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Family Christian

  • When You’re Stumbling into the New Year Empty and Drained

    Alicia Bruxvoort JANUARY 4, 2016

    When You’re Stumbling into the New Year Empty and Drained ALICIA BRUXVOORT

    "Three days later, they all went to celebrate a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee … While they were celebrating, the wine ran out … [And Jesus said] ‘Fill each water pot with water until it’s ready to spill over the top.’" John 2:1a, 3a, 7b (VOICE)

    We were sitting in the dimly lit corner of our favorite Italian bistro when my husband asked the question that made my heart lurch: "What are you looking forward to in the new year?"

    The last hours of the last day of December stretched before us like a gift wrapped in moonbeams and grace, and I was grateful for time to connect as we bid another year goodbye.

    I cast him an appreciative smile, knowing that my quiet guy would have been content to merely eat his steak and savor our momentary break from baby babble and toddler tantrums.

    Normally, his inquiry would have aroused my love for conversation and undaunted dreaming. But as I sliced into my baked potato on that particular New Year’s Eve, I realized I was strangely devoid of words.

    I felt more hollow than hopeful, more discouraged than dreamy.

    I wanted to answer with expectancy and exuberance, to rehearse to my willing listener a list of grandiose goals and polished plans. But I was road-weary from a long and exhausting year. Unexpected disappointments had left me discouraged, and I felt depleted by the demands of the daily grind.

    My husband buttered his roll and waited in comfortable silence. And I felt a cavernous ache rise from the tip of my toes to the corners of my muddled mind. I held his green-eyed gaze and wondered if my heart would split wide open if I put words to my unseen struggle.

    I willed my tears not to drizzle, and I blinked long and slow in an attempt to hide the drops of watery despair.

    "Honey, what’s wrong?" my husband asked, reaching across the table to lace his fingers through mine.

    "I just feel so empty inside …" I cried, as I tipped my water glass to my lips and sipped the last drop. "I don’t how God can use me in the new year when I feel so depleted by the old one."

    Maybe you’ve been there before — too haggard to hope, too wary to wish, too exhausted to anticipate.

    Maybe you’re there right now, toes tired from the journey, your heart feeling bankrupt by the barrage of life.

    But if you’ve limped into the new year with muted hope and a poured-out soul, I’ve got good news for you. Our emptiness doesn’t disqualify us from Christ’s extravagance. Our weariness doesn’t exempt us from His wonder.

    In fact, today’s key verses suggest that our emptiness might actually give us reason for expectancy in the new year.

    After all, we have a Savior who delights in filling empty vessels.

    If we read the entire account of Christ’s first miracle in John 2:1-12, we learn that Christ didn’t view those barren wine jugs as a reason for condemnation; He simply viewed them as a wordless invitation. A subtle summons to reveal His glory in a fresh new way.

    Think about it, friends: if our lavish Savior can use poured-out pots to display His splendor, surely He can use poured-out people to do the same. We need only to admit our void and ask for His help.

    A waiter lingered beside our table with a pitcher and reached for the glass near my plate.

    "An empty one!" the waiter exclaimed as he held the fluted glass up to the light. "I can fix that!" he said with a silly smirk. Then he tipped the pitcher with a gallant swoop and filled my glass to the brim.

    My husband raised his eyebrows as the young man waltzed away. "Maybe being empty isn’t so bad after all …" he said with a wink.

    I took a long sip of water and let it wash away the lump of tears that had been sitting in my throat.

    Then, I cast my husband a grateful grin and let an unexpected giggle spill from my lips.

    After all, it suddenly seemed like I was in the perfect position to embrace a new year brimming with possibility.

    Dear Jesus, help me trade my emptiness for expectancy. I invite you to do a fresh work in me this new year. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY: Romans 15:13, "I pray that the God who gives hope will fill you with much joy and peace while you trust in him. Then your hope will overflow by the power of the Holy Spirit." (NCV)

    RELATED RESOURCES: Commit to filling up on God’s Word in the new year. Our free First 5 app can help you get into God’s Word with the first five minutes of your day.

