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Archive for the ‘Encouragement’ Category

Retirement:

a time to enjoy all the things

you never had time to do

when you worked.

–Catherine Pulsifer

One of my retirement pleasures is watching the circus squirrels in the strip of woods behind our house.  They spiral the trunks in a speedy game of tag, balance at the tip of a branch without fear, and make dare-devil leaps from tree to tree.

One day I discovered those leaps are part of a habitual route squirrels follow to and from their homes.  Turns out they do not gambol haphazardly from tree to tree but “lay out and follow (probably by scent) pathways through the branches.”[1]

Mammalogists surmise this behavior is especially handy when they’re in a hurry. When danger lurks, the little critters can high tail it home with ease.

One day the Spirit combined what I was learning about squirrels with what I knew about brain research (from teaching elementary school), and taught me an important lesson.

Neurons, confocal flourescence microscopy

First the brain research:  We create neural pathways in our brains with behavior. The more we repeat a behavior, the stronger and more deeply imbedded that behavior-pathway becomes until it is habit.[2]

The lesson?  Like the squirrels that lay out pathways through the trees to their nests, we can lay out pathways in our brains that lead home to the refuge of our Heavenly Father.

The question becomes, what are the branches that can make a habitual pathway to God?

I believe scripture truths form the stoutest limbs.  As we memorize encouraging verses and pray them again and again, the pathways of faith, strength, peace, and more become embedded—not only in our minds but in our spirits.  Reciting them back to their Author propels us into his Presence.

What might be some worthwhile passages to include?  Oh my.  The Bible offers a whole forest of reliable scripture-branches, ready to become part of the pathway into God’s sanctuary.

Here are a few of my favorites, though less traveled than some scriptures. You probably won’t find these on a list of “Top Ten Most Popular Bible Verses”—I checked!  But they’ve proven particularly helpful to me.

First:

You do not realize now what I am doing,

but later you will understand.

John 13:7

Granted, Jesus spoke these words to his disciples the night of his arrest, so some would frown on applying them personally.  But the way this verse turned up during my quiet time one morning, precisely when I needed reminding of God’s wisdom and intentionality, led me to accept it as his confirmation for the moment.  Again and again, he has brought this truth to my mind.

Second:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is

noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely,

whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy

—think about such things.

Philippians 4:8

Those negative emotions of worry, fear, hopelessness, and more can be whisked out of the way, as we focus on everything positive and follow this reliable branch to God’s peace and joy.

Third:

We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do

good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:10

Each of us was created for God’s glory—to reflect his attributes—and accomplish good works.  Therefore, our lives have purpose and value.  That’s a strong branch to follow back to his affirming Presence when worthlessness wants to knock us down.

The more time we spend traversing such scripture-truths, the more we absorb God’s thoughts and the more secure, contented, and useful our lives become.

Like the squirrels boldly scampering through the trees, we can confidently follow such pathways as these into the joyful presence of our Heavenly Father.

Come run with me!

You make known to me the path of life;

you will fill me with joy in your presence,

with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Psalm 16:11 NIV

What scriptures offer stout branches for your pathway to God’s presence? Please share in the Comments section below!


[1] https://www.berkshireeagle.com/arts_and_culture/entertainment/take-me-outside-squirrels-act-as-arboreal-acrobats/article_401341f4-5787-53cd-952b-218eeea93562.html#:~:text=Squirrels%20lay%20out%20and%20follow,to%20go%20in%20a%20hurry.

[2] https://healthtransformer.co/the-neuroscience-of-behavior-change-bcb567fa83c1

Art & photo credits: http://www.[xhere.com; http://www.flickr.com (2); http://www.recreation.gov; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.stocksnap.io; http://www.flickr.com; www. pxhere.com.

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It happened one summer day when all three kids still lived at home.  I’d been working at my desk for awhile and came out to the family room to find snack dishes and glasses here and there, Legos strewn across the floor, craft supplies littering the table, as well as bits of belongings strewn on the counter between kitchen and family room.

(At least it wasn’t THIS bad!)

At that moment one of those precious children asked, “Mom!  Since you’re up, can you get me some ice for my glass?”

