glass against the screen of my iPhone as I cheered in the New Year over Facetime with my two oldest sons. It was the first holiday we’d ever spent apart. My husband had caught a cold and planned to turn in early, and our toddler isn’t old enough to rally past 9 pm. So to ensure that someone in our family had a proper party, I dropped our older boys off to celebrate at their godparent’s house with their best friends. Just before the ball dropped, I added my parents to the call and for a few minutes, my screen was a flurry of favorite faces as we exchanged well-wishes and I love you’s. When the call ended, I was stunned by the abrupt silence. In these first moments of 2023, I was completely alone.
Sure my husband was in the next room and I could see the baby on the video monitor all curled up and comfy, but everything in the house felt conspicuously quiet and still.
There was a time in my life that ringing in the New Year alone would have been occasion for a full-on pity party, with a sad playlist and everything. But now, I found myself savoring the silence as I wrapped myself up in a fuzzy blanket and leaned back into the presence of the Lord.
I grabbed a pen and some paper and began to look back over all that had happened throughout the past year. As I scribbled down my thoughts, Isaiah 25:1 came to mind:
“Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done wonderful things, things planned long ago.”
Last year had its share of ups and downs, but as I looked back, more than anything, I could see the Lord’s faithfulness in the blessings, triumphs, and opportunities to join Him where He was working. I could see His faithfulness in how He sustained our family when we were sick or comforted us when we were feeling anxious, stressed, or uncertain about the future. I couldn’t help but marvel that while there are many things in life we couldn’t see coming, God in His perfect faithfulness had planned ahead for every detail.
Because of who God is, we don’t have to know what’s coming around every corner (even though we may still want to try). We are loved by a God who holds the past, present, and future all in one view. He will gently lead us each step of the way. He’s done it before, and we can trust Him to do it again.
You may be in a season where trusting that God really is at work feels like a tall order, especially if this past year has not been gentle with you. Maybe you find yourself in that in-between place where God’s past faithfulness feels too distant to lean on, and the future blessing feels impossibly far off. I’ve been there too, friend.
I want to encourage you to look up and look back so that you can look forward with hope. Look up over the tippy-top of the mountain you are facing and gaze fully into the face of God. Remember who He is and lean on what you know to be true about God according to His Word. Because when we know God’s character, it is easier to trust Him, even when things don’t look like what we had imagined at first. His promises may seem far off, but in Christ, every promise of God has been fulfilled with a resounding “Yes!” (2 Corinthians 1:20)
So often when we’re in the middle of something challenging, it is hard to discern how and where God is working, how He will come through, or when. When we look back to the past, in our own lives, and in the Bible, we see His unchanging character on display and His breathtaking love and provision. By reflecting on God’s steadfast presence in the past, our faith grows in the present, and we gain a confident hope for the future.
Even if it’s hard to see God at work in your own life right now, there are so many examples in the Bible to encourage us! Because the same God who worked powerfully in all of those amazing stories in the Bible is working mightily in your story now. And God always does more than we can ask or imagine. He goes above and beyond, helping with the apparent challenges but also caring for the deeper need as well.
We can observe how Jesus didn’t just heal the sick physically and send them on their way. He restored their identity, reconnected them to community, and returned them to their livelihood. (Mark 5)
We see that God doesn’t just comfort the lonely, He puts them in families and in churches. He is a father to the fatherless, and a defender of the helpless. (Psalm 68:4-6, Acts 2:42-47)
And we learn that God doesn’t just meet us in the middle of our mess, He invites us to be a part of His greater story, to be His sons and daughters, and to play a role in His Kingdom coming. (1 Peter 2:9, 1 Peter 4:10-11)
As we look back over God’s faithfulness in the Bible and in our own lives, it builds up the foundation of our faith and we can look forward to the incredible things God has in store for us with great hope, anticipation, and joy.
1 Corinthians 2:9 tells us that “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.”
Sweet friend, the best is yet to come. Because of Jesus, you have a hope and a future that shines. You can know and rely on God’s love and perfect faithfulness to see you through all the blessings and trials this year may bring. And above all, you can trust that your Heavenly Father sees you, knows you, and calls you daughter. As you look up and look back, may you experience the unfailing love of Jesus. May His love be the very thing that defines you this year. And may you look forward with hope, knowing that God has His very best in store for you.
