Living With Focus

Photo by jesadaphorn taken from freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by jesadaphorn taken from freedigitalphotos.net

There’s nothing more frustrating than looking back on a busy, tiring day and realizing you’ve accomplished nothing. Or at least, nothing of value. Or to embark on a task, perhaps seven or eight times in a day, only to be distracted, seven or eight times.

We all have those days, right? Times when our lack of focus, lack of prioritizing, eats up our productivity. But we mustn’t let those times of distraction and futility, of wasted effort, become a norm.

We all have countless opportunities set before us each day, sometimes even great opportunities, eternally impacting opportunities, but that doesn’t mean each one is for us. God has carved out a unique path for each one of us. He’s created us, gifted us, molded and equipped us, to fill a very specific role.

I love how Ephesians 2:10 puts it: “For you are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus to do the good things He planned for us long ago” (NLT).

We are God’s masterpiece! That word grabs me every time. As does the ending of the verse, “He planned for us long ago.”

It reminds me that God has a plan, a very good and very specific plan, for my life. My role is to discover that plan and follow it ps37v23to24jpgwith everything within me, resisting the constant pull to be everything to everyone. Rather, I am to give everything–my time, energy, thoughts, and actions–to the Son.

Proverbs 4:25-27 says “Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you. Mark out a straight path for your feet; stay on that safe path. Don’t get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil” (NLT).

This verse speaks of determined focus, of perseverance, of intentionality. Of zeroing in on whatever it is Christ is calling me to do each day. Which implies taking the time to discover what He’s calling me to do. Which in turn implies taking the time to prayerfully read His Word each morning.

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this! What about you? What is God calling you to do today? Raise your children or grandchildren to love and honor Christ? Reveal Christ’s love and grace in your work place? Serve in a church ministry with excellence? Are you doing that with focus, perseverance, and intentionality? Are you giving your whole self to that task, or have you allowed nonessentials to leave you divided? What time-sappers have you allowed in your day that hinder your effectiveness? Share your thoughts here in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook.

We can’t do it all. Each day, we’re going to have to let something go. Let’s let those things go intentionally so that we can “fix our eyes on what lies before us.”

For all the mommas of little ones out there, my friend (and the marketing manager of New Hope Publishers) has a series I know you’ll find encouraging and inspiring. You can read about that here.

You might also be interested in:

Are the Little Things Really Little? 

In the Little Things

Called and Accountable by Henry T. Blackaby and Norman C. Blackaby

Before I go, I wanted to announce the winners of last week’s give away! Maryann, congrats! You won a copy of the Shepherd’s Song! I’ll be contacting you shortly to chat about the best way to get that novel to you. And, there’s still time to enter the drawing to receive a copy of Kelly O’Dell Stanley’s book Praying Upside Down. You can do so here.

Before I go, I wanted to invite you listen to a radio interview I did Tuesday. You can do so here:

I also encourage you to sign up for my (really, our, as I and the Faith, Friends, and Chocolate gals put it out together) free quarterly newsletter, which is packed with great stuff–a serial story, short stories, recipes, devotions, and more!


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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.

Will Your Hope Dissapoint?

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!

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The Power to Forgive

ID-100161689I’ve often said, forgiveness is rarely a one-time event. Nor is it an emotion, at least originally. It usually begins with a choice, sometimes a teeth-gritting, white-knuckling, Lord Jesus please help me, choice. One that must be made again and again and again, every time old wounds and negative emotions resurface.

Forgiveness is rarely easy, but it is possible, with God’s help.

Today my friend, Janet Sketchley, Author of Secrets and Lies, shares her thoughts on Janet Sketchley headshot 350x350 (1)how we can begin to move toward forgiveness, and the freedom and healing that offers.

BUT FIRST I wanted to announce last week’s give-away winner.

LoRee, congrats! You won a copy of When Dawn Breaks! I’ll shoot you an email so we can talk about the best way for me to get that to you. 🙂 In the meantime, you can read the first two chapters here. 

And now, for Janet’s encouraging thoughts.

Forgiveness by Janet Sketchley

“He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.” Psalm 103:12, NLT

Someone hurts you. Next day, she apologizes. Do you say it’s okay, not a big deal? Pretend nothing happened, for the good of the relationship? Or do you refuse to forgive? Can you forgive, if it’s a major hurt?

