Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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When Pain Exposes Your Idols: No Other Gods Session 2

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(Second in a series of posts inspired by Kelly Minter’s Bible Study entitled No Other Gods: Confronting Our Modern-Day Idols)

Whenever I’m leading a group through a Bible study, I make it a priority to work through the book on my own before they begin. Back in the spring I studied Kelly Minter’s No Other Gods in preparation for this fall. The day I was reading Week 2, Day 3, I was sitting at my desk attempting to position my arm so that I could write. A huge splint bent at a ninety-degree angle was making it awkward to put pen to paper. It was just four days after breaking my elbow and wrist and I was reading about how God uses pain to identify our idols. Using the life of Hannah from 1 Samuel, the lesson gently emphasized that God occasionally brings pain into our lives for a reason. The last question on that day of study asked me to consider how Hannah’s life was enriched by God’s closing of her womb. Trying to connect her painful experience to mine, I scrawled a list of the things God was teaching me through having a broken arm (my comparison is not intended to diminish the deep pain of infertility). That list helped me to clarify the ways he was working and inspired me to write a few blog posts about what I was learning. (You can find those five posts from May and June of 2016 in the archives to the right.)

Now, seven months later, I was reviewing the lesson again to stay in sync with the women in my group. Turning the page in my book, I discovered a yellow Post-it note with the bullet-pointed list in my messy handwriting from back in the spring. It was the one I’d written a few days after breaking my arm. Ironically, I found it on the same day my doctor’s office had delivered a new device that will hopefully aid in healing my arm once and for all (at the moment, it still doesn’t extend fully).

Reading the list convicted me that some of the lessons I thought I’d learned needed to be repeated. I should probably explain this a bit more. My new therapy requires me to put my arm in a heavy elbow splint and to sit for thirty minutes three times a day. The device must remain on a hard surface and I have to be in a seated position. Since it’s my right arm, I can’t write, type or do anything particularly productive. Suffice it to say, I’ve been lamenting having ninety minutes of “wasted” time daily for the foreseeable future. My husband, on the other hand, thinks it’s awesome.  Apparently, my constant drive to be productive makes it difficult for my family to relax around me.

The more I thought about this, the more I felt convicted that although productivity is a good thing, it has become something of an idol in my life. The drive to complete tasks and tend to responsibilities can be relentless. And wrapped up in that is an underlying assumption that being constantly productive makes me a worthwhile person. There is a sense of power, identity and control that comes from knowing I’m accomplishing things constantly.

Reading Hannah’s prayer after the birth of her miraculous first child, I was struck by the contrasts in her description of God’s activities:

“The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up.

The Lord sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts…

For the foundations of the earth are the Lord’s; on them he has set the world.

He will guard the feet of his faithful servants, but the wicked will be silenced in the place of darkness.

It is not by strength that one prevails; those who oppose the Lord will be broken.” (1 Samuel 2:6-7, 8b,9, NIV)

This is not the description of a haphazard or capricious God, but of a God who knows exactly what to give people in different seasons of their lives. He knows who needs more and who needs less; who needs to be humbled and who needs to be exalted. And he creates circumstances accordingly.

The last line of this passage is the one that strikes me hardest: “It is not by strength that one prevails; those who oppose the Lord will be broken.” The power, identity and control that I get from being productive can make me feel strong. But this verse reminds me if my productivity is opposing God’s plans for me, I will be broken. For me, there are times when this has been literal. When I’m working so hard to do things “for” God without drawing on his strength and wisdom, I’m actually producing nothing of lasting value. Only when I draw near to him first and let his strength fill me and his wisdom guide me will I make any impact for his kingdom. And when he needs to remind me of this, he allows painful circumstances in my life, like a broken arm that refuses to heal fully without ninety minutes of doing nothing “productive” every day.

