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Author Archives: Family Christian

  • The Miracle of Friendship

    Posted on April 14, 2015 by Family Christian

    Melanie Shankle APRIL 14, 2015

    The Miracle of Friendship
    MELANIE SHANKLE

    "As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul." 1 Samuel 18:1 (ESV)

    One of my dearest friends is dying of cancer right now.

    I realize that’s not really an uplifting start to your day. But it’s the reality. I am heartbroken at the prospect of losing my Jen. She’s been a constant presence in my life since we first met at 18 years old and she swept into a room wearing a denim wrap skirt and Cole Haan loafers that caused me to immediately reexamine all my personal wardrobe goals. She was exuberant and confident, and immediately I wanted to be her friend … if I could get over feeling so intimidated.

    Fortunately, I did, and she quickly became one of my dearest friends as we learned all the ways we were alike and all the ways we were different. God used Jen to draw my heart back to Him as she demonstrated how to make faith a priority. I look back at that time and realize God very purposely knit our hearts together during those years. He knew all the ways He would use us to encourage and strengthen one another.

    As we see in our key verse, 1 Samuel 18:1, God sometimes knits our hearts with others like He did with David and Jonathan. He puts people in our paths because He knows we’ll need them.

    Jonathan was just what David needed at that stage of his life. David was a young shepherd thrust into the spotlight. And based on some of his future writings in the book of Psalms, maybe a little overemotional at times.

    David was often overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy and depression, and being hunted by a crazy king. (I can relate to all of these things with the exception of the crazy king.) But Jonathan loved David, believed in him, and sought God’s best for him. Jonathan’s friendship was what David needed to grow into the king and leader he was to become.

    As women, many of us spend our early lives thinking about marriage and hoping to find Mr. Right. Then we realize our husbands don’t necessarily want to hear all about the best waterproof mascara or cry with us over the kid who’s failing math or eat cookie dough straight from the bowl. That’s why God gives us our girlfriends.

    Beyond common interests, affection and a sense of humor — the aim of friendship is to sow into each other words of eternal life and blessing. We remind each other of God’s wisdom and provision, refresh each other’s spirit and strengthen each other’s faith.

    Good friendships require walking with one another down some hard roads, losses, a bad diagnosis, financial problems and much more. We need friends to help us remember what God has done for us and that He will be faithful.

    In 2 Samuel 1:26b, David says of Jonathan, " … Your friendship was a miracle-wonder, love far exceeding anything I’ve known — or ever hope to know," (MSG). That’s ultimately what God gives us in friendship: a real life, everyday miracle in the form of another person.

    But having your soul knitted to another isn’t for the faint of heart.

    It means you bear your own hurts along with those of your friend. You cry when they cry and laugh when they laugh and feel like your heart will break wide open when you face not having them by your side.

    But it’s worth it because they cause you to love harder, laugh louder, live richer and become more than you could ever be without them. It’s putting your heart and your name in the hands of another person and saying, "I trust you with all of this," as they do the same.

    Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for the friends You have given us to walk with us through life here on earth. Please show us ways to love each other better and take away any fear we have of being authentic about our struggles. Help us have open hearts that love the way You love. Thank You for knitting our hearts together with the people You know will make us stronger. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY:
    Proverbs 27:17, "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another." (ESV)

    1 Corinthians 13:4-7, "Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." (ESV)

    RELATED RESOURCES:
    Real friendship takes effort. It’s forgiving and loving, making a casserole, and doing a carpool pickup. To celebrate friendship, check out Melanie Shankle’s new book, Nobody’s Cuter than You: A Memoir about the Beauty of Friendship.

    Stop by Melanie’s blog today to connect with her and learn more about her writing and ministry.

    Enter to WIN a copy of Nobody’s Cuter than You by Melanie Shankle. In celebration of this book, Melanie’s publisher is giving away 10 copies! Enter to win by leaving a comment here, letting us know why you’d like a copy for yourself OR whom you would give the book to, if you won. {We’ll randomly select 10 winners and email notifications to each one by Monday, April 20.}

    REFLECT AND RESPOND:
    Reflect on some ways your friendships have made you stronger and how God has used them in your life.

    What are some tangible ways you can show your friends how much they mean to you?

    © 2015 by Melanie Shankle. All rights reserved.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries thanks Tyndale House Publishers for their sponsorship of today's devotion.

    Click here to view our policy on 3rd party links.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries
    630 Team Rd., Suite 100
    Matthews, NC 28105
    www.Proverbs31.org

  • What Does Real Love Look Like?

    Posted on April 13, 2015 by Family Christian

    Nicki Koziarz APRIL 13, 2015

    What Does Real Love Look Like?
    NICKI KOZIARZ

    "And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’" Matthew 25:40 (ESV)

    She’s a name-dropper.

    The kind of woman who always needs the world to know what famous person tweeted at her, liked her post or followed her on Instagram. She’s always at the important meetings, the ones where the people in charge see her. And she schedules lunches and coffee dates with people who can take her career further.

    We all know this woman. She’s our neighbor. Our co-worker. Our ministry leader. She’s everywhere.

