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Archive for the ‘Encouragement’ Category

Martin and Katherine Luther

In 1527, the plague approached Wittenberg, Germany, home of Martin and Katherine Luther. Some say it was this looming calamity that prompted Luther to write one of the great hymns of the church: “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” [1]

In fact, our congregation sang the ancient lyrics this past Sunday, although we were accompanied by keyboard, guitar, and drum—not organ. I was struck by the second line of the third verse:

“We will not fear, for God hath willed

His truth to triumph thro’ us.”

My mind wandered a bit. I wonder how many scriptural truths promise the result of triumph through us—verses like “My God will meet all your needs.”[2] There must be hundreds!

A bit of research revealed that Luther based his hymn on these scriptural truths from Psalm 46:

  • God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble (v. 1)
  • We will not fear though the earth give way (v. 2)
  • The Lord Almighty is with us; God is our fortress (v. 7)

Even though Luther and his family stayed in Wittenberg to care for the sick and dying, he wouldn’t have expected God to spare him or family members from the plague. Luther knew God doesn’t always intervene; he never promised heaven on earth.

But Luther understood: with God as our spiritual refuge, we find the comfort, strength, and support we need through the darkest valleys (Psalm 23).

God will lead us to triumph and provide victory over fear.

Another confidence-building scripture is tucked into the book of Nahum: “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him” (1:7).

If we put our minds to it, every one of us can attest to the truth of those statements, because the Lord is good to all. [3]

Consider a few ways God demonstrates goodness to his people, and see if examples from your own life don’t come to mind.

  • He draws us to himself, gifting us with eternal life as we believe in his Son Jesus [4]
  • He provides mentors and experiences that grow our faith as well as blessings that increase our joy [5]
  • He attentively cares for us and spares us from grave errors in judgment as we obey him [6]
  • He bestows comfort and security during difficult times and augments the delight of happy times [7]
  • His Word guides us in perfect wisdom day by day, year after year [8]
  • He empowers us to accomplish tasks we never could have completed on our own [9]

“It’s important to rehearse the lovely, rich truths and promises that remain when other things change. Keep telling these truths, in all their many-sided glory, and one day, walls already cracked will crumble and fall.”

Jim McGuiggan [10]

Picture your fears cracking, crumbling, and falling in a heap in response to the weight of God’s truths.

That’s a picture of triumph!

“We will not fear, for God hath willed

His truth to triumph thro’ us.”

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *    *     *

Thank you, Father, for Your gracious invitation to leave our concerns with you and free ourselves of anxiety. As I affirm your truth, you provide fortitude and peace.

One day, the father of lies who provokes all fears WILL be defeated. As Martin Luther wrote, “One little word shall fell him!”[11] We eagerly look forward to that day.

(1 Peter 5:7; Philippians 4:6-7; Romans 16:20; Philippians 3:20)

Addendum: Martin Luther and his family were all spared during the plague of 1527.


 

[1] No copies of this hymn have been found before this date, but a growing number after, leading various scholars to support this theory (https://www.challies.com/articles/hyms-stories-a-mighty-fortress-is-our-god/).

[2] Philippians 4:19

[3] Psalm 145:9

[4] John 6:44; 3:16

[5] Proverbs 12:15; 18:15; Psalm 4:7

[6] Psalm 27:10 HCSB; 37:23-24

[7] Isaiah 41:10; Psalm 16:11

[8] Psalm 32:8. However, I must confess to not always being receptive.

[9] Philippians 4:13

[10] Quoted by Beth Moore in Praying God’s Word, 138.

[11] From the last line of verse three, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”

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(An imaginary conversation between God and me)

ME:

O God, each time I come across a scripture that affirms Your delight in me, my heart responds with amazement. I fall far short of the excellence I’d like to present to You—even after all these years as Your child. How is it possible You could still delight in me?  

GOD:

Think about this: How do others know that you take delight in your children and grandchildren? You spend time with them, correct? You listen to them, praise their efforts, and encourage them. You give them gifts. You forgive them.

I do all these things for you and more, proving my delight through my actions. When you see Me clearly—my faithfulness, goodness, and love in action for you—you’ll see yourself more clearly–one who is cherished and brings me pleasure.

Keep reminding yourself, you don’t have to be perfect to be wonderful. [1]

Just this morning you took great delight at the get-together of moms at church. In fact, you smiled from ear to ear and laughed for joy over children you didn’t even know:

  • the baby who waved with gusto at everyone who passed by
  • the little boy who wanted you to play catch with him
  • the three-year-old conversationalist who explained how hourglass egg-timers work

Granted, not one of these little ones is perfect, but each is perfectly wonderful—and so is every other child of Mine, including you.

