How to Overflow with Hope in the Meantime

MEME - Romans 15 v 13 - Photo by Deb Garland -Aug 8, 2018

This year has been as memorable and filled with answered prayers as it has been quick in passing. For the last few months, God’s been doing a bit of refining work in the lives of my family members.

We’re all dealing with different challenges but, by the Lord’s insurmountable grace, not one of those situations has knocked us out or kept us down. Hallelujah!

The trials have brought us closer to God and one another in ways I never dreamed possible.

Perfectly? Not a chance. Personalities don’t always mesh well within families. Hopeful? Absolutely. God’s note even close to being done refining us through these fires.

When we come up against seemingly endless journeys filled with impossible obstacles, it’s often tempting to misunderstand the purpose of the wait.

Though it’s not always easy, God can clear our perspective about the reasons we can hope with bold confidence.

God gives us the power to recognize the benefits of His planned seasons of stillness, the goodness behind His deliberate pauses, the immeasurable and life-transforming reach of His mercy in the meantime.

The apostle Paul shows us how to overflow with hope, God’s hope, by first accepting that hope is not a momentary or stationary state of mind.

Hope is living and breathing faith that assures us that God’s promises will continue flowing, when needed, as needed, and even before we know we have a need.

We serve the God of hope, the One who bases the guarantee of His promises on His unchanging character.

The Lord Himself fills us with all joy and peace . . . all . . . as we trust Him.

All. As. Such simple words jampacked with the implication of perseverance, continual shows of Spirit-empowered courage and strength.

Why does He do this? Why does the Lord choose to fill us, to energize us, to empower us . . . to hope with expectation that’s solid and strong?

So that . . . we may overflow with hope that covers every trial, hope that runs in and through every one of our relationships, hope that changes our vision and revitalizes the weariest of spirits.

We can praise God in the meantime and trust He is always working in and through the moments we wish would zip by faster. But in His perfect love, He stills our jittery hearts and reminds us that He’s got great plans for us in the wait.

How do we overflow with hope in the meantime?

Stick close to the trustworthy King of kings, seeking Him, surrendering to Him, and being dependent on Him.

Hope anchored in the Sovereign Lord keeps our praises bursting through the atmosphere of despair, fear, anxiety, discouragement, and insecurity.

Because of God’s ongoing consistency, we can face changes and persevere with great expectations through every moment of His ordained waiting.

 Lord, thanks for helping us walk with steps solid in contentment and confidence in Your perfect love and all-around goodness. Please help us remember that trust is a verb that tugs us onto the rocky-edges of mountaintop faith. As You secure our footing in Your infallible truth, we can turn to You and count on Your love to carry us, change us, and cover us in Your healing mercy. Please help us breathe in Your everlasting hope and exhale with grateful hearts as we share Your hope with others. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Special thanks to Deb Garland for blessing me with the privilege of using her photo to create this week’s encouragement meme.

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Does God Want Us to Be Weak?

MEME - Psalm 46 v 1 - EDITED May 20, 2018

(Suggested Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:20-31 and 2 Corinthians 12:1-10)

Some questions make us feel uncomfortable. Some questions uncover deep wounds, fears, insecurities, and dashed hopes. Some can’t be answered on this side of eternity.

Browsing through the book of Psalms affirms God understands our need to wrestle with questions, process our emotions, and feel understood and confirmed.

Earlier this week, a reader sent me an encouraging note about a devotion I’d written for Our Daily Bread. After dealing with decades of pain, this reader struggled with the concept of God allowing Paul to live with a “thorn” (1 Corinthians 1:20-31).

“What is somewhat frustrating is that, unlike Paul and other great men and women of faith, I live a very common life and nothing extravagant has happened to me that God has had to purge potential conceit from my life.”

Sorrow filled me as I considered the weariness that led to this beloved reader thinking any life God created would be considered common‒ordinary, unexceptional, mediocre.

Anyone who has dealt with day after day of chronic pain knows perseverance is a gift from God, an extravagant display of faith and breath-by-breath trust in the Lord.

When we can’t take the simple things in life for granted, we may forget the true definition of weakness is lack of strength.

Anyone who has endured decades of pain may feel weary, but they are certainly not weak . . . even when we struggle to take each step.

