Cheerful Heart

by Sheri Schofield

My husband Tim and I must be brave and crazy parents: we flew to Alaska to spend Christmas with our daughter and her husband. Burr! As we flew out of Montana—also burr!—we ran into the incoming storm blasting the northwest. The plane shuddered as it climbed. When it turned toward its assigned route, a gust of wind hit it and nearly turned it over. Shrieks sounded throughout the aircraft. Not from me, though. I was too scared to peep. I clutched the arm of my seat and reminded myself that the Lord was with me while the plane bucked wildly.

Suddenly, a woman with a gruff voice shouted, “They didn’t tell me I’d need spurs for this!”

If I hadn’t been so nervous, I would have laughed. As it was, I just held on. However, that humorous shout did ease the tension considerably, and I began to relax.

It looks like this world is headed into another year of struggle and strife. Many people are tense at life’s unpredictable twists and turns. The Bible tells us the world will become more and more treacherous as we near the return of the King. How can we encourage one another during these days of struggle?

Proverbs 17:22 (NIV) tells us, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

We are surrounded by a world of people with crushed spirits, worried about tomorrow, nervous about many things during these turbulent times. We who belong to Jesus have been given the pathway to His peace. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast because they trust in you” (Isaiah 26:3 NIV).

If we can stay focused on Jesus, we can be filled with His peace. If we are filled with His peace, we can be those cheerful hearts that bring good medicine to the souls of others.  We can lighten their loads by caring, by listening, and by covering them—shielding them—with our love. The world is full of people who do not have Jesus’ peace. When they see God’s peace and His love for others shining from our lives, we bring them comfort.

I recently walked into a convenience store just as someone else stormed out. The cashier is a withdrawn young man who shows little emotion. I see him often, as I pick up my daily caffeine at that store. I said, “How’s your day going, Levi? Good? Bad? Somewhere in between?”

He responded with powerful but quiet emotion, “I hate people! They’re always throwing things at you for no reason!” His eyes teared up.

I got it. The customer just before me had verbally abused that young man. I listened to him express his pain. We were alone for just a couple of minutes. I said, “I’m going to pray for you.”

“What?” His mouth dropped open.

“I’m going to pray for you. Now.” I paused. “Father in heaven, Levi has been hurt. Help him to know that you love him unconditionally just the way he is. And heal his heart. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” I smiled and left.

Since then, Levi has started to open his heart a little. He knows I am his friend, that I care about him, and that I belong to Jesus. I have shared Jesus’ love with him. In the storm he was facing, I brought a healing touch of peace. Eventually, he may meet the Author of that peace, as I continue sharing my Savior with him.

You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence. Psalm 16:11 NIV

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

About the author: Award-winning author, illustrator, and Bible teacher Sheri Schofield ministers to children and their families through her ministry, Faithwind 4 Kids. After serving Jesus through children’s ministries and personal evangelism for many years, she understands how to communicate God’s plan of salvation clearly to those who are seeking God.

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Her first book on salvation, The Prince and the Plan, was designed specifically for children. But during COVID, Sheri sensed the need to also provide help for adults. Her new book for adults, God? Where Are You?, tells tells who God is, how we became separated from him, and what he is doing to bring us back to himself through Jesus. At the end of each chapter is a section called “Food For Thought”, which answers questions many unbelievers have, such as—If God is good, why do terrible things happen?—Is anyone too “bad” for God to want to rescue them from sin? This biblically based book is short and easy to read. 

Join the conversation. How do you bring peace to others?

Taking Our Thoughts Captive

by Chris Manion

We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5 NIV

The year felt hard. My work as an author overwhelmed me. My shoulders and spirit sagged under the burden of what I felt called to do. Long signs gave evidence my lungs needed air after my thoughts pressed it out of me. Christmas neared and my heart hung heavy, not like the light-hearted child of God I am.

God spoke to my heart through a friend. “Your body is telling you you’re doing too much. You need to rest.” I heard the truth and embraced it. I went to bed early and slept nine hours, more than I’d slept in one night all year.

I recalled my husband’s words as we looked at the flowering bush in our yard that December morning: “Praise you, God, for your daily encouragement. Praise you, Creator of all beauty and life. Praise you, O wonderful Counselor, for your wisdom and truth that blooms in my heart.”  The bush continues to bloom.