 I also take great pleasure in watching My children grow, just as you’ve delighted in the development of your children and grandchildren—even your students when you taught school.

ME:

It’s true—each milestone is celebrated with joy, especially those that required effort. It stands to reason that each marker of our spiritual growth makes You smile with joy—markers that include: establishing a quiet time (because You desire relationship with us), learning to be patient and self-controlled as well as manifesting the other fruit of the Spirit, practicing Your presence throughout the day, and turning to You in faith for the strength, guidance, and help we need.[2]

GOD:

Absolutely! I also delight to see:

  • The development and use of the talents I’ve given you, just as you celebrate the growing abilities of the children around you.
  • The joy you experience in the company of family or friends, just as you enjoy watching children play happily together. Their pleasure becomes your pleasure; the same is true for Me.
  • The expression of gratitude for My blessings and favors, just as gratitude from your children warms your hearts and makes you smile.
  • The perseverance to develop spiritual maturity, just as you’ve taken joy in the skills mastered by your children, grandchildren, and students through the years.

Many think of Me as far removed, gloomy and mightily displeased with everything. And while it’s true that I hate sin, because of My Son, Jesus Christ, all believing souls are objects of My delight.[3]

Take that to heart, precious child.

ME:

I pray, Heavenly Father, that my choices going forward might bring You increasing delight. And may I rest contentedly, even joyfully, in the pleasure You already take in me.


 

[1] ______, Values for Life, Walnut Grove Press, 2004, 131).

[2] Revelation 3:20; Galatians 5:22-23; Psalm 16:11; Hebrews 11:6

[3] A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, Harper & Brothers, 1961, 107-108.

Photo credits: http://www.canva.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.stocksnap.io.

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“As followers of Jesus we have the opportunity

to live each day in wild amazement of God.”

–Margaret Feinberg[1]

Doesn’t that sound like a glorious way to live? Amazement can be a doorway to joy.

Even secular research has discovered positive effects for those who report feeling awe on a regular basis:

  • Lower markers of inflammation
  • Refreshed energy
  • Less anxiety
  • Enhanced sense of well being[2]

Now we know why God inspired King David to write: “Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles” (Psalm 105:5a). God doesn’t need our adulation; we need the recalibration that wild amazement provides.

What follows are categories of wonder and personal examples for each month of 2023. Perhaps this list will trigger memories of your own moments of wild amazement.

January—the wonder of nature

We woke up to a light snowfall that continued all day. At sundown Steve and I stood at the back window to enjoy one last time the white landscape and frosted trees when a fox trotted by, his plush tail extended gracefully behind him. Dark motion against pale stillness.

February—the wonder of friendship

Old friends since college visited for three heavenly days. The reminiscing, heart-to-heart conversation and much laughter strengthened the long-held connection between us.

March—the wonder of kindness

My cousin sent a package of family heirlooms she discovered while spring cleaning, items she thought I’d like to have. Imagine my delight to receive several handkerchiefs with tatted trim, created by our grandmother, and a needle case stitched by our great-grandmother. Such precious things to pass on to my granddaughters.

(I should have ironed them before snapping a pic!)

April—the wonder of family

When all thirteen of us gather, the house is filled with multiple, simultaneous conversations and much laughter. Beautiful noise!

May—the wonder of participation

What a happy privilege to speak hope and encouragement into the lives of others—sometimes to a group in a formal setting, sometimes to individuals over coffee-shop lattës, sometimes to a stranger.

June—the wonder of life

The daughter-in-law of dear friends posted the ultrasound image of their son, due in December. “He’s perfect,” the doctor assured them. Such glorious news after they’ve endured three miscarriages. I can only imagine their pain and sorrow, yet their faith has remained strong. (Perfect little Cam was born December first.)

July—the wonder of giving

My husband frequently blesses delivery people, wait staff, etc. with generous tips. One waitress puddled up with gratitude. After heart surgery she was behind on her bills; we had the joyful privilege of assisting her.

August—the wonder of imagination

Our five-year old granddaughter drew a picture of herself getting scratched on the leg while hiking a trail with her parents. However, the illustration didn’t depict a bush causing injury; it was an ogre.

September—the wonder of rest

Quiet time on our deck provides supreme restoration, especially when a light breeze keeps me cool and cheerful cardinals add a soundtrack. Beginning this time of year, our black walnut tree provides flashing, golden leaf showers. Mesmerizing.

