Diana Nesbitt

Always Go Deeper

Category: Encouragement

The Frances Project: A Legacy of Service

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On July 23, 2014, one of the strongest, spunkiest women to ever grace the planet was gathered home to her Savior’s bosom. Frances Catherine Fisher, my grandmother, was a member of the greatest generation. She survived the influenza epidemic of 1918, two world wars, the Great Depression, the early death of her true love, and the uncountable ups and downs of 5 children and 99 years of life. Although she only completed school through the eighth grade, she was not lacking in intelligence or talent, and creativity, practicality, and hard work were a few of the characteristics that marked her life. She was self-taught on the mandolin and played alto completely by ear in a Ukrainian orchestra in school. Thanks to her Ukrainian heritage, she was bilingual and retained her ability to speak fluent Ukrainian all of her life.  She worked in restaurants and a drug rehabilitation center as a cook, and in her free time she embroidered pictures that looked like they were painted with thread.

And she served people.

The Servant’s Servant

I learned something new about my grandmother as I listened to different people -mostly her children- speak at the memorial service held at her longtime church in New York. I had never really heard much about her church life, how faithful and involved she was in her church family, nor of all the ways she had helped people. I listened as my aunt told of being a pastor’s wife and how Grandma helped her prepare meals when guests came for dinner, and how she cut out flannel graph figures for Sunday school lessons- something she also did for my own mother. I’ve heard from my mom how before coming to visit Grandma would say “Save your mending, it’ll give me something to do while I’m there.” As I listened to all these ways she helped people, I came up with a title for my grandmother: a facilitator of other people’s service. Her ministry was to help other people minister. To put it yet another way, she was a servant’s servant. I can’t think of a more Christlike way to live.
Grandma lived, worked hard for her family, and died. The world at large would not hail her life a stunning success, but I know Someone who would. Someone who defines success, not as achievements and accolades, but giving your life for the benefit of others.
That’s exactly what Grandma did. And she’s still doing it. Grandma was never wealthy, but what she had she was always sharing with others, always sending checks in the mail with a card (usually with a funny face scrawled in it somewhere), to her children and grandchildren at birthdays and Christmas. Somehow, through her hard work and serious thrift, she still saved enough to give something more to her children after she went home to heaven-as if they could want anything more than the treasure of a life with her.

The Frances Project

With a portion of what she received from Grandma, my mom bought a sewing machine – a larger one than she had so that she would be able to machine quilt on it. She prayed hard and researched her decision, and finally settled on one. Not too long after her purchase, I saw an article on Facebook about a 99 year old woman who makes a dress every single day for little girls in Africa. I shared the article and tagged my mom in it, saying “Here’s something you can do when you’re 90!” Mom looked at it and said “Forget 90! I can do it now!” And so was born the Frances Project.

Mom began sewing, using fabric from cotton tablecloths that we had long ago stopped using. The first dress was simply darling – blue and white gingham with little flutter sleeves. DSC09263DSC07190 DSC07193 DSC07199

The Puzzle Only God Could Piece

Meanwhile, a coworker of mine was going through racks and racks of clothing that her mother no longer wore and was trying to find useful homes for it all. Knowing that I sew, she offered me some clothing in case I could make anything out of it. I didn’t think that I’d be able to make anything for myself from the garments, but I thought it might be just perfect for what Mom was doing. I mentioned it to my coworker and she was delighted at the thought of her mom’s clothing being used in that way. She brought a large bag of the clothing to work and I took it home with me, and Mom started sewing. The first dress she made was from a denim jacket. The pattern fit just perfectly on the jacket, allowing small pockets and embroidered leaves to be perfectly placed on the front of the dress. The end result was adorable, and after my mom finished it she brought it to work to show my coworker. She was so pleased and touched with the way it came out, and asked to show it to her father, whom she said just loves to help little children in need.

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It was the perfect situation for both parties- my mom had fabric to use for her little dresses and shorts, and my coworker had a good use for her mother’s clothing. It was a puzzle whose pieces only God could have put together. Grandma, my mom, my coworker, and her parents – all pieces in the God-ordained puzzle, blessed to be able to share in the gift of giving to others.

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The puzzle isn’t quite complete yet, though. These dresses and shorts still need to find the little children who need them. We’re not exactly sure where they are going to go just yet, but we have a few ideas. If you have any suggestions for where we could send them, feel free to share in the comments!

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If you have a desire to serve the Lord by helping those in need, ask Him to show you what your part is in that. There’s a piece of His puzzle that needs to be filled by you! If you are interested in doing something similar to this, check out this website for patterns and guidelines.These clothing items and other small items could also be made for Operation Christmas Child.

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What you can do: we would so love it if you would join us in praying that these dresses and shorts will make their way to just the children who need them, and that they will be a tool for letting the children know how much Jesus loves them and cares about them.

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As my grandmother’s life so aptly shows, service doesn’t need to be flashy to be effective. It only needs to be done out of love.

