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Category Archives: Devotionals
James 1: 2-4 – Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
I’ve never liked this verse.
Yet, today, as I look at it with a fresh perspective, I am trying to change the angle and deepen my understanding. Maybe there’s something here I haven’t paid attention to before. I’ve been know to miss a thing or two (or 20). So, I put my focus on the word joy, and went back to Kay Warren’s definition of it. She says:
“Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be all right, and the determined choice to praise God in all things.”
Ah….that changes things a bit.
Joy: the deep-in-the-gut peace of knowing, without a doubt, that He’s got this. He knows exactly what’s going on and what’s about to happen. He holds the outcome in His hands (along with the whole world, no less). And His heart is 100% for me.
Let’s go back and read those verses again with this focus.
The trials are there to prove this – to my fragile little heart, to a broken world, to the souls around me who desperately need a sign that shows them the light, and to the dark shadows that threaten to overwhelm us all.
I don’t have to like it. I don’t have to celebrate it, at least not in a conventional way.
I have to walk through it.
I can choose to do so with confidence and strength and peace, or I can do so with bitterness and fear and doubt. The circumstances may be beyond my control, but how I approach them is absolutely not. It’s a choice, plain and simple: look up or look down; head held high or posture of defeat; shine with His light or be crushed by the dark.
It’s a process, this completing of our selves. There’s a point to the pain, and if we can remember that, we can fight through anything, carry any load, conquer any fear. It won’t be easy, but it will always be worth it.
James knew this beyond a shadow of a doubt. It’s why he opened with it. No pain, no gain, kids….and oh what a gain we’re in for.
Solidarity, sisters. No one gets stronger by lifting feathers.
1 Timothy 2:1 – First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people
Oh, how I have loved walking this walk through relationships with you for the past nine days. I hope that it’s been helpful and given you thoughts to think and places to grow. I know it’s done so for me. And as with many good collections, we’ve saved the best for last.
We’ve established that we need to love like Jesus. We’ve established that our God loves us beyond the telling, and wants us to do for others as He has done for us. We’ve established that we are flawed and imperfect, but lovable nonetheless. We’ve realized we need to admit and embrace our weaknesses and move on to building ties that make us stronger.
So, now it’s time for the big guns.
Are you praying for the people in your life? Because you most certainly should.
Why wouldn’t we go here? It’s the most powerful thing we can do for another person. If you had the chance to introduce, or remind, or endear a person of great influence and means to the ones you love, knowing that he would protect them and bestow gifts upon them….wouldn’t you do it? Wouldn’t you rush to say, “Here is my friend/child/spouse/co-worker/mother/aunt/brother/sister/in-law! Notice them! Hold them secure! Give them health and wealth and opportunity and everything they need!”
We have the perfect vehicle to do this any time we wish.
The gift of prayer is perhaps the greatest we can give to others…and to ourselves.
What better way to show love and prioritizing and respect than to lift someone up to the Creator of the universe, putting their needs and hopes and dreams and very life right back into His hands?
We get some things wrong as parents, my dear hubby and I, but this one we cling to without ceasing. We pray for each other. We pray over our kids – in front of them and at times they are not around. We pray for the protection and prosperity of our family.
Some days, we are exhausted, or frustrated, and wonder if anything we do makes a difference at all (can I get an Amen from the parents of pre-teens out there?). It’s hard to cleave to the intangible.
Our oldest son, Luke, is a very handsome (biased mom moment, I know, but truth is truth) and extremely social sixth grader. Middle school has been quite an experience: discovering and being discovered by girls, branching out with more independence, getting his first phone and the texting frenzies it involves…. those of you who have been reading for a while know some of my struggles and opinions on 12 year-old girls and their drama, so I won’t reiterate it too much here. That’s a whole ‘nother ball of wax.
One of his friends has been especially trying. She is a very unhappy and insecure little girl who is trying to grow up too fast, and creates wave upon wave of melodrama. It’s exhausting for everyone involved. Her texts to my son are eye-rolling at their best, alarming at their worst.
