Faith — A Clear Sign to Hold Tight To

sad teenagerChurch had become a painful place for our daughter. She loved Jesus and wanted to grow closer to Him, but she’d experienced deep hurt from His people. Hurts that initiated inner lies like, “I’m not good enough. This faith thing isn’t working for me. God must not be pleased with me.”

Every time she entered the sanctuary, those lies played, swirling through her mind and drowning out the songs and proclamations of grace.

I could sense something was wrong, something deep. I saw it in the way she tensed whenever I asked her about her prayer or Bible reading time—really, anything faith related. She grew abrupt, clearly wanting to end the conversation.

Being the … perhaps overly involved mother that I am, I pressed, out of fear. A fear that, when acted upon, could have pushed her away from the faith entirely. Luckily, my husband stepped in and told me to back off. Even more fortunate, I actually listened.

And waited.

And prayed, and prayed, and prayed for God, the only One who knew precisely how my daughter was feeling and thinking, to step in and grab and heal her heart.

A few edgy and frightening months later, He opened the door for conversation, and in the dialogue that followed, He broke my heart nearly as much as my daughter’s had been. She shared years of hurt, of being misjudged, of feeling as if, because she didn’t respond to God (really, to worship music) as her church friends did, that she was unengaged. Uninterested. And not accepted, not just by her peers, but by God.

“What’s wrong with me?” she asked. “I don’t see God in music; I see Him in math!”

To which I responded, “That’s beautiful baby.”

Then I reminded her of Jesus’ words in John 13:35. He didn’t say, “They’ll know you’re My disciple based on how emotional you get during worship service” or “how high you raise your hands.” He said, “By this everyone will know you’re My disciples, if you love one another.”

Friends embracingWhen we love like Jesus, we demonstrate we belong to Him.

And I’d seen His love displayed in her again and again in her school and among her friends. God hadn’t rejected her, nor was she failing in her faith. He’d drawn her near and was working in and through her each time she interacted with the hurting and dismissed. She’d turned to Him for salvation as a child, read her Bible, and did her best to honor Him, but still, at times, she worried somehow, for her, saving faith hadn’t clicked. And, surrounded by other more emotionally driven believers, she felt as if somehow she wasn’t enough.

But, as a friend reminded me, when we allow our emotions to dictate our assurance, we’re actually relying on works-based religion, rather than grace received through faith. Quoting a line from an old hymn that says, “‘I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name,’” she added, “Frame was the old word for feelings. It is so easy to rest on feelings instead of the finished work of Christ, which never changes.”

We are saved through faith in what Christ did on our behalf, regardless of how we feel one moment from the next.

In 1 John chapter four, the author wanted to give ancient believers that same assurance. False teachers had infiltrated the church, were denying vital truths regarding Christ, and claiming to have a special, mysterious, and “secret” knowledge of God that the others didn’t have. In response, John, the apostle who write all three letters bearing his name, wrote a missive refuting this deception and assuring true followers of Christ that they did indeed belong to Him.

They could know, know, know that they truly belonged to Jesus based on what they believed regarding Him (that He was fully human and fully man), that they obeyed what He’d taught, have received the indwelling Holy Spirit, and based on how they loved one another.

“Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God,” John said (1 John 4:7).

And for those who may have been confused as to what this love looked like, he added, “This is how God verse graphics 1 John 4:19showed His love among us: He sent His One and only Son into the world … as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. … No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:9-12, NIV).

The love of God is sacrificial and initiating, and when we love others well, as Christ has loved us, His love is made complete, or has reached it’s full expression, in us.

We don’t need some special knowledge to prove to others or ourselves that we belong to Him, nor should we rely on our emotions to assure us of our faith. We simply need to live in, and live out, what we’ve received—through faith.

Have you ever encountered something similar to my daughter, when others gave you the message that you weren’t expressing your faith appropriately or according to their expectations? What are some ways you’ve found assurance in your faith? What are some ways you’ve assured others who, despite a clear belief in Jesus, have expressed doubts regarding their standing with God?

Share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below, because we can all learn from and encourage one another.

