Unwrapping the Gift of Contentment

DSC_0323As I enter the third year of my healing journey, I admit there’ve been times I’ve begged God for relief. I’ve cried out in despair, pleaded for mercy, struggled with anger, and broke down from weariness and frustration more times than I can count.

 

 

 

I’ve spent many nights silently searching my heart for glimpses of hope.

 

Would God heal me from the pain? Was longsuffering going to be my new normal? Would I ever feel totally secure in the refuge of His power and grace?

 

In Psalm 4, King David understood his desperate need for security when he approached God with transparency and cried out for help. He’d been hunted, ridiculed, and shamed.

 

But, he’d also been redeemed, forgiven and raised into an important leadership position.

 

Still, this great king failed, struggled, slipped, and pleaded with God when life overwhelmed him.

 

“Give me relief from my distress, be merciful to me and hear my prayer.” (Psalm 4:1b, NIV)

 

With the first line like that, this Psalm could take on a whiny tone. But somehow, between the first and last verses, the king’s attitude changed from desperation to contentment.

 

How did King David switch gears from complaining to confidence? How did he go from pouring out his feelings of frustration to remembering faith built the firm foundation on which he stood.

 

“Know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD will hear when I call to him” (v. 3)

 

Doubt did not taint David’s words or tone as he prepared for exhortation. The king knew he could trust God when circumstances felt overwhelming. Believing God listened was the key to contentment.

 

The psalmist knew from experience that obedience always led to peace and praise as the faithful found refuge in God’s presence.

 

After David processed all of his feelings, he burst into praise.

 

“You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound.” (v. 7)

 

David knew that material blessings couldn’t compare to a right relationship with God.

 

He embraced the Lord’s overflowing grace as he discovered the gift of contentment not dependent on circumstances.

 

“I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.” (v. 8)

 

Lying down demonstrates the king’s willingness to trust God for protection. Sleeping symbolizes the quiet confidence of God’s constant and powerful presence.

 

This king, with mighty armies to back him up, knew that God alone was his refuge.

 

We, too, can draw closer to the Lord by learning more about His character through the daily study of His Word. We can experience His grace as we welcome His Holy Spirit to empower us to submit to the Bible’s authority in every aspect of our lives.

 

Just like David, an intimate relationship with God enables us to “offer right sacrifices and trust in the Lord.” (v. 5)

 

We won’t hold back from God out of fear. We’ll trust Him to give and take away according to His good and perfect plan.

 

Our song will echo the psalmist’s devotion as we turn our hearts from complaint mode to content mode, praising God through all circumstances.

 

Lord, thank You for the struggle that reminds us we need You. Thank You for the pain that affirms we can still feel. Thank You for comforting us through the chaos with the promise of Your unchanging character and unconditional love. In Jesus’ name, Amen

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Your story makes a difference.

Please share about a time in your spiritual journey when you were frustrated enough to give in to despair. How did knowing God’s character help you trust Him through that difficult time?

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Paying Attention to God, Not the Enemy

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe’ve all heard people declaring how busy the devil is in this world.

“The enemy is doing his best to discourage me.

“The enemy knows how to attack my weakest spots.”

“This situation is definitely the work the enemy.”

 

 

 

 

Yes, we live in a world where sin runs rampant and many people declare truth is relative. Yes, bad things happen to good people. Yes, Scripture warns that the devil prowls like a lion (1 Peter 5:8). Yes, the devil and his false teachers sometimes masquerade as angels of light (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

 

But the devil has no authority or power over God’s people. Scripture says we have the power to deny the devil a foothold (Ephesians 4:27), the power to resist him (1 Peter 5:9) and make him flee (James 4:7).

 

“The scriptural way to see things is to set the Lord always before us, put Christ in the center of our vision, and if satan is lurking around he will appear on the margin only and be seen as but a shadow on the edge of the brightness. It is always wrong to reverse this — to set satan in the focus of our vision and push God out to the margin.” (Tozer on the Holy Spirit, January 19)

 

When we pay too much attention to the enemy, especially during seasons of affliction, we neglect acknowledging the ways God works in and through our circumstances.

 

Trials offer intimate encounters with the Lord and opportunities for spiritual growth. Change opens doors for submitting to the will of God. Conflict prepares our hearts for experiencing the power of God overcoming the flesh.

 

Scripture doesn’t promise Christ followers guaranteed worldly prosperity or an easy road devoid of spiritual warfare. That’s not how Jesus lived during His earthly ministry.

 

So what can we do when faced with spiritual attacks?

 

The apostle Paul writes: “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:10-12, emphasis mine)

 

Our strength is in the Lord, not just from Him.

 

According to Scripture, Believers possess the power to “put on the full armor of God.”

 

To put on armor suggests preparation, not a passive response to surprise attacks. The battlefield unfolds in the spiritual realm, a realm in which God is the only One in control.

 

The Lord reigns in heaven and on earth, already victorious, establishing His Kingdom and preparing the world for His return.

