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Our Focal Point Matters

As a new believer in my early twenties, I made myself a nervous wreck running every thought, word, and deed through the lens of “Was that a sin?”

Every time I messed up, that paralyzing question ricocheted through my mind making me jump at my own shadow. I imagined God lurking overhead with thunderbolts in hand ready to smite me on the spot.

Now don’t misunderstand me; it is important to seek the Lord’s discernment for sinful behavior, especially when willful sin is at play.

However, by keeping my focus on whether or not I was sinning, I took my focus off the One in whom I needed to abide.

Sin does not necessarily equate with failing to abide. We are sinful by nature. In other words, we sin when we don’t even know we’re sinning. Consequently, sin does not automatically translate into a failure to abide.

However, willful sin is a different story. Willful sin is choosing not to abide in Christ. Willful sin says, “I don’t need God to accomplish what I want to accomplish.” Willful sin hisses the lie that we can live spiritually significant lives apart from abiding in the true Vine.

So what happens when God’s people do not abide in Him? Jesus does not mince words: “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” John 15:6

Ouch. 

Judas Iscariot fell into that category. Judas went through the outward motions of following Jesus as one of His disciples, but his actions over time revealed that he did not inwardly abide in the Vine.

Silver was worth more to him than our Savior. Consequently, he was cut off, thrown into the fire, and burned.

You and I can properly perform all of the outward religious activities, but if we are not inwardly abiding in the Vine to bear fruit that lasts, we will be cut off, as well.

Again, ouch.

It took many years for me to learn to abide (and I’m still working on it by His grace alone). Over that time, God in His Word has impressed upon me that what we focus on matters. If we are focused on not sinning, then we are focused on our sin. If we are focused on abiding, then we are focused on Christ.

One focuses on self, one focuses on Christ.

When we abide in Jesus He abides in us, and His love abides in us. Rather than examining every single thought and action through the lens of “Did I sin?” examine it through the lens of “Did I abide?” Did I strive to love and serve Him with my thoughts, words, and deeds? If yes, then we are abiding.

In His love, God will convict believers of our sins when we fail. And we will fail. Miserably. That’s part of living in this fallen world. But there’s Good News!

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we trust Him to break up the hardened soil of our hearts by pointing out those sins, giving us the space and grace to repent, and then receiving His divine forgiveness.

As you examine your thoughts, are they focused on abiding in Him or whether or not you are sinning?

The goal of abiding is to bring glory to God. When your focus strays, ask God to re-center your thoughts on Him. That is a godly prayer! Much like the disciples asking Jesus to increase their faith, God honors our requests to draw closer to Him.

Only our true Vine provides the very nutrients we, as His branches, need to survive and thrive in His vineyard.

Open His Word to meditate upon His words of life.

Abide in Him as He abides in you.

 

 

Brand new DVD Bible study coming on July 5, 2018:

Dependent Branches

As a know-it-all twenty-something, I thought the world was my oyster. If I worked hard enough and played even harder, true happiness was inevitable. I had a good job, many friends, my own apartment, and a big city full of possibilities. I answered to no one except myself. My time, resources, and decisions were disbursed as I saw fit.

I was also not a Christian.

After many poor decisions and dependence on money for happiness, my life was anything but happy. Eventually, cavernous debt became a millstone around my neck and it was clear that my immature, worldly-centered, unchecked independence, was quickly destroying my life and future.

Have you ever desired for independence so badly that you almost self-destructed?

After being baptized into the faith that God called me to, I learned that He calls us to be part of His vineyard. I had to learn from scratch that believers are dependent on Him for everything. After all, every blessing in our lives comes only through the unmerited grace of God.

We as disciples constantly struggle with thoughts of independence ─ mainly, asking God to bless the plans that we believe are best for our own lives. But that’s not the meaning of John 15:4.

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

Jesus tells us that we are to remain in Him. What does that even mean?

