No Valentine Left Behind Part 3

In part one, we talked about brightening Valentine’s Day for single moms.  In part two, the focus was on showing love to the elderly.  Now, with Valentine’s Day just over the horizon, I want to refocus again.

The fact is, everyone needs the reminder that Jesus loves them.  Valentine’s Day having the potential to be a lonely time, it can be a wonderful opportunity to express kindness to anyone.  When you are praying, ask the Lord to open your eyes to the places you might have overlooked where He might want to shine His loving light.

For you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
~1 Peter 2:10

As you walk forward with Jesus, it can be so good to remember where you have been.  Where were you when He first called your name?  What was the first tear that He wiped away?  What walls did you have built up to protect yourself before His love broke through?  From where did His hand of mercy pull you free?

Remembering these things has been so important for me.  I’m not naturally social, so it can feel risky to start a conversation with someone or to offer an encouraging word.  Even when I was very good at hiding every kind of insecurity, others risked sharing their hearts with me.  They showed me Jesus when I was all alone, even though they didn’t know what I was going through.  Risky as it can feel, I don’t know what the story is behind the faces I see around me, sometimes not even the ones I interact with every day.  It can be so easy to go years without anyone discovering the ache in your heart, because they want to believe you when you say that you are fine and when you smile.  It reminds me that sometimes the “survivors,” the ones who seem the most fine, the ones to have it all together, are the ones that need the encouragement the most.  Even through their smiles, confidence, and self-reliance, they can be some of the Valentines that feel the most left behind.

What is such a blessing is that we do not know how small things can be used to plant seeds of joy in the lives of others.  Sometimes it can be discouraging to be unable to see whether taking a risk and caring for someone has done what we have hoped, but no seed Jesus has planted ever goes to waste.  Keep talking to Him as you take the small steps, and He will remind you of His purpose in what He is having you do.  Sometimes He will surprise you with the chance to learn just how much the things that you do might mean to another person.

So where will God lead you in reaching out to others?  Are there people at your church who could use the reminder that their work is appreciated?  Maybe a coworker needs to know that someone is there for them as they go throughout the day.  Perhaps cookies or a card would brighten the day for the mailman, your favorite librarians, or a neighbor that you have.  You could encourage a sibling or family member, or even strike up a conversation with the cashier at your favorite café or fast food hangout.  It can be a step out of the old comfort zone, but don’t be afraid of the vulnerability that comes with being sincere.  You don’t have to wow anyone with a bubbly personality or amazingly deep and wise thoughts.  It is so meaningful just to have someone give an honest compliment, or shyly give a gift from the heart.  Jesus has so much more sweetness to share with the world than all of the clearance chocolate put together.  Stay close to Him this year, and watch where He takes you as that love rubs off on others in your life.  And have a very happy Valentine’s Day.

by Stephanie H.

How has Jesus changed the way that you see Valentine’s Day?  If you have a story or a Bible verse that you would like to share, please let us know in the comments!  You can also start the conversation on Facebook.  I hope that your day is sweetly and richly blessed.

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.

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.

Train Yourself — Winning Takes Persistence!

“…train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”
1 Timothy 4:7b-8

*buzz* *buzz* *buzz*

I lay still for a moment, eyes closed, hoping that everything would just…sort of…disappear, and I could drift peacefully back to sleep.

*buzz* *buzz*

Auughhh.

Seriously? I don’t want to get up.

I cracked open one eye, to see if I could get a general feel of the weather outside. Grey. Cloudy. Windy. Probably 40 degrees.

I hate running. And if there’s one thing that could make me hate it even more…it’s wind and cold. I can’t do this. My bed is so warm and comfy.

In spite of my brain protesting every move I made, I rolled out of bed, and began donning my layers…all the while, grumbling, I can’t do this. I just…I can’t do this. I don’t want to.

I finished tying my sneakers, and cracked open the door. A blast of icy wind hit me in the face.

Oh great. It’s colder than I thought. Just perfect. I am not going to survive this run even if I DO make it outside. I shouldn’t even bother. I should just stay inside today. I won’t even be able to move out there.