    Visit Alicia Bruxvoort’s blog for more encouragement and a special give-away today.

    REFLECT AND RESPOND: Invite God to do a fresh work in your life this year. Read Isaiah 43:19 and make it your prayer.

    This week, prayerfully pour into someone who is poured out.

    © 2016 by Alicia Bruxvoort. All rights reserved.

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

  • An Interview With Mahtob Mahmoody

    Mahtob Mahmoody has an incredible story. As a young child, she and her mother were held captive by her father in his home country, Iran, after they were initially promised that it would only be a two-week vacation. Following a daring escape, she lived in constant fear and with constant hatred toward her father.

    My Name Is Mahtob chronicles her journey, offering various impactful stories from her life in the time since.

    Both in the book and in our interview with her, you'll find that the greatest theme she touches on is forgiveness. Specifically, forgiveness that came about as a result of God's healing love.

    Check out the interview below to find out more about Mahtob's life today, how and why she wrote the book, and what she has planned for the future. Then go pick up your copy of My Name Is Mahtob.

  • A New Year’s Prayer for You

    Wendy Blight JANUARY 01, 2015

    A New Year’s Prayer for You WENDY BLIGHT

    {Editor’s Note: Today’s devotion is written simply as a prayer. We hope it will bring you hope and true encouragement for today. May you have an abundantly blessed New Year!}

    "This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us." 1 John 5:14 (NIV)

    Elohim, God our Creator, Master Architect of all that is, was and ever will be, by Your hand alone, we are fearfully and wonderfully made. You shaped us in secret, knitting us together … every moment, every detail planned out before we took a single breath.

    You knew before time began each woman who would pray this prayer. You formed her. You drew her. You know her heart. Her every need. Her deepest desires … dreams … scars … questions … doubts.

    And today, in the quietness of our hearts, we meet with You. Draw near. Fall afresh as we come, from across the globe, to the foot of the cross.

    Father, You are Holy. You call us to be holy. You created us in Your image. Yet, so often our hearts wander. Our speech does not glorify You. Our actions do not honor You. Self prevails. In this New Year, clothe us with humility. Take away our desire to be right and our stubbornness to demand our own way. Submit our will to Yours. As we open the pages of Scripture, tender our hearts so that it will penetrate even to the marrow of our bones.

    Father, in this world of tolerance and compromise, give us hearts that seek Your Truth above all else. Saturate us with Your Spirit of knowledge and revelation so that as we digest Your Truth, we not only understand it but are also equipped to live it. Guard our hearts from the lies of this world and keep our eyes fixed on You, for You alone are the Author and Finisher of our faith.

    Father, we surrender our thoughts — especially our feelings and our emotions — to You, You who are Faithful and True. Where fear and anxiety loom, help us fully trust in You and Your goodness, no matter the circumstances. Your Word says that You don’t give a Spirit of fear but rather Your perfect love drives out fear. Lead us to walk in the freedom of that love. Your Word promises that when we pray, anxiety will flee and peace will prevail. We purpose in our hearts to pray more faithfully and consistently so we can walk confidently in Your peace.

    Father, Your Word says You created us in Christ Jesus to do good works for Your Kingdom. You knit specific gifts and talents into us to do that work. And Your Word promises that when You begin a work in us, You will carry it on to completion until the day we step into eternity with You. Thank You, Father! We desire to walk in Your good and perfect plan, Lord. To serve Your people. To walk boldly in the call You have on our lives. So, as we seek to walk with You, help us to trust in You with all our hearts and lean not on our own understanding. Help us acknowledge You in all our ways so that in our obedience, we can clearly hear, "This is the way, My child, walk in it."

    Father, we love You and thank You that our names are engraved in the palm of Your hand. You love us unconditionally and nothing can ever separate us from Your love. May we know more than ever before how wide and high and deep and long is Your love. And as we live out that love, may our lives be a living testimony of You. We ask this in the powerful and mighty name of Your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who will do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we could ever ask or imagine. Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY: Philippians 4:6-7, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (NIV)

    Proverbs 3:5-6, "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight." (NIV)

    Isaiah 49:16, "See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me." (NIV)

    © 2016 by Wendy Blight. All rights reserved.