We’ve been walking and talking through this since October. I’ve asked Luke if she believes in God, or prays (he’s not sure). We’ve discussed her need for hope and true healing. When I ask if he prays for her, his answer is usually yes. It’s a hard line to walk. How do I balance lessons of compassion and empathy with protecting my child from negativity and hurtful images/words/people?
The other day, this friend sent Luke a series of very upsetting texts. She was depressed and her words were filled with self-loathing. I was so sad as I scrolled through their conversation (we read all of his texts….there’s a limit to freedom in our house). And then, I saw a thread that made me catch my breath. She had sent a negative stream of consciousness, and here is how he answered.
Luke: (Name), do you pray?
Luke: Then I’ll pray for you.
Oh, how my mother’s heart swelled as my eyes filled with tears. I sat holding that phone for several minutes, reading and re-reading the words of my son; barely breathing as I cried tears of joy.
He gets it. He’s been listening. He’s been watching. He’s been learning.
And he knows that when things get to a point that he no longer has the words or patience or capability to handle a relational situation or interaction, all he can do is release his friend into the arms of the One who loves her most.
Can you imagine the man he’ll become if he can continue to embrace this concept and engage all of his relationships this way?
Can you imagine the warriors we would all be if we did so?
When was the past time you prayed intentionally over the people in your life? Over the relationships you hold dear?
Do you lift up the hopes, dreams, hurts and healing of those around you to God?
Do you let the people in your life know that you pray for them? Do you ask them to pray for you?
List three names of people who you consider to be prayer warriors for you. If you don’t have three, consider asking someone to fill this role.
List five names of people you can commit to pray for consistently over the weekend.
God is very specific about His desire for us to pray for those around us. He gives the mandate with a promise, an incentive if you will. I’ts that important. When we come to Him on behalf of another, He rewards us as well.
Job 42:10 – The LORD restored the fortunes of Job when he prayed for his friends, and the LORD increased all that Job had twofold.
Praying puts us in direct communication with God. Praying for others put them as the focus of our hearts, even as it puts them in His path.
It’s a win-win like no other.
Solidarity, sisters. I’ll be praying for you.
I am a bit of a hot mess.
If I’m being totally honest, a “bit” is probably downplaying that statement. Or maybe not. It depends on the day. I do have stints when I’m actually pretty pulled together….for a time. And then I get out of bed or leave the house.
I can be impatient with people and a little spastic in my movements or idea execution. I am hopeless with technology and shut down in that area when overwhelmed (which makes blogging a wee bit more challenging at times); I consider my phone to be technology, by the way, so I don’t even answer phone calls when I’m over capacity to handle my world. I can’t craft to save my life, and have no desire to learn (which means my Pinterest boards are super boring, unless you like food…then I’m all over that business). I’m distractible on a good day, and if there’s music playing in the background forget it – I’m either singing along or rewriting song lyrics in my head. I can be a tad dramatic (be nice, honey) and am easily bored with repetitive or mundane tasks (which means I may not be the best housekeeper and running as a form of exercise is like a sojourn in hell as far as I’m concerned). I talk too fast and laugh too loud.
I have moments when I am jealous or angry or small inside. I have days when I am not a good friend, or mother, or daughter, or wife (or Christian – gasp!).
I have flaws I’d rather not share in public, and a closet full of mistakes or episodes that make me cringe to remember.
Hello. My name is Rebecca and I am a less-than-perfect, sometimes irrational, broken human being just trying to survive and find my place in this world.
And so are you.
Romans 12:3-6 – For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.
If we walk into our relationships accepting from the onset that both parties have flaws, and deciding to love the other person anyway, we set ourselves and our connections up for a much greater degree of success.
Lack of perfection is a human condition. We all have it, without exception. Trust me on this – it’s the unadulterated truth.
A natural consequence of this condition is that somewhere, somehow, some day someone in your life is going to make a mistake. They are going to hurt your feelings, or tell you a lie (accidentally or on purpose), or get on your nerves, or break something of yours (may be your coffee mug, may be your heart). They are going to let you down, or forget your birthday, or leave you out.