This reader continued: “When I didn’t have pain and the accompanying anxiety I was a much more peaceful and contented a person than when I feel weak and impotent.”

Hallelujah! Another human . . . just like me.

Who wouldn’t feel more peaceful and content without pain and the anxious thoughts that tag-along with any type of affliction?

I wanted to shout, “Me, too!” But the reader’s next question tugged me into a wrestling match with truth.

“Do you think that God wants us to feel emasculated rather than strong?”

Oh, how a part of me wished I could give this reader a cheerful answer, holding my chin out and declaring with surety that the Lord wants us to feel strong, assured, peace-filled and worry-free all on our own.

That moment of insanity passed quickly.

Does God want us to feel weak and impotent (powerless, helpless, unable, and incapable)?

Does God want us to feel emasculated (ineffectual, feeble, unimpressive, and incompetent)?

I could give useless personal opinions or go straight for the infallible truth-source‒the Bible.

When I struggle with weakness and weariness, I think about the apostle Paul. He lived a “common life” fully aware that his strength came from Christ.

In my experience, there are no “great men and women of faith” who are not fully aware of their complete dependence on God.

Paul reminds us that “God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things and the things that are not to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him.” (emphasis mine,1 Corinthians 1:28-29)

The apostle rejoiced in God’s grandness by accepting the reality of his own lowliness‒meekness, commonness, and humbleness that led to willing submissiveness.

He stated, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power” (emphasis mine, 1 Corinthians 2:4-5)

God’s power. God’s strength. God’s wisdom.

If the Lord wants us to be weak, why would He offer to be our strength?

Why would He affirm that His “grace is sufficient” for us; His power “is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 2:9).

God knows we’re weak (Psalm 103:13-14). He knows we can do nothing without Him (John 15:5).

God knows because He chose to experience the feebleness of our fleshly existence (Colossians 1:15-20), without giving up His divinity (Hebrews 4:14-15).

We can “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

God knows we’re weak, so He invites us to abide in Him, rely on Him, and submit to Him. He wants to give us all we need to stand strong, rooted in His unchanging truth and love.

Like the brave reader who couldn’t see the great courage and strength the Lord gave him to reach out with such vulnerability, I’ve succumbed to the weariness and worry that accompanies just about any waiting season.

Today, my physical pain has been constant and overwhelming. I’ve been trying to write this article for days, but my body and mind are tired and beat down.

Praying and knowing I’m covered in prayer, I’m finally typing this sentence with eyes half-closed and heart wide-open.

In God’s enduring love and sufficient grace, He is our peace, our faithful power source.

“Do I think that God wants us to feel emasculated rather than strong?”

 I’ll let His Word answer this question:

“The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and He helps me.” (Psalm 28:7)

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)

“Blessed are those who dwell in Your house; they are ever praising You. Blessed are those whose strength is in You, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.” (Psalm 84:4-5)

When our “hearts are set on pilgrimage,” we remember this side of eternity is not our final destination. He doesn’t want us to be weak. Our all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good, and all-faithful God wants us to let Him be our strength.

Lord, please help us stop believing the lie that You will never give us more than we can handle, so we can start living in the confidence that You‒our Creator and Sustainer‒will always be our strength. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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We Can Count on God . . . No Matter What!

MEME - Easter - Job 42 vv 2, 5 - March 31, 2018

Suggested Reading: Job 45:10-17

We don’t have to be overwhelmed with life-altering problems, suffering great loss, physically hurting, disabled by discouragement, or overwhelmed with worry to be tapping-our-foot-and-crossing-our-arms-impatient with God.

We can feel desperate for a breakthrough, even when we’re not quite sure what we’re hoping to break through.

How can our weary-of-waiting souls be refreshed when we can’t hear past our own exasperated grumbling, whining, or exaggerated sighing?

How can we glimpse hope when we can’t see past our hand-painted murals of if-onlys and what-ifs?

How can we experience the joy of gratitude and contentment when we’re scribbling comparisons and complaints in tattered wish-my-life-were-different notebooks?

Sometimes, all it takes is a slow drip of discontent to tempt our eyes to wander over our neighbor’s fence.

