When Should We Pray?

“In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly” (Psalm 5:3, NIV).

When should we pray? That might sound like a simple question with a simple answer, but if you have ever struggled to figure it out, then read on.

Most people, whether faith people or not, would probably answer the question like this; “When someone is sick, or when I need to make a big decision.” Just as some kind of good luck charm. So, we better ask for prayer in case there is really some cosmic power that can alter the events we find ourselves (or others we care about) are in. And of course those of us who are faith people and hold onto tightly and unswerving to our faith in God, knowing He does exist, would answer the question; “always”.

But, what I am really trying to find the answer to, is when, personally, should we pray? Is there really a better time to come before God with our thanksgiving and requests? Is there a better time of day to pray? Or read God’s Word?

I pose the above question because I have been struggling with it myself. And not because I do not want to, or because I believe it is unimportant (it is not unimportant!). On the contrary, it is because I know it is important, that I am struggling in the first place.

Here’s the deal; my husband recently changed shifts at his work. It has had a rippling effect on my schedule, and in particular, my devo time. (Devotional time- i.e. reading my Bible, praying, and reading a short devotional book).

I used to have a few uninterrupted minutes to read, reflect and pray as my day begun- always after my coffee though; I need my coffee before I come before the throne of God. It was a good time of day for me to focus and present all of my cares and concerns before God and lay them at His feet. The devotional book brought my worries and anxiety down as I listened to the gifted writing of a fellow minister of the Gospel.

I traded this time of quiet and pause for something as equally great; a chance to sit down at breakfast with my husband and talk before the toll of a long day at work stole the best of conversations. We found ourselves talking, eating and planning the day’s errands and chores. Before I knew it, the time had flown by and with it my devo time.

So, after all my work was done and I was completely tired from a long day, I tried to read and pray at night before I fell asleep. Let me tell you that midnight is not the best time to pray for me. But, I am sure Jesus knew what I meant as I fell asleep- note to self, avoid praying while laying down!

I also felt a bit of guilt for not praying for others earlier in the day. I wondered if my lack of interceding for them had an effect. But, I quickly corrected myself when I realized it wasn’t all up to me, but in God’s hands anyway. But, still, I felt kinda bad for falling asleep while reading the Bible and praying.

So, I am trying to be more intentional in the mornings, now that I realize how much I missed praying and reading in the morning. As much as I want to spend time with my husband and enjoy this season of second shift, I need to make time for myself; for my own spiritual growth.

Maybe you can relate to this, especially if you have children at home. There is hardly moments of peace and quiet. But, I have been there too, and I remember the struggle is real. Hang in there! Remember it is a season and it will be over before you know it. When our children started school I really found a new sense of freedom as I could pray out loud in the empty house.

And that also reminds me of a recent conversation with my brother in law and he shared about his own prayer time; while driving his truck. I had to agree with him, as I too find drive time to be one of the best times to be alone with God and pray. It might seem that it would be a distraction with all the traffic, but I have found I feel free to raise my voice and share all my concerns with God, in my private car space. Are you with me?

Whatever the time that works best for you, just keep at it, not because its an item on a to do list, but because we need to present our requests before God, and also our thanksgiving. God cares and wants this communication with us. The time of day does not matter to Him. He is always there, waiting on us.

The length of time we read and pray does not matter either. It is not a competition with fellow believers. One minute or sixty minutes does not matter. Allowing God’s Word to settle into our hearts and minds, and giving our cares to God are what matters. We might only have a short time, or maybe it is all day long in little bites, but find the time to listen and to speak to God.

If you don’t know where to start, try Psalm 5. Break it into small paragraphs and let it settle. Think of one praise, or one thing you are thankful to God for. And one worry you can cast on Him. Find a quiet place- maybe your car, or maybe even lock yourself in the bathroom- heard that idea from a mom of toddlers! Make the time that works best for you. Anytime is best for God. He’s waiting.- God Bless you – Nancy

Keep Moving Forward

So, do you think God still speaks to us today? Or do you believe He just created the world, set the auto pilot, stepped back and let it run? Maybe, if you are like me at times, you begin to believe the latter. God seems to be silent. You pray and seek His answers to your requests. Maybe you ask for His direction. Or maybe for something you want desperately to happen- like a job, a healing, a home, a baby. Or maybe its for someone else. Maybe you just want to know if He is there and listening. But, it seems as if Heaven has shut you out.