To be honest, the details of the above event are hidden in the dust of several decades. What I do remember clearly was my response to the perpetrators of a grand mess and a thoughtless request.  In a sonorous tone worthy of Cinderella’s stepmother I announced:

“LISTEN!  I am NOT your SERVANT!!”

No sooner had I barked that declaration, than the Holy Spirit seemed to whisper, “Oh yes, you are.”

I knew what he meant.  Not what the three children would have liked—a personal maid to clean up after them and keep their things organized.

No, God was talking about denying myself in order to develop them.  In that moment it meant (calmly!) directing them in a family room overhaul.  Such a feat required some teeth-gritting, let me tell you.

Since those days, I’ve learned a few things to improve my attitude as I serve others, so Cinderella’s stepmother appears less often. 

God actually makes it possible to embrace servanthood when we remember:

We’re serving Christ.

He sees the daily grind of discipline we expend on our kids, the messes others make that we clean up, the kindnesses we perform when no one’s looking, the work we do for the benefit of others.  But we tend to forget our invisible audience of One [1].

We’d do well to remember:

The real test of a saint is not one’s willingness to preach the gospel, but one’s willingness to do something like washing the disciples’ feet [2].

Oswald Chambers

Second, nothing is insignificant when we’re serving God; no effort is wasted.

We might not see positive results from our efforts, but God promises our work on behalf of others will never be for nothing.

Ask someone, “Who was influential in your life?” and the answer will usually include a quiet, modest person who made themselves available, listened more than talked, hugged warmly, and joined in celebrating or grieving with loving interest–insignificant efforts in the eyes of some, but not to that one, and not to God.

In addition, God has designed us so serving others fosters great satisfaction—an actual rush of endorphins—as God fulfills another promise: 

Third, small acts of service may result in a grand conclusion.

When men do anything for God, the very least thing, they never know where it will end nor what amount of work it will do for Him. Love’s secret, therefore, is to be always doing things for God, and not to mind because they are such very little ones.

Frederick W. Faber (1814-1863)

Alcoholic John Baker finally hit bottom when his wife told him to get counseling or leave.  John left.

But soon he was attending AA meetings and finding his way back to sobriety, reconciliation with his wife, and God.  The meetings were certainly helpful but other members mocked John when he revealed his Higher Power was Jesus.

Meanwhile, John’s reunited family began attending church and a Spirit-inspired idea began to form.  What if there was a place where Christians could find healing from their hurts, hang-ups, and addictions?

With his pastor’s blessing (You may know him—Rick Warren!), John spent many hours preparing for his first group to complete a 12-week, 12-step program based on scripture. He included his own humble confessions.   

Would anyone come?

Forty-three people attended.  Now, thirty years later, 35,000 churches worldwide host Celebrate Recovery groups; over seven million people have been impacted.

 

And though John Baker unexpectedly graduated to heaven in February of this year, the grand conclusion of his work is still pending [3].

So is ours.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

O God, compel me to always be serving you—even in the least things—with passion and delight.  Guide me to act wherever and whenever you desire, that I might be a part of your overarching purpose.


[1] Audience of One, a song made popular by Big Daddy Weave

[2] from My Utmost for His Highest

[3] https://celebraterecovery.com/about/history-of-cr ; https://www.celebraterecovery.co.uk/pastor-john-bakers-testimony/

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Given that everything in the universe has its origin in God [1], it stands to reason music originated with God. 

Granted, he could have bestowed the gift without participating himself, but scripture indicates otherwise.

In Psalm 42:8b we’re comforted with this assurance: “by night his song is with me.”  Our part is to pay attention to the lyrics that proclaim his perfections and good works—lyrics he sings over us straight from his Word. When we memorize verses of God’s Song, they can comfort our hearts even in the darkest of times [2].

In Psalm 32:7 we read of God’s “songs of deliverance” that encourage and inspire.  Where might we hear these songs?

In the calming sounds of nature.  Creation is full of God-Song—beyond the musical offerings of birds.  Think of burbling streams, the wind humming through evergreens, frogs ha-rumphing, crickets chirping, and the soulful underwater cries of humpback whales. 

