Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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Bad Year, Good God

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I’ve heard people joke that 2016 is a year they’d like to forget. Daily headlines remind us our nation and our world have seen more than their fair share of ugly circumstances: tragic accidents, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, disturbing racism and political upheaval. Our nation is deeply divided, confused and disillusioned. Our world is in turmoil. People are losing sleep and shedding tears as they agonize over the variety of complex issues that have plagued us this year.

And yet, in the midst of all of these ugly and awful things, I am thankful. Not because of them, but in spite of them. As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving this week, I am thankful that my hope isn’t in human leaders, or manmade institutions. My hope isn’t in people, prosperity or earthly peace. I’m thankful because my hope is in the living God, who is sovereign over all things. I’m thankful because my ultimate citizenship is not in this world, but with God in heaven.

One of my favorite passages of Scripture seems especially fitting this week as I reflect on my thankfulness for God and his sovereignty. Below I’ve included excerpts from Isaiah 40 that cause me to feel thankful, hopeful and reassured, no matter what is going on in our nation and world:

Isaiah 40:21-25

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff. ‘To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?’ says the Holy One.”

Thankfulness Point #1: People who seem important or influential in this world may make a positive or negative impact for a time, but they will ultimately blow away like chaff in the wind. No earthly leader, no matter how wise or respected could ever compare to God. Likewise, no earthly leader, no matter how corrupt or questionable, could ever thwart God’s plans.

 Isaiah 40:26

“Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.”

Thankfulness Point #2: God knows the stars by name and calls them out one by one. He also knows the number of hairs on my head and the head of every other person who has ever lived. (Luke 12:7) Nothing escapes his gaze. I am deeply thankful that the God of great power and mighty strength knows and cares about me personally.

 Isaiah 40:27-28

“Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God’? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.”

Thankfulness Point #3: Even when we don’t understand what God is allowing in this world, we know he is trustworthy. His understanding is beyond anything our miniscule minds could comprehend. We can be thankful even when God’s ways and purposes are hidden from us. He is everlasting and sees world events from a vantage point that has a much larger scope than anything we can see.

 Isaiah 40:29-31

“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

Thankfulness Point #4: God renews our strength. No matter how weary and beaten down we become, we can always find refuge in him. His strength is available and accessible to us whenever we seek it. Not only does he renew and restore us, he enables us to soar like eagles so we can rise above even the most distressing situations.

Final Thought

No matter how ugly or distressing the events in the world are, we never have reason to despair. We can put trust and hope in the living God. He is our rock and refuge. Anything else we’re thankful for builds on that one truth. God is God and we are not. And that’s something we can celebrate at Thanksgiving and all year long.

For further reassurance on God’s sovereignty, click on the link and enjoy Natalie Grant’s song “King of the World.” Make it your prayer this Thanksgiving season.

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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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The Myth of Self-Sufficiency

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Setting the plate in front of me, the waitress smiled and offered a cheerful “Enjoy your meal!” before walking away. My salad looked delicious, but I frowned. The chicken breast displayed on top would be difficult to eat without using two hands to cut it into smaller pieces. I’d hoped what I ordered would be easy to eat one-handed since my right arm was tucked in a sling. Staring at the food and shifting with discomfort, I weighed my options. The women around me at the table were engrossed in conversation, unaware of my predicament. Finally I turned to a friend next to me and apologized for interrupting. “Um, do you mind cutting up my chicken?” Realizing my problem, she happily obliged while I tried to act casual.  There was no reason to feel embarrassed, but I still felt like a child.

I’ve had an independent streak since I was little. It might have been my position as the youngest of five. It might have been the four-year gap between the next sibling and me. My independence led me to a college far from home. And it led me to a job as a teacher where I was isolated in a classroom instead of regularly working alongside colleagues. “Capable” and “efficient” were good descriptions for me. I didn’t know much about being a team player or learning to work well with others. The idea of delegating responsibilities made me cringe with fear and mistrust—whether it was at work, at home or serving at church. I had friends and meaningful relationships, but tackled much of life as a Lone Ranger.

