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  • I Didn't Have The Courage

    RENEE SWOPE

    RENEE

    "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

  • If You're Longing For Home This Christmas...

    ALICIA BRUXVOORT

    ALICIA

    "Jesus replied, 'Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.'" John 14:23 (NIV)

    In January, my son cried every night when the moon rose high.

    Moving boxes replaced our Christmas boxes as we started the new year in a new house, in a new town, in a new state 450 miles away from the only place Joshua had ever called home.

    When the Legos were abandoned and the pingpong paddles laid to rest, when the clamor of the day grew mute and the quiet of the night grew noisy, my littlest boy would lie in his top bunk and remember where he was.

    Or where he wasn't.

    The shadows danced differently on those new bedroom walls, and the wind rattled the windows in a curious cadence. The owl in the big evergreen sang to the stars with an eerie screech, and the streetlamp cast a golden beam on the closet door.

    I wanna go home, my son would cry as salty tears dampened his pillow. I wanna go home.

    Sometimes the words seeped angry. Other times, the syllables dribbled like a dirge echoing lonely in the darkness. But every time, I'd lie next to my snuffling son with my heart aching and my head quaking. And I would pray until he surrendered to sleep.

    Crammed between the cold wall and Joshua's little frame, I prayed for new friends and for fresh courage. For comfort and for peace. But most of all, I begged God to make our new place home.

    I prayed that line all through the long hours of that first homesick month until one morning I realized that my prayer had already been answered.

    I was lingering in the 14th chapter of the gospel of John when the 23rd verse made my heart leap.

    "Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them."

    I shifted my gaze from the Bible on my lap to the moving boxes piled high in the corner, and I soaked in the comfort of my Savior's words.

    We may have left a house behind when we followed the moving truck east, but we hadn't relinquished our home.

    You see, home isn't a place, it's a Person.

    Home isn't a refuge from the storm. It's a Perfect Love that storms our hearts.

    Home isn't the light at the end of the road. It's an unquenchable Hope that lights our way.

    And right before Jesus went to Heaven to prepare a forever place for you and me, He reminded us of that simple truth.

    We don't find home by following a yellow brick road. Home finds us when we follow Christ's commands and choose to live as His beloved.

    Our zip code may change and the familiar may fade, but when we build our lives on the cornerstone of Christ, we are never far from home.

    Because home isn't summed up in an address.

    It's captured in a name. Immanuel.

    Matthew 1:23 says, "'The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel' (which means 'God with us')" (NIV).

    Dear Jesus, I want to build my life on the unchanging reality of Your love, so that no matter where I go, I will always feel at home. Thanks that You are always with me. Teach me how to live in You. 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)

    Psalm 90:1, "God, it seems you've been our home forever ..." (MSG)

    John 15:5, "I am the Vine and you are the branches. Get your life from Me. Then I will live in you and you will give much fruit. You can do nothing without Me." (NLV)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND: As you decorate for Christmas, pray about the ways you can "decorate" your heart, Christ's home, in honor of His birth. Ask God to show you if you need to sweep out some cobwebs of unforgiveness, hang a garland of prayer, or re-arrange your priorities to put others first.

    Set up a simple manger scene somewhere in your home and let it remind you of the gift of Immanuel — at Christmastime and always.

    © 2014 by Alicia Bruxvoort. All rights reserved.

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

  • Is Jesus Just Pretend?

    TRACIE MILES

    TRACIE

    "But he replied, 'I won't believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.'" John 20:25b (NLT)

    She looked up at her daddy with eyes filled with concern, trying to put into words the fears and doubts which had crept into her 3-year-old mind.

    It was a day dedicated to prayer and worship at my niece's Christian preschool where her father works and where they'd spent the morning praying for Jesus to join them and be present.

    When the service finished, Berkeley tugged on her daddy's shirt, and as he looked at her distraught little face, he asked what was wrong. Hesitantly, she innocently asked "Daddy, is Jesus just pretend?"

