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User Archives: Renee Swope

  • I Didn't Have The Courage

    Posted on December 23, 2014 by Renee Swope

    RENEE SWOPE

    RENEE SWOPE

    "The people rejoiced at the willing response of their leaders, for they had given freely and wholeheartedly to the LORD..." 1 Chronicles 29:9a (NIV)

    I didn't want to go first. As much as I knew God wanted me to trust Him, I didn't have the courage.

    It was June 1989. I had given my life to Christ six months earlier and was on a college youth retreat. While reading my Bible one day, I sensed God wanted me to share my story. First with my large youth group, and then with others in the coming weeks. Not just the happy parts of my story; but also the hidden, redeemed-by-His grace parts.

    I didn't want to tell people the hard parts of my story, especially not my struggles with depression and anxiety. Yet I knew God wanted me to share the reasons behind the life-changing hope I'd found in Christ.

    I wish I could say I gave my story freely and wholeheartedly to the Lord, to use for His glory. Just like King David and his leaders gave their gifts to build a temple for the Lord, as we see in today's key verse, 1 Chronicles 29:9, I wish I could say my heart responded with a courageous "Yes!"

    But that's not what happened and here's why:

    I couldn't see the why behind God's will. Why would God want me to share my story? How could my story help people? Their smiles and seemingly happy-go-lucky Christian lives convinced me they were doing fine. I assumed their problems were minor and their need for Jesus was minimal compared to mine.

    I didn't realize pride had blocked my perspective. I thought I was afraid to share my story, but I'm pretty sure pride was the problem. Sadly, I was more concerned with what people thought about me than what they thought about God. Clinging to the details of my story like priceless jewels, I would not give my brokenness to use for others' good or for His glory.

    I didn't have the courage to go first. I had never heard Christians share their emotional and spiritual struggles. And I did not want to be the first. What if depression and anxiety were topics under a secret "things we don't talk about" category I hadn't been told about? That would be awkward. Maybe if someone else went first, then I'd go next.

    I didn't share my story that weekend or in the 10 years that followed.

    I didn't have courageous willingness like King David. But eventually I became like his leaders and like the people who saw their example and "rejoiced at the willing response of their leaders, for they had given freely and wholeheartedly to the LORD ..." 1 Chronicles 29:9a (NIV).

    You see, God brought women into my life who followed His lead even when they didn't understand the why behind His will. Women who recognized pride's ability to block our perspective and keep us from God's best.

    Women who were willing to go first, which gave me the courage to go next.

    Through my church, speakers at women's conferences and here at Proverbs 31 Ministries, God has surrounded me with women who give Jesus full access to their lives and their stories because they trust Jesus more than their fears.

    God uses women who are willing to go first — to give others courage to go next.

    I want to be that kind of woman. A woman who is willing to say, "I'll trust Jesus even when it's hard. I'll let my guard down so you can see Christ working in me. I'll be brave so you know you can be, too. Watch, I'll go first."

    Why? Because He's worth it and you're worth it. We're worth it, friend. We're worth the work it takes to follow Christ with all of our hearts and willingly give Him all we've got.

    Let's do it. Are you with me? I'll go first.

    Lord, make me brave. Give me courageous willingness to go first — whether it's sharing my story or saying I'm sorry. And when I feel afraid, remind me that You went first so I could go next. From Bethlehem to Calvary, You have gone before me and You are with me. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY:
    1 Chronicles 29:11, "Yours, LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all." (NIV)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND:
    Proverbs 31 Ministries exists to be a trusted friend who comes along side of you and millions of women around the world each day — a friend who says: "You can do this. We know it's hard, but you're not alone. We are with you!" It's why we share our struggles and our stories held together with God's truth through our FREE daily devotions, radio shows and Online Bible Studies. But we can't do it without your help. Will you prayerfully consider making a year-end gift or becoming a monthly partner?

    Like King David and his leaders, we've invited our staff, board of directors and speaker team to go first with us in our giving by making a year-end gift or becoming monthly partners during our year-end campaign. We would love for you to join us as we invest in building God's kingdom through Proverbs 31 Ministries. Make a DONATION here. Thank you for your prayers and generous support.

    © 2014 by Renee Swope. All rights reserved.

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

     


    This post was posted in Daily Devotion, Proverbs 31 and was tagged with 1 Chronicles

  • When You Can't See How

    Posted on November 13, 2014 by Renee Swope

    RENEE SWOPE

    "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Roman 8:28 (NIV)

    All I could see were the hard parts. Everything we would have to give up: sleep, money, comfort, familiarity, others' approval. All the hard things we would have to navigate: huge expenses and significant changes.