Getting married, raising children and gaining life experience have changed me incrementally over time.  I’ve begun to recognize that many things I thought I could handle on my own were actually better and more enjoyable when I shared them with others. Whether it was planning class reunions, leading Vacation Bible School or facilitating Bible studies, I’ve learned the value and joy of working with others.

One thing I’ve struggled with, however, is asking for help or receiving it when it’s offered. This changed drastically when a bike accident left me with a broken right wrist and elbow recently. “Capable” and “efficient” are no longer words used to describe me. Instead, they characterize the many people who have stepped in to help me during this challenging season. I’ve been blessed and humbled by the numerous ways friends and family members have come alongside me.

Self-sufficiency has its place, but when it is over emphasized, it leads to isolationism and a lack of community.   It’s also a breeding ground for pride. Although it’s been humbling, the outpouring of support I’ve received since my accident has provided clear evidence of God’s love. It’s also reinforced the blessing of Christian fellowship. I’ve learned to accept help when it’s offered and to ask for it even when it isn’t (which is not easy to do). I’m depending on my family more. And I’m learning to let them do things their way instead of mine (which is also not easy to do). My lack of self-sufficiency has blessed my marriage in ways a book or couples’ seminar never could.

This experience is enabling me to understand an old familiar passage in a new light. King Solomon, perhaps the wisest man that ever lived, wrote these words:

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:

If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.

But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.

Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.

But how can one keep warm alone?

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, NIV)

Solomon was rich and powerful, yet he understood the value of relationship and community. He knew life was better when shared with others.

Self-sufficiency only works when things are going smoothly. Although we like to think that “normal” life equates with the absence of trouble, we are only fooling ourselves. Jesus assures us in John’s gospel: “In this world you will have trouble.” Fortunately he follows this with this assurance, But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33b, NIV)

Here is the truth: only God is sufficient. Thankfully, he never intended for us to be on life’s journey solo. He’s given us the blessings of fellowship and community as tangible ways to meet our needs.  They also remind us that we are never alone.

If you can relate to my struggles with pride and self-sufficiency, I invite you to pray and ask God to show you one area you can surrender to him by letting someone meet a need you have. Maybe you won’t have to break your arm to recognize that sufficiency in anything other than God is just a myth.

The song ‘”Brother” by the band NEEDTOBREATHE celebrates that life is better when we’re in it together. (Ladies, don’t get too hung up on the title, just substitute “sister” if it makes you feel better). Click on the link to enjoy this inspiring song.

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Living Intentionally Engaged- What Love is Week 7

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Stepping into the sunshine, my husband and I set out on a walk in the cool of morning. It had been weeks since we’d had a free Saturday to spend an hour outside together. The brisk air spurred us on as we passed cozy homes in our neighborhood. Many displayed rustic Adirondack chairs with colorful pillows that begged for someone to sit down and enjoy them. Turning to my husband I asked, “How many of these chairs do you think people actually use?” Smiling, he gently turned the question on me, “When was the last time we sat on our porch together?” Sadly, I couldn’t remember.

I thought back to times we’d enjoyed in the past, lounging on the benches with a cup of tea in the morning sun or sharing a meal with our boys on a warm evening.   We hadn’t done that in a long time and there was only one reason: we’d let busyness rob us of this simple pleasure.

As I thought more about it, I realized that my “to do” list over the last few weeks had caused me to be distracted and disengaged from my husband and kids. Even when I was physically present with them, my mind was somewhere else.   Realizing this turned my thoughts to a concept I’ve been learning about in First, Second and Third John:

“The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.” (1 John 3:24,NIV)

The word “lives,” used twice in this verse, translates from the Greek word, “meno.” It means: “to stay (in a given place, state, relation or expectancy) to abide, continue, dwell, endure, be present, remain, stand or tarry.” (James Strong, Dictionary of the Greek New Testament)

The part of the definition that catches my attention is the phrase “be present.” Over the course of studying these books, I’ve been learning the importance of being present in my walk with God– of living intentionally engaged with him by his Spirit so that I can let his love fill me. When I do this consistently, his love ultimately overflows from me and affects those around me. John explains this reciprocal process: As we are present with God and remain in his love, his love continues to dwell in us.

