The Joy Box
The gift of experience with the true Joy of Christmas
Some people live in tropical climates and have never made a snowball, felt the chill of snow stuffed down the back of a jacket by a mischievous friend or experienced the beautiful brilliance of a season’s first snow as it covers the trees and ground in glistening white. Some have never gone sledding, rode in a sleigh, caught a snowflake on their tongue or made a snow angel.
Although they have never experienced snow, it doesn’t keep them from believing they know what snow is like. When people experience snow for the very first time, they want to do everything they’ve seen in the movies: make snow angels, have a snowball fight, build a snowman and ride a sled. They don’t know about frozen fingers and toes, runny noses and the pain of a subzero windchill. They certainly don’t know about the backbreaking work of shoveling snow or the tension of driving in it.
Snow is beautiful when it first falls, but it changes from white to brown very quickly. As it is plowed out of the way, it picks up dirt and debris in the process.
As a Christian, do you ever feel like you’ve tried to convince someone of something you never truly experienced? This happens a lot for people who have grown up in church, but never allowed God to lead them to grow their faith. When Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would come, what if His disciples smiled and nodded, pretending to know what He was talking about?
“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:15-17 NIV).
The world can’t see Him? It can’t know Him? They won’t accept Him? Then how could you introduce Him to the world? You can’t, unless you first know Him.
Trying to explain a relationship with Holy Spirit is a lot like trying to explain snow to someone who has never seen or touched it. We understand cold; we understand white, but unless you experience the snowfall, you will never truly grasp the encounter.
We can explain truth. We can explain peace; we can explain help, but unless we truly experience these in relationship with Holy Spirit, they’ll be nothing more empty words on a page with no power behind them to prepare people for a transformed life.
- The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness (Romans 8:26).
- He confirms the Scriptures (John 14:26).
- He brings love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
- He instructs with wisdom, understanding, counsel and knowledge (Isaiah 11:2).
- Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17).
Don’t just say these things,
live these things.
Have daily encounters with the Holy Spirit so you can speak of Him with intimacy, not confusion. When you do, you’ll be able to not just communicate life change but impart life change through what Christ has done in you. What will people experience when they encounter a fully devoted follower of Jesus? Joy. Sounds like a Christmas movie or better yet, the Christmas Story.
Can you imagine the overwhelming stress Mary and Joseph must have felt when they were told they were going to parent the Messiah? Something had to happen in them to also experience overwhelming joy. Such joy can only happen when you have confidence in God.
One of the first things you’ll experience as you unwrap the gift of experience is Joy. Joy came to the world in the form of a baby named Jesus. He grew up to be a miracle-working Savior who died, rose and is coming soon. He is ready for your tangled mess. The Heavenly Father wants healthy children and healthy churches. How are we supposed to be joy to the world when we have none ourselves?
Amazingly, “Joy to the World” was not written to be a Christmas song, but to celebrate the second coming of Christ. Isaac Watts, a Methodist Minister, wrote the song as a lyrical adaptation of Psalm 98. The song was first published in The Psalms of David: Imitated in the language of the New Testament in 1719 (that’s a catchy title). The music was composed by Lowell Mason in 1839. It is believed that Mason may have “borrowed” notes from Handel’s, The Messiah to compose “Joy to the World.”
If you missed the first blog in this special Christmas series,
you can find it here – Nicely Wrapped – Is your heart an attractive gift to God?
Joy may not mean to intentionally spread joy, but when you are in God’s presence, you will spread it nonetheless.
Joy is infectious.
As we grow older something happens to our joy box. You may not have known that you have a joy box. But deep inside each one of us is a place that experiences, produces and stores up this often-elusory emotion. Joy is, at times, offered openly from our joy box. Sometimes it needs to be wrestled free. And then there are times that it is locked so tight we wonder if joy is even in there.
There is a catch when it comes to a full, joy box. It is only filled when it is attached to joyful things. Ah – but what is a joyful thing?
As we live, we quickly discover that joy is imitated more frequently than any other thing. It is common for something that is unquestionably destructive to put on a pretty mask and sell itself as joy. It is not a rare thing to see the most debased and dysfunctional of actions laundered through joyful disguises, fooling a lot of humanity. Joy is tricky that way. We desire the real thing, but we settle for the fraudulent. We can wrap our joy box with elegant paper and opulent ribbons and proclaim that the joy inside is just as beautiful, however, lifting the lid reveals a pseudo joy, disguised yet again.
As children our joy is untethered. It is not reliant on a paycheck, a large house or a luxury car. Our joy box is pure, right and undefiled. As we get older, we attach our joy to temporary things and find our joy does not last. We connect our joy to people and circumstances and objects, and the obsessions slowly empty our joy box, leaving only a pretty wrapper.
As a child we did not know about properly tethered joy boxes. We were born with a joy box that is free and beautiful and produces large amounts of joy. The more we tether our joy box to temporarily joyful things, the less joy our joy box produces.
God intended for your joy box to be full.
