No Valentine Left Behind Part 2

Last week’s post introduced ways Jesus’ love can overflow our hearts and be used to bless others.  The focus was on loving single moms.  This week, I wanted to highlight another demographic that would love any extra smiles you have to offer.

Valentine’s Day can feel like a day gone by to shut-ins and the elderly.  At the same time that a young single girl might be sitting at home and wondering why her day isn’t pink and roses, other hearts are sitting indoors, maybe recalling the days of dances and holding hands that are now only memories.  Jesus wants to hold these hearts too.  He wants them to know that they are dearly loved, and never forgotten.

It can be easy to try to bring warmth into someone’s life through an upbeat smile and a chipper attitude, but it is not always easy to start a meaningful conversation with someone when you might not even know their story.

Perhaps you already know of older people to visit who would love the company, or you may be venturing into new territory.  Every person will be different, so be sensitive in interacting with those to whom God leads you.  Valentine’s Day often feels like a time to make a big show of affection through gifts and attention, but it may also be a point of sorrow for someone who is grieving a loved one.  If you aren’t sure what the best approach would be, just bring yourself and be a friend.  Remember that sometimes the best thing you can do is just listen.

Some people don’t need much encouragement to start a conversation, with others, it may be helpful to ask questions.  What sorts of music do they like?  Maybe you could even listen together of your phone.  Do they have a favorite season, flower, or sport?  If they have been in church for a large part of their lives, they may have favorite Bible verses or hymns.  You may even find common ground that you didn’t expect.  I once had a very amusing conversation with my grandmother about how we didn’t understand the trends and fads of “our generation” (hers and mine respectively), and how they all had to be up on the latest things like Elvis or rap music.

Be sensitive, but don’t be afraid to reach out.  It can be common in nursing homes for a person to have physical touch from those who care for them, but not very often from friends who have time to sit and hold their hand or give a reassuring touch.  Jesus also reached out into places and to people that needed the warmth of His reassuring hand.  Spend time with Him and learn His same compassion for people who are in situations we might not understand.  Even if they seem not to understand everything that is going on around them, ask Jesus to give you His eyes to look past it, and His hear to speak to them as a friend would.  In the midst of a life that rushes by, stop and have a chat with someone who needs a friend.  He may share a blessing with you that you did not expect as you reach out to share His love.

Ask if you can pray with them before you leave.  Even if a person’s mind is not what it used to be, their spirits often remember the touch of their Savior.  It is such a sweet thing to hear a heart that has long belonged to Jesus when it prays.  If you think that you may not be able to visit again for a while, make sure to tell them what the time meant to you.  Don’t be afraid to speak from the heart and let them know what has touched you.  For someone who cannot get out much anymore, it can mean the world to know that they can still reach others too.

by Stephanie H.

If you have any stories you would like to share or ideas for reaching out to others, please let us know in the comments.  We would love to get to know you or answer any questions you might have.  Thank you so much for spending time here with us.

No Valentine Left Behind Part 1

  The warmth of Jesus’ presence is so satisfying.  It is so sweet to hear Him whisper for you to come away alone with Him for a while.  In silence and in song, there is no place so loving as His embrace.  Why do we come back to our day to day lives?  Not because His love loses its comfort, but because we cannot bear to see others without this same love.

Valentine’s Day has become a special time with Jesus for me.  Previously, Anna and Tai have given us some great advice on how to keep Jesus as the center of your Valentine’s Day, even if you’re single.  When our cup begins to overflow, and we see His heart and His eyes of compassion, what can we do but share it?  Valentine’s Day has such a strong focus on love and sweetness, that it can also end up highlighting pain and loneliness in our lives and the lives around us.  What an opportunity to share the love of Jesus.

Whom do you have in your life that might need a touch of Jesus’ love?

The first people that came to mind for me are single moms.  Being single at all on Valentine’s Day can be tough.  A single mom carries a great deal of responsibility for the little hearts she holds, but it is not always easy for her to have those heart-to-heart conversations of her own.  This could be for any number of personal or practical circumstances.  Perhaps there is a single mom near you who could use a ray of Jesus’ joy in her life.
Even if you don’t know someone very well, flowers can be a sweet reminder that she is loved.  God didn’t have to finger-paint the plants in order for them to thrive, but He just loves to delight our hearts.  Can you believe how many beautiful things He has made?

In the same way, receiving the gift of flowers can bring so much light into a busy or stressful day.  They can be such precious windowsill reminders of God’s love.

It might take you out of your comfort zone to give flowers to someone if you don’t know her well, but don’t underestimate how much of a blessing a sincere smile can be.  It often touches people’s hearts more than they show it, and it certainly blesses Jesus to see His daughter sharing His heart with the ones He loves.

If you know her well, you may be in a position to take her out for coffee, lunch, or on a shopping trip.  You might even know her well enough to surprise her with a favorite latte at work, or to set up a chance for her to get a manicure.