When Jesus talks about abiding, the Word tells us that it translates into believing that Jesus is God, following God’s commands, believing the Gospel, and relating in love to the community of believers (fellow branches in God’s vineyard).

That doesn’t sound like a call to live independently. God planted (sent) Christ, the true Vine, to establish and care for His Father’s vineyard. As His branches (disciples), you and I are dependent on the Vine for everything — even the air we breathe.

If you read through John’s Gospel without pause, you will note that there is a consistent emphasis on the disciples’ complete dependence upon Jesus to accomplish His work and will in the world. Jesus is the perfect portrait of complete dependence on God, the Vinedresser. He sets the example that we, as His disciples are to follow.

I often fall far short of complete dependence on Christ for everything. Some days, I fall short of depending on Him for even the smallest things. Can you relate? How would you describe your dependence on the Vine?

When is the last time you halted your footsteps to determine if the direction you are heading is in accordance with the Father’s will? John reiterates that even the very words that Jesus utters are the words of God (John 3:34, 14:24).

In this sinful world, you and I fall short of such a perfect standard. However, we are not without hope!

Christ abiding in us provides the strength we need to follow God with every heartbeat of our lives.

The life Jesus lived, He lived by the Father (John 6:57). Jesus did not heal people or perform mighty miracles for self-glorification. His thoughts, words, and deeds, were in one accord with the authority of the Vinedresser (John 5:19, 30). Why? So that we may see the glory of the Father through the true Vine.

Nothing and no one completes us but Christ.

Only the Creator completes the created.

We will not find contentment, fulfillment, or purpose apart from the risen Christ. The world may tout independence as the only way to ride through life, but it is a runaway train.

Dependence on Christ provides the nutrients, care, and growth we need to be fruitful in this life. God planted us in His vineyard and connected us to Christ the true Vine so that we can bear fruit for His glory.

No greater calling or privilege exists.

 

Brand new 8-week DVD Bible study releasing on July 5, 2018:

Pruned for Growth

 

My Texas home contains several gardens that require constant care. The ten-year old angel trumpet plant grows taller than my roof each year and produces beautiful ten-inch, pale pink trumpet-shaped flowers several times each year.

However, such faithful production would decline if I neglected to prune it back to only two feet tall each spring.

Gardeners and farmers understand the importance of pruning.

Since believers are planted in God’s vineyard, it means that we must submit to the Vinedresser’s pruning. Grapevines in vineyards naturally grow wild, so they are pruned and trained to the trellis structure in order to produce optimal fruit. When we abide in the true Vine through the power of the Holy Spirit, our Savior shapes us through His Word.

Such careful, loving pruning is designed to produce abundant fruit.

Although pruning does not feel good at the time, we trust that God has our best interest at heart. Such knowledge soothes the wounds brought about by pruning, so that we can fulfill God’s divine design.

In God’s vineyard, there are two kinds of branches: (1) fruit-bearing branches that are pruned to bear more fruit, and (2) non-fruit-bearing branches that are cut off, dried, and burned.

Although pruning means purging useless or superfluous shoots from a vine or tree, it also means to cleanse from filth and impurity.

As you take a quick survey of your current circumstances, activities, and interests, what might God need to prune in your life to bring about better fruit?

For example, when God repeatedly affirmed my calling to write Bible studies and teach from His Word, I dove in with unparalleled gusto. I spent considerable time studying His Word, filling countless journals with notes, and taking online classes to study the Bible’s original languages. I read mountains of commentaries, listened to sermon podcasts, and much more.

But I mistakenly thought that I could fit all of those activities into my life without purging anything else. Even though those new endeavors for the Lord produced many devotions, blog posts, Bible studies, and eventually books, my fruit-bearing branches were becoming exhausted. However, I kept on plowing ahead (pun intended) because I truly love the calling that God has placed in my life.

Then one day, the Vinedresser—without consulting this lowly branch—began pruning activities and commitments from my schedule that He knew were “sucker branches” to His plan for my spiritual growth and fruitfulness.

