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Reclaiming Our Lives: Embracing the Life We’ve Been Given

Can you imagine what it would be like to live on a submarine? According to an article I recently read, some civilian submarines have windows – technically called “viewports” – but when the submarine is deep underwater, all you see when you look out is blackness. Without artificial light, the crew on a submarine would be unable to function.

Trying to live with chronic illness solely on human perspective can be compared to living on a submerged submarine without any artificial light. To make sense of our lives when we are struggling with the pain and limitations of chronic illness, we need the light of God’s Word to push out the darkness. Having God’s perspective is like having a periscope that allows us to see beyond the darkness and obstacles in our path and navigate safely toward our destination.

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As we continue with this year’s focus on reclaiming our lives after a chronic illness diagnosis, today I wanted to focus on the truth that sometimes we need to let go of our life plan and embrace the life we have been given. The first steps to reclaiming our lives when chronic illness and the limitations it causes don’t go away are acceptance of what is and trust that God really does love us and knows what is best for us.

As a young child, my dream was to be a teacher. After finishing high school, I enrolled in a state college in my home state of Maryland and graduated with a degree in early childhood education. During this time, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, and I was confident I was right where the Lord wanted me. My plan was to teach kindergarten, which I did for two years before I heard the Lord calling me to attend Bible college, where I met my husband Mitch.

My life plan was to get married, find another teaching job in Texas where I was now living, and continue living out my dream of being a teacher. But it wasn’t long before we faced a major obstacle.

My husband and I, with our toddler Teresa, were on a trip to see some friends in Fort Worth and pick up some construction supplies for Mitch’s boss, when a drunk driver ran into our vehicle and forever changed our lives. My husband came out with a cracked rib and knee, and lacerations on his face and knees, but Teresa and I weren’t quite so lucky. Teresa did not survive the accident, and my doctor told Mitch that, if I survived, I might never walk again. Though we mourned the loss of our precious daughter, God was gracious and I did survive. Though the injuries I received in this accident were the beginning of a battle with degenerative arthritis and neuropathy, I was able to walk without assistance for many years.

In 1977, our daughter Amy was born, and when she was four years old I was able to return to teaching, this time in a pre-kindergarten and kindergarten program our church started. The following summer our son David was added to the family. We quickly noticed David had an unusual sensitivity to light, but we weren’t worried about his health.

When David was around three months old, we decided to move to Houston where Mitch’s family lived. A couple weeks later, we took him in to see a new pediatrician. She was extremely concerned that something was wrong, and before the day was over David was admitted to Texas Children’s Hospital for neurological testing.

To cut the story short, David was diagnosed with Massive Infantile Spasms, a seizure disorder that basically stopped his mental development and left him unable to do anything for himself. Now we were facing an obstacle that was so big we had no idea how we would navigate it. It truly felt like we were in a submarine, deep underwater, and unable to see beyond the darkness and obstacles ahead.

I could go on and tell you about the next thirty-four years, which ended with the Lord taking David home to be with Him last November, but this is enough of my story to help you understand that my life definitely has not turned out the way I planned.

To continue functioning, my husband and I had to release the life we had pictured when we first married and to embrace the life we had been given. So how is this possible? Here are some steps to take, along with a few Scriptures that have helped me navigate this path that was so far from what we had planned. (All verses are in ESV)

• We must choose to let go of the past and turn our focus on the future.

“Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians‬ ‭3:13b-14‬ ‭‬‬‬‬‬‬

• Remember God more highly values inward renewal above what is going on outwardly.

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians‬ ‭4:16-18‬ ‬‬‬‬‬

• Do you feel like outwardly your body seems to be “wasting away”? Is chronic illness the “thorn in the flesh” that you’ve begged God to take away? For me, God’s answer, for now at least, has been similar to His answer to the apostle Paul.

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:8-10

• Scripture makes it clear that life on earth involves warfare and suffering.

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” 1 Peter 5:8-10

• Finally, while Jesus has already defeated the enemy, we won’t experience the full effect of His victory until we go to be with Him in the new heaven and the new earth. Until that time, let’s hold on to the promise that it won’t always be like this.

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’” Revelation‬ ‭21:3-4‬ ‭‬‬‬‬‬‬

Are you still mourning what you’ve lost from chronic illness? Are you struggling to embrace the life you’ve been given and begin moving forward? If so I hope you will join me in the following prayer.