Indeed, God-Song surrounds us in the air, on land, and in the sea, reminding us we’re enveloped in his love.  And because of that love, he provides deliverance from fear, trouble, distress, and the evil one [3].

Second, we hear songs affirming his goodness, dependability, and compassion in his Word [4].

Third, we hear God’s Song through the uplift of hymns and other Christian music. Men or women may be listed as the composers and lyricists, but surely all would give God the credit for his inspiration and empowering.

In Zephaniah 3:17 the prophet depicts God delighting in his people with song. 

“He rejoices with joy and joys with his singing,

which shows how delighted he is with his people . . .

his own righteousness upon them,

his own grace in them.”

— John Gill

Of course, God wants us to make music also, and not just with our voices and instruments.  God longs to come alongside, and within the sphere of his influence, make sublime music with our lives—much more beautiful and satisfying than anything we could accomplish on our own.

Perhaps you saw the video—based on an actual event (and available on YouTube):

A young father settles into his concert hall seat next to his wife, just as a performance is about to begin.

“Where’s Tommy?” he asks.

“I thought he was with you,” she exclaims, worry lines already criss-crossing her forehead.

At that moment the curtain goes up to reveal a little boy, oblivious to the audience, sitting at a grand piano, legs dangling above the pedals.  Tommy.

 One single note at a time—and rather haltingly at that—he begins to play “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”

“Go get him!” Mom cries in a stage whisper.

Too late.  A tuxedoed man is already approaching the piano from behind Tommy.

Will he reprimand the boy for touching the concert grand? Will he demand that the parents of the delinquent come to collect him?

No, he quietly leans over the boy and tells him to keep playing.  Then he envelopes Tommy with his arms, and begins to add Mozart’s intricacies to the simple melody.  Together they make sublime music, and both smile with pleasure.  So does the audience.

That’s a picture of how the Virtuoso of the universe delights to make music with us, to raise our paltry human effort into transcendent God-Song.  With his righteousness over us, and his grace in us, we can make beautiful music. 

And those around us will hear and smile with pleasure, including the Maestro himself [5].

If you’d like to watch the video:

Art & photos credits: http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.publicdomainpictures.net; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pixabay.com.


[1] Colossians 1:16

[2] Psalm 23:4

[3] Psalm 34:4, 17; 107:6; Matthew 6:13

[4] Psalm 31:19; 145:17; 103:13-14

[5] Ephesians 3:20

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As you probably know, Dove chocolates come wrapped in foil with uplifting statements written inside. Not long ago I found this one:

“The more you praise and celebrate your life,

the more there is in life to celebrate.”

A positive attitude of praise and celebration, even for the little blessings, does contribute to a sense of well-being. But there’s an important omission in this quote—the cause of all those blessings.  Perhaps the sentiment should read:

“The more you praise and celebrate God in your life,

the more there is in life to celebrate.”

Now a pleasing sentiment has become solid truth, because with God in our lives, joy is our constant companion.

It requires such a small effort, really—to note the supreme pleasures in ordinary events or to choose a positive perspective.

Sometimes joy involves making a magnificent moment . . .

I’d been mall shopping for several hours, scouring the sales racks to no avail. Suddenly I noticed my sweater—one of my favorites–was no longer tied to my purse. 

Not only had I not purchased an addition for my wardrobe that afternoon, I’d subtracted a piece of clothing already owned.

Retracing my steps seemed daunting; I had browsed in so many stores.  Besides, it was time to meet Steve for dinner at one of the mall restaurants.  

After we ordered our meals, I told him what happened. “I’ll check the lost-and-found after we eat,” I said. “By then maybe someone will have found my sweater and turned it in.”

So that’s what we did.  No sweater.

Steve suggested we stop at the stores where I’d shopped as we made our way back to the car.

At the very first store the eyes of the young sales girl lit up when I asked about a lost sweater. “What color was it?” she asked.

“Cranberry red.”

“We did find it! It’s right back here!” she replied while heading to the rear of the store. Sure enough, the young woman returned with my sweater. Someone had even put it on a hanger.

Well! I thanked her and the manager behind the counter, not knowing which had found it and been so thoughtful.

One of them jokingly said something about doing good deeds for chocolate.

