As School Starts, An Ode To Mamas

As I drove past kids walking to their first day of school this week, God brought moms to mind.

While kids spend their days learning, moms will spend their days leisurely watching daytime television, going out to lunch with friends and taking long naps until their bundles of joy arrive home from school.

Yes, I jest.

Motherhood is so much more than anticipating unencumbered days while youngsters expand their brains with higher education. You’ll organize a million small things to nurture the welcoming, safe space that accomplishes the big things.

Sometimes I wonder: What special considerations did God ponder as He created mamas? Perhaps, just perhaps, it went something like this:

“I need a nurturer. Someone willing to rise before dawn, cook breakfast, pack a child’s lunch, flag down the school bus, work all day making the house a home, cook again, eat supper, then go upstairs and stay up past bedtime reading stories to eager ears.”

So God made a mama.

“I need someone willing to sit up all night with a sick child, and nurse them back to health with boundless love. Somebody who can cheer loudest, sew a new dress from scraps, demonstrate how to twirl, make play dough from scratch, and teach a round-eyed pre-schooler how to build a castle.”

So God made a mama.

It needed to be someone who could tie a ponytail holder from pipe cleaners, bread ties and curly ribbon and will finish her 40 hour work week by Tuesday supper, then clear the dishes and sit back down with her children to log another 50 hours checking arithmetic, sounding out vowels, and calling out spelling words.

So God made a mama.

“I need somebody strong enough to discipline when necessary, yet gentle enough to push a swing, decorate cupcakes, trim a Christmas tree, and kiss a scraped knee. Somebody who forgives transgressions with a smile, defends her child against a harsh world, yet stops her car in traffic to patiently wait for stray ducks to cross.”

So God made a mama.

It had to be somebody who would love deeper than the oceans and see the glass half full. Somebody to bake, make, wake, support and encourage and chauffeur and teach and plant seeds and keep singing through the hard times. Somebody who would teach them about Jesus, how to serve others and be kind and brave, and wrap a family together tight with the soft, strong bonds of prayer.

So God made a mama.

And one day long hence, dear mamas, when they visit you during college breaks, you will chuckle, and then sigh, and be speechless with tear-filled eyes, when your child says with a thankful heart that some day they want to be a parent — the best mama they can be — just like you.

As another school year begins, it is my delight to heartily applaud and fervently pray for all of you incredible mamas as you do the hard work, the important work, the necessary work that few people see of being the best mama God made you to be.

She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed.” Proverbs 31:25-28

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Donna’s brand new individual and small group Bible study: “Perseverance: Praying Through Life’s Challenges” (based on the book of Nehemiah) is now available through Concordia Publishing House and Amazon.

When Summer Beckons of Gardens and Harvest Fields

The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” Luke 10:2-3

As a little girl, Grandma’s garden was a magical place. Rising early, I would open the low picket gate, hands trembling with anticipation. After all, high adventure awaited.

I loved pretending that beautiful oasis was my kingdom. I ruled over butterflies, bumble bees and fat red earthworms. My scepter was a fragrant stalk of mint and my princess glitter was the fresh morning dew.

Grandma puttered around in her floppy hat, earth-encrusted gloves and apron patiently weeding, pruning and keeping the kingdom delightful. She taught by example how loving care encourages gardens to produce a rich harvest.

By the end of our lazy, garden mornings together , her small basket overflowed with tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and other fresh delights we would enjoy later in the day.

Flowers were my crown, a little summer dress was my ball gown, and life couldn’t get any better all the way around.

Although picturesque, when Jesus said that the harvest is plentiful, He meant something entirely different than my childhood kingdom.

Jesus spoke of souls, not of garden knolls. Instead of butterflies, bees and worms, He spoke of laborers bringing in His harvest.

That’s you. And that’s me. Every Christian who calls themselves a disciple is His laborer.

Harvest denotes a time of urgency, not lazy summer days. It offers a precious short window of opportunity to pluck what the Lord of the harvest has already prepared: souls for His kingdom.

As His laborers, do we adopt the same sense of urgency? With over seven billion people on the planet, the harvest field is massive. When Jesus spoke these words about the harvest field, He looked upon a generation open and ready to receive the Gospel.

