First Things First

by Linda W. Rooks

When the world thrusts a new challenge of monumental proportions in our path, and we feel unprepared to deal with it, what is your first inclination? Usually for me, it’s to try to figure out all the angles, so I can understand it better. But if we’re in crisis, with no prospects for immediate solutions, our minds spin in confusion. How do we make wise choices when we can’t understand what’s happening? Where do we go? How do we start?

Do we do a Google search? Call a friend? Visit the gym to work off our anxiety? Go to bed and sleep, hoping it will all go away?  Try to numb our minds through alcohol or drugs?

What do we do? Where do we start?

In our marriage classes, I often sit with women whose marriages have spiraled out of control. They have no idea how to even begin to make good decisions. As I’ve gone through the lessons with different groups through the years, surprisingly, many of these women have landed on the same verse to help them start to find direction:

Be still, and know that I am God. Psalms 46:10 (NIV)

Yes, the first thing that helps to steer them in a new direction is stopping to look up to the Living God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth. Once they grasp hold of the one thing they know to be true and real and lasting, they can move forward, because they know our loving Father God is near.

This revelation was given to me one morning long ago while still a teenager, and it changed my life. I was experiencing a time of heartache, and as I opened my Bible and read Matthew 6:33, God revealed the answer to my yearning and the secret to the new beginnings I needed. “Seek FIRST the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and ALL THESE THINGS shall be added to you” (NKJV). The words jumped out at me and came alive in my spirit. I knew God was speaking to me, telling me to seek Him first, to come close to Him, and then I would find what I was looking for. That scripture became engraved on my heart. From that day forward, I began to see Him unfold good things in my life as long as seeking Him has remained my priority.

If we first seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness, these other things come to us in His timing and His sovereignty. We might be surprised at the good things He has in store for us when we let Him direct our paths.

Our Father God is the ultimate reality, the only truth we can always depend on. When we start with Him—when we are “still” and acknowledge that He is God—He will lead us along paths of victory.

If you are struggling for answers and need direction, grab hold of Jesus’ hand, so He can lift you up. Let your mind be taken captive by the Word of God. Seek His wisdom and ask Him to show you the next best step and then the next. He will show you the direction to take. He is your loving Father. And He knows the way. Acknowledge Him as your Lord and Savior who saves you out of all your worries.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. Psalm 46:1-3 NIV

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

linda rooks

About the author: Linda W. Rooks has a ministry of hope for those in broken marriages. Her award winning book, Fighting for Your Marriage while Separated, and her (life-changing) earlier book, Broken Heart on Hold, Surviving Separation walk with those in the midst of marital breakdown to bring hope and practical guidance to those desiring reconciliation. Linda writes for both adults and children, and her stories and articles have appeared in numerous publications including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Focus on the Family and Today’s Christian Woman. She and her husband reside in Central Florida and thank God for the many reconciled marriages they witness through their ministry and the classes they lead.

Join the conversation: How has God directed you out of a challenging situation?

Let’s Play “Name That Problem”!

by Kathy Collard Miller @KathyCMiller

 And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. Mark 5:15 ESV

From a human perspective, facing thousands of demons controlling one man would propel us to run the other way screaming in terror. But in the story of the demonized man living in the tombs, Jesus calmly, confidently and accurately responds to this man … repeatedly.

That’s what surprises us. We aren’t surprised Jesus tells the demons, “come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” (Mark 5:8 ESV). What surprises us is that the demons didn’t leave immediately until Jesus asks, “What is your name?”

The reply? “My name is Legion, for we are many” (Mark 5:9 ESV).

In the Roman army, a legion can have 6,000 men or more. Since we know the outcast demons inhabit over 2,000 pigs, we know there are indeed many of them.

The verb tense used in the story suggests Jesus “was saying” for the demon to leave, indicating ongoing instruction. We don’t know why the spirits don’t leave immediately but we can surely relate.

