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Have you ever been in desperate need of aid, but so emotionally overwrought, you couldn’t find the words to pray?n the same way, the Spirit helps us in

It was my first child, my only, actually. I’d prayed long and hard for her, deeply longing for motherhood. And then it happened–I became pregnant. … And had an incredibly difficult and frightening pregnancy, one where I was in constant fear of losing her. Then one night, awaking to cramping, strange movements in my stomach, and much more blood than simply spotting, my husband and I rushed to the hospital. As they were taking me in, all I could say was, “Oh, God,” again and again.

pic_full_Stanley_Kelly_ODellI thought of that terrifying night when I read the following devotion written by Kelly O’Dell Stanley, author of Praying Upside Down. And I was reminded, God always hears me, even when I don’t have the words. But first, I wanted to remind you, there’s still time to get entered into Monday’s book give-away drawing! You can do so here!

As an added bonus, we’re doing an additional give-away today! Engage in the conversation on Kelly’s post and be entered into a drawing to receive a copy of her book, Praying Upside Down. Winners will be randomly selected from the comments left on this post. Please note, the contest is limited to those living in the continental US. 

Praying Without Words by Kelly O’Dell Stanley

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. Romans 8:26-27, NIV

One Sunday morning, a man visiting my church stood to give his testimony. In broken English, he described the scene in which he first saw the woman who would become his wife, the moment when he first felt God calling to him.

“These people were singing, but not with their mouths,” he said. “It was a deeper song.”

That’s when my tears started. Because isn’t that what most of us want? To reach God, to commune with Him? With or without words.

Let’s face it. I am a writer, and even I have those times when the words won’t come.

Usually when we’re without words, it’s because we’re hurt. Cynical. Disillusioned. Heartbroken. Weary. We may have lost a parent or sibling or child or friend. We may be facing a broken marriage, a suicidal teen, an addiction, financial devastation, or abuse.

Or maybe we’re just uninspired. Tired. Worn out from carrying our fears around. Exhausted from overscheduling and under-resting. Dealing with depression or illness or a million tiny little worries.

I’ve been there, desperate for God but unable to draw my mind in, unable to reach out to Him, either verbally or in writing. And even in those moments, I’ve felt the irony. The only One who can truly make a difference in the situation is the One I can’t seem to talk to.

But the truth is that words are not required. Prayer, in its most simple definition, is communion with God. I often think of it as a conversation, but it doesn’t have to be.

Have you ever sat in companionable silence with a spouse, parent or friend? Enjoyed a peaceful afternoon on the porch with a grandparent, no words needed?

When I gave birth to my children, I had no words to describe what I felt, so I just sat there, looking at that beautiful new

Photo by Papija 2008 taken from freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by Papija 2008 taken from freedigitalphotos.net

creation, soaking in gratitude.

When my mom died, as I stood in the receiving line, some of my favorite people walked up, looked into my eyes, hugged me, and moved on. Without saying a single word, they communicated everything I needed to hear. Everything they wanted to say.

Next time you feel stuck, when you stumble over words or are wrestling with emotions you can’t seem to wrangle, why don’t you try something new? Sit in silence, your mind focused on God. Look around and find the beauty in your environment. Draw a picture, doodling names and images and offer it as prayer. Work your way through your daily tasks, and keep the mindset of dedicating your work—laundry, cleaning, dishes, gardening—to God as an act of worship. Listen to a piece of worship music and let yourself get lost in the sound.

Or sing a new song, from a deeper place.

It just might help you get past whatever it is that is blocking your path. I promise you, God will receive it. He will understand that it is prayer. He will know what your heart feels and what your soul needs.

And before long, the words will come. But even if they don’t, you’ve still prayed, and in the process, you’ve drawn closer to God. Because wherever God is, lives are changed.

With or without words.

 ***

Kelly O’Dell Stanley is a graphic designer, writer, and author of the new book, Praying Upside Down, which releases May 1. With more than two decades of experience in advertising, three kids ranging from 21 to 14, and a husband of 24 years, she’s learned to look at life in unconventional ways—sometimes even upside down. Full of doubt and full of faith, she constantly seeks new ways to see what’s happening all around her. Subscribe to her blog (www.prayingupsidedown.com) to download her free ebook, Praying in Full Color, along with this month’s prayer prompt calendar to jump-start your prayer life.

978-1-4143-8983-7Praying Upside Down:

A change in perspective might be exactly what your prayer life needs.

When you talk to God, do you ever wonder if He hears? Do your prayers feel uninspired or routine? Do you sometimes feel you don’t even know how to pray?

Try praying upside down.