Father, I am choosing to embrace the life You have given me. You know this is not what I had in mind for my life. But for now at least, it is reality. I will not lose heart, even though it feels like my body is wasting away. I believe Your grace is sufficient for me, even in this situation. I will be content with weakness and hardships, because when I bring You my weakness You replace it with Your strength.

Father, I recognize life on this fallen earth is a battle. I have an enemy, the devil, who wants to devour me. Help me to be sober-minded and watchful, to recognize his attacks and resist him as I stand firm in my faith.

Lord, thank You that Jesus has already defeated the devil by His suffering and death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. This time of suffering will come to an end when Jesus returns to set up His Kingdom. Then there will be no death or mourning, no crying or pain. These will have passed away never to be again. Until that time, help me to seek Your will daily, and to walk in the fulness of what You have for me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Getting Unstuck from Unhealthy Habits

As I took down my 2019 calendar and replaced it with a new one a couple weeks ago, my heart was heavy. Last year was a very difficult year, and I was struggling to be hopeful about 2020.

It seemed like each time I began making progress last year, something negative popped up to slow or stop my progress. I was grieving the loss of our special-needs son in November 2018, missing David and also his nurses who had been a big part of my daily life for many years. And my health seemed to be falling apart.

I was struggling with a recurring case of eczema, probably caused by the stress I was walking through. After an improvement in my ability to walk, the condition of my left knee suddenly deteriorated to the point where walking even from room to room was agonizing. Tests showed no cartilage left in the knee, and because of the nerve damage in that knee the orthopedic surgeon said I was at a risk that heel replacement surgery would actually make the pain worse. And as the year neared an end, I started experiencing intense pain and inability to move use my left arm, probably from a problem with the rotator cuff.

Throughout the year, it seemed like for each step forward I took, circumstances would cause two steps backward. I felt stuck both physically and emotionally, and had no idea how to turn that around.

Have you ever been at a place like I described above? If so, finding a way to get unstuck is essential if we hope to move forward in God’s plan for our lives. As God-Living Girls with Chronic Illness begins a new focus on RECLAIMING YOUR LIFE (after a chronic illness diagnosis), our first emphasis will be on Getting Unstuck from Unhealthy Habits.

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When our plans don’t go as we had hoped, it can leave us feeling frustrated, disappointed and discouraged. These emotions leave us vulnerable to either forming new or falling back into old negative habits, sometimes even those we thought we had finally gained victory over. We also have an enemy who is quick to take advantage of any doors we leave open to his influence. He knows our areas of weakness, sometimes better than we do, and his purpose is to use them to cause us to lose the victory Jesus Christ gained for us on the Cross.

Getting unstuck from the habits in our lives that are keeping us bound begins with recognizing the specific habits we need to deal with. In essence, bad habits are areas of temptation that we have given into over and over again until they have become our automatic response.

1 Corinthians 10:13 (ESV) says, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

Getting unstuck from unhealthy habits begins with prayerfully identifying the specific habits that we need to change. Here are a few of the habits common to us as Christian women:

FAILING TO HAVE A DAILY QUIET TIME IN GOD’S WORD
Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” One of the ways we do this is by making a daily quiet time a priority. If you are a mom with young children or if you have a 9 to 5 job you must go to daily, you may feel you don’t have time for this. Do the best you can. Even five minutes in the Word of God in the midst of a busy schedule helps us to redirect our focus onto the Lord.

NOT MAKING TIME FOR PRAYER
Matthew 6:6 says, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Prayer is simply spending time in God’s presence, and Psalm 95:2 says we come into His presence with thanksgiving. Prayer includes sharing the burdens of our hearts with the Lord, then listening for His response. I’ve learned to pray with an open Bible, often using promises of Scripture to guide my prayers.

NOT FULFILLING OUR DAILY RESPONSIBILITIES
As women with chronic illnesses, this can be a tough area to deal with. Pain and exhaustion often limit what we can do. Rest during the day may be needed to just keep our bodies functioning. But all of us have some responsibilities we are called to be faithful in completing. One Bible verse I go back to over and over again in this area is Colossians 3:23, which says “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” Some days, “whatever you do” may be one small task such as washing the breakfast dishes. Other days, you may be able to do more. But whether you do little or much, do it with a good attitude, working from the heart to love your family and to please the Lord.

