A Prayer for the Grieving at Christmas

If I could sum up 2016 with one word it would be loss.

Yes, we have had some wonderful blessings this year, but the blessings have been far outweighed by huge losses. And, as the holidays approach, the losses are weighing even heavier upon our hearts.

I’ve spent the last eight months doing everything I can to keep my faith strong, to trust God. But this week, I am losing the battle. I am collapsing under the weight of this year.

The last few days, I find myself simply falling apart. I can’t hold back the tears another moment. I can’t put a smile on my face and pretend I am doing just fine. I can’t hold in the grief that is filling every inch of my being.

Perhaps you understand. Perhaps you too feel as if this year has been a nightmare, destroying your peace and security. Perhaps you feel as if your very life is crumbling, collapsing. Perhaps you can no longer hold in the tears, no longer pretend everything is just fine.

And, perhaps like me, you aren’t ready to face the holidays. You can’t muster an ounce of holiday spirit, don’t want to hear the Christmas carols streaming overhead. Perhaps you are simply ready for the holidays to be over.

If you are consumed by grief this Christmas, you are not alone. Can we just take a moment to pray?

Lord Jesus, I am so overwhelmed. My heart is heavy, burdened. The losses this year are crushing me, overcoming my peace and joy.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. Psalm 34:18

I know you tell us you are close to the brokenhearted, but I don’t feel you. I feel lost, hopeless, abandoned. My spirit is crushed, but I don’t feel as if you are rescuing me.

I need you. I need you to draw me close. I need you to lift my spirit, to rescue me. I need you to take my grief and give me a spirit of joy.

In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation. 1 Peter 5:10

I know this is a season, a season that has a beginning and an end. But right now it feels like it will never end. I need hope, hope to believe you will truly restore me, strengthen me. I need hope to believe you will one day have me put together and on my feet for good. I need a vision of the future you have for me, a future of hope and blessings from you.

The Lord is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving. Psalm 28:7

As I walk through the trials of this life, I am learning yet again to trust you. I know when I come out on the other side, I will find you completely faithful. I know you will help me. Give me vision to see the many ways you are working right here around me, the many ways you are helping me. Fill my heart with joy so I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.

You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! Isaiah 26:3

It’s so easy to become distracted, to focus on the many losses I have experienced. Forgive me. Help me to put my thoughts, my attention on you. Help me cling to you, to your word, to your promises. Help me be fixed on you because I know it’s the only way to enjoy your perfect peace.

For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs. Zephaniah 3:17

Take delight in me. Calm my fears. Rejoice over me. Help me feel your love in tangible ways.

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. Hebrews 4:16

I’ve never needed your mercy and grace more than I do right now. I’m standing at your throne, begging you to pour it out upon me! Lavish me with your gifts, your goodness. You are my only hope!

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. 1 Peter 5:7

I keep giving you my worries, my cares, but it seems I always pick them back up again. Help me release them to you once and for all. Take them, Lord. I can’t carry them any longer. The worries and cares of this life are crushing me, sucking the life out of me.

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. Romans 8: 26

I am weak beyond all explanation. I am collapsing under the weight of the pain and suffering. I have no words to pray, nothing except a broken heart to offer you. Help me in my weakness. Intercede on my behalf. Pour out your prayers, your groanings, over me. There are no more precious prayers than your prayers prayed over me.

But forget all that—it is nothing compared to what I am going to do. For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland. Isaiah 43:18-19

When you take away, I know there’s a reason. I don’t understand your ways, your purpose. I don’t understand why we have suffered these tremendous losses. But I know you will make a way. I know you will take the past and do something new. I know you are always at work around me and in me. Do something new in me. I surrender to you.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. Romans 8:28

Father, you tell us all things work for good. I don’t see it right now. I don’t know how sickness and death can work for my good. I don’t have your eyes in this situation. But I do trust you. I’ve seen you take the most difficult, painful circumstances and use them for good. I want to believe you will take this year and do the same. Help my unbelief.

Come back to the place of safety, all you prisoners who still have hope! I promise this very day that I will repay two blessings for each of your troubles. Zechariah 9:12

May I be among those who have hope, for You are my only hope. I don’t know how to get through these trials. I don’t know how to keep living in the face of these losses. Help me cling to you. Help me cling to the promise you have great blessings in store for me, blessings that greatly outweigh the troubles.

The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. Lamentations 3:22-23

Thank you that your mercies never end, that your faithfulness is perfect. Thank you that each day is filled with your love, your goodness, your grace. Give me fresh eyes to see the beauty of this life you have given me, in spite of the pain and suffering I am facing now.

For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime! Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning. Psalm 30:5

Lord, thank you that your favor comes. There is an end to this pain, this suffering. I only ask you to sustain me through the night as I wait to see the morning sun.

As I walk through this holiday season, give me a fresh glimpse of who You are. Help me remember the suffering You experienced as You watched your Son on the cross, a gift given just for me. Help me remember with joy and wonder the amazing gifts we have simply because you gave, a precious baby born that Christmas morning. Help me focus my heart and mind on Immanuel, God with me.

You are my hope, my only hope, for Christmas and every day on this earth. May I always carry your hope with me. In Jesus name I pray, amen.

Cultivating Gratitude When Life Sucks

Let’s face it: sometimes life just sucks.

I’m not one to use any type of profanity, but I’m not sure there’s any other way to describe 2016. It’s been an unbelievably difficult year, filled with life-changing realities that have permanently altered our lives. And here we are, with the holidays upon us, trying to figure out how to be grateful, to cultivate the Christmas spirit, when our entire lives have been toppled and tossed.

November started with my daughter suffering yet another grand mal seizure. Her world has been rocked by the sudden onset of a disease previously unknown to any of us. Her future is uncertain.

Then came Veterans’ Day. As the military bugler played the melancholy Taps, my children found themselves taken back to that April morning when they stood by their father’s graveside, watching as his body was lowered into the ground.

With my own surgery and multiple emergency room trips for my daughter, the financial stress of this year is enough to make anyone ill. I find myself buried beneath a sea of debt that I didn’t have at the beginning of the year, wondering how God will come through, mounting pressure for the holidays.

Then there’s the false accusations, absolutely horrible things said about me. I still find myself angry, incredulous that anyone could be so low, so vindictive, so blind to the truth. Sadly, it seems the root of these attitudes lies in greed.

I’m sure I could go on with the events of this year, with reasons I am more than ready to kiss 2016 goodbye. I want to believe that 2017 has to be better, but there’s a part of me terrified to verbalize that hope.

As we enter the holiday season, I’m not seeing a lot of gratitude in my house, and there’s no magic to this holiday season.

Instead, there’s a host of other attitudes and emotions: fear, anger, bitterness, depression. There’s a sense of betrayal and rejection. There’s more hurt and pain than we can process.

