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devotional, encouragement, holidays

Advent Week 2–Peace & Preparation

When my kids were small, their father would take them to the mall (or WalMart) to buy me a gift for Christmas and my birthday, which are two days apart. They would be so excited to wrap their gifts and place them under the tree—almost as excited as they were about shaking and squeezing all the gifts with their own names attached. 

A month, let alone a few weeks, was such a long time for little girls to wait! They would grow more excited and animated about those gifts under the tree every day until I thought they would burst from excitement! 

Each day, more gifts would appear under the tree, building the anticipation even more. More Christmas cookies, more Christmas carols, and more Christmas parties fueled their frenzy.

Our custom used to be that we would each pick one small gift to open on Christmas Eve before heading off to bed. One year, my younger girl was so anxious for me to open the gift she had picked out for me that she asked if I would please open “the umbrella-shaped gift”!  

As with children (young and old!) at Christmas time, we, too, anxiously await the second return of Christ to bring us peace, right all the wrongs, and deliver us from the cares of this present world. 

For he delivers the needy when he calls,
    the poor and him who has no helper.

Psalm 72:12

Even though the Israelites were longing for the promised Messiah, the Bethlehem of 2,000 years ago was not prepared for Jesus’ birth. 

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,    
from ancient days.

Micah 5:2

We’re looking for a Savior just as much as the Israelites were over 2,000 years ago. So how can we prepare for Jesus’ peace during Advent? We can do good things for those around us. We can love and care for those within our sphere of influence. And we can pray to be transformed more to His likeness.

But just like the flurry of preparations that take place during December, we also must prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ. Lord, help us remember to prepare our hearts for your coming. Soften our hearts. Give us open hearts to receive the King.

Friend, what do you need to do to prepare your heart for the coming King this Advent season?

Read Advent Week 1, Hope.

anxiety, Book Reviews, change, writing

Overcoming Writer’s Block–Book Review

Overcoming Writer’s Block: The Writer’s Guide to Beating the Blank Page by Marcy Pusey is anything but the usual just-push-through-it dribble that most books with similar titles spout. It’s practical in so many ways—and not just for writing! Marcy tackles the psychology of creative blocks, which is applicable in so many areas of life. 

I appreciate that Marcy’s approach is not a one-size-fits-all approach because writers are unique, and so are their creative blocks. She gives many concrete ways to reframe your thoughts (which takes practice). Overcoming Writer’s Block has inspired me to open up my neglected manuscripts again. You’ll be inspired too!

anxiety, Book Reviews, encouragement

Holding On When You Want to Let Go–Book Review

I’ve been wanting to read Holding On When You Want to Let Go by Sheila Walsh ever since it hit the shelves. She writes from the place of having wanted to give up and being in difficult circumstances where she didn’t feel like God was anywhere in sight–let alone holding her. Sheila shares her hard-earned wisdom and compassion with us in this hopeful, heartfelt book.

I love Sheila’s familiar, comforting style. She knows there’s no quick fix for the trials we’re going through, so she offers a “God fix” instead. She’s relatable because she’s so open about her struggles, yet she offers the hope found in Jesus. Occasionally, we do have to let go of things: “We let go of what we cannot keep to hold on to our Father, who will never let us go” (pg. 202).

If you’re ready to give up hope, go read this book first!

devotional, encouragement, holidays

Advent Week 1–HOPE

Advent

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:1

Hope has lost the original weight of its meaning. Now we say things like, “I hope it doesn’t rain again this weekend.” But in biblical times, hope held a much deeper significance. It means “joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvation.” 

Many prophets foretold the coming, or advent, of the Messiah, and the Israelites pinned their hopes—their confident expectation for salvation—on the long-awaited Messiah. Isaiah 40 foretells the coming of a Messiah who will comfort His people and establish justice. The Messiah will display the power of light over darkness and the triumph of good over evil.

In this hope, the Israelites anticipated a time of amazing worship, and we can likewise worship Jesus while looking forward to His second coming (see Psalm 122).

When the Messiah arrived as a baby in a manger in Bethlehem, many were shocked and did not believe that He could save Israel from their hardships—the oppression of the Romans (as Moses saved the Israelites from the oppression of the Egyptians thousands of years earlier, see Exodus 1-14). 