Upon creation God consistently declared that all created things were good (Genesis 1:31). Somewhere along the line, humanity began to harness its joy to successes, but success is a false joy. With success comes jealousy, after all, none of us are successful permanently. We affix ourselves to people, but people do not last forever. With their passing comes an emptier joy box.
We try to secure our joy to finances, but finances are fleeting and the control of finances a misguided illusion. We never know what evil things may come to steal them away leaving us, yet again, with empty joy boxes. Millionaires who lost their fortune during the stock market crash of 1929 were seen leaping from buildings to their death. They opened their joy box and realized it was desolate. With an empty joy box comes the evaporation of hope.
The Apostle Paul gives us some direction on how to maintain a full joy box. He says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13 ESV). Paul seemed to have mastered this concept. He also offered, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:12 NIV).
Paul discovered that his joy box could only be filled by his relationship with hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. The God of hope desires to fill our joy boxes to the brim.
When we allow our joy box to be untethered from temporary things, we find that our joy box remains curiously full.
And with a full joy box comes great hope.
Hunger cannot empty a joy box. Neither can shelter or a dwindling bank account. There is a joy that God desires us to relive every single day – a hope that can only be found in Christ Jesus. It’s an eternal hope and it stuffs our joy box with so much joy that we even find ourselves rejoicing in trials – counting them all as joy (James 1:2).
As Jesus walked the earth he said, “These things I have spoken so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11 NASB).
As you journey toward Jesus this Christmas season, may you experience joy unspeakable and full of glory.
If you missed the first blog in this special Christmas series, you can find it here – Nicely Wrapped – Is your heart an attractive gift to God?
Is your heart an attractive gift to God?
People spend a lot of time wrapping gifts. We want them to look perfect. We meticulously measure the amount of wrapping paper needed, cut slowly and painstakingly tape each package so that it is just right. We want the outside to look amazing, no matter what is inside the package.
Nothing about Jesus looked like royalty, at least not judging by the way He was wrapped. From the surface, He looked like the product of a dysfunctional relationship who poorly planned their pregnancy and delivery. After all, who gives birth in a manger?
“Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them” (Luke 2:4-7 NIV).
Have you ever given your friend the nicest gift, but sloppily wrapped it with mismatched paper and duct tape and observed their reaction?
In theory, we know the size, shape and elegant wrapping of a gift do not determine the worth of what’s found within. A priceless diamond does not lose its value just because it is placed in a brown paper bag, but we spend a lot of time and money on the outside anyway.
Nothing says “wasted time” like a big pile of shredded wrapping paper on the floor after a rigorous Christmas morning. All that precious time spent making the gift look beautiful amounted to nothing more than filler for the recycling bin to most recipients.
We can approach our lives in a similar way, fashioning a beautiful, flawless, glistening exterior for all to see while paying little attention to what’s inside. We present ourselves as a pleasing package, but pleasing to who?
When the prophet, Samuel visited Jesse the Bethlehemite in search for Israel’s first king, he found himself looking at how the gift was wrapped. He saw Eliab, who appeared tall, strong and confident. What a beautifully wrapped gift, Samuel may have thought, yet in an instant, God dispelled such a silly idea that the outside would have any bearing whatsoever on what was found inside.
God’s focus is on the heart.
“But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart’” (1 Samuel 16:7 ESV).
This Scripture will invoke emotion in you. You will feel either affirmed, judgmental or insecure.
- You will feel affirmed if you know you have more potential inside of you than others have noticed. You will feel like David, just waiting to be discovered. While attractive on the outside, you spend even more time on your inside, on the content of your character.
- You can feel judgmental if you compare yourself to Samuel. “How could God’s prophet pick so poorly? What a terrible leader.” We judge Samuel for looking at the outside, but we do it all the time. When we play the comparison game, we feel either superior or inferior. For instance, we tend to put on a few extra pounds over the holiday season. If you compare yourself to someone thinner than you, it may cause you to feel inferior. If you compare yourself to someone heavier than you, it may cause you to feel superior.
- You may feel insecure if you don’t love who you are, or you regret things you’ve done. You may not want people to look past your external appearance because you are not confident that they’ll like what they see on the inside. You may even spend extra time or money on expensive clothes and cultivate a perfect appearance to mask the inadequacies you feel within.
We tend to focus on the external. We use what we see to confirm biases and evaluate our own self-worth. From Samuel’s perspective, God’s anointed should look, walk and talk a certain way.
From our perspective, people should behave in a certain way, worship a certain way and pray a certain way. We give little latitude to their upbringing or where they are on their spiritual journey. We look; we judge and we then seek out information to confirm our opinions.
Examine the contents.
Life can be hectic, especially during the holidays, so take some time, get in His presence and ask the Holy Spirit to examine the contents of your spiritual package. Have you spent more time on what others see than you have on what God sees? Is your heart attractive to Him? Are you living a life worthy of His presence?
Here are a few questions you can ask yourself during this holiday season to evaluate the contents of your life, the present you give to Jesus.
- If I saw someone imitate my life, would I assume they had a relationship with Jesus?
- Am I hiding my weaknesses by focusing on my external appearance instead of asking Jesus to search my heart and make the unclean things clean?