God’s Never Changing, Unfailing Love

Change can be uncomfortable; uncertainty, even more so. If we’re not careful, we can allow the uncertainties of change to paralyze us and keep us from experiencing the abundant life God promised. But no matter how often our circumstances shift, no matter what hurdles or roundabouts life throws our way, we can rest assured and move forward with confidence, because that which is most important, that which holds us most securely, will never change.   

Today as you read Mary Bowen’s devotion on the depth, truth, and permanence of God’s love, ask Him to help you rest in that–in who He is and who you are in Him. Because as we like to say at Wholly Loved Ministries, when we live wholly loved, everything changes.

God’s Never Changing, Unfailing Love

by Mary Bowen

Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken. . .” (Isa. 54:10 NIV).

She giggles. “Mommy, the flowers keep changing!” Her smile grows as she rotates the kaleidoscope. With each turn of the tube, another captivating image melts away into a different one altogether.

Life is like a kaleidoscope, always changing. Here in Atlanta shoppers grumbled when long-established stores such as Rich’s, Blockbuster and Borders closed their doors, “gone with the wind.” Spring, summer, fall, winter – we like the variety of the seasons, but often chafe at the changes they bring. Just when we’re basking in balmy breezes, a cold wind freezes our picnic plans. And how do you dress when a chilly 50 degrees rises to 75 the next day?

As the weather fluctuates, so do our relationships. A shift here, a misunderstanding there, and the distance widens. Like the glass bits in a kaleidoscope, sometimes friendships change color; a rich, bright red slowly darkens to brown, while a dull grey connection can suddenly flash with shining silver. Changing circumstances affect us as well. If someone we love moves away, we feel a sense of loss. The ultimate separation, death, leaves us feeling empty and alone.

Can we keep our equilibrium on life’s emotional roller coaster? Is there anyone we can depend on not to let us down? What a relief to know that God’s love for us doesn’t change, because He Himself is immutable, or unchangeable. “I the Lord do not change,” God declares in Malachi 3:6.

Nothing reveals character like self-sacrifice. When God gave us His Son, He proved His love for us (Jn. 3:16). Jesus died in our place, paying the penalty we owed for our sin. “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us” (Rom. 5:5, BSB). Nothing can separate us from God’s love (Rom. 8:39). These truths anchor our souls in life’s sea of change.

One of my favorite hymns describes God’s unfailing love: “Loved with everlasting love/Led by grace that love to know. . . /In a love which cannot cease, I am His and He is mine.” (words by George Robinson). As we seek to know God better, He progressively reveals His personal love. In John chapter 15, Jesus declares His friendship. He is with us all the time, unlike any other relationship. Jesus’ name is Immanuel, or “God with us.” The Holy Spirit living within the believer keeps God near.

God knows and understands us better than any earthly friend. Psalm 139 describes in detail this intimate knowledge. God’s unfailing, personal love is our security. Though the kaleidoscope of life keeps turning, we can rest securely.

Let’s talk about this! When I was a young adult, I was perhaps the most insecure woman in all of Southern California (where we lived). I constantly worried what others thought of me, if I was doing enough or too much, if I was doing the right things or wrong. When things changed or an uncertainty hit, I fell into a panic! But the closer I grew to Christ and the more I learned to rest in His deep love, the more my confidence–in Him!– began to replace my insecurities.

When we recognize how deeply loved we are, as I said before, everything changes. I know now if I face a rough patch, God has allowed it to mold and grow me, and I can rejoice in that. If God challenges me to a difficult role or endeavor, I know He’ll go with me, equipping and empowering me. If I “fail” in some task, whatever it is, I know in reality I’ve done anything but as I have only Him to please, and He calls me beloved and adored. If others reject me, I know He never will. When I sin, rather than wallowing in guilt and regret, I know I can turn to Him and allow Him to work within me, making me more like the radiant bride He already sees me to be.

The challenge for each of us is to learn to live more deeply and consistently in God’s never-changing love, because that is where freedom is found. Join the conversation here, in the comments below, or on Living by Grace on Facebook.

***

Mary Bowen writes and edits for Grace Ministries International in Marietta, Georgia. For many years her articles and poetry have been published in newspapers, magazines and anthologies. She has worked as a reporter and freelancer, and served as an editor with the North American Mission Board.