Don’t forget the kiddos!  Every mom is different, and every phase of parenting every child is different.  Some moms might need a chance to regroup before they get back to tying shoes and giving goodnight kisses.  Maybe she might like some one-on-one adult conversation, and appreciate the offer to baby sit while she catches up with a friend.  Other moms might have the best Valentine’s Day ever taking a packed lunch to the park or sharing laughter with her kids and her friends over ice cream.  Sometimes the best way to let a friend know that Jesus loves her is to show her that He loves her kids.

Keep close to Jesus in prayer as you consider what Valentines He might call you toward.  Every situation is different, but He will lead you where He means for you to be His light, even if that means spending more time alone with Him before He tells you how His love will overflow through you.  Even so, don’t be afraid to share a smile and a loving word with those around you.  A little love can go a long way.

by Stephanie H.

Part 2 of this serial will be available next week.  In the meantime, how has the Lord blessed you when you were lonely, Valentine’s Day or otherwise?  Have you ever followed His direction to show love to someone even though you were nervous?  Send us a message or let us know in the comments.  We absolutely love hearing from you!

A Single Purpose

It hasn’t always been easy being single.  Even in learning to rely on Jesus, and truly seeing Him as my beloved, there are some times of loneliness that still come up.  I am at the point in my life where I can really resonate with what Katie Davis Majors wrote about singleness, and just really being happy (maybe a bit stubbornly so) with the thought of life being just me and Jesus, together forever.

But what is a single person supposed to do?  Each of us has an individual calling from the Lord, but it can seem like married couples have a clearer map to follow than single people.  There is so much to learn about caring for and considering another person even before children come along, and then life is a whirlwind of keeping them fed, loved, and in one piece through terrible twos and teens years, and then teaching them to be adults and parents for themselves.

That’s certainly an oversimplification of the process, but to a single person, it can be hard to figure out where to focus your energy if not on finding a way to get married and start a family.

Culture tells us that this is this is the season for self-love and self-discovery, but, as Tai and Anna have written before, that way of thinking never gets us very far. We can do all “twenty things to do while you’re in your twenties” and still come out more confused than before we started.  What is easy to overlook is that all of culture leans this way.  A focus on “me time” is more noticeable in the lives of singles because they seem to have less of an obligation to take care of others.  God’s people were not meant to live this way.

In Matthew chapter twelve, Jesus said that “whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.” (verse fifty)  And in the book of Acts, “not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.” (Acts 4:32) 

God’s people were made to be a family: a family that extends beyond our blood relatives.  As Tai wrote, that does not mean that we have to be stay-at-home daughters until are married.  But it also doesn’t mean that our lives must be mainly focused on our own interests or on our work lives.

One profound way I have been learning to be a part of God’s family is by using the time I have to support my brothers and sisters who do have greater family commitments.  I am still at a stage of life where there are not many variables that would make it hard to change up my schedule if I need to do something.  I cannot imagine how great a responsibility it is to support a family at work, go home and make sure they are fed, loved, and doing well in school, maybe staying up with them at night when they are sick, then getting them up for school in the morning and doing it all over again.  Some of my colleagues do this sort of thing every day, and it is a huge blessing to me to know that I can help them in it by picking up odd tasks (turns our I love doing certain kinds of paperwork), or filling in if a sick family member needs care that day.  An added bonus is that I have also been learning many things that will be a huge benefit when I have a family of my own.  And that is just my own experience.  There are so many people who could use a little more family support.  The elderly might need a chat or a hand with the heavy lifting.  Maybe a single mom could use a friend stopping by for some girl time, a grocery shopping buddy, or a babysitter for the evening so she can wear jewelry again.  A dear pastor or leader might appreciate the lawn mowed so he can spend time with his family or take care of some of God’s other family members.

As a single person, I also have fewer complications if the Lord calls me to the mission field.  It might not be your call, but it is a reason to be in prayer.

If you’re not yet called to sell everything and move into the jungle, think about how you do use your resources.  If you have a good job and a family support network, you might have the opportunity to splurge on hobbies and hanging out with friends more often than others people who are supporting families. In what ways could you be supporting God’s family?  What are some of the dreams, needs, or wishes among your friends, church family, or community?  Is there a woman at church who could use some flowers today?  Is there a younger person who might need a big sister to take them for ice cream?  Has an emergency come up for a friend, making it harder to make ends meet?  Would it really make a friend’s day if someone caught the check at lunch?  This can be a tricky subject, since some people find it embarrassing when when another person meets their financial needs.  There are also cases where giving money might encourage a harmful lifestyle.  Always been in prayer about how the Lord can best use what you have, but don’t be afraid to overcome your inhibitions when He shows you how to bless His family.