    And maybe, at times, there’s a little bit of this woman in each of us.

    The world tells us in order to go higher we must surround ourselves with people who will take us higher. Our mommas taught us at a young age we will become like those we keep close. And in high school we grouped together with people who were like-minded.

    While I understand the importance of keeping company with the right kind of people, I see Jesus taking a different approach at times as I study His life in the Bible.

    It’s true Jesus had good friends like His disciples, Mary, Martha and Lazarus. But as I look closely at the steps of Jesus, I see He invested a lot of His time into the "least of these:" the poor, the hungry, the broken, the weak and the people who had absolutely nothing to offer Him.

    Jesus always had a genuine concern and focus on people in need.

    If we are always surrounding ourselves with the "best of these," how will we ever truly learn to love the least of these?

    It’s an honest question to reflect on as we go about our days, make our schedules and choose where to invest our energy. But I don’t really know if in Jesus’ eyes this concept of serving the least of these is optional.

    Do I always get this right? Goodness no.

    My excuses for a lack of service to those in need are shameful:

    • I’m too busy.
    • I already give so much.
    • I don’t have what they need.
    • I forgot.

    God blesses us so that we may bless others. May we be compelled to take our eyes off ourselves and turn our heads to the right and to the left. Let us see those around us in need and give whatever we have to bless them.

    Here are three ways to do this right now:

      1. Spend time with someone who has nothing to give back to you.

     

      1. Ask God if there’s anything you have in your possession that could bless someone else. Maybe it’s a coat, a pair of shoes, a purse, jewelry … what can you give up to bless another?

     

    1. Write a note of encouragement to someone who is down, sick or weary. Tell her specific things you are praying over her life.

    We don’t always need to be with the "best of the best." There is life, love and opportunities to expand our souls if we will humble ourselves and become just a little bit more like Jesus today and serve the least of these.

    God, help us to see those in need today. Help our lives ring loudly as we take steps to serve others more than ourselves. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY:
    Hebrews 6:10, "God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them." (NIV)

    1 John 3:18, "Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth." (NIV)

    RELATED RESOURCES:
    Looking for a creative way to send a note of encouragement? Check out this unique notecard set.

    For more ways to say yes to God, check out Lysa TerKeurst’s book What Happens When Women Say Yes to God.

    For more ideas on how to bless someone in need visit Nicki Koziarz’s blog.

    REFLECT AND RESPOND:
    Why do you think we are naturally drawn toward surrounding ourselves with "the best of the best"?

    What is one thing you will do this week to focus on the "least of these"? Share it with us in the comment section today.

    © 2015 by Nicki Koziarz. All rights reserved.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries
    630 Team Rd., Suite 100
    Matthews, NC 28105
    www.Proverbs31.org

  • The One Sin I Thought was Unforgivable

    Posted on April 10, 2015 by Family Christian

    Tracie Miles APRIL 10, 2015

    The One Sin I Thought was Unforgivable
    TRACIE MILES

    "So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus." Romans 8:1 (NLT)

    The event speaker spoke the one word I didn’t want to hear. She said the one word that elicited painful memories, shame and regret. One word that left me weeping silently in the pew, hoping no one would notice my brokenness.

    My eyes were closed, but I sensed God’s eyes were wide open and focused directly on me. Part of me felt afraid and confused, but a bigger part of me felt peace in light of the gift God was offering.

    Amid the flood of hot tears that burned in my swollen, tightly shut eyes, I pleaded with God for His forgiveness of the one sin — the one word — that I felt was unforgivable. I meekly, humbly and reluctantly dared to ask God, once again, the prayer I had uttered so many times, yet never believed could be answered.

    Could You … would You … possibly … forgive me for that, Lord? Really?

    If You could forgive others for their sins, could You maybe, just maybe, forgive me too?

    If You can still love them, despite their pasts, can You love me too?

    Will You still love me, God?

    I felt like a little girl sitting at her daddy’s feet, asking forgiveness for not listening to his words of instruction, and longing for him to scoop her up and reassure her of his love. My heart was gaping wide, and I waited, anxious for God to fill me with all the things I never thought I deserved to ask for, much less receive.

    I felt sure God was wondering if I were a broken record instead of a broken soul. I had asked for His forgiveness for 14 years, never feeling worthy of it and never expecting Him to actually grant it. But this time, in this place, I actually believed I was forgiven.

    I felt the lightness and freedom of a prisoner set free. Joy caught in my throat, and I could hardly swallow. The unbearable, heavy burden of my shame, regret, sorrow and haunting memories were all lifted the moment I embraced God’s promise that ALL sins are forgivable through Christ. Including mine.

    Abortion. The one word that made my heart shudder — that was a tragic choice made by a scared 19-year-old. And unfortunately, statistics show that more than 56 million U.S. women may have shuddered at that one word as well, since abortion became legal in America.

    Yet despite the reasons we made bad choices, God longs to offer forgiveness. The enemy doesn’t want us to believe that truth. He wants to keep us in bondage to shame and secrecy … to prevent us from living as a testament of God’s grace and power over sin. As our key verse notes, Scripture states quite the opposite: "So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1).