    He was taken aback by her question, but gently answered, "Of course not honey. He's very much alive and with us today."

    Berkeley replied, "But He didn't come." They had asked Jesus to come, and in her mind, He hadn't shown up.

    When my brother told me this story, my first reaction was a chuckle. How adorable is that? But my second thought was how even as adults, we sometimes wonder if Jesus is just pretend, simply because we don't see physical evidence of Him when we want to. Even one of Jesus's disciples, Thomas, doubted Jesus was really alive until he saw Him with his own eyes.

    After the resurrection of Jesus, the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders (John 20:19), and Jesus appeared before them saying "Peace be with you." He showed them the wounds in His hands and His side and they were overcome with joy.

    But Thomas was not there that evening to witness this encounter. Since he didn't see Jesus himself, he didn't believe Jesus had actually shown up. In today's key verse, Thomas stated he needed proof before he could believe Jesus was really alive and active.

    I've been a doubting Thomas before myself.

    I've spent nights wondering if Jesus was really with me when my heart was breaking, my mistakes were heavy burdens, and my problems seemed overwhelming. I've walked through days begging for Jesus to give me a sign, any sign, to prove He was with me. And just like Jesus showed Himself to Thomas, there was one particular day He showed Himself to me.

    I was participating in a Bible study and instructed to do a timeline of my life. I half-heartedly began the exercise, but over the next hour, as I scribbled out decades of experiences, good and bad, my spiritual eyes were opened for the first time. I suddenly saw a picture of God's handiwork, and how He had been at work every step of the way.

    When they were written in black and white, I began to see the happenings of my life from a new perspective — as tangible proof of Jesus. They were no longer just memories, but experiences that all fed my life story and mapped out a divinely designed future, purpose and plan just for me.

    Only after Thomas saw Jesus for himself did he believe He was alive. Similarly, when the proof of Jesus was staring at me from my scribbled paper, I could not help but believe either.

    However Jesus wants us to believe in Him even if we don't see the proof. In John 20:29b Jesus says, "Blessed are those who believe without seeing me" (NLT).

    Sometimes we want proof that Jesus sees, cares and loves. But if we sincerely look for proof in our lives, seeking how and where He has been at work, what we see with our spiritual eyes will be so much better proof than what we could ever see with our physical ones.

    Dear Jesus, I want to see with new spiritual vision how You have been at work in my life. Give me wisdom and discernment to see how You have been shaping me for purpose. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY: Genesis 16:13, "She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: 'You are the God who sees me,' for she said, 'I have now seen the One who sees me.'" (NIV)

    Joshua 1:9, "This is my command — be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go." (NLT)

    Hebrews 11:1, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (ESV)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND: Reflect on a time in your life when you felt Jesus was "just pretend." Ask Him for spiritual vision to see how He was with you and at work.

    How might God want to use a difficult experience from your past to help others understand He is real, alive and active?

    © 2014 by Tracie Miles. All rights reserved.

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

  • I'm Worried About My Child's Future

    LYSA TERKEURST

    LYSA

    "We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps." Proverbs 16:9 (NLT)

    Have you ever felt pressured to ensure your child's success in school because you thought it meant success in life?

    A couple of years ago I overheard my daughter Hope telling a friend she was glad I didn't get all worked up over grades. Not trying to be nosey but totally wanting to be nosey, I kept listening.

    She explained that she and her siblings were expected to do their best, but in the end, as long as they worked hard, my husband Art and I were okay with whatever grade they received.

    For the most part, that's right.

    This hasn't always been the case. When Hope started kindergarten, I felt compelled to help her succeed. I felt enormous pressure because I believed success in school meant success in life, and I wanted to set my child up for success.

    She was a bright and articulate child. But all through kindergarten, she couldn't read.

    Then came first grade. All of the other kids in her class were reading with ease. Not my daughter. I panicked. I had her tested. I worried constantly that I must be doing something wrong as her mother.