Be especially generous with your prayers.  Just knowing that someone else is willing to take a few minutes out of their day to intercede for them really touches so many people’s hearts.  So many of these things can be great random acts of kindness, but take it a step forward and get to know and love the hearts of your family in Christ.   Don’t be afraid to adopt someone!  Take the love Jesus has given you and show His family how He cares for them.  He’ll use His family to take care of you too.

by Stephanie H.

Hearing the Truth Through the Whispers

What has ever happened in your life that was actually good?

There are days when I can think back over my life and see so clearly what Jesus has done at my best and worst moments to give me every good thing that I have.  A light shines on every moment to show me the blessings of His care, and the joy that even the trials have brought to me.  Those are the days when it is hard to keep a smile from becoming a laugh, just to think of how the King of all things delights in brightening my day.

Then there are times that the light seems to turn off like a switch.  The days when the above question seems painfully real as I grope in the darkness for the things that I know have been blessings to me, but that I just cannot seem to find.  Whispers creep into my head and argue with me at every point, telling me that all of the things that I know on the warm days, full of light, are just my imagination.  Was it ever really so nice?

Boy, the devil has a lot of gall.

Thank God that we are given strength in Jesus to be unshakable more than just some of the time!  Here are a few things you can do to keep your footing on the days when the light seems dim and the whispers seem overwhelming.

Don’t Panic!

The first thing we often feel at these moments is that all is lost.  It must be that something didn’t quite click when we first trusted Jesus, and that this is what life is going to be like from now on.  It was so happy, following Jesus.  If we don’t feel that way, it must be something we did, right?  Our actions do affect our relationship with Jesus.  If we are sinning, or have not surrendered something to Him, we will struggle.  However, that is not always the cause of our distress.  Read the Psalms.  The are full of distress, and the reminder that the Lord is faithful in the midst of our adversities, even if He seems completely absent through them.  Reading Psalms twenty-two through twenty-four is an especially good reminder.  The first verse is what Jesus spoke on the cross: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”  If the Son of God can feel that way, then all is not lost for us when we struggle under the burden of a fallen world.  Those three psalms are actually believed to be all one before the chapter divisions came along.  I find reading them all at once deeply comforting.  Try not to dwell on feeling in the dark, but do remember that it’s okay to feel that way.  Overcoming that tendency to panic is usually half of the battle.

Know the Shepherd’s Voice

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.  A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.”
~John 10:1-5

The devil works overtime to deceive us.  In our moments of distress, he will do everything he can to convince us that it is God who is accusing us.  Our Father does discipline us, and so the devil finds ways to imitate the Shepherd’s voice while telling us a lie.  The best way to keep from being hoodwinked is to spend so much time with Jesus that we see the counterfeit instantly.  The devil will still whisper in countless and seemingly new ways, but if we are walking hand in hand with our beloved Christ, learning the depth and newness of all of His ways, it will be rare that we are taken in and led to greater distress.

Cite Your Sources

The best way to conquer distress is to take the offensive.  Don’t wait for the confusion to set in to decide to hide God’s Word in your heart.  Sometimes the distress is too much to take, and I can’t find any words of my own for how I am feeling and what I need in order to see the light again.  At those times, there is such a deep comfort in being able to quote Scripture.  I have a few of the Psalms committed to memory, and sometimes just the fact that I can speak them and have a solid piece of God’s Word available is enough to block out most of the pressure from the enemy.  Keep the references in your heart too.  Sometimes the exact words or the context can get lost, so don’t be afraid to pull out your Bible or your concordance, or do a quick web search when you can only remember a few snatches.  It’s a great reminder that the promises of God, and the concrete truth of His presence are defined by more than our own ability to hold onto Him.  It is such an encouragement to me that Paul, in 2 Timothy 1:12, wrote,

“for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.”

Sometimes, that is all I need to hear.  This is a very productive habit to start in the New Year.  If you are at a time when it seems like more should be happening, use the time you have to hide God’s Word in your heart so that you will be ready when things get more active.

Bring a Friend

Isolation is a great way to overcome someone.  When we are alone, it is so much easier to believe that all of the feelings in our own heads are what is really true.  I tend to be the kind of person who doesn’t want to allow others to know my problems, since I know that they have their own lives to handle, so it isn’t uncommon for me to hold things inside for longer than I should.  When I do share something with one of my brothers or sisters, it is so deeply encouraging.  When I am distressed about the pressures of the enemy, or about a difficult thing the Lord wants me to do, just the honest “Yep, that sounds like what the devil would do,” or “Wow! He is calling you to something great!” is enough to remind me that I am trusting my life to the One with all of our best interests at heart.  It does often happen that I cannot reach anyone at the time of my distress, but Jesus is still there with me.  There have been numerous times that I have been so exhausted in my spirit that all I can do is ask the Lord to have someone else be praying for me at that time.  I can usually feel the burden eased almost instantly.

