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  • Please Don’t Give Me a Christian Answer

    Please Don’t Give Me a Christian Answer by Lysa TerKeurst

    “Jesus wept.” John 11:35 (NIV)

    I love Jesus. I love God. I love His Truth. I love people.

    But I don’t love packaged Christian answers. Those that tie everything up in a nice neat bow. And make life a little too tidy.

    Because there just isn’t anything tidy about some things that happen in our broken world. The senseless acts of violence we hear about continually in the news are awful and sad and so incredibly evil.

    And God help me if I think I’m going to make things better by thinking up a clever Christian saying to add to all the dialogue. God certainly doesn’t need people like me — with limited perspectives, limited understanding and limited depth — trying to make sense of things that don’t make sense.

    Is there a place for God’s truth in all this? Absolutely. But we must, must, must let God direct us. In His time. In His way. In His love.

    And when things are awful we should just say, “This is awful.” When things don’t make sense, we can’t shy away from just saying, “This doesn’t make sense.” Because there is a difference between a wrong word at the wrong time and a right word at the right time.

    When my sister died a horribly tragic death, it was because a doctor prescribed some medication no child should ever be given. And it set off a chain of events that eventually found my family standing over a pink rose-draped casket.

    Weeping.

    Hurting.

    Needing time to wrestle with grief and anger and loss.

    And it infuriated my raw soul when people tried to sweep up the shattered pieces of our life by saying things like, “Well, God just needed another angel in heaven.” It took the shards of my grief and twisted them even more deeply into my already broken heart.

    I understand why they said things like this … they wanted to say something. To make it better. Their compassion compelled them to come close.

    And I wanted them there. And then I didn’t.

    Everything was a contradiction. I could be crying hysterically one minute and laughing the next. And then I’d feel so awful for daring to laugh that I wanted to cuss. And then sing a praise song. I wanted to shake my fist at God and then read His Scriptures for hours.

    There’s just nothing tidy about all that.

    But the thing I know now that I wish I knew then is that even Jesus understood what it was like to feel deeply human emotions like grief and heartache. We see this in John 11:32-35 when Jesus receives the news that his dear friend Lazarus has died, “When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother [Lazarus] would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. ‘Where have you laid him?’ he asked. ‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied. Jesus wept.”

    Yes, Jesus wept and mourned with His loved ones in that devastatingly heartbreaking moment. And the fact that He can identify with my pain is so comforting to me.

    You want to know the best thing someone said to me in the middle of my grief?

    I was standing in the midst of all the tears falling down on black dresses and black suits on that grey funeral day. My heels were sinking into the grass. I was staring down at an ant pile. The ants were running like mad around a footprint that had squashed their home.

    I was wondering if I stood in that pile and let them sting me a million times if maybe that pain would distract me from my soul pain. At least I knew how to soothe physical pain.

    Suddenly, this little pigtailed girl skipped by me and exclaimed, “I hate ants.”

    And that was hands-down the best thing anyone said that day.

    Because she just entered in right where I was. Noticed where I was focused in that moment and just said something basic. Normal. Obvious.

    Yes, there is a place for a solid Christian answer from well-intentioned friends. Absolutely. But then there’s also a place to weep with a hurting friend from the depths of your soul.

    God help us to know the difference.

    Dear Lord, thank You for being there in my darkest time. I know You are real and You are the only one who can bring comfort to seemingly impossible situations. Please help me speak Your truth to those around me. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY: Romans 12:15-16a, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another.” (NIV)

    Proverbs 15:23, “A person finds joy in giving an apt reply — and how good is a timely word!” (NIV)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND: Think of someone in your life who is going through a really tough situation. How can you make a difference in their life today?

    It may involve serving them and making sure their physical needs are met during this difficult time. Allow God to lead you as you try to serve your friend best.

    © 2016 by Lysa TerKeurst. All rights reserved.

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

  • Playing Favorites

    Playing Favorites by Karen Ehman

    My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.” James 2:1 (NIV)

    Parenting has many unspoken and logical rules.

    For example, don’t reward a 2-year-old’s temper tantrum by giving her the new toy she’s screaming for in the middle of the department store. Don’t let a short-on-sleep child skip a much-needed nap before an evening event where he needs to be on his best behavior. And — probably one of the age-old classics — when it comes to your children, do not play favorites. Ever. Never ever.