At first, I objected and tried to convince God that I was superwoman. I wanted to prove that I could not only do it all, but could slam dunk it while wearing high heels and singing Kumbaya.

My objections only proved my spiritual immaturity.

As soon as I began trying to prove that I knew better than God, a four-month season of what I call my “discipline blessings” began. Sinus and upper respiratory infections hit me hard and non-stop, which resulted in “forced” rest. Since I could hardly breathe, function, or concentrate for four months, hours in bed replaced exhaustion with repentance over my hardheadedness. In other words: I experienced discipline from above.

I look back upon that season of “discipline blessings” and thank God for His wisdom. The lessons that He taught me during those four months made me realize just how much God loves this stubborn branch and His vineyard.

Although my four-month disciplining season was uncomfortable at best and heartbreaking at worst, God drew me closer to Him during that time through prayer to discern the plan that He continues to unfold for my future.

Pruning sometimes hurts. But it is a necessary process for God to nurture and produce the best fruit for an abundant harvest.

If you have been a branch in God’s vineyard for any length of time, you understand that pruning often translates into pain and hardship. That’s not because God enjoys seeing His children suffer, but because He knows it needs to take place for future growth.

God never promised that being connected to the Vine would mean that life would be fine as wine.

By God’s grace we put one foot in front of the other while He prunes.
We grow.
He prunes.
We grow.
He prunes.

It’s a lifelong, life-giving cycle in His vineyard. Our Lord and Savior is fully aware of your circumstances. ABIDE IN HIM. Stay connected.

His plan for you is perfect and incredible.

Trust Him.

 

Brand new 8-week DVD Bible study series releasing July 5, 2018:

Grafted, Nourished, and Set Apart

“I am the Vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

Planting a vineyard requires significant thought, care and dedication. Grafting and cultivating abundant fruit is not an accidental process. Grapevines need much hands-on care to produce the best fruit possible. It is a careful, patient process that takes years.

Before planting new grapevines in the vineyard, the ground is prepared by a process known as “ripping” the soil. Using a thick steel tool, tractors rip five feet deep trenches in one direction, crisscrossed by three-feet deep trenches in the other direction.

The tractor then uses various tools to smooth the rough surface. After carefully considering where the vine rows will be planted, irrigation lines are dug and installed, followed by the posts that hold the wire on which the grapevine grows. Adding compost to the prepared soil is the final step before planting the new grapevines.

These necessary steps are crucial to provide the right environment for the tender new grapevines to grow, mature, and flourish.

As God prepares us for His holy purposes in His vineyard, sometimes it feels like our life has been ripped open.

We are busy, juggle a full schedule, and have plenty on our plate, right? We like the routine of life and the comforts that make our days a little smoother, thank you very much. Because ripping doesn’t feel good.

But God never called us to a routine of comfortable surroundings. He calls us to bear good fruit that lasts.

A grapevine’s life begins as two separate vines in a nursery. The first vine is called the rootstock, which does not produce good fruit. The other vine is called the varietal, which determines the variety or type of grape that will be grown (Concord, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc.).

The nursery’s expert grafters slice a deep V-cut into the rootstock, then meticulously cut a matching slice in the varietal’s bud. The bud is then inserted into the rootstock’s cut and a special tape is placed over the cut (like a Band-Aid over a wound) to bind them together.

The root and varietal bleed into one another at the wound, thus bonding to form a single grapevine.

Isaiah 53:5 tells us: “…by His wounds we are healed.” Jesus, the Vine, is our rootstock into which we (the varietal) were grafted into His life—His vineyard.

God, our Expert Grafter, cut away our old life and bonded us to a new life in Christ. Through Christ’s life and sacrifice, we become a branch in the Vine from the point of grafting into His wounds, receiving life from Him.

Although we face attacks and disease, we will not be defeated as long as we remain connected to the Vine through faith.

His roots never falter. 

You are not an accidental afterthought in God’s vineyard. God is intentional about you! He is careful and patient with you to produce the highest quality fruit ─ however long it takes. Before the creation of the world or time began, God carefully planned every day of your life:

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” Psalm 139:16

Preparing for a bountiful grape harvest begins long before vines are planted. Some vineyards may wait decades for their highest quality fruit.

As God matures our faith, the wisdom and discernment that He works in us (pruning and training His grapevines) strengthens us for the struggles that we inevitably face in this life. And the process will take our entire life.

The connection Jesus makes in John 15:5  is clear: true life only comes when we are connected to the true Vine. During this season of life, how are you remaining connected to the Vine in meaningful ways?

Ask God to open opportunities in neglected areas in which you can participate more fully. Even if it only means five minutes in His Word each day, those are vital, nourishing minutes.

God faithfully promises that when we seek Him, we will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13).

God has grafted, nourished, and set us apart in His vineyard to produce fruit. Apart from Him we can do nothing.

The question is ─ do we bear wild grapes, unfit for consumption, or do we bear good fruit that will be used by God to bring Him glory?

 

Coming July 5, 2018, a brand new DVD Bible study series:

New Wine Out of This Old Wine Skin

In September 2017, I visited a vineyard in upstate New York at the height of harvest season. My eyes feasted on the lush, green canopy under which large, juicy bunches of purple grapes hung from sturdy vines. Every slight breeze that ruffled the green oasis carried a sweet smell of ripe, luscious goodness.

I wanted to settle in and stay a while.

It was night and day compared to the last time I visited Gage Farm Vineyards during winter. The pruned vines appeared as lifeless sticks — old and unusable.

The harvest season offered a vision of lush abundance that caused a deep sense of peace and contentment. The winter season looked harsh and felt like hope had been pruned away with the canopy.

I walked down many rows in that vineyard during both seasons, Bible in my hand, reading John 15. Jesus tells His disciples: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser” (John 15:1). Those words made sense amidst the harvest, but seemed out of place in winter.

God brought to mind the parable in Matthew 9:17: “No one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the old skins would burst from the pressure, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine is stored in new wineskins so that both are preserved.”

Winter looked and felt like an old wine skin.

Settling in and staying a while in winter never crossed my mind. I kept thinking, “How can these cold, lifeless sticks produce new wine?” My eyes desperately scanned each row for signs of life.

That’s how spiritual winter seasons feel. Sometimes it seems that God prunes so much out of our life it leaves us wondering, “How in the world is there anything left to prune, God?” We feel like a bloody, useless stump looking around a barren winter stick yard.

Maybe you are there right now. Maybe you feel the blood frozen on the stump of your dreams. You may be tempted to believe that the spring thaw is never coming. After all, what use is an old wine skin?

Let me tell you, fellow branch in God’s vineyard, God never prunes for the sake of pruning. He’s not trying to make an ornamental bonsai tree out of your life. God prunes to make us abundantly fruitful for His glory.

He promises: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17) You and I may have some years under our belt and feel like an old wine skin.

But hold on a minute.

The Lord promises that His mercies arrive new every day (in every season) — even in winter. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning. (Lamentations 3:22-23) He creates in us a clean heart — a heart transplant at our baptism.

We’re going to be spending some time in John 15:1-17 over the summer because there are beautiful truths we need to understand if we are to survive and thrive as a branch in God’s vineyard.

Whatever season you are experiencing, take heart. We may long to settle into the lush canopy full of ripe goodness, but harvest does not appear without winter pruning.

Only the Vinedresser sees the future of the branch. When God prunes us, He holds us safely in His mighty hands as He clears away the extraneous thoughts, words, and deeds from our life.

Sometimes when the winter is severe, you may think that He is absent.

Just remember, beloved, He is holding you TIGHT.

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear … for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6

 

Coming July 5, 2018, a brand new DVD Bible study series:

 

Advent: Sometimes It Takes Speechless Moments

Over the past week, I’ve been pondering the story of Zechariah in Luke 1. One of my pastors preached an excellent Advent sermon this past Sunday on Zechariah. And it got me to thinking.

Sometimes we experience moments that leave us speechless.

You know, those almost incomprehensible life stunners that silence us:

… a blessing too immeasurable to grasp

… a heartbreak too deep to comprehend

… a long-awaited dream coming to fruition

… a tragedy too senseless to understand.

When was the last time you experienced such a moment?

For me, it was that horrible day when Dad called long distance to tell me he had cancer. Then again two and a half years later as I tried to give the eulogy at his funeral.

The blood thundering in our ears drowns out all else. Pulse racing. Knees weak. Head spinning as we attempt to grasp the enormity of those moments.

We tend to remember exactly where we stood and who stood with us when we couldn’t stand anymore.

Ordinary days take on high definition clarity at such moments. Vivid details that stun our mind and silence our mouth.

It happened to Zechariah.

After decades of serving as a priest in the temple, the lot fell on Zechariah for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to burn the incense in the Holy of Holies. His moment was momentous enough, but God wasn’t finished.

Zechariah disappeared behind the temple curtain. For a long time. Perhaps the people worried. After all, he was pretty old.

But he wasn’t in there alone. A surprise visitor dropped in.

To his astonishment, Zechariah stood face to face with the angel Gabriel. They talked about Zechariah’s tired prayer regarding a forgotten dream: a child of his very own. Gabriel told Zechariah,

Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.” Luke 1:13

His brain couldn’t grasp what his ears heard, so Zechariah doubted the message and the messenger.

And lost his voice for over 9 months.

God silenced Zechariah until the truth of His promise was revealed in His perfect timing: that Zechariah wouldn’t just be any ordinary father, but father of the forerunner to the Messiah.

Zechariah didn’t choose to go silent. We normally don’t either.

Sometimes it takes speechless moments to still our rambling mouths so we can hear God’s rich, boundless promises.

During a Christmas season that clamors for our attention, how do we hear and follow God’s guidance?

We listen to His Word in the silence.

Whether our momentous moments are full of joy or sorrow, God isn’t finished with us. Regardless of anything else, God still walks with us.

Leading.

Guiding.

Always.

If you’re experiencing a season of stunned silence, instead of adding noise, pause. Pull out His Word. Read about the hope of the world born for you in a manger. Trust that God loves you. Know that He hears you.

Even in the silence.

But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard.” Luke 1:13

 

Essential Elements for Reading the Bible

When I became a Christian twenty-five years ago, someone gifted me with a basic Bible so that I could start reading God’s Word for myself.

However, I looked at that thick book and thought, “I’ve got to read this whole thing?” My leisure time was scarce. Reading through something that resembled a text book was unappealing to say the least.

Fast forward several years.

By God’s grace and persistence alone, He has changed my indifference toward Scripture to a lifeline. It began as a slow burn which God ignited into a consuming fire.

Every now and then people ask how I study the Bible. Through much trial, error, and many years, I believe there are three key elements for reading/studying the Bible that have become staples along my spiritual journey.

1. Reliable.

Each day set aside (1) a reliable time, (2) in a place free from distractions, and (3) follow a plan.

Years ago, I jumped on the popular bandwagon to read through the Bible in a year. After the first year, my devotional time became nothing more than a speed-reading contest. I retained little because I did not allow God the necessary space to let His Words sink deep.

Today, I still follow a plan but have removed the pressure to complete it in a year. To that end, I have created several Bible reading plans that provide structure to constantly move through the Bible.

Sometimes, I write out whole books of the Bible by hand. I challenged readers with that practice in my first book and people still comment today how it continually helps them to slow down and actually think about each verse. It’s a powerful tool. Try it!

I cannot stress enough the importance of a distraction-free place to read and study God’s Word. Computer screens can be a huge distraction for me, so I sit at my kitchen table each morning with steaming coffee, my Bible, and a journal. My smartphone remains in the bedroom until it’s time to get ready for work.

I’ve never met a strong Christian who not does mediate daily on the words of God. Conversely, I have never met a weak Christian who does. Spending time in His Word consistently is vital.

2. Resourceful.

Assess your daily routine and find resourceful ways to harness time to meditate on the words of God. In my life, resourceful translates into music. Whether beautiful old hymns or powerful contemporary worship songs, Christian music focuses my thoughts on God.

Martin Luther said, “Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us.” Music stirs our affection for the Lord in ways that other sources cannot.

We carry the world on our smartphones, so I regularly access Bible reading apps and sermon podcasts. Some friends use their creative outlet for Bible journaling to mediate on God’s Word as they draw. There are many resources available to us to focus our hearts and minds on Him.

3. Relational.

We need people around us on a regular basis who can speak the words of God into our lives. Acts 2:42-47 paints a clear relational picture:

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

We are told in Hebrews 3:13 that believers are to extol and encourage each other as long as it is called today so that we are not hardened by the deceitfulness of sin and the dark forces in this world.

When I feel discouraged or under spiritual attack, there are four special women in my life who I can call at a moment’s notice. They will pray for me, over me, and speak light into darkness.

We need mature believers around us — and they need us.

Sometimes being alone with the Bible is not the best thing. A relaxed walk in the park on a beautiful Fall day with a fellow believer does a world of good to my soul.

Fresh air and a fresh word often bring a fresh perspective.

The bottom line is that we need to constantly search for reliable, resourceful and relational ways to open our heart and mind to God’s life-giving, transformational Word.

It makes all the difference along our spiritual journey.

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When Loneliness Feels Like It’s Swallowing You Whole

If you have ever felt the sting of loneliness for any period of time, you understand this truth: loneliness does not mean being alone.

Loneliness may impact us most deeply when we are in a crowd of people.

That’s because loneliness is a heart issue.

God created us to know Him and be fully known by Him on an intimate basis. Crowds are superficial, not intimate. Even those who know us best still do not know or understand the deepest and most desperate desires of our heart.

Although Jesus was God in the flesh, He experienced acute loneliness. In the hour of His greatest need as He hung on the cross of our making, the disciples abandoned Him. Even God the Father turned His back on His only Son so that God’s full wrath could be poured out on Jesus to be judged once and for all.

Jesus even taught His disciples about loneliness by talking about events that had not yet occurred:

Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. John 16:32–33

Jesus is the friend who lays down His life for His friends (John 15:13–15), sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24), and who has promised never to leave us nor forsake us but to be with us until the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).

Every believer has the presence of God in us through the power of the Holy Spirit. He lives in us and is our interpreter with God. In Christ, even though we may feel lonely, we are never alone.

Loneliness Is Not Depression

When people asked me how I felt during my time of divorce seven years ago, I found it difficult to discern between loneliness and depression. After looking up definitions and reading a few helpful articles, they were easier to identify.

Loneliness doesn’t feel good, but we are still able to function and carry on the tasks of everyday life. On the other hand, depression inhibits our ability to function.

Loneliness says, “I don’t want to get up and go to work.” Depressions says, “I can’t get up and go to work.”

Loneliness is more of a state of mind, whereas depression translates physically. My lack of appetite for a period of time was due to mild depression, not loneliness.

Loneliness can certainly lead to depression if it continues unchecked over long periods of time. That’s why those friends who stop by and insist on getting you out of the house even when you don’t feel like it are truly life savers.

Two Dangers of Loneliness

Two common phrases come to mind when we feel the effects of loneliness: (1) “I need to keep busy to keep my mind off of it,” and (2) “I need to find someone so I don’t feel so lonely.” The first is common, the second can be dangerous, and neither are the long-term solutions.

1. Busyness

Most of us battle loneliness with busyness. But at some point, the busyness subsides, and then what? Although non-stop activity can ease your stress and temporarily distract you from feeling overwhelmed, eventually you need to slow down and let the Lord heal your heart.