Remember too that distress will not always lift instantly.  It can be something that the Lord uses to remind us to be in prayer for someone, or as part of the process of really, truly understanding something about His character that we may have known on paper, but not experienced with Him before.  However, this does not mean that we have to be pulled back and forth by the whispers of doubt that come up, prompting “did God really say…?”

If you are struggling, and would like prayer or a chance to work through something with us, please leave a comment or an e-mail.  Also, if you would like to share a Scripture verse that has been a faithful friend to you in the midst of your distresses, please let us know in the comments below.  We love being able to connect with you.

by Stephanie H.

Freely Give

Sometimes, Christmas still has that sparkle.  The snow fell pretty heavily yesterday morning, leaving us to the warmth of lamps, blankets, and instrumental carols to complete the picture.  By noon, the pajama-clad children are all napping on the couch, one on top of another like puppies, surrounded by empty boxes, stray wrapping paper, and all of the newly discovered treasures.   There is just something magical, even surreal, about the Christmas festivities.

I was thinking about all of the gifts exchanged and received, and how much there seems to be in the moment.  One gift right after another with barely time to look at them before they are scattered amidst the boxes, bags, bows, and packaging that hid them: between gifts of clothing, tools, toys, books, snacks, gadgets, and novelties, it suddenly feels like everything in your life is new, as though this is the first day of a life defined by different things than the last year.  The thought made me stop and count what exactly my gifts had been this Christmas.  I don’t mean to reduce how thoughtful they are, or how much I will enjoy them, but realistically, a few sweaters and scarves, a tote bag of snacks, and a novelty lamp will change very little about my day to day life once the glimmer of this charming Christmas day has worn off.  I will enjoy them, but I will still have to come back to the firm reality of the world and admit that these things are just amusements.  I had some very significant time with Jesus this Christmas, but I also came to realize how whimsical so many of my expectations of a “good” Christmas day are.

Another thing that stood out to me this year was in giving gifts to my friends at work.  With the month of December being so busy, I only put together small gifts this year, but the response I got surprised me.  Nearly everyone to whom I gave a gift hesitated at first and asked “Is this for me?”  I teased some for being surprised (“No, I just wanted you to hold it” *wink*), but their voices really did sound affected.  A stranger might ask such a thing if given a gift, but there were friends and co-laborers with whom I work day in and day out.  Did it actually surprise them that someone was thinking of them?

The roads we walk are often hard.  Jesus is always there with us, to pick us up when we fall, and to refresh us when we are weary, but I underestimate how often He does this through His family.   The whimsical gifts fade, but anything with a hint of Jesus in it lasts, in as much as He is in it.  I have known things even as small as a smile that touches the eyes or a good-night hug to have a realness, a solidness, to them that all of the “real” material things seem to lack.  Those glimpses of Jesus are the things that keep me anchored during the difficult times.  From the moment that they are given, they may be as small as seeds, but they can quickly become the roots that keep us stable in the midst of the harshest storms.

It can be a struggle to keep scattering seeds when we often cannot see the results, but it is something that is starting to spur me on to love more actively and directly.  It may seem silly to invest time and resources in people who don’t seem to need the attention, or who don’t seem to want it, but the seeds God gives us were meant to be scattered.  Whether they will face heat, thorns, or be eaten by birds, so that we never see where those seeds come up, is for Him to decide.  He may move us on to other fields before we even know which patches were the good soil.

Is that not to our benefit?  We would be so quick to decided what “good soil” looked like if the Lord always let us see at face value the results of our devotion to Him.  His words to us were “freely ye have received, freely give.”  What if we could move past our fears, and love and serve others as often as we feel the need to be loved?  The thought that “This is for me?” could mean that I have given someone a seed in the midst of a hard time makes me long to give away everything I own to bless others.  What might I be keeping that could be used to bring hope to others?  When might my timidity be keeping me from reaching out to someone in public who may need a friendly smile or a kind word?  Christmastime has its whimsical charms, but I want to see Jesus Himself.  I pray that I will love more freely in the New Year.

by Stephanie H.

Aesthetic the Idol

 

Emptiness abounds.  A click of a button can become a painful reminder of the parched souls and aching hearts that may be hiding behind the faces of our closest family, neighbors, and friends.  Sometimes, we see the pain; other times, we don’t find out until it is too late.

The church sees and often feels that same yearning for hope.  Christians know that their faith should hold the key to broken hearts feeling love again, to trials turning to gold.  They have a longing to see their brothers and sisters in Christ and those who are lost find a home where they can be loved, cared for, and feel the sunshine and warmth of peace again.  Those who know brokenness want to see the pain in others healed.  The Lord gave us hearts that long to see every tear wiped away.

And so the church set out to build homes: places for people to be reminded what it is like to feel, to see art and hear music that wakens a piece of their broken hearts, and to know that they are not alone.  We know that the Lord loves a sincere heart.  Giving Him our best to help others must surely be a blessing to Him, even if we’re not quite sure how to do it.

This is true.  The world will see Christ in the church because of something we have that is different from the world.  Unfortunately, with so much brokenness still in the hearts of many believers, much of the church has gotten swept up in the appearance of fulfillment in order to reach out to others.  It is widely circulated today that the way to reach people and show them that the church is different is to have stylish places to meet, sell quality coffee, and create music and media content that shows real talent and skill.  Some follow this idea because they believe the world will need something familiar to draw them to church.  Others think that the world is so busy pushing their way of thinking that they can’t make anything of quality anymore, so that if people see Christians making good quality things, they will have to admit that God exists, because quality must be something eternal, something meaningful.

This adoration of quality is something that has distracted many Christians from following Jesus.  We begin to try chasing away the darkness by embracing comedy and humor of all kinds.  We want to show the world we understand “real” problems by making art and music that captures the spirit of anger, terror, and hopelessness.  We want to us these things to show them that there is still hope, but because we have been focusing on refining skills and talents as a way to do the most for God, we have lost the key to salvation in all of the busyness.  The beauty, the art, the music, all have a note of hollowness to them.  We like to keep busy because we can often feel an ache in our hearts that tells us if we pause too long to listen to that hollow sound, we will see that all of our churches, our youth centers, our coffee shops, our hopeful homes, have become pieces of a ghost town.

Friend…

Sister.

You do not have the strength to heal anyone.  We cannot even heal ourselves.  Our words, actions, and creations can bless others, but the only way that they can be healed, can find a home, can know love and joy and laughter again, is not to have shadows of Jesus in your actions, it is to have the actual, real, full person of Jesus with them.  That can be very hard to hear, because we try so hard, but living fully in our hearts and in our actions is exactly where Jesus wants to be.

The weeds and whispers of the world can be very distracting, so it is very easy for us to become separated from our Father in a culture that is basically a shiny, colorful department store to our child-like minds.  Christians know in their hearts that Jesus is somewhere, but it can often feel like God is the watch-winder, and our job is just to keep ticking along until the right time comes.

As creatures made in God’s image, we have an innate desire to create.  We also have a strong connection to what we create, and what things awaken that creative nature.  These tendencies are wired into us so that spending time with our Father will bring us closer to Him.  However, when we start thinking that our talents are their for us to use—even to use for God—we often end up creating and interacting things that draw our affections away from the heart of our Father.

Remember that it is Jesus’ goal to bring all people to Himself (John 12:32).  Things that we create in and of ourselves will reflect our beliefs, but if we submit ourselves to Christ, and to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the things He builds through us will actually introduce others of our precious Savior Himself!  In essence, we view our talents as our tools to serve Him, but in our surrender to His will, His complete will, we become the brush, and He becomes the painter.  We become the strings, and He becomes the sweet hands that give us music.  He has complete freedom to love others through us, to come alongside them personally, and to wipe their tear-stained faces with His nail-scarred hands, holding them close until they are made utterly whole again.

Kneel before Him and give Him all of your heart.  Trust Him with everything like Mary did in pouring out what she had for Him.  Whatever others may say, they will see Him at His work on the pages of your life.  Will you sing a more hopeful song without Him?

 

by Stephanie H.

Jesus Has Little Sisters

I don’t think I’ll ever get used to having as dear and sweet a friend as Jesus.  I don’t even know where to find the words for the love He has shown me.  The joy, the thrill, the sense of humor, all make me want to laugh and cry at the same time.  Hearing from Him and spending time with Him just makes my heart sing in a way I never knew was possible.  Even though I grew up in a Christian home, I never expected to have Jesus for an actual real best friend.

All of those thoughts made Matthew 13:55 and 56 stand out to me recently.

“Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?  And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this man get all these things?”

When the Son of God came to earth; the one who carved out the mountains, painted nebulae, and fed sea monsters; He came into a family where He would have little brothers and sisters.

It is still so easy for me to turn prayer into business meetings and memos, and time in the Word into browsing for what my next assignment is.  Like the Nazarenes in Matthew thirteen, I forget that the One who organized the functioning of the entire world and wrote all of the rules is also the Father who made petunias smell sweet, designed the family, and gave us the ability to know love.

I just imagine little girls coming to their big brother Jesus with their skinned knees, their fears, and their clumps of fresh-picked flowers.  I wonder how often they shared hugs and laughs, and how many of them He watched get married.  The One who said “let the little children come to Me” knows exactly what to do with them when they need Him.

I don’t have many memories of being a little girl.  I remember being very young, but the thoughts I remember having then were as analytical as I always seem to have been.  I don’t know if I was born an old soul, or if I just forgot those innocent joys, but Jesus doesn’t just have the little sisters He grew up with, He adopts all of the broken girls too.