    In the end, it was a readiness issue. When she was ready, she starting reading.

    Then along came my next child, who was reading at 4 years old. Finally I'd done something right, I reasoned.

    But then child number three came along, and she was my slowest reader yet.

    Through all of this, God started to untangle the misperception that success in school determines success in life, and as a parent, it is up to me to push, plead, demand and determine my child's future.

    Slowly, I realized God has a plan for each of my kids. As long as I'm depending on the Lord to guide me as a parent, nothing I do or don't do will mess up their futures. I'm reassured of this with our key verse, Proverbs 16:9, "We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps."

    As their parent, it's my job to guide them, but worldly success shouldn't be the ultimate goal. My guiding should focus on leading them into a relationship with God, where He'll make their path straight, no matter what their grades are.

    This revelation has provided such freedom.

    I can celebrate when one of my kids excels in a subject, trusting that particular success is needed for whatever God intends for them in life. If, however, a child struggles and can't grasp a certain subject — well, that's also part of God's direction.

    Of course, working hard, doing your best and being a conscientious student is important. But in our home, grades are not the ultimate determination of success.

    This child may never make marks in school that the world esteems, but giving her freedom to excel as God has designed her is already paying off. She has an eternal perspective that's more valuable for her future than any academic accolades.

    I'm convinced her struggles in school are actually God's way of keeping her on the path He's had for her since she was conceived. Hope was conceived only four months into our very rough start of a marriage. Art and I were two broken sinners thrust into the responsibility of trying to raise a child.

    The day Hope was born I saw God like never before. His tender grace was handed to me wrapped in a pink blanket with eyes so wide, so blue, they were a sea of forgiveness forever staring back at me.

    I'd never physically touched God until that day. And maybe for the first time in my entire life, His hope rushed inside of me and started rearranging and redeeming my brokenness.

    Hope.

    We named her Hope.

    Now, we won't talk about the conversations I had with God when His Hope kept me up in the middle of the night for months after that. And we will save the story of how His Hope has always felt it was beneath her to be the child, and she would put her hands on her toddler hips and tell me not to boss her.

    We'll save those stories for another day.

    But I'll never forget an e-mail I got from His Hope while she was on a mission trip. Hope was walking the broken roads of Ethiopia navigating poverty her mind couldn't quite process. She bumped into sheep and a woman whose house was made of cardboard and ripped bed sheets.

    Hope's steps were steady, though her heart felt shaky as she loved on 30 kids dying of AIDS in a forgotten orphanage on the forgotten outskirts of town.

    She wrote to say, "Mom, I've fallen in love. The kids rushed at me when I walked in and I tried to hold all 30 of them at one time."

    His Hope.

    From a broken mama. Into a broken world. His Hope is still going forth like only His Hope can.

    All that to say, yeah — I don't get all worked up over grades anymore. Trusting God's plan is the only secret I know in the gentle art of not freaking out.

    Dear Lord, thank You for Your truth that says You determine our steps. Help me to remember that when I'm anxious over my child's future. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY: Psalm 138:8a, "The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me;" (ESV).

    REFLECT AND RESPOND: What things are you worried about for your child? Write them down and then ask God to orchestrate every detail that concerns you.

    © 2014 by Lysa TerKeurst. All rights reserved.

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

  • How Do I Trust Again?

    SUZIE ELLER

    SUZIE

    "Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit." Jeremiah 17:7-8 (ESV)

    We walked into the doctor's office fully expecting good news.

    We walked out carrying a slew of pamphlets and news that we didn't see coming.

    Cancer is a place we've been through before as a couple. Except back then it was me, and now it's him.

    In the hours after his diagnosis, we attended a sweet birthday celebration for a grandchild. We danced under the stars at a family wedding. When the busy weekend finally passed, I sat in the living room with my Bible in front of me. Sun streamed in through windows as I grieved.

    Lord, I don't want to do this again.

