God forms us as unique individuals to cooperatively work in His world. He gives us all a unique set of talents and skills to use for our good and that of others. He desires us to honor and glorify Him and give Him praise for our individual talents and skills. “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6). 2 Peter 4:10 reads, “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” We are to serve one another and honor God with the gifts and talents He gives us.
God made us all not only unique but in His image. Genesis 1:27 states, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” He loves us enough to create us unique and in His image; we should love Him enough to honor Him for His creativity. In Psalm 139, King David says, “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well…How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them…Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (14,17,23-24). God made us all to be incredibly interesting people with our unique packages of talents, personality quirks, and more. It’s up to us if we will seek Him and seek to honor Him with how He made us. Every day we have dozens of opportunities to promote ourselves or promote God who made us in His image to represent Him in this world.
God never stops loving a person and desiring a relationship with him or her, even when that person tries exhaustingly to live for himself or herself. Living for ourselves is overwhelming and exhausting because we were not designed to live for ourselves. Ephesians 2:10 reminds us, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Living for God in God leads to shalom—complete fulfillment as a result of God’s presence. We cannot truly live for God apart from Him. The more we desire to know Him and honor Him, the more we welcome His shaping into our lives. The peace of God’s presence and the blessings and rewards He gives overshadow all discomfort involved with His shaping us for better use.
Seeking to honor God without seeking God Himself and inviting Him into every detail of our lives can be excruciating. In Jeremiah 18: 6, God reminds the Israelites they are in His hands: “As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel.” Using our human perspective to plan our lives never works out without a lot of bumps and detours we didn’t plan for. Their effects feel much more painful than when we seek God’s directives for our life. Seeking God and trusting Him with all the details gives us a constant peace, even when trouble hits. Trying to figure out the best way to use what God gives us without inviting God’s direction in a very detailed manner leads to much more pain than pleasure in life.
Part of how God continues to shape us is by putting new desires into our hearts and new opportunities into our lives. James 1:17 states, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” We do not recognize these gifts if our attention is not on God. If we are consumed building our lives in our own time and strength, we do not have capacity left to acknowledge what God wants to do in us and for us. The unknown author of The Kneeling Christian says it this way, “A full hand cannot take Christ’s gifts.”
In Psalm 139:15, the King James Version of the Bible reads, “My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.” The Hebrew word translated as “substance” here means “bones, frame, might, strength” according to Strong’s and NAS Exhaustive Concordances, collectively. The Hebrew word translated here as “curiously wrought” means to variegate color, according to Strong’s Concordance; and according to NAS Exhaustive Concordance the primitive root of this word is translated as “embroiderer, skillfully wrought, and weaver.” Whether you think of the man and woman as weavers or God as the Almighty Weaver who is using the man and woman to weave the unique person who will result from their union, God is undeniably involved in creating our frame and everything about us.
We are to give credit where credit is due, so others will know the loving kindness of God. As the prophet Isaiah prayed to God, he acknowledged, “O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand” (Isaiah 64:8). We read in David’s Psalm of Praise, Psalm 145, “One generation shall praise thy works to another, and shall declare thy mighty acts. I will speak of the glorious honour of thy majesty, and of thy wondrous works” (4-5).
God not only knew what our personality and life situation would be, but He designed them together for our good and His glory. It takes seeking God with our whole hearts while desiring and determining to live for Him in order for us to see this come to fruition. Though we may not fully understand in this life how all our intricacies work together for our good and His glory, we can rest assured that they do. Romans 8:28, one of my anchor verses when I cannot see the good in something, assures us that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
It’s awe-inspiring to know that the Master Potter created and placed together every cell of our being and is still shaping us to be more honorable vessels for Himself. To know that every detail from our beginning to our end is in the loving care of our Eternal Creator Father is assurance enough for us to focus more on Him and less on ourselves or any of our details in life.
The blessings I cherish most are those challenges that transform me as I grow closer to God and more willingly see through His purpose and love with His compassion. Blessings aren’t always in the form of challenges, and challenges are often difficult to see as blessings, but they are indeed. A challenge is an opportunity for us to exercise our faith in God and to trust His love for us and others.
God’s plan is always best though often misunderstood or viewed incorrectly from our perspective. God uses all situations, challenges included, to draw us closer to Him and grow us stronger and wiser for His purpose. We read in Romans 8:28 that everything is promised to work for our good and His glory if we love God and live to honor Him.
In the nitty-gritty of daily life we sometimes forget that every human is created by God in His own image (Gen 1:27) and that He loves us all, regardless of our heritage and background or where we live (Acts 10:34). Looking more closely at Acts 10:34 we see that “anyone who fears [God] and does what is right is acceptable to him.” We know that no person (except Christ) is perfect. In Ecclesiastes 7:20 King Solomon writes, “For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.” King Solomon advises us to wisely remember that we ourselves are not perfect, that we are to overlook the evil words of others against us because we, too, have cursed others (Ecclesiastes 7:21).
Sometimes situations get muddy with emotions, and we lose sight of how we should respond to attacks by satan through the hands and mouths of others who claim to be believers. It hurts to be judged incorrectly and unfairly, lied and gossiped about, and discarded like yesterday’s trash by those claiming to be followers of Christ. It can be especially difficult to put our own pain aside to love, forgive, and pray for those who satan uses to attack us. However, it is only when we do this that we make satan’s attacks useless.
Satan is no respecter of persons and will use whomever is available. Wrong attitudes, thought, or actions all distance us from our Heavenly Father enough that we forget His love and His how-to’s of how we are to love others. As humans our nature is to put ourselves first. We become offended by the attack and hold it against the person satan is using. There instantly becomes a wedge between God and ourselves and a wedge between the other person and ourselves. We create even greater distance between us and God by viewing ourselves as right with God and in our judgment and view the other person as wrong. Yes, they are wrong, but becoming personally offended makes us wrong as well.
We know that satan is out to “steal, and to kill, and to destroy” (John 10:10); that is why we all mess up and don’t always behave with God’s love for one another as Jesus instructs believers in John 15:12. No one is perfect, therefore we all sin and become a pawn of satan at some time. This isn’t a free pass to sin or be self-centered. We all pay for our sins, but we aren’t the judge of others who do us wrong; that’s God’s job.
Proverbs 6:17-19 instruct us of seven things God hates: “a proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, an heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, a false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.” Anytime I have been hurt by others claiming to be followers of Christ or not, it has been hurt as a result of one of these things God hates. We see in Deuteronomy 32:35 God says regarding those who forget God and do not live for Him, “To me belongeth vengeance, and recompence; their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste.” We are reminded in Romans 12:17-19 to “recompense to no man evil for evil…If it be possible, live peaceably with all men…avenge not [ourselves], but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, thus saith the Lord.”
We see throughout the Gospels Jesus teaching believers to not judge others but love them and not do them wrong. In Luke 6:35 Jesus commands believers to “love [our] enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.” Jesus continues His instruction for believers to be merciful and to judge not. He says, “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.”
It is only when we abide in our Heavenly Father that we have the wisdom and nature of His Holy Spirit to put others before ourselves. It is then that we can see that satan is simply waging an attack through a person for whom we need to pray. We are to not take offenses personally but see them for what they really are: spiritual warfare. “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).
Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:5,9 in the Sermon on the Mount call us to meekness and peaceful living: “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” I want to be known as a child of the most high God, the one, true God. If I revere myself better than others and don’t pray for them as I should when they lie about me, abuse and attack me, I am giving satan room for folly in my own life and not praying him out of the lives of others.
Remember that satan doesn’t care about anyone but uses whoever he can at any given moment to offend and prevent God. He spitefully uses people against one another to hurt God. We know his plans and can deny him that power in our own lives by actively seeking and constantly abiding in God. By viewing our situations as challenges to show God’s love and opportunities to grow spiritually when we are done wrong by others, we weaken satan’s attacks making them of no effect. Pray that through God’s blessings of wisdom and love you will see every situation for what it is in the spiritual realm and that you will respond in a manner pleasing to God. Love others as Christ beckons in Luke 6:27,28, “Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.” Understand that no believer is your enemy but can behave as an enemy when they are not abiding in the Father as necessary to share His love with us and others. Pray for others always and do not judge. There’s always a weakness in them satan is attacking in order to attack you. We are shielded from the attack my abiding in our Father in heaven; we aide in reconnaissance for others when we pray for them in love, never hate.
I have been greatly influenced by a commonly known Bible verse, Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
Recently I have become irritated that my grown daughter doesn’t seem to have time to communicate anything meaningful, anything more than hitting the button to “love” a text I sent her or by texting me that she loves me and hopes that I have a wonderful day. I want so much more than these thin lines of communication with my only child.
Starting before I became frustrated with her lack of time for me, I had been praying very specifically for her and her husband, for God to draw them near to Himself and to cause a deep hunger they realize only God can fill. I had been praying for God to keep them safe and preserve them for His ministry while they are searching for the truth in various directions, not having God as their center.
With God’s gentle reminder for me to keep my mind on what is good, I have many blessings to thank God for in the communication I have with my daughter. By even her brief texts and “likes” of my texts to her, I know that she is safe and well. Those two blessings are not to be taken lightly, especially with COVID, the fact that she is often on the road very late driving home from work, and that they live in a big city where their apartment complex often has one or more homeless folks outside, and countless other factors making these two blessings reason enough for me to smile and raise my hands to the God who is protecting and providing for their every need.
Satan wants to use the lack of deeper communication with my daughter against us both. He wants her busyness to hinder her relationship with God, and he wants it to hinder my prayers for her and her husband.
I am thankful the Holy Spirit is in us to remind, encourage, and fortify us to think on what is good. I recall when my daughter ran away from home as a teenager how difficult it was to focus on the good without communication for two and a half months to know that she was safe and well. God kept her safe in her questioning and rebellion, and He is not going to give up on her now. During that difficult time, I remained in constant prayer recalling God’s promises and acknowledging His faithfulness regardless of what appeared to be true at the moment.
I had given my daughter to God while on my knees, pregnancy test in hand, thanking Him for the blessing she was, nine months before I laid eyes on her precious face. All her life I saw God’s handiwork as well as satan’s strong attempts to pull her away and deceive her. I knew she was created with leadership qualities and a servant’s heart to serve God. I had to choose to remember this every day while waiting to know that she was safe and well after she ran away. Alone remembering God’s promises for my daughter wouldn’t have pushed fears and worries aside. The Holy Spirit strengthened me to remember and trust that God never breaks His promises.
I raised my daughter to find, know, love, trust, and obey God. We were very active in church and had a God-centered home life. I knew based on God’s promise in Proverbs 22:6 that because I had raised her in how she should go, when she is old she will not depart from it. That promise alone gave me comfort to know that she would not pass from this earth without living in a strong relationship with the Lord as her savior and guide. This promise eased my fears and fueled my prayers for God’s intervention in her life.
As Satan tries to use my daughter’s busyness to distract her from God and to weaken my prayers for her and her husband, I am at peace knowing that satan is desperately clamoring for both our attention because he isn’t winning against God in this attack. I will continue praying all the more for God’s protection and intervention in my daughter’s and her husband’s lives because I know God has great work in store for them which will be for their good and His glory, based on God’s promise in Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.”
Now and always I will choose to be thankful for the blessed communication I have with my daughter and pray against my own selfishness wanting more. I will pray more so for her relationship and communication with her Creator who pursues her heart with unrelenting, all-knowing, grace-filled agape love.
Isaiah 58:11 says, “And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.”
I recall my first full time teaching position was particularly challenging as I strived for acceptance in a tight-knit community to whom I was an outsider. I consistently worked over eighty hours per week as a teacher, a single mom in a new house, and taking on more volunteer work at church. I had little time left for sleep. I remember many hours pacing to stay awake while I graded papers. Yet I got up after typically a very short night of rest refreshed to spend a couple of hours in God’s Word and on my knees before waking my daughter and getting ready for school. I knew in this challenging teaching position as a single mom, I needed bible study and prayer more than oxygen.
In Psalm 32:8 God promises, “I will instruct tee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go; I will guide thee with mine eye.” We read in Psalm 37:23, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way.” I often messed up as a parent and teacher which taught me new things every day, but I always felt God’s strong hand holding me, encouraging me, not letting me give up or continue in the wrong way that would inevitably lead to disaster for me and those children.
There are distinctly different outcome when we trust and obey God step by step and when we simply venture out on our own wits. Proverbs 3:5,6 urge us to “trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” Proverbs 16:3 continues, “Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established.” I was never a perfect parent or teacher by any stretch of the imagination; however, I know that God blessed me and others through my relationship with Him as I parented and taught. Because of our human nature we will make mistakes from which we can learn and grow; nonetheless, submitting to the authority and will of Christ over our life leads to peace, joy, and much other good fruit easily distinguished from the fruit of a life endeavored apart from Christ. I will never regret the hours on my knees and in God’s Word.
I have many well-meaning friends who during that first teaching position and for years afterward tried to convince me of my need for moderation. They rationalized that I had to teach and parent and must sleep and eat and have time of rest. I admit that I am OCD, having a personality equipped with an obsessive compulsive disorder. I embrace it as part of who I am, a quality God built in to me as compensatory helping me to focus on and do the things I need to. Psalm 18:30 has always assured me God not only knows all my details but designed them to work together perfectly to bring Him honor and praise. “As for God, his way is perfect: the word of the Lord is tried: he is a buckler to all those who trust in him.” To further assure me and calm my fears, God gives us a wonderful promise in Isaiah 41:10, “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”
God gives us friends as a wonderful gift in this life. They encourage us, balance us, help us observe from different perspectives, and provide intellectual and social engagement, a true source of joy. Proverbs 27:17 says, “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.” First Thessalonians 5:11 reminds us that we are to comfort and edify one another. Paul rejoiced in the beginning of his second letter to the church in Thessalonica that as the individuals’ faith grew, so did their charity toward one another. Friendship is designed by God to bring us closer to Himself.
However good, friends’ words or actions are never to overpower God’s direct leadership during and resulting from earnest prayer and study seeking His will. The Holy Spirit is in each of us who are saved to guide us how, where, and when we should go. “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come” (John 16:13). Let us never forsake this unparalleled advantage in life. We unleash the power for the Holy Spirit to guide us as we pore over God’s Word intently seeking its full meaning and application to our own lives.
We must live, read, and pray in faith. First Timothy 2:1,3,8 say collectively, “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men… for this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour… I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.” Colossians 1:10 continues why this is so important, “That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.” I knew as a single mom and new teacher in a needful community that I could only genuinely love and serve others if I committed time for prayer and fasting concerning them.
Today my situation is very different than it was as a single mom and a new teacher, as certain as your situation had changed or evolved, but God’s call to us all remains the same: to seek Him first, abide in His Word, trust and follow His guidance so that we successfully encourage and challenge others, leading the way to Him, amidst the busyness and demands in our daily lives. So just as Paul challenged the Roman church, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1,2)
When we ask God for something, we need to be ready and willing to receive His help. If it's important enough for us to get down on our knees seeking God's help, we need to honor that by being willing to do whatever He deems is our part. Sometimes He presents opportunities that blow our minds, other times He changes our course, and in response to many requests He gives us opportunities to hear His still, small voice directing us in one choice at a time that add up to a powerful change in our situation.
Such was the case for me today after asking God’s intervention in my weight gain that is becoming a health alarm. All day I felt God’s leadership in eat this, not that; that’s enough, no more; drink water instead of eat; your stomach doesn’t need more solids to digest right now; just one chunk of granola, no more.
His directions guided my eating choices all day; however, it wasn’t until I had finally called it a day and came in for the last time and just had to sit down before washing up to start preparing dinner. I was mostly exhausted and just a little bit hungry. I had piddled all day trying to transplant some arugula seedlings, so it’s not like I burned many calories. Still, I got down my jar of homemade granola and a bag of unsweetened chocolate baking squares, knowing I shouldn’t. I got one piece of granola and sensed God telling me that was enough before dinner. Yet it was so satisfying that I just had to have one more piece. Then I thought the chocolate would pair nicely with the flavor in my mouth. I ended up eating three bites of granola and three chocolate squares.
This doesn’t seem a sinful amount, but I didn’t need those 300 calories two hours before dinner. I wanted it but didn’t need it. It was after I had eaten more than I should that I acknowledged God had been leading my food choices all day after I prayed asking for His help. I had to ask for His forgiveness because I realized I had asked for His help and wasn’t willing to receive it. I pray that He will continue to lead my food choices and that I will be aware of and submissive to His leading in this and all matters.
One year ago I was slightly underweight at about 106 pounds. Today I cannot comfortably fit in most of my clothes and really don’t want to know what the scales would say. Last weighing in November, I was up to 123. I have likely gained ten pounds from then to now in late February.
I have increased my physical exercise 100% in the last year. A year ago I wasn’t able to do much at all. Though my physical exertion ability isn’t where I would like it to be, I will take all the wonderful progress God gives me.
I have cut down on my caloric intake these past couple of months in which I have packed on the butterball weight. My weight gain may seem trivial to some, but to me it is serious. Everything inside me feels so tight like I am about to burst from the inside out!
As I waited for the computer to come on to type this, I noticed my reflection on the black screen. Ugghhh! I have a double chin and face of fat combined with swelling that I don’t even look like me. I realize something funky is going on with my body—with hormones, metabolism, and who knows what else, but I know regardless of the cause that I must tackle this weight gain by reducing my intake and increasing my burn. So, that I have done and continue to do.
It dawned on me this morning that I haven’t petitioned God for help in this problem. I thank God everyday for rest, strength, productivity, and health, and I ask Him to increase all these so that I may better serve in His ministry. And I try to be the very best steward of all these. But I haven’t petitioned God, as we are instructed in Philippians 4:6.
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”
It seems trivial that I left out the petition (supplication) part. However, it isn’t trivial when we are clearly instructed to make our requests be made known to God. He already knows our needs, He sees our efforts, He hears our praises to Him, but it is also very important to request His blessing very specifically for our needs we clearly see. Once we have coupled prayer of thanksgiving and faith with supplication and we are doing our part, such as in my case, exercising and reducing caloric intake, then we leave the results up to God, knowing that He hears us and trusting that He is helping us.
I pray that each of us will always know, trust, and follow God’s leadership as He prepares us for the journey ahead.
I felt productive and bit proud this morning as I took packets of dry yeast and a bag of xanthan gum from the bag I had just picked up from our local Walmart. Having to eat gluten free and hoping someday to be able to digest the gluten in the wheat, I decided to attempt baking homemade gluten free sandwich bread rather than pay upwards of six dollars for a small loaf as I have done several times already. Deciding to bake bread gave me a sense of pride and stewardship.
I have struggled much with personal value since not being able to work. My comfort zone is being the person who gets things done regardless. For the past few years I have spent much more time in the sick zone than my comfort zone. The battle of not crushing the productivity markers is all too real for me. It’s a battle of pride that forces me to realize my worth is not in what I can or cannot do, but in Christ who redeemed me for His purpose. Daily I remind myself to be a productive steward of all Christ has entrusted to me while understanding that my accomplishments or lack thereof due to sickness does not change my identity in Christ.
It is important to be productive; however, our focus cannot be on the to-do list more than our Creator we honor by accomplishing the to-do list. Though I have always sought God’s direction and to honor Him in all my tasks, I was accustomed to saying with confidence that I could handle any task, putting more emphasis on my accomplishments more than the Creator who blessed me to accomplish. I sought to honor God, but honestly sometimes it was out of accomplishing things He didn’t give me yet I felt pride in doing.
When my ability to accomplish anything above existence and care for myself came to a screeching halt, I felt God was through with me. I became angry and bitter not being productive for God any longer. I could not understand why He allowed the sicknesses to take over my body, time, and ability to honor Him in all I love to do.
Not only did I not understand, but those around me didn’t understand either. That my loved ones lost confidence in me crushed me. It was like the last blow in a near-fatal fight. I felt completely useless and abandoned. Honestly, I felt damned. I felt that God had made me as some ill-fated soul to suffer misery.
Spiritual healing didn’t happen all at once but rather over a grueling couple of years of my seeking God and hoping I have purpose beyond my pain. I knew then any chance I had to hang on to life was to seek God. I immersed myself more deeply in His word and Christian music, recognizing and choosing to turn from every trick satan could conjure. Sometimes I felt there was only one fine thread keeping me from falling off the edge and ending my own life. That thread was God. Knowing He loved me beyond what I could see, hear, or feel right then kept me alive. Regardless of my feelings of abandonment and betrayal on top of my terrible physical condition, God was with me loving me and keeping me alive moment to moment.
I sought God for healing and for peace in my situation but continued to suffer. The confusion of others at my situation grew as did their misjudgments and gossip about me. Though I knew satan was using this as a ploy to draw me away from the only true life source, God, I struggled to not let thoughts of my abandonment and betrayal flood my mind.
Struggling to reconcile my situation with my identity and worth in Christ alone really helped me to more deeply understand in Galatians 2:20 where Paul says that he is crucified with Christ, that it is no longer he that lives but Christ in him. I felt as though I had lost all my identity, everything that made me who I was. It was in that void of value that I realized I am still a child of the most high King, created of love to be loved by God and to love others through Christ.
Philippians 4:8 instructs believers to think on good, not bad. The word used for “to think” in this verse in the original Greek is “logizomai” which according to Strong’s Concordance means to “reckon, count, charge with, reason, decide, conclude, think, suppose.” This encompasses all manner of thinking from when thoughts pop up to processing them and making conclusions or judgments that affect our behavior and ultimately our love we are to have for others.
Thoughts of others’ betrayal and abandonment wrought bitterness resulting in my ill thoughts towards them. Satan easily used my negative thoughts to foster disbelief of God’s love and purpose for me. I let satan have half an inch and he ran me ten miles.
Regardless of my physical health, I knew there was now a separate battle to be won in my mind. I chose to put away many thoughts that would pop up like weeds in my mind. I chose to only think on those thoughts which were true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and praised my Lord. I admit that sometimes much effort was needed to form good thoughts and focus on them. Often good thoughts came when I would pray to praise God for who He is, sometimes with the help of a list of God’s attributes when my mind was too weak to think of them. Other times, I would thank God for His many blessings toward me in the past. Sometimes I would just pray thanking God for His existence and beg for His mercy. All these prayers helped to focus my mind on good things. Eventually I was able to thank Him for more specific blessings through people as the darkness began to fade. This discipline of thinking on only good things took my mind away from my situation which I felt was very grim.
God knows our needs better than we ever can, and He provides just what we need when we need it to become who He designed us to be. He makes us able to trust Him and seek Him, but ultimately we must choose to follow and believe even when we cannot see. It’s having our hearts and minds set on Him that gives us the strength to follow one step at a time. “My heart is fixed!” as the psalmist says in Psalm 57:7 and Psalm 108:1. It is this resolution which strengthens us in the Lord to live our very best possible life.
Today I still struggle much with physical health but not so much with my value as a person. I am known and loved by my Creator; I find my identity and value in Him alone. I still get frustrated at not being able to live as I planned doing much good, but that is when I must pray and thank God for His love and plans for me to get my thoughts where they should be. Every day whether I am able to make soup for elderly friends or I am too sick to accomplish much above my own existence and care, I have to focus on good things to make the best decisions every minute. I am so thankful that regardless of our situation or state of health, we can help others and honor our Lord.
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9)
This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. (Galatians 5:16-17)
The biggest possible blessing is God Himself, not the gifts He gives us. With that understood, notice how tenderly and with detail our great God works out the little things in life and shows His love for us through the kindness of others. He is concerned with every detail of our lives.
I have been sick for a long time and worse these past couple of years, but I love to work and be productive. Being too sick to even keep up my house and yard is the pits! Not having moved my car in quite a few days— I drove it twice in six weeks, it sat collecting sap, sooty mold, and whatever else fell from the trees. I have been too sick to get groceries as usual from my beloved Sprouts Farmers Market, so I utilized the blessing of the free pickup service from Walmart. It is truly a Godsend for groceries and other needs when you aren’t able to shop in the store for yourself.
Lying in the bed too sick to sleep last night, I planned my day ahead, hoping after the sun rose that my health would match my enthusiasm. I planned to wash my car this morning so that I could drive it to get my Walmart order and run a few in-town errands. I didn’t plan for it to rain all morning. I was too weak and sick to wash the car anyway. I smiled as I thought about God sending the rain to ensure that I did not wash the car. I am embarrassed to admit that I still debated it. I’ve washed cars in all sorts of weather and been glad to do it. But I realize right now I am too sick, and my energy needs to accomplish different priorities. God’s patience and perseverance with me is teaching me to have the same with myself, my situation, and with others.
I decided to give the new car wash in town a go. The two young workers were so polite and helpful. They energetically scrubbed at the sap and sooty mold. Sadly, it seems to be soaked into the paint, but they tried. I gave them my ten dollars emergency gas money as a tip because I felt they earned it. They refused to keep it, perhaps because my car and I looked and sounded so pitiful. Regardless of why they did it, they chose kindness. Kindness occurs only when intention is coupled with action.
I noticed while using their vacuum about a one-inch caterpillar shape where the paint came off my car when one of the young men dropped his long-handled brush against it. Accidents happen, and this one because the young man was trying so hard to clean my nasty car. I don’t know if the young man noticed the blemish or not, but I chose to not mention it. It’s called grace. I know I need it every moment and am so thankful for it; I exist because of grace. We all are given grace, and it’s our choice whether or not to give what we have received.
The two young men had already returned my tip and had given me a second air freshener before I noticed the spot of missing paint. Before the blemish happened, the two young men showed enthusiasm for their work and didn’t judge me for bringing possibly the nastiest car they’ve cleaned, aside from muddy recreational vehicles. After I noticed the blemish but didn’t mention it, they gave me a gift card for another wash; they said it was for being so nice and patient. There had been a couple of hiccups in the service but nothing not easily understood. Because I had already decided they paid with the ten-dollar tip they returned for the tube of touch up paint I will have to buy, I was overjoyed at their kindness of the gift card for another wash. Whether they felt sorry for a weak, shaky lady who can barely leave her house or they were hoping to smooth over for causing the blemish, I am thankful for the car being cleaner and for seeing young people with a work ethic and kindness for others.
I may never know their motives behind the car wash gift card and in not keeping the tip, but I will choose to be thankful for all the goodness of the day and deeds. I could make a fuss over the blemish they caused, but accidents happen. They eagerly exerted effort to do a thorough job. I could pout about my very stained car whose paint job may not be recoverable at this point or that almost all the seals of the car leak allowing water in with every little rain. I could sulk about the creaking, knocking sounds my car makes when damp. Honestly, I was embarrassed noisily rolling through Walmart’s parking lot. I could mope about the high cost of insurance for driving my twice monthly outings.
However, there are much happier facts to focus on! I have a running car to use when needed that is now much cleaner. The blemish from today’s wash should be a simple repair with touch-up paint.
First thing this morning, I had re-started my day in God’s Word after struggling on my own for direction, energy, and productivity. I prayed earnestly for wisdom to live God’s way today. I chose grace and gratitude at the car wash and was rewarded physically and spiritually. Afterwards, the blessings continued. Picking up my Walmart order, I got a whole bag of goodies for free. The young man who loaded my car said it was a gift from Walmart. Though I cannot personally benefit from most items, I will pass them on to others who can. After leaving Walmart, I had good interactions with several folks at the post office and recycle center and finally accomplished several tasks over the phone with the help of very kind customer service reps struggling to decipher my requests through my shaky voice.
What a day of blessings! So much accomplished today. So many extra niceties through others. Despite being too sick to record a teaching video this week or to get much needed yard and housework done, I am blessed more than I can write about.
I could have had a completely different perspective today. I could have thought it was about time Walmart did something right and that I deserved the goodie bag for all their screw-ups in the past with pick-up orders. I could have fussed about the ding to my car by the young man trying to get it clean. I could have huffed in the post office about their opening a smidge later than posted after I had already come while they were closed for lunch or about having to stand in line outside because there was a good handful of us in line. I could have responded snidely to the entitled lady who was going to breeze through the door I was holding open while never acknowledging me or the line ahead. Instead, I kindly let her know that we had to wait outside since all the six-foot spaces inside were taken. I heard three or four people speaking negatively while waiting and leaving the post office. I really didn’t want to go in there just to buy stamps, and I think there should be an easier way, especially with COVID, but I am thankful that I got the stamps and mailed the cards.
The negatives will always be there. We can be governed by them or focus on the blessings instead. When we focus on the blessings, we are getting so much more goodness in return: we hold on to our joy and peace and even have mental and physical health benefits. Focusing on the blessings, we refuse to give the negatives a foothold in our day or satan in our lives, one situation and response at a time.
We all know the passage in Matthew where Jesus tells his disciples to not worry about the needs of daily life, but do we own the passage for ourselves? Do we trust God to provide our needs? Do we earnestly seek Him and His kingdom before all else? Perhaps you believe Jesus said this to the disciples abstractly, or perhaps you believe Jesus meant this for the physical life. Maybe you believe God can do miracles today. Maybe you can give an example of someone you know for whom God clearly provided a miracle in the midst of disaster. However, do you truly know this applies to you, too, not abstractly but legit, hardcore, where the rubber meets the road, now?
Let's read this passage again to glean wisdom for our own lives.
"Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." (Matthew 6:25-34)
We can work our fingers to the bone, scramble and clamor for all the “good things” we think life ought to provide for us while missing out on so much more, so much better. While many blessings from God are not material, He does promise to take care of us. Even more, He promises us His presence. He promises to never leave us nor forsake us.
We've all faced our share of difficulties where we either claimed God's truth over our lives or lived in fret and fear by default.
One of my major difficulties is living with sickness that prevents me from cozying up in the comfort of a safe, stable income. Notice I didn't say abundant or luxury-affording income. As a public school English teacher, my income was none too steep, yet it provided financial security knowing I could pay my bills.
Even when I was a teacher, I felt God leading me to write. At the time, I didn't understand it all, and I still don't, but I started then writing in response to my bible study. God called me to write twelve years ago--two years before doctors told me that I had to leave my profession for my health.
A lot of my journey with the call to write has been recognizing that I am not as willing and compliant as I thought I was. I am easily driven by stubborn, selfish pride which I must vigilantly keep nipped in the bud. It springs up in so many ways, in so many invitations so sweet and alluring.
I won't lie and say that I easily resist sweet, tempting offers. Honestly, were I not too sick to work, I would take some of the offers without thinking twice. I have tried every way on my own to make ends meet since leaving my profession. It seems that I am so stubborn that God had to allow me to become too sick to accomplish any of my silly endeavors I wanted to use to honor Him.
That's right. I honestly do want to honor God. But I try to go about it my own way, not His. And this doesn't honor Him or please Him at all.
Though God will never leave us nor forsake us, He does not bless a mess we make when not trusting Him FULLY. Thankfully, He rescues us from that mess. Think of it like God on the top-end of a long rope, pulling us out of a pit we fell in while going our own way. He responds to our plea for His help. Often we go through a lot of misery before we realize the mess we've made. God rescues us, but we come out of the pit smelly and covered in the mud of our mess.
We know that God knows best, so why do we not listen, trust, and obey the One who created us and knows our every need. He knows us better than we can know ourselves. He loves us more than we can love ourselves. He knows our every need, and our biggest need is Him. Not stuff, but Him.
After a decade of running my own way and having been rescued from many, many pits, I aim to be more alert to the many changing invitations of pride, as they always come incognito. We more easily recognize pride when we stay close to God in His Word which equips us to make the best decisions.
Often we feel stuck between and rock and a hard place and hope God understands and supports our desperate decisions though we truly know better. When I came to the crossroads of scrambling to find a way to provide for my family or following God on an uncertain path, I chose the wrong way--my own. Though the path was extremely difficult, I found it comfortable because I felt a false sense of control. By nature we all want security, and we feel that if we have some measure of control, we can guide our own security.
We also want life to make sense. Knowing that God is at work all around us and that He works all things to our good if we love and seek to Honor Him, we convince ourselves and others to get involved with good things that make good use of our talents, education, and experience.
As a Christian wife, mom, daughter, Sunday school teacher, and volunteer in many worthwhile programs and projects, I recognized many opportunities to use my education and talents. I convinced myself these opportunities were what I should be doing because they were present and urgent. God never renounced His call for me to write, but I made many other good things priority.
Earlier in Matthew 6 we see Jesus warn against doing things for show. He then gives the model for prayer and continues to teach on the importance of right focus, attitude, and actions. These all work together. Though I had convinced myself I made the best use of my time, talents, and energy, I was to some degree doing it for show. Not that I wanted some grand recognition, but that I feared judgment of others. I was sincerely interested in all the excellent opportunities I pursued, but the problem was that I pursued them before I pursued what God clearly called me to do. I used my efforts on the urgent more than the important.
Nothing should have greater importance to us than our relationship with our Heavenly Father. And a big part of that relationship is what we do with it, how we respond to what He wants us to do. When we focus on Him, trusting and obeying Him, we should not worry about having our daily needs met. If we are obeying Him, those needs will be met. Focusing on the important rather than the urgent means everything that needs to be done actually gets done.
So now, in a period of being too sick to follow my pride, I am actually writing. And the feeling of knowing that I am obeying my Heavenly Father who has been so patient, forgiving, and gracious to me gives me peace and security far more powerful than the lure of emails and phone calls advertising opportunities and extending personal job offers that I know I am too sick to take.
I make plans that I hope will please God because I honestly desire to honor Him and help others. Meanwhile, God patiently waits for me to surrender completely to Him and learn how to live His way, not mine.
I have been very sick for a long time. In hopes I was progressively getting better, I pursued a coveted position with an elite teaching organization and got so close to making the final cut. So close, making the second to last cut in the top twelve percent, but not close enough. My health and economic status were the deterrents. Regardless, it was God's hand that prevented me from making that final cut. It would have been disastrous for the organization, students, and myself had I made that final cut.
Wanting to be helpful to others using my teaching skills, I made a few teaching videos and a resource website and planned to make more videos to help parents, teachers, and students in the early stages of the stay-at-home orders associated with COVID-19. I took advantage of less-sick days to work on this to feel like I was still contributing something.
I continued doing things my way though my health started to significantly decline again the week before I found out I didn't make the cut with TFA. I applied to an online teaching job and got to the final stage. My computer crashed the day of my final stage. I was going after this job though my health was still declining, and at least 80% of the time, I cannot talk! I try to talk but have so much inflammation in my esophagus, bronchial tubes, and lungs that I can hardly breathe, and I shake and sound like a goat more than a human. It's quite humorous but also alarming and frustrating.
Now in week three of being able to eat less than 20 foods including salt, sugar, and expensive butter from grass-fed cows, I finally submit. I feel like a warrior in battle finally dropping my sword and head in defeat. Though I know submission to God is never defeat but is always victory, I still feel defeated. Perhaps because I didn't win against God doing things my way. A truer picture of my reality than that of a defeated warrior is that of a child who's lost her way in a large field and is all alone. As she hears her father's voice, she jumps up and down, and waving her arms she runs to her father she sees nearing in the distance. Human ego fights against our relationship with our heavenly Father.
As a kid, I always took great pride in being one of the fastest runners in my school. For several years a boy in the same grade shared the unofficial title of "fastest runner" with me. I was proud because I was one of the smallest in our grade, and he was one of the tallest. I ran with all my might, not knowing about my heart problems, asthma, or the fact that one isn't supposed to black out while running. My vision would go black and my head numb every time I ran; I knew no differently so assumed this experience was the same for everyone while running.
I've always generalized--thinking if it's this way for me that it must be this same way for others. As a kid running, I never stopped to consider warning flags. Now that I am about to be forty, I am learning, very slowly and stubbornly, to pay attention to warnings in life and to stop running when it's detrimental.
Running from God is always detrimental but can be an excellent teacher. I have learned a lot while running from God that I am thankful He will use for my good. My warnings of worsening health, crashing computers, and closing doors all told me to stop running my own way. I'm tired of running. Jesus tells his disciples in Matthew 11:30 that his yoke is easy and His burden light. He didn't say there was no burden with Him but rather conveyed that it is a natural burden they would be able to bear. I'm realizing it's neither fruitful nor heroic to continue to attempt to bear an unbearable burden.
God's design for life is very doable. Often we strive to achieve goals we think will give us worth. What is the end result of our striving to prove our worth to our heavenly Father? The fact is that we are all dust seeking our own way, yet He loves us enough to give us His purpose and all His care. Why do we run from Him instead of to Him? In Him we have everlasting life of eternal value. Apart from Him we struggle to design and pursue our own significance. I pray we all learn sooner than later to run to God and desire His design for our lives.