If you are persistent, you keep on asking. I mean, that’s in the Bible, right? Knock and keep on knocking, ask and keep on asking. In your mind you might think; “I will pester God enough that He will answer with what I want.” Instantly. Or at least in your idea of the right time. We start to recreate God into what we think He should be; our own cosmic Santa Claus, or magic genie in a bottle. Our personal wish giver, or personal shopper.

It seems to me that part of our problem is not whether God is listening and communicating with us, but our own impatience. We just want to rush and get things done. We hate being still and waiting.

The waiting and the silence are uncomfortable. Like a blind date, or first date that isn’t going well. The silence is awkward. We make up things to say. Trying to spark a conversation with the other person.

In our asking, knocking and seeking God’s answers we can start out asking the “If you will just…., then I promise to….. for you God” As the time drags on without a return reply, we even offer to up the ante with Him. “I promise God, I’ll go be a missionary, or give all my money away, just please, please give me this one thing.”

Waiting is difficult. I’ve been there. Praying for the healing of friends and family. Circumstances got worse, not better. I’ve doubted my own prayer “worthiness”. “Maybe God is upset with me” or even “Maybe I’m not praying right” To the dreaded comparison trap that wonders why others can hear from God, or get their requests answered and I don’t.

To be clear though, I have also been the one with the answered prayers for jobs, food, pregnancy, and a home. And healing. But being true to my own human nature, flawed as it is, I remember the silence more than the answers. Why is it we tend towards the negative anyway?

The reality of it all, is that God does speak to us, but we are too busy to observe the answers. Sometimes it is as simple as rainbow in the sky, a sign on a business, a rock in the shape of a heart, or a kind word from a friend. Or a scripture that jumped off the page of the Bible. Giving us a confirmation that God is still concerned with what concerns us.

Four years ago, the encouraging words from a college professor propelled (and challenged) me to begin a blog. A blog that was intended to help others through the difficulties and challenges of life as a Christian. Life keeps moving forward and we must work through it all. Having faith in Jesus does not shield us from pain, sorrow, stress, anxiety, difficulty, or grief. And it is not a guaranty of happiness and joy 24/7. It gives us hope that we are not alone. And that this life with all of its difficulty is only temporary. We have an eternity that will make this life and all its problems a distant memory someday.There is something more we were created for. Someone more we were created for. To love and be loved by. Forever.

I have heard many of your stories of how the blog has helped you and encouraged you. I am encouraged by the stories. God always knows the right topic for me to write. I hope my own struggles will encourage you to keep moving forward. We are in this all together. “And let us consider how to spur one another on to love and good deeds” as the author of Hebrews reminds us. We encourage each other as we grow and go through difficulties that we can share with others. I am definitely a work in progress and I too struggle to wait to hear from God. But my struggles can encourage you that you are not alone.

But just like I hope the blog encourages you, I too get my encouragement from others blogs and podcasts. And God reminds me to keep writing to encourage you in your faith. Keep going on and do not give up. God is listening. He cares. He knows just what you need to hear from Him and He waits until we are paying attention enough to hear. Be still. Even for a moment and listen and watch. And read His word. Let Him speak to you in His own words. God Bless You – Nancy

Expecting Empanadas?

Are you looking for your empanada wrappers? If you are, I have your order. I’m sure you were disappointed when you received my chicken, carrots and cucumbers. Not what you were expecting from your grocery delivery. You were expecting your ice cream, cereal, milk and bread. And your empanada wrappers. Were you going to make them for your family?