(These are maple leaves, but they reflect the same golden glow as our black walnut.)

October—the wonder of miracles

Our pastor-son and his wife have served their current church for four and a half years. When they arrived, the church faced financial difficulty. But God began his good work among the people, giving increased, and they even established a savings account. Recently a dire need developed and $85,000 was required. Guess how much was in that account?!

November—the wonder of gratitude

Just this month alone, I celebrated God’s goodness for tasks completed in spite of little time, prayers answered, blessings not asked for, numerous moments of delight, laughter (especially that of our grandchildren), thoughtfulness of others, and memories of years past. “Joy doesn’t cause us to be grateful,” wrote Brother David Steindl-Rast, “joy is born out of our gratitude.”

December—the wonder of Jesus

He is our Savior and King, our Wonderful Counselor and Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. These titles only begin to express his identity and attributes.

God is infinite, his marvelous works are infinite. What moments of wonder have come to your mind? Or perhaps you’ve thought of a whole new category. Please share in the comment section below.

Let’s begin this new year by celebrating our wild amazement of God!      


 Notes:

[1] Wonderstruck, Worthy Publishing Group, 2012, 173.

[2] https://guideposts.org/angels-and-miracles/miracles/gods-grace/why-a-sense-of-wonder-is-important/ and https://hbr.org/2021/08/why-you-need-to-protect-your-sense-of-wonder-especially-now

Photo credits: http://www.pxhere; http://www.commons.wikimedia.org; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.commons wikimedia.org; http://www.pxhere; http://www.canva.com.

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Last week I shared with you journal-contemplations from the first verse of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” As with most hymns and praise songs, it’s easy to sing through the lyrics of this carol and miss their full significance.  

By putting pen to paper, we slow our thinking and wonderful blessings begin to emerge—like increased understanding of God and his Word, renewal of the mind, and augmented intimacy with God.

Contemplations can become worship.

With that in mind, let’s savor the second verse:

“Christ by highest heaven adored”

How glorious the music in heaven must be! Rich, clear voices, every note perfectly pitched. Intricate harmonies and faultless instrumentation.

All these sublime elements come together to worship You, Lord Christ–the Anointed One–who left the magnificence of heaven to be the Savior of humankind.

Thank you, Father, for giving us a glimpse (in the book of Revelation) of the heavenly song that celebrates King Jesus. I can’t help but hear Handel’s majestic melody from Messiah for the lyrics:

I praise You, Lord Jesus, for Your splendor!

“Christ, the everlasting Lord!”

You, O Christ, existed throughout the infinite past and will prevail into the infinite future.

Though Son of God, You are also the Eternal Father, forever with us and LORD of all. Nothing is outside Your control (1).

Power often corrupts in the human realm. But You are perfect in all attributes and motivated by matchless love.

I praise You, O Christ, for the supreme grace of Your Lordship!

“Late in time behold Him come”

To those who waited for Your arrival, You must have seemed late! Centuries had passed since the last prophecy of Your coming.

“But when the time was right,” You, O God, sent Your Son to redeem us (2).

In retrospect we can see why You chose the time of Roman rule. They had established stability in their far-reaching empire, built thousands of miles of roads, and established a common language.

Such factors meant early Christians could spread the good news about You more easily than ever before (3).

I praise You, O God, for Your masterful orchestration

that’s always in operation for the benefit of Your children!

“Offspring of the Virgin’s womb”

You are the One and Only begotten Son of the God the Father, the only Man of heavenly origin who ever lived on earth.

You committed no sin. Without that absolute perfection in You, there would be no salvation for us. God made You, who never sinned, to be sin so we could be made right with Him (4).

I praise You, Righteous Savior, for Your perfection!

“Veiled in flesh the Godhead see”

You embodied all the magnificent attributes of God during Your time on earth, yet You were also human.

You dealt with exhaustion, frustration, temptations, and discomforts, just as we do. The fullness of Your glory was veiled behind the ordinariness of Your humanity (5).

How difficult that must have been to know Your full capabilities yet continually hold Yourself in check.

I praise You, Lord Jesus, for your fierce love

that compelled You to complete such an arduous mission.

“Hail th’incarnate Deity”

No one has ever lived a sinless life except You.

No one espoused wisdom as You did or performed miracles like You.

You are the radiance of God’s glory!

I praise your for your divine holiness.