    I glanced at my open Bible and read the Scripture verse in Jeremiah I'd committed to memory the week before:

    "Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit."

    As I memorized it, I had pictured a tall tree, its leafy branches hovering over the water, roots reaching for nourishment. The tree was laden with fruit, though everything else around it was burned and dry.

    Now I sensed the heat coming our way. Hard decisions. Financial burdens. Emotional uncertainty.

    With tears, I whispered the beautiful words over and over until they soaked into my heart: Blessed is the {woman} who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.

    Maybe you are in a hard place today. Perhaps it's a place you've encountered before, and it's the last place you wanted to be. I pray that Jeremiah's words bring guidance to you, as they do to me.

    First, Jeremiah reveals that we can be honest about how we feel.

    Sometimes, in that hard place, we don't give space to the feelings trapped in our hearts. We somehow believe that acknowledging our emotions is a lack of faith.

    Jeremiah doesn't paint a pretty picture with his words about what is taking place. Instead, he describes intense heat that withers everything around the tree. But He also points to a God who is close by. Our God knows what we are going through. He's our safe place.

    While we are being strong for others, He will be strong for you and me.

    Second, we can run to the life-giving Source.

    Hard places require wise choices. Hard places can make you feel empty. Yet there is a promise of refreshing that runs so deep that we are strengthened and nourished in spite of what is taking place.

    Last, let's settle into this promise found in today's key verse: When we remain close to God in the hard places, there's fruit.

    Because I've walked this path before, I know it to be true.

    Fruit might come through joy that makes no sense in relation to circumstances.

    Fruit can spring forth in laughter that erupts where darkness wants to take hold.

    Fruit is the very real promise of eternity.

    Fruit is planted inside of us as we hold tightly to a faith that is bigger than we are.

    I'm still rocked by the news, and I still don't want to be in this hard place, but I know what to do. I'm pushing my roots deep in my faith. I'm scooting closer to my God in the midst of drought. I'm even anticipating the fruit that will drop from our lives as a result.

    Today, let's whisper it together. Let's hold close to it in the hard place: Blessed is the {woman} who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.

    Dear Jesus, today I intentionally walk to the water and I dip my roots in deep to find all that I need in this hard place. Thank You for being my Source. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY: Psalm 46:1, "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble." (NIV)

    Psalm 118:14a, "The LORD is my strength and my song." (ESV)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND: Matthew 11:28-29 offers rest when we feel overwhelmed. Isaiah 40:29-31 promises renewed strength. Romans 8:37-39 assures us that He keeps us company in hard places.

    Read these verses and underline the words that describe what you need from God today.

    © 2014 by Suzie Eller. All rights reserved.

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

  • If You Ever Feel Lonely, Read This

    LYSA TERKEURST

    LYSA

    "Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart are enlarged; bring me out of my distresses." Psalm 25:16-17 (ESV)

    There were many feelings I expected to have at this conference I'd been looking forward to attending. Acceptance. Fun. Camaraderie.

    On paper, these were my people.

    They lead organizations. I lead an organization. They are vulnerable. I am vulnerable. Like me, they know the stresses of deadlines, trying to balance kids with ministry, and the nagging sense that we should keep hidden the fact that we have the pizza delivery place on speed dial.

    Yes, these will for sure be my people.

    And the great thing about gathering with people you just know you're going to bond with is that they will get you. Really get you ... like on the level of having inside jokes that makes every conversation comfortable and delightful.

    I couldn't wait to be with these people.

    And I couldn't wait for the deep friendships that would surely bloom as a result of our time together.

    I walked into the meeting room and quickly located the table of the people I was excited to meet. Every seat had a nametag attached so I circled the table looking for mine. As I got to the last chair and realized my name wasn't there, I got a sinking feeling.

    I milled around the room looking for my name, feeling increasingly out of place. Finally, at a table on the opposite side of the room, I found my name. I rallied in my heart that the Lord must have a special plan for me to meet and connect with the others assigned to my table. I took my seat and pulled out my cell phone as I nervously waited for my tablemates.