When I finished praising Him, I noticed I was smiling. My heart lifted like a joyful child. I analyzed what just happened. I’d been obedient to His word of truth spoken through a friend. I rested my body, the temple of the Lord. The morning light filled that temple with grace and beauty. My spirit sang its praise. The overwhelming exhaustion as well as my focus on my shortcomings disappeared with the dark of night.

This practice of obeying God as He directs my life confirmed Paul’s command to the Corinthians above. I also heard Isaiah’s proclamation in my soul: “See, I am doing a new thing. Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” (Isaiah 43:18-19 NIV).

More Scripture verses bubbled up in my mind like sparkling water. “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and He helps me” (Psalm 28:7 NIV).

His directive to rest my body shielded me from my burdensome thoughts and gave me strength for this new day. Praise God and His blessings! Once again, God had shown me my childlike need to trust and obey Him. “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Dear God, help me to control my thoughts by obeying you and enjoying your gifts of peace and joy that continue to bloom. Amen.

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

About the author: Chris Sauter Manion loves to speak from her core Scripture verse: “The joy of the Lord is my strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). She’s an award-winning author, leadership expert, and inspirational speaker who uses skills from building a $20 million sales organization to help people of all ages embrace the give and take of a deepening relationship with God. Chris lives with her husband of forty-plus years in Florida‘s panhandle where she kayaks and photographs the Gulf coast’s natural beauty. She is a grandmother of five wee ones and loses all sense of time when gardening, creating and cooking. Reach out to her at www.ChrisManion.com

Join the conversation: How do you attempt to control your thoughts?

Miles from Where I Started

by Ginger Harrington

I will sing praise to the Lord as long as I live.  Psalm 103: 33a NASB

Have I been running in place rather than moving forward? This is the question on my heart as I reflect on the past year. When reviewing lessons I have learned, God often reveals a spiritual focus for the new year to me.

We often make resolutions that we forget by the end of January. For me, this wasn’t the case—I maintained focus on my goals throughout the year. Despite a lot of hard work, I didn’t lose the pounds I resolved to shed, and I didn’t receive the promotion I hoped to earn. When results didn’t match my effort or meet my expectations, I struggled with discouragement that left a metallic taste of failure in my mouth.

Lord, show me Your perspective. Maybe this past year has been a journey of the heart that is more important than reaching new levels of success. Are you weaning me from the tendency to measure my value by accomplishments? Reflecting on the past year, I see that success cannot satisfy my craving for worth and value. Why is this truth so hard to remember in the race to move ahead in life?

On this January morning while the year is new, I am encouraged by the words of Psalm 103: “I will sing praise to my God while I have my being. Let my meditation be pleasing to Him; as for me, I shall be glad in the Lord” (Psalm 103: 33b-34 NASB).

With a gentle nudge, Jesus reminds me that praise is a decision that carries power to transform my thoughts and emotions. When the voices of the world pressure me to produce, my best choice is to glory in God. On good days as well as hard times, I resolve to mark this year with the simple habit of praising Him.

With one last look in the rearview mirror of past days, I know one thing for sure. Growth in my soul is a success of a deeper kind than my best efforts will produce. I don’t want to spend another moment stuck in the old way of striving to prove myself at the cost of joy. In embracing this lesson, I discover the reality that I am miles from where I started last year.

Lord, I want to choose praise over progress this year. Help me to find my gladness in you.

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

About the author: Award-winning author and dynamic speaker, Ginger Harrington is the author of Holy in the Moment: Simple Ways to Love God and Enjoy Your Life, a book about the power of simple choices to trust God in the moment. Wife of a retired Marine and mom to three young adults, Ginger directs publishing for the non-profit ministry Planting Roots: Strength to Thrive in Military Life. Helping women develop a deeper relationship with God, others, and themselves, Ginger writes at GingerHarrington.com and PlantingRoots.net. Discover biblical ways to experience wholeness and healing in Christ and grab your free resource for overcoming negative thinking at GingerHarrington.com.

Join the conversation. Has the decision to praise transformed you?

God’s Gentle Persuasion regarding This Versus That

by Patti Richter

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.  James 1:5 NIV

I tried pushing the sewing needle through the layers of fabric again and again. Deciding the needle must be dull, I chose another one and went back to work—with no success.

The other ladies surrounding the framed quilt worked easily while I spent at least ten minutes in my attempt to make just one stitch. I had hoped to become a part of this group by joining my church’s quilting ministry, which raised funds for those in need. But now, frustrated and embarrassed, I mentally scratched the new activity off my list of goals in the new year.