When you and I are bombarded with an ongoing problem, we might begin to think God’s power has been depleted or He’s waiting around for replenishment. Of course, in our minds we know that’s not true, but our hearts are impatient, and we begin to feel hopeless and overwhelmed. That’s when we need to remember what Jesus did… Jesus asks for the demon’s name.

I remember a time in my life when I felt like I couldn’t begin to name all the problems I faced. Yet during prayer, I felt led to begin writing them down. I began and then couldn’t think of that many. “But God, I feel like there are so many, yet I can only identify five.” Once I’d written down the five and put them on the altar before the Lord, they didn’t seem as paralyzing. I was shocked.

Sometimes we need to play “Name That Problem!” Worry often overwhelms us because the swirl of uncertainty, panic, and helplessness is unidentified. We need to clarify what is bothering us by asking the Holy Spirit to reveal the lies we are believing about the problem and then counter it with who God is. Then we can combat the lie by identifying the characteristic of Jesus’s nature which will strengthen us to trust him.

We can remind ourselves Jesus is faithful, powerful, wise, attentive…so many to choose from.

As we think back to the story, the air is filled with tension and people’s doubts. (Sound familiar?) Then the impossible occurs. The man is delivered! Even though the townspeople have tried to contain this dangerous man with chains and shackles that have proved powerless, Jesus persists and overcomes the demon with the intimidating “name.”

Throughout all of this, Jesus doesn’t have a single moment of confusion, doubt, or troubling thought, even when the demons resisted Him.

The next time you feel overwhelmed, identify the problem(s) and the lies bolstering the panic. Call upon the ultimate Name of all Names, your Lord Jesus Christ. Whether you have one problem or a “legion,” they can be brought into submission, like the demon-possessed man, “sitting there, clothed and in his right mind” (Mark 5:15 ESV).

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: Kathy Collard Miller loves to share the truths of Scripture with practical insights giving glory to God. She is the author of over 55 books and a speaker who has spoken in 9 foreign countries and over 30 US states. One of her many books is

Partly Cloudy with Scattered Worries. She married her high school sweetheart, Larry, in 1970, and they have two children and two grandchildren, and live in Southern California. Kathy and Larry often minister together in their writing and speaking. Reach her: https://linktr.ee/kathycollardmiller

Join the conversation: What lies about your situation have you believed in the past?

Reserving my Spot

by Deborah McCormick Maxey

            I’m always among the first to register for a favorite writer’s conference held at a massive complex, tucked into the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. What a blessing to learn from top professionals in Christian writing, share laughs and meals, crazy costumes on genre night and deep and moving praise time together. Not to mention that my mountain girl heart soars looking out on the majestic scallops of those blue mountains lining the horizons as I walk in the woods. I feel so close to God in outdoor cathedrals.  

But the reason I book super early is I always want the same room. Every year. You might wonder why I would request a room that overlooks a huge parking lot and the backside of a mountain.  But the reason is beyond the asphalt and the wooded hillside directly across from my window. What draws me to that room requires me to look up. Like the first step in worship.

High atop the hill that my window faces is a massive white cross that can be seen on the interstate from miles away. I look forward to doing my devotions every morning in a small chair pulled up to the window and focusing first on that enormous cross and what it represents.

No matter what I do throughout the conference, when I unlock that door and return to my room, I feel a sense of home at the foot of the cross.

But the first morning of the last conference I attended, when I prepared to do my devotions, I positioned the chair and opened the drapes only to stand in stunned silence, flooded with disappointment. Fog. Fog so dense I couldn’t even see the parking lot.

After I read my devotions, I turned to prayer, starting with praise.

In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (KJV)

So, digging deep, I thanked God for the fog and whatever reason He had for it. Within minutes warm tears of gratitude slid down my cheeks. I felt His presence, loving me with a fog lesson, recognizing that even though I could not see the cross, I knew for certain that it was still there. In those times when it seems as though my prayers hit the ceiling or I pray but don’t feel Him near me, it is just like the fog, my limitation. My emotions and thoughts, seasons, years, cultures, government, even white crosses on a hill can change. But not God.

Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever. Hebrews 13:8 (KJV)  

My worry, doubt, fear, disconnection, or emotional numbness is only a temporary internal fog.

We walk by faith, not by sight. 2 Corinthians 5:7(KJV) 

I am so grateful that unlike a manmade sculpture our Father is indestructible, steadfast, unchanging, and waiting faithfully in the fog of my humanness with outstretched arms. Arms that reach as far as the east is to the west (Psalms 103:1 KJV), to welcome me back from my internal nearsightedness.

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: A licensed therapist, Deborah McCormick Maxey retired from her counseling practice in 2020 to joyfully invest her energy in writing Christian fiction, devotions, and her website that focuses on miracles.  Her debut novel, The Endling is available for preorder on Amazon, and will be released by Firefly Southern Fiction/Iron Stream Media, May11, 2021. https://deborahmaxey.com

Join the conversation: What Scriptures have encouraged your heart lately?

Pinion Nuts and the Bible

by Cynthia L Simmons

When I was ten, my family made a trip from our Tennessee home to California. On the way, we stopped to visit missionaries who were my parent’s friends. They ministered to the Navaho in New Mexico. Mom’s friend gave a glowing report about pinion nuts. She said they were her husband’s favorite.

A few days after we left, mom found pinion nuts in the grocery store and gleefully bought a bag. I will never forget her excitement as she opened the package and poured us each a handful. However, the joy stopped there. I had to bite down hard, and the flavor made me gag. Everyone else groaned too. I spoke up and commented the inside of the nut tasted a lot better than the outside, and Mom agreed. We were eating the hull and the nut. The stories mother heard gave no description, so, she did not know pinion nuts had to be shelled!

That story reminds me of the Bible. I grew up in the South and watched ministers wave the Bible in the air and say it came from God. However, when I tried to read, my immature mind didn’t grasp much. I had no idea how to study the word.

Look at what Paul said about that in 2 Timothy 2:15 (NASB): “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth.”

I needed to accurately handle the Bible. The literal meaning of accurately is to cut straight. You would not be happy if your hair stylist left one side of your hair longer than the other.

The words ‘be diligent’ commands us to work hard at studying Scripture so we will not be ashamed. Do not eat the nut with the hull! There are several ways you can decipher the Bible. First, study a passage in context. Notice the flow of thought and look for connections. If you rip a verse from its context, you can get a false message.

Second, understand the culture in which the Bible was written. In Bible times, people wore sandals and walked on dusty streets. Knowing that can help you understand certain passages in Christ’s life.

Third, allow the text to speak. God did not waste words. Notice repeated words, patterns of words, plural nouns and singular nouns. Examine each thought for God’s message.

Fourth, compare Scripture with Scripture. For instance, the Bible tells women to teach other women, yet the Bible also says a wife should win her husband without a word. We must prayerfully compare such passages to discern God’s message.

Fifth, expect figures of speech and literary devices. When David said he “flooded his bed with tears,” the passage means he cried a lot.

Finally, know the type of literature you are reading. The Bible has poetry, history, essay, prophecy, and letters. Do not treat the poetry like an essay or the history like poetry.

These guidelines will help you dig the meat out of the Word like we learned to pull the nut out of the shell. God will bless the time you spend in His Word. He’s promised that it will accomplishes in us what He desires!

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

Cynthia-Simmons-5

About the author: Former home school mother of five, Cynthia Simmons has a special spot in her heart for young moms and loves to encourage all women to pursue God. She hosts Heart of the Matter Radio, and writes inspirational fiction and non-fiction.  Find her at www.clsimmons.com.