- Do I believe Jesus really loves me despite what I’ve done?
Only you and Jesus know what’s underneath the wrapping paper.
Jesus had some strong words for the religious leaders of His day who focused excessively on the outside appearance.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:27-28 NIV).
Nicely wrapped, beautiful, but disappointing, full of dead people’s bones.
Let your prayer this year, as you journey toward Jesus, be to search for the authentic. Look for what’s inside, not outside. Even if you were born in a stable, you can change the world.
Read the next blog in this special Christmas series, A Journey to Christmas – an invitation to experience your own Christmas story.
6 Actions to Move You
From grateful moments to a lifestyle of thanksgiving
Evan Carlson, President & CEO
What does it look like when you choose to make thanksgiving a lifestyle?
We all have things to be thankful for. I’m thankful when my kids actually listened to me the very first time I asked them to do something. I am thankful to have health, and that I have a car that takes me where I need to go.
Let’s get real. I’m thankful I remembered to put my ChapStick in my pocket because I’m addicted to it. I don’t understand why, but I need my ChapStick on me at all times.
But how do you deal with situations in life?
- When everything isn’t great?
- When the car runs out of gas?
- When you get the wrong diagnosis?
- When you have issues in your relationships?
How do we go from being grateful in moments to choosing thanksgiving as a lifestyle? That’s a really hard thing to do for most of us. We live in a culture that really fights against that. We have everything at our disposal. Why should we be grateful all the time, while living in a society where it’s easy for us not to be thankful?
Paul penned the words, “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NLT).
It’s easy to think Paul wrote this from a hot tub at the Hilton of Israel, but he sat in prison, shackled to a wall, not doing very well at all. You might think Paul would be the very last person who would be saying we need to be thankful in all circumstances because of his own situation.
- Identify the issue.
The first issue we must overcome before we can talk about the solution in our journey to move from grateful moments to a lifetime of thankfulness is to identify the issue. And if we’re honest, it comes down to selfishness. And I’m pointing a whole lot of fingers back at myself when I say that.
We often focus on what we don’t have rather than being thankful for what God has provided.
I’m content until I hop on Amazon and see something really cool thatI want. I’m content until I drive my car into the auto dealership, and that new model looks pretty sweet. I look at the house and think, We could get new flooring.
2. Become nearsighted.
We take things that God blesses us with for granted. Instead of being thankful, we can become even more selfish.
We have to stop being farsighted and become nearsighted. We look out to compare our lives to other people and to other search circumstances or situations. Someone is always going to have more than us.
You’ve probably heard the old saying, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.”
- The power goes out for a minute, and you realize you’ve been taking electricity for granted.
- How about the garbage? Do you start planning how you’ll handle the pile up when trash day lands on a holiday?
- We have someone close to us who has gone through health issues, and we’ve lost them. Did we take that relationship for granted?
3. Choose to be thankful.
The battle we continue to struggle with is pride, determining who’s at the center of our lives. As humans, we want to put ourselves on the throne, at the very center of our lives.
It makes me think of the story of a little boy and a stranger gives him an orange. So, what do you think the little boy is going to say to the man who just gave him a gift? We’d think he’d say, “Thank you,” but instead, he holds the orange up to the man and says, “Peel it.” Instead of being thankful for what he was given, he gives a command that basically says, “This is nice, but I need you to do more for me.”
4. Choose contentment.
We can become so focused on what we want, we lose sight of what God wants for us. He wants His very best for us. And so often we struggle with the ability to allow Him to provide that blessing in our lives and to be content with that.
The book of Exodus is the story of Moses and the Israelites exiting Egypt, arriving at the Promised Land, and then they wander around. They can’t go into the land God promised because they disobeyed Him.
God uses the word stiff or stiff-necked to describe the Israelites. It’s not a very flattering word. If we’re honest, it’s a word that often applies to us as well. And if you’re willing, ask:
- How might I be stiff-necked?
- How am I trying to continually put myself at the center?
- What makes me think I have all the answers?
The Israelites knew where they wanted to go. They wanted to continue to drive the agenda. And it’s the same thing for us today.
We need to push back pride and ask God to help us overcome selfishness.
5. Receive God’s blessings in humility.
He has so many blessings He wants to provide for us daily, and we often miss them. We’re so busy just living, doing and thinking about the things that make us happy.
So how do we overcome this? Where do we start?
We must have a posture of humility.
Go to God in prayer and ask Him for an attitude of thankfulness. We have to start there because we can’t try it in our own strength. God, please help me each day to be as thankful as I possibly can.
When the Israelites got out of Egypt, and they started to hit some rough road, the first thing they wanted to do was to go back to Egypt, instead of trying to forge ahead with the blessings that were promised for them in the future.
How often do we hit hard times and want to go back, even if we know in our minds going back is actually worse. Whatever back is, we say, “Going forward is hard work, and I’m not sure I want to do that.” But God has tremendous blessing for you on the other side, if you stay faithful to following through.
When you see the word thanksgiving, what comes to your mind?
If I were to survey the average American, I believe they would say “food, family and football.” We’re getting together with family, celebrating around some food and cheering on our team.
