I’m quite good at throwing pity parties, and this fall and winter, I think I’ve excelled in this area. I’ve even invited others to join me. But leave it to 1129777_theres_a_party_2God to crash the party with some heart-illuminating truth. 🙂 Truth revealed through an ancient widow living in a time when life for widows appeared hopeless. After seven years of marriage, her husband died, leaving her destitute. She didn’t have access to welfare. No life-insurance policies or thrift plans to fall back on. So what was a woman to do? Why, isolate in her misery as she bemoans her situation to all who might listen, of course.

Hardly. She turned her eyes upward and focused on serving God in whatever capacity she could.

And God rewarded her for it by allowing her to catch a glimpse of the long-awaited Savior.

36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him (Luke 2:36-39 NIV).

Notice how she spent her time. Not complaining or lamenting but instead, worshipping. She turned her eyes off herself and her situation and placed them on her true treasure–God. And God showed up when she was 84. After 50, maybe 60 or more, years of patient serving.

We all have obstacles, heartaches, trials that come our way. Constraints on our time. And when our energy wanes or our health fails or our schedule balloons, it’s easy to focus on what we can’t do. We might even be tempted to throw a pity party or two, but God expects more. He wants us to take our focus off ourselves, placing it where it belongs–on Him, anxiously awaiting His blessings, His guidance, His nudges.

More than that, He wants us to anxiously await His presence. Daily. Moment by moment.

I loved this fun yet thought-provoking post written by Billy Coffey. Pop on over to read about his missing Jesus (Thanks to fellow LBG hostess and co-author of our tween devotional, the Story of Faith, Joanne Sher for sharing this post on her FB wall!) then come back here to share an idea or two on how we can keep our focus and our hopes on our Savior, anxiously awaiting His presence each day and celebrating not the tinsel, lights, and presents but the miraculous gift of Immanuel. A gift so amazing, so life changing, that upon encountering God in flesh, prophet Simeon could proclaim:

Sovereign Lord, as You have promised,
 you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation,
31     which You have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of Your people Israel” (Luke 2:30-32.)

You can now dismiss Your servant in peace. Simeon’s life dream had been fulfilled. He longed not for wealth, health, prestige, or promotion, but instead, to encounter God Almighty.

Can you say the same? This Christmas season, where do your expectations lie?

Let’s talk about this. Anna and Simeon had one thing in common–something I believe enabled them to experience great joy despite trials and setbacks. They focused not on being served but instead, on serving. And they appeared to have but one expectation or hope–encountering the living God. As I read their accounts, I wondered how many of my frustrations and heartaches come from expectations not fulfilled. How might centering my expectations on Christ and Christ alone affect my day? My Christmas?

Join me at Living by Grace as we share ideas on how to focus our expectations not on the events surrounding Christmas but instead, the Person who initiated the season to begin with.

Some questions to ponder and discuss:

1) Can expectations hinder our joy, and if so, how?

2) What are some signs our focus needs readjusting?

3) What are some ways we can grab hold of joy when stress or trials abound?

4) How can you anxiously await God’s presence today?

(You might also enjoy this devotional titled Battle in the Night, written by one of the Proverbs 31 women, that provides tools for grabbing hold of peace and joy when our crazy thoughts attempt to plunge us in angst and despair.)

And make sure to come back to Living By Grace Friday and Saturday for a continuation of our in-depth look at the book of James.

And before you go, I wanted to congratulate Mary Preston for winning last week’s book give-away. Mary, pop over to Linore’s website to choose what novel you’d like her to send you. And I’ll be shooting you an email soon to get your mailing address.

This past month, my husband’s schedule has changed slightly, and he’s spent a few days working from home. In the beginning, each day as I performed my daily chores he’d ask, “Are you in a cleaning mood?” By the third time he asked this, I had to laugh. What was routine for me Monday through Friday seemed out-of-place for him because I rarely do major housework while he’s around. Most likely, he doesn’t give the clean floors and folded clothes much thought. (And I’m sure there are countless things he does each day I’m not aware of.) If left undone, however, I’m sure he’d notice!

I think this is true of God as well. We notice and talk about the big things–a miracle healing, a special verse that pops off the page when we need it most, but each day, God works behind the scenes, watching over us, guiding, loving, nurturing. In Matthew 6:23 Jesus said: “But if your eyes are bad, then your whole body will be full of darkness.”

Bad eyesight leads to distorted vision. If we can’t see God’s hand, the problem lies with us, not Him.

Perhaps it’s time for a vision check. 🙂

Let’s talk about this. How often do you think we miss God’s blessings because we’re not looking? Throughout the Bible we are told to live lives of praise and gratitude. Do you think negativity can distort our vision? What else hinders our ability to see God’s hand? How might “counting our blessings” change that?