 

“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4, emphasis mine)

 

When the apostle John says “them,” he’s referring to those shackled by unbelief and false teaching, those deceived by the devil. John assures the church that God’s power in us surpasses the façade of the power the enemy wants us to think he has.

 

So, when affliction tempts our focus away from the unchanging power and faithfulness of God, we can BEAT IT!

 

Be prepared to use the sword of truth as God sharpens our knowledge of His Holy Word.

 

Enlist prayer warriors to intercede and support us with accountability and godly encouragement.

 

Accept the privilege and power of the Holy Spirit, Who dwells in us.

 

Take up the shield of faith, believing nothing is impossible for God.

 

Invite God to be our strength, infuse us with peace, revitalize our joy, and carry us through.

 

Trust God to work His will, even when circumstances are painful and difficult to understand.

 

As beloved disciples of Christ, we can persevere with an awareness of spiritual warfare without being paranoid or afraid. We have offered the enemy way more power, credit, and attention than he deserves.

 

So, the next time we’re under spiritual attack, let’s praise the Lord for blessing us with spiritual awareness and discernment. Let’s rebuke the enemy in Jesus’ name and stand firm on the Word of God with Spirit-empowered courage and strength.

 

Let’s live like we believe the One in us is, indeed, greater than the one in the world.

 

Lord, thank You for not giving us a Spirit of timidity, but a “spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7)  Help us live in the power of the Holy Spirit, Who dwells in us and works in and through us for Your glory alone. In Jesus name, Amen

 

Reflection:

How can we tell if we’re depending our own power or embracing the power of the Holy Spirit?

 

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Trusting God and Enjoying the Gift of Today

Brick Pathway by Kim Bangs January 2015When I first saw this picture posted on my friend’s Facebook page, I barely glanced at the colors of fall painting the sidelines of the walkway.

I hardly noticed the artistry in the detailed pattern of the bricks aligned by the path’s designer. I didn’t appreciate the emerald moss flourishing in the darkened cracks.

I failed to imagine the glorious fragrance of transformation, as drying leaves surrendered to buds of new life.

 

 

Instead of gasping at the wonder of God’s perfect moment, I strained to peek through the branches in hopes to catch a glimpse of what lay just around the bend.

 

More often than not, fretting over what we may or may not face in the future blurs the present beauty of what the Lord’s doing in the moment.

 

We can easily forget that every step we take is arranged by an intentional Designer, especially when obedience feels like it’s leading to a scenic route destined to extend our travel time and challenge our comfort zone.

 

Still, Scripture confidently confirms God can be trusted with today.

 

In Psalm 139, the psalmist proclaims, “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:16, NIV)

 

The prophet Jeremiah cries out, “I know, O LORD, that a man’s life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps.” (Jeremiah 10:23, NIV)

 

Wisdom reminds us that “[in] his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9, NIV)

 

These verses point to the faithfulness and lovingkindness of our Good Shepherd and Wise Counselor, Jesus. He is always with us. He is well prepared for what lies around the bend in every season of our lives.

 

Being overly concerned about tomorrow negates everything the Bible teaches us about God’s character and reflects fear not trust, doubt not faith.

 

Jesus said, “. . . I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10, NIV)

 

He promised a full life today, on this side of eternity.

 

Today, He is with us. Today, He is working. Today, He is enough.

 

Yet, so many of us still waste time and energy preparing for battles we aren’t even sure we’ll be facing tomorrow. We invite the pain of our past to sabotage the joy of today. We try to control circumstances in an attempt to avoid the possibility of being hurt again.

 

Life is filled with seasons of wilting and spurts of new growth peeking through the cracks of God’s masterpieces, so often mistaken as ordinary days.

 

While planning ahead is wise, being too preoccupied with the future opens the door to discontent and distraction.

 

When we appreciate today as a gift from God, falling leaves of fear and disbelief give way to buds of revitalized faith, spiritual growth, peace that transcends all understanding, and joy.

 

Embracing God’s pace and direction, being grateful for the moment we’re in right now, will help us learn to savor each step as we’re transformed into His likeness.

 

Lord, thanks for reminding us that every day is a gift from You, no matter how mundane or difficult that day may feel. Forgive us for doubting You when we worry about tomorrow instead of trusting You today. Help us live in the fullness of the moment, walking in obedience to Your Word and rejoicing in the fact that You are “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Reflection:

In what aspects of your life are you tempted to worry about what tomorrow might bring?

 

When is it hardest to admit your dependence on God, live in the moment, and trust His promises instead of being concerned about what may or may not happen in the future?

 

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Photo taken by Kim Bangs and used with permission for this post.

 

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When Christmas Feels Anything But Merry

Nativity Set 2014With grief still fresh in my heart after losing my mom in October, there are moments when Christmas feels anything but merry.

 

 

 

During times like these, I usually turn toward Jesus and find comfort in Who He is, what He’s done, and what He promises.

 

But this year, as I pray for those grieving around me and process the roller coaster of emotions that accompany my own grief, I noticed the other people involved in the events surrounding Jesus’ birth in Luke 2:1-20.