Valuing Gold: A Novella of the Civil War: Uneasiness permeated Chattanooga where Mary Beth Roper grew up. Every conversation she overheard is heated, yet her banker-father was hesitant to reveal the facts. Will Tennessee secede and force them into a war? She was an adult and demanded he tell her the truth, yet she feared the heated politics she’d seen. Then she learned a rogue customer threatened their bank. Somehow, she must find a way to work with Peter Chandler, her father’s partner, even though she can’t bear to be near him. As she unraveled an impossible puzzle, she learned to value her faith.

Join the conversation: What do you do to get the most out of a passage of Scripture?

The Race

by Sheri Schofield

It was a calm, peaceful day. The wind gently blew the grass in the fields into silver-green waves all around me. It was much too pleasant to rush up the dirt road, so I drove more slowly than usual, not more than twenty-five miles per hour, looking at the fields and trees, searching out the wildlife to see what the little creatures were doing.

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of a bird flying alongside me. I turned to look. There, beating his wings as fast as he could, was a young red-tailed hawk. He darted across in front of me then darted back, gaining with each beat of his wings. Not being the competitive type, I held my pace to see what he would do. Up the hill he raced along the road, his wings beating faster and faster. Finally, he settled on a post ahead of me and looked back. It was as clear as day that he was saying, “Ha! I beat you!”

I laughed. A verse popped into my mind at that moment. The Apostle Paul wrote, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24 NIV).

Just as the young hawk was looking for a race, so many of our youth at church are looking for a race to win. Over the years, the Lord has called upon me to do leadership training three times with different groups of children, for those particular groups are destined to accomplish great things for Him. I just finished training one such group, whom the Lord has clearly chosen since they were toddlers. I began teaching the older ones when they were four years old. They are starting to turn twelve now.

Every other year or so, the Lord would put me with those same children. This past year it was time to teach them to be leaders. The children varied in age from nine to eleven years old when we began. The work challenge outside the classroom was intense – with serious rewards like Shield of Faith necklaces, Christian tee shirts, silver chalices and jeweled candle holders. Expensive? Yes. But the results are always phenomenal. Each student strives for the prizes, and in the process, learns the joy of serving Jesus and others.

This year was the best of all. As we neared the finish line to determine the winner for the year, two eleven-year-old girls began racing, challenging each other. First one would lead, then the other would pull ahead. They were good friends—and competitors. One girl organized and conducted a two-day VBS in her back yard and invited the neighbor children—all by herself! This girl did seventy-seven hours of Christian service this past school year! The other girl memorized verses about fifteen different subjects and did extensive Christian service at home and at church, totaling ninety-nine hours of work! No children in any of my previous classes has come close to what those two girls did. They saw the race. They accepted the challenge. They spurred each other on. They excelled in love and good works.

Leaders are built when we spur each other on in our service for Jesus. Has God called you to lay down the challenge for those who are younger than you? Will you step up and lead them in the race? You never know what great things God will accomplish through you! Go for it! Trust me: It is exhilarating!

Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14 NIV.

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

sheri schofield

About the author: Sheri Schofield is an award-winning children’s author-illustrator. She was named Arise Daily Writer of the Year in 2020, and Writer of the Year in 2018 at the Colorado Christian Writers’ Conference for her work in effectively sharing the gospel of Jesus. Sheri also writes devotions for children at her website: www.sherischofield.com in “Campfire”, and is in the process of developing a children’s program on her YouTube site. Questions welcomed!

Read Sheri and her husband’s amazing story in One Step Ahead of the Devil: A Powerful Love Story. Thrust into national politics because of her husband’s work, Lissa McCloud struggles to save the life of the man she loves from those who are bent on his destruction. Based on true events, the reader is taken deep into the heart of national politics –all the way to Congress and the President of the United States.

Join the conversation: Has God called you to minister to children? Share your ministry with us!

