Redeeming the Reprobate

 

satan-in-despair
“So farewell hope, and with hope farewell fear, Farewell remorse: all good to me is lost; evil be thou my good;” – Satan in Paradise Lost, Book IV, lines 108-110.

 

Is there really such a thing as a point of no return?

In the Christian faith, God’s Word teaches us that all men are capable of being saved, no matter how many or what kinds of sins they’ve committed. God’s abundant grace and mercy are more than sufficient to release us from the chains of darkness and condemnation. It’s all because of the selfless sacrifice that Jesus Christ Himself performed on the cross over two thousand years ago, giving up His life to redeem us by atoning for the wrong things that we have done, effectively releasing us from the eternal punishment of sin. However, this free gift of eternal life, also known as salvation in Christian vocabulary, is ONLY accessible through the voluntary act of a person choosing to accept it, changing his life forever. No one can make this decision for anyone else; it HAS to be an act of their own free will. God does not force anyone to believe in Him or trust Him and His Son Jesus to receive salvation – He only wants it to be a conscious choice from the sincere desire of a person’s heart. God knows that the only way a person is guaranteed true happiness and eternal life is by choosing to serve Him, but it is not in His character to make His human creations mindless slaves to His will. He is only interested in a person’s heart that is willing to serve Him out of pure, genuine love.

So yes, it is possible for a person to be redeemed… – but only if they want to be.

The above paragraph describes people who have yet to become Christians, but what about those who claim to be saved, though their lives and actions would make you seriously doubt their spiritual identity? Yes, it is the sad truth that there are many, MANY people out there who will swear up and down that they are Christians, yet the evidence of their personal lifestyle proves that they actually live without a conscience. By this, I mean that their lack of self-control or respect for God’s requirement of holiness shows that the Holy Spirit’s presence is either nonexistent in their hearts, or pushed so far into the background that you could hardly recognize it anymore. You probably know someone like this in your own life, from either your past or your present. This person may have accepted Christ in his heart, but eventually moved so far away from God that His influence in the person’s life became imperceptible. The way this person acts is so indistinguishable from the world, that you wonder why he bothers calling himself a Christian to begin with. In his mind, being a Christian is more like being in a trendy, exclusive club, rather than the life-altering, sacrificial transformation it really is.

There’s a word in the Bible for this kind of person – a reprobate.

 

satan-traveling-through-chaos
Satan traverses the dark, void realm of Chaos during his escape from Hell, unaware that his physical form has changed from angelic to demonic.

 

In further detail, a reprobate is someone who is fully aware of God’s truth in his life but chooses to ignore it anyway, despite receiving multiple warnings from other people that he is going in the wrong direction. He is incredibly stubborn and stiff-necked, refusing to heed spiritual advice when he needs it the most. When he is corrected by a pastor or other spiritual influences in his life, he reacts with anger to loving reproaches, lashing out in rage at the very wisdom that is meant to benefit him. The only thing he cares about is having his own way, acting as if he were God Himself. No matter how many times he has been warned, he refuses to listen to anyone who contradicts his ideas and desires. He has no use for the feelings of other people who know him and care about him; he doesn’t give any thought or remorse about how many others he hurts along the way. He has chosen to go so far along the path of darkness in his life, that any attempts to stop him or change his mind have proven to be utterly futile. In essence, a person like this can be described as strikingly similar to Satan’s character in John Milton’s classic epic, Paradise Lost.

In this book, the first chapter begins with the aftermath of Satan’s rebellion in Heaven, where he finds himself bound in chains to the Lake of Fire with the other fallen angels who followed his influence. Despite being completely overthrown and cast down from grace, Satan is literally Hell-bent on getting revenge on God. He is so disgustingly filled with pride that he is incapable of recognizing that the whole incident was entirely his fault. He blatantly claims that God is an unfair tyrant, while he is merely misunderstood. Not only does he hold these blasphemous beliefs, but he also fills the minds of his demonic followers with these wicked ideas. Throughout the entire book, Satan stubbornly holds onto the belief that he doesn’t need God and outright states that it’s better for him to “reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven.” He’s a rebel and a vagabond, whose only real home is in Hell after his betrayal against God; however, he refuses to accept the fate of his punishment and plots to drag down mankind with him.

How sad it is when someone who formerly served God and claimed to know Him turns against Him out of pride and selfishness!

Satan fallen from grace
Satan is cast out of Heaven by God, fallen from the grace of His presence.

Anyone who falls under the biblical category of a reprobate has had numerous second chances given to him, both by God and the people in his life, yet he has chosen to repeatedly spurn and squander them. The Bible says that when a person chooses this path, God decides to turn him over to a reprobate mind, giving him exactly what he thinks he wants – to be king of his own life, free to revel in his own wickedness. God says to this person: “You want Me to leave you alone? Fine. I’ll do just that. Don’t say I didn’t warn you about the consequences though.” Eventually, God gets tired of fighting against a person with a strong stubborn will, and leaves him to his own devices, no matter how foolish or evil they might be. This is an extremely dangerous zone for a person to enter, because once you have effectively pushed God’s influence completely out of your life, you open the door for all kinds of Satanic influences to fill the void.

Judas Iscariot, the traitorous disciple of Jesus, is a perfect biblical example of a reprobate. He spent so much time walking with the Savior, yet he never got saved. He witnessed all of Christs’ miracles (except for His resurrection), yet he never glorified Him as the Son of God. However, to the outside observer, Judas looked just like the rest of the eleven disciples, closely following Jesus’ every move; who could suspect him of becoming filled with the Devil at the time he later betrayed Christ? The same thing is true of faux Christians – no one ever suspects their true spiritual nature, since they are experts at putting on a good show on the outside. On the inside though, they are rotten to the core. In a previous post I wrote, called “Betrayal By A Loved One,” I described how we all know at least one person in our lives whom we would describe as our personal Judas. No matter what manner of wickedness our Judas has wrought on us, we still are required to forgive him since it’s what God commands us to do.

However, it can become a dangerous trap for us if we allow ourselves to obsess over the possible redemption of this reprobate.

Paradise_Lost_19
Satan is sent away by Michael the Archangel when he is caught hiding in the Garden of Eden.

God wants us to forgive those who have wronged us, yes, but He does not expect us to devote every ounce of our energy towards whether or not their hearts are convicted. We are told in the Bible to pray for our enemies, but not to the point where it becomes the main focus of every waking moment in our lives. There is a very fine line between praying fervently for someone and having an unhealthy fixation on that person. Why do I say this? you may ask. Because, when you repeatedly pray for the same person, you need to assess what your intentions and expectations are for God’s answer. If you have good intentions while praying for this reprobate, you sincerely want him to turn back to God before it’s too late, and you fully trust that God is in control of the situation. However, perhaps your intentions for praying for him are a little bit self-serving – maybe the reason you want him to get right with God is somehow related to your own personal benefit, and what you see as devoted prayer is really an indirect way of trying to control the situation’s outcome. Whether we like to admit it or not, this can very well be the case.

The reprobate I’m referring to in my life is someone whom I once loved very much, with all my heart. Like Lucifer the Angel of Light, he first portrayed himself to be perfect, everything I ever wanted – but later his true nature revealed itself to be dark and rebellious, much like Satan in his demonic form. When he betrayed me, I had already fallen so deeply in love with him to the point where my affection for him was unconditional, regardless of how he treated me. So in an effort to save the only love I had ever known at that point, I prayed for him every single day for an entire year, begging God to change His heart, convict him of betraying me, and lead him to apologize to me. I would always break down crying each day as I desperately pleaded to God: “Dear Lord, please…CONVICT him. I don’t even care if you give him back to me; I just want him to be right with you. I love him unconditionally, the same exact way You do. Please protect him from the foolish choices in his heart! Please keep him safe!” Even though I still loved him deeply, I didn’t even ask for God to renew my relationship with Him; I just wanted him to get right with God so I could be reunited with him in Heaven someday, even if I never got to see him again on Earth. I later came to severely regret this, for even though I was reunited with him a year after, his apology to me was a temporary ruse designed to manipulate me and betray me all over again. Thus I was once more sucked into his cycle of emotional abuse, all because I lost myself by praying for him because of the unhealthy attachment I had from before.

Here are some verses to remind us that the fate of a reprobate is his own doing, not ours:

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Satan falling from Heaven as he escapes to Earth.

Proverbs 1:24-28 ~ “Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you. Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me:

Isaiah 14:12- ~ “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to Hell, to the sides of the pit.”

Jeremiah 7:16 ~ “Therefore pray not thou for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession to me: for I will not hear thee.

Hosea 4:17 ~ “Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone.”

Romans 1:28 ~ “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient,

Hebrews 10:26-31 ~ “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

2 Peter 2:4 ~ “For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;

So what can we do to redeem the reprobate in our lives? Nothing?

satan

The simple answer to the above question is this – Let go and let God.

We can present the issue and our concerns about it to God, like we’re supposed to, without letting it consume our minds and hearts. We need to trust God that He knows what’s best, and that He has absolutely everything under His divine control. However, if we do allow the situation to consume us, we’ll be caught in the trap of subtle idolatry, placing our fears and desires above God’s will. When it comes to the redemption of a reprobate, it is utimately up to that person himself, since neither we nor God Himself can control the free will of someone else. It’s so easy to obsess over a situation in the name of fervent prayer, when really we’re indirectly trying to control the outcome since we don’t fully trust God. If we can learn to set the matter entirely in God’s hands and forget it, then we can know true peace that surpasses all understanding. God does not hold us accountable for the actions and choices of a wayward person in our lives, so we shouldn’t have to worry about it since it’s out of our control. Instead, we can say to God, “I know You hold this person in Your powerful hands, and I trust You to take care of this situation no matter how hopeless it may seem. God, I relinquish my desire to control the situation and circumstances regarding this person I’m concerned about. Please help me to keep my focus completely on You, so I don’t lose sight of my own purpose and identity. Amen.”

– Gloria D. Hopkins

 

Why It’s OK To Be “Broken”

shattered reflection

Many have said that we’re all a little broken.

To some extent, that statement is true. Whether we like it or not, we have all gone through something (or several things) in our lives that left us in a very dark place for a very long time. When we finally emerged from the situation, we found that we could never be the same way again, the way we used to be before it happened.

