A Clear Measure of Our Trust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scripture tells us, once Israel’s priests took that first literal step of faith, the waters miraculously stopped. As I read this account, recorded in Joshua 3, I was struck by the order of events. The priests stepped into the raging waters first, and they didn’t just dip their toe in. According to verse eight, they stood in the river. This demonstrated total commitment to obedience and total faith in God.

The result? God came through, as He always does.quote image pulled from post

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

Is God asking you to take a step of faith? What challenges do you need to surrender to Him? How might focusing on Jesus rather than your problems or the obstacles ahead bolster your faith? Share your thoughts, examples, and stories with us in the comments below.

Additional resources you might find helpful:

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Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving image

I’m thankful for grace. I don’t have to strive or stress or try to be enough–because Christ is enough in me.

I’m thankful God’s sovereign. No matter how crazy the world seems, He’s still in control. He still has a plan–a good and hope-filled plan, and He’s working everything out according to His perfect wisdom.

I’m thankful for God’s love. He doesn’t just love us but He is love–the perfect embodiment of that which our hearts need most.

I’m thankful for Immanuel–God with us. Jesus looked down upon this broken world, was moved to compassion, and entered into our mess in order to set us free and draw us to Himself.

I’m thankful for God’s presence. Wherever I go and whatever I face, He will be walking right beside me.

I’m thankful for God’s Holy Spirit guiding, strengthening, healing, and transforming me.

Happy thanksgiving!

When Life Hurts, You’re Not Alone

Woman staring out a window.

There is no pain quite as deep and dark as that which is experienced in isolation. You may know this first hand. Hopefully, you’ve also experienced the converse–the strength and encouragement of having someone to lean on when it felt as if your legs might soon give way. As my guest, Julie Holmquist shares today, God doesn’t want any of us to feel alone. He wants us vitally and intimately connected, in good times but especially in the hard.

You Are Not Alone

By Julie Holmquist

Having just had my twins prematurely by an emergency c-section and unable to nurse them, I felt painfully alone. With hormones raging and the chaos of being a first-time mom, I frantically tried to find someone who was farther along in this journey to help me navigate the twists and turns; however, there was no one to be found. Often I cried myself to sleep asking God to send someone who would “get me!”

No one in my family or close circle of friends ever had twins, preemies or a c-section. To top it off, it seemed like everyone else was able to nurse their babies.

There was no one to share my struggle with.

Pain Isolates Us

Pain doesn’t discriminate between gender, socioeconomic status or skin color. It doesn’t adhere to geographical borders, political ideologies, or classes of society. It’s a common thread we all share.

Why is it, then, that we so often feel isolated like no one truly knows or even cares about what we’re going through? 

What Does Scripture Say About Pain?

The Bible promises us that He works everything out for our good (Romans 8:28), in heaven there will be no more crying (Revelation 21:4) and weeping endures for a night, but joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5).

But what does the Bible say about pain when we’re in the middle of the mess?

Two women sitting together.Shared Pain is Diminished Pain.

John 11:35 says, “Jesus wept” (NIV*). It is the shortest verse of the Bible, yet those two words pack such a powerful reminder that, just as Jesus physically entered our world, He also entered our pain.

John 11 tells us the story of the death of a man named Lazarus, Jesus’ friend. When Jesus arrived, He knew He was about to unleash resurrection power and Lazarus would live again. Yet when He saw Mary and Martha grieving and weeping over the loss of their brother, He was moved to tears and wept right alongside them.

Jesus didn’t scold them saying, “Get over it! Stop crying! Don’t you know what I am about to do?” Instead, He entered their pain and wept with them. He knew death would not have the final say in Lazarus’ life at that moment. Perhaps He wept simply because His friends were weeping.

When Jesus got to the tomb, He told them to roll away the stone from the tomb’s entrance. Martha, Lazarus’ sister, warned Him that Lazarus had been dead for four days, and certainly it would stink if they did. Jesus then said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” (John 11:40, NIV*). They proceeded to do ask Christ had asked. Then Jesus prayed to His heavenly Father, and commanded Lazarus to come out. Still bound in his grave clothes, Lazarus exited the tomb. Jesus then instructed those who were there to take off Lazarus’ grave clothes and to let him go.