 

When God came in the flesh, people were going through life unaware of their desperate need for a Savior. Business had to be handled. Rules had to be followed (1-3).

 

Joseph was a righteous man. He didn’t hesitate to do the right thing, even though travel with his new wife was sure to be difficult.

 

Though his circumstances were overwhelming and uncomfortable, he chose to be obedient to God (4).

 

Mary surrendered to the Lord (5). The details surrounding her pregnancy and marriage weighed heavy on this young girl’s heart. Her suffering drew her closer to God, made her more dependent on God, ignited her passion to praise God.

 

On the other side of the spectrum, the innkeeper didn’t even make room for the Lord (6-7). Would it have been too hard to let compassion clear space in his heart for a family who looked like they had nothing good to offer?

 

Meanwhile, a group of shepherds were going through the motions in a dark field (8). They freaked out when the angel of the Lord appeared to them (9).

 

Still, the Good News was proclaimed (10-12). The angels praised God with contagious joy (13-14), piercing the darkness with the hope of salvation, the promise of eternal life, an assurance of peace on earth and power made perfect in our weakness.

 

The shepherds didn’t just hear the truth, they received the Truth, and responded to Him with urgency (15). They sacrificed their agendas to see Jesus (16). They weren’t worried about the list of things that still needed to be done. They didn’t make excuses about why they couldn’t stop to spend time in the presence of the Lord.

 

Transformed by their personal encounter with Jesus, the shepherds shared the Good News with excitement (17). God used their testimony to reach the people within their sphere of influence (18).

 

Meanwhile, Mary quietly “pondered” (19).

 

Her trust began with the seed of hope planted by God, rooted in her willingness to surrender, nurtured by her obedience, watered by unconditional love, and grown by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

The final verse in this story demonstrates the lifelong impact of a personal encounter with Jesus. Scripture doesn’t say the shepherds glorified and praised God for a few days, a couple of weeks, a month or two, or even for years.

 

The Bible says they returned “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told” (20).

 

Their grateful praise was ongoing.

 

Our family celebrates Jesus every day of the year, but we’ve always enjoyed our Christmas traditions.

 

This year, with a heart aching to see my mom smile or hear her laugh just one more time, it’s not always easy to embrace merriment.

 

As God carries me through my grieving process, I pray He’ll empower me to be obedient like Joseph and surrendered to His will like Mary. I pray I’ll always make room for Jesus and rejoice in the Good News, no matter how bleak my circumstances appear. I pray I’ll never be content with going through the motions as I wander around in the darkness of this world.

 

When Christmas feels anything but merry, I will gaze at my Nativity set, which sits on our shelf year round, and remember Emmanuel, God with us.

 

My mom’s spending this Christmas in the arms of Jesus. But, so am I.

 

Only I’ll be praising Him from this side of eternity, until the day He calls me home.

 

Lord, please help us rejoice in the hope of salvation that promises eternal life with You. Help us find comfort and peace in Your birth, Your rising, and Your promise to come again. Hallelujah! In Jesus’ name, amen

 

Reflection:

 

How did God help you face a Christmas that felt anything but merry?

 

What would you like to say to someone who is struggling with grief this Christmas?

 

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Inspire Promise Book Launch – Saturday, December 13, 2014

When circumstances feel overwhelming, we can count on God to keep His promises.

I’m thankful for the privilege of having three of my stories published in Inspire Promise.

In “The Promise,” Logan struggles with the shame of his temptation and discovers he’s not the only one who needs to hope in God’s promises of forgiveness and redemption.

In “A Beautiful Mess,” Melissa agrees to a dreaded visit with the pastor and an unlikely ally helps her realize God’s promises of unconditional love and grace applies to her and her unborn child.

In “Emma’s Dancing Socks,” a mother is forced to admit that clinging to God’s promises requires her to trust Him, even when she’s not ready to let go of her greatest fear.

Inspire Promise Book Cover 2014Please join me and my fellow Inspire Christian Writers as we celebrate the release of our 2014 anthology.

The Inspire Promise book signing event will be held on Saturday, December 13, 2014 from 11am-1pm at Oasis Christian Mission Center, 10255 Old Placerville Road, Suite #1, Sacramento, CA 95827.

Inspire Promise will make a great Christmas gift to encourage anyone who is trusting God to keep His promises in and through their own circumstances.

 

 

To read my stories, along with the other great stories written by my fellow Inspire Writers, you can buy your copy of Inspire Promise online at Barnes and Nobel or Amazon.

You may also enjoy reading Inspire Victory, the 2013 anthology that celebrates victories in Christ and includes my short stories, “The Apology” and “Never Alone,” and my poem, “Amazing by Grace.”

Inspire Victory Book CoverInspire Victory will be sold at the book signing event on Saturday, December 13th, and is also available online at Barnes and Noble or Amazon.

Thanks for your continued support and encouragement as I share God’s truth through the writing and speaking ministry He’s placed on my heart.

Your prayers and fellowship as readers is priceless.

 

 

 

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