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

  • Christmas Cards that Keep on Giving

    Leah DiPascal DECEMBER 31, 2015

    Christmas Cards that Keep on Giving LEAH DIPASCAL

    "So I never stop being grateful for you, as I mention you in my prayers." Ephesians 1:16 (CEV)

    One of the things I love most about the holiday season is sending and receiving Christmas cards.

    Since our family lives far from relatives, there have been many years when we were unable to travel "home" to be with our extended family at Christmastime.

    But … each year I can count on my Aunt Elsie to send the first Christmas card of the season, which always arrives in my mailbox the week after Thanksgiving.

    As days pass, I find myself waiting with great anticipation for the mailman to slide a new batch of red and green envelopes into my holly-and-bow draped mailbox.

    My routine is always the same: I open each card, read the message inside, gaze and smile at the enclosed family photo, then proudly tape it to my kitchen pantry door.

    As the countdown to Christmas continues, every white space on that door disappears as I tape a steady stream of cards and pictures over every inch, including the doorframe.

    Smiling faces and seasonal attire are on display as I hang each card with loving care. Neighbors, friends, relatives, classmates, co-workers … even our mailman and dentist’s cards are included.

    I used to bundle all those cards and tuck them away in a keepsake box once January rolled around. But the last several years, I’ve decided to make some changes to my Christmas card tradition.

    Instead of tucking away those beautiful smiling faces (into a box I probably won’t open until the following December), I transfer them onto a decorative framed corkboard, which hangs in my laundry room.

    You’re probably wondering, the laundry room? Yes, the laundry room, because for me it’s a central place where I’m guaranteed to be several times a day.

    I made a decision to display the cards there, so every time I went in and out of the laundry room, I was reminded to pray for each person represented.

    Even after the Christmas decorations are packed and put away, the cards remain and I am committed to pray for each family. Not just for one month or two, but all year long.

    I pray for stronger marriages and godly children.

    For daily provision and unexpected blessings.

    For loving conversations and renewed appreciation.

    For restored health and increased faith.

    Every time I whisper a prayer, I’m reminded of how blessed I am and grateful to God for placing these special people in my life.

    Though many miles may separate us, prayer instantly brings us invisibly together — right in the midst of some flowery-scented laundry detergent and spray starch.

    Just like today’s key verse (Ephesians 1:16) says, "I never stop being grateful for you, as I mention you in my prayers."

    Ever consider changing your Christmas card tradition? Before you discard or put away those seasonal cards, why not embrace the idea of turning them into an annual prayer collection? What a great opportunity to speak prayers of blessings into someone else’s life and experience a greater sense of gratitude in your own.

    Let’s remember that God has placed specific people in our lives for important reasons. Not only do they need our prayers during Christmastime, but all year ’round.

    Father, help me not just to look for blessings during the Christmas season, but to go out of my way to bless others. Remind me to pray for friends and loved ones every time I pray for myself. Teach me to invest in my relationships by sharing Your love and grace with others. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY: 1 Thessalonians 1:2, "We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers." (ESV)

    Proverbs 17:17a, "A friend loves at all times." (ESV)

    RELATED RESOURCES: Help us continue to reach women and families all over the world with God’s Word by partnering with us through prayer or a monetary gift. Click here to give now.

    For those who’ve already supported this ministry with your prayers, one-time gifts or as monthly partners, we thank God for you! We pray you are blessed as a result of your generosity!

    REFLECT AND RESPOND: What other ways can you create a visual reminder to pray for family, friends and those in need of prayer?

    What other ways can you be a blessing to friends and family as you partner with God to make an eternal difference in their lives?

    © 2015 by Leah DiPascal. All rights reserved.

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

  • Something to Consider with Criticism

    Lysa TerKeurst DECEMBER 30, 2015

    Something to Consider with Criticism LYSA TERKEURST

    "It will lead to an opportunity for you to witness. Therefore make up your minds not to prepare your defense ahead of time, for I will give you such words and a wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict." Luke 21:13-15 (HCSB)

    Criticism stinks. That’s usually my first thought when someone makes it clear they don’t like something I’ve done or said.