Let artist and author Kelly O’Dell Stanley show you what point of view, white space, sketching, and other artistic ideas reveal to us about how to pray—and experience a deeper connection with God than ever before. Praying Upside Down will move your prayers away from the preconceived and expected, allowing you to bring fresh passion to your prayers and notice answers you never anticipated.

Jesus was known for turning situations upside down…and He will do the same in your prayer life. And because God is the ultimate creator and the original artist, when you incorporate this unique approach to prayer, you will encounter Him in a brand-new way.

Buy it here:
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Also available online at christianbooks.com, Target, Lifeway, Books-a-Million, Parable, iTunes, and wherever new releases are sold.

Connect with Kelly online at:
her blog, on Facebook, Pinterest, or connect with her at Twitter– @kellyostanley

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this! What thoughts came to mind as you read Kelly’s post? How do you feel knowing the Holy Spirit prays for you? Have you ever had a time when you were so broken or frightened, words didn’t come? Share that experience with us in the comments below or engage in the conversation on Living by Grace at Facebook.

Before I go, I wanted to invite my local friends to join me Saturday for a signing at Barnes and Noble in Omaha, near the B&NSigning-page-001Oakview Mall. I’d love to see some friendly faces stop by, and maybe join me for a selfie or two. ;) Feel free to invite your friends using the link on Barnes and Noble’s event page. (You can read the first 23 pages of When Dawn Breaks here, and you can read the first 36 pages of Beyond I Do here.)

And before you go, I encourage you to join me on Internet Cafe Devotions as I talk about God’s heart for YOU in my devotion titled Rejected by Man but Loved by God.

 

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Photo by stock images found on freedigitalphotos.net

Do you feel frazzled, confused, anxious, defeated? Like you’re running in circles, wearing yourself out without getting anywhere? Are you spending your days and nights stressing and angsting over everything from your children’s spiritual health to your job security?

Whatever we fear, whatever the struggle, there’s one answer: Fear of the Lord. Because fear of the Lord and fear of the world cannot coexist. At each moment, we’re fearing one of the other.

One depletes us, the other, like Proverbs 3:7-8 promises, nourishes us. “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones” (NIV).

Fear of the Lord, which is the act of surrendering to God in reverence and awe and resting in who He is, what He’s promised, and what He’s done, changes everything!

Duffey_Myers300In the following post, today’s guests Betsy Duffey andLaurie Myers reminded me of this life-encompassing truth as they shared their thoughts on a pack of stupid, smelly animals. Read her thoughts then share yours. But first, I wanted to let you know, there’s still time to enter last week’s book give-away drawing. Go here to learn more.

AND… We’re launching another give-away today! The Writing Sisters are giving away a copy of their latest release, The Shepherd’s Song, to one of you (in the continental US), randomly selected from the comments left on today’s post.

Learning from The Shepherd by Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers 

Have you ever thought about yourself as a sheep? In the Bible people are often compared to sheep. As we wrote The Shepherd’s Song we needed some firsthand IMG_0398experience with sheep so we found a farm in North Georgia and set up a visit. See if you can find yourself in what we learned.

The Shepherd prepares good things for us

As the shepherd filled up the feed buckets, he explained the importance of the formula of the food. Sheep cannot eat regular feed because it contains copper, but the feed he prepares is safe.

Carefully, the shepherd measured the quantity. “Sheep don’t know when to stop eating,” he explained. “Their appetite is bottomless. They will eat anything and they will eat until it is unhealthy.”

IMG_0380The shepherd poured out the healthy food into troughs so that each sheep could get to the food without crowding or leaving out the weak ones. The food was for all.

Our heavenly Shepherd knows what we need. He gives spiritual food that will satisfy, not like the world. And He gives the right amount and He gives to all.

The Shepherd protects the sheep

We were leaning over the wired enclosure to get better photographs when the shepherd called, “Be careful that’s an electric fence!” Quickly we jumped back. It turned out that only the bottom wire was electric. The electric fence may shock the sheep at first, until they learn to stay away, but it also keeps out predators that can kill them.

Our heavenly Shepherd protects us in ways we do not know or understand.

The Shepherd lets the sheep experience consequences.

Ultra, one of the bigger sheep ate too fast. The dry food caught in her throat and she began to gag. The shepherd shook his head. “She eats too much, too fast, and then can’t swallow it all. She has to work it out for herself.”

It was painful to watch her struggling to heave up the dry oats in her throat. She coughed and jumped and strained. But the shepherd could only watch. He was with her, but let her work out the problem caused by her own actions.

Our Shepherd may, at times, let us work out our problems, but He is always there with us.

Gratitude pleases the Shepherd.

The sheep’s pen was bare of grass, but we could see the meadow adjacent where the shepherd had planted rye grass for the winter. “What I love,” he explained, “is when I take the sheep to the grassy meadow to feed. They have all the food they want, they don’t need me, but some of them still come to me.”