As it happened, just two doors down was the Godiva Chocolate Shop. Before leaving the mall, Steve and I popped in, bought two little boxes, and went back to the clothing store.

When those two girls saw the Godiva bag they whooped in surprise and started to laugh. We did too.

“God blessed me through you by returning my sweater; we wanted to bless you,” I told them.

“Oh! That remark about chocolate was just a joke!” the salesgirl cried. “But you have no idea how much I needed this. Today has been especially rough.” She started around the counter with her arms outstretched. “Come here! I need to give you a hug!”  Then she added, “Look!  I’m crying!”

I had tears in my eyes as well.

The level of endorphins in that shop soared so high the lights shone brighter and the atmosphere crackled with joy.  And all because Steve and I magnified the significance of a small moment and celebrated a God-orchestrated event.

Truly, “The more you praise and celebrate God in your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.”

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

What are you celebrating in life today?  Magnify the moment by sharing your joy in the comments below!

Art & photo credits: http://www.flickr.com; http://www.publicdomainpictures.net; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.canva.com.

(Revised and reblogged from April 23, 2015.)

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The internet offers plenty of advice for maximizing time and effort in order to achieve success. The suggestions include:

  • Prioritize and protect your agenda.  Identify the crucial tasks for each day and focus on those items first.  Limit interruptions; shut down distractions.
  • Build an efficient routine into your schedule to streamline how time is allocated.
  • Pursue your own goals; don’t let others set them for you.
  • Network—especially with influential people who can expedite your success.

Jesus failed to follow any of that advice.

Instead:

His agenda shifted often, and he allowed frequent interruptions.

People interrupted his teaching and traveling all the time with requests for miracles.  Jewish leaders interjected questions while he was speaking.  When he tried to take the disciples to a quiet place for rest, the crowds followed, eager to hear him preach. 

And out of compassion, Jesus complied. [1]

Sometimes even his interruptions were interrupted.

While answering a question of John the Baptist’s disciples one day, a ruler intruded upon the conversation, begging him to come and raise his daughter from the dead.  En route to the ruler’s house, another interruption occurred when a woman touched his robe in hope of healing.[2]

It’s a wonder he ever arrived at his intended destinations.

Jesus had no routine.

Scripture seems to indicate Jesus lived in the moment—teaching, building relationships, healing, and performing miracles as opportunities presented themselves.

However, Christ did make time for important habits, including seclusion, prayer, and worship.[3]

Jesus’ overarching goal in life was to accomplish his Father’s goal.

“For I have come down from heaven

not to do my will but to do

the will of him who sent me.”

–John 6:38

Jesus set his sights on the joy awaiting him, when all earthly pain, frustration, and humiliation would be over and he’d be seated at the right side of his Father’s throne.[4]

Jesus built relationships, not a network.

At the end of three years, he’d assembled 120 followers.[5]  That’s an average of 40 per year; less than one per week.  Not very impressive.

Yet Jesus was the most successful Person who ever lived because:

True success is excellent living—

when a person’s thoughts, decisions,

and actions honor God.

–Chrystal Evans Hurst[6]

And Christ accomplished that perfectly.  

Now, thousands of angels encircle his throne, giving Jesus praise, honor, and glory because of his triumph over sin and death.[7]

What about us?  Are we focused on the culture’s view of success or God’s? 

Do we accept—even celebrate—what he chooses to do through us and then leave the results to him?

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Lord God, help me to be a failure like Jesus! I confess that worldly standards of success cloud my vision of what true excellence entails:  obedience to you. Remind me you know what you’re doing and you do all things well; circumstances are not reliable indicators.  I reaffirm my trust in you whose works are always perfect.

(Jeremiah 7:23; Proverbs 19:21; Deuteronomy 32:4)


[1] Matthew 9:18-19; 21:23-24; 20:29-34; Mark 6:30-34

[2] Matthew 9:14-26

[3] Mark 1:35; Luke 4:16

[4] Hebrews 12:2

[5] Acts 1:15

[6] Kingdom Woman Devotional, Tyndale House Publishers (2013), p. 49.

[7] Revelation 5

Art & photo credits: http://www.pixabay.com (2); http://www.freebibleimages.org (2); http://www.canva.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.canva.com.

