Tag Archive | Prayer

Realizing the Brevity of Life

During the month of July, I have been reading through the books of Psalms and Proverbs, and this morning’s reading included Psalm 90. I’ve been using the New Living Translation to get a fresh view of these Scriptures that I’ve read hundreds of times in the around fifty years that I’ve been a Christian.

Psalm 90 is the oldest of the Psalms. It was written by Moses, in the form of a prayer, and entitled From Everlasting to Everlasting. The first verses focus on the eternal nature of our God.

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” Psalm‬ ‭90:1-2‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Moses starts with a reminder that no matter what circumstances we face, we have a safe dwelling place in the Lord. The New Living Translation calls it a home. In Him we have shelter and protection from danger or distress. The Creator of the earth and heavens calls us to come to Him and be secure.

The next verses are Moses prayer of lament over the brevity of life and the judgment of sins. This section ends with a reminder that our “secret sins” are not a secret to God.

“You spread out our sins before you— our secret sins—and you see them all. We live our lives beneath your wrath, ending our years with a groan.” Psalm 90:8-9 NLT

‭‭Then we come to the two verses that jumped out at me as I was reading them this morning.

“Seventy years are given to us! Some even live to eighty. But even the best years are filled with pain and trouble; soon they disappear, and we fly away… Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.” Psalm‬ ‭90:10, 12‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Seventy years are given to us!” These are the words that seemed to jump off the page as I was reading this morning. And before I looked forward, the words “teach us to number our days” came to mind. I was surprised to see that this truth was only two verses ahead. Because of the brevity of life, and the fact that I turned seventy-two in February, the thought came that I am “living on borrowed time.” The time when I will “fly away” to be in the presence of the Lord could be any time.

Remembering how fragile our life on earth is a good reminder to appreciate the years and months and even the days I still have to complete the purposes of God for my life. I need to value every moment and live wisely and with purpose. Time is short, so I need to live with a sense of urgency, seeking God’s wisdom for each day’s tasks.

At age seventy-two, I’m well aware of the brevity of life. As I read these verses, 2 Corinthians 4:16 came to mind. It begins with a reminder not to lose heart when our outer self, our physical bodies, begin wasting away. In my own life, over the last year I’ve seen the cartilage in my knees waste away so that my knees are now basically bone on bone. How do we not lose heart in this situation? The key is remembering this life is not all there is.

Living with chronic illnesses such as arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia, and an endless list of other infirmities, as many of you who read my blog do, is living with watching your bodies slowly waste away. But the good news is that’s not where the Apostle Paul ended this verse. He added the encouragement that our inner self is being renewed day by day.

If you are a Christian, one who has been forgiven and who has accepted Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, your inner self is renewed as you spend time in God’s life-giving presence. Colossians 3:10 (ESV) says we “have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” Through prayer and reading the Bible, God’s written Word, your inner self, the part of you that was made for eternity, is being renewed daily by the Holy Spirit.

No matter how many years you have left on this earth, they are a brief moment compared to eternity. Don’t despair when you see your outer self wasting away. Instead, turn your focus on renewing your inner self and on doing the things that will count for eternity.

Replenishing Our Weary Souls

“For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.” Jeremiah‬ ‭31:25‬ ‭

When I read this verse Monday morning, it opened my eyes to where I’ve been walking since March. This COVID-19 pandemic that has turned our lives upside down seems like it will never end. Add the civil unrest and violence in our nation and the situation seems dire. Soul weariness has made it difficult for me to accomplish anything during the last couple weeks.

The Hebrew word for “weary” is used of one who is “wearied out from a long journey and at the same time suffering from thirst.” Has this “journey” caused you to be “wearied out”? Has it caused you to “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6) instead of the injustice and violence that seems to be thriving? Is your weary soul needing to be replenished? To be filled up and restored? Mine sure is!

