Posts filed under ‘Bible study’

Fruits of the Spirit: Peace with His plan

inner peaceI love a good list.  I have lists for things that need to get done today and lists for my long-term projects.  I make grocery lists and gift lists.  I have a list for my goals, things I want to accomplish this year, next year, even five years from now.

More than anything, I like checking things off the list.  The sense of accomplishment I get from completing a task or achieving a goal is exciting.  I enjoy seeing the results of my planning.

Sometimes, though, things don’t go according to the plan.  Children get sick, altering daily plans.  Circumstances change, altering our long-term plans.  Doors close, altering our goals and dreams.  And I am forced to adjust and adapt to the change, something that I don’t always do well or willingly.

I don’t like it when things are out of my control.  I like knowing what’s coming up over the next hill and around the next curve.  But we don’t always know where God is going to take us.  That breeds anxiety in Type-A me.

To keep the anxiety at bay, I must always remember that God has promised to lead us, to guide us.  He asks us to give up control of our lives and live in thepeace that he knows where all our roads lead.  Before he left us, Jesus himself says:

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.  ~John 14:27

He will guide us, even through the dark.  He will hold our hands, even as we struggle to break free.  He will blaze a trail for us, even as we try to forge our own ways.

Only God knows what today and tomorrow will hold for you.  No matter what happens, he will be with us and in us.  And that brings me peace.

April 27, 2012 at 3:27 pm Leave a comment

Fruits of the Spirit: Joy in the face of great sorrow

Grandma Ella was a feisty lady.  She loved a good joke, a good laugh, and a good piece of pie.  She referred to all of her neighbors in the senior center where she lived as “that old woman.”  She frequently called my brother to tell him that the grass in her yard was waving at her – a signal that he better get himself over there, stat, and bring the mower.

Grandma had every right to be bitter.  Her later years were marked by significant loss.  She’d watched loved ones die of cancer: Grandpa.  Her daughter.  Her son-in-law.  Her grandson.  She’d worried about another daughter’s successful battle with breast cancer.

Yet her sense of humor remained in tact, even through the end of her life.  I never – ever – once heard her wonder “why me?” or denounce God for the bad things that had happened in her life.  Don’t get me wrong; I know she was lonely, and tired, and often sad.

But she didn’t let it defeat her.  Instead, she chose to focus on getting through each day as best she could.  She wept sometimes, but she also laughed.  And she focused on the reward God had waiting for her at the end.

Joy is often difficult to find in the midst of great sorrow.  How do we rejoice in the gifts God has given us when some of our greatest gifts are ripped away?

The truth is, I can’t fully speak to this topic.  I have yet to experience searing, gut-burning loss in my life.  Sure, I’ve had bad things happen, but I haven’t had to handle an event that shakes your very being to its core.

All I can give you is what God’s word promises us.  He tells us that no matter how much sorrow we experience here, it will soon be a distant memory.  Isaiah 51:11 proclaims:

The ransomed of the Lord will return.  They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads.  Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

Have joy, my friends!  For God has wonderful things planned for us.

April 25, 2012 at 3:27 pm Leave a comment

Fruits of the Spirit: Joy in Serving Our Families

You should know this about me:

I hate housework with the fire of a thousand suns.  I have two baskets of clean, unfolded laundry sitting in my bedroom as I type this, ready to be put away.  My living room looks like a small bomb went off in the toy box, scattering its contents hither and yon.

And cooking?  Let’s just say there’s a reason why I write a devotional blog instead of a cooking blog.  Here’s my major beef – ahem – about cooking dinner: It takes 10 minutes for my family to eat, and 45 minutes for cooking and clean-up.  Not to mention that someone complains and refuses to eat what I’ve made at every. single. meal.  Three times a day, I have a battle of wills with a four-year-old and a two-year-old about eating their vegetables.

It tends to wear on a mom.

To be honest, there are days when I have no joy in my job.  These are the days I fantasize about winning the lottery and hiring a maid and a nanny.  And definitely a personal chef, who specializes in feeding picky eaters.

While I’ve never met him, Steven Curtis Chapman recently wrote a song just for me:

You’re picking up toys on the living room floor
For the 15th time today
Matching up socks and sweeping up lost
Cheerios that got away
You put a baby on your hip and color on your lips
and head out the door
And while I may not know you I bet I know you
Wonder sometimes does it matter at all

How did S.C.C. KNOW this about me???  That’s exactly what I think!  Why does it matter if I put away the toys and the clothes only to have them migrate back into the living room?  No one in this house seems to notice the things I do – so why bother doing them?

But you know what?  The song goes on to say:

Do everything you do to the glory of the One who made you
Cause He made you to do
Every little thing that you do to bring a smile to His face
And tell the story of grace
With every move that you make 
And every little thing you do.*

The apostle Paul says the same thing, although his version in I Thessalonians 5:16 is a bit shorter:

Be joyful always.

Pretty straightforward.  I should be joyful in everything.  Even if it’s changing diapers or settling fights between my kids.  Because serving my family pleases God.  And for that, I should be joyful.