Forgiveness is more about the victim than the offender. We’ve all been both. As the wounded parties, we can find healing and wholeness by acknowledging what happened and letting it go. Otherwise it stays inside us and continues to do damage.

“But you don’t know what she did!” No, but I know the hardest things are beyond our power to forgive without Jesus helping us. It can take years to start forgiving a traumatic hurt, and that may be just the first step. It may need regular repetition until that forgiveness “takes” at our deepest levels.

Forgiveness (1)

Dismissing a hurt, or learning to work around it, isn’t forgiveness. Honest forgiveness is a hard choice and it takes time, and we still have the after-effects of the hurt. If I steal from you and you forgive me, wisdom says you shouldn’t put me in charge of your bank password.

God’s forgiveness is different. If we accept Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross to buy us back from destruction, He forgives us. Every time we ask with a sincere heart. Even for the same offense, again and again.

He never denies the effects of our sin, and we may live with  its consequences. He forgives, but He doesn’t brush it off—the chance at forgiveness came at a great cost. But He removes it.

People may struggle to forgive, or may say they do without really meaning it. With God, we can believe that once He forgives, He truly does put the matter away. Not forgets, not dismisses. He marks it “paid.” That allows us to see the depth of the cost, the strength of the offense. But it doesn’t leave us with a burden to prove ourselves or to earn our way back into His good graces.

God knows our hearts and intentions—and our weaknesses. He likely wouldn’t put an embezzler, for example, back into the same position of trust. There are consequences in our world. But He regularly forgives and cleans us up, knowing that despite our best intentions we’ll mess up again. He doesn’t keep a tally that will eventually cut us off. Instead He offers as much help as we’ll take. As often as we need it.

In the mean time, He acknowledges the weight of what we’ve done, minimizing nothing. Jesus Himself paid the price. Now He works in and with us to remake us. How strong a love is that?

***

Janet Sketchley is the author of Heaven’s Prey and Secrets and Lies, two novels of suspense and redemption. She also blogs about faith and books. Janet loves adventure stories, worship music, tea and Formula 1 racing. Like Carol in Secrets and Lies, she loves music and tea. Unlike Carol, Janet isn’t related to a dangerous offender, has a happy home life, and has never been threatened by a drug lord. May those tidbits continue to hold true! You can find Janet online at janetsketchley.ca. Fans of Christian suspense are invited to join Janet’s writing journey through her monthly newsletter: bit.ly/JanetSketchleyNews.

Visit Janet online at:

Website: http://janetsketchley.ca/

Join Janet’s author journey – sign up for her monthly newsletter: http://bit.ly/JanetSketchleyNews

Secrets and Lies page (includes purchase links): http://janetsketchley.ca/books/secrets-and-lies/

Read a sample chapter here. 

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livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this! We’ve all been hurt, betrayed, let down by someone we love. So how do we handle that? How have you dealt with past pains? Did you find forgiveness took effort and perseverance, or did God grant you a miraculous emotional healing and change of heart? Or perhaps you’re still hurting, still trying to fight for forgiveness. If so, did Janet’s post help you? Share your thoughts in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook. 

Other posts and articles you might find helpful:

Fighting to Forgiveness

490 Forgiveness

Freedom in Forgiveness

How to Trade Bitterness for Blessings

For those of you not on Facebook but who would like to follow my book-launch blog tours, signings, and interviews and such:

Yesterday on Bonnie Leon’s blog, I shared the time I asked God for permission to quit. You can read that here.

Tuesday I chatted with Greg Vogt, station manager of Omaha’s KCRO about my new release and the inspiration behind it. You can listen to our on-air discussion here:

Monday and Tuesday I participated in two blog interviews.

Join me on Kelly Liberto’s blog here.

Join me on Grid-iron Granny’s here.

On Saturday, I visited with Alexis from Capturing the Idea. You can read our chat here.

Parents, Are You Making Your Influence Count?

Throw back Thursday--I took this picture of our princess on a special family day. Memories matter, and time passes quickly. Make it count.

Throw back Thursday–I took this picture of our princess on a special family day. Memories matter, and time passes quickly. Make it count.

Oh, my, does today’s post hit me smack in my momma-heart. With our princess so near launch age, everything in our home has become more… intentional. Because we know our time is short, and we want every moment to count. It’s like we’re trying to cram all these memories into her already exploding brain. I’m not sure if these memories are for her or us. 😉 I suspect both.

