God’s Christmas List: The Gifts of Obedience & Surrender

What About Those People?

“Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” Psalm 73:1-2

Over the past couple of years I have struggled balancing grace and justice concerning someone whose evil behavior had disrupted my life in a significant ways.  I have questioned God as I have wrestled with how He had dealt with this person. I felt like they had received favor and blessing while our family struggled to move past the ripple affect of their sinful actions. I had been fixed on seeking punishment rather than looking to extend grace and forgiveness. Bitterness had taken root and with it the fruit of envy and resentment. Recently the Lord reminded me of Proverbs 14:30, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” My bones were rotting away!

Have you ever been caught up in the comparison trap like Asaph was in Psalm 73? Asaph’s faith in God’s goodness was slipping as he compared the lives of the ungodly with his own. He could only see how the wicked seemed to have it all together while he was plagued and punished every day. His focus on others caused him to have a pity party!  Have you ever thought to yourself, “why do they get all the breaks while I try so hard with nothing to show for it?”  When we compare ourselves with others we become jealous of them and eventually bitter toward God for allowing others to prosper while we struggle.

Asaph’s perspective changed when he  “entered the sanctuary of God” and  “understood their final destiny.” (V17) When caught in the comparison trap the only way out is to spend time with God, confess your envy and focus on the eternal reality.  The destiny of the wicked is ruin, but for us who trust Him as our Savior our destiny is sealed and secure in heaven.  Once he fixed his thoughts on God he could see clearly the goodness of God: “I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.  You guide me with your counsel and afterward you will take me into glory.” (Vs. 23-24)

Once Asaph regained an eternal perspective of his life, he no longer said, “poor me” or “what about those people?” but he now declared, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.”(V 25) When tempted to compare your life with the prosperity of the ungodly, look beyond the temporary and focus on your eternal reward – life forever in the presence of your good, good heavenly Father.

After acknowledging my envy and seeking God’s forgiveness and wisdom I now have a new eternal perspective along with a peace that has given me renewed life and trust in God’s goodness.  “Lord, as for me, it is good to be near to You, my refuge.  I will tell of all you have done for me!  Keep my eyes on you and remind me of my heavenly destiny.” Amen

Seeking the Nearness of God,

Nancy

A Prescription for Joy

Praise the Lord, my soul.  Lord my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty. (Psalm 104:1-4; 24-35)

How has God acted in your life to cause you to come in to know Him in a way you had not before?  What was your response to Him?  When we come to know God, we often encounter him in such a way that immediately evokes a response of awe and humility, making us conscious of our sin.  The only thing we can do is obey God, which translates into worship.

When we come to know God, His nature, His character, and how He has acted and continues to act in this world and in our lives, the only thing we can do is offer our lives in obedience and praise.  Worship is the only response to knowing God.  When we know God, we trust God.  When we trust God, we obey God.  When we obey God, we worship God. 

Psalm 104:1-4 has been referred to as “Genesis set to music”.  The psalm was written to display the great power of Yahweh as Creator and Sovereign over all of creation – a power that surpasses that of any false gods of pagan nations.  The psalmist spoke with the understanding and expression of one who truly knows God.  The outward expression of this knowledge led the psalmist to offer worship as a natural response to all God is and all that He has done. 

In Psalm 104:1, the psalmist’s contemplation of God’s heavenly splendor and majesty stirs an inmost praise causing him to start the psalms with “Praise the Lord, my soul”.  In Psalm 104:24-30, the psalmist’s contemplation of God’s creative wisdom and earthly providence stirs an inmost praise in Him.  In Psalm 104:31-35, the psalmist’s contemplation of God’s unlimited power stirs an inmost joyful praise. 

Splendor, majesty, wisdom, providence and powerful …. those are just a few descriptions of our amazing God that led the psalmist to joyous praise.  For joyous praise to well up in the psalmist contemplation, observation and trust in who God is had to occur first.   Are you experiencing joyous praise in your life and if not, what is keeping you from experiencing joyous praise?  Is it busyness, dwelling on your circumstances or lack of faith that keeps you from joyous praise?