    Although we as moms know we shouldn’t play favorites, admittedly sometimes it’s difficult. We might get along better with one of our children. Or we share more common interests and passions. Or more commonly it’s this scenario: One of our kids is so much like us that it drives us absolutely nuts. That has sure been the case with me!

    Sometimes it was easier to speak kindly to one child who is very neat than to the other two who were more prone to be messy. I tended to snap at them more because their rooms were usually disasters, while my middle son’s room was impeccable, with all his shirts color-coded and spaced exactly 1-inch apart in his closet.

    There’s a woman in the Old Testament who also broke that last parental rule of thumb. She not only preferred one youngster over the other, her partisan attitude lead to devious actions. This resulted in major familial mayhem that not only affected her immediate family, but had consequences for generations to follow. (See Genesis 25-27.)

    Rebekah was married to Isaac. She and the Mr. had twin boys, Esau and Jacob. Esau was the first twin to appear from the womb, but Jacob quickly became Rebekah’s favorite. When the boys grew older, and on a day Esau was particularly famished, Jacob duped his older brother into selling his birthright for a simple bowl of lentil stew.

    Later, when their father lay dying with his eyesight nearly gone, Rebekah helped Jacob steal something yet again. She conspired with him to trick Isaac into pronouncing a blessing over Jacob instead of over Esau, thereby seizing the blessing intended for the firstborn. Rebekah’s deception caused animosity between the brothers that continued for years.

    It’s not just Rebekah and sons where we learn playing favorites is an unwise thing to do. Our key verse in James 2:1 urges, “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.” James goes on to caution us to not show preferential treatment to someone just because they’re rich or important. Instead, we are to treat people in a consistent manner, regardless of their status in society.

    When we refuse to play favorites — either with our offspring, coworkers or strangers — we model how God treats us to a watching world. He loves us equally and offers us each the same incredible gift — the opportunity to spend eternity with Him.

    Galatians 3:26-28 tells us, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (NIV).

    When it comes to our relationships, let’s resist being a Rebekah and refuse to play favorites. If we’re prayerful and careful as we relate to others, we can avoid the tendency to treat them in an unequal manner. And as we parent our children, God can impart a love for each of our children that’s special and unique, not preferential.

    We won’t be playing favorites. We’ll be loving profusely — and saving ourselves and our descendants from strife as well.

    Father, forgive me for the times I have shown favoritism. May I seek to love and treat others equally — especially my children. I want to accurately reflect Your love for us to a watching world. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY: Romans 2:11, “There is no favoritism with God.” (HCSB) Leviticus 19:15b, “Do not be partial to the poor or give preference to the rich; judge your neighbor fairly.” (HCSB)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND: Have you ever been tempted to play favorites with someone? Have you given into this temptation? If so, what happened? What factors do you think go into your tendency to be drawn more to one person (or child) than another? Take this situation to God today, asking Him to help you show love lavishly, equally to all.

    © 2016 by Karen Ehman. All rights reserved.

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

  • When a Mom Keeps a List of Her Mistakes

    When a Mom Keeps a List of Her Mistakes by Becky Thompson

    As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:12 (NIV)

    “We get to dress fancy today!”

    My 4-year-old daughter’s words suddenly made me sick to my stomach. I felt a familiar flush as I realized I had done it again. I had completely overlooked something very important on her class calendar.

    “Is today Fancy Day?” I questioned, hoping she might be mistaken.

    “Yes! My teacher says we can dress as fancy as we want today, and we will have fancy snacks and eat on fancy plates. It’s going to be so much fun!”

    My son had been in the same pre-K class the year before, so I was familiar with this event. How had I missed it this year? Was it posted on some calendar? Had I even received this month’s class calendar? I texted a few other moms with children in the class, and they quickly responded … confirming the party. Great.

    We had exactly 10 minutes to get out the door before my children were late to school, but I had to transform my daughter’s outfit from leggings and light-up tennis shoes to a princess dress and fancy jewelry. Somehow, we made it. But as we raced out the door with my daughter’s little plastic heels clomping down the sidewalk, my heart was heavy.

    Here was one more moment to add to my growing list of the times I thought I wasn’t a very good mom. Despite finding a dress and sending my daughter to school in a “fancy” outfit, there have been plenty of instances recently when I just missed it: I forgot to take my son’s coat to his school before outdoor recess, I forgot to send something with my daughter for show and tell, I forgot to wash my son’s blanket for his rest time at school. My list goes on.