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”
~John 14:18

I think one of the reasons I cannot find the words to explain what it is like to be loved by Jesus, is that I finally don’t have to.  I don’t have to think through a full ten minute oration on why I’m stressed or confused or why I need His comfort.  When I do try to explain, He often doesn’t let me.  He just sets aside the problems that I’ve handed Him, and holds me close instead.  He is gentle when I am most vulnerable, and He shows me how He loves me when I least believe it.  It’s love I’ve never known from anyone on earth, but it is never too late to be Jesus’ little girl.

And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said,“Behold My mother and My brothers!  For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”
~Matthew 12:49, 50

When He adopts us, Jesus not only cares for the broken girls, but He heals us and teaches us how to become unshakable.  Arguments and situations that used to give me anxiety become places where I can feel His strength, and where He has taught me to love when I never could have on my own.  There are some struggles that return again in different ways as we work through them together, but they give me a chance to see a deeper part of His love I never knew before as He grows me into a sister and daughter He can be proud of.  It is a walk that so fills my heart, that I want to show everyone what it is like to have a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Jesus has little sisters, and you are one of them, precious girl.

by Stephanie H.

Battle Prayers: Thy Tents Shall Be Our Home

 

I struggle constantly to share prayer needs with others.  I often have no trouble talking to God about various things on my mind, but I have also struggled personally to pray for my own prayer needs, and to pray without ceasing over the daily actions and routine of my life.  The biggest reason for this is that I have a hard time counting many things as needs.  It can be easy to pray wishful prayers about what I would like to see happen, but over which I have no control.  Yet there are plenty of other times that prayer just seems… impractical.  Barring an unforeseen disaster, why would I need to pray for strength to get a jar of peanut butter off of the shelf when I could just do it?  Surely praying without ceasing does not require me to be imagining that I break my arm doing the most simple tasks!  That kind of imagination also wouldn’t be very good to apply to corporate prayers, knowing now many others have serious and present needs.  It is often so much easier to see Jesus as Friend than as Lord.  These blocks have added a layer of awkwardness to my prayers for years.

I still can’t tell what sparked the process, but the Lord put me on a train of thought recently that has overwhelmed my prayer life.  It didn’t come all at once like some of God’s lessons.  It was half of a thought that sat for some time before it blossomed.  The beginning that I can remember was wondering, “What am I missing when I keep my prayers to myself?”  I know that there is power in prayer, so why do I so often isolate myself from the prayer of others, when prayer brings us into such sweet communion with our brothers and sisters, even over the small things?  That’s not to say we make the focus of prayer meetings be the strength to open pickle jars.  On the contrary.  How often do we pray for normal rather than for extraordinary?

Our entire life as disciples of Jesus is a spiritual war, and prayer is the most vital battlefield.  Yet so often we can make the focus of our prayers the desire to stay safe and to stay normal.  It is easy to see how so many of my prayers have been defensive: focusing on keeping my head down, my shield up, and hoping that my prayers add extra strength to my rock, fortress, and high tower that God promises to be in Psalm 18.

But we really have no reason to pray defensive prayers of safety from inside God’s mighty fortress.  Read Psalm 18 in its entirety, and try to imagine our hopes and thoughts being able to add any sort of power to the unyielding storm of our Heavenly Father when His children are in trouble.  It isn’t our job to keep Heaven from crumbling, or from protecting God from His enemies, and the enemies and dangers we face are so numerous, that we would be crushed just by being aware of all that God protects us from without our knowledge!  In a manner of thinking, none of our prayers are defensive, because God’s kingdom will never fall.

Battle metaphors speak to me, so I love coming back again and again to Caesarea Philippi.  Jesus takes His disciples to this pagan city, the location of a cave called “The Gates of Hades” where demons were actively and grotesquely worshiped, to give them a clear and lasting image of their role as His disciples.

I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.
~Matthew 16:18

Gates don’t make a habit of going out and attacking other castles.  Gates are made strong to protect their cities.  Gates can stand strong and overpower attacking forces, but those forces have to come to them first.  We are the advancing forces, not the gates.  At the same time that our treasures are stored up safely beyond the gates of Heaven, we are on the march.  When we are spiritually attacked, it is because the Lord is pressing us forward into enemy territory, and they are rightly terrified of losing.  The battle belongs to the Lord (Proverbs 21:31), and no weapon that is formed against His armies will prosper (Isaiah 54:17).

When we neglect to pray over situations we can handle ourselves-on a physical level-we are skipping over our battle training.  We are disconnecting ourselves from our fellow soldiers who will need us in the fight.  We may feel safer and more comfortable, but we won’t be useful in rescuing anyone or spurring each other on to greater effectiveness on the battlefield.

No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.
~2 Timothy 2:4

Our battle prayers do not have to be complicated to be offensive instead of defensive.  “Lord, I want to be chosen for the front lines of the battle.  Let this situation equip me for the fight.  Keep my focus on you so that I can reclaim lives for you.  I don’t know how getting a jar of peanut butter off of a shelf will be a strike against the enemy, but if it can be, make it count!  Keep my armor and my resolve strong when your enemies lash out in self-defense.”