“Pleased as man with men to dwell”

You chose to come to earth and dwell among us, in spite of our self-centeredness, pride, weakness, and brokenness.

Such an incredible reality!

I praise You, O Lord, for your mercy, for wanting to be with us.

“Jesus, our Emmanuel.”

You are Emmanuel—God with us (7). Once we invite You into our lives we’re never left to our own feeble devices; we’re never without Your attentive care.

In Your presence we experience joy, refreshment, help, and pleasure (8). You enhance every moment of life with Your radiant attributes!

I praise You, O Christ, for choosing to veil Yourself in flesh that we might behold You.

I praise You for dwelling with us that might enjoy You!

Notes:

  1. Isaiah 9:6; Matthew 28:20; Philippians 2:9-11
  2. Galatians 4:4-5 CEV
  3. See “The Appropriate Time” for further details
  4. John 3:16; 1 Peter 2:22; 2 Corinthians 5:21
  5. Daniel Ruben, http://www.fbccarson.org/harktheheraldangelssing
  6. John 10:17 and 1:14
  7. Matthew 1:23
  8. Isaiah 9:3; Acts 2:28 and 3:19; Psalm 42:5; Psalm 16:11

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Take a walk over wooded hills and chances are you’ll encounter a spring-fed, babbling brook, tumbling over rocks and ever-flowing to its mouth.

Just the sound of it refreshes the soul.

Perhaps in his travels, the Apostle Paul encountered spring-fed brooks, and God brought them to his mind as inspiration for this instruction:

Let your living spill over into thanksgiving.

–Colossians 2:7c MSG

Such a lovely image of refreshing, ever-flowing gratitude.

Paul urged his readers to be thankful seven times in the four-chapters of Colossians, and forty more times in his other epistles.

Now why would God inspire Paul to encourage gratitude so often?

Surely God wanted us to discover that when we seek to be thankful, we find our trust growing. Look at all these wonderful ways God is blessing and investing in my life, we begin to realize. He IS a good and loving Father; I CAN depend on him!

Perhaps Paul himself had learned: the more we thank, the more we see to be thankful for.

“The grumbler undoubtedly sees few blessings;

The grateful person finds blessings everywhere.

In fact, blessings seem to find her.

J. E. Yoder (1)

I also like Warren Wiersbe’s reason for cultivating gratitude: “When a believer is abounding in thanksgiving, he is really making progress!”

Surely this was one of Paul’s strong desires—that all Jesus-followers make progress toward becoming all that God intends them to be.

But gratitude doesn’t always come easy. Sometimes we’re more likely to be overwhelmed by our worries than overflowing with thankfulness. Or we’d rather talk about our woes in order to gain sympathy than share our blessings in order to encourage.

So how do we open the channels of our hearts to let gratitude flow?

We might begin with a daily (perhaps hourly ) habit of giving thanks for the benefits we enjoy—no matter what our circumstances—even if the family is in turmoil, or friends have proved unfriendly, or trouble has dropped in our laps.

As noted, ever-flowing gratitude refreshes the soul.  

Perhaps we could begin with these five blessings:

  • The indescribable gift of Christ and all he offers
  • Rescue from the powers of darkness
  • God’s glorious attributes at work in our lives—his goodness, grace, compassion, and more
  • The precious, life-changing truths of scripture
  • God’s constant presence with us (2)

Of course there are many more. We’d do well to keep a written list of such ever-present blessings, ready to refer to when the flow of our gratitude is blocked by disappointment or discouragement.

And at the top of the list we might copy this wonderful reassurance:

There is always good because there is always God . . .

Even when nothing else around us is good,

his presence in the midst of our deepest pain

is a good gift indeed.

Aliza Latta (3)

Picture a glass of water so full it will not hold another drop. Now what if you bump against it? The water is bound to spill over. Similarly, when trouble bumps against us, what’s inside will overflow.

Out of an angry person will come anger, out of a fearful person will come fear, out of a self-centered person will come self-pity. (I have been all three of these people at one time or other!)

But a grateful person? He/she overflows with gratitude, cheering and soothing the soul like a babbling brook. In addition, their trust in God grows and greater maturity develops. Best of all, their thankfulness delights God.

As the Lord loveth a cheerful giver,

So likewise a cheerful thanksgiver.

John Boys (4)

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

O Father, keep me mindful that no matter what I face, there are ALWAYS reasons to rejoice. I don’t want to give in to anger, fear, or self-pity. I want my living to spill over into thanksgiving—a superior way to spend my days and bring you glory as well.