Yes, these are the dark circumstances that scar us, the situations that Satan uses to try to destroy us. If you think you haven’t experienced a traumatic event in your life yet, you can almost count on it to happen at some point in the future. For those of us who have already survived dark circumstances, however, we know just how hard it can be to reclaim our inner peace and heal our broken hearts.

Sometimes it feels like we’ll never get better.

Emotional breakdown

No matter how much time passes after our traumatic experiences, it often feels like we’ll never reach the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. It seems to be taking forever for our hearts to heal, despite our desire to just “get over” whatever it was that happened to us. We tell ourselves that there must be something wrong with us, since there are many things to be thankful about, and yet we still can’t force ourselves to just “be happy.” Other people might tell us to stop whining, complaining, or feeling sorry for ourselves, because there are so many people in the world who might have it worse. While in some cases we might be guilty of falling into self-pity, and there are certainly always going to be other people who “have it worse” than us, that in NO way invalidates the pain that we feel in the aftermath of a traumatic event.

If your heart is feeling pain for a long period of time, then there has to be a valid reason for it, regardless of what other people say.

Fortunately for us though, our lives aren’t supposed to revolve around what other people say about us. When they fail to understand what we’re going through without making an effort to help or listen, they have no right to judge or criticize our pain. If we know the Lord as our personal Savior, He will ALWAYS understand what we feel and why we feel it. His Word promises that He is close to the brokenhearted, and that truth will never, ever change. (Psalm 34:18 ~ “The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.”)

Just remember: whatever pain you’re going through, God will use to make you new.

When people say that everything happens for a reason, it’s not some random chance of fate that was the result of some explosion in the vast cosmos. Even though God doesn’t like to see us in pain, He has a divine purpose for our suffering. God desires to make us stronger in Him by strengthening our faith in the midst of trials. (James 1:3-4 ~ “Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”) It’s a long, tedious process to build strength, whether in a physical or spiritual context. The end results aren’t going to happen overnight, even though we wish they could. Therefore, it is hugely unfair for us to beat ourselves up emotionally just because we’re not in a better place yet like we want to be.

Depression black and white

Healing TAKES TIME.

That’s all there is to it.

If you try to rush through it, you’ll have an exercise in futility, even with your best attempts. Don’t try to deny your pain, just accept it. It is only by acknowledging and accepting our feelings that we are able to finally move past them. That’s why it’s called a “grieving process,” not a “grieving express.”

By denying or ignoring our pain, we are only prolonging it. God seeks to help us through it if we have the courage to acknowledge our need for Him. He wants you to know that you are not alone and that it is perfectly okay to be feeling the way that you do. God isn’t going to shame you or make you feel guilty about the emotions He gave you; He wants to help you learn how to handle them. They are there for an important reason, and that reason is most likely a natural reaction to whatever traumatic event you went through.

 

However, there is a far greater important reason that you experience pain in your life.

 

Remember the Sunday school song “This Little Light of Mine?”

 

That doesn’t just apply to the context of having a godly, Christian testimony in your personal lifestyle. It also applies to the light of the Holy Spirit that you have inside you from the moment of your salvation. The light of the Holy Spirit isn’t just there for the conviction of sins; it’s also there to inspire other people with what God is doing in your life. People around you might notice that you’re going through a dark time in your life, but they’ll also be able to see that you’re still shining with the joy of the Lord in your heart because you trust God and His goodness.

They’ll look at you, and they’ll say to themselves, “Hey, that guy or girl has every right or reason to give up in life, but they’re still going strong because of God’s help! I want to have that kind of strength in my life too!”

That is what this blog, called “Do You Glow In the Dark?”, is all about – not necessarily about shining exclusively to unsaved people for their need of salvation, but shining to the unsaved AND Christian population to prove that it is possible to keep your joy in spite of dark circumstances.

(2 Corinthians 1:3-4 ~ “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.”)

It's OK To Be A Glowstick copy

So don’t look at your current condition and despair of your life, even if you do feel “stuck.” You might feel broken because of what life has thrown at you, but that does not detract from your value as a person whatsoever. You are still incredibly special, as a human being that God made with His own hands, no matter what other people (or you yourself) tell you. Your purpose in this world will prevail, regardless of your pain. I don’t want you to look in the mirror, gazing at your brokenness, and think that there is something wrong with you. YOU ARE NOT WORTHLESS just because terrible things happened to you. You never have been, nor will you ever be, worthless. God is going to use you and your story as a powerful testimony to bless other people and improve their lives. You are a beautiful creation of a loving, Almighty God, and nothing He allows to happen in your life will ever go to waste. That’s why it’s okay to be a glowstick – whatever God allows to happen in your life that breaks you will also allow you to shine for Him.

– Gloria D. Hopkins

Mirror Madness

 

Alice portal
Don’t look so hard into the glass that you shatter your self-image!

 

“Who am I? What am I supposed to be? Where do I fit in the world?”

These three questions are commonly asked by every single person in the world at some point in their lives, often becoming recurring questions. Our society has a severe case of missing identity, which is ironic considering how prevalent selfishness and narcissism are in our culture today. In the process of elevating himself to the level of worship that God deserves, man has sadly lost sight of his true identity that can only be seen through the Creator he tries so desperately to ignore.

Man has stared at his reflection in the mirror so intently, that he has shattered the glass from the impact of his efforts. Staring at the looking glass for too long is not a good thing whatsoever, and vanity concerning our outward appearance can blind us to the inward reflection that really matters. After finding nothing but emptiness behind the shards of glass, man is constantly grasping for anything he can use as a substitute for God’s presence and purpose in his life.

The issue of having a personal identity crisis is more pressing now than ever before, and Christians are no exception. If we do not solidify our identity in Christ in our minds early on, then Satan will surely try to snatch it away from us. In order to prevent that from happening, we must assess some fundamental truths that are grounded in God’s Word, thereby finding the answers to these perpetually vexing questions. Once we are assured of God’s truth concerning who we are, we can permanently protect ourselves from Satan’s attempt at identity theft.

 

Let’s take a look at these three questions one by one, and see if we can make sense of them in this nonsensical world of ours, shall we?

 

1. “Who are you?”

 

Alice and the Caterpillar.jpg
“Alice Meets the Caterpillar” from ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, by Lewis Carroll, with illustrations by John Tenniel. Macmillan and Co, London, 1898.

 

In Lewis Carroll’s book Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, the titular character Alice is a little girl who tumbles down a rabbit hole, only to find herself in a strange world full of talking animals and various other forms of nonsense. After going through several frustrations at the beginning of her adventure, Alice meets a caterpillar who acts rather sophisticated and stuffy, much like a grown-up. He asks her to recite a few poems from memory, just like her schoolteachers always expected of her back home. The caterpillar also asks Alice a simple question, about her identity. Due to the strange experiences she had up to that point, Alice replies to him that she’s not at all sure who she is anymore. In fact, she explains that she had changed several times already since that morning, referring to how she mysteriously grew and shrank in size earlier in the story. This was an intentional metaphor that Lewis Carroll was using to illustrate the challenges of growing up. When we grow older, our physical appearance changes, as do our personal interests to some extent. Some of these changes are under our control, while many of them are not.

Perhaps the greatest change we undergo throughout life is the transformation of our minds – we all start out as happy, innocent children, but are soon exposed to the harsh realities of our sinful, fallen world. The negative circumstances we experience in life have the potential to either make us or break us, and the first outcome is only achievable with God’s help. Just like Alice in her dreamworld of Wonderland, we are often confused by our ever-changing surroundings, feeling lost and helpless in the upsetting events going on around us. However, when we seek God’s face in the midst of troubling circumstances, He can guide us onto the right path in spite of all the utter nonsense.

God has a special plan for each and every one of us; He makes that very clear in His Word. He created us to be unique individuals that are totally different from anyone else He made. You are a work of art from God’s own hands, and if you know Him as your personal Savior, you are also His adopted child. It’s so easy for us to look at other people and compare ourselves to them, whether its’ our personalities, advantages, or abilities, that we often forget that God made us special all on our own. We don’t need validation from any other person on the planet to confirm our worth; we just need to remind ourselves of what we already know to be true. Before we were saved, our former identity was that of a hopeless sinner lost in darkness, but after salvation, we took on a new identity of a redeemed child of God who has been returned to the light. It’s not for us to look at others and wish that we were just like them; God wants us to be content with exactly who He made us.

2.  “What are you supposed to be?”

 

Cards Attacking Alice
“Alice defends herself against the Queen of Hearts’ army of cards” from ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, by Lewis Carroll, with illustrations by John Tenniel. Macmillan and Co, London, 1898.

 

Throughout Alice’s entire journey, she is constantly judged, criticized, and questioned by the curious and madcap residents of Wonderland. The White Rabbit, having poor eyesight, confuses Alice with his housemaid, Mary Ann, and begins to obnoxiously order her around with his list of demands. Alice is also wrongly called a “stupid girl” by other middle-aged, female characters such as the Duchess. The Mad Hatter and March Hare accuse her of being rude for accidentally barging in on their private tea party, even though she had no way of knowing what was going on. The Cheshire Cat suggests that Alice is just as crazy as he is, for the mere fact that she found her way into Wonderland. Last but not least, the Queen of Hearts claims that Alice is a criminal for painting her white roses red, and repeatedly orders the removal of Alice’s head every time she is slightly offended by her. Sadly, even though this book is about a fantasy world, Lewis Carroll accurately portrayed the cold reality of how many adults think it’s okay to emotionally abuse and ridicule children, often for no valid reason. Thankfully, by the end of the story, Alice finds the courage to stand up for herself and silence her insufferable attackers. If there is any character that perfectly fits this modern phrase, “I came out here to have a good time, and I’m honestly feeling so attacked right now,” it’s Alice.

In our real-world lives, we often encounter many different people who think they can tell us who we are or what they think we should be. The most common scenario for this to occur is with our relatives, who sometimes make the mistake of thinking they know exactly what’s best for us just because they share our same blood. We can all think of at least one person, whether it’s a relative or not, who constantly oversteps their authority in our lives by assuming they know all the details about our future. There are also plenty of other times when we have been misunderstood by other people for pointless reasons, causing unnecessary conflict due to their closed mindset. Well, other people need to take a step down from the judge’s seat, because that position is reserved for God alone. While helpful guidance and wisdom are beneficial when they come from a loving heart, unwanted orders and prejudice are destructive when other people are just being nosy or critical. Just like Alice was on a literal trial in the book, she also had her patience tried past the point of no return. We need to ask God for the grace and patience we need to deal with other people who think they can take His place in our lives.