Take time to observe God’s splendor and majesty in creation.  Take time for silence and solitude to quiet your mind so you can reflect on God’s faithfulness and goodness in your life.  Take time to be in God’s Word and take Him at His word.  He is who He says He is.  As I am growing to know who God is, I am learning He is abundantly generous in displaying His love, provision, power and majesty all around me. 

Edna Lee

Sustaining Joy

Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night when my thoughts trouble me. I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. Psalm 16:5-11

Laura’s post last week on Psalm 37 had me suddenly seeing verses all over the Psalms in which God promises to hold our hands and be with us throughout the journey of our time on earth. One of my favorite passages on this comes from Psalm 16, which is a masterpiece of God’s love for us. In this psalm we enter into the intimate relationship between David and God: David takes the truth God speaks lovingly to his heart and repeats it as a form of worship. It is a beautiful example of the spectacular reality that God invites us into a relationship with him. 

The past two weeks God has been using this psalm to speak to my soul the truth that He will not ever abandon me, and regardless of my circumstances, I can experience the vast expanses of true joy daily found in the presence of God because of the work of Christ. 

There is a lie that has been seeking to destroy this incredible opportunity for life and joy in the presence of God since the beginning of our rebellion: “God is holding out on me. God is keeping something good from me intentionally, resisting giving me something I deserve…” Have you ever heard the whisper of this sinister lie? It is the same lie the enemy spoke to Eve in the garden. 

When we are tempted to drown in lies, we always have the option to put on our Jesus life jacket instead! Here are some truths I wrote down from Psalm 16 the day my position with a company was suddenly eliminated: 

The Truth is God alone is my portion and my cup; He makes the rules in my heart and in my life. He is my security when life feels very uncertain. 

The Truth is the boundary lines in this current season have fallen for me in pleasant places. God knows exactly what I need in this season and has not withheld anything from me He considers necessary (Psalm 84:11). I can trust Him in seasons of feasting and fasting. 

The Truth is God has not and will not abandon me. He is directing my every step, even the ones I did not anticipate. I can get up and do what He made me to do even on anxious days because I rest firmly and securely in God’s hand. 

To be fully satisfied in Christ is our steadfast aim, especially while unloading the dishwasher, on our commutes, chipping away at the assignment/paper/project, serving the difficult patient or client, helping the new person next to you in your workout class… We can live fully satisfied in His presence day by day, in every area and season of life. He loves sustaining His daughters by his joy! 

Oh, Lord, our hearts overflow with love for you! We know how to love because you first loved us. Help us put on our life jackets of truth when we feel as if we are drowning in lies. Thank you for giving us everything we need and sustaining us by your spectacular presence. Amen!

~Emma

God Holds Your Hand

The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand. Psalm 37:23-24

Travel down under. The dream of a trip to Australia and New Zealand remained on my “travel wish list” for years. I racked up American Airline miles. When God directed my steps to transition from the mission organization I worked with to create Sacred Story almost 8 years ago, the time arrived.

Time to celebrate over two decades of serving in a ministry I still love. Time to embark on a long trip without the constraints of work. Time to unleash this dream even though I envisioned a mate alongside. Time to cash in the AA miles which accrued to almost 100k.

I booked reservations to fly the day before Christmas and return 18 days later. I had enough miles to fly business class. WOW. I felt like a freshman and asked the flight attendant to take my picture. God provided a dear friend to join for part of the time, and a godly family who lived in Auckland, my last stop, to show me around before I returned home.

I adored Australia and yet I longed to see the beauty of New Zealand, so I spent two-thirds of my time with the Kiwis. I discovered NZ possesses the most diverse topography of any island. While driving around we prayed desperately as the combination of the cliffs and the ocean plus driving on the other side of the road made the traverse an act of faith or insanity, depending on the moment. Within a short distance, we landed at a rain forest, and the beach, and the mountains. Such an awesome feast for the eyes.