You and I live in a generation ready for harvest.

Look around, what do you see? I see thousands coming together at youth gatherings and Christian conferences. People say the church is declining. I say we’ve lost focus on the harvest.

Instead, what if:

…we focused on reaching the lost instead of counting heads in the pew?

…we focused on ministry initiatives instead of placating the comfortably saved?

…we focused on mobilizing God’s laborers into the harvest field instead of moving someone out of the White House?

Being His laborer means I need to stop acting hypocritical and start loving people like Jesus did. It means being willing to risk it all and get my hands dirty to bring in His harvest.

It’s HIS harvest. You and I just have the privilege of being His gardeners, our wages fully paid by His sacrificial blood at Calvary.

It’s a great big world. We have a great big job. And we have a great big God who has equipped us to bring in His holy harvest.

So we believe.

We pray to the Lord of the harvest and step out in faith, trusting Him to bring in an overflowing abundance.

We can even wear a floppy hat.

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Donna’s brand new Bible study: “Perseverance: Praying Through Life’s Challenges” (based on the book of Nehemiah) is now available through Concordia Publishing House and Amazon.

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Dear Single Christian Woman

During two events where I was invited to speak earlier this year, I was given the opportunity to talk with young, single women (late teens, early 20s) about specific challenges that single Christian women face in today’s fast-paced, social media era.

These young ladies wanted helpful tools to apply as they live out their daily faith walk as single Christian women. Since I have lived “single again” for nearly ten years now, I am intimately aware of the myriad of issues.

To be clear, I wasn’t a Christian the first time I was single. Having now experienced singleness as both a non-Christian and Christian, I can tell you that it makes ALL the difference. As Christ followers, we are held to a higher, holy standard.

Having said that, over the past decade God has taught me to some very practical ways to live a God-honoring life as a single Christian woman. It all comes down to one thing:

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 men. This is partly to guard against misconceptions (especially if they are married), but also to guard against temptation. Having watched infidelity play out in my own marriage (and others’ 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 hard for me because I love to use humor to put people at ease. Teasing or sarcasm so often communicate flirtation, and innuendo opens sketchy doors. Social media and texting etiquette add additional complexities, as well.

As an unmarried woman I think twice about what I wear around men. I strive to look my best each day, taking care with my hygiene and appearance. Looking nice is not a sin. Dressing to intentionally attract a man’s attention to certain body parts is another story. We might as well dangle an apple from our breast. When I know that I will be in mixed company, I dress so that men will look me in the eye, not from neck to naval. I don’t wear a tent, but I don’t wear skirts slit up to my pelvis, either.

As an unmarried woman I think twice about my body language toward men. This one is particularly hard for me because I’m a Southern woman who loves to hug the stuffing out of people. However, I ensure there is daylight between me and the man sitting next to me. I still hug, but never prolonged to avoid implied intimacy. It’s a “hug and release” policy (yes, I love to fish so this fishing analogy made me smile).

As an unmarried woman I guard my thoughts about men. If I find myself idealizing the appearance of a man that leads to fantasizing about “what if” or “if only” scenarios, I confess those thoughts to God and set them aside. I have learned to “bounce my eyes” so that I am not disrespecting men with a neck to naval assessment which may invade my dreams later.

I fully realize that this list may seem fastidious, but it reflects the high regard in which I hold men, their marriages, and their personal boundaries.

My question for you, dear single Christian woman, is this: What will you give to this man who is not your husband? Don’t cheapen yourself with the legal gymnastics of, “How far is too far?” Ask instead, “What is my motivation for the thoughts, words, and actions I am choosing as I interact with this man?”

Don’t fish with your body. Fishing never works out well for the bait.

This post isn’t about who or how to date. Those are entirely separate lists. There is much fun and joy to be had during dating. This is about how to act as a single Christian woman, whether or not marriage is part of God’s plan for your life.

Scripture describes the Church as a bride awaiting a husband who is to come. That bride is admonished to keep herself pure, to live as though she is already the wife of her bridegroom. That is a powerful image of what being a single Christian woman looks like.