Allow God to work in the silence what you have covered up by noise. Otherwise, you will careen into the nearest wall at 200 mph in full-blown burnout.

2. Replacement Love

It’s normal to find yourself longing for someone to assuage feelings of loneliness. However, it’s dangerous when you look for that someone in all the wrong places — especially if you are married and that someone is not your spouse.

Instead of giving in and letting neediness make us vulnerable, ask God to shift your focus. Pursue interests that perhaps you have put aside.

I rekindled my interest for travel and photography with enthusiasm and have since have traveled to many states and countries.

I also spent significant time investing in my relationship with the Lord through increased personal Bible study, worship, attending conferences, retreats, and listening to sermon/Bible study podcasts. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of this investment.

Once you center your life in Christ and gain confidence without relying on horizontal relationships, you will be in a much better place spiritually and emotionally to embrace a new, healthy relationship when the Lord opens that door.

Declare War on Loneliness

You don’t have to live with loneliness. Period. Although it will inevitably happen, you don’t have to resign yourself to feeling like that until the Lord calls you home. We find the antidote in Scripture:

The secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him, and He will show them His covenant. Psalm 25:14 (NKJV)

The “secret of the Lord” is what God calls His people. They are those Jesus-loving special friends that every Christian needs. The word “secret” doesn’t mean a hush-hush utterance—it references our close, intimate friends who fear the Lord and with whom we share our joys, sadness, weaknesses, and strengths.

They are the friends you let into your messy home while you’re wearing sweats and no makeup. They are the precious few where we can confide real issues in real time.

We need those secrets of the Lord in our life to declare war on loneliness. Their love may look like chatting over a cup of coffee, but in the spiritual realm it’s like an impenetrable shield of love surrounding you in faith against the enemy’s darts of loneliness.

Loneliness can erect significant barriers that prevent God access to heal our heart and living life to the full.

The answer is short and simple: instead of giving into loneliness, lay claim to the nearness of God.

“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

Thank you, Lord.

*This post is a revised excerpt from my book, Without This Ring: Surviving Divorce.

Without This Ring by Donna Pyle

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Dear Christian Single Woman

Early last year, for the first time since my divorce seven years ago, I actually took the initiative to ask a man that I greatly admire on an informal “date.” I bought two concert tickets to hear my favorite band and took the plunge. Yep, I was scared stiff.

With trembling fingers, I texted  him a casual, nonchalant invitation that did not  include the word “date.” I was a complete chicken. Feel free to paint a yellow stripe down my back.

The waiting game began. I was a wreck and clearly not cut out for being a date initiator. As a fairly confident person in most other areas of my life, the insecurity was torture. Like wearing a fluffy, burnt orange rabbit coat in July.

He finally declined my invitation citing a prior engagement. Gulp. Should I believe him or take it personally? In all fairness, I never checked his schedule before purchasing the tickets. I chose to believe him. Hello, StubHub?

Fast forward.

A few days ago, a single female friend asked, “Where is God hiding all the good, decent men?” She’s tried dating and feels fed up with her less-than-stellar pool of prospects. If you’re a single, Christian woman, how many times have you asked yourself that question?

I wasn’t a Christian the first time I was single. And let me tell you, it makes ALL the difference in the world. Having said that, I believe God through His Word has given us abundant instruction how to live a God-honoring life as a single (or single “again”) Christian woman:

I need to act like I’m already married. Let me explain.

As an unmarried woman I am careful not to spend significant time alone with married men. This is partly to guard against misconceptions, but it’s also to guard against weakness. I’m not interested in opening the door for trouble. Having watched infidelity play out in my own marriage and other peoples’ marriages. I’m under no illusions that hearts are bullet-proof to physical attraction.

As an unmarried woman I guard my speech around men. This is a hard one for me because I love using humor to put people at ease. Teasing or sarcasm often communicate flirtation, and innuendo invites heartache. Weigh your words carefully.