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On January 25, 1905, diamond mine superintendent Frederick Wells inspected the walls of the Premier Diamond Mine in South Africa—as usual.  Suddenly his practiced eye caught a telltale glimmer in the rock.  

Workmen cut free the luminous stone that very day, then took it to be weighed in the office of mine owner Thomas Cullinan.

The miners knew the fist-sized gem was a stellar find, but no one expected what the scale revealed.  Before them lay the largest diamond ever found—3,106 carats worth, and a perfectly clear specimen except for one black spot in the middle.

Frederick Wells with the Cullinan Diamond

Named for the mine owner, the Cullinan Diamond was sold to the Transvaal provincial government and eventually presented as a birthday present to England’s King Edward VII in 1907. 

King Edward hired master-lapidary I. J. Asscher of Amsterdam to divide the stone.  Asscher studied the Cullinan for six months before making the first cut, and subsequently created nine major stones along with ninety-six smaller ones.

Opened in 1854; still in business.

The largest diamond is called the “Star of Africa I” or “Cullinan I” and sits atop the British royal scepter; Star of Africa II is part of the Imperial State Crown.[1]

Star of Africa I is the pear-shaped embellishment atop the scepter.
Star of Africa II, front and center of the crown, just above the band of ermine.

Why did God create diamonds?  For the same reason he created everything in the universe:  to display his glory.[2]

Diamonds offer a magnificent example of God’s creative power, as he applied heat and pressure to simple black carbon and created mesmerizing stones.

Of course, it takes tremendous pressure (50,000 times more than that at the earth’s surface) and severe heat (2000 degrees Farenheit) for the transformation to take place.  Such extreme conditions only occur deep in the ground—at least 90 miles below the surface.

Humans have only been able to drill a little over seven miles into the earth.  So how were diamonds even discovered?  Because of another spectacular display of God’s power:  volcanoes, which spew them up to the surface.

And though raw diamonds do glimmer, their full magnificence is not released until the lapidary cuts the stones on all sides, to maximize the refraction and reflection of light. Today’s popular brilliant cut requires 58 facets. The process takes up to two weeks.

The ancient Greeks believed that a diamond was a chip of star that had fallen to earth.  We smile at their naiveté until we learn astronomers discovered a star in 2009 that has cooled and compressed into a massive diamond—10 billion trillion trillion carats worth!

Imagine the smile on God’s face as the scientists proved lyricist Jane Taylor closer to truth than she knew: “Twinkle, twinkle, little star . . . like a diamond in the sky” (1806).

With Job, we can affirm:

In addition to displaying God’s glory, diamonds also provide valuable lessons—much as he’s used trees, sheep, and ants to teach us.[3]  At least two lessons have been encapsulated in memorable quotes. 

Lesson #1: 

You know what else makes God smile?  Transforming black-carbon lives into radiant diamond-people.  Think of those like Kirk Cameron, George W. Bush, and Franklin Graham, all of whom once lived in dark rebellion and now reflect the light of Christ.

Such transformations require a lengthy process, and most often the heat and pressure of difficult circumstances, but the results are quite spectacular.[4]

Lesson #2:

    

A lapidary reminds us of our Heavenly Father.  He chips away at our self-centeredness and pride until we’re Stars of Heaven, fit for his crown and radiating his glory in brilliant perfection.[5]

So, my fellow stars-in-process, “let faith and patience have their perfect work, for in the day when the crown will be set on the head of the King Eternal, Immortal, Invisible, one ray of glory will stream from you”—Charles Spurgeon.


Notes

[1] https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/worlds-largest-diamond-found# and https://www.capetowndiamondmuseum.org/blog/2017/01/worlds-largest-diamond-the-cullinan/

[2] Psalm 19:1

[3] Jeremiah 17:7-8; Psalm 23; Proverbs 6:6-8

[4] Hebrews 12:5-11

[5] Zechariah 9:16; 2 Corinthians 3:18

Photo images: http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.flickr.com (2); http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.canva.com (2); http://www.wikimedia.org.

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Most of us have asked at one time or another, “Why does God allow so much suffering?  Why doesn’t he intervene?” 

