Peace. In a world full of fear about the coronavirus pandemic, we could all use more peace. Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Instead of being anxious about what could happen, I have to pray to God with thanksgiving. Then His peace protects my heart and mind.
Thanksgiving is the key to peace in this passage. When we choose to focus on the good things instead of the bad, the focus moves to God’s ability and His provision. Thankfulness is a spiritual weapon that changes the atmosphere and allows God to pierce through our worries.
Here’s some questions that address anxieties I imagine many of us face during these strange times. Praising God and holding to His word will get us through the days ahead.
What if I can’t handle social distancing and get really lonely?
Social distancing is an extrovert’s worst nightmare. I get my energy from being around people, so this is a real concern. Instead of stressing over potential loneliness, I can thank God for promising to never leave me nor forsake me (Hebrews 13:5). I can praise God for modern technology like Skype and Zoom that allow my church and Bible study to meet online. I can hand write cards to friends in other cities. I can call a friend who lives in another time zone with whom I don’t get to talk often. God will not leave me isolated. I just have to ask Him to reveal to me new ways to show His love to others.
How will I pay the bills?
Many people are being told not to come into work. We have to shelter in place to flatten the curve so fewer people get the coronavirus. For the millions of people in the United States who are paid hourly wages, this hit can be scary. Matthew 6:31-33 says, “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”
God knows we worry about our needs because we are human. Earlier in Matthew 6, God points out that He feeds the sparrows and clothes the lilies. Because we are worth much more than the birds and flowers, God will care for us. He knows our needs and will make a way to get us through this season. There may be difficulties, but we aren’t to doubt God. We look to Him as our Jehovah Jireh, Our Provider. If the Lord provided ravens to feed Elijah by a stream (1 Kings 17:1-6), when we seek His kingdom first, He will feed us too.
What if I run out of toilet paper?
While I cannot control that I didn’t buy toilet paper fast enough, I can thank God for the toilet paper I do own. I might have listened to the voice of panic instead of the voice of the Provider when I realized I only had two rolls left. Four stores and no toilet paper later, God reminded me I had friends. He would meet my needs. I think of the widow whose oil did not run out as she helped Elijah (1 Kings 17:8-16). I serve a God of miracles. If I don’t have enough toilet paper, He can make it last indefinitely. Worry won’t add one sheet of toilet paper to my roll, but trusting God can help it stretch until more becomes available. The Lord cares about every aspect of our lives, even toilet paper.
Though we live in uncertain times, we can be certain that God’s mercy endures forever. The hand of the Almighty is not shortened. The same God who laid the foundation of the world will see us through until He calls us home to heaven (Philippians 1:6). Find things to thank God for during this flu season. Ask Him for His perspective on your situation. Choose to grow deeper in Your trust in the Lord instead of allowing fear to consume you. Then walk in peace.
This week I am sharing my friend Sallyann's blog where she ends with a 14-day prayer challenge to combat COVID-19. She asked me to join, and of course I agreed! Because I am adding a link to her blog, I moved the challenge up front on my website. Starting tomorrow, WILL YOU COMMIT TO PRAY FOR THIS WORLD everyday at 12 pm EDT (or anywhere in the world you are located)? If so, please leave a “YES, I’m praying” comment, and I’ll post a reminder each day on Twitter/Facebook. (She is posting reminders on Instagram too.) Prayer is the most powerful way we can fight coronavirus as God can do what we cannot. Please join in the prayer battle!
Praying Life Our Lives Depend On It
Right now, it seems that the only safe places are in our homes or out on a hiking trail where the air is fresh and the people are few. Coronavirus (COVID-19) has hit our country and the world in unprecedented ways that most of us have never experienced in our lifetime. In recent days, international travel restrictions have been put in place, non-essential travel across the Canadian and Mexican borders has been restricted and many states have enacted “statewide stay at home orders” and “closure of all non-essential retail business.” Needless to say, this feels somewhat like being trapped in a movie where the world is ending.
I can become emotionally ragged if I’m not careful. The cares of life toss me to and fro, battering me into the ground. I swing between trying to shove everything down and bursting into tears. When I examine my emotions as I go instead of letting them build, I can better manage my feelings and obey God’s call for my life.
Here are some of my top picks to help process my thoughts and be emotionally healthy:
God cares about every aspect of our beings. He knows that emotional health enables us to serve Him from a place of strength. If you need an emotional checkup, God will join you in the journey to renew your soul. Psalm 139:23-25 says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (NKJV). Ask Him to clear out the junk from your heart so it can be filled with His deep love. The Lord will reveal His truths, remove our worries, and renew our emotions so He can use us for His kingdom purposes.
Facebook. Twitter. YouTube. Netflix. The average American in 2015 took in 34 GB of information every day. That’s 100,000 words! My mind hurts just thinking about it.
Because of the deluge of data, our brains are becoming overloaded. We spend so much time trying to focus that we can’t. Our minds can only process so much at once. Though it may sound counterintuitive, to focus better, it helps to take regular mental rests. Taking breaks from thinking frees up space so the brain can think creatively. We need to erase the junk and clear our minds so we can process what is important to dwell on.
Personally, trying to tear myself away from my desk is difficult. Putting alerts on my calendar at work to pop up and remind me to give my mind a breather has helped me refocus. I am not recommending scrolling the internet all day or streaming movies on YouTube when it’s time to work. We need to do everything to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). But when we take the time to mentally unwind, we don’t hit tunnel vision where creativity and productivity end. Instead, stand up and stretch. This can be invigorating as it gets blood (and thoughts) flowing again.
Other suggestions for mental rests include:
These breaks don’t have to be long. Five to ten minutes is fine. But the little space you give opens the door to mental renewal.
Not only do we need to rest our minds, we also need to conduct regular mental resets. Mark 12:30 says, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment” (NKJV). We are supposed to love the Lord with all of our mind. If we aren’t aware of our thoughts, how can we love God with our minds?
Every morning I recite Psalm 19:14, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer” (NKJV). When the deep thoughts inside me please God, the things that come out of my mouth will also honor God.
I’ve learned that instead of letting my thoughts stream freely, I must slow them down and inspect them. 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “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” (NKJV). The enemy inserts evil thoughts into my mind. If I am not attentive, those thoughts will take root and choke out the truth. When I examine my thoughts, I can determine if they match God’s Word. If they don’t, my job is to uproot them like a weed, and replace them with truths from the Bible.
I am growing in how I love the Lord with my mind. Through His strength, I am stepping away from the onslaught of information to clear my head, and taking my thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ. No matter how much data enters, if it doesn’t match Scriptures, I need to delete it. I pray our minds conform to the mind of Christ each and every day.
This week I had the honor to guest blog for College and Clayton Press. A recent bought with the flu forced me to slow down and reflect on Biblical rest.
Below is an exert from the blog and a link to the rest of the article:
Last week, the flu gave me an unexpected gift. The nurse advised that sleep and fluids were the two most important things I could do to recover. Six days of sickness had reduced me to cough drops and herbal tea.
While asking God to heal me, God reminded me that rest is part of His plan. I live in a big city where if you aren’t Type A, you may not survive. Everyone is expected to be busy. If you aren’t, you are labeled lazy. To try to keep up, I have been going and going like the energizer bunny. God, however, wanted me to slow down. I had already hurt my foot and been walking slower, but apparently, I needed to halt.
My voice You shall hear in the morning, O Lord; In the morning I will direct it to You, And I will look up. Psalm 5:3 NKJV
I am not a morning person.
Caffeine is my friend. I drag myself out of bed and struggle to dress in the dark lest the light burn my eyes. I’ve gone to work with mismatched shoes because I fumble for them under my bed by touch. In grad school, my ultimate goal was to lie down again, which meant that if I could rest for sixty seconds I’d return to bed.
But I’ve discovered when I don’t start my day seeking God, the day goes downhill quickly. Once, I was in a rush and skipped my morning Bible reading. The results were disastrous. Management didn’t like the project I presented, and, instead of calmly taking the feedback, I left in a fog. Had I read Psalm 124 that morning as planned, my perspective would have differed. I would have remembered the Lord was on my side. When people rose against me, they wouldn’t swallow me whole. God would protect me.
The psalmist knew the importance of turning his heart heavenward in the morning. When I meditate on Scripture before I face the day, it provides a lens of truth through which to frame my experiences. Once I leave home, the world seeks to overwhelm my mind with information. If I have no filter to sort the onslaught, then everything becomes factual and weighs down my soul.
I have to choose to answer God’s invitation to look to Him in the morning. I try to read a psalm or a proverb each day before work. These books have enough chapters to cover six months, so I read them through twice in a year. Maybe other verses call you louder, but the point is that we need to respond to God early. God will help us pull back those sheets and open His Word so we can start the day right.
With Jesus (and a little coffee) you can be ready for whatever comes your way.
Used by permission Christian Devotions Ministries
After receiving stitches for my dog bite, the nurse gave me special footwear. The ugly black shoe extended past my toes and was built to fit either foot. A thick flat base prevented me from rolling my foot and opening the stitches. The top opened with two sets of Velcro to ease pressure on the wound and allow me to get in and out of the shoe. It wasn’t as clunky as the medical boots, but still marked me as the walking wounded.
Upon returning to work, I was amazed at how many people stopped to empathize. At first, I thought the shoe was giving me away. Then I realized my slug’s pace was another clue. Apparently, many people had experienced foot or leg problems and remembered their trials. Once I chatted with three strangers in a hallway, all of us with leg issues. We shared our struggles with mobility and encouraged each other.
Their comforting words kept me going. Because they were in the same predicament, they knew my difficulties. If they could do it, so could I.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NKJV says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
God comforts us in our hard times. Yet, this verse points out an interesting reason as to why He comforts us. So that when others are troubled, we can extend to them the same comfort we received from the Lord. We aren’t to hoard our comfort, but empathize with others and seek to help them. Even the areas where we feel entitled to be selfish are really to point the glory back to God.
In high school, I dropped a moving ramp on my other foot and tore the tendon to my big toe. The doctor gave me emergency foot surgery that day, and I later had to go under anesthesia at the hospital for them to fix it. I started high school on crutches, enduring raw skin under my arms and gaining uneven leg muscles. Ever afterwards I tried to hold doors for people on crutches and extend empathy when possible. It helps to have a recent reminder to care for others.
God knows that down the road, someone will need our help. If we have walked a similar path ourselves and survived, we are better equipped to encourage them. Those people can gain strength to continue because they know others have gone before them. God doesn’t waste our hurt, but transforms it into something marvelous for His glory.
While I still find the black shoe ugly, I know the empathy I’ve gained from wearing it will make me more beautiful inside. And with large scars now on both feet, I may never win any beauty contests. However, I pray for beautiful feet that will carry the gospel and love of Christ wherever He leads me.
While visiting my family for Thanksgiving, the family dog started whimpering at me. His deep brown eyes begged to go outside. I grabbed the phone and the dog leash and headed out to walk.
On the way back, I noticed a big German Shepherd leading around a tiny teenage girl, growling. Usually another dog would bark or maybe sniff at our dog. This dog leapt to attack our Schnauzer. I pivoted away, only to feel teeth tear into my flesh.
I fell into the middle of the road. My body shook from sobbing, tears blurring my eyes. I cradled my foot in shock. A lovely older couple driving by stopped to help. They had me take off my shoe and sock. I howled harder when I saw the bleeding hole. The husband took my dog and I back to my family while his wife called the police. I was embarrassed to be witnessed crying, but thankful that God sent them.
We rushed to urgent care where they worked me in immediately. A doctor knit my wound closed with seven tight stitches. While not ideal, I was thankful it wasn’t worse. It would eventually heal and didn’t require surgery.
Although I spent Thanksgiving vacation hobbling around the house with a cane, I figured I could manage without help at the airport. Bad idea. I had to check my bag at the gate because the flight was too full. I started pulling my hair at the thought of picking up my luggage later.
Fortunately, the airline employee offered to order a wheel chair upon arrival to take me to the baggage claim. My pride wanted to stick it out, but I knew I couldn’t. The man who brought my wheel chair was a friendly Jamaican whose light banter eased my pain. God knew what I needed.
Countless times I have needed help over the last month. My typical mode is to help others. It feels good to assist people. Mark 10:45 says, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Following Christ’s example as a servant lets me feel useful.
However, as much as I want to help others, sometimes I need to receive help. When I don’t let others help me, or when I ridicule myself as weak, the root problem is my pride. James 4:6 says, “But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” When I refuse help or try to push through on the own, I am not being humble. I don’t want God to resist me because I resisted help. The same way that I feel good serving others, people like helping me. I am denying them of joy when I try to do everything myself. Receiving help squashes my pride and builds humility.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven.” Some seasons, I can give. Others, God slows me down so I don’t get too big for my own shoes. Instead, He keeps me humble by showering His mercy on me through the hands and faces of those around me. It strikes me as ironic that this happened the day before Thanksgiving. Though the dog bite was unpleasant, I am thankful for the joy in learning to receive help.
Guest Blogger: This week, I am blessed to have my friend April Estes guest blog for me. We met at the first writers conference I ever attended and connected instantly. We literally shut down the party as we were the last ones in the lobby at 11 pm the first night. She just published her first book The Pearl of Great Price. The book explores the struggles Christians have to stay strong in our marriages in a very genuine and relatable way. I thoroughly enjoyed her book! Here she shares a lesson on love from one of the scenes.