    I waited.

    And waited.

    And waited.

    As the prayer for the meal concluded and the event got underway it became painfully apparent to me that the others assigned to my table weren't able to come for some reason. So, I'd be seated alone. Very alone.

    In reality, I don't think anyone else really noticed my predicament. After all by this time everyone in the room was busy passing rolls and salad dressing options.

    In my head I started to have a little pity conversation: Well self, would you like a roll? Or ten perhaps? It's certainly an option when you're sitting single at a table for ten.

    And that's when a very clear sentence popped into my head, "You aren't set aside, Lysa. You are set apart." It wasn't audible. And it wasn't my own thought. I knew it was a thought assigned by God that I needed to ponder.

    To be set aside is to be rejected.

    That's exactly what the enemy would have wanted me to feel. If he could get me to feel this, then I'd become completely self-absorbed in my own insecurity and miss whatever reason God had for me to be at this event.

    To be set apart is to be given an assignment that requires preparation.

    That's what I believe God wanted me to see. If He could get me to see this, I'd be able to embrace the lesson of this situation.

    Have you ever been in this place? Maybe you're there this Christmas season. It's tough when everything around you screams "merry" while you're aching with loneliness and feel anything but.

    I wasn't just in this place at the dinner that night. I've been in whole seasons of my life where, though I had people around, I felt quite alone in my calling.

    Can I give you three thoughts that might encourage you today?

    1. Look for the gift of being humbled.

    Proverbs 11:2b reminds us that "with humility comes wisdom" (NIV). In this set apart place, God will give you special wisdom you'll need for the assignment ahead.

    2. Look for the gift of being lonely.

    This will develop in you a deeper sense of compassion for your fellow travelers. You better believe when I walk into a conference now I look for someone sitting alone and make sure they know someone noticed them.

    3. Look for the gift of silence.

    Had I been surrounded by the voices of those people I was so eager to meet that night, I would have surely missed the voice of God. I'm trying to weave more silence into the rhythm of my life now so I can whisper, "God what might You want to say to me right now? I'm listening."

    I know it can be painful to be alone. And I know the thoughts of being set aside are loud and overwhelmingly tempting to believe in the hollows of feeling unnoticed and uninvited.

    But as you pray through your feelings, see if maybe your situation has more to do with you being prepared than you being overlooked.

    There is something wonderfully sacred that happens when a girl chooses to look past being set aside to see God's call for her to be set apart.

    Dear Lord, help me see the gifts hidden in this season of loneliness. I'm believing today that I'm set apart, not set aside. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY: John 15:16a, "You didn't choose me. I chose you." (NLT)

  • I Don't Want to Fit In

    LYNN COWELL

    LYNN

    "Then a herald shouted out, 'People of all races and nations and languages, listen to the king's command! When you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes, and other musical instruments, bow to the ground to worship King Nebuchadnezzar's gold statue. Anyone who refuses to obey will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.'" Daniel 3:4-6 (NLT)

    I knew I needed to stop talking about him, but as a new bride, I just couldn't. Fresh and new, I could often be found gushing about my amazing husband!

    However in my work environment, I quickly realized being happy and being married wasn't all that popular. The positive comments I made about my husband stood out from the daily hubby-bashing of my peers. So it didn't take me long to find my own complaints about marriage to add to the conversations.

    I worked to find something negative about Greg to throw in the fire. But although my words fit in well with my peers, making negative comments hurt my heart. I knew better. It wasn't a matter of simply letting something slip; I was choosing to be someone I was not.

    When we hear the words "peer pressure," we often think of just teenagers. But pressure to conform doesn't go away once we leave our school days. It isn't limited to any one age, gender or status group. In one form or another, every culture is influenced by the pressure to belong.

    In our key verse today, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon commanded "people of all races and nations and languages" to bow down and worship an image of himself. All people, of all types, were subject to his pressure to conform.

