Shanna D. Gregor
Winter is not my favorite season; it never has been. I crave sunshine and would rather it be 110 degrees or more, than to drop below 70 degrees. And whether I like a season or not, I believe God created seasons on the earth to reflect the seasons of our hearts.
Thomas Wentworth Higginson wrote, “How many lessons of faith and beauty we should lose, if there were no winter in our year!”
And Anne Bradstreet said, “If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.”
Spiritual winters, at least for me, are tied to storms in my life and a season of loss.
Job 36:33 says we feel God’s presence in the storm (TLB).
Job 37:1 says, “Whenever this happens, my heart stops— I’m stunned, I can’t catch my breath” (MSG).
Sometimes storms knock the wind out of you and can bring you to your knees in a way that you just forget to breathe.
January 4, 2022, my mother died from COVID. It was unexpected and quick. And immediately an ice storm arose in my soul.
The tempest [storm] comes out from its chamber,
the cold from the driving winds.
The breath of God produces ice,
and the broad waters become frozen (Job 37:9-10 NIV).
Something about those verses is comforting to me. In the wake of her death, the pain and shock rested on my chest – a heavy numbness that felt as big and solid as an iceberg. Some days I would catch myself holding my breath against the bitterness of this spiritual cold winter.
Death is shocking because we weren’t created to die. I knew at some point my mother would go to Heaven, but her father lived to be 95, so I had an expectation for so much more time on earth with her, since she was only 75. My soul felt severed. I didn’t feel connected to anything or anyone. I didn’t feel any less spiritual or less loved by God, but I didn’t feel close to Him.
It was as if a frigid winter snow had fallen on my heart and then smothered me with a driving hard ice storm that hardened over the top of it.
I wanted to be still, to be quiet and let the chill overtake me.
The enemy tried to tell me that I was disconnected from God, that He wasn’t there, but I knew He was. Then more lies … he tried to twist it into a performance issue, condemning me with thoughts that I wasn’t praying like I should, that I wasn’t reading my Bible or participating in church.
Wisdom from a friend
As I shared my feelings and thoughts with a good friend, she comforted me with her words of understanding. “It’s like a dark winter in your spirit,” she said. “And winter isn’t bad. Sometimes we don’t like the lingering cold, the messy snow or the lingering dark clouds that bring days or weeks of no sunlight. But it’s not bad,” she said again. It’s a season and every season serves a purpose.
Under the blanket of spiritual coldness, God was doing something. I couldn’t see it; I definitely didn’t feel it, but I had to trust that in my stillness, things were happening that would prepare me for the next season – a season of new; a season of fruitfulness in my spirit.
If you’re going through a winter season in your soul, take a moment and reframe your view.
Just like the natural winter season, a spiritual winter is not permanent, but a time of preparation for spiritual spring, where growth, renewal and revival can occur.
Max Lucado encouraged, “Reframe the way you see this season of winter. Recast the struggle for what it is, an opportunity for God to do again what He does best: flip a story on its head and resurrect life out of death.”
This past week, my husband, Blaine looked out our back window. It’s an empty lot with a few trees and shrubs. In the winter, all I see is a bleak canvas with ice cold sky, dead looking grass and naked trees. But he said, “I love this time of year because I can look out there and immediately see the red cardinals against the gray backdrop of winter.”
God is at work in all the seasons of our lives. It just seems harder to see Him at work sometimes in the winter seasons.
8 Tools You Can Use to reframe your view of the season you’re in:
- Identity the source.
For most, the storm comes after some type of loss. More than 40 different losses people may experience have been identified. My loss personal, and I was grieving.
2. Become aware of your view.
I was standing in a place of isolation; a place I didn’t recognize. I had known loss, but every loss is different. I couldn’t really see or feel anything.
3. Examine your thoughts and consider the voice.
At some point, I was able to think / breathe again. As I examined my thoughts, I realized some thoughts were mine, some were the Word of God (brought to my remembrance) and some were lies, trying to keep me isolated and alone.
4. Realize God is there no matter what you feel.
By faith and remembering what God had brought me through in other dark winter seasons of my life, I KNEW He was there – with me in my pain.
5. Ask for what you need.
I needed help. I needed someone to talk to. Someone who loved me but would tell me the truth.
Now, it’s important to also know that some people just can’t help you, no matter how much they love you and that’s okay. So many close to me were also under the ice.