What you are supposed to be is a matter that is strictly between you and God Himself. As I stated before, He designed you for a very special purpose in His mind. He has promised that He is going to fulfill that purpose for your life until the second coming of His Son, Jesus. God always finishes the projects He starts, which is far more than I can say for myself as both a writer and artist. He’s not going to leave you hanging as an incomplete draft or a half-empty canvas! He’s going to sculpt you and mold you persistently throughout your entire life until He decides that you’re done. When other people fail to understand what He is doing with your life at the present moment, that’s not God’s fault, nor is it yours. In fact, it’s not meant to be for other people to understand, because God’s ways are much higher than our ways! God is supposed to get the glory for everything He creates, and your life story is no exception. Along the way though, it’s our job to stay close to Him always so He can guide us on this journey of divine transformation.

3. Where do you fit in the world?

 

Alice being left alone
“Alice watches the White Rabbit walk past her in the low, dark hallway” from ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, by Lewis Carroll, with illustrations by John Tenniel. Macmillan and Co, London, 1898.

 

Several times during Alice’s adventure, she falls into some distressing situations that cause her to (understandably) ask for help from the citizens of Wonderland. In this picture, Alice has just experienced the strange phenomenon of growing to be nine feet high inside a closed, narrow corridor, unable to escape or return to her normal size. Feeling rather frightened like any regular child would in this situation, Alice begins to cry until she floods the entire room with her enormous tears. Eventually, she notices the White Rabbit casually passing by, who appears to take absolutely zero notice of her in this awful predicament. He just strolls by quietly as if he were the only one in the room, going on about his day as if Alice doesn’t even exist. Poor Alice had just grown into the size of a giant, and yet it was as if she were invisible! Later on in the story, she stumbles across the tea party hosted by the Mad Hatter and March Hare, where there were plenty of chairs to sit in, but they adamantly claimed there was no room for her. Lewis Carroll was portraying how adults often tend to ignore children and treat them as nobodies, or otherwise make them feel like an afterthought. Everyone in Wonderland was going about their business and doing their own thing, but nobody cared enough to help Alice find her way home. She was just a lost little girl who felt like she didn’t belong in their world, but that actually turned out to be a good thing. In the end, it was Alice’s sanity prevailing over all the nonsense that saved her life and provided her escape!

In our lives, all too often we feel like absolutely no one cares about us, or at least cares enough to truly help us with our problems. Even if they do care, they might be too preoccupied with their own problems to take time out of their busy schedules for us. We could be going through an extremely difficult time, but nobody seems to notice us struggling. Everybody has their own issues, so why would they want to help us, right? Many times it feels like we might as well be invisible as far as other people noticing us is concerned. Aside from people not noticing our struggles, it also can feel like we just don’t belong in society, at least not in the same way everyone else seems to. From childhood on through adulthood, our lives will be filled with other people who shun us or reject us altogether, simply because their preconceived notions about us preclude them from getting to know us and accept us. Here’s some good news, however – it’s okay if we don’t fit in with everyone else or the world around us in general, because we’re not supposed to. Individuals we come across in our lives and society as a whole will always expect us to conform to their perfect, artificial mold, built from their own shallow standards and limited perspective. Don’t despair of being stuck in this impossible situation, though, because Jesus Christ Himself was not immune to the shallow judgments of people in this world. Jesus, being the Son of God, was completely PERFECT, and yet He STILL wasn’t good enough for some people! Just like Alice in her story, Jesus was the only truly sane Person when it was really everyone else who had the problem!

If there is any comfort to be found in the rejection or dismissal of man, it’s knowing that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, suffered the very same things. When other people ignore us and make us feel like we’re invisible, Jesus is there to put His arm around us, providing unconditional love and support. When we’re struggling with difficult situations, and no one seems to notice or care about our predicament, Jesus is there to help and comfort us in our distress and sorrow. In addition, God is the One Who guides us along our life’s journey, showing us exactly where we need to be to fulfill His purpose for us. Even if other people don’t give us the time of day, we’re still important to God, and our lives will always matter to Him. We are wonderfully accepted in the love of Christ, and He is our sympathetic High Priest Who cares deeply about each and every one of our troubles. While other individuals may underestimate us, our abilities, and our potential, God is fully aware of what we are capable of accomplishing through Him with His help. We don’t need to belong in the world of other people’s approval, because we already belong to the One Whose approval matters most!

 

Here are some verses to help us confirm our identity in Christ, as daily affirmations when we look in the mirror each day:

 

Reflection

2 Corinthians 5:17 ~ “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

Ephesians 1:5-7 ~ “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;”

Proverbs 3:5 ~ “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.”

Isaiah 54:5 ~ “For thy Maker is thine husband; the Lord of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall he be called.”

Romans 8:38-39 ~ “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 9:20 ~ “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?”

Romans 14:8 ~ “For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.”

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ~ “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.

2 Corinthians 11:2 ~ “For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.”

John 10:28 ~ “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.”

John 14:1-3 ~ “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.

John 15:15-17 ~ “Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you. Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. These things I command you, that ye love one another.

Philippians 1:6 ~ “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:”

Jeremiah 20:11-13 ~ “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.

Galatians 3:26-29 ~ “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

 

There is only one way to cure mirror madness – by acknowledging Whose reflection we should be cultivating.

Forest mirror

I think we can all strongly identify with little Alice wanting to escape the perplexing world of Wonderland, full of “whos,” “whats,” “wheres,” “whens,” “whys,” and “hows.” With so many tricky questions flying around our heads at such a rapid speed, we’re bound to question our sanity at some point or other. However, this happens when we try to find our own way in the flesh, rather than consulting God and His ways. If we try to contemplate the above three questions by ourselves apart from God, we will most surely be driven to madness by our inability to find the answers. It is first of all our responsibility to remember that we are the creations of God, the Creator, and after that acknowledgment, everything else should fall into place. Discovering our true identity is a life-long journey, and at times it can be very difficult, but that should never discourage us from giving up on it. God Himself has placed these three questions in our hearts so that we will be compelled to rely upon Him, having no choice but to seek Him for the right answers. When we turn to the world’s tactics of defining our identity, we will find nothing but confusion sent by the Devil himself. Fortunately, we know that God is not the Author of confusion, and He wants us to be informed of the divine plan that He has laid out for us. For every single person who has ever lived, God has designed a grand Master plan for their lives that they can potentially follow if they choose to seek His will. Each unique individual will have a unique life story all his own, but regardless of the many different designs, God desires all of us to conform to the image of His Son, Jesus. “What would Jesus do?” has been a popular catchphrase among Christians for years, and it applies to all areas of our lives. When it comes to determining the purpose and direction of our lives, we can do no better than do exactly what Jesus did while He was on Earth, and will always do – trust God, and seek His Father’s will. Rather than saying “All ways are MY ways!” like the Queen of Hearts, we should say “All ways are THY ways!”

– Gloria D. Hopkins

Appreciating Your Present

 

golden gift
“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.”

 

This Christmas, did you feel satisfied with your gifts?

Now, I know you think I expect you to say “yes,” as if that were the only right answer, but let’s just be honest here for a minute – do you truly feel satisfied with what you received for Christmas this year?

There are many different types of gifts, whether they be material or intangible. Today, we’re going to talk about both of these categories that encompass a wide spectrum of things.

I can already imagine what you might be thinking at this point – “Oh great; this is another cliched post about being thankful for what you already have and not being greedy or materialistic, right?”

Well, get ready, because the answer to that cynical question is a big, fat

NOPE.

So, let’s get started as we delve into today’s complex topic, shall we?

First of all, we all know that Christmas is supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year.”

blue gift

I apologize in advance if that previous sentence got the song stuck in your head, but I don’t apologize for using it in this context. Granted, there are countless wonderful things about this season that are capable of making people happy. I won’t waste time by listing all the things we’re already MORE than familiar with, but I’m sure you understand what I’m talking about. Yes, the season itself holds an abundance of positive elements that are allegedly supposed to bring joy to people, yet does the so-called “magic of the season” always do the trick?

Unfortunately, the sad but true answer is no.

No amount of Christmas cookies, rich food, decorations, or fun activities can truly fill the void people feel that exists within them throughout the rest of the entire year. For every person who might identify as a “Who” from Whoville or a Bob Crachett from Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” there is always going to be another person who, whether intentionally or not, identifies as a Grinch or a Scrooge to be their perfect foil.

Regardless of where you fall into these two categories, there are going to be some years where you just won’t be feeling as much of the Christmas spirit as you think you should, or at least what you think society expects you to feel.

There is a variety of circumstances that can contribute to people feeling more “ho-hum” rather than “ho ho ho” during this time of year – the annual stress of preparation, financial complications, family strife, hectic work schedules, contagious illnesses, and many other things.

In addition, there is one other possible circumstance that can make people say “Bah, humbug!” during the holidays – being single.

Yes, with all the sappy love songs about keeping each other warm, wanting no other gifts than their “presence” or heart, and how Christmas isn’t the same without the other person around, the radio and other media shoves these romantic cliches into single people’s ears whether they like it or not. Add onto the sappy Christmas music the effects of social media, where people shamelessly flaunt their relationship statuses of “dating,” “engaged”, or “married” more than ever, and you have single people wanting to throw a rock solid loaf of fruitcake at their computer screen or sleep in their beds until after New Year’s is over.

Is it wrong to feel unhappy when we experience these things at Christmastime? No, but it is very normal, especially when people are suffering from all these circumstances combined.

So, the question is, how can we be truly happy when we don’t have all (or any) of the things we want before, during, or after Christmastime?

gift of joy

The first thing we need to remember is that personal happiness is based on changing circumstances, while true joy is based on knowledge of and a relationship with God. We might not be anywhere near where we want to be in life, nor may we have all the material possessions we desire, but the most important aspect of our circumstances must always be where we stand with God. Just as it’s so incredibly easy to take our material things for granted while coveting more stuff, it’s also dangerously easy to take our Creator for granted, even during the very holiday that is meant to celebrate Him.

We can become so focused on the circumstances in our lives that we wish we could change, that we might be oblivious to the possibility that God is trying to change us through those very circumstances.