For those looking for salvation from our current conditions (and who isn’t?) of pandemics, politics, and prejudice, our salvation might not look like what we think it should—just like the Jews of 2,000 years ago were sure the Messiah would arrive as a great and mighty King, not a tiny baby in a tiny town.

Today, we put our hope in the baby in the manger and our future hope in the second coming of the Messiah to save us from the oppressors of our current world.

While we don’t know the day or the hour, we do know that He will come to save us from the impending tribulation as foretold throughout the Scriptures “to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:28).

The Jews of Jesus’ day were hoping for salvation from the Romans. We Christians today are hoping that Jesus will bring judgment to right all the wrongs. Justice will prevail—if only at the final judgment.  

We need to remember not to overlook the ordinary miracles and seemingly small moments of joy. In those things we will find our hope is truly a “steadfast anchor of the soul” (Hebrews 6:19).

What are you hoping for this Advent season? Please share with me, so I can pray with you!

Book Reviews, midlife faith

Love, Pray, Listen

You know 1 Corinthians 13, right? Sure, so do I. And you love your kids, right? Me, too! At least I thought I did until I read Mary DeMuth’s latest book Love, Pray, Listen. Mary uses this familiar passage on love to show us how to love, I mean really love our adult(ish) children. Parenting changes drastically when our kids reach that magic age of 18, and most of us parents flounder when it comes to navigating those changes gracefully. I sure did—and still do!

So, what do you do when your kids drop the faith you raised them with like a hot potato? Love, pray, and listen. What do you do when they marry someone you don’t like or someone of the same gender? Love, pray, listen. Mary offers sound theology, practical advice, and gut-wrenching honest examples to help us navigate the murky waters of adult(ish) kids. I was convicted of doing more like judge, advise, and talk. You’ll appreciate Mary’s compassion and hard-won wisdom as much as I did!

devotional, encouragement, midlife faith

The Patterns of Prayer

It’s easy to realize we need to pray more, but how often do you find yourself kneeling beside your bed, hands folded … and nothing comes out of your mouth? Or do you just spout off items like you’re reading a grocery list? We’ve heard that we can just talk to God like we’re talking with a friend, but that can seem irreverent. Is there a special formula?

The good news is that there’s no special formula you have to use for God to hear your prayers. But here are a few patterns you can use to help you begin.

The A.C.T.S. of Prayer

·         Adoration  – Put praise before victory: “When he had consulted with the people, he appointed those who should sing to the Lord, and who should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army and were saying: Praise the Lord, for His mercy endures forever” (2 Chronicles 20:21).
·         Confession – Repent from letting fear rule our minds. “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).
·         Thanksgiving – Give thanks in all things: “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
·         Supplication (requests) – Notice that making our requests should be last when we come before God in prayer. If we start with our laundry list, often we’re tempted to stop there. But when we first adore God for who He is, confess our sins to open the communication lines between us, give thanks for what God has already done in our lives, and THEN bring our requests before Him, we’ll find that our wants are more aligned with His will. James 4:2 says, “You do not have because you do not ask.”

Here’s an example of how to use the A.C.T.S. acronym to help you pray:

Heavenly Father, You are omniscient. You know what my future holds. I confess that I am letting worry overrule the knowledge of your faithfulness in this trying situation. Thank You for delivering me from fear and always providing for me. I ask that You calm my anxious mind and make a way for me to be able to make it through this week.

(The ACTS of Prayer courtesy of my friend and coworker Billie Jo.)

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Matthew 6:9-13

Within this familiar prayer are all the elements we need to approach God confidently and release all the blessings He wants to give us. We start with recognizing God in proper reverence, but also identifying our relationship with Him. We move on to reverencing His holiness. Prayer is about changing our hearts and attitudes to prepare for God’s perfect plans for our lives. We can then concede that we trust His character and His knowledge of the future. Resting in God’s plans instead of striving for our own will bring the peace that we crave.

After we pray these things, then we are ready to request what we need – for ourselves and our loved ones. We must also make sure to request forgiveness for our sins and ensure that we aren’t withholding forgiveness from others. We need to learn to embrace God’s grace and to extend grace to others. By requesting deliverance from temptation and the evil one, we’re asking God to protect us from all harm, something that often worries us. After dwelling on earthly things, finish by refocusing on heavenly things.