    The "one word" you dread might be very different from mine, but God can free you from whatever keeps you from embracing how much you are adored by Christ. Might today be the day you learn to fly in the freedom of His forgiveness and peace?

    Father, You know the "one word" that makes me shudder. Forgive me and cleanse my heart. Fill me with overwhelming peace and acceptance of that gift. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY:
    Ephesians 1:7, "He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins." (NLT)

    1 John 1:9, "But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness." (NLT)

    Psalm 34:5, "Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame." (NIV)

    RELATED RESOURCES:
    April is National Abortion Recovery Awareness Month and Tracie’s heart is to help women find healing who are still struggling with regret or shame over abortion, or any sin or experience that has made them feel unforgivable or unlovable. Visit Tracie’s blog for tips and resources on overcoming shame and embracing your value and worth to Jesus.

    To read the rest of Tracie’s story of how God transformed her heart and life after abortion, you can purchase her book Your Life Still Counts. Tracie also offers other study material on her blog.

    REFLECT AND RESPOND:
    What is the "one word" you don’t want to hear? Embrace God’s forgiveness and freedom from it once and for all.

    Let God guide your thoughts as you sit in His Presence. Utter the words you never felt capable of uttering, and be ready for God to move in your heart.

    © 2015 by Tracie Miles. All rights reserved.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries
    630 Team Rd., Suite 100
    Matthews, NC 28105
    www.Proverbs31.org

  • The Moment that Saved My Marriage

    Posted on April 9, 2015 by Family Christian

    Lysa TerKeurst APRIL 9, 2015

    The Moment that Saved My Marriage
    LYSA TERKEURST

    "Let your gentleness be evident to all." Philippians 4:5a (NIV)

    We all have them. Weak places. Places inside us that make us wonder if we’ll ever get it together like the together people. Places that make us feel "less than" the next girl.

    One of those weak places for me has always been my tendency to let my emotions boss me around, especially in conflict.

    My deepest desire is to let my "gentleness be evident to all" like our key verse says … but the truth is my reactions haven’t always reflected my desire for gentleness. I really think I was born with firecrackers in my blood.

    But when my relationships began to suffer due to my emotionally driven tirades, I found myself crying out to the Lord for help. He prompted my heart to pause and let the Holy Spirit intervene on my behalf when my emotions rallied to be right.

    Honestly, I wasn’t totally convinced that this whole "giving it over to God" thing really worked. Until one day I saw the beginnings of my imperfect progress.

    A few years ago, my husband Art and I hit a rough place financially. Some investments we’d made went bad and we lost nearly our entire life savings. I was knee deep in caring for three small children at the time and hadn’t a clue that financial danger was looming on the horizon.

    That is, until Art came home and the look on his face spoke of utter defeat. How could we have lost so much? He’d been wise with our finances. He’d done his research. He was a faithful saver. I stood stunned in our foyer that day, as Art told me the news.

    There were many different directions my reaction could have gone in the minutes that followed. I was upset. When Art first talked of making these particular investments, I shared with him that I didn’t have a good feeling about it. But, in the end, I let him make the final decision.

    So many times in my marriage, I’ve chosen the wrong words — words that were tainted with bitterness, words that were emotionally toxic. But I’m so thankful the Lord had been working on preparing my heart for this moment, and instead of reacting immediately with what would have been a disastrous response, I paused. I allowed the Holy Spirit a few seconds to interrupt my natural flesh feelings.

    Then, because of God’s Spirit working in me, I was able to wrap my arms around my husband and speak life-giving words into his weary heart: "I love you, Art. I loved you yesterday when we had everything. I love you today when we have nothing. I love you for who you are, not what you have."

    Now please understand … I was only able to have this response by God’s grace working in me. I still did quite a bit of wrestling to let my feelings catch up to the gentle words I felt led to speak out loud.

    But a few years later, I saw incredible fruit from this one good reaction. Art and I were interviewed on a radio program. On the show Art was asked, "I know you and Lysa had a rough start to your marriage. But what happened that made you know you’d stick by her forever, no matter what?"

    Without hesitation, Art recounted my reaction over the lost investments.

    I cried. I couldn’t help but think this could have been the moment that saved my marriage.

    Had I been left to my own flesh reaction that day, it could have set us on the road to marital disaster. But, because of God’s response being stored up in me, this situation wound up bringing us closer together than we’d ever been.

    And I realized how crucial it is to always be aware of God’s preparation in our lives.

    One way to be more discerning of this is to commit to exchange whispers with God before shouts with the world every day. Before you check your cell phone or scroll through social media, spend time with Him. Listen for Him. And then go look for rich evidence of Him at work in your life.

    Because God stands in our yesterday, today and tomorrow, He sees all. And He knows the perfect way to prepare our hearts for every situation.

    When we embrace His preparations, even a girl with firecrackers in her blood like me can have reactions that honor God and breathe life into relationships.