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“This is My command: love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12

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Practice Makes Failure Less Frequent

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I sat down at the piano, wondering if I should be here. But then, I remembered. With a smile, I knew that this was the place to be. The place where I have fought many battles with my pride, reminding myself that I am here to glorify God, not myself, through this otherworldly gift of music that He has bestowed on the earth. This is the place my fingers have learned, my soul has learned, to keep fighting for the right notes when hands and hearts are stubborn and learn slowly.

I ran my fingers over the keys for the first time in weeks, only the 4th or 5th time this year, stumbling over the same parts of the song I always do (which is pretty much the whole thing), yet surprised in parts to find that my fingers not only remembered the notes but were capable of playing them more fluidly than ever before. And as I played, I understood.

I understood that this word, failure, that had been dogging me for the past month, can only be conquered by practice. Fail, fail, fail, stumble, stumble, toddle, toddle, gasp-I didn’t miss that note this time. Again, play the notes, stumble, fail, but there, it’s getting better – more smooth now – that’s it! The sweet notes of victory. The success rate improves, and given enough time, the muscles in my hands will recall the notes without effort. Oh, they’ll slip, but the more I practice the less that will happen.

And, as you may have guessed, this is also true in our walk with God- and any area of life in which we’d like to do better. The more we practice being like Christ, or getting up early, or eating healthier, the closer we will come to getting it right. Victory only comes when we push through repeated failure. {tweet that} If you’ve been struggling to succeed in any area, don’t give up! Keep praying and keep practicing. You won’t get the grace to succeed if you stop trying.

Practice makes failure less frequent.

Why Your Bible is Like a Grapefruit

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She sat at our kitchen table, eating half of a grapefruit. I could hear her dentures cutting through the pulp of the tangy fruit as I sat with her, eating my own grapefruit. My mouth puckered as I ate the pink colored triangles drizzled with glistening honey, like evening sunlight gilding a flower. That was my favorite part of the fruit- the sweet, easy-to-eat part.

But then, when all the little triangles were gone, Grandma would dig deeper into her piece, scraping her spoon along the side of the half sphere to get all the little “juice bottles”, as we called them, that hadn’t been cut away by the knife and still clung to the rind. I did my best to scrape the side of my grapefruit, too, although it was harder to do and each bite didn’t have the sweetness of the honey-coated sections.

Grandma kept scraping and digging with diligence, even breaking down the translucent walls that sectioned the pulp and eating some of them, relishing every last drop of juice. I couldn’t get as much out of my grapefruit as Grandma could, nor could I imagine enjoying it as much, but it was still fun to watch her just the same.

Those memories of my early experiences with eating grapefruit came back to me one morning as I sat at the kitchen table, scraping my grapefruit the same way I had seen my mother and grandmother do before me. And as I looked at my Bible lying on the table before me, I realized that grapefruit isn’t the only thing you can acquire a taste for.

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Is the Bible really boring, or does the problem lie with us?

When I hear people say the Bible is boring I cringe for two reasons: one, because I know it’s not, and two, because I feel we should show more respect when referring to the living Word of God. I understand the feeling, though. The Bible isn’t the easiest Book to understand, and it certainly takes more work to enjoy it than it does to sit down and read a novel or watch a movie. But we shouldn’t fault the Book for that. It’s a living book, and we can never outgrow its depth, so we shouldn’t be surprised when it challenges us.

But just because it’s challenging doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying to love and understand the Word of God. So here are a few suggestions to encourage you to go deeper in your knowledge of the Bible if you’re struggling with it:

Get the big picture. Study both the Old and the New Testaments. When you do, the intricate weaving of the truths and themes that are echoed and intensified in each book becomes more clear, and it’s truly amazing.

Learn about the culture. Knowing about the background information of something you’re studying can really make it come alive. The more you understand about the contemporary events surrounding the teachings of the Bible, the better you are able to grasp the significance of what the writer of the book was saying. Wings of Refuge and the Chronicles of the Kings series are novels written by my favorite author that do a fantastic job of bringing Biblical history alive. I’m not usually a fan of Biblical fiction (it seemed dull and sometimes the authors took a little too much liberty with the accounts) but this author builds her story about the Biblical accounts, not the other way around. (Disclaimer: I have only read the first two Chronicles of the Kings books, and there was some content in them that might be a bit mature for young readers.)

Keep reading it-the parts you like and the ones you don’t. Just like I wouldn’t have learned to like grapefruit as much as I do now if I had just quit eating it, you won’t learn to love the Bible if you stop reading it.

Learn from other people. If you have more mature Christians in your life, ask them how they study the Bible- when, what books they use, how much time they spend doing it each day. Or if you would like, feel free to contact me. I would love to go through a Bible study with you or answer any questions you might have!

Use books to help you. When I try to pick up the Bible and read just anywhere I get easily distracted. I need a guide to keep me focused and help me ask the right questions to get the most meaning out of the text. (Inductive Bible Studies by Kay Arthur are my favorite!)

Ask God to teach you. This is where the Bible differs from all books; it doesn’t matter if you’re really good at understanding things or not, it is possible for you to understand the Bible. If you know Jesus as your Savior, you have the Holy Spirit in you, and 1 John 2:27 says that “…His anointing teaches you about all things and is true and is not a lie…” That’s a promise from God- claim it boldly. He will always reveal Himself to anyone who wants to know Him better.