So how do we replenish our dry souls as these circumstances drag on and on? Here are five ways that have helped me. (All verses in ESV unless noted)

    Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10a) To be still means “to stop frantic activity, to let down, and to be still.” It is a stillness that leaves behind the pressures and even the jobs that still need to be done for a time of rest and restoration. To know is to perceive by observing and reflecting or by experience. As we become still and allow our minds to take a rest from the things of this world, remember how this Psalm begins. God is still “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1) He is there for you if you’ll just take your needs to Him.
    Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31 NASB) The word “rest” in this verse refers to taking a break from your labor. Find a “secluded place” and rest for a while, relax and simply enjoy the presence of the Lord. For you that might be by taking a short walk and enjoying the birds singing and flowers growing. It may be a short trip to the beach. But resting doesn’t always mean a change in your physical location, as long as you’re leaving behind the daily stresses and spending time with the Lord. Find a restful place and allow the burdens of this season to be rolled off your shoulders and onto the shoulders of the Lord.
    “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm‬ ‭1:1-2‬)‬‬ As you rest, ask the Lord to speak to you through His written word. Listen. Is there a specific Scripture that comes to mind? Take time to meditate on that Scripture. Start with prayer and ask God to help you understand the verse or passage. How does it apply to what you are currently walking through? Is there anything God is showing you that you need to obey?
    For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew‬ ‭18:20‬) One of the biggest struggles I’ve had during this season is the requirement for social distancing. To prevent spread of the virus, we’ve been asked to wear masks whenever we are out and stay physically separated. But we can still gather together during this season in other ways. Reach out to someone else who may be struggling with weariness and loneliness with a text or phone call. “Talk” with a friend on Facebook Messenger. Send a card to someone who is struggling during this time. Remember, God isn’t limited by social distancing. When we reach out to others in His name, He is there among us.
    But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John‬ ‭4:23-24)‬ ‭‬The hour is now here, when true worshipers worship the Father in spirit and truth. What does this mean? This idea was a part of Jesus’ conversation with a Samaritan woman at the well. The message was that worship of God is not to be confined to a single geographical location. Many of us have not been in our local church for months, instead having to “worship” online. The Holy Spirit isn’t limited to one specific building for true worship to happen. True worship comes from the heart. It is doctrinally grounded and focused on the truth of all we know of our great God. It’s the Holy Spirit who stirs in our spirit a desire to celebrate and rejoice and give thanks to God for all He has given us in Jesus Christ. Corporate worship is a blessing, but until that is once again safe, let’s remember that we can worship the Lord in spirit and in truth right where we are.

Find time today to bring your weary soul to the Lord so He can replenish your inner man, fill you back up again. Be still and remember God is still in control. Take times in your days to simply rest, to leave behind all your responsibilities and focus on restoring your weary soul. Let God speak to you through His Word. Soak up the peace that comes in His presence. And take some time to worship God for Who He is and all He has done for you. Even though this time of COVID-19 and civil unrest probably won’t be behind us anytime soon, let’s remember to practice these steps of replenishing our weary souls.


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Look for Christ and You Will Find Him!

When the month of July rolled around, I turned the page on the Pathways calendar in my bedroom, but didn’t pay much attention to the message on this month’s page. This calendar has had encouraging quotes by Christian writers, so today I decided to check out this month’s message. Here is what I found.

“Look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else.” – C. S. Lewis

As I read these words, the cry of my heart was to look for Christ in all the difficulties we have walked through for the last few months. Where is Christ in the midst of all the uncertainties of this world-wide pandemic? Where is Christ during this time when our Christian freedoms are being threatened? Where is Christ in the financial difficulties that we face as a result of shutting down our economy? Where is Christ in the midst of the civil unrest in our nation? Where is Christ in this chaos that has become a part of our daily lives?

As I contemplated these questions, one answer came to mind. Christ is in His people. If you are a believer in Christ, the Spirit of Christ, also known as the Holy Spirit, lives within you.

You may feel alone in this situation. But if your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), the truth is you are never completely alone. Through His Spirit, we are strengthened and empowered to be His hands and feet to those around us. We are encircled by His love – yes, Paul told us in Ephesians that we KNOW the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.

  • For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:14-19

The Spirit of Christ is also available to direct our path, to tell us where to go and where not to go.

  • And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.” Acts 16:6-7 ESV

And if we find ourselves in a situation we can find no way out of, He is able to deliver us.