Our Shepherd loves it when we come to Him in gratitude.

Time with the Shepherd makes the sheep love Him more.

Amanda was the oldest sheep, and older sheep have acquired wisdom. Amanda was a stabilizing force in the flock, and the most savvy about dangers. She was also the most grateful. She never misses an opportunity to spend time with the shepherd. “Even when there’s no food involved she’ll come out to see me,” he said.

Time with our Shepherd helps us love Him more.

Our field trip to learn about sheep and shepherds turned into a rich learning experience, one that we will not forget. God always grows us and teaches us sometimes in unexpected ways! Did you see yourself in any of the examples?

The Writing Sisters, Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers were born into a writing family, and began critiquing manuscripts at an early age for their mother, Newbery winner Betsy Byars.  They went on to become authors of more than thirty-five children’s novels. Their first book for adults, The Shepherd’s Song, is being released in paperback April 2015.

You can connect with Laurie and Betsy on their monthly newsletter where they send out updates and their popular free devotional books. Contact them at WritingSisters.com and find them on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.

Grab your copy of The Shepherd’s Song here.

Grunge ornamental cover for an album with photosThe Shepherd’s Song:

Follow the incredible journey of one piece of paper—a copy of Psalm 23—as it travels around the world, linking lives and hearts with its simple but beautiful message.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures…

Shortly before a tragic car accident, Kate McConnell wrote down the powerful words of Psalm 23 on a piece of paper for her wayward son. Just before she loses consciousness, Kate wonders if she’s done enough with her life and prays, “Please, let my life count.”

Unbeknownst to Kate, her handwritten copy of Psalm 23 soon begins a remarkable journey around the world. From a lonely dry cleaning employee to a soldier wounded in Iraq, to a young Kurdish girl fleeing her country, to a Kenyan runner in the Rome Invitational marathon, this humble message forever changes the lives of twelve very different people. Eventually, Kate’s paper makes it back to its starting place, and she discovers the unexpected ways that God changes lives, even through the smallest gestures.

With beautiful prose evocative of master storyteller Andy Andrews’s The Butterfly Effect, this story will touch your heart and remind you of the ways God works through us to reach beyond what we can imagine.

Let’s talk about this! Besty said, “God always grows us and teaches us sometimes in unexpected ways! Did you see yourself in any of the examples?”

What are some unexpected ways God has grown and/or taught you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

“If that was God’s miracle, I want nothing to do with you, God.”A Call to Praise icon 2

God doesn’t always show up as we expect, nor does always play out as we desire. But does that mean He isn’t good? Does the chaos of our world in any way diminish or contradict His sovereignty?

I almost find it funny, one of my greatest fears has always been that of myself or my loved ones experiencing physical pain. When my husband donated a kidney, and I watched him struggle through those first few nights of recovery in intense pain, I thought I was going to come undone. When my daughter got shingles and cried out to both me and God, my heart literally shred. And for myself, I spent a great deal of time and energy attempting to avoid physical pain.

So what’d God do? He allowed me to develop a condition characterized by unrelenting pain. Sense of humor? Cruelty? Or grace characterized by incomprehensible mercy and grace? I’ve come to realize it’s the latter, and though I don’t have the time or space here to expand, one of the greatest gifts I’ve received from suffering are explained in Carol’s beautiful post below.

But first, I wanted to announce the winner of last week’s give away! Jennifer Hallmark, congrats! You won a copy of Jan Pierce’s book, Home Grown Readers! I’ll shoot you an email soon to chat about the best way to get that to you.

The Beauty of His Sovereignty by Carol McClain

“As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes…The Lord has established His throne in heaven, And His kingdom rules over all.” Ps. 103: 15 -19

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Photo by David Castillo Dominici taken from freedigitalphotos.net

Life in my twenties had been hard, and as things spiraled out of control, a Christian family, with children nearer to my age than I was to the parents, befriended me.

At that time, my daughter was three. She was bright and beautiful and pleasant. Never would she be a Mother Teresa changing the lives of the less fortunate, or an Angelina Jolie, gorgeous and altruistic. She may never be extraordinary to the world, but she is my reason for living.

When life got too difficult, I would strap Sarah into her bike seat and peddle a mile down the road to my neighbors. Once inside their home, the presence of Christ would descend. Sarah would hurry to their TV and watch Mr. Rogers. I would bask in the faith of Marge and Al. This was the only place I allowed myself to feel God.

One day, dear friends of theirs visited. With them was their grandson. He was my daughter’s age but had severe cerebral palsy. Still in a high chair, Alex couldn’t feed himself, control his arms, or any other part of his body for that matter. On this particular day, while my perfect, little girl sat mesmerized at the TV, Alex stuck out his tongue.