Apply it to your life. When you finish studying, take a minute to think about (or better yet, pray about) how you can begin living out any principles you’ve unearthed. Applying Biblical truth to your life isn’t  always comfortable, but it is always freeing. {tweet that} And it’s in reading this book that you can discover just how your story ties in with God’s.

And finally…

Ask God to help you love His Word. ‘Nuff said.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming the Bible is just an old, dry Book and leaving it on the shelf. It’s the living, effective Letter of the God of the universe to you. It contains everything you need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3&4, 2 Tim. 3:15-17) It is your only offensive weapon against the tactics of the devil (and be forewarned, he doesn’t like it when you study it. But don’t let that stop you!).

It takes time and effort to understand the Bible, but it’s the most rewarding investment you will ever make!

If you’re up for it, try this exercise to learn more about the Bible and how valuable it is: Read Psalm 119 and make a list of everything you learn about God’s Word (watch for the different names used for it, such as precepts, instruction, etc. This is an exercise from the inductive Bible study book of Psalms.)

Tell us: What are your suggestions for gaining a better understanding of and love for God’s Word?

Four Tips for Making Changes That Stick

Remember those resolutions you were so enthusiastic about eight months ago?

How are they working out for you? Are you among the valiant few who have conquered them, or is it a struggle to even remember what they were?

I hate to admit it, but I’ve been slacking off on my goals for a long time now. My stress level seems to rise quite a bit when I try to create a good habit, so I’ve become lazy about it. But now, after a few pep talks reminding myself that life isn’t about being comfortable, I’m feeling the nudge to try again.

I know August isn’t the time of year we usually talk about renewing goals, but wouldn’t it be awesome if you could still achieve the things you want to this year instead of waiting for next year to start all over again? That idea makes me excited. So, even though I don’t really feel like publishing this post since I haven’t been living up to it, I’m going to. And I’m going to get back into following these tips for tackling change. Who knows? Maybe August will be the month of success.

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#1: Pray about it. When I learn of something that I need to change in my life, the first thing I do when I want to get serious about it is to ask God to help me. Prayer is where the battle for change begins and ends. {tweet this} When I am praying about something, it 1) reminds me about it, 2) motivates me so I don’t have to keep asking God for the SAME THING forever, and 3) enlists God’s active help with the change. Sometimes I’ll see Him orchestrate things so that I have to do what I should do even if I don’t want to at the moment. 🙂

#2. Prepare yourself in advance. Don’t let indecision make you fail. In Daniel, it says that he determined in his heart that he would not sin. He didn’t wait until he was being tempted to decide what he was going to do. He knew ahead of time what his priorities were. If you know you’re going to be in a situation where you’ll be tempted to give in to your old ways, plan out ahead of time what you’re going to do. Visualize yourself walking past that chocolate cake with confidence- or better yet, only having one small piece and not going for seconds. 😉

#3. Set goals for yourself. Goals are great. They stare you in the face, taunting you until you have conquered them. The more times you have to rewrite a missed goal down on a new to-do list or monthly goal plan, the more motivated you become to complete that goal! Old goals are like an ugly shirt that won’t wear out- tiresome but still annoyingly useful.

#4. Use a visual aid. I read somewhere about a celebrity who uses a system of marking a red X on the calendar when he wants to get in the habit of doing something daily. The longer you do it, the longer your chain of X’s becomes and you don’t want to break it. Earlier in the year I tried this for my goal of being in bed by 10:00, and it was helpful.

Finally, when you fail, don’t become discouraged and give up. I’ve come to the conclusion that if I try to create the same habit often enough, I’ll have to succeed someday. 😉 Creating a new habit is accompanied by much more failure than success at first, but if you persistently ask God for help, He keeps on giving grace, and gradually progress comes. So dust off those goals! There are more than 5 cycles of 21 days left this year- plenty of chances to create a good habit, right?

Question: What are your tips for making changes that stick? What changes would you like to make before this year is over?

“May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience, with joy giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled us to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light.” Col. 1:11-12

How Spending Time with God Can Change Your Life

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In a previous post I talked about a habit that can have a powerful influence on your life. I wanted to show you more of what this habit can do for you, so I asked some of my friends and family to share what they’ve experienced from spending time with God. Their stories were so encouraging, and I hope they inspire you as they do me!

What happens when you spend time with God?

Eva P. Scott, writer at http://evapscott.com/:

“I write my prayers each night after I do my Bible study. One great benefit to me was looking back over my prayer journal at the end of this past year and seeing all the great things God was doing.”

Marilyn Nesbitt -(my mom 🙂 )

“Spending time studying God’s Word is how we get to know Him. It’s amazing to think He is speaking to us through His Word. It’s my source of strength. Prayer time is a huge blessing! As I witness answers to prayer my faith is increased. He also gives guidance as we talk with Him. What a privilege to be able to talk with our heavenly Father!”