    Dear Lord, I’m choosing to let You take control of my reactions. Help me to always exchange whispers with You before shouts with the world. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY:
    Proverbs 29:11, "A fool vents all his feelings, But a wise man holds them back." (NKJV)

    RELATED RESOURCES:
    Learn more about responding to situations out of your control without acting out-of-control with Lysa TerKeurst’s book, Unglued. Purchase your copy here.

    Know some friends who need help with their reactions too? Invite them to join your Unglued Bible study and make imperfect progress together! Get started here.

    REFLECT AND RESPOND:
    What situation have you been in recently where you could have paused to let the Holy Spirit work on your behalf?

    If you didn’t have a good reaction, don’t give up! The beauty of imperfect progress isn’t having it all together right away. It’s allowing the Lord to take you by the hand and lead you through slow steps of progress wrapped in grace.

    © 2015 by Lysa TerKeurst. All rights reserved.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries
    630 Team Rd., Suite 100
    Matthews, NC 28105
    www.Proverbs31.org

  • Interview with author Irene Hannon

    Posted on April 8, 2015 by Family Christian

    Here at Family Christian we were fortunate enough to score an interview with Irene Hannon and discuss her newest book, Buried Secrets.

     

     Family Christian: We are excited about your new book Buried Secrets.  This book has quite a bit of medical content.  Our readers would like to know who you bounced your medical ideas off of?

    I spend HUGE amounts of time on the Net researching my suspense books. That’s how I found most of the medical information in this book. However, I always vet technical subject matter with real-life experts. Through the years I’ve developed a great list of medical sources who provide answers that elude me on online. For this book, I also consulted a forensic anthropologist and a botanist, as well as law-enforcement sources.

    Family Christian:  This book is the first in a series.  Do you know how many will be in this series?

    There will be three books in the Men of Valor series. Each of the brothers will have his own story. Lance will be up next in Thin Ice, which will be out in January. Lance is the middle brother, and during his first week on the job with the FBI after leaving Delta Force, a bizarre case hits his desk. Fortunately, he’s ably assisted by FBI veteran Mark Sanders (the hero of An Eye for an Eye in my Heroes of Quantico series). So those readers who’ve been following me for a while will see a familiar face!

    Family Christian: Buried Secrets is very intense.  Was it hard for you to step out of the writing mode, and go back to normal life, after your book was published?

    Actually, I finished the book long before it was released (manuscripts are due at the publisher about a year before publication). But yes, when I finish an intense suspense book it can be difficult to decompress. Ideally, I like to work on one of my contemporary romances next. Those are emotionally intense, but not as adrenaline laced. Depending on my publication schedule, however, I sometimes have to plunge right back into suspense. One thing I should point out—while the suspense books can be very intense, as you noted, there are definitely touches of humor. Often it springs from the relationship between the characters that tie the series together—in this case, the three brothers, all of whom have special forces backgrounds. They’re very close…but also very competitive. I had a lot of fun writing their dialogue.

    Family Christian:  What is the heart and soul behind this new series?  What do you hope readers take away?

    Each of the stories, of course, is different, and each sends different message. But the thread running through all of the books is the importance of strong family bonds. The McGregor men might be super competitive and engage in lots of good-natured teasing, but when the heat is on or one of them is in trouble, they’re one hundred percent there for each other. More broadly, I tried to infuse these books with hope, which is a key component of my stories. I want to assure readers that no matter how bad things get, there’s always the possibility of a happy ending. And I also try to give them a better appreciation for the tremendous power of love…in all its form…to transform lives.

  • It's Time to Tell Someone

    Posted on April 8, 2015 by Family Christian

    T. Suzanne Eller APRIL 8, 2015

    It's Time to Tell Someone
    SUZIE ELLER

    "I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow." 1 Corinthians 3:6-7 (NLT)

    They showed up at my door when I was 14.

    Because they went to my school, my mom let them in. They stumbled into my room, standing awkwardly with their youth pastor behind them. One invited me to come to church. Another teen shuffled from foot to foot and asked if she could tell me about Jesus.

    I didn’t want to hear it. I was angry at God, if there even was one.

    I didn’t grow up in church, so I didn’t know a lot about the Bible. All I knew is that life was hard, and I didn’t want anyone to fix me.

    Thank you very much, now here’s the door.

    I can only imagine the scene afterwards. A bunch of teenagers clustered on the sidewalk outside our home on Latimer Street, wondering what in the world just happened.

    I’m sorry. I really am.

    Wherever you are, I want to thank you for trying. I don’t know why you picked me, but I love the fact that you wanted to tell me about Jesus.

    That day you didn’t find fertile soil, but a small seed was planted. Jesus eventually rooted His love in my heart and changed not only me, but also generations after me. I wish you knew that the angry girl in the bedroom became a woman of faith who loves nothing more than telling others about Jesus.

    In today’s passage, Paul and Apollos had faithfully planted seeds of teaching in a new church body. We see the newness of the church as members debate about who is the most important, Paul or Apollos.

    Paul diverted the attention away from himself to remind them of a simple truth: Telling others about Jesus is not about one person or another. It’s not about recognition. It’s not even about success or failure.

    It’s about faithfully planting seeds, watering them and allowing God to grow them.