Pray the Psalms

So many times in Scripture we read about David being afraid and exhausted, and he expressed his fears and disappointments with great depth and feeling. To make these prayers your own, just add in your name or your loved one’s name.

Here are some helpful Psalms to pray through when you’re anxious and worried:

·         Psalms 3 and 10 – prayer for deliverance from enemies and tough situations.
·         Psalm 17 – prayer vindication when you’ve been wronged.
·         Psalm 23 – prayer for comfort when you’re exhausted and distressed.
·         Psalm 57 – prayer for God’s favor and mercy.
·         Psalm 61 and 91 – prayer for protection in dangerous situations.
·         Psalm 121 – prayer help and guidance when you don’t know what to do.

In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.

Psalm 4:8

Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.

Psalm 107:6

The Name of Jesus

Just say the name of Jesus. When you can’t form the words to say anything more, just speak the name of Jesus. He is enough. At the name of Jesus, darkness fades and demons flee! Amen!

When fear steals your words, the Holy Spirit will pray for you: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26 ESV).

Powerful Prayers

Pray for others as God brings them to mind; you can even set a reminder to pray on your phone. Pray for others as soon as they ask for prayer. That’s the best, most important thing we can do for others who find themselves overwhelmed by fear.

If you journal your prayer requests, prayers, and answers (with dates), your faith will increase as you can look back and see God’s answers.

I hope these ideas help you turn your words into powerful prayers for yourself and others in times of fear. Keep praying and keep believing. God will answer your prayers!

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.

1 John 5:14-15 ESV
devotional, encouragement, healing

The Purpose of Prayer

We know that prayer is an edict, an expression, and an exchange, now let’s look at what it accomplishes.

Prayer transports us into the presence of God. What we need more than anything else – more than money, a new job, or healing – is God Himself. If I have Jesus, I have all I need for peace, joy, and rest. Remember that old song “Give Me Jesus”? Let that be our song and prayer today.

Prayer takes our eyes off ourselves and puts them on Jesus – the one who will calm our storms. Remember when the disciples and Jesus were in a boat crossing to the other side of the lake and a storm kicked up? While the disciples were panicking, Jesus was sleeping. But when they woke Him up, all He had to do was command the wind and the sea, “Peace, be still! And the wind ceased and there was a great calm” (Mark 4:39).

Notice that Jesus didn’t magically transport them away from the storm. Nor did He leave them alone in the storm. He simply spoke, and the storm stopped. Now, Jesus might not speak to the storms you’re facing, but He will speak to you, “Peace, be still!” And in His presence, you will find that your soul can be calm even amid chaos.

As Paul reminds us, the peace of God will calm our minds when we submit our requests to God through prayer:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

In the Old Testament as well, the prophet Isaiah points out, “You [God] will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You” (26:3).

When we learn how to rest in God’s presence, our minds will be transformed from a muddled mess to a certainty of peace:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:2 ESV

Come to God expectantly. What did you receive? Let me know in the comments!

devotional, midlife faith

The Power of Prayer

Photo by Tara Winstead on Pexels.com

How often have we heard (or said), “I’ll pray; I’m sorry I can’t do more”? Here’s the thing, though, prayer is the single most important thing we can do to combat worry – in our own lives and the lives of others.

Prayer is foundational to the Christian life, yet many people don’t know its true purpose and often feel like they don’t know how to pray. It’s not like sharing your troubles with a friend over a cup of tea.

First, prayer is a privilege as well as a command: Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12 ESV).

Second, prayer, in its very essence, is communicating with our loving, Heavenly Father. It’s fellowship with the God of the universe. He is waiting for us to approach Him: And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). It’s meant to be a two-way conversation, so we need to make sure to listen to God’s response through meditating on Scripture.

Third, prayer is giving our troubles to our Creator and the perfect Lover of our Soul, so we don’t have to carry their weight: “Cast[ing] all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” 1 Peter 5:7 ESV). The idea here of “casting” is throwing or placing upon, so we’re giving up the responsibility for our problems. Hallelujah!