Surprisingly, people of the Third World where suffering is common don’t ask these questions.  They accept the fact that no one leaves this life without enduring times of trial and distress [1].

Even God’s own Son endured suffering. Unimaginable suffering.  And it didn’t begin with the physical torture inflicted by Roman soldiers or the horrific crucifixion sanctioned by Pilate.

It began the night before, in the garden of Gethsemane, as he experienced overwhelming desperation and sorrow, and his sweat fell like drops of blood [2].

BUT!  God Almighty takes the worst deeds of man that cause the greatest pain and turns them into glorious victory with eternal benefits.

As we wait for that day, God uses our suffering to fulfill higher purpose beyond our comfort and prosperity—purposes such as these:

God doesn’t intervene so we can learn to surrender and obey.

Even Jesus “learned obedience from what he suffered” [3]—poverty, hunger, temptation, pain, exhaustion, derision, and stress.  Anything we face, he faced.

God knows if we don’t learn to surrender to his ways and purposes, we end up living to please ourselves—and not liking the selves we’ve pleased.

On the other hand, obedience does lead to confidence in God, prosperity of soul, and the ability to face life with resilience and poise.

God doesn’t intervene so we can develop character.

Suffering works for the believer, not against, producing perseverance which leads to character; and character to hope [ 4].

So we strive to act wisely and in the process learn self-control.  We withstand discomfort and learn fortitude.  We endure self-sacrifice and learn how to love.

God doesn’t pour the rains of affliction upon our souls for nothing.  “Springing up beneath the pounding rain are spiritual flowers.  And they are more beautiful and fragrant than those that ever grew before in your stormless and suffering-free life” [5].

God doesn’t intervene so we can inspire others.

Some of you may know the name Bill Sweeney, a popular blogger diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease in 1996.  He graduated to heaven just after Christmas 2021. 

Bill outlived many others with the same diagnosis, but he suffered much.  For years his entire body was immobile.  Eventually Bill was composing his posts on a computer that tracked eye movements—posts that reflected deep faith, great strength of spirit, and delightful humor.

Commenters affirmed again and again Bill’s impact in their lives as he provided stellar encouragement and inspiration, all the more impactful because of his deteriorated health.

God doesn’t intervene so we can exhibit faith.

Bill Sweeney exhibited great faith even though he was incapable of anything beyond typing with eye movements.  But it wasn’t the suffering itself that produced spiritual strength.  It was his response.  Without self-pity he lived his life and shared his heart—humbly and honestly. And thousands of people found hope.

It’s important to understand: Christ did not suffer to exclude us from suffering; he suffered to exclude us from the consequences of our sins.  However, we can be confident of this:

That means Bill Sweeney’s sacrifice of suffering counts for all eternity.

And God will make your sacrifices of suffering count for all eternity too [6].


[1] Philip Yancey, Grace Notes, p. 69.

[2] Luke 22:44; Mark 14:34-36

[3] Hebrews 5:8

[4] Romans 5:3-4

[5] L. B. Cowman, Jim Reimann, ed., Streams in the Desert, June 15.

[6] F. Elaine Olsen, Beyond the Scars, p. 163.

Photo credits: http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.hippopx.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.dailyverses.net.

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O God, numerous concerns vie for my attention: the state of our country, family needs, friends going through difficult circumstances, my own personal struggles.

Redirect my focus, Father, from what I’m yearning for to what you’ve already given, including:

  • your Spirit of wisdom and revelation
  • your enlightenment to experience hope
  • the riches of your glorious inheritance
  • your incomparably great power*

Each of these gifts is a priceless treasure and more than worthy of meditation and praise.  And so . . .

 

 

. . . I praise you for your spirit of wisdom to guide my thoughts, to equip me for perceiving reality accurately and applying truth correctly.

Help me to trust your all-wise ways and not play the fool, ignoring the treasure of your wisdom that’s always just a prayer away.

 

 

I praise you that year by year, you reveal more and more of yourself to me so our relationship can become increasingly intimate. Never will I tire of learning about you and experiencing you more fully.

 

 

I praise you for your gift of enlightenment to experience hope—complete and calm assurance that you will be victorious in the end, and we’ll live with you forever in the paradise of heaven.