“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives [meno] in love lives [meno] in God, and God in them.” (1 John 4:16, NIV)

In this passage John echoes a concept he learned from Jesus, who told the disciples:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain [meno] in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5, NIV)

I’m realizing anew that remaining in Christ requires that I fix my mind on him intentionally and continuously. We aren’t accessing his power when we live on autopilot, doing things out of habit without truly engaging him. Being present and intentional requires relying on the Holy Spirit to guide us throughout every day. There is no other way we can live in obedience to Christ and walk as he did. Apart from him, we can do nothing of lasting value.

This brings me to a related passage of Scripture written by the apostle Paul:

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, NIV)

If God is love (and 1 John 4:16 tells us he is), then this passage emphasizes that even the good or spiritual things we do are worthless unless God is in them. Again, this reminds me that all that we do requires intentional engagement—even actions that seem positive on the surface aren’t worth a thing if God isn’t in them with us. We must be present [meno] with him so that he can work in and through us.

I’ll be thinking about the word “meno” for a long time. The benches on my front porch will be a daily reminder to be intentionally engaged in each moment with God. Only then can I be fully present with my family and others so that he can bless them through me.

I couldn’t resist including a song with an English translation of my new favorite word, “meno”, in the title. Click on the link to enjoy a worship moment with Kristian Stanfill’s rendition of “One Thing Remains.”

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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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Inspired by Holy Week

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As one of the most significant times of the year for Christians, Holy Week marks the final days of Jesus’ pre-resurrection life on earth. As we observe each unique event, Jesus’ actions provide some powerful examples for us to follow. Let’s examine three of them and see how we’re called to respond.

Maundy Thursday- The Call to Serve Others

The gospels tell us that Jesus gathered with his disciples in an upper room of a home in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover meal. You may remember that this special dinner commemorated God’s faithfulness to the Jews as they fled from Egypt under Moses’ leadership (see Exodus 12 if you need reminder). Ironically, the disciples had no idea Jesus was about to serve as their ultimate Passover lamb the next day when he would be crucified.

Scripture tells us that as the disciples enjoyed the meal, Jesus got up, removed his outer clothing, wrapped a towel around his waist and began washing his disciples’ feet one at a time. Despite the fact that he was their teacher and the most revered person at the table, he humbled himself, taking on the role of a servant.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. ‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’ he asked them. You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.’” (John 13:12-17, NIV)

Jesus’ directions to his disciples were simple, but not easy: they were called to live as humble servants, putting the needs of others ahead of their own. Those following him today are called to the same thing. We do this as an act of love and obedience to God, whether others appreciate it or not. Jesus promised that we would be blessed by living this way.

Good Friday- The Call to Sacrifice Your Agenda

A few hours after the Passover meal and before he was arrested, Jesus pleaded with God as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. He dreaded the fate that awaited him:

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will’…He went away a second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done’…So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.” (Matthew 26:39, 42, 44, NIV)

The “cup” Jesus referred to here was a symbol the deep sorrow and suffering he would experience as his Father’s faced turned away from him while he bore the penalty for the sins of the entire human race.  Despite knowing the physical, emotional and spiritual pain that awaited him, Jesus surrendered to God’s plan of redemption, put aside his own will and submitted to death on the cross to save the world from sin.*

Like Jesus, we’re called to sacrifice our agendas for a greater good. Then [Jesus] said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’” (Luke 9:23, NIV)

Each time we choose to put aside our will and submit to God’s, we are fulfilling the call to deny ourselves. Doing this requires that we are intentional about praying and asking God to give us strength and guidance for the daily choices we make, both small and large.

Easter Sunday- The Call to Share the Good News

 On the third day after his crucifixion, Jesus rose from the grave, conquering death forever more. He appeared to his amazed followers and told them to share the good news of his resurrection and his message of salvation with the rest of the world.

 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (John 20:19-22, NIV)

Just as God sent Jesus to the world to free it from sin, Jesus sent his disciples back into the world to share this tremendous news with others.

