Christmas and the Courage to Obey

by Jennifer Slattery

Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. May your gracious Spirit lead me forward on a firm footing. Psalm 143:10 NLT

Most often, pride is my greatest challenge to obedience. When operating in my own strength, I will go to great lengths to not look bad. I’ll avoid saying that truth, or initiating that conversation, or taking on that new role I might perform imperfectly.

Had I been Mary, I fear I would’ve argued some when the angel Gabriel appeared with the news I would soon have God’s baby. 

 I mean, motherhood was terrifying enough, y’all. But to bear the Savior of the world? That had to be completely overwhelming, and yet, that’s not the only thing I would’ve found difficult. Processing it all, my mind would’ve immediately thought of all of my friends and neighbors, of everyone in my faith community, who would see my growing belly and wonder … 

And gossip.

And whisper.

And maybe even turn away.

I was young, about 21, when I became pregnant with our daughter, and I looked even younger. People often told me, “You look like you’re in your teens.” They may have meant this as a compliment, but their words always brought me shame. We were living in a small railroad town at the time, one with long held traditional values–like when and to whom children should come. And not only did I look “much too young” to have a child, my hand was also too swollen for my wedding ring. As a result, I always felt judged, as if people had formulated an entire story surrounding my condition. 

I’m certain my feelings of shame were exacerbated by my less than glamorous past and all the inner lies I’d formed along the way.

As a result, though I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong, I often felt the need to “explain”. I also took to wearing my wedding ring on a necklace. Remembering all this, I marvel at how readily Mary replied, in Luke 1:38 (NLT), “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”

Keep in mind, the angel had yet to approach Joseph. Mary did not yet know that Joseph would believe her and stand by her. At this point in the story, his rejection was very possible, along with her parents and everyone else in her social circle. She wasn’t given any promises, no guarantees.

And yet, she replied, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”

I want to respond with that level of obedience. The kind of obedience that says, “No matter what happens, Lord, I choose you. I choose to obey You, to honor You, to live for You, and most importantly, to trust You.” 

That can be crazy-hard to do sometimes, until I remember the character of the One who calls me to trust. He is entirely trustworthy. The Savior of the world, my Savior, will never fail. 

I don’t know what God is calling you to this holiday season. Maybe it’s to share the gospel with that sibling or to step across the street to invite that new neighbor to coffee. Taking that first step might feel frightening, but may God grant us the courage to say, “I am Your servant, Lord.”

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: What is God calling you to do?

The Wise Still Seek Him

by Candy Arrington

When Jesus was born, some wise men from the east came to Jerusalem. They asked, “Where is the baby who was born to be the king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him. Matthew 2:1-2 NCV

Several months ago, I looked online for an unbreakable nativity set. I wanted one my young grandchildren could touch, hold, and rearrange. However, I discovered that most sets do not include the wise men. Although they likely arrived long after the night of Jesus’ birth, the wise men are an important part of the Christmas story.

Some of what we believe about the wise men is based on speculation rather than Matthew’s account. Were they kings as the familiar Christmas carol states? Do three gifts indicate only three visitors? Were their names Melchior, Balthasar, and Gaspar?

The word “magi” most often referred to wise men rather than kings. The Bible says they came from east of Jerusalem, which was perhaps Persia or Babylon. They may have been scholars who studied the prophecies of a coming Messiah. (Daniel, living in Babylon, wrote of the coming king.) Or God may have revealed Jesus’ birth to them in a more personal way, in a dream or vision. Whatever the case, they were intent on finding Jesus and asked King Herod for directions.

In addition, a star guided them. When it stopped, they were overjoyed because they had reached their destination. “When the men went into the house and saw the child with his mother Mary, they knelt down and worshiped him. They brought out their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and presented them to him.” Matthew 2:11 CEV

Notice the wise men came to “the house,” not a stable, and Jesus is referred to as a child, not a baby. Can you imagine the scene as these weary travelers bowed down before a toddler and presented him with gold and sweet-smelling spices? And what were Mary’s thoughts as she watched this scene unfold?