God is much more interested in a heart that is fully surrendered to him than a mind intent on being productive—even when the goal has spiritual implications (like writing a blog, preparing a Bible study or leading a ministry). Author Donna Partow says it this way: “God is not interested in the most efficient or effective way of accomplishing his work in this world…What he is profoundly interested in is you. And me…He is profoundly interested in molding and shaping us—conforming us to the image of his Son. He is profoundly interested in preparing us for the coming Kingdom, when we will reign as joint heirs with his Son.”

Josh Wilson’s song “Fall Apart” celebrates the way pain draws us near to the heart of God. Click on the link and be encouraged as you listen:

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The Sword of the Spirit- The Armor of God Week 7

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To say I was going through a rough patch would be an understatement. One of my boys was a toddler and the other was in pre-school and although life at home was good, some hard situations outside our household were weighing heavily upon me. Looking back, I see that there was an element of spiritual attack I hadn’t even considered.

I remember one morning in that season I awoke feeling especially burdened with dark thoughts and anguished emotions. Sitting at the breakfast table flanked by one son in a high chair and the other chattering beside me, something triggered a flood of tears. The lump in my throat couldn’t hold back the sobs as I pushed my chair back and abruptly left the kitchen. Throwing myself face down on my bed, I wasn’t even sure why I was crying, but the tears wouldn’t cease.

A tap on my shoulder a few minutes later gently reminded me I had little people to tend to and forced me to gather my emotions. Wiping tears away, I tried to regain my composure as I looked up to find my older son standing in front of me. He held out his Beginners Bible and with wisdom that defied his tender age simply said, “Here Mom, read this. It’ll make you feel better.” I’m still not sure how he knew to bring me a Bible, but I’d been following his advice since long before he was born.

I’ll never forget the first time the words of Scripture jumped off the page, making me feel like a passage had been written just for me. I was a freshman in college, struggling to find true friends and to live by God’s standards. It was not the easiest time in life to decide to follow after Jesus whole-heartedly. The many worldly temptations of college had wooed away the one friend from home I’d depended on for spiritual support. Trying to shine a light for Jesus in the dark was not easy. I felt utterly alone, but undaunted in my desire to pursue Christ without compromise. And then one morning I stumbled across this passage:

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:6-7, NIV)

Armed with this verse in the face of deep discouragement, I sensed God telling me not to lose my perspective. The trials I was facing were temporary, but if I persevered through them, my faith would prove genuine, which was eternal. Eventually, God also brought me friends who were godly, encouraging, and just plain fun.

Since that time, many more verses have felt especially relevant and personal in different seasons of my life. So much so, that I could make a time line of events in my life with corresponding Scriptures that spoke directly to me with words of wisdom, comfort, and direction. God’s Word has provided truth and light when I’ve been deceived by lies or have lost my way. It’s given me encouragement in times of trouble and hope when I’m tempted to despair.  I guess that makes sense considering Paul lists it as the final piece in the armor of God when he says, “take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”  (Ephesians 10:17, NIV)

The Bible has been my greatest weapon to fend off attacks of the evil one throughout my adult life. And because it is the spoken Word of God, it is always fresh, relevant and personal. “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart”  (Hebrews 4:12, NIV).  Scripture is so much more than just words on a page.  When we engage it and apply it to our lives, it changes us.  It changes our attitudes, our desires, our relationships and the things we value.   It is a guide for every aspect of daily living.  It is our solid foundation and the plumb line that keeps us aligned with God’s will.

I’ve begun to notice a clear difference between the lives of people who are actively engaging God’s Word and people who simply embrace the Christian lifestyle and its values.  People who study the Bible consistently and apply what they’ve learned have a passion and a sense of purpose in what they do.  They serve others out of gratitude to God, not as an obligation.  They grapple with hard truths and have teachable spirits.  They are hungry to know more about God and how He’s calling them to live.  They don’t follow rules and checklists–they abide with Jesus and let the Holy Spirit guide them.  Their lives are not safe and predictable.  They trust God when things get messy and complicated.  They have too much integrity to worry about whether or not they are “showing well” or impressing the “right” people. They are profoundly aware that they are sinners only saved by Gods’ grace.  Their resulting gratitude causes them to give their lives for God’s Kingdom purposes.