“That is a miracle of God,” Al said. “Alex demonstrates God’s infinite love.”

Everyone agreed.

I, on the other hand, sat in shocked silence. If that was God’s miracle, I want nothing to do with you, God.

The usual warmth of their home vanished as I bristled at what I deemed to be God’s unfairness.

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Photo by Samuiblue taken from freedigitalphotos.net

Yet, the comment of God’s miracle clung to me like thistle seeds. I rode home, fixed dinner for my family, prepared Sarah for bed. That night, I lay alone in my bed and brooded about Alex. From a young age, I understood the immensity of eternity. This life is a blink of the eye compared to forever. Alex suffered for a heartbeat. In heaven, he’d have perfect limbs, a fine mind and a crown of jewels greater than I could imagine.

And my daughter? Today her life excels more than mine. She’s more philanthropic than I’ve ever been. A better mother. Has a marriage that works beautifully. She’s attractive. Smart. Never will she win a Nobel Prize. But because of Alex, of those like him who suffer through his days that are like grass, a flower in the field, I’ve always relished her perfection—the sunlight-gold of her hair, the slant of her eyebrows, her good grades, her hand-holding, sitting on my lap (even today). Every little thing about her delights me.

The hard things of life show us how blessed we are. They demonstrate the miracle of God. We are His creation. Belonging to Him, He has free reign. If we suffer—it’s but for a moment, but it brings with it exceeding great joy.

Alex is a key to my salvation. And his life, like ours, reaches out across our suffering and shows the beauty of God’s sovereignty.

***

Carol McClain is an erstwhile English teacher, a bassoonist and a stained-glass artist with an eclectic array of other interests. She lives in the frozen reaches of northern NY and will, this summer, trade her Yankee ways for Tennessee.

UnknownHer debut novel is DWF: Divorced White Female. In this humorous women’s fiction, sassy and unsaved Cheryl Chandler knows only one thing will save her from her husband’s desertion: a man—any man so long as he’s hot. Somehow she has to find him. Eventually, he has to meet her kids. The first problem is solved by her children who sign her up on an online dating site. The second problem? She’s stuck.

DWF is available wherever ebooks are sold. The print copy can be found on Amazon.

Let’s talk about this. What events or situations have brought the livingbygracepic.jptruth of eternity and God’s sovereignty home for you? Have you ever struggled with this, and if so, why? How has God helped you in your struggle? What do you find most difficult to accept regarding this truth? What do you find most comforting? Share your thoughts here in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook. 

For those of you following our Call to Praise Blog Hop, make sure to join me Saturday on Ginger Solomon’s as I wrap this series up.

For my writer friends who periodically struggle with fear, join me on the Write Conversation as I talk about Finding Freedom From Fear.

For my local friends, make sure to mark your calendars for two Pamperingupcoming events:

Saturday morning, April 18th from 10-11:30, join me at Reality Church in LaVista for some intense pampering, including free mani-pecs and (also free!) childcare! Sign up here!

Afterward, join me at Barnes and Noble from 2-5ish pm where I’ll be talking about my latest release and signing copies. Find more information here, and use the “invite a friend” link to invite your friends. Let me know if you plan on coming, and maybe we can chat over coffee after.

Oh, I almost forgot! I can now officially share the cover of my next book, releasing in winter of 2016! I’m really excited about this one, because there’s an amazing miracle-God’s-sovereign story that follows. I can’t wait to share.

Intertwined_N154121Intertwined:

Abandoned by her husband, an organ procurement coordinator fighting to keep her job and her sanity encounters an old flame facing an unthinkable tragedy.

For Tammy Kuhn, being an organ procurement coordinator is more than a job. It’s a ministry. But when her husband of sixteen years leaves her for another woman, struggles with childcare, her absentee ex-husband, and an altercation with a doctor threaten her job. Embittered and overwhelmed, she fights to maintain her sanity when a late night encounter with an old flame stirs emotions long since buried but the ICU is no place for romance.

You can pre-order it here, or, shop locally and help our bookstores survive and thrive and order the book through Divine Truth Christian Bookstore, and tell them you want it signed. I’d be more than happy to pop in and oblige!

The Next Step

Do you allow the unknowns to hold you back, or have you laced up your running shoes? The other night my

photo by David Castillo Dominici taken from freedigitalphotos.net

photo by David Castillo Dominici taken from freedigitalphotos.net

daughter and I were talking about her future, plans, and God’s call in general. She wondered why so many people end up in jobs that make them unhappy. Though I doubt there’s a simple answer to that question, I do believe a common one is fear or lack of surrender has prevented many from embracing their call. Fear of the unknown, motivating Christians to choose that recession proof job, or perhaps lack of surrender that allows materialism and greed to take hold, motivating them to choose a higher salary over that which they were created to do.