    What if our sons resented us for re-arranging their lives forever? What if our parents and extended family didn't approve? What if we exhausted our time, emotions and money only to end up with broken hearts and an empty bank account?

    How could God work all that together for good? I couldn't see how. I could only see "hard."

    Yet it was undeniable. Confirmations chased us down. My husband and I knew God was calling our family to adopt a severely malnourished baby girl from Ethiopia.

    After a year of paperwork, waiting, praying and wondering how, our family traveled to Ethiopia to get our little girl in October 2009.

    Was it hard? Yes. Even more than I imagined.

    But as I trace God's hand over the past five years since we brought Aster home, I see Him working so many things together for good. I see a handwritten love letter, written to our little girl from her Heavenly Father on every page of our adoption story.

    I see God working, even the hard things, together for good.

    Despite our inadequacy, sadness and fear of the unknown when Aster was diagnosed with a speech disorder, global developmental delays, low muscle tone and sensory processing disorder, I now see God working it all for good.

    I see God working, even the overwhelming things, together for good.

    I see how a year of sleepless nights brought out servants hearts in our teenage sons when they saw their dad struggling with depression caused by sleep-deprivation. So they decided to take turns sleeping on a mattress in their sister's room to relieve her anxiety and give us sleep.

    I see God working, even the embarrassing things, together for good.

    Like the day I had a meltdown in my car because I was overwhelmed by the task of carpooling three kids and coordinating Aster's therapy appointments. The day a stranger tapped on my window to see if I was okay. That same afternoon I ran out of gas on my way to get my youngest son, and my oldest son, with a new cast on his broken foot, had to push our car off the road. I see awesome stories for them to tell their children one day.

    And on those days when my reality doesn't look or feel like "good" to me, I ask God to help me see how He's keeping the promise found in today's key verse: "that in all things [He} works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Roman 8:28).

    What I've discovered is this: God is always working things together for good, but not just for our good. Sometimes we are part of His working things together for someone else's good.

    You see, I believe Jesus heard a mother in Africa praying for her baby. A mother who was living in the middle of "hard" like I'd never imagined. A mother who couldn't see how she could give her little girl the nurture and nutrition she needed.

    And when God heard that mama's prayers, He tapped on the hearts of a family in North Carolina who loved Him and were called according to His purpose.

    I believe God saw an orphanage in Ethiopia searching for a forever family to provide unconditional love and medical care for an 8-pound, 6-month old baby with pneumonia.

    So Jesus went back to that family in North Carolina who prayed that He would reveal Himself to them and through them, knowing this little girl would be an answer to that prayer.

    When all I could see was hard, all God could see was how.

    Is there a relationship or situation in your life where all you see is hard? Have you asked God how He can work this together for good?

    I don't know about you, but I need a tangible reminder that He can. A visual to help me see how He does, like the beautiful bead necklace I'm wearing today made from repurposed bullets found in the rubble of Ethiopian soil.

    Each time I look in the mirror I remember how God answered a desperate mother's prayers for her baby's needs and filled my family's longing to experience more of Him. Only He could know how much we needed the gift of a little girl to light up our world, and to remind us that He indeed works all things together for good!

    Lord, some days all I can see is the hard stuff. Help me see how I can be part of YOUR working all things together for the good of someone else today. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY:
    Ephesians 1:11, "Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan." (NLT)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND:
    Is there a situation or relationship where God may want you to be part of His "working all things together for good" for someone else?

    Make a few "deposits" of good in a hard relationship or circumstance this week as you ask God to reveal His heart to you and through you.

    © 2014 by Renee Swope. All rights reserved.

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

     


    This post was posted in Daily Devotion, Proverbs 31 and was tagged with Ephesians, Roman

  • When Your Best Isn't Good Enough

    Posted on October 1, 2014 by Renee Swope

    RENEE SWOPE

    "Keep your mind clear, and be alert. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion as he looks for someone to devour. Be firm in the faith and resist him ..." 1 Peter 5:8-9 (GW)

    Have you ever gotten that awful pit-in-your-stomach feeling after finding out you let someone down? It felt like the wind had been knocked out of me as I read through an email from a client, sent to my manager and forwarded to me, describing how I had let some details fall through the cracks on a project.

    A horrible sense of discouragement and embarrassment moved in for the kill.

    In the past, I would have welcomed my uninvited critical thoughts to stay a while, resigned to the fact that I must be unable to do anything right!