That enlightenment also includes perspective for today. As I focus my thoughts on all you’ve done in the past, my confidence and expectation is affirmed for what you will do in the future.

 

 

I praise you for the riches of your glorious inheritance that we enjoy as your children: your mercy and grace, love and goodness, power and strength–all these and more provided to those who choose to do life with you.

And then there’s the staggering truth we are your inheritance. You look upon your children—even me—not as a liability but as part of your glorious wealth.

 

 

I praise you, O God, that with your incomparably great power, you can take every negative and turn it into a positive. In addition, your dynamic, eternal energy is within me and always available.

No circumstance intimidates you—not the problems of our country, the needs of our family, the difficulties faced by friends, or my own personal struggles. The tougher my day, the stronger your power will flow through me—as long as I stay close by your side.

 

 

I pray for the resolve, holy Father, to avail myself of all this you’ve already given, and may I do so with godly wisdom and constant diligence.

In the name of your Son Jesus who makes such wealth accessible, amen.

 

 

*from Ephesians 1:17-19a.

 

Photo credits:  http://www.piqsels.com (2); http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.piqsels.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.piqsels.com.

 

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My nephew is training for an Iron Man competition taking place in April.

Every day Preston follows a carefully prescribed regimen of exercise, riding his bike, running, and/or swimming. He eats a specified diet, and strives for proper rest. Recently he purchased a new bike based on current research for achieving top speed.

Much of this is according to his trainer’s recommendations, from his acquired knowledge and experience as a competitor. The trainer knows what it takes to finish the race.

Over the last forty-plus years of Iron Man Triathlons, participants have learned strategies for success. For example, they use their arms almost exclusively for the swim portion, saving leg strength for the bike ride and run.

 

 

Months ago Preston had to choose: should he embark on this test of endurance or opt for an easier goal? And if he did tackle an Iron Man race, would he seek guidance or train on his own? You already know his choices.

Now Preston is within weeks of the race. He’s in the best shape of his life and pushing his body to accomplish far more than ever before. But any current contentment will be multiplied many times over when he crosses that finish line and celebrates the completion of this extreme challenge.

What Preston is experiencing in the physical realm, God would have us understand in a spiritual sense, as laid out in Jeremiah 6:16:

 

 

Like Preston, we face a choice, but of much greater consequence than a competition.  Will we follow the ancient paths of God’s good ways or not? And like Preston, we can experience contentment now—not just when the race is complete. God offers us peaceful rest within our spirits (Philippians 4:6-7).

Meanwhile, many around us suffer from discontent and restlessness–the result of sin and following one’s own path. Jeremiah proposes a better plan: follow the good ways of God and contentment of soul will result.

But there’s a broader meaning to this verse. Jeremiah was addressing the entire nation of Judah. As he spoke the words quoted above, a national calamity loomed. Within a few years the people of Judah would be taken captive to Babylon, because the people had not listened to God’s words and they rejected God’s law (Jeremiah 6:19).

 

 

Our nation also stands at a crossroads, but few Americans seem to be looking to God for how to proceed. Instead they’re engrossed in self-interests. They don’t ask for the ancient paths that led us to security, prosperity, and blessing in the past.[1] They reject biblical values as out-of-date and stifling.

As a result, many Americans experience dissatisfaction in life, relying on drugs or alcohol to numb the emptiness and soul-strife.[2]

And what of us who believe in Christ and do seek the ancient paths? We stand at the crossroads of these choices:

 

 

  • Will we defend our faith even though ridiculed?
  • Will we remain on the ancient path of righteousness, or bend to blend in?
  • Will we stand for absolute truth or succumb to the relative truth of the culture that says it all depends on perspective?

 

Uncomfortable repercussions may result when we stand for our faith and absolute truth. But our souls will rest in the peace and contentment of a clear conscience.

When Preston finishes his race, family and friends will be ready to congratulate him.

 

 

When we finish our life race, God will be ready to congratulate us with, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

IF we remain steadfast.

 

“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial,

for when he has stood the test

he will receive the crown of life,

which God has promised to those who love him.”

James 1:12 (ESV)

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Help us all, O God, to be on guard against the lies of the enemy, to stand firm in our faith, to remain courageous and strong in all circumstances. Our heart’s desire above all is to honor you—by finishing strong. 