Marked With a Seal

person-1821412_1920For years, I spiraled into self-destruction, ultimately ending up homeless. Well before my eighteenth birthday. I don’t know the statistics, but I do know the probability of one climbing out of that mess aren’t high.

But God.

If not for Him, if not for His grace, and honestly, if not for a sweet woman named Dorothy who shared the gospel with a frizzy haired, poor trailer park kid decades before my life spiraled, I’d still be roaming the streets or Tacoma. Or dead. (Join me for one of our Wholly Loved Conference to hear more of my story, how God pursued me, a woman from the Bible named Sarai, and what it means to live wholly loved.)

These were my thoughts as I read June Foster’s devotion the other day, because I do believe, that afternoon when sweet Dorothy shared the gospel, and when God grabbed hold of my heart, He marked me as His, pursuing me, wooing me, and surrounding me with His healing, restorative, life-transforming love.

Marked With a Seal by author June Foster 

A rewarding way to study the Bible is to select a few verses of scripture and as a Sunday school teacher from long ago said, “eat them.” To devoir every word and see what the Lord wants me to learn.

Recently I did that with Ephesians 1:13-14. I discovered something remarkable.

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation.” Yep. That’s me. I heard the message and after a few months of stubborn rejection, I received the truth into my own life, asking Jesus to be my Savior.

But what happens when we do that? “When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” I could picture myself tightly gripping a deed to a house, a document that guaranteed the dwelling belonged to me. But the Holy Spirit is much more than a deed on a house or a stock certificate. He is the guarantee that proclaims our future home—an eternity with the Lord.For God so loved the world

So then I thought about the seal with which I am marked. I laughed and asked God if He would show me a picture of it. I got the impression He was telling me it is not seen with physical eyes but with spiritual. I called on my Abba, Father and asked, “but if I could see it, what would it look like.”

A beautiful image formed in my mind. It was a golden cross sitting over my heart. Praise God for His deposit guaranteeing our salvation. Something we can hold onto until the day we see Him face to face.

***

Have you heard the following song:

We’re hidden safe. He’s holding tight to us, in the good, the bad, the uncertain–through it all. Rest in that this morning.

For those facing difficult situations, and with them, questions you can’t find answers for, I encourage you to read Julie Aruduini’s guest post on Wholly LovedWhen You Do Everything Right. 

***

june-fosterAn award-winning author, June Foster is a retired teacher with a BA in education and MA in counseling. In 2013, June’s book Give Us This Day was a finalist in EPIC’s eBook awards and in 2014 a finalist in the National Readers Choice Awards for best first book. Ryan’s Father was one of three finalists in the published contemporary fiction category of the 2014 Oregon Christian Writers Cascade Writing Contest and Awards. Deliver Us was a finalist in COTT’s 2014 Laurel Awards. June has written four novels for Desert Breeze Publishing. The Bellewood Series, Give Us This Day, As We Forgive, and Deliver Us, and Hometown Fourth of July. Ryan’s Father is published by WhiteFire Publishing. Red and the Wolf, a modern day retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, is available from Amazon.com. The Almond Tree series, For All Eternity, Echoes From the Past, What God Knew, and Almond Street Mission are available at Amazon.com as well. Misty Hollow is published by Helping Hands Press. June enjoys writing stories about characters who overcome the circumstances in their lives by the power of God and His Word. Recently June has seen publication of Christmas at Raccoon Creek and Lavender Fields Inn. Visit June at junefoster.com.

lavender-fields-innLavender Fields Inn:

Love grows amid the flowers in the magnificent Rockies at Lavender Fields Inn, but romance can be deceptive at times.

Wren Tabor hopes the cool Colorado air at Lavender Fields Inn will heal her aching heart after her former boyfriend betrays her. When she literally bumps into handsome accountant Graham Maier, the painful memories from the past begin to fade. But after she sees Graham kissing another woman, she figures no man can be trusted.

Graham Maier needs to prove to his father he’s as capable as his brother Greg. The Rocky Mountain Anglers’ Tournament at Gold Pan Lake will give him the chance. But he must win first place. After he meets Wren, a woman like the unnamed girl who’s occupied his dreams, he can’t understand why she suddenly won’t speak to him.

Can Wren learn to trust men again? Can Graham understand how valuable he is in God’s sight?

Buy it HERE!

Looking for That Giant Eraser

I’m so grateful my salvation doesn’t depend on me and my good works. If it did, I’d fail big time. I spend way too many days thinking angry thoughts and gratifying my selfish will. I’m selfish, irritable, and discontent. I long for a servant’s heart, to be Christ’s hands and feet to a hurting world, but more times than not the monster within rises up and says, “What’s in it for me.” Praise be to God His love extends beyond my failings, and His strength extends beyond my weakness.

In Matthew 11:28-29, Jesus extends a beautiful invitation: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

In essence, He said, “Quit trying to earn My love. Simply come.”

When I think of a yoke, an image of yoked oxen comes to mind. When carrying the plough, the two must be in step with one another, and the load is much lighter spread between them. When we yoke with Jesus, we fall into step with Him, allowing Him to take the lead. Only He doesn’t ask us to share the load of our sin. He carried it all, and having paid the heavy price, He now invites us to come and rest. Today Kathi Woodall shares the moment this truth became real to her, with the help of a furry friend, Sylvester the Cat. 🙂

Sylvester & Tweety by Kathi Woodall

On my blog, in my classes, in my books, in my life, I talk a lot about Jesus. I talk about things like relationship, salvation, freedom, holiness, and resurrection. Why are all those things so important to me? Why do I care?
Forgive the child-like simplicity of this story, but, well, I was a child when it happened. Remember the old cartoons? You know, the good ones, like Looney Tunes. Whenever a cartoon character, such as Sylvester the Cat, had to make a decision, two more Sylvesters would show up, one dressed in an angelic robe and one decked out like Satan with a pointy tail and a pitchfork. They would then plead their case as to why Sylvester should or should not pop poor little Tweety Bird into his mouth.

Albeit incorrect, this imagery led to my first understanding of how we enter heaven. In my mind, I envisioned two similar characters in heaven standing by a dry-erase board. Of course it was a dry-erase board because I always thought they were so much cooler than chalkboards. To one side of the board was an angelic being in the white robes and golden halo. Her job was to make a mark each time I did something good or right. Shared my toys – got a mark. Finished my vegetable soup – got a mark. Went to bed when I was told – got a mark. Standing to the other side of the board was a more satanic being, complete with pointy tail. Her job was to make a mark when I did something bad. Yelled at my brothers – got a mark. Didn’t do what mom said – got a mark. Was mean to a friend – got a mark. My thinking was that, when I died, whichever side had the most marks would determine my eternal destination.

Riding home from church one Sunday, in the back seat of my parent’s car, something clicked inside me. It was a fabulous “light-bulb” moment. The marks didn’t matter, regardless of which side of the board they were on. When Jesus died on the cross, the board was wiped clean. The bad wouldn’t be held against me and the good wouldn’t increase my chances of going to heaven. I will spend eternity in heaven only because Jesus made it possible by sacrificing Himself on the cross and resurrecting three days later.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9, NKJ

***

Kathi Woodall’s passion is to serve God through writing and teaching the truth of His Word, loving her husband, Jimmy, caring for their home, homeschooling their four daughters and serving in her church. To learn more about Kathi Woodall, please visit http://www.growbarefoot.com.

If you’d like to learn more about the Christian faith and how to become right with God, you can read the following:

What Are the Steps to Salvation

Salvation: Yes, You Can Know For Certain

As a side note, I made an error when I announced last week’s book winner. When I went to find the person’s email in my subscribers, they were no longer there. I’m not sure what happened, but as I have no way of contacting that person, I decided to draw again. This time Patricia won. Patricia, I’ll be sending you an email shortly to get your address. I hope you enjoy Eileen Rife’s novel, Second Chance. I did!

What Can You Do Today?

