The year 2020 will never be forgotten. From COVID-19 to race riots to the election, 2020 held many painful and unexpected moments. Personally, I had a pretty tough 2019 and had asked God for a break in 2020. That didn’t happen. Instead, I had a breakup of my relationship and a near breakdown from stress at work.
Thankfully, God is bigger than all of my struggles. 1 John 4:4 says, “You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” Nothing this world can throw at me can stand up to the greatness of God. Nothing. God has shown Himself faithful despite all my difficulties. He gave me peace about the breakup and a fantastic new job.
I’m sure that many of you had your own hardships last year. They certainly weren’t easy to miss. Yet, God has seen us all through to 2021. I don’t have a crystal ball and can’t predict all that this year will hold. Fortunately, I know who holds my future. Philippians 1:6 says, “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” The good things God started in my life long before 2020, He will see through until He calls me home to heaven. He will do the same for you.
Instead of focusing on the bad from last year, I wanted to list some good things that happened despite the storms. My church family encouraged my heart when I was depressed about work. I joined three separate prayer groups, thereby working my faith muscles as we watched God move through corporate prayer. I was lonely during the quarantine, and the Lord sent my sister to live with me and provided her with a great job. I also have many solid evangelism opportunities I wouldn’t have had without COVID-19. God is always working in our lives. It is just His timing and ways that befuddle us sometimes (Isaiah 55:8-9).
My challenge to us as we reflect on 2020, instead of listing what went wrong, let’s find the blessings in disguise. Find ways to see how God has used your brokenness to build your trust in His provision. If you can’t see any immediate blessings, ask God to show you what they are. You probably have more than you know. May the Lord’s graciousness continue to flow on the days before us as 2021 unfolds.
This year has surfaced a problem that many struggle with but few wish to admit – loneliness. In a world of social media, we should feel more connected than ever. Yet, people put their best face forward online, hiding the bruises behind lighting filters on their cameras. Also, with COVID banishing the ability to meet in person for long stretches and only small gatherings remaining even now, it has been hard to not be lonely.
Sometimes, the enemy of our souls tries to whisper that God has abandoned us. Fortunately, that is a lie. I am never alone. God promised in Hebrews 13:5b “For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (NKJV). Even when I can’t be with family and friends, the Lord is always with me. Especially during the earlier months of the year when I was stuck inside, I often felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. As I read the Bible, truth took on a nearly tangible form and comforted me.
I am so thankful that Jesus chose to come down to live among us here on dirty earth. The mediator that Job had begged God for (Job 9:33) was born in a humble stable some 2000 years ago. Mathew 1:23 says, “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which is translated, ‘God with us’” (NKJV).
Jesus emptied Himself of the glories of heaven and took on human form so He could be God with us. He ate, drank, got tired, faced opposition, and even wept when His friend died. Jesus experienced all the ups and downs of human life and can sympathize with our weaknesses; now we can approach the throne of grace with confidence to find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16). That was the beauty of Jesus living on earth. His death and resurrection bridged the gap from the Father’s heart to humankind forever, paving the way for reconciliation.
When Christ returned to heaven, He told us “lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:30 NKJV). Jesus didn’t leave us orphans, but sent the Holy Spirit to indwell us (John 14:16-18). We as Christians now become the temple of God. While Jesus may have never faced the current ills of society with social media and a pandemic, He still knows what we are experiencing. When we call out to Him, the same one whose cry pierced the night in a manger long ago, will hold the cries of our hearts. This Christmas season and throughout the year, I pray we will feel the presence of our Immanuel, God with us and know that He is near.
Teachers around the United States and the world are trying to cope with huge hurdles to educate young minds of the next generation. Some teachers lead in person, but are unable to touch or even approach the students in their classrooms. Other teachers struggle to teach online with children who ignore instructions or cannot grasp concepts over the Internet. My heart goes out to every teacher seeking to overcome in these trying times.
If we desire a country where the leaders of tomorrow are prepared to take on the world’s challenges, we need to pray for our teachers. They are under enormous stress and our prayers can help.
I want to focus on all teachers: kindergarten through high school levels in the public and private school level, including their spiritual instruction of these students. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it” (NKJV). Young minds need solid Christian education so they can become adults who have a foundation of truth at their core. The alarming amount of Biblical illiteracy among not just school-aged children, but even in the adults of this country saddens me. If we don’t know God’s Word, how can we expect to obey it?