That is not to say that we can never pray for our own protection.  Our hearts and our treasures are safe in the stronghold of Zion, but we must go out against the gates of Hell, where we will be attacked.  There is a hymn that has become a favorite of mine that paints a very good picture:

Lead on, O King eternal,
The day of march has come;
Henceforth in fields of conquest
Thy tents shall be our home:

A tent is not nearly as defensible as a castle, but it is where we find the fight.  Remember that the church is built on the very rock that was named “The Gates of Hades”, so we are in full range of the attack.  Our souls are safe with our Father, but our bodies, minds, and hearts will be wounded and broken on the battlefield.  Choosing to fight for our King will mean choosing to live in dangerous places.  It is not wrong to pray for healing and for protection here, but we cannot withdraw from the fight in order to keep ourselves safe.

Training will be hard.  The fight will be long.  The more we pray, the more we will be attacked, and the less normal life will be, because God will put us into more significant battles as we press on.  Never pass up the opportunity to become a stronger, more fierce, more devoted soldier.  As you leave normal comfort behind, the Lord will be your source of joy and peace.

Dear Sister, press on and let the enemy know your Sword, let the captive know your love, and know Who has rescued you and given you both.  Never hold back, never look back, and pray because lives depend on it.

You have been chosen for this fight.  Take your stand, choose this day whom you will serve, and do not be afraid, for the Lord your God will be with your wherever you go.

 

by Stephanie H.

Following Jesus Like Crazy

 

I was speaking to my mother recently about some of the reactions I received from friends and peers when I first stopped watching television, and her observations led me to do a lot of thinking.

When I stopped watching movies and TV shows, and stopped reading books and listening to music that I knew were not honoring Jesus, my social circles didn’t take it very well.  Some of my friends really listened.  A few were even excited to see where the Lord would lead me.  I lost some friends who were very dear to me.  Most, however, turned it into a debate on theological and cultural relevance.  The arguments were generally the same; they talked about how important it is to have common ground with the rest of the world, how Jesus has called us to be very “in the world” people, and how cowardly or deceived they themselves had been when thinking the same way as I now did.  When they could see that I meant to follow Jesus without popular media and wouldn’t change my mind, the discussion would end with the promise that they would pray for me—in the way that indicated they would ask Jesus to make me normal again.

As I was recounting this to my mother, she tacked on an interesting thought.

“If you had told them that you had been reading way too much of the Bible lately, and that you were going to take a break–”

I was baffled at the truth of the thought before she even finished saying it.

They probably would have been fine with it.

Some probably would even have been curious and interested in it.  I don’t say that simply because any of them disagreed with my either.  I know there would have been some who would have at least cautioned me not to take it too far.  Others would probably give me the conversational equivalent of a tackle, or hold an intervention.  Still, most of those to whom I spoke about giving up television—knowing me to be a theology nerd—would have been at least curious, if not in full support of me cutting back on my time with Jesus.

I had to think on it for a while after that conversation.  I thought of the fact that most Christians probably wouldn’t notice the difference in a fellow believer’s life if they stopped reading their Bible.  As long as they are still involved in church, and do their best to be nice, would you or I know the difference?  Would they even seem more normal and pleasant?  Do we even know how much the Christians around us spend time with Jesus?

I don’t know when it happened, but somewhere along the path of recent Christian history, it became embarrassing for Christians (the people who name themselves after Jesus) to know Him, talk about Him, spend time with Him, obey Him, and love Him more than life, limb, family, and the world around us.  It is hardly even spoken of if a Christian is acting in a way that pulls them away from Jesus, because “we shouldn’t judge them” and “we don’t know what is in their hearts.”  So we all label ourselves as “Christians”, but we identify with sports, or characters in movies, or celebrities, our our favorite hobbies, or what school we attend.  That is why so many became offended when I stopped watching television.  In many ways, Christianity is a label, but popular culture is a lifestyle.

Does that make your heart weep?

It all reminds me of what C.S. Lewis wrote in The Last Battle.  All of the talking animals were afraid to speak up when there was a fake lion pretending to be the real Aslan.  They had always been told that Aslan was “not a tame lion,” so how could they argue if He was not the way they thought He would be?  They didn’t know Him.

The real devil has done this in the real world so long, that we are afraid to imagine that there is a true Jesus who can be seen, and heard, and touched, and known.  What if we offend Him be presuming to know Him when we do not?  Best to leave Him as a symbol, and Christianity a label, and focus on things in the “real” world, like celebrities and long novels.

So then, the very reason that Christians are offended when I give up popular culture, and when I talk too much about Jesus and read my Bible more than is natural in someone my age, is exactly why I must talk about Jesus even more and read my Bible more than anyone ever has, if I can.