To be honest, I was frustrated and tired when I opened the door and found the wrong grocery order. I had just returned from a long plane ride and was feeling jet lag. The last thing I wanted to deal with was the customer service department of the delivery service. But, I found myself calling the number, seeking my food and questioning what I was supposed to do with the wrong order, now melting on my front steps.

Two calls later and I was reassured that my money would be refunded and I could either keep the wrong food, or throw it away. Thankfully, it hadn’t melted too much and I brought the bags inside to inspect the mystery food. I didn’t know what to expect and it felt a little like Christmas, except I was opening someone else’s presents.

It felt so strange to open someone else’s order and find out what they had bought. There wasn’t a name or any address given, so I decided to make the most of what had randomly shown up at my door. If you have any empanada recipes let me know. I’ve never made them myself, so I’ll need to google a recipe.

Have you ever had this happen to you? Maybe it wasn’t an order for food, but maybe something else? We all have certain expectations that when they are not met, we are disappointed. We expect everything to happen in a certain way, at a certain time. But, then the appointed time passes and nothing. Or maybe its something as simple as getting in our car, or grabbing a bus or train, when we find our selves stuck. The train is broken down, or the bus, or our car suddenly won’t start, or there’s a flat tire.

I’m sure you have plenty of stories you could share of these missed expectations and delays. But, how do you deal with them? Can you find any humor in them? Can you see God’s handy work? Was your train or bus or plane delayed, saving you from an unseen tragedy? Can you make lemonade from life’s lemons? Or in my case, empanadas.

Perhaps, what happens after depends upon on our attitudes. Can we find the good in it all? Can we trust God with it all? Can we trust Him that in all of this life’s unmet expectations He has a clear plan? That maybe He knows what we need better than we do?

In the two weeks I was on my trip, God taught me quite a bit about my expectations. Two days into my trip and I received word that a friend had collapsed and was near death. I joined others in praying for her recovery and was brought back to thoughts of going through a similar situation with loved ones.

I expected to relax and rejoice on my trip, not find myself crying. Sadly, my friend passed, as had my loved one years before. For a moment life seemed out of control, and not making any sense. I had just received a message from this friend a day before I left. And now, in a quick turn of events, she was gone. I felt a twinge of regret that I hadn’t spent too much time with her. Our correspondence was mostly through social media.

I know it will be difficult on her family. Grief isn’t easy and it is a journey to go through. A journey, that as I get older, happens more frequently as older relatives are passing away. But when it happens to someone young, it is completely unexpected. My friend was young. If anything hopeful that has come from her death is all the stories her friends have told of her encouragement. She would often share her faith and specific Bible verses to her close friends. I wasn’t in the group of her closest friends, but it was encouraging to hear of her kindness and generosity. And her faith.

I realized that my expectations of life, what constitutes a long life, and what is fair or not fair in this life, are skewed. I cannot understand the big picture, the way God see it. I was reminded of a verse from Isaiah; ““For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD” (Is. 55:8, NIV). We don’t always understand why our expectations aren’t met. Our expectations reflect our own limited view of life.

It took a wrong order to help me understand that there will be many times when my expectations are not met. My view of life is limited; God’s is infinite. His perspective is perfect. I wanted my needs met, but God knew what I needed- a wrong order that reminded me that I am not in control of it all and I do not always understand, but I can trust Him. – God Bless- Nancy

Trust First

So, I’d like to think that I am a trusting kind of person. I admit there have been times that I can be overly cautious around some groups of people or individuals. But I also have made the mistake of trusting in others too much and have been hurt.

But I wonder if that has affected my ability to trust God. I know you might be thinking “Wait, like trusting God should come easy for a believer” And I agree with you; it should. But can you actually admit that sometimes you might struggle with trust?

What I mean is that we all have at one time or another told God that we had the best way to go. We asked bold prayers for God to answer, in our way of course. Not necessarily in God’s way, or in His timing. And we were probably let down. We struggled to understand why our heartfelt, fervent prayer wasn’t answered. At least not in the way we had expected.