    If someone were to look at those teens standing in my room, they might think that their words had little effect. One day in Heaven I plan to thank them. For every person, including them, who bravely shared the truth with me planted a seed of faith in my heart.

    Like Apollos and Paul, one planted. Another watered.

    And then, at just the right time, a seed sprouted and broke the crusty soil of my angry heart.

    Why am I telling you this?

    Maybe you’ve sensed for a long time that you’re to talk to someone about Jesus. You’ve hesitated because you don’t know how or you don’t want to fail. Perhaps you even experienced someone like I once was, and it made you think twice about trying again.

    But I want you to know something.

    When you move beyond your fears to tell someone that Jesus loves them, it may be exactly what they need to hear that day even if they don’t know it yet.

    I want a front seat one day in Heaven when those teens discover that their bravery wasn’t in vain. I want to hug their necks and thank them. In fact, there will be a lot of seed sowers I want to thank, because all of them together made a difference.

    They sowed. Some watered. God grew me.

    If God is leading you to tell someone about Jesus, don’t miss that moment. There might be someone in your path — a woman, a girl, a friend, a loved one — who doesn’t know Jesus loves them and His love changes you forever.

    Lord, thank You for allowing me to plant a seed, or water a seed or perhaps to even watch a seed come to fruition in the life of another. Lead me. Guide me. Show me what to say and when to say it. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY:
    John 17:20, "I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message." (NLT)

    RELATED RESOURCES:
    Is God calling you to plant seeds of faith with your words? Join us this summer when Proverbs 31 Ministries hosts She Speaks, our annual conference for writers and speakers, July 23-25, 2015 in Charlotte, N.C. It’s a unique combination of spiritual inspiration and practical application, and we’ll save a seat for you!

    What if the next big step God wants you to take is actually small? Wherever God has called you, you can take the first step. Registration for the P31 Online Bible Study of What Happens When Women Walk in Faith by Lysa TerKeurst is open, and the study kicks off next Monday, April 13.

    Join Suzie Eller on her blog today to share your story and for a giveaway.

    REFLECT AND RESPOND:
    Sharing about Jesus doesn’t have to be formal or scripted. Just share your story.

    Consider the following as conversation starters:

    • Tell about the day you became a believer.
    • Tell how that changed you.
    • Share ways you have found strength or joy in your relationship with Christ (perhaps even in a similar struggle).

    © 2015 by Suzie Eller. All rights reserved.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries
    630 Team Rd., Suite 100
    Matthews, NC 28105
    www.Proverbs31.org

  • Stuck in the Muck

    Posted on April 7, 2015 by Family Christian

    Rachel Randolph APRIL 7, 2015

    Stuck in the Muck
    Rachel Randolph

    "He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand." Psalm 40:2 (NIV)

    After several cold rainy days in October, the clouds parted and the sun came out. Tired of being cooped up, we seized the moment and met up with a few friends at a small petting zoo. The sunny morning was exactly what my son Jackson and I needed.

    When his naptime approached, we were having such a good time that I decided to linger a little longer. Then the rain reappeared and poured on our playdate.

    I said my goodbyes and marched across the now freshly soggy farm to where Jackson was playing. "It’s time to go, buddy," I said, reaching out for his hand.

    "I don’t waaaaaant to goooooo!" he whined, walking backwards out of my reach.

    "I know," I empathized. "It’s hard to leave fun places."

    "Nooooooo! I STAYYY!" my now overly tired toddler yelled, turning to run from me. I quickly scooped him up and carried him across the petting zoo as he screamed and kicked his muddy shoes all over me.

    "Stand right there," I firmly ordered, setting him next to the car and reaching inside for the baby wipes. When I turned around to clean him off, he was running like an escaped convict through the parking lot.

    My sharp-eyed, fast-footed 2-year-old was running toward a back entrance to the zoo. In hot pursuit, I followed. But by the time I made it through the gate, he’d positioned himself on the opposite side of an empty, muddy horse pen.

    Across the rusty red bars, he was staring me down with the iron will of a … well, of a defiant, exhausted toddler.

    I darted to the right to grab him. He matched my steps. I slowly paced to the left. Across the pen, keeping steady eye contact with me, and like a cowboy ready for a draw, he paced with me. After a few rounds of this, I realized: checkmate. He had me. I could not get to him. Unless …

    I could make him fall.

    I walked to the left, and he followed my lead straight into a muddy patch. His pace slowed as his boots sunk down into the muck. I quickly moved to the right. He did too, but his boots didn’t follow, and he fell right into my muddy trap. His strong-willed defiance quickly turned to a whimpering plea for his mommy.

    I wonder how often God feels like this with us. He simply wants to get us on the road to a safe place for nourishment and rest, while we jet off in our own direction, sure of something better.

    Does He, in His love, let us fall into a muddy puddle so we can feel the discomfort of life without Him?

    Isn’t it true that when we find ourselves stuck in the muck of life, we long more deeply for God’s loving arms to come and take our hands and lead us out? We cry out, "Daddy, I need You. Please pull me out of this mess!"

