Sleeping Through Christmas
Whitney Capps

"The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and you will call Him Immanuel, God with us." Isaiah 7:14 (NIV)

The mall was crowded with shoppers. I struggled to hold my infant and my crying, wriggling toddler. He was uncomfortable and I was in the middle of a hot flash. Is that possible at 29 years of age? Music in the background played, "It's the most wonderful time of the year."

"Whatever!" I thought "This is NOT the most wonderful time for me!"

Last year was ten month old Dylan's first official Christmas. For two year-old Cooper, it was his first Christmas in many ways too. Sure we have video of him sitting in front of presents his first Christmas. But he was just four months old at the time. I think he fell asleep before my husband and I finished opening his gifts!

He wore more of Christmas dinner than he ingested. Nap time interfered with celebrations. Instead of It's a Wonderful Life we watched Barney. Because we had tried all of these celebrations with Cooper, we should have known Dylan would not be able to comprehend the festivities around him. Still we went through all the same pomp and circumstance.

Looking back over the pictures I marvel at the ways we tried to help our young boys celebrate the season. A drive to enjoy Christmas lights turned into a meltdown of historic proportions. Family celebrations proved to be more exhausting than exhilarating. We had done it all - enjoyed meals, read the Christmas story, opened gifts, and as best as I could tell our boys were none the wiser to the real meaning of Christmas.

I couldn't help but wonder, Am I more like my naïve children than I'd like to admit? Did I fail to understand all that was happening around me? Did I let the magnitude of the season pass me by unnoticed? Had I slept my way through the celebrations with family and friends?

Was the One who orchestrated the very first Christmas waiting for this child to enjoy all that He had done for me?

I wish I could say I celebrated Christmas like a spiritually mature mother of two, but I'm afraid I slept through it. I was entertained. I was distracted. I was only partly there. I whined and whimpered. I fixated on the wrong things.

So how does one who slept through Christmas 2008 prepare for Christmas 2009? By accepting God's grand invitation to celebrate Christ's birth every day. Perhaps this is the only way to appreciate its magnitude. A few weeks ago I went to our basement where we store our Christmas decorations. I dug out my favorite ornament and hung it in my office, hopeful it will remind me to celebrate Christ today. Maybe after a month of wide-awake worship I'll be ready to show my children - and myself - all that we missed last year.

Dear Lord, help me celebrate You every day in every way. Father, I don't want my children to think that celebrating Your entrance into this world is relegated to just the month of December. Your birth changed me forever; may I celebrate it accordingly. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Pursuing the Christ: 31 Morning and Evening Devotions for Christmastime by Jennifer Kennedy Dean

My First Christmas Story by Tim Dowley

Visit Whitney’s blog – Speak When Spoken Through

Has Jesus’ birth changed you forever?

Application Steps:
Resolve to think about Christmas long before the hustle and bustle begins. Start discussing with your children the ways your family wants to honor Jesus this season. Prioritize the weeks around activities and events that celebrate the Christ child.

Would those outside my family and friends look at how we celebrate the season and know that we see it as the life-changing, history-altering event it is?

Based on how we fill our days and nights, what priorities do we esteem during the Christmas season?

Power Verses:
1 John 2:16, "For everything in the world-the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes, and the boasting of what he has and does-comes not from the Father but from the world." (NIV)

Luke 2:13-14, 20, "Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.'…The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told." (NIV)

© 2009 by Whitney Capps. All rights reserved.

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A Thirsty Woman
Rachel Olsen

"Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered." Proverbs 11:25 (ESV)

I sat in the crowded café of a bookstore working on my laptop. My stomach growled repeatedly—I'd not yet had lunch. Hunger urged me to pack up and head in the rain to a restaurant but I purposed instead to focus on the project at hand. Then something else caught my attention.

A woman wearing a green rain jacket walked by. I noticed because she walked with the gate of a person with a disability. Several steps past me she stopped, turned and looked at me. I smiled. She spoke to me in incomprehensible syllables. Not sure how to respond, I kept smiling. She repeated her groaning.

"What is it?" I inquired.

After "speaking" a few more sentences, she reached her hand toward me. All her motions were noticeably slow. With her arm extended, she wiggled her fingers while looking at me with soft eyes that didn't seem to fully focus.

Patrons at surrounding tables stared in our direction. The awkwardness was growing. She kept wiggling her fingers, uttering sounds no one understood. I looked around. She was alone. I smiled again and asked, "What do you need?" She came closer, her hand reaching for my wrist. Maybe she just wants to touch me for some reason, I thought.

Instead, she took my hand and pulled me up from my chair. My eyes made contact with the man at the next table. He looked at me with a mix of surprise and questioning. I suspect my facial expression matched his.