Notes:

  1. Our Daily Bread
  2. 2 Corinthians 9:15; Colossians 1:13; Psalm 145:7-8ff; Psalm 119:72, 93, 103; Psalm 23:4
  3. Take Heart, 16
  4. Dean of Canterbury from 1619-1625, quoted in A Puritan Golden Treasury

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Whitney sought a foothold and pulled herself up, then changed her hand grips and found another foothold above the previous one. Slowly she inched her way up the 40-foot climbing wall. Though only her first attempt, the four-year-old showed no fear.

Dad recorded the feat, and the video is available on YouTube.

We marvel that such a young child could climb with such confidence. But Whitney knew she was tethered to a rope held secure by the belayer, who also gave wise advice as she climbed. And Dad offered encouragement the whole way up and down.

When she touched ground again, Whitney’s broad smile indicated her delight in conquering the wall.

And the preschooler’s experience proves:

Security, wisdom, and encouragement

contribute to confidence. 

What held true during that preschooler’s rock-climb holds true for us in life. We need a strong Belayer to keep us secure, wise instruction to help us succeed, and inspiring encouragement to help us persevere.

Security

First, our Belayer is God himself. He holds us fast and will never let us go.[1]

And just as Whitney’s security did not depend on her gripping the rope, our security of help, strength, and heaven-to-come doesn’t originate with our grip on God, but his forever grip on us.[2] What we cannot do for ourselves, he has accomplished.[3]

Just as Whitney put her trust in the belayer, we must actively trust God to be our lifeline.

Wisdom

A short distance up the wall, Whitney glanced toward the floor. The belayer wisely advised, “Don’t look down, Whitney! Keep looking up!”

She didn’t look down until the belayer gave her instructions for the descent.

God also offers wise advice through his Word. He wants us to know:

  • True wisdom comes from him.
  • It begins with reverence and humility before God, to be in awe of his holiness, his power over all things–including life and death.
  • He gladly provides this gift to all who ask.
  • Whoever heeds his wisdom will dwell secure.[4]

Encouragement

Last, we have a Father who encourages us, just as Whitney’s dad encouraged her. Again, what we need is found in scripture—passages such as these that inspire hope:

  • “I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With him at my right hand, I shall not be shaken” (Psalm 16:8).
  • “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (Psalm 46:11).
  • “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart” (Psalm 27:13-14).

Of course there are hundreds more, assuring us that:

When I allow fearful thoughts to whirl in my mind, I’m really asking, Is God going to see me through this?

How much better to affirm that God will hold me fast until he’s ready to take me home to heaven. He will provide the wisdom and guidance I need for what lies ahead, just as he has in the past. And His Word will continue to offer encouragement, to inspire and strengthen.

Truth leads to confidence.

What contributes to your confidence when facing challenging situations? Please share in the comment section below!


[1] Psalm 37:23-24

[2] https://www.seeyouinheaven.life/secure-forever-in-christ/

[3] Romans 8:3-4

[4] Proverbs 2:7; 1:7, James 1:5; Proverbs 1:33

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I remember the moment; I don’t remember when it took place . . . perhaps in young adulthood, during my quiet time. A Bible verse caught my attention–John 17:21–causing my eyes to widen and fill with tears.

First, a bit of context. That chapter includes Jesus’ prayer after the Last Supper and mere hours before the crucifixion. He asked his Father to sustain him, to manifest God’s power through his death, resurrection, and ascension, and in so doing, prove that Jesus was the Son of God (vs. 1-5).[1] 

Second he prayed for his disciples—for their protection, joy, spiritual growth, and unity (vs. 6-18).

And then (wonder of wonders!) Jesus prayed for you and me, his future followers!

“I pray also for those who will believe in me,” he said (v. 20, emphasis added).

I read on with eager expectation. What did he ask God to do on our behalf? Strength to endure? Guidance for wise choices? Kind and generous hearts?

Those are worthwhile prayers, but it would seem Jesus left those for us to request.

Instead, he prayed for one over-arching blessing to characterize his believers: unity.

“I pray that they may all be one, Father!

May they be in us, just as you are in me and I am in you.”

John 17:21a GNT

Among all the things we need as his followers, why would Jesus pray for unity? We’ll get to that in a moment.

First, we need to understand he wasn’t praying for uniformity, expecting his followers to agree on every issue. The apostle Paul and his co-missionary Barnabas disagreed over their young companion Mark (Acts 15:37-39), and godly men throughout church history have taken different sides of various issues: Martin Luther with Huldrych Zwingli, John Wesley with George Whitefield, and John Stott with Martyn Lloyd-Jones—to name a few.