Pam Black, writer at A Beautiful Story- http://abeautifulstorydotcom.wordpress.com/:

“I always struggled with that when anyone would ask about my devotional time. I’d hem and haw and make excuses. But I have been giving that time to God (at least an hour every morning) for a couple years now and it has changed my life drastically. If all believers could only grasp what a huge difference it makes in your faith walk to be consistent in this think of the power the church would be. I was a pastor’s kid until by age 9, my Father left his pastorate. It’s a long story. But I grew up in a Christian home where the daily presence of God was neither practiced or preached. Coming of age in that was very odd. I believed myself a “Christian” because I had been baptized but I really never knew Christ. When I was 29 Christ waltzed into my world, drew me to Himself, and turned my world upside down. I spent the first five years after conversion getting “educated” in the faith and doctrine, and the next five unlearning everything I saw in the Church….It wasn’t until I began to really read the words of other believers…and see how their words lined up with scripture, that I began to grow. I don’t bash on the Church, because I AM part of it. But if ALL believers, i.e. THE CHURCH, would get a handle on this one thing–DAILY walking with God and talking to Him, oh, what could we do??? My heart aches, and is hopeful.”

Linda Fisher (my aunt 🙂 ), tutor to students with difficult life situations:

“This time helps me get through the day and helps me with those families whose homes I enter each day.”

Laura Hodges Poole, writer at A Word of Encouragement- http://laurahodgespoole.blogspot.com/:

“The most obvious benefit of spending time alone in prayer and Bible study is strengthening my relationship with God. No relationship can be sustained or flourish without time spent together. I’ve found this to be so true in my relationship with God. Beyond that, it’s growing as a Christian to have strength to deal with what the world throws at me (Eph. 6:10-18). Without that daily alone time for worship and edification, my spirit would grow weak and soon my mind and flesh would follow. One of my favorite quotes is from Corrie Ten Boom: “Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” If it’s the latter, you may find when you need it most, your prayer life has become flat and ineffective. And one of the most important results from prayer is our effectiveness in ministry. I cannot be effective in encouraging others in their Christian walk, if I’m not in tune with my Savior.”

Christine Bisch, writer at Reverent Mama: One Woman’s Journey to Be Still and Know- http://reverentmama.com/

“My husband and I have been married nearly 10 years and we have been blessed with 3 incredible kids!
After my youngest was born, things started to fall apart. The stress of having 3 young kids was more than I could handle. I was often frustrated and angry. And I yelled… a lot. I hated what I became and that led to guilt and then depression. I struggled for about a year. Those were very dark days. I withdrew from everyone and I pretty much stopped going to church.
I finally reached the point where I just couldn’t take it anymore. My family deserved more than I was giving them. My doctor gave me a prescription for anti-depressants. But given my family history, I couldn’t bring myself to fill it. I fasted and prayed and searched the Bible for an answer, for something, anything to give me hope.

I found it in Psalm 1:
“Blessed is the man whose delight is in the law of the Lord and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither, and whatever he does shall prosper.”

That was a picture of what I wanted my life to be. So I dug into the Word. I made spending time with God a priority, which was something I hadn’t done in a while. Nothing happened immediately, but rather day by day, He proved Himself faithful. The depression disappeared and I quickly learned that His grace truly is sufficient for all my needs.”

Joyce Glass, writer at The Daily GPS-Grow, Pray, Serve- http://www.joyceglass.org/ (also check out her daily devotional at http://ineedgodbook.com/)

“Unfortunately many of us neglect our time in prayer which is the water that makes us grow spiritually. As we spend time in the word, God speaks to us, and during times of prayer God continues to speak to our hearts.
Each day as we surrender our life to God, He gives us what we need for that day. We receive wisdom on what we need to do, and He opens our hearts and minds to help others.
There are days when I neglected to spend time in prayer, because I did not wake up early enough to pray. I actually feel more anxious on those days. I am easily irritated and bothered by people or circumstances.”

Christa Sterken, writer at Christa Sterken-A Candid Take on Life- http://www.christasterken.com/ 

“Spending time with God through prayer is life giving. It’s when I DON’T do it, the list begins. Things go badly, my peace is absent, my focus is distorted and my heart can go from loving to wicked quickly. That time with God is an antidote to the stressors of life.” 

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Real people. Real change. A Real relationship.

Do you want to see this type of victory and change in your life? Is there something you’re struggling with that you can’t seem to get through? Talk to Jesus about it. Right now. Get into His Word and find out what He has to say about it. Every day. It takes time and patience, but hang in there! God has promised over and over that He hears the cries of those who call to Him and rewards those who seek Him. Don’t forget, though, spending time with God isn’t a magic formula for a perfect life; it’s a rock-solid foundation that will bear you up even when everything around you is shifting sand. As with any relationship, it takes time and consistent effort to see growth in your walk with God, but be assured: you will grow.

If you don’t have a regular time set to spend in Bible study and prayer, choose one now. Write it on your calendar like you would any other appointment, and then keep it! Today could be the start of your journey to a deeper walk with your Savior. How exciting is that!

If there’s anything I can do to help you on your journey or any way you would like me to pray for you, feel free to jot me a note in the comments! I would love to hear from you.

