The curtain rises. A hush comes over the crowd. The performance they’ve all waited for is about to start. Hundreds of eyes focus on the stage. Yet the lights stay off. The actors appear as indistinct forms in the dark. Programs rustle in people's laps as tension spreads through the room. Finally, the spotlight pierces the black to shine on the sound box. The theater attendees stir in their seats. Is this part of the play? It’s not.
The lady running the spotlight is dating the sound man. She wants everyone to see how attractive he is and refuses to light the stage where the action is happening. Her greatest concern is at the back of the theater. Patrons leave the show having seen a good-looking sound man, but not the main act.
I’d be annoyed if I went to a theater and missed the show to see the support staff. The world likes to spotlight people with money, fame, and power. If I’m not careful, I can get caught in the same trap. I can get distracted by pretty baubles that pass by and miss the main purpose of knowing and serving God. I will benefit no one if I drone on about my favorite drama on Netflix. Next month some other movie will enjoy more popularity, and my wasted time cannot be regained.
John the Baptist got it right. His life served as a spotlight to point people to Christ. He knew the story was about the Messiah, not himself. John 5:33 and 35 say, “You have sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth…. He was the burning and shining lamp, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light.” People flocked to hear John the Baptist speak, yet he did not keep the glory for himself. Instead, John pointed to the truth that Jesus was the Messiah. John’s ministry decreased once Christ took the His place on the scene.
My life needs to highlight things that last forever. As I honor God, the focus is not on my interests and achievements, it’s on the Lord. When I bask in the light of the Son of God, His light shines through me and points back to Himself. The person shining the spotlight is not the most important, it's the one the light surrounds. May the Lord keep me focused on things that enlighten instead of things that disappear. I pray my life will spotlight the only One worth seeing.
I love the smell of candles wafting through my home. When I use one of my White Barn candles, the entire downstairs soon fills with pleasant aromas. During COVID-19, my dream for when quarantine restrictions lifted was to smell every candle in Bath and Body Works. The morning after the stores opened, I sniffed candles through a mask to my little nose’s content.
When I took the candles home, I immediately lit one. Fruity scents of pineapple, whipped cream, and fresh orange filled my house with a tropical feeling. Just by lighting three tiny wicks I was transported from the confines of my home to a beautiful beach. When you can’t go to the beach, bring the beach to you!
Then I stared deep into the candle. I realized that for the candle to provide the lovely scents, it had to burn. Three orbs of fire flickered in a pool of wax. To release the smell, not only was the wax set on fire, it also gave away part of itself to comfort me.
I thought about the Messianic prophecy in Psalm 22:14, “I am poured out like water, And all My bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; It has melted within Me” (NKJV). Jesus’s heart melted as He hung on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins. He emptied Himself of all of His rights and bore the fullness of God’s wrath so we could be reconciled to the Father.
Jesus’ love for us honored God and became a pleasant scent to the Lord. Ephesians 5:2 says, “And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (NKJV). We are called to share the same love that Jesus showed us on the cross and become living sacrifices to God. We must give of ourselves to worship God.
Romans 12:1 says, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (NKJV). I can be selfish at times and don’t always want to surrender my dreams and demands to God. Yet, when I decrease and God increases, my life become a lovely fragrance to the Lord.
Sometimes, my life comes under fire as I am pressed by the cares of this world. When that happens, I have a choice. I can allow the flames to release a sweet-smelling aroma as an offering to the Lord or choose to make a stink about my hardships. As I sit on my couch in the middle of an island breeze, I decide that even if I melt away in the process, I want to be a fragrant incense offering before the throne of grace to fill all of heaven with the smell. May our lives be a sweet-smelling aroma to the Lord, even under fire.
This week's blog is a Bible study I wrote for Feed Your Soul with the Word of God, Collection 1, a banquet of 30 short Bible studies.
God may take us to uncharted places, but He will never leave us nor forsake us.
Several years ago, I was excited about a work opportunity to move overseas. I discovered a position I was qualified for in my favorite city in Europe. Some friends from church had already relocated there, so it meant built-in community. I’d lived abroad before and was very lonely. I dreaded repeating that.
For the application process, we ranked our job preferences. That didn’t faze me. Surely God wanted me with fellow believers. I submitted the form with a flippant statement “You can’t outdo the sovereignty of God.” All my friends and family prayed for me to get the job. I bragged about the prospect for weeks. My heart was set on that particular city.
When the assignments were issued, my heart sank. I didn’t get my top pick. I couldn’t understand. Everyone had prayed. I had never even visited the place, yet I would have to live there for two years. What happened to the sovereignty of God? I had equated God’s sovereignty with Him granting my desires. I thought more about my wishes than the Lord’s will.
James 4:13-16 (NKJV*) says,
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
My arrogant boasting backfired. I had tried to manipulate God with my prayers. I was positive I was going to such and such a city, but the Lord had other ideas. He knew how to use my short life best, though it didn’t fit into my master plan.
Submitting to God’s will instead of demanding my own way was challenging. Though I didn’t understand what God was doing, I took the job. After a while, my new city became home. I attended an international church and found a Bible study where I made close friends. I sang karaoke at a wedding shower and ran relay races in my living room for a baby shower. We did life together. After I left, a friend invited me back to be in her wedding.
More importantly, I wound up a mere four-hour trip away from my youngest sister. God had called my sister to missions overseas. She did not receive her first choice either, but God knew what He was doing. We celebrated holidays together and often met to travel. Our relationship deepened, and we supported each other.
God even used my home as a safe haven. Various missionaries stayed with me while they were transitioning back from the field or when they needed respite. My brother also lived with me for six weeks during a stressful period.
Proverbs 16:9 says, A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps. I love to plan and try to organize everything into neat little boxes of two-year increments. However, I can’t even control what will happen tomorrow. Fortunately, God sees the bigger picture. He does exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think (Ephesians 3:20). When I let go of my death grip of control and surrender to Him, He surpasses what my finite mind could even begin to dream. Now I say “Lord willing” and mean it. I can trust God even when I don’t understand Him. I hold my demands more loosely, which frees me to receive His unimaginable good gifts.
Have you ever made plans you were certain would happen, yet they never materialized? It might not have been a move, but perhaps it was a job or a relationship. Instead of being stumped, remember, You ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that” (James 4:15). It’s God’s will, not ours, that matters.
When God redirects your paths with sharp turns into unknown territories, instead of cowering in fear, start rejoicing. The God of the universe who sees and knows all, is about to do great things. Initially, the scene may look foreign, scary, or even dull. But look closer, and you will uncover the opportunities God has preordained for you to give glory to His name. So don’t boast like I did when I thought I was moving to my favorite city. God may take you elsewhere. We live for His kingdom, and His plans are best. May the Lord free you to say “Lord willing” with eager anticipation and joy.
Father, Thank You for caring about each one of us, and working in our lives to fulfill the plans You have for us. Help us to remember the many reasons that we have to trust You, and submit our will to Yours. When disappointments come or when we must change the plans we have made, help us to look forward to the good that You have in store for us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
1. Have you ever made certain plans, but God had a better idea?
2. In what areas of life is it the most difficult for you to submit to God’s will?
3. Has God ever given you more than you ever could have dreamed or planned for?
4. Are there any truths or life experiences that help you to trust God’s will above your own?
*All Scripture verses are taken from the NKJV.
Check out Feed Your Soul with the Word of God, Collection 1 on the Lighthouse Bible Studies website or Amazon.
Used with permission by Lighthouse Bible Studies.
This week's blog post is by my friend Ed Windhausen from my Word Weavers group. His writing is always creative and compelling. He has 25 years of experience in early childhood education, but this year was his first experience teaching online. As the whole world has been upended this year, and we've learned new ways to do things, I appreciate him sharing the lessons God taught him. May you be blessed by his story.
“Something is happening in China,” she said. I had heard about the turmoil with the coronavirus on the news, but China was so far away, why should I worry? How would that have any effect on us? My co-worker was contemplating what would happen if we had to teach our students over a computer. The term distance learning hadn’t yet entered the conversation, and as the only man on an all women preschool teaching team, I was taking the, let’s wait and see, stance. I was not one to over-react or jump to conclusions. I felt like I had to be the one who did not respond emotionally, but inside I was worried.
We were notified on Thursday that there would be a mandatory training on Distance Learning the following Monday. I listened to the radio the next morning as I drove to work. The news was dominated by talk of coronavirus and how quickly it was spreading. My phone alerted me to a text message, which was unusual for 5:45 am. My instructional assistant informed me that school had been closed for the day. I had no idea that the previous day would be the last time I saw my students or co-workers face-to-face that school year.
Decisions happened quickly from that point forward. School systems around the country were taking action to protect their students and staff by closing buildings, halting instruction, and formulating plans on how to progress in a way that was safe and effective. Many of those decisions were then challenged, amended, and re-sent out to the masses. My wait and see stance still seemed prudent, as it saved time on taking action with standards that were sure to change. As a preschool teacher in special education, I wasn’t sure how many of the decisions being made were even relevant to my population. I was worried for my students and their families amidst this ever-changing global crisis.
We started distance learning a few weeks later. Then we stopped because the systems kept crashing. We attended virtual trainings to adapt to a new platform; a platform that we were assured could handle the volume of users. It did not. We then waited as our school system tested and implemented a new approach. Along the way I worried for my students. Would they lose all the ground that had been gained during the school year? Would the parents have the availability to assist us in the education of their children? We were all worried. We had started and stopped distance learning three times. We were hopeful that this new protocol would succeed. It did!
My worries continued as I adjusted to a new way of doing school. Arranging digital sessions with families met with limited success. Whether because of schedule conflicts, technology challenges, or language barriers, I didn’t feel that I was doing any good for my students. My teaching partner assured me that I was doing all I could to provide resources and opportunities for families to engage, but was it enough. It worried me to think that even one of my students might be left behind because of the quarantine.
My teaching partner and I conducted a group lesson each school day for one hour. During that time, our two classes were given the chance to log in to our virtual classroom and participate in reciprocal learning experiences. Out of the combined 22 students available, we regularly had 12-16 students attend. I later learned that our participation numbers were much higher than the average.
As time progressed, I found that my families became more available to my one on one virtual office hour meetings as well. While these sessions were established for me to engage with my students, often I spent the time chatting with parents. These conversations became more casual each meeting. My 25 years of experience in early childhood education was put to use during these chats. But, more importantly, these parents of young children sought out my 22 years of experience as a parent.
It dawned on me one day after a particularly emotional discussion with a parent, that I hadn’t worried in quite some time. I concluded that the difference was not in anything I had done with my students or families, it was my attitude, and my Bible. Since quarantine had begun, I had become so distracted by the changes around me, that I altered my former routine. I had stopped my morning quiet times. I was not regularly in the Word. How had this happened? I know the peace I gain from reading and mediating on Scripture. How could I have deprived myself of this practice that helped ground me during so many tumultuous moments of my life? I realized that there was a correlation to my time in Scripture and my feelings of peace. During the last couple of weeks, I had gotten back into the habit of reading scripture before engaging in my work for the day. It seemed so obvious to me now, but why hadn’t I seen it before?
In Matthew 6:25-27, Jesus instructs us, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life” (NIV)?
In retrospect, I know that I did my best for my students. I am confident that I gave every opportunity to those families that may have been going through challenges during distance learning. But, what if I had devoted all my energy to teaching my students and serving my families from the very beginning, instead of wasting that energy on worry? I learned a lot through distance learning, but the most important lesson had nothing to do with my methods of instruction. I learned that I must trust and rely on God through everything. When I do that, I eliminate the distance between us.
My heart is heavy to pray for our country and our world. Please pray with me for revival. So much hurt fills our land right now, and we can't fix it ourselves. Only God can heal our wounded world. Prayer lets us join the healing process by taking our pain to the Great Physician.
We often quote 2 Chronicles 7:14, without looking at the verse before it. 2 Chronicles 7:13 says, "When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people” (NKJV). While we still have rain in America, famine could come due to global food insecurity caused by supply-chain disruptions. Locust currently swarm parts of Africa. COVID-19 is considered a pestilence or plague. Our world needs healing and not just from COVID-19. We need deep spiritual healing.
How do we get spiritual healing? 2 Chronicles 7:14 says, “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land" (NKJV). God desires to hear from heaven, forgive our sins, and heal our land, but first we must obey His requirements. Please pray with me these four things based on 2 Chronicles 7:14 to bring revival:
First: Pray for soft hearts to humble themselves before God. For people’s ears to yearn for truth and not the excuses for sin that their itching ears seek. James 4:6b says, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (NKJV). American society values independence and self-reliance; yet, when our independence comes at the cost of depending on God Almighty, the Lord resists us. We must acknowledge our desperate need for God to receive His grace.
Second: Pray. Pray. Pray. Pray for revival. Pray for other people to pray. Pray messenger angels will move through the Holy Spirit to stir the hearts of God’s people to cry out for revival. We need a multiplicative prayer effort with prayers rising to the throne of God in force. The more prayers we raise, the more power God can release into the world to draw us back to Himself. James 5:16 says, “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (NKJV). May our prayers bring healing to our land.
Third: Pray that we seek God’s face. As we sit in quarantine, we can make no excuses that we are too busy to spend time with God. Without the distractions that tug at our hearts, may we Christians use our time wisely by diving into the Word and getting on our knees in prayer. “Let us know, Let us pursue the knowledge of the Lord” (Hosea 6:3a NKJV). May our relationship with God be the driving motivation of our lives.
Fourth: Pray for people to repent. Often, loving God is easier in word than in deed. The sin that so easily entangles us can cry louder than the still soft voice of the Lord. Yet, only one way leads to truth and life. We must turn from our wicked ways and get back on the path of righteousness. The time for repentance has come.
It’s time we awaken from our slumber.
It’s time we rend our hearts and not our garments.
It’s time we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.
It’s time we confess our sins, knowing that He’ll faithfully forgive.
Will you join me today and reclaim our country for Christ? The United States has a strong Christian heritage founded on religious freedom and love of God. We must forsake our sin so that God can heal our land. Don’t let our rich history end with people who have strayed so far from where we started as a nation. Who will pray with me? Who will stand in the gap and cry out for our world? Who will bring heaven to earth and call down revival?
The call is here. The time is now. How will you respond?
Send this to everyone you know to pray for revival for our country.
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.
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.