    But not this time; too many hurtful experiences had taught me to recognize failure as an opportune time for my opponent, the devil, to devour me with feelings of inadequacy and shame. This enemy is bent on making me believe that when my best isn't good enough, I'm not good enough.

    Fortunately, times of pain have also included hours of poring over God's promises, gathering wisdom to deal with this unwelcome intruder. I have learned to be alert to the devil's schemes and ready to stand against them. In today's key verses, Peter tells us how:

    "Keep your mind clear, and be alert. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion as he looks for someone to devour. Be firm in the faith and resist him, knowing that other believers throughout the world are going through the same kind of suffering" (1 Peter 5:8-9).

    After reading the email and letting my thoughts run wild for a few minutes, I knew I had to clear my mind. I asked the Holy Spirit to help me unclutter my thoughts with the clarity of truth from logistical, circumstantial and spiritual points of view.

    1) I jotted down a list of logistical truths: facts about what happened, what I did right, wrong or forgot to do at all.

    2) I also wrote a list of circumstantial truths: factors of my "reality" during the project.

    In six months time, a close friend died of cancer, our family adopted a baby from Ethiopia, my mom was hospitalized with blood clots in her lungs and moved in with us, and my father underwent emergency quadruple bypass surgery. Although I cut back on some things, I tried to push through on a few commitments I made before the bottom fell out. Exhausted and completely overwhelmed, I couldn't keep up. But I hadn't admitted or communicated my limitations to our client.

    3) Finally, and most importantly, I made a list of spiritual truths. Turning through my Bible, I found and wrote down promises to remind me of these facts:

    • "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever" (Psalm 73:26, NIV).

    • "The LORD will accomplish what concerns me; Your lovingkindness, O LORD, is everlasting; Do not forsake the works of Your hands" (Psalm 138:8, NASB).

    Listing logistical, circumstantial and spiritual truths helped me quiet my mind to see all that was going on. Suddenly, I was aware of what God wanted me to do versus what my opponent was trying to do — devour me with discouragement.

    God wanted me to humble myself before Him, be honest with my limitations and make more cut backs in my schedule. After apologizing to our client and explaining what happened, she understood and things eventually worked out.

    Although I had done the best I could, my best wasn't good enough. But it didn't mean I wasn't good enough. It just meant I needed to make some truth-filled assessments and wisdom-based adjustments!

    Lord, some days my best isn't good enough, but it's all I have to give. Help me remember that my best is all You expect. Guide me with Your grace as I make truth-filled assessments of my life and wisdom-based adjustments as needed. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY:
    Psalm 90:17, "May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us — yes, establish the work of our hands." (NIV)

    ENTER TO WIN a copy of Renee's A Confident Heart Devotional and Lysa's new best-selling book, The Best Yes! Renee is giving away 3 "Fall Book-Bundles" that include a copy of each book and more! Enter on Renee's blog today.

    REFLECT AND RESPOND:
    Think of a time when you felt like your best wasn't good enough. Like Renee described, make a list of logistical, circumstantial and spiritual truths that relate to your situation.

    Looking at your lists, ask God to help you keep (or get) your mind clear of condemnation-clutter the enemy has piled on your thoughts. Then stand firm on God's truths and stay alert to His thoughts as you keep making truth-filled assessments and wisdom-based adjustments.

    © 2014 by Renee Swope. All rights reserved.

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


    This post was posted in Daily Devotion, Proverbs 31 and was tagged with Peter 5

  • Convicted but not Condemned

    Posted on July 9, 2014 by Renee Swope

    Renee Swope

    "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." John 3:17 (NIV)

    Sometimes I wonder how I can go from being in such a good place with God ... feeling peaceful, loving and patient ... then something happens that sends me into an orbit of aggravation!

    It happened just the other day. Things were going well. I'd had a lovely afternoon working from home, alone. Life was peachy.

    Then school got out and my kids came home. Within 15 minutes, one of my boys did something and said something that was not so peachy. Then he did NOT do something I asked him to do, and let's just say ... I lost all my peace and patience right there in the middle of my kitchen.

    I was not happy at all. And I told my precious boy in a not-so-nice kind of way. Then, I felt guilty and like the worst mom on the planet!

    For a few minutes, I was pretty sure that was exactly how God wanted me to feel. But before I convinced myself I was the worst mom who had no business serving in ministry, I remembered a pastor sharing about the difference between conviction and condemnation.

    He explained that condemnation sweeps across our thoughts with generalized statements such as: You're such a failure. You're so hypocritical. You can never be counted on. That is the accuser. His tone is condemning, questioning and confusing. His accusations lead to guilt and shame.