It’s doubtful Jesus expected his followers to grow into one big denomination. What he did desire was a spirit of love and an attitude of grace to bind us together, equipping us to overlook differences of preference and tradition. He’d have us focus on what we have in common.

At the Christian university I attended, all students were required to take the course, Philosophy and Christian Thought. One of our textbooks (a very thick one!) was titled, The Protestant Faith. And though the differences between denominations were certainly laid out, I was struck by how much doctrine and theology we share in common—much more than what divides us.

That’s what we need to concentrate on: the foundational truths like those we recite in the Apostles’ Creed, and our purpose of introducing others to Christ as well as taking delight in obeying him and growing more like him.

Even more important? A covering of love—love that admits wrong, forgives grievances, allows for differences of opinion on nonessentials, and doesn’t dishonor others but seeks the best for them.

Last but foremost: we must continually look to Jesus through prayer and worship, privately and publicly.

Perhaps you remember A. W. Tozer’s illustration. If one hundred pianos are all tuned to the same fork, they’re automatically in tune with each other. Similarly, if one hundred worshipers look to Christ, they’re going to be much more in tune with one another than if they focus on other matters, worthwhile as they might be. That would include unity itself.[2]

And now to answer that question, why would unity be so important to Jesus? His reason is revealed at the end of John 17:21.

“May they be one, so that the world will believe that you sent me.”

John 17:21b GNT

The world is plagued by ugly divisiveness, hatred, and vitriol.

Jesus desired his followers to be characterized by the beauty of unity as we strive to love like him—overlooking slights, sidestepping fights, and giving up our rights.[3]

When people witness such beauty, there will be those who desire it for themselves and come to faith in Christ.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

O Father, point out those areas where my preferences and opinions interfere with my love for your people. Help me put aside differences and focus on areas of commonality. May I play an active part in the beauty of unity within my circle of influence, drawing others to you.   


[1] Barnes Notes on the Bible, www.biblehub.com.

[2] A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, 90.

[3] Patsy Clairmont, Boundless Love, 236.

Art & photo credits: http://www.commons.wikimedi.org; http://www.flickr.com (Long Thien); http://www.commons.wikimedia.org (Peter Swain); http://www.commons.wikimedia.org; http://www.rawpixel.com.

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If you brought together six people with diverse traits and backgrounds, their answers to the title question would likely include six different types of spaces.

Some of us prefer cozy decor, surrounded with precious keepsakes.

Others prefer sleek, white spaces with lots of light.

Some like a rustic, log cabin aesthetic; others prefer the industrial look.

And more than a few gravitate toward the quirky.

But no matter our style preferences, research has confirmed that certain environmental factors impact our mood:

  • A warm, cozy home creates a sense of well-being for most people
  • Clutter can cause a person to feel overwhelmed and anxious; tidy, organized spaces tend to calm
  • Beauty in the form of pleasing colors, sounds, and smells as well as meaningful objects can elevate a person’s mood
  • A dark room can make a person feel lethargic; light energizes and exhilarates
  • Bringing nature indoors with plants and flowers contributes to serenity

But we can’t always control our physical environments. Home isn’t warm and cozy in the midst of ongoing conflict. Children (and maybe a few spouses or roommates out there!) make messes they’re loathe to clean up. And days on end of gray weather can sap energy and joy. What then?

We can shift our focus from what’s around us to what’s within–the spiritual surroundings of our souls. But how do we impact that invisible space, in order to experience equilibrium and calm?

Let’s begin by imagining the soul like a room, and consider the bullet points above.

First, it is God who creates a warm and cozy environment in the depths of our being—a sense of peace and contentment that no one or nothing else can accomplish. To access His peace we only need to ask. And as the atmosphere of our spirits change, we discover: “The very act of breathing in his presence is balm.”[1]

Second, clutter in the soul includes such unsightly messes as sin, negativity, and worry. God knows we can’t remove the muck on our own. But out of his love and mercy, he gladly helps get rid of the filth as we turn to him for forgiveness, help, and strength.[2]

We can enhance our soul-spaces with beauty—thoughts that center on all things lovely, excellent and praiseworthy. Imagine hanging on the walls of your spirit pictures of God’s faithfulness—remembrances of his provisions, guidance, and blessings. View with delightful awe his magnificent deeds.[3]   

A few well-placed lights of scripture[4] will certainly energize and elevate our mood—passages such as these:

  • “Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O Lord. They rejoice in your name all day long, they celebrate your righteousness for you are their glory and strength”.
  • “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.”
  • “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him.”[5]

Last, at least for this post, we can bring the delight of nature into our spirits, much as we enjoy bringing plants and flowers into our homes.