And you are going to have to decide to love them anyway.
You are going to have to decide that your bond with them is stronger than your anger, and that their presence in your lives outweighs the temporary hurt they’ve caused (see Day 8, and review forgiveness here).
Ephesians 4:2 – Be completely humble and gentle; bearing with one another in love.
Keeping our expectations of others realistic is key in building and maintaining solid relationships.
Keeping our view and expectations of ourselves in check is another way to develop strong ties as well. When we embrace who we are, flaws and all, we bring our whole self to the table. We present the person we really are to the people in our lives, and ask them to love us anyway. There’s a tremendous amount of security in that.
Do you have a tendency to hold others to unrealistic standards? Are your expectations of the people in your life so high that they are doomed to failure from the beginning? Are your expectations of yourself that high as well?
Think of someone in your life, past or present, who held you or others to impossible standards. How did this manifest itself in their interactions? Were they easy or difficulty to get along with? Do they have lasting or temporary friendships/family relationships?
Think of someone in your life who is accepting of others. How do they make you feel? Do they have lasting relationships?
Think of the people closest to you. How well do they know you?
List three of your flaws (gulp). Write a funny story or anecdote about an incident that happened because of each. The next time you feel insecure about this flaw, remember the story you wrote. See if it helps you feel less vulnerable – and reflect on the fact that colorful stories make us interesting.
When I’m with a person who has a true view of herself, and is out there forming connections and interacting with a smile despite her shortcomings instead of trying to hide them, I am drawn to her. She’s the type of gal who is accepting of faults and open to imperfections. She’s not out to compete or condemn. It’s encouraging, and makes me want to be her friend. It’s inspiring, and helps me to engage on a deeper level.
I cannot tell you how many women I talk to who make the statement, “I’m just so hungry for authenticity.”
Me, too, sister. It’s refreshing, and keeps us rooted.
I love people. I love making and having friends. I love family ties and entanglements, even when they’re messy. Wanna know why?
Because I’m messy. And I hope to be loved in spite of it….or maybe because of it.
Solidarity, sisters. It’s not a competition – we all get to win this time.
There are few moments more awkward in a relationship than those in which we are completely and utterly wrong. And yet, without exception, we are going to have them…and way more often than we would like to. We are human, thus predisposed to screwing up – some of us more spectacularly than others.
Hebrews 12: 14-15 – Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;
So, if we know it happens, and we accept that it’s part of the human condition, why is it so hard to open our mouths with a genuine apology and ask the person on the receiving end of our blunder for forgiveness?
1. We have to realize, and then acknowledge that we are wrong.
Well, this is just no fun at all. It’s hard to screw up, and even harder to admit it to ourselves, much less another person. This gets especially sticky if we’ve spent time and energy arguing our point
2. It’s embarrassing
I don’t know about you, but I’m a “go big or go home” kind of gal. More often than not, when I have the greatest need to apologize it’s because I have managed to pull off a whopper of a stunt. This generally involves: completely missing the point in a situation, opening my mouth before thinking or when I should have kept it shut, not knowing both sides of the story, shaming another person, looking like a fool, or a myriad of fun combinations of the previous.
3. We’re often angry
Most arguments between individuals happen when one or both of them are angry – and in the few that don’t, as the discussion continues someone eventually ends up ticked off. It’s pretty much impossible to apologize in a haze of outrage.
4. We don’t want to put our pride aside
This is a big one, isn’t it? There is a tremendous amount of humility involved in asking forgiveness: it puts the other person in a place of power (at least in our minds), and often feels like we are minimizing our point of view. Guess what? If you need to legitimately make amends for your words and/or actions, your two cents worth is not the point at all.
Asking for forgiveness, when done from a heart that is truly repentant, puts the other person at the focus….not you.
It admits wrongdoing, and opens the way for dialogue, reconciliation and new understanding. It implies a desire to do better and not repeat the same mistake again. And, perhaps most significantly, it communicates to that person that they are important to you – even more than your pride, or need to be right.
On the flip side……
If we are capable of botching things, so is our neighbor (sibling, friend, spouse, co-worker, acquaintance, parent, child, etc). And as we expend the effort to apologize, hoping to be forgiven, we feel we deserve a second chance….and so do they.
Ephesians 4:32 – Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
Forgiveness is a two-way street. Ideally, both parties are involved…and genuine.
When we sincerely love another person, the relationship between us is more important than anything else…and this creates a willingness to work things out with patience and flexibility.
1 Corinthians 13: 4-5 – Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. (emphasis mine)
I have an anecdote from early in my dating relationship with my husband. I had upset him in a certain situation…to be honest, neither of us remembers what it was. The thing that stood out to me was how surprising his reaction was. My fun-loving, type B, laid back boyfriend could not let it go. I must have apologized six or seven times over a two week period, and he would either mumble something, shrug, or ignore the apology…then bring it up again later. It drove me nuts! Finally, one day I had enough.
“What do you want from me?!?!” I exploded, “Should I throw myself under your truck?”
Granted, that may have been a bit of a dramatic overstatement. Apparently, my combat style is to fight melodrama with melodrama.
Even so, the point was taken. It’s one of our
fondest more vivid memories, and taught us a lot about resolving issues with each other. It takes patience, acceptance, and more than a little humor.
Do you have a hard time with this concept? What is more difficult for you: apologizing or accepting an apology? Why do you think this is?
Think about the last time you had to say I’m sorry. What was the hardest thing about it? How did it go?
Think about the last time you were asked for forgiveness. Was it easy or difficult to forgive the other person? Why?
Consider someone in your life who is good about making amends. What are some ways they interact in situations requiring an apology (or acceptance of one)? Do they exemplify love in these situations? How?
People are flawed. You are flawed (sorry if this is a news flash…you’re still lovable, trust me). The less we fight the need to make amends, the less intensely we’ll fight with each other. And the less vehemently we fight with each other, the quicker we “hug it out”, the stronger our relationships become.
In the timeless words of The Hokey Pokey: “That’s what it’s all about.”
Solidarity, sisters. Let it go
Hebrews 13:16 – And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
Remember Kindergarten? We learned so, many life skills in that, our beginning of the formal education journey. We learned our letters and numbers, how to stand in line and take turns, the days of the week and months of the year. We learned songs and sayings and social skills – some of the greatest hits were:
- keep your hands to yourself
- use kind words
- pass the glue does not mean throw it
- scissors are for paper
- respect other people’s property
- a broken crayon will still color
- you have to share
It’s tough to share, isn’t it? That one’s a life lesson that requires repetition and practice. It doesn’t always come naturally, but it’s fundamental to our relationships. As we get older, the appearance of sharing shifts and changes. But it never becomes less important.
Romans 12:13 – Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
I have a friend who is an amazing hostess. She’s one of those people who anticipates the needs of those who come into her home beautifully, and then executes her hostessing duties with flare. She is gracious and patient and seems to be everywhere at once, asking if anyone needs a refill, making sure her guests are comfortable and serving each person according to his/her needs. It’s impressive to watch and wonderful to experience.
Her home is lovely and well-decorated. She always has food or drinks handy. She’s an engaging conversationalist.
Yet, these aren’t the most outstanding characteristics of her as a hostess. If you read the previous paragraph, my descriptions all center around her capacity to serve others.
True hospitality is service-based, and focuses on the other person’s needs.
It involves creating a safe and comfortable space for our guests, and according them whatever they require: a place to stay, a meal, a listening ear, acceptance, a moment of peace, reassurance, wise counsel….the list is as endless as the people we know.
Do you know someone who is an incredible host or hostess? List some examples of how they exemplify this trait.
Think about the last time you practiced hospitality. Who was there? How did it go? Are there ways you can improve on this?
The other amazing thing about my friend (and most of my inner circle of friends, really), is how well they embody the following:
Galatians 6:2 – Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
I cannot imagine getting through the tough parts of life without a supportive circle to help carry the load. I thank God every day for the amazing friends and family He has placed in my family’s life.
And now I am singing “I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends” (shout out to all the Beatles fans out there).
Embracing the truth that we are created to be in community, to be parts of one body, means grasping the fact that we are entwined in the lives of those around us…and as such, we are tasked with reaching out, even when it’s hard or messy or sad.
This is a fundamental truth. It’s why Go Fund Me pages actually work. It’s why we take meals to our neighbor in mourning. It’s why we have fundraisers for families facing scary and expensive diagnoses. It’s why cities rise up in turmoil after atrocities, or unite together during disasters. It’s why we cry with the stories of strangers, or cling tightly to our friend as she sobs.
We are not meant to go it alone. Trying to do so only creates misery.
Think about someone in your life who is gifted at sharing your burdens, who is always there to help lighten the load. Say a brief prayer of thanks for this person.
How can you work towards emulating her/him? What example of their actions sticks out most in your mind?
It doesn’t necessarily take a grand gesture to communicate caring or help lift someone’s spirits. What are some small acts of kindness you can perform today to help ease someone’s strain or make them feel loved?
Write down three goals for sharing and give yourself a timeline to complete them in the next two weeks. You can choose to practice hospitality, or an act of kindness, or a combination of both. Be sure to come back and write out the results once you’ve completed this. How did it affect the people on the other end? What did it do for your heart as well? What fruit did you see as a result?
I’m always amazed at the power of sharing when we get it right.
Solidarity, sisters. It takes all of our crayons to create a rainbow.
1 Peter 2:17 – “Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.”
We live in a completely irreverent age, don’t we? Everyone has an opinion, and now most of us have the means to express it on a large scale, thanks to social media. Public personas and authority figures are popular fodder for ridicule and disrespect more than ever before. With a push of a button, we can easily destroy someone with our words and/or images, and then bask in the adoration of sarcastic “friends” or fans clicking Like as they join the fray from the safety of their home computers or phones.
We are always in a hurry. We shoot off a text with quick statements and become impatient when we actually have to wait to speak to someone, or listen as they speak to us. We want immediate answers, quick results and no-muss-no-fuss interactions.
While the decline of common courtesy in human interactions may not seem like a big deal in the grand scheme of things, it is, because it represents the deterioration of part of our human condition.
All of us have a deep-seated need to feel worthy. One of the most effective ways to show another person you view them as someone of worth is through respect – of their time, their energy, their opinion, their gifts, their presence, their role in your life, their contribution….feel free to add more to the list.
Manners matter….because they show the people around us that they are worth respect and caring.
I have a dear friend who, several years ago, called to check on me after the birth of one of my children. As we were chatting on the phone, I walked into the living room and asked my husband to please turn the television down (a constant conversation in our house) since the baby was finally sleeping and I was desperate for that condition to continue. I used a gentle voice, a term of endearment of some sort, and the words “please” and “thank you” specifically. The reason this story sticks so vividly in my memory comes from my friend’s reaction. She had know Gregg and I throughout college, and after my request to him, she started laughing.
“I can’t believe you still talk to him like that after all these years”, she exclaimed, “I don’t remember the last time I spoke to my husband that way. I just yell at him to turn the thing down and move on.”
Sadly, I received a call from her a year later that she and her husband were getting divorced. It broke my heart for her….and for him.
I’m not saying that my friend’s marriage fell apart because she didn’t ask her husband to turn the TV down nicely enough. The thing is, that example, and her acceptance of a lack of graciousness as their communication norm, was the outward manifestation of an inner problem.
Left unchecked, lack of respect will eventually destroy a relationship.
This is true for marriages, friendships, parent and sibling ties as well.
Think of someone in your life who treats you with respect and cordiality. How does this make you feel? What kind of interactions do you have with this person? What in particular do they do that makes you feel respected or important to them?
Matthew 7:12 – So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
How well do you do this? Are you making it a point to treat others the way you would like to be treated? Do you take the time and make the effort to show them they matter?