We stayed two nights where Franz Joseph’s glacier is located which is one of two in the world within a rain forest. The guy at the tour company convinced me to book the all-day hike whereas my friend opted for the half day. Among other things, the all-day hike meant a restroom break in a hole carved out by our guide on the glacier.

I set off with my tour group, suited up with rain gear, boots, a hat, and a stick. We hiked the glacier, taking in stunning views. We ate lunch on the ice and took the dreaded potty break. On the way down, we waded across a river. The guide, a young guy who led us well, saw the current and the potential to lose my footing and took hold of my hand. Wading through the water, I found myself more confident and signaled by letting go of the pressure of his hand, that I could walk the remainder. Because he knew the dangers, the guide didn’t let go but instead held my hand tightly until I arrived at the other side.

My trip down under gave me a deeper experience of the truths in Psalm 37:23-24. I am reminded God is in the details, even airline miles. He delights in my steps as I trust Him. Not every day holds the adventure of traveling to Australia and New Zealand, but I can trust Him in the mundane and disappointments as well as the fruition of dreams. Like the guide, He holds my hand. Even when I reason, “I should be able to walk this out without needing intervention,” God continues to show me He delights in showing Himself strong, and holds my hand firmly.

The Lord intimately knows the terrain you and I walk. He sees what’s underneath the current that can trip us up, whether temptation, discouragement, unmet desires, or unexpected turns. We may stumble by getting off track for a season or not hearing God’s voice or allowing our flesh to choose sin, but we can cling to the truth in Psalm 37. God is in the details, He holds our hand and as we pursue Him, we will not fall into ruin or be swept away by sin.

How can you look for God in the details today?

Take a few moments to visualize God holding your hand.

If you encountered unexpected turns in your story, listen to Sacred Story’s podcast series. 

Heavenly Father, You are far greater and more amazing than I could ever imagine. You are working behind the scenes to orchestrate details and bring together circumstances. Give me faith to believe you are active on my behalf and directing my steps. Thank You for holding my hand.  In Jesus’ Name.

~Laura

 

 

 

Waiting With Confidence

I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. Psalm 27:13-14(NIV)

As you read through Psalm 27 you will notice it is divided into three sections.  First David declares his confidence in who God is and what He will do when his enemies are attacking him.  The word for confidence in Psalm 27:3 is the Hebrew word meaning, to attach oneself, to trust, confide in, feel safe, be confident, secure. Throughout Scripture relying on other types of security is strongly contrasted with depending on God alone.

The second part of this psalm turns from declaring his confidence to pleading for God to do what He alone can do: deliver him from his enemies!  Even though he is confident God will come through, David openly expresses his vulnerability and need for God to not forsake him in the midst of such a critical circumstance.

Lastly, David closes his psalm with another declaration of confidence. This time he uses a different Hebrew word for confidence, which stresses an enduring trust and belief in God. In Psalm 27:13-14 He gives us some instruction on how to have enduring confidence or trust.

First, David declares his confidence in God’s goodness. He makes a bold statement declaring God’s goodness will win out in the end.  Focusing on God’s goodness helps us to endure hard times.

Next he instructs us to wait for the Lord with strength and courage.  Courage does not mean lack of fear, but it means facing your fear relying on God’s strength alone.

Lastly, he repeats his instruction to wait for the Lord.  To wait means to patiently endure. So whenever you see something repeated in Scripture, it usually means it is very important and more than likely it is difficult.  Patient endurance is God-given and is totally unnatural to us humans. That is why God gave us the Holy Spirit who produces in us the fruit of patience.