6. Accept help from those you trust.
I slowly began to thaw with the words of my friend, reminding me of the things I once knew but seemed to have forgotten while frozen.
7. Believe God is bringing you through, and spring is on the way.
Listen for His Good News (two words for this season – SURRENDER and GRATITUDE). Blessings rise through the melting ice like a snow orchid.
For me, the news of a sweet baby grandbaby girl coming later that year began to thaw me out as I worked through the layers of grief.
8. Begin to move in faith (for a 360 view) and you’ll start to see the signs of growth and life.
Take baby steps if you need to but move forward. You may not see results, but they are coming. Trust God is at work underneath it all, working all things for you good.
Shanna D. Gregor
Editorial Content Manager, Family Life Radio
Pulling others from the brink of death with the hope of Jesus
by Evan Carlson, CEO & President
What is life without hope? Hope gives us something to look forward to, something to strive for and something to cling to when things are dark.
When you lose hope, like Daniel had, life can feel pointless – even driving a person to consider ending their life. Daniel lost his job, then his family. He felt that he’d lost control of his whole life.
In this dark time, Daniel says, “The devil was trying to tell me that if I committed suicide then I’d be in control one more time.”
God worked a miracle when Daniel couldn’t get his radio to tune in to the country station. Instead, the Family Life Radio station in Albuquerque, New Mexico, kept breaking in.
Thanks to the support of friends like you, Family Life Radio was on the air ready for Daniel to hear. And God used it powerfully to save Daniel’s life! Read more of Daniel’s story here.
That’s why I am so thankful for you. Because your support of Family Life Radio broadcasts the hope of Christ across the nation through powerful messages, warm conversations and inspirational music.
Jesus is the only source of true and lasting hope – and you’re sharing that hope with so many people who need it, including Daniel!
So thank you for your partnership. And thank you for continuing to share hope. You are a blessing to me – and to all those in your community and beyond who you’re reaching with the hope of Jesus.
Evan Carlson, CEO & President
Intimacy and provision for the poor in spirit
We have trouble with Kingdom principles. Maybe if we didn’t expect things to be a certain way it wouldn’t be an issue. Maybe if we weren’t forced to deal with all our insatiable curiosities and menacing desires, maybe things would be different. But this is the circumstance we find ourselves in.
We would hope a solution exists. Maybe one day we’ll find it and realize that things aren’t the way they should be. Or maybe we will settle with the idea that the way things should be is truly the way things are.
Maybe we’ll find ourselves content. Maybe not. Maybe we think life should be simpler than it is. Complex should not be a word associated with other words such as grace, mercy, love or forgiveness. If something is true and honest enough to be associated with any of these great words, should we not also find simplicity? At least that would be a world we could agree with and function graciously within.
However, the opposite rings true often. The act of forgiving is not always simple. Offering grace, granting mercy or loving the seemingly unlovable, are not actions that align themselves with our nature, at least not the nature with which we were born.
Certainly, if the Kingdom which God designed is upside down, we are right side up and full of controversial opposites.
Admitting our ineptness isn’t easy. Our faults and failures – and they are many – define who we are and influence who we will become.
The closer you get to Jesus, the more you are confronted with your inability to do anything apart from Him (John 15:5).
The more experience you have in the Kingdom of God, the more you realize it will never be exactly what you want, but it will always be exactly what you need.
When we experience the Kingdom of God, we find a moral standard that does not cater to our will or emotions but benefits our souls, and our souls always crave more than our will and emotions can ever provide. The soul can only be satisfied when it is living, owning and immersed in the Kingdom of God; a kingdom that is most certainly upside down.
It is the place where up is down, black is white, in is out and your wants and needs are as polarized as oil and water. You’re not always content in this Kingdom. You don’t always agree with this Kingdom. This Kingdom doesn’t always make sense, and a battle of semantics, wills or argumentative banter will never be won there.
It is a kind Kingdom whose mission is non-negotiable and unrelenting. This does not appeal to some. We become antsy. We become discontented. And what happens when we become discontent with God’s Kingdom?
We build our own.
Sure, it’s not as big or as safe or as capable, but it’s ours and sometimes that’s all that matters. The paper-thin walls of our kingdom are only provisional, but they’re ours. The leaky ceilings and damp rooms are far less than ideal, and far less than what God’s Kingdom offers, but we choose to live there because it is ours.