Yet, even with the mortification I felt, I was struck by the realization that God may have just 1answered the short prayer I uttered before heading to the quilting club that night: Please, Lord, help me to know if I belong in this group.

I drove home disappointed about giving up the opportunity to spend time with those mostly older women. They had a lifetime of wisdom I could’ve tapped into seamlessly as we worked side by side. Driving in the darkness, my view of God’s involvement in my life grew dim; I wondered if it really mattered to him whether I chose to serve in one ministry versus another.

Later, recalling some lines from the book of James, I had an answer to that question:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow… Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that” (James 4:13-15 NIV).

Those verses reminded me that God knows our future. And he’s willing to provide direction based on his foreknowledge.

Before his death on the cross and return to heaven, Jesus comforted his disciples with the promise of the coming Holy Spirit, saying, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever…. But you will know him, for he lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17 NIV).

Not long after my quilting club failure, the pastor’s wife asked me to consider serving as a coordinator for a women’s outreach ministry the church had planned. Since the role would involve recruiting volunteers, I felt both unsuited and unenthusiastic about jumping in. Yet, after praying about it, I sensed the gentle persuasion of the Holy Spirit.

After saying yes to this ministry opportunity, I could hardly believe it when an older woman signed up to assist me and said she could recruit many of her senior-adult friends as well! I went on to serve in the coordinator role for ten years, working side by side with more than a dozen well-seasoned saints.

I’m so thankful for God’s guidance concerning this versus that.

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

About the author: Patti Richter lives in north Georgia with her husband, Jim. She is a freelance journalist and long-time faith columnist at BlueRibbonNews.com with more than four hundred published articles. She also serves as an editor for Arise Daily.

Patti is the co-author of the award-winning Signs of His Presence—Experiencing God’s Comfort in Times of Suffering. It is the story of Luann Mire, whose godly husband was blindsided by an indictment due to a former employer’s tax fraud. The resulting prison sentence and restitution took the once joyful couple into a long season of suffering as they fought judicial tyranny. Helpless to change her situation, Luann endured a painful examination of her life and found God faithful to His promises.

Join the conversation. Has God guided you into a ministry? Please share!

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Whiter than Snow

by Candy Arrington

Purify me with hyssop, and I will be clean; Cleanse me, and I will be whiter than snow. Psalm 51:7 NASB

Although Christmas is a special time of year, full of music, color, lights, worship, gifts, food, and celebration, I find it refreshing to put away the decorations, remove the Christmas tree, and vacuum up the remnants of the festivities. The house is uncluttered again, the pressure is off, the schedule is less harried, and the new year usually brings snow.

January is one of my favorite months. Part of the lure of January is the idea of new beginnings. No matter what happened the year before—illness, heartaches, challenges, mistakes—here is a chance to start fresh. The new year is ripe with the promise of possibilities. Anticipation and hope mingle to propel us forward into the unknown.

Just as snow blankets the ground and covers its uneven contours, so the new year stretches into the future like a nice, white, blank piece of paper. We can choose, in part, the story to be written on that blank paper. We have the opportunity for a do-over, the option to confess sins, make adjustments in attitudes and actions, and implement life changes.

When King David penned Psalm 51, he felt the full burden of his sin, transgressions against God and man. David acknowledged his sin, stated God’s qualities of compassion and unfailing love, and asked for forgiveness.

Hyssop, a pungent, aromatic herb, was used in Hebrew purification rites. David understood the depth of his sin and wanted deep cleansing, a purging with hyssop, blotting out his sin, leaving him whiter than snow.

God is the God of forgiveness and second chances. When we admit our areas of failure and turn from past wrongs, God’s forgiveness gives us a fresh start. As the writer of Lamentations wrote: “The Lord’s acts of mercy indeed do not end, for His compassions do not fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23 NASB). Each new day brings opportunity for putting the past behind and looking toward the future. We have the option to re-evaluate, change old patterns, and move forward with fresh determination.

Have you been truthful with God about cherished sin in your life? Have you measured your life against the bright purity of the Savior? Jesus Christ is waiting to blanket your life with forgiveness and redeeming grace. All you have to do is honestly confess sin and acknowledge God’s power to forgive and cleanse. Then you will experience a fresh start and covering for sin that is whiter than snow.