    In contrast, the Holy Spirit's conviction will be specific. He will reveal a sinful action or attitude and instruct us with a solution for what we need to do to right the wrong, such as restoring a broken relationship or returning something that isn't ours. He'll give us steps we need to take to change our behaviors or attitudes.

    Instead of the lie: "You're such a failure as a [wife, mom, daughter, friend]," the Holy Spirit might say, "You were really critical the way you talked to So-and-so. You need to say you're sorry and ask for forgiveness. Then say something to build them up instead of tearing them down."

    Instead of the accusing label: "You're so hypocritical!" The Holy Spirit might say, "You judge others for gossiping, but you're doing the same thing when you talk about your neighbor at work. Apologize for what you said today, and share a few things that are positive about her."

    Instead of shaming words: "You can never be counted on!" The Holy Spirit might say, "You didn't keep your promise to go visit your mom. Call her to say you're sorry, and ask her out to lunch this weekend."

    Satan condemns us accusingly, to make us feel guilty. God convicts us lovingly, to lead our hearts to repentance.

    Conviction draws us away from destructive behavior that hinders our relationship with God and others. Jesus' goal is to bring us out of a condemning place of sin and usher us into the freedom of forgiveness with the assurance of His love.

    The next time we blow it, or lose our peace and patience right there in the middle of the kitchen or the office or 5 o'clock traffic, let's guard our hearts from condemnation and instead, listen only to God's conviction.

    Then let's follow His lead toward restoration as we live in the security of today's truth: Jesus didn't come into the world — or into our lives — to condemn us, but to rescue us with His redeeming grace.

    Lord, sometimes condemning thoughts become so familiar I don't realize how they contradict Your Word and Your ways. Please give me discernment to recognize the difference between conviction and condemnation, and courage to replace my mindset with Yours. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY:
    John 1:14, "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." (NIV)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND:
    Condemnation focuses on the problem. Conviction offers a solution. Write down the most frequent shaming, blaming or accusing thoughts you have that make you feel condemned.

    Then, using the three contrasting examples Renee shared above, replace condemning statements with convicting, yet loving, truths the Holy Spirit might say. Be sure to offer yourself forgiveness plus a solution that reflects God's goal of restoration and His tone of grace.

    © 2014 by Renee Swope. All rights reserved.

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

     


    This post was posted in Daily Devotion, Proverbs 31 and was tagged with John

  • You are Never Alone

    Posted on June 24, 2014 by Renee Swope

    Renee Swope

    "Now he had to go through Samaria ... and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, 'Will you give me a drink?'" John 4:4, 6-7 (NIV)

    Alone again. That's what she must have thought as she walked alone to the well that day. No friend laughed by her side. No small fist gripped her skirt. No sister to help pass the time.

    Maybe it was better that way. Being alone was easier than hearing the condemning words and seeing the scornful looks of others. But she wasn't alone for long. She didn't know who He was and couldn't help but wonder why He was talking to her, a Samaritan woman.

    When He spoke, she heard gentleness in His voice. Kindness and humility in His simple request for a drink. In His eyes she saw acceptance, not judgment. Love, not hate.

    Many of us know her as the Samaritan woman, but I like to call her Sam. It makes her feel more like the real woman she was. A woman who struggled with hurt, rejection and loneliness.

    Today's key verse says Jesus "had to go through Samaria" (John 4:4). Yet theologians would tell us Jews considered Samaritans to be the scum of the earth and would do everything to avoid them. In fact, usually they would travel around Samaria — but not Jesus.

    He had to go through Samaria. Could it be because He knew Sam would be there?

    Typically women traveled together to the well in the cool of the day, escaping the heat of the sun since they carried heavy jars filled with water back to their homes. But Sam walked by herself during the hottest part of the day.

    Instead of avoiding the scorching sun, many believe she went to the well at noon to avoid the scorching pain of others' rejection and judgment. Sam had been married five times, and now she was living with a man who wasn't her husband.

    The weight of the water-filled jar in the heat must have been almost unbearable, but the weight of her neighbors' words, reminding her of her failed marriages, was more than she could take.

    When Jesus met her, Sam was running an errand and running from those who knew of her failures, shame and imperfections. Pursuing her with His perfect love, Jesus timed it so she would run into Him.

    He initiated conversation and asked her for the one thing she had to offer: water. It wasn't much, but it was a start.

    Sam stopped and listened. She let Him speak words of assurance and acceptance into the broken, insecure, empty places of her heart.

    In the same way Jesus intentionally pursued Sam in one of the loneliest parts of her day, He is there in the midst of your sometimes lonely, imperfect life. He is there when your disappointments and failures leave you empty and make you doubt your worth and purpose.