Maybe you understand. Maybe your circumstances, although different from mine, ring of the same emotions. Maybe your marriage has breathed its last breath. Maybe your world has been rocked by adultery. Maybe your loved one has spiraled helplessly into his addiction. Maybe your child is suffering medical issues. Maybe your parent is locked in a world of Alzheimer’s. I don’t know your circumstances, but I know what it’s like to feel like life is just a cruel joke.

The truth is, this life is sometimes cruel. Jesus told us in this world we will have trouble (John 16:33). It’s a certainty of this broken world. But at the same time, we are told He has overcome the world (John 16:33), to consider it joy when we face trials of many kinds (James 1:2).

So I’m left wondering how we can cultivate an attitude of gratitude and capture the magic of the holiday season when life is so hard.

Focus. It seems like I return to Isaiah 26:3 over and over.

You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! Isaiah 26:3

When we are focused on God, our problems, our circumstances get smaller. When placed next to the Savior of the Universe who is able to do all things, our problems pale in comparison to His power. When we are focused on Him, we enjoy His peace permeating every part of our lives.

Just like Peter who was able to walk on water, we are able to navigate even the most tumultuous of circumstances as long as our eyes are Him. But as soon as we begin to look at the waves crashing around us, we begin to sink.

To cultivate gratitude, we must keep our eyes on Him and know He is bigger than all of our problems.

There I will go to the altar of God, to God—the source of all my joy. Psalm 43:4

Worship. When I finished my Bible reading plan recently, I began to look for a new plan. I quickly decided I needed to be in the Psalms.

The Psalms were written as songs of worship to the Father. Many were written in the midst of life’s most difficult circumstances. Whether fleeing from his enemies or being brought face-to-face with his own sins, David had a way of turning his attention to God, of praising Him in dire situations.

And when I turn to the Psalms, my heart is also turned to God. I am reminded of His faithfulness throughout the ages, of His steadfast love for me. My burdens lift and I am able to rest in Him.

Worship helps us turn our hearts to God and away from our problems. Whether it’s a reading of the Psalms or listening to praise music, worship is essential to cultivating gratitude.

Let all that I am praise the Lord; with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name. Psalm 103:1

Count our blessings. There has been so much turmoil this year, it’s sometimes easy to forget the many blessings we have experienced. We are blessed with family who loves us, with having all of our needs met. We are blessed with a good job and we’ve never once gone hungry. We are blessed with each other, with love that runs deep.

And we’ve had our share of blessings this year. God has brought some amazing new relationships to us, people who are helping us become all God intends for us to be. We’ve seen these relationships blossom and grow. And God has given us a new vision of the plans He has for us, a vision that far exceeds anything we could ever ask or imagine.

Sometimes I just need to sit and awe over the grace of God, of the many answered prayers and the many ways He has loved us.

Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things he does for me. He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies. He fills my life with good things. Psalm 103:2-5

Remember His past faithfulness. I have walked through many trials in the last decade. Adultery. Divorce. Financial devastation. Loss of friends. Loss of family.

And in all these things, I’ve seen God take the pain and use it for good in my life (Romans 8:28).

God has been in every detail of my life, working to create a beautiful mosaic. He has been faithful to care for my every need. Through the trials, He has molded me and shaped me into His image, given me a heart of compassion. He has shown me His great love and forgiveness. He has faithfully guided me every step.

And as I reflect on His past faithfulness, I am reminded He won’t leave me now. He will carry us through, give us joy once again. He will redeem every hurt, every pain. He will resurrect us from this season.

Come back to the place of safety, all you prisoners who still have hope! I promise this very day that I will repay two blessings for each of your troubles. Zechariah 9:12

Focus on the future. It seems every single day I remind my daughter that God is using these trials to mold her into His image, to prepare her for the great work He has planned out for her. I pray over her daily that God will do a mighty work in her so He can do a mighty work through her.

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

I was recently talking to Cassie, asking her how she was holding up under the stress and strain of all she has going on. She amazed me with her maturity.

“It’s hard,” she began, “but when I get scared, I just remember that God is doing something in me. I try to remember He’s preparing me for my future.”

but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. Philippians 3:13b-14

Yes, it’s been a tough year. But God is still good. And I know when I let Him have my full heart, we will find joy in the midst of our grief.

For all of you who are reeling from the trials of life, for all of you who are grieving as we are, for all of you facing uncertain futures from illness or loss… please know you are not alone. My children and I stand with you. We are broken and hurting in this holiday season.

But we do not grieve without hope. Our hope is in the One who came, the One whose very life we celebrate in the next month. Will you put your hope in Him as well?

Terror at Night

The sound of the phone startled me awake.

“Hello,” I managed, struggling to wake from a deep sleep.

“Something’s wrong with Cassie,” came the frightened voice on the other end of the phone.

I bolted from my bed and rushed to her room. There sat Cassie’s friend who was spending the night, terrified. And there in the middle of the floor lay my baby girl, her body convulsing from the seizure wracking her brain.

I ran back to the kitchen and grabbed her rescue meds. I began to fumble with the package, shaking from the surprise of being awakened suddenly and the shock of my baby having yet another seizure. As I attempted to gather the supplies so I could draw up the medicine and administer it, Cassie began to come around.

She was beginning to respond to my voice, to answer my questions. Her speech was heavy, slurred. Her pupils dilated. Her body weak, uncontrolled. But she was there. The seizure was losing its grip on my baby, and she was pulling out.

I made sure her friend was ok, wasn’t too overwhelmed. She had handled it like a champ! She had attempted to come to my room, but the dog had growled at her and scared her away. She had kept her cool, managed to unlock Cassie’s phone (with her ridiculously long passcode), and call me. And somehow, she was even able to lie down and go back to sleep.

Our world has been rocked. Despite being a neuro nurse, there’s something different about watching your own child in a full-blown grand mal seizure. No matter how much training you have, you can never be fully prepared.

So far, all of her seizures have been at night or the early morning hours. Just when we get comfortable and think we are clear, it happens again. The doctor continues to adjust her medications, trying to suppress the seizures, but so far it hasn’t happened.

And the terror strikes at the most unexpected moments.

Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness, nor the disaster that strikes at midday. Psalm 91:6

As I read these words over the weekend, the tears stung my eyes. My God was giving me—us—a special word, one just for us. He was reassuring us that we have nothing to fear, that we are safely tucked away in the shelter of His wings.

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him. Psalm 91:1-2

I’m learning—yet again—to run to my Savior, to run to my refuge. I am learning—yet again—He alone is my safe place. I am learning—yet again—to trust Him. I am learning—yet again—to rest in Him.

It’s so easy to get distracted, to allow the trials of this life to get our eyes off the answer to all of life’s problems. It’s easy to become consumed with fear about the terrors stalking us, the diseases that strike our children at night. It’s so easy to forget we have nothing to fear when we have the God of the Universe on our side.