Although we don’t know if the Magi spent the night at Jesus’ house, in a local inn, or camped under the star that guided them, we can assume they slept because they were warned in a dream not to return to give Herod the information he requested. They obeyed and went back to their country by another route.

Despite speculation about who they were, where they came from, and how many were in the group, here’s what we can learn from the wise men that we can apply to our lives:

  • They were seekers. Some people today want God to reveal himself in some miraculous way. Instead, the wise men left the security of their homes, traveled many miles, and persisted in their quest until they found Jesus.
  • They worshiped with joy. Many times, we forget that joy is one of the benefits of knowing Christ and living a life focused on him. We get caught up in issues beyond our control or difficult life circumstances, and waste energy and time feeling disappointed or unhappy. Knowing Jesus and worshiping him brings joy.
  • They gave gifts. Often, instead of giving to Jesus, we expect him to give to us. Sometimes, our prayers resemble a Christmas gift list. We want God to do for us, but aren’t willing to offer our time or talents in service to him. The wise men presented gifts to Jesus, with joy, and asked for nothing in return.
  • They were obedient. When God spoke to them in a dream, the wise men obeyed. Perhaps their gifts funded Jesus’ family’s sojourn in Egypt, and their obedience in not revealing the family’s location ensured their safety. Likewise, when we decide to obey God, it is always a wise choice.

No matter how you view the wise men, realize they experienced the joy of seeking, finding, and giving to the King.

If anyone longs to be wise, ask God for wisdom and he will give it! James 1:5 TPT

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

Candy Arrington

About the author: Candy Arrington has written hundreds of articles and devotionals, often on tough topics. Her books include AFTERSHOCK: Help, Hope, and Healing in the Wake of Suicide (B & H) and When Your Aging Parent Needs Care: Practical Help for This Season of Life (Harvest House). 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 book, When Your Aging Parent Needs Care, is a help to those who face the special effort of caring for a parent. It provides support and direction to enable the caregiver to be spiritually, physically, and emotionally prepared for the day to day challenges they face.

Join the conversation: How has God shown Himself to you after you sought Him?

Wanted: Antidote

by Sheri Schofield

My Gramma Jewell and Papa Carl loved gardening. They lived on the side of a steep hill that they terraced and filled with flowers. One day when they were weeding the garden, Gramma saw a baby rattlesnake coiled up, rattling its tiny tail.

“Carl,” Gramma called. “Come see this!”

When Papa arrived, Gramma was laughing. She pointed to the tiny little snake and said, “Isn’t that cute?”

Papa, a man of few words, calmly killed that baby rattlesnake, raised his eyebrow at Gramma, and went back to where he had been working. Cute? Was she kidding? It was a rattlesnake, for crying out loud! Its bite would be serious! There’s no such thing as a “cute” rattlesnake!

We all have another kind of snake in our lives, no matter where we live. It’s called sin. Our children unfortunately inherit sin natures like ours. But they may sometimes do naughty things in such a way that we want to laugh because it seems so cute! In our own lives, too, sometimes a sin may seem too innocent and sweet to squelch. But like that baby rattlesnake’s bite, its venom in our heart is deadly . . . even the seemingly small sins.

King David wrote, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you . . . How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way” (Psalm 119:9-10, 103-10 ESV).

People who do not want to follow God, or those who claim to be Christians but who do not want to abide under godly discipline, usually hate the laws given in the Bible. But those who walk in a love relationship with Jesus discover that those laws are precious. They are sweet in our lives, for they show us the path of life and grant us freedom from the ravages of sin.

Some Christians seem to love the ways of sin. When confronted, they say, “But other Christians are doing the same thing! It’s okay!

No. It is not okay. It is like allowing rattlesnakes to live in their gardens. Sin bites them often. It’s makes their lives miserable. They have not yet found the freedom of obedience to God. Sin has become a habit.