Even though the frustration or sorrow of our difficult circumstances may seem inescapable, there is one solution that actually works, if you’re willing to try it. When your thoughts are overwhelming you, and you feel stressed or helpless about your current situation, that is precisely when you should turn to the One Who sees all and understands all. Seeking God’s face in His Word or through prayer is the absolute best way to dispel all these various emotional problems we have amidst life’s turmoil.

When you find it hard to celebrate the seasonal festivities with everyone else around you because of the pain or worries in your heart, God wants you to draw close to Him and cling to Him for comfort. Every circumstance we go through that is capable of making us cry is meant to help us cry out to our Heavenly Father. Once we acknowledge that the situation (whatever it might be) is out of our control, we then allow ourselves to have the courage we need to fully trust God with it, just like we’re supposed to. After we succeed in this crucial step, we unlock the key to true, fulfilling joy in our lives that lasts all throughout the year, not just Christmas, which is…

Being perfectly content with our present circumstances, regardless of our limited understanding.

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Just like how Christmas presents are supposed to be a surprise to their recipients, God’s plan for our lives is meant to be an exciting journey, a thrilling mystery that we uncover one step at a time, each and every day. When it comes to Christmas gifts, we usually make lists when we’re children of all the many things we want; as adults, we drop a few not-so-subtle hints here and there to the people that care about us. Although we hope to receive the things we wanted, that is not exactly always the case. There are certainly contributing factors to not receiving specific things we wanted, such as financial strain, item availability, or mail delivery arrival issues. More often than not, these factors are out of people’s control, and should not be mistaken as a lack of love or consideration for our desires. Therefore, whenever we are disappointed by the things we receive (or don’t receive) for Christmas, we should try our best to be understanding of the efforts of those who gave them to us.

The same exact thing applies to God in how He handles the circumstances of our lives. We don’t always get exactly what we want, but sometimes that is for the best in God’s eyes, since He knows everything.

Other times, it’s simply a matter of not getting what we want exactly when we want it. It’s our responsibility to acknowledge God as our Heavenly Father, Who owes us NOTHING, but chooses to bless us far more than we deserve anyway. We, however, are merely His children who can only understand things from our limited perspective. If we can have enough faith in His goodness to trust Him, then we should be satisfied with whatever outcome He chooses to give us. After all, our personal happiness is nothing in comparison to the importance of God’s glory in our lives. Are we living this life to please ourselves, or giving it as a sacrifice to the One Who sacrificed His own life for us?

When we are brave enough to ask ourselves the hard-hitting question above, it is then that we discover the real, honest truth about our hearts. We as Christians are supposed to be thankful and satisfied with what God has given us no matter what, but are we really? If not, then it’s high time that we reassess our spiritual priorities. Sometimes we can be guilty of greed, pride, and selfishness in its ugliest forms, but other times, personal discontent can be the result of unintentional ignorance and a misunderstanding of God’s plans for us. Either way, we must confess these feelings to God in prayer and ask Him to forgive us. He is always faithful to do so, and He gives us more grace to persevere in the life He’s called us to in spite of all the difficulties. We must always remember that God still loves us and that the trials we go through should not be mistaken for Him punishing us out of cruelty like Satan wants us to believe.

 

Here are some special verses from God’s Word to help you learn how to appreciate your present:

 

Psalm 16:8 ~ “I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.

Psalm 27:14 ~ “Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.”

Psalm 38:15 ~ “For in thee, O Lord, do I hope: thou wilt hear, O Lord my God.”

Psalm 39:7 ~ “And now, Lord, what wait I for? my hope is in thee.”

Psalm 42:11 ~ “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.”

Psalm 120:1 ~ “In my distress I cried unto the Lord, and he heard me.

Psalm 139:5 ~ “Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me.

Psalm 142:1,2, & 5 ~ “I cried unto the Lord with my voice; with my voice unto the Lord did I make my supplication. I poured out my complaint before him; I shewed before him my trouble.

I cried unto thee, O Lord: I said, Thou art my refuge and my portion in the land of the living.”

Jeremiah 29:11 ~ “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”

Matthew 6:25,33 ~ “Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

Luke 22:42 ~ “ Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.”

John 16:22 ~ “And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.

Romans 14:17 ~ “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.

Romans 15:13 ~ “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.

1 Corinthians 10:13 ~ “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”

Philippians 4:11 ~ “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”

Hebrews 4:15 ~ “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

Hebrews 12:2 ~ “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 13:5-6 ~ “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.

James 1:2-3 ~ “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.”

1 Peter 5:7 ~ “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.

 

Once you learn how to fully appreciate the gift of your present, true Christian joy will always be within your grasp.

Paper present

I realize that this subject is one I’ve thoroughly exhausted on this blog already, but it is such an important lesson for Christians to learn, since it is reoccurring for all of us. Trusting God no matter what and keeping your joy in all circumstances is a lifelong challenge that we have to face while on this earth. With these words, I’m not just speaking to you, but to myself. This is the very topic that has been on my heart lately, which is why I chose to write about it to help others like myself. So this post actually was about contentment, but not for material things – spiritual ones instead. While God doesn’t expect us to like whatever trials we face, He does expect us to trust Him and learn more about His unconditional love for us. The more we get to know our Heavenly Father, the closer we will be to Him, and understand His ways. For that reason alone, difficult circumstances should be a source of true joy for us, acting as a stimulant for bonding with the Lover of our souls. Even if we don’t have what we want in our lives right now, we can be satisfied by our Savior’s love for us. In this manner, we can sincerely appreciate our present, given to us by the Giver of all things. Your present is waiting for you right now… all you have to do is accept it.

– Gloria D. Hopkins

Prevailing Over Plot Twists

Open book
God will help lift up our heads through chapters we have not yet read.

Do you ever feel like the pages of your life have unexpected chapters?

When you’re in the middle of reading a really good book, you tend to feel like you have a decent understanding of what’s going on. Unless the genre is mystery, of course, most authors generally like to give you a good idea of what’s going to happen next in their stories. However, have you ever thought about the first person perspective of the main characters in a story? Even if the book is a work of fiction, from the characters’ point of view, their story will play out to them like reality. So when something bad happens to a character in a story, they have no way of knowing the future or seeing what awaits them in the next chapter. All the character knows is their circumstances in the present state of their current chapter. Since a good character is written to be relatable to the reader, the story’s plot will often have plenty of adversity for the character to react to and eventually overcome.

“Why are you emphasizing this?” you may ask. “This isn’t English class.”

In a previous post I wrote last fall titled “Acknowledging the Author,” I compared our lives on earth to stories written by human authors. Of course, our stories are written by God, the almighty, divine Author. Because God gave us our lives, He has the ultimate authority and control over what happens in them. We naturally have a choice with our free will, but God is the One Who orchestrates our circumstances. Therefore, instead of fighting against God by trying to tell Him what we think is best for our lives, we would all do much better to acknowledge His rightful place as the Author in our individual stories.

In this post, we’ll discuss what to do when the divine Author writes us a plot twist.

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Life is an unpredictable journey, and no matter how many times the world’s selfish mantras try to convince us otherwise, we are most definitely NOT in control. Things will be a lot less complicated once we realize and accept that as fact. As Christians however, we have something incredibly special that the rest of this dark world does not – hope. Not just any hope, but a blessed hope that promises us eternal life completely separate from the suffering of this earth. We only obtain this blessed hope by putting our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and accepting His grace to be our Savior. After asking the Lord to forgive us of our sins, His Holy Spirit comes to reside within our hearts forever.

You’d think this would make life a lot easier, right?

Wrong.

Too many people have the misconception that becoming a Christian means getting an instant happy ending with a blissful, carefree life on earth. Oh, how very far from the truth that mistaken assumption is! This belief comes from simple ignorance, or blatant lies told by those who use bribery as a method to convert people to the gospel. What these people forget is that the Lord Jesus Himself led a life here on earth that was absolutely filled with suffering. The very reason He came to this world was so He could die for our sins to pay the price of our redemption.

If Jesus, the very Son of God, was not exempt from earthly suffering, then why in the world should we as Christians expect to have it better than He did? John 15:20 says, “Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.” If the King of Kings and Lord of Lords was willing to humble Himself for our sake, then we should be more than willing to endure trials in our lives for His sake.

With that much being said, God has promised to help us through whatever we might face on this earth.

Beach footprints

Even though God desires us to be strong, faithful warriors for Him, He is also extremely merciful and compassionate. Therefore, He does not neglect to aid us whenever we need His help during tribulation. All we need to do is come before Him in humility of mind and heart, as we ask Him in prayer for His guidance and understanding. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “There hath no temptation taken hold of you but such as is common to man. But God is faithful; He will not suffer you to be tempted beyond that which ye are able to bear, but with the temptation will also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” Right there we have solid confirmation in God’s Word that He wants to help us in our troubles, and provide us with a way to get through them.

When we don’t understand our circumstances, it’s all too easy to question God and His goodness to us. When we’re tempted to do that, the best thing we can do is look to that verse and remember what He’s said to us. A loving God wouldn’t allow us to suffer in life without helping us. There are many various ways that He helps us, too: He helps us by giving us understanding, by growing our faith in Him, by teaching us His truth, and by transforming us spiritually through the course of the whole process. Essentially, God wants to accomplish the same thing through our trials as he does through His Word.

Now, to be perfectly honest, we Christians don’t always read God’s Word as often as we should, therefore giving us a need to learn valuable lessons. God knows all our needs inside and out, and as He understands our imperfect nature, He sometimes uses trials to teach us lessons that we might be deficient in from neglecting His Word. It’s our responsibility to find out what God is trying to teach us, even if at the time we can’t figure out why. Usually the “whys” are answered through the 20/20 vision of hindsight, or retrospect. The good news about this is, by the time we reflect back on our trials and the lessons they taught us, we have hopefully learned everything God wanted us to get from them, resulting in an understanding, thankful attitude of peace within our hearts.

Let’s take a look at three different strategies we can use when confronted with plot twists in our life:

1. Ask questions.

Question maze.jpeg

As I already stated above, God is usually trying to teach us something when we experience trials in our lives. It is important to remember that the biblical context of the word “trial” is not the same thing as a judicial court session; in its proper context, a trial means proving what you’re made of. Whether it be a trial of your faith, obedience, or love for God, all such trials fulfill the divine purpose of showing God what’s in your heart. More importantly though, they are designed to show YOU what lies in your heart, as God already knows everything, since He’s omniscient. Think about it – if God is trying to show you what you’re made of in your heart, that usually means that there is significant room for improvement. In other words, God is seeking to use this experience in your life to change you for the better.