I have also found that when I am seeking to understand and find answers to the whys in my life, God always challenges me with the same Bible verse. Does this happen to you? Or is it just me? There a couple of verses that just seem to bring out guilt. Actually, its more of conviction from the Holy Spirit than guilt. But, it troubles me, none the less.

One of the verses is Proverbs 3: 5 “Trust in the LORD with all your heart
  And do not lean on your own understanding.” (NIV) It seems pretty straightforward. Except I always feel bad for the second part- leaning not on my understanding. I know I do that more than I should. I am a person who tries to figure out everything. And plan everything out.

But, quite often I will find whenever I am seeking God for direction in decision making, this verse will pop up. It might be from a daily devotional, or from a sermon, or just the verse of the day sent to my e-mail address. And it trips me up. I begin the question which understanding is mine and which is God’s. Which way should I go? Am I trying to figure it out on my own?

Well, this week it happened again and once again, my favorite verse came up. Except this time I began to look at it differently and wonder if God was trying to tell me something other than to not lean on my own understanding. Maybe I had been thinking of this verse all wrong.

Maybe I should break it into two parts. First, trust in the Lord, than not lean on my own understanding. I was trying to avoiding leaning without doing the trusting first.

It was if a light bulb went off in my mind, and I understood. I needed to focus on the trust. And I have to ask myself, “Am I really trusting God in this situation?” Or am I trying to figure it all out?

It is similar to following a recipe. If you are a baker or cook, than you know that there is a list of ingredients first, than the directions for assembling the dish. If you randomly combine the ingredients, the recipe won’t work. You have to follow each step in the order listed.

So, in my case with Proverbs 3:5, I was trying to jump ahead and focus on not leaning first- something like jumping ahead on a recipe. So, I struggled with the verse, and felt bad, for not being able to avoid my over thinking.

It sounds simple, but consider whether God has been speaking to you through a particular verse. Does it have different parts to the verse? Try focusing on the individual parts and consider the meaning.

In my case, I am trying to focus on the trust part, knowing that God has my best, that is HIS best interest at heart, for me. I am not God and only have a limited ability to understand what lies ahead for my life. There is so much out of my control. So, first things first; trust. Than the more I learn to trust Him, the less likely I will panic and over think everything. God Bless -Nancy

Inside Out

I remember one of my first jobs in my early twenties. I worked as a fashion merchandiser and stylist for a small chain of ladies fashion boutiques. I enjoyed most duties of the job, but I really enjoyed unpacking the boxes of new clothes and accessories. It was my responsibility to style the mannequins with these new arrivals and quite often it was my styling selections that caught the attention of shoppers. I enjoyed selecting items for the shoppers that made them look their best. Many times I would see them look at themselves in the mirror just outside the dressing rooms, looking quite pleased at the new selections. New clothes can often brighten someones day, when they look at themselves and see themselves in a new way. But, soon these new clothes would become old, worn and would be replaced. They would become too familiar and fail to bring the joy of newness they once held.

Recently, I was reminded of Paul’s admonition to the church at Ephesus to put off their old selves (Ephesians 4:22) The Ephesians had the inclination to return to their old ways (from before salvation) instead of continuing to grow in their faith. Paul wrote to them to keep them encouraged to follow their new selves and put off the old ways. It reminded me of those days of retail, replacing the old with new.

Many people believe trying something new will fix the feelings inside of them. The shoppers I styled felt that way, but just for a moment. The real change must come from the inside out, not the outside in. And most importantly, it does not come from our own efforts, but from the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

When we ask Jesus to be our Savior and Lord, the Holy Spirit comes to live within us, empowering us and transforming our lives from the inside out. At first, we might not notice any changes, for change can be slow. We need to get rooted and grounded in the Word of God and allow God to speak to us, changing us, convicting us and convincing us at other times. And also having encouragement from teachers like Paul to help us put off the old and to learn to grow into the new.

We might not always see this change in ourselves, it’s not like looking in a mirror at new clothes on the outside. But it is very apparent to others.