Sometimes I find myself thinking, “Oh, this thing in my heart is just a little sin! I can ignore it.” Thankfully, my Lord keeps bringing it up until I deal with whatever it is. As I read the Bible, the Holy Spirit shows me a better way – the path of obedience. It applies God’s cleansing antidote to sin’s bite and I am healed. I find that the Word lifts me up and rescues me from that which holds me back. The Word is sweet to me! It brings me victory. Through the Word I find supernatural strength to overcome the power of temptation and sin. It helps me keep the snakes out of my life’s garden!

Today, let’s lift our faces and hearts to the sweet, healing rain of God’s Word and let it wash us clean! How refreshing it is!

For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. Isaiah 44:3 ESV

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Wanted: Antidote – insight from author Sheri Schofield on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

sheri schofield

About the author: Sheri Schofield is an award-winning children’s author-illustrator and children’s ministry veteran of 40 years. Sheri was named Writer of the Year in 2018 at the Colorado Christian Writers’ Conference for her work in effectively sharing the gospel of Jesus. Her ministry, Faithwind 4 Kids, can be followed on her blog at her website, http://www.sherischofield.com. 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: Is there a sin you have become comfortable with?

How to Resist A Donut

by Kathy Collard Miller @KathyCMiller

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5 ESV

On a recent morning at 6 a.m., as I walked home from our neighborhood work-out room, I felt drained by the unusual humidity along with the 90-degree temperature (yes, I live in the desert). Tomorrow morning, I’ll have to drive the car. And then the most delicious thought entered my mind.

After I finish, I’ll go get a donut.

Oh! What motivation to drive the car to the gym. I felt delightfully sneaky. I could already taste my favorite donut—the sugar cinnamon spice. What does it matter I’m trying to eat healthier? I deserve a donut!

Then my spiritual eyes were opened and 2 Corinthians 10:5 came to mind: “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” ( ESV).

I saw Satan’s ploy to destroy my self-control by using a tactic of mine I developed in childhood. I often felt like the possibilities offered me were promises. Most often they were not fulfilled. I shared a room with my sister and always wanted my own room. At one point, most likely when I was a pre-teen, my mother mentioned, “Daddy and I are thinking of making the garage into your own bedroom.” What great news! I felt important and valued.

Emotionally, I waited on the edge of my seat for the next mention of the coming transformation. But my parents never brought up the idea again. In my insecurity, I didn’t ask about it because I feared hearing, “We aren’t going to do it.” Such an answer would feel like rejection, affirming my mistaken belief that I didn’t deserve anything special.

My hope died a slow painful death. I’m sure my parents thought I’d forgotten. I’m not even important enough for them to tell me they changed their mind.

Somehow in my complicated way of thinking, I began to hate being disappointed, even by myself. I believed “a broken promise equals rejection.” My warped need for self-control made sure I kept any promise to myself—like getting a donut—even if I couldn’t control other people.

All this was involved on that morning when I promised myself a donut. But I was willing to allow God to empower me to take every thought captive to obey Christ. 

Kathy, if you continue to promise yourself this donut, by tomorrow morning, it’ll be even harder to resist. Praise God, I saw the lie and refused to be caught in Satan’s web.

As I studied the truth of 2 Corinthians 10:5, I began to envision any thought as an arrow headed toward my heart and mind. I could take each thought “captive” and examine it whether it aligns with Scripture and its the truth. Then I could reject the lie and receive the truth.

By commandeering our thoughts and evaluating them, asking for the Spirit’s power, we choose obedience, resulting in God’s power being seen by others—to his glory.