  • What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance,” Philippians 1:18-19

And finally, if we feel lonely during this season on “social distancing” we can be confident that Jesus Christ doesn’t practice social distancing. He is always as close as our breath. And the writer of Hebrews promises that He will never leave or forsake us.

  • Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?'”Hebrews‬ ‭13:5-6‬ ‭

So the next time you look for Christ, take a look at your brothers and sisters whom you’ve been meeting across a Zoom screen during this season when we haven’t been able to gather in person. And take a look in your mirror. We are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus during this difficult time, as the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, works through us to touch others. How are you doing that in the place where Jesus currently has you? And how have others been Christ for you during this difficult season?

I want to close with a short prayer that I heard this morning, from Pastor Chris Shook of Church of the Woodlands in the Houston area. I’ve been watching her encouraging morning devotions, and her prayer this morning fits perfectly with this post.

“Lord, fill me up with You, so I can pour Your presence out on others.” Amen!

Bringing Calm to Unrest

Last Thursday, I was encouraged when my husband Mitch and I were finally able to have lunch together at one of our favorite restaurants. After months of isolation due to COVID-19, things were finally starting to look up. Stores and restaurants were gradually opening back up, still with the need to maintain social distancing, but it felt like things had turned a corner. Our church was even planning in-person services on Sunday, and though we had decided to wait a few more weeks before going back, things were finally starting to look hopeful.

Then, as we left the restaurant to take a package to UPS, we turned on the radio and listened to the news. The heartbreaking story of the senseless death of George Floyd was the top story. We expected there to be some protests about this situation, but we really didn’t know what was ahead. What started as a peaceful protest of the injustice was quickly hijacked by violent external groups bent on destruction and mayhem.

Soon after that, we learned George Floyd was originally from Houston, our hometown, and that his family still lives here. So as we heard of the rioting and destruction in other cities I was a little fearful of what was ahead. George Floyd’s brother Terrence has been a calming voice in our city, saying violence wasn’t the way to honor his brother. He said, “My family is a peaceful family, my family is God fearing. Do this another way.” This has still been a time of deep grieving, but Houston has been spared most of the destruction and violence that has marked other cities.

As I’ve thought about this situation, two questions have been on my mind. First, as Christians, how are we to be a calming force in the midst of situations like this? First, remember we are all created in the image of God. Our skin color or nationality doesn’t change that. Paul gave us advice on how we are to deal with situations such as these, two important instructions found in the book of Romans that apply to situations of injustice. We are told to weep with those who weep, and our ultimate goal is to learn to live in harmony with one another.

Another truth is equally important in this situation. Ephesians 6 reminds us that our battle isn’t just with flesh and blood. Yes, there are people involved whose desire is to fan the embers of hatred into a raging fire. But behind them there are spiritual forces in control. Walking in this understanding and responding in love and prayer can bring healing to a horrible situation.

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” Ephesians 6:12-13

Yes, the United States is in turmoil right now, but as Christians we can help to bring the presence of the Prince of Peace into the unrest. Let’s reach out to our black brothers and sisters and support them through this time. And let’s pray for all those affected by this travesty.

Remember, the Light of Christ can overcome the darkness, the Love of Christ can replace hatred. Though prayer, we can come against the spiritual forces that are behind this situation. And we can run to the Lord, our strong tower, and find in Him a place of safety.

“The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.” Proverbs 18:10

Walking in Faith During Seasons of Uncertainty

I was reading an article this week, written by Jay Lowder, an evangelist who has spoken several times in our church. The subject of his article was overcoming fear so that we can walk in faith during this uncertain time. He wrote:

“The past few weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic have been a time of fear for many, even me. I’m a full-time evangelist whose work has come to a halt, and I have a daughter with an incurable disease that is highly susceptible to illness. Even as a person of faith, it’s hard not to have fear about these things which are completely out of my control.”

It’s easy to see that the circumstances we are living through are beyond our control. The good news is they are not beyond God’s control. We may not understand all of God’s purposes in this season, but we can choose to walk in faith in the God who wasn’t surprised by this pandemic.

In her book Praying God’s Word, Beth Moore wrote, “Faith is not believing in my own unshakable belief. Faith is believing an unshakable God when everything in me trembles and quakes.