List three action steps for this week to use for improvement in this area. They can be simple, such as:
- Be intentional about having a focused conversation without interruptions/distractions from your cell phone (nothing says, “I don’t really have any interest in what you’re saying” like someone who checks their phone or answers e-mails or looks at Facebook while you’re talking to him/her)
- Begin a conversation with “How are you today?” and then listen for the answer before getting down to business (this is so effective in a work place environment, and makes a huge difference, I promise).
- Say “thank you”….for everything.
- Ask another person for his/her opinion….and then actually consider it. Come back to them in the next day or few days with a question or comment about it.
You may have other ideas that are more effective than these for your life and circumstances. That’s great. Use them, liberally and frequently. I bet you’ll be amazed at the result.
Solidarity, sisters. Aretha knows….
A fool has no delight in understanding, but in expressing his own heart.
Everyone has their own distinct communication style. We think differently, we process through things differently. We express ourselves in unique ways. And when we don’t stop to take the time and make sure our expressions of love are being effectively communicated, we open the door for a whole host of issues based on misunderstanding and confusion.
Dr. Gary Chapman has an amazing book titled The Five Love Languages. In it, he categorizes the way people express and receive love into five main themes: Physical Touch, Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service and Receiving Gifts. He explains that we tend to show love in our primary love languages, and often miss it when others use their language to show love to us (when the two aren’t a match).
Embracing this concept has smoothed over many a tiff in my marriage over the years.
It’s important to respect the way others express and receive love. We must take note of their preferred communication styles, and care enough to connect on their level.
Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.
I love fresh flowers….like, really love them. If you brought me flowers every day, I would never tire of them, never decreased in my thanks or enthusiasm. Some of this may stem from all of my years as a performer, getting flowers at a show. Much of it stems from the fact that Gifts is one of my primary love languages. The result – Hi, my name is Rebecca and I am a flower junky.
My husband is most definitely not. Gifts is the lowest of his love languages. He is super practical when it comes to budgeting (fodder for many fights with his more whimsical wife, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog), and finds it silly to spend money on something that is “useless” and is going to die in a few days anyway. This has been a back and forth topic with us for 20 years.
No one said the learning curve for this stuff was quick, friends.
Last summer, we planted our first garden. It’s been such a cool experience to grow our own vegetables and to have healthy, organic food come straight from our yard to our table. In the midst of our planting frenzy, my resourceful husband had a moment of pure brilliance. He showed up one day with a gorgeous pink rosebush and planted it by the garden as a love gift surprise. German practicality meets girly whimsy. Everybody wins.
Sometimes, he is a genius.
It was brilliant, and the reaction it garnered from me was probably even beyond what he expected.
You see, the reason gifts are so important to me is based less on the actual item and more on the fact that to give someone a gift (a meaningful one, anyway), you have to pay attention. You have to know them, think about their preferences, and then take the time to find and obtain something that shows this to them.
It’s about focusing on the person, and caring about what touches their heart.
I know for a fact that people who communicate primarily in the other languages feel this way when we use their styles effectively for this same reason.
Think of the people in your life who most effectively communicate love to you. How do you know they love you? How do they make you feel loved or important?
Do you know your love language? Or the love language of those closest to you? Take some time to list examples of “love exchanges” you’ve had with others. What do they have in common? What made these interactions effective? Or ineffective?
Do you take the time to really listen to the people around you? Have you spent the energy to truly focus on what makes them tick? Are you listening when they speak (in whatever form)? Are you taking the time and figuring out how to show them love in ways they receive?
Expressing our love to others in ways they accept it is one of the biggest keys to building strong relationships.
Every time I look outside and see my beautiful pink roses, I am reminded that my husband loves me, that he knows what makes me smile and cares enough to find ways to show me. He’ll walk into the house carrying a beautiful pink rose or send one of our children in with one for me….and I melt a little every time. It never loses its charm.
Three weeks ago, he planted me a red rose bush as well.
When he gets it, he gets it…..
Solidarity, sisters. You can never learn too many languages.