After my health took another dive, my slow drip of discontent burst into waves of disheartenment crashing against the weathering rock-wall of my resolve.

When will things get better? What else can go wrong now? Will I be able to take much more?

Even the minor inconveniences felt like huge blows.

Yet, with a loving outpour of mercy, the Holy Spirit reminded me of a man of great faith who endured immense personal devastation, who persevered through unfathomable suffering. Job.

When life’s circumstances socked him in the gut, punched him in the jaw, stomped on his head, and busted down the door to his grieving heart, Job spoke honestly to God.

Approaching the Lord with raw emotions and hard questions displayed Job’s depth of faith.

How did the Lord respond?

Scripture says He spoke to Job “out of the storm” (Job 38-41).

God didn’t explain Himself, reason, or promise to comfort to Job. He simply invited Job to reflect on the unquestionable majesty of His Creator and Sustainer of all.

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” (Job 38:4)

“Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it?” (v. 12-13)

“Do you send the lightening bolts on their way? Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?” (v. 35)

“Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom and spread its wings to the south? Does the eagle soar at your command and build its nest on high?” (Job 39:26-27)

Did Job wrestle with the reality of God’s bigness . . . of his own smallness? I know I have.

Did he cry out in awestruck wonder when the Lord listed the evidence of His glory? I know I do.

Did a humble whisper of worship trickle over Job’s trembling lips as he spoke? “I am unworthy‒how can I reply to You?” (Job 40:4)

Instead of allowing Job to withdraw in defeat, the Lord said, “I will question you, and you shall answer me.” (v. 7)

He affirmed His majesty. “Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me.” (Job 41:11)

Everything . . . including all of His beloved children. And God cares for those He loves.

Job’s circumstances didn’t change. He didn’t wake up and realize his devastation was just a dream. His grief hadn’t faded or gotten easier overnight.

Though his weariness still lingered, hope glinted as he gazed upon the Lord and said:

“I know that You can do all things; no purpose of Yours can be thwarted . . . My ears had heard of You but now my eyes have seen You.” (Job 42:2, 5)

The confirmation of God’s grandness and Job’s smallness both comforted and humbled him.

“Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust in ashes.” (Job 42:6)

If we’re not careful, we can misinterpret this beautiful interaction between the Father and His beloved servant. We can fail to recognize the Lord’s incredible mercy.

After Job submitted to God, the all-powerful, all-merciful, and all-loving God lifted him to a place of honor as a servant, an intercessory prayer warrior (v. 8).

He accepted Job’s prayers on behalf of this friends (v. 9).

The Lord restored Job. He “gave him twice as much as he had before” (v. 10) and “blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part” (v. 12).

God wasn’t trying to replace what Job had lost.

Even after the Lord blessed him in abundance and empowered him to move forward, Job still had hard days . . . just like all of us.

Some days were harder than others. Some days were merely filled with little frustrations.

The only constant in his life, in this life, in our lives . . . is God.

Whether we’re feeling inconvenienced or crushed by the complications life tosses our way, the Lord doesn’t compare us or our circumstances with others or measure our hurts against the hurts of others.

When we’re feeling forgotten in the wait or beat up by life, when we’re tempted to slip into discontent, our loving Creator and patient Sustainer continues to love us, extends grace, and remains faithful.

Jesus loves us and remains with us through every trial.

He meets our deepest needs and increases our compassion for the hurting.

He strengthens and heals us‒according to His perfect plan and pace.

As Easter approaches, we can reflect on God’s grandeur and the priceless sacrifice Jesus made on the cross.

We can rejoice and place our eternal hope in Christ, our Risen King, as we celebrate Resurrection Day.

We can count on God, no matter what, because He is and always will be unchanging, unlimited, and undeniably faithful.

Nothing . . . nothing . . . nothing can thwart the power of our Lord’s sovereign plan or throw a wrench in His flawless pacing.

Hallelujah!

Lord, thanks for giving us Your Word and being the foundation on which we stand, no matter how rough the road ahead feels or how long the wait seems. Please help us rest in the unshakeable peace of Your constant presence. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

 Happy Resurrection Day!