    My pride says, "How dare you!" My heart says, "I want a chance to explain." My soul says, "Jesus, am I off base?" My mind says, "Why do I open myself up like this?" My feelings say, "Ouch."

    Sometimes criticism is fair. Maybe I messed up and it would serve me well to reconsider. Other times criticism is nothing but rotten spew. And boy, does it stink. But if I get stuck in the stink, it serves no good purpose.

    Might there be another way to look at harsh criticism? Is there a way to get past the hurt to see something about the one criticizing me that will soften my heart toward them?

    Recently, I stumbled on an article about the armadillo lizard. This fascinating creature has hard and pointy scales that have "Don’t mess with me" written all over them. But, like all tough creatures, this lizard has a vulnerable place.

    The armadillo lizard’s tough exterior wraps around its back but softens at the underbelly. When threatened, the lizard grabs its tail and displays a prickly, intimidating posture to keep other creatures away. At that point, the rest of the body serves only one purpose — to hide and protect its most vulnerable part.

    So what does a strange desert creature have to do with criticism?

    In an effort to protect my underbelly, I sometimes get all wrapped up in myself and tragically forget the underbelly of my critics — the place where they are vulnerable and might be hiding things, protected beneath their harsh words and a prickly exterior.

    This is a place they may never let me see. It’s the storage place for their hurts and disappointments. It holds the root cause of their skepticism and the anger that probably has very little to do with me. "For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of" (Matthew 12:34b, NIV). And from the overflow of their hurt, they spewed.

    Remember … behind every harsh critic is usually a broken-hearted person desperate for love.

    If I forget the other person’s vulnerability, I am tempted to start storing up my own hurt, skepticism, anger and disappointments.

    If I remember this underbelly, I have a much greater chance to keep it all in perspective. I can let my reaction be a good example to this other person just as our key verse, Luke 21:13-15 reminds us: "It will lead to an opportunity for you to witness. Therefore make up your minds not to prepare your defense ahead of time, for I will give you such words and a wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict."

    When criticism comes — and it will — I must make up my mind not to worry about defending myself. I can resist the urge to become prickly and use it as an opportunity to be a witness. A witness of the love, grace and mercy of Jesus. Things I desperately need myself.

    Dear Lord, thank You for this challenge to think about the other person’s underbelly before I react to criticism. I know it’s a simple step, but it’s so hard to live out. Help me put this truth into practice and to walk in the wisdom You have already given me. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY: 1 Peter 3:9, "Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing." (NIV)

    Proverbs 30:5, "Every word of God proves true. He is a shield to all who come to him for protection." (NLT)

    RELATED RESOURCES: If you enjoy receiving these devotions each day, will you consider helping support us? Click here to give. While our devotions are free to all who receive them, they do cost us quite a bit to send out. We need you to stand with us as we stand for truth each day. Thank you for supporting Proverbs 31 Ministries.

    Learn more about responding with honesty and kindness in the face of offense with Lysa TerKeurst’s book Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions. You can purchase your copy here and start learning how to find peace even in your most difficult relationships.

    REFLECT AND RESPOND: Is there someone in your life who is consistently critical of you? Spend some time praying specifically for that person today. Ask God to show you how you can best be a witness to her, and ask Him to bring healing to her wounded and vulnerable places.

    Sometimes we ourselves are the critical ones. Choose someone whom you would normally be critical of and focus on one way you can sincerely encourage her this week.

    © 2015 by Lysa TerKeurst. All rights reserved.

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

  • Living Water: Violet's Story

    Violet Smiling Violet rejoices at the sight of clean water.

    “Please tell everyone that my suffering ended today.” – Violet

    How often do we take the simplest, yet most vital things in life, for granted? Are you conscious of how much water you use daily–whether you’re brushing your teeth, washing your hands, taking a shower or enjoying a refreshing drink?

    In America, we have an abundant access to clean water. We don’t have to worry about running out or becoming sick from doing these everyday tasks. But there are still areas of the world where people don’t have the luxury of just turning a knob and having water pour out.