Today a sweet friend and woman I admire, Jan Pierce, shares how God challenged her to step out in faith, even Jan-137acrop1when the road felt uncertain and unclear, and the results of that first step. As an added bonus, she’s giving away a copy of her book, Homegrown Readers. The winner (from the continental US only) will be randomly selected from the comments left on today’s post.

But first I wanted to announce the winner of last week’s give-away. Sherry Popovic, congrats! You won a copy of Stephanie Landsem’s novel, The Tomb. I’ll be contacting you shortly to chat about how to best get that to you.

“Help, Lord, I don’t know what I’m doing,” became a common prayer. He answered, “Just go through the next door. Just take the next step.”

The Next Step by Jan Pierce

Psalm 37:23 says “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord and he delighteth in his way.” The NIV says it this way: “The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in Him.”

Ten years ago I was a busy, frazzled schoolteacher wondering when I could retire. Please don’t misunderstand. I loved teaching and I loved first and second graders. But I’d begun my teaching career in 1967, and nearly forty years had gone by since I was a skinny twenty-one-year-old novice. I was tired.

My husband had been traveling to India. A retired pastor, he’d found exciting projects to take on—house church planting, education scholarships for orphans, homes for abandoned widows. I was still home, living the less-colorful life of an educator.

Then in 2007 we were able to sell my husband’s business, pay off our home, and put me on the blissful road to retirement. The circumstances came together rather suddenly, and I hadn’t given a thought to what I’d do after teaching. Sleep? Shop in stores during daylight hours? Sit in a favorite rocking chair and read endless novels?

God had other plans.

I remember the evening I sat with my husband and close friends and, speaking of India, out of my mouth popped, “I might go

Photo by Noppasinw taken from freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by Noppasinw taken from freedigitalphotos.net

too.” The words surprised me as much as everyone else, but as I spoke them I knew them to be true.

Shortly after, I attended a women’s conference and took a workshop on the importance of story. Yes, I agreed, people’s stories are important. Another attendee directed me to a writer’s conference put on by Oregon Christian Writer’s. The minute I entered the doors I found kindred spirits.

God did something big in my life in 2007. He knew all along that we would start our NGO, Teams India, and make regular trips to the hectic cities and dusty villages of India. He knew I’d take to writing like a duck to water and begin the use the words that had always roamed around in my head and heart.

By nature I’m a chicken. And, I hate to make mistakes. Well….God has a sense of humor. India is challenging, but invigorating. And writing requires a never-ending series of risks and mistakes and then the task of fixing those mistakes. At sixty years of age I began two of the most exciting journeys any person can take.

“Help, Lord, I don’t know what I’m doing,” became a common prayer. He answered, “Just go through the next door. Just take the next step.”

I could do that. So I attended conferences, I got a web site, I learned to draft and submit. I took baby steps.

I traveled to India and taught children to read English. I failed, but we had a great time together. I taught Bible study methods to women in India. I learned lessons about humility and grace and received much more than I was able to offer them.

I chose to take the next step God revealed. I wrote devotionals, short inspirational pieces, parenting and family life articles and stories of India. I did a lot of listening. “What’s next, God?” When I became anxious or stressed about all the things I didn’t yet know, I remembered, “Just the next step, that’s all.”

Homegrown Readers coverThis month I released a new book for parents. It’s called Homegrown Readers: Simple Ways to Help Your Child Learn to Read. (Buy it here!) For many years I sat across a table from parents during those dreaded parent-teacher conferences. There was so much to share about learning to read but never enough time. Now there is. I’ve shared a lot of practical ways to support children as they learn to read. Often it’s the little things that make a difference, a prompt here, an encouraging word there.

Holding my own book in my hands was a red letter day for me. It marked the culmination of a long series of next steps. And guess what? The Lord has already given me a new assignment—a book on homegrown family fun.

Those who serve Jesus never truly retire. There is so much to do. My two great joys in this segment of life are missions work in India and writing. I never would have believed I’d be doing either one. But God knew my steps and He ordered them especially for me.

Jan Pierce, M.Ed., is a retired teacher and freelance writer living in the Pacific Northwest. Her book, Homegrown Readers is available on Amazon.com. Find her at www.janpierce.net

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this! Has God showed you your next step? If not, pause, draw near to Him, and ask Him to show you, and quiet yourself to trust His leading, determining to focus not on the unknowns ahead but rather that very next step. If He has shown you what your next step is, are you taking it? If not, why? If so, share the feelings that arise as you follow His plan for your life. Share your thoughts here in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook.

Susan Aken’s title says it all, summing up our greatest cause for praise:A Call to Praise icon 2

Please Don’t Give Me What I Deserve!

“Hey! I have a right to be in this lane. Get out of my way!”

“Why is my pizza cold? I have a right to receive it hot and fresh. I paid for it.”

Photo by stockimages taken from freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by stockimages taken from freedigitalphotos.net

“Why isn’t my cable operating? I have a right to good service.”

We love to talk about rights in our culture. We feel entitled to many things. We deserve to be happy. We believe we have the right to everything from unhindered access while driving to being first in line at the grocery store to having our family the way we want them. After all, we have the right to life, liberty and the

Photo by Susan Aken

Photo by Susan Aken

pursuit of happiness. Don’t we?

But do we deserve all that? To “deserve” means to be worthy, to have a claim to or be qualified for (reward or punishment), to be entitled to. It implies that we have earned this right.

What have we earned the right to experience?

The Bible says, “There is no one righteous, not even one.” Romans 3:10 and “For the wages of sin is death.” Romans 6:23a

Since we are all sinners and the wages of sin is death, what we have “earned” the right to is death. What each human being “deserves” is eternal separation from God. This truth is what makes Psalm 103:10 some of the most wonderful words ever written:

He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.”

Praise God He does not give us what we deserve!

Why not? He is perfect and holy. He has the right to punish our sins.

Instead He chose to rescue us. He sent Jesus, His perfect Son, as a baby who would grow up, suffer and die for us as hopeless

Photo by bela_kiefer taken from freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by bela_kiefer taken from freedigitalphotos.net

sinners. Why would He do that?

The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love…for as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear him.” Psalm 103: 8,11

His great love gives us what we don’t deserve.

I have brief moments when I think I am good. Than in an instant I am filled with envy, jealousy, unkindness or selfishness so much that I know I don’t deserve His grace. My heart apart from Him is wicked.

Those moments help me realize that I don’t “deserve” anything but I am given grace in everything.

That He could love me in spite of knowing what my sinful heart is like overwhelms me.

     Father, thank you for loving me so much you were willing to send Jesus to die for my sins. Thank you that you do not give me what I deserve. Thank you that I am free from the penalty of my sin. Nothing can compare to you! I cling to your grace. I rest in your abundant love.

Susan013Susan Aken is a homemaker, substitute teacher and writer. She lives in Nebraska but was born and raised in Oklahoma. Her greatest love is for the Lord Jesus Christ who has redeemed her and set her free. Her other loves are her husband and son (she is now an empty nester). Susan enjoys reading, photography, spending time with family and friends and writing. She has a heart for prayer ministry and loves her church! Visit her online at Soaring With Butterfly Wings and check out her inspiring photos at SusanAkenInspiringPhotos

Amazing Hope: Reflections on Hope in the Midst of a Crazy World:Amazing Hope - cover sunrise and sea

This is a 40-day devotional book on the topic of hope. Each day’s devotion includes verses from the Bible, inspirational thoughts by the author, reflection questions and a prayer. The topics include many of the struggles common to us all such as parenting, death, fear, sin, and the futility of daily life. There are also devotions on the character of God, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the power of God’s word and other topics. These writings express the hope that gets me through each day and I pray they will also help you.

For those following our Call to Praise Blog Hop Posts, visit the following:

April 2: Marji Laine hosted on Asslyson Carter’s blog, discussing what it means to live anew in God’s grace.

April 4: Susan Aken will visit Delia Latham’s blog to share her thoughts on Psalm103:14, discussing the what it means when Scripture says God knows we are weak

April 9: Carol McClain will post right here, on my blog, discussing God’s sovereignty and power.

April 11th I’ll tie up our series on Ginger Solomon‘s blog, calling each of us to be fully present when we praise.

And before you go, to help us truly appreciate what Christ did for us, fellow Faith, Friends, and Chocolate blogger and biblical fiction writer Carole Towriss wrote a powerful story on the resurrection, told through the eyes of one of Jesus’ executioners. You can read part one here, part two here, and part three here.

I’m fairly certain motherhood is synonymous with worry. Few things have tested and grown my faith like parenting, and with our daughter less than a year from college, my prayers are growing more frequent and fervent! Perhaps you can relate.

Stephanie Landsem-106Today biblical fiction author Stephanie Landsem expands on a well-known but ever-needed verse. As an added bonus, she’s giving away a copy of her novel to one reader from the continental US, randomly selected from the comments left on today’s post.

But first, for those of you who are following our Call to Praise blog hop, I encourage you to join me on Carol Mclain’s as I chat about the appetite of vengeance. To follow the remaining stops on our blog hop, go here.