Jesus loved them enough to meet them where they were but then rewrote their story through grace.

John 15:15 tells us that Jesus calls us friends. Romans 12:15 says that we are to rejoice with those who are rejoicing and to weep with those who are weeping. If you’re going through hard times, you aren’t alone. Jesus hurts because you hurt. He’s not a passive observer sitting on the sidelines watching things happen to you. He’s a very real and active participant in your life.

So when your husband cannot understand what you are going through, your best friend is super busy, and your family doesn’t know what to say, know: You aren’t alone in your struggle! God is closer than you think and always with you. And if by chance He sends someone your way who can share in your struggle, you’ll know He sent them.

Let’s Talk About This!

There’s a difference between empathy and sympathy. Jesus doesn’t feel sorry for us, but He does feel what we feel. He empathizes with us in a friend’s text at just the right moment, a song that stirs our hearts, or a friend who’s traveled the same hard road you have. I want to encourage you in the midst of a struggle to first turn to Him because He cares for you. Second, I ask God to send some people in your path who may have experienced something similar and can speak to your pain. You are not alone.

Is there an area in your life you feel alone? Where can you see Jesus empathizing with you?

*THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Get to Know Julie

Julie Holmquist is an author who currently writes on her blog at Stuff of Heaven and is also a contributing author for Devotableapp.com. Julie has written and produced video devotionals as well. She graduated from Christ for the Nations Bible school in Dallas, TX and holds an associates degree in practical theology. She enjoys all things personality and has probably taken every personality test there is (ENTP and an Enneagram 7w8). Julie loves the body of Christ (the Church) and smiles BIG when people are passionate about walking in their God-given callings and giftings–whatever they may be.

She and her husband have four sons and recently relocated to Charlotte, NC from Colorado Springs, CO.

You can find Julie online at her blog, Stuff of Heaven, follow her on Instagram at Stuff of Heaven and at Twitter at Stuff of Heaven,and connect with her on Facebook at Stuff of Heaven (Julie Holmquist)

Additional Resources:

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The Power of Living, Daily, in Grace

text pulled from quote and image of a woman gazing across the water.

Sometimes I want to tack sticky notes to my forehead declaring: I acted like a jerk today. Or, I chose fear instead of faith, or selfishness when God called me to give. Not because I enjoy self-degradation but because I encounter too many Christians who continue to live in guilt and shame. They praise God for His abundant grace but then live as if it’s been withheld. Worse, as if grace is somehow no longer needed, moral perfection was obtainable, and their failure to consistently live as Christ desires proves how worthless or insufficient they are.

If only they prayed more, or memorized more Scripture, or attended more Bible studies, then they’d live more like all their smiling, hymn-singing friends flooding their social media feeds. But all their striving leads to temporary behavior modification at best, leaving them feeling worse than before.

I think this hiding and self-condemnation, exists, in part, because we’ve given hurting, reactionary, flawed, and broken people power over us and our emotions. We’ve made their perceptions our standard instead of our relationship with Christ. As a result, we’ve traded the life-affirming growth of Christ for perfectionism.

Perfectionism paralyzes every time. It eventually drags us backward as we substitute time with our Savior, simply resting in His presence—no hiding, conniving, or striving— with checking off lists and following rules. As we do, our self-reliance grows, weakening our dependence on Jesus.

Our source of power, hope, and life.

And we wonder why we feel so defeated, exhausted, and consumed with guilt. For being unable, in our own strength, to demonstrate the power of grace.

A while back, while going through a particularly challenging time, a ministry team member confronted me regarding a series of behaviors. Some were inherent to my “dream-big-and-run-fast” personality, others from inexperience, and tangled between the two, lay my pride. In the past, that pride almost always initiated defensiveness and hiding, turning what should’ve been a growth opportunity into regret and yet another reason for shame.

Yet another reason for self-condemnation.

Only this time, that didn’t happen. Armed with a more robust understanding of grace, when I sensed a reaction rising, I mentally hit pause and reminded myself of what I knew to be true: That Jesus loved me, had died for me, forgiven me, and was growing me.