Instead of complaining and asking God “Why are You making me go through this?”, try asking Him “Lord, please show me – what are you trying to teach me through this experience?” You’ll find that having a humble attitude in the midst of testing is far more effective than a demanding one. Remember the story of Job in the Old Testament? God allowed Satan to put him through every earthly sorrow imaginable, with the only exception being that his life was spared. The Bible explicitly states that Job was a righteous man who loved God with all his heart, and yet God still allowed him to experience a multitude of suffering.

Of course, we know the reason why – God was testing his loyalty to Him by letting Satan take away his earthly blessings. This was only because Satan arrogantly made the claim that Job was only serving God for what he could get from Him. Satan challenged God by saying, “If You take away all the good things he has in his life, then he will curse You to Your face!” Little did Satan realize that God already knew what was in Job’s heart, and He was fully aware that Job loved Him unconditionally. However, God still allowed Satan to afflict Job for the sake of proving Satan wrong, not because He wanted to punish Job for no reason.

So throughout the entire book of Job, we read how Job’s friends and family questioned both him and God, how Job eventually questioned God’s motives directly, and finally how God answered Job by questioning him about his power compared to His own. God was not trying to patronize Job by making him feel small through His questioning; rather, He was trying to show Job that this world will always feel impossible to understand, as He is the One Who made it. Therefore, because there was so much that Job didn’t understand about God’s ways and His power, God explained that the best thing He could do was just to trust Him.

What we can learn from Job’s story to apply to our own lives is this – It is perfectly okay to ask God questions, as long as we do so with the right attitude. God wants us to turn to Him for help, as that shows Him we are acknowledging our need for Him. The only way we can obtain any kind of understanding from our life situations is by seeking God and asking for His wisdom. God wants to help us, but we need to show Him that we are humble enough to seek His guidance and direction. Through time, prayer, and patience, we will receive God’s answer, which leads us to our next strategy.

2. Listen to God’s answer.

Girl listening to ocean

After calling upon God with a humble heart, He will answer us in due time; we just need to sharpen our skills in observation to notice when He does. Often, we can find God’s answer for us within the pages of Scripture. Even though it may seem impossible to consciously search for the answer in a specific passage by yourself, sometimes God will make a particular verse or chapter stand out to you as you glance through the pages of His Word. Another way God might do this is by causing the Holy Spirit to lay a desire in your heart to read a specific section of Scripture. Other ways that God can answer us are from our outside circumstances. Depending on the situation, God can use the actions and words of other people to give you a clear direction regarding the questions you asked Him. The reason God answers us in such subtle ways is because He wants to see if we are really willing to listen to Him.

Instead of getting impatient with God, saying “Why won’t you answer me?!”, ask Him “Lord, what are the ways that you are trying to speak to me? I’m earnestly waiting for your guidance.” Being open minded towards God’s methods of communication will get you further than a limited perspective of your own invention. Remember the story of Cain and Abel in the Old Testament? Both of them were brothers who were offering up sacrifices to God, yet only one of them did it the right way. Abel listened to God and his parents’ instruction by offering up a lamb for his sacrifice, while Cain disobeyed by offering his fruits and vegetables from his garden. Not only was this the wrong decision, but Cain also had the wrong attitude by assuming God would be pleased with it. Of course, God was NOT pleased with Cain’s disobedience, nor his proud, presumptuous attitude, so He refused to take Cain’s offering and accepted Abel’s offering instead.

Cain became very angry with God, so much so that his countenance fell, and God addressed him about it. When Cain asked God why He wouldn’t accept his sacrifice, God simply explained His rules and requirements for a living animal to be given up, as it symbolized the future death of His Son Jesus for our sins. God told Cain how he didn’t follow what he was supposed to do, and that was why He refused to acknowledge his sacrifice. However, God also mercifully told Cain that he could still have a second chance by doing it over again the way He asked, but that was not good enough for Cain, who had a stubborn, proud heart. Instead of asking God to forgive his disobedience and repent from his mistake, Cain chose to take his anger out on his brother Abel by killing him in the fields with his own hands, thus committing the very first murder in human history.

In this story, we see two specific ways that God answered Cain – through His actions and by speaking to him directly. Even though Cain was not actively seeking God’s will in a season of testing, we can still observe how God communicated with him during the course of his story. When Cain disobeyed God’s wishes for giving a sacrifice to Him, God sent a very clear, strong message by simply ignoring it. Sin separates us from fellowship with God, so if God’s presence appears to suddenly be quiet or hidden in your life, it might be a good idea to examine your own heart for any unconfessed sin. God can use His quietness to get our attention when we’ve done something wrong, but He’ll also in His grace be the One to occasionally seek us out.

What we can learn from Cain’s story to apply to our own lives is this – We might be the very reason why we aren’t getting an answer from God. Just as we need to ask God questions with the right attitude, we also need to listen with the right attitude. We can show God that we are willing to listen to Him by obeying His Word, and by making sure that our hearts are right with Him before we expect to hear an answer from Him. Cain’s problem was that he didn’t really listen to God when He answered; instead He chose to get angry with God for what He said and took it out on his innocent brother by killing him. It is extremely important for us to listen to what God has to say by responding correctly, which leads us to our next strategy.

3. Follow where God leads.

Sign post

Once we have received clear direction from God about our situation, it is up to us to do what He wants us to by obeying Him. God might call us to take a specific course of action, or He might want us to simply keep waiting as we watch Him work things out. What everything ultimately comes down to is how much faith and trust we have in Him. Are we willing to do whatever is necessary to accomplish God’s will in our lives? Or are we going to hide behind the artificial excuse of not knowing what He wants us to do when He has clearly already told us what it is? If we pretend that we don’t understand what God is doing in our lives when deep down, we know that He has already shown us, that is nothing more than procrastination, plain and simple. Granted, it will take much time and patience before we know for certain what God’s will is in our personal circumstances, but once we do finally know His will, there is no excuse for us to turn back. And believe me, God has heard every single excuse in the book!  We need to show God that we are up the challenge He has called us to face.

Rather than telling God “Give me more convenient circumstances!”, we should say “Lord, give me the strength I need to grow through this experience.” God wouldn’t put us in a challenging situation if He didn’t want us to change for the better. He certainly won’t make the period of testing easier; if anything, it will get a lot harder than we want or expect it to! God wants us to recognize our own weakness so that we will be compelled to rely on His strength. Remember the story of Moses in the Old Testament? He knew exactly what God wanted him to do – he was commanded to lead the Jewish people out of slavery in Egypt. God didn’t sugarcoat his assignment; He told Moses exactly how everything would transpire once he dared to confront Pharaoh. As a result, Moses was scared silly! He knew the difficulty he was getting himself into, therefore he made up every reason he could think of for God to send someone else instead.

Moses told God that he couldn’t accomplish His will because he was “slow of speech,” or stammered when he talked. God became frustrated with his excuse and reminded Moses that He created the human tongue, meaning that He could help him in spite of his weakness. When that didn’t work, Moses asked God what he should do if the Jewish people didn’t want to listen to his authority. God responded by telling him to give them a sign by saying, “I AM hath sent me.” By doing so, the Jewish people would recognize that Moses was indeed sent by the one, true God Whom they worshiped. These are just a couple examples, but every single excuse that Moses gave in an attempt to get out of his calling, God shot down without any hesitation.

Realizing that he was in a losing argument with God, Moses finally gave up and gave in to the command that God gave him. When he decided to make God his Source of strength, Moses was able to accomplish everything in Egypt that God asked him to, and glorified His Name in the process. Even though he was unsuccessful in getting the Pharaoh to believe in God and His power, Moses did achieve what God sent him to do – deliver the Jewish people from their captivity as slaves. It didn’t matter what the Egyptians or the Hebrews thought of Moses and his abilities; it only mattered that Moses was willing to obey God no matter how tough his calling turned out to be. All Moses needed to do was step back from focusing on himself and his weaknesses, so that God could display His tremendous power through him as his servant.

What we can learn from Moses’ story to apply to our own lives is this – God has already done His part, and He expects us to do ours too. It’s not fair for us to ask God questions about our situation, demand answers from Him, and then just sit back passively when He wants us to do something. I know what you’re probably thinking – “How am I expected to do something when I might not have control over my situation? Isn’t it a bit inconsistent for you to tell me to take action when you’ve already said that God is the One in charge of my life?” Well, the thing is, what God might ask us to do in the midst of trying circumstances isn’t always a physical action. He might be simply asking us to have more faith in Him and prove our trust to Him. Most likely, He’s probably testing us to see whether or not we’re willing to obey His calling for us. We must look deep inside our hearts and ask ourselves, “Am I really willing to follow wherever God leads me, no matter what the cost?”

 

Here are verses to help you implement these strategies so you can prevail over plot twists in your life:

 

Isaiah 33:2 ~ “O Lord, be gracious unto us; we have waited for thee: be thou their arm every morning, our salvation also in the time of trouble.

Jeremiah 29:11-13 ~ “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.”

Psalm 22:19 ~ “But be not thou far from me, O Lord: O my strength, haste thee to help me.

Psalm 43:5 ~ “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.”

Psalm 46:1 ~ “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

Psalm 56:8 ~ “Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?”

Psalm 61:2 ~ “From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”

Psalm 119:28 ~ “My soul melteth for heaviness: strengthen thou me according unto thy word.

Psalm 120:1 ~ “In my distress I cried unto the Lord, and he heard me.

Psalm 130:1 ~ “Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord.

1 Corinthians 1:27 ~ “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;”

1 Corinthians 10:13 ~ ““There hath no temptation taken hold of you but such as is common to man. But God is faithful; He will not suffer you to be tempted beyond that which ye are able to bear, but with the temptation will also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 ~ “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”

1 Thessalonians 5:24 ~ “Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.

Romans 8:26 ~ “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.

Ephesians 6:10 ~ “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.

Philippians 4:13 ~ “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”

 

The best way to prevail over plot twists in our lives is by trusting and obeying God.