As you’re doing all that this year, please be mindful that each one of those things is a blessing.
- Food is a blessing. We should be thankful for that. How easy is it for us to take food for granted?
- Family — we can and should be thankful for our family as we continue to spend time with them and build relationships on that day.
- Football – yes, that sounds funny, but it is true. Think about the blessing of having a TV. It happens to be under a roof with electricity, which is yet another blessing.
How can we, as believers, continue to keep God at the center of everything? How do we make sure we remember, every single day, that the food, family, football, health and all the we have is a part of the blessings God provided?
While we may not eat steak and lobster every week, live in a mansion or wear name brand clothes with every single outfit that we wear, God provides it all and it’s a blessing.
6. Keep God at the center.
We must be intentional about continuing to come back to the root of it all and be grateful to God. The most important blessing in a believer’s life is your salvation through Jesus Christ. It’s your faith. It’s the blessing to live each day knowing you have all of eternity with Him.
Imagine yourself in a courtroom. The judge is presiding over his own daughter’s trial, and she has fully admitted her guilt. She said, “I am guilty. I am the one that did it.”
And her father says, “You owe a hundred dollars,” but then the judge comes out from behind the podium, takes off his robe and goes down to his daughter. He put his arm around her and says, “I’m going to pay your debt.” And he pulls one hundred dollars out of his wallet and pays the debt on her behalf.
Never take His gift of salvation for granted.
That’s what the Heavenly Father did for us through His Son, Jesus. So, in the blessings that He provided for us, we have the tangible things to be thankful for, but we can’t take His gift of salvation for granted. And I am pointing my finger right back at myself as someone who grew up in a church, it’s easy to just take it for granted.
We’ve all been given a chance to enter His house because of Jesus. The gift of eternal life with Him is greater than all the other blessings combined.
I hope you will take this opportunity right now to pray and ask God to help you have a lifestyle of thanksgiving, not just moments of thankfulness.
Check out Christina’s story – No Longer a Slave to Her Dream.
Fear vs. Faith
Why it matters which one you allow through the gates of your soul
A familiar verse to many is faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17). So how do you hear or receive the Word of God into your hearts so that faith is present? Most of the time it’s through your senses or the gates of your soul:
- Eyes (reading or watching faith at work).
- Ears (listening or hearing the Word of God spoken or activated = testimonies).
- Mouth (praying scripture or saying God’s truth aloud).
You probably know that faith is a spiritual force, but do you realize that fear is also a spiritual force? Fear is everything opposite of faith.
We want to focus on good, God, Jesus, faith and hope; but the reality is, we live in a fallen world that compels us to look at the bad, the works of Satan, fear and despair. Why? Because since Adam and Eve chose to believe Satan over God, the world turned upside down.
John 10:10 says, the devil came to kill, steal and destroy. That’s his passion, his mission (fear). In that same verse Jesus says, “I have come to give you life, abundantly (faith).”
Fear is Satan’s destructive power; faith is God’s creative power.
Your creative power or destructive power is produced by what you say. “The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark” (James 3:5 NIV). “Death or life is in the power of your tongue” (Proverbs 18:21).
Back to John 10:10 – Jesus came to give you life – and not just any life, but His life. Your life is in what you say. God’s Word is life.
Speaking God’s Word, putting it in front of your eyes and ears and speaking it out of your mouth, brings abundant life.
That’s the life Jesus wants for you to experience in the physical realm by faith.
You are created in God’s image. You were made to be like Him, to imitate Him. Ephesians 5:1 says, “Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents” (MSG).
Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does” (John 5:19 NLT). Jesus imitates God.
“God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).
King Solomon, the wises king to ever rule the earth, shared God’s instruction to you, His child –
- “My child, pay attention to what I say.
- Listen carefully to my words.
- Don’t lose sight of them.
- Let them penetrate deep into your heart,
- for they bring life to those who find them,
- and healing to their whole body” (Proverbs 4:20-22 NLT).
Just as faith comes by hearing the Word of God through your eyes, ears and mouth, how does fear come?
Fear comes by hearing the words of the world.
(Watch What in the Word – Dealing with Fear with Kank and Sally.)
All you have to do is turn on the television and watch it for a few minutes to experience fear.
- We live in a fallen world and the stories the world tells are generally negative.
- The news is 90% about the bad things happening in our world today.
- Then there are the fearful commercials offering medications for all kinds of terrible diseases. If you allow the images on screen to enter your thoughts, the next thing you know, you’re wondering if you have it, if you’ll get it and how you can prevent it.
- And the entertainment industry is full of fearful stories with images that will keep you up at night.
Fear utilizes your eyes, ears and mouth – or your soul gates.
Fear or faith grows in your heart as a direct result of what you allow to enter into your heart.
As you think about that fear, it begins to grow. The next thing you know, you’re talking about it all the time. Fear grows as you speak about those things as if they were already happening.
A 38-year-old man died suddenly, and people were shocked. How could a healthy, vibrant, positive and powerful person become ill and die in a matter of weeks? During his memorial service, some of those closest to him revealed the young man often jokingly said, “I’m not going make it past 40” and he didn’t. To most people, the young man seemed like he had it all together, but inside he could have been dealing with immense fear.