    Have you ever had something like this happen to you? Ever forgotten the lunch box or homework folder or the permission slip for the field trip? Have you been so bombarded by life that you just could not seem to get ahead on anything? Perhaps you’re familiar with feeling like you’re letting everyone down. It’s so easy to keep a record of these moments. It’s so easy to write these moments down on some secret list we keep pinned to the walls of our hearts — weighing them when we consider our worth as mommas and as wives.

    But the truth is, the only one keeping a tally of your failures is you.

    Oh how I need to remind myself of that!

    Scripture tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:5, “Love keeps no record of wrongs” (NIV). But oftentimes, we do. And while God’s love for us is not based on our performance — good or bad — many times, our love for ourselves is.

    Today is your opportunity to tear up the secret record of failures you’re holding in your heart as you ponder the words of our key verse: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).

    If God removes our very sins from us, it doesn’t do our hearts any good to hold onto the moments we’ve felt like failures either. They pale in comparison.

    The Psalmist continues, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:13-14, NIV).

    Let’s commit to show ourselves the same kind of love our Heavenly Father offers us. Let’s move beyond these moments as we realize the best way to move forward is to lean back on what God has already done.

    Now, wouldn’t that just be fancy?

    Lord, thank You for loving us so well. Thank You for never holding our less-than-perfect moments against us. Help us to continually remember that You are never disappointed in us, so we don’t have to live as if You are. Teach us how to show ourselves the same love and grace that You offer to us. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY: Philippians 3:13b-14, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (NIV)

    1 Corinthians 13:4-5, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” (NIV)

     

    REFLECT AND RESPOND: What are some of your moments that you consider failures? Write them down on a list, and then tear it up!

    © 2016 by Becky Thompson. All rights reserved.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries thanks WaterBrook & Multnomah for their sponsorship of today's devotion.

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

  • The Most UN-Romantic Marriage Advice I Ever Heard

    The Most UN-Romantic Marriage Advice I Ever Heard by Stephanie Raquel

    Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Colossians 3:13 (NIV)

    My friends were getting married, and in my dreamy-eyed, naïve opinion it had all the makings of a beautiful ceremony — until the officiating minister began to speak.

    I was single at the time and my close friend Steve attended the same wedding. I don’t know what advice we expected the pastor to share: godly words of wisdom, tips on how to keep a romance alive … the usual fare.

    But what he told the beaming bride and groom that day surprised us. He shared simply, “Marriage is hard.” He repeated it for what felt like endless times during his message to the couple. “Marriage is hard,” he reiterated. (I’m sure he shared lots of reasons why this was true. But all of that was lost on my 20-something self.)

    Sigh. I left the church that day a little down on marriage. I remember thinking, That has got to be THE most UN-romantic marriage advice I ever heard.

    Yet God has a sense of humor. That close friend? We started dating not long after that wedding and were married the following year. And it didn’t take long before we realized how true those pastor’s words were: Marriage is hard. Really. Hard.

    Like most of my peers, I’d grown up with an idyllic view of marriage, convinced it was full of endless romance and blissful memory making. In reality, however, my husband’s new job was very demanding which meant our time together was ridiculously scarce.

    Throw in a move to a new city in the midst of a major recession, while trying to find full-time work for me, and it was a rude awakening to the “endless bliss” I expected. Additionally, we watched helplessly while our dear friends and mentors’ long-term marriage was on the rocks.

    Steve and I would argue about not having enough money, how to spend our free time, and then have these molehill-to-mountain “discussions” over things like which brand of noodles to buy at the grocery store. Who knew you could shed tears over pasta?

    In spite of all the external hardships we faced, maybe the most challenging part of marriage was learning to forgive each other. We quickly realized offering forgiveness, even to the love of our lives, isn’t always easy!

    One thing that helps as I continue to learn to forgive is to remember how much the Lord forgave me. Our key verse encourages us in this way: “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13).

    When I start counting grievances toward my husband, I remember Jesus forgave all my unloving and unlovely behavior. Many days I cry out to the Lord for help with my snippy attitude because I need His grace to help me forgive. To be honest, sometimes I’d much rather stew in a sea of self-righteousness.

    But I’m also learning to accept responsibility for my misgivings and apologize without blaming my husband for my own selfish behavior. It’s tough, and I can’t say I always do it well.

    In the 20-plus years since Steve and I got married, we’ve continually benefitted from that “un-romantic advice” offered years ago. Recognizing marriage (and life in general!) is hard gave us more realistic expectations that serious issues are just a part of life. That’s why we need divine help!