For me I first realized how others could see what I hadn’t yet after I had accepted Christ in eight grade. I remember someone (an upperclassman) noticing the change when I returned to school my Freshman year. They simply said “There’s something different about you.” I wasn’t quite sure what they were talking about, I’ll be honest; I wasn’t expecting to have anyone notice me and standing out in high school and be called different wasn’t exactly something I welcomed.

But, since that time, I have seen it in others; this amazing transformation that literally lights them up from the inside out. The Holy Spirit just can’t be contained! People are always trying to fix themselves and create the better version of themselves, much like constantly buying new outfits to change the outside. Quick fixes won’t change you, but God can! From the inside out. From hearts of stone to living hearts filled with the Holy Spirit. God Bless- Nancy

The Hand Print of God

It was a dubious, thankless job. But I was willing to do whatever was asked of me to help out. My job? To clean the interior of aircraft with a bucket of water and and magic eraser. This plane was a vintage 1940’s but had been repurposed to haul goods, people and mail to the poorest parts of the Caribbean, specifically the country of Haiti. In recent months Haiti has seen its share of disasters including a large earthquake. The plane I was set out to clean that day was awaiting a replacement engine, so it had been grounded for awhile. As I entered the darkened cabin, I surveyed the interior and began to sum up the task of cleaning the side walls, panels and ceiling. And then I noticed it… the small, child- sized hand print on one of the windows. It was silhouetted against the backdrop of the hangar. It sparked my interest as I contemplated how it got there and whose it might be. It was obvious that it had been a hand reaching out from the seat just below the window, pressing against it. Was it from a missionary family’s child? Was it from a Haitian child being airlifted to a hospital due to the earthquake?

I’ll probably never know the identity, but it spoke to me that day, and provide the incentive I needed for the humbling task ahead of me. It put a real dimension to the work I was helping with. The real human equation that connected me to others who had sat in those seats and with those who would be sitting on that plane when it took off again. Providing help and aid to those who need it in the places not so far from my own country. Close, but yet a definite world away. I thought of my own children sitting in those seats and how many finger prints and hand smudges I had cleaned on the windows of our minivan.

It also reminded me of how often we fail to see God at work. We see all the bad in the world and think, there is so much! What can I even begin to do to change this world? But every little bit we do helps and we must also remember that we do not do it alone. God empowers us through the Holy Spirit, encourages us in His word, and leads us through His wisdom to show up at the places where we are needed, even if that is to clean a plane on my day off. God is working. He has been working as we know; He sent Jesus. This world is still not ready for His return and in the mean time, there is so much we can do, but we need to realize that God is at work. Just like that hand print that gave proof, if you will, of the work the mission flights were doing, stop and look around you and look for God’s hand print in this world, in your own world, it’s there.

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. (Philippians 1:6 New Living Translation)

God Bless- Nancy

The Wrong One?

Have you ever grabbed an item off the store shelf, thinking you had one thing, but only to discover after you arrived back home you had some entirely different? I have. Once I grabbed a jar of pickles from the store, only to get home and realize what I bought wasn’t dill pickles, but dill pickles with jalapeno pieces that were very spicy. The jars looked the same, but in small print were the words “with jalapenos”.

Yesterday, a similar thing happened when I stumbled into my kitchen to make my breakfast, I opened the cupboard and surveyed the boxes of cereal. Hmmm. Pumpkin Spice Special K, sounds good, and without thinking much about it, I grabbed the box and a bowl from the cupboard. I began to pour out the cereal into the bowl and in my morning foggy brain, realized that someone had switched the cereal in the box, because what I was pouring into the bowl was not flakes; it was little ring shaped cheerios. “Who would do that?” But, wait… no, I turned the box around to face me and discovered nope, no cereal substitution, just the box of honey nut cheerios. I had grabbed the wrong one. From the side, both boxes had a brownish color. Both boxes were of the same size. Both were side by side on the shelf. I grabbed for what I thought was Special K, but my hand actually picked up the cheerios.