Victory over Worry by Stephanie Landsem

Martha let out a held breath. Judas had voiced her own thoughts. If she didn’t worry about what to eat, who would? The grain didn’t appear in the jar each morning. The bread didn’t bake itself . . . Martha stalked from the room to get the meat. It was easy for him to say to stop worrying. If he knew all she had to worry about, perhaps he would understand. (excerpt from The Tomb, A Novel of Martha)

Like Martha, many of us women—wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters—are ‘anxious and worried about many things’, and with good reasons. Our lives are complicated, our world filled with dangers, both physical and spiritual. And yet Jesus tells us to stop worrying, to choose the ‘better part’. But, as Martha asks in The Tomb, how are we supposed to stop worrying?

The dictionary defines worry as this: to torment oneself with or suffer from disturbing thoughts. And that is certainly what we do, isn’t it?

We start with what we know. For example, a child isn’t home yet from visiting friends and so we start with the ‘what ifs’. What if he got in an accident? What if he’s in the hospital?

Or perhaps we’ve got a health concern. Our minds go immediately to the worst: What if it’s cancer? How will I manage? What about my family, my job, my insurance coverage?

As worriers we let our minds go into all those dark places, turning them over, considering the horrors, and

Photo by Stuart Miles taken from freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by Stuart Miles taken from freedigitalphotos.net

soon we’re literally sick with worry.

But Jesus says in Luke chapter 12: Can any of you by worrying add a moment to your life-span? 26 If even the smallest things are beyond your control, why are you anxious about the rest? 27 

Jesus is asking us to stop tormenting ourselves. Yes, we may have worries. About our children, our jobs, ourselves. But we can’t allow our thoughts to dwell on all the bad things that may or may not happen. When we are tempted—and it is a temptation because Satan wants us to worry—we must make a conscious decision to turn our thoughts away from the darkness and toward the light.

One way is to turn to prayer. Some of the most beautiful prayers of the Psalms are about trust and can calm our minds and soothe our fears, while keeping us from heading down that tempting dark tunnel:

Hear, O Lord, have mercy on me; Lord be my helper. Psalm 30:11

You are my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake lead and guide me. Psalm 31:4

Wait for the Lord, take courage; be stouthearted, wait for the Lord! Psalm 27:14

Or, we can repeat the most simple prayer of all: Jesus, I trust in you.

It’s not easy to stop ourselves from worrying. Sometimes we’ll fail. Sometimes we’ll give in and head down that dark tunnel. Yet, even then, Jesus will be waiting for us to come back into the light, just as he waited for Martha on the road outside Bethany, to come to him, to put her trust in him even as her brother lay dead in his tomb, and say:

“Even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”

Tomb blog tour buttonThe Tomb:

In this captivating retelling of a classic biblical story, Jesus shocks the town of Bethany with Lazarus’s resurrection from the dead, leading Martha—a seemingly perfect woman trapped by the secrets of her past—to hope and a new life.

Everyone in Bethany admires Martha—the perfect Jewish woman. She feeds and clothes her loved ones, looks after the family farm, and meticulously follows every precept of the Pharisees’ strict laws. But Martha is hiding a secret. At her sister’s marriage feast, she gave her heart and her innocence to a young musician who promised to return and marry her, but instead betrayed her love and abandoned her.

Seven years later, only two people in Bethany know of Martha’s secret sin: her brother, Lazarus, and Simon, the righteous Pharisee to whom Martha is betrothed. When Lazarus falls ill, Martha is faced with a choice: send for Jesus to save her dying brother—risking the wrath of Simon who threatens to betray her—or deny Jesus’ healing power and remain trapped in her tomb of secrecy and lies.

Meanwhile, on the shores of Galilee, Isa roams the wilderness, tortured by demons and knowing only that someone is waiting for him. When he is healed by Jesus, he finds that seven years have passed since his descent into madness. Isa journeys home to Bethany only to find he is too late to win back Martha’s love.

When Martha risks all to heal Lazarus, will Jesus arrive in time, or will he—like Isa—come too late?

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this! I’m a big believer in memorizing Scripture and think doing so is one of the best ways we can counter negative thinking and center our mind and hearts in truth. Prayer is another power source given to us by Christ, and when we combine  prayer with Scripture, which is praying the very Words of Christ, we’ve positioned ourselves for victory! Have you prayed Scripture before? At the end of her post, Stephanie shared some wonderful prayers from the Psalms. What are some verses you like to pray? If you haven’t prayed Scripture, why not start? It truly is a beautiful, peace-inducing way to pray! Share your thoughts here in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook. 

I also encourage you to sign up for my free, quarterly newsletter, which I and 7 other Christian authors put out. In it, you’ll receive scenes from a serial story available only through the newsletter, devotions, short stories of mixed genres, recipes, and more!