The next verse of wisdom from King Solomon says to “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (Proverbs 4:23 NLT).
When fear knocks on your heart’s gate, and you entertain his opportunity, you begin to invite fear into your life like a welcomed guest. Fear eventually becomes the guest you wish would leave. (Check out video interview – No Need to Fear with Josh Baldwin.)
Satan is fear; it’s what moves him.
Satan cannot do anything to you without from fear, just as God requires faith to act on your behalf. “In righteousness you will be established: Tyranny will be far from you; you will have nothing to fear. Terror will be far removed; it will not come near you. If anyone does attack you, it will not be my doing; whoever attacks you will surrender to you” (Isaiah 54:14-15 NIV).
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the [b]evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 NKJV). So then, we could say fear is the material or stuff that makes up things unwelcome or undesired.
Think about the night Jesus walked on the water toward His disciples out at sea in a boat (see Matthew 14:22-33). The disciples saw someone or something walking toward them on the water and it instilled terror in their soul. They thought it was a ghost. Jesus told them it was Him, and Peter challenged Him saying, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water” (Matthew 14:28 ESV).
Peter walked on water toward Jesus, but then as he looked at what he was doing – a word of the world that says no one can walk on water – the undesirable thing began to happen.
Fear becomes doubt and unbelief when given permission to pass through your soul gates.
Fear began to overtake faith in Peter’s mind. “But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. ‘Save me, Lord!’ he shouted” (Matthew 14:30 ESV).
(Read How to Overcome Anxiety and Fear.)
Fear is the opposite side of faith.
Hebrews 11:1-6 is a word picture of faith in action (NIV).
- Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
- This is what the ancients were commended for.
- By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
- By faith, Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith, he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith, Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.
- By faith, Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.” For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God.
- And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”
THINK AND PRAY
What changes do you believe you need to make in your life to better guard your heart? What things are you allowing into your soul gates that bring fear? What things do you need to open the door to more often that brings faith to the forefront?
What to Do When It’s Hard to Pray
3 heart checks before praying for yourself
It was just before midnight. Jan sat alone at the side of her sister’s bed in the hospital. She read Psalm 23 to her; God’s sweet presence and peace was evident, and then she took her last breath. She was now in eternity.
Jan’s sister was such a godly, praying woman. Their mother had imparted and modeled a life of prayer for both of them.
So, let’s look at the prayer factors.
- The value of prayer
We understand the significance and the value of prayer. Jesus teaches us to pray daily in Matthew 6. Prayer is simply connecting with God! We connect with God for ourselves and for others.
Connecting with God transforms everything – giving you a heavenly perspective and heavenly empowerment.
As oxygen is for the body, prayer is for the soul!
2. The impact of prayer
Heaven to earth – Jesus teaches us to pray “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is heaven” (Matthew 6:10 NIV).
Prayer releases the will and the purposes of God into every natural and supernatural realm. Bringing turn arounds, transformations, breakthroughs and the power of God onto the scene.
“Prayer is the umbilical cord from heaven to earth” (T.D. Jakes).
3. The power of prayer
According to Matthew 17:20, when the power of prayer is at work: the mountain moves, the door opens, the darkness dispels, the provisions are released, the obstacle shifts, the heart turns and the direction is revealed!
Terry Tekle states, “Prayer is the breath of God inhaled, and the power of God exhaled.”
With these foundational truths established in Jan’s life, she wondered why it was so hard to pray weeks after her sister’s funeral. She had prayed for others, but she wasn’t able to pray for herself. She felt numb to God’s presence.
Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” Jan found her faith did not produce what she believed for and prayed — for her sister to be healed from cancer. At only 43 years old when she died, her sister left children, grandchildren and a vital ministry. And in spite of God’s presence and peace that was with her sister in death, Jan knew her hope was deferred.
Have you ever felt like your hope was set aside or your faith was put on hold? It’s a season in which your heart can truly be sick.
Why is it so hard and so difficult to pray for yourself in times like these?
Proverbs 4:23 is so true and is a much-needed reminder to “Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life” (AMP).
You are instructed to take care of your heart, pay attention to it and to watch carefully what goes in and out of it. You are to set a guard over your heart because it affects all that you are.
Pay very close attention to what enters your heart from others that may arise from circumstances. Watch for hurt, lies, pain, rejection, anger or any unforgiveness.
When it is hard to pray for yourself, it’s an indication you should do a heart check towards God.
When you experience what seems like unanswered prayer, or you’re discouraged by delayed answers, or you are just a little disappointed with God, it deeply affects your heart. These things can cause us to question God’s trustworthiness.
3 heart checks to consider when you find it hard to pray for yourself:
- Be authentic with God.
Tell God you are hurt by His actions or inactions. Let Him know you don’t understand and that you’re confused or angry at Him. He is not intimated by any of your feelings. God said in Isaiah 55:9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (ESV).
It’s okay to not like God’s ways. It’s perfectly fine to tell God, “I don’t like your ways, but I choose to trust your ways, anyway!”