I only realized my mistake when I tried to use the cereal, that is poured it out. I thought I knew what I had in my grasp. Appearances can be deceiving as they say. It made me think about my faith and about my faith journey. Is it possible to grab at faith, thinking we have the “right” one? Is there really any difference? Without getting into a full blown apologetic discussion about other religions today, let’s consider: Are there really different faiths within the Christian faith? Sadly, there are a few, just as there were in the early days of Christianity. Its not just about what music styles or versions of the Bible are used, but real differences in the Gospels presented.

Peter warned early Christians about false teachers in his second letter (2Peter 2:1), and in his letter to the Galatia church, Paul suggested that many spies had infiltrated the church, trying to disrupt the faith (Galatians 2:4). In his second letter to the Corinthian church he warned of false apostles (2 Cor. 11:13). Even Jesus warned His disciples that many false prophets would arise (Matthew 24:11). These are just a few examples, there are many more, so they should be expected.

So, are there different gospels too? You may have heard of a few, such as the prosperity gospel that promises blessing for asking God for it and if you expect it you can have it all- sports cars, health, wealth, mansions, fame, etc. And most people can see through all the false claims made by this gospel, but are there others? How do you know if you have heard and chosen the right gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.

The easiest answer I have is this;

1.) Does it line up with what the Bible has to say? Does it line up with the entire bigger picture of the Bible, that is both the Old and New Testaments? Some churches have eliminated the Old Testament in favor of just the New. Is it an addition to the original accepted canon of Scripture or is it something written later on by a self- proclaimed prophet or writer who added their own personal thoughts without proper scholarly research? Watch out for what is presented as a gospel not found in a scholarly version of the Bible. Compare verses of the Bible from “word for word” translations with “thought for thought” translations of the Bible, which while easier to read, often fall short of the actual meaning of a verse and can confuse the reader- leading to a misunderstanding of the gospel.

2.) Does it add any requirements of what must be done to be in right standing with God? Such a gospel might look the same, like my boxes of cereal, but no one can earn or keep a spot in Heaven. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast.”(Ephesians 2:8-9) and “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9). “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28) “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”(Romans 3:28).

3.) Does it require a personal commitment? Many people have been mislead that joining a church, being confirmed, or because their parents attended a church, that they are in right standing with God. That is, they are automatically considered a Christian. But, the Bible says we are all sinners in need of a savior and we must recognize it is our personal standing before God that will be judged when we die, not on whether we were sprinkled as an infant, confirmed as a child, or because we gave money or volunteered with the nursery. “And this righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God“, (Romans 3:22-23)We must recognize and admit we are not able to have fellowship with God, that we are the ones who have broken His commandments, and must admit it. We need to realize we cannot fix it in ourselves. We need Jesus as our savior. Our personal savior. For our sins. To die for us. To justify us before God.

For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Romans 10:10)

Have you grabbed the right one? -God Bless Nancy

Hope

And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love- 1Corinthians 13:13

So, in the last few years I have had this aversion to weeds. In my yard, in the flowerbeds, in the cracks in the driveway. But, it wasn’t always this way. When my husband and I moved, we moved into a neighborhood that has this thing against weeds. I am in awe of all the perfectly kept lawns here. Not a weed in sight. Perfect and green. And then, there are the HOA inspectors who ride through the neighborhood on Monday mornings. looking for any code violations. They look for any lawns that need mowing or trash cans left out. If there are, the homeowners will get a letter in the mail with a notice to either comply or pay a fine.

I’m not a fan of paying fines, so I am obsessed with following their rules. And attempting to get this perfect lawn. Well, it hasn’t happened yet, despite our best attempts, so we live with the stray weed or two.

Growing up, I really didn’t mind them. I thought the ones with little flowers were actually kind of pretty. I didn’t think of them as weeds really, just flowers that grew by chance. I saw their beauty instead of their annoyance.

So, this past week as I was taking our elderly dog out for a walk in our back yard, I spotted an annoyance. Except, it really caught my attention in a good way. It was standing out where and when it shouldn’t be standing out. It wasn’t so much as an annoyance as beautiful reminder of hope.

This year has been very trying on me and on my patience. I keep waiting for the right opportunities to come forward- applying for jobs and praying that I will actually get to use what I am called to do. I have also watched as neighbors have died from Covid, leaving behind children and spouses. I have seen relatives grow older and frailer, making me look at the future with a bleaker, pessimistic view. I have felt my patience tested, even with my elderly dog, who is not only blind but I think has a slight case of dementia. Do dogs even get that? She requires multiples trips outside to do her business, one trip after another, sometimes five trips in two hours.

So, on a cold morning this past week, as I grumpily took the dog out, I spotted a very bright and welcomed little flower spouting proudly from the lawn. It shouldn’t be there I mused- not because I did not want it to be there, but, you see we had had a frost a few days before. The lawn had been covered in a beautiful layer of frost. It is supposed to kill all the grass and the fragile plants. But, no, this beautiful dandelion was this bright spot of yellow on the now brown, dead grass.

It hadn’t bloomed with all its buddies in the summer or early spring, but here it was in November, standing up as the singular bright spot of life. It was a reminder to me, that despite the year that has seen both bright and bleak spots, there is still life and hope. It was a reminder to stay faithful, keep hope alive, and there will be a bright spot coming soon. It isn’t in our timing, but in God’s timing.

Sometimes I feel like that little dandelion. Everyone of my friends seemed to bloom earlier, in the summertime and springtime, and here I am in the autumn of life, blooming or hopefully soon to be, with all the hopes and dreams I have had for years. But, maybe that’s okay. Maybe, like that flower, I can be a bright spot in other people’s lives, when they are feeling the bleakness around them.

Most people have read the verse above, and remember it from weddings and the talk of love as the greatest, but I was reminded that in this verse, faith, hope and love are connected. Faith is believing, hope is putting our trust in and love is what God has shown us in sending His son. Never give up on believing, on faith, on hoping. For God never gives up on loving us. -Amen

Meet and Greet

“Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials,” -James the brother of Jesus Christ

I don’t know about you, but this isn’t one of my favorite memory verses. I mean I can deal with the part about encountering or meeting with trials. I can agree with what James is saying, but the joy part? Well, that’s difficult.

To be honest there are so many different variations of this verse. The one above is from the New American Standard Bible. Others use the words- “fall into temptations” or “whenever trouble comes your way” and even “whenever you face trials of any kind” Regardless, they all seem to agree that it is is not an if but a when. Life is full of troubles and trials. We get that. It is impossible to live this life without them.

I really like the version that uses the word encounter. I was recently reading a devotional from Dr. Charles Stanley of INTOUCH ministries and he compared the word encounter with meeting trials, like you would meet another person. Face to face-. It inspired me to think about this verse in those terms. How do I face trials? Do I greet them as I would a person on the street? As an acquaintance? As an adversary? Welcoming them with joy, seems very counterintuitive. I do not like trials. Why would I greet them as if they are a long lost friend, whom I am excited to be reunited with?

But can I really see them as that? Most of the time I rejoice whenever trials are over. Like whenever I recover from an illness, or when a project that has been trying and time consuming is accomplished and over. But, at the beginning? When I first meet them? If I let my feelings rule, I would run the other way, thank you very much! But, no thank you, I don’t need to greet you today troubles and trials, I think I’ll just turn off the path and avoid you today. But, I fear in doing that I would miss the opportunity for God to be there with me through this awkward introduction and greeting. Avoidance limits the pain, but also limits the joy and comfort I would receive from God.

As we read further on in the book of James, we see that these trials are to strengthen our faith and give us perseverance and mature our faith. These sound very inspiring and give the reader encouragement. Just as it would have for the early Jewish Christians James was writing to who had been scattered away from Jerusalem into the many areas of the Roman Empire. As many scholars believe, James was martyred sometime after writing this letter of encouragement, probably around AD 64. It was not an easy time to be a follower of Christ.

If James were writing the church today, he might have say, “Hey, I know you are going through these trials and difficult times, but just remember they are serving a purpose- to mature your faith, teach you perseverance- something you will definitely need to keep on going. So, welcome them, they are for your benefit. Yes, they are bound to happen, but God’s got this.”

In chapter 1, verse 5, James writes if we are lacking wisdom we should ask God. For many years I have read that verse as a stand alone verse, but this week as I read it again, it began to dawn on me that maybe it closely relates to dealing with the troubles and trials.

You see, that is one of my biggest issues when troubles or trials come. I wonder to myself, “What should I do to handle this, or fix this situation? How do I navigate this? What is my strategy? I also try to figure out if this is something I have brought upon myself, or is it a spiritual attack, or just a life issue? What I need is wisdom in dealing with it all; for discernment, for a pathway through the trial, for a way to handle it, to understand it’s origin, to have a peaceful attitude through it, yup, I lack wisdom on my own, and I need to ask God for wisdom for this trial. I have faith that God will show me what to do, how to navigate this and will bring me out the other side, better not because I will be stronger in myself, but that my faith in God will be stronger, because I will see how He is with me. Not all these trials have quick resolutions, and I need to keep believing – as James adds in verses 6 and 7- but God will come through.

So, these trials are a way for me to be drawn closer to God,to my faith in Him, my reliance on Him to give me wisdom and help me through, to strengthen my perseverance muscle. They are not designed to destroy me, but make me better, to help me mature in my faith, so that I lack nothing (v4).

If we can focus on that, then we can meet and greet trials with a more positive attitude. We can count it joy.

God Bless –

Nancy

Unhindered

So, what’s holding you back? From taking that next step? From moving forward. I’m sure if you are like me, you kinda know the answer already. The minute you read the question, you could picture just what it is. The big thing that holds you back. Is it fear? Is it doubt? Is it because you lack faith?

For me it has always been fear. The fear of rejection, and the fear of failing, of not measuring up to others, not fitting in. I always have this same recurring fear of not fitting in and people not approving of what I do. When we let fear control us, we get held back from our progress forward. I have written previous blogs on facing fear before, and like I always say, I am a work in progress. I write about what to do, but even for myself, those steps forward in facing fears, have never been easy. I think it is that way for all of us. We let ourselves and our fears hold us back. It isn’t really anyone else, but US.

We have dreams and goals and maybe even callings, but we can feel hindered from pursuing them. These dreams, goals and callings, are like small seeds when we first sense them. If we nurture them, they grow and produce fruit. If we leave them alone, they can become stagnant and lifeless. When we let fear, or whatever else that we know is OUR hindrances become larger than our dreams, the dreams will wither. It’s like the parable of the sower that Jesus taught. We can let the worries and cares- like the fear of rejection- steal the seeds and prevent them from growing. If you would like to read the entire parable it is from Matthew chapter 13, Luke chapter 8 and Mark chapter 4. Jesus is of course explaining how those that hear the Gospel can hear it, but not everyone will accept the message of the Gospel, and still others will fall away from faith and not grow. It takes nurturing and good soil. The principle is the same, however,

We need to continue to nurture and grow our dreams and callings. To press past the worries, pray about every step we need to take, make time in our schedules to pursue those dreams and believe that God has uniquely qualified us and hard- wired us with certain skills and talents for those dreams and callings.

We can also ask others to pray for us. I know I need prayer warriors, praying for me. I also find that I need to spend time reading the Bible and reading books that others have written who have gone before me in this faith journey. It renews my thoughts and renewing my thoughts, renews my mind. And my mind is my biggest hindrance to stepping out into my dreams. The fears I have tend to roll around in my mind, unless I decide to believe what the Bible says, over what I might be feeling, others are saying about me, or what the devil tries to tell me about myself. I have to choose to free my thoughts, to unhinder them from fears and move forward in faith. It is a journey, not a dash, but I am moving forward and so can you. God Bless- Nancy