That’s why I also pray for Sunday School teachers and Bible study teachers globally. James 3:1 says, “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment” (NKJV). We shouldn’t let that scare us off and claim ignorance. Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance allows sin to creep in unaware and leaves us vulnerable to Satan’s lies. We need the truth of God’s Word to permeate our hearts and minds so we can obey God and be a positive influence on this land. May God to raise us Bible teachers in churches that will rightly divide the Word of truth, even if it is not popular in secular society, so that Christians can know and obey God.
Dear God, I pray for teachers in public, private, charter schools, and home schools. I pray for them wisdom, discernment, and patience as they face new challenges this year. Please keep the teachers who meet with their students in person safe and healthy. Enable teachers working online to develop new methods to engage their students so everyone can understand and retain the lessons. God, I also pray for the spiritual education of the citizens of this nation. God, please call forth Christian teachers to train people to know and apply God’s Word correctly. May America be filled with people who are strong in all areas of education, especially spiritual education to know God better. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
One evening while teaching children at my church, I walked by a little boy Jesse who looked sad. I asked him what was wrong. He just shook his head. Since he wouldn't share his problems, I switched tactics. I put my hand out and asked him to count my fingers. His eyebrows went up. I asked him again to count my fingers.
“One, two, three, four, five.” His eyes scanned across my fingertips as he counted.
I asked him to stick out his hand. I touched the tops of his fingers and said, “Jesus, family, friends, food, and books.” I explained that listing things you are thankful for helps you feel better when you are sad. No matter how bad things were, you can remember that there are good things too. Then I had him list five things that he was grateful to have.
“Mom, dad, candy, presents, and fun.” A small smile cracked the edge of his mouth.
“See, that wasn’t so hard.” I smiled back at him.
Honestly, I’d never counted my blessings on my hands before that night, but I’ve found it encouraging ever since. Whenever I saw Jesse after that, I stuck out my hand and had him count his blessings. The exercise brought both of us joy.
Psalm 107:1 says, “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.” When we realize that God’s mercy never ends, we rejoice to thank God for how good He is to us. Jesse didn’t always list the same five things every time, but he always found something to be thankful for.
My list of things I am thankful for has also changed over the years. Sometimes I just list the first things I think of, but other times I take a more sophisticated approach. I call it a handful of gratitude.
First, I wiggle my thumb. The thumb is the anchor finger to thank God for creating us and writing our stories. For this finger I express gratitude for the greatness of God in the beauty of creation. I look at trees, rivers, or a beautiful sunset to drink in His beauty. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork.” If God took so much effort to paint beauty across the skies, then He can write the story of my life with loveliness too.
Next, I move my pointer finger. I think of something that points me to back to joy and truth. I thank God for His Word that brings truth into my life. Colossians 2:6-7 says, “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving” (NKJV). When I abide in the Word of God, His truth keeps me firmly grounded so I can overflow in joy for His character and His love.
My middle finger reminds me of the things that stand above me. Psalm 36:5 says, “Your mercy, O Lord, is in the heavens; Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds” (NKJV). God’s mercy stretches high above me and is vaster than I can conceive. When I rest in the assurance of a love that big, nothing that can out match God’s love.
Then my ring finger stands for commitment. Thank God for the new covenant where my relationship with Him doesn’t depend on me providing animal sacrifices over and over again. Hebrews 9:15 says, “And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance” (NKJV). Jesus made a way for us to be reconciled to God once for all through His death on the cross. God’s love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:8) and even when I am not faithful to Him, He will still be faithful to me (2 Timothy 2:13). God’s commitment to me once I surrender to Him ensures me a place in heaven and an abundant life on earth.
Last comes the pinky. This finger represents being thankful for small things I take for granted. Psalm 92:1, “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, And to sing praises to Your name, O Most High” (NKJV). During COVID, my church sent its worship sets over YouTube for us to sing at home. I realized all those times I had sung at church had been a big blessing. Even if it wasn’t the same, I would sing praise to God and glorify His name wherever I was.
In this season of gratitude with Thanksgiving around the corner, I realize that thankfulness is always a necessity. This year has held a lot of unexpected heartache and hurt for me, as I am sure it has for many others. Despite the hardships, God has blessed me so much. My hand is literally attached to my body so I can put it in front of my face for a reality check to thank God instead of focusing on what I lack. May we feel God’s hand on ours as we count our blessings every day.