For he will rescue you from every trap and protect you from deadly disease. He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection. Psalm 91:3-4

Cassie and I were talking this morning about all the trials she is facing. The holidays are upon us, and she’s struggling with the loss of her father. She is fearful about her future with these seizures.

And God gave me words.

“Sweetheart,” I began, “when you are overcome with fear and negative thoughts, remember His faithful promises. Quote His words to you, the promises that His love conquers all fears. Remember He tells us not to fear the disease that strikes at night. Remember He has you in the palm of His hand and He is working to make you in His image. Remember He is your refuge.”

As we talked about God’s faithful promises, she began to relax and rest. I could see a change in her physical appearance. His faithful promises protect us from this world.

As Christians, we all want to see our children take our faith as their own. They can draw from our faith…until a point.

Unfortunately, the way to mature faith is right through the waters of trials (James 1). Our faith cannot be tried and purified without the struggles of this life.

And Cassie’s faith is being tried in extreme ways.

Cassie and I recently attended a Lauren Daigle concert. As we watched Lauren Daigle perform, I had a vision of my daughter on that stage. It was almost as if God was telling me her life would touch many, that she would be used in mighty ways in the kingdom of God.

I leaned over to my girl and just whispered, “I think I’m seeing your future, your God-given dream.”

Cassie’s dream is definitely to lead the world in worship to her Heavenly Father, to lead others into the presence of the Almighty. But I know the only way to be used mightily is to be taken to the depths, to be tested and tried.

And that’s where my baby is today.

No parent likes to see their baby hurt, struggling with illness, with an uncertain future. But at the same time, I find myself excited to see what God will do through this time of pain. I wonder how He will show Himself faithful in Cassie’s wilderness. I wonder what amazing work He will do in her, how He will draw her closer to Him. And mostly I wonder what mighty purpose He has for this beautiful young lady He has entrusted to my care.

We are living in difficult and uncertain times in our home, but we are choosing to trust in our Savior’s faithful promises. We are choosing to believe there’s no reason to fear the disease that strikes at night. We are choosing to rest in the safety of our Savior.

 

Reclaiming Peace

The election is over. The ballots are in and we have a new President-elect.

And what a surprise it was.

On election day, I was waiting for results to begin pouring in. I was filled with a mixture of excitement and fear, enthusiasm and dread. The election season was nothing like what I had hoped for.

As I drove to work thinking about the election, the words to a Chris Tomlin song penetrated my thoughts.

Jesus Messiah, name above all names

Blessed redeemer, Emmanuel

The rescue for sinners, the ransom from Heaven

Jesus Messiah, Lord of all

As the words wafted through my car, peace washed over me. An inexplicable peace. Peace that surpasses all understanding. Perfect peace that can only come from my Heavenly Father.

And I realized how much this election—this year—has robbed me of peace.

I want to stop where I am and reclaim my peace, the perfect peace that comes from God, offered freely to all of us who call on His name.

You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! Isaiah 26:3

I have been transfixed by everything going on in the world around me. I’ve watched the news, read all the stories, researched the candidates. Every time I open my phone, it’s there glaring at me, calling for my attention.

Add to the election the chaos in my personal life, and I have been tossed and turned by the tumultuous waters all year long. Every time I think I’m getting back on solid ground, another round of waves washes over me, causing me to go under yet again.

And so, starting now, I want to fix my thoughts on God. I want to ignore the circumstances crashing around me, the news clamoring for my attention. I want to focus fully and completely on my Father, the One who makes a way when there is none.

Trust in the Lord always, for the Lord God is the eternal Rock. Isaiah 26:4

Peace washes over me when I trust my Father, my Rock.

Who do I trust? The Father who is the giver of all good gifts. The Father who is my Jehovah Jireh, my Provider. The Father who is my Jehovah Rapha, my Healer. The Father who is perfect love, love that casts out fears. The Father who is my Refuge in the midst of the storm. The Father who sees all, hears all, knows all. The Father who loves me so much He was willing to give His only son for me.

When I stop and think about my Savior, His goodness and His grace. When I focus on His character. When I remember the depths of His love and grace that wash over me. I am reminded that He is trustworthy, that He has all things in control.

And I find His peace guarding my heart and mind.

But for those who are righteous, the way is not steep and rough. You are a God who does what is right, and you smooth out the path ahead of them. Isaiah 26:7

Am I righteous? Am I striving to live God’s way? Then I can trust God has the way planned out. I can know that even when the path is rocky and dangerous, He is with me. He guides my every step, making the path straight. He does what is right.

I have no need to fear. I have no reason to surrender my peace to the circumstances around me. My God is good, and He does what is right.

Lord, we show our trust in you by obeying your laws; our heart’s desire is to glorify your name. Isaiah 26:8

Sometimes I say I trust God, but my actions betray me. I can say I trust God with the outcome of the election. I can say I trust Him with my daughter and her illness. I can say I trust Him in the midst of our grief.

But what do my actions show? Am I obeying His laws? Am I living His way? Am I following His commands? Am I loving Him and loving others? Is my heart’s desire truly to glorify His name?

If I actively trust Him, my actions will show it. And His peace will be evident in my life.

In the night I search for you; in the morning I earnestly seek you. For only when you come to judge the earth will people learn what is right. Isaiah 26:9

Have you ever awakened in the middle of the night with you mind spinning and churning? Do you ever find yourself lying in bed, rehearsing the circumstances of the day? Do you ever spend a sleepless night wondering what direction you should go?

I know I do. I also know when I awake, I can grab my Bible and gain peace. As I read His love letter to me, my mind slows down and I begin to settle down. When I turn my mind to God and search for Him in the night, His peace washes over me.

And when I seek Him first thing in the morning, peace and calm washes over me. It sets the tone for my day, changes my perspective. My day goes much more smoothly when I make Him my priority.

Lord, you will grant us peace; all we have accomplished is really from you. O Lord our God, others have ruled us, but you alone are the one we worship. O Lord, you have made our nation great; yes, you have made us great. You have extended our borders, and we give you the glory! Isaiah 26:12-14

Let’s give credit where credit is due: we are here, we live, we breathe because of Him. He lives in us, through us. Without Him, we are nothing. We thrive because His favor rests on us. We survive because He fights for us.

He has given us a great nation, a nation where we have freedom to worship. He has poured out blessings on our nation for two hundred years. America is great because He has allowed us to be great.

Now it is time to worship. Now it is time to fall on our knees in honor of the One who gives us all things to enjoy. Now is the time to recognize His hand of sovereignty guiding our lives.

Now is the time to stand in awe of the God of this Universe, and reclaim the peace only He can give.

 

Father God, this entire year has been chaotic. My life has been tossed and overturned repeatedly by the circumstances of this life. My focus has turned from you as I struggle to get through each day. My heart aches for your perfect peace, the peace that only comes from a steadfast adherence to you and your ways. Help me turn my focus back to you, the One who makes my path straight. Help me show my trust in You, my rock and my refuge from the storms of this life. May I search for you at night and seek you in the morning. May I always remember your goodness and grace, your favor poured out upon me, and bow in worship.