Have you noticed that when we take the time to marvel at the intricacies of a leaf or petal, our pleasure is expanded further?

Similarly, we can take time to marvel in God’s attributes and abilities gloriously displayed in creation:

  • his inventiveness and engineering—from insects designed to walk on water to whales that communicate underwater.
  • His attention to detail as he created a planet that sustains life.
  • His mind-boggling power to fill the universe with stars, planets, moons, galaxies, nebula, comets, and more—all governed by the scientific laws he established.

And as a result of such contemplations, our pleasure in him is expanded.

When all these elements are combined within our spirits—warmth and coziness with God, cleanliness, beauty and light from God, as well as delight in God, we discover true sanctuary, a place where we can enjoy intimate relationship with him and rest for our souls–a place of refuge and calm.[6]

Isn’t that a place where youd like to live?


[1] Philippians 4:6-7 and Jan Karon, A Common Life, 116.

[2] Psalm 51:7, Psalm 94:18-19, Philippians 4:13

[3] Philippians 4:8; Psalm 105:5a; Habakkuk 3:2b

[4] Psalm 119:105

[5] Psalm 89:15-17a; Isaiah 26:3; Nahum 1:7

[6] Matthew 11:28-29; Psalm 55:6; Isaiah 25:4; Psalm 16:11

Photo credits: http://www.rawpixels.com; http://www.pexels.com; http://www.flickr.com (Nicolas Huk); http://www.commonswikimedia.org; http://www.pexels.com; http://www.rawpixel.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.piqsels.com; http://www.publickdomainpictures.net; http://www.commons wikimedia.org.

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Long ago in Sunday School, our teachers taught us proper respect for God.  The rules of reverence included:

  • Be quiet and solemn in worship
  • Bow your head, close your eyes, and fold your hands to pray
  • Always treat God’s house with utmost respect

The first rule proved the most difficult to keep. I failed many a Sunday. My legs wanted to swing, my hands wished for crayons and paper, my eyes longed for a book. Would the sermon ever end?!

Years later I came across the Westminster Shorter Catechism, a collection of 107 questions and answers explaining the Christian faith. The list began with, “What is the chief end of man?” The answer shocked me.

The first part made perfect sense. Paul made it clear: “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).  But the second part caught me off guard.

Enjoy God?

His blessings and benefits certainly brought me joy. But God himself? How could I enjoy Someone who’s invisible?

Over time I’ve discovered that, although God deserves the utmost reverence and respect, we need not always be solemn. We can laugh and sing for joy in his presence (Psalm 68:3 MSG).

In fact, enthusiastic praise of God, especially in the company of others, is an invigorating way to enjoy him–reveling in who he is—our God of goodness, grace, and love.

We can also celebrate what he’s done—supplying our needs, guiding the way, and surprising us with gifts we didn’t even ask for.

While we’re worshiping, we can lift our hands toward God (Psalm 63:4), augmenting our connection to him. Even hands placed palms up on the lap can add to our enjoyment.

Steve and I learned this posture from one of his seminary professors. After a teaching session on prayer, Dr. Stanger instructed us to place our hands in our laps, palms up.

We sat in silence for a few moments, and suddenly I felt a tingling in my hands! Was the Spirit of God actually holding my hands as we prepared to pray?!

Dr. Stanger explained: the pressure on the backs of our hands caused the phenomenon.   But wasn’t it wonderful to imagine God gracing each of us with his personal touch in this way?

Yes, supremely delightful!

We can also take the celebration outside and enjoy God as Creator and King of the universe. For example, look to the sky and contemplate the galaxies of stars. Smile at him in wonder because of their incomprehensible magnitude and indescribable beauty. Consider too, they’re all under his control.

Another way to enjoy God is to delight in his scripture. We can proclaim appreciation to him for the strength, comfort, and peace his Word provides, as well as those passages that bring joy to our hearts (Psalm 119:111).

Those of us who like to write find great pleasure in composing journal entries, poetry, personal psalms, and more, addressed to God, as a way of expressing our delight in him.

Sarah Young, author of Jesus Calling, has inspired some of us to follow her example and go a step further: record thoughts or impressions we receive from God as we wait and listen in his presence (Psalm 25:5; 85:8).