She lead me by the hand to the coffee condiments counter that housed a stack of plastic cups and a help-yourself pitcher of water. She grabbed the cup-stack, wrestling four off the top. For over a minute she struggled to separate one cup from the four. I held out my hands in a gesture of help but she never allowed me to reach the cups. I waited.

Once she had her single cup, she pointed to the water pitcher. I lifted it and poured her a glass. She drank the whole thing, and pointed to the pitcher again. I poured another cup. She downed it and reached for the pitcher herself this time. Uh oh, I thought.

I watched, gauging her ability as she attempted to pour her own drink. Moving ever so gingerly, she tilted the pitcher while holding the cup. She seemed in slow motion. Her aim was off a few fractions of an inch, so at the last second I maneuvered her hand with the cup to the precise spot to catch the water.

All this while she didn't look at me or speak to me. I just stood next to her at the counter.

When the cup neared full, I said, "OK." She stopped pouring and drank her third glassful in a row. Wow, she was thirsty. Maybe she just doesn't know when to stop. I wondered if I should cut her off when she began pouring a fourth cup. Instead I let her fill it, as slowly as before.

As she drank that fourth cup, I wiped the small spills from the counter. Suddenly this passage flooded my mind:
"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed
by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the
world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink.
I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave
me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited

Then these righteous ones will reply, 'Lord, when did we ever see you
hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger
and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see
you sick or in prison and visit you?' And the King will say, 'I tell you the
truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you
were doing it to me!'" (Matthew 25:34-40, NLT)

I'd just been chosen to share water, perhaps with a woman and perhaps with the Living Water Himself. This was the best thing I did all day. All week. All month even. Maybe all year.

After the fourth cupful, a caretaker came and led the woman away. She looked back at me one last time. I smiled. By the time I returned to my seat, the café patrons were no longer watching me or the woman—our interaction at the condiment counter had been lengthy and quiet. They'd gone back to reading their books. I, however, couldn't return to my project. My thoughts were captivated by Jesus' words, and the woman in the green rain slicker.

Dear Lord, I give thanks today for the food and drink on my table. Help me see ways to share it with those less fortunate. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Click here to meet this King who rewards those who serve and share with others

Visit Rachel’s blog - My Life in Chapter and Verse

Share Living Water with a Compassion International sponsored child

God’s Purpose for Every Woman: A P31 Devotional by various P31 Encouragement for Today authors.

Application Steps:
Share. Give. Serve. Bless.

What are two ways I can provide food, drink, clothing, medical care or hospitality in the weeks to come?

Read ideas of how you and your children can share A Cup of Cold Water.

Power Verses:
Proverbs 19:17, "Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed." (ESV)

John 4:13-14, "Jesus said to her, 'Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.'" (ESV)

© 2009 by Rachel Olsen. All rights reserved.

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The Guest List
Sharon Sloan, She Speaks Graduate

"Then Jesus said to his host, 'When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors…But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.'" Luke 14:12-14 (NIV)

My husband and I were on the "B List" for the wedding. Honestly, we were excited to be on the guest list at all, so being "B List" guests did not insult us. Someone we watched grow up was now getting married. Their parents were prominent in the local community and several hundred people could have easily been on the guest list for their child's wedding. We were honored by the invitation.

Creating guest lists can be difficult. Today's key verse from Luke 14 teaches godly guest list etiquette. Jesus tells us that when we have a banquet to "invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind." As a woman who enjoys hosting gatherings and birthday parties for my children, guest lists are something sacred to me. They have become an offering to the Lord. Jesus says to look beyond the obvious guests on your list, such as family and close friends, and reach out to the downtrodden.

While there may not be those who are physically crippled, lame or blind in our lives, there are those who are hurting, who feel unwanted and unworthy of an invitation.

When my children and I make their party guest lists together, we prayerfully ask the Lord to put those on our hearts who would be blessed by receiving an invitation. Perhaps a friend who is not financially able to host birthday parties themselves. Or someone who is dealing with paralyzing emotional pain. Maybe someone whose parents are going through a divorce. Perhaps a friend who is shy and tends to be socially isolated. Or the one who has rough edges, is not easy to be around and doesn't see God's loving acceptance of them. The poor, the lame, the crippled and the blind.

Truth is, without Jesus and His redemptive love, we are all "the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind." Even in Christian circles, we can feel like the outcast or the unwanted guest. We've all experienced that "I wasn't invited" feeling. An invitation speaks of acceptance, inclusion, care, love, worth and friendship. God's Word tells us to extend invitations to unassuming guests.

