The Power that Comes When We Return and Rest

by Jennifer Slattery

[Jesus invited His disciples:] …Come with me to a quiet place and get some rest. Mark 6:31 NIV

Early in my ministry, I often exhausted myself trying to manage everything. Though I knew with certainty my assignment came directly from God, I worked as if He expected to carry the load alone. As if results came through sheer grit rather than the work of His hands.

When one of my team members forgot or failed to complete a task, I felt responsible to step in and catch every ball that happened to get dropped. Though I talked a great deal about faith-filled, surrendered living, I routinely behaved as if our results depended on me. Unfortunately, my attitude trickled down to everyone else, turning roles that should’ve brought us great joy, fulfillment, and ever-deepening connections with our Savior into tiresome, anxiety-producing chores.

I knew, intellectually, I wasn’t living or leading as He desired but lacked the courage to slow my hustle. I felt if I did, we’d fail. I was not relying on Christ to be my source of wisdom and strength. Perhaps my heart didn’t believe what my mouth proclaimed.

Then, one spring, life hit many of my team members hard. Hurricanes threw some off balance. Family illnesses left others struggling to think straight let alone write or create. At first, I tried to work harder and faster but this only led to burnout with little visible growth.

My inspiration and vision squashed, I wanted to quit. And so, for a time, I basically did. We all did, in fact, for nearly six months. I expected to see all that we’d worked for would fade until our organization died completely.  

Instead, we grew.

And when the Coronavirus forced us to cancel a year’s worth of events along with their funding, we grew again in terms of readership, impact, and volunteers. Through it all, God reminded me of something that in all my running, I’d forgotten. The God who formed, redeemed, molded, and empowers me doesn’t need me to perform or to strive. Instead, He invites me to yield and to trust. Or rather, to shift my trust off of myself and to where it belongs: on Him.

Isaiah 30:15a says, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength” (NIV).  God spoke these words to ancient Israel when the Assyrian army was coming against them. Grossly overpowered from a human perspective, they were terrified. In their desperation, they turned to Egypt, with its iron chariots and well-trained army, placing more faith in the might of man than in God Almighty. They thought they were aligning themselves with strength. But by distancing themselves from the God who loved them, they were actually increasing their weakness.

God beckoned them to return to Him, the One who had proven His faithfulness again and again, but they refused to listen. And while I can recognize the foolishness of their actions, I much too frequently behave like them when I am under attack. I soon realize, however, how insufficient my most fervent efforts and greatest allies truly are, when formed apart from Christ.

But the moment I turn back to Him in faith, God fights on my behalf, makes up for my lack, and gives me everything I need to do all He’s asked, just as He did for ancient Israel when King Hezekiah humbled himself and turned to God.

Then, his soul was quieted and at peace, not panicked, rushed or confused.

Choosing surrender, especially when the stakes are high, can feel incredibly frightening. But it places us in a position of power and strength. I’m reminding myself of this truth now as I am about to enter into a busy season, returning to school while writing, speaking, leading a ministry … When people ask how I’ll manage it all, I smile and say that I have an amazing team. And I do, but even more than that, we serve an amazing God. I know He will carry everything He wants to thrive. Therefore, whatever areas fall short must not be from Him, because He is big enough and strong enough to perfect all that concerns us.

He is big enough for all that concerns you as well.        

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

Jennifer Slattery

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

Faith Over Fear (podcast) - Jennifer Slattery, Jodie Bailey and Shellie  Arnold | Listen Notes

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: Do you struggle with surrender?

     

Miracle Seeds

by Deborah McCormick Maxey

As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”

He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples.  Luke 8:23-25 (NIV)

I’ve heard so many messages on this passage. I’ve always wondered: after witnessing Jesus perform so many miracles, how in the world did his disciples still doubt?

Eventually, all those times I pondered on this message became the foundation for my own miracle. Because I too would doubt when scared out of my wits.

Hubby and I used to sail for weeks at a time on the Chesapeake Bay. We fished from the back, pulled into islands like Tangier and became tourists, and anchored out in front of billionaire homes. Our small sailboat was a holiday on water several weeks a year.