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God’s Persevering Promises

MEME - Psalm 119 v 140

At the end of November, my physical and emotional endurance waned.

I praised God for some exciting ministry opportunities He’d brought my way. I thanked Him for helping me through some tough but necessary relational changes in 2017. He’d empowered me to support some friends through heartbreaking situations and provided in surprising ways as He helped our family process unexpected health setbacks. Though I continued trusting the Lord, my prayers began to sound repetitive.

Feeling like I needed a drastic change and spiritual refreshment, I asked God to wrap me in peace as I sat in His presence.

Day after day, He affirmed that I didn’t need a change. I needed continual reminders of His unchanging character and the consistency of His persevering promises.

My husband and I committed to connect with God daily by using the Our Daily Bread Ministries Bible in a Year Reading Schedule. I chose to read an unfamiliar translation, to help me prevent skimming through familiar chapters. Even though we’ve read through the Bible yearly since 2005, I had a hard time waiting for the start date.

If I wanted to thrive, instead of hoping to just survive in 2018, I needed more of God!

Over the last week, I’ve inhaled peace and highlighted verse after verse that affirmed the trustworthiness of God’s persevering promises.

The Holy Spirit tugged my heart toward repentance, as I realized I’d been worrying through the wait when I was weary from battling chronic pain.

How are You going to provide, Lord?

 What am I going to do now, Lord?

 How much longer? How much harder?

Before I realized it, I was wah-wah-whining.

At this point, I thanked the Lord for my husband. When one of us is weak, the other is strong. When he wants to jump in and fix things, I encourage him to rest in God’s presence. When I want to rush God along for fear of Him not coming through like He has every time in the past, my hubby reminds me to be still and trust.

Praying for an increase of faith during a rougher-than-normal week, I reflected on Abram’s responses to God at different times during his waiting journey.

When Abram first received God’s call, he didn’t even hesitate to follow Him into the unknown (Genesis 12:1-6). Abram accepted God’s promise (vv. 7-9), though he often struggled with fear (vv. 10-16). The Lord remained faithful (vv. 17-20) and reassured Abram of His persevering promises (Genesis 13:14-16; 15:4-6).

Unfortunately, Abram chose passive complacency instead of reminding his wife of God’s trustworthiness. Sarai refused to sit still on the sidelines. She hopped up and took the reins away from her husband and God, worrying her way through the wait.

When the Lord didn’t meet Sarai’s standards, or work according to her preferred timeline, she forced her own way and opened the door to generations of conflict (Genesis 16).

The Lord stayed true to His Word, affirming the now-99-year-old Abram wasn’t forgotten (Genesis 17:1-2). He transformed Abram and Sarai, beginning with their names (Genesis 17:5, 15), though it seemed He knew His servants still weren’t ready to receive the fulfillment of His promises.

They wanted instant gratification and quick relief. I’ve been there!

The Lord must have known they needed time to grow as His plan played out. He waited another year for Sarai, now Sarah, to give birth to Isaac (Genesis 17:21).

Though we can learn so much from how Abraham and Sarah responded to God, we can also find wisdom in Hagar’s prayer:

“You are a God of seeing . . . truly here I have seen Him who looks after me.” (Genesis 16:13)

Oh, how many time I’ve compared my timetable to God’s, as if I could see the future or control my circumstances.

I’ve begged for relief, to be whisked out of the wait, without even realizing I’d be missing out on the rewards God was carving out for me.

As we remember the Lord’s consistent character, we can rely on His persevering promises.

He will comfort our hurting hearts, strengthen our resolve, prepare us for the path He’s paved for us, and help us to stop worrying through the wait . . . if only we take time to listen to His words and remember He stays true to His Word.

“My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on Your promises.” (Psalm 119:148)

Lord, thanks for blessing us with the privilege of communing with You through the Bible in a Year reading schedule. Please help us trust Your plan and pace are perfect. Help us secure our hope in Your sovereign goodness, unfailing love, infallible Word, and persevering promises. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Are you more like Abram, Sarai, or a mixture of both when trusting God through the wait?

 How has God helped you wait without worrying or wah-wah-whining when you were weary, tempted to rush past the Lord, or determined to force God’s hand by demanding your own way?