I don’t get much sleep in the spring. As a relative newbie to the midwest, when those thunderstorm warnings come, my mind jumps to tornadoes and I spend the night scanning weather sites. My husband, on the other hand, could sleep through anything. Most times, there’s no problem with this, but one spring when a rather tumultuous storm hit, there he lay, in bed, unmoving.

Me? I freaked, and nagged and prodded and pulled. Eventually I got my family down to the basement where we spent the rest of the night. Although on my husband’s end, I think he wanted to seek shelter from me more than the storm. He probably figured, this woman’s not going to leave me alone so if I want to sleep…

Imagine his surprise the next morning as we drove our daughter to school to see roofs torn off and windows shattered. Turns out, the tornado swept through an area ten miles from our home. “See!” I said, making sure my husband saw every bit of devastation. “That could have been us. Next time when the news says to seek shelter, will you please listen?”

He assured me he would…but then midnight, or one am or two am rolls around and he’s tucked in his comfortable bed. Clinging to dream-land, it’s easier to dismiss the warnings.

As Christians, we have this same tendency. It’s easy to stay in our cozy little areas of comfort, with the blankets tucked up under our chin. We know Jesus is returning, we know life is short, storms will come, wars will rage. Cognitively, we know many will pass into eternity today. We know they will go one of two places. We know the reality of eternity without Christ, yet still we lie in bed, believing the lie that we have all the time in the world.

A couple of weeks ago, funnel clouds swept through our area and the tornado sirens went off. I was in the basement exercising and listening to Pandora, pretty much clueless, until I received a text message from our daughter. “I’m in the locker room but I’m okay.” My heart raced and my stomach lurched. I ran upstairs and stood, in a darkened kitchen. If you’ve been in a storm, you know what I mean. It’s almost eerie how well thick clouds can block out the sun. After grabbing our two dogs and a container of water, I dashed back to the basement to pray. There’s nothing worse than being separated from your child during a potentially dangerous situation.

But as I prayed, for her and my husband’s protection, deep peace washed over me. If something were to happen, I knew where they’d go. Obviously, I prayed they’d stay on earth for as long as possible, but I received great comfort in knowing–not speculating, but knowing–their eternal destiny.

This was a very tangible reminder to me of the importance of sharing the gospel message–of living the gospel message–at every moment.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

1 Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

 4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 5 You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. (NIV)

The Bible tells us today is the day of salvation. We are told to be awake and sober, ready to make the most of every opportunity for the days are evil. Live life in engaged mode. I have no idea when “the end” will come. Every generation since the time of Christ believed they were it, and yet here we are. But I do know the end will come for someone. I also know I have been given the message of reconciliation.

So what am I going to do today that will have an eternal impact? How can I be the hands and feet of Jesus today? 

The Bible tells us that God is sovereign. He chooses the time and place for each of us to live. There’s a reason you’re where you are right now, in this decade, in that neighborhood, working that job, participating in that club. Before you settle for the mundane, spend some time in God’s presence and ask Him what He’d like you to do in your sphere.

Then commit to obey. I can tell you, your life will be anything but boring. And if you really want to feel God’s love pulsating through you, then do His work.

A Heart Prepared~Melissa’s Story

A few weeks ago, a dear friend posted a heartwarming story on her facebook wall, so I shot her a quick fb message and asked if I could share it with you all. This week, I’ve been focusing on ways to reach out with the love of Christ, whether through prayer, a kind word, or even just taking the time to offer a smile. Last year I took an evangelism class and it really opened my eyes. I learned that the journey to faith is rarely a one time step. Often when people come to Christ, God has already been working in their lives for quite some time. Through a neighbor ten years back who baked pizzas when they returned from the hospital with a newborn. Through a mailman who offered to pray. Through a family member who consistently demonstrated patience, or even a passerby who offered a quick, “God bless you.” Often we’ll have no idea the impact our smiles, prayers, and words have…until we get to heaven.

There are three things I love about Melissa’s story:

1. God had been loving on her, drawing her closer to Himself, and preparing her heart to receive His love, for years.

2. Melissa caught a glimmer of God through the consistent witness of her cousin’s life.

3. Her teacher shared when God laid it on her heart to do so, and the timing was perfect.

One question: What if the teacher had been too busy to go to the coffee shop that day? Or too concerned about offending Melissa to hand her the gospel tract?

The next time you feel God calling you to reach out, stop and think, what if the person He’s calling you to reach out to is praying to Him right at that moment, asking Him if He’s really there, if He really cares, and if He can hear them. You might be their answer to prayer.

And my final thoughts are…when I first approached Melissa, I asked if she could share what God had been doing in her life. Her first reaction was, “Wow, I don’t know. Has He done something I’m not aware of?” But once she’d taken the time to look back, she realized God had been there all along.

Melissa’s story:

On first thought when reading this, I was thinking “Yikes, has He been moving in my life without me recognizing it?” Then I drove home for lunch in a quiet car and thought it over and it came to me clear as day. He has been moving, maybe taking small baby steps with this once skeptic, but nonetheless I am learning that none of us are on the same trek with Him now are we?

About a year ago, my relationship with my cousin Robin was rekindled. We hadn’t been in contact for nearly 30 years. My dear cousin is a true woman of God. Her spirit is always praising Him and in her faith I found something I knew was missing within myself. The more we talked, the more my path was being cleared. In May or June, I purchased my first Bible and began reading. Prayer came naturally although the prayers I send up may be a bit chaotic and jumbled, I am sure He understands and can sort it all out.

To backtrack my journey I should mention, that when I say I had been skeptical it was mostly based on what I now see as a misunderstanding in what it means to be Christian. Having never been surrounded by religion growing up, my vision was narrow, although I thought it wasn’t at the time. From my perspective, I saw “bad” things happening to “good” people. I had a person who I thought I would spend my life with taken away in death. The people I knew who were church go-ers, in my opinion were hypocrits and Sunday warriors who dropped their religion at the church door as they walked out after services. By saying these things, I don’t intend to offend anyone, but to understand my journey I must be honest.

It is with fresh eyes and an open heart that God is working through me the most right now. I am less quick to jump to judgement about another person, because I now understand more. Yes, we are all on different journeys to take us where we are meant to eventually be. I am learning that bad things will happen to good people, but it is part of a larger plan, one that I cannot see but must trust and have faith in. When you read the stories of the Bible, it is filled with those exact types of scenarios. Last year, those kind of thoughts would have never occurred to me and I would instead see only the despair and feel bitter about what I perceived as “bad”.

Once the walls that I had built which were keeping the religious at bay started crumbling, I began to notice more people being drawn to me (or perhaps me to them). In search of a church home, I began attending services at a few different churches trying to find one that fit me best. Now I am still on that search but it is one of the things I want to really focus on this year. Knowing that the more I submit myself to receiving, the more I will be able to give.

The day I bumped into my teacher, Miss Winter (Sue), felt like a culmination of God saying to me “See, I am here.” To have this woman, who was important to me so long ago, be the deliverer of a small Christmas tract about Jesus, and for me to be willing accept it – read it and for her name to be there was more than a coincidence. It felt like a true gift and I accept it.

*   *   *

Jesus offers that same gift to each of us, but for it to be of value, we must accept it. What about you? Has God been working in your life? He always is at work, loving us, drawing us, guiding us. Sometimes we just need to take a moment to step back, and look back, to see His hand. When you do, you’ll find He’s been there all along.

 

A Heart That Bleeds

A couple months ago, I noticed our daughter had shifted friends, so I asked her about it. A girl she used to speak of frequently was now rarely mentioned. She explained that although she was still friends with the other girl, she struggled connecting on a deeper level for spiritual reasons. Concerned, I pressed her further. Apparently, this girl claimed Christ but didn’t live it out, and many of her behaviors made our daughter uncomfortable.

She shared a few things with me, then I explained how we’re all at different stages in our faith, but her final comment got me thinking: “I’m not even sure if she’s a Christian. She never shares her faith.”

The wisdom of a teenager–but the more I thought about it, the more sense her statement made. Can we truly love and be close to Christ and not feel burdened for those who don’t know Him?

Here’s how I figure it: the closer we grow to Christ, the more His desires become our own–the more He aligns our heart with His and pours His love through us. Yes, He cares about the little details in our  lives and wants us to help one another, but what He’s most passionate about is seeing people made right with Him. The salvation of others isn’t a casual concern for Him. It was on the forefront of His mind when He knelt in the Garden of Gethsemane in anguish. It was on the forefront of His mind when He faced His accusers, and like a lamb before His shearers, silently endured. It was on the forefront of His mind as He walked that long, humiliating, treacherous road to His death. It was on the forefront of His mind as He hung on the cross and looked down upon His tormenters and said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

This week, I’ll be sharing stories of people who said yes to God and allowed Him to love others through them. As you read these accounts, ask yourself, “What if they’d said no? What if they’d been too shy, too busy, or perhaps just too distracted?”

Every day, God opens innumerable doors all around us. Each day, His prodigal sons and daughters are crying out to Him, asking some hard questions like, “Do you really love me? Are you really there? Can you hear me?” And each day, God wants to use you to provide the answer the human heart so desperately needs.

Today Connie Stevens, author of Leave Me Never (love that title!) shares a very touching story of how God used her in the check-out line to shine a tiny glimmer of hope on another woman’s day.

*        *        *

One week before Christmas, I received a case of author copies of my debut novel, Leave Me Never, from Heartsong Presents. Giddy with excitement, I gave a few copies to friends and family. I remember, when attending a writer’s conference, someone said to always carry a few of your books with you because you never know when God will give you an opportunity to network with someone who can help you promote your book, or use the book to introduce someone to Christian fiction. So I stuck a book in my purse as I was heading out to run errands.

The week before Christmas every place was crowded, the lines were long, and patience seemed in short supply. My last stop was the grocery store. The girl who checked me out looked and sounded tired and discouraged, so I smiled at her. She tried to smile back but her effort appeared forced. I asked her if she was ready for Christmas. When all she did was lift her shoulders, something hit my heart and I knew this girl was going through a difficult time.

As she finished checking out my groceries, I asked her (a bit apprehensively) if she liked to read. She kind of half-shrugged and said, “When I have time.”

I sent a prayer heavenward and pulled the book out, handed it to her and said, “Merry Christmas. This is my debut novel.”

Again, the forced smile and a mumbled thank you. The bag boy tucked the last bag into my cart and turned it toward the door, waiting for me to join him. I saw the cashier out of the corner of my eye turn the book over and glance at the back. As the bag boy and I reached the door, the girl called out behind me. I turned. She had tears in her eyes as she held up the book. She tapped her finger on the back cover. “Is this what this book is about?”

I smiled (much bigger this time and not the least bit apprehensive) and said, “Yes.”

You know how sometimes you “lock eyes” with someone and unspoken communication zings back and forth? I saw hope in her eyes and this time her smile wasn’t forced when she said, “Thank you. Merry Christmas.”

The first line on the back cover of my book reads, “Does God keep His promises?”

I needed a tissue before I could drive home.

The image of this girl and the tears in her eyes has lingered in my memory. Since my book didn’t officially release until three weeks later, this cashier was among my first readers. My heart was arrested by that term—readers. As Christian authors, the reason we write goes beyond entertainment. Our writing is a ministry. We never know who will be impacted by a character or a plot that draws that reader in and points their heart in the direction of Jesus. Praying for my readers has become a new passion.

*             *                 *

Connie Stevens lives in north Georgia with her husband of thirty-seven years, John. One cantankerous kitty—misnamed Sweet Pea—allows them to live in her home. Some of Connie’s favorite pastimes include reading, browsing antique shops, collecting teddy bears, and gardening. She also enjoys making quilts to send to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Leave Me Never is Connie’s first published book, and is the first book of her Home To Willow Creek series. The second book of the series, Revealing Fire, releases in March, and the third book, Scars of Mercy, releases in July. Visit Connie’s website to find out more!

*     *     *

And I leave you with this verse: Colossians 4:5-6 “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

Be wise, be alert and full of grace. May everyone you come into contact with today be blessed because they crossed your path. And notice how closely this passage mirrors Ephesians 4:15 and 1 Peter 3:15. Truth and love go hand in hand. One without the other is devastating!