POOR EATING HABITS
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, ‭‭“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” Are you doing your best to take care of your body? Chronic illness and the medications we take often make it easy to gain ‭‭weight, so this is not to condemn those who are overweight (this is a problem I’ve battled since childhood, so I understand). But are you doing your best to glorify God in your body, His temple? Or are you using food for comfort when you’re struggling? God’s will is for us to do the best we can in this area, in spite of the limitations our chronic illnesses cause.

Have one of these areas stood out to you as an unhealthy habit where you need God’s help to become unstuck? Or perhaps a habit I didn’t list is making you feel stuck. My suggestion is that you choose the one negative habit, the one you have the biggest problem with, and with the help of the Holy Spirit begin the process that leads to freedom.

The first step of this process is prayer for God to make us willing to change and also to empower us to change.

Philippians 2:12-13 says, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

The foundation of poor habits is often believing a lie. For example, if overeating is the issue, you may be using food as an emotional crutch, instead of taking your problems to the Lord and asking for His help.

The second step is to examine your thoughts in the light of God’s Word, recognizing the lies you are believing.

Once you see the lies, those things we are believing that do not line up with our standard of truth, God’s Word, it’s time to begin what Romans 12:2 calls “renewing our mind.”

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

Renewing our minds is simply learning to exchange the lies we have been believing for the truth of God’s Word. It is asking what God says about the area you are struggling with and spending some time reading verses that reveal the will of God in this area. Sometimes a specific verse or several verses may come to mind, other times we need to do a search to find verses that apply to our area of struggle. And once we find the verses, use them in a prayer of commitment to God. Recall that self-effort alone won’t result in lasting freedom, we need to power of the indwelling Holy Spirit to change deeply entrenched habits. Take time to pray, asking God for His help in changing this area of my life that is hindering you from God’s best.

Finally, renewing our minds doesn’t happen by simply finding applicable verses and learning the truth. It requires doing this each time we fall back into the habit we want to change. James 1:22 says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” Getting unstuck from negative habits requires building new habits. It requires practice at living out the truth until you have become a habitual doer of this truth.

As I’ve spent time over this last few weeks setting goals for 2020, one thing the Lord has reminded me off over and over again is to look at the new year as a blank canvas, unblemished and waiting for us to fill with the image He has for our lives in 2020. I encourage you to take some time today and address this first challenge in our new focus on RECLAIMING OUR LIVES this year. Let’s get started on the process of getting unstuck from the habits that don’t serve us well.

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How to Abide in Christ

As I’ve been reading Abide in Christ: A 21-Day Devotional For Fellowship with Jesus each day this week, my eyes have been opened to an important truth. Abiding is Christ is primarily a decision to surrender.

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When we come to Jesus Christ, we come with open arms, to be received by the open arms of our Savior. Abiding in Christ is not some great thing we do. It isn’t a discipline we perfect. It is simply recognizing my own weakness and entrusting myself to the One who is absolutely trustworthy. As Andrew Murray wrote:

“Abiding in Him is not a work that we have to do as the condition for enjoying His salvation, but a consenting to let Him do all for us, and in us, and through us. It is a work He does for us,—the fruit and the power of His redeeming love. Our part is simply to yield, to trust, and to wait for what He has engaged to perform.”

Abiding in Jesus begins with acknowledging, apart from the Lord, I have no good thing (Psalm ‭16:2‬).‬ As Paul said in Romans 7, when I lean on my own strength I end up doing exactly what I don’t want to do.

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” Romans‬ ‭7:15‬ ‭

But I am “in Christ” so I don’t have to lean on my own strength. Through the indwelling power of Christ, I can do everything that is the will of God – and that includes abiding in Christ.

“I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” ‭‭Philippians‬ ‭4:13‬ ‭

A second truth has stood out as I’ve read this week’s devotionals. Jesus first mentioned abiding in connection with the parable of the Vine.

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John‬ ‭15:4-5‬

As we study this parable, we learn that the union between the branch and the Vine is a living union. Life flows from the Vine, Jesus Christ, into us, the branches. If anything happens to stop the flow, the branch will eventually die and be thrown into the fire to be burned.