Putting on the armor of God daily means putting into practice what we say we believe. And when we do that, the enemy doesn’t stand a chance.

I can think of no better song to include than Third Day’s “Your Words.” Click on the link to enjoy a musical reminder of the value of God’s Word:

Priscilla Shirer, The Armor of God, Lifeway Press, 2015.


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Righteousness and The Jesus Surfer- The Armor of God Week 3

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Riding my bike through a busy parking lot next to the beach, an old Volkswagen van caught my eye. It was covered in stickers from bumper to bumper, roof to tires. Easing to a stop, I pulled my phone out in hopes of snapping a photo when I noticed the van’s owner rummaging in the front seat. His long blonde hair and deep tan told me he was a fixture at the beach and had probably surfed his fair share of waves. Not wanting to seem rude, I approached him to ask permission before taking the picture. He was happy to oblige and eager to show me his favorite sticker on the van that read: “Why Worry? God’s in Control.”

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What followed was a 20-minute conversation about our mutual faith in Jesus. It was an unexpected “God Moment” in the middle of a Newport Beach parking lot.

The van owner enthusiastically told my husband and me the story of God’s redemptive hand in his life. As a young man, he’d embraced a carefree lifestyle with no plan, purpose or direction. He’d spent his days surfing and his nights partying and carousing with different women. What had started out as fun soon enslaved him, leading to 35 years of drug and alcohol addiction. He described a life of hopelessness, living in the shadows and alleys, unable to hold a job or make meaningful relationships. But it all changed when he found God.

Now, 17 years sober, he lives and works in a rehab center, sharing the good news of Jesus and helping others make the journey from the darkness of addiction to the light of freedom. He exudes God’s love and proudly refers to himself by the nickname he’s been given around town “The Jesus Surfer.” Although he still lives in the same community, his purpose and identity have changed as a result of his encounter with the living God.

I thought about the Jesus Surfer and his dramatic transformation as I read Priscilla Shirer’s definition of righteousness this week: “Righteousness is upright living that aligns with the expectations of God.” She explains that those who follow Jesus should affirm God’s standard and then align their behavior with it. Choosing righteousness means rejecting deeds done in darkness and embracing the light of God’s truth. Although Paul doesn’t mention the breastplate of righteousness until chapter 6 of Ephesians, he gives a clear description of what a righteous life should reject and embrace in an earlier chapter:

 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving…. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them…

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:3-4, 8-11, 15-20, NIV)

 Paul admonishes us to “make the most of every opportunity” and to “understand what the Lord’s will is” and “what pleases God.” Once the Jesus Surfer moved from darkness to light, he made it his goal to share Christ–whether he was sitting on his surfboard waiting for the next wave or leading a group at the rehab center. He even made the most of meeting perfect strangers (my husband and me) to share his love for God and his story of transformation. He pores over God’s Word and applies the truth he’s learning at church. He was eager to tell us about the latest sermon he’d heard and how it was impacting him. His enthusiasm couldn’t be contained, making his delivery disarming and winsome.

Although some of our stories may not be as dramatic as the Jesus Surfer’s, anyone who has accepted Christ has moved from darkness to light. With that transformation comes the mandate to pursue righteousness and reject sinfulness. Our location doesn’t have to change, but our perspective does. As you look at Paul’s lists, is there anything you need to leave behind? Anything you want to pursue more fully? Will you pray and ask for opportunities to bring light into the lives of people you know? Invite the Holy Spirit to help you live righteously and to pursue a deeper understanding of God’s will.

If you’d like to see and hear The Jesus Surfer for yourself, click on the link to view a brief news story that was done on him a few years ago. Let his life transformation inspire you toward living the righteous life God calls us to in His Word.