Prayer is an exchange. We leave our burdens, worries, and sin in the hands of God. We come away with oil of joy and the garment of praise.

F.B. Meyer

Jesus invites us to exchange our burdens for His:   Matthew 11:28-30 Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Sometimes it seems as if our prayers are bouncing off the ceiling, and we wonder whether prayer really works. The resounding answer is yes! “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16). The answer may not be what we want or when we want it, but God always hears and answers our prayers: “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us” (1 John 5:14 ESV).

Book Reviews

The Most Misunderstood Women in the Bible

Mary DeMuth did it again! Her superb storytelling skills brought real women from the Bible to life in a fresh way. Women are vital to God’s story of redemption woven through the entire Bible, yet many of them were mistreated and misunderstood. I mean, I’m not sure I’d want to be known as Rahab the harlot forever! After all, “No matter what your past, your present and future have a purpose, thanks to Jesus.” Thank you, Jesus!

I love the way Mary was able to connect the issues these women faced to issues that I face today. I gained a new appreciation for Eve and Bathsheba especially as I have tended to see them in a negative light. And I’m not so intimidated by the Proverbs 31 woman anymore. You’ll love seeing how your life intersects with these 10 biblical women too.

devotional, encouragement, holidays, midlife faith

Jesus Is Follow Worthy

When parents first discover they’re expecting a child, they start dreaming about names for their baby. Maybe a boy name and a girl name—just in case. Maybe the baby will be named after a family member—like the long line of Elizabeths and Jims in my own family. Maybe it’s a twist on a new-fangled name that your family won’t even be able to spell or pronounce.

Instead of spending nine months choosing a name for your baby, imagine being told by an angel not only what to name your baby, but that your baby would also be your Savior! 

That’s exactly what happened to Mary in Luke 1: 

You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High (vs. 31-32 NIV). 

The name Jesus literally means Jehovah (God) is salvation, Savior. It’s the Greek New Testament equivalent of Yeshua and Joshua (in the Old Testament). Messiah means anointed one, the king from the Davidic line.

So who is this Jesus, the Messiah? Isaiah foretold the Messiah’s birth 700 years before the angel visited Mary to announce that her baby’s name would be Jesus. Isaiah also expounded on other job titles that the Jesus would carry:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6 ESV

When Mary and Joseph named their baby Jesus and laid Him in a lowly manger trough, they were also giving Him these other names. Let’s take a look at them to see how these aspects of Jesus’ character makes Him follow-worthy.

First of all, He’s our Wonderful Counselor. He never gives out a sketchy piece of advice; He always has our best interests in mind, and He never misses a turn on the GPS. Who better to follow than the One who is “wonderful in counsel and magnificent in wisdom” (Isaiah 28:29 NIV)?

Second, He is our Mighty God. He’s not just a human infant who grew up to minister to people for a few years and then died. No, He died to forgive our sins—yours and mine—and then rose again on the third day. We follow Jesus because He is the living, almighty God. No one else can hold a candle to our “great and awesome God” (Deuteronomy 7:21 NIV).

Third, He is our Everlasting Father. He has compassion toward us as our loving Father. He is our provider and protector—forever. Jesus told His disciples that He and the Father are one in John 14:9-10, so there should be no question about Jesus’ divinity. Who better to follow than our Father God who has been and will be forever and ever? 

Lastly, He is our Prince of Peace. When we let our minds dwell on God and trust in His ways, He “will keep [us] in perfect peace” (Isaiah 26:3 NIV). He came to bring wholeness and rest to our world-weary souls: “I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security” (Jeremiah 33:6 NIV). 

Why follow Jesus? Because He’s the only One who truly lives up to His name as our Savior! He’s our redeemer, deliverer, and Messiah.

Pray and Reflect on the following Scriptures this week:
Luke 1:30-33
Isaiah 9:1-7
Isaiah 11:1-3
Micah 5:1-5

Think about It:

  1. How can you see Jesus as your Wonderful Counselor this week?
  2. How can you revere Jesus as your Mighty God today?
  3. How can you trace God’s hand as your Everlasting Father through this past year?
  4. Will you invite Jesus to be your Prince of Peace in this chaotic season?

**This article also appears on the Beyond Sunday Blog.**