As an unmarried woman I think twice about what I wear around men. Looking nice is perfectly acceptable and we feel more confident when we do. Dressing to intentionally attract a man’s attention to certain body parts is not God-honoring. Dress so that men will look you in the eye, not from neck to naval.

As an unmarried woman I think twice about my body language toward men. This one is hard because I’m a Southern woman who loves to hug the stuffing out of people. However, I ensure there is daylight between me and a man I am sitting next to. I still hug, but it’s a “hug-and-release” policy (yes, I love to fish).

As an unmarried woman I guard my thoughts about men. If I find myself daydreaming about “what if” or “íf only” scenarios with male acquaintances, I ask God to shut down that dangerous thinking. I’ve also learned to “bounce my eyes” so that I am not disrespecting men with a neck to thigh assessment which will invade my thoughts late at night.

This list may seem fastidious, but constructive dating to discover the “one” is serious business. Dating is a process that we prayerfully move through to determine the character and moral fiber of a man. Dating is not a status that we sit in for years with one man without discernible momentum.

Yes, dating can and should be lots of fun, too. But don’t cheapen yourself with the legalistic gymnastics of “How far is too far?” We know what Scripture says when it comes to physical boundaries for sexual intimacy. You are a daughter of the King. If that man uses you, he’s going to have to answer to your heavenly Dad.

Scripture describes the church as a bride awaiting a husband-who-is-to-come. That bride is to keep herself pure, to live as though she is already the wife of her bridegroom.

This is a powerful image of a Christian single woman.

As for me, I have not extended another dating invitation. God has never prompted me to do so — with that gentleman or any other. Honestly, the anxiety almost wrecked me. I believe that the responsibility to invite in the future belongs at their doorstep. Call me old-fashioned. That’s okay, my big ol’ Texas hair would agree.

I don’t know whether I will be married next year, in five years, or ever again. But I trust God’s perfect plan for my life and yours. I take heart in seeing how God mightily used the apostle Paul in his singleness. God also powerfully used the apostle Peter in his married state. Those apostles linked arms to make an eternal difference together for the kingdom and glory of God.

Whether a husband is ever in your future, a Husband is certainly in your future. Honor Him now in eager expectation of meeting Him soon. Think like a married woman whether you ever become one or not, guarding your heart from sin, and opening it to God’s incredible plans.

So to my Christian single and single again friends, I pray that God uses us mightily for His good purposes today. Right where we are. In whatever dating status we find ourselves, to spread the hope of salvation to a hurting world.

That is our highest priority above all.

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The Deposit We Take For Granted

Today, 86,400 of a limited precious commodity has been deposited into our stewardship account.

Actually, we are given that gift every single day.

86,400 seconds is ours every time the sun rises, orbits, then sleeps.

And as the clock’s hands go round and round, we will have either invested today to grow exponentially for eternity, or let them tick by into the abyss of meaningless.

We will have spoken words to encourage and build, or spewed words that hurt and deflated.

The Apostle Mark understood such an investment. He penned the word “immediately” no less than ten times in his Gospel’s first chapter alone.

Carpe diem.

Seize the day.

How will you seize this day? How will you invest or waste today’s 86,400 seconds?

This morning I seized a moment to utter this prayer in my quiet time, “God, give me the wisdom to spend Your deposit wisely today.”

And as I get ready for the day, looking beyond the mirror, I’ll look into the eyes of my heart with a whispered reminder, “You are fearfully and wonderfully made by your Maker.”

What awaits me today? What awaits you?

86,400 moments to be grateful, scared, happy, sad, joyful, or wasteful — but once gone, those moments are forever out of our grasp.

To write words that will change a life.

To sing a song that will touch a heart.

To tell someone you love them.

To tell them about a Savior who loves them more than you ever could.

God has given us the gift of time that ultimately all belongs to Him.

So…
How will you spend your 86,400 stewardship deposit today?

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