To summarize the three strategies I’ve shared with you, I’ll reference the chorus of the classic old hymn titled Trust and Obey:

“Trust and obey,

for there’s no other way

to be happy in Jesus

but to trust and obey.”

handwriting

When we don’t understand where exactly our life story is headed, we should look to the One Who is still busy writing it – the Divine Author, God Himself. Even when everything seems hopeless and dark in the present, all things are still under His control. The future is bright, since we have a blessed eternity to look forward to after accepting salvation. If we make a little bit of effort, we’ll notice that there are plenty of happy blessings to enjoy in this present world, in spite of all our trials and troubles. Making an attempt to be thankful to God for little things each day will add to our Christian joy, helping it to be strong regardless of difficult circumstances. In fact, we should also thank God for the trials in our lives, since they should be viewed as an opportunity for spiritual growth. No matter how many different plot twists are written into our life chapters, we have no valid reason to worry, since He already has it all planned out. Instead of trying to grab the pen away from His loving hand, we should loosen our grip completely and realize that He knows what He’s doing.

-Gloria D. Hopkins

In the Not-So-Bleak Midwinter

footprints-in-the-snow
Though all the world looks cold and drear, the hand of God is very near.

Winter is now upon us.

When the first official snow falls across a rural landscape, the entire scene appears to be a solid blanket of white, closely touching the grey, cloudy skies. The world seems still, if only for a season. All of nature looks as if it were cast under a powerful sleeping spell, lying dormant until the spring. The cold, frigid air is devoid of sound, except for the occasional howling of the wind. Many animals are hushed in their homes, snuggled away in hibernation. The trees form dark shapes against the sky, their bare branches spreading out in tangled lines.

All of these things combined together seem to whisper one thing – silence.

Silence is something that this world needs a lot more of. It’s rather refreshing to have a break from all the noise when winter finally comes. For some people though, silence can be a difficult thing to endure. Those who prefer the warmer, more active season of summer can hardly bear the inevitable cold and inactivity of winter. Nature lovers might find themselves overcome with a sense of sorrow and longing for spring. They wish with all their hearts that the flowers and trees would come back to life, so that the landscape wouldn’t look so barren and desolate. These are perfectly understandable reasons for people to dislike winter, yet there are three reasons why winter is very important and shouldn’t be overlooked. Believe it or not, winter can be viewed as a hopeful, positive season, rather than a dull and depressing one.

Here is the first one:

1. Winter is the season when nature gets a period of rest.

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Upon first glance, the winter landscape appears as if everything in nature has died. However, that is the farthest thing from the truth. Actually, the plants and animals are really sleeping instead of dead, although this fact is hidden from our sight. The plants have life within them, but it is well shielded from the cold with their protective outer layers. The animals are simply hibernating in a safe place where they can keep warm, either eating or sleeping most likely. Just like nature, we humans keep ourselves indoors throughout the winter as much as we can to avoid getting hypothermia. It is such a comforting privilege to be able to stay inside where it’s warm and cozy, and look out the window to gaze upon the frosty landscape. While the rest of creation is in a state of hibernation, we too can enjoy blissful moments of peace and rest as we relax inside the warmth of our homes. In the same way that we are content to rest inside our houses, we can also be content to rest in the knowledge of God’s love for us. Just as we feel safe and secure from the cold winter winds when we stay inside, we can feel safe and secure from the cares of this world when we remember that God is protecting and taking care of us. The warmth of a bright fireplace is comforting, but it is nothing compared to the warmth we feel when we know that God is always watching over us.

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Instead of wishing away the time out of longing for spring to arrive, we should choose to embrace this season of rest and relaxation, as it is beneficial to our health. Those of us who struggle with annual illnesses this time of year readily agree to and welcome the need for rest,  so we can take the necessary time required to get well. Instead of worrying about everything going on in our lives, God wants us to be still and know that He is God. If we know that God wants His creation to rest and relax for a time, then we too are automatically included in that category. God wants us to work hard during our time on this earth, but He also wants us to admit when we need to take a break too. Overworking, overthinking, and overstressing is not good for anyone’s well being. Pleasing God is about being diligent, but it’s also about taking care of the bodies He gave us. We cannot possibly expect to continue functioning as normal if we don’t take a time out to let our bodies do the physical maintenance and repair they need. We also should accept the fact that nature needs this time to slow down, which leads to this next reason why winter can indeed be viewed as a positive season.

2. Winter is a season of development when hidden growth takes place.

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God designed the season of winter to be restful so that all the elements of His creation can have a chance to grow underneath the surface of the ice and snow. While the tree branches may look barren, there are brand new leaves growing inside the chambers of bark, waiting to sprout forth the moment spring arrives. Although many animals are hidden from view, they are slumbering safely inside their dens, where they might give birth to new young that will emerge when it’s warm again. The baby animals that are already born also need this time so that they can grow. God established this cycle of transformation so that renewal can take place every year. We can learn a valuable lesson from God’s creation of nature by renewing our hearts and minds. This can be accomplished by recognizing our own need for spiritual growth through the help of the Holy Spirit. Just as the plants and animals have hidden changes occurring on the inside where we can’t see, God wants the same thing to be true within our hearts. While we’re waiting to see God’s plans for our lives unfold, we should take a moment to stop and consider if God is trying to privately teach us something in the meantime. Rather than asking God “What are You doing to change my life circumstances?”, we should be asking ourselves “What do I need to change about my attitude before God reveals His plans for me?” The season of winter evokes a wondrous sense of mystery, and God’s ways are far more mysterious than any of us can possibly imagine. We can’t always understand what God is trying to teach us, but our hearts need to be willing to learn from Him nevertheless. Whatever God is trying to communicate to us, we can only listen for His silent whispers that are as soft as the newly fallen snow.

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Rather than wishing it were spring right away, we need to accept the fact that spiritual growth and development takes time to occur. We need to have honest and realistic expectations of ourselves before we try to see everything the way God sees it in the present. It will take humility, dedication, and a sincere desire for us to make a serious change about our perspective on what God is doing with our lives. If we want to receive the very best blessings that God has to offer, then we need to show Him that we are willing to trust Him to work everything out in His perfect timing. Developing these spiritual character traits in our lives isn’t always easy, but it is well worth the effort. God knows our hearts, so He can see whether or not we’re really trying to change. He also knows our weak and fragile human state, so He is forgiving when we fail to understand Him sometimes. God wants us to grow into strong people of faith who firmly rely upon Him for everything in our lives. In order for this to happen, we need to acknowledge what is or is not under our control, which leads to the third and final reason why winter can be viewed as a positive season after all.

3. Winter is a season of waiting to see God’s miracles unfold.

snow-bunny

Just like all the other seasons, winter takes three months to finish its course of time. All of the beautiful, wonderful things that we see and enjoy during spring time don’t just appear overnight. Instead of despairing over all the ice and snow, we should appreciate the beauty it brings that is unlike anything else we witness throughout the rest of the year. We wouldn’t be able to recognize the colorful flowers in the spring months without first gazing upon the whiteness of the winter snow. In the same way, waiting for winter to pass can be directly compared to the seasons of waiting God puts us through in our lives. We aren’t always able to see exactly what He’s doing as He’s carrying out His will for us. In fact, we might not be able to see any sign of significant progress on the horizon of waiting for His plans to be fulfilled. However, that does NOT mean that nothing is happening behind the scenes. Just as we must wait for all the snow and ice to melt, we must also wait for God to orchestrate all the right circumstances before we can see the answers to our questions and prayers. As humans, we aren’t too fond of waiting, since it means that there are, in fact, some things that we simply cannot control. Even though seasons of waiting might make us feel like we’re stuck and not going anywhere, we need to trust God by knowing He won’t leave us stranded.

baby-seal

Before we can fully enjoy the blessings of the future, we must be content with the circumstances of the present. When God makes us wait for things to happen in our lives, it is for our benefit, so we can learn how to depend on, grow, and trust in Him. We have no way of knowing exactly how long it will take before God fulfills His plan for our lives, or grants us access to achieve our dreams and wishes for success. In the meantime, however, we can choose to have faith in Him by believing in His goodness, regardless of outcomes. We wouldn’t be able to appreciate God’s answer to our prayers and questions without first waiting to see how He chooses to respond. Sometimes the longer God makes us wait, the more satisfying it is when He finally gives us our heart’s desire. This is good for two reasons: it forces us to remember that we can’t take God for granted, and it helps us realize that God hasn’t forgotten about us, caring enough to remember our requests.

 

Here are some verses to help remind you that waiting in your personal mid-winter isn’t so bleak:

 

Philippians 1:6 ~ “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:”

Psalm 25:5 ~ “Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day.”

Psalm 27:13-14 ~ “ I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.”

Psalm 33:20 ~ “Our soul waiteth for the LORD: he is our help and our shield.”

Psalm 39:7 ~ “And now, Lord, what wait I for? My hope is in thee.

Psalm 130:5 ~ “I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope.”

Psalm 138:8 ~ “The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me: thy mercy, O Lord, endureth for ever: forsake not the works of thine own hands.

Psalm 145:15-16 ~ “The eyes of all wait upon thee; and thou givest them their meat in due season. Thou openest thine hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing.

Jeremiah 29:11 ~ “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.

Lamentations 3:24-26 ~ “The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him. It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.”

Micah 7:7 ~ “Therefore I will look unto the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me.”

Matthew 6:25 ~ “Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?”

Matthew 10:29-31 ~ “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.”

James 5:7-8 ~ Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.”

 

In the not-so-bleak midwinter, you can be confident that God’s hand is hard at work.

Heart snowball.jpeg

 When you look upon your present life circumstances and see nothing but white and grey, do not immediately descend into despair. The color of white that is so prevalent in winter snow represents a blank canvas for the bright colors of the future spring. In the same way, the season of waiting in our lives that at first appears to be barren and desolate is actually a fresh opportunity for God to bring new blessings into our lives later. Just as God is busy preparing His natural creation to have new life in the spring, He is also preparing to bring new things into our lives as well. We can choose to be content with waiting to see what will happen, and increase our faith in God and His goodness at the same time.

The color of grey seen in cloudy, snowy skies also represents the uncertainty of the future.  God works in mysterious ways, and He is pulling things together behind the scenes when we don’t even realize it. God has nothing but your very best interest at the forefront of His mind. He’s not going to abandon you by forcing you to wait for something you’ve prayed about forever. If God cares enough to follow through with His plans for plants and animals to develop, then you can be certain that He cares far much more about fulfilling His plans for you in your life. Meanwhile, you can rest in God’s perfect peace in spite of all your unanswered questions, trusting that you will be given answers in His perfect timing.