Whether an earthly husband is ever in your future, a heavenly Husband already is, so honor Him now in eager expectation of meeting Him one day.

And may I point out a crucial truth? You are not half a person seeking an earthly person to “complete” you. You are whole and complete in Christ.

Remember, the apostle Peter (in his married state) and the apostle Paul (in his single state) linked arms and made a difference for the kingdom. Our ultimate goal as Christ followers to is follow Christ. The other blessings in this life are pure grace.

Whether or not you ever become a married woman, thinking like one guards your heart from sin and opens it to embrace God’s incredible plan for your life – whatever that may be.

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Donna’s brand new Bible study, “Perseverance: Praying Through Life’s Challenges” (based on the book of Nehemiah) is now available through Concordia Publishing House and Amazon.

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Dear Pastor’s Wife: Please Forgive Us

Last week, I wrote a post dedicated to pastors. The response was beautiful.

Beyond the comments left on social media and the blog, what moved my heart the most were the many private messages I received expressing gratitude from those who love our pastors most: their wives.

It reminded me of the challenging road that our pastors’ wives walk — not only my pastors’ wives but the plethora of these amazing women whom I have been privileged to befriend all across the U.S.

So to my pastors’ wives and each of you dear, courageous women married to pastors:

You gracefully stand silently in the shadows while people clamor for your husband’s attention and heap praises on him while we don’t even acknowledge your presence.

Please forgive us.

You live in a glass house where we notice every fingerprint, yet you faithfully keep those windows clean by extending forgiveness that we often don’t deserve.

Please forgive us.

We ruthlessly police your fashion, hairstyle, hair color, size, and words like it’s our sole duty on this planet.

Please forgive us.

You listen dutifully while your husband uses your family as a sermon illustration again and graciously smile while we laugh at you.

Please forgive us.

When we unjustly criticize your husband or how he runs the church — even when it’s so nasty that there should be a smackdown right there in the narthex — you smile graciously and assure us gently that you’ll pass along our concerns.

Please forgive us.

You strive to faithfully walk as Christ’s disciple faced with the same struggles and hurts that we experience, yet you shoulder the burden in solitary silence.

Please forgive us.

You are often volunteered for tasks in the church that no one else wants to tackle — often areas you are not gifted for — yet you trudge faithfully ahead while we slander your efforts.

Please forgive us.

And then there’s this:

Some days you worry that the stress may kill your husband. Literally. You desperately want to be in the will of God but are afraid of what that requires from you, your marriage and your children.

You long to help the multitudes alongside your husband and willingly lay down your very life for the beautiful body of Christ. And some days that makes you very, very tired.

Perhaps you wonder when your husband retires if you will ever walk into a church again. Sometimes sheep bite.

But I want you to know, dear Pastor’s Wife:

Your calling is hard and it can get lonely, but you are standing on the Rock.

You may not have anticipated this calling to be a pastor’s wife, but God has equipped you for this noble work.

God will faithfully provide helpers to you who love you unconditionally, find joy praying for you, and commit to walk alongside you — whether inside or outside your church.

Take heart: Jesus can heal your wounded soul, renew your exhausted mind, reconcile broken relationships, work beautiful forgiveness, mend your broken heart, and meet your every need.

I pray for God to keep faith and hope alive in you because we NEED you.

We often neglect to tell you, but please know this:

You are LOVED.
You are BEAUTIFUL.
You are VALUABLE.
You shine God’s light RADIANTLY.

THANK YOU for your extraordinary sacrifice of praise to Christ our Savior as you serve us. Sisters, I love you dearly and esteem you greatly.

Church, when was the last time you prayed for your pastor’s wife?

Dear Pastor: Will You Forgive Us?

Pastors have answered a high and difficult calling. There are few things that boil my blood faster or put my feet on a soap box quicker than when I hear God’s people hurling mean-spirited or spiteful comments at God-loving, servant-hearted pastors.

It gets ugly when sheep turn on their shepherds. And Satan, along with the world, watches. Smiling.