Because Jesus is real.  I know Him.  True, I don’t know Him much when compared with how infinitely more I can know Him, but how can that mean that I should never try?  It would offend Him to presume that He lies when He says that He wants us to know Him more than anything else in the world.

My dear Sister, never compromise your relationship with Jesus in order to be trendy or culturally relevant.  Trust Him.  Trust Him, and when your friends, family, and peers push you to be normal again, push harder into His presence.  Push like crazy, because crazy is all that the world will see.  Pray.  Seek Him, know Him, obey Him, and watch all that He will show you along the way.  The adventure of knowing Him is without compare.  After all, He isn’t safe, but He is good.
He’s not a tame lion.  We cannot be docile Christians.
by Stephanie H.

How to Have the WORST Valentines Day EVER!

 

“‘Worst?’ Why would I want to have the *WORST* Valentine’s Day ever?”

 

Well, that is a good question. But…you’re reading the article now, aren’t you. 😉
However, this sentiment is basically exactly what our actions speak about what is going on in our hearts. The moping, the self-pity, the long sighs…all these things shout, “I’m having a terrible Valentine’s Day! Pity me!”

Now, being a single-twenty something has its perks. More time to myself, the ability to travel freely, lots of ‘girl time’ with friends, and being able to pour out into others’ lives in a unique way. Even though I have hard days where I’m longing over Pinterest boards, I am learning to be honored that the Lord entrusted me with this time of my life. I want to learn every lesson He would teach me. Right here. Right now.

This being said, when February rolls around, it is associated with a magic number. “14”.

Ahhhh..Valentine’s Day.

Jokingly called Singles Awareness Day (S.A.D.), it is one day where singles tend to feel left out of the ‘club’. Advertisements for Cards, Roses, and Chocolates bombard your senses in every store. Exclusive ‘Valentines Day’ perfumes tantalize your sense as you walk past Mall kiosks.

So what’s a (single) girl to do? I mean, aside from buying all that chocolate for *yourself*?

As I alluded to before, one of the most common (and easiest) reactions is self-pity. ‘Another year…alone’. I fall into this snare often; however, I don’t want to stay there and I don’t want YOU to stay there. My social circle consists of mostly 12-19 year olds, most of whom are girls. I don’t exactly have hoards of young beaus flocking to my door. But this year, I want to share with you a few things (personal and then practical) that the Lord has reminded me of this week—truths to cling to when you feel alone.

1)      God honors prayers. He hears us. He hears our heart’s desires. He remembers prayers that have been prayed, even when WE don’t remember praying them! If you have a desire to be married, know that God hears you. I don’t know what the future holds for you. But, the truth is, He has HIS best in mind for us. It may not always be clear—but He knows and remembers us. Even this week, the Lord reminded me that I have prayed for my heart’s protection ever since I was little. Even though it is “natural” human desire to appreciate attention, I have earnestly prayed that the Lord would be my Guard—that He would keep all the “Mr. NOT-Right”s away. I don’t want attention for the sake of attention. I want God’s best. In little steps, He is teaching me to be thankful and cherish His protection over my heart.

 

2)      The Lord reminded me this week that singleness is also His opportunity to care for me in a special way. It may not always be the world’s perspective of ‘fun’, but it is so special. To curl up on your bed and spend time talking to the One who understands the core of your soul? Priceless. I have seen the Lord care for me as a Father by providing for my every financial need, my emotional needs, and my spiritual needs. Ask Him to take care of you. He loves to do it!

 

3)      He is the best Valentine Date. Ever. Last Valentine’s Day, I went on a walk with Him through the field near my house. I cannot express the contentment of a soul when it is in the presence of Jesus Christ. In Him, we are made whole. In Jesus, insecurities don’t exist. There is no comparison. There is no size requirement. There is nothing lacking, because He is our all. His voice is the one we long most to hear. His is the wisdom which baffles man. His is the love which isn’t hinged upon our “performance”. He is God. The one whom my soul loves, and longs to know MORE. He is my favorite Valentine…and He can really be yours, too.

 

So, here’s the practical. If you WANT to have the WORST Valentine’s Day ever, feel free to wallow in self-pity. But…if you want to have a joyful, and even fruitful day…why not try out some of these ideas instead! Here are a few things I have done which get my focus off myself and back on serving others.

1)      Get dressed up and go out to eat with some girl friends

2)      Host a girl night at your house/dorm room

3)      Make Valentines and send them to Widows, Single friends, etc.

4)      Bake Cookies and give them to others (Law enforcement, mail carriers, etc)

5)      Make a special dinner for your family

6)      Find verses about “love” and make decorations for your house/room

7)      Watch a couple’s children so they can have a (probably much needed) night out

 

What about you? How do you celebrate Valentine’s day—single or married! Do you have any new ideas for this year that you’re going to give a try??

by Anna Faith.