    The solemn vows we took to remain faithful ‘til death do us part sure do mean a lot more on hard days — especially when the “for worse,” the “in sickness” or the “for poorer” kicks in.

    Because yes, marriage is hard, but no matter what situations we face, God is there to help us through it. None of our issues faze God in the slightest. And more importantly, He can handle it!

    Dear God, sometimes life can be SO hard and I need Your guidance to navigate my path. Lord, help me keep forgiving when I’d much rather hold a grudge, knowing You have totally forgiven me. Empower me to keep fighting for my marriage. Give me strength to show my mate some unconditional love in meaningful ways today, just like You’ve done for me. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY: 1 Corinthians 13:7, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (ESV)

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

    REFLECT AND RESPOND: As you think about the hard things facing you in life right now, pray and ask God for wisdom to help navigate them.

    What’s one thing you can do today to remind your husband how much you love him, even when marriage is hard?

    © 2016 by Stephanie Raquel. All rights reserved.

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

  • When You Forget Your Grace-Face

    When You Forget Your Grace-Face by Brenda Bradford Ottinger

    “Cornelius stared at him in fear. ‘What is it, Lord?’ he asked. The angel answered, ‘Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.’” Acts 10:4 (NIV)

    “Hey! Kids! No riding bikes on my sidewalk,” she hollered.

    Interesting way of saying “welcome to the neighborhood,” don’t you think? Seems we missed the “Stay-Off-My-Sidewalk-and-Other-Random-Rules” meeting and were unaware all bikes must be diverted into the street so as to bypass “her sidewalk.”

    This neighbor was a handful. And she was our handful for the next 7 years.

    Ever meet someone who didn’t tempt your grace to come out and play?

    Regarding said grace: I tried.

    Regarding said attempts: It’s only right I inform you that I didn’t always succeed.

    I’d love to say I had my grace-face on at all times, but, that would fall into the category of Things-That-Make-Your-Nose-Grow.

    Like that one time the boys came running inside (from our very own backyard, mind you) and informed me she’d fussed at them for playing outside while she was outside. She sure did.

    So. Well, then.

    Like any good-ish mother would do, I set the example-bar high. “She needs to get a life already,” I said. The door might have still been open. And, while we’re on the subject of admission, I may have said it loudly enough to hear across the iron fence.

    Yeah. Like that time.

    Please tell me I’m not alone — that you’ve forgotten your grace-face once or twice, too?

    I’m so glad the Spirit’s good at saving us from ourselves, as every bit of credit goes to Him for ensuring this unlovely response was the exception rather than the rule.

    You see, the humbling truth He kept tethered to my heart was this: She needed God. And, so did I.

    Everyone has a story, and I’d guess hers hadn’t been a fairy tale. Outwardly, she appeared strong, but her sorrow betrayed her. Broken and vulnerable on the inside, she bled pain — through her eyes, her harsh tones, her reclusive lifestyle — carelessly staining those around her. And herself. Especially herself.

    When my efforts at friendliness failed, I did the only thing I knew to do: I prayed.

    And, there in the bedrock of my weary heart, an accidental memorial was being built. These prayer offerings became my stones, like what the Israelites used to signify crossing over the dry Jordan River (see Joshua 3:17-4:8 for more on that). Those prayers were an offering by fire in the temple of my heart, an aroma pleasing to the Lord.

    What a comfort it is to know God sees when we choose humility … when we swallow bitter words before speaking them … when we smile, even when we’d rather sneer. Better yet, He sees from the inside out and knows when our devotion isn’t from an onerous place of cliché religion, but from the quiet of a heart that longs to please the Lord.

    He sees. He hears. He remembers.

    It’s been many years since we sold that home, and, unfortunately, her wall never did come down. But my prayers for her didn’t evaporate, and I trust the Lord will ultimately redeem that time for Himself. The God of yesterday is still the God of today and tomorrow, and He is able.

    Absorbing offenses that seep through frayed pores of the wounded doesn’t come naturally. And sometimes our humanity runs out in front of us, tripping us up.

    Oh, but then there are those sweet spots of partnering with God as He exchanges our grief for His glory. He can help us put our grace-face back on again.

    We see that in our key verse today. A devout and God-fearing man, Cornelius knew what it was to partner with God and understood the value of service and prayer.

    It’s hardly a stretch to see caring for the needy as a sacred directive — a ministry where fruit is seen with human eyes in human time.

    But I’m especially touched by the angel’s words to Cornelius about his prayer life: “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God” (Acts 10:4b).