    Some don’t even have clean water at all.

    Every day when Violet used to fetch water, she wished she was in school. Three times a day, she had to walk two miles to fetch water—water that caused disease, pain, poverty and suffering.

    Violet and her family needed the water to survive, even if it meant risking disease and missing school.

    Then World Vision came in and drilled boreholes in her village in Zambia and everything changed. As the holes were being drilled, villagers danced, sang and laughed. Everyone wanted to touch and taste the clear, clean, refreshing water.

    To them, clean water means hope. Violet will no longer be sick, with itchy sores all over her body. Violet and her friends now have a chance to go to school, rather than constantly fetching water. And now, Violet believes she can reach her goal of becoming a doctor.

    World Vision not only brings health through clean water but also a new chance at life. Violet is one of a million reasons why World Vision is drilling for water across the globe, reaching one new person every 30 seconds with clean water.

    And YOU can be a part of the story.

    Join us and World Vision as we seek to create a better the future for people in need around the world. World Vision is committed to a goal of providing universal access to clean water by 2030, so let’s help them! Donate $10* by texting FAMILY to 52000. Or, find out more by visiting us in stores or at familychristian.com/wvwater.

    #FCGiveHope

    *Your one-time donation of $10 will be added to your mobile phone bill or deducted from your pre-paid balance. Message & data rates may apply.

  • On Which Stage Do You Want to Appear?

    Susan Gregory DECEMBER 29, 2015

    On Which Stage Do You Want to Appear? SUSAN GREGORY

    "Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant." Galatians 1:10 (NLT)

    If you’re anything like me, you can relate to William Shakespeare’s words, "All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players."

    I admit, too many times I feel as if I’m stepping onto a stage when I’m around people. I want the approval of the audience! And way too often I find my ego hanging on my sleeve, vulnerable to their judgment, especially when it comes to how I look and dress.

    I don’t always feel great about myself. I want to be taller. Even a few more inches would help me feel more acceptable. And while we’re on the subject, I’d also like thicker hair.

    When I look at photographs of movie stars or models, I have to admit there is a part of me that compares how they look with the reflection I see in the mirror every morning. I always lose the contest.

    I know I’m not alone in this impossible quest to win the approval of people. It’s a challenge that starts early on the school playground and then gets even worse in teen social circles. Oh, how wonderful it would be if we would grow out of this malady when we emerge from puberty.

    The truth is, many of us have carried this desire for approval into our adult lives. The aspiration may morph into becoming an all-out people pleaser. And while the pressure might lessen, gaining the approval of others is still a heavy burden and an unattainable goal.

    The problem is especially irrational when we try to gain approval of people we don’t know or might not even respect!

    Meanwhile, God calls us to a different stage. His arena has an audience of One. Before we take the first step into His presence, we can be assured that He loves us. He approves of us. And He is delighted with the masterpiece He created when He first formed us in His own image.

    The truth is, we each have an Agent who gets us ready for the stage. He represents us to the Audience and He wipes away every blemish before we ever appear. He leads us onto the platform and holds our hands the whole time we’re there. Jesus made the way for us to walk boldly onto the stage (Hebrews 4:16) as we present ourselves to God.

    When we’re with Him, we may receive a critique from our Audience of One. Yet His words are gentle, caring, true and all for our good. None of His instructions have to do with longer legs or thicker hair. Instead, His directives are about following in His footsteps. Be gentle where there is strife. Forgive where there is bitterness. Love rather than judge. This is the stage I want to be on.

    The really good news is when I do well on this stage, the Director sends me as His representative out into the world to show His way of acting to those who have never known His love. I want to always be ready for this performance.

    Father, thank You that I can step into Your presence where I am surrounded with Your love, grace, mercy and care. Help me see those occasions when I try to gain the approval of people so that I turn instead to You for my value and my worth. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY: Psalm 139:14 "I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well." (NKJV)

    RELATED RESOURCES: If you struggle with weight and body image issues, you’ll appreciate Susan Gregory’s newest book, The Daniel Fast for Weight Loss: A Biblical Approach to Losing Weight and Keeping It Off. Susan’s approach succeeds where other programs fail because it focuses on your relationship with God as well as your relationship with food. To learn more, visit Susan’s website at Daniel-Fast.com.