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

About the author: Candy Arrington has written hundreds of articles and devotionals on faith, personal growth, and moving through and beyond difficult life circumstances. Her books include: Life On Pause: Learning to Wait Well (Bold Vision Books),  When Your Aging Parent Needs Care: Practical Help for This Season of Life (Harvest House), and AFTERSHOCK: Help, Hope, and Healing in the Wake of Suicide (B & H Publishing Group). Candy is a native South Carolinian, who gains writing inspiration from historic architecture, vintage photographs, nature, and the application of Biblical principles to everyday life. Learn more about Candy at www.CandyArrington.com, where you can also read her blog, Forward Motion: Moving Beyond What Holds You Back.

Candy’s new book, Life on Pause: Learning to Wait Wellprovides insights on learning from and growing through a time of waiting.

Join the conversation: Do you need a fresh start?

When to Let Go

by Cherrilynn Bisbano

 No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink,  but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. 1 Samuel 1:15 ESV

My adult son needed restoration physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I begged God daily to help Michael overcome his challenges. I’d cry myself to sleep worrying about his future. After many phone calls and website searches, we found another place to hopefully help my cherished boy. But could I handle having him so far away—800 miles from home?

I needed to let go and allow God to work in my son through this program, even though he had tried two others. We removed Michael from one and he was asked to leave another due to his lack of impulse control. I had the habit of rescuing my son from difficult places because of his autism and ADHD.

The Holy Spirit encouraged me to study Hannah, whose story is found in the first two chapters of 1 Samuel. Hannah prayed boldly and with all her might. Her prayer moved the heart and hand of God.

Now, with this program as our last hope, I prayed the staff would understand my autistic son and work with him.

Three days after I dropped off Michael, I walked and listened to an audio book on living a life for Christ. The narrator told a story about a young boy who found a caterpillar and brought it home, where his mother placed it in a jar with leaves.

The boy watched the caterpillar weave a chrysalis. He observed it every day for a week, until he saw the cocoon move. Realizing the creature was struggling, he ran to get scissors, which soon revealed a wet butterfly. The boy watched the insect struggle to fly—then die.

The Holy Spirit was loud and clear. If you rescue your son from this program he will be just like the butterfly. He will die.

I shut off the audio book and cried. “Lord, I commit him to your care. You must help me be strong.”

I had studied butterflies in the past. I knew they needed to battle to free themselves from the darkness. The fight strengthens their wings to fly.

The next day I received a call from Michael. He was hysterical, saying, “Mom, you have to come get me. I have bug bites all over me, and I’m allergic. I hate this place. People are mean. I don’t feel safe. I’ll run away if you don’t come for me.”

I’d never heard him so frantic. I cried, yet I remembered what the Holy Spirit had communicated to me the previous day.

“Michael, I love you. I’m sorry you are going through this. Give me until tomorrow to figure this out.”

I sobbed. Lord you need to help them help my son. I want to take him in my arms and make it all better, but I can’t. It will kill him spiritually. Help him Lord!

That afternoon I shared what the Spirit had told me with a leader from the facility, who said, “I’ll speak with Michael and share this with him.”

The leader called an hour later, saying, “Michael is fine now. He had a fit, and now understands this is his home for the next year.”

I praised God and cried happy tears. I realized Michael belongs to God.

I continue to pray boldly for my son and those he journeys with through the program. Michael has been there for three months now, and I see a remarkable change in him already. My mama’s heart misses him, but he’s in the safest place—the will and hand of God!

Just like God heard Hannah’s prayer, he hears mine.

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

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About the author: Cherrilynn Bisbano is an award-winning writer in both fiction and non-fiction. She is a coach, ghostwriter, editor, and speaker. You can find her published in several online magazines and blogs along with books.  Her latest book, Shine Don’t Whine, released in October 2020. Cherrilynn proudly served in the Navy and Air National Guard. She lives with her son, Michael, Jr., and husband of 22 years. Cherrilynn loves Christ, Chocolate, coffee, and Cats. You will often find her on the beach sea glass hunting.

Join the conversation: Do you have a child that you worry about?

The Tool of Time

by Julie Zine Coleman

“We are going, we are going to a home beyond the skies, where the fields are robed in beauty, and the sunlight never dies” (Bright Home Above, public domain). With this stanza, Fanny Crosby ventured into the world of hymn writing. She was 43 years old. Her first attempt was set to music by William Bradbury, who days later played it as a Sunday school song in a New York church. Her song writing career had begun.