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Two Keys to Spiritual Growth

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Although the days are warm, there is a chill in the air each evening that hints at the approach of fall. I’m back in the routine of packing lunches daily and doing endless loads of stinky laundry. Wrangling schedules to accommodate sports practices and games for both my boys seems like an ongoing topic of conversation. But this year these tasks are bittersweet because next fall, one of our boys will be heading off to college.

I see my sons every day, but I still marvel at how they’ve grown and matured. They tower over me and are able to carry on witty, insightful conversations with ease (when they’re in the mood to talk). Their physical and intellectual growth has been happening incrementally all along, but suddenly it’s more noticeable. My husband and I certainly aren’t perfect parents, but consistently nurturing our boys throughout their childhood has produced some pretty amazing results.

I started thinking about this in spiritual terms, trying to pinpoint what the keys are to consistent growth in this unseen realm. Here’s what I came up with:

Regular Time Studying the Bible

It seems obvious, but consistently reading the Bible is a vital key to spiritual growth. Imagine if the doctors and nurses handed me my first born at the hospital and said: “Don’t forget to feed him every day.” It goes without saying, doesn’t it? Yet, there are many people who proclaim faith in Jesus that are spiritually starving themselves because they haven’t made time for this vital discipline.

Jesus explained our need for spiritual nutrients provided in God’s Word by quoting the Old Testament: “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4 NIV)

Few of us look at eating as an obligation. It’s crucial to consume food regularly for strength and energy. Yet for many of us, we see time in God’s Word as a chore, something we “should” do to be “good” Christians. Others of us view it as a treat to savor—the reward we get once all of the “important” things have been completed.   Yet studying the Bible is most effective when we do it daily. It renews our minds and helps us see things through God’s perspective instead of our own. It reminds us to root our identity in Christ and teaches us to live in a way that honors God and draws others to him.  It guides our decisions and gives us wisdom beyond anything we conjure up on our own.

If you are participating in a group Bible study this year, think of the homework as a tool to access God’s Word rather than a task to complete. Don’t view it as drudgery like you did when you were a kid in school. Try approaching it as an opportunity to be guided through the Bible in a way that will deepen your understanding and expand your faith. Incorporate your studies into your daily time with God and watch how your consistency leads to spiritual growth.

Regular Time in Prayer

Similar to studying the Bible, praying enables us to share our hearts with God. There are several elements that prayer includes: praising God for his attributes, confessing sins, thanking God for specific ways he has worked in our lives and asking him to help others and ourselves. Communicating with God about these things enables us to deepen our relationship with him. As we spend time in his presence, we show him he matters to us and we invite him to move on our behalf.

It’s just like the time my husband and I have spent with our kids over the years. Our relationships have grown and deepened because we’ve been around each other. We’ve been available to guide and encourage them through challenging circumstances because they know we are reliable. We’ve been there to cheer for them when things go well. They trust us and respect our advice (even though they don’t always like it or want to follow it).   We couldn’t have quality relationships with our boys without spending consistent time with them over the course of their lives. The same is true of our relationship with God.

Here is a simple prayer written by King David that you can use daily: “Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.” (Psalm 143:8, NIV)

Accept the Invitation

As we head into fall, will you embrace these keys to spiritual growth? Will you prioritize reading the Bible and praying daily as vital for your spiritual health instead of seeing them as obligations, luxuries or haphazard activities? If your answer is “yes,” remember the key is consistency. Like watching children mature, it will happen slowly. Some days will be harder than others. And sometimes your good intentions will be derailed. But if you strive for consistency, you will see the fruit of your efforts in time. And when you look back, you’ll be amazed at the growth that has occurred in you.

Click on the link and be inspired by Lauren Daigle’s song “First,” Make it your prayer this week.

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Birthing My First Book

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There are certain things in life that we anticipate, imagining we know what they’ll be like before launching into them: marriage, parenting, traveling abroad and remodeling a house, to name a few. If you’ve ever done any of these things, you know our naïve and enthusiastic visions rarely match up with reality.

