The Croquet Lesson

by Ava Pennington @AvaPennington

He who gets wisdom loves his own soul; He who keeps understanding will find good.                                                                                                           Proverbs 19:8 NASB

 The outing was shrouded in mystery. All the planner would say is that we had to dress casually, wear all-white, and make sure we wore comfortable shoes – preferably sneakers. The four of us met at 9:00 am, three of us still clueless about our destination.

When we arrived at our destination, a small, unassuming sign by the entrance announced “National Croquet Center.” A long driveway led us to a clubhouse built in the style and charm of old Florida.

We spent the morning with our instructor, Monte, who patiently explained the history and rudiments of the game. And we had a ball (pun intended!). However, the more Monte spoke, the more I was impressed with applications far beyond the game of croquet.

One of his first words of advice was never say “I can’t.” When one of us faced a difficult shot, the words, “I can’t do this,” often escaped our lips. Monte was quick to admonish us that if we say we can’t, then we have effectively denied ourselves even the chance of succeeding.

As a Christian, I have an even better reason to avoid saying “I can’t.” I’ve been called to do many things beyond what I believe are my abilities. Still, I have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit to enable me to succeed in what He wants me to accomplish. Maybe I can’t…but He can through me! As the apostle Paul wrote, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us…” (Ephesians 3:20 ESV).

Another bit of advice from our instructor was to follow-through on each swing of the mallet to gain the distance we needed for the shot. Life is like that, isn’t it? We begin a task, then become distracted or discouraged, and we don’t finish what we start. How many unfinished craft projects are hidden in the recesses of my closet? How many partial manuscripts are sitting inside documents in my computer? The Bible reminds us “Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:4 NIV).

Monte also cautioned us to be aware of the danger ball. The danger ball belonged to the next person in turn. Even if I set up a perfect shot, the danger ball could knock me out of position.

I’ve been hit by some danger balls in life. It happens when I become complacent, or when I allow unrealistic expectations of people or circumstances to cloud my judgment. The apostle Peter reminds us to “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (I Peter 5:8 NIV). Even Jesus told His followers to “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16 NIV).

Speaking of being aware of the danger ball leads me to Monte’s next piece of advice, “Don’t block your partner.” We played in teams, and in addition to being aware of who followed us from the opposing team, we needed to be aware of our partner’s position. It didn’t benefit my team if I only focused on myself. Many of the times we scored a wicket were because one team member made sure her shot did not block her partner.

What would happen in our relationships if we heeded this advice? More to the point, what would happen in our marriages if we heeded this advice? Paul advised us to “not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4 NASB). We can at least start by not “blocking” our spouses so they are free to move as God leads!

Closely related to that last bit of advice is this: “Don’t trash the opposition; instead encourage your partner.” Croquet is a polite game. Instead of trash-talking between teams, we were exhorted to have a positive focus. Paul might have had something similar in mind when he wrote, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29 NIV).

Our morning lesson culminated in a delightful lunch on the veranda, overlooking the croquet courts. Did I have fun? Absolutely! But I also learned something about myself. Now if I can only remember to apply those lessons…in croquet and in life!

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The Croquet Lesson – wisdom from @AvaPennington on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

© 2010 Martin Alan Grivjack Photography Martin Alan Grivjack Photography

About the authorAva Pennington is an author, Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) teacher, and speaker. Her most recent book, Daily Reflections on the Names of God, is endorsed by Kay Arthur of Precepts Ministries.

Ava has also published stories in 30+ anthologies, including 25 Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Her articles have appeared in numerous magazines, including Today’s Christian Woman and Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse.

She is a passionate speaker and delights in encouraging groups with relevant, enjoyable presentations. For more information, visit www.AvaWrites.com.

Join the conversation: Which piece of wisdom was most helpful to you?

 

More Than Called…

by Ava Pennington @AvaPennington

To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance.” Jude 1:1-2 ESV

Are you feeling drained? Has serving God become a burden rather than a privilege?

Each of us has been called to serve our mighty God in a unique way. But we can become so busy fulfilling our call that we focus on the “doing.” We want to do better—to write well, to teach effectively, to do whatever we’ve been called to do to the best of our ability.