Flip through any hymn book, and you’ll soon see the name Fanny Crosby. Some of our most loved hymns, like “Blessed Assurance,” “To God Be the Glory,” and “The Old Rugged Cross” were penned by this gifted poet. Her words reflect an intimately close relationship between her and her Savior.

Fanny was prolific in her work; over the second half of her lifetime she wrote the lyrics for more than 8,000 hymns. She was eventually forced to use pseudonyms because publishers were reluctant to put so many hymns by one writer into the same hymn book.

Why did God wait for her to begin this ministry until she was 43? I had a similar thought in 2006 as I packed my years of school teaching materials away and closed my plan book for the last time. At the age of 49, I was finally moving toward my dream of speaking and writing full time. I had wanted this for more than a decade. Why did God have me wait so long?

When Samuel anointed David as the next king of Israel, David was a mere lad. He was so young, his father didn’t even think to bring him inside to meet Samuel upon his arrival. God had already picked David out of the crowd as the one after his own heart. But David was not ready to take on the responsibilities of leading a nation. He had a lot of growing up to do.

So God placed David in an unusual leadership training course: Desert Survival Tactics 101. David spent some of what could have been the most productive years of his life hiding in caves and running from King Saul, who was out to kill him. God was taking a very long time to fulfill his promise. Several times, David could have killed Saul and ended his desert torture. His mighty men balked at the wait. But David knew God’s time table was best. So he insisted on waiting for God to make it happen.

David finally took the throne over a decade after his initial anointing. Only now was he ready. God used those many years in the desert to prepare his servant for the task.

We see the same process repeated in several biblical characters. Moses spent 40 years in the desert before God put him in charge over his chosen people. Joseph spent 13 years as a slave and then a prisoner waiting for God. Paul spent three years in the desert of Arabia after his conversion in preparation for ministry to the Gentiles. Not one minute of discomfort or suffering would go for naught. As James 1:4 promises, “Let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

The fact of the matter is, while we tap our foot impatiently waiting for God to move on our behalf, he is not idly sitting back. He is at work in us. He uses every circumstance to teach us, strengthen us, and prepare us for what lies ahead. Time is not our enemy. When it comes to God, time is our friend.

I learned the hard way it is a mistake to bake bread before it is finished rising. The yeast needs time to feed off the sugar and give off the gases which give bread lightness and texture. Bread baked too early is heavy and sits like a weight in your stomach. Some processes need time. To rush them is to sacrifice quality in the end. I wonder if Fanny Crosby could have written those beautiful words while in her 20’s. The depth of her writing reflects a relationship and trust in God that took half a lifetime to develop.

God often is not in a hurry with us, because some things require time.

“With the Lord, one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you…” 2 Peter 3:8-9 NASB

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

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About the authorJulie Zine Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or crafting. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.

Does the Bible depict women as second-class citizens in God’s Kingdom? Jesus didn’t think so. Unexpected Love takes a revealing look at the encounters that Jesus had with women in the gospels. You will fall in love with the dynamic, beautiful, and unexpectedly personal Jesus.

Join the conversation: How has God used time as a development tool in your life?

Food for Praise

by Rhonda Rhea

Kids have super weird yet extremely discriminating palates. I know this to be true. I raised five of them. I’m telling you, I remember toddlers completely snubbing dinner, then half an hour later eating a dirt clod and washing it down with bath water.

It’s not like I don’t get it on some level. Not on the dirt clod/bath water level or anything. But believe me, there are parts of this concept I completely understand. The things I know I’m supposed to eat? Sometimes I just don’t want to. Forget your kale. What even is tofu?

Then there are the things I’m not supposed to eat. On that topic…well let’s just say if my husband put my favorite gemstone in a lovely ring setting, that gem would probably look like a chocolate truffle. By “look like” a chocolate truffle I mean it would be a chocolate truffle. And then there would just be an empty setting where the truffle used to be. I’m also not entirely convinced that my birthstone is not a tiny cinnamon roll.

Keep your carats. And your carrots.

I know I’m supposed to be a grownup. I’m supposed to say some yesses to kale and no to dirt clods and jewelry you eat. But what are we supposed to do, even as grownups, when we just don’t want to?