And STILL, in spite my grumbling and resisting inside, a minute later I found myself jogging down the road.

Why am I doing this? I don’t like running. I just don’t. I wasn’t made to be a runner. Why do I keep doing this to myself.

*thump, thump, thump*

hmmm. I have more energy than I thought I would though. In fact…I think I have more energy than I’ve ever had for running. Weird.

*thump, thump, thump*

Maybe this whole running thing is actually paying off! Maybe…I mean…it’s unlikely…but, just maybe my body is getting stronger! Maybe I can actually do this!

[dtbaker_line type=”leaf”][/dtbaker_line]

Ok, has this ever happened to you? I hope I’m not the only one who has these kind of conversations going on in my head. Yes…yes…this is a true story. I really do hate running this much. Yes, it is slightly pathetic. But, this post isn’t actually about running (thank goodness!!).

However, I share this story because I thought it highlighted very well the internal struggles we can go through when we are trying to do *anything* worthwhile. *Especially* when it is going to keep us rooted and flourishing in godliness! Yeah. Like getting up early or staying up late to spend time reading your Bible and seeking the Lord. Like, instead of surfing the internet when you have a free moment, pulling out the Bible.

When these good intentions manage to even just sneak into our thoughts, we immediately react, just like I react when my alarm goes off, and I know it is a lousy day outside, but I still need to go running.

What?? I won’t be able to function properly if I don’t get the rest I need. I can’t get up early! I’m already sacrificing so much to spend my day working/serving my family’s needs. I *deserve* my sleep time. I certainly won’t be able to focus on the Lord if I’m groggy. Yeah. I’ll just try to fit Him in some other time that’s a little more convenient. There we go. That makes much more sense. I don’t know what I was even thinking there. Get up early? Nah. That’s ridiculous. Plus. I mean, aside from all my GOOD reasons…I just really…don’t want to.

Now, running is of some value, as it strengthens our bodies to work properly, so that we can live with more energy to do what needs to be done each day. But if we do it once, and then never do it again…the benefits won’t carry over. If we keep it up for a few weeks, and then just kind of…take a break for a week or two after we get to a point where we feel like we’ve gotten a lot better at it, we will lose all the muscle and energy we had gained from our training, and when we go back to do it again, we will find that we can barely limp through what was an easy exercise…you know…just like a month ago! BUT, if we continue to practice, day after day, week after week, month after month, we WILL get stronger, and have more energy, and we will actually get to reap the benefits of our sacrifice!

Our walk with the Lord is very similar to this, in many ways, which is why it is so often compared to running a race, or being an athlete in training. It takes the same self-denial, the same endurance, the same reckless determination to keep going no matter what “cold winds” may try to blow us off course, or cause our resolve to tremble. We can’t just spend time with the Lord on Sunday and expect it to carry us through the rest of our week. If we want to walk in the power of the Lord each day, we need to be practicing our obedience to seek the Lord each day. Whether we feel like it or not. Whether we are excited about it or not. Whether we feel “good” or “encouraged” by it one day or not.

Like the virgins in Jesus’ parable, we must be careful to keep our lamps lit, day after day, not knowing when Jesus will return, but knowing it WILL be soon…and WE want to be ready, and found prepared to meet Him when He returns. Because we MUST endure to the end; just making it most of the way through our lives and then becoming careless isn’t an option. It is the same as running for any prize — if you want to endure to the end, you have to persevere through all the training, all the practice, AND to the finish line. Otherwise, all the training and practice means nothing. You’re disqualified, even if you practiced every day for your whole life, but then give up in the last 500 feet before the finish line. And…if we can’t even make it to the practices…how can we expect to make it through the race, to the finish line?? It’s like taking a couch potato and setting them in the middle of the woods somewhere, and telling them to go run a marathon.

Each day that we seek the Lord matters. And each day that we don’t seek the Lord makes a difference…because we are not moving forward, and are in fact *losing* spiritual muscles.

Like 1 Timothy 4:15a says, we must Practice these things, immerse yourself in them…”.