You might also like:

Praying the Scriptures for Your Children

Prayer Fatigue by Jennifer Kennedy Dean

Photo by cuteimage taken from freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by cuteimage taken from freedigitalphotos.net

Is your hope rightly placed or are you headed for are you headed for a painful fall?

I’ve had many times, way too many, where I’ve placed my hope in the wrong things. My abilities, our stock portfolio, my husband’s job, friends. And each time, those things ended up disappointing me for various reasons, but one rock–a firm, unmovable foundation–remained unshakable. Today a sweet friend–my coffee-drinking buddy!–Angela D. Meyer, author of Where Hope Starts, shares her thoughts on rightly placed hope.

But first, I wanted to announce the winner of last week’s give-away. Audrey, congrats! You won again! I select winners quite randomly, so I’d say the fact that you won again must mean God really wants to encourage  you. I love that about Him! I’ll send you an email shortly connecting you with Johnnie.

Rightly Placed Hope by Angela D Meyer

And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy publicity pic for bioSpirit, whom he has given us.

Romans 5:5 (NIV)

I was only five at the time my grandpa came to visit us. As I remember it, I was playing in the backyard and Grandpa was just sitting there enjoying the out of doors. (He was a farmer, more inclined to the country than the city).

I really wanted my grandpa to play. After much cajoling (I have to admit to taking a bit of license on this point with the memory of a five-year-old) he finally relinquished.

He looked me in the eye. “You know what? If you’ll run around the house 5 times (Maybe it was less or maybe it was more. The point – he wanted me out of his hair for a bit.) you’ll have 2 baby cows following you.”

“Wow.” And off I ran. Just like that I put my hope in what my grandpa promised. I wanted to have a couple of cows of my own.

If you haven’t caught it by now, my grandpa was pulling a joke on me. When I arrived at his chair after rounding the house the required amount of times, he was laughing.

I was crying. “There aren’t any cows.”

Photo by David Castillo Dominici taken from freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by David Castillo Dominici taken from freedigitalphotos.net

He laughed some more and pointed to the back of my legs. “There are two calves following you right there.”

The light bulb went on in my mind and I understood. But it didn’t feel like something to laugh about. I was vastly disappointed.

When we place our hope in the word of man, we will eventually be disappointed. But God always keeps his word. It may look different than we expect, but God always comes through.

Does that mean we kill all desire for people to do the right thing? No. But it does mean we recognize that people are not perfect and they will fall short of our expectations. And our joy, our peace, our life does not depend on them coming through for us. 

Opening ourselves up for the possibility of the best from people, will open the likelihood of being hurt. But with our hope in God – we will be comforted, we will be strengthened, we will find peace in the midst of the pain.

“Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD”  (Psalm 31:24 NIV).

***

Whether through story, blog posts, or video devotional here on the pages of my website, my books or a connection on one of her other social media sites, Angela D. Meyer’s desire is to  eencourage women in the midst of a broken life on their faith journey. Because life goes on even when its a mess. And when broken pieces litter the path, we need a little extra encouragement. Connect with her online at AngelaDMyer.com

Where Hope Starts Cover resizedWhere Hope Starts:

Karen Marino’s life is a nightmare. The New York City restaurant manager is a professional success, but her marriage is in shambles. When her husband, Barry shows up drunk at her restaurant, she loses both. She flees The Big Apple and returns to her Midwestern home to sort through her options. But instead of answers, she finds an old boyfriend ready to rekindle romance, a family full of secrets and an angry brother bent on revenge. Karen wants to do the right thing, but how do you forgive the unforgivable? As she searches for the answer, she uncovers a family secret that threatens to tear them all apart. Can she find her way back to the place Where Hope Starts?

Buy it here!

LivingbyGracepicLet’s talk about this. Can you share a time when you’d placed your hope in something or someone other than Christ? What happened? How does centering our hope in Christ lead to lasting peace and joy? (Please not, by joy I am not speaking of a temporary emotionally happy state but rather the deep assurance that comes from knowing Christ and resting in His will.)

Share your thoughts here in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook.

And before you leave, make sure to check out the next stops on our Call to Praise Blog Hop:

March 21: Allyson Carter will discuss Psalm 103 verse 3, hosted on Carol McClain’s blog

March 24: Sarah Ruut hosted on Marji Laine’s blog, discussing how God’s Blessings in our lives can give us strength.

March 26: Delia Latham will visit Carol McClain’s blog to talk about verse 6 and how God’s justice makes a difference in our lives

March 30: Susan Aken will visit my blog, right here, to discuss Psalm 103:9-12, focusing on God’s underserved grace

I also encourage you to sign up for my free quarterly devotion, which I and 7 other Christian authors put out. In it, you’ll receive scenes from a serial story available only in the newsletter, devotions, short stories of varied genres, recipes, and more!

Subscribe to our free quarterly newsletter!

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