God is a safe place to open your heart fully to Him, even if it is ugly.
When you do, it allows all the toxicity to empty from your heart, emotions and mind, making room for healing and truth.
2. Revisit God’s faithfulness and sovereignty.
God is a covenant god – He is faithful even when we are not. His love is unconditional and eternal! His Word is true, but allow Him to be sovereign (unlimited, unrestricted and boundless) in every circumstance you face.
3. Rehearse God’s faithfulness.
Recall where in past seasons, God has been faithful to you.
Review the Scriptures.
- His Word stands forever (Isaiah 40:8).
- God watches over his word to perform it (Jeremiah 1:12).
His Word will fortify and strengthen your faith.
Make your heart strong.
After you have evaluated the condition of your heart, it is time to make your heart strong.
- Ask God to make your heart whole and to heal the wounded places. Jeremiah 17:14 says, “Heal me Lord, and I will be healed” (NIV).
Often, we can clear our hearts but fail to ask God for, and then receive from Him, healing in those places.
- Invite the Holy Spirit to pray for you. Romans 8:26-27 says, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (ESV).
As you lean in and pray as the Holy Spirit leads you, He helps you to pray exactly what you need to pray. You might know what you truly need but the Holy Spirit knows exactly what you need and brings it to you from Father God.
- Offer the sacrifice of praise!
“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name” (Hebrews 13:15 NIV).
Even if it is a sacrifice for you to praise, praise Him anyway!
Praise and thanksgiving shift your mind, emotions and atmosphere to a heavenly perspective.
Jesus prayed for himself in Matthew 26:38-44. He prayed three times in the Garden of Gethsemane, “If it is possible, deliver me from this, but not my will but your will be done!”
How hard was it for Jesus to pray for himself? It was possibly the most difficult prayer He ever prayed, and He prayed for many people, many times.
Do you think He struggled with not understanding God’s ways? It’s possible He did because of His humanity.
It is hard to pray for yourself when you experience loss, discouragement, pain, disappointment, rejection or just feel overwhelmed.
So, remember Hebrews 4:14 -16 ” So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. 15 This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. 16 So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” (NLT).
Jesus identifies with you and gives you His empowering grace. Take care of your heart, so you too can wholeheartedly pray “not my will but your will be done.”
No Longer a Slave to Her Dream
Just as Christina’s dreams seemed to be coming true, she felt a tug in her heart
At the peak of her career, Christina quit! She felt enslaved by her lifelong dream. It no longer fulfilled her. Instead, it weighed heavily on her heart.
From a young age, Christina always wanted to be in front of the camera. Born in Romania, her family moved to the United States, but Christina remembered her parents always sent video tapes of her back to their families in Romania.
At fifteen, she received an opportunity to go to a modeling convention. “I remember asking my mom to go, and my dad was a little bit more against it,” Christina recalled. “My mom saw how much I wanted it.”
Christina grew up in a conservative home. As she started her modeling career, she found herself experiencing moral dilemmas. “You had to undress in front of people,” Christina explained. Even before she received Christ, she struggled with what was expected of her in the industry.
“I thought something was wrong with me because everyone else seemed to be okay with it.”
Christina silently wondered if she was the only one who felt that way.
Christina’s mother, Cornelia, knew a lot of things could happen behind closed doors. She spoke with daughter about her concerns, encouraged her to be careful and not give herself to inappropriate things. Cornelia said, “I let it go, and I let God take care of it.”
At the time Christina says she didn’t know what the uneasiness was that she was feeling. But now she understands it was conviction. “It was a heart issue,” Christina said.
She thought, I want to get married, and I’m all about being loyal and faithful, and I’m seriously missing that. Christina said: “I have that inviting expression – that inviting expression scares me!”
While living in Los Angeles, California, Christina went through a very hard time in her life. She found she’d become a slave to her dream. Little by little, she looked at her life and realized the Bible and the reality she lived each day, weren’t matching up.
During a cover shoot for a really big magazine in Arizona, Christina recognized she was no longer fulfilled. She completely surrendered her life to that ten-hour shoot. She felt yanked back and forth between what she wanted and what was required. She technically had a say in what she did or didn’t do, but really felt like she didn’t have a say. “If I really didn’t want to do something, I would say it, but at the same time, it was so high paced.” She said she just felt like she had to go through it and get it done.
“I had decided to quit modeling.”
At what might have seemed like to most, the peak of her career, Christina was done. It can be easy to leave when work is slow, but Christina decided to take the opportunity and leave the industry just as she was about to come out in a big magazine, and she had jobs lined up.
Cornelia said the changes in her daughter are so drastic. “She was a great model for the world, but she was not for Christ.” Cornelia always referred to Isaiah 54:13: “All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children” (ESV).
So very proud of her daughter, Cornelia said, “I look at her and see the person she became –what an angelic model she is compared to what she was before [Christ].”
Get the definition of beauty from God.