When you ask yourself, “Why am I doing this? I don’t even like this. Is there any point?” Just remember, yes. There is. And as you strengthen your spiritual muscles more and more, and remain faithful in seeking the Lord daily, whether you “feel” any more spiritual or not…you WILL find there is a difference in your day to day life. A difference in your actions, your words, your thoughts. And others will probably begin to notice the difference even before you do! I can’t overstate the importance of seeking the Lord each and every day.

I’m talking to myself here too. It has been an intense struggle lately to get my time with the Lord each day. But we must continually be reminding ourselves that our Bridegroom is coming soon! And we want to be alert, and made ready for His coming! 

What about you? Have you come up with a good way to get time with the Lord daily? Or is this still something you struggle with? What are you going to do TODAY, before you go to bed tonight, to get time with the Lord??

Drop us a comment below, because we’d love to connect with you!

Men of God We Have Known

We here at Unshakable Girl are wholly committed to pursuing Jesus even if, often, it may mean that we stand alone. However, by the grace of God, He has not made us to be loners, or to live out our lives in a secluded cabin in the woods.  This Father’s Day, we wanted to take the time to recognize a few of the godly men in our lives who have stood in the gap and been an encouragement to us as fathers, brothers, and friends. ALSO, we want to encourage you in two ways: 1) that there ARE godly men out there (really! truly!), and 2) when you see a godly, wise, or chivalrous man — or even just a man who is TRYING to do what is right — recognize it. Encourage him! Don’t let his efforts go un-noticed. There are so few godly gentlemen today, that every effort towards godliness and gentlemanliness is well worth applauding and encouraging.

 

Stephanie H.

I have been blessed over the past two years to work with one of the most humble and patient men I have ever met.  He manages to balance being a teacher, minister, student, and father, yet still makes the time for prayer and a Scriptural pep-talk when anyone needs it.  His patience and wisdom are what most inspire me.  I have a strong-willed streak, and can be very critical, so being able to see him approach conflict with respect, humility, and a level head has taught me that Christlike meekness is possible in the midst of very real problems.  As a leader, he takes full responsibility for those around him.  I have already learned so much from this colleague who has become a brother and a friend, but I pray that I will grow to be as wise and humble a leader as he has proven to be.

I am also very grateful for the big brother God has given me, who is now raising a family of his own to love and follow Jesus.  He has always been someone I could admire and trust to look out for me.  Now that we’re grown up, I know that I can go to him with any problem to get some perspective and sound godly advice.   It has also been a blessing as I grow closer to the Lord, to watch where God is leading him as he puts his trust in the Lord too.  My brother has always been iron to sharpen my iron in so many different ways, and I love being able to share life with him.

Tai Sophia

It is hard to express just how much my dad has meant to me over the years…and yet, it is hard to speak only of my dad, and exclude my husband, who is my dearest friend, and one of the best dads I’ve ever known. Therefore, I will pick two qualities from each of them to share with you:

My dad was SUCH an encouragement to me growing up. Yes, he was human and of course he made mistakes. But actually, one of the things I appreciated most about him, was that I can remember many times when he would gather us together as a family, and would repent for the ways he had failed in leading us, or in seeking the Lord, or whatever it was that God had spoken to him about. And he did so much to *try* to lead our family in doing what was right — and I greatly regret making his efforts so difficult for him sometimes, and not appreciating it when he tried leading us in family devotions, or family worship. But I so appreciated his humility, and his willingness to always look at his own faults square in the face, and learn and grow. He always took criticism (constructive or otherwise) with no pride, no denial, just always quietly listening…and then, he would go pray about it, and ask the Lord to show him how he could be a better man.

He also always had such clear wisdom. Whenever I came to him with something I was really struggling with, and didn’t know HOW in the world to handle it (most often guy or work related), he would cut through all the fuzziness I had on the issue, and reply with such clear, logical wisdom, that I always left knowing that God had just spoken through him to me. And I grew up always knowing that this was one quality that I needed my future husband to have as well – so it always made it to my “future husband qualifications lists”. And you know what? God did it! So this quality crosses over between both of them, because, aside from my dad, my husband is the wisest man I’ve ever met. Any time I’m stressed or confused, and regurgitate my overwhelmed feelings to him, he quietly listens, and then…his responses will be SO clear and SO wise that immediately I will just feel the whole overwhelming burden of my stress just lift right off my shoulders. “Is it really that simple??” I’ve found myself thinking quite often.