To walk in faith during seasons when everything in us is trembling and quaking requires something or someone unshakable that we can hold onto. Faith isn’t positive thinking. It is rooted in knowing and trusting the One who cannot be shaken. Faith is believing that God will do what He has promised to do and then acting on that belief.

Hannah Whitall Smith, a Quaker speaker and writer during the late 19th century, said of walking in faith,

“Sight is not faith, and hearing is not faith, neither is feeling faith; but believing when we neither see, hear, nor feel is faith; and everywhere the Bible tells us our salvation is to be by faith. Therefore we must believe before we feel, and often against our feelings, if we would honor faith... Faith, like sight is nothing apart from God. You might as well shut your eyes and look inside, and see whether you have sight as to look inside to discover whether you have faith.

In her book, The God of All Comfort, Hannah Whitall Smith said the biggest obstacle to walking in faith is a life filled with supposes.

As we move forward in this season of uncertainty, let’s remember that the Lord Himself is our strong tower. Let’s make this cry of David our prayer when we feel our faith being shaken.

“Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.” Psalm 61:1-3

Those who trust in the Lord are as unshakeable, as unmovable as mighty Mount Zion!” Psalms‬ ‭125:1‬ ‭The Passion Translation

Instead of living in the supposes, let’s run to our place of safety and rest. Let’s run to the Lord, our dwelling place. When we do, we will be held up by His everlasting arms.

“The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms. ” Deuteronomy‬ ‭33:27a‬‬‬

Coping With Emotions During the Coronavirus Pandemic

“Our feelings do not affect God’s facts.
They may blow up, like clouds, and cover the
eternal things that we do most truly believe.
We may not see the shining of the promises—
but they still shine! His strength is not for one
moment less because of our human weakness.”
– Amy Carmichael

As I sat down to have my quiet time this morning, my feelings were definitely not where I wanted them to be. These stressful circumstances all of us have been walking through for the last three months and the uncertainty concerning what lies ahead have me feeling numb on the inside. Weariness, along with the physical pain of a flare of sciatica, made staying in bed today much more appealing than getting dressed and spending time reading God’s Word and praying. But I knew from personal experience that would not have been a wise choice.

I’ve learned that how I start my day sets the direction for the whole day. I have a morning routine that usually begins with half-an-hour of gentle exercise. It only took me a couple minutes to realize this wasn’t going to be a part of today’s routine. So I got dressed, prepared and ate a quick breakfast, and drank a cup of coffee. Then I took some unhurried time in God’s Word and prayer.

God created us with emotions, they are a gift from God, one aspect of our being created in His image. Jesus, who lived a perfect, sinless life, experienced a wide range of emotions. He was angry at the Pharisees because of the hardness of their hearts (Mark 3:1-6), yet had compassion on the crowds who came to hear Him speak (Matthew 9:36; 14:14; 15:23). He wept with Mary and Martha over the death of Lazurus (John 11:35). He experienced deep agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, even while choosing the will of the Father above His own (Mark 14:32-34). Colossians 1:15 says, “He is the image of the invisible God and the firstborn of every creature.” In Jesus, we see what our Heavenly Father is like, including the emotions that are a part of His nature.
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Emotions are a part of our regenerated nature and a vital part of connecting us to other people and to God Himself. But unfortunately, emotions are also wired into our fallen nature. Sin and Satan have access to them and will try to use them to manipulate us to act in ways that are not pleasing to God. That’s why we can’t allow our emotions to determine our choices, to rule our lives.

In her book Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions, Lysa TerKeurst wrote:

“Feelings are indicators, not dictators. They can indicate where your heart is in the moment, but that doesn’t mean they have the right to dictate your behavior and boss you around. You are more than the sum total of your feelings and perfectly capable of that little gift . . . called self-control.”