Christina shared her story because she wants any girl listening to know – “If you feel insecure, if you feel like you’re not pretty, or you’re comparing yourself to these images that you’re seeing, I want you to know outer beauty doesn’t mean anything. A lot of these girls you’re looking at have major issues. When you focus on the Word of God, and you get the definition of beauty from Him, it’s amazing how content you really are.”
Christina says she is thankful when she doesn’t receive attention because it was the wrong kind of attention in the first place. And if she does receive attention, then she knows that it’s the right kind of attention. She desires for others to see her heart and recognize that God lives inside of her. She smiled, “That’s the kind of attention I want.”
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Why encouragement deeply impacts the church family
Pastor Appreciation Month, all 31 days of October, is a time set aside specifically for the Church to express their love and appreciation for their pastors. It certainly shouldn’t be the only time we convey our gratitude for them, but it’s a great time to pause and show our love and appreciation.
It’s biblical. Under the Holy Spirit’s direction, Paul writes, “Let the pastors that shepherd well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor faithfully at preaching and teaching the word,” (I Tim. 5:17, author paraphrase).
Now, to you who belong to the church body, always be an encouragement to your pastors, but especially during Pastor Appreciation Month. You may not think so, but they need your words and expressions of love and encouragement. Trust me; I’ve been there.
Please, take time this month to honor and celebrate them! There are a multitude of ways you can do that:
- A written note.
- A phone call.
- An email.
- A gift card to their favorite restaurant or store.
- Season ticket holders, you can send them to one of your games.
- Provide a date night for them.
- Or even better, pay for some days away for them to be refreshed.
And don’t forget the pastor’s spouse and their children. It was always more significant for me when my children received gifts during pastor appreciation month. It told them they were noticed, valued, needed and loved!
I could go on with ideas, but you know your pastor and their needs. Be creative, be surprising! Do something individually, but also do something corporately as a church family! Most of all, make a memory for them, one that will cause them to know they are loved and appreciated. A memory they will draw on for years to come.
My wife Jan and I still have many of the cards, notes, and emails we received over the years. From time to time, we find ourselves reading them again. (Now, we don’t have the gift cards; we redeemed them at Cheesecake Factory!)
Again, the Holy Spirit used Paul to communicate the importance of honoring our Spiritual Leaders:
“Dear brothers and sisters, make sure you show deep appreciation for who diligently minister to you as your pastors; esteem and honor them highly in love because of their faithful service …” (I Thessalonians 5:12-13 author paraphrase).
Your expression of love and appreciation and the gratitude you express may be the very thing that keeps your pastors from giving up.
To the pastors reading this
Let me remind you of how significant and vital you are to the church. I have served in pastoral ministry for almost 50 years and understand the many challenges and demands of your calling. I know well the highs and the lows – those times you wonder if what you’re doing is truly making a difference.
We always carry an awareness of our own inadequacies! I’m reminded that Jacob had a limp; Moses had a stutter; Paul had a thorn, and God chose them, called them and powerfully used them!
I think of the words of Dr. Beecher Hicks, who for 37 years pastored the historic Metropolitan Baptist Church in our nation’s capital. He writes in a powerful piece entitled: Captured by the Call.
“In a sense, the pastorate is the worst job you will ever love! Its demands are unreasonable; its calling inescapable, and its machinery often unworkable. Its concepts difficult to grasp, and the political realities of the work make success seem, at times, impossible to achieve.
“We always live with the uneasy knowledge that we haven’t arrived and yet we must lead a people who expect us to have it all together. But the simple truth is we have been captured by the call.”
Add to all that, we have an adversary. I’m sure you’ve encountered him a time or two! He’s relentlessly at work against us, seeking to distract and discourage and even defeat us. He knows well our significance to God’s plan for His Church.
Pastors, you are making a difference!
You are impacting lives, families and destinies. You are needed!
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:3, where he exhorts us: “Stay at your post reading Scripture, giving counsel, teaching. And that special gift of ministry you were given when the leaders of the church laid hands on you and prayed—keep that dusted off and in use.
Cultivate these things. Immerse yourself in them. The people will see you mature right before their eyes! Keep a firm grasp on both your character and your teaching. Don’t be diverted. Just keep at it. Both you and those who hear you will experience salvation.” (MSG).
Listen pastors, the Lord knows the challenges, the struggles and the disappointments you are navigating. He knows the doubts and fears you wrestle with at times, but you are still His choice to lead His Church.
I pray during this month of October you would:
- Have a Psalms 23 encounter with your Lord!
- Experience a fresh infilling of His Spirit,
- and discover a renewed vision from Him.
I’m so grateful we have a Great High Priest who understands our humanity and even now, He is interceding for you. He welcomes you to His throne to receive His mercy and grace to empower you. (See Hebrews 4:15-15; 7:25.)
Zane Anderson served as a senior pastor for over 40 years, and currently leads as an Apostolic Overseer for several churches across the nation. He travels internationally to minister and is a sought-after speaker at local churches, Bible colleges and conferences around the world. He has a zeal for the local church body and desires to train and develop strong leaders. His gifting as a prophetic voice has helped people around the world move into the ministry that the Lord has purposed for them.