Our Response

 It’s not easy to follow Jesus’ example. Serving others, sacrificing our personal agendas and sharing the good news aren’t things we can do consistently on our own strength. If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed or inadequate, don’t forget the fact that Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit and promised us peace. Through the Spirit, we have everything we need to walk as Jesus did. Start today by praying and asking the Spirit to equip you with exactly what you need. Once you realize he is the key to fulfilling these calls, you’ll never try to do it without him again.

If you’re not sure how to pray, consider making Jeremy Camp’s song “Christ in Me” your prayer today. Click on the link to be inspired:

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Taking the Hindrance Out of Our Hurt

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The yellow ball bobbed in the water as my son swam behind it, pushing it forward with urgency as he sprinted the length of the pool. A player from the opposing water polo team was closing in on him fast. Suddenly, my boy’s body jerked to a stop and he appeared to be swimming in place. His opponent had reached out underwater and grabbed his ankle, pulling him backwards to keep him from getting any closer to the goal. I stared wide-eyed and turned to my husband, “Are they allowed to do that?”

He smirked before answering. “Well, not exactly, but sometimes it’s better to get a foul than to let someone shoot on the goal.”

Water polo, it turns out, is all about the teams creating hindrances for one another. I’ve often sat in the stands wincing as I watch one player put a hand on the shoulder of his opponent and hold his other hand high in the air, attempting to hinder him from scoring or passing to a team mate. I wouldn’t last five minutes, but my son seems to be energized by that kind of opposition. I’m amazed as I watch him pivot his body to swim around an opponent and drive toward the goal. For water polo players, moving past the hindrances seems to make a shot into the cage even more satisfying.

Could the same satisfaction come from getting around our own hindrances for God’s glory? If you’ve been doing Beth Moore’s study on 1 & 2 Thessalonians, you already know the answer is “yes.” She discusses several hindrances Paul identifies that can impede us from moving forward in our faith.

“14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind 16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last! 17 But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, 18 because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us.” (1 Thessalonians 2:14-18, italics added, ESV)

Beth explains: “According to 1 Thessalonians 2:14-20, both people and Satan had authentically been successful at hindering Paul. But that’s just it. He kept pressing forward and refused to let the hindrance itself become a hindrance. He kept his squinting eyes on the goal. He didn’t get furious with God over all that had been permitted in his path or demand to know why God would make His will so utterly impossible to fulfill. He just stayed at it. He believed. He persevered” (Children of the Day, p. 70.)

In water polo, coaches use two terms as they shout directions to the players. During defensive plays, they’ll yell “press” when they want defenders to put pressure on offenders. The opposing players jostle in pairs, each trying to gain the advantage.   During offensive plays, coaches yell “drive,” spurring players to move toward open water and to find a position near the goal to score. Good players don’t let up on either one of these things. They press until they avert a goal and they drive until they score one.

Perhaps we can borrow some of their strategies when faced with our own hindrances in the spiritual realm. Rather than letting hindrances and the hurt that often accompanies them shut us down, we can use them to grow in our spiritual maturity and ability to be used by God. “What if, instead of fixating on taking the hurt out of our hindrance, we prayed for God to take the hindrance out of our hurt?” (Children of the Day p. 70)

Beth lists several “equations” to illustrate her idea. A few that resonated with me were:

Heartbreak – hindrance = depth

Disappointment – hindrance = faith

My pain – hindrance = my passion

I even added a few of my own to the list:

Insecurity – hindrance = authenticity

Self-consciousness – hindrance = sensitivity to others

Any hindrance we’ve experienced provides an opportunity for God’s transformation in our lives. When we lay them at His feet, He uses them to bless others. Consider Paul’s words: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5, NIV)

When we give God our hindrances, He matures us even as He heals and comforts us. The ways we learn and grow enable us to become a blessing for others facing similar challenges. In the process we are reminded that we are beloved children of the Almighty God, Who is hindered by nothing.

Click on the link below to watch Jason Gray’s music video “Remind Me Who I Am.” It provides some great visuals to help you remember that our hindrances do not define us. After watching, add your own equation to the comments section below and share the hindrance you need to relinquish to God so He can use your hurt for His glory.

Your Hurt- Your Hindrance = Your Opportunity to Impact Others and Glorify God.

(Moore, Beth; Children of the Day; 2014; Lifeway Press; http://www.lifeway.com)