– Gloria D. Hopkins

The Essential Equinox

autumn-leaves
Just as the seasons must change, our hearts must do the same.

Everyone looks forward to many different things during the season of autumn.

The air gets cooler, giving people the perfect excuse to wear their favorite sweaters and jackets. The nights last longer, allowing people more time to sleep. Because of the colder weather, annual summertime insect pests finally disappear. Other enjoyable things include bonfires, jumping into piles of leaves, toasting marshmallows, savoring warm, hearty soups, sipping hot cocoa, wearing soft, comforting scarves, and attending social gatherings to celebrate the harvest.

However, there is one important thing that occurs every year during autumn that everyone simply cannot ignore: the annual changing of the leaves.

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Although the changing colors of the leaves are beautiful, they are also foreboding.

As most people know, the leaves changing color represent their imminent death during the coming winter. The lowering levels of chlorophyll present in the leaves are responsible for making them lose their shades of green. Carotenoids, chemicals which cause plants to appear yellow, and anthocyenids, chemicals which cause plants to appear red, are the two remaining sources that give autumn leaves their fiery hue. Also responsible for this change are the shorter hours of sunlight during the annual autumn equinox. Without chlorophyll and sunlight working together, the trees are no longer able to make food for their leaves, and the natural consequence is a gradual death for the leaves.

dying-leaves-giphy

For nature lovers like myself, this scientific fact is quite sobering, and makes me feel sad when I think about it. As much as I love seeing the trees throughout all their stages during the year, I hate the thought that their leaves are subject to an annual death. Being a spring baby, I am more comfortable with the trees coming back to life after winter, when their leaves and flowers are growing and blossoming all over the place. However, I always need to remind myself to accept the fact that the changing leaves and their subsequent death is necessary for the trees to have a new, fresh life in the spring. If they constantly hold onto the old, dead leaves, they won’t be able to grow the young, living ones. God designed the trees this way as an essential part of His cycle of nature in His creation.

Just as the leaves have a necessary cycle of change, we as Christians do also.

It is important for us to remember that although we are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, we are still sinners saved by grace. This means that even though we strive to sin less, we have a long way to go before we obtain sinless perfection in Heaven. We all struggle with sin every day, in various different forms and degrees. Only God knows the content of our hearts and whether or not our sins are intentional. This is why it is necessary for us to make a daily habit out of prayer and ask God to search our hearts for us, to make sure that there is nothing between us in our relationship with Him. The Holy Spirit will gently make us aware of anything we need to confess to God so that we can rid ourselves of it and remove it completely from our lives. We must also keep in mind that the process of change in our hearts is a slow one, just like anything else that changes, so that we do not become too hard on ourselves if we happen to fail God more than once.dead-leaves-giphy

The greatest obstacle in accomplishing change is establishing new habits while abolishing old ones. When the leaves die and fall off the trees, they are not needed any more as they are no longer useful. In the same way, God is able to examine our hearts to see what problem areas are hindering us in our spiritual walk. When we read His Word and a certain verse or passage convicts us of something, that is the Holy Spirit talking directly to us, saying, “Get rid of it; you don’t need that anymore. If you hold onto this sin or bad habit, you will be blocking access to My blessings in your life. Only after you kill off this unnecessary thing will you be able to see new growth and transformation take place in your heart.” If we listen to the soft whispers of God’s Holy Spirit, we will achieve two victories – pleasing God by practicing obedience to Him, and bettering ourselves for our personal benefit and for His glory.

We are all like swaying tree branches, and God grounds us as the solid trunk.

There is no need for us to be afraid of letting go of spiritual hindrances in our lives, as we can live much better without them. The tree branches don’t die when they release their leaves to the ground; only the leaves themselves die. We can still live without the sins and bad habits that we might cling to, and have a much improved quality of life as well. Although we might sway in the breeze when experiencing personal change, God is still there to help keep us grounded. He is the Vine (or Trunk), and we are the branches. We have no life in and of ourselves, but only when we are connected to Him. It is through God alone that we are able to attain new life in the spring of spiritual growth once we receive salvation. He is our support system that keeps us firmly rooted during all the trials of life. Though the winds of autumn weather may get rough, the trunk keeps the branches strong and secure. We have no reason to fear about falling off when we are connected to God.

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Even though the season of autumn symbolizes the coming of death, we know that eventually springtime will return. Once we have completed our process of earthly transformation, in Heaven we will be rewarded with a brand new, everlasting life. The wickedness of this world will pass away, and God’s righteous rule will finally be set up to reign over the new Heaven and Earth. Just as in nature’s autumn equinox, the days will grow darker before they get brighter. However, we have an eternal hope and joy that we have invested our faith in; and that’s something that God has promised us. We must trust that God has everything in His ultimate, divine control, and not allow the troublesome, chilly breezes of this world to blow us to and fro. Therefore, we can have peace in knowing that God will allow everything to unfold according to His perfect plan, and watch the changing natural process take its course.

“Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.
I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night’s decay
Ushers in a drearier day.” ~ Emily Bronte

Here are some verses to help us understand the need for our essential equinox:

Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 ~ “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;  A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;  A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth? I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it. He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.”

John 15:5 ~ “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.”

Acts 17:28 ~ “For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.”

Romans 6:4 ~ “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

Romans 12:2 ~ “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

2 Corinthians 5:17 ~ “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

Ephesians 2:15 ~ “Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace;

Ephesians 4:22-24 ~ “That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind;  And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.

Philippians 1:6 ~ “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:”

Colossians 3:5 ~ “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:”

1 Thessalonians 5:24 ~ “Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.”

We must embrace the essential equinox in our everyday lives.

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When the autumn leaves change colors and eventually fall off entirely, it does not happen overnight. It is a gradual process that occurs over the three months of the season. In order for us to experience real change in our hearts and lives, we must have realistic expectations and exercise patience with ourselves. We will accomplish very little if we do the opposite and end up making ourselves feel discouraged and hopeless. This is also why we need to call upon God to ask for His help in our process of change. Remember, we are helpless to do anything without Him, and He will hear us if we come to Him in humility. God understands our weaknesses, and takes pity on our human condition. He is more than happy to help us if we are willing to acknowledge our constant need for Him. God will provide us with the courage and strength we need to release the sins and spiritual bad habits that are holding us back, so we can fully experience newness of life. Instead of resisting these changes, we would do well to embrace them, and let God perform the miracle that He desires to work in our lives. In the process, we will witness something amazingly beautiful take place as change occurs inside us.

– Gloria D. Hopkins

Acknowledging the Author

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The pen is not mightier than the Sword of the Lord!

Did you know that your life story has an Author?

Believe it or not, regardless of society telling us that we are the authors of our own fate or destiny, our lives were written into existence by an intelligent Being, Who loves us very much. Each and every one of us is a unique, individual character designed to fulfill a specific purpose on the stage of this world. While some of us may have more difficult backgrounds and settings to deal with than others, all of us are certain to face daunting challenges and conflict throughout the various chapters of our lives. During the darkest moments of our life experience, it may be extremely hard to keep reading until we reach the next chapter. However, we must never forget the One Who is constantly writing the story of our lives, nor forget the inherent goodness of His character.

God, the ultimate, Divine Author, has plans for every chapter we live.

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From the moment that we are conceived in our mother’s womb to the moment we take our last breath, God is busy writing a grand novel about our lives. Depending on whether or not we come to know Him by choosing to accept salvation, our lives can become either a triumphant masterpiece, or a pitiful tragedy. You see, the main thing that sets us apart from fictional literary characters is tense – past tense, that is. When human authors tell stories, they usually use the format of relating the different events as having already happened; while our lives are limited to the present. Only God has the privilege of knowing what will happen in the future; yet He still has given man the gift of free will, allowing us to shape the course of our future. While God will always be the One Who is ultimately in control, He has given man the responsibility to make his own decisions, which he will be held accountable for at the end of his life.

God desires to perform a wonderful work through each of our lives, which He will only carry out if we let Him. He literally sees everything from a higher perspective, in both a physical and spiritual sense. Possessing the power of omniscience, God knows exactly who needs us, what needs our abilities, when we are needed, why we are needed, and how we are needed. From our finite point of view, we can only see a limited picture of God’s purpose for us. This can be extremely frustrating at times, causing us to want to question God and His pure, just motives. However, if we knew exactly how everything is supposed to work out in our lives, then why would we need to trust God in the first place? God designed us to be completely dependent upon Him, whether we like it or not. When we rely on Him for guidance every day, it keeps us humble as we always should be. Also, if we knew what was going to happen in all of the chapters ahead of time, it would take the excitement out of our story, defeating its purpose with the biggest spoiler ever!

As the main characters of our stories, we are subject to development.

At the beginning of most stories, the main character usually starts out with personality traits or circumstances that may or may not change by the end of the final chapter. Just like many fictional literary characters, we tend to have a variety of qualities that God desires to change about us during our life’s journey. Since we are born with a sinful nature, and God is holy and perfect in every way, anything that God manages to change about us is guaranteed to be an improvement. Here are some classic examples to help emphasize this point: With Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol,” he went from being greedy and miserly to generous and compassionate. With Bilbo Baggins in “The Hobbit,” he started off as a timid little homebody and became a bold, brave burglar that traversed all of Middle Earth. With Mary Lennox in “The Secret Garden,” she was once a bitter, cynical little girl who didn’t care much for other people. Yet by the end of her story, she had become a sweet, loving little girl who had learned to finally trust other people.

Just as the characters from these classic stories had flaws and weaknesses that made them far from perfect, we likewise suffer from our own personal problems that we must strive to overcome. In case you haven’t already figured this out by now, we are totally helpless all on our own. When it comes to improving ourselves as human beings, we are utterly powerless to change any aspect of ourselves without God’s help. Once again, this is where we are designed to depend upon Him. In exchange for our robe of fleshly ways, God can give us a robe of righteousness through the transforming power of His Holy Spirit. If the characters mentioned in the stories above were already perfect, there wouldn’t be any need for them to go through the different experiences in their stories. In the same way, if we were already perfect like God, then we would be in Heaven with Him right now instead of living on this earth. We all need to go through our own types of character development during our earthly stories before we can acquire sinless perfection in Heaven.