I love to intentionally encourage my pastors. When I see them at some mid-week church function, I am fully aware that they may have faced strenuous spiritual warfare. The enemy has likely lobbed a stream of fiery darts at them, whether it’s tough counseling sessions, disheartening church politics, or the death of a member.

It’s critical to convey to our pastors and pastor friends just how vital they are to God’s work and His church — to let these grace-filled men of faith know how much they, their families, and their ministries mean to so many.

So…to my pastors, all my pastor friends, and your beautiful families:

You embrace the calling to be crucified with Christ, yet sometimes we are the ones pounding in the nails.

Please forgive us.

You take up the cross of Christ without hesitation because it is not merely your day job–it’s your very calling, passion and purpose. Yet sometimes we watch from comfortable pews without lifting a finger as you stumble under that staggering weight alone.

Please forgive us.

You love us enough to sacrifice family time, shorten vacations and make yourself available 24-7-365. Yet when you need to unplug and allow God to recharge you, we haughtily demand your instantaneous appearance.

Please forgive us.

When life blindsides us with loss, relationship difficulties, health scares or financial burdens, you are the first to offer prayer and call in the posse to help. Yet when you need us, we wear busyness as a badge to dodge.

Please forgive us.

You willingly live in a glass house with our noses pressed against it, gracefully shouldering our smart aleck remarks and quick judgments. Yet when you lovingly ask us accountability questions, our self-righteous indignation could choke God Almighty.

Please forgive us.

But I want you to hear loud and clear: You are not expendable.

You are VITAL.
You are VALUABLE.
You are LOVED.

As you stand at the vanguard of deadly spiritual warfare, it’s an amazing privilege to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you on God’s battlefield. To heartily encourage you when you are weary. To follow where God calls you to lead.

THANK YOU for your integrity and tireless commitment.

Church, when was the last time you prayed for your pastor?

Launch Day! “Where Love Abides” Bible Study

I have been waiting for this wonderful day for the better part of two years!

Today, it is a JOY to offer my latest DVD Bible study series in partnership with the LWML, “Where Love Abides.” It is an in-depth study of John 15, where Jesus talks with His disciples about God’s vineyard and our place in it.

Here is a quick snippet from the study’s back cover:

Seasons matter in vineyards. They also matter in our spiritual journey. We experience winter seasons that seem prolonged and harsh. We endure seasons of pruning where God removes the superfluous to nurture deep roots in Him.

We also experience bountiful seasons of harvest where we, through the power of the Holy Spirit, experience the abundance of God’s beautiful fruit. But this fruit is not just for believers to sit back and enjoy. God calls us to go into all the world and share it.

Jesus, our Vine, lovingly invites us to abide in Him (John 15:4) as He abides in us. What does that mean? What does it look like amidst our modern, fast-paced days?

As you walk through His Word with this study, you will gain a clear understanding of both the blessing and responsibility of being chosen for God’s vineyard.

Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” When we abide in Him through the faith He gives, He draws us into an intimate relationship with Him as branches in His vineyard — that beautiful place Where Love Abides.

LET’S DO A GIVEAWAY!

I’m giving away TWO sets of this new Bible study. WooHoo! To enter, simply:

  1. Leave a comment below and let me know how/where you plan to use this study;
  2. Sign up (look to the right) to receive my weekly devotions;
  3. Share this post on your social media outlets (and let me know where so I can share your posts and tweets)!

I will pick two winners and share them in this coming Tuesday’s blog post right here.

Today is a day of praise to God for what He is doing through the LWML as they continue to offer Christ-centered, in-depth resources to build an intimate relationship with our Lord and Savior!!

God’s blessings as you dive into and share this new Bible study in your homes, churches, and communities. To God be the glory!

Appointed to Go

Ten months after I began working at my first law firm as a file clerk, the firm acquired a small New York firm to expand its practice in the northeast. All of the acquired firm’s client files then needed to be integrated into our firm’s conflicts, filing, and docketing systems.

The task was gargantuan, so my boss appointed me to accompany her to New York to get the job done. We spent two weeks in those dusty New York file rooms inputting information into our computer system, generating new labels, and organizing all of the files according to our firm’s standards.

But there was a great perk: the hotel where we stayed sat in the heart of Manhattan and we had a weekend between the two work weeks to explore. Talk about fun!

I was twenty-three and had never been to New York. It was October, so she and I enjoyed crisp fall weather, ate at great restaurants, and spent our free weekend visiting the Empire State Building, taking in a Broadway show, and visiting the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

Even though the work was tedious, being appointed to go to New York was one of the best experiences of my working career. Why tell you this?

Because you and I have been appointed by God.

He chose us as branches for His vineyard and appointed us to bear fruit that lasts. Our work in His vineyard may be tedious at times, but it is rooted toward His mission from the very start. Our effectiveness as His missionary fruit-bearer rests in Jesus, the true Vine, working in and through us.

Jesus willingly set aside the privileges of heaven for over thirty years to invest Himself in disciples who would continue His message following His death and resurrection. As soon as Jesus began calling disciples to become fishers of men, their appointed work was not classroom study but active practice.

During three-years of earthly ministry, Jesus taught us that workers of all vocations were to be laborers in the vineyard (John 4:36).

Jesus made it clear that the disciples would play a real, active part in the Great Commission beyond His time here on earth (Luke 24:45-53). Over and over in the New Testament, we see Jesus appointing His disciples to go bear fruit. We see this first and foremost in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20).

Jesus sent the disciples into the world with the specific mission to witness what God had done in Jesus, not to be preservers of man-made traditions which can divide.

Our effectiveness as His disciples (branches of the true Vine) rests in Jesus’ working through us. And even though Jesus’ hands-on discipleship training was confined to His earthly ministry, He appoints us without reservation to a worldwide ministry.

When Jesus ascended to heaven He sent the Holy Spirit ─ just like He promised ─ so that we could carry out the Great Commission. Being chosen by God means that you and I are part of Team Jesus. Now, as part of His team, we have been appointed.

For instance, I was chosen to be an employee of the law firm. However, once an employee, I was then appointed to go to New York to help set up the new office. Being appointed is specifically task-based.

You and I are chosen to be branches in His vineyard, but each of us is appointed to complete varying tasks within. His vineyard.

When He created each of us, God gifted us with certain abilities and skills. When He appoints us to specific tasks He provides the opportunity to grow and to develop those skills. All disciples are grown and matured to bear fruit for the glory of God, and the sweetest fruit comes from our areas of God-given giftedness.

What abilities and skills has God given you? How are you leveraging them to bear fruit for His glory?

For example, I have served as a vocalist in my church’s music ministry. However, don’t ever ask me to run anything technical. That is definitely not my gift. I am pretty sure that I would short circuit the whole church and plunge us into darkness.

Yet when God brings all technical and vocal arts to work together, each appointed in their areas of giftedness, He creates beautiful music to draw people to glorify Him.

Being appointed is not something to fear but a privilege to embrace as we go about doing His work.

Going involves movement and momentum.

I pray that God uses both to strengthen and to grow your gifts as you bear fruit for His glory.

 

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

Friends, Not Servants

“No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” John 15:15

In the first century Roman culture that surrounded Jesus, the term “slave” did not necessarily mean mistreatment or indentured servitude associated with the oppression of any particular race.

Slaves under Roman rule often held positions of authority and power. Oftentimes, they had been enslaved as foreign prisoners-of-war or enslaved due to non-Roman families who had sold them into slavery to repay a debt. It was a common practice in those days.

While serving his master, a slave could earn wages, enter into contracts, and even buy and sell property. Some slaves even owned slaves themselves.

In Jesus’ day, slaves could serve in many different capacities, including a hairdresser, midwife, or even a cook. They also served in chain gangs, as well (which is how we understand slavery from our American history courses).

It was typical for Roman slaves to strive for release from servitude by the time they reached thirty-years-old, as was the usual practice. Once freed, they could live out their lives as ordinary, free citizens, carrying with them the wealth and/or possessions acquired during slavery.

Believers in the Old Testament were called servants of God: Moses (Psalm 105:26), Joshua (Joshua 24:29), and David (2 Samuel 7:5), among others. The apostle Paul even used the term slave or servant to describe his work as a messenger and agent of God (Romans 1:1, 1 Corinthians 4:1).  

A servant in the first century culture was simply an agent doing whatever his master commanded, even if he did not understand the purpose.

That scenario makes me think of a bank teller today. If the bank manager asks a teller to transfer money from one account to another, the manager does not owe the teller an explanation or a reason for the request. The teller is merely an employee who follows instructions without question.

So how can we be assured that we are friends of Jesus, not slaves? Look back at John 15:15 above. Being a friend of Jesus means that He reveals to us what the Father revealed to Him (John 3:11, 3:32).  

Jesus testifies about what He has seen and heard, and His message is truth (John 8:40). Jesus did not hold back anything from us that the Father made known to Him in order that you and I would be fully equipped. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, He enables us to obey all He commands us: love one another as He loves us.

Even though there are still hidden things of God that we do not know, Jesus relates all that He does know.

The intimate relationship that Jesus enjoys with the Father, He expands to include His friends.

We can share our joys, our struggles, and our doubts.

When you and I abide in the true Vine we are granted access to a relationship with and knowledge from the vineyard Owner – God Himself. Servants or slaves would never be given such unfettered access in their master’s house; friends alone receive such privilege.

As branches abiding in Christ our true Vine, we are not simply granted access into the Master’s vineyard. We are welcomed into His family as adopted sons and daughters (Ephesians 1:5; 2 Corinthians 6:18).

Usually when something is bought at a price it becomes a possession. Yet Jesus did not sacrifice His life to gain us as trophies.

He sacrificed His life and calls us friends.

What an incredible blessing it is to be a friend of Jesus!

 

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

Abiding Prayers

When I was a little girl, I always knew that God was “up there somewhere.” Our family really did not attend church, but Mom always led us in grace before dinner each evening: “God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food. Please take care of our family, please take care of everyone. Amen.”

Although acknowledging in prayer that God is great and good, our family’s evening meal prayer was not a picture of abiding. It did not provide a clear picture of who God is or what Jesus accomplished on the cross.

I did not know a single verse of Scripture, so His Word did not abide in me. I had a small Bible that my grandmother gave me as a Christmas gift when I was a young girl, but I never opened it. I tucked it away in my keepsake box and there it remained … for decades.

Oh, how I wish now I’d opened His Word to meet my Savior!

The Lord’s words are LIFE and we abide in Christ through communion with Him and the study of His Word.

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” John 15:7

This verse is not a promise of reward, but rather a statement of relationship. When we abide in this way, our prayers are much different than that meal prayer of my childhood. The prayers of believers who abide will be of such a nature that they are in full accordance with the counsel of His Word.

Such abiding prayers lean toward fruitfulness.

When Christ and His Word abide in us, prayer becomes a powerful tool for change ─ not for our glory, but for the Father’s glory (John 15:7-8). The power of prayer is dependent upon the faith given to us (His disciples) by God.

The power of prayer is unlimited to those who abide in Christ ─ unlimited power because we have been connected to the ultimate Source of all power.

Scripture contains numerous special exhortations to pray (Matthew 7:8, John 14:13, John 16:24), yet many Christians admit they do not regularly pray.

Perhaps some days we feel that our prayers are like droplets in an ocean. We wonder if they are making any difference to anyone at all. Doubting questions takes our eyes off the One who hears our prayers. You know, questions like:

How can God hear my question above the millions uttered each second? Why should my prayer matter? What difference does it make?”

I have asked all of these questions, and then some, but Scripture tackles all of our doubts. God always answers the prayers of His people: “When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him.” Psalm 91:15.

God answers our prayers. Period.
He is not deaf.
He is not ignoring us.
He is not too busy to listen.

Our prayers may not be answered the way in which we like or ask, but God always answers them in accordance with His will and His plan for our life.

Prayer is an integral, inseparable part of our life in God’s vineyard.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, we are reminded to pray continually.

God longs for that personal, quiet time with you ─ His precious child.

Consistent, abiding prayer enables every believer to live in abundant freedom with the One who breathed life into you, redeemed you, and loves you like no other.

 

Brand new Bible study coming on July 5, 2018:

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: