My big plans to drive to a museum were crushed because of snow and ice on the road. I wasn’t going anywhere. Instead, I stayed on the couch at home on Valentine’s Day. I tried to make the best of it by watching several sermons online. If I couldn’t get away, at least I could fill my heart with truth from God’s Word.
It was a quiet day. After the sermons, I sat reading my Kindle. The snow had stopped, but it was still too cold to venture outdoors. Then I heard a knock on my door. I was startled and slightly suspicious. The Amazon guys usually don’t wait for me to get my package.
I peered out my peephole and saw my pastor and his wife holding flowers. Surprise! I opened the door and received a beautiful bouquet of daisies and pink roses. There are a number of single women in my church. My church leaders had braved the ice to ensure that we felt loved and appreciated. Their act of generosity turned a day that usually depresses me into one of joy and loveliness.
My pastor and his wife didn’t have to play flower delivery people. They could have stayed warm in their own house. Instead, they sought to care for others more than their own convenience. Philippians 2:4 says, “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” My focus that day had been on what I wanted to feel good. Not on how I could love others well.
After they left, I sent “Happy Galentine’s Day” texts to several friends. While this effort was small compared to what my pastor and his wife had done, it could still bring a smile to someone’s face. It always feels good to be seen and known. And you know what? I also felt really good to do something nice for someone. Kindness blesses both the giver and the recipient.
Indeed, Acts 20:35b reminds us that Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Sharing God’s love with others delights our hearts. God gave the ultimate gift in sending His Son Jesus to take the penalty our sins deserved. Because it stirs the Father’s heart to give to us, we who are made in the image of God are likewise awakened to joy when we give.
May we seek to see those who may be overlooked. May we shed the Father’s lavish love on them as we would want to be loved ourselves. I pray we spread seeds of joy that grow into surprise flowers for those near and far.
Our world is starving for love. People feel empty inside and search for someone to complete them. Online dating and apps provide modern options to hanging around bars to meet someone, but they can also lead to frustration. People want lasting relationships, but many are willing to settle for one-night stands.
Valentine’s Day can hold a strong sting for singles because society pushes relationships as the norm. Yet some people in relationships aren’t feeling fulfilled. They put all their expectations for love, joy, and happiness in one person, which winds up in disaster.
What happens when he doesn’t bring flowers anymore? What about when she quits fussing with her hair and makeup to look her best? The infatuation stage only lasts so long before people take off their masks.
Even in committed relationships, no one can ever fulfill all the other person’s expectations. What if he misses his daughter’s piano recital because he is late at work—again? What if she refuses to cook dinner because she has other competing priorities? People are fallible and will let us down at some point, whether they want to or not. They can’t help it. They are human.
The only One who can truly fill all our hopes and dreams is God. First John 4:19 says, “We love Him because He first loved us” (NKJV). We have the capacity to love God and others only because our Creator us loved us first. He intimately knit us in our mother’s wombs so that we could grow to worship Him. We were made with God sized holes in our heart that only He can fill. When we try to fill our hearts with anything but God, it is like trying to shove a square peg in a round hole. It won’t fit.
God has a bigger heart for us than we could ever deserve. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (NKJV). He knows the depths of our hearts and loves us the same.
When we realize how much God loves us despite all our sins, we can’t help but love Him back. We can never earn God’s love. All our righteousness is like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Even if we tried our best every day to be perfect, we’d fail. Reality shows that we are fallen beings, under the curse of sin and death. So, we confess our need for a Savior and experience a love like no other.
God’s love floods our every fiber when we surrender our hearts to Jesus. Then, we discover the love we have fruitlessly sought for elsewhere. Even though life won’t always be easy after receiving Christ’s forgiveness, He will never drop us on our heads. If we want true love, we need to put all our hopes and expectations in Christ. Only God can complete us.
May we grow in love for God and others. Let’s make Him our first love because He first loved us.
Our world experienced a lot of upheaval over the last year. A global pandemic followed by race riots followed by a contested election did not leave much space for peace. Some of my friends are speculating that the end times have come and Jesus is coming back soon. I honestly have no idea when He is returning. Matthew 25:13 says, ““Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming” (NKJV). However, I do know is that Jesus is coming one day sooner today than He was yesterday. And I need to be ready.
Sharing Christ is one way I can prepare for the Lord’s return. With the new year, I realize the urgency in sharing the good news of Jesus with my family, friends, and everyone I meet. My life is to serve as an arrow to point people to Christ. Without Him there’s no purpose and no hope. I pray for the spread the gospel, not COVID.
Matthew 28:19-20 says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (NKJV). Jesus commands us to make disciples of all nations. This goes beyond trying to save souls from hell to ensuring that they know what they believe and why. Discipleship teaches people how to study the God’s Word and apply it so they can know and grow in Christ.
Personally, I started to study the Bible with a few friends last year who were interested in knowing more about Jesus. I pray I remain open to whoever God puts in my path to share the gospel with this year, because we can’t share enough. We must always be “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) since the world will know we are Christians by our love.
Unfortunately, some Christians can come across as overzealous, and have tried to beat the truth into people’s heads by banging their Bibles. I've been guilty of this myself, but realize I can’t argue someone into salvation. Instead, Colossians 4:6 says, “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one” (NKJV). I like the idea of combining grace with salt. It’s the sweet and salty combo of a salted caramel hot chocolate. We need the love from grace, but the salt adds truth to enhance the flavor.
Where will you begin? Who has God put on your heart to share the gospel with in 2021? May the Lord make us ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us and share the best news ever with those around us. May His Spirit guide us each day so that as many people as possible can enter God’s kingdom when the Lord returns.
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.
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.
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.
Have you ever seen a photo mosaic? You know, one of those pictures where they use thousands of tiny photos to build a larger image. They remind me of pointillism paintings, but with small photos instead of dots of paint. I’m amazed at how so many diverse things come together to make an entirely different picture.
I see the body of Christ as a photo mosaic. At the top is Jesus as the head of the church supported by little pictures of Christians from across the globe clustered by their various gifts. Believers to whom the Holy Spirit gave gifts of service are embedded into the hands. Those He made teachers and pastors are located at the mouth. People with the spiritual gift of mercy are centered at the heart. Combined, they make an incredible collage of beauty that showcases God’s glory. If any pictures were missing, there would be holes in the mosaic.
The Bible explains how each member of the body is important. 1 Corinthians 12:14-15 says, “For in fact the body is not one member but many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body?” (NKJV). Of course the foot is still part of the body. When I hurt my foot last fall it was hard to walk, but I never considered using my hands instead. The idea would’ve been preposterous! People were not designed to use their hands to walk around everywhere. Each body part has a different role designed to help the whole body operate.
Ephesians 4:11-12 says, “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (NKJV). This equipping of the saints with spiritual gifts applies to local congregations and the global body of Christ. Personally, I have the gifts of teaching and exhortation, but not the gift of healing. If I never taught because I couldn’t heal, the body of Christ would suffer. My job is to use my gifts, and not envy others. No one job is worth more than another in God’s economy. Only obedience matters. I can trust the Holy Spirit to know the right gifts for me so that I may bless the whole church.
Ephesians 4:15-16 says, “But, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love” (NKJV).
When each part of the body of Christ obeys its calling with a joyful heart, the body blesses itself. Alternatively, if one member of the body refuses to do its job, the whole body suffers because we are all connected. The Greek word for “knit together” is synarmologeō, meaning a close-binding or joining together. Like the joints in your body attach the different parts to work as one unit, the body of Christ is connected to labor together for God’s glory as led by the head–Christ. Jesus is at the top directing the body’s thoughts and actions to align with His kingdom building purposes.
When I use the spiritual gifts that God has given me to help my local church, it also enables the global body of Christ to thrive. This knowledge spurs me to obey everything that God calls me to do, whether it looks big or small. God uses obedience as the lifeblood to grow His church. May my actions carry life to the body of Christ, both near and far, so the mosaic is complete.
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.