A Prayer for American Christians on the Eve of the Presidential Election

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America

The presidential election is less than one week away, and I feel as if we should change the name of our country to the Divided States of America.

It’s a very sad statement, but one I see more each day. Race pitted against race. Religion against religion. Political party against political party.

People are targeted because they wear a law enforcement uniform. Christians are accused of hatred because of their faith. Women are objectified and treated as lesser humans. The LGBTQ community reels from hatred and disdain. Blacks struggle in the face of racism. Muslims live in fear they will be profiled because of their religion. We all seem to fall into at least one category that feels it is being treated unfairly.

For all the talk of tolerance, we have become an intolerant society. We can no longer sit and have a constructive conversation about topics and policies, because we begin to throw insults at anyone who sees or thinks differently than we do.

Oh, how devastated our Founding Fathers would be! They built this country on open debate, by individuals who came from diverse backgrounds and came together for the greater good. They never envisioned a country run by an elite ruling class, by a group of career politicians so far removed from us, the citizens of this great country. They wanted a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

I can’t say that I’m thrilled about either major candidate. Corruption and greed. Hatred and abuse. Pride and ego. A serious lack of integrity. A desire for personal power more than public service. Absolute disdain for anyone who thinks differently.

I will be casting my vote, and it has not been an easy decision. I will be voting against one candidate while voting for the policies of the other. Vice presidential candidates have a huge impact on who will get my vote. Current hot topics such as health insurance, taxes, the economy are at the top of my concerns. It has far less to do with the candidate than it does with the issues facing our country.

One thing I try to remember is that our government is not under the same scriptural commands as we are. We as Christians are commanded to look after orphans and widows, to care for those in need. We are commanded to pour out love and strive for unity. But that command is issued to Christians, not the government. Our country was created to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity (from the Preamble to the Constitution). It’s sometimes difficult to separate my Christian beliefs from my political viewpoints, but I must remember the purpose of our government. And it is not the same as my purpose as a Christian.

As we head to the polls next week to decide who will lead our country for the next four years, I find myself falling on my knees before God, begging Him to act on behalf of our country. I would like to offer a prayer for all of us as Christians in America on the eve of this election.

Father God, we come to you utterly broken over the condition of our country. It is disheartening to see the division, the hatred, the intolerance. The violence is heart-breaking, and we long for peace in this great country of ours.

We fall on our face before you, confessing our sins. We pray that we as Christians will humble ourselves and pray and seek your face and turn from our wicked ways, so you will hear from heaven and will forgive our sins and restore our land (2 Chronicles 7:14). We are in desperate need of your healing power and your grace.

As Christians, we see our country turning further from you each day. People no longer reverence you, call on you. We shut you out of our public lives. Even more discouraging is how we shut you out of our private lives. We no longer desire to walk according to your ways, your truth.

Help us remember the message of the cross is foolish to those who do not believe! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).Help us remember we cannot expect those who do not know you to understand why we live the way we do. Help us remember we cannot expect this world to live by the same holy standards we strive to live by.

As this world grows darker and more opposed to the things of God, I pray you would let our light shine brighter. May we be a beacon shining brightly in this country! May we prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love (2 Corinthians 6:6). May others see you shining through us.

As you look down on this great country and the mess we have created, we ask that you would raise up a remnant of faithful followers who seek you above all else, whose hearts are pure and whose hands are clean. May we have a single-minded devotion to you, desiring to know you and walk in obedience above all else.

We pray this remnant of faithful believers will have faith to move mountains (Matthew 17:20)! May our faith in the face of an increasingly dark world astound others as we see you move in our lives, providing for our needs as only you can, doing miracles in our midst. And may we never steal your glory, but always use your supernatural work in our lives to point the world back to you, to give you the glory you so deserve.

An important decision will be made next week. We don’t know the outcome, and we don’t know what either candidate will do once in office. Uncertainty abounds, and fear is rampant. We pray you will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you (Isaiah 26:3). Help us remember that no matter who is in office, you still control the hearts of kings. Nothing can touch us that is not sifted through your hands. You are Sovereign, Lord!

Our future is in your hands, and we trust you. We trust you to be our guide as we navigate the tumultuous waters of this world. We trust you to bring good out of all things, even the painful, ugly circumstances. We trust that in your kindness you have called us to share in your eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus, and that after we have suffered a little while, you will restore, support, and strengthen us. You will place us on a firm foundation (1 Peter 5:10). We thank you that even though we are living in uncertain times, we can know that our future with you is secure.

Thank you, Lord, for the privilege of living in this great country where we have freedom to openly worship you. May we never take that privilege for granted, but always guard it and treasure it. May we not live in apathy to you, but live in awe of your love and forgiveness freely poured out for us. Allow our light to shine brightly as our hearts turn to you. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

When the Earth Shakes

Oklahoma is known for tornadoes. But, did you know that Oklahoma now leads the nation in the number of earthquakes?

Most of the earthquakes we have are small. I’ve missed most of them simply because they have been undetectable to the normal person.

Several weeks ago, however, we had one that was impossible to miss!

It was a Saturday morning, and I was sitting in my room, reading my Bible on my phone. Suddenly, I heard what sounded like rushing wind, and I was convinced the entire house was coming down! I jumped up and ran into the living room, hoping I could see the brewing storm through the window.

Two of my kids came bolting out of their rooms. To our surprise, there were no clouds, no winds, no rain. But, the house was shaking and shifting. Light fixtures swayed, back and forth. Pictures fell off the walls. And I stood, terrified, not knowing where to seek shelter.

And that’s when I realized it wasn’t a storm. It was an earthquake. A large earthquake. An earthquake that left my light fixtures swaying for over 15 minutes. An earthquake that not only shook my house, but shook me.

I spent the rest of the day on edge. Everything made me jump, my heart pound, my anxiety rise.

I’ll take a tornado any day…

I guess the earthquake is pretty symbolic of our lives this year. Death. Surgery. Illness. Our lives have been shaken. We’ve felt as if everything was crashing down around us. We have found ourselves wondering what our future holds, how we can keep moving forward.

I went walking this morning and my heart cried out to God…even as the tears rolled down my face. I simply couldn’t handle the stress any longer, couldn’t keep it bottled up inside.

“Lord, I need you!” I cried. “I can’t keep going! I can’t handle it!”

Of course, even as the words escaped my mouth, I knew God was telling me it wasn’t my burden to carry. Instead, I needed to throw it on Him, let Him carry it.

He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken. Psalm 62:6

I honestly don’t know how anyone makes it through this life without God. He is my rock, my salvation. He is my foundation, the solid foundation upon which my life is built. He is my fortress, the one place I can run and hide when life is overwhelming.