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How to Resist A Donut – insight from @KathyCMiller on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

Kathy C MillerAbout the author: Kathy Collard Miller is passionate about teaching how to trust God more. The author of more than 55 books, one of her most recent is Pure-Hearted: The Blessings of Living Out God’s Glory. Her books include Bible studies, Bible commentaries, and Christian living topics like parenting, spiritual transformation, marriage, and God’s nature. She is a popular women’s conference speaker who has spoken in 35 states and 8 foreign countries. www.KathyCollardMiller.com

Her latest latest release is , Heart Wisdom, a part of her women’s Daughters of the King Bible study series. Heart Wisdom includes ten lessons about the different topics included in The Proverbs, and is perfect for individual or group study. Reach Kathy at www.KathyCollardMiller.com

Join the conversation: Do you have a lie that keeps running through your mind?

Simple Obedience

by Julie Zine Coleman @JulieZColeman

On a September morning in 1853, young Hudson Taylor departed England for Shanghai, China. He was just 21 years old, but possessed a God-given passion for the Chinese people. At that time, there were only a few dozen missionaries bringing the gospel to this great empire largely unknown to the west. During Hudson’s fifty-year ministry, that would all change.

Unlike the established missionary presence which largely kept to coastal areas, Hudson traveled deep into China’s interior. He eventually established the China Inland Mission, which would sponsor over 1,000 new missionaries to China in Hudson’s lifetime. His lifetime of dedicated service continues to be an inspiration to Christians everywhere even today.

And now for the rest of the story… I wish I could tell you that God blessed Hudson with a life free of trouble as he ministered so tirelessly among the Chinese. Not so. Hudson contracted a serious illness, probably hepatitis, and was forced to return to England for an extended time. For the rest of his days, he would struggle with poor health. Hudson also suffered several long bouts of serious depression. His beloved wife died at age 33. Four of their eight children died before the age of ten. In 1900, exhausted and overwhelmed, Hudson suffered a complete physical and mental breakdown. His was no “charmed” life.

The Chinese church is most likely the fastest growing church on earth today. Largely underground due to oppressive government policies, it has been estimated that 234 million Chinese are now believers. Much of the success in reaching the Chinese with the gospel is a result of the seeds sowed by Hudson Taylor in the nineteenth century. I wonder if he could have ever imagined how amazingly God would use his efforts.

We are called to be faithful in doing what God has called us to do. We are not given any guarantees or even insight as to the eventual success of our efforts. Our lives will not be free of problems and obstacles. Yet we are called to persevere, operating in faith that God will use our meager and faulty efforts to build His kingdom.

The prophets faced this same challenge. 1 Peter 1:12 tells us, “It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you…”  As the ancient prophets recorded God’s words to them, it was not for themselves or even their contemporaries, but for those of a future generation, which would use their writings to confirm the messiah’s identity and comprehend the plans of God. The prophets simply did as God asked, never seeing the fruit of their labor in their own lifetimes. It was obedience in faith.

What has God called you to do?  It probably does not appear to be a world-impacting ministry. Our efforts rarely do. Like Hudson Taylor, we will face hardship and discouragement as we attempt to obey. Our responsibility is only to do what we are called to do. Simple obedience is all that is required.

God will take our efforts and use them for his kingdom, generously allowing us to participate in his glorious cause.

“Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth… Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor.”                                             1 Corinthians 3:7-8 NASB

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Simple Obedience when #FollowingGod – insight from @JulieZColeman on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

Julie-Coleman-headshot-295x300About the authorJulie 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 walking her neurotic dog. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.

Does the Bible depict women as second-class citizens of the Kingdom? Jesus didn’t think so. Unexpected Love takes a 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: Have you felt discouraged at the effectiveness of your efforts? Please share your experiences!

Endure

by Cheri Swalwell @CheriSwalwell

“But we’re not quitters who lose out. Oh, no! We’ll stay with it and survive, trusting all the way.” Hebrews 10:39 (MSG)

When I used to think about the word endure, I have to admit, it left a bad taste in my mouth. It brought to mind all these horrible things I had to do because they were good for me: choking down cooked spinach, exercising for 30 minutes a day, every day,  cleaning the house; ____ (you fill in the blank).