Yet our ability can be limited. Then we struggle with our inadequacy as we represent the King of Kings. That inadequacy drives to seek His empowering to accomplish His purposes.

To be conscious of our calling is to serve with an awareness of the privilege of being used by God to advance His kingdom. But that’s only a partial picture of what it means to be called. In the New Testament, Jude wrote, “To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance” (Jude 1:1-2 ESV).

Jude made a point of addressing his epistle to those who are called, loved, and kept.

How often have I been so busy ministering the love of God to everyone else that I’ve forgotten I’m also a recipient of that same love? We are loved by the God of love, not because we serve, but because He lavishly pours out His love on us through Jesus Christ’s atoning work.

Not only are we loved with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3), we are also kept. Our Heavenly Father sustains us and protects us. He holds us in the palm of His hand. Regardless of our circumstances, there is no safer place to be.

He saves us by the substitutionary work of Christ on the cross, and He seals us by His Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). We have everything we need to do all He has called us to do. More importantly, we have everything we need to be all He has called us to be—chosen, loved, adopted, redeemed, and sealed.

When we understand who we are—and to whom who we belong—God releases His power in us and through us to serve Him. The order is important. Identity comes before service. Being comes before doing. Reveling in His mercy, peace, and love comes before ministry in His name.

Before you write your next chapter, teach your next class, answer the twenty new emails sitting in your Inbox, or even change that next diaper, take a moment to consider this reminder:

“I am loved with a lavish, everlasting love. This love is unrelated to what I do, but it has everything to do with who I belong to. I am a beloved child of the King kept by His almighty hand.”   

Once we understand God’s love and His keeping, we are free to serve Him without fear, equipped in every way to fulfill the purpose to which we are called.

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More Than Called… -insight from @AvaPennington on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

© 2010 Martin Alan Grivjack Photography Martin Alan Grivjack Photography

About the authorAva Pennington is an author, Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) teacher, and speaker. Her most recent book, Daily Reflections on the Names of God, is endorsed by Kay Arthur of Precepts Ministries.

Ava has also published stories in 30+ anthologies, including 25 Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Her articles have appeared in numerous magazines, including Today’s Christian Woman and Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse.

She is a passionate speaker and delights in encouraging groups with relevant, enjoyable presentations. For more information, visit www.AvaWrites.com.

Join the conversation: What has made you question the goodness of God?

Is God Ever Not Good?

by Ava Pennington @AvaPennington

A friend recently had successful cancer surgery. When she joyfully announced the results on social media, the responses were both positive and predictable:

  • God is good!
  • God truly answers prayer!
  • God really loves you!
  • God is an awesome God!

We rejoiced in her prognosis because we understood the magnitude of what might have been. Still, our collective responses started me wondering. What if God had not extended His hand of mercy to her? What if the surgery had not been successful? What if the cancer had spread? Would we still say:

  • God is good!
  • God truly answers prayer!
  • God really loves you!
  • God is an awesome God!

…or would we doubt His goodness?

The prophet Habakkuk wrote: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior” (Habakkuk 3:17-18 NIV).

Today, we might say: “Though the cancer is not healed and I can’t pay my mortgage, though my marriage has failed and the economy produces no jobs, though there are no book contracts in the offing and no agents who want to represent me,         yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

No matter what happens, God is good.

Whether we understand our circumstances or not, God is good.

Whether we can serve Him the way we want or not, God is good.

Whether our days are difficult or easy, God is good.

Do you believe this—truly believe this in the midst of your present circumstances? Believe it in your heart and speak it aloud, because it’s true: God is good, all the time. And all the time, God is good.

I hope you’re not experiencing anything today causing you to doubt God’s goodness. But if you are, what will you do with your doubts?

O taste and see that the Lord is good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!                                                                                                                                          Psalm 34:8 NASB

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Is God Ever Not Good? Insight from @AvaPennington on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

© 2010 Martin Alan Grivjack Photography Martin Alan Grivjack Photography

About the authorAva Pennington is an author, Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) teacher, and speaker. Her most recent book, Daily Reflections on the Names of God, is endorsed by Kay Arthur of Precepts Ministries.