Unfortunately, our kingdom is a very lonely place. There are thousands of kingdoms out there, why should a person choose yours? Yes, they may come and visit, but they, much like you, will always choose their own kingdom in the end.
Your kingdom loses its attraction rather quickly. Kingdoms are built and destroyed every day and yours is no exception.
God’s Kingdom, however, does not define itself by its inhabitants, as many cities do. God’s Kingdom is defined by its Creator.
Living in God’s Kingdom may mean that you loosen your tight grip on control. It may mean that you accept the role of prince or princess instead of king or queen.
God’s Kingdom revives the rattle-boned soul in ways your kingdom never will, even if it is upside down.
Welcome to the upside-down Kingdom of God. It is full of unexpected twists and turns and surprising endings. Jesus, the King of the Kingdom, offers a new, yet ancient, perspective on things you will encounter daily. This is a wonderful Kingdom, even if it is upside down. It will not necessarily be what you want, but it will most certainly be what you need.
It won’t be your Kingdom, but it is yours to experience, and it is filled to the brim with blessings that come from uncanny places. We find the ideal description of this upside-down Kingdom in the Beatitudes. The beatitudes are a series of “blessed are” statements found in Matthew 5:3-12.
Throughout this series we will explore some of the beatitudes and the true blessing it is when we experience it through the lens of the Kingdom of God. They may seem like opposing concepts — at first glance, but while God’s Kingdom may feel upside down at times, it always provides what we need.
Beatitude #1: The Poor in Spirit
“And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:2-3 ESV).
Seldom will you meet a person who desires poverty, although they do exist. If you were to take a stroll down skid row in Los Angeles, California you would certainly find more than one person who embraces a homeless lifestyle. They chose to live this way. There are also hundreds of young people who embrace the nomadic way of life and travel from Washington state all the way to California. They desire poverty, although they may declare it is not poverty at all. It is freedom.
Yet, freedom of this nature is costly. The absence of basic physiological needs, as well tragically unsafe environments, can cast a heavy burden on the body and mind. But this is not the type of poverty Jesus was referring to.
There are several types of poverty. There are those who are economically poor. Perhaps they’ve lost their job, mismanaged their money or never took to saving. We would say they are poor because they lack the resources to provide for their physical needs.
Then there are those who are mentally or emotionally poor. Their minds have been assaulted by life and they no longer find themselves capable of believing they can do anything good. It’s an impoverished state of mind which affects not only our attitudes but also every choice that follows. People who find themselves mentally impoverished have one of two choices. They can look to their own resources, will and ambition to pull them out of the muck, or they can look to God for His help.
The poor in spirit are those who understand their sad situation and look to God – and God alone – for their sustenance.
- He is their provider.
- He is their savior.
- He is their comfort.
God can take the situation they are in and turn it for their good. Those who are poor in spirit are blessed, not because they are without hope or help, but because they are positioned for intimacy and provision.
James 4:6 says, “But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble’” (NIV).
Favor. That is something we can’t earn or manipulate God into giving. It’s His to distribute as He wills. One thing is certain –
While we cannot force God to give us favor, we can certainly position ourselves to receive it.
God is actually looking for you! 2 Chronicles 16:9 says, “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (NIV).
God is looking for those who have embraced their need for a savior and submitted everything to Him. They recognize that without Him, they are nothing, will never possess anything of eternal value and cannot in any way save themselves.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, because they will find the One who is also searching for them. In a moment, your lack is met with His abundance, and you find more in God than you could ever find through your own efforts.
Nobody wants to be poor, not mentally, emotionally or economically. Yet in God’s upside-down Kingdom, our self-aware impoverished state is what truly gives us access to the riches of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Why you need both on your journey with Jesus
Before He was a lamb on the cross, He was a baby in a manger. Be honest — when you think of the manger scene, don’t you think about a cute, cuddly, cooing little baby Jesus? When you see a newborn baby, you don’t think, Wow, look at that mighty, powerful, warrior! No, most of the time you say, “Aww … she (or he) is perfect. They look just like … (insert the name of the parent you like the best).
In reality, you can look at Jesus and see both a warrior (lion) and a child (Son of God). He is both in tandem. In 1984, Christian musical artist Twila Paris released a powerful song titled, “The Warrior is a Child.”