More than that, I reminded myself of grace and the simple fact that I needed it as much that day (and every day) as when I first trusted in Christ for salvation. My weaknesses were simply proof of what He and I already knew—that apart from Him I was (and am!) a hopeless mess!

Therefore, with the joy of my liberating Father welling within me, I was able to smile and say, “You’re right. I really stink at that, and here’s how God’s growing me in this area.”

That simple statement, “Your right,” defused her anger, my fear, and placed me exactly where I needed to be—in a position of dependency on Jesus.

That’s where strength, freedom, and life-change are found.

Image of a flower with text pulled from post“This is eternal life,” Jesus said, speaking of heaven but also of the here and now, that we would know, through an ever-deepening relationship with our Creator, God the Father and Jesus Christ, whom God sent. (John 17:3). To experience the abundant, thriving life Christ promised, we need to recognize how completely dead, apart from Him, we are.

And then determine to do something about it, not by working or trying harder but instead by connecting deeper.

Let’s talk about this! Are you living in grace? A great indication of this is how you respond to constructive feedback, failure, and personal weaknesses. If you find yourself getting defensive, that probably indicates you’re not consistently living in grace. Share your action steps, celebrations, examples, and prayer requests with us in the comments below, because we can all learn from one another.

Additional Resources:

 
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Discovering Who God Created Us to Be

Woman in hat smiling

Our purpose, infused into our hearts before we took our first breath, is universal and will never change–to know God and make Him known. How we express that purpose, however, is unique to all of us. We’ll never truly feel fulfilled until we discover and live out who Christ created us to be. My guest today, author and blogger Robin E. Mason, shares how this has proven true in her life.

What’s in Your Heart

By Robin E. Mason

“What’s wrong with me?”

I asked God that question more than twenty years ago. I had no sense of purpose or identity.

“Sit down.” I could imagine Him answering me. “This is going to take a while.”

And it did. An emotionally excruciating and physically exhausting three years of counseling. I “happened” to choose that spring to work in the yard. And as I dug up rocks to make way for daisies, I felt like the same thing was happening in my soul; God was digging and uprooting years and layers of lies that had burrowed deep in my heart.

Years, a lifetime really, of hearing “You could have done better,” had translated into nothing I did was good enough. The most staggering statement was, “You’re nothing but a failure.” Even though I knew better intellectually, it didn’t even faze me; it was the summation of what I had accepted all my life.

I grew up believing the Bible was absolute Truth. The Bible says I’m to have an “abundant” life. But mine didn’t fit that at all. I suffered depression, worked at jobs that didn’t satisfy me. Believing lies will do that. And no matter how hard I fought to be “better,” I never was.

I was a single mom and I worked to provide for my children. I did what I had to do. The problem was fighting to measure up to someone else’s standard for me, and not Father God’s design.

In a particular counseling session, my pastor held his hands out, cupped as though he held a grapefruit in each. One hand, he said, was Bible Truth. In the other were the lies I had believed. He put one hand on top of the other; the lies say this. Then he switched hands. But the Bible says. He repeated this a few times, and it registered in my broken mind. That was twenty-three years ago.

Long before I asked that fateful question, Father God had been laying groundwork to bring me to that point of recognizing the disparity between my life and His plan. And I’ve watched in the years since then as He unfolds one mercy after another—so that I like myself now, and I can say without vanity that I’m a pretty cool gal! And fun to be around!

Which brings me to my writing. Stories have always been in my head. But I was pushed in other directions, pressure to be something I’m not—someone else’s ideal of success. The stories were there; I just didn’t know I was meant to write them. But as I was struggling through the anguish of counseling I began writing—almost as a Divine form of therapy.

And for all I’ve put my hands to over the years—the temp assignments, jobs that were just awful, so many I’ve lost count—nothing has “fit” like my writing. Once I got swept up in that first storyline, I knew. This was, and is, and has always been, that desire of my heart. The words. They speak to me. They reach into me. Whether fiction or His Word.