Friday, I walked into the house to find my daughter having yet another seizure. I was convinced we were on the road to wellness, the seizures were behind us and God was leading us into complete healing. We were on a two year countdown, a plan to get rid of the medications and move forward into a healthy future.

Instead, here we were, back at square one. Resetting the clock to a new starting point, a new countdown to complete restoration.

Why, God? Why are you allowing my baby girl to suffer? I know you’ve heard me, heard my pleas for healing. Hasn’t she suffered enough? You know the pain she’s dealing with, the anguish of losing her dad. Can’t you give us a break?

I know the Lord is always with me. I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me. Psalm 16:8

Yes, He is with us. Cassie and I have talked often about the pain, about the overwhelming pain this year has brought upon us. I ask her how she is doing, and her only answer is that she is overwhelmed.

And yet, when I ask her how she is moving forward, she says, “I just remind myself of what God is doing in me, what He is preparing me for.”

Oh, isn’t that the most beautiful sentiment? Isn’t that the faith of a child? While I am out yelling at God, asking Him why, my daughter is clinging to her foundation. She is clinging to the truth that her God is right here with her, walking beside her through the earthquakes this life has thrown at us.

We are all clinging…and that would be about the only appropriate word to use. Perhaps even more appropriately, He is holding us as our fingers lose their grip.

But our lives are built on the firm foundation, the One who is always with us, the One who covers us in every moment of chaos.

I’ve been asking God how to help my kids, how to lead them to a place of healing and wholeness. I’ve been asking God to give me wisdom, to know how to keep moving forward, to know how to not be shaken. And this is what He has told me:

Pray. Pray for my children. Pray with them. Pray over them. Pray every night and every day. Pray without ceasing.

I am realizing just how much I continue to hang onto my kids, how I don’t want to let them go and trust them to God. But the truth is that there’s no safer place than in His hands.

Speak truth. We all know the power of words. If we speak self-defeating words, we will be defeated before we ever start. But when we speak words of life, we find meaning and purpose and strength and courage.

Scripture is full of truth…the truth of who we are in Christ Jesus. We are forgiven, redeemed, chosen. We are His masterpiece created to do great works. We are dearly loved children of God.

These are the words we try to speak. Words of life. Words of truth. And, I frequently remind my kids that God is using this pain, these trials, to do an amazing work in us so He can do an amazing work through us.

Surrender. Surrender is always the beginning of a true experience with the Savior. When we surrender our hearts, our minds, our wills, it makes room for Him to step in and work.

How can we surrender in the chaos? It often starts with a simple prayer of, “Lord, I don’t want this journey. But if this is what you want, I will take it. Just don’t let my pain be in vain.” That is a prayer of humility and surrender, one the Savior will always honor.

And, I pray Galatians 2:20 every morning, “Lord, I am crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me. Live this life through me. Let me decrease so you might increase.”

Look to the future. As much as we hate the pain and trials of this life, we know from Scripture that He is using them to mold us and shape us into His image, to create a heart for Him and the things of God in us.

We also know that pain is only for a season, but joy comes in the morning. We know that one day we will see the good, the beauty that comes from the ashes. We know that now we only see in part, but one day we will see in full.

God is up to something. I don’t know what it is. I don’t know what the finished picture will look like. But I know He is up to something…something good. I choose to trust Him in the journey and believe that the future will show me that He is always good.

Lord Jesus, as the earth quakes and life shakes us to the core, we proclaim that you are good. We run to your as our rock, our salvation, our hiding place. We thank you that you are always with us, never leaving us. We thank you that even as everything around us seems to crash to the ground, we can know that we are always safe with you. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

 

 

Of Grief and Grace

Grief.

Grief accompanies all kinds of losses. Some grief is short-lived. Other times, it lasts a lifetime. Sometimes it’s overwhelming. Other times, it seems to be fading.

Maybe it’s grief from divorce. Or sickness. Or death. Or, maybe like us, you are overwhelmed by grief from all of these losses.

Last week was the six month anniversary of the death of the kids’ dad. It was an emotional week, filled with tears and memories. We went out to eat at one of his favorite restaurants. It was a rare splurge, but I wanted to give my kids an opportunity to remember him.

I’ve spent the last six months begging God to show me how to help my kids navigate their grief. I’ve seen three kids experience grief in three very different ways. I’ve seen tears and depression. I’ve seen hope and anticipation. I’ve seen anger and frustration.

I’ve encouraged them all to share their hearts, their feelings with me. I’ve offered counseling. We’ve pulled out pictures, remembered the good times. We’ve been to the cemetery to visit his grave.

And we’ve prayed. Day after day. Pouring out our hearts to God. Begging Him to use this pain for good, somehow, someway.

Because of the way God has used the pain of my divorce, I cling to hope! I know the good things God has brought into my life because of the pain. I know how He has used my loss to create a ministry. And I know the depths of his love and healing only because I’ve experienced pain and grief. I desperately want my children to experience the same type of redemption of their pain.

As I’ve looked for ways to understand my kids and their grief, I have looked to scripture. I’ve found some interesting stories that help explain exactly how grief affects people.

In the days when the judges ruled in Israel… a man from Bethlehem in Judah left his home and went to live in the country of Moab, taking his wife and two sons with him. Then Elimelech died, and Naomi was left with her two sons.… about ten years later,both Mahlon and Kilion died. This left Naomi alone, without her two sons or her husband. “Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?” Ruth 1:1-21 (selected)

Naomi faithfully went with her husband to a foreign land. While there, God blessed her with two sons. But her beloved husband passed away. Her sons also died before they could even have children.

Naomi returned to her home country, but she was lost in the throes of depression. She begged the people not to call her Naomi any longer, a name that means pleasant. She preferred the name Mara, meaning bitter. Her life had lost its joy, and she had become bitter because of the loss.

How many of us spiral into depression and negativity, forgetting all of the Lord’s blessings, when our lives suddenly fall apart? How many times do we become bitter and angry, allowing the pain and disappointments of this life to overwhelm and destroy us?

I’ve watched my own kids fight depression, lose their joy in life. I’ve been there myself. Depression is a very real consequence of grief.

When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled. “Where have you put him?” he asked them. They told him, “Lord, come and see.” Then Jesus wept. John 11:33-35

There He was, standing outside the tomb of his friend Lazarus. He had already visited with Lazarus’s grieving sisters, Mary and Martha, reassuring them Lazarus would live again. But, as He looked at the scene, Jesus could no longer contain His emotions.

And that’s when Jesus wept. He broke down. Let the tears flow. Allowed his emotions to show.

We don’t really know why Jesus wept. Maybe it was his sadness for his friend, lying in the tomb. Maybe it was the lack of faith He saw in those mourning Lazarus’ death. Or maybe it was His own empathy for His friends, overcome by their sadness. Whatever the reason, He cried.