One thing that fell into that category for me was writing a book. I’d wanted to do it for many years and always hoped it would happen when the time was right. I didn’t know what I would write about, but I believed God would give me the experience and inspiration in his timing. It lurked in the back of my mind, but was not a goal I pursued actively.

And then, in the spring of 2015, the opportunity was dropped in front of me unexpectedly. The Coordinator of my church’s women’s Bible study asked if I would consider writing a study for the group. I had been writing weekly blogs in conjunction with our lessons for the previous three years, so she was confident I could do it. I appreciated her belief in me but knew it was a daunting task. In spite of this, I realized it was a tremendous opportunity for an aspiring writer. After praying and talking it over with my husband, we agreed this was the prompting from God I’d been waiting for.

I was given a few parameters and the topic of “Women of the Bible.” Needing to narrow down the field, I decided to choose the women in Jesus’ family line, not really remembering exactly who all of them were. I wanted the study to point to Jesus and thought these women were sure to do that. However, once I started researching them, I was a little intimidated. If you’ve ever read about Tamar in Genesis 38 or Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11 & 12, you know they are not easy chapters to navigate. Despite some unsavory stories and complicated characters, I pressed on, sure that God would reveal truth through them.   Each time I sat down to research and write I was energized and inspired, making the hours in front of my computer seem like minutes.

Five months later, I felt like I’d made nine new friends from studying the intimate details of their lives.  I’d spent the summer with Eve, Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and Mary, taking them with me on trips or spending quiet hours at home while my kids were gone. Even the most difficult characters with the messiest stories revealed God’s amazing redemptive plans (in fact, some of them became my favorites).  By early fall Women of the Word: The Family Tree of Jesus was finally finished and ready to be printed at the church so that 180 women could study it together.

Once the book launched, I spent another several months actually doing the study and leading two different groups of women through weekly discussions on the lessons. Watching them grasp the concepts I’d been pondering for months was an amazing thrill. In some cases, their questions and comments helped me to see the characters even more deeply or to recognize the places I needed to add more information or write clearer questions.  (And sometimes it was embarrassing to find editing errors I’d missed despite the hours I’d spent proofreading it.)

I was humbled as women in the groups asked for additional copies of the book to share with friends and family. This led to the third leg of my ever-lengthening journey with Women of the Word as I began the process of preparing the materials for publication through an online service. Suddenly I went from being a researcher and writer to being an editor, graphic designer and layout artist. Until then, I never cared about the process of choosing just the right font or asking publishers for copyright permissions.  The number of details requiring my attention was astounding.

I set many deadlines for myself and watched each one pass with items on my to do list still unfinished. There were times when I thought it would never be done, but by the end of summer, the last few glitches finally worked out. I received a final sample copy in the mail for approval and looked at it with fear and wonder, hardly fathoming that the journey was coming to an end.

By the time it was finished and ready for purchase, it had taken sixteen months—longer than it takes for a baby to gestate. I had no idea how involved the process would be when I started (which was probably a good thing).   And just like marriage, becoming a parent, living through a remodel or traveling abroad, there were many unexpected situations along the way—some positive, some not. Yet all of them provided significant opportunities for growth and learning. And in the end, I must admit, I would do it again…. When the time is right.

The newest version of Women of the Word: The Family Tree of Jesus is the result of many hours of research, writing and prayer. It was also born as a result of countless conversations and numerous people lending their support in different ways (you can read their names in the acknowledgements at the back of the book, if you’re so inclined).   If you haven’t had a chance to do the study, I hope you’ll consider taking a look. If you have done it, would you consider recommending it to someone else?

The process of writing it and studying it with others blessed me significantly and expanded my faith exponentially. My prayer is that God will use it to draw others closer to him as they gain a deeper understanding of his Word and his plan of redemption for all people.