I love Christmastime. All of it. The lights, the music, the decorations, and I’ve even grown to love the cheesy Hallmark movies (I’m talking about you, Knight Before Christmas). But I especially love the peaceful, quiet moments on my own or with family, remembering when Emmanuel, God with us, arrived so long ago.
My thoughts this time of year often turn to Mary, the mother of Jesus. I so admire her faithfulness and trust in the Lord. As a mama, I can relate to how she treasured things in her heart, or how uncertain she must have felt when Jesus was little and she was learning how to be a mama for the first time.
But this year, as I read through the story of Jesus’ birth in the Bible, I noticed Joseph. While Mary has a whole song recorded in the Bible, we don’t have a single recorded word from Joseph. But his actions and character speak volumes and continually point toward faith and hope in the Prince of Peace.
In Matthew 1:18-25 we see the story unfold. Joseph, who was engaged to Mary, suddenly found himself at the center of a scandal. Mary was pregnant and the child was not his. While an angel had already revealed to Mary that what was happening was the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, Joseph had not yet received any such reassurance.
In their time and culture, a person’s virtue and honor were paramount. If Joseph stayed with Mary, people would assume he was the father, bringing shame and dishonor to himself and his family. If he stated the truth that he is not the father, the blame lands squarely on Mary’s shoulders, and Joesph would have been within his legal right to have her put to death by stoning. For both Joseph and Mary, the stakes had never been higher.
It’s not hard to imagine the depth of grief Joseph must have felt. He thought he had chosen a woman of virtue, one who loved and followed God and would have brought honor and love, and beauty to his life. And now this? His entire world had just been turned upside down. And yet, Joseph was a thoughtful and just man, faithful to God’s law and dependent on Him for wisdom and direction.
As Joseph lay in bed, no doubt unable to sleep and agonizing about what to do, he decided that he would put Mary’s honor above his own and quietly divorce her. When he finally drifted off to sleep, an angel spoke to Joesph in a dream.
At just the right time, in just the right way, God reassured Joesph that the events unfolding would not bring tragedy, but triumph–the beginning of a holy, redemptive work that would save all of humanity.
God didn’t give Joseph a lot of detail, or promise that everything would be ok. But God did comfort Joseph telling him not to be afraid. Then God told Joseph exactly what he needed to know to step forward in faith. I can only imagine the wave of relief, peace, and total wonder that must have washed over Joseph after that dream. I bet he took a long exhale when he realized this was all a part of God’s plan.
As he tried to comprehend all that he had been told, I wonder if Joesph recalled Psalm 29:11 to mind: “The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.”
Joseph would need strength for the road ahead, strength to face the judgmental stares from friends and family who thought he had broken their marital laws, strength to love and care for Mary and baby Jesus, and strength to have faith that what the Lord said was all true. But Joseph would also need to lean into the peace that God promised as well.
The Hebrew word for peace is shalom and it means so much more than the mere absence of conflict. Shalom means to make whole, or complete. To take something that’s broken and complicated and restore it to order. Shalom can apply to damaged property being repaired, someone’s health returning after a season of illness, or a broken relationship being mended. To give shalom is to give wholeness, healing, and restoration.
As Joseph faithfully stepped into the role that God was calling him to, his trust in God’s ability to breathe order into chaos would have helped him to continue to be attentive to God’s instructions and to boldly protect, lead, and love his family well. Joseph took Mary as his wife, and just as the Lord had instructed, named the Baby Jesus.
And God was faithful. He continued to walk with Joseph and speak to him through dreams, giving him the next set of instructions, and then the next. All along the way, God continued to give Joseph strength and bless him with peace.
Maybe you are in the middle of a complicated situation that could use some healing and restoration, or maybe you are in a season that feels overwhelming and unpredictable and you need God to breathe order into your chaos. Maybe you aren’t sure how you are going to provide for yourself or your family and it’s hard to see how you’ll make it another week, let alone another month. Perhaps you feel called by God to step forward in faith to fill a role that feels impossibly hard and you wonder if you’re really the right person for the job.
I’m sure Joseph experienced all of these feelings and while God may not send angels to speak to us in dreams the way He did with Joseph, He will give you strength and bless you with peace that goes beyond anything our human minds can comprehend.
Because Jesus is the ultimate source of true “shalom”. He is the Prince of Peace. There is no limit to the wholeness and healing that He brings.