Another thing that has been SUCH a help and encouragement to me is my husband’s patience — with me, with our children…with everyone! He never gets upset or says things in a harsh way. He is always thinking the best — even when it’s with me, and I am having a melt-down (this never actually happens though, right???), and I KNOW I’m wrong, and he really COULD be rightfully mad at me. He’s not. He never takes the harsh things I am all too prone to spewing when I’m upset, to heart. I always know he will give me a hug, and say, “I love you”, afterward…and mean it. I often think, “When I grow up, I want to be like my husband”. But I know this is largely because he just spends a lot of time with Jesus. And that is the most important thing for any of us to do. Without being filled with Living Water every day, day after day, we WILL respond the wrong way. But when we immerse ourselves in Christ and His Word, THESE are the things that will come forth in our words and actions.

 

Do you have a man of God in your life you would like to recognize?  What about a time Jesus was that man?  Let us know in the comments!  You can also message us on Facebook to share your thoughts, or just have a chat.  We would love the hear from you!

How Much Do You Love Me?

I was praying in the morning a few weeks ago when the Lord interrupted me to tell me something.

“I love you.”

What shocked me was that my first thought in reply was “You do?”

I know that Jesus loves me.  Not just because I have heard it, but because I have experienced it to be true over and over and over again.  And yet, after a hard and anxious week, here I was hearing it and feeling it as a broken girl again, almost as though it were the first time I had heard it from anyone.

It can be the easiest thing in the world for me to make my faith and my service to God a job.  It is still a job I love, but I can throw myself so hard into the work that I forget that Jesus wants to spend that time with me more than anything.  I get to thinking that He’ll be closer to me if I’m working for Him, and the more I get lost in the work, the more I get to thinking that God is just doing His job too.

“Of course You love me.  You’re God; it’s your job.”
And yet partly believing that He wouldn’t want to love me if He didn’t have to do it.

It is such a relief to know that our relationship is on His terms and not mine.  During the same week, I was reading through the book of John, and went through Jesus’ wonderful prayer in chapter seventeen.  It is such a beautiful look into the depth of the heart of God.  In this read through, verse twenty-four stood out to me in particular.

Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.
~John 17:24

The Father loved the Son from the foundation of the world.  This was not just the idea of love.  It wasn’t even in the way that He loved us from the foundation of the world, because none of us were born then.  This was love between the Father and the Son that they both experienced actively from before the world was even created.  God was not forced to start loving us when we were finally created.  He is Love, and He has been loving since before time began.  What Jesus is asking in this passage is that we would be with Him so that we would be able to see how glorious it is to be loved by our Father.

We were created because God overflows with love.  He created us just so He could love even more.  My sin makes it so easy for me to believe the lie that God would leave me if He had the option.  That could not be further from the truth.  His love is never satisfied to be small.  It is infinite.

For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.
~2 Chronicles 16:9

He is on the active lookout for another child to hold, to cherish, and to call His own.  All we have to do is receive it.  All we have to do is spend time with Jesus and give Him our hearts so that we can see what it is to be loved by the Father.  Broken hearts heal in layers.  There are times when I seem to be learning the same basic lesson that I did from the beginning, but God is patient, and His mercy is new every morning.  Every time I receive this lesson, it sinks a little deeper into my heart and heals another corner I didn’t know was broken.  No matter how deep He goes, He will never been scared away by a broken heart.

He just loves to love.

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.

Living in the VICTORY of the Holy Spirit!

 

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 ESV)

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately praying for the Lord to fill me with the strength and tools I need to be able to do His work and not lose heart. And not only to do His work…but to do it *well*. In particular, I have spent a lot of time praying for Him to fill me with JOY in all the varied situations we find ourselves in, and His LOVE for the people we meet — a love that would compel me to reach out to them, and not be content to just let them pass by on their courses to hell.

But then, one day, I stopped in the midst of my prayers. I suddenly realized that each of these things I was pleading for — joy, love, peace, faithfulness, etc. — they are all fruits of the Holy Spirit, as Galatians 5:22-25 says:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.”