Here are a few of the lyrics:
Lately I’ve been winning battles left and right
But even winners can get wounded in the fight
People say that I’m amazing
I’m strong beyond my years
But they don’t see inside of me
I’m hiding all the tears
They don’t know that I come running home when I fall down
They don’t know who picks me up when no one is around
I drop my sword and cry for just a while
‘Cause deep inside this armor
The warrior is a child
The song is sung from the perspective of a believer, but it could easily be about Mary, the mother of Jesus. Many theologians believe Mary was between 12-16 years old when Jesus was born. There is a good chance she still felt like a child compared to the adults who surrounded her. What a weight to carry at such a young age.
Considering your relationship with God, you will always be the child, no matter how much you try to project the warrior within. Jesus instructed us to become more like a child.
“He called a little child to him and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven’” (Matthew 18:2 NIV).
God is waiting for the child in the soul of each warrior to run to Him. We must each become a child who is willing to sprint back to Him regardless of what we’re wearing, where we’ve been, what we’ve seen, what we’ve spoken or who we’ve become.
To live as a warrior seems far cooler than to live as a child. It can be a natural response to years of bumps, bruises, fights and let-downs. It’s easy to cling to the warrior, viewing the child as weak and ineffective. But oddly enough in God’s upside-down kingdom, the child is what is required to conquer the nations.
The irony is the warrior and the child must co-exist. One without the other accomplishes little. They balance each other. Too much child and nothing is conquered, although great intentions exist. Too much warrior and aggression overcomes obedience. You conquer but you don’t think about the ramifications.
The child keeps the warrior focused on what’s right; the warrior keeps the child from shrinking away to inactivity.
It’s an important fact to know, because sometimes we have to drop our swords and allow God to minister to the child within.
Children behave in such wonder during the Christmas season. As we get older our identity can appear more warrior than child, but very few things are as precious as seeing a child open a present on Christmas morning. They express such purity, such expectation. They may tear off the wrapping paper like a warrior, but their countenance is one of a child.
There are times to be a warrior. There are times to take ground and conquer the enemy. Nothing illustrates this more than Jesus’ return in Revelation 19:11-16.
“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter.’ He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: king of kings and lord of lords” (NIV).
He was clearly a warrior, but he was also clearly a child. John 5:19 says, “Jesus gave them this answer: ‘Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does’” (NIV).
He was fully dependent on His father. Some would say that a child who is fully dependent on their father has not fully matured, but in the Kingdom of God this isn’t the case.
We were not created to mature to a place where we no longer need our Father God.
We are always dependent upon His grace, mercy, kindness and love.
This Christmas season as you journey toward Christ, begin by evaluating your dependence on Him. It’s okay to be a warrior, but you are required to be a child. He wants you to cast every care on Him (1 Peter 5:7). He wants you to pray to Him without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
The best warriors know how to follow their leaders’ commands. The best children know how to honor their parents. Jesus was able to make the warrior and child at peace within the heart of the believer, both able to be summoned as the circumstances demanded.
Warrior and child. Lion and Lamb. Both were in the manger that beautiful night, and both are also in you.
When you think about the hardship Jesus endured, even at birth, you can’t help but appreciate the Father God that much more. He did not take the easy road because He understood it’s a road most of humanity would be unable to relate to. Instead, Jesus’ journey was fraught with stress from day one.
When you come to a season that should be joyful, should be fulfilling and should be celebratory, but you feel none of those emotions you can be tempted to feel like a failure. Refuse to succumb to your emotions and instead, be led by the Spirit as Jesus modeled.
Jesus may have had every right to feel ashamed of his financial or social status, but He didn’t have time for that. He was overcome by purpose. He had battles to win! While it’s tempting to dress yourself permanently in sheep’s clothing, sometimes you have to be a warrior. Sometimes you have to fight for the life you want — the life He has for you.
That night in a manger a baby was born, a perfect lamb and a perfect warrior. On your journey to Christ there will be times you rest in His presence and times you engage in spiritual warfare. Our prayer for you this Christmas is for you to be graced with the discernment of who you must be when it’s required of you.
If you missed the first or second blog in this special Christmas series, you can find it here – Nicely Wrapped – Is your heart an attractive gift to God? and here – The Joy Box
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.