We were cautious sailors. We never put out if small craft warnings were advised, wore life jackets if the seas grew rough and tied ourselves to lifelines if the need arose with the threat of getting swept overboard. Our sailing days came before small crafts had weather radar, GPS, or depth finders. We used old fashioned charts and radio.

To reach destinations, we had to cross shipping lanes where huge cargo vessels traveled to other countries or back to ours. Our small sailboat would look like a flea on an elephant compared to these ships.

One clear bright day, we sat out to cross the shipping lanes and unexpectedly we were confronted with a “Flash Fog”: a phenomenon we had prepared for but hoped never to experience. Suddenly, a dense fog surrounded us like a thick blanket. Sitting in the back of the boat, we could not see our own bow. Visibility was less than six feet.

With not a breath of breeze, sails were useless. Hubby could not start the auxiliary motor. We were dead in the water.  There was no choice but to sit in the stillness while those massive vessels were still able to navigate.

Praying, I crawled to the bow to begin the recommended emergency procedure: one prolonged and two short blasts of an air horn, ring a large bell for one minute (which seemed like an hour) then listen for a minute, meanwhile praying that we wouldn’t hear the huge groan of a cargo vessel.

But we did.

In the blanket of fog, the sound grew closer. I prayed with panic as I continued the protocol.

There we sat. Unseen at sea. Bobbing like a cork. Waiting for a massive ship to collide with us or it’s huge waves to swamp us.

While I prayed God spoke. I needed to recall the passage above and all the times I wondered why the disciples doubted when they had witnessed miracles.

Because I too had witnessed miracles.  From early childhood I had memories of knowing without any doubt, “That was God.”

I began to recall them while I continued the protocol. And peace that passes understanding descended on me. Thicker than the fog. I knew we were in the palm of His hands. After all, I reminded myself. He rescues His beloved from the seas.

As suddenly as the fog descended it lifted. A ship had passed close by. A bit further on we saw the buoy that we had been sailing towards. We had not even veered off course.

So many miracles. The fog, safety, and cleared skies. But best of all was the miracle that was seeded well in advance of the emergency. I had pondered on His Word and He brought my own insight back to me, reminding me that I could harvest peace in the midst of crisis by recalling his faithfulness.

Yet another miracle to chronicle. Panic lifted with faith, long before fog.

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

About the author: A licensed therapist, Deborah McCormick Maxey retired from her counseling practice in 2020 to joyfully invest her energy in writing Christian fiction, devotions, and her website https://deborahmaxey.com that focuses on miracles.  

The Endling: A Novel by [Deborah Maxey]

Deborah’s debut novel, The Endling, is newly released! Native American Emerson Coffee is the last surviving member of her tribe. When US Marshals inform her she’s being hunted by a mob hit man, Emerson declines their offer of witness protection. But when three innocent children become caught in the crosshairs, Emerson must decide if she will risk it all—her mountains, her heritage . . . even her life—to secure their safety. 

Join the conversation: What miracles have you experienced?

Stillness in the Storms of Life

by Darlene L. Turner

 Be still and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10 NIV

The waves slapped the side of the boat, rocking it gently. My sister and I listened to our surroundings. Silence. Stillness. Serenity. I wondered if this is what it felt like when Jesus calmed this same sea over two thousand years ago.

It was a beautiful evening. The captain had cut the engine, and we marveled at being out in the middle of the Sea of Galilee. The stars shone brightly and the lights of Tiberias, Capernaum, Tabgha and the other Galilean towns flickered in the background. Stillness.

Tears formed in my eyes as I thought about my mother and how she had planned to take this trip. It had been her dream to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. She had booked her tour and anticipated the adventure of visiting Israel’s sites. Little did she realize, it would be done through her daughters’ eyes. She would take a journey, just not the one she expected.

I held my sister’s hand as a verse popped into my head. “Be still and know that I am God.” It’s such a simple command, yet so complex.

Many times Jesus withdrew from the crowds to be still and listen to His Father. He encouraged His disciples by His example to do the same. He rebuked the wind and commanded stillness in nature. He encouraged busy Mary to be like her sister, who sat at Jesus’ feet.