After the devastation of my first miscarriage I memorized Psalm 27:13-14 as a way to focus on God’s goodness as I longed to become pregnant again. He was faithful to His Word and I did see God’s goodness in the form of a beautiful baby boy born a year later.  However, after my son was born I came close to death due to a medical crisis.  I spent several days in ICU before I was able to hold him in my arms.  As I lay in the hospital bed longing to hold my newborn son, the Lord brought to mind the words of Psalm 27:13-14 and my confidence in God’s goodness grew. In this new season of transition and waiting on God to lead me, Psalm 27:13-14 reminds me again to patiently endure the wait believing that God’s goodness will be seen in the end.

Recently, Take Courage, a song written by Kristene DiMarco has ministered to me and has reminded me again of Psalm 27:13-14, as I have been trusting and waiting on the Lord to lead me in a time of transition.

Slow down, take time

Breath in He said

He’s reveal what’s to come

 

The thoughts in His mind

Always higher than mine

He’s reveal all to come

 

Take courage my heart

Stay steadfast my soul

He’s in the waiting

He’s in the waiting

Are you in a time of waiting?  Perhaps for a spouse, a child, a job, or even for a new beginning?  Focus on God’s goodness, wait with courage, and wait with enduring patience and trust in God alone.

Lord, I am confident that You are good and that you have a plan for good in my future. Help me to wait as I take courage from You and to find your strength in the midst of my waiting.  I pray this with confidence in Jesus name, Amen.

 Confidently waiting,

Nancy

 

 

How to Flourish

“The Lord remembers us and will bless us:
He will bless his people Israel,
he will bless the house of Aaron,
he will bless those who fear the Lord—
small and great alike.

May the Lord cause you to flourish,
both you and your children.
May you be blessed by the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.”

Psalm 115:12-15

Can you sing this Psalm with confidence or was it written for someone else? Is your life flourishing for both you and your loved ones? Do you feel small or great?

Right now I feel like I’m fighting to flourish and I’m watching my children and loved ones endure many struggles. I believe God but feel like an imposter singing someone else’s song.

What we see with our natural eyes and what we feel with our very real emotions doesn’t change this truth that the Maker of heaven and earth is the source of increase and blessings for all who fear Him, small and great alike.

At the root of all my prayers this season is one desire, to live a fruitful life. I want my life and the lives of those entrusted to me to flourish in a way that there is only one explanation: God.

Is this a selfish desire? No. Jesus’ words are clear in John 15:8 “This is to my Father’s glory that you bear much fruit showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

Thankfully He also proved the how-to in the previous passage (v.5): “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me and I in him produces much fruit because you can do nothing without me.”

When I feel cut off from the flourishing life God offers and desires it’s time to go back to the root of “the vine”. My favorite prophesy of the Messiah is found in Isaiah 11:1, “Then a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit.” At the root of the stump of Jesse is where we find the only way to experience fruit that remains. When all appeared cut off like a stump of what was once a strong, powerful tree, the Nation of Israel and the house of Aaron, a root came up and fulfilled all of God’s promises in Jesus Christ.

What has been cut off or pruned away from your life? What losses have you experienced, disappointment without explanation, fading of friendship, plans failed, finances stopped, health eroded, dreams crushed?  What is your stump?

Watch for your shoot and you remain deeply rooted in Christ because we can do nothing without him.

God Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, thank you for remembering me and blessing me and my children.  Thank you that I am of the Nation of Israel and the house of Aaron through the blood of Christ.  When I am in great faith, remind me to sing Psalm 115 to you, my Great Supplier.  When I feel small and defeated, help me to remain in your love and make this Psalm my song of expectation.  Thank you for causing my life to flourish in a way that points directly to you.

-Brandi

 

Praise the Lord, Oh my Soul!

“Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits- who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s… The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love.”

Psalm 103:1-5, 8

Psalm 103 is the passionate culmination of all the author knows of God’s work and character. He can hardly contain himself with thoughts of the goodness of God! I invite you into this passionate praise where your whole soul is engaged in adoring the Lord. It is one of the most life giving things we can do! 