    He is there when you're going through the motions, aware of what needs to be done but unaware of how you're going to do it all.

    He is there during endless days filled with projects, diapers or laundry when you're wondering if you'll ever find meaning in the monotony.

    He is there when you're criticizing yourself and questioning whether you have what it takes to be a godly woman.

    He sees you. He notices all you do, and He knows what you long for. In fact, Jesus is the only One who can meet your deepest need to be known, accepted and pursued simply because of who you are.

    Today He is pursuing you with His gift of perfect love — love that is patient and kind, love that keeps no record of your wrongs, love that won't give up on you or me.

    Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, He is there. Will you take time to stop and talk to Him and then quiet your thoughts so you can listen to His voice?

    Dear Lord, thank You for pursuing me. I want to know and rely on the love You have for me and live in the security of it! When I feel afraid, insignificant or alone, help me turn to You and remember You are there! In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY:
    Jeremiah 31:3b, "I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness." (NIV)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND:
    How does it make you feel to knowing Jesus is pursuing you in every moment of every day? Take a minute to tell Him what assurance you need from Him today.

    © 2014 by Renee Swope. All rights reserved.

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


    This post was posted in Daily Devotion, Proverbs 31 and was tagged with John

  • The Difference

    Posted on June 12, 2014 by Renee Swope

    Renee Swope

    "My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ ..." Colossians 2:2 (NIV)

    I noticed something was different as soon as he walked in the door. Andrew, my 16-year-old son, had come home from exercising at the gym and instead of looking exhausted, a bright smile stretched across his face like a crescent moon.

    Before I could ask what was up, Andrew said, "The custodian stopped me in the hallway and told me I 'looked like a champion' after working out."

    The comment made Andrew feel great. Just knowing someone actually noticed his hard work lifting weights made him want to give the guy a hug! But that felt awkward, so he just said "thanks" and kept walking.

    "But, when I got to the exit door," Andrew went on to say, "I decided to drop my bag and run back to thank the guy for encouraging me! And it made me feel so awesome!"

    The next morning, Andrew told me he couldn't stop thinking about what had happened at the gym. He said, "From now on, any time I feel like I'm supposed to encourage someone, I'm gonna do it! Not just because of how good it will make them feel, but because of how good it makes me feel to focus on other people and not be so focused on myself all the time."

    I did everything I could to hold back the tears. Yes, I was proud of Andrew's decision, but more than anything I was captivated by the difference I saw in my boy's eyes. And with his permission, I want to share why.

    For months, we watched our outgoing, happy, encouraging kid withdraw from us and from friends. We listened as he vented deep doubts and questions about God, compounded by frustration and uncertainties about his own purpose in life.

    Overwhelming concerns had occupied every square inch of my thoughts. My greatest concern came as I watched Andrew sink into a pit of discouragement as he insulated himself with negative anger towards God, his circumstances, and consuming self-focus.

    My husband and I prayed. We wrestled with God. We talked through Andrew's questions and doubts whenever he was willing. And we loved on him as much as we knew how.

    But now, many months later, I am still amazed by the difference a few words of encouragement made. Words offered by a stranger who noticed him, encouraged him and inspired him to give away what he had received.

    In today's key verse, the Apostle Paul shares how his life's goal was that others be "encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:2-3).

    Could it be that encouragement unites our hearts in love with God and each other? Then it unlocks spiritual riches of understanding to help us grasp all that is ours in Christ?

    Just today, Andrew told me again how his heart changed that night after coming home from the gym. He said for the first time, in a long time, he felt the power and presence of God's love, which he had been shutting out for months. And in the days that followed, he started to turn back toward hope and ultimately turn toward God.

    Dear Lord, thank You for the gift of Your encouragement. Help me slow down to hear You speak words of hope into my life, reminding my heart that You see me, value me and have a purpose for me! In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY:
    Colossians 2:6-7, "So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness." (NIV)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND:

    Think of a time when someone's words of encouragement made a difference in your life or in your faith. Ask God to show you someone to encourage today. Then pray for the words of reassurance they need, and let your life make a difference in theirs!

    © 2014 by Renee Swope. All rights reserved.

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


    This post was posted in Daily Devotion, Proverbs 31 and was tagged with Colossians

  • When Your Life Feels Like a Mess

    Posted on May 5, 2014 by Renee Swope

    Renee Swope

    "But while Joseph was there in prison, the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden." Genesis 39: 20b-21 (NIV)

    Do you ever feel like your days are filled with one messy relationship and situation after another? During those times, it's easy to label my circumstances and myself as "a mess," then wonder how God could ever use me, or my experiences, for good.