We will still be faced with difficult circumstances, but because of Jesus, our relationship with God has been restored and we are now called His children. We are heirs of an unshakable Kingdom that will never fall or fade. Because of Jesus, we can continue to put one foot in front of the other, following Him and leaning into His instructions, trusting in His ability to bring order to chaos, healing to what is broken, and wholeness where there is longing.
And as Christmas day approaches, may we remember and celebrate Jesus coming to earth to be our Prince of Peace, and look forward with eager anticipation to when he returns, and shalom will be complete.
“O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water. I have seen you in your sanctuary and gazed upon your power and glory.
Your unfailing love is better than life itself; how I praise you! I will praise you for as long as I live, lifting up my hands to you in prayer. You satisfy me more than the richest feast. I will praise you with songs of joy. I lie awake thinking of you, meditating on you through the night. Because you are my helper, I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings. I cling to you; your strong right hand holds me securely.” – Psalm 63:1-8
Thanksgiving is a wonderful day set aside to remember how God has richly provided in our lives and a time to express the gratitude in our hearts. We can praise Him for the blessings of family, friends, co-workers, jobs, homes, a kind word, or simply His unfailing love that never leaves us.
Maybe today you are in a place of overflowing gratitude and thankfulness for how God has shown you His love time and time again, and you feel joy as you experience His presence right now in your life. In this season, Thanksgiving can be such a joy!
But when we are in a season facing a difficult circumstance, it can be more difficult to see where God is working and to praise and express thankfulness.
Maybe you are in a place where you are earnestly searching for God. Longing for His presence–to be reminded that He is real and there.
Maybe you feel like your soul is dry and thirsty and needs satisfying. You long for refreshment for your soul. So many things that surround us try to meet that need, but they don’t quite cut it. After a long and grueling hike, the last thing you want is a soda or tea. Even though they are mostly water they don’t come close to satisfying our thirst.
Maybe your nights have been sleepless. You are calling out to God in the middle of the night as you lie awake unable to sleep, because your mind just won’t let you. The stress of your situation threatens to overtake you and you long for God to bring you rest and peace.
While we may seek after God in our day-to-day life, I find that when we go through difficult seasons in life, we tend to seek God more earnestly. Has there been a time you were desperate for God to provide or answer your prayer for deliverance?
When I read these verses, I can’t help but feel like the Psalmist had that time of longing and need for God. He says:
“O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water.”
Then he goes on to tell God that he has seen Him work before; seen His power and glory and praises Him for His unfailing love in his life. He turns to God as the one who can satisfy more than the richest feast. Because he knows where to turn in his desperation, he has full confidence that God will deliver him and help him in his time of need.
It is my prayer that you too will see God work in an amazing way in your life. That you will get to experience first hand His power and glory, as he intervenes in your situation. That you are left in awe and your praise will be overflowing.
This Thanksgiving, we hope you will remember the One who provides all things and can satisfy our deepest desires. His love will never fail you. He offers up living water that quenches every thirst. May He be your all in all today!
The holiday season is coming. The local event schedule is filling up with holiday bazaars, concerts, and sales. The annual debate of whether listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving should be allowed is heating up on social media. The stores are filling up with Thanksgiving goodies and Christmas decorations. For many, it is a joyous time of year as they look forward to holiday traditions and time with family.
However, this time of year is not a joyous time for everyone. Unfortunately, many have lost a loved one around this time of year. For these people, it can be a time of sadness as they have to endure another milestone without the ones they love. If that is you, know I see you. I know it is hard.
I want to encourage you that you are not alone in your sadness. You have access to a God who wants to walk with you during this difficult season. Our God doesn’t stay up on his throne, indifferent to the pain of death and sadness. Our God doesn’t watch us suffer from heaven without a care about what we are feeling. No, we believe in a God who knows what it is like to lose a loved one because he lost his Son to the cross. We believe in a God who has promised to comfort us in our times of grief.
Jesus tells us, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) He never promised life will be easy, but he does promise we don’t have to do it alone because we have God living within us through His Holy Spirit.
And as we slog our way through life, carrying the weight of having to lose the ones we love and other difficult trials, God gives us this glorious hope:
“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.”
During this holiday season, if you are looking forward to all the food, festivities, and time with family, I rejoice with you. I am thankful you get to enjoy all the joy the holidays were meant to bring. If you look at this holiday season with a sense of loss and grief, I pray you can find hope and comfort in the fact that our sympathetic and compassionate God walks with you in those hard emotions. May you also find hope and comfort in the promise that one day, God will wipe all the tears from your eyes for there will no longer be a reason to mourn.