    Join Susan Gregory for a complimentary 4-part online Bible study using The Daniel Fast for Weight Loss. Click here to register: http://daniel-fast.com/biblestudy.

    WIN a copy of The Daniel Fast for Weight Loss. Susan’s publisher is giving away 5 copies! Enter to win by leaving a comment here. {We’ll randomly select 5 winners and email notifications to each one, by Monday, January 4, 2016.}

    REFLECT AND RESPOND: Think about your attitudes, about your appearance, your body image and your health. Do you prefer the applause of people or the approval of your loving God?

    Ponder these words from Susan in light of God’s Word, and pray for His perspective on you, His marvelous creation:

    "God creates only what is good. When pride contaminates His creation, all is spoiled, and beauty becomes ugliness. But when we think of ourselves as human beings created in the image of God and intentionally made, we can indeed see beauty in ourselves. That’s not because of our definition of beauty, but because of His."

    © 2015 by Susan Gregory. 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

  • Time to Start a New D.I.E.T.

    Tracie Miles DECEMBER 28, 2015

    Time to Start a New D.I.E.T. TRACIE MILES

    "Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?" 1 Corinthians 3:16 (NLT)

    The holiday hustle and bustle may be behind us, but perhaps you’re like me and find you have a few regrets over the neglect of your health. It’s so simple in the rush of the season to find a few bad habits sneaking in … times where we take the easy route over the best route.

    For example, on a busy day, it’s quicker to zip through a drive-through than grill some chicken and veggies at home.

    Not only can we take the easy way with our health, we can easily slip into bad spiritual habits as well. When we’re exhausted, it’s easier to slump onto the couch and seek comfort in milk and cookies, rather than open God’s Word for encouragement.

    It’s so enticing to sleep late on Saturday mornings, rather than get up and spend quiet time with God.

    Let’s face it, easier and quicker isn’t always better — either physically or spiritually. The best choices often take extra time and effort, but they are crucial for our health and a strong faith.

    Our key verse reminds us we have a responsibility to care for ourselves spiritually because of Who resides inside: "Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?" (1 Corinthians 3:16).

    This year, as we think about New Year’s Resolutions, what if we focused on the inside? What better time to begin committing to a healthy spiritual diet that feeds our spirits, lightens our hearts, nourishes our souls and fuels our walk with Christ than right now?

    Below is some "food for thought" for how to kick off a strong spiritual D.I.E.T. and become a spiritually healthier you in the coming year.

    D — DISCIPLINE: 1 Chronicles 16:11 says, "Search for the LORD and for his strength; continually seek him" (NLT). The Bible gives us guidelines for living through His Word that help us grow spiritually healthy and mature in our faith. A daily dose of disciplined faith, which includes setting aside time every day to seek God through His Word and prayer, goes a long way to helping us achieve spiritual health.

    I — INTENTIONAL: A strong faith doesn’t happen on its own but needs to be intentionally pursued. I have to make a deliberate effort to put God first in my life. Acts 2:42 says, "They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer" (NIV). What a beautiful example we have of the intentionality of the first followers of Jesus — they gathered together daily to study, pray and share the Lord’s supper.

    E — EARNEST: Being earnest in our faith takes effort to the next level. Have you ever read a passage of the Bible or listened to a sermon, and forgotten the topic 10 minutes later? Me too. I listened, but apparently my mind and heart weren’t fully engaged. Hebrews 11:6 says "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him" (NIV). When we sit down to spend time with God in any form, He longs for our full, zealous attention and the reward for our intentional and earnest faith is the development of a deep spiritual hunger.

    T — TRUSTING: My weakest times are when I doubt God’s plans or purpose for the hard times. Psalm 9:10 says, "Those who know your name trust in you, for you, O LORD, do not abandon those who search for you" (NLT). When I start to feel weak, I need to uncover any doubt that has settled in my heart and choose to trust God. Trusting God, in the good and bad times, is an essential part of a healthy spiritual diet.