“Let us strive to know the LORD.
His appearance is as sure as the dawn.
He will come to us like the rain,
like the spring showers that water the land. ”
Hosea 6:3

 

The Best Habit You Could Ever Create

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailHabits. Good ones, bad ones, cute ones, quirky ones. They form a significant portion of our lives, and we might not realize how deeply ingrained they are until we try to change one of them. I know for myself, habit change does not come easily. There are habits I’ve been trying on and off for years to change and I still haven’t succeeded.

Yet there’s one habit I have that I hope I never lose. I’m not perfect at doing it every day, and I can’t take any credit for forming this habit because it was exemplified and taught to me from an early age by my mother. It’s a habit that I’d love to encourage you to create for yourself, because the benefits of this habit are countless. It’s really quite simple, for as dynamic as it can make your life. It’s the habit of daily Bible study and prayer.

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How necessary is spending time with God to you?

If you have accepted Christ as your Savior, you have a relationship with the God of the universe who came to earth, died, and rose for you. But if you’re not doing anything to cultivate that relationship, you’re missing out on so much. It’s like…owning a treadmill but not using it. You have to do the work to get the benefits. So to show you how worth it this discipline is, let me share some of the ways it has made my life better.

When I spend time with God,  I…

  • Gain wisdom for making decisions
  • More readily recognize God’s involvement in my life
  • See progress in becoming more like Jesus
  • Receive strength to obey God and fight temptation
  • Experience moments of revelation when a truth from Scripture comes alive to me
  • Am able to encourage others through Scripture
  • Enjoy a sense of peace and joyfulness in my soul

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The One Thing Jesus Deemed Necessary

Remember the story of Mary and Martha? Martha was working hard, trying to do all the urgent tasks required of a hostess, while her sister Mary was just sitting around, listening to Jesus teach instead of helping with the work. Do you remember what Jesus told Martha after she complained to Him about her sister’s lack of help?

“The Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things; but one thing is necessary. Mary has made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her.’” (Luke 10: 41-42)

What must it have been like to be Martha, looking into the gentle eyes of Jesus as He lovingly rebuked her for her misplaced priorities? What a perspective shift she must have experienced! After looking into the eyes of the Messiah, as she looked around the room at the food waiting to be served, the dishes in the kitchen needing to be washed, the dust on the floor brought in by those who had entered her home, it must have looked so trivial to her. Maybe she even joined her sister there on the floor at Jesus’ feet, leaving the mess behind her.

The temporal is trivial in light of the eternal. {tweet this}

Don’t you think this is what Jesus would be saying to us if He were present in our homes? Picture it: The weight of His hand on your shoulder as He looks into your eyes; you forget the unfolded laundry, the dirty dishes, the appointments to be raced to. He addresses you. “You are worried and upset about many things; but one thing is necessary.” One thing, says the Maker of Heaven and Earth, the One who holds Time in His eternal hands. He’s telling you that only one thing is necessary in your life. There is only one thing we must prioritize above all else.

Sitting at His feet and learning. 

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You are too busy to not spend time with God! {tweet this}

“But,” our inner Martha protests, “My days are already full! I don’t have any extra time for this!” That’s a lie from the Devil, and you and I need to quit listening to that. Someone once said “Four hours of work after an hour of prayer will accomplish more than five hours of work without prayer.” Do you know who that was? George Muller. Through prayer and faith in God alone, he built five orphanages and cared for the needs of 10,024 orphans. Over ten thousand orphans. He also provided education for 120,000 children (many of them orphans) in the 117 schools he established. Talk about a busy man! But he had exactly the right attitude about the place time with God deserves in our lives.  Our mindset needs to change from “I’m too busy to pray!” to “I’m too busy NOT to pray!”

There is nothing more crucial to your eternal success that the habit of a daily quiet time with God. {tweet this}

If you want to to succeed, not just in this life, but in the one to come, this is what you must do: spend time with God. This isn’t the idea of a girl writer from New Hampshire or the idea of a guy from the 1800’s who cared for ten thousand orphans. This is Jesus’ idea.

Will you match your priorities to His?

P.S. It’s my goal to help you cultivate your own habit of spending time with God, so keep checking back for new encouragement, resources, and practical tips on this topic. The best way to make sure you don’t miss anything is to subscribe by email. Just scroll up and enter your email address in the box and click on the Subscribe button. It’s as easy as that! Thanks for reading and I look forward to seeing you around! ~Diana

Why It’s Okay If This Isn’t The Best Christmas Ever

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It’s inevitable. You’re innocently watching a Christmas movie. Something has just happened to heighten the anticipation for the yearly celebration, and somebody throws their arms into the air and exclaims “This is going to be the best Christmas ever!” I don’t know what your reaction to such a display is, but when I hear that I want to throw my head back and let out a Charlie Brown-sized “AAAAAUUGGHHHH!!!!!”, the writer within me cringing with disgust at the unfortunately common use of a clichè as stale as Granny’s fruitcake.