After attending a women’s conference at my church, the word “endure” has now become more palatable. I would even venture to say I’ve changed my whole perspective. I learned that if God tells me to do something, even when I know it will be anything but easy, when I choose to remain faithful and obedient to His calling, God will bless that choice. That’s endurance.

Enduring doesn’t have to be painful. It can be a simple choice every day to ask God to help me in those painful moments, so that I can fulfill the assignment He has given me to do. For however long He chooses for me to do it.

A great example of endurance is Noah – he persevered for 100 years building the ark God called him to build. He followed God’s instructions even when his region had never seen the kinds of rains that God promised. He completed the assignment God gave him, and his family was saved from death.

And then there was Moses. He 2-4 describes how he lived in exile in the desert with his father-in-law and wife for 40 years before his encounter with God. Moses didn’t know it at the time, but it was all preparation for his big assignment: leading a mass of complaining, rebellious people through the desert. God was getting him ready to lead His chosen people out of Egypt into freedom.

Six years ago, I surrendered my life to God. Three years ago, I began specifically praying for something that still has not come to fruition. This past September, I surrendered even those dreams to God and asked Him to replace my desires with His.

While on the outside it may look like I’m still merely enduring, my perspective about the journey has changed. I am choosing joy. I am choosing to be faithful. I am choosing to look for and see God in the little and the big. I am choosing to endure because I know, in His time, if I continue to obey and be faithful, God will bless that obedience and faithfulness.

Do you think Noah envisioned as a teenager that one day God would use him to replenish the world and to save his family by building a giant boat? Do you think Moses, while wandering around in the desert, exiled from Egypt, had any inkling God was using that preparation to save His chosen people from bondage and lead them into freedom? God chose to use both of those men to fulfill His purpose, one much greater than any they could have imagined.

And, my friends, I’m believing God is going to use this time of preparation I’ve been in to fulfill His desire for my life, no matter how He wants it to look. I am choosing to endure, so I can give Him all the glory for when His plans for my life are fulfilled.

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Learning that Endurance isn’t the same as a call to suffer – from @CheriSwalwell on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

cheri swalwellAbout the author: Cheri Swalwell is a Christ follower who thoroughly enjoys her calling to be a wife, mother, and writer, in that order. She writes regularly for Book Fun Magazine and her devotional book series, Spoken from the Heart. You can connect with her on Facebook.

Her newest release, Journey of Complete Surrender, delves into the freedom that comes with giving God your whole heart and taking your hands completely off to give Him the chance to move as only He can.

Join the conversation: What do you struggle to surrender completely to God?

 

A Clear Measure of Trust

by Jennifer Slattery @JenSlattery

My trust is most revealed in how readily I respond to God’s guidance. I’m quick to talk about His power, love, and sovereignty. But too often, my daily actions demonstrate my heart hasn’t truly owned those biblical truths. When I hesitate to respond to God’s prompting or flat-out disobey, I reveal a deep layer of doubt, one that, if not swiftly squashed, will ultimately prove crippling.

One that will, ultimately, rob me of the joy-and-peace-filled life God longs to give me.

Had I been with the Israelites the day God told Joshua, their commander, to lead them across the Jordan River and into the lush and plentiful land He’d long promised them, I worry I may have politely declined. My thoughts would’ve been consumed by the rushing waters before me, my inability to swim across, and the threat of death both posed. This wasn’t how the Israelites responded.

I believe the why rests in their backstory—in the consequences they’d experienced due to disobedience. Decades prior, God had miraculously liberated their parents from slavery, led them across the Red Sea on dry ground, and commanded them to take possession of Canaan’s rich pastureland. But the people had refused, out of fear. Because of this, they were forced to wander through the desert for forty years. With each step, they were confronted afresh with their foolishness and reminded of God’s faithfulness. As He provided for them day by day, bringing water from rocks and honey-like wafers from heaven, they learned to trust in and depend on God.

And the Israelite’s children, now adults, had witnessed it all. They’d seen the suffering that came from rebellion and the blessings that came from obedience. Therefore, when faced with their own seemingly impassable body of water, they chose the latter.