Ava has also published stories in 30+ anthologies, including 25 Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Her articles have appeared in numerous magazines, including Today’s Christian Woman and Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse.

She is a passionate speaker and delights in encouraging groups with relevant, enjoyable presentations. For more information, visit www.AvaWrites.com.

Join the conversation: What has made you question the goodness of God?

When No One Seems to Notice

by Ava Pennington @AvaPennington

Ministry can sometimes be discouraging work in the best of times. It may become even more discouraging when we’ve poured ourselves into our calling and no one seems to notice our efforts. Or maybe we’ve worked and worked . . . and someone else gets the credit for what we’ve accomplished.

As Christians, we know we serve to glorify the Lord. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world . . . let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14, 16 NIV). The goal of our work is to glorify the Father, not ourselves.

Still, it’s natural to want someone to notice and acknowledge our efforts. We all need encouragement. Certainly, the Bible exhorts us to encourage one another.

But the Lord knows our hearts. He knows our motivations. I’ve found God will frequently allow periods of anonymity or discouragement in my life to reveal my motives. If I’m ready to give up because of a lack of recognition or appreciation, that tells me my motives have been all wrong.

It’s no accident that among the hundreds of named women in Scripture, there are also more than one hundred references to unnamed individual women or groups of women. Immortalized in Scripture for all time, yet virtually unknown apart from being identified by their circumstances. It doesn’t seem quite fair.

Yet nothing escapes God’s notice. He knows who they are—each and every one of them. And he knows who we are, what we’re doing, and why we do it. Jesus reminded his followers that “even the very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matthew 10:30 NIV). In Genesis 16:13, Hagar was amazed that God knew all about her, and she called Him El Roi, the God Who Sees.

So the next time you’re discouraged because of a lack of recognition or appreciation, there’s only one thing to do. Run straight into the arms of El Roi. Take comfort in knowing the Lord sees all you do and will reward you in His time and in His perfect way.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:9-10 NIV).

So who are we really serving? Paul reminds us in I Thessalonians 2:4 (NIV), “We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.” And in Colossians 3:23-24 (NIV), he wrote, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

When we’re in ministry the recognition and pay may not be much, but we can look forward to a retirement plan that’s out of this world!

For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward his name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints. Hebrews 6:10 NASB

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When No One Seems to Notice – insight from @AvaPennington on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

© 2010 Martin Alan Grivjack Photography Martin Alan Grivjack Photography

About the authorAva Pennington is an author, Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) teacher, and speaker. Her most recent book, Daily Reflections on the Names of God, is endorsed by Kay Arthur of Precepts Ministries.

Ava has also published stories in 30+ anthologies, including 25 Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Her articles have appeared in numerous magazines, including Today’s Christian Woman and Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse.

She is a passionate speaker and delights in encouraging groups with relevant, enjoyable presentations. For more information, visit www.AvaWrites.com.

Join the conversation: Have you ever struggled with a lack of recognition?

What Are We Really Forgiving?

by Ava Pennington

What’s one of the most common reasons we give for not forgiving others? If you’re like me, you might say forgiveness implies approval or tolerance of the behavior. We read about forgiveness, talk about it, and teach it. Yet for most of us, forgiving others is one of the most difficult things God asks us to do.

A recent conversation with a friend reminded me that one reason we may find it difficult to forgive is because we misunderstand what it is that we’re forgiving.

What if I told you we are not forgiving the sin?

King David wrote, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (Psalm 51:4 ESV).

Even the Pharisees of Jesus’ day understood that God alone can forgive sin. That’s why they pitched a fit when Jesus forgave the paralytic. In Luke 5:18-25 (ESV), we read:

Behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed…but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus.

And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”

And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Yes, only God can forgive the actual sin. And since Jesus is God, He demonstrated that He also has the authority to forgive sin.

Perhaps that’s one reason we struggle with forgiveness. We’re trying—and failing—to forgive something we don’t have the right to forgive. We justify our failure to forgive by saying we don’t want to communicate tolerance for the sin. Or that it’s not right for the other person to “get away with” what they’ve done.

So if we’re not forgiving the sin, then what are we forgiving?

Consider that we’re forgiving the offense. The offense against our rights. Against our values. Against our family. Against whatever it is that we hold dear.