And on a fun note, what are some unexpected or perhaps easily overlooked blessings that came your way this week?

Join us at Living by Grace as we talk about ways to enhance our spiritual vision. 🙂

I’m selfish and discontent at my core. It’s easy for me to skim over the many blessings God’s provided, focusing instead on those things I don’t have. Like a spoiled two-year old. Counting my blessings helps, although even then, my prayers are often ego-centric. “Thank you Lord for….” But what if I didn’t have all those things? What happens when life gets tough? Will my praises and thanks dwindle?

Today Jodie Bailey challengs us to dive deeper in our praises. There’s a verse in Romans I love. It starts with, “In view of God’s mercy.” That’s a loaded phrase, but today I encourage you to take it even deeper. God’s grace is infathomable, but He’s more than what He does, and I believe our worship must extend beyond our “benefits.” We bow before Him because of who He is, the Creator of the universe, our Redeemer, Savior, closest friend. 

(As you read the following post, I challenge you to honestly ponder something: Do you know God? I mean, really know Him, as He truly is? If not, ask  Him to reveal Himself to you, and to remove whatever it is that gets in the way of you having an intimate relationship with Him. Because God doesn’t want to be our cosmic genie nor our distant observer. He longs to be our Abba daddy and our closest friend.)

Do You Get It by Jodie Bailey

Psalm 116:16-17–O Lord, surely I am Your servant,  I am Your servant, the son of Your handmaid,  You have loosed my bonds.  To You I shall offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and call upon the name of the Lord.

If we had any idea at all what we owe God, don’t you think it would knock us backwards to consider it?  If you really sat down and gave it some thought and started counting your blessings, you wouldn’t get far before you’d realize the debt is much bigger than you’ll ever be able to pay.  I mean, God is worthy of praise and thanksgiving simply because HE EXISTS.  (And by the way, that’s one of the reasons I love it when He calls Himself I AM.  Gives me chills.  He IS.  That’s all He needs to be.  Think about that for a while…)  But He didn’t stop at existing.  He didn’t stop at making us exist.  He lavished us with grace and mercy and gifts beyond our wildest dreams, even some gifts we don’t realize He’s given us.

Consider salvation.  Have you ever thought about what you’ve been delivered from?  Not surface thought, but deep thought? Tell me that isn’t worthy of devoting every single second of your life to Him.  Some of us have been healed of diseases.  Some of us have been delivered from horrors we thought we’d have to face the rest of our lives.  Some of us have been freed from sins that should have been our undoing.  How much do we owe Him?

We owe Him everything.  Our next breath.  The works of our hands.  The praises from our lips.  But do we give Him that?  If you’re like me, chances are, you don’t.  And that’s a shame.  In this new year, it’s one of the things I’m working on, seeing every bit of my life in relation to God.  Realizing that every single thing I do should be for Him.  Giving Him my all.  It’s hard.  It requires a complete reprogramming of my sinful human mind.  But I want it.  It’s what we all should want, to be God’s servant.  Read the verse again.  Boy, do we ever owe Him big time…

Jodie invites you to share your favorite verse from Psalm 107-127 in the comments, and I invite you to FB share, tweet, or “like” this post…if you’d like to see it in my top three of 2011. 

Jodie Bailey was Playwright of the Year in Methodist University’s annual Hail! Dionysus competition and has written plays performed by the Monarch Playmakers. She has been published in Teen magazine and collaborated on PWOC International’s latest Bible study. She has a B.A. double major in English literature and writing, and an M.Ed. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, the Christian Writers Guild, and Middle Tennessee Christian Writers. She lives in Tennessee with her husband and daughter.

Jodie is an avid reader, a life-long writer, and an aspiring beach bum.  She is a stubborn child who resisted God’s calling for two decades until He hit her over the head with a Beth Moore Bible Study book, and she finally figured out He wanted her to be a writer.  When not tapping away at the keyboard, she watches NCIS reruns, eats too many chocolate chip cookies, wishes she were at the beach, roughhouses with her daughter, and follows her Army husband around the country.

Visit Jodie online.

Today, at Living By Grace, we’re talking about loving without an agenda and serving with the proper attitude. I gotta admit, I blew this one last night. The Bible tells us to do our good deeds–our tithing, our serving, our self-sacrificing–in secret, to the glory of the Father, letting Him reward us in His way and His time. Every time I seek praise from man, I’m loving on an agenda. A tick-for-tack kind of deal, which isn’t love–it’s self-love and it robs the moment of its value.