Click on the link to read the official description and to learn more about Women of the Word: The Family Tree of Jesus.  I would consider it an honor to have you study it.

https://www.amazon.com/Women-Word-Family-Tree-Jesus/dp/1534854665/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1472008841&sr=1-1&keywords=women+of+the+word+the+family+tree+of+jesus


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When “Good Enough” Isn’t

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Dipping my paddle in the water, I balanced on the board and pulled hard, ignoring my body’s protests. It had been twelve weeks since I’d fractured my elbow and wrist in a bike accident. I’d been looking forward to vacation and assumed I would be “back to normal” so I could enjoy biking, paddle boarding and swimming. The doctor had assured me the bone would be fully healed by then but my physical therapist was still concerned by my ongoing pain and stiffness. The tendons and muscles that had constricted to protect the fractures were still tight, preventing full range of motion.  My therapist pushed me hard in our sessions leading up to the trip, not wanting me to settle for “good enough.” She’d had other patients who didn’t want to do the hard work to be 100% recovered.   Beyond the concern about my quality of life and ability to use my arm fully, she worried about future problems that would arise, particularly the early onset of arthritis in my elbow joint.

Just before I left on vacation, she gave me a list of exercises to do daily and encouraged me to press on toward healing. A few days later, taking my first spin on a paddle board in the harbor, I remembered her words. With each dip of the paddle, the pain and stiffness that were so strong at first began to subside. By the end of the day, my arm felt loose and almost normal after all of the activities I’d done. But with the dawn of the next day, I was right back where I started. Some days it was tempting to give myself a break and not do the exercises she’d assigned, but I knew this would only prolong my recovery.

I had to trust that my efforts were incrementally improving my range of motion and flexibility, despite the discouragement of the painful stiffness returning each day. It started me thinking about a passage of Scripture written by Paul:

“Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.” (1Timothy 4:7b-10, NIV)

Physical training produces a healthy body, but it is not a one-time event. Whether it’s doing physical therapy to regain full strength or just exercising consistently, we must move our bodies to maintain health. Similarly, we need to engage daily in training ourselves for godliness. The difference is, this kind of regimen has eternal significance.

As believers, we know this–yet why is it so difficult for us to put into practice? Maybe it seems easier to just coast through life without spiritual discipline. Laboring and striving sound like hard work, so we settle for “good enough” instead of pressing on in our pursuit of Christ. We want to amble along comfortably instead of living with a sense of urgency. Yet there is so much we miss when we surrender to this lackadaisical attitude. We limit the exciting things God wants to do in and through us and we fail to experience the abundant life he promises.

The pain in my elbow reminds me throughout the day that I need to keep working and pressing on with my therapy. I’m praying that circumstances in my life will prompt the same sense of purpose in my walk with God. Will you join me? When facing a difficult situation, let’s pursue God and see what he wants us to learn instead of defaulting to self-pity. When we encounter the same issues over and over again, let’s confront them head on and lay them at the feet of Jesus instead of growing weary and giving up. Let’s not ignore  baggage that will only weigh us down or hold us back. Let’s trust him to use ongoing challenges to refine our faith and make us more like him. With each day, let’s make it a priority to spend time aligning with God through praying and reading his Word before jumping into the day.

One of the best ways to labor and strive in your faith is to commit to studying the Bible regularly.  During the summer months, it’s easy to let this discipline slide. As you prepare for the busyness of fall, why not prioritize time for a weekly study? If your schedule feels overloaded, this is not the activity to jettison in an attempt to simplify your life. Don’t settle for “good enough”  by keeping your walk with Jesus on the back burner. Press on and see what new things God has in store for you. Discover deeper truth in the Bible as you delve into it with others. Then strive to apply it to your life. Yes, some days it will feel like hard work and other days you will not follow through. But setting a goal to be consistent will give you a clear focus and over time you’ll begin seeing results.