    How beautiful this insight from across eternity, where prayers land on the ears of a listening God. Welcomed, received, memorialized.

    When at first we start to pray, we make a difference in the Kingdom. A memorial arises from the temple within, sacred boundaries are erected, prayers spilled bare are received on holy ground, “a soothing aroma to the LORD” (Leviticus 2:2, NASB).

    Father, I’m so grateful the deeds and prayers of a true heart aren’t disappearing into nothingness but are falling softly to rest at Your throne. Help me remember my grace-face as I represent You to a hurting world. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY: Psalm 141:2, “May my prayer be counted as incense before You; The lifting up of my hands as the evening offering.” (NASB)

    Psalm 51:17, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” (NASB)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND: How does knowing that God receives our prayers as an offering bring comfort to you today?

    © 2016 by Brenda Bradford Ottinger. All rights reserved.

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

  • How To Love The Life You Live

    How To Love The Life You Live by Nicki Koziarz

    “Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else.” Galatians 6:4 (NIV)

    I spent the first few years of my childhood in a small town. We were by no means well off, and we always seemed to have just enough to get by. So rarely was there room in our budget for extras … like the black and white saddle shoes I wanted one year.

    My dad was the high school football coach, which meant I spent a lot of Friday nights with my mom and brother in the bleachers. The game itself was anything but thrilling to me. But I didn’t mind going because it meant I was able to watch the cheerleaders. That was exciting!

    I would watch and dream of the day I too would get out there in a pleated skirt with pom-poms and make the crowd roar with enthusiasm for our team.

    The cheerleaders must have known how much I looked up to them because they invited me and my best friend to come cheer with them for one of the last games.

    Our elementary schoolgirl excitement was out of control!

    High school cheerleaders?! YES!

    We practiced in the backyard every chance we could get leading up to the game. And one afternoon, we even put on our uniforms.

    But my zeal for this opportunity quickly faded as I looked down at my friend’s feet. She had a pair of brand-new, shiny, black and white saddle shoes!

    My thoughts screamed with envy: What? Where did she get those? I need a pair too!

    I went to my mom and pleaded for the shoes — but our bank account didn’t match my begging, so no matter what I said, it didn’t matter.

    And so began the sowing of the seed of comparison in my life.

    This seed reaps nothing but weeds of jealousy, envy and discontent into our lives. I wish I could tell you that was the only time I’ve struggled with the seed of comparison, but it’s not.

    Today’s generation seems to be filled with more opportunities to compare ourselves with each other than ever before. We are constantly bombarded with social media feeds that tempt us to compare. Reality TV show us everything BUT reality. And advertisers tease us with promises that their products will provide perfection.

    But here’s the deal … I LOVE today’s key verse, because it’s helping me find a rhythm in my soul with this comparison thing.

    “Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else” (Galatians 6:4).

    The reality is, comparison can compromise the individual calling and beautiful life God has given each of us.

    If we spend more time looking at what others are doing or have, we could miss what we have and are supposed to do. Staying focused on what good things are happening in and through us will help keep this inner battle of comparison at bay.

    Before that big football game, my mom actually found a pair of black and white saddle shoes I could borrow. No, they weren’t shiny brand-new ones like my friend had; in fact, they were pretty scuffed up and a little tight on my feet! But I was thrilled. I took so much pride in those shoes and I loved them.

    Our culture will always try to tempt us with comparison, but God never does. He wants us to love our life just as much as He does. Even if the shoes are scuffed and tight … God helps us love where we are, not where we wish we could be.

    God, help me love the life I live right now. Show me the good things I often overlook and help me be content with what I have. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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

    Proverbs 30:8b-9, “Give me just enough to satisfy my needs. For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name.” (NLT)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND: What is one thing you are grateful for about the life you live? Leave a comment today sharing what it is!

    © 2016 by Nicki Koziarz. All rights reserved.

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

  • You Are Worthy: Lesson from the Least Likely

    You Are Worthy: Lesson from the Least Likely by Julie Sunne

    “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalm 139:14 (NIV)

    I boarded the bus with a badge around my neck, carrying a lunch … and a heavy spirit. I was accompanying my daughter Rachel and her Special Olympics team to their soccer event.

    As a volunteer coach, I had helped with these events in the past, and it was always a special time. But this day, I yearned for something I couldn’t quite define.

    For years, I had secretly thought that if I accomplished enough I’d be accepted and worthy. Each day I spent trying to please others by earning enough money, making a name for myself and providing for every need that crossed my path.