This raises a question. How do we “be still” and “know God” in an age where everything moves so quickly around us? Fast-food restaurants, cell phones, text messaging, internet, credit cards, and on-line shopping all vie for our attention. We are constantly trying to keep up with the pace of everyone around us. We are over-involved in the church, our children’s school activities, sports, computer games and television. We work extremely hard to afford the biggest houses, but we’re never home to enjoy them. When will it stop?

Sometimes God allows circumstances in our lives that cause us to be still. For me, it was when our mother was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. Then years later, our brother discovered he had bone marrow cancer. It was like someone had punched us in the stomach. How could this be happening twice in our family?

I wrestled with God and asked Him why He would allow this to happen to individuals who only wanted to serve Him. But while I may have struggled, my mother and brother handled it entirely differently. They both chose joy through their trials. Peace radiated on their faces.

Through those hard journeys, God taught me to wait upon Him. I realized I couldn’t control what happened, and after a heart-wrenching conversation with Him, I finally gave in. He loved them more than I did. He taught me to savor every moment.

I also realized I had neglected spending the time with God I should be. I wasn’t being still. I was so busy trying to get things done, I forgot about Him. He wanted my attention. It was time for me to give it to Him.

Just like the captain cut the engine on the boat that night, and we swayed back and forth before feeling tranquility, God uses circumstances in our lives to rock us before we can learn to be still. But when we do, He gives us a peace that passes all understanding. Even in a storm.

Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. Isaiah 26:3 KJV

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

Abducted in Alaska (Love Inspired Suspense) by [Darlene L. Turner]

About the author: Darlene L. Turner is an award-winning and best-selling author. She lives with her husband, Jeff, in Ontario, Canada. Her love of suspense began when she read her first Nancy Drew book. She’s turned that passion into writing and believes readers will be captured by her plots, inspired by her strong characters, and moved by her inspirational message. Her debut book, Border Breach, released in April 2020 with Love Inspired Suspense. She has two books releasing in 2021: Abducted in Alaska and Lethal Cover-Up. You can connect with Darlene at http://www.darlenelturner.com where there’s suspense beyond borders

Join the conversation: Has God ever rocked you into being still?

Silent Love

by Kelly Wilson Mize

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10 (NIV)

“The silence was deafening.” 

There is great truth in that ironic expression.  Silence is powerful. Sometimes the sound of silence can be a difficult state of existence, awkward and unwelcome. Quiet can imply sadness, loneliness, or boredom. Silence can also be wonderful–even “golden,” as they say. But when communicating with others, most of us would prefer at least some actual noise. In our fast-paced world, we deal in quick information, and want unmistakable (sometimes loud!) confirmation–We want our voices heard, so we can get the answers we think we need. And we want those answers RIGHT NOW.

While waiting on God, the last thing we usually want to be is silent. Instead, we want to clearly express our feelings to Him in a way that ensures there is no doubt that He understands. And God does welcome our words. But He can also work mightily when we choose not to use any.

I used to teach middle school, and one of my pet peeves as an educator was being interrupted while giving instructions to the class. Many times, while I was talking, a hand would go up (or not) and a voice would impatiently call out:

What if?Can we?But what about?

All while I was in the process of explaining everything completely!  The students would sometimes be so eager to find out what they were supposed to be doing that they would jump ahead. In a classroom setting, only when the class is “tuned in” and listening, can it collectively arrive at a place of true understanding.  And effective listening usually involves being quiet.

There is definitely a time for questioning, but preceding those important questions, there is silence.

Waiting on God is sometimes so difficult. We want to KNOW exactly what he wants from us, what He plans to do for us (if anything at all), and when and where He’s going to do it. But sometimes while we wait quietly, a beautiful thing happens: We begin to feel God’s presence in a fresh, new way.

Psalm 46:10 (NIV) describes the beauty of it: “Be still and know that I am God…”

Most versions of that passage say “Be still.” Other translations have a slightly different explanation:

Stop Your Striving, and recognize that I am God…” (NET)

Be in awe and know that I am God…” (ISV)

Stop your fighting–and know that I am God…” (HCSB)

And perhaps my new favorite:

Let go [of your concerns]! Then you will know that I am God.” (GW)

Each variation ends with a reassuring promise: IF you do this–You will know, without a doubt, that God is exactly who He says He is.

Sometimes, as much as we want to jump ahead and ask question after question, like restless middle school students, we should instead be still– respectfully in tune with God’s presence and listening attentively for His direction. Only when we are silent before God (physically, mentally, and spiritually), can we truly hear what He has to say. The stillness provides an environment where we can experience His authentic presence, allow Him to minister to our spirits, and feel His LOVE for us.

We know that love is patient, kind, and never-failing. But sometimes, that perfect love is also silent. 

  • Think of a time you felt God’s presence. Most likely it was at a point where you had “let go” of your own agenda and surrendered to His leading. Even amidst your busy schedule, make every effort to include that invaluable quiet time. 
  • Are you waiting on an answer from God?  Take the time to “Be still and know.”

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

About the author: Kelly Wilson Mize is a wife, mother of two young adults, and former educator with a master’s degree in education. In 20 years as a published writer, she he has composed numerous articles, interviews, curriculum projects, and devotions, and has contributed to eight traditionally published books. Credits include LifeWay, Bethany House, Guideposts, (in)courage, and others. 

Join the conversation: When is the last time you stopped striving?

A Word of Hope

by Crystal Bowman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Join the conversation: What is your word for 2021?

Assured

by Susie Crosby

adj: very confident; sure that something is certain or true

“I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.”  John 16:33 MSG

We can’t be sure about much of anything right now. Many of the things we have always been able to count on are no longer certain. Plans are on hold, and we are realizing that even some of our most cherished traditions may never be the same.

Not only are we disappointed, we are weary, and we are worried. Even those of us who have placed our faith in Jesus­–we who know that life ends well for us–are struggling with the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

I catch myself occasionally drifting toward despair as my anxiety causes me to doubt the sovereignty of God. My heart needs to be assured and reassured. Often.

God, are you really in control?

Do you see this mess we’re in?

Do you hear us praying and crying out to you?

Are you ever going to answer?

It’s okay to ask him that. But then we have to be willing to devote some energy and time to looking and listening for reminders of his faithfulness.

We will find them in unique places. Maybe in a precious photo, a nature walk, a favorite song, or a conversation with a friend. For me, some answers were discovered in 20 years of prayer journals piled in a box on my bedroom floor.

As I poured through page after page, journal after journal, I started making a list. There were so many prayers, long forgotten, that God had been faithful to answer. Prayers for big things, and small things, for people, and for material things. There were times when I had asked him to heal someone I loved, to soften hearts, to help us figure out finances, to lead us to a church, to guide us in tough decisions, and to draw our family closer to him.

There were surprises in these journals, too. I found answers to prayers I hadn’t even voiced. I realized as I flipped through the pages that several of the gifts God had given me were things that he knew I needed, but I didn’t know I did.  Often it was a person he brought into my life to show me more of his love for me. These unspoken prayers were answered simply because of his goodness and his commitment to take care of his children.

There were also answers that looked very different than what I thought they should look like. I still don’t understand God’s plan in some of these, but I do know that someday he will show me how he has worked everything together for his good and his glory.

Can we trust him? Can we believe what Jesus said as he went to be with our Father in Heaven? These last words he spoke to us were meant for us to hold onto during times like these. He knows what is happening in our country, in our workplaces, in our homes, and in our hearts. And here he reminds us that we can be unshakable and deeply at peace; because he has conquered it all.

As the year winds down to its end, look and listen to the God who loves you more than you can comprehend. Let him remind you that he has never once ignored your prayers or left you alone. You can be assured that greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.

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

susie crosby

About the author: Susie is a grateful mom of two (almost) grown boys who currently live and go to school in Honolulu, Hawaii. She and her husband live in a seaside town in the Puget Sound region called Mukilteo. They love to hike and kayak, they are huge Seattle sports fans, and they mostly love hanging out at home with their little dog Koko. Susie teaches P.E., Art, Technology, and Music at an all-kindergarten school which keeps her busy full time. Her passion and joy is sharing encouraging words with the people she loves. She is an active blogger and speaker, and she is the author of Just One Word: 90 Devotions to Invite Jesus In. She is always on the lookout for fun coffee shops, inspiring books, remote beaches, and farmers’ markets. Connect with Susie at www.susiecrosby.com.

Join the conversation: Do you have trouble in trusting God?

Honored, or Forgotten?

by Candy Arrington

But in your hearts set Christ apart [as holy—acknowledging Him, giving Him first place in your lives] as Lord. 1 Peter 3:15a AMP

Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that it is a lot more fun to select, set up, and decorate a Christmas tree than to undecorate and dispose of it. Similarly, emotions of Christmastime: the excitement, joy, and anticipation, can be difficult to maintain after the fact, especially when a year is full of challenges.

One year, as I sat in the sunroom, I noticed our Christmas tree standing tall and erect in a secluded corner of our deck. There was nothing unusual about this, except it had been three months since Christmas. We pulled the tree out onto the deck early in the new year, intending to dispose of it later, and then forgot about it because it was not in a location easily seen.

Looking at the tree, I thought how it was a focal point in our home just a few months before. Selecting the tree was an anticipated family event, its decorating a family activity. It was a central part of our celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Now it languished on our deck, forgotten. Although no longer ornamented, it was still beautiful, retaining its green color and shapely branches. The tree was a reminder of the joy and focus of the Christmas season.

Seeing the tree, I thought about how we sometimes push Jesus aside, out of view, in the same way. On Sunday, we honor Him with our time and attention in worship. We sing songs of praise and offer reverent hearts. Then, for the rest of the week, our Bibles are tucked neatly away somewhere, to emerge again the next sabbath, an ornament to our Sunday attire.

In the midst of our busy lives, we sometimes relegate Christ to a secluded corner of our hearts, while we frantically engage in the urgent, forgetting he is the source of wisdom and strength. Some nights, we fall into bed exhausted without spending time in Bible study or prayer.

Perhaps this year has made it even more difficult to maintain proper focus, giving Christ due honor. A pandemic has kept us away from places of worship for many months. What felt odd at first now seems commonplace. Fear and frustration seeped into our lives, diverting our attention. Yet our Creator and Sustainer patiently waits for us to seek him, to turn our attention toward him, and honor him with our time.

Decide today to make Jesus the focal point in your life every day, not just on Sunday, or at Christmastime. Commit to time alone with him each day and keep the joy and peace experienced at Christmas alive in your heart year-round.

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 do you keep Jesus front and center every day?

He Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

by Nan Corbitt Allen

From Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s journal:

CHRISTMAS 1861

“How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.”

JULY 1862

“I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace.”

CHRISTMAS 1862

“‘A merry Christmas’ say the children, but that is no more for me.”

CHRISTMAS 1863

No journal entry.

CHRISTMAS 1864

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, their old familiar carols play,

And wild and sweet the words repeat of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come, the belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along the unbroken song of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head: “There is no peace on earth,” I said,

“For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;

The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.”

Till, ringing singing, on its way, the world revolved from night to day,

A voice, a chime, a chant sublime, of peace on earth, good will to men!

How did the great poet go from despair to silence to hope? It is no wonder that his poem “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” has become a beloved, classic Christmas carol. And when you know the story of Mr. Longfellow’s journey, it inspires more than hope to those who grieve. It also recollects the reason for which Christ was sent to earth.

July 1861. The War Between the States had just begun and Henry, his wife, Fanny, and their five children were in Cambridge, Massachusetts in a house overlooking the Charles River. It was a hot summer and Fanny wrote in her journal “We are all sighing for the good sea breeze instead of this stifling land one filled with dust. Poor Allegra is very droopy with heat, and Edie has to get her hair in a net to free her neck from the weight.”

The next day Fanny decided to cut little Edie’s hair. Since it was the child’s first haircut, Fanny wanted to preserve a lock of the hair in wax as she had with the older children. Hoping for a breeze of relief, Fanny did not realize what a hazard she had created as she lit a wax candle to preserve the hair, and then opened a window to get a breeze flowing.

A gust blew in, caught the hot wax, which splattered Fanny’s dress. The fabric immediately burst into flames. Panicked, Fanny began to run. She ran into Henry’s study screaming for help. In his attempt to smother the flames he was badly burned on his face and hands. Fanny, however, died from her injuries. Henry could not attend his wife’s funeral because of his burns. The pain was excruciating – physically and emotionally.

A home that should have been filled with joy and laughter at the next Christmas, 1861, was instead somber and silent. The cloud of mourning had not yet lifted. There was little sign of hope.

The following year, 1862, Charles Longfellow, Henry’s oldest son joined the Union Army. As the young man marched off to battle, his father feared he would never see his son again.

On Christmas, 1863, Henry received the news. Charles had been wounded in battle. A bullet had passed under his shoulder blade and injured his spine. In those days, such a wound was most often crippling if not fatal.

The following Christmas, 1864, though he was an invalid, Charles was still alive. There were rumors of the war’s end and hope began to flicker. On Christmas Day, Henry picked up his pen and wrote the first verses of the Christmas carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Though total peace was somewhat elusive from a world point of view it was possible that Christmas Day to find peace.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7 NIV

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

Nan Corbitt Allen

About the author: Nan Corbitt Allen has written over 100 published dramatic musicals, sketchbooks, and collections in collaboration with Dennis Allen, her husband of 45+ years. A three-time Dove Award winner, Nan’s lyrics and dramas have been performed around the world. Dennis and Nan have sold almost 3 million choral books.

Nan and Dennis retired in 2020 from full time teaching at Truett McConnell University. They now live south of Nashville. They have two grown sons and two beautiful grandchildren.

Nan’s book, Small Potatoes @ the Piggly Wiggly, is a collection of devotionals that reveal the great impact seemingly insignificant, routine experiences can have in our lives. She describes what she learned of God’s providence and wisdom while growing up in the Deep South in the 1950’s and 60’s.

Join the conversation: Are you at peace this Christmas season?

Counterintuitive Peace

by Deborah McCormick Maxey, PhD @DeborahMaxey2

…he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge.                                                                          Psalm 91:4 NRSV

“Brain surgery.” Never had two words produced so much anxiety in me. I had prayed the world renown medical team would suggest I try yet another pill. My mind constantly replayed what it would entail to create a “hole in the head”: scalpels in my grey matter and affixing a titanium plate.

It was the first week in December, and instantly I knew that other than my husband, who was with me, God was calling me to keep this scary news from everyone else. I could not let the joy of the Christmas holiday be marred with the fact that I would undergo this on New Year’s Eve, I would undergo this procedure.

At first I was mystified, as a worship leader and a prayer warrior, by God’s direction to not ask for prayer. But eventually I understood: He wanted me to look up, not around, for support.

A few days later I felt God moving me to message a Facebook acquaintance whose sister is a pastor. They both advised me to memorize Psalm 91 and to think of it as “911” to God, because of His promises of protection it held.

I began intense study on that psalm. Verse by verse I journaled deeply into the meaning of the words. As a visual person, it was not enough to understand what the Scripture said, I wanted images to spring to mind as I recited the words in praise and petition.

For the above verse, I googled “birds protecting their young” and found pictures that brought me peace. Birds stretch out their huge pinion feathers and fold their young beneath their wings to shield them. Huddled safe from everything, the babies sleep peacefully while the parent bird stands watch, taking the blows from any attacker. Just as Jesus did on the cross.

I found another reassuring image in verses 11-12 (NRSV): For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up.”

Verse 15 (NRSV) also promises God will not fail. “When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them.” Each verse brought joy and confidence that the Lord would be there for me through everything that lay ahead.

En route to Duke University on the day of surgery, Psalm 118:24 (NKJV) spontaneously repeated in my head: “This is the day that the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it.” And unbelievably, I felt the truth of those words.

Before leaving for the hospital, with a Sharpie, I had written “Psalm 91” in the palm of my hand, ready to grasp it like a squeeze ball if I needed extra strength. But there was an unintended effect: several hospital staff saw it, recognized it, and prayed with me on the spot. Folks I never met on the surgical team, found me afterwards to say that they also saw it and prayed.

I suffer from a chronic neurological disorder, Trigeminal Neuralgia, known as the “The Suicide Disease” because seventy two percent of those diagnosed end their lives within two years of onset. But through the surgery, which had been so scary to anticipate, God greatly reduced my 24/7 pain. He knew all along that His grace would be sufficient when I sought and trusted in him.

When things look overwhelming, and it feels counterintuitive to trust fully in Him, we can know He has a plan, a lesson, and a blessing in store. Over time, prayer, and the study of His Word, we learn to discern His voice. And His presence in our discipline brings us peace.

TWEETABLE
Counterintuitive Peace – encouragement from @DeborahMaxey2 on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

deborah maxeyAbout the author: Deborah Maxey, winner of numerous writing awards, has several short stories soon to be released in anthologies. Her first novel, “The Endling,” is scheduled to be published by Firefly Southern Fiction, Iron Stream Media. Along with a love for storytelling, Deborah is worship leader at her church, devoted wife, mother, grandmother, fine artist, and a licensed professional therapist in Lynchburg Virginia.

Join the conversation: What has been counterintuitive for you in your relationship with God?

Choosing Peace Over Perfection

by Beth Vogt @BethVogt

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 NLT

I can’t remember the last time I had a perfect day.

Oh, I daydream about perfect days. Catch glimpses of other people’s picture-perfect times on social media. Their just completed kitchen remodels or their “look what I accomplished today!” photo ops. The beach sunrises and sunsets, bare feet by the pool days. My dreams aren’t about elaborate escapes to Tahiti – although there are times those salt-breezy vacations sound, well, perfect.

Most times, perfection would be all about having time to clean my house. No clutter on my kitchen countertops. No dirty laundry in my hampers. No search and destroy missions to remove mystery foods from my fridge. No smudges on my mirrors or dog hair lurking under my couches. Who am I kidding? No dog hair on my couches.

And sometimes all I want is uninterrupted time. No disruptions. No surprises. Enough quiet for creativity to flourish so I could work on my novel. But the last time I managed to squeeze in even a partial day of calmness, circumstances went awry, requiring that my 100-year-old mother-in-law be transferred from assisted living to a rehab facility. Immediately.

The reality is we’re not promised perfect days. This year has certainly proven that, hasn’t it? We all would like one giant do-over on 2020. But these less-than-perfect days remind me that Jesus was honest enough to tell us that life is going to be hard enough to make us sad.

Jesus was having a long conversation with his disciples about abiding with him and how he was going to leave them, but then Spirit would come and that would be better … and then he said he was telling them all these things so they would have peace (John 16). If you’re like me, you want to skip over the rest of verse. But there’s no glossing over words like “trials” and “sorrows.”

The challenge is in choosing how we react when we want one thing – perfection – but we end up with the other – challenges and heartaches. That’s when we need to notice how Jesus bracketed his honesty about how hard life would be for us. He book-ended his straight talk about tough times with two promises:

  • That he would give us peace
  • That he has overcome the world

Jesus was honest enough to tell us we’d have trials, not easy circumstances. But we are promised his peace. And in the midst of our complicated days, the peace of God, which exceeds anything we can understand (Philippians 4:17 NLT), is what strengthens and steadies us, enabling us to navigate the “what just happened?” moments that upend our lives. Yes, today may be challenging, but God is our “more than this” – and he will see us through whatever we are facing.

TWEETABLE
Choosing Peace Over Perfection – encouragement from @BethVogt on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

About the author: Beth K. Vogt believes God’s best often waits behind the doors marked “Never.” Having authored nine contemporary romance novels and novellas, The Best We’ve Been, the final book in Beth’s Thatcher Sisters Series with Tyndale House Publishers, released May 2020. Other books in the women’s fiction series include Things I Never Told You, which won the 2019 AWSA Award for Contemporary Novel of the

Year, and Moments We Forget. Beth is a 2016 Christy Award winner, a 2016 ACFW Carol Award winner, and a 2015 RITA® finalist. An established magazine writer and former editor of the leadership magazine for MOPS International, Beth blogs for Learn How to Write a Novel and The Write Conversation. She enjoys speaking to writers groups and mentoring other writers. Visit Beth at bethvogt.com.

Join the conversation: How have you found peace in the interruptions?