Acknowledge the Real Stars
Consider the laborers behind the scenes this Labor Day
Pastor Zane Anderson
Labor Day is a day we pause as a nation to celebrate and honor the vast contributions of the American worker and all they have done to make our nation great! And it’s so right to acknowledge them and to express our appreciation and gratitude for their labor.
But on this Labor Day, I invite you to look at it from a different perspective, possibly one you may have never considered. As a pastor for more than 40 years, I’ve come to understand and appreciate the significance of these laborers. I’m talking about volunteers who, week after week, year after year, faithfully serve the body of Christ.
And on this Labor Day, I want all of us to give a shout out to these special, significant individuals!
We live in a culture enamored with prominence and celebrity, prestige and popularity, star influence and name power. It’s constantly highlighted and applauded. But for me, the laborers are the real stars in the Church. No, they may not be prominent, nor do they receive interviews or press releases, but they are so very significant and vital to the success of the Church!
Like many of you, I enjoy sports. And even those who aren’t “sports minded,” usually know the name, Tom Brady. He’s widely considered the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. His success record speaks for itself:
- 11 Super Bowl appearances,
- 7 Super Bowl wins,
- 5 times the MVP in the Super Bowl and
- 3 times the league MVP.
Without a doubt, he’s an amazing and gifted athlete.
But I’m sure most of us couldn’t name his offensive line. My point? If his offensive line didn’t do what they did, we wouldn’t be talking about the “great Tom Brady.” Oh, he gets the awards, the interviews, the accolades, and certainly he’s deserving of them all. But make no mistake, without the support of a whole lot of less prominent players who don’t receive the recognition of most would mean not getting the wins and no Super Bowl rings.
It reminds me of the Apostle Paul’s words in a familiar passage, one that speaks to the difference between prominence and significance. “If Foot said, ‘I’m not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don’t belong to this body,’ would that make it so? If Ear said, ‘I’m not beautiful like Eye, transparent and expressive; I don’t deserve a place on the head,’ would you want to remove it from the body” (1 Corinthians 12:15 –16 MSG)? The implication is clear – of course not.
Even in the Church, we tend to focus on those who are prominent. But like Tom Brady and his offensive line, the Church is filled with a host of people who, if they don’t do what they do, the Church won’t accomplish all God intends for us, His body to accomplish.
In Romans 16, names we hardly know and often can’t pronounce are listed, but Paul knew of their value and significance to himself personally and to the Church. It’s a list of people who labored, served and gave behind the scenes and outside of the limelight. If Paul hadn’t mentioned them, history would have forgotten them. I call them the “Faithful Unknowns.” We can’t accomplish God’s purpose without them.
This Labor Day, I encourage you to celebrate the servant-hearted, who faithfully give of their time and their lives so that the Kingdom of God may go forth.
As a pastor, I acknowledge your value, significance and your importance to the church you are called to serve in. The church I was privileged to lead would have never accomplished all that it did without you and people like you with a heart to serve.
As a significant laborer, here are some important truths regarding who you are and what you do.
- Your gifts make you valuable although not necessarily famous. That’s right, you might not be prominent in the world’s eyes, but you are so needed!
- Every labor done in love is remembered by the Lord. He sees; He knows and He’s mindful and thankful for your servant heart and your many sacrifices.
“For God is not unjust. He will not forget how hard you have worked for Him and how you have shown your love to Him by caring for other believers, as you still do” (Hebrews 6:10 NLT).
3. You are making a difference. Please don’t forget that. You have no idea the eternal impact your life and your ministry are having on the lives you are influencing for Him.
D.L. Moody, one of the greatest evangelists of our time whose ministry impacted an entire nation, accepted the Lord because of a Sunday School teacher in a small church. I’m sure most people don’t even know his name. I’m confident there were times in his life when he wondered if he was truly making a difference in anyone’s life. But he made an eternal difference for many because he wasn’t focused on being prominent, just faithful!
Can you imagine the Sunday school teacher’s surprise when he entered Heaven to hear the Lord say, “Look at all of these you helped bring to Me!”
4. Your final reward will be determined by your faithfulness, not public applause.
Back in the days when you had to travel by boat across the ocean, a missionary who spent most of his life overseas serving the Lord retired and boarded a ship for the long journey back to America.
A well-known celebrity happened to be travelling on the same ship. When they arrived, a big band and a host of people were there to welcome the celebrity home. As the missionary left the ship, he complained to the Lord, “Where’s my welcome home celebration?”
The Lord spoke to his heart, “Son, you’re not home yet!”
To all of you who labor for the sake of God’s truth, I want to borrow Paul’s words – I often think of your faithful service, your loving deeds to others and the enduring hope you have (1 Thessalonians 1:3 author’s paraphrase). You are indeed the real stars.
Zane Anderson served as a senior pastor for over 40 years, and currently leads as an Apostolic Overseer for several churches across the nation. He travels internationally to minister and is a sought-after speaker at local churches, Bible colleges and conferences around the world. He has a zeal for the local church body and desires to train and develop strong leaders. His gifting as a prophetic voice has helped people around the world move into the ministry that the Lord has purposed for them.