    I believed I should be the greatest mom, the perfect wife, the best friend, the hardest worker, the one who had all the answers and cared enough to respond to everyone’s requests. I bought into the lie that success equals validation.

    It was beginning to strangle me.

    Upon arrival at our venue, as always, smiling faces lit up the stadium. These were genuine I’m-having-the-time-of-my-life smiles, not fake I’ll-smile-because-I-should kind of smiles.

    Nearly every participant displays such a grin, welcoming attendees into the world of Special Olympics and real people.

    Laughter and squeals of delight intermixed with “Good job!” or “Nice try!” and “You can do it!” echoed around the dome.

    As I surveyed the athletes, I realized my longing was for what they had: the freedom to be who they were created to be.

    How many of us long for that very thing — to quit pretending and live the way we were created?

    The weight of trying to do it all eased just a bit.

    I watched as my daughter kicked the soccer ball. Even before it stopped, she raised her hands in victory, eyes sparkling and laughter ringing through the air! The ball fell short of the goal.

    Rachel celebrated anyway!

    The thought snuck in that my worth isn’t something to be found or earned, but it’s innate because of who God created me to be.

    Moving to the next event, Rachel was too busy waving to those around her to listen to the instructions. Still, the ball was there, so she kicked it. It rolled far short of the goal, but her arms still shot up in victory!

    The desire to simply be who God created me to be grew.

    My daughter moved from one ball to the next. She cheered every kick, even when the ball dribbled a mere foot. Her smile never wavered, inviting the audience to experience her joy.

    And I did! My soul began to sing!

    That day I noticed that same joy in the face of each Olympian. I saw their unconditional love, unfettered joy and uncommon grace. I saw the way they live with passion and authenticity, excited to live out who they are.

    As the event drew to a close, I glanced at the athletes one more time and marveled at their serenity and openness.

    There is no pretense at Special Olympics events or in the lives of those with intellectual disabilities. There is no hiding behind masks. There is just love and realness. Who you see is who they are.

    Each Special Olympian is authentic, a genuine representation of themselves.

    I always enjoyed volunteering for Special Olympics. But this time I entered the stadium overwhelmed by a lifetime of busy, trying to make myself into someone of worth. I left realizing I was already that someone.

    I just needed to let myself be her.

    Each of us is created in the image of God — remarkably and wonderfully made. We don’t need to prove ourselves or earn our worth. And as today’s key verse reminds us, God’s works are wonderful.

    Just like Rachel and her Special Olympic friends, we already have worth in our Creator and Redeemer. That realization alone should give us peace as we live out who we are freely in Christ.

    Dear Lord, Thank You for fearfully and wonderfully creating each of us. Thank You for giving us worth in Your eyes. Help us live as the one You uniquely intended us to be. Help us abide instead of strive, living peacefully and joyfully as heirs to Your Kingdom and co-heirs with Christ. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY: Romans 5:1, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (NIV)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND: Who are you trying to prove your worth to? Today, embrace the truth that in Christ you are already worthy.

    © 2016 by Julie Sunne. All rights reserved.

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

  • Finding Peace in the What-If Moments

    Finding Peace in the What-If Moments by Cindi McMenamin

    “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.” Philippians 4:6-7a (NLT)

    If ever I needed peace, it was that moment.

    My 18-month-old daughter, Dana, was on the other side of the closed hospital door, being prepped for a bone marrow test.

    Three days earlier she woke up from a nap with bruises all over her body. Her pediatrician discovered that little Dana’s blood platelet count was dangerously low. He had her admitted to a children’s hospital to see a blood specialist and take a bone marrow test to determine if she had cancer.

    My husband and two friends were planning to wait with me during Dana’s test. But the specialist arrived at the hospital a day early and decided to perform the test immediately. The nurse whisked my sleeping daughter out of my arms and took her into the surgical room for the procedure — the insertion of a needle into her spine to extract marrow from her bone.

    I sank down to the floor on the other side of the door and prayed. “God, this test did not take You by surprise. Neither did whatever is going on in my child’s body. Thank You that You are in that room with her, and You are right here with me, too. Please give me Your peace and the assurance that You are in control.”

    We all know what it’s like to feel helpless when someone we love is in need. We’ve all asked what-if questions, like …

    What if it’s cancer? What if we lose her? What if I can’t get through this?

    Worry seems like the most natural thing to do in these situations. But there’s a reason God’s Word tells us to pray instead: “Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand” (Philippians 4:7a).