Last night while my husband helped lead an adult Bible study, I watched a large number kids, many of which came from what I’m learning to call “hard places.” Many of these children exhibited rage issues and I felt like I ran from one fire to the next, trying to keep everyone safe while attempting to deal loving and effectively with each child.

Up until eight o’clock, my love for these children was authentic, pure, and self-sacrificing.

But then my husband concluded his Bible study class, smiling and looking refreshed, and yep, I felt the “need” to tell him how hard my night had been. Which in and of itself wouldn’t have been bad, if it weren’t for my motives. What was I looking for? empathy. I wanted my husband to know what my night had been like. I wanted him to know that while he sat in a comfortable chair, conversing with adults, I struggled to catch my breath. I wanted praise. Accolades.

And in that moment, my love began to have an agenda. Like: I did this, so now you must….

Appreciate me

Help me


Hopefully next Sunday I will love more like Jesus–motivated by pure love, self-sacrificing, seeking not my own.

Love without an agenda is love without any strings attached. Serving, giving, loving, expecting nothing in return. Giving even if no one notices.

Philippians 2:1-8 NIV

1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Christ, Creator God, came to earth as a man, rejected by the men and women He created. He asks me to demonstrate the same kind of self-sacrficing, humble love.

As I got ready for church this morning, Pandora radio blaring in my bedroom, this song brought me back, reminded me of all God’s done.

“When I think about the Lord, how He saved me, how He raised me, how He filled me with the Holy Ghost,

how He healed me to the uttermost…”

Christ freed me.

He didn’t give me a band-aide but instead, reached deep inside me with His freeing, healing, life-transforming love and set me free. So this morning I’m gonna shout hallelujah, thank you Jesus, Lord You’re worthy of all the honor and all the praise.

Stop and think back over your life, to where you were when Christ found you and where you are now and rejoice with me.

What has Christ freed you from? What area of your life is transformed because of His healing love?


I was eight, maybe nine, and on my way to school when I noticed a woman taking her trash to the curb. She held the black bag in one hand and a walking stick in the other, scanning the ground with her “eyes” as she went. I ran to her side, ready to rescue this blind lady, little did I know that God had sent her that day to help me.

She smiled at me and nodded, then humbly allowed me to carry her trash to the curb. It wasn’t until a few days later when I was sitting at the breakfast bar in her kitchen that I realized the humbled love she showed to me that morning. As I watched her answer her phone, make popcorn in the micro (for me) and flitter around her kitchen with more ease than a sighted woman, I was slightly embarrassed by my offer to “help” her only days before. She let me help her not because she needed it, but because doing so would form a connection–a point of contact.

Before long, I was at her house nearly every day. I don’t remember exactly what we talked about. I do remember the popcorn, and the tremendous joy that filled her home. I remember watching her husband and son very closely, curious by their rather silly antics and the ease with which they interacted. But what I remember most was the overwhelming sense of being loved and accepted as day after day Mr. and Mrs. Neighborhood (my name for her and her husband) showed me love.

She died a few years later, not knowing how the story would end–not knowing the chain of events her allowing me to carry her garbage started, not knowing the impact those afternoons had on me. She didn’t understand fully until she got to heaven, and although I don’t believe God caused her blindness, (it was the result of a stroke), I know He used  it to bring her and I together. And through her, I got a taste of the love of Christ.

I wonder if she were standing on the edge of eternity, able to see into the abyss, and asked to choose between her sight or my salvation, I wonder what she would have chosen. Actually, I know what she would have chosen. She showed me daily.

But even now, Mrs. Neighborhood’s story doesn’t end. Every time I write, every time I pray, every time I cuddle up with my daughter, a Bible spread between us, we are seeing the fruits of her service (and other amazing women God placed in my path as I was growing up.)

And it all started because she let a little girl help her.

I thought of her this morning during church as I read 1 Thessalonians 2:1-7

1 You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. 2 We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. 3 For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. 4 On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. 5 You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. 6 We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. 7 Instead, we were like young children among you.

Her visits with me were not without results. The results just wouldn’t be seen until many years later, long after she’d passed. And she wasn’t concerned with the praise of men. To the contrary, she humbled herself and allowed a young child to help her.

Her life was the very first domino in a beautifully intertwined display, except the story really began long before then, with another domino set in motion in her life, and the domino set in motion in the life that loved on her. Each life, each domino, was but a tiny, yet powerful, part of a glorious, life-saving story that will one-day unfold before us. When we stand in God’s presence, surrounded by an innumerable family of believers, each one but another domino that set into motion another chain, everything will all make sense and all we’ll be able to say is, “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” (Revelations 7:12 NIV)