By their nature, human emotions are highly variable. They were never meant to determine how we walk. God has provided His Word and the Holy Spirit as reliable guides. The only way to overcome the ups and downs of our emotions is to fill our minds with God’s Word, our source of truth. And remember, God has also provided the Holy Spirit to guide us into His will for our lives. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” (John 16:13)

We can’t control the things that happen to us each day, but we can control how we think about them. Emotions are rooted in our thoughts, so the only way to bring them under control is to change how we’re thinking. Sometimes, we just need a change of perspective, a decision to look at our circumstances through the lens of God’s Word instead of through our disappointments and anxieties. Romans 12:2 calls this renewing our minds. “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.” ‬

I’d like to close with a prayer I received in my email, a prayer from New Life Ministries that helped me get on track this morning when I felt like I was on an emotional roller coaster ride. This simple prayer helped me to change my perspective and not allow my emotions to be in charge. If you’re struggling emotionally, I encourage you to make this your prayer.

“Heavenly Father, You are my strength and my refuge. As I journey through this day, I will encounter events that cause me emotional distress. Lord, when I am troubled, let me turn to You. Keep me steady, Lord, and in those difficult moments, renew a right spirit inside my heart. Amen”

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Reclaiming Your Life: The Place of Self-Care in Chronic Illness Management

What do you do when there is no cure? When the doctor says there is nothing more that he can do?

That is what I faced last fall, when an MRI showed complex tearing in the meniscus of my left knee and no remaining cartilage. My orthopedic surgeon said with the severe nerve damage to that knee, knee replacement surgery had a high risk of making the pain even more severe than it already was. He suggested corticosteroid injections in the joint and physical therapy, both of which did nothing to reduce the pain.

Medical science was basically out of options. It was time to accept that the deterioration was most likely permanent. It was time to examine self-care options that would allow me to live the best I could with this new normal.

The February focus for our Reclaiming Your Life Challenge is on self-care. Self-care could be defined as the actions individuals take to lead the healthiest lifestyle possible with their current chronic pain and diseases.

Self-care is important for every part of us, body, soul and spirit. Remember, our heavenly Father cares about our whole being. Let’s start with the most obvious area, our bodies which are so greatly affected by our chronic illnesses.

SELF-CARE FOR THE BODY
God cares about how we care for our physical bodies – which if you are a Christian is the dwelling place of His Holy Spirit. “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.” 1 Corinthians‬ ‭6:19-20‬ ‭ESV‬‬‬‬‬‬

What changes do you need to make to take better care of your body? Are you getting enough sleep? Eight or more cups of water daily? Do you need to eat a more healthy diet? Perhaps add more fruits and vegetables to your daily dietd? Do you need to lose weight? One thing I’ve found helpful in this area are keeping a daily log of what I eat using the MyFitness Pal app.

How about exercise? Is there a way you can become more active, in spite of the limitations caused by your chronic illnesses and pain? As 2020 began, this was an area I knew God wanted me to add back to my schedule. I was able to put together two 20-minute routines of exercises physical and occupational therapists have recommended for me over the years, some that I do in bed and others sitting on the side of the bed. Yes, there are days I don’t feel up to exercise, but on days that this is an achievable goal I start my day with some light exercise.

Another area where we can become more active is by doing household responsibilities. As this new year began, I felt the need to take over a little more of the daily and weekly housework our daughter had been doing. I’m washing the breakfast and lunch dishes, a job I can do in less than ten minutes, and one other small job that needs to be done most days. When you live with the limitations of chronic illness, pacing yourself is very important, but for me a small job that takes around ten minutes is doable, and it takes a little of the pressure off of our daughter, who deals with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue.

SELF-CARE FOR THE SOUL
Our souls are made up of our mind, will, and emotions. Romans 12:2 deals with our minds and thoughts. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans‬ ‭12:2‬ ‭ESV‬‬‬‬

Do your thoughts line up with the truth of God’s Word? Or is your thinking “conformed to this world”? Renewing our MIND to see our lives through the lens of God’s Word is an area of self-care many of us need to work on. Lasting changes, even those that mainly affect the body, must start in the mind. That’s because our actions are a direct result of what our thoughts are focused on.

The apostle Paul spoke about our WILL in Philippians 2:13, saying we are to work out the salvation God has worked in us through His Spirit, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” While God won’t violate our self-will and force us to do His will, He will work in our will to help us embrace His will and then to empower us to do it.