“Okay…” you might think, “I know those verses. I’ve sung the fruit of the Spirit song since I was three. I know all that already. What is so groundbreaking about that?”

Well, I sang that song all my life too. But here, just take a look at some more verses with me real quick…and then I’ll explain it:

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13 ESV)

“And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.” (1 Thessalonians 1:6-7 ESV)

“….and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5 ESV)

 

The Holy Spirit IS the power that we need to live victorious Christian lives, full of vibrancy and light! HE is the source of all JOY, all LOVE — all that we need for serving the Lord! Without the Holy Spirit, we do a pretty poor job trying to live righteously and godly in our own strength. We don’t need to try to manufacture these things in our own hearts — we can’t ever muster up enough faithfulness or love to live as God’s hands and feet in this world. We don’t need to spend hours and hours pleading with God to make us more loving, kind, or joyful! In fact…we need to get past our self-focused prayer times, and start using our prayer times to storm the devil’s fortresses, and set the captives free! We weren’t saved to feel good about ourselves. We were saved to serve our King…and to rescue others! And the fruits of the Spirit aren’t so people can think about how wonderful we are – they are to cause us to be better, bolder, more selfless soldiers who don’t back down from advancing the Kingdom of God! The Holy Spirit comes in to win victories for the Lord!

So…how do you get the power of the Holy Spirit then…if I just said that we need to stop our self-focused pleading every day for help to stop doing the things we know we shouldn’t, and start doing the things that we should…???

 

LET THE HOLY SPIRIT TAKE CONTROL.

Yep. That simple. Each of us has a “driver’s seat” of our lives. There is one of three chauffeurs. It’s either going to be yourself, the devil, or the Holy Spirit. Now, the devil is no gentleman. He just barges in whenever he can find a crack to squeeze through. But the Holy Spirit IS a gentleman. And He will never force His way in. He will always wait to be asked. Kinda’ vexing. 😉

So for starters, we must ask the Holy Spirit to actually not only fill us, but to take control of our lives, that we might actually BE the hands and feet of Jesus, doing HIS will, and not our own on this earth.

However, for the Holy Spirit to actually be ABLE to take control, we must be willing to surrender anything that is contrary to God’s Spirit within us; anything that would hold us back from being completely surrendered to His will and heart. In fact…any time we feel like we are lacking the power we need to serve the Lord more effectively, or when we are lacking the vibrancy and joy that we know belonged to those who have gone before us as they served — people such as Mary Slessor, Gladys Aylward, Jackie Pullinger, Jonathan Goforth, D.L. Moody, Reese Howells, etc. — it is likely that there is something we are holding onto. Something that we have not been willing to let bow before the Lord.

And this is why I was so excited to begin thinking this way. Instead of pleading with God to give me more joy in my life, I can take hold of the Holy Spirit’s power in my life in a deeper way…and it comes from surrendering my heart and life more fully to His service!

How do you receive the Holy Spirit? Well, there is much division over things of this nature. Some believe there is no more Holy Spirit (I have already seen this disproved enough in my life that I don’t even consider it a valid argument any more), some believe that you automatically receive the Holy Spirit when you become a Christian, others believe it is a separate experience. Whatever the case, if you are already a Christian, it cannot hurt to just humble yourself before the Lord and be honest with Him. Just say something like, “Holy Spirit, I desperately need you in my life. I need you to live through me, to give me victory over my flesh, and to cause me to be fruitful in the Lord’s service. I invite you to take control of my life…and I want you to live through me, to do the things that the Father needs done on this earth. I also understand that it will mean surrendering my own desires and the things in my life that are displeasing to you…and I don’t know where to start…but I want to be willing. Please come in. Please make me willing…and please show me the things that are in my life that are hindering me from serving you with total abandon, and then, root those things out so that there’s not one particle of them remaining, but only YOU.”

And that is where I, too, am at today. Eagerly expecting the Holy Spirit to begin to work through me in a deeper, more effective way; making me more one with the desires of God’s heart. I want to be His hands and feet. Do you?