The Lord of Hosts beckons us to come to His wedding banquet. As we unfold and accept His invitation, we are seated at the table of the King. Just as we are chosen by God to be guests of honor at His party, let's select unlikely guests and place them at the top of our own guest lists. You are honoring God by inviting the poor, lame, crippled and blind. "He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God" (Proverbs 14:31, NIV). And to add to the joy of honoring God, He has promised us that "you will be blessed…you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous" (Luke 14:14, NIV).

Dear God, thank You that You have invited us to come and dine at the King's table. May we honor You with our hearts as we invite the poor, lame, crippled and blind to our own banquets. As we reach out to the unlikely guests in our lives, may Your perfect love fill their hearts with acceptance and joy. Give us the grace to be Your hostess on earth, and bring glory to Your name. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Pray about starting a Gather and Grow Group

Life That Says Welcome, Simple Ways to Open Your Heart & Home to Others by Karen Ehman

Love Your Neighbor as Yourself by Mary Lance Sisk

Click here for Tips for Friendship Gatherings

Application Steps:
Read Luke 14 and ask the Lord to speak to your heart through these scriptures.

Prayerfully invite some unlikely guests to your next gathering – perhaps to your Thanksgiving table today, or to an upcoming Christmas party.

Do I extend invitations to unlikely guests, such as the outcasts or the hurting people around me?

Am I teaching my children to invite the poor, lame, crippled and blind to their parties as well?

Power Verses:
Luke 14:23, "Then the master told his servant, 'Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full.'" (NIV)

Hebrews 13:2, "Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it." (NIV)

Jeremiah 52:33, "So Jehoiachin put aside his prison clothes and for the rest of his life ate regularly at the king's table." (NIV)

© 2009 by Sharon Sloan. All rights reserved.

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Thank You Power
Rachel Olsen

"Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NIV)

In my (part-time) job as a university teacher, I'm frequently reading research. I know … it sounds as dry as an over-cooked turkey. Sometimes it is but often I find interesting stuff in that scientific prose. For example, I read about a study that showed just how great it is to be grateful.

The researchers found that grateful people report higher levels of positive emotions, more satisfaction with life, and more vitality and optimism. All good qualities I want more of in my life. They also found grateful people show lower levels of depression and stress - two things I'd like to experience less in my life.

What's more, they found that people who write weekly in a journal about things they are thankful for are healthier. They exercise more regularly, report fewer physical symptoms, and feel better in general than people who journal about neutral or negative life events. That sounds great, and I'll take all the help I can get in the exercise department.

Finally, the research showed that people who daily count their blessings report higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, and energy. Wow, the benefits of being grateful are remarkable and many! I guess that shouldn't surprise me after considering today's key verse. The Bible urges us to give thanks … all the time … in every situation … because this practice is the will of God.

Let me be clear, there are terrible things that happen to us that may not be the will of God, but us praising God and giving thanks in spite of them certainly is the will of God.

As Christians, we can always find reason to give thanks – thanks for the salvation of Christ, the nearness of God, and the counsel of His Spirit for starters. The psalmist declared, "I will give thanks to the LORD because of his righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High" (Psalm 7:17, NIV). We can do that too.

Christian poet John Milton once wrote about every grey cloud having a silver lining. Purposing to give thanks, no matter the weather, will train us to look for it. Continuing in this manner day after day ensures that gratefulness will become a normal mode of operation.

No wonder those researchers found that people regularly counting their blessings grow happier, healthier, and more optimistic. After all, that research wasn't discovering anything new, but rather confirming the will and wisdom of God. God already knows how great it is for us to be grateful. Now "science" does too.

What can you give thanks for today?

Dear Lord, thank You for this day. Thank You for Your Son and Your Spirit, given to me. Thank You for the provision of shelter and food I have today. And Lord, thank You for this reminder to become more mindful of my blessings. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Jesus Calling: A 365-Day Journaling Devotion by Sarah Young

Visit Rachel’s blog – My Life in Chapter and Verse for more on this topic

Click here for refreshing ideas on giving thanks

The Tale of Three Trees (hard cover or chubby) retold by Angela Elwell Hunt

Application Steps:
Start a gratitude journal. At the end of each day between now and Christmas, take a few minutes to jot down 3-5 things you are thankful for. Keep the notebook and pencil by your bed. Your list can include "big" things like good health, or "little" things like a flower in bloom. Give thanks to God for all of these.

See if you feel any happier, healthier, or more optimistic after a few weeks of regularly giving thanks.

How often do I give thanks to God?

Do I notice, or remember, the little blessings in my days?

Do I want to feel happier, be healthier, and think more optimistically? More importantly, do I want to do the will of God?