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To receive Our Daily Bread devotions with the Bible reading schedule, please visit our website and subscribe today. I look forward to growing with you!

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I Want to Know You More, Lord!

MEME - BLOG - 2 Timothy 3 v 16 - EDITED Jan 2018

The first time I read the Bible, I acted like a giddy schoolgirl. I couldn’t believe God’s story, His actual history, was available for me to read. The more I read, the more I realized the Bible was more than just another book. I can’t get enough of God’s Word and I can’t stop sharing His truth and love with others!

When I share that my husband and I have read through the Bible in a year since 2005, people have asked me several questions.

How can you finish that huge book in one year?

When following most Bible-in-a-Year schedules, the daily readings only take 15-30 minutes per day. We can break up the readings or savor the day’s planned chapters at one time, depending on our personal preference, our reading speed, and our available time. The important thing is remembering we’re not just reading. When we open up our Bibles, we get to spend time listening to God’s voice. Hallelujah!

Why are you so excited about reading a book that’s so boring and no longer relevant?

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)

Talk about an amazing start for the greatest story in history! The Beginning and the End, the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe, the Maker of time itself . . . God . . . created every single thing in the heavens and on the earth.

As if that’s not enough, the God-breathed words of Scripture records God’s story and ends in the most thrilling cliff-hanger . . . Jesus will come again. Hallelujah!

While we wait, we’re invited to know Him, love Him, serve Him, and be known, loved, and forever changed by Him.

If you’ve read the Bible once, why bother reading it again?

Every year, I learn something new, love the Lord more, and accept the fullness of His love for me more. Whether God has changed my heart, my perspective, or my situation, His infallible truth remains the same. Through the power of His Holy Spirit, He reveals His immutable character and His unchanging plan and promises through His Word and equips me for what He has prepared for me each day. I need to connect with my Maker, my Sustainer, my loving and good Father every single moment of every single day.

What do you do when you don’t understand what you’re reading?

Faith isn’t about me being able to completely comprehend my eternal and sovereign God. We can ask Him to help us understand and trust Him. In His goodness, He provides resources to study Scripture, with the help of His Holy Spirit.

Why don’t you read smaller chunks so you can study deeper?

I do! I read through the Bible in a year for familiarity, to learn how His whole story connects from the Old to the New Testaments and into my life. For deeper study, I use resources, like concordances, commentaries, and word studies. Most importantly, I begin with prayer and invite the Holy Spirit to change me and make me more like Jesus.

How do you keep your reading from feeling like something you’re just checking off a list?

When we’re reading the Bible, we’re spending time with God. While we read Scripture, we’re experiencing God’s presence and hearing His heart beating with every syllable. We can commune with the Lord, talking to Him through prayer and listening to Him by reading the words He inspired and preserved in the Bible. What a wonderful gift!

How do you keep from giving up, especially if you fall behind?

When we’re focused on nurturing our relationship with God, we don’t have to worry about our performance. Perfection is not possible or expected. If we miss a few days, there’s no reason to feel pressured to catch up or to succumb to discouragement and give up. We can just brush off those guilty feelings and enjoy God’s abundant and all-sufficient grace.

Our time with God is as personal as our relationship with Him. As we spend quiet moments with Him, we can come as we are and ask Him to increase our desire to spend time with Him every day.

Why should we bother reading Scripture with a reading schedule?

While schedules are not necessary, they can help us develop consistency and accountability. Whether we choose to read the Bible in a year, use another schedule, or commit to a certain number of minutes per day, our main goal is to enter God’s presence daily and say, “I want to know you more, Lord!”

Lord, thanks for the privilege of hearing Your voice, placing our prayers in Your hands, and growing closer to You and others as we bask in Your endless love and saturate our hearts with Your truth every single day. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Have you read through the Bible?

What have you enjoyed about daily Bible reading? about reading the Bible in a year?

What is the greatest challenge you’ve faced and joys you’ve experienced while following a Bible reading schedule?

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To join Alan and me in reading the Bible in a year with the Our Daily Bread schedule, please click here.

If you’re going to choose another daily Bible reading schedule, please let me know. I’d love for us to pray for one another, as we seek the Lord through His Word and love Him with all we’ve got!

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