The last six months have been filled with tears around our house. Tears over their dad’s death. Tears of fear of the unknown. Tears of lost hopes, lost dreams. Tears of empathy, compassion. Tears of anger and frustration. And, I’ve also watched as my kids have fought their tears, held them back, avoided letting their emotions show. It’s been an emotional six months.

Job stood up and tore his robe in grief. Then he shaved his head and fell to the ground to worship. He said, “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!” In all of this, Job did not sin by blaming God. Job 1:20-22

Job lost everything. He lost his material possessions. He lost his servants. He lost his flocks. He lost his children. Eventually he lost his health.

And his response was to fall on his knees in praise.

I was amazed at my kids in those early days. The day after their dad died, we had a special service at our church. We had planned to go for weeks, but under the circumstances I was more than willing to miss it. But my kids begged me to go. They wanted to be in church. They needed to be in church. And so we went, tear-streaked faces, broken hearts.

And we praised God, even as our hearts broke.

After Nathan returned to his home, the Lord sent a deadly illness to the child of David and Uriah’s wife. David begged God to spare the child. He went without food and lay all night on the bare ground. The elders of his household pleaded with him to get up and eat with them, but he refused. Then on the seventh day the child died. David’s advisers were afraid to tell him. “He wouldn’t listen to reason while the child was ill,” they said. “What drastic thing will he do when we tell him the child is dead?” When David saw them whispering, he realized what had happened. “Is the child dead?” he asked. “Yes,” they replied, “he is dead.” Then David got up from the ground, washed himself, put on lotions and changed his clothes. He went to the Tabernacle and worshiped the Lord. After that, he returned to the palace and was served food and ate. 2 Samuel 12:15-20

David had messed up his life…royally. He had taken advantage of a woman, gotten her pregnant, had her husband killed. In the aftermath, he married the woman who was pregnant with his child.

But God couldn’t overlook his sins. Despite his repentance, God sent an illness on the child. David begged and pleaded hoping to spare the life of his child.

But God didn’t relent, and the child died.

How did David respond? He put away his mourning, and he went to worship. He pulled himself together and went back to business. He recognized that life continues even in the midst of death and loss, and he chose not to let his pain hold him back.

And that’s my prayer for my kids. I don’t want this pain to hold them back. I want them to move forward, to be propelled into their futures. I want them to find peace, power, and beauty despite their pain. I want them to learn that we can thrive and not just survive…even when life is filled with pain and disappointments.

Do you know what I love most about all of these experiences of grief? The grace. Every story is bathed in grace.

Naomi found grace in her daughter-in-law, Ruth, who refused to leave her side. She found grace when God brought a kinsman-redeemer along for Ruth, allowing Naomi to become a grandmother. She found grace by suddenly being thrust into the lineage of Christ.

Lazarus, Mary, and Martha found grace. They found grace in Christ’s resurrection power. They found grace when they came to understand that Lazarus’ death was used for God’s glory. They found grace in their Savior who had such great love and empathy for them.

Job found grace. After he walked through the pain of losing everything, he met God in a deeply personal and intimate way. He saw everything he had restored. He saw the second half of his life more blessed than the first.

And David found grace. He was blessed with another son, Solomon, who was the wisest man ever to live. He was blessed to be promised to always have a descendant on the throne. He was blessed with everything this life has to offer.

And I know my kids will also find grace. We pray every day that God will use this season of pain to help us find a deeply intimate relationship with the Father. We pray that we will find the good that He always promised would come to those who love Him. We pray that God will do an amazing work in us so He can do an amazing work through us.

That’s the beauty of walking with our Father. Where there is grief, there is also an abundance of grace. I pray that if you are lost in grief, God will reveal the touches of His grace that are flowing all around.

 

 

 

Portrait of a Spiritual Leader

Life is funny sometimes.

I’ve been waiting for years for God to give me permission to enter the dating scene, and—at what seems the most inopportune and unlikely time of my life—I have found myself tip-toeing into a relationship.

As I enter this new season of life, I am asking many questions: What am I looking for in a man? What are the non-negotiables? How do I incorporate a relationship into my already full life? How do I balance work, ministry, and family?

But perhaps the most important question I am asking is: What does it mean for a man to be the spiritual leader of the home?

I actually brought up this question with a male friend of mine several months ago. He is a committed Christian, has served in ministry all of his adult life. And as we talked, I began to realize that men and women may have very different ideas of what it means to be a spiritual leader. Men seem to think they must be theological giants, exegeting scripture perfectly, presenting deep spiritual truths.

Women, on the other hand, don’t necessarily care about great theological truths. We are looking for more simplistic steps of leadership, basic daily steps to help us grow in Christ.

As I pondered these differences, I decided to dive in a little deeper. I surveyed a group of my female friends, and from their responses I have compiled a list of the most important characteristics of a spiritual leader…to a woman.

A spiritual leader has a growing relationship with Christ. Before a man can lead his wife or family, he must have a solid foundation. He should know for certain that he has given his heart and life to God. He should be fully devoted, seeking to grow daily in his walk with Christ.

What does this look like? A commitment to the word and to prayer. A commitment to church. A commitment to obedience. A man with a growing relationship with Christ will exhibit the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), will not merely listen to the Word but will do what it says (James 1:22). A growing relationship with Christ will be evident in the way he lives every day.

Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. Luke 9:23

A spiritual leader models the Christian life for his wife and children. Not only does a true spiritual leader grow in his walk with Christ, he lives out God’s commands in front of his wife and children. He lives the Christian life in the privacy of his own home, behind closed doors where no one except his family sees him. He is the same in his private life as he is in his public life.

Modeling the Christian life for your family means you take the initiative to bring God into your everyday life. You make it a point to talk about God in the details of life (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). You pray together, pray for them. You make your life revolve around God and His purposes.

For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. Ephesians 5:25-26

A spiritual leader takes initiative to serve his family. Why did Christ come to earth? To serve and give His life as a ransom for many.

True leadership is servant leadership, and a true spiritual leader models Christ’s life by serving his family. I’ve known men who acted as if leadership was about his family serving him, as if he were the king of the house. Everyone walked on eggshells hoping they didn’t offend him…all while he sat in his favorite chair ordering his wife and kids around. I know men who hold the “submit” command over their wives, expecting them to meet their every want and whim.

That is not the portrait of a true leader. A spiritual leader looks for ways to serve his spouse and children. He seeks ways to help his family, to make their lives easier. He leads by becoming a servant of others.

Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many. Mark 10:43-45

A spiritual leader is a protector of those he loves. There are areas where we women simply were not created in the same way as men. As a general rule, we are physically smaller and weaker. And sometimes we need men to protect us.

It’s not just physical protection we long for, though. What about that person who spoke an unkind word? Or the family member who took advantage of us? Or the child who disrespected us? Sometimes we need our men to step in, to stand up for us. I, personally, am a very non-confrontational person. I would almost never speak my mind in one of those situations. But to have my husband step in and defend me (kindly and tactfully)? To have my husband help me fight those battles I wasn’t created to fight? Nothing would make me feel more loved than to know my husband has my back.