What’s in my heart? Stories that speak to the sense of identity. Stories that help others know who they are, and to embrace and live in that knowledge. Stories that reach into the heart of others, who, like me, don’t know and aren’t living the life God intended.

Take a look inside your heart. What secret dreams are hidden in your there? How can you begin the journey to live in the fullness of Father God’s plan and purpose for you?

Get to Know Robin!

Robin's author photoMs. Mason writes stories of identity conflict. Her characters encounter situations that force the question, “Who am I really?” For all who have ever wondered who you are or why you’re here, her stories will touch you in a very real—maybe too real—and a very deep way. “I know, I write from experience.”

Ms. Mason has seven novels, Tessa, Clara Bess, and Cissy, in the unsavory heritage series, and The Long Shadows of Summer, The Tilting Leaves of Autumn, The Silent Song of Winter, and The Whispering Winds of Spring in her Seasons series. All of Ms. Mason’s books are available on Amazon, both for Kindle and in print. She also has several poems included in an anthology, Where Dreams and Visions Live (Anthologies of the Heart Book 1) by Mary Blowers, as well as a short story, Sarafina’s Light, also in an anthology, Blood Moon, compiled by Mary Blowers. She is working on a on One for the Price of Two, the first story in her new series, FourSquare, to release next year.

Visit her online HERE.

Check out her new cover of her debut novel, Tessa:

When you pretend to be something you’re not, it always finds you out.

One mother. Two daughters. One favorite. One not.

When Cassie Barclay is presented with an opportunity – or is it a curse – she jumpsCover image for Tessa at the chance. She takes on a new life, her sister’s life, and although at first, it holds appeal and promise, she soon realizes sometimes the fairy tale is tainted.

When Love Involves Risk

quote on love

Relationships can be messy and confusing. We long to build bridges, to point others to Jesus, and really, to love others well. But sometimes it can feel crazy hard to live that out. If only Scripture provided a clear road map: When they say X, respond with Y.

I felt the tension between grace and truth most acutely a few summers ago when my husband and I fostered a troubled teenager. We’d gone through extensive training and felt certain, prior to placement, that we knew when and how to set boundaries and for what behaviors.

The black and white decisions we saw on paper muddled into gray when transferred to the real world. We weren’t working with hypotheticals anymore. This was real life, a human life—a deeply broken teen rapidly spiraling into self-destruction.

We knew we needed to address her behaviors, to hold her accountable for them. But we longed to do so in a way that built or at least, didn’t harm, our relationships with her. I can’t say I always did that well, nor that my actions and reactions were always Christ centered.

Relational tension often reveals my weaknesses and insecurities, but more than that, they provide an opportunity for me to quote pulled from text on a hazy blue backgroundpress into Jesus. Only He knows the right response to every situation.

My responses more closely resemble His when I intentionally set myself aside—my pride, will, fears, and expectations—and yield to the Holy Spirit within me.

I imagine the apostle Paul felt a similar tension when he addressed his brothers and sisters in Corinth. I don’t know what all was going on, but Jewish believers had attacked Paul’s ministry and division and sin had infiltrated the church. Apparently, he’d written the Corinthians a “severe” letter, which scholars believe has been lost.

The Corinthians may have assumed, based on Paul’s letter, that he didn’t care for them. That his heart had turned against them. Those fears may have been magnified when one of Paul’s previously planned visits were delayed. But in 2 Corinthians 2:4, he assures them this wasn’t the case. In fact, it was because of his love for them that he wrote the letter, delayed his trip, and was now planning to visit them again.

He said, “For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love I have for you” (2 Corinthians 2:4, ESV).

Can you sense Paul’s anguish? Having had his ministry and character attacked, while facing ministry challenges, persecution, and the constant threat of death, he was in need of support and encouragement. Of community. The easiest and most self-serving thing he could’ve done would’ve been to simply allow the issues in Corinth to slide.

But out of His love for them, he wrote a rebuking letter, one where he anguished over each word. Perhaps you’ve been there, when the most loving thing you can do is address a behavior, even if it causes someone pain. Temporary pain. A pain that, by God’s grace, can lead to healing and restoration.