Second, Andrew Murray describes the union between the branch and the Vine as a complete union. The words mutually beneficial come to my mind. Without the Vine, the branch can do nothing. It will literally dry up and die. But without the branch, the Vine is also unable to fulfill its purpose. A vine without branches can bear no fruit. God has called us to be His fruit bearers, bringing glory to Him as we demonstrate His character and fulfill His purposes in our lives.

Abiding begins with acknowledging my weakness and inability to please God in my own strength. It happens when I make the decision to entrust my life to Jesus Christ, and surrender to His loving hands. Do you want to live a fruitful life? Stay attached to the Vine so His life can flow through you to those He has allowed your life to touch. This is the key to abiding, to having a life worth living.

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Come To Me and Abide

As each year nears an end, I come to the Lord Jesus Christ in prayer, asking Him what One Word He would have me focus on in the coming year. As we moved toward 2020, I clearly heard God’s voice. The word was ABIDE.

For the month of January, I will be doing blog posts at least a few times a week as I go through a devotional book by Andrew Murray. Today’s devotional in Abide in Christ: A 31-Day Devotional For Fellowship with Jesus begins with two very familiar Scriptures. The first is found in Matthew 11:28.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”‭‭

To those who have heard and responded to this call to Comea new invitation has been given. This invitation is the call to not just come, but to go deeper, to draw closer to our Savior. It is found in John 15:4.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.

Andrew Murray says all the blessings that are connected with the call to “Come” are only to be enjoyed as we enter into close fellowship with Jesus. Jesus is saying, “Come to me to stay with me.”‭‭

Jesus has prepared for you “an abiding dwelling with Himself,” where we live not just for a short time as we have our morning quiet time but every moment of the day in the presence of our Savior and Lord. As we go about our daily lives, doing our daily work, His desire is that we would enjoy unbroken communion with Him.

We are to run to His open arms, receive His welcome, and remain there as He opens up all His life and love to us. We are to live daily in the truth that NOTHING can separate us from His love.

My prayer as you and I begin 2020 is that this will be a year of abiding in Christ, of continual communion with the One who loves us so much that He was willing to lay down His life to make a way for us to be forgiven and restored to relationship with our heavenly Father.

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When I Surrender, I Worship

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Romans‬ ‭12:1‬ ‭ESV‬‬

When we began our study on surrender, Romans 12:1 was one of the first Scriptures we studied. Now that we are coming to the end of our study, we go back to this important verse.

Laura says, “Considering all that Christ has done for us – making us right with God by his atoning death, freeing us from the penalty and power of sin, lavishing us with his grace – how should we respond?

After eleven chapters full of rich truths that are the foundation of our faith in Christ Jesus, the apostle Paul begins chapter 12 of Romans with his answer to this question. How should we respond to the grace and mercy of God? The only appropriate response is found in surrender, in presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. Paul says, this “is your spiritual worship.

We don’t surrender our lives to God to gain his favor. We offer ourselves to him in response to the favor he has already freely shown us because of the saving work of Jesus.

A CORRECT UNDERSTANDING OF WORSHIP
Worship is not an emotional response, though often emotions may be a part of it. Worship is not singing songs of praise, though singing is often a part of it. True worship is a choice to respond to God in gratitude and praise for who He is and for all He has done for us.

True worship, according to Romans 12:1, is presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. Surrender is the main requirement for worship. And worship is to be constant because it is an expression of God’s worth, which never changes, even when our circumstances and emotions fluctuate from day to day.

Laura shares a feeling of apprehension when she first began to understand the link between surrender and worship. We are to present our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. But none of us are holy. Even our best attempts at surrender are imperfect.

Laura says, “I can’t present myself as a holy and blameless sacrifice on the basis of my track record. But I can present myself to God as holy and blameless based on his mercy!” When God looks at us he doesn’t see our self-centeredness and failures. He sees in us the righteousness of Jesus.

As we bring this study to a close today and tomorrow, let’s spend some timBlamelesse in thanksgiving and praise. And to get us started, I want to share the chorus of a song written by Laura Story reminding us this life we have is no longer ours to do with as we please.