In other words, they focused on their Savior, not the challenge before them.

This enabled them to move forward—to take hold of the blessing He’d prepared for them.

Scripture tells us, once Israel’s priests took that first literal step of faith, the waters miraculously stopped. As I read this account, recorded in Joshua 3, I was struck by the order of events. Joshua 3:15-16 says, “Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away …” (NIV).

The priests stepped into the raging waters first, and they didn’t just dip their toe in. According to verse eight, they stood in the river. This demonstrated total commitment to obedience and faith in God.

The result? God came through, as He always does.

We’ll regret countless choices made over the course of our life, but I guarantee responding to God in faith won’t be one of them.

Is God asking you to take a step of faith? What challenges do you need to surrender to Him? How might focusing on Jesus rather than your problems or obstacles ahead bolster your faith?

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you.    Isaiah 43:2 NASB

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A Clear Measure of Trust – thoughts on following God from @JenSlattery on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

Jennifer SlatteryAbout the author: Jennifer Slattery is a writer, editor, speaker, and the founder of Wholly Loved Ministries. She writes for Crosswalk, is the author of eight contemporary novels, and helped write Wholly Loved’s Bible study based on the life of Sarai (Gen. 12-23) titled Becoming His Princess, releasing in the spring/summer of 2019. When not writing, Dancing in the Rain by [Rife, Eileen, Slattery, Jennifer]reading, or editing, Jennifer loves going on mall outings with her adult daughter and coffee dates with her hilariously fun husband. Visit her online at jenniferslatterylivesoutloud.com.

Join the conversation: Share your thoughts, examples, and stories with us in the comments below.

Mary, Obedient Servant

by Candy Arrington @CandyArrington

For Mary, a young woman, engaged and preparing for a wedding, the appearance of the angel Gabriel was unexpected and terrifying. But despite her fear and confusion, Mary didn’t run from the heavenly apparition. Instead, she listened with enough composure and attention to understand the announcement, “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus” (Luke 1:31 NIV).

Then Mary asked a simple question, “How can this be?”

Mary was not questioning God’s call on her life. She was only asking for clarification, wanting to understand the mechanics of how something such a thing could happen. Once the angel answered her, she yielded herself totally to God’s plan.

If an angel appeared to a teenage girl today with shocking news such as Mary received, there would be numerous questions, or an exclamation of “No way!” Doubtless, Mary realized the potential problems inherent in God’s mission for her life, yet she didn’t voice hesitation. Instead, she calmly trusted God’s plan for her must be the best plan.

Mary’s acceptance tells us something about her relationship with God. Her faith was deep enough for her to trust and offer herself willingly. Perhaps it was Mary’s servant-heartedness that caused God to select her as the one “highly favored among women.” It seems appropriate that God chose this obedient servant to be the mother of a child, who would later offer himself in the greatest act of servanthood ever.

The Bible leaves us wondering about Mary’s parents’ reaction to her news, but we can imagine. Perhaps they were skeptical about the authenticity of her story, or even angry and disappointed with her. Mary went to visit her relative, Elizabeth, soon after the angel’s announcement, maybe to allow time for her family to adjust.

Joseph was embarrassed and hurt by Mary’s pregnancy and planned to quietly break their engagement. (Obviously, Joseph loved Mary because it was within his rights, and the customs of the day, to publicly denounce her.) When the angel appeared to Joseph, verifying Mary’s story, he abandoned his plan and also acted in obedience.

Surely, Mary, Joseph, and their families experienced all the conflicting emotions that we do today when faced with a situation that seems out of our control and life-altering. Sometimes God asks us to do things that bring skepticism and criticism from those around us, family included. Often, obedience to God’s will involves some degree of discomfort.

Although Mary found favor with God, and acted in obedience, her life was not without suffering. Upon seeing the infant Jesus in the temple, Simeon predicted a sword would pierce Mary’s soul. Mary was alive during Jesus’ ministry, his arrest, trial, and present when he was crucified. She saw the fulfillment of God’s plan, but she also endured a mother’s anguish as she watched her son die a brutal death.