 

Pure & Holy Passion: Album Review

by Stephanie H.

It is a special bond when you find someone who loves the same music that you do.  I discovered one such kindred spirit recently in a dear friend and prayer buddy.  I’m the kind of person who discovers that I like a song, and then proceeds to listen to that same song for the rest of the month.  Well, my friend happened to venture into conversation with me during one of these fateful moods, and was hopelessly barraged with links.

What a blessing that she rose to the occasion!

We ended up having a really sweet conversation about our mutual love for the old-fashioned Jesus music.  Of course, there is plenty of more recent music that we both love, but there is just something about the older music, the ones that speak Scripture, that just speaks straight to the heart.  We talked about Petra, I shared with her some of my favorites from Chuck Girard, and she mentioned really enjoying GLAD.  I had some of their albums in my library already, but hadn’t gotten around to listening yet, so on the next available opportunity, I picked out an album called Pure and Holy Passion for a listen.

Even in the midst of a road-trip, when I can listen to hours of music in a single day, it was a few weeks before I listened to anything else.  Here are just a few of the reasons I quickly became so fond of this album:

Style

I love the depth of hymns, and the simplicity of learning to sing or play them.  I often prefer them to the more energetic contemporary Christian music that is popular now.  Pure and Holy Passion offers a pleasant mix of energy and the draw into the presence of the Lord.  How Firm a Foundation is exactly the combination of a hymn and modern pop/jazz accompaniment.  The other songs are more contemporary in origin, but easily parallel this sweet hymn, so that it is very difficult for me to choose just one favorite song.

Tone

Some of the music I tend to keep closest is that which I can use in my prayer time.  Each ends up having its own mood that best suits praise prayers, comfort prayers, or “be still and know” prayers.  Pure and Holy Passion is well designed for active participation.  Some vocalists are very talented, but it may be more easy to listen to them than to join them in praising the Lord.  This album is more like having time to dance with Jesus.  The melody is easy to follow, but the music and the message can turn suddenly, and offer sweet reminders of the character of God that I seemed not to have noticed in the song before.  It can draw me to joyful laughter and tears in the same musical phrase.  It isn’t something to which I listen for my “be still and know” prayers, but I love to be reminded of the wild nature of the Lord.

Skill

The talent displayed on this album is amazing.  I love it when I can just sit and listen to music, picking out the different voices of background instruments, or explore singing different parts of a harmony.  While the melodies of these songs are wonderfully easy to follow in worship, the layers of music to explore are rich and deep.  GLAD also does a great deal of a cappella music, so their voices function just as well as one whole as they do individually, and the result is wonderful to behold.  That doesn’t stop the instruments from having a chance to shine, though.  Every voice, string, and cymbal is given a purposeful role in this symphonic offering to the Lord.

Message

I enjoy a variety of musical styles, but what always makes or breaks it for me is the lyrical content.  The music I love most always has some way with its words to make the truths of God a little bit more real to me than they were before.  This is the biggest reason I’ve been coming back to Pure and Holy Passion again and again for the past two months.  Some of these lines just stick with me in a powerful way.

“The wisdom of a sovereign God,

Whose greatness will be shown,

When those who crucified Your Son,

Rejoice around Your throne.”

“Now from your dungeon a rumor is stirring,

You have heard it again and again,

Ah, but this time your cell keys are turning,

And outside are the faces of friends.”

“As long as I have breath I will praise You,

As long as my heart beats, I will sing.”

“And our voices join with the thousands who

Know mercy because of the cross.

All sinners washed in Your precious blood.

Forever we will sing!”

Even the order of songs is interesting to me.  Many albums begin with the most energetic songs and progressively transition to those that are slow, deep, and personal.  Pure and Holy Passion seems to do the opposite.  Most of the songs are energetic, but the first half mainly comprises the songs that sing of our offerings of praise to God.  Progressively, whatever we may do for God ebbs into the background as the music builds into crescendos of the eternal greatness of our Lord.

It is such a blessing to be able to share praise to the Lord through music, and to know that it will be our greatest joy to share again for eternity with thousands before and after us.  I hope that this music may be as much a blessing to your time with the Lord as it has been to me.