Not My Life

This is not my life
It is Yours, it is Yours
This is not my heart
It is Yours, it is Yours
I surrender all I am
Place my life into Your hands
Jesus, I am Yours
I am Yours

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Jesus: Our Example of Surrender

This week, we are coming to the end of our study of I Give Up: The Secret Joy of a Surrendered Life, by Laura Story.

Christian author Katherine J Walden said concerning surrender:

“The enemy knows that without surrender, we will never experience the freedom that God offers us. Without surrender, we will remain spiritually malnourished, ill and confused. Without surrender, our foxholes become prisons of the enemy’s making. Our lack of full surrender limits God’s ability to both work in our lives and through our lives.

“God’s call to surrender is not an intimidating, angry bark heard from the other side of a battlefield. God’s invitation to surrender is expressed through the example of his Son, Jesus, as described in Philippians 2:5-11.”

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians‬ ‭2:5-11‬ ‭NIV‬‬

The call to surrender is a call to live like Jesus lived. He willingly took on human flesh, taking on the very nature of a servant. He humbled himself by becoming obedient, even to the point of death on the Cross of Calvary. His choice to always do whatever his heavenly Father asked enabled him to be victorious.

The decision to live a lifestyle of surrender to God can simply be described as following Jesus. And by making this choice, we are set free to live in the freedom God offers us, to walk in the victory he gained. 

A lifestyle of surrender is also a life of putting others before ourselves. As Laura Story says,  surrender has a “ripple effect.” If you’ve ever thrown a stone in the water, you’ve noticed the ripple effect – with concentric circles going out from the place of contact. How we live matters, not only in our personal lives but also in the lives of those around us. As we follow Jesus’ example, we aren’t the only ones who are changed.

Philippians 2:5 mentions that the mindset of Christ Jesus is to make a difference in our relationships with one another. And to understand more clearly what that means, we just need to look at the two verses right before this passage about the mindset of Jesus.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Philippians‬ ‭2:3-4‬ ‭NIV‬‬

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I wanted to close today with Laura Story’s latest song, one that reminds us of the victory that Jesus won on our behalf. As she says, “Our fears and our failures hang dead on the cross.” And because we were crucified with him, we are able to share in His life and His victory.  Following Jesus is choosing the lifestyle he lived, a life of daily surrender to the will of God. And doing so means sharing in His victory, which includes all of the benefits that are a part of that.

 

The “How” of Surrender

This week’s focus in the “I Give Up” Bible study on surrender focuses on the HOW of surrender. Laura Story says, “Surrender requires a willingness to change, it requires trust, and it requires active participation.”

But the truth that is central in this week’s teaching is that surrender isn’t about striving and human effort. Rather, it’s about GRACE and ABIDING IN THE VINE.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” John‬ ‭15:5-8‬ ‭NIV‬‬

To abide in Christ means to intentionally remain in an ever-growing relationship with him. The result is over time being transformed to be more and more like Him. Abiding in Christ means not giving up, but continuing on despite our doubts or hardships. Abiding in Christ means allowing God to continue the work He is doing in us by staying attached to our source of life and strength.

Abiding in Christ is the key to living a fruitful life. Charles Swindoll wrote, “Jesus never commanded believers to produce fruit. Fruit is the purpose of the branch, but it is not the responsibility of the branch. The branch cannot produce anything on it’s own. However, if it remains attached to the vine, it will receive life-sustaining sap, nourishment, strength, everything it needs.”

As I was doing some research online I came across an article by  Laura Story on what it means to abide. Abiding, she says, is “learning to be a branch.” What does a branch do? It simply remains attached to the vine, and allows the life of the vine to flow through it. Without making any effort itself, it bears fruit.

Laura says, “First of all, Jesus isn’t against doing. He calls us to do a great many things, yet the source of the strength for the doing MUST come from abiding.”

She adds, “I took a moment to gaze out my living room window and noticed something about the trees.  None of the branches seemed to be struggling to connect with the trunks, or vines, if you will. It is the most natural thing in the world for these branches to stay attached to their source of life and strength and nourishment.”

So how do we walk in a lifestyle of surrender? It begins by acknowledging in ourselves we lack the ability to do this. We learn to be a branch. We remain attached to the Vine, which is Jesus Christ. We walk by faith, spend focused time daily with the Lord and abiding in His Word. And then we step out to do whatever He instructs us to do, expecting His life to flow through us.

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