On a note card or in your journal, walk with me through these first few verses by writing down what is in bold, then filling in where you have seen God move. Let your heart be filled with wonder. 

Who forgives all your sins…. Praise the Lord because he forgives all our rebellion against him. His perfect love casts out the fear of not being forgiven. If you need forgiveness today praise the Lord because he has freely forgiven you! With all of who I am thank you for never wiping your hands of me, Lord! Thank you for forgiving me for harboring jealousy and bitterness in my heart! 

And heals all your diseases…. Praise the Lord because he heals all our physical, emotional, spiritual diseases when we call on his name. We have seen so much healing out of the pure goodness of the Lord’s heart. Sometimes it might not be in our timing, but the Lord surely will bring ultimate healing when he comes again. Lord, thank you for healing my paralyzing stomach pain two years ago; thank you for healing me from my anger in high school. Lord, thank you for the healing I have seen in my friends and family! 

Who redeems your life from the pit… Praise the Lord because we are no longer in the pit of despair! I have to remind myself of this often. Psalm 18:16,18 so beautifully describe his redemption power: “He reached down from on high and took hold of me; . . .he rescued me because he delighted in me.” Thank you, Lord, for never leaving me in my times of depression and anxiety. No matter how low, you brought your piercing light of redemption and pulled me out of darkness. Thank you for delighting in me even when I am my worst self!!  

And crowns you with love and compassion… Praise the Lord because we are children of God, crowned with dignity, love, and compassion. In Christ, we are the most audacious rags-to-riches story because he took us from the lowest position and brought us into his High Courts. Lord, thank you that you banner over me is constantly of love, even when shame, guilt, and fear tell me otherwise! 

Who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed… Praise the Lord because he is our Father who knows our every need and satisfies them with what he knows is best, like a father knows the desires of a young child. Lord, thank you for knowing my every need and my longings. Thank you for your unending kindness when I desire the things of this earth, like wealth and popularity. Lord, you alone can satisfy! 

The psalmist not only praises God for what he has done, but for who he forever will be:

 “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love.” 

Who is like the Lord, our God! None can compare with his character and might! None can compare with his unending love and compassion towards us! This is the way he looks at you and me every single day. Wow! Enjoy the Lord with me today as we walk in thanksgiving for all he has done and all he will do. 

Lord, at the top of our lungs we praise you with all we are! With arms held high in surrender we stand in awe of the One who gave it all for us, and give everything back to you! We receive your love and affection over us today, and walk confidently as beloved children of God.

~Emma Abernathy

Chasing Away Fear and Shame

“I sought the Lord and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears. They looked to Him and were radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.” Psalm 34:4-5

I grew up with ugly monsters in my closet named fear and shame. They had been fed all my life, hurling messages of insecurity, leaving me feeling unworthy and unlovable. I feared disappointing people, being rejected or poked fun at, not being accepted by my peers, being hurt with stinging words, and not being able to control the out of control people and situations in my life. I never felt good enough. I felt weak, unheard, and unknown. By the time I was in high school my burden of shame was so heavy I had a hard time looking someone in the eye when they talked to me.

I knew when I entered college, I had a lot of pain and needed Someone or Something outside of me to heal my inside; and when Jesus came for me my freshman year, I knew He was the One. Psalm 34 became one of my favorite Psalms I clung to as a new believer. A dear friend taught me to take bites of baby food from the Scripture, nourishing my new appetite. Jesus began to cancel the accusations of fear and shame by feeding His Spirit within me.

I wish I could say I have lived fearless the rest of my days. I still struggle with disappointing people and the fear of not belonging and not having a voice. I remain in bondage at times to feelings of not measuring up. Other women’s ministries can thrive, but Sacred Story doesn’t have what it takes because I don’t measure up. Other women can enjoy marriages, but my singleness is partially attributed to the reality that I am damaged in some way and not like others. I am not saying these messages are correct or even that I subscribe to them; however, there are moments and days when my heart and emotions tell me they are true.