    I imagine He gives the same knowing smile I did when my son, laying face up in the mud, finally cried out for me. He kneels down and as we see in Psalm 40:2, lifts us out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire — our muddy boots dangling from our safe perch in His arms — and whispers, "I’m here love, been here all along. I’ve just been waiting for you to ask. Now let’s get you cleaned up." Then He sets us on solid ground, giving us a firm place to stand.

    Heavenly Father, I pray that I would trust and obey Your lead in the good times and in the times when I feel like I’m sinking into the mud and mire of life. I truly believe God, that Your way is better, Your way leads to a fuller, deeper, more nourishing life. Help me to stop running from You and instead run toward Your loving embrace. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY:
    Psalm 25:4-5, "Show me your ways, LORD, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long." (NIV)

    RELATED RESOURCES:
    Feeling drained, discontent, or discouraged? Join a couple of understanding, entertaining companions on the journey from overwhelmed to nourished in Becky Johnson and Rachel Randolph’s latest book, Nourished: A Search for Health, Happiness, and a Full Night’s Sleep.

    Read more from Rachel and Becky on their blogs The Nourished Mama and Laugh Cry Cook.

    REFLECT AND RESPOND:
    If you’re wondering where God is in your muddy mess, ask yourself if you’ve stopped running in your own direction yet and then cry out for God to show you His way.

    © 2015 by Rachel Randolph. All rights reserved.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries thanks Zondervan for their sponsorship of today’s devotion.

    Click here to view our policy on 3rd party links.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries
    630 Team Rd., Suite 100
    Matthews, NC 28105
    www.Proverbs31.org

  • When You're Stuck in the Middle

    Posted on April 6, 2015 by Family Christian

    Alicia Bruxvoort APRIL 6, 2015

    When You're Stuck in the Middle
    ALICIA BRUXVOORT

    "Then Jesus became explicit, ‘Lazarus died. And I am glad for your sakes that I wasn’t there. You’re about to be given new grounds for believing. Now let’s go to him.’" John 11:14-15 (MSG)

    The poor teacher couldn’t figure out what had gone wrong. One minute, my daughter’s face had been decorated with her signature smile; the next, her cheeks were streaked with silent tears.

    My third-born is sensitive. As a baby, she cried around the clock. As a preschooler, she cried when her big brother pulled her ponytail.

    And in first grade, she cried in Sunday school when she heard the tale of Lazarus bursting forth from the tomb.

    Befuddled, the teacher pulled me aside after church that day and apologized for "whatever upset Hannah during story time." I’d assured her we knew about our little girl’s tender heart.

    However, later I asked Hannah about the unexplained tears. Like her teacher, I had no idea what might have prompted her sadness. After all, the resurrection recorded in the eleventh chapter of John seems more like a celebration-sparker than a tear-jerker.

    "I wasn’t planning to cry, Mommy," Hannah explained. "But that story just made me feel so sad."

    I squatted low to look my daughter in the eye. "Honey, the story of Lazarus is one of Jesus’ greatest miracles."

    "I know," Hannah conceded. "I just felt so bad for those sisters. I kept thinking about how I’d feel if Jesus had let me down like that."

    "But, Hannah" I said, "You already know the ending to the story. Jesus shows up and makes everything right. Those sisters get their brother back, and they all have a graveside party!"

    My girl exhaled an exasperated sigh, whispering, "Even if you know the ending, the middle can still hurt."

    My stomach lurched at the huge truth that hung between us, and suddenly, I understood the tears.

    My little girl had gotten stuck in "the middle."

    She’d stood at the edge of the tomb where a beloved brother lay lifeless, crying right alongside those sisters.

    I’ve been there. And if you’ve been traveling this world’s broken road for a while, you probably have, too.

    The middle is where we call on God and wonder if He hears our cries.

    The middle is where doubts rage loud, and our Savior grows quiet.

    The middle is where life doesn’t make sense, faith seems foolish and hope seems lost.

    When sickness strikes, when a friend betrays, when a spouse disappoints or a child rebels, we can find ourselves hoping for a better ending to our story.

    Maybe you’re there now, feet planted shakily at the edge of the tomb where your hopes and dreams are buried. If you are, I’m sorry.

    But listen to what Jesus told the disciples before raising Lazarus from the dead: "You’re about to be given new grounds for believing" (John 11:15).

    You see, the middle isn’t just a place of pain. It’s a place of possibility. That middle ground is fertile soil for flourishing faith.

    The middle is where we decide what we believe about Jesus — regardless of our circumstances. Before Jesus performed a miracle, Martha made her decision: "I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God" (John 11:27b, NLT).

    And Jesus replied with a promise we can claim for ourselves: "Didn’t I tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" (John 11:40b, MSG)

    Do you see it now? We don’t survive the middle by rewriting the story; we survive it by anchoring our hope to the One who has already scripted the perfect ending.

    There will come a day when no one will be stuck in the middle, with no more tears and no more pain (Revelation 21:3-5).

    So, plant your feet firmly on the promises of Christ, dear friend. Because life on this side of Heaven is just the scene before the miracle. And if we believe in Jesus, we already know there’s a happy ending.