Dear God, you notice all the things I do even when my family doesn’t.  Let me keep you in mind as I’m loading the dishwasher or putting away Barbies today.  Also, if you could somehow match all the tiny little socks, I would be ever so much joyful.  Amen.

*Song source: Do everything by Steven Curtis Chapman.  From his album Re:creation.

April 23, 2012 at 3:25 pm Leave a comment

Fruits of the Spirit: Love for God

heart crossThe title of this post may have you wondering.

“But, Amy,” you might say.  ”I’m a Christian.  I know my God.  I attend church regularly.  I serve.  I give.  I even read this devotional blog.  Isn’t that evidence that I already love Him?”

Yes, my friend, it is.  But be honest with yourself.  Do you still feel that same passion you felt when you were a baby Christian?  Does your relationship have the same intensity, the same longing for connection?

No?  It’s okay.  You’re not alone.

Even the most devout and worshipful among us often feel disconnected from God.  We long to hear his voice but just can’t pick it out over the noise created in our lives.  We yearn to feel his peace, yet we can’t feel anything but disillusionment or weariness.

We move away from him, and wonder why we he has moved away from us.

Just like in our human relationships, it’s hard to maintain those warm-fuzzy-gooey feelings when distance exists between us and God.  I’m not even talking about the tragedies and hard times that befall us, when we truly question not only our love for God but his very existence.  I’m talking about the mundane, day-to-day annoyances and nuisances that we use as bricks to gradually build a wall between us and our creator.

Even David couldn’t hear God every now and then.  In Psalm 4:1, he says:

Answer me when I call to you, O my righteous God.  Give me relief from my distress; be merciful to me and hear my prayer.

Don’t you get the feeling that David has been asking – over and over and over again – and he hasn’t heard God speak?  He is pleading with God to answer his prayer.  You can sense the frustration that David is feeling over the distance between him and God.

Love is difficult to find in the midst of frustration.  But do you know it’s okay to pray to God about your relationship with him?  Sure, it feels weird to tell the all-knowing, all-powerful God that you’re feeling hurt about his lack of communication with you.  How you’re feeling slighted that you’re not currently part of the answered-prayer group.  That you’re sulking because all of his answers lately seem to be no.

But he urges us to ask for everything.  And that includes talking to him about our disappointments, our hurts, our unmet expectations.  Keeping the lines of communication doesn’t mean he will immediately grant all your wishes and open all the doors.  It does, however, give us the opportunity to hear God’s voice amid all the other stuff, to feel his love for us.  And to show him that we love him and trust him – even when we’re far apart.

We love you, Lord.  Let us remember that even when our hearts are heavy and our spirits are broken.  Give us the right words to express our love for you at every opportunity.  Amen.

April 21, 2012 at 3:23 pm Leave a comment

Fruits of the Spirit: Love for Others

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  ~I John 4:11

“Ma’am, do you work here?”

The young man stood at the children’s check-in counter at church, looking a bit lost.  He was covered in tattoos, sporting a pair of baggy shorts and a white t-shirt.  His cross necklace was in context, but the size and length of both the cross and the gold chain necklace it hung from were more apropos for a rapper’s music video than a church service.

Surely he wasn’t talking to me.  I knew this for certain because a) I am most definitely not old enough to be a ma’am (in my head at least); and b) I didn’t work there, although the volunteer shirt I was wearing made me look like I did.

Oh, and also knew he wasn’t talking to me because c) he wasn’t someone I would normally talk to.

“Can you help me?” he asked.  Oh, dear, he was talking to me.

“Sure,” I replied outwardly, while inwardly groaning because he was keeping me from getting into church service.

He waved a slip of paper in front of his face.  It was the tear-off slip from the bulletin for prayer requests.  ”I can’t find a pastor or anyone to give this to.”

I looked around.  The information desk was all closed up; the pastors were all in service.  I was going to have to handle this.  ”I can take that for you.  I’ll get it to the right place.”

“Thank you,” he said.  ”I just…I just need…”  He started to cry.  ”I just need someone to pray for me.”

With that, he began to talk.  And I listened.  He was 21, had just returned from active duty in Iraq.  He told me about his worries about his girlfriend.  He talked about church, and how he wanted so badly to find a church where he not only fit in but where he could convince his girlfriend to attend with him.

I was totally, utterly, completely ill-prepared for this encounter.  I have a heart for serving others, but most of my ministry involves others who look like me.  I’m comfortable with other moms of young families.  I deal well with young women who I can mentor.

But this man – this young, young vet who has already seen much more of the world and war and violence and killing than I hope I ever have to – was not like me.  And if he hadn’t stopped me, if he hadn’t reached out, I would have ignored him.

And I would have missed the opportunity to be blessed.  Not bless someone.  I was blessed by the opportunity God gave me to be his ears, to listen to one of his children cry out.  Even if his child didn’t have one single thing in common with me.

It’s difficult to reach out to those who don’t look like us, who don’t think like us, who don’t act like us.  We let race and gender and age and stage & station in life build a wall we can behind.  Yet God calls us to love everyone, not just the people we choose to love.  He calls us to minister to them, to be a blessing to all we encounter.

To let ourselves be blessed by the opportunity to serve him.

Dear Lord, let me serve you today.  Give me the right words to say to someone who is hurting, or scared, or lost.  Help me to overcome my own shyness or inabilities.  I want to be a light for you, not just among those who look like me.  ~Amen.

April 19, 2012 at 3:22 pm Leave a comment

Fruits of the Spirit: Love for our Children

Note from Amy: I originally posted this on another blog in October, 2011.

For this child I prayed, and the Lord answered my prayer.  ~I Samuel 1:27

Retail establishments turn my children into rabid squirrels.

Seriously.  I think I have fairly well-mannered, calm children for the most part.  Yet when we enter any store, they immediately turn into uncivilized, unlistening, crazed caricatures of themselves careening from display to display.

Take a recent trip to Walgreens, for instance.  We had four things to get.  FOUR.  Yet it took us nearly 45 minutes.  Alissa had to go potty, again, like she has to at every single store we go into.  Ashley took off down the toy aisle, where she staged a sit-in protest worthy of any Occupy Wall Street protester when I tried to remove her.  Alissa insisted on looking at every. single. greeting card with a princess on it, and started to wail when I moved her along.  Both girls wanted to stop and smell all of the candles in their aisle.  It’s as if – when we enter a store – every synapse in their brain starts firing and they receive a message of: Overload.  Overload.  OVERLOAD.

It makes me stress out.  Because I have visions in my head of entering a store, where my two impeccably groomed and well-mannered children calmly and quietly follow in my wake like ducklings.  My story includes peaceful shopping in which bystanders comment on my kids’ decorum and decency.  Instead, other shoppers are looking at me like I’m “that mom” as I’m shrieking at the top of my lungs for them to “both come back here!!!” and trying in vain to keep my head from spinning around.

Love for my children is hard to find in those moments.  I love them – oh, I have never known love like this.  But sometimes, love as an active verb is difficult, especially when they are acting in ways that are different from our expectations.

Sometimes, it’s even a challenge to remember that I wanted these children.  That I prayed for them before I knew them and asked God to give me the right children for me back before I had even met my husband.  And then God, in His infinite wisdom and slick sense of irony, blessed me with two girls when I knew specifically I would be a great mother to boys.

God can give us the patience in those situations when our patience is gone, our love is gone, our will to parent is gone.  When we love our kids, we give them our best selves, no matter how far they have pushed us.  If we pray for guidance, God will help us show our kids that loving them sometimes means disciplining them.  For isn’t that what God shows us?  That He often has to discipline us to prove His all-encompassing, never failing love?

Dear Lord, give me love for my kids today when they are having ugly moments.  Help me show my unending love for them through gentle words, patient endurance, and corrective discipline.  Above all, Lord, bring my expectations for them into line with their ages and stages, and let me remember that they’re just kids.  ~Amen.

April 12, 2012 at 4:50 pm Leave a comment

Fruits of the Spirit: Love (For Our Spouses)

Love CoffeeI know a couple; let’s call them Jim & Mary.  Jim & Mary are constantly bickering.  Doesn’t matter who’s around; Jim & Mary will snipe at each other in front of friends, extended family, even their kids.  Jim & Mary also speak badly of each other when the other isn’t around.  They are oblivious to how uncomfortable their audience is when the bickering begins.

Maybe you know this couple.

Maybe you are this couple.

Marriage is tough.  No one denies this fact.  Love sometimes feels more like an effort than a feeling, especially when your spouse is pushing every hot button that you have or doing his/her best to annoy the pants off you.  Yet when we are in the Spirit, we are given the ability to love and show love – even when we don’t feel like it.

In contrast to Jim & Mary, in my 20′s I had a guy friend who was married.  I know his marriage wasn’t perfect, because no marriage is perfect.  Yet I never, ever, ever heard him utter a bad word about his wife.  Instead, he never had anything but praise for her.  If something in the marriage needed work, he claimed the responsibility for the work that needed to be done.

Sometimes the best example of our love for our spouse is how we talk about him or her.  How we paint them to other people.  If we really love someone, we want everyone else to see the qualities we love about that person, too.  After all, our words reflect how we really feel inside.  According to Matthew 12:34:

…For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.  

Our words reveal the state of our hearts.  Yes, it is possible to speak false positive words when our hearts our feeling negative, painting a bad situation in a rosy light.  However, I believe it’s impossible to speak well of a person and not believe at least part of what you’re saying.

And maybe if you speak the positive words enough, they’ll grow into more positive words.  Until you see your spouse in a whole, new, glowing light.

Dear Lord, we ask for you to place your hand over our mouths whenever something hurtful about our spouses comes to our lips.  Help us to always glorify our spouses by speaking of them positively to others.  Change our hearts so that we fully believe the words that we speak.  Amen.

April 2, 2012 at 1:33 pm Leave a comment

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