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The stockings were hung by the chimney with care in the hopes that Christmas would be perfect this year…

As clichè as the words may be, however, the sentiment is not.  At Christmas, more than any other time of year, there is a high level of anticipation. Part of this adds to the enjoyment of the holiday, and part of it also reflects the true celebration of the season very accurately -after all, the point of Christmas is to celebrate the coming of the long-awaited Messiah, and also to look forward to His second coming to earth. But somehow as the deadline draws nearer and the holiday to-do list grows, instead of focusing on the long-term things we are waiting for, our gaze drops and we find our focus drifting to the immediate future: December 25th. Somehow, with help from the movies, of course, the desire to have a magical, memorable Christmas wriggles its way into our hearts. We feel the pressure it places on us to carry out the special traditions, buy the perfect gifts, bake the most delicious cookies, and all the while working ourselves into “the Christmas spirit”.

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A delicate hope

However, there is a certain level of danger in such anticipation, because there’s no guarantee that our expectations for the perfect Christmas will be met. There’s a lot that could shrivel our hopes for the best Christmas ever: someone might get sick and not be well enough to carry out the special traditions, that perfect Christmas gift might get lost in the mail, or the cookies might burn. Even though we know better than to hang our hopes for a holly jolly Christmas on the mantle alongside our stockings, we still get caught up in the “Christmas spirit” and burn ourselves out trying to get it all done. And if we wake up on Christmas morning and find our stocking filled with less than everything we hoped for, boom. Instant blue Christmas.

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The first Christmas didn’t meet people’s expectations, either.

From the nature of the Old Testament prophecies about Christ, the majority of Israelites were expecting Jesus to come as a powerful leader who would free them from the political oppression they were under.  They couldn’t believe it when the One who claimed to be the promised Savior came in the form of a helpless baby, the son of a poor carpenter, from a town whose reputation was so humble that one of Jesus’ disciples said “Can anything good come from there?” So they crucified Him for blasphemy, not realizing that this One who was not what they expected had the power to exceed their wildest dreams.

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What makes the best Christmas ever?

The best Christmas ever was just over 2,000 years ago when the promised Messiah humbled Himself and came to earth as a baby to be Immanuel, God with us.  He came as the Light that the darkness could not overcome, full of truth and grace. He came to bridge the gap between God and man and make it possible for us to have peace with our Creator and a bright future in heaven. The perfect place to hang your hopes for the best Christmas ever is not a Christmas tree, but a cross. Hope in Jesus is hope without danger, for He will never fail us. {tweet that}

So if you’re sitting amidst a pile of presents trying to figure out how to make them look halfway decent and nothing is working out like you’d hoped (this is the voice of experience speaking), just breathe and let the pressure roll away. The best Christmas ever already happened, and all we have to do to celebrate it in style is to remember the One who came and rejoice in the greatest Christmas gift of all time: Jesus.

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Why It’s Good to Give Thanks for Everything – Even Fleas

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It was almost too much to bear. They were in the infamous Ravensbruck concentration camp, the worst of all concentration camps, being transferred to more permanent quarters. Corrie had already cried when they first arrived as she had cut Betsie’s long chestnut hair off because of lice, and now this.

The two Dutch sisters, Corrie and Betsie ten Boom, were shown where they were to sleep in the women’s barracks, with its rows of tightly packed, straw-covered sleeping platforms stacked in bunks of three high. They hauled themselves up to the middle tier of the platforms and crawled across other pallets to find their own sleeping space in the center. Unable to sit up because of the closeness of the upper tier, they lay back on the reeking straw. A moment later Corrie jumped as something pinched her leg.

“Fleas! Betsie, the place is swarming with them!” Corrie cried. They scrambled off the pallets and made their way to a patch of light. Sure enough, they found more fleas.

Corrie was in despair. “Betsie, how can we live in such a place?”

“Show us how. Show us how.” After a second Corrie realized her sister was praying. A moment later Betsie’s face lit up. “Corrie, He’s already given us the answer! We read it this morning in our devotions!”

Corrie pulled out their precious New Testament and found the passage they had read that morning: “In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will in Christ Jesus concerning you.”

“That’s it, Corrie, that’s His answer!” Betsie exclaimed. “‘Give thanks in all circumstances!’ We can begin giving thanks for every single thing about this new barracks!”

Corrie looked around her at the dark, foul-aired room. “Such as?” she said.

“Such as being assigned here together.”

Corrie bit her lip. “Oh yes, Lord Jesus!”

“Such as what you’re holding in your hands.”

“Oh yes, thank You for Your precious Word and for the women who will meet You in Its pages.”

Betsie continued her list of thanksgiving. “Thank You for the overcrowding so that more women will hear about You, and for the fleas and for-”

“The fleas! Oh, Betsie, now that is just too much!” Corrie cut in, protesting.

“‘Give thanks in all circumstances,’ Betsie quoted. “It doesn’t say, ‘In pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.”

And so, as they stood in a patch of light in flea-infested Barracks 28 in Nazi Germany, the two sisters bowed their heads and gave thanks for fleas.

But this time Corrie was sure Betsie was wrong.

During the dark time since the day the Gestapo had raided their quiet Dutch home above their father’s watch shop and sent their family to the Nazi concentration camps for hiding Jews in their home, their small Bible had been the sisters’ lifeline, their only source of hope and light in a world characterized by hatred. Here, in the ever-deepening darkness of Ravensbruck, it was no different. The living pages of the Book held increasing wonder for Corrie and Betsie as the overwhelming bleakness of their circumstances drove them closer to their Savior.