I am grateful for the healing and victory God applies to my life over the years and yet it is a lifelong journey of the “now and not yet” of the Christian faith. I will battle the monsters of fear and shame the rest of my life, even though they appear less threatening because Jesus teaches me how to feed upon His Spirit. He gives me new thoughts, inclinations, and windows into my heart and His. He calls me the Apple of His eye (Psalm 17:8); He laughs with me and delights in our conversations. He is ever ready to reach out His nail scarred hand to me in each situation and sometimes just to dance with Him.

Psalm 34 beckons me to bring my fears and shame to Jesus, name them, and lay them before Him as I would pieces of paper. Fear of financial devastation, fear of not saying the right or perfect thing, fear of not being good enough, and more. Then I turn each one over and discovered the same message: Delivered, Delivered, Delivered. Like a child running from monsters in the closet, I run to Jesus, jump in His lap, and hear Him say, “Child, turn your face toward Me. Be radiant because that’s how I see you. I am here. I am able.”

Lord, I look to You when my fears and shame rise up and want to claim my thoughts and emotions. Thank You for being my Deliverer and the One who makes my face radiant. 

~ Laura

Trusting As the Waters Rise

Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found; surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him.  You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.  Many are the woes of the wicked, but the LORD’s unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in him.  Psalm 32:6,7,10

The Key Word Study Bible introduces the Psalms as “powerfully conveying the feelings common to believers of all ages . . . from deep despair to ecstatic delight . . . from earnest pleading with God for protection to jubilant praise for His deliverance.”  This summer I began reading through the Psalms for my morning devotions as they help me connect emotionally and spiritually to God.  As I read I have been searching for the word trust, which is the word God led me to focus on this year. I have found in my search that the psalmist often declares and reaffirms his trust in God after pleading for deliverance out of a fearful circumstance. I can totally relate to the emotion of fear!  In my pursuit of greater trust the Lord has shown me that my fear is preventing me from fully trusting God.

This summer, while on vacation in Charleston, South Carolina, I had landed on Psalm 32 for my daily devotional. I read, “Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found.  Surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him.”  Little did I know later that day, the mayor of Charleston would give orders to evacuate due to a hurricane approaching the city.  As the order was given fear rose within me and I cried out for God to protect us and lead us out of the storm. We prayed and God delivered us from the impending flood.  I praised God for being our hiding place, protecting us in the midst of this storm.  However, that wasn’t the end of my lesson on trust versus fear.

This past week we received a call from my son asking us to pick up our granddaughter from her school because it was flooding due to tropical storm Imelda.  My husband and I set out on a treacherous journey to rescue our granddaughter.  As the water rose up around our vehicle fear also rose up in me, engulfing me, and revealing my miniscule faith. All I could do was call out one word, one name, “Jesus!” Fear was overwhelming me and I hate to admit it but I became hysterical. My husband looked at me and said, “Don’t you trust me?”  All I could honestly say was, “No, but I do trust the Lord.”  I then closed my eyes and prayed to God, who I believe with all my heart, was there with me in that vehicle.  Calm came over me in that moment as I heard my husband say, “Yes, we just need calm.” I began to hear the Lord’s songs of deliverance. In that moment I knew God was teaching me the only way to face my fear was to trust in His unfailing love.

One of the most important words in the Old Testament is hesed, or unfailing love, which is central to God’s character. In fact His unfailing love is constant even when we prove unfaithful.  We can trust God because His love for us has never and will never change! He surrounded me that day with songs of deliverance and with His unfailing love and He will do the same for you.

What fear is rising up around you today? Take Him at His Word and pray:

Lord, you are my hiding place and you surround me with songs of deliverance. Teach me to trust you as I face my fears today, believing that you will surround me with you unfailing, never changing, delivering love.  Amen

Trust Him,  Nancy

P.S. My husband, miraculously, drove my granddaughter and me through the floodwaters and delivered us unharmed to the safety of our home!