I imagine I could function for the rest of my life with a right arm that doesn’t extend fully, but I don’t want to settle for that. I don’t want my daily life to be less than it could be and I certainly don’t want to set myself up for even bigger problems in the future. In a similar way, I don’t want to be stunted spiritually. I don’t want to settle for a lukewarm faith. I want to keep moving forward and discovering new things about God, his Word and how he wants to work in and through me to impact the world and further his kingdom. Will you labor and strive with me to do this? Will you commit to doing the hard work for your sake and the sake of those around you? I guarantee, it’s worth the effort.

Click on the link and make Third Day’s song “Soul on Fire” your prayer today.

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Praying God’s Will for Your Circumstances- What Love Is Week 5

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Waking up in the dim morning light, I listened to the rain pelting our tent. It was the last day of our church’s mission trip to Mexico and the first day I’d overslept. My muscles were sore from three days of manual labor and my head foggy from not sleeping well. The sunny weather that started the week had given way to grey cloud cover that eventually turned to a steady rain. I groaned inwardly but tried to be positive as I prepared to wake the six teenage girls in my tent.

Before climbing out of my sleeping bag I prayed silently, asking God to give me strength. Later, I realized my prayer fit perfectly with what I’d been learning in First John. “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.” (1 John 5:14-15, NIV)

I could have focused on our circumstances and prayed for the rain to stop. Instead, I focused on our hearts, praying for things God promises in his Word. I knew he would give us strength, because I’d been assured of it in Paul’s writings: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13, NIV)

I also knew that to make it through the day our group of 275 students and adult leaders had to remain positive and encouraging. We needed to work in unity and to look beyond the wet day of physical labor that awaited us. It was vital to keep the right perspective as we slopped through the mud to finish building fourteen houses for impoverished families. We couldn’t control our circumstances, but we could control our attitudes about them.

It was our sixth day away from home and our fourth day of work. Tempers could easily have flared as people were worn down from working hard and being away from the comforts of home. And yet, instead of grumbling about the less-than-ideal conditions, the group rallied to make the best of it and to support one another. This, too, was God’s will and exemplified Paul’s writings in Colossians:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:12-14, NIV)

I thanked God as I worked with my team carrying buckets of cement, sand and water to hand-mix stucco for the exterior walls. They smiled and sang, encouraging each other and making jokes to keep the mood light, despite the continued rainfall and the challenging conditions. Again, I realized God’s will was clearly evident in their behavior as I thought of another verse: Do everything without grumbling or arguing.” (Philippians 2:14, NIV)

As the afternoon wore on, most groups in the neighborhood were putting the final touches on their houses. However, one group was scrambling to finish due to a week full of unexpected setbacks. Since my team was finished, I walked over and joined with people from other build teams to lend them a hand. Tension hung in the air as we worked to finish the house. Ankle-deep mud and cramped workspaces made it difficult to move without falling. Dogs and playing children ran through the site, creating an even more chaotic environment. I knew the team leaders were feeling anxious about finishing the house by the end of the day so I prayed God would bring a spirit of peace to them and to the site. Later I realized I’d known to pray for peace because I’d read it many times before: Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7, NIV)

By the time the buses arrived, every house was finished. More importantly, the build teams had maintained positive attitudes and willing spirits throughout the day. We’d kept our eyes on showing God’s love to the homeowners and to one another.

Climbing onto buses at the end of the day we were wet, sore, and tired, but filled with joy. We had given our circumstances to God and had prayed for his will to be done. The end result was that fourteen families had solid homes to shelter them and 275 students and adult volunteers experienced the power of being used by God to accomplish his will.

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That rainy day in Mexico will stand out as the most memorable one of the week for me. I saw the power of praying God’s will and recognized that prayer isn’t about removing obstacles or increasing our comfort, but about aligning with God’s plans

Do you want a confident prayer life? Make it a priority to know God’s will by studying his Word. Then stand back and be amazed as he answers.

Click on the link to enjoy Hillsong United’s song “Hosanna.” Make the lyrics your prayer today.

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