    Dear Jesus, I’m stuck in the middle and it hurts. But I believe You are the resurrection and the life. Help me choose faith instead of fear. Renew my hope in Your glorious ending. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY:
    Revelation 21:6a, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end." (The Voice)

    1 Corinthians 1:7b-8, "All God’s gifts are right in front of you as you wait expectantly for our Master Jesus to arrive on the scene for the Finale. And not only that, but God himself is right alongside to keep you steady and on track until things are all wrapped up by Jesus." (MSG)

    RELATED RESOURCES:
    Sometimes our dreams feel like they’re dying, but God is at work preparing us for the next step. If you can relate, join our next P31 Online Bible Study, What Happens When Women Walk in Faith by Lysa TerKeurst. Registration is open and the study begins next Monday, April 13.

    Stop by Alicia Bruxvoort’s blog today for more encouragement and for a free printable that will help turn your middle ground into new ground for believing.

    REFLECT AND RESPOND:
    Consider what you believe about Jesus. Make a list of what you know to be true of Him.

    Reach out to someone who is stuck in the middle. Send an encouraging note or text or make time to offer a listening ear.

    © 2015 by Alicia Bruxvoort. All rights reserved.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries
    630 Team Rd., Suite 100
    Matthews, NC 28105
    www.Proverbs31.org

  • But I'd Rather Sleep Than Pray

    Posted on April 3, 2015 by Family Christian

    Karen Ehman APRIL 3, 2015

    But I'd Rather Sleep Than Pray
    KAREN EHMAN

    "Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping. He asked Peter, ‘So, couldn’t you stay awake with Me one hour? Stay awake and pray, so that you won’t enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’" Matthew 26:40-41 (HCSB)

    When I was a new Christian, I discovered a pamphlet entitled, How to Spend an Hour in Prayer. I was intrigued. I’d heard about people called prayer warriors who placed great emphasis on conversing with God. Prayer seemed to come to them naturally. For them, spending an hour in prayer must surely be a breeze.

    But honestly, back then I found it difficult to keep my thoughts from wandering when I prayed. Oftentimes today I still do! Instead they ricochet all over the place as I try to focus.

    However, one day, I decided that things were going to change. So I headed to a park with Bible in hand and a resolve in my heart to follow the step-by-step guide. I felt like a spiritual giant.

    I settled myself on a park bench, opened my Bible, looked down at my pamphlet and began to do what it suggested: "Spend five minutes thanking God for the blessings in your life. Spend five minutes praising God for His character qualities," and so on. Apparently, breaking down the various categories into five-minute increments was supposed to help. But it didn’t help me. Five minutes seemed like an eternity.

    Pretty soon a jogger happened by. He was carrying a small portable radio — without headphones — and the blaring music distracted me.

    Two hyper squirrels decided to chase each other up and down a tree, and around and around my bench. I laughed at their antics, but again lost my place. Even when the animals and humans quieted down, I still had trouble concentrating.

    I couldn’t focus; I kept thinking of all the things on my to-do list. And I was tired! The thought of just chucking my plans and heading home to take a nap seemed like a better idea. So, after about 23 minutes, I gave up, packed up and headed home. My conclusion? I just wasn’t cut out to be a prayer warrior. I’d rather sleep.

    It seems I am not alone. Today’s key verse tells us that even Jesus’ own disciples had a hard time with prayer. They fell asleep on the very day before Jesus was crucified. If ever someone needed the prayers of friends, it surely was then!

    Jesus verbalized the trouble with our best-intentions-turned-sour when He told His disciples this: "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." (Matthew 26:41b). How true! My spirit wants to connect and converse with God. But my flesh would rather be off getting things done. Or mentally making my grocery list. Or — worst yet — even copping some zzzzzs!

    In order to see progress in our prayer life, we need to make prayer a matter of prayer! No. That isn’t a typo. We must pray first — before anything else — that God would help us rein in our wandering thoughts. That’s our only hope to battle against the urge to doze off and win the struggle over how we spend our time.

    This doesn’t mean we’ll turn into prayer warriors overnight. But it does mean we’ll want desperately for Jesus to meet us in our weakness and teach us to do the hard work of making prayer a priority. He is faithful. We must be, too.

    Today is Good Friday. The day we remember Christ’s death on the cross for our sins. As you go about your day today, could you sacrifice some time in prayer?

    Remember that God sees our hearts and knows our struggles. He doesn’t expect perfection. But He does want us to keep striving for improvement in the crucial area of daily communication with Him.

    Father, forgive me for the times that I have let my flesh win when my spirit wanted to pray. May I never cease trying to develop the important habit of spending intimate time with You in prayer. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY:
    Romans 12:12, "Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer." (HCSB)

    1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, "Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus." (NIV)

    RELATED RESOURCES:
    For a fun activity with children that not only teaches the importance of prayer but also provides a delicious recipe for homemade pretzels, visit Karen Ehman’s blog. There she’s also giving away a copy of her book, Everyday Confetti: Your Year-round Guide to Celebrating Holidays and Special Occasions, where this idea first appeared.