    As I sat on the floor continuing to pray, I waited for the screaming and crying behind the other side of the door that never came. Dana slept through the entire procedure even though no anesthesia was used. She was still asleep when they handed her back to me 25 minutes later.

    The next morning, Dana was fitted for a little padded helmet to protect her head from bruising, and we were sent home to await the test results.

    A week later, word came that the bone marrow test results were normal. Dana had a condition where the child usually recovers anywhere from six months to five years. After two more weeks, the specialist informed us that Dana had experienced a complete recovery. He’d never seen a child recover so quickly and so thoroughly from this disease as she had.

    Today, Dana is a perfectly healthy 23-year-old college graduate. I don’t call her medical scare a nightmare. Instead, I refer to it as the defining moment in which God built my confidence in Him and taught me that it is far better to pray than to worry.

    I’m grateful for that experience so many years ago because it taught me that I am not, nor have I ever been, in control of my daughter's health, life or destiny. It also showed me where peace is ultimately found: Not in pleasant circumstances or the feeling that “all is well” in my child’s world, but in the palm of God’s hand as He allows whatever He will to come her way and mine.

    Finally, it gave me an experience to look back on and build my confidence upon whenever I begin to worry, doubt or fear for an event in my child’s life — or my own.

    Lord, thank You that nothing takes You by surprise and nothing touches my child’s life — or mine — that hasn’t first passed through Your loving hands. You are more than capable of caring for every what-if question that tempts me to worry. I trust You with what is closest to my heart. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY: Psalm 55:22, “Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.” (NIV)

    Matthew 6:27, “And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” (NASB)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND: What do you tend to worry about the most when it comes to your children? Ask God to remind you that He loves your children even more than you do, and ask Him to help you trust Him more and more each day.

    © 2016 by Cindi McMenamin. All rights reserved.

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

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

  • Does Prayer Really Change Anything?

    Does Prayer Really Change Anything? by Alicia Bruxvoort

    “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” James 5:16b (NLT)

    Our coffee mugs sit empty, but we still cup them in our hands as if the warm porcelain between our fingers might anchor our wobbling souls.

    The clock pushes hard toward the school day’s end, and we know we’ll soon be collecting kids in the carpool line. But for now, we linger in the coffee shop, two women sharing the mess of life over a table dotted with crumbs.

    My throat swells with a lump of tears, and I can’t think of anything to say. Words feel like a paltry bandage for the open wound my friend has revealed.

    Her marriage is flailing, and her hope is too.

    Drizzles of despair roll down her cheeks, and my stomach churns with empathy. I know of the soul aches that throb loud at night and the pangs of disappointment that hover somewhere just beneath the heart in the waking hours.

    I want to fix those lifeless eyes, but mere words can’t rebuild the shards of a shattered union. So with a whisper, I offer the one thing that has saved my marriage a dozen times from landing in the give-up-and-walk-away grave — “Could we pray?”

    My friend fiddles with the ring on her finger, then divulges her doubt: “Do you really think it will change anything?”

    The weight of her honesty steals my breath.

    And suddenly a poignant memory flashes into my mind and pushes me through the years …

    I’m 9 years old again, curled up in a ball of trembling misery, with no words to explain my pain. I just know I feel broken inside because of that girl who teases me on the playground.

    “I don’t want to go to school anymore,” I tell my mom who’s perched on the edge of my bed.

    She nods in understanding but doesn’t endorse my plan to flee. Instead, she murmurs, “Let’s pray for her.”

    I lift my head off the soggy pillow. “Do you really think prayer will change anything?”

    I wait for my mom to assure me that prayer will, indeed, transform my foe into a friend. But she just wraps her arms around me and sits long in the silence. Finally, she exhales a jagged sigh and says, “Honey, I can’t guarantee that prayer will change her heart, but I know it will change ours …”

    The whirr of the espresso machine echoes off the walls, and my friend shuffles in her seat, her question dangling between us.

    I glance at her wedding ring and answer with a sliver of truth I learned as a 9-year-old. “Prayer always changes something …”

    Prayer may not always work in the way we expect, but prayer does work.

    Our key verse promises, “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results” (James 5:16b).

    Prayer’s no magic wand, but when we humbly place the cries of our hearts into the hands of our mighty God, something wonderful happens.

    Prayer may not instantly fix our quandaries, but it will invariably affix us to our King.

    My friend reaches across the table and twines her slender fingers through mine. “Will you say the words?” she asks. “I don’t have any left.”