The true test of our faith and trust comes in our obedience to God. If, like Mary, we willingly offered ourselves, without questions or delay, to God’s purpose and plan for our lives, how much more could God do in and through us?

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Luke 1:38 NIV

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What We Can Learn From Mary, Obedient Servant – @CandyArrington on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

Candy ArringtonAbout the author: Candy Arrington has written hundreds of articles and devotionals, often on tough topics. Her books include AFTERSHOCK: Help, Hope, and Healing in the Wake of Suicide (B & H) and When Your Aging Parent Needs Care: Practical Help for This Season of Life (Harvest House). 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.

Join the conversation: Has God ever asked you to do something that involved great discomfort?

Living in the Cage of Familiarity

by Michelle Lazurek

“Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. ‘I’m going out to fish,’ Simon Peter told them, and they said, ‘We’ll go with you.’ So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.” (John 21:1-4).

Staring at the paperwork in my lap, I scribbled my name on the bottom like a zombie. As I continued through the other short sale documents on our home, just one thought ran through my head: how did I get here?

At that moment, it seemed all was lost. My life was spiraling out of control and I had no way to stop it. No matter how hard we had tried to keep the doors of our church plant open, it was no longer financially feasible. Facing the possibility of having no place to live, my husband had taken a new pastor position. This may have seemed like good news to some, but to me, it was not.

I actually felt more like Jesus had betrayed me. For sixteen years I had faithfully served Him, but toward what end?  Possible homelessness and seemingly no help from Him no matter how much I begged and pleaded? I wanted the church plant to continue: not because I thought it was in God’s plan, but because it was what I knew. I couldn’t bear the risk of moving to a new state, attending a new church, and starting over.

I’ll bet the disciples felt this way, too.  The events of recent days were nothing less than spectacular. They saw Jesus beaten, tormented by His enemies, and finally die a criminal’s death on a cross. Then, in an amazing turn of events, He had appeared to them resurrected from the dead. But now, after traveling to Galilee to meet Him as they were told, there had been no sign of Him. And as the days passed, they began to wonder: had something more happened to Him? Or had He forgotten them?

When we’ve stepped out in faith, it can be difficult to feel God’s presence or to see His hand at work. At points we might even feel abandoned. In that disillusionment, it is a temptation to retreat back to the familiar that we left behind. It is easier to live in the cage of the cozy familiar than step out into the boundless space of the unknown.

That’s what the disciples did. Permanently leaving their old livelihood as Jesus had called them to do suddenly felt like a stretch. So they moved away from the looming uncertainty went back to what they knew. Like many of us, the familiar can feel as good as slipping on a comfortable old pair of slippers: much more pleasant than facing the gaping unfamiliarity of the unknown.

But to abandon what God has called us to is to abandon the great blessings He has in store for us. As difficult as circumstances may be, He intends to use them to draw us into a deeper relationship with Him. To learn on a new level how worthy He is of our trust. To experience His goodness in ways we have not yet experienced.

Although I couldn’t see it that day, God did soon reveal plan far greater than my ideas for the future. He provided a new ministry, with a loving church family and a parsonage which not only provided us with a home, but cut our financial costs in half. This gave us room to pay off our mounting debt and purchase the essentials we desperately needed.

We’re never sorry when we trust in the character of God over our present circumstances. Are you reverting back to the familiar in your life because it is easier than stepping out in faith?

Lord, help me to trust you enough to step out into the unknown instead of living in the cage of familiarity.

michelle lazurekAbout the author: Michelle S. Lazurek is an award-winning author, national speaker, pastor’s wife and mother. A member of the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, she loves to help people encounter God and engage with the world around them. When not writing, you can find her enjoying a Starbucks latte and collecting vintage records. For more info, please visit her website at www.michellelazurek.com

Join the conversation: Has God asked you to step out into the unknown?