    To protect my heart from discouragement, I often ask God to remind me of times when He has worked in ways I couldn't have imagined, in my life and the lives of others. Recently He reminded me of Joseph's story (Genesis 37-50). It reads like a series of very unfortunate events!

    Imagine being beaten and thrown into a pit, sold as a slave and then relocated to a foreign country where you are falsely accused of a crime you didn't commit and banished to die in prison. And to make matters worse, what if your siblings had initiated this evil against you?

    That's only the beginning of what happened to Joseph.

    Looking behind the scenes of stories like his helps me see how God specializes in using messes to transform people into masterpieces of His grace. That's exactly what He did here:

    "[Joseph's brothers] saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him ... they stripped him of his robe ... and they threw him into a pit" (Genesis 37:18, 23b–24, ESV).

    Joseph was then taken to Egypt where he was sold as a slave to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh. Could things get worse? They did when Potiphar's wife tried to seduce him, and despite Joseph resisting her advances, she accused him of attempting to rape her:

    " ... she called to the men of her household and said to them, 'See, he has brought among us a Hebrew to laugh at us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice. And as soon as he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me and fled and got out of the house.'"

    "As soon as his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him ... his anger was kindled. And Joseph's master took him and put him into the prison ..." (Genesis 39:14-15, 19-20a).

    In Potiphar's house, Joseph learned servant leadership and integrity; in prison, Joseph learned forgiveness, wisdom and patience. He had been wronged multiple times, yet he experienced God's guidance through the darkness that helped Joseph get out of prison:

    "And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. ... And whatever he did, the LORD made it succeed" (Genesis 39:22-23, ESV).

    In a messy pit, the house of Potiphar and a cold dark prison, God prepared Joseph for the amazing future and role he would play in rescuing God's people and eventually bringing his family back together.

    Through it all, Joseph stayed close to God and allowed his difficult circumstances to make him more dependent on the Lord. And in turn, God molded Joseph's character into a great and godly leader — who was humble, loving, forgiving, patient and wise.

    Friend, you might feel like you're in a pit right now just like Joseph was, but don't despise the mess you're in — God is doing some behind-the-scenes work. He is preparing to unleash His limitless power in and through you!

    Dear Lord, thank You for reminding me that You are always with me, just like You were with Joseph. When I face hard circumstances, I want to lean in and depend on You for wisdom, patience and grace. In all these things, I will remember that I am more than a conqueror through Him who loves me. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY:
    Romans 8:37, "No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us." (NIV)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND:

    Do you ever look at the messiness of your circumstances and feel discouragement or even despair? Although Joseph had every reason to be depressed, he chose not to be by looking beyond where he was, to what God was doing.

    Read Joseph's story in Genesis 37-50 and make a list of ways God used messes and difficulties to transform Joseph's life for His glory.

    © 2014 by Renee Swope. All rights reserved.

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


    This post was posted in Daily Devotion, Proverbs 31 and was tagged with Genesis

  • No More Guilt-Induced Doubt

    Posted on April 2, 2014 by Renee Swope

    Renee Swope

    "Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." Hebrews 4:16 (NIV)

    Mom said she'd be gone all day, and she encouraged me to come over and use her place to write. In a quiet house, hopefully, I could finalize my message outlines for our church women's retreat.

    We arranged plans for my mom to be home at 5 p.m. Then my husband, J.J., would come over at 5:30 p.m. with our boys. The children could stay with Grandma while J.J. and I went to a surprise party.

    Mom's quiet house was just what I needed to get into a good studying and writing zone. It was the perfect setting ... until she came home two hours early!

    She brought cement pavers in and set them on the floor. She walked out and returned to plop bags of groceries in the kitchen ... right where I was studying.

    Normally this would have been fine, but I wasn't done and I got the message that my time was up. Panic set in!

    Then, to make matters worse, as I put my notes away I knocked a water bottle over onto my laptop. My chest tightened with anxiety, and my eyes stung with tears. My perfect day was turning into the perfect storm.

    After mopping up the mess, I started getting ready for the party and waited for my husband to arrive. He didn't show up at 5:30, or 5:40. He wasn't answering his cell phone, and I didn't want to ruin the surprise party by being late. So, at 6:00, I decided to take Mom's car and have him meet me there.

    Just as I was leaving, he drove up. Surprisingly, he didn't look a bit hurried. In fact, my then 6-year-old son got out of the car first, walked up to me and said, "Daddy told us you would be mad!"