Hebrews 10:24-25 – “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
The world is harsh, isn’t it? Life gets tough, and it often seems that we live in a hostile climate that’s just waiting to take us down. We get tired and frustrated, distracted and discouraged….and the weight of our worries can overwhelm us. Everywhere we look, there are stories of failure or negativity, and the news, social media, pop culture gossip circles are circling like vultures, circulating the stories and barbs as fast as they can.
It’s disheartening. It’s dysfunctional. It’s not at all how God expects us to treat each other.
Jesus was an encourager. He spent His lifetime spreading the message of hope and salvation, and reassuring us that He had overcome the world – I think we lose that part of the message sometimes. We forget that He led by example in this aspect of relationship as well.
He took the time to meet with people, to talk with people, and to build them up by His very presence and definitive actions.
It was an integral part of His ministry and relationships. So, it should be an integral part of ours.
Hebrews 3:13 – “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”
Think of a person in your life who is a source of encouragement to you. List examples of how they build you up. What part of that list has the most impact on you?
Think about your most important relationships. Do you act as a wellspring of encouragement to the people on that lineup? How do you show them support?
Are you sending a message of hope and encouragement to those around you in your daily life? Or are you exuding frustration, despair, or discouragement? Think about the conversations you have with others, the tone of your exchanges, the expression you wear…. What are you communicating?
I’m not saying you can’t ever have a bad day, or vent to your friends and/or family. But, if that’s the norm for you, if it’s the case more often than not, you might need a heart check. Pray about this. Read John 16:33. Absorb the truth in it, and then pass it on to others.
Don’t ever underestimate the gift you give someone when you take the time and effort to encourage them. We all need it. Why do you think all the Pinterest memes are so popular?
Think of someone in your life who may need encouragement (hint – the correct answer is anyone you know, or have ever met). Reach out to them. Be specific. This shows attention to their circumstances as well as care for their well-being. And we all want to be cared for, don’t we?
1 Thessalonians 5:11 – “Therefore, encourage one another ans build each one another up, just as you are doing….”
Solidarity, sisters. Ready? OK!!!!!!
Remember the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland? He spent the entire movie scurrying around and stressing over how late he was for “a very important date”. Every time he appeared on the screen, he was running and checking his watch and freaking out and running while checking his watch again. The poor guy looked completely exhausted and frazzled, and missed pretty much all of the great interactions because he couldn’t stick around for any of them. I don’t think he ever even knew Alice’s name.
You know what else? He was running alone in every scene – no partner, no friends. Just him and his watch.
Every feel like the White Rabbit?
In her book Living Well and Spending Less: 12 Secrets of the Good Life, Ruth Soukup writes,
“At our very core, we all want to be loved and accepted. We crave those special friendships that will build us up and keep us going when times are tough. We long for someone to laugh with, someone to cry with, and someone to cheer us on. Even so, I think many of us struggle when it comes to making and maintaining true friendships. Life gets hectic, and it is hard to keep tabs on your own life, much less someone else’s. “
Read Luke 10: 38-42
Martha, Martha, Martha…..Sister, did you get it wrong or what? I know we normally look at this scripture through the lens of accountability for Quiet Time and prayer and reflection in God’s presence. All of that is wonderful and true and relevant. But let’s shift the lens a little, shall we? Let’s look at it relationally, seeing Mary’s choice to stop and spend time with Jesus her friend, as well as her Savior.
Friendship (and all relationships, really) takes an investment of time. To have good friends, we must be a good friend. To have people who invest in us, we must invest in other people. To send the message to another that they are important, we must prioritize them, and find ways to be present in their lives.
When’s the last time you did this? Write about the last time you reached out to a friend with a pure interest in catching up with her (or him), and no agenda otherwise – that means no need of a favor, or advice, or chance to plug your own recent events. Write about the last time a friend did this for you. How did both of these instances make you feel? How long has it been since either happened?
Do you tend to be the one reaching out to others? Or are you the one waiting for friends reach out first? Why do you think this is?
In this day and age, it’s so easy to drop someone a quick text or message. Make a pledge to reach out to a different friend each day for the next three days. Note what happens when you do.