Each night in the back of the barracks, under a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling, Corrie or Betsie would read from their Dutch New Testament to the crowd of women prisoners gathered for their “worship service”. The other women would translate aloud in German, and still others translate the words into French, Polish, Russian, Czech, and back into Dutch, sustenance for starving souls passed from one prisoner to another.

At first, Betsie and Corrie were worried that the guards would hear and disapprove of the meetings, but as night after night they held them and no guard came near, they became bolder. They didn’t understand it, but they took advantage of it nonetheless.

Then one day it all came clear. Corrie met Betsie at dinner time, and they went through the line together to receive their food. Betsie’s eyes were twinkling, and Corrie wondered why.

“I found out why we’ve had so much freedom in our barracks,” Betsie told her, unable to keep the note of triumph from her voice.
“Today there was some confusion in our knitting group about sock sizes and we asked the supervisor to come and settle it, but neither the supervisor nor the guards would step foot into the room. And do you know why? Because of the fleas! That’s what the guard said, ‘That place is crawling with fleas!'”

It turned out that the fleas were indeed something to be thankful for: God had used them to give Corrie and Betsie the opportunity to freely share His Gospel with hundreds of women!

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After the war, after Corrie had been released from the concentration camp and began sharing what Jesus had taught her through her experiences in the concentration camps, she would recite this poem while holding a piece of needlework with the underside, which looked like a tangled mess of knots, facing the audience:

“My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He weaveth steadily.

Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.

Not ’til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And reveal the reason why.

The dark threads are as needful
In the weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned

He knows, He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice to Him.”

At the end of the poem she would flip the piece of cloth over to reveal a beautiful tapestry of gold and royal blue, showing her audience, as God had shown her, that what looks like a tangled mess of awfulness to us is a masterpiece of ordered beauty from God’s perspective.

This story is one of my favorites because it is a perfect example of why it is good, appropriate, and yes, even wise, though it may not seem like it at the time, to give thanks to God for all things in all circumstances. Like Corrie’s poem said, God is the Master Weaver, or if you prefer another analogy, the Master Storyteller. We are the characters in the story. We don’t know the end of the story, but He does.  Psalm 139 says that God had our story all written for us before it even began:

“Your eyes saw me when I was formless;
all my days were written in Your book and planned
before a single one of them began.”

When challenges come and there seems to be no reason for them, it is still God’s will that we give Him thanks for them. We may not always find out the reason for the difficulty here on earth like Corrie and Betsie did, but one day in Heaven we will see the right side of the tapestry and we will find out that the challenges that seemed so senseless to us had an appropriate and beautiful place in the tapestry of our lives. We just need to know Him well enough that we will trust Him no matter what.

Note: The story in this post was adapted and some sections quoted from The Hiding Place, by Corrie ten Boom and John & Elizabeth Sherrill. It is one of my favorite books, and I can’t recommend it highly enough! 

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Question: What helps you trust God even when you don’t understand what He’s doing? Have you ever had an experience where you realized that the hard thing in your life was really a blessing? Share it with us in the comments!

Starlight and the Bible: Hidden Jewels

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photo credit © Josh Nesbitt

The deep blue of the night sky hung over me like a seamless piece of velvet as I dashed out to my car to get some tissue paper I had stashed in the trunk for my mother’s birthday the next day. As is my habit whenever I’m outside at night, I looked up at the stars on my way back to the house.

“We should go outside and look at the stars,” I said to my mom as I closed the front door behind me. I stowed the tissue paper away in my room and went back outside, sitting down on the porch swing and trying to peek out from beneath the awning. The patch of sky I could see showed only a few faint stars.

“Not that there are many to see,” I told her through the window screen. There weren’t as many stars out as I first thought, even though it was a fairly clear night. However, the cool evening air made me want to stay outside, so I stood on the porch and craned my neck to stare at the small light show the sky had to offer.

Standing there taking in the grandeur of the heavens, I tried to replicate in my own heart that feeling of smallness David had when he wrote these words:

“When I observe Your heavens,
the work of Your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which You set in place,
what is man that You remember him,
the son of man that You look after him?”
~Psalm 8:3 & 4

As I continued to gaze heavenward, pondering the fact that God knows the name of every star and yet cares personally about me, a wondrous thing happened. Another star appeared. Then another. And another. Before long, the formerly barren-looking sky was filled with faintly twinkling jewels. The longer I looked, the more stars appeared. 

Even thought it was only natural that I should see more as my eyes adjusted to the darkness, it surprised and awed me nonetheless, and I peered eagerly at the sky, waiting to see what new specks of light might appear next.

And then, as my soul adjusted to the quietness like my eyes had adjusted to the darkness, a nugget of spiritual truth unveiled itself to my heart. God and His Word are like the night sky, full of beauty and depth that are often hidden to those who will not take the time to stop and look up, to quiet themselves and let the pupils of their souls be opened wide to the wonders that are waiting to be found.