In the same way, you husbands must give honor to your wives. Treat your wife with understanding as you live together. She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life. Treat her as you should so your prayers will not be hindered. 1 Peter 3:7

A spiritual leader is a man of integrity. Integrity is huge to us! My life has been rocked by infidelity, and I could never trust someone who doesn’t live with integrity. I’ve learned that a man who would bend the truth in small areas also has the ability to bend the truth in larger areas.

Integrity is about complete honesty in all areas of life. A spiritual leader shows integrity at home and at work, in his finances and in his relationships. He lives at a level few people will understand. If he says yes, you can rest assured it will be done when he says it will be done. He doesn’t bend the rules to benefit himself. He is honest to a fault.

I will be careful to live a blameless life… I will lead a life of integrity in my own home. I will refuse to look at anything vile and vulgar. I hate all who deal crookedly; I will have nothing to do with them. I will reject perverse ideas and stay away from every evil. I will not tolerate people who slander their neighbors. I will not endure conceit and pride. Psalm 101:2-5

A spiritual leader exhibits true humility. Have you known a man who thought he was above accountability? He wanted to be a lone ranger, living his life on his terms without input from anyone else.

A spiritual leader recognizes his own weaknesses and invites others to hold him accountable. He seeks out godly counselors who have the freedom to ask him the tough questions…and he respects them enough to tell the truth. He realizes he is weak and prone to sin, and has systems in place to keep him on track.

And a humble man admits his mistakes, asks forgiveness, and changes his ways so he doesn’t make the same mistakes repeatedly.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-8

A spiritual leader is a loving, involved father. Scripture is clear about a man’s responsibility to his children. He is to lovingly bring them up, disciplining them properly. He is to lead them to know God, to walk by faith. He is to provide for his family, seeing to it their needs are met.

Show me a man who has a good relationship with his children, and we will see a man who is mostly content with life. A man who loves his children well will live a full life. But show me a man who neglects his children, who is harsh and angry with his children, and we will see a man who lacks peace in his life. His prayers will be hindered, and his relationship with God will be stagnant at best.

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord. Ephesians 6:4

Perhaps the most important characteristic of a spiritual leader is that he recognizes that Jesus is the true head of the home. He knows his authority flows from God and he should not move unless God gives permission. He should willingly submit to the Father in every area of life. A true spiritual leader knows if he is following Christ, it will be easy for his wife to follow him.

But there is one thing I want you to know: The head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 1 Corinthians 11:3

As I venture into the often overwhelming world of giving my heart to a man, I am looking for one who gives his heart fully to God. I am looking for a man who will be the spiritual leader my children and I crave.

Be On Guard!

In Oklahoma, few things are more certain than the uncertainty of the weather.

Thunderstorms are simply a way of life for us. Many of us love the sound of the thunder and the flash of lightning. There’s no better sleeping weather than right in the heart of storm season.

We are even growing accustomed to earthquakes. Did you know that Oklahoma now ranks as the number one state for frequency of earthquakes? A few weeks ago, we had a 4.8 magnitude quake that scared the living daylights out of me! I really thought we were having a sudden and quite unexpected thunderstorm that was bringing my entire house down! Our kitchen light swayed for over 15 minutes.

But we are best known for our tornadoes. I shudder to think how many people have lost everything. I live just southwest of Oklahoma City, and frequently we are the starting point for the monsters that track across our state.

Right now, it’s October. I guess you can consider October our “second” storm season, and tonight is no exception. I literally just came home from work to find the storm chasers parked along the highway next to our house. I turned on the television—quite unaware of what is building. To the north is a large storm with a tornado sweeping across the state. To our southwest is another storm system, building, growing, rotating…and headed my direction.

I just issued the directive to my kids to prepare for the safe room, the steel and concrete reinforced corner of my closet designed to withstand even the strongest EF-5 tornado. It’s our safe place.

This year, storm preparation has been different, however.

Back in May when we were preparing for a tornado, I gave my normal instructions to gather up the important stuff. We usually take the things that can’t be replaced: important papers, sentimental jewelry, computer, irreplaceable pictures. And, of course our pets. Most everything else can be replaced. It’s just stuff.

But when I gave the command this year, Cole and Cassie began to haul load after load of things into the safe room—a space that only comfortably fits about four people. There’s not room for tubs of pictures and big items. And my kids know that.

I watched, wondering what they were thinking, wondering where they thought we would fit, how we would get the dogs in there with us.

And then my daughter came around the corner with a stuffed bear in her arms. The bear is as big as she is! You could see the concern on her face.

“Mom,” she began, “I know it’s big, but I’ll hold it in my lap. I promise.”

My heart melted as I saw the tears welling up in her eyes, as she clutched the bear to her body. You see, the bear was the last Valentine’s Day gift her dad ever gave her, the last gift before he passed away unexpectedly in April.

Everything they carried to the safe room was something that reminded them of their dad, something they will never be able to replace. Pictures. Gifts. Reminders of the short years they had with him.

Items they want to guard at all costs.

As I watched my kids begin to gather up their important items once again and begin moving everything to the safe room for a rough evening of weather, I began to wonder what things I need to guard at all costs.

Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7

Guard your mind. Battles are won and lost in the mind. What do you think David said as he approached Goliath with nothing but a sling and a few smooth stones? Was he telling himself how big and strong Goliath was, how scared he was? No! He was telling himself how big his God is! And that’s exactly what he told Goliath!

Scripture is full of exhortations to think on things that are lovely and noble and true and right (Philippians 4:8). It tells us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).

And how do we guard our minds? By flooding them with the Word of God. Consume a steady diet of scripture. Take negative thoughts captive and replace them with words of hope from the Bible. Change the way you think to change your life.

Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. Proverbs 4:23

Guard your heart. Our hearts are the center of our lives, of our emotions. According to Joseph Stowell in his book Fan the Flame, the heart is the authentic person, the part where we desire, deliberate, decide. It is, as scripture says, the deciding factor for the course of our lives.

Guarding our hearts involves living authentic lives of honesty and integrity. It means we choose to act in accordance with God’s word, even when no one is watching. It’s about following your thoughts (which you are guarding) with actions that also match the commands God has given us.

How do you want your life to turn out? Do you want to enjoy God’s best? Guard your heart. Live your life in such a way that one day you will hear your Savior say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Well done.”

The heart of the godly thinks carefully before speaking; the mouth of the wicked overflows with evil words. Proverbs 15:28

Guard your tongue. How many times have you opened your mouth without thinking? How many times have you wished you could take back the words you just spoke? How many times have you spoken words, only to rehash those words repeatedly, regretting every syllable?

We must guard our tongues. We must think carefully, weighing the words and their effects long before they leave our mouths. Our words must be words of grace and truth, words that build others up. Our words must be words of kindness and love, words of honesty and integrity. Our words must be words that point the world back to our Savior.