    That was an understatement! Frustrated and angry, I decided it was still a good idea for me to leave. But when I pulled out of the driveway, my husband waved for me to stop and asked, "Aren't you going to wait for me?"

    "No," I snapped. "Because you're acting like a [beep]."

    My 8-year-old son walked up and said, "Mommy! You just called Daddy a [beep]."

    Suddenly guilt-induced doubt made me start questioning everything, including speaking at the retreat. I'm not cut out for this. I'm not godly enough. I must have heard God wrong. I have no business teaching a message I can't even live.

    My husband and I ended up going to the party together, with our fake "everything is fine" smiles. But the next morning at church, I went straight to my women's ministry director, confessed what happened and told her I needed to step down from being the retreat speaker.

    Her response shocked me: "Renee, if you don't need this message as much as the women attending, then you are not qualified to teach it. But because you need it as much as we do, you are. You've been appointed and you are anointed to do this."

    I had never experienced such a demonstration of God's grace.

    That response showed me what it looks like to "approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Hebrews 4:16).

    It's hard to believe God could use us when we're such a mess, yet the Bible is filled with stories of men and women He used greatly — despite their downfalls.

    I ended up speaking at the retreat and shared what had happened. Although I feared some women might judge me, they loved me, accepting that I'm not perfect.

    Although guilt can make us give up on ourselves, God won't. Instead, He offers to take what feels like destruction and use it for reconstruction in our journey with Him.

    When we confess our wrong thoughts, words, and actions and receive God's forgiveness, our hearts can be set free from guilt-induced doubt and filled with grace-infused confidence.

    Lord, I come to You today to receive Your mercy and find Your grace to help me. Please replace my guilt-induced doubt with Your grace-infused confidence. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    Reflect and Respond:
    Has guilt ever made you doubt God could use you for His purposes?

    Jesus lived and died to save us from our sins and downfalls. Receive His forgiveness today and ask Him to replace your guilt-induced doubt with His grace-infused confidence.

    Power Verse:
    1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (NKJV)

    © 2014 by Renee Swope. All rights reserved.

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


    This post was posted in Daily Devotion, Proverbs 31 and was tagged with Hebrews

  • When We Belong to Jesus

    Posted on February 14, 2014 by Renee Swope

    Renee Swope

    "For your Maker is your husband — the LORD Almighty is his name — the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth. The LORD will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit — a wife who married young, only to be rejected,' says your God." Isaiah 54:5-6 (NIV)

    We had what felt like a storybook Christian romance. Mike was tall, dark and handsome. He had a successful business and he loved Jesus. But to top it all off, instead of asking me for a date, Mike asked if we could "court."

    Our lives were connected on so many levels. We lived on the same floor of the same apartment complex. We attended the same church. And we had several mutual friends. We loved when people told us we made a great couple, in life and in ministry.

    Eventually we started praying about marriage and talked to our pastor. Not long after, Mike proposed.

    But two weeks into our engagement he looked into my eyes and said: "I've made a horrible mistake. You are not the one God wants me to marry."

    I was devastated and wondered what I'd done to make God change His mind.

    After counseling and walking through a painful process of forgiveness, I eventually recovered. Much to my surprise, Mike showed back up in my life and asked me to consider rebuilding our friendship.

    I was shocked and hesitant. But I also wondered if God wanted to redeem our story. Eventually I gave Mike a second chance. We spent time with friends and took things slowly. But in time, the topic of marriage came up. He proposed again. And he dumped me again!

    That time I got smart and kept the ring, holding it as collateral to get Mike to counseling with me. In our first session, the counselor explained that Mike had a fear of commitment. Having a name for it helped me feel better, but Mike felt embarrassed and ashamed.

    One night I woke up with a deep sense of concern for him, so I drove to his apartment. Sitting in the parking lot, I felt compelled to get in his van and pray for him. Afterwards I opened my eyes and noticed his journal sitting on the console.

    Though I shouldn't have opened it, I turned to the entries he had written when he called off our engagement. I came face-to-face with why he didn't want to marry. There were many things about me he wished were different.

    After reading Mike's journal, every time I stood in front of a mirror, doubt whispered: No man will ever want you. You'll never be good enough.

    Rejection. Betrayal. Abandonment. Our greatest fears can become reality. Maybe your father abandoned you, or your husband betrayed you. Maybe your best friend broke your trust, or your teenager has shut you out.

    The deep pain from broken relationships can make us doubt our value. We begin to see ourselves as disposable. Easily replaced. Not good enough.

