In a recent exchange of emails with a friend who lives in Texas, he confessed he had not attended church for years.
He added, “After being on fire when I discovered the teaching of The Word at Calvary Chapel in a converted strip center, several years down the road I watched us grow and move into a large new building and, to me, the church became a stranger to me…a victim of its success you might say. I know The Lord. I crave The Lord. But I have been absence from audience with Him, deceived I’m sure by The Enemy into thinking that I’m doing just fine by my own self-righteous indignation. Perhaps I am, but that has separated me from The Word as well. Psalm 119 tells us to hide God’s Word in our hearts so as to not sin. The characters have faded because of my absence.”
God will never forsake or abandon His children.
I can relate. I, too, drifted away from my Christian upbringing, which began in Lake Charles, La., where my sister and I grew up walking to a small church just a block away from where we lived. We attended faithfully. After leaving home, my church attendance was sporadic until my sons were born. I wanted them to have the same foundation so I returned only to leave, once again, in my late 30s.
It wasn’t until almost 10 years later that I realized what was missing in my life. It wasn’t just the fellowship of Christian believers but a relationship with my Savior and Lord. So, in 2001, I recommitted my life to Him.
“Yours, O Lord, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours; yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all” —1 Chronicles 29:11(NRSV).
More than once I’ve said to friends, “I don’t know how people make it through life without Jesus.”
Since rededicating my life to Him almost 15 years ago, I’ve had my share of trouble. While having Jesus in your life doesn’t exclude you from trials, you can bet He’s by your side when those times come. And they will come in the form of financial, physical, emotional and relational struggles.
Evangelist Billy Graham once said, “Even the securest financial plan and the finest health coverage aren’t enough to hold us steady when the challenges come. We need something more, something deeper and unshakeable, something that will see us through life’s hard times.”
So how is that working for you?
Before I had a personal relationship with my Savior and Lord, trials would send me into a tailspin. I’d rant, and then panic, before trying to find a solution. That’s because I was relying on myself. I thought I had to solve everything on my own. My pride wouldn’t let me admit I couldn’t fix everything and everyone. It just doesn’t work.
“I am with you. I will watch over you everywhere you go”—Genesis 28:15(NIRV).
Almost 11 years ago, I took a giant leap of faith. I left a northeastern Oklahoma community where I’d lived since 1969—except for the times I’d gone away to college—to move to a larger town about 70 miles west. I left behind family and friendships formed over a 36-year period to a place where I knew very few people.
However, during the time I’ve lived in Rogers County, I’ve been blessed with a multitude of friends. Those friends have encouraged me, laughed and cried with me, prayed with and for me and stood by me during times of trouble. Even more importantly, being here has helped my faith grow. Through my church family and the people of faith God has placed in my path, my spiritual eyes have been opened to embrace what God can do in our lives when we place our trust in Him.
What does God ask of us?
I like what best-selling author and minister, Norman Vincent Peale said about faith. “Faith is the most powerful of all forces operating in humanity and when you have it in depth nothing can get you down.”
However, it wasn’t always that way for me. I’d only been in Claremore about a year when I yearned to return home. Prayer and the advice of wise individuals revealed to me I was here for a reason. Soon, I came to call this place home. I had no desire to return.
Jesus said, “You didn’t choose me, but I chose you”—John 15:16 (CEB)
A recent conversation between two of my grandchildren while we were eating supper brought back childhood memories of my own. My youngest grandson, Cash, will be starting school this year. He missed the cut-off date by two days last year, so he’ll probably be one of the older ones in his pre-kindergarten class. I’m guessing he’ll also be one of the tallest as he’s always been big for his age.
As we ate our supper of bacon, eggs, hash browns and biscuits, we began discussing the upcoming school year. Brennan, my oldest grandson who is nine, began to give advice to his younger cousin. The talk turned to bullying when Brennan said, “Cash, if you’re the smallest in your class, people will pick on you.”
My heart went out to him because I knew Brennan spoke from experience. He’s one of the smallest in his class. However, as Brennan began to explain to his cousin how he dealt with bullies, I had to smile. I knew God was working in my grandson’s life because I was seeing evidence of my answered prayers as Brennan spoke. I listened and then said, “Do you know why bullies pick on others, especially smaller people?”
“I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity”— 1 Chronicles 29:17 (NIV).
Even more than Christmas, I love this time of year, especially the traditions we observe in my church. On March 5, we recognized the beginning of the Lent season on Ash Wednesday. Lent, while not observed by all denominations, is a time when many Christians prepare for Easter by observing a period of fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline.
Observing Ash Wednesday at a special evening service in our church includes an invitation by our ministers to come forward and receive ashes made from palm leaves, which had been part of our Palm Sunday celebration the previous year when children carried them into the service. Our ministers make a sign of the cross on our forehead to symbolize purification and sorrow for our sins.
Several weeks before Ash Wednesday, I was experiencing a spiritual dryness. I hadn’t given up on my spiritual disciplines. I was still reading and studying my Bible each morning, praying and writing in my prayer journal and spending time listening for that still, small voice. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t hearing as clearly from the Lord. The weekend before Ash Wednesday, as I was reading the last few chapters of Chronicles, I came across Chapter 29:17. “I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity.”
“Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.”– 1 Peter 5:6-7
When I was younger, I relied on my parents. Later on in life, I relied on others until they proved untrustworthy. For too many years, I relied on myself. Then, God showed me I could always depend on Him. I like this acronym:
Is it hard for you to rely on others? What about God? Do you have a hard time relying on Him? Why or why not?
Begin Day 2 of your journaling journey with the following prayer starter:
Dear Abba Father,
I want to completely trust and rely on You for everything in my life. I know you care for me. I am counting on You to show me how to rely on you fully.
Faith Step: Whom have you relied on in the past? Other people? Yourself? Consider what steps of faith God is asking you to take today to learn how to rely on Him fully. Read and memorize Proverbs 3:5-6. Write it down on several index cards and post them around your house.
“Be kind and compassionate to one another,forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” — Ephesians 4:32 (NIV).
Are you harboring a grudge? Angry with someone? Is bitterness holding you back from enjoying life? For years, I carried around bitterness and hurt. Until I learned to forgive, I was not free. I like this anonymous quote:
“When I forgave, I set a prisoner free. Then I realized the prisoner was me.”
I want to forgive those who have hurt me. I want to forgive myself for poor choices in the past. Please show me how to do this, Father.
Faith Step: Learn to forgive. Journal about those things that have led to your bitterness and anger. Now choose to forgive. Pour out your heart to the One who knows you better than you know yourself.