Detours—No Camping Allowed

by Terri Gillespie

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but longing fulfilled is a tree of life. Proverbs 13:12 TLV

Are there scriptural passages that are painful to read for you? I have a few. The above is one of them. Why? I have several “deferred hopes” — people and situations I’ve prayed about for many years. Answers that haven’t come to fruition. These are not wants or desires—like a Christmas list—but heart hopes of an eternal nature. Salvations. Deliverances. Restoration. Family.

Sometimes, it feels like deep holes in my heart, that for whatever reason, our loving Heavenly Father has left unfulfilled. Sometimes, I feel isolated with my discouragement — out there in the dark of doubt. Do you know what I mean?

So, knowing the longings are there and not knowing when, or if, they will be fulfilled can get a bit disheartening. And there are times when I am heartsick. But I can’t “camp” there.

A painful detour . . .

When my heart takes a detour, it’s generally caused by some area in my life that is weak. Those things that remind me that my heart hope is still longing. I must be especially vigilant to not get lost but find my way back to the path of faith.

One of the ways I do this is to focus on GOD’s truths. Verses that re-direct me into His loving arms — reminders of His sovereignty and love. Reminders of His love for those I love. As I come across them, I add them to my journal.

Here are a few passages meaningful to me [emphasis mine]:

  • Looking at them, Yeshua [Hebrew for Jesus] said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God!” Mark 10:27, TLV
  • Fulfill Your word to Your servant, which leads to reverence for You. Psalm 119:38 TLV
  • I am sure of this very thing—that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the Day of Messiah Yeshua. Philippians 1:6 TLV
  • And the shalom [peace] of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Messiah Yeshua. Philippians 4:7 TLV
  • Chazak [Be strong]! Let your heart take courage, all you who wait for ADONAI [the LORD]. Psalm 31:25(24) TLV
  • Never snatch out of my mouth a word of truth, for I hope in your judgments. Psalm 119:42 TLV
  • When my troubling thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations comfort my soul. Psalm 94:19 TLV

I’m sure you have your own passages of hope — verses that shift the focus from waiting for an outcome to trusting in the Father, come what may.

While I would love to see my heart hope fulfilled in my lifetime (Psalm 27:13), but like Abraham and the fathers and mothers of Scriptures, not all lived to see their promises fulfilled (Hebrews 11:13). And, I must be okay with that.

Once I return to that understanding, I’ve exited the detour and am back on the right path.

Have all your heart hopes been fulfilled? Or are some still deferred? Just know we don’t have to take the detour of discouragement, and camp alone in the darkness—at least not for very long. Because He gives us plenty of reminders of that love, we just need to pay attention.

May we trust and remember the goodness of our Father, my friends—and may our detours be avoided or brief.

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: Award-winning author and speaker Terri Gillespie writes stories of faith to nurture souls. Her novels, devotionals, and blogs have drawn readers to hunger for a deeper relationship with their Heavenly Father, and His Son Jesus. She tries to avoid spiritual detours.

Terri’s weekly devotional, Making Eye Contact with God, for women only, enables you to really see God in a new and fresh way. Using real life anecdotes, combined with scripture, author Terri Gillespie reveals God’s heart for women everywhere, as she softly speaks of the ways in which women see God.

Join the conversation: What passages are your go-to when you are discouraged?

Finding Success in Total Dependence

by Kathy Howard

This post is adapted from Kathy Howard’s new devotional “Deep-Rooted: Growing through the Gospel of Mark.”

I’ve experienced plenty of failure in my lifetime. You probably have, too. We are imperfect people living in a broken world. Much of my failure has resulted from refusing to admit when I needed help, pridefully overestimating my own ability. And have you noticed? Simple defeat isn’t bad enough; failure always seems to draw a crowd. Why is that? Seriously, where are all those looky-loos when we succeed?

The ninth chapter of Mark’s Gospel records a big fail for some of Jesus’ disciples. When Jesus and His three closest disciples descended from the mount of transfiguration (in Mark 9:2-13), the fallout of failure welcomed them. An eager crowd and a desperate father with a sick, demon-possessed son looked on as the other nine frustrated disciples argued with some opportunistic scribes. The scene quickly dampened the spiritual high of the mountain-top experience.

Maybe this scene feels familiar. You returned after a peaceful time of rest or some special time with the Lord and walked into a storm at home. Chaos chewed up calm. Discord displaced peace. This is what Jesus encountered.

The nine disciples had tried to heal the boy and failed. But, why? With the authority of Jesus, they had exorcised demons during their recent mission trip (Mark 6:13). So why did they fail now? The passage indicates not only insufficient faith, but also misplaced faith.

When they were alone, Jesus blamed a lack of prayer (Mark 9:29). Prayer fosters dependence on God and His power. Lack of prayer reveals an attitude of self-sufficiency. Perhaps their past “success” had fostered pride, which caused them to battle the demon under their own power. And they lost the fight.

In contrast, the father was helpless, and he knew it. Although he confessed weak faith, he humbly asked Jesus to strengthen it, to ease his doubts. The father brought everything to Jesus. He brought his sick son. He brought his hopelessness. He bought his fledgling faith. He even brought his doubts.

But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Mark 9:22b-24 ESV

Jesus encouraged the father to embrace faith. “All things are possible for one who believes” (vs 23). “Possible” does not mean that we can dictate God’s work through our “faith.” Just because God can do something doesn’t mean He will. It does means that God is able. Our desire for an outcome, no matter how much we believe, will not override God’s plans and purposes. But, we can rest in the truth that God’s work does not depend on the size of our faith, but on His power and grace.

Faith is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9). We can either weaken it by independence and self-reliance or we can strengthen it through use. Let’s ask God for opportunities to build our faith. And when they come, may we exercise dependence on the One who is always able. 

Have you been trying to undertake some ministry or work for God under your own strength? If so, confess your independence to God and submit to total dependence on Him.

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: A former “cultural Christian,” Kathy Howard now has a passion for God’s Word that’s contagious. With more than 30 years of experience, Kathy has taught the Bible in dozens of states, internationally, and in a wide range of venues including multi-church conferences and large online events. Kathy, who has a Masters of Religious Education from the Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary, is a devotional and Bible study author. She also writes for multiple online magazines and devotional sites. Kathy and her husband live near family in the Dallas/Ft Worth. They have three married children, six grandchildren, and two accidental dogs.

Kathy provides free discipleship resources and blogs regularly at www.KathyHoward.org. Kathy’s new 40-day devotional book, Deep Rooted: Growing through the Gospel of Mark, is available now!

Join the conversation: Do you struggle to remain dependent on God?

Eternally Impactful Prayers

by Jennifer Slattery

If our prayers reveal our hearts and desires, then mine demonstrate that I’ve become overly entangled in today. Or perhaps more accurately, that I frequently lose sight of eternity. I ask God to alleviate my friends’ and loved ones’ pain, to protect them from harm, and to pour His blessings upon them. And while there’s nothing wrong with those requests––God wants us to bring all our needs before Him––He invites us to go deeper.

Lately, I’ve been reflecting on the prayers of Paul, recorded in his letters to ancient believers. He was perhaps the most effective missionary and church planter in the history of Christendom. He was a man of action, but he was also a man of prayer: powerful, soul-stirring, life-changing prayer.

Here’s what I find significant. The people Paul prayed for were experiencing intense persecution. Deep pain. Most likely fierce fear. They were losing jobs, their homes, and some, their lives.

So, how did Paul pray for them? Did he ask God to keep them safe? To alleviate their suffering?

Perhaps, but those aren’t the requests that were recorded and preserved for all time. Instead, we see a man completely focused on Christ and His mission––His mission for the world, and for every person Paul encountered.

To the Colossians, he wrote, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because … of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people …” (Colossians 1:3-6 NIV).

He thanked God for their faith and the fruit it bore.

To the Thessalonians he wrote, “We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3).

Again, he thanked God for their faith and the fruit it bore, and the endurance Christ had given them.

To the Philippians he wrote, “… In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:3-6 NIV).

Do you see the pattern?

I’m sure Paul felt the same concern for his brothers and sister in Christ that you and I share for our loved ones. While I imagine he prayed for their welfare and provision, he remained focused on their growth in Christ.

He understood, in a way my mama’s heart easily forgets, that God had called each of those ancient believers to something glorious, something eternal. To become like Christ and live for Him.

I want to do the same.

This doesn’t mean I’ll stop asking God to protect, bless, and provide for my friends and family. But it does inspire me to expand my view, so that I may begin to see them and their situation through His eyes, through the lens of eternity.

Yes, I want God to care for my loved ones today. But even more, I want Him to grow their faith, change and strengthen their hearts, and empower them to change their world.

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

Jennifer Slattery

About the author: Jennifer Slattery is a multi-published author, ministry, and the host of the Faith Over Fear Podcast. Find her online at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com, find her ministry at WhollyLoved.com, and find her podcast at LifeAudio.com and other popular podcasting sites.

In her new podcast, Faith Over Fear, Jennifer helps us see different areas of life where fear has a foothold, and how our identity as children of God can help us move from fear to faithful, bold living. You can listen by clicking on the link below or by visiting LifeAudio.com.

Join the conversation: Let’s talk about this! How often do you pray for your loved ones’ spiritual growth? Who might God be calling you to pray for today?

A Word of Hope

by Crystal Bowman

But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love. Psalm 33:18 NIV

It’s become sort of trendy to choose a word or phrase to focus on for the coming year. Maybe you’ve been doing this for years, or maybe this is new to you. Either way, I like this idea. The phrase I picked for 2020 was hang in there. In the fall of 2019, we had some sudden and unexpected changes in our lives, and I knew the adjustment to these changes would be long and hard. We had to leave our home in paradise (Florida) and return to our home in the Midwest for a variety of reasons. I was doing my best to “hang in there.” Then the pandemic reached the US and once again I was adjusting to sudden and unexpected changes.

Along with my 2020 phrase, I also chose a Bible verse: Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).

I taped the verse to my bathroom mirror and read it every day. During the months of 2020, I had multiple reasons to be anxious and worried about the future. But every day, as I soaked in the words to that verse and chose to thank God, His peace filled my soul.

In John chapter 14, Jesus begins preparing His disciples for His departure. Since He would not be with them much longer, He offered words of comfort and the promise of the Holy Spirit. He knew they would be troubled because they didn’t understand all that would soon take place. He explained that the Holy Spirit would help them remember Jesus’s words and instructions. I love what Jesus says to them in verse 27 (NIV): “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

The peace we receive from the Holy Spirit in the midst of our anxious moments is a peace that we can’t explain. This peace does not come from the world, it only comes through faith. Even when troubles swirl around us like an F-5 tornado, we can experience inner peace when we belong to Jesus.

I began 2021 with a new word to focus on. That word is hope. There are two definitions of the word hope. One is a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. The second definition is a feeling of trust. I chose the second. I trust that God will continue to be my source of strength and peace in the coming year. I trust that my life is in His hands and that nothing will happen to me outside of His will.

My Bible verse to focus on this year is Hebrews 10:23 NIV: Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

Do you have a word or verse for 2021? I’d love for you to share in the comment section below. May God richly bless you in the coming year and fill your life with peace, hope, and joy. 

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: Crystal Bowman is a bestselling, award-winning author of more than 100 books including, Our Daily Bread for Kids.She and her husband have three married children and seven huggable grandchildren.

When a child’s grandparent or great-grandparent is afflicted with dementia, it’s difficult to explain the disease in a way that helps the child understand why the person they love is not the same. I Love You to the Stars–When Grandma Forgets, Love Remembersis a picture book inspired by a true story to help young children understand that even though Grandma is acting differently, she still loves them–to the stars!

Join the conversation: What is your word for 2021?

Talking Circles Around Knowledge

by Rhonda Rhea

“…that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God”. Colossians 1:9-10 HCSB

I’ve tried some of those idiot-proof tech products, and you know what I’ve found? I’ve found that sometimes they grossly underestimate the power of a true tech-idiot. You have to be near genius level to even read the instructions on your average electronic device these days. And I’m talking about the instructions for the on/off switch. For a calculator. I’m pretty sure I heard somewhere that genius in all areas is 99% perspiration and 62% wishing you had listened in math class. And I would add a pithy phrase about a circumference here—if I had a little more math knowledge.

Still, while I may not have listened all that well in math class, anytime I’m talking about the maths and sciences that I know nothing about, I’ve started using lots more “air quotes.” That way even if I’m saying something “stupid,” I still look incredibly “clever.”

Clever is as clever does (she said with flourishing finger quotes).

Doesn’t it seem that our culture presents new, bizarre ideas every day about what it means to be clever and what it is to be knowledgeable? People say “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” But I was watching TV the other day and it seems to me that a whole lot of foolishness is yet more dangerous. A knowledgeable person, one who is knowledgeable in the things that really count, is a rare and wonderful find. Proverbs 20:15 backs me up there: “There is gold and a multitude of jewels, but knowledgeable lips are a rare treasure,” (HCSB).

So how do we find that rare treasure? Proverbs 2:1-6 (HCSB) says, “My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, listening closely to wisdom and directing your heart to understanding; furthermore, if you call out to insight and lift your voice to understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it like hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and discover the knowledge of God. For the LORD gives wisdom; and from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” Wisdom, knowledge, understanding—they’re all from the Lord.

It’s not, however, a passive pursuit. Our instructions in that Proverbs passage are especially verb-heavy. We’re told to accept words, store commands, listen and direct our hearts. Then we’re instructed to call out to insight and understanding, to seek and search for that kind of knowledge as we would passionately hunt for treasure. There’s a hefty percentage of perspiration there. Accepting, storing, listening, directing, calling, seeking and searching leads to knowing Him more.

Paul told the Christians in Colossae that he prayed this for them: “…that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:9-10, HCSB).

The knowledge of His will results in walking worthy, pleasing Him, and doing good works. More verbs! And these actions lead us to be—are you ready for this?—“growing in the knowledge of God.” Full circle! It’s like the most blessed circumference of knowledge. And it begins and ends with our powerful God.

Knowledge IS power! But only His knowledge. And all by His power. This I know in the most idiot-proof way. So this part is completely free of finger quotes.

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

rhonda rhea

About the author: Rhonda Rhea is a TV personality for Christian Television Network and an award-winning humor columnist for great magazines such as HomeLifeLeading HeartsThe Pathway and many more. She is the author of 17 books, including the Fix-Her-Upper books, co-authored with Beth Duewel, and the hilarious novels, Turtles in the Road and Off-Script & Over-Caffeinated, both co-authored with her daughter, Kaley Rhea.

Off-Script & Over-Caffeinated: A Novel by [Rhea, Kaley, Rhea, Rhonda]

Rhonda and Kaley have a new novel, Off-Script and Over-Caffeinated. When the Heartcast Channel Movie division announces they’ll briefly be allowing submissions for new Christmas movies, Harlow finds herself paired with a reluctant co-star. Jack Bentley may be the biggest Heartcast Original Movie name in the business, but he is anything but formulaic.

Rhonda lives near St. Louis with her pastor/hubs and has five grown children. You can read more from Rhonda on her website or Facebook page.

Join the conversation: How do you go about seeking knowledge? What has the Lord taught you lately?