That was Paul’s goal. He wasn’t lashing out in anger, frustration, or indignation. He was pouring every part of him out in love.

Sometimes that love is quiet; other times, like when Paul wrote his chastising letter, that love is bold. But when it comes from Jesus, it is always pure and honorable and truth—focused on others and centered in Christ.

Let’s talk about this! Pause to think of the people in your circle. What is the most loving way you can respond to them today? How might “self-love” (self-protection, pride, feeling offended, etc.) get in your way? What can you do to move past self-love tendencies? Share your thoughts and examples with us in the comments below because we can all learn from and encourage one another.

Would you like Jennifer to speak at your next book club gathering, Bible study, or women’s event? Contact here HERE.

Where or in Whom Are You Placing Your Trust

woman walking with quote from Joni Erickson Tada

Trust comes hardest when we feel our lives or livelihood is threatened. I like to think I’m a risk taker, that I’d willingly go wherever and whenever God leads, but sometimes I struggle simply sharing my faith with a neighbor or friend or speaking truth when others oppose it.

Needless to say, if I’d been Barak, the Ancient Hebrew assigned to conquer the mighty nation that had been tormenting my people for two decades, I’d be nervous.

Okay, terrified.

You may be familiar with the story. Barak lived during the time of judges. This was a dark period for the Israelites, characterized by rampant rebellion against God and His ways. The people followed a sadly predictable cycle. They’d rebel against God and would turn to idol worship and thus would step out from under His protective care. Vicious armies would attack and oppress them, sometimes to the point of starvation. They’d cry out to God for mercy, He’d hear and respond and would raise up a liberator to defeat their enemies and set them free.

When we reach Judges four, the chapter in which Barak’s story is found, the people had been “ruthlessly” oppressed by a Canaanite king for twenty years. Though Scripture doesn’t tell us exactly how the Israelites suffered, we know the Canaanites were powerful, cruel, and maintained a 900-iron-chariot army. Consider the psychological strain of living under such complete domination for twenty years. The Israelites had probably developed a victim’s mentality that led them to believe they were hopelessly defeated.

But when they cried out to God, He responded and commanded a man named Barak, God’s chosen warrior, to rise up in His people’s defense.

I’m not surprised Barak struggled to obey. We’re not told whether or not he had military training or experience. All we know is that God called him to lead His army against the pagan nation Barak and the other Israelites greatly feared.

Barak’s response, when Deborah, God’s prophet, told him his assignment: “Fine. I’ll go, but only if you go with me” (Judges 4:8, paraphrased). Some suggest he was merely looking for support, but God had already taken care of that. He wasn’t sending Barak to war alone; 10,000 men were to fight alongside him.

Barak wanted Deborah, Israel’s judge and a well-respected and trusted prophet, to go with him. Could it be that Barak’s trust rested more in Deborah, God’s prophet, than in the Almighty Himself?

Image of woman gazing upward with text pulled from post

Sometimes it’s easier to trust something tangible, like a person or our job, rather than an unseen God. When that happens, it’s time to pause and remember who God is—His power, love, and faithfulness. The same God that brought victory to Barak, Deborah, and their men will do the same for us. In Him, we can move from fear to faith.

Let’s talk about this! When have you found it most difficult to obey God? What’s helped you move forward in courage during those times? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below or connect and engage with me on Facebook, because we can all learn from and encourage one another!

Every feel uncertain as to precisely what God is asking you to do? If so, then Susan Aken’s post on Wholly Loved’s website Monday and my video on our Facebook page yesterday may encourage you. You can find it HERE (scroll down a bit).

In Susan’s post, she stresses the importance, when discerning God’s will, of reading and meditating on Scripture. If that overwhelms you, I encourage you to read my latest Crosswalk article where I share 10 Steps to Interpreting Scripture.

And finally, be on the lookout for Wholly Loved’s FREE 7-week video titled Becoming His Princess, releasing this spring! With weekly video components, group discussion questions, and at-home lessons designed to help you walk in the confidence and freedom available in Christ. Sign up for Wholly Loved’s quarterly newsletter to receive news of our release, upcoming events, and more. You can do so HERE.