    Is 2016 your year to start a new D.I.E.T. plan with Jesus? Why not start today? After all, it is a Monday, when all new healthy diets begin.

    Sweet Jesus, I long to have a deeper relationship with You and commit to making my faith a priority. Give me the desire and strength to follow a healthy spiritual diet this year. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

    TRUTH FOR TODAY: 2 Corinthians 7:1, "Because we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit. And let us work toward complete holiness because we fear God." (NLT)

    RELATED RESOURCES: Discover a great tool for kicking off a healthy spiritual diet by using our First 5 app and joining us for a study of Exodus. The study begins January 4, but you can order your Book of Exodus Experience Guide today by clicking here.

    Visit Tracie Miles’ blog for a few of her favorite healthy recipes, sprinkled with spiritual encouragement.

    REFLECT AND RESPOND: If I’ve let my physical and spiritual health decline, what three things can I do to be healthier in 2016, inside and out?

    Who can I ask to join me as an accountability partner in my quest to be more spiritually healthy?

    © 2015 by Tracie Miles. All rights reserved.

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

  • Merry Christmas!

    Stephanie Raquel DECEMBER 25, 2015

    Merry Christmas! STEPHANIE RAQUEL

    {Editor’s note: Today’s devotion recounts the Christmas story through Scripture. Jesus’ birthday is so much more than a story worth hearing; it’s a gift to be shared — tied to enriching our everyday lives here on Earth and more importantly, our days spent for all eternity. So from all of us at Proverbs 31 Ministries, we hope and pray you have a blessed and very Merry Christmas!}

    "Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, ‘I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.’" John 8:12 (NLT)

    We begin the story of how Jesus came into the world with these reminders from the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah:

    "The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine. You will enlarge the nation of Israel, and its people will rejoice. They will rejoice before you" (Isaiah 9:2-3a, NLT).

    "For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end" (Isaiah 9:6-7a, NLT).

    Then we learn from the prophet Micah that this Prince of Peace will be born in lowly Bethlehem:

    "But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf" (Micah 5:2, NLT).

    It took hundreds of years before these prophetic words were actually fulfilled. But indeed, the pieces were in place for them to become a reality some 2,000 years ago.

    The first Roman emperor (who happened to be Julius Caesar’s adopted son) was named Augustus. He decided to count his citizens through a census so he could tax them. That sets the stage for our first encounter with him in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2:

    "At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.

    "And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them" (Luke 2:1-7, NLT).

    From the beginning, God wanted His people to share the good news of Jesus’ birth with the whole world, which we see in Luke 2:8-17:

    "That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. ‘Don’t be afraid!’ he said. ‘I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior — yes, the Messiah, the Lord — has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.’

    "Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others — the armies of heaven — praising God and saying,

    "Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.’

    "When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’

    "They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child." (NLT)

    The shepherds could easily have kept quiet about the miracle. But instead, they "told everyone what had happened." God had given us the ultimate light in the darkness, the gift of eternal life with the King of Kings, and this gift was meant to be shared.

    If you know Jesus, we pray you’ll go and do likewise!

    Heavenly Father, thank You for sending light in the darkness through the gift of Your Son Jesus. I know I need a Savior from all my problems, but also from living apart from You. I’m amazed by Your gift of eternal life. Help me this Christmas, and always, to never take this for granted, and to follow the shepherds’ example to go and tell everyone what happened. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY: John 3:16, "For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life." (NLT)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND: Do you know Jesus? If so, thank Him for His presence in Your life. If not, click here to learn more about a life-saving relationship with the God of the universe.

    © 2015 by Stephanie Raquel. All rights reserved.

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

  • When There is Mourning in Your Merry

    Chrystal Evans Hurst DECEMBER 24, 2015

    When There is Mourning in Your Merry CHRYSTAL EVANS HURST

    "The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." Psalm 34:18 (NASB) 

    Two Christmases ago, I sat quietly contemplating the cordless phone that fit perfectly in the palm of my hand.