    Closing my eyes to hide the burning tears, I begin: “Dear Jesus, we don’t know what to do with this mess, but we know You are in it with us …”

    I’m not sure what to say, but I trust God hears the cry of my heart. And as we bow our heads over those empty coffee cups, we become more aware of the One who can fill the depths of our need with the riches of His grace.

    And slowly, silently, hope swells.

    Dear Lord, give me faith to pray even when I don’t have words to say. Help me see past the pain and look to You for ultimate hope and guidance.

    Lord, we know You are in the business of bringing dead things back to life, even marriages that barely have a pulse. Help me trust that You alone can change the God-sized problems in our lives. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY: Romans 8:26b, “… We do not know how to pray or what we should pray for, but the Holy Spirit prays to God for us with sounds that cannot be put into words.” (NLV)

    Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there I am with them.” (NLV)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND: What situation in your life feels hopeless? Bring it to God in prayer and ask the Holy Spirit to speak on your behalf.

    Meditate on the promise in Matthew 18:20 this week and arrange a time to meet and pray with a friend or two.

    © 2016 by Alicia Bruxvoort. All rights reserved.

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

  • If They Don’t Like Me, Do I Have to Like Them?

    If They Don’t Like Me, Do I Have to Like Them? by Kenisha Bethea

    “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God created he them; male and female created he them.” Genesis 1:27 (NIV)

    Ten years ago, I made a conscious decision to dislike people different from me.

    I’d just moved to a new city where I experienced blatant prejudice on a scale I’d not experienced before. I grew tired of visiting places where not even the greeters at the front door acknowledged me. Once inside, people either stared right through me or stared me down.

    Then one evening as I strolled through my neighborhood, a pick-up truck pulled up next to me, someone inside shot a gun off in the air and several people hurled profanities at me before screeching off into the darkness of the sunset.

    As I walked home, wiping tears and trying to process what happened and why, I made a simple resolve in my heart: I’m done trying to love these people any more. With all the reasoning of a 5-year-old in a schoolyard scuffle I determined, If they don’t like me, I won’t like them either.

    Once home, I called my mom, told her what happened and shared my decision to stop caring about these people who had hurt me. Honestly it was more than just not caring. I could feel hate growing deep in my heart.

    “How are you going to do that?” she asked, meaning how would I justify my decision to hate as a follower of Christ.

    “I’m glad you’re OK,” she said. I could tell she was holding back tears for my sake. “But I can’t support your decision. You can either continue to be a Christian, to love God and all those He created, or you can decide to go against God and despise His creation … but not both. So which will you choose?”

    I didn’t say anything about going against God, I thought, defending my position.

    But just as quickly as the thought crossed my mind so did the words of a verse I learned as a child in Sunday School: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God created he them; male and female created he them” (Genesis 1:27).

    Up until that point, I’d mostly heard this verse used to describe the sanctity of human life. But now, I was willing to trade this Truth that deemed all human life worthy for the lie that their behavior makes them worthless.

    The harsh words of my heart were in stark contrast to the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:44: “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (KJV).

    Jesus continued, “If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that” (Matthew 5:47, NLT). In what seemed like less than a nanosecond, the same day I decided to hate others turned into the day I decided never to give my heart over to hatred.

    That’s a hard word for me to even type. But, in order to make a conscious decision about why I would always work to steer my heart away from that word I had to look at that word for all that it was.

    Hate carries a false arrogance that shouts:

    “I’m better than you.”

    “I deserve better than you.”

    “I wish you would go away.”

    At the extreme opposite end of the spectrum, the core of the Christian heart is love. It walks with a humbleness toward others — a gentle knowing that we’re all the same at the foot of the cross of Jesus. This kind of love says:

    “I’m no better than you.”

    “All I have I owe to Jesus.”

    “I’m glad you’re here.”

    This kind of heart honors God as Creator of all.

    Father God, forgive me for losing sight of the Truth that You created all people in Your image. By Your grace, help me to see hatred — whether initiated or returned — as a tool Satan uses to keep me from experiencing and sharing the richness of Your love. Dear Lord, even when I don’t like the hurtful things others do, help me love the way You love them, extending the same kindness, mercy and grace I have received from You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY: 1 John 2:11, “But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” (ESV)

    John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (NIV)

    Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (NIV)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND: How does reflecting on the Truth that all people are created by God help you in loving others well? Share your encouragement in the comments section.

    © 2016 by Kenisha Bethea. All rights reserved.

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

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