The third area of our soul is the EMOTIONS. A passage that has helped me many times when my emotions are out of control is found in Philippians 4. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians‬ ‭4:4-7‬ ‭ESV‬‬‬‬

SELF-CARE FOR THE SPIRIT
1 Corinthians 4:34 encourages us to be holy – set apart for God’s use – in both our spirit and our body. Just as our bodies need physical nourishment, our spirits need spiritual nourishment. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy‬ ‭3:16-17‬ ‭ESV‬‬‬‬

Do you have a daily time in God’s Word? Are you taking time to listen to see if God has some truth that you need to make it through the obstacles before you today? Reading, studying, memorizing and meditating on Scriptures are spiritual disciplines that are essential to spiritual growth.

Prayer is equally important. Prayer is an acknowledge of our need for and dependence upon a God who is bigger than anything we may be facing. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews‬ ‭4:16‬ ‭ESV ‬‬

This is no where near a complete list of all the areas where self-care would help us better deal with the daily challenges of life with chronic illness. But it gives a starting place for choosing some self-care actions that will enable you to better manage the daily challenges of your life. I encourage you to share in the comments an area of self-care that has helped you cope better with the limitations and struggles of living with chronic illness.

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Reclaiming Your Life: The Importance of Prayer & Bible Reading in Setting Personal Goals

The January theme in our RECLAIMING YOUR LIFE focus is on personal growth. So what is personal growth? Personal growth is a transformational process, in which improvements are made in some area of your life. Whether the personal goal you choose to start with is physical, emotional, social, financial or spiritual, the same principles apply.

Our goal for January is to choose one area of our lives where we recognize a need for personal growth. For example, do you need to learn how to control anger? Do you need to overcome procrastination? Would life be better if you changed your negative mindset and began to focused on the good things in your life? Maybe, you want to take some practical steps to improve your health or to better manage your daily responsibilities. Pick one area where you want to become a better version of yourself.

What does the Bible tell us about making plans that result in transformation? How does prayer move us forward in the process of accomplishing our personal growth goals? Answering those questions is the focus of this week’s post.

Proverbs 16:9 (NASB) gives some insight in the area of planning. It says, “The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.” Planning ahead is something that God encourages us to do, but Jehovah is the One directing us and enabling us to accomplish what we have planned.

Jesus also spoke of the importance of planning ahead. He said, “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” (Luke‬ ‭14:28‬ ‭ESV‬‬) When we are planning goals for this year, we need to realistically count the cost of completing our plans so we don’t end up discouraged when the year comes to an end and our goals have not be accomplished.

THE IMPORTANCE OF PRAYER IN SETTING GOALS
Before you actually begin choosing a personal growth goal to work on, spend some time in prayer. Ask God to give you wisdom in setting realistic goals and to take away any roadblocks that will hinder you from accomplishing your goals. Recognize there will be times when you want to quit and feel like you can’t go on, and ask the Lord for strength and perseverance to not give up.

An important part of setting goals that we will be able to complete is making sure our goals meet five characteristics. SMART has been used as an acronym for setting effective goals. A SMART goal is one that is:

  • Specific: Well defined, clear, and unambiguous
  • Measurable: With specific criteria that measure your progress towards the accomplishment of the goal
  • Achievable: Attainable and possible to achieve
  • Realistic: Within reach, realistic, and relevant to your life purpose
  • Timely: With a clearly defined timeline, including a starting date, short term goals along the way, and a finish date

Transformation is a process that is addressed in 2 Corinthians 3:18.
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

This verse makes it clear that transformation is a work of the Holy Spirit, also known as the Spirit of Christ Jesus, who lives within us. It is a part of working out the salvation Jesus provided for us, of working out what is within us by the Holy Spirit.

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 an trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing,” Philippians 2:12-14

Notice these verses say God will work in us both to make us willing to change and also empowering us to work out the needed changes. Our attitude toward change is important. Do what you believe God wants you to do with an attitude of gratitude and contentment.

As these last few weeks I’ve begun this process of transforming an area of my life where personal growth is needed, one Scripture has come up over and over in my study. When that happens I recognize God is showing me a principle I need to take hold of the succeed in accomplishing my goal.

The verses God has brought to mind over and over again are found in Ephesians 4. It is a passage that speaks to believers in Christ, saying they are no longer to walk in “the futility of their minds.” The word translated “futility” (or “vanity” in other translations) means “devoid of truth and appropriateness.” What we need is truth that is appropriate to our goal. This is found in verses 20 – 24, which show us a better way to live.

But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Put off your old self. Your former way of life, in the area you are asking God to help you change. Put off your beliefs and behaviors that do not line up with the truth of God’s Word.

Be renewed in your mind. Another verse that speaks about renewing our minds is Romans 12:2, which says, “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.”

We renew our minds by learning the will of God, which is revealed in the Bible. The best way to do this is by reading and meditating on Bible verses that apply to the area you believe God wants you to change, memorizing one or two that deal with the problem area.

Put on the new self. ‭‭Having recognized the negative pattern that we need to change, and then learning God’s will in the area we’re hoping to change, we are ready to “put on” the new behavior. ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

This is the process of transformation in whatever area you choose to focus on during January. The biblical name for this process is sanctification, and it is an ongoing work the indwelling Holy Spirit does in our lives as we learn to hear His voice and respond in obedience. Yes, we have a part. But the power to change comes from the Holy Spirit who lives in the heart of everyone who has surrendered their life to Jesus as Lord and Savior.

We may feel weak in the area where we are hoping to see change. But God spoke through the apostle Paul that our weakness does not keep God from working. When he struggled with what he called a thorn in the flesh, God spoke to him.

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 ‭12:9-10‬ ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

One thing that has helped me change habits that I’d felt powerless to change is turning the truths of God’s Word into a prayer. For example, James 1:22 teaches us the importance of being a doer of the Word. Let’s turn this into a prayer.

Lord, please help me not to merely listen to Your Word, and so deceive myself. Please help me to do what it says. God’s Word works, but if I am to experience it personally, I must be obedient. I need Your help, Lord.

Remember, sanctification is a work the Holy Spirit does within us. My prayer for you as you choose to cooperate with His work within you is found in 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24.

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”
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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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Jesus: His Example of Surrender

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” John‬ ‭6:38‬ ‭ESV‬‬

We all look for ways to bypass suffering. I know I surely do. This morning, I’m in the middle of a flare in the eczema I was diagnosed with earlier this year. Eczema, also known as Atopic Dermatitis, is a chronic condition that causes an extremely itchy and painful rash. Yesterday afternoon and evening, and throughout the night as the painful rash kept waking me up, I was definitely looking for relief. But any help from the lotion and prescription meds only brought short term relief.

Looking for a way to avoid suffering is a characteristic common to all humans. Jesus Christ was God in human flesh, and His experience in the Garden of Gethsemane is one of the clearest pictures of His humanity. He wanted to bypass the suffering of the Cross if there was any other way to save us. But the Father’s answer was “No” and Jesus willingly surrendered to the will of the Father.

To get a clearer picture of the struggle Jesus went through, please read the account in Luke 22:39-46.

Jesus understood what it was to let go of His will when it did not line up with the will of the Father. In doing so, He gave us a pattern to follow.

  1. Jesus told His Father what He longed for – to avoid the suffering of the Cross was His desire.
  2. He listened for God’s answer – His “No” in this case. The suffering of the Cross was the only way to fulfill the purpose for which the Son of God came to earth.
  3. Finally, Jesus surrendered to the will of His Father, choosing it and embracing it fully.

As I read in Luke, some verses in Philippians 2 came to mind.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippians‬ ‭2:5-8‬ ‭ESV‬‬

We are called to “have this mind” that Christ Jesus demonstrated in the Garden of Gethsemane. We are free to bring our desires to God, to tell Him what we would like to happen in our current circumstances, but then we need to wait until He reveals His will. The battle is in the wait, in the time between sharing our desires and hearing God’s answer, and then if God’s answer to us is “No” in embracing God’s will with our whole hearts.

When we come to God with a willingness to let go of our right to be in charge and surrender to His revealed will in our situation, we can be assured of God’s presence with us no matter what lies ahead. When we let go, we can be assured that God will never let go of us.

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