    We, too, are under pressure to conform daily.

    To bad mouth our spouses. To keep our clothes, cars or condos up to date. To meet society's demands about body image. Daily we can be pushed to "bow down" to the gods of bellyaching, buying and beauty.

    Although my early marriage days are long gone, I still experience the pressure of society's standards.

    But I've decided I don't want to do it any more. I don't want to fit in, if fitting in means going against God's best for His glory and my good.

    Like the three brave young men who stood up to King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3 and bravely refused to bow down to the gold statue of the king, we too can be brave and refuse peer pressure. We can reach out to Jesus for the strength, courage and determination to not "bow down" to culture's definition of behavior. Boldly, we can choose to be women who exude the traits of Jesus — the fruit of the Spirit. And in turn, we can teach our children to be bold too.

    When we display love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control we become different. And it's a difference that is gorgeous and godly.

    Jesus, it is all too easy for me to just go along each day with what society calls "normal." Yet You call me to stand up and stand out for You. Help me today to choose to be different and choose to allow Your life to flow through mine. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY: Joshua 1:9, "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." (NIV)

    Romans 12:2, "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." (NKJV)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND: In what ways do you face the daily pressure to conform to culture's norms?

    Do a word search using the concordance of your Bible, or an online version, to discover what God's Word has to say about this particular struggle.

    © 2014 by Lynn Cowell. All rights reserved.

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

  • I Don't Feel Like Being Nice

    GLYNNIS

    "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." Ephesians 4:32 (NIV)

    Grocery shopping alone! Oh how I'd taken that luxury for granted before having children.

    As I headed to the store after dropping my children off at a church event, I was nearly giddy with the joy of it all. A whole hour to myself. I had it all planned. I'd start with a soda, and leisurely meander through the aisles, actually looking at my coupons and thinking through meal planning.

    No "Mommy can I get this?" or "I have to go the bathroom!" comments would interrupt my time. I was going to be the most effective shopper in that store!

    It felt like I had all the time in the world, and I was really enjoying myself. Until I looked at my watch. Then panic set in.

    How had that much time gone by? I'd been there over an hour. I wasn't finished and still had to check out.

    I grabbed the last items on my list, rushed to the checkout lines and scurried between them trying to find the shortest line. I mentally assessed the checkout clerks, trying to determine their speed. Glancing at my watch for the fifth time, I picked one hoping Murphy's Law would not apply to me.

    The clerk proved quick, and soon it was my turn. Although I could feel myself getting impatient (as I looked at my watch yet another time) I tried to keep it under control. But the time was really late. And not only did I still have to pick up my children, but I told my sister I'd meet her for lunch after that. Everyone was waiting on me.

    And then the clerk hit a snag. One of my items wasn't ringing up correctly. He called for backup. But the first manager couldn't help. "I'm sorry Ma'am," the young man cringed. "I'm going to have to call the meat department."

    Seriously?! I thought to myself. Just give it to me for free so I can go!

    I could feel myself getting more and more anxious. Everything in me felt like showing this young man how impatient I was. I could roll my eyes, sigh with exaggeration and set my wallet down hard on the counter.

    I sensed the Lord was telling me to be nice, but I didn't feel like being nice!

    Thankfully, then the Holy Spirit stepped in and clearly spoke to my heart: Don't sacrifice kindness on the altar of your impatience.

    Immediately I was repentant. I knew I was the one to blame for neglecting the time. Not this clerk. And rather than impatience, God prompted me to show kindness to this flustered young man who could not get my ham steak to ring up.

    "It's okay," I said with a sincere smile. "I'll come back another time."

    Whew, talk about a close call. I could have easily given in to impatience like I'd done plenty of times before. And then it probably would have snowballed. Especially when I got back to the church and my children sauntered up to the car. Yet rather than snapping at them to hurry, they got an apology and a much nicer mother.