And the good news is that if you are guarding your mind and your heart, scripture tells us our words will be the proper words. “What you say flows from what is in your heart” (Luke 6:45).

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. James 1:27

Guard your religion. Religion has become a dirty word in our culture. But what does scripture say about religion? True religion? It’s caring for the needs of those who are most needy, those who are the downcast of society. It’s about keeping ourselves pure, holy, before God. It’s about doing the right things.

We must learn to guard our religion. How often do we pass by the down and out, despising them, wondering why they can’t get it together? How often do we choose to judge the single mama because of her divorce or her child born out of wedlock? How often do we ignore the needs of those all around us?

It’s not enough to guard our tongues. Scripture teaches us that we must do more than just offer words of encouragement. “Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?” (James 2:15-16).

Tonight, the storms passed us by. We had a short scare as the tornado siren sounded, but we escaped unharmed. Even if the storm had hit our home, we were safe in our safe room…along with everything important to us. We took the steps to guard those irreplaceable treasures.

I hope you are taking those same steps to guard your lives, to place your life in the safety of the Father.

Lord Jesus, I pray you would help us as we seek to guard our minds, our hearts, our tongues, our religion. I pray we would keep your word at the center of our lives so it can penetrate our hearts, our minds, and help us walk in step with you. I pray we would recognize the importance of protecting those things you hold most dear, those things that determine the course of our lives. Be our shield, our strength, our protector as we run to you, our safe place.

 

When the Walls Won’t Fall

Now the gates of Jericho were tightly shut because the people were afraid of the Israelites. No one was allowed to go out or in. Joshua 6:1

The Israelites had spent 40 years wandering in the desert. Now, it was time to possess the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. God had parted the Jordan River so they could cross into the land.

And now they were face to face with the walls of Jericho, walls that were tall, shut tight, impenetrable. Walls that stood between them and the future, the beautiful place God had promised them.

How would the walls come down? What would it take to break through? How would they ever possess Jericho with the walls shut tightly to keep out the Israelites?

We all know the answer: God commanded the Israelites to march around Jericho for seven days. Then, as they marched in obedience, God fulfilled His promise and brought the walls down.

God brought the walls down.

They crashed. Crumbled. The impenetrable fortress was no more. No explanation for why the walls crumbled. But the inhabitants were now vulnerable to the invasion. Jericho now belonged to the Israelites.

I am beginning to realize I know something about walls.

The only problem is that I am inside the walls. I’m not standing outside, marching around the Promised Land in obedience.

I am safely tucked inside my walls. Impenetrable walls. Walls that protect me from outsiders, from anyone seeking to invade my territory. Walls that are thick, like those of Jericho. Reinforced. Multiple-layers of walls. A fortress, carefully constructed to protect my heart.

I didn’t even realize I had built these walls around my heart.

Until someone started trying to break them down. Until someone started marching around the walls. Until someone began the arduous process of penetrating those walls.

But walls don’t crumble easily. It doesn’t matter how many roses he sends. It doesn’t matter how many times he mows my yard. It doesn’t matter how many honey-dos he completes around my house. It doesn’t matter how many words of affirmation he showers on me.

I find myself locked inside the walls. Hiding. Fearful of what lurks outside.

Can I just say that dating after divorce is…challenging?

I find myself every single day examining my heart, my life. How do I move forward? What do I need to do to bring the walls down? How do I trust someone after my trust has been shattered by the one who claimed to love me?

As I recognize the walls surrounding my heart and my life, I cry out to God. More than anything, I am asking for His direction, for His will to be done. I am surrendering, daily, to His desires more than mine.

And as I examined the story of Jericho, I found some interesting tidbits on bringing down walls.

When Joshua was first appointed to lead the Israelites, God gave him some instructions that I think will be helpful to all of us.

Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do. Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:7-9

Be strong and very courageous. The first command God gave Joshua was to be strong and courageous. It’s hard. Our lives have shattered, been in shambles. Moving forward into the future is a frightening thought. But if we are going to possess the Promised Land God is preparing for us, we must be bold and courageous.

Where do we get our strength? From God. He has promised us a future filled with hope and prosperity. He has promised to make beauty from our ashes. He has promised us redemption and resurrection. We must cling to God, to His faithfulness, to His promises, and believe He will make a way. That’s where our strength comes from.

Be careful to obey all the instructions. God has given us an instruction manual, one that is readily available in the United States. Grab your Bible daily. Make God’s Word part of your daily life. Seek His face, His will, in the pages of Scripture. Find out what He is instructing you to do.

You will find so much wisdom, so much knowledge in the pages of the Bible. Instructions like, “Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow I will do great and mighty things among you” (Joshua 3:5). Commands to love and forgive. Reminders to fear not. And the beautiful promises of God’s provisions.

We are blessed in 2016 to have the Bible at our fingertips. There are some great Bible apps for our smart phones. If you have tried one, look at YouVersion or BibleGateway.

Make it a point to read and obey God’s Word. Study it. Meditate on it. And then you will be successful.

Remember the Lord Your God is with you wherever you go. It doesn’t matter where you are or what you are doing, you cannot escape God’s presence. Even if you are holed up inside your walls, God is there, walking with you, strengthening you. He will never leave you nor forsake you.

You can allow the walls to crumble because God will be by your side. You can crack the door and peek outside at the beauty of God’s creation and trust that He will walk with you. No matter where you go, He will be your constant companion, preparing your way. You can trust Him.

And maybe you aren’t the one locked inside the walls. Maybe you are the one marching around Jericho, wondering if you are wasting your time, wondering if you will ever get inside those walls to possess the Promised Land.

Maybe you’ve marched silently around the walls one day. Two days. Three days. There’s no indication anything has changed. Four days. Five days. Six days. The walls are still standing, solid, secure. Day seven dawns bright and clear, and you begin marching yet again. Around you go once, twice, three times. Exhaustion has set in. Frustration. The belief that the walls will never come down. Four times. Five times. Six times. You are on the verge of giving up, throwing in the towel. This whole attempt at bringing down the walls is futile. You will never see them fall.

On the seventh time around, you are instructed to yell. You give a half-hearted cry, wondering what good it will actually do. These walls are impenetrable. But, with your cry, you hear something. You see a brick fall and some cracks developing in the walls. You yell with a little more gusto, wondering if somehow these walls really could come down. More bricks fall. More cracks develop. Now your hope is building. You give it all you have! You yell with all of your heart, all of your strength. The walls crumble. Not one brick left on top of another.

You now know God has seen your heart, your desire for obedience. You know He—and He alone—has given you the Promised Land. Walk in and possess it. It is yours!

I don’t know if you are locked inside the walls, or walking around someone else’s walls. But I do know that if we are following God, He will make those walls crumble. Don’t lose heart. Be strong and courageous, my friends! Your God is with you, wherever you go!