In these ways and more God has made it possible for us to continually enjoy him.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Dare I say it?  Is it too irreverent? You are FUN, God! I love spending time with you, rejoicing in you, celebrating your works, reveling in your presence, taking delight in our mutual communication.

What a glorious privilege you’ve granted us, Father, to nestle close to you and experience fullness of joy forevermore!

(Psalm 100:1-2; John 10:27; Psalm 65:2; Isaiah 40:11; Psalm 16:11)

(Revised and reblogged from March 15, 2015, while I recover from Covid. My husband tested positive last Wednesday; I succumbed on Saturday. Symptoms have been uncomfortable but tolerable for both of us; we’re on the mend! ‘Will try to write a fresh post for next week.)

Photo credits: http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.wikimediacommons.org; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.canva.com.

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Over the years I’ve prayed for a number of people who didn’t even know I was praying—people like:

  • The family of a toddler with a brain tumor
  • a tollbooth worker struggling to make ends meet*
  • the young wife anxious to become a mother

No doubt you’ve also prayed in secret for strangers, unbeknownst to them.

Rarely do we receive updates concerning these people. But one day in heaven, we just may hear their miracle-stories. And won’t it be thrilling to know we played a part through the privilege of prayer?

Secret Prayers

Sara Hagerty in her book Unseen wrote about secret prayers, but has taken the practice to a whole new level—a level I aspire to. Sara silently prays for strangers she happens to see while going about her day:

  • the man in a wheelchair, that he might experience God’s strength
  • the woman with vacant eyes, that God would fill her needful heart
  • the man running to his gate at the airport, that he would run with God

The anonymity of such petitions gives Sara warm satisfaction, and no doubt puts a smile on her face.

Might God smile also? I think so.

It’s occurred to me that we experience other kinds of secrets with our Heavenly Father, and they too make us smile together with him.

Consider:

Secret Deeds

  • M. often wipes down the sink area in public restrooms and then washes her hands. It’s M.’s secret delight to provide this small blessing for the next person.
  • For years Norma frequently walked for exercise along a busy street, picking up refuse with a trash-grabber, then stuffing it into a grocery sack. After covering about a mile on each side, Norma would smile with satisfaction at the pristine street before turning the corner toward home.
  • My husband will often strike up a conversation with restaurant waiters or waitresses. If they’re not too busy he’ll share a bit about the difference God has made in our lives, how he’s provided for us in amazing ways. Then, before we leave, Steve puts a generous tip on the table. It makes us smile to imagine their looks of happy surprise at first glimpse of those bills. And we pray they see the goodness of God behind the gift and seek him for themselves.

Surely God smiles as well. 

Secret Moments

One category would be those times when one of his wild creatures approaches in holy proximity:

  • The hummingbirds who hover close enough to touch as if to say, “Thank you for the flower buffet in the deck planter!”
  • The doe that stood at the bottom of the deck stairs one morning when I exited the kitchen door. I froze; she froze. We stared at one another for long moments before she gracefully sauntered into the trees.
  • The red admiral butterfly that rested on my knee one afternoon, allowing me to marvel at his colorations, the wingtip scallops and tiny stripes on his antennae.

I can’t help but smile in delight at God’s creativity, artistry, and workmanship—especially when observed up close and personal. And while reveling in such exceptional moments, I like to think he smiles too.

Secret Blessings

  • Our youngest granddaughter recently climbed into my lap and nestled for a minute or so—unusual for a child always on the go. You grandparents out there know the special pleasure of each snuggle!
  • Frequently over the years God has used song-lyrics to encourage me. On occasion I’m overcome by happy tears while experiencing his tender care through music.
  • My husband and I basked together under a dazzling full moon the night of my birthday. While gazing at its soft glow, I sensed afresh the soft glow of God’s love, joy, and peace in my spirit.

Moments like these cause smiles of gratitude as our Heavenly Father expresses his personalized goodness. And I’m convinced God smiles with us.

Finally, there’s one more pleasure not to be missed: Sharing secrets and smiles with our Lord fosters intimacy and draws us closer to him. Our challenge is not to miss them.

What secret and smile have you enjoyed recently with your Heavenly Father? Please share in the comment section below!

*You can read the full story at: https://nancyaruegg.com/2017/10/19/tollbooth-encounter/.

Photo credits: http://www.rawpixels.com; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.commons.wikimedia.org; http://www.canva.com; http://www.commons.wikipedia.org.

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