I often say, parenting is the hardest, most important, most rewarding, heart-wrenching and heart-lifting job a person can have. And there aren’t any do-overs.

Okay, so that thought sent a jolt of adrenaline shooting through my gut. Let’s just say, there are numerous moments I’d like to do-over. But praise God He’s in the restoring, healing, transforming business and can turn my biggest parenting mistake into something beautiful. (If anything, I’ve helped our daughter see plenty of things she doesn’t want to do when she becomes a parent. ha!)

Maria headshot LLBDToday my sweet friend and fellow Living by Grace hostess, Maria Morgan, shares her thoughts on influential parenting. If you haven’t read her book to your kiddos yes, you absolutely must. I’ve heard it’s becoming many children’s favorite.

As an added bonus, she’s giving away a copy (I believe e-version) of her children’s book, Louie’s Big Day! The winner will be chosen randomly from the comments left on today’s post. 

Making Your Influence Count

By

Maria I. Morgan

What kind of influence are you having on your kids? Our only child will be getting married in less than a month, and over the course of her engagement I’ve had ample time to reflect on that very question.

Parenting isn’t for the faint of heart. It comes with both wonderful experiences and some difficult challenges. In spite of all of our parenting blunders, I’m confident the Lord will continue to work in our daughter’s life. God’s Word is reassuring:

“Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6

No guarantees

To the best of our ability we’ve pointed our girl to the Savior and tried to live out what God’s Word teaches. I’m so thankful for His grace where we’ve fallen short.

As parents, we have a big responsibility to teach and counsel our kids based on the truths of the Bible. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for families that began with a godly heritage to walk away from the Lord a generation or two later.

A sad commentary

Remember Ahaziah? His grandfather was Jehoshaphat. God’s Word describes Jehoshaphat as a man who,

“…sought to the Lord God of his father, and walked in his commandments, and not after the doings of Israel.” 2 Chronicles 17:4

But Ahaziah’s father, Jehoram, decided to follow a different path. He married Athaliah, a woman who worshipped idols, and he chose to follow in the footsteps of the previous kings of Israel. In the space of one generation, the true God had been denied.

The advice of a mother

By the time Ahaziah began ruling Israel after his father died, he was already entrenched in evil practices. His mother had left a lasting impression on him:

“…for his mother was his counselor to do wickedly. Wherefore he did evil in the sight of the Lord like the house of Ahab: for they were his counselors after the death of his father to his destruction.” 2 Chronicles 22:3b-4

I’m thankful for the examples of others who chose to follow God in spite of parents who were unbelievers. Godly parenting doesn’t guarantee godly children. Each person must decide who to follow: God or Satan.

This doesn’t negate our parental responsibility to teach our children the truth of God’s Word. Each day as we submit to the Lord and clothe ourselves with His armor, He will equip us with the ability to do so.

Your turn

Are you leaning on the Lord as you parent your children? What step will you take today to teach your kids God’s truth?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for working in my life and the lives of my kids even when I fail. I know I’m not 100% responsible for how my children turn out, because each of them was created with a free will. But I also know I am responsible for teaching them Ad for December issue Book Fun Magazine-page-001Your truth. Help me to do so today. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

*It’s so important to teach our kids godly truths. And just in time for Christmas, I’ve released a children’s book that can serve as a tool to help accomplish that goal. Louie’s BIG day! features timeless characters who learn about purpose and friendship. The book concludes with questions to stimulate conversation and help re-emphasize biblical concepts. It’s fun for the whole family! Available in print and Kindle editions on Amazon.

Maria Morgan is an inspirational writer and speaker who has a passion for sharing God’s love and truth with others. Visit her online at MariaMorgan.com

***

Let’s talk about this! Life can get so busy, and there are so many issues we as parents or grandparents must deal with *now*. And yet, I’ve found I can get so busy chasing fires, it’s easy to lose sight of my longterm plan. How am I preparing our princess for adulthood? Am I pointing her to Scripture? In our discussions, am I speaking love, grace, and truth?

livingbygracepic.jpI encourage you to ask yourself those same questions. Are you parenting with intentionality? What can you do, starting today, to build spiritual truths into your children? Make a realistic and attainable plan, then start today. I encourage you to share your thoughts and ideas with us. Then we can all learn from one another. What makes intentional parenting challenging for you? What have you found to work? How do you free up time in your crazy-busy week to train up your children and build lasting and meaningful memories? Share your thoughts here or on Facebook at Living by Grace.