Here is a link to the album on YouTube.  I would love to hear your thoughts!

Kneeling to Pray

 

 

by Stephanie H.

 

We can read about it in classic literature, we see it in paintings and other art in the church, even modern comics and movies that feature little children show little pajama-ed knees bent in prayer, sometimes with teddy bears sharing the same posture.
So why do we kneel to pray?
Sure, we don’t always have to kneel to talk to the Lord.  If we’re to pray without ceasing, we’re going to have to stand up and walk around at the same time!  So why is it so traditional to kneel while praying?
Consider this parable from Luke 18:10-14
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, on a Pharisee, and the other a tax-gatherer.  The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer.  I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all I get.’  But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted.”
 
Now, don’t think that the only way to approach the Lord in prayer is to crawl up in agony because of all of your sins.  Look at the contrasted postures of these two men.  The one was praying “thus to himself” (an interesting choice of words), thanking God for how great he himself was, but talking of himself more than anything.  If this were a conversation with the Lord, what would the Pharisee expect Him to say?  Meanwhile, the tax-gatherer begs God to act on His promise to be merciful to the repentant.  He is humble, and knows that the Lord is the one with the power to be merciful, rather than believing, like the Pharisee, that he is the one who can make himself good enough to talk to God.  We don’t earn the privilege to talk to God by being important enough for His attention.  No one could ever be important enough to get the attention of an eternal God.  We can best approach Him in prayer when we realize that He is willing to come down to listen to people that will never really be worth anything all by themselves.
Have you ever tried to make a business deal with God?
“Dear Lord, I would really like to have this, and here is what I would do for You if You let me…” or “Dear Lord, my friend needs help, and here are all the reasons they deserve the best…”
They are sincere prayers, but when I pray this way, it always leaves me anxious, wondering if I have said the right things in the right way to convince God that it really would be in His best interest to listen.  Sounds rather like the Pharisee again, doesn’t it?  It is so easy to imagine that prayer gives me the power to tap into God’s attention and favor if I can just say the right things.
I teach at a small Christian school, and one of my favorite portions of our morning prayers reminded me recently of the true posture of prayer.  Every person that is able kneels on one knee as the Great Commission is read:
“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.  Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”  ~Matthew 28:18-20
 
What are those first words?  “All power is given unto me…” 
 
Jesus is the one who has all power in heaven and in earth.  Because of that, He’s given us a job to do.  It isn’t a project we are left to figure out on our own, execute on our own, and then hope that it is good enough for His liking.  “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”
 
If your reading this, I’m guessing the world hasn’t ended.  That means that the Spirit that raised Christ from the dead is present with you, and eager to show you the work that He has prepared for you to do.
Imagine a good and honorable king, at war with a vicious enemy.  At the moment, his wise eyes are surveying little figures on a mapped table that represent the movements of his troops and the enemy’s.  A knight rushes in and kneels before hastily making his petition:
“Sire, several of your men have been captured, and are being held in the enemy’s fortress.”
Or perhaps…
“Sire, the battalion on the northern front is desperate for supplies.”
“Sire, the enemy is spreading lies that are crippling morale, and causing many of your troops to lose hope.”
What is this knight expecting to hear?  An order.  Of course, he will eagerly watch to see how his king will respond to this news.  If he is a young knight, he may worry when his king acknowledges the need and dismisses him, or when his king gives him an order that does not make sense, but the king is wise and careful.  His plans have far-reaching results beyond any short term solutions his young knights may offer.
Our prayer is when we come into the presence of the King, remember that the battle is His, and spend time in His presence, to learn the depth of integrity of His character, and be involved in His will in whatever way He chooses.
Now, the effectiveness of our prayers do not rely on us literally kneeling, or imagining kings and knights and battles when we pray, but it has been something that has really helped me in my prayers lately.  The more time that I spend in prayer and in the Word, the more I come to trust the Lord with some things.  Even so, it is very easy for me to work myself up into distraction as I try to pray in such a way to earn immediate results.  When that happens, one of the quickest ways out of that state of worry…
Surrender my plans.
Kneel before the throne.