(1 Corinthians 16:13)

 

 

Notes

[1] The security of settled minds (Psalm 112:7-8), the prosperity as God’s people (Jeremiah 29:11), and the blessing of his provision (2 Corinthians 9:8).

[2]   a. In 2017, 12.7% of Americans were taking antidepressants, up 64% since 2014 (https://www.apa.org/monitor/2017/11/numbers).

b. About 38% of adults in 2017 battled an illicit drug use disorder (https://americanaddictioncenters.org/rehab-guide/addiction-statistics ).

c. 14.5 million people, or 5.3% of the population had AUD, alcohol use disorder, in 2019 (https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics).

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In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus included eight statements called beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10). Each one highlighted a virtue that results in the highest kind of happiness: sweet contentment not based on circumstances but on joyful faith in God and his provision for all we need.

In addition to the beatitudes of Matthew 5, the Bible offers dozens of blessing-statements—each one an encouraging slice of truth about God and his ways for us. They just aren’t constructed in typical beatitude style.

For example, consider Psalm 37:4:

 

 

Written as a beatitude:

 

Blessed are those who delight in God

for they shall receive the desires of their hearts.

 

Of course, the desires of our hearts often reflect child-sized plans, while God may have designed a “hugely dimensional destiny” that will surprise everyone.[1]

Kara’s* story illustrates. She fully expected to attend university and then enter the world of business. But even with a straight-A average, no scholarship materialized, and her parents earned too much money to qualify for sufficient financial aid.

Unless she took out a large student loan, Kara’s only option was community college. Highly disappointed—embarrassed even—she applied. Meanwhile a letter happened to arrive from that local college, describing a new course of study in TV production.

 

 

Kara had just completed a high school course in multimedia programming and loved it, so she applied for this new program and was accepted. Better yet, God provided full tuition as she earned that degree. And best of all, he molded Kara’s desire to coincide with the delightful and satisfying plan he’d designed for her.

Now years later, Kara and her husband make their living in the entertainment industry. No doubt the two of them marvel how God brought them together to work in a medium they love.

Kara is a miracle.

Romans 5:3-4 offers another beatitude truth:

 

 

As a beatitude it might read like this:

 

Blessed are those who embrace their challenges,

for they shall be changed for the better.

 

Anne wanted to support her husband’s dream of a free counseling service in their community and began making pretzels to sell at the local farmer’s market.

Through long effort and a number of failures, Anne was able to grow the business into hundreds of franchises across the country. You’ve probably eaten one of Auntie Anne’s Soft Pretzels at a mall or airport.

 

 

Anne’s personal life also included struggles, failures, and even the death of one of her children. Yet she says, “I am now thrilled to live this life, feeling that each day is one to be enjoyed. God’s grace and forgiveness are what got me through it all.”[2]

Anne is a miracle.

Our third new beatitude is based on Mark 10:27b:

 

 

Beatitude style?

 

Blessed are those who care less about their limitations

and care more how limitless God is.

 

The bio on the backs of Jennifer Rothschild’s books informs the reader she is a wife, mother, and recording artist. Jennifer also travels the country as a speaker, and cofounded WomensMinistry.NET.

What the bio does not reveal is that Jennifer has been blind since age fifteen. In her book, Lessons I Learned in the Dark, she wrote: “God often wraps difficult gifts with His grace—and then uses them to display His glory.”[3] Jennifer’s productive and joyful life perfectly illustrates that statement.

Jennifer is a miracle.

All three women exemplify what Rev. Phillips Brooks (1835-1893) wrote long ago:

 

 

Kara, Ann, Jennifer, and countless other believers demonstrate: When we embrace God’s be-attitudes, we not only experience the highest kind of happiness; we become miracles.

 

*Name changed.

 

Notes:

[1] Eugene Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant, pp. 160-161.

[2] Karol Ladd, Thrive, Don’t Simply Survive, pp. 147-148.

[3]  Jennifer Rothschild, Lessons I Learned in the Dark, p. 84.

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.freebibleimages.org; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.stocksnap.io; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.canva.com (2).

 

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