    No one was awake yet, so it was the perfect time to pick up the phone and call my grandmother.

    But that morning, my heart hurt.

    You see, as the eldest granddaughter, every Christmas it was my job, my assignment, to pick up the phone and call her. Then I’d pass the phone around to everyone else so she and my grandfather could talk to everyone.

    This Christmas, however, I felt twinges of physical pain because this special day, when I called, I knew she wouldn’t be picking up the phone.

    Of course, I would still call my grandfather and everyone would be glad to hear his voice, wish we could be closer and express our love to him … but we would also miss hearing her voice.

    Sometimes there is mourning in the midst of the merry.

    That Christmas day, there would be plenty of laughter, kids squealing with joy, hugs exchanged and catching up with loved ones. There would be good food shared and memories made. That Christmas day there would be lots of things that are just the same as they are every year.

    All except one.

    I felt the mourning in the midst of the merry.

    I wonder if when Jesus was on Earth, He missed His heavenly Father.

    I wonder if He felt off-balance because He exchanged the glorious singing of the angels for the soft sounds of sheep. I wonder if He had immediate grief in His heart as the love He had for mankind was mixed with the mourning of a known difficult and short life and an awareness of a painful and hard death.

    I wonder if Christmas day — the day that Christ was born — was a day of mourning, too.

    I wonder if Mary wished her mother were there to help her deliver her new baby. I wonder if she was saddened at her station in life. Did she wish that she had more to give her new son than a birth in a manger?

    I wonder if she mourned the absence of her friends. Did she feel alone? Lost in a big world that seemed not to see her? I wonder if Christmas day — the day Mary delivered her baby — was a day of mourning, too.

    I wonder if the holiday season — the time of year where you sit right now reading this devotion — is a time of mourning for you. I wonder if you’re lamenting another Christmas season spent not quite the way you thought.

    I wonder if you’re grieving because someone you love is not here this year. I wonder if you’re sad because you feel alone, or life isn’t quite where you’d like it to be. I wonder if you feel twists or twinges in your heart as the notes from "Joy to the World" don’t seem to ring true in your life. I wonder.

    Sometimes, there is mourning in the midst of the merry.

    And I don’t have an answer. I don’t have anything monumental to say to get rid of the heart-hurts you might have today.

    But I do know that if we keep going, mourning can TURN into merry.

    I know Mary saw her Son live the only perfect life in history. Any mother would love to see her children live their lives well.

    I know there was glory waiting for Jesus after the agony of the cross.

    And I know that while I miss my grandmother, I will see her again one day.

    You will not always be in this place. You will not always feel the same intensity of hurt, pain or sadness. You will not always feel lonely.

    Sometimes there is mourning. But the merry is still happening.

    Walk through the mourning. Don’t deny it. Be honest about the pain or ache that you feel. But don’t miss the merry.

    That morning two Christmases ago, I sat quietly contemplating the cordless phone that fit perfectly in the palm of my hand. I felt the mourning, but I discovered an opportunity to find the merry.

    I pressed the button that would give me a dial tone and began making that call to my grandfather.

    Dear God, thank You for knowing me intimately and loving me in the middle of my mourning moments. Thank You for the hope, joy and peace You offer. Please help me through the difficult times I face this holiday season. Lord, please help me recognize the opportunities to find the merry and to see where Your hope, joy and peace are available still. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY: Romans 15:13, "Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope, by the power of the Holy Spirit." (NASB)

    RELATED RESOURCES: If you or someone close to you can relate to the feelings of mourning in the merry, you might appreciate An Untroubled Heart by Micca Campbell.

    God sees you and is near to those who are brokenhearted. Click here to download a free printable — a gift that Chrystal Evans Hurst has made available just for you.

    REFLECT AND RESPOND: If this holiday season is difficult for you, take a moment to share the story behind your mourning. There are others who would love to encourage you today.

    If you have ever experienced the pain of grief or loneliness during the holiday season, what tips or encouragement can you offer to someone that desires to find the "merry" even in the midst of their mourning? Share in the comments section.

    © 2015 by Chrystal Evans Hurst. All rights reserved.

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

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