A few miles from where I live, there is a butte that overlooks my town. I love driving to the top and gazing down on the place I call home. There is a little river that meanders through town with tall green deciduous trees adorning the landscape. Off in the distance, mountains call out to me, luring me to go hiking, fishing, and camping. For an outdoorsy girl like me, it is a great place to live. But I don’t go up there just to admire the beauty of the town. I go there to pray for the people who live there.
While everything can seem great from high on the hill, things are not all roses and daffodils down in the valley. It seems like every week I hear stories that break my heart: a kid is removed from their home because of abusive parents, another person who becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to escape emotional pain or stories of people struggling with loneliness and lack of self-worth. I know Jesus could speak into their hurt and pain, but only 1-2% of the population have a relationship with Jesus, and it doesn’t seem like the rest are interested.
I can’t help but feel the effects of the hard and heartbreaking things that are happening all around me. I get tired of watching helplessly as people struggle in pain and suffer the consequences of their own bad choices or the choices of others. Sometimes, my fatigue can even turn into frustration and anger directed toward these hurting people, instead of on their behalf.
Sometimes as Christians, it’s all too easy to build a metaphorical hedge around ourselves. We want to block it all out, and just live at peace with Jesus in our comfortable safe places. Then, once the world gets its act together, it can come visit us in our cozy “spiritual compounds.”
Yet we know that is not the heart of God. God did not sit back in his protected spiritual domain while the people He created needed a savior. Instead, He became one of us, suffered like one of us, to show us a better way to live. He did it because “God is patient towards us, not wishing anyone to perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) Christ came and died for those of us who have accepted Him AND for those who don’t know Him yet. (1 Peter 3:18)
God calls us to come out from behind our “spiritual safety hedges” and share His gospel. But how do we begin reaching people in our own backyards with the gospel, when most of them don’t want to hear it? There are so many people that don’t know how much Jesus truly loves them and it seems overwhelming. The Bible shows that I should begin with prayer.
Prayer is where the early church started in its quest to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth. Before the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost, you don’t see the disciples out evangelizing yet. Instead, Acts 1:12-14 shows them gathered together in prayer. At just the right time, God sent the Holy Spirit to empower them to spread the gospel. In Acts 2, we see Peter preach the first gospel sermon and he preached it to his own people. The very people who, just a few weeks earlier, wanted Jesus dead.
But Peter didn’t turn his back on them. Instead, God sent Peter to the very people that killed His Son, knowing they needed forgiveness and salvation, too. Thousands of people who once hated Jesus were now turning to Him for love and forgiveness.
Just like me, the early disciples didn’t know where to start or how to reach the vast number of people who still didn’t know Jesus. But instead of giving up and walking away, they met together and prayed. Then, at the right time, God sent his Spirit to empower them to reach people they never thought possible.
As a disciple in the 21st-century church, it is now my turn to pray for those around me. Instead of running away and ignoring the angry, hurt, and broken people around me, I get the privilege to intercede before God on their behalf.
So I head to the top of the hill and pray for them. I go to my kids’ sports events, and I pray. In my favorite prayer spot in my house, I pray for them. So far, thousands of people haven’t come flocking to my church, but my heart is changing. I have more compassion. I see the sin and brokenness in my community more through God’s eyes which gives me the boldness and strength to regularly sit before him and beg for my town’s salvation. It has given me the courage to step into the difficult lives of some of my fellow neighbors and share the good news about Jesus’ love and sacrifice, and the brand new life they can have in Him. And as I see small changes in them begin to happen, I am encouraged to pray all the more.
I don’t know what life is like in your town. I don’t know who your neighbors are. But I do know this: God loves them and desires them to have the same relationship with Him that you enjoy.
So how can you make time to pray for people around you who don’t know Jesus yet? If you’re looking for a way to get started, here are a few ways you can add this important calling into your prayer life:
Go on a regular walk around your neighborhood or town and pray for your neighbors and the people you see.
Pick one or two people you personally know who don’t have a relationship with Jesus and add them by name to your daily prayer list
Get together once a month with other Christians to pray specifically for your town.
As you pray, may your heart be transformed to be more like God, who stepped right into the middle of the mess to bring redemption, love, and hope. May He give you the courage and boldness to tell others about Jesus, so that all may truly know Him.