    One morning, I woke up and felt the heavy weight of rejection. Opening my Bible, I read through the book of Isaiah and landed in chapter 54. There, God showed me He is my Maker, Husband and Redeemer - the One who bestows the honor and acceptance I long for.

    As devastating as it was, I learned two life-changing lessons from the pain:

    • I have to choose to separate myself, and my worth, from a man's decision to want me or not.
    • I have to hold others' words and preferences up to God's Word and choose which one I will rely on.

    Although people's preferences will change, God's desire for us won't. Others might not think we're good enough, but God always will. And even if someone decides they don't desire us anymore, God most certainly does!

    The truth is, when we belong to Jesus we are loved and accepted forever. We are covered in His goodness, and His goodness makes us good enough!

    Lord, I want to know and rely on the love You have for me and live in Your love. Remind me each day that Your goodness makes me good enough! In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    Reflect and Respond:
    Has someone ever made you feel like you're not good enough?

    Ask God to help you separate yourself, and your worth, from their opinion. Hold their words and preferences up to God's Word and choose to believe and rely on His instead.

    Power Verse:
    Isaiah 30:18a, "Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion." (NIV)

    © 2014 by Renee Swope. All rights reserved.

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


    This post was posted in Daily Devotion, Proverbs 31 and was tagged with Isaiah

  • The Things We Do For Love

    Posted on February 5, 2014 by Renee Swope

    Renee Swope

    "What a person desires is unfailing love ..." Proverbs 19:22a (NIV)

    I had everything I wanted yet felt empty and confused.

    My life was full of relationships and accomplishments I'd worked hard to gain, but none could fill or fulfill me.

    Frustrated by my aching emptiness, tears streamed down my face as I thought about the guy I dated through high school and college. Our future plans had crumbled under the pressure of me expecting him to be all I needed. I had been crazy about him — a little too crazy.

    I'll never forget the time a friend mentioned my ex-boyfriend was heading to our hometown for the weekend. We worked near each other, so Friday afternoon I parked by his office and waited for him to leave.

    We both "happened" to be at the same fast food restaurant, at the same time and bumped into each other. After getting my order, I got in my car and followed behind him, hoping he'd see me, realize he couldn't live without me and signal to pull over so we could talk.

    Seriously, what was I thinking? As you can guess, he never stopped. I was hopeless and humiliated.

    A few weeks later, I was taking a walk around my college campus. My eyes drifted to the buildings, dorms and other landmarks of memories. Suddenly my mind filled with a collage of faces, reminding me of my efforts to win the approval of advisors, friends and professors — hoping their affirmation could fill my emptiness.

    Although I was graduating soon, had a few great job offers and achieved success in many ways, my heart still felt restless. And I couldn't help but wonder: Why was all that I had never enough?

    A thought rushed through my soul, stringing together two words I had never put next to each other. I sensed God answering me.

    Renee, all you have ever wanted is unconditional love.

    Unconditional love? I didn't know there was such a thing. Then God whispered into my soul: You'll never find the love you long for in anyone or anything but Me. I AM the unconditional love you're looking for.

    The thought of God loving me without any conditions was inconceivable, yet something deep in my soul told me it was true. I'd been looking for love that didn't have to be earned. Love I didn't have to fear losing.

    Honestly, it was hard to see how God's love could fill the emptiness in my heart. It took time, but I came to understand that God created me with that need for fulfillment so He could meet it.

    Our key verse, Proverbs 19:22a, says, "What a person desires is unfailing love."

    The word "desire" comes from the Hebrew word ta'avah, which means: to greatly long for, deeply desire or crave. Interestingly, unfailing love is mentioned over 30 times in the Bible, and not once is it attributed to a person. It is only attributed to God.

    God gave us a desire for unfailing love because He knew it would lead us back to Him.

    His love draws us to Him. Only we can stop God from reaching the deep and hidden parts within us that need Him most.

    Will you invite Jesus to look into your heart today so He can show you what, who and where you might be looking to be filled and fulfilled? Then ask Him to fill and fulfill you with the promise and reality of His unfailing love instead.

    Jesus, help me stop searching for fulfillment in anything or anyone but You. Will You satisfy me with Your unfailing love and help me depend on You to meet my deepest desires and needs. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    Reflect and Respond:
    What or whom do you look to, to fill and fulfill you?

    Write down steps you can take to transfer your hope from other things and people to God to satisfying your longings. Start by talking to God and processing this struggle with Him.

    Power Verse:
    Psalm 90:14, "Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days." (NIV)

    © 2014 by Renee Swope. All rights reserved.

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


    This post was posted in Daily Devotion, Proverbs 31 and was tagged with Proverbs

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