When we hit difficulties in life, sometimes praise can become more challenging. Instead of singing His praises, often in those times all we want to do is cry to Him, “Get me out of this!”

I’ve heard people say it’s hypocritical to praise God when we’re just not feeling it, and I would never suggest we pray things to God we don’t mean. He knows our hearts inside and out anyway. I would suggest all day, however, honestly recounting who He is.

It’s during our struggles that we do well to remember we’re praising God, not the circumstances. Praise doesn’t even require being at peace with the circumstances. It doesn’t necessitate understanding them either.

As a matter of fact, praise isn’t so much about our need to understand what God is doing. It’s really more about recognizing that He’s bigger than our understanding. And that He’s better than our best, most enthusiastically optimistic idea of how good He is.

He’s also completely aware and in control of our trials. He’s not uncaring. He’s loving and kind and good. He’s big, He’s powerful, He’s holy, He’s omniscient, He’s…everything. Praise isn’t for us, but still, it’s in our praise that we become all the more aware of who He is.

We can’t begin to even scratch the surface when it comes to understanding His greatness. David wrote “His greatness is unsearchable” in Psalm 145:3 (HCSB). Praising Him, though, reminds us to search anyway. To get our focus off ourselves and the temporary struggles of this life and to place that focus on the eternal God who is ever-worthy. The first part of that very same verse celebrates that “Yahweh is great and is highly praised.”

Sometimes when I need some food for praise, I hang out in the entire chapter of Psalm 145 for a bit. Or Psalm 8 or 111. Or the joy of Psalm 100 or the music of Psalm 150. So many more. They’re food for praise despite our troubles.

And with or without our truffles.

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

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. 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.

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Got baggage? Ever find yourself lugging around messy spiritual baggage like so much purse clutter? Rhonda’s latest release, Messy to Meaningful: My Purse Runneth Over, will help you stop holding on to what you don’t need and start fighting for what you do. Learn to walk out your faith life less weighed down, lighter, and freer that ever!

Join the conversation. What is your food for praise?

Embracing the Future

by Rebecca Barlow Jordan

As January rolls around each year, I always hear the term “embrace the future.” Because God wired me with a positive personality, I’m usually eager to do that. But some seasons present greater challenges than others. How do you embrace an unknown future?

Since life in the last couple of years has resembled a roller coaster, it’s easy to wonder if the ride will ever end. I’m not alone. Some are emerging like ants from their underground tunnels, still spinning and reeling with pandemic emotions. Losses hang in the air like early morning fog, and we may be asking God to heal our wounds and remove any unwanted baggage that’s weighing us down.

At the beginning of each year, I usually spend intentional time with God simply to re-evaluate and invite His perspective on my life. This year is no exception. I’m asking God to sweep away any foolish mistakes, wrong decisions, or any harmful habits I might have collected in the past year that cloud my vision and prevent me from seeing the beautiful opportunities He is preparing for me.

Embracing the future means I’m choosing to leave the past behind. I refuse to beat myself up or second-guess any mistakes and misconceptions. Instead, in my prayer to God, I’m asking: “Lord, like the yard art in my backyard, would you recycle those into beautiful, positive lessons I can learn, actions that will propel me forward, not backward?”

And He is doing that. But God is also teaching me the value of remembering. I will not make idols of good things from the past, of accumulated credentials, or God’s surprise blessings amid uncertainty. Those tracks of God’s faithfulness will continue to humble me and lead me into a questionable future with joy and trust in the One who is good and who works all things out for our good (Romans 8:28).

I don’t want to let the past define me. Instead, I’m asking God to use it to refine me. As long as God gives me breath and life, I can choose to believe the best and let His hope influence my attitudes for the present and in the future. God is still the God of the impossible, and He not only wants to transform me daily, but He promises to finish the work He started in me (Philippians 1:6). That’s a truth I want to remember and celebrate daily.

Will that be easy? No. Some days I may question what to do, or ask Jesus what He is doing. But I know that faith keeps going, reaching, and believing that Jesus is in control. For me, embracing the future means welcoming whatever Jesus wants in my life to make me more like Him.

As I close my evaluation time and my prayer to God, He reminds me of one more thing. While forgetting the past and remembering the past and present are so important, God’s Word also whispers to me to reach forward and keep my eyes on the right goal—Jesus. When I do that, He will help me discover the life for which I was made and uncover the purpose for which I was created.

One day, hearing His “well done” will make “embracing the future” all worthwhile.

One thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14 NKJV

About the author: Rebecca Barlow Jordan is a day-voted follower of Jesus who helps others find intimacy with God. She is also a bestselling author of eleven books, and winner of the Serious Writers 2021 Book of the Decade. With the pen of a poet and the heart of a disciple, Rebecca encourages others from years of Bible study and teaching experience, in over 2000 greeting cards and other inspirational books and articles, and through her website and blog at rebeccabarlowjordan.com, visited by guests in over 170 countries.

Join the conversation: What does embracing the future mean to you?

What is Our ROI

by Terri Gillespie

Two are better than one, because they get a good return for their effort. Ecclesiastes 4:9, TLV

Back when I worked in the corporate world, a high Return on Investment (ROI) was paramount. Division heads and executives continually asked for that bottom line ROI. Too low? Get rid of the project. Great ROI? How could it be more successful or replicated?

It’s interesting the translators used a similar business term for fellowship.

For if they fall, the one will lift up his companion.

But oy [woe] to the one who falls and has no one to lift him up! Ecclesiastes 4:10 TLV

King Solomon’s sometimes depressing “proverbs” in Ecclesiastes brought an interesting concept to mind this morning. How is our fellowship or friendship ROI?

If we’re always the one “lifting up” the friend who falls, and there’s little to no reciprocity, then we might want to evaluate that “investment”. This is not assessing the value of the person, but the relationship.

I have friends that because of great distances, we’re unable to regularly “invest” in each other’s lives. However, when we do, that investment is so great, it goes a long way.

There are friends that have emotional challenges that can drain me, but if I needed them, they would drop whatever they were doing and be there to help. These are great ROIs. But what about those folks who aren’t there when we need help? In fact, their only concern is their own needs.

A relationship assessment is especially important here—and this may be difficult for those with a servant’s heart—because if we are investing without wisdom, we could be causing more harm than good.

What do I mean by this? Over the years, I’ve had to learn how to assess whether a relationship investment is for:

  • friendship,
  • fellowship, or
  • ministry.

Identifying the type of relationship determines our expectations.

Friendship: Choosing our friends prayerfully is important. Understanding both of our strengths and limitations goes a long way in developing closer relationships. Sometimes friendships are for a season, which is okay. The key to this type of investment is that return—the reciprocity. The friendship is not one sided.

Fellowship: Who we “yoke” ourselves with is important. Friendships that include fellowship, are a true blessing. But when fellowship is based on circumstances (i.e., services, ministry outreaches, teaching, Bible study), it is important to understand that our time together generally lessens when the service, ministry, Bible study, etc., conclude. No hard feelings. Just no expectations that there should be more than what it is.

Ministry: When we seek the LORD about a relationship that continues to be disappointing—that we’re always the giver and they are the taker—He may tell us that we were meant to minister to them. Our expectations would then change, right? If we don’t expect a friendship/fellowship relationship, then we use more wisdom when it comes to our investment.

NOTE: sometimes the person needs professional ministry. Just because someone is within our proximity doesn’t necessarily mean we are to make the major investment. If we find this to be the case, seek an elder or pastor of your congregation.

Of course, the relationship that brings the greatest ROI is our relationship with Jesus. His investment in us was the ultimate sacrifice, long before we were a great ROI. He didn’t give up on us. He wanted to invest in us. He gave His all and now, we are His eternal ROI.

As we enter 2022, let’s seek to invest in our relationship with our Heavenly Father and His Son—it’s a guaranteed great return. Then, let’s follow our Savior’s example of friendship, because He can show us how to see an eternal Return on Investment, too.

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 and redemption to nurture souls. Her novels, devotionals, messages, and blogs have drawn readers to hunger for a deeper relationship with their Heavenly Father, and His Son Jesus.

Terri’s newly released book, Sweet Rivalry, is the story of twins separated by a troubled mother. One twin is lovingly raised by her grandmother who owns a small-town bakery. The other sister is raised by an addict mother. They discover one another through a televised baking competition. But will rivalry break them apart again? The third and final book in the Hair Mavens series, Really Bad Hair Day, is a whirlwind of changes for the mavens—marriage, love, danger, loss, and redemption. The Hair Mavens series is a modern-day Ruth and Naomi story set in a hair salon.

Join the conversation: Into which category do your relationships often fall?