 

Looking Beyond Ourselves

How deep, how far reaching, is your hope? Before you give the appropriate Christian answer, pause and evaluate your life. Your words. Those thoughts that whisper to you throughout the day and keep you awake at night.ID-100249429

Surrender. Releasing our life to a bigger plan, whether we can see the details or not. Looking past our momentary frustrations, pain and struggles to see God’s eternal plan.

Because, “if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world” (1 Corinthians 15:19 NLT).

If this is all there is, God help us!

To pose the question asked by my pastor, Lance Burch from Reality Church, last Sunday: “What if our lives are bigger than we know?”

This was certainly the case for both Ruth and Boaz. When I read their story, being the romantic that I am, I zero in on their unfolding love. Boaz is Ruth’s provider and Ruth the sweet, loyal, nurturing wife and mother. *sigh* Such a tender example of true and holy love.

And yet, there’s an even bigger story unfolding in the pages of Ruth, a greater romance that calls out to all mankind, for Jesus is our Boaz, our kinsman redeemer, our deepest and truest love.

Pause to read Ruth 4:13-22 and Matthew 1:6-16.

The real story hidden within this beautiful romance is the wooing of Creator God as He laid the groundwork for His redemptive plan, which ultimately led to the greatest sacrifice mankind has ever known.

Ruth’s life was bigger than she realized; bigger, I believe, than she could have imagined.

As is ours. But I think, often we get so caught up in the I of our story, we lose sight of the Author. It’s His story, and we are but supporting roles. Directed by Him, for His glory, to point others not to ourselves but rather, to Him.

It’s funny, this following of God’s plan. When I first began to write full time, I became obsessed with “the dream”. My prayers were dominated by self-centeredness. Lord, help me get published. Grant me new opportunities. Grant me favor with the contest judges reading my work.

Kinda ugly. In fact, not long into it, God made it clear, my writing had become my idol, and God wanted me to let it go. To lay everything, my whole self, on the alter, and thus, my prayers changed as I began to recite the words of Romans 12:1-2, which I personalized as follows:

“Lord, in view of all You’ve done, in view of Your mercy and grace and the death You endured on the cross, for me, I offer my whole body to You as a living sacrifice. May this be my act of worship. Help me not to conform to the ways of this word but instead, transform me by renewing my mind. Help me to know and live Your good, pleasing, and perfect will.”

That is a prayer God has consistently honored.

As I uttered those words, sometimes multiple times throughout the day, asking God to give me the desire and strength to live them, a funny thing happened. Doors of opportunity began to open and publishers began to ask to see my work.

How exciting, right? What I prayed for years ago was finally beginning to happen! You’d think this would be cause for celebration, that I’d be ready to barge forward unhindered.

That wasn’t what happened. I’m not sure if I can explain the heaviness of what followed and the deep urgings that filled my heart, urgings I believe were birthed by Christ. As I turned yet again to God in prayer, I sensed so strongly and clearly that God was going to use me, and suddenly my inadequacies came into focus.

ID-10075996I knew I wasn’t ready. More than that, I knew I had a long way to go before I would be ready.

So once again my prayers changed. I began praying that God would humble me, remove my selfishness, grant me increased self-control, fill my mind and heart with His truth until everything else was pushed aside.

And once again, He honored that prayer… in a much different way than I’d ever anticipated.

I asked for humility. God gave me two humbling (and at times, very humiliating) chronic illnesses. I asked God to teach me truth. He granted me trial after trial that brought me to my knees in deep, sobbing prayers. I asked Him to remove my selfishness and He showed me, through the faithfulness of a terminally ill friend, what it meant to live for Christ.

In the course of three years, everything changed.

I changed.

My struggles centered my heart in Christ and His eternal plan, and it’s my pain and loss that have allowed me to love others in a deeper way than I ever could have, had I not first been broken.

“What if our lives are part of something bigger than we know” ~ Lance Burch, Reality Church

Don’t be the center of your story. Surrender everything to be part of something immensely, miraculously, mercifully eternal.

Let’s talk about this. I know today’s post is insanely long, but today’s lesson is the most important, I believe. We started this study talking about surrender, and that is how we’ll end it.

If we could but catch a glimpse of eternity, how our lives would change! Everything looks different in light of the cross.