It’s hard not to feel left out or neglected when we think our friends are ignoring us, or don’t know (or possibly care) what’s going on in our lives. Be proactive. Make it a point to extend the first hand, ask the first “How can I pray for you?”. Chances are, they are just as busy and overwhelmed and harried as you are. They may just be waiting on someone to show some interest and caring.
Solidarity, sisters. Solid friendships are a work of art. Be the artist.
“The one truth everyone seems to agree on, from Moses through Jesus and on to Augustine and the Reformers, is that it’s virtually impossible to please God without loving our neighbors.” Michael Wittmer
I’m going to make this really easy today, and give you several scriptures that say pretty much the same thing, so none of us gets confused about the point. Read each of the following.
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
“The most important one”, answered Jesus, “is this: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind and with all your soul and with all your strength.
Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.
A new command I give you: Love on another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
This is my command: Love each other.
So, let’s hit the first point. GOD should be the focus of our love, our hope, our trust. Period. He says so, multiple times, in both the Old Testament and the New. He’s very clear. And while “Because I said so” would be apt reasoning from the all-powerful Creator of the Universe…. as usual, He set it up that way for our own good. Not His.
Not because we owe Him. Not because He needs something in return for all of His efforts. Not because He needs our adoration to recharge Him. He’s God. As such, He is perfect. He is powerful. He is patient….and present…..and perpetual. He sees everything, and knows everything. He is the Alpha and Omega, here from the beginning of time to the end of days.
He knit you together is your mother’s womb, ensuring that you are fearfully and wonderfully made, as all His works are (Psalm 139:14).
He has chosen you…you, and will never reject you (Isaiah 41:9).
He loves you with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3).
Everlasting – as in, lasting forever. Always – without end. His vision and plan for us are without end, and He always fulfills the points on His agenda.
Get this: YOU are the agenda.
And so is your neighbor.
People are going to screw up. They are going to make mistakes and let us down and say things that are hurtful or wrong. They are going to wound us. It’s inevitable, just as it’s inevitable that we’ll do the same to them. If we are dependent on other human beings as the source of our self-worth or happiness…. If we focus our attention on an Earthly individual or individuals…..the effects of this cycle are devastating.
But if we lift it up, as the song says, when we turn our eyes upon Jesus and look full in His wonderful face, then the things of Earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.
Guess what else this helps us do? The second greatest commandment.
You see, the part of that creed we often miss is what I feel is the key to success in it.
“Love your neighbor as yourself” implies a component of self-love <- not conceitedness or selfishness. More along the lines of self-worth and acceptance. If God Himself loves me with such a fierce intensity, who am I to contradict that? Who am I to argue with Creation and all its splendor? He is intentional in every single thing He does. It would be foolish to think I am the one exception to that truth. It would be foolish to think you are the exception. Or that my neighbor is – or co-worker, or family member, friend, waitress, fellow shopper, frenemy, etc.
You get my point.
When we fully focus on God’s love, accept it, return it, bask in it……we can translate it to others => love our neighbor as ourselves. Unconditionally, with forgiveness, grace and selflessness. With humility. With kindness.
There are no perfect people. None. Yet we are still lovable, still valuable.
And we treat things of value with care.
Galatians 5: 13-15
For you were called to be free, brothers; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love. For the entire law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself. But if you bite and devour one another, watch out, or you will be consumed by one another.
Think about the people in your life with whom you have the best relationships. What are some characteristics they share? How do you feel when you are in a conversation or interaction with them?
Now, think about individuals in your life (past or currently) with whom you have poor relationships. What are some commonalities of those connections?
Who are the people in your life who make you feel most loved? List three examples of how they do so.
How can you better emulate those traits to those around you?
I find Paul’s choice of analogy interesting, when he gives us the option to either serve each other, or devour each other. Can you think of times when you’ve experienced each of these paradigms?
It may seem we are exhausting the topic of love and loving others and remaining in love….but we aren’t. God is very particular about repeating His big messages, and this one appears over and over again in countless reminders. It’s important. We all are.
After all, “the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13b).
Solidarity, sisters. It’s better to build up than bite.