I’ve recently published a book, The Pearl of Great Price. In the book there is a touching scene between the main character, Lacey, and her grandfather. Lacey had just suffered a break-up, and tearfully bemoaned to her grandfather how she had made a fool of herself, “jumping in full force into a relationship with no guarantees of any kind of return” - giving her all without knowing how things would turn out.
“But, sweetie,” the grandfather tenderly says, “That’s what love is. That’s what it does.” (That quote inspired one of my songs that says, “That’s what love is, that’s what it does: jumps full-in at full throttle, just because...”)
You see, love sometimes DOES look ridiculous: it’s a father running to his wayward, prodigal son; a mother placing her son in a watery basket; a queen risking her life for a minority people; the savior of the world coming to save, through death. But that’s what love does: it gives all - not without fear, but in spite of it. It gives everything it’s got with no guarantees, no promise of return. The Bible says love “isn’t selfish, thinking one’s own self,” but, rather, is “full of hope, believing all things are possible.” (I Cor. 13). So, today, if you’re feeling a bit “ridiculous,” fear not! That’s what love is! That’s what it does!
Biography: April Estes was born and raised in middle Tennessee, where she enjoyed growing up in a small, Southern town. She attended Freed-Hardeman University, and graduated Summa Cum Laude from Mississippi State University with an Elementary Education degree. She taught school in Americus, Georgia, before starting a family and moving all around the South USA, homeschooling four children. She enjoys songwriting in her spare time.
Recently, I felt so low that I wanted to crawl under my desk and sob. God’s grace kept me in my seat, and I made it home in one piece physically. Mentally and emotionally, I was torn by painful life circumstances that only seemed to get worse. I called a friend that night to vent and was surprised at the venom spewing from my lips. Something had to change.
My focus was skewed. All I could see were dark stains of heartache, instead of seeking God’s light. I needed to look for joy instead of letting the whirlwind sweep me away. That night I made a top five gratitude list:
First, the sunset displayed God’s splendor. If I only saw the gray cloud surrounding my circumstances, I would’ve missed God's majestic pink and purple masterpiece in the sky that evening. It reminded me that the Almighty Artist was painting my life so that He received glory. The canvas wasn’t complete and needed contrast from shadows.
Second, third, and fourth, God provided for my basic needs of shelter and clothing. The day before I’d met a homeless woman. She was an alcoholic. Her husband had kicked her out of the house and then sold it. I offered to call her insurance for help, but she wasn’t interested. She took a scarf and blanket as she told me that she slept in a cemetery. My life was amazing by comparison.
Fifth, I had friends to encourage me during my season of darkness. God had not left me alone. My friend graciously let me rant and rage about how I wondered if I was cursed because so many terrible things kept happening. It felt like a game of whack-a-mole, with the large hammer walloping me as soon as I was brave enough to venture out again. I concluded that we live in a fallen world. Even as Christians we are not immune to suffering.
Yet, despite our suffering, we are to praise. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” My mom cautioned against using words like always and everything because usually there were exceptions. However, the Bible tells us we are to rejoice always and in everything give thanks. Does this mean I am supposed to be happy about horrible things beyond my control? No. Does this mean that if I look for good in the midst of trouble, I’ll find something to be thankful for? Yes.
Thankfulness is a spiritual weapon that brings peace. Philippians 4:7-8, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” When we offer our petitions to the Lord, we come with thanksgiving. Sometimes, maybe all we have to be grateful for is the breath in our lungs. That counts. If you can’t find much, ask God to show you. The list is probably much longer than you imagine.
Another place where Scripture connects the concepts of thankfulness and peace is Colossians 3:15, “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.” Since I wrote the gratitude list above, I've prioritized writing what I’m thankful for every night before going to sleep. I’ve even gotten out of bed twice to ensure that I captured my blessings on paper.
The power of gratitude is unstoppable. The process is starting to change how I think. Recently, while commuting to work, I wondered what my list would look like that night. When I started looking for things to be grateful for, I discovered five things was insufficient. My circumstances remain the same, but my peace has multiplied.
Maybe you feel like you are living at the bottom of the pit of despair with no way out. Cry out to Jesus with your petition, and season your prayer with gratitude. I can’t guarantee that your life will miraculously fall into place tomorrow. However, God’s peace will start to rule your spirit. As you enter His gates with thanksgiving in your heart, may His peace be the walls that guard your heart and mind.
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.