By forgiving the offender, I’m saying my rights are less important than freedom from bitterness and resentment. I’m saying my job is not to forgive the actual sin, but the offense against me. The offense that has trespassed my rights.

Could it be that the act of forgiveness is the ultimate act of admitting that I’m not God? That in giving up my right to be angry and resentful, I’m submitting to the authority God has to forgive sins?

Could it be that when we forgive others, we’re expressing our awareness that we’re in desperate need of the same forgiveness? Because, let’s face it, it’s just about impossible to go through life without giving offense, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Sooner or later, we’ll need others to forgive our offenses against them.

Even so, forgiveness is not something we can even begin to do in our own strength. We need the prompting of the Holy Spirit to motivate us to surrender our rights (Galatians 2:20). And we need the power of the Holy Spirit to humble ourselves to actually forgive (John 14:15-17). Finally, we need the Holy Spirit’s comfort to know that God is a just judge (Genesis 18:25), and we can trust that He will make all things right in the end.

There’s a freedom in forgiving others. Freedom in knowing God is God and we are not. Most of all, freedom in offering what we, ourselves, need.

“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Colossians 3:13 NIV

© 2010 Martin Alan Grivjack Photography Martin Alan Grivjack Photography

About the authorAva Pennington is an author, Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) teacher, and speaker. Her most recent book, Daily Reflections on the Names of God, is endorsed by Kay Arthur of Precepts Ministries.

Ava has also published stories in 30+ anthologies, including 25 Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Her articles have appeared in numerous magazines, including Today’s Christian Woman and Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse.

She is a passionate speaker and delights in encouraging groups with relevant, enjoyable presentations. For more information, visit www.AvaWrites.com.

Join the conversation: Have you ever struggled to forgive?

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

The Weight of Our Words

By Ava Pennington

When Hurricane Irma blew through south Florida last September, we were fortunate not to sustain damage to our home. But the natural environment did not fare as well. Hurricane-force winds snapped off branches and uprooted trees. Root balls sometimes 6 feet across lay upended. So many trees died. Some are still hanging on, shadows of their former, vibrant selves. Still others, with human assistance, have been replanted, pruned, and nurtured, and are now thriving.

But all that repair came at a cost. It cost us in time and labor. And in our efforts to save some of the landscaping surrounding us, other parts of it became damaged as we worked. The final mound of dead foliage by the curb was 6 feet high and wide, and 15 feet long. By the time it was all picked up, we had an equally large patch of dead grass in our front lawn.

The grass that died under the weight of the branches got me thinking about my relationships. How many relationships have I killed with the weight of my words? How many people stuck with me for just so long before they moved on, allowing the relationship to die?

It goes the other way, too. How many friendships have I walked away from over the years, because the weight of the other person’s words brought death to my spirit instead of life?

Someone once said: “Be careful of your words. Once spoken, they can be forgiven, but not forgotten.”

So true. I confess to having replayed over and over hurtful words spoken to me long after I claimed to forgive. Their words continued to pierce my heart even long after the sender regretted speaking them, creating a distance between us.

Or perhaps it’s us who are consumed with regret for what we said in the heat of the moment. We attempt reconciliation with the other person, but even years later, their hurt remains, and remoteness remained over reconciliation.

Of course, healthy boundaries are important. If the other person won’t acknowledge their responsibility for the damage they’ve caused, then it’s not wise to continue the relationship at the same level of intimacy. We are called to forgive unconditionally, but restoration and reconciliation are processes that may not follow, however much we might desire it.

Still, what if you and I were more careful of the words we speak? What if we stopped those words before we spoke them, instead of asking forgiveness after they leave our mouth?

Winston Churchill once said, “We are masters of the unsaid words, but slaves of those we let slip out.”

The writer of Proverbs observed, “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18 ESV).

It’s easier to maintain a good relationship than to have to repair it. To that end, I want my words to be gracious, even when I’m hurt or angry. It’s worth it because people are worth it. People created in the image of God and people for whom Jesus Christ died.

I know I can’t do this in my own effort. I need the Holy Spirit’s work in my life to strengthen me in this area. So today, my prayer is, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” (Psalm 141:3 ESV).