    For more on learning to trust God through prayer, check out Karen’s book and corresponding DVD Bible study LET. IT. GO. How to Stop Running the Show and Start Walking in Faith.

    REFLECT AND RESPOND:
    How often do you find it easy to become distracted — or even sleepy — when you pray? When this happens, what can you do to fight against the flesh and keep on praying?

    © 2015 by Karen Ehman. All rights reserved.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries
    630 Team Rd., Suite 100
    Matthews, NC 28105
    www.Proverbs31.org

  • And Then I Received Another Rejection Letter

    Posted on April 2, 2015 by Family Christian

    Lysa TerKeurst APRIL 2, 2015And Then I Received Another Rejection Letter
    LYSA TERKEURST

    "Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage — with great patience and careful instruction." 2 Timothy 4:2 (NIV)

    I remember the letter like it was yesterday. In a nutshell, it was another publisher telling me my writing did not meet their needs at that time.

    And in his attempt to soften the blow, he’d added a wee bit of humor: "Just use this letter as the liner of your cat litter box as I’m sure one day things will work out for you."

    As if a little humor ever helped someone who has just been knocked into a pit of rejection.

    The letter wasn’t even signed.

    It was clear that nobody at the publishing house stood up in awe as they read my typed words and enthusiastically exclaimed, "Girl has skills!"

    I hung my head, got into my car, and drove to my local bookstore. I saved up all my tears until I was smack dab in the middle of thousands of other books — thousands of other writers who’d received a thumbs up to their dreams — thousands of other people with evidence that their writing mattered — and I sobbed.

    But the tears didn’t come from my eyes. They didn’t come from my heart. They came from my soul that was always slightly suspicious that God really didn’t have any sort of spectacular plan when He created me.

    After my rather impressive display of emotion in the middle of the bookstore, I drove home and silently declared I’d never set myself up for this kind of rejection again.

    I put all my writing attempts in a file drawer. I made tacos for dinner. And made note of the fact that God did nothing to soften this blow.

    There was no verse mysteriously written on a slip of paper that suddenly wafted down from my kitchen ceiling.

    There was no friend that called and said she felt led by the Holy Spirit to encourage me in my writing.

    There was no divine directive that gave any sort of inspiration for me to keep going.

    There was just this utter realization that I’d now have to tell all those praying for me that this writing a book thing was a no-go. In essence, with this "no" from a publisher, I felt I had no skills. And I’d obviously heard God wrong.

    So, surely I should give up.

    Oh how I wish I could go sit with myself on that day from the vantage point of this day.

    I would hand myself a tissue and state that this was not at all a rejection from God. It was a timing issue.

    Sometimes callings from God unfold in a miraculous instant. But more often callings happen within a million slow moments of me becoming mature enough to handle this calling.

    I needed to experience God revealing Himself and maturing me so I could properly handle the Truth I would eventually write and speak about. And so I could develop my communication skills by learning how to string thoughts and words together that could be received by an audience.

    We are charged to be prepared in 2 Timothy 4:2, "Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage — with great patience and careful instruction."

    I know I needed maturity to be able to pay special attention to this whole verse, especially that last part … "with great patience and careful instruction."

    I am thankful it would be nearly four years … approximately 1,400 days … 35,040 hours … over 2.1 million moments before I was ready emotionally, spiritually and developmentally to properly handle the weight of God’s Word and the assignment of writing a book.

    Have you ever felt a stirring to write or attempted to write only to have something or someone shut it down?

    I understand. That’s why 14 years ago, after a publisher finally said yes, I knew I had to help other writers coming behind me. So, I developed a conference called She Speaks to train, equip, connect and breathe life into other writers’ dreams.

    You can click here for more information about She Speaks.

    But whether you want to write or fulfill another calling from God, let me assure you of one thing: Slow progress is better than no progress.

    The slow unfolding of readiness in us is often misunderstood to be a quick rejection by God. What a tragic mistake this is for many of us who too quickly shut down in our flesh what God is trying to develop in our spirit.

    Sweet sister, don’t give up. Ask yourself the questions I’ve listed below in the Reflect and Respond section. Then, walk toward the calling God created you to fulfill.

    Dear Lord, I want to step into the calling You’ve prepared for me. Help me push through feelings of doubt and rejection to embrace Your plan for my life. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY:
    2 Timothy 4:5, "But you — keep your eye on what you’re doing; accept the hard times along with the good; keep the Message alive; do a thorough job as God’s servant." (MSG)

    RELATED RESOURCES:
    Receive the tools and the confidence you need to answer God’s call on your life at our She Speaks Conference! Find more information and sign up here.

    REFLECT AND RESPOND:
    Filter your feelings of rejection about your calling through these questions:
    1) Have I taken this seriously by investing time, effort and resources in my development?
    2) Have I given up too soon?
    3) What have I let dissuade me from this calling, that I need to face?
    4) Have I bought into the lie that all the opportunities for my calling have already been given to other people?
    5) What’s one thing I can do today to move my calling forward?

    © 2015 by Lysa TerKeurst. All rights reserved.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries
    630 Team Rd., Suite 100
    Matthews, NC 28105
    www.Proverbs31.org

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