Power Verses:
Psalm 118:19, "Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter and give thanks to the LORD." (NIV)

Psalm 107:22, "Let them sacrifice thank offerings and tell of his works with songs of joy." (NIV)

© 2009 by Rachel Olsen. All rights reserved.

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Body Image
T. Suzanne Eller

"Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God knows me now." 1 Corinthians 13:12 (NLT)

I walked by the mirror in the department store. I stopped, backed up, and took a second look. Was that really me? I was nearly nine months pregnant with twins and looked like Mrs. Potato Head. My arms and legs stuck out of a huge protruding stomach. My belly button looked like a cork ready to pop!

A few days later Ryan and Melissa arrived. I loved my babies! But as the months passed, I didn't love my body with all its stretch marks and a baby bump that remained no matter how hard I tried to get rid of them.

Flash forward twenty-five years. Melissa loves to serve as Mom's fashionista, and tries to keep me up with the times. One day she and I were shopping for a pair of jeans and she'd picked out a couple of things she wanted me to try on. She knocked on the door of the dressing room. "Let me in, Mom."

I cracked open the door. "I'll be out in a minute, hon."

She frowned. Later she confronted me. "Mom, you were hiding your stomach, weren't you? I don't get it. You just need to get over it."

How many times have I met a truly beautiful woman and complemented her, only to hear her say, "Well, thank you, but I need to lose five pounds," or "I'm having a crazy hair day," or "Did you see that woman over there, now she's beautiful." What I saw was a smile that was warm and welcoming, or beautiful hazel eyes that were filled with compassion, or a woman who was frugal and fabulous. My complements were sincere, but fell flat as she focused on her flaws instead.
My conversation with Melissa that day reminded me that I was doing the same thing. Worse, I was modeling this behavior in front of my daughter.

The truth is that I'm healthy. I have given birth to three beautiful children. And more importantly, I'm God's girl. I'm beautifully made in His image. That's a fact etched on my heart and my mind.

Now if only someone would remind my mouth.

In Bible times ancient mirrors were polished metal, easily tarnished, and the reflection was hard to see. If a woman had a flaw, she had to rely on her friends or sisters to give her a head's up.
But today we can scope out our features in detail with three-way mirrors or a 5x-, 10x-, or even 15x magnified mirror where every pore and every flaw is magnified! Too often, those mirrors are reminders of the cultural message of what beauty is - or is not.

But what would happen if we focused on the mirror Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 13:12 instead? The more we get to know God, the clearer things become. We stop checking out our own image and discover more about Him. That helps us see the bigger picture—5X-, 10X-, and maybe even 15X magnified!

And there's a bonus. The more we get to know Him, the more others see us through His reflection.

Now, that's real beauty.

Dear God, I am made in Your image. I matter to You. Make me wise. Let me be grateful for physical healthy. Will You join me as I pursue joy, wisdom, peace, and selflessness? I want to look like You. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Visit Suzie’s blog to talk more about this topic and to enter a giveaway for a copy of Suzie’s book, The Woman I am Becoming: Embracing the Chase for Identity, Faith, and Destiny

The Woman I am Becoming: Embracing the Chase for Identity, Faith, and Destiny by T. Suzanne Eller

Self Talk, Soul Talk: What to Say When You Talk to Yourself by Jennifer Rothschild

Tune in to the P31 Radio Show today: Do You Like Yourself?

Application Steps:
Name things that you believe will be important to you 10 years from now; 20 years from now.

Name one inner quality you'd like to nurture to help you work toward those goals.

What is one step you can take to begin that process?

"Scientists have concluded that there must be something more to us than our brains and our bodies. The Bible makes the same point: Whether it describes you with the words "soul," "spirit," or "heart," the meaning is the same - the real you, the deepest truest you is not your body. You are a living soul." Lael Arrington, author of The Things That Matter Most.

Power Verses:
Proverbs 31:30,"Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised." (NLT)

Ecclesiastes 3:11, "He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end." (NIV)

© 2009 by T. Suzanne Eller. All rights reserved.

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Making the Most of Loneliness
Glynnis Whitwer

"I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you." John 15:15 (NIV)

My little boy sat facing the back of the couch. His head resting on his crossed arms. He stared out the window. His little head moved from left to right as he watched two neighbor boys race past on bikes, laughing at a shared joke.

I watched my second-grade-son from the kitchen door, drying my hands with a dishtowel. My shoulders drooped as Josh took a deep breath and let it out in a despairing sigh. Mirroring his sadness, my throat tightened and hot tears burned my eyes. Throwing the dishtowel into the sink, I quietly stepped to the couch and slipped down next to him. Without saying a word, I scooped him into my lap and enveloped his little frame with my arms.

His face nuzzled mine and our tears mixed together. I could almost feel the wishing and hoping pulse through his small body: