Isn’t it amazing how certain smells evoke strong memories?
When I was a girl, I was fortunate to have my grandmother live right next door to our family. She had a real wood burning fireplace in her living room (unlike the fake electric one I have now). Often my cousins and I would sleep over at Grandma’s house. On those chilly mornings when the weather had turned, she would have a fire going when we got up. I can still remember the cozy warmth of her house and the joy filled memories I made there. One of those memories is the smell of the fireplace burning, beckoning me to crawl out of bed, grab a blanket, and join her on the couch to sit by the fire.
Even now, when I smell a fireplace, or even a firepit, that scent takes me back. It summons warm thoughts and memories. The scent draws me back to memories of her love.
2 Corinthians 2:15 says “For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea that we carry with us the pleasing aroma of Jesus to those who are being saved, as well as to those who are perishing.
If you’ve ever spent time around a camping fire, you know that the smell of smoke stays on you until you come home and wash those clothes. As you unpack the duffle from camping, you get a whiff of that smoke, and suddenly the memories of the campout come rushing back. Here in Second Corinthians, it’s the same idea.
Those around us, inside and outside of the faith, can “smell” us. We carry with us the pleasing aroma of Jesus. When Christ is in us, and we are following Him, His “scent” is on us.
This idea was played out for me for the first time when I was 16 years old. There was a girl in my high school, who was just different. Her family was much like mine. She had a mom, a dad, and a brother at home. She was my same age and grade. We were both on the drill team for our high school. She had some of the same friends and interests that I did. But she “smelled” different. There was something about her that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
We started hanging out and eventually I asked her to sleep over at my house. She said yes, that she would come and sleep over, if I would go to church with her the next morning.
There it was. That was the beginning of my understanding more precisely what it was about her that was so different than me. She had faith in God. And though I had grown up with a good, loving, all American family, faith was not a part of our household. And I wanted it. I was drawn to her in a way that I didn’t understand then.
And because of her “scent”, her faith in Jesus, I was also drawn to Him.
Ephesians 5:1-2 “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
You and I are called to walk with Jesus, to follow His example. To be like Him. It is a tall order to be sure, but He left us with the Holy Spirit, who also lives in us. And it is that same spirit that produces the lingering scent of Jesus in us.
When Jesus comes into our hearts and lives, we are changed. Some parts of us change immediately, and others take longer. But we are changed. And from that moment on, we begin to “smell” differently.
Like the soft scent of our favorite perfume, we leave behind the aroma of Jesus as we go.
My hearts desire is that the aroma of Jesus that follows me as I go, attracts others to the Savior. Because, just as perfumes can smell differently on the different people who wear them, the scent of Jesus can be attractive, or pungent.
Are my actions, thoughts, and words pleasant? Do they draw people to Him with the soft scent? Or am I too much like the world to be a pleasing aroma? Am I different at all?
As we continually grow, and allow Jesus to change us on the inside, that change will show on the outside too. We have hope, we have life! Like a fragrant perfume, I want to radiate the aroma of Jesus and let His scent trail behind me as I go.
And my prayer is that that scent will linger in the air and draw people to Him.
What scent are you leaving behind?
Jesus, I am drawn to You and to Your love. I am so grateful for all that You are. You have given everything for me, and I want to share that love with those in my circle. Help me to give off the pleasing aroma of Your love. I want to bring You honor by living in a way that “smells” good to others. Amen.
Local friends! I hope that you will join me in anticipation of this year’s Thrive!
Thrive will take place on Friday, November12th at 6:30 PM. We will gather at Grace Church in Chino Valley Arizona, for an evening dedicated to Connections, Confections (or desserts), Worship and Soul Talk for women of faith!
You will experience a beautiful and delightful array of individual and mini “just for you” desserts. Next, we will gather in worship with some of your favorite current and contemporary worship music. You will hear from Jenda Ballard as she shares with us what is happening with her ongoing battle with cancer, in a section called “What If, What Is, and What’s Next”. This year will also include a new segment called Conversations of Faith. This year’s Conversations of Faith will include a visit from Laurie Schraml. She and I will share about the unusual way that the Lord brought us together 6 years ago, and how He continues to connect us in a friendship of faith and honesty. I am excited to share my message with you too, called Keep Moving Forward!
The roots of Thrive grew deep in the midst of 2020, during the pandemic. At that time in my life, I began to wonder if what I was doing with my life was enough. I questioned if the way I spent my time was all that God had for me, or was there more? I loved my job, the ministries that my hubby and I shared in at church, and I loved my social life. But, when the world “shut down”, I found myself at home with more time on my hands than I knew what to do with. Sounds like a dream come true, right? It was for a while, until it wasn’t. During that time, I really felt God speaking to me and pulling me into something bigger than myself. It took much time, prayer, seeking Him and conversations with those who love and know me best, before I understood what that “thing” was. And that “thing”, became the beginning Thrive!
Since then, many more ministries have begun to grow out of Thrive, the event. When you attend you will hear more about those exciting opportunities!
We are also excited to announce that this year we will have some beautiful and amazing merchandise for you to purchase! Many of these items will be available to pre-order during registration. We have beautiful Thrive T-shirts in a wide selection of sizes. We also have a gorgeous canvass Thrive Tote Bag! You may purchase them individually or together at a discount. There will be many more items for sale at the Merchandise Table at Thrive, BUT those items will remain a surprise until that night! Let me just tell you, I am over the moon excited about them! Purple is the theme color for Thrive, the color of royalty in scripture. When we belong to Him, we are royalty, daughters of The King!
You will not want to miss this special evening of Connections, Confections, and Soul Talks. Buy your ticket now, and while you’re at it, invite a friend! A fun and meaningful night like this is better shared with a friend! Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online at cvgrace.com under the events tab. Seats are going fast, so don’t wait!
I remember back when I had infants. There were so may happy and fun days! Those days usually came on the same days when I was exhausted and emotionally spent. But maybe that’s just me?
I loved it when they were finally ready to start solid foods! I giggled, making airplane noises as I spoon fed them! And I remember wiping their little chins as mushy baby food from the jar slid down just about everywhere except into their mouths! Thank goodness for baby bibs!
One of my babies was a very picky eater. When babies first start on solid foods, they typically eat fruits. But not this girl, she only wanted veggies! It was so unusual. And not just any vegetables, she ate only three different ones: carrots, sweet potatoes and squash. These three foods had one thing in common, they are all orange in color.
At first this was fine by me; I was thrilled that she was eating solids from a spoon. But over time, I became aware of an unhealthy balance. She turned orange, just like her foods. I wish I was kidding. All my kids are fair, blonde-haired, blue-eyed children. But as she continued to consume only orange foods, she turned Oopma Loompa orange! Her blonde hair had an orange/reddish tint to it. Her skin looked slightly orangey and tanned. And the topper was the end of her cute little nose looked as though she had mushy squash sitting right on it! One time in the grocery store, a stranger stopped me to tell me that my baby had food on her nose! Sigh.
At that point I had to wean her off her favorite foods and onto more balanced choices. She fought me, of course. She wanted her favorites, her choices. She wasn’t able to understand that what she loved and ate exclusively wasn’t good for her. I had to keep forcing her to eat what I knew was best for her. It was a battle for a while, but in time, she leveled out and her skin and hair color returned to normal. Whew!
I often wonder about the choices we make as Christians. Are we spending too much of our time, consuming things are innately good for us, but at a level that is actually harmful?
You and I have choices every single day as to how we use our time. And I think mostly, we make good choices. We spend time caring for ourselves and our families. We entertain others. We have coffee dates with our girlfriends. We serve at church. We scroll faith-based sites on Instagram. We keep up with our friends via Facebook and other social media sites. We relax in the evenings and enjoy our favorite shows.
But are we out of balance?
To much of a good thing is not a good thing. I know you have heard that phrase before. It’s a pretty accurate and deep statement actually. Just like my daughter eating her veggies. Veggies are good for us, no one would dispute that. But too many veggies and suddenly your nose is orange, and you are out of balance!
1 Corinthians 10:23 says this, “You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is beneficial.” How we choose to use our time is completely up to us. But are we over doing it in any areas?
All the options that I listed above are good ways to use our time. They are certainly not harmful things. But if we are unaware that we’ve become unbalanced in the use of our time, then those options have become less than good for us. They may not be beneficial.
Caring for ourselves and our families is good, until it is done in excess. Are we obsessing about our image, or the image of our children? Hosting or entertaining is showing hospitality and is good, until it’s done in excess, leaving us physically drained and emotionally exhausted. Are we enjoying a healthy catch-up coffee date with our BFF, or are we consistently avoiding other responsibilities? Are we serving at church from a right heart, or are we using it as an opportunity to be seen? And so on and so on. Anything done in excess has the potential to do harm. Anything.
Romans 12:2 reminds us “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world,but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
I’m right there with you sister. I wrestle constantly with using my time correctly. And, in reality, I’ll never get everything “right” in this life. But I do want Him to transform me and change the way I think. I want His plan to be my purpose. I want Him to direct my thinking right into line with His thinking so that I can better understand His will for me. How I use my time has a lot to say about those priorities. I may not always get it right, but I want to make that my goal.
I encourage you to take a good look at what might be unbalanced in your life. Are you willing? Are you brave? When you and I seek to honor God with our lives, He gets excited. He has plans for us that we don’t even know about yet! He wants to show us those plans, but until we are willing to let Him use our time His way, He waits. He loves us immeasurably and has our best interest always at the center of His plan. So, if we ask Him to reveal to us our mis-apportioned priorities, He will. Honestly, the first thing or two that come to mind when you ask Him to show you, are the areas where He has something different and better in mind for you. The truth is you probably already know what they are.
Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” God’s plans for us could never be bad for us. He is a holy and loving God. We just get scared to lose control.
There are so many good things we can (and should) participate in and prioritize in this life. But as we do them, we should strive for balance, and yearn for His leading.
All I’m saying is, don’t let your nose turn orange.
Lord, Help me to use the precious gift of time in the best way that I can. Help me to be aware of when “my nose is turning orange” and I am out of balance. Show me where I need to readjust my responsibilities to stay healthy and in the ceneter of your plan for my life. Amen.
“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?” Psalm 43:5a.
Has your heart ever been downcast? I bet it has. Mine too, sister. I relate to the Psalm writer….
Many things can make my heart sad and downcast. Situations in my own personal life. The hurts and concerns of those I care about. The things I see in the world around me. Health things. Broken heart things. Financial things. Relational things. Sigh…
Difficult life situations can exhaust and drain us, both emotionally and spiritually. Some of you are running on empty. Some are longing for Home. Some are reeling from personal trials. Some are scared and confused, wondering what’s next. Your soul is downcast and disturbed.
I’m right there with you.
Whether we are wrestling with world events or personal events, our response can be the same. What do we do when we don’t know what to do? When life is complicated, it’s best to keep things simple. Just do the next right thing. Simply put, we can pray, and we can praise.
Our first line of defense should always be a default to prayer. Prayer isn’t “the least we can do”. It is the MOST important place to start! When we pray, we are acknowledging our inability to change the situations ourselves. We are crying out to God for His guidance and compassion. We are humbly asking for His mercy and grace. We are casting our burdens at His feet because they are too heavy for us to carry alone. We are desperately seeking peace and answers.
This week, I was praying earnestly for a dear friend. This friend has an adult daughter with some significant health issues. Health issues that need intervention, and answers. And the answers don’t seem to come easily. As I prayed and listened for God’s voice in what seemed like answerless spaces of prayer, I heard it clearly. “When you don’t get the big answers you want right away, look for My hand in the small things while you wait.”
You see, sometimes, big answers take big amounts of time. But small things? Those happen every day. Let’s think for a minute about the small things we can rejoice in.
A job and income-provision.
Healthy and loving relationships-connection.
God’s word at our fingertips in a variety of ways-abundance.
Overall good health-blessed.
Loved by family, friends, and Jesus himself-care.
Assured of eternal life with Him when I have accepted His finished work on the cross-joy.
Those small things can easily be taken for granted. We’re so used to having them, that we forget that they too are provision from the Lord. That He is continually caring for and blessing us in these ways.
Our second default should go to praise. It may seem challenging to praise God when things are difficult. If I’m honest, sometimes it is difficult for me too. However, being able to thank God and praise Him for who He is and all He has done, allows my focus to shift from the struggle to the Savior. In the midst of our trials, we sometimes forget that the end of the story is already written. We can forget that God wins. This means that we win too.
Try praising Him by remembering these scriptures from Psalm 34:
“The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are attentive to their cry”. Ps. 34:15
“The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit”. Ps. 34:18
“The righteous may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all”. Ps. 34:19
“The Lord will rescue His servants; no one who takes refuge in Him will be condemned”. Ps. 34:22
When my heart is downcast, and my emotions are wrung out, I can feel like I am losing the battle inside. I feel like the process of turning my sorrow to joy is too big of a challenge. God knows this too, and He gracefully places multiple scripture passages in His word for us to remember what is so easily forgotten.
John 16:33 “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth, you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
Romans 8:37 “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” These are powerful scriptures! He has overcome the world! We are more than conquerors through Him!
When I read such powerful statements in the bible, they begin to chip away at my downcast and disturbed heart. When I let the truth of His word seep into the worried recesses of my soul, I find not only comfort, but the strength to carry on. The hope to wait on Him and trust His plan. When I look for (and see) the small things provided by His hand while I wait for the big answers that my heart truly seeks, I get a glimpse into the heart of God. I feel His heart toward mine.
He desires to bring me peace with His presence. He is more than able to turn my worries into memories. He can turn my spiritual weaknesses into victories of faith!
2 Corinthians 12:9. “…My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
When God says, “My grace is sufficient”. He means it. It’s more than just a nice saying. It is truth. His power is made perfect in weakness, our weakness. God is not surprised by the events in our lives that are seemingly pulling us under. He stands at the ready, life vest in hand. Because His grace is sufficient, we are right where we need to be. Dependent on Him.
“You turn mourning to dancing.
You give beauty for ashes.
You turn seas into highways.
You’re the only One who can!” (Song-Graves Into Gardens-Elevate Worship)
Lord, somedays it’s so easy to sing your praise and to worship you. I am thankful for those days. But other days….other days, not so much. Lord, forgive me. You haven’t changed. You are ALWAYS worthy of praise. But Lord, my flesh is weak within me. Sometimes my soul is downcast. On those days, during those times, hep me to praise you anyway. Remind me to look for your hand in the small things while I wait for the bigger answers my heart seeks. Amen.
Truly. Sometimes I think back over my life and I would really love a chance to live parts of it over again, but differently. I’ve lost friendships, said words I regret, been angry when love was what was needed, let my feet take me places I knew better than to go, and much much more.
Maybe you feel the same way.
If we just had a time machine, or a magic lamp to rub. Wouldn’t that be something?
My dad always told me that “if” was the biggest word in the dictionary. It’s true if you think about it. “If I just hadn’t done that”, or “If I just hadn’t said that”. Or how about “If I had just gone ahead and done that thing” or “what would things be like if that hadn’t happened to me”? We torture oursleves with “if”.
We all have regrets. Each of us can think back on our lives and remember circumstances that we’d like to change. Those things can keep us up at night. The wish to redo situations knowing what we know now is strong. Regret and shame can hold us prisoner. The enemy of our souls uses those emotions to trap us all the time. In order to keep us from experiencing peace, forgiveness, and joy, he will bring up the wrongs we have done in our life, over and over. He will often play them on repeat in our minds. So much so, that the truth of scripture can’t get in.
The voice in our head from our own shortcomings is so loud that the gentle whisper of God’s redeeming love almost can’t be heard.
And since we can’t redo those things, despair can set in. But despair is the opposite of hope.
The disciple Peter had regrets. You will remember that Peter followed Jesus with everything he had. He had a front row seat to everything that Jesus did. All the miracles, all the teaching, all the humility and all the joy of being in the presence of The Messiah. Peter saw it all.
In fact, Peter was closer to Jesus than some of the other disciples. He was part of the inner circle.
But when the rubber met the road, Peter bailed. Peter’s faith was fierce, but his flesh was fiercer still…As they led Jesus to the courtyard of the high priest, Peter followed at a distance. You can imagine that the entire time, Peter was contemplating his next move. As he walked along with the others who were following to see what would happen to this Jesus, Peter was there. He would likely have been thinking over the past few years and all that had changed in his life because of Jesus. He would have been recalling fireside talks, feeding thousands of people with just two small fish and a few tiny loaves of bread. He would have remembered when Jesus changed the water in some giant clay jugs into the best wine they had ever tasted. It was there in the courtyard of the high priest where Peter denied that he even knew who Jesus was.
And Jesus heard him.
Jesus turned to make eye contact with Peter, and the guilt and shame that Peter felt drove him from the courtyard in tears. Luke 22:62 says, “And Peter left the courtyard, weeping bitterly.”
For Peter, the sting of regret was monumental. Denying Jesus was not something that Peter did flippantly, or in the heat of the moment. He had been with Jesus all day, and into the night. They were together preceding Jesus’ arrest. Jesus had warned Peter of what was coming, and Peter had sworn his loyalty to Jesus. Fiercely. They had gone together to the Mount of Olives where Jesus asked the disciples to stay awake and pray, but they could not. Jesus went a stone’s throw away to talk to His Father about the suffering he was about to endure. The disciples fell asleep many times during Jesus’ time of prayer. Yet each time Jesus came back to them and admonished them to stay alert. And Peter was there, the entire time.
Peter would have given a lot of thought to his association with Jesus during that grueling day.
Denying Jesus would have been the last thing on his mind. So when it happened, the regret was instant.
But later, in Matthew 16:18, Peter is offered restoration by Jesus when He declares that Peter is foundational to the church of God moving forward. “Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.” Peter was restored in his faith by the very One whom he had denied! In a way, Peter got a redo. He got the chance to do things right.
When the pain of regret and the sting of shame begin to edge their way into our thought life, it’s time to intentionally turn the page on those feelings. We are taught throughout scripture that God loves us unconditionally, that He made a way (in Jesus) for us to share eternity with Him, and that He desires a relationship with us.
Jesus was unwilling to let Peter drown in guilt and shame. Even now, maybe He is using these words to express that message to you too.
Take to heart these truths that come from God’s love letter to us.
1 Thessalonians 1:4 tells me that God loves me. “God loves you and has chosen you to be His own people”.
1 Peter 2:9 reminds me that I am chosen. “You are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession.”
1 John 2:12 tells me that I am forgiven. “I am writing to you who are God’s children because your sins have been forgiven through Jesus”.
Galatians 5:1 states that I am free. “So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure you stay free…”
2 Corinthians 5:17 declares that I am made new. “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is GONE; a new life has begun!”
Promises like those in scripture give me the confidence to let go of regret. They give me hope for a future where shame and regret no longer hold me captive. They encourage me that today is different already because the Lord is in my life. With His presence in me, regret and shame have no room to reside, because that space is now taken up with faith in Jesus and His hope!
Peter knew regret. Shame drove Peter from the courtyard. Fear caused him to run away. But Jesus restored him and gave him purpose!
Jesus offers the same restoration to you and me. No matter where we’ve been. No matter what we’ve done. No matter who we were yesterday. Today is the day of salvation! Today we are offered new life!
Today there is hope!
Peter admitted his shortcomings and sin to God. He was forgiven, and able to be used by God in a mighty way. You and I have the same opportunity.
When the ugliness of my past mistakes rears an accusing head, and calls me out, I can declare confidently that I am forgiven and free! That I have been redeemed and restored.
The only “if” I want to entertain these days is “What will God do in this situation if I am faithful to Him and press forward? I try to be careful not to focus for too long on what is behind me, I am not headed that direction anymore.
And, by faith, neither are you my sister.
Jesus, I want to lay my past out before you now. (tell Him here those things that are holding you hostage, don’t hold anything back, He already knows). I want to lay all of these things at your feet Lord, and I beg you to break the chains of the enemy that tell me I can’t change. They tell me I can’t be forgiven. They tell me that I need to fix myself before you will love and accept me. Give me the holy courage to remain in the truth of Your word that declares that I am a new creation! I no longer need to carry that weight, You have taken it from me. I love you Lord.
This time of year, as the temperatures rise earlier in the day, getting some walking in means, I need to go early. So, I don my walking shoes and head out as the sun is coming up! (Go ahead, call me crazy…. I already know!) It is still crisp and cool then, and there’s very little traffic and very few people out then. It’s a peaceful time to walk and think.
Recently I decided to start challenging myself, and I began to jog. Little spurts at first, and then longer spurts. I continued to do this repeatedly until I could go a fair distance jogging before returning to walking. I like to look ahead on my path and choose an object as a goal, a place to stop jogging. I tell myself, “I won’t stop until I get to that car up ahead.” I keep pushing myself to go a bit further each time I do this. I try not to stop until my heart is racing, and my breathing is heavy, and then I return to walking. By doing this, I am able to build up endurance and to go farther before I stop. It feels amazing!
On a recent walk/jog, I was feeling particularly good. So, I decided to see how far I could go without stopping. I kept my eyes down, watched my feet so I didn’t trip, and forged ahead. At one point, I thought I should be pretty close to the end of the street I was on, and almost to the corner (my goal). So, I kept jogging. But the sun was in my eyes, and I couldn’t see that corner up ahead, so I kept going. And going. And going.
Each time I looked up to see how close I was to that corner; it didn’t seem to be any nearer at all. The early morning sun was shining brightly in my eyes and kept me from seeing where that next corner was. All I could see was that sunshine. I kept jogging forward, knowing that the corner would come up eventually. But because the sun was shining so brightly, I ended up jogging farther than I thought I could. Seeing only that sunshine, kept me from only seeing my struggle. When the sun was in my eyes, I wasn’t focused on the hardship. I was focused on the finish line, that corner, my resting place.
Having that sun in my eyes was a gift!
The words of Hebrews 12:2 help to shape a fitness goal into a spiritual one. “Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross…”
Jesus came to earth with one goal. To provide a way of redemption for mankind. He did that through his death on the cross, burial and resurrection three days later. But while He was fulfilling His earthly ministry, He had trials. Trials that he completed without sin, and to the glory of God the Father. But He suffered. And Hebrews 12:2b tells us, of Jesus, “for the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross….” He knew the corner was ahead and He kept going. He focused on the joy, or rest, that was coming.
Maybe you feel that’s an unfair comparison, since after all He is Jesus, and we are not.
Okay then, how about Peter?
In Mathew 14:22-31, we read the account of Peter walking on the water to Jesus.
At this time in history, John the Baptist had just been beheaded, and there was much anguish and grief amongst the disciples. They were broken in spirit and undoubtedly fearing for their lives. But there was always work to be done. They must keep going. Jesus was teaching and performing miracles, and they had just witnessed the feeding of the 5000. Jesus then wanted some time to be alone and pray, so He sent the disciples ahead to the other side of the lake in their boat. Then during the night, Jesus wanted to join them. Now the fastest way to do that (if you’re Jesus) is to just go ahead and walk out on the water.
Can you just imagine the disciples sitting in the dark, on the lake in their small boat? Here they are grieving the impact and loss of their friend John. They have just witnessed another miracle, and their heads are spinning from it all. And here comes Jesus. WALKING ON TOP of the water.
But Peter, after seeing that it was Jesus, wants a try. Peter wants to emulate Jesus by walking on top of the water too. So, Jesus invites him out. And as long as Peter kept his eyes steadied on Jesus, he was able to stay on top of the water. He was able to avoid fear and avoid sinking underneath the dark waters. As long as he kept his eyes on the Son.
But the very second that Peter begins to shift his focus away from Jesus and onto the wind that is causing the waves to lap against the side of the boat, he sinks. Peter lost focus and that made his problem seem bigger than it was.
All Peter could see was his struggle, not his solution.
Peter called out to Jesus for help, and immediately Jesus reached out and grabbed him. Jesus pulled Peter back into the safety of the boat. But first Peter had to shift his eyes back to Jesus.
When I think of Peter, I think of me. I too, tend to easily focus on my problems instead of remembering that Jesus wants me to focus on Him. He wants me to embrace the fact that He is the “sun in my eyes”, and He is jogging alongside me toward the goal.
I know how it happens.
Life presents a challenge, an issue, a trial. And for a time, the natural thing to do is to try to fix it ourselves. To worry about all the difficulties we will face because of the issue we are up against. It may even feel overwhelming. But I want to encourage you today to shift your focus.
Take your eyes off your struggle and to look toward the Solution.
Hebrews 12:1b-2a “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Keeping my eyes on Jesus, acknowledging my need for Him, and asking for His direction in my life, will make running this race of life joyful. When the Son is in front of me, encouraging me forward, I can go farther! When I choose to place my attention on where He is leading me, I am less aware of the hardship and more focused on the finish line.
No matter what we face, we have help in Jesus. But we must choose to have “The Son in our eyes” (see what I did there)? This will help us to have the courage to get to the next corner. It will take our attention off our burning lungs and tired feet. Purposefully pointing our eyes at Jesus will help us see the solution and not just the struggle! And it will grow our endurance in the faith.
James 1:3 says of trials, “For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.”
Lord, thank you for the truth of scripture that tells me that you are always with me. Your word continually points out Your desire to have a relationship with me. I always want my endurance in faith to grow, and I always want to walk on top of the water with You. But often I forget that you are ready and waiting to guide me as I step. I forget how big You are, and I let the size of my struggle shrink the size of my solution, which is You. Help me when I worry, to remember Peter. Lord, I want to choose to trust you, especially when the waters of my life are a bit choppy, and the corner ahead seems far off. I know you are with me always. Amen.
He is a mixed breed of some kind. He’s pretty aggressive and has a big bark. He’s the kind of dog that makes me feel safe when I am home alone. He’s the kind of dog that we don’t allow kids to pet when we’re out walking, just to be safe. He’s good with the kids that are part of our family, those he is around regularly.
For the past 11 years, he has managed to keep us safe from intruders, like the UPS man, the mail carrier, and the neighbor bringing Christmas cookies. What a relief right? I have joked for years that his main job is to keep all the elephants out of the yard, and I can assure you that he is 100% successful! I have yet to have a single elephant take up residence in my yard!
But what I find so interesting is that this aggressive, protective, burly dog is terrified of lightening and thunder. This time of year (summer) is a challenging time for Chomper (yes, Chomper like The Land Before Time movies….). In Arizona, we get summer thunderstorms. Sometimes they produce rain (I’m still waiting this year). But, more often than not, they just threaten to storm with big winds, lightening, and thunderclaps. These are the kind of things that send my burly dog running to the other end of the house. He shakes, he whines, and he cowers. During those times when the storm goes into the night, my poor hubby ends up sleeping on the couch to comfort this big baby. Chomper will pace, pant and whimper until the storm passes.
I find all of this hilarious! How can such a brave, often fierce dog be such a chicken about something outside? Now, this is not his first year with thunderstorms. He has lived with them his entire life; they come and go every year. He has never once been struck by lightning, never been left to fend for himself unprotected while the rain beat down on him, and no windstorm has ever picked him up and carried him away from our home. And yet, he acts as though at any second, any or all those things could happen to him.
I wonder if God ever feels that way about me…
Psalm 46:1 (ESV) says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” I wonder If you’re like me. Sometimes I forget, I get spiritual amnesia. When trouble strikes in my life, I am immediately thrown into a tailspin of sorts. “How could this happen? Why is this happening? How am I going to fix it?”
My default is to “freak out”, (even just a little bit). I want to duck and cover. I want to make “it” stop. I try to tackle the issue and figure out a way to end the trial immediately. This is normal right?
Sometimes we forget about Psalm 46:1. This scripture reminds us that we do not need to tackle our issues under our own strength. God is our refuge and strength. He is our very present help in trouble.
When Chomper hears a thunderclap, he assumes that the worst is ahead, he can’t recognize that our home is his refuge. He doesn’t know that he will not be subject to the volatile effects of the storm on his own. He runs to cower and hide because he feels scared and alone. He doesn’t fully understand that, as his owners, we are there for him. We are close by; we are very present in his fears. He’s a dog, he can’t be reasoned with.
But you and I are different. We have the ability to think differently. We have the ability to take our fears and struggles and place them directly into the mighty hands of God.
Our best response in the face of difficulty is to pause and pray. Not falter and fidget.
In my heart, I know that when hardships come, there is always purpose. I know that God is at work and that He is doing something in my life that will change me for His glory. I know that I will come out better for it. And I truly believe that my pain can be used by Him to ease the pain for someone else down the road (when I seek Him and come out on the right side of it). But oftentimes, these are the thoughts that come second. After the “freak out” session has ended. After I have settled down and come to the end of myself, and my limited resources to handle things.
Romans 8: 38-39 (NLT) carries another pertinent truth straight to my heart. “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Those are some powerful words, friend. (Read them again, slower this time.) Nothingcan separate us from God’s love! Not death, not fears, not worries, not trials of life. Sometimes we feel that way, but it is not true.
Each time that a crisis arises in our lives, we have a choice. We can pause and pray, and elicit God’s direction within the crisis. Or we can freak and fidget, and take things into our own hands. We always have that choice. God is faithful and compassionate though. He wants to help us maneuver through our current difficulty. Through relationship with Him, we can have peace in the middle of a struggle, even if the struggle doesn’t go away quickly.
Knowing that God the Father wants to be there in the storm with me, gives me much peace and comfort. I’ve learned that sometimes He stops the storm around me, and sometimes He stops the storm within me.
There is no way to avoid storms in this life. Storms are completely a part of being human. We can’t change that. But what we can change is our response to the storm. By trusting God in the storm and remembering the He is a very present help (or ever-present help, in the NIV), we cando our part to stop the storm within.
The next time there is a thunderstorm, and the lightening has Chomper running for cover, my hubby will be there. He will sleep on the couch. He will pet him while he whines. He will talk to him and try to alleviate his fears. He will stay with Chomper until the storm passes, and he can rest.
The Lord will do the same for you and me. He will stay with us through the night. He will comfort us with His loving embrace of peace. He will draw us to His word where we can find truth to calm our fears. And He will not leave us to weather the storm alone. He’s a good, good Father. Remember that the next time the winds of difficulty start to blow in your direction. God is our refuge and strength. Will you freak and fidget, or will you pause and pray?
Lord, it is so easy for me to worry. Sometimes life gets difficult, and I don’t always respond the way that I want to. But Lord, I trust You. I know that You are always with me. I believe that You want me to lean into You and that You will fight the storms of life with me if I’ll just acknowledge my need for You. I pray now and ask that You will remind me of this truth. That the next time the wind howls and I feel scared, that Your spirit will remind my spirit, that I am not alone. That You are my refuge and my strength.
Last summer I went on a long-distance trip. My hubby and I ventured to Colorado, and on to Indiana to see relatives. It was a wonderful 17 days away from home exploring, hiking, driving across large parts of the country, and visiting family! Neither of us had been to Colorado before, and I fell in love with Summer Colorado. (I’m not interested in Winter Colorado…..snow is a four letter word in my book!) When we got to Indiana, I saw Lightening Bugs, or fireflies, for the first time! All in all, it was a terrific trip, one we’d like to do again someday.
Before we left on the trip, we spent months planning it. We mapped and re mapped routes. We viewed our hotel options along the way. We checked into what sights we wanted to visit as we traveled. We looked to see the freeways and highways we would use to make our route the fastest and most direct. We checked the weather. And we considered what cities to stay overnight in that might be the safest as tried to avoid the “big cities” as much as possible. We ultimately planned out as many details as we could foresee needing to, ensuring that everything was “just right” for our big adventure. That seems logical and smart, doesn’t it?
But when it comes to the adventure that is our faith, being logical and smart is only a part of the equation.
Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”. We can take courage from those words. But verse 2 provides us with some inspiring words as well. “This is what the ancients were commended for.” Let’s look at one of those “ancients”.
Abram. You may best remember him as Abraham, the father of many nations. Father Abraham, as the song goes, had many sons. There was much that God wanted to do IN and THROUGH Abram. But before God could truly work in Abram’s life, he needed to relocate. Up until that time, Abram had a decent life. He lived with his immediate family, in his homeland, the place where he grew up. He had roots in the community, and he had extended family there. He had work, a full life, and he was comfortable. But in Genesis 12 God speaks to Abram. “The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” It’s that last line that gets me.
Go to the land I will show you.
WILL show you. Not HAVE shown you. But WILL, future tense. I find this part of scripture astounding. Abram didn’t have a map, he didn’t check for stops along the way, he didn’t check the weather. He didn’t even know where he was going! He just went. God said “I will show you” where you’re going. He started out on his journey without even knowing his destination ahead of time! Let that sink in for a moment. Consider how very different that is than the kind of planning you and I put into a vacation. But this trip was far more permanent and important than any other vacation or trip Abram might take. This was his calling. He was on assignment from God.
Remember, “ faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”. Hebrews chapter 11 is also known as the Faith Chapter in the Bible. Many heroes of the faith are listed here and are commended for their faithful actions, or their obedience. Try this; in the following examples from Hebrews 11, replace the word faith with the word obedience, as you read them.
By faith, Noah (when warned about things not yet seen)…built an ark.
By faith, Abram…went, even though he did not know where he was going.
By faith Moses parents hid him for three months.
By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land.
By faith the prostitute Rahab…welcomed the spies.
Now go back and read each one and stop to consider what might have happened if they had NOT obeyed in faith but held back in fear. There would have been huge consequences to their lack of action. Those of us in the future (like right now!) would be living a different life. It is a fact that when people of God obey His call, the chain of events that occurs because of it, changes lives. Moving forward, the ripple effect that takes place, can literally change the course of history! Translation: your obedience can have a lasting effect on the history of your own family and possibly even further than that. Future generations (like you and I) are changed and blessed because of events in the faith life of believers, centuries ago!
What’s important to note is that those heroes not only heard the call, but they followed through. They didn’t have it all spelled out for them ahead of time. There was no map for Abram, no blueprints for Noah, no promise of safety for Moses’ parents, and no bridge for the Israelites that crossed the Red Sea. I like my plans all tied up neatly with a bow, sealed and guaranteed for me ahead of time. I use the map app on my phone for directions, I choose hotels with free cancellation, and I prefer to know alternative routes in case of traffic.
But that’s not faith. That’s having a plan.
Having a plan is smart when you travel, in fact it’s smart for a great many areas of life. But when it comes to our faith life, things change a little. When we feel that God is placing something in front of us with intention (sometimes referred to as being called) we need step out “in faith”. We may need to move forward with our direction from God before all the details are mapped out and secure. We shouldn’t always wait until all the unknowns are known. We can have peace knowing that God’s plan is always for our best. That if He has placed something in or on our heart, He will make a way. He did that for the heroes of the faith, and there is no reason to think that He won’t do the same for us! When we step forward in faith, what happens is that we see blessings on the other side of our fear. Blessings that God has been waiting to show us! Remember that God told Abram “Go to a place that I WILL show you” and Abram went. What happened in Abram’s life after that time of faithful obedience was that he THEN became the father of many nations. And now, thousands of years later, you and I can be encouraged as we read the story of how God blessed him AFTER he obeyed.