Many times we go to the Bible and find it dry, lacking the inspirational quality we expect it to have. But like the night sky, it does not offer up the full splendor of its sacred beauty  to those who only take the time to give it a passing glance {tweet this}. It requires a searching gaze and a heart willing and eager to learn for the jewels of truth encased within the ageless tome to be revealed. The benefits of such seeking could fill a book, but here is one: “The one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom [the Bible] and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer who acts – this person will be blessed in what he does.” (James 1:25)

The hymn “Take Time to Be Holy” came wafting into my mind, echoing the truth the stars had just whispered:

Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord;
Abide in Him always, and feed on His Word.
Make friends of God’s children, help those who are weak,
Forgetting in nothing His blessing to seek.

Take time to be holy, the world rushes on;
Spend much time in secret, with Jesus alone.
By looking to Jesus, like Him thou shalt be;
Thy friends in thy conduct His likeness shall see.

Next time you’re outside at night, look up at the stars and let them be a reminder to you to “take time to be holy” and gaze into the Word of God. Don’t miss out on the treasures tucked within the pages of the Bible. 

The entirety of Your Word is truth, and all Your righteous judgments endure forever. Princes have persecuted me without cause, but my heart fears only Your Word. I rejoice over Your promise like one who finds vast treasure.” Psalm 119: 160-162 {tweet this}

If you’re not sure where to start in studying the Bible (or would like to try something new), check out these Bible study books using this method. They are a wonderful tool for digging deeper into the Bible!

Question: What treasures have you found in the Bible?

To The Unsung Heroes: Why Your Weakness is Your Greatest Asset

Nothing reminds you of how fragile you are like getting sick. For the past nine days (but who’s counting?) I’ve had one of the worst colds I have ever had the displeasure of experiencing. Instead of going about my days purposefully trying to get things done on my to-do list, I’ve spent more time than I care to admit wandering about like a homeless phantom with a blank look in my eyes, breathing through my mouth as my foggy brain tries to figure out what I’m supposed to be doing with myself.

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One evening as I was rejoicing over the fact that I could breathe through both nostrils, momentarily at least (this hadn’t occurred in at least twenty-four hours, mind you), it struck me how illness can drastically decrease the scope of your priorities. Here I was celebrating a temporary breakthrough (pardon the pun, I’m still not quite well) in something that I ordinarily do all the time without even thinking about: breathing.

And then I though of those who have to breathe with the help of oxygen tubes and wondered how they cope with the discomfort of having them up their nose all the time, or how anyone bears living with prolonged or permanent discomfort, pain, or disability.

Suddenly, I realized something.

The world is full of unsung heroes.

We honor (and rightly so) those who defend our country, save people from burning buildings, uphold justice, feed and educate the impoverished, and do many other benevolent things. This is appropriate; those who sacrifice their time and energy for the better of others are worthy of our appreciation.

But there’s a whole other group of heroes that we don’t usually recognize as such. They might wear a hospital gown instead of a cape, a smile for a mask to hide their pain, and sometimes it takes a superhuman effort for them to just get through the day. Like all true heroes, they suffer. They have faced their kryptonite – they’re living with it, in fact- but instead of weakening them, it is making them stronger.

They are those who are going through daily struggles of prolonged illnesses like cancer, Parkinson’s disease, Candida, chronic illness or pain, poor mental health, or any other of the myriad of physical afflictions that exist.

To you, my new heroes, I would like to say:

When you smile even though it would be easier to cry,

when you get out of bed to face another day even though it would be simpler to hide under the covers,

when you keep putting one foot in front of the other even though you might be learning how to walk all over again,

when you meet someone else’s needs even though your own are so overwhelming,

when you use some of your precious energy to serve someone else,

when you count your blessings even though you could effortlessly count your complaints,

you are my heroes, because you remind me of The World’s Greatest Unsung Hero:

Jesus.

From the things we know about Him in Scripture, we don’t use words like “weak” or “sickly” to describe Jesus. And yet in what is perhaps the only Bible passage that gives us any clues as to His physical being, He is described by Isaiah as “A Man of suffering who knew what sickness was.”

He was the Master Designer of the human body. He made the lame walk with a word. He made the blind see with some mud. He raised the dead with a shout. He healed a twelve-year bleeding problem with a brush of the hem of His robe.

And yet He allowed Himself to suffer. “He bore our sicknesses and carried our pains.” (Isaiah 53:4a)

Why?

Why would He do such a thing? He created His own body; why not make it disease-resistant? Why make Himself susceptible to our human weaknesses? How was a physically weak Savior better for us than a physically strong one?

It puzzled me for a while, but then the revelation came.

Jesus Christ took on a human body with all its weaknesses to show us where real strength lies: in the Father. {tweet this}

With His frail, human body, Jesus showed us that the strength to do things that matter for eternity doesn’t come from within ourselves. It comes from God. That’s what Jesus was constantly doing – pointing people to the Father and showing them how much they need Him. He shared our sicknesses so that when we look at Him we can have hope that in spite of our human frailty God can do great things through us, too. He shared our pains so that, like Paul, we too can take pride in our weaknesses and infirmities, because when we are at our weakest, He is at His strongest.{tweet this}

Human frailty is not a limitation; it is an opportunity for Christ’s power to reside in us. {tweet this}

 

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