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”   Proverbs 18:21 ESV

© 2010 Martin Alan Grivjack Photography Martin Alan Grivjack Photography

About the authorAva Pennington is an author, Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) teacher, and speaker. Her most recent book, Daily Reflections on the Names of God, is endorsed by Kay Arthur of Precepts Ministries.

Ava has also published stories in 30+ anthologies, including 25 Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Her articles have appeared in numerous magazines, including Today’s Christian Woman and Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse.

She is a passionate speaker and delights in encouraging groups with relevant, enjoyable presentations. For more information, visit www.AvaWrites.com.

Join the conversation: What helps you to guard your tongue?

Expectations vs. Expectancy

by Ava Pennington

Have you recently experienced frustration? Something or someone irritated you?  Plans didn’t go your way?

That seems to be happening to me more as of late. I get annoyed at the increased seasonal traffic in south Florida. I’m frustrated by people who don’t follow through on what they said they would do. I’m irritated by circumstances that cause me to make two separate trips to purchase the same item.

But what if the cause of the irritation is not external at all? What if I’m the cause of my own frustration? Someone once said “the level of your frustration is directly related to the level of your expectations.”

Ouch.

So the real cause of my own grief is most likely…me.

Knowing we live in a broken world, why do I go through life expecting people to respond perfectly? Especially when I know I don’t!

Understanding that our little town experiences a population surge during the winter season, why do I get annoyed at the increased traffic?

Failing to take the time to plan properly, why am I surprised that one task requires multiple trips to the store?

Unrealistic expectations. Expectations grounded in reality as I want it to be, rather than the way it is.

Ancient Israel had a similar problem. Their expectations of the coming Messiah were based on cherry-picked prophecies. The sad result was that they didn’t recognize Him when He did come. They were so busy looking for a victorious military leader that they missed the Suffering Servant who came to redeem humanity.

So what’s the answer?

I believe the answer for a Christian is to live expectantly.

To live expectantly is to live in without setting specific expectations or demands on what that will look like. Living expectantly allows us to recognize where the Holy Spirit might be moving in areas we would not normally look for Him. And it communicates that we are satisfied with whatever the Lord does, allows, or gives—without comparing it to our own agenda or shopping list.

Those who live expectantly have the privilege of living out a truth understood by martyred missionary Jim Elliot: “God always gives His best to those who leave the choice with him.”

Will you join me? Together, let’s put aside our expectations and live in daily expectancy for how God will show Himself active in our life. And as He does, share your experiences with others to increase their own sense of expectancy.

“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:3 ESV).

© 2010 Martin Alan Grivjack Photography Martin Alan Grivjack Photography

About the authorAva Pennington is an author, Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) teacher, and speaker. Her most recent book, Daily Reflections on the Names of God, is endorsed by Kay Arthur of Precepts Ministries.

Ava has also published stories in 30+ anthologies, including 25 Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Her articles have appeared in numerous magazines, including Today’s Christian Woman and Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse.

She is a passionate speaker and delights in encouraging groups with relevant, enjoyable presentations. For more information, visit www.AvaWrites.com.

Join the conversation: What expectations do you need to give up in order to live expectantly?

Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

Broken or Brokenness?

by Ava Pennington

I’m a broken person. I’m also someone who desires to live in a state of brokenness. These may sound the same—and maybe they are to some people—but the difference in my life is huge.

During a recent lunch with a friend, she mentioned a book she was reading on brokenness. Our conversation challenged me to consider brokenness in my own life.

Our world and its inhabitants are broken. Hurting. Seeking something better, even if they don’t know what that “something better” is.

Most would agree this broken world is not a good thing. Our culture has decided we can live a better life apart from a relationship with our Creator. But we were never meant to live apart from God. And the results of this willful independence can be seen everywhere we look. In people. In values and relationships. Even in the natural world around us.

When something is broken, it no longer functions as it should. In our disposable culture, broken things end up in the trash. But in God’s economy, He takes broken people and doesn’t just fix them, He makes them brand new through faith in Jesus Christ.

So as a Christian, I’m no longer broken in the sense that my only future is the junk heap. I’m now able to accomplish the purpose for which I was created. But the only way I can move forward is in a state of brokenness.