God, I pray for our nation. My heart breaks at the deep lines of division that this election has highlighted. The spiritual war in the heavens rages to control the future of our country which is being pulled in two polar opposite directions. This battle is not against flesh and blood, but is against principalities and powers and the rulers of darkness in this age (Ephesians 6:12). The only way to fight a spiritual battle is with spiritual weapons (2 Corinthians 10:3-5), and our primary weapon is prayer.
No matter how this election ends, we need to keep praying for the future of America. Personally, I had put prayers for my leaders and the country on the back burner and only brought them to the foreground in what seemed like dire times. Then, I saw an uptick in prayer in the days before the election. Now, I realize that through good and bad times I need to consistently pray for my country and for all of our leaders: political leaders, business leaders, and pastors, that they may guide America wisely.
We are told to “pray without ceasing,” (1 Thessalonians 5:17 NKJV). Sometimes, I can get selfish and focus my prayers on my personal well being. Yet, the decisions our leaders make impact my life every day. No longer do I want to neglect the privilege of praying for my country and the world. God doesn’t need me, but lets me be a part of the change He makes through my prayers. I don’t want to waste those opportunities or waste the freedoms of religion and assembly that I have as an American. Would you persevere in prayer with me in the days ahead? Let’s start now:
Dear God, I cry out to you for my country. I pray for Your healing on our land. I pray the pledge of allegiance that we would once again be “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Lord, I pray not only for our political leaders, but also for our business leaders and pastors and bosses. May they be humble people who seek Your wisdom for all they do. May we Your people serve You and seek You first. Thank You God for loving everyone and making a way for all to come to know You. May many lives come to know how great You are in the days ahead. God, please bless America. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
America needs prayer! The turmoil in our country may seem political, but actually a spiritual battle with monumental consequences is being waged in the heavens. From racism to face masks to abortion to marriage, our nation is divided. I have never felt the unseen war as palpably as I do now. The other night God woke me up to pray for America. I read Psalm 18 aloud and asked God to come to our nation’s defense. We need some archangels to war on our behalf.
God is sovereign. We know that in the end, God wins. We need to fight this battle with spiritual weapons. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 NKJV says, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” When we cry out hate or blame, we add to the problem. Some of our mightiest weapons are prayer and fasting. The name of Jesus and the blood of Jesus cut down the enemy’s strongholds.
I think sometimes in the western world we can be lulled into the lie that if we can’t see it, it doesn’t exist. Satan knows if Christians stop praying while witches and warlocks have been placing spells on the President of the United States every month, his purposes are filled instead of God’s. We don’t want to give the enemy an inch of ground. We will praise the Lord and trust in Him to overcome.
I keep thinking about Habakkuk. He asked God how long he had cry out because of the violence in the land. God responded that He would send the Chaldeans, a bitter and hasty nation to capture Judah. Habakkuk was stunned because the Chaldeans were more wicked than the people in Judah. He also pleaded with God “In wrath, remember mercy” (Habakkuk 3:2b NKJV). Our country has strayed from God so far that honestly, we deserve God’s wrath. Yet, I still pray for His mercy. I pray for revival and a fresh wind of the Holy Spirit to fall on our land.
This May I wrote a blog called “It’s Time to Pray in Revival.” Here’s the link for you to review if you want. I poured my heart into that blog with an examination of 2 Chronicles 7:13-14 that calls believers to repent so that the Lord heals our land. Right now, I just want to pray for America. Please pray with me.
Dear God, Please have mercy on our country. We don’t deserve it, but we need you. Please send the Holy Spirit to convict us and remind us to pray. God, we pray for more people to fast and pray on behalf of the future of our country and our families. We need you God. Please help Christians seek God’s wisdom for who to vote for on every square on their ballots. God, please protect these elections so they are free and fair from any outside influence or corruption. Lord, we pray for people who love You and seek Your face to pray now for Washington, DC so that angels may increase in strength to protect our liberties and freedoms as Americans. Get Christians out to the polling booths beyond their fear of the coronavirus, keep them healthy, and let them vote safely. Send Your winds to destroy the demonic hoards descending to cripple our country. Beat back the enemy in the heavens and let Your weapons hit the mark every time to cut down any plans of the devil to destroy America. Help us remain firm in our Christian heritage. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
I believe one of the greatest ways we can make a positive change in our country is to pray for our politicians. Not groan about what they said at the debates. Not complain that we don’t like what they did in the past. Not gripe about how we don’t understand how they could make a certain decision. Pray. Because prayer changes things while venting frustration just builds more hate.
If we want to have peace in the land where we live, the Bible clearly instructs us to pray for our leaders. 1 Timothy 2:1-3 says, “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior” (NKJV). This passage breaks down the types of prayers for our leaders into four powerful categories.
Recently, I joined a group of a few ladies where we meet together once a week in person to pray by name for the leaders of our country at the local, state, and national level. We are careful to social distance, but praying together in person is so powerful. We have several sheets of names where we pray for the leaders to be filled with God’s wisdom and that their advisors would point them to decisions that align with the truths in God’s Word.
Maybe the idea of praying for politicians is a new concept. Some people may wonder why we would pray for people who seem set in their ways. We return to the truth that God is in control and hears the prayers of His people. If you want to start now, you can pray with me:
Dear God, I pray for the politicians in the United States. Help me to be a good citizen and to seek your wisdom for how to vote and contribute to my community. I pray for Christian candidates to not be ashamed of the gospel, but shine forth truth. I pray for their spiritual protection, because Satan wants to attack our country. Please give our leaders discernment to make wise decisions in very difficult circumstances. God, send revival that flows from the peace of your people praying together for all the leaders of our country. Thank You God for controlling the world, even when it seems to not make sense. Thank you for the freedoms we enjoy in America to worship you in spirit and in truth. Please grant us grace and mercy as a nation. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
We need to pray for pastors. Even though they are seminary-trained godly men, they are still human. Pastors can fall into temptation in many areas. It could be infidelity, financial misuse, expounding unsound doctrine, or other things. We as God’s people are honored to pray for our pastors so that they can be who God has called them to be and lead their congregations well.
I’ve been blessed with great pastors over the years, but finding pastors that teach accurately may be harder as the days go by. 2 Timothy 4:2-4, “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (NKJV). People often seek to justify their fleshly desires by finding others who will tell them they can do whatever they want as long as it feels good. These itchy-eared folks may take milk from the Word, but won’t dig into anything that convicts.
Fortunately, there remain some people willing to call out untruths. My friend recently shared her hurt with me after her pastor used the Lord’s name in vain in church and openly supported things that opposed the Bible. She asked him if he was concerned that what he taught did not align with truth. Instead of humbly asking forgiveness, he blasted her. It broke my heart. We prayed for her pastor on the spot, that God would convict him of his need to return to what is right. 2 Peter 2:1 says, “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction” (NKJV). The pastor brought destructive heresies because he had more concern for what society deemed important than the word of God.
When we stay within the boundaries of living inside God’s law, we reap His blessings. Outside His law resides judgment. Now, I don’t judge her pastor, because but by the grace of God, there go I. Still, James 3:1 warns, “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment” (NKJV). I wouldn’t want to be that man on Judgement Day.
Thus, prayer is so important. Personally, I am guilty of not praying for my pastor as much as I should. I have written the pastors and various church ministries at the end of my daily prayer list. I admit that sometimes, I don’t get that far down in the page. I can’t leave the fate of my church up to hoping that others will pray since I forgot. If I want to be fed the pure word of God, then I need to pray for my pastor to avoid heresy and cling to truth.
Please join me in prayer for our pastors:
Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you for the pastors at my church and all Christian pastors around the world. God, I pray that You would put a bloodline of Jesus hedge of protection about them and their families in every area. I pray that You would keep them grounded in Your Word so that they will rightly divide the Word of truth. Let not cultural heresies creep into their sermons to destroy the church. Give them a passion for Your name and renown. May pastors have deep times receiving revelation from You to impart to us as listeners. May they move forward on their knees as they seek wisdom for how to shepherd their flock, especially during these tough days. Please help pastors seek the praise of God more than the praise of men. God, protect their marriages, help them not have wandering eyes so Satan can have no foothold. Lord, please help pastors not be pulled into greed to steal from the church or be driven to increase the numbers of their churches. Instead, let their motivations be to grow the people in their congregation so that they resemble the Father. Give good health to our pastors so they can preach Your Word with gusto. God, for all the other ways that the enemy would seek to destroy pastors, I pray you would cut off the plans of the enemy, foil the plots, and preserve Your pastors.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
I don’t have any of the titles in life that the world says you need to prove you’ve succeeded. I’m not a manager, a Mrs., a mom, or even a missionary. My career hasn’t accelerated to the top, and my relationships didn’t last. I previously was a missionary overseas, but that was long ago. What am I doing with my life? What will I leave behind when I’m gone?
God keeps reminding me of Psalm 47:4a, “He will choose our inheritance for us” (NKJV). I keep getting caught in the patterns of this world that say we should make a name for ourselves. That our titles matter. Yet, God will choose our inheritance for us. He knows how to best use our lives to build His kingdom. This lesson crops up in my life over and over again. I want to get ahead, and God wants me to stay humble.
The Sunday before Labor Day, I heard a sermon on the Parable of the Talents from Matthew 25:14-30. One servant received five talents and used them to make five more talents. The second servant received two talents and make two more. The third servant only received one talent, but instead of investing it, he buried his talent in the ground. The first two servants received the master’s praise when he returned, but the third was scolded for wasting what he’d been given. His talent was taken and given to him who had five talents.
I don’t want to squander the talents that God has given me. Sometimes, I compare myself to others. Just because I am not Priscilla Shirer doesn’t mean that my writings are worthless. I started writing a Bible study on the whole armor of God in 2008, but shelved it until 2015. When I began the work, no one had published a study on the topic. However, by the time I picked it up again, Priscilla Shirer completed a strong study on the armor of God. I was so discouraged. How could I compete with her? God reminded me that I didn’t have to contend with anyone. I’m not supposed to be Priscilla Shirer. I am supposed to be the best Joanna Eccles I can be. My job is to obey God’s calling, not try to be someone else.
Isaiah 1:19 says, “If you are willing and obedient, You shall eat the good of the land” (NKJV). If I am obedient to use my talents, He will nourish me with a feast. I am to do my best as unto the Lord and let Him choose what to do with my efforts. For my writing, my manuscript remains unpublished, and only God knows what He will do with it. He will share the words He has given me to the audience that needs to hear them. Maybe my blog only reaches 23 people. If those are the ones that need it, then I have honored Him. This truth applies to all areas of my life. Years from now, if no one has ever heard of Joanna Eccles, that’s fine. My role is to invest in spreading the renown of Jesus’ name. My title as obedient Daughter of the King will follow me into eternity and bring the joy of the Lord. That’s a life worth living because it lays up an eternal inheritance that cannot be taken away.
I want to go to church. Pews weren’t meant to sit empty. Every state is different in their approach to gatherings. Many places are slowly allowing people back into the church buildings. However, my little church met in an elementary school. Since schools are closed, church is closed. I need to meet in person with my church family.
I know the church is not a building. Believers join together to form the body of Christ, it’s not a certain location. Praise God that we still meet online where I hear solid Bible teaching. We even stay around afterwards to pray for each other. It’s not the same. I didn’t realize before what a blessing it was to lay hands on people in prayer.
Recently, we had a prayer gathering where we met together in person while maintaining social distancing. The group was very small and the gym was quite large with a whole wall opened for air flow. Being in the same room was other believers was electrifying. The Holy Spirit in each of us communed with the Spirit in the others and my heart soared. That gym held the splendors of heaven that night.
My heart longs to assemble with my brothers and sisters in Christ. Hebrews 10:25 says, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (NKJV). I realized the reason it feels so wrong to not get together, is because it is wrong. God’s Word admonishes us to gather together to encourage each other in the faith, especially as we see the end times approach. Satan hates the power of God that moves through His people when they assemble.
May I never take for granted the ability to go to church. Psalm 122:1 “I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go into the house of the Lord” (NKJV). Many churches around the world are persecuted and face imprisonment if they go to church. They meet in house churches, sometimes traveling from far reaches to be in the presence of God together. They put mattresses in front of their doors and mouth the words to praise songs to muffle the sound from the neighbors. Much of the persecuted church has experienced this reality for years. I just wasn’t expecting it in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
I pray for wisdom for churches and pastors all around this country and the whole world to navigate reopening. Sadly, many churches have gotten a bad reputation for opening and then people getting infected. I am praying we can find ways to be safe and be together. My desire is to spread the gospel and not COVID-19. My parent’s church had drive-in services. I’ve heard of other churches meeting in parks outside. There are many ways we can join together to encourage each other in Christ.
May God uphold His people and strengthen their souls as they eagerly await the day when they warm that shiny pew again. Until then, may we find ways to meet in small groups for prayer, exhortation, and studying of the Word to strengthen the bond of Christ among believers so we don’t fall away from the truth.
Joanna Eccles has led Bible studies for over ten years and completed the year-long C. S. Lewis Fellows Program. She is passionate about discipleship and helping people know God better. Joanna enjoys coffee, traveling, and reading, and currently lives in Virginia.