    I so desperately want to be a woman who shows grace and kindness to others. One who puts the feelings of others above her plans. However, too often I allow impatience to direct my actions, sacrificing kindness when others most need it.

    God has such a beautiful, loving plan for us as we live together on this earth. In one sentence we have all the rules needed to get along: "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." (Ephesians 4:32).

    At this busy Christmas season, it might be easy to feel impatient as stores are crowded and lines are long. If you're like me, you've got too much to do in too little time. Yet in the midst of the hustle and bustle, when impatience starts to rise, perhaps we might make a choice.

    Could we choose to be kind even when we don't feel like it?

    Perhaps we could even start a kindness revolution ... at home first, then work, church and the store. Rather than impatience, let's create a culture of kindness wherever we go, showing God's love to those who need it most.

    Lord, thank You for showing kindness to me when I least deserved it. Help me to be Your loving hands, feet and words to a world that desperately needs You. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY: Colossians 3:12, "Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience." (NIV)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND: In what situations do you find yourself the most impatient?

    What things can you do differently to create a culture of kindness in your life?

    © 2014 by Glynnis Whitwer. All rights reserved.

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

  • When Fear Chases Me

    LYSA

    "Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, 'He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.'" (Psalm 91:1-2, NIV)

    My eyes popped open and my heart raced when my phone buzzed at 1 a.m. Good news isn't usually delivered at that hour.

    I hopped out of bed and grabbed my phone to read a text: "Mom, police have my dorm on lockdown and are running up and down the hall shouting. I don't know what's going on but I'm scared."

    It was Ashley, my college freshman daughter, more than seven hours away from me.

    I tried calling her but the reception was so bad neither of us could make out what the other was saying. Texting was my only option so I asked a series of questions trying to get a better handle of what was happening.

    My hands were shaking. My heart was racing. And I felt intensely helpless.

    When she was a little girl and cried out in the middle of the night, all I had to do was run upstairs. I could sit on the edge of her bed and rub her back. I could let her see me. Calm her with my touch. Be there to whisper reassurances.

    But now that little girl was a college girl very far from me.

    I couldn't sit on her bed and she couldn't see me. I couldn't calm her with my touch. I couldn't whisper those reassurances with my voice.

    All I could do was text her.

    And that felt completely inadequate in light of the situation.

    Scary images assaulted my mind with all the possible scenarios a completely shaken mama conjures up in moments of frightening uncertainty. I sank down to my knees and begged God to clear my head and give me the words to text that would help.

    This was one of those times I wished God would appear in a way my eyes could see Him and give me clear, step-by-step instructions saying exactly what to do.

    But I couldn't see Him. And no Spirit Finger wrote instructions on my wall. Instead, I felt this gentle nudge to pay attention to what He'd already given me that week: A set of verses a friend texted me and that I'd passed along to another friend which is our key verse today.

    Psalm 91:1-2, "Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, 'He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.'"

    I love that these verses give us a script to say out loud, "He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust."

    Quickly, I texted Ashley these verses and instructed her to say this out loud over and over until she felt some relief from her fear. And you better believe I was saying it out loud over and over as well.

    Isn't it interesting the two words God is called here are refuge and fortress?

    A refuge is a quick place you duck into to find shelter. A fortress is a place built intentionally for the purposes of exceptional security. The Hebrew word for fortress is metsudah, with one of its definitions being an "inaccessible place."

    God is not just a quick refuge from the storm, but He's also the place where fear no longer has access to me.

    Fear can't catch what it can no longer reach.

    It's not that bad things won't happen to my kids or me. We live in a broken world where broken things happen every day. But as a child of God I don't have to live with fear taunting and terrorizing me.

    We still don't know all the reasons why my daughter's dorm was on lockdown. Thankfully, she and her friends were safe and we all eventually got some sleep that night. I understand that other middle-of-the-night calls don't turn out so well. I've sadly lived through those times too.

    But I'm determined to make some imperfect progress when I'm processing fear.

    I now know I can feel afraid but I don't have to live afraid.