I want you to grasp the truth that Abram didn’t leave AFTER God laid out the entire plan and route for him. He didn’t obey AFTER God showed him all he would receive as a result of his obedience. He WENT because God asked it of him. He went when he simply believed that God knew what was best for him. And THEN God blessed him!
Have you felt like there might be something that God is tugging on your heart to do? Have you struggled with knowing what that feels like? Or if it’s all in your head? Here’s some things that I have learned. That leading from God can feel like something that you are excited about or interested in (like a ministry to get involved in?). Sometimes it feels like a purpose that tingles just below the surface your skin (like something you are passionate about that could help people). Usually, it requires a risk or change (is it a new job or a location change?). Sometimes it doesn’t even make sense (with regard to what others expect of you, or even financially). Often it is something you just can’t stop thinking about!
Pray about those “feelings”. Pray about your fears. Tell God about it, and then listen. There’s no need to rush. As you pray and seek God, the Spirit will keep bringing that thing to your mind. As you pray, listen to how often it comes up in your conversations. Consider how you just can’t get away from it. As you pray and seek Him in this, He will show you clearly if you listen intently. Proverbs 3:5-6 in the NLT says it beautifully. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”
It may feel “safer” to stay where you are, to avoid risk or change. You may feel “safer” when you choose not to get involved in that new thing. But when God is in it, He directs us, and He blesses our obedience. Romans 8:14 tells us; “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.” I want to be led by the Spirit of God! I want to walk in obedience as His child! Psalm 128:1 also tells us this: “Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in obedience to him.” You and I are BLESSED when we walk in obedience! Blessed when we follow what He asks. Even when we can’t see the entire route. Even when we don’t understand the whole picture.
We don’t’ have to. Abram didn’t.
God does not want His plan for us to be a mystery. He desires to bless us through the purposes He has planned. And He wants to use you to make a difference! Having a different future starts with obedience through faith now!
Step forward in faith!
Father, there is nothing that I desire more than your blessing over me. I confess that in my humanity, I often try to figure everything out before I step out in faith. I trust you when you say that you have my best interest on your heart. I trust that you will lead and direct my steps. And Lord, in this moment , I know what you have put in my heart. My desire is to be careful not to get ahead of you as you lead, but I know I can’t stay put any longer either. I am asking you now to show me which path to take. And I amtrusting thatas I follow your lead, that you will shine your light brightly on my path!
Have you ever felt like you were the only one that struggles with something? Like what you are going through is unique to just you and no one else could understand? Or maybe you’ve felt that even though others have been in a similar situation, they surely “handled it” better than you did? Like they were far more spiritual and steady than you are, and therefore, you are failing…..maybe even failing in your faith?
I recently sat in a room with some women as they shared their stories. They talked about their life experiences and their heartaches. One was raised in an abusive home, and experienced years of pain and grief. Another became pregnant at a very young age. Another wandered from the faith she was raised with as the years of life grew on her. Another has experienced addiction.
As I listened to their stories, I couldn’t help but to be in awe of them! Sharing their stories took courage! But something else happened when they shared. The others in the room had the courage to also open up about their own struggles.
God promises that we are never alone in our trials.
Isaiah 41:10 says “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”
God assures us many times in His word that He is always with us. That He will never leave us. That we do not need to walk this life alone.
But the enemy likes to isolate us and make us believe that we are alone. He whispers the lie that “No one struggles with this like you do.” And “Her faith is stronger than yours is, so this is easier for her to go through.” How about this one, “If you share that part of your life, they will think badly of you. It’s better to keep it to yourself until you fix it….”. Lies.
The enemy is constantly trying to keep us from community, from fellowship with Jesus and with others. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “strength in numbers”? There is such truth there. When we choose to be connected to the body of Christ through church, small groups, and bible studies, we are exercising that principle. We are placing ourselves in community with others for support and encouragement. When we do so, we have others around us to love, support and remind us of God’s love and faithfulness.
When we choose to be honest and open about our stories, it not only helps us, but it truly helps others as well.
Think of it this way; When you are experiencing a difficulty in your life, isn’t it easier to talk it out with someone who has been down a similar road? It is our shared experiences that bind us. Often our situation is not exactly the same as our sister’s. But just knowing that she also wrestled in her heart and faith to get through something can help us feel less like the failure that the enemy wants to convince us that we are. Hearing her talk about it opens up a place in our souls for healing to begin.
2 Corinthians 1:4 “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” The idea here is that we share our struggles to encourage each other. This way no one needs to feel alone. Too many women feel alone in this life. But as we share life, we realize that not only are we united in our struggles, but in our strength as well!
The women I spoke about today are beautiful women of God! Each one has changed and continues to grow in her faith and trust in God. The beautiful thing about our stories, is that The Author still has the pen in His hand. If your life and story is not what you want it to be, take heart! It is not over yet! As long as there is breath in our lungs, there is time to grow. And there is time for God to work.
If you are currently in a struggle, don’t keep it to yourself, share life with your faith community. If you are without a faith community to plug into, I strongly encourage you to seek one out! Share gently, and within the walls of trust inside your connections, but share. You are not alone. Don’t allow yourself to continue to be isolated in your trial. Help and healing begins when we bring the truth into the light.
If you are “on the other side” of a struggle, someone needs to hear from you. Someone is hurting and isolated. Someone needs to hear how God brought you through. God WILL use our trials for good. Nothing is wasted with Him. He can use the fragments of broken pieces in our lives, but we must share them for that to happen. He didn’t bring you through the pain just for yourself, He wants to use it in the lives of those He connects you to.
God, I know you want to use my story for your glory. Lead me to share where you want to shine. I trust that you will draw my heart to another who needs to see your face reflected in mine. I want my life to bring you honor as I share all that you’ve done for me. Please give me courage to be transparent.
Sometimes life is noisy, isn’t it? There are often times when the noise of life is just plain loud.