Pause to prayerfully listen to this song.

Are You Repellant or Attractive

Are you repellant or attractive? Pause to think of that for a moment. Consider your interactions with others. Are people drawn to you or do they try to avoid you? How do they feel after having spent time with you? This is an area I feel God has been challenging me in lately. Daily, He’s challenging me to take my eyes off myself, off my agenda and challenges, and look around. Because it’s hard to love others when I’m consumed with me.

Today my sweet friend Julie Arduini, author of Entrusted, shares her thoughts on lighting up our world.

melodylodgekoct132_editedThe Attractive Light by Julie Arduini

We moved into what we’re believing is our “forever home” a couple months ago. It’s a place where we can have ministry events, entertain, encourage, and I even have an office to write. What’s also new for us is it’s in a development. Even after daily errands we’re still like tourists gawking at the homes and finding new things to enjoy each day.

Earlier this week I noticed something. One home has a gorgeous light in their foyer that when turned on is something you can see as you drive by. The home was designed to showcase that light and it’s attractive. I’m drawn to it every time I drive by. When turned off, it looks like every other house. In fact, I didn’t even realize it was “that house” until I looked closer and realized the fixture was there.

Isn’t that the same for us as believers in Christ? For the most part, we’re an easy group to find. You can see the joy in faces. Kind eyes. Smiles that allow others to put down their guard and share. Trust. And hopefully accept the invitation to a relationship with the One who invites through His love.

The world? It’s a place that isn’t eternally attractive. There isn’t much warm and inviting about it, and people are driven to fill a gap with superficial things that will be as productive as a hamster wheel. When I’m at events that aren’t ministry related or church-affiliated, it feels dark. Honestly, I wish a lot of the times I could pass by and avoid it all.

But we’re called to be like Him. To be that light. And as I drove by the house later that day the light was back on. For me it was a reminder. This has been a stressful year and I’ve been tempted more than once to check out. Ignore the need I saw. Keep a grudge when I was ID-100179171wronged. But that’s a mentality much like the beautiful house with the light turned off.

It’s a dark world filled with people craving light. Let’s re affirm our commitment to be the vessels He will use to bring light.

***

Julie Arduini is an author with a passion to encourage readers to find freedom through surrender. Her first Adirondack contemporary romance, Entrusted, gives readers hope to surrender fear. A Walk Through the Valley will soon be available as an infertility devotional with 5 other authors. She blogs every other Wednesday at Christians Read and is a frequent contributor to Jasmine’s Place. To learn more about her writing and love of chocolate, visit http://juliearduini.com. She lives in Ohio with her husband and two children.

Entrusted FRONT Cover_editedEntrusted:

Jenna Anderson, sassy city-girl, plows—literally—into Speculator Falls with a busted GPS, arriving in town as the new senior center director. She has only one goal—that of belonging no matter how out of place she appears and how angry she makes town councilman and grocer Ben Regan.

Her new life is so rural there are no traffic lights, and when she learns her car isn’t equipped to handle the mountain terrain, Ben’s grandmother offers her late husband’s vehicle, further alienating the local businessman.

As she endears herself to the seniors at the center and creates a vision full of ideas, programs, and equipment, she ruffles Ben’s plans to keep Speculator Falls void of change, including the store his grandfather built.

The two work through community events and shared heartbreak only to face off in a town council meeting where Ben publically rejects her proposal for the senior center, causing Jenna to react out of her fears about belonging.

She returns to Ohio where she realizes she needs to surrender her plans for the center and fears about belonging and trust her Heavenly Father when facing fear, change, loss, and love.

Buy it here.

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this! Pause to think of people you know. Do any of them draw you to them? Make you feel special? Valued? Loved? Why is that?m Now pause to ask yourself this question: How do people feel around me? Am I acting like a light? What can I do to shine more brightly? Share your thoughts here in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook.

Before I go, I wanted to invite my Omaha Metro friends to my next book sighing, which will be held this Saturday. Come, bring a friend, and your sweet tooth because there will be chocolate! (And candy corn flavored taffy, my new favorite candy! 🙂 )Jennifer Slattery Poster_Community (1)-page-001 And be sure to pop by Beth’s blog tomorrow for our next Beyond I Do Bible study lesson. 🙂

Other posts you might enjoy:

Shining in the Dark

Are You Cancerous or Contagious