    I can say out loud, "God, You are my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust." And then close my eyes and picture Him lifting us to a place where fear can't catch us.

    Dear Lord, I'm declaring today that I will not live in a state of fear. I place all of my fears into Your hands and commit to trust Your plan. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY: Psalm 32:7, "You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance." (NIV)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND: What fear are you living with? The next time you feel that fear sneaking in, declare the Scripture and prayer that Lysa shared. Remember: you can feel afraid but you don't have to live afraid!

    © 2014 by Lysa TerKeurst. All rights reserved.

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

  • Shame On Me, Again

    VICKIE

    "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Romans 8:1 (ESV)

    It happened suddenly and without warning.

    One minute I was sitting in a booth, laughing over a cup of coffee with my youngest son on his college campus (which just so happens to be my alma mater). The next minute, I'm driving away from my old college stomping grounds when the mere sight of a corner drugstore triggers a painful reminder of my past.

    It just so happened to be the same corner drugstore that one of my roommates and I ducked into late one night under a cloak of darkness to purchase a pregnancy test. She was late and had assumed the worst. It turned out it was negative, but it just as easily could have been me purchasing the test.

    In fact, at age 17 it had been me, which is what triggered my sudden feelings of shame that day. Back then, I was the one taking a pregnancy test, only my results were positive. This, in turn, led to my decision to terminate the pregnancy. I've spoken openly about this part of my past and have been walking in victory for many years, but every so often, the feelings of shame still come.

    And that's what shame does. It shows up uninvited to steal your joy and accuse your soul.

    Dictionary.com defines shame as "the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc., done by oneself or another."

    We avoid talking about shame because it is messy.

    We see the earliest account of shame in the immediate aftermath of Adam and Eve's sin in the garden (Genesis 3). Prior to their sin, Scripture tells us they were both naked and unashamed. One chapter later they are sewing fig leaves together and playing a game of hide-and-seek with God. With that one forbidden bite came our first bitter taste of shame.

    Like Adam and Eve, our human instinct is to hide our shame. We attempt to cover it with modern-day fig leaves, ranging from addictions to breakneck busyness. We bury our shame beneath perfectionism, good deeds, and yes, even ministry service. Been there. Done that.

    Some people are more prone to experiencing feelings of shame, while others seem better equipped to avoid its sting with a healthy understanding of guilt and grace. Those who grew up in households where shame was a mainstay of the family diet will often turn around and serve it in their own families, passing it down from generation to generation.

    Shame is not the same as guilt. Guilt says, "What you did was bad." Shame says, "What you did was bad, so therefore, you are a bad person."

    Shame is not the same as regret. Regret says, "If I could go back and do things differently, I'd do this ... or that." Shame says, "I'll never get it right. I'm a failure."

    Shame is not the same as embarrassment. Embarrassment says, "Everyone experiences embarrassing moments." Shame says, "Yet another reminder that I'm a loser, and nothing will change that fact."

    Guilt is always connected to behavior, while shame is always connected to identity. While guilt draws us toward God, shame sends us away from God.

    We can't completely abolish painful reminders of shame that show up uninvited on the doorsteps of our souls, but we can refuse to answer the door.

    And that's exactly what I did that day driving past the drugstore when the old shame tapes began to play. I hit the "eject" button and boldly declared out loud today's key verse, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Over and over, I proclaimed it until, once again, I believed it. I showed shame the door. And you can, too.

    Heavenly Father, when feelings of shame pay me an unexpected visit, help me immediately usher them out by declaring Your unfailing love and forgiveness. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY: Hebrews 10:22, "Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water." (NIV)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND: When was the last time you experienced a painful encounter with shame? Did you allow the shame tapes to play in your mind or immediately turn to Christ, hit "eject," and show shame the door?

    The next time shame pays you an unexpected visit, show it the door by confidently declaring Romans 8:1.

    © 2014 by Vickie Courtney. All rights reserved.

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

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