For our characters to develop, we must be willing to go through dark chapters.

darkness-giphy

In order for any story to be interesting to the reader, the main character must go through some sort of conflict during the majority of the plot and learn how to overcome it. Without a decent conflict, the story is dull, boring, and altogether irrelevant to its human audience, which is all too familiar with conflict in the real world. Depending on the complexity of the plot, this conflict can come from many different sources – a main antagonist, the protagonist’s preexisting circumstances, or even from within the protagonist himself. For a really dramatic story, the author will probably form a conflict by mixing together all three of these sources, to keep the reader’s interest. Even though the conflict in the story might be so overwhelming that the main character wants to give up, he has no choice but to keep going, if he is ever going to reach the resolution at the end.

As the main characters of our life stories, we must also keep going if we are going to reach the ultimate goal of God’s will for us. Although conflict in this world will never be completely resolved until the Lord returns, we can still witness resolution in our lives every day by choosing to focus on God’s goodness in the midst of trials. If we are following God, Who is light, then we will certainly be opposed by Satan and his forces of evil, who are darkness. Even though God does not like to see us suffer, He still allows it to occur in our lives to grow us in our spiritual maturity. If we try to resist the reality of suffering in our lives, we are only deceiving ourselves, and simply postponing the inevitable.  When Jesus Himself was on this earth, He suffered more than any of us could ever imagine. Are we greater than God’s only Son to think that we are entitled to make our way through life without any obstacles? Absolutely not! In order to see the final chapter in our story filled with light, we must first earn our happy ending by experiencing chapters filled with darkness.

 

Here are some verses to prove that God is busy developing the plot of our lives:

 

Jeremiah 29:11 ~ “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”

Romans 8:28 ~ “ And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

Psalm 27:14 ~ “Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.

Psalm 37:23 ~ “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way.

Proverbs 3:5 ~ “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.

Proverbs 16:3 ~ “Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established.

Proverbs 16:9 ~ “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps.

Jeremiah 1:5 ~ “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.

Ephesians 3:20 ~ “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,

1 Corinthians 2:9 ~ “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.

 

We must acknowledge our Author by submitting our will to His.

Within the pages of every great story, the main characters all have individual desires that drive them to perform the course of action they take throughout the book. Sometimes the desires of the protagonist become clouded by his overwhelming circumstances of adversity, causing him to lose hope and give up all of his willpower to achieve them. To make the story feel real and relatable to readers, a good author will often bring his main character to the brink of surrender through all of the plot twists and turns that he throws at him. Yet for a good story to truly resonate with a reader, the protagonist will always find a way to overcome his circumstances, no matter how many times he is knocked down. This inspires the reader to have strength and determination in his own life, regardless of his own personal struggles. The protagonist doesn’t know that he is merely playing a part in the author’s grand scheme of things; he simply accepts his role and dutifully fulfills it. We, on the other hand, are aware of our Divine Author, and also have a say in making our own decisions. In the midst of all the drama in our daily lives, God wants to hear us cry out to Him and seek His will above everything else. We do not have the authority to control the many different plot twists He gives us, but we are expected to cooperate in loving obedience with God by trusting the goodness of His character.

At times, it may seem hard to accept the difficult plot points that we are given in our unique stories. We may even be tempted to get angry with God and question what exactly He is doing with our lives. As humans, we don’t like being told to wait and put our desires on hold, nor do we like facing uncertainty in the midst of adverse circumstances. However, it is our responsibility to acknowledge God’s rightful place as the Author of our lives. The Bible, the greatest Book that has ever been written, assures us that we can trust God completely, because He loves us unconditionally in spite of our sometimes misguided decisions. No matter how many mistakes we might make, God is always ready and willing to forgive us, and turn those errors in judgment around to make for a more interesting story. If we can convince ourselves to give up our stubborn pride and selfishness, then we will be able to see just what amazing things God is capable of doing in our lives. To be a true servant of the Lord, we must relinquish our grip on the pen of our will, and give it to the One Author Who knows how to make a remarkable, miraculous story.

– Gloria D. Hopkins

 

Reaching For the Right Fruit

Forbidden Fruit
We must eat of the fruit that is already given to us.

Forbidden fruit.

Since the Garden of Eden, this term has been used to symbolize anything our flesh desires that is against God’s will. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that everything we desire is evil; it just means that God might not want us to have something for any number of reasons that He knows about. As our Heavenly Father, God knows what is best for us, and also what is worst for us. It is His right to protect us out of His loving heart from anything that will seriously harm us by placing rules and restrictions around certain areas of our lives.

Let’s take a look at the story of the original Forbidden fruit to see why God really knows what’s best for us.

 

The Test of Contentment

 
Most of us are familiar with the story of the Fall of Man found in Genesis chapter 3 of God’s Word. Satan enticed Eve to sin by using the one tree in the Garden of Eden that God had forbidden her and Adam to eat from. That tree was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which God placed in the garden to test their obedience to Him.

Now, Satan knew that Eve was aware of God’s command, but he wanted to deliberately draw her attention to the one thing she couldn’t have, in spite of all the other wonderful things she had already been given. God gave Adam and Eve permission to eat fruit from all the other trees of the garden except that one, because He wanted to not only test their obedience, but their contentment as well.

Satan was the first being to sin, because he was dissatisfied with serving God in Heaven. It wasn’t enough for him that he was the Leader of Music among the angels, or that he had a beautiful appearance; he wanted to be worshiped just like God. So when Satan wanted to tempt Eve to sin for the first time, he projected the source of his original sin onto her, by making her want to be like or equal with God Himself. By telling her the lie that eating the Forbidden fruit would make her and Adam like gods, Satan was trying to twist and pervert the natural desire that humans have to be holy like God, since we are all made in God’s divine image.

What was wrong with Eve’s desire?

In truth, there was nothing wrong with Eve’s desire to be like God, since she was created to desire His holiness and perfection. However, there was something very wrong with the way she chose to pursue this natural desire, by disobeying God and not following His will. God is good and gracious, and he wanted Adam and Eve to be happy, but it is His divine right to withhold certain things He didn’t want them to have. You see, the Bible tells us that after eating the Forbidden fruit, the eyes of Adam and Eve were opened, because they knew the difference between good and evil. God desired them to be in a state of pure, innocent bliss in the Garden, while He would deal with Satan’s betrayal Himself. He knew that they did not need to know the presence of wickedness in the world, and that they would be better off without it; but Satan convinced them the very opposite – that God was being selfish and didn’t want them to be happy.

When Eve chose to eat the Forbidden fruit, she was missing out on all the other blessings around her, the many different trees that God HAD given her permission to eat from. She believed Satan’s lie that God was holding something good back from her, when it was really a commandment made for her own good. If she had just waited to ask God how to be like Him, I’m sure she would have received an honest, straightforward answer, rather than a deceitful, double-sided answer from Satan. It could very well have been the case that God might have wanted to teach Adam and Eve to be more like Himself over the passing of time, rather than having them attempt to be like Him through disobedience.

How are we like Adam and Eve?

Just like our very first parents, we are prone to discontentment as well. Whenever we take our eyes off the things that God has already given us, we automatically become dissatisfied, and begin lusting after things that He either hasn’t given to us yet, or after things that He never wants us to have. Now, some of our desires might be completely natural and wholesome, but God may not have chosen to fulfill them yet. Does that mean that He doesn’t want us to be happy? Of course not! God is good, and if He chooses to delay in giving us something, it simply means it isn’t the right time for it yet. Perhaps He wants to change something in us before we’re fully ready to have a particular desire.

For example, a small child might want to drive his parents’ car, but his parents realize that he is far too young to be responsible for such an object. They tell him that when he is old enough, he will be able to drive the car someday. Does that make the boy’s parents cruel and unkind for not giving him his wish immediately? No, they simply practiced common sense by judging what their son was or wasn’t capable of handling. The same thing applies to our desires and God’s will. There are many things that we might desire: a certain job, a nice house, a new car, a person to be our life partner. While none of these things are wrong to desire in and of themselves, they can quickly become wrong if we try to claim them for ourselves before God wants us to have them, or in a way that goes against His Word. The best thing we can do is wait on the Lord to do His will.

How do we possess the skill of patience?

It can be extremely difficult to wait on God to fulfill our desires, especially when our hearts so desperately want them in the present. In the meantime, God would have us to practice the skill of patience while He accomplishes His perfect work in our lives. We can start by asking ourselves a question such as this – What is God trying to teach me in this period of patience? There are always things we can improve about ourselves, and some of them might be harder to find than others. Thankfully, we have the help of the Holy Spirit  to identify what needs to change within us. There might also be the possibility of God wanting us to get busy preparing for the future while He prepares our blessings yet to come. What it all comes down to is the simple matter of our faith in God. Do we truly believe that He is good, and sincerely desires our well-being? Are we willing to trust Him enough to let Him have His way as He writes the story of our lives?

How can we learn from Adam and Eve’s mistake?

There are many different lessons to be found in Genesis chapter 3, but the one that stands out to me the most is the importance of thankfulness. Adam and Eve were perfectly happy until they listened to Satan’s lies and became ungrateful like he was in Heaven. Instead of focusing so much on what we want but don’t have, we should focus on what we already have that God has given us, and really don’t deserve at all after sinning against Him. Just like the many other different kinds of trees in the Garden of Eden, God has provided us with a multitude of blessings flowing from the treasury of His grace. If you hear Satan starting to whisper in your ear to walk in the direction of the Forbidden Fruit in your life, the best thing you can do is to just turn around to look at the Permitted Fruit. When he begins to draw your gaze towards what is off-limits (for your own good), reach your hands for the right things that God wants you to have right now. Practicing contentment can help you prevent a personal catastrophe!

Here are God’s own words about this matter:

Hebrews 13:5 ~ “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.

Psalm 27:14 ~ “Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.

Psalm 145:15-16 ~ “The eyes of all wait upon thee; and thou givest them their meat in due season. Thou openest thine hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing.”

I hope this helps encourage you to be satisfied with God’s goodness in the present, even if you still have unmet desires in your life. Don’t forget to trust God no matter what, because He never fails, even when man disappoints. If you keep your eyes on the right fruit that God has permitted you to have in your life, then you should be able to stay away from the forbidden fruit, at least until God allows you to have it in the future. Remember that He is your Heavenly Father, and He loves you more than you could ever imagine.

– Gloria D. Hopkins