Brokenness is a continuing posture of humility and dependence on the One who created and saved me. It’s an accurate view of myself in the light of who God is. One of the best descriptions of brokenness I’ve found is in the Beatitudes:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons[a] of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.   ~ Matthew 5:3-12 ESV

Or consider these verses:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” ~ Galatians 2:20 ESV

Total dependence on the Holy Spirit of God. Trusting His leading. Obeying His Word. The result is not just a repair of my broken self to be usable again. The result is that I become more valuable than I was before.

God redeems and increases the value of each person who relies on Him. In our brokenness, the cracks are still visible, but now they are made beautiful by His touch.

I am broken no longer. But I embrace the brokenness that allows His grace to work in and through me for His glory.

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.”  Isaiah 57:15 ESV

© 2010 Martin Alan Grivjack Photography Martin Alan Grivjack Photography

About the authorAva Pennington is an author, Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) teacher, and speaker. Her most recent book, Daily Reflections on the Names of God, is endorsed by Kay Arthur of Precepts Ministries.

Ava has also published stories in 30+ anthologies, including 25 Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Her articles have appeared in numerous magazines, including Today’s Christian Woman and Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse.

She is a passionate speaker and delights in encouraging groups with relevant, enjoyable presentations. For more information, visit www.AvaWrites.com.

Join the conversation: How do you cultivate a sense of brokenness?

Releasing What I Never Had

by Ava Pennington

I’m naturally task-oriented. I enjoy the sense of trying to control my circumstances. My previous corporate career affirmed those traits.

While these character qualities facilitated success in the corporate world, they generated problems in my spiritual life. As I grew in my Christian walk, I learned the Lord wanted me to release my desire for control and instead surrender to His sovereign direction.

Release? That’s a difficult word for me. Release my writing career and the sales of my books. Release the desire to control my circumstances. Release my rights. Continue working, serving, and teaching in ministry, but release the results to the Lord.

God nudged my spirit. I AM Lord over you, your circumstances, your relationships, your teaching, your writing…your life! Release it all to Me.

It has been a slow journey. Still, living with the concept of release is making a difference in how I live, and especially in how I respond to negative circumstances.

At least, it was making a difference, until a cable company crew dug a trench across our front yard. Right across the buried wire for the electric fence that kept our two active boxer pups contained.

I called their main office to file a claim for reimbursement for the repair. They opened a claim and promised a telephone follow-up within two weeks.

Nothing.

A second conversation revealed they had closed the claim as unfounded—without calling me. I opened a new claim and they promised to follow-up within seven days. No call. I was angry.

A visit to the company’s local office resulted in a three-hour wait and a promise of a follow-up call within forty-eight hours. Again, nothing. My anger grew.

I complained to the Executive Regional Office and left a lengthy, frustrated message.

While I waited for their call, I sat at my computer to write a blog post about spiritual growth. I had planned to describe my progress in releasing control to God.

Ouch. How could I write it when I was in full-on control-and-fix mode? Release had never once entered my thoughts.

As I typed, I rationalized. Releasing doesn’t apply to this situation. I needed to stay on their case till they responded. But I sensed the Lord speaking to my heart. Release your anger to Me.

They’re the ones in the wrong! Release it to Me anyway.

It’s clearly their responsibility to reimburse me. Don’t you think I can handle this?

Sigh. Yes, Lord. I know You can. I release it to You.

Two hours later, the phone rang. The caller introduced herself, then confirmed she had already arranged for reimbursement. I thanked her. Then I added that I should have trusted the Lord to take care of the situation far better than I could. And she said…wait for it…“Absolutely. And when we’re done, thank Him, too!”

Not only was the problem resolved, it was resolved by a fellow Christian!

Release. Just when I think I’ve learned how to live in surrender, I come face to face with my old nature—the one that tries to hold tight to control. To my rights. Something had to give. What gave is me.

I finally realized control is an illusion. I may think I’m in control, but I’m not. Never have been. Never will be.

That doesn’t mean I’ve arrived. The adage is true: “Old habits die hard.” Yet there is also a feeling of relief in release. Relief that I can stop my futile efforts and rest in the care of my sovereign heavenly Father—the One who is and has been in control all along.

“Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it?”
Lamentations 3:37 ESV

© 2010 Martin Alan Grivjack Photography Martin Alan Grivjack Photography

About the authorAva Pennington is an author, Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) teacher, and speaker. Her most recent book, Daily Reflections on the Names of God, is endorsed by Kay Arthur of Precepts Ministries.

Ava has also published stories in 30+ anthologies, including 25 Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Her articles have appeared in numerous magazines, including Today’s Christian Woman and Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse.

She is a passionate speaker and delights in encouraging groups with relevant, enjoyable presentations. For more information, visit www.AvaWrites.com.

Free Book Contest!  Arise Daily will use a random number generator to pick a winnerDaily Reflections on the Names of God - lo-res from today’s comments. To enter our contest for Ava’s devotional book,  Daily Reflections on the Names of God, please comment below.  By posting in our comments, you are giving us permission to share your name if you win!  If you have an outside the US mailing address, your prize could be substituted with an e-book of our choice.

Join the conversation: What have you yet to release in your life?

Prisoner of Hope

by Ava Pennington

A few years ago, I began the practice of choosing One Word for the year. But when the word hope kept coming to my attention in December 2016, I dismissed it. Our health and finances were in fairly good shape. Why would I need to focus on hope as a daily activity for the next twelve months?

I didn’t have to wait long to learn why hope was not only my word for 2017, it was for my husband as well. The first week in January, Russ entered the hospital with sharp abdominal pain. Tests confirmed pancreatic cancer.

While we waited in the ER for the admission paperwork to be completed, a nurse placed something in my hand and closed my fingers around it. “Here,” he said. “Hold on to this.” I opened my hand to reveal a glass stone with the word hope etched across it in gold letters.

If ever a diagnosis called for hope, it’s pancreatic cancer. In ten months, Russ experienced two surgeries, a multitude of doctor appointments, tests, chemotherapy, radiation, and more chemotherapy. Through it all, we trusted our Savior and hoped in Him.

The subject of hope came up again during a recent lunch with a friend. She asked me how to become a “prisoner of hope,” (Zechariah 9:12). How is it some people live in hope, while others—no matter how hard they fight against it—sink under waves of despair?

My experience showed me that my ability to live in hope rests in the object of my hope. All too often, I hear people say things such as:

I hope I get a raise.
I hope the weather clears.
I hope my friend is healed.

Problem is, in each of these (and similar) situations, the object of their hope is the desire they seek. And a string of unfulfilled desires can cause us to wallow in hopelessness. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of hoping in the gift instead of the Giver.

But consider what happens when our hope is placed in God, Himself. The more we understand what He has revealed about Himself, the more we realize He is always at work for His glory and our good. Regardless of the outcome—whether we receive what we want or not—it will always be for the best, even if we can’t see it now.

So the answer to the question of why some people are “prisoners of hope” while others are mired in hopelessness might be simpler than we think. If we hope in the thing we want, we’re bound to be disappointed on a regular basis. But if we hope in the Giver—the One who is our heavenly Father and Savior, we will always be satisfied.

Perhaps that’s a simplistic approach to hope. Or perhaps we try too hard to complicate the word.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13 ESV) 

© 2010 Martin Alan Grivjack Photography Martin Alan Grivjack Photography

About the authorAva Pennington is an author, Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) teacher, and speaker. Her most recent book, Daily Reflections on the Names of God, is endorsed by Kay Arthur of Precepts Ministries.

Ava has also published stories in 30+ anthologies, including 25 Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Her articles have appeared in numerous magazines, including Today’s Christian Woman and Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse.

She is a passionate speaker and delights in encouraging groups with relevant, enjoyable presentations. For more information, visit www.AvaWrites.com.

Free Book Contest!  Arise Daily will use a random number generator to pick a winnerDaily Reflections on the Names of God - lo-res from today’s comments. To enter our contest for Ava’s devotional book,  Daily Reflections on the Names of God, please comment below.  By posting in our comments, you are giving us permission to share your name if you win!  If you have an outside the US mailing address, your prize could be substituted with an e-book of our choice.

Join the conversation: Have unfulfilled desires ever caused you to wallow in hopelessness?