Loud noise in life sounds like stressful situations; job loss, financial shortcomings, relationship struggles, issues with adult “children”, divorce, moving, trauma and so on. Sometimes, the noise of life is all we can hear. It’s easy to hear only the noise when it speaks so loudly in our ears. But what’s challenging is to hear the voice of God in our hearts when the pressures and noise of life is so loud. In those difficult situations in life, when we most need God’s help and direction, His voice is often quieter than the noise. So how do we hear it over all the loud?
Where I live it, is often windy, like a lot windy. And when the weather is warmer, I like to get out hiking. Hiking in the wind is not difficult, in fact I am often grateful for the breeze as it keeps me cooler as I go along. However, when I am hiking with someone, having conversation can be tricky. The wind can make it difficult to hear each other well enough to effectively communicate. Try as we might, conversing in the wind is difficult. The best way to hear someone’s voice when there is loud noise all around, is to lean in when they speak.
As I have grown in my faith and in my relationship with God, I have tried to get closer to Him, I desire to hear Him speak into my life more clearly. It isn’t always easy. There are times when life is so difficult and loud, that all I seem to be able to hear is the noise. I imagine that you can relate.
In the book of 1 Kings, we come across a curious but understandable (from a human perspective) situation for the prophet Elijah. Elijah has just defeated the prophets of Baal. This is an amazing and true story of God showing His almighty power and authority! (read 1 Kings 18:20-40) Next, Elijah’s life is threatened by Jezebel, and she was no one to be trifled with! She was the wife of king Ahab (a truly wicked king) and is well known in scripture for being a wicked woman herself. Elijah had good reason to be worried when she promised that within 24 hours she was going to kill him. This was no idle threat.
Elijah flees to Judah, heads into the wilderness alone, and prays to God that he might die. This seems pretty desperate, right? He tells God, “I have had enough”. But the angel of the Lord comes to him, feeds him, and instructs him to head out on a journey. Elijah obeys God and heads out on this journey that lasts 40 days and 40 nights. Here, he comes to a cave and spends the night. And we pick it up in verse 9, where God says to Elijah “what are you doing here?” I can almost imagine Elijah rolling his eyes! “OBVIOUSLY, I am hiding from Jezebel! This is all too much for me to handle!”
1 Kings 19:11-12 says this, “The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by. Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord (noisy), but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake (noisy), but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire (noisy), but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.” The implication here is that God was speaking through the whisper!
So many times, all we hear in life is the noise. We assume that God is speaking to us in the noise. But the example here is that after the noise, there was a gentle whisper. I think that maybe Elijah was more in tune to hear the whisper of God because the noise of the wind, the earthquake and the fire had been so loud. In the quiet that followed, he was able to hear the voice that the noise had made impossible.
Difficult and stressful situations in life can be noisy. All consuming. Loud. But if we pause and lean in, often the gentle whisper of God follows.
And it is in those times, when we pause the noise and listen, that we receive the leading and direction from God that we are truly desiring.
In my life there have been many times with so much noise. I have been confused, hurt, distraught and lost, not knowing what to do with all that was troubling me. I can resonate with Elijah when he told God that he had had enough. Maybe you can too.
Have you ever “heard” the voice of God? I have. For me, it was not audible, but I heard it none the less. It came in as a gentle stirring in my soul and grew to be surer and clearer as I continued to lean in and listen for it. I found that the more time I spent in the word, and in prayer, the closer I drew to Him, and the more confident I was that the stirring voice in my heart was in fact, from God. Sometimes as Christians, we say things like “God told me…” or “God confirmed in my heart…” and it can sound a bit odd to those outside the faith. Sometimes it even sounds odd to our fellow believers who have yet to experience it. But don’t let that stop you from listening. Knowing that you have heard God clearly on an issue, brings so much peace and purpose. For me, it has brought into my life the drive and forward motion I have needed. Even when what I was seeing in front of me made me question going forward on the path.
The example of Jesus is clear for us in scripture. Jesus got alone with God often and spent some time in prayer. He was listening. He very much needed to hear from His heavenly father.
Just after feeding the 5000 in Matthew 14, we see Jesus needing some alone time. Verse 23 tells us, “After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone.” I almost get the sense that Jesus lost rack of time as He was with the Father. I am certain that His time with His Father was something that He needed, desired and prioritized. I don’t think Jesus had to write “do devotions” on his daily to-do list. I doubt that Jesus had to discipline Himself to make that time. His time with the Father was something He looked forward to. And if the son of man needed time with the Father, so do you and I.
Spending time with God through reading my bible and praying is part of my (almost) daily routine. In the last year I have become very intentional about that, and I have grown so much because of it. This past week I did something new though. I took my Bible, a notebook and Bible study that I am working my way through, and I went to the park. I found a quiet picnic bench and spread out my things. It was a warm evening, and the breeze was perfect. And in the hour or so that I spent there, I heard from God. It was so good for me to take the time away from home, to really focus. There were no chores calling my name there at the park. It was different and refreshing in a way that I didn’t fully anticipate!
I encourage you to take some time alone, to get away with God, and really listen. He won’t disappoint you. He has so much He wants to share with you, but He won’t force it on you. If you will make the time, you will likely hear Him whisper to your heart the very peace, purpose and direction that you need. You don’t have to leave home to do it but finding a quiet place or time alone will surely make a difference. Get away from the noise of life, the pressures and to-do lists. Be intentional about it and He will meet you there. Jeremiah 29:13 makes it plain, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” He desires to be found by us.
Are you wrestling within your soul over something? Are you facing a difficult time and are unsure of God’s leading there? Maybe things are pretty peaceful for you, and you wonder what God has next for you. Whatever the situation, get away with God, and listen for His whisper. He’s ready, He desires for you to hear Him, and He has the answer you want.
Lord, my prayer is simple today. I want to know you more. Show me and give me a pocket of time soon where I can meet with you. Help me to prioritize some time with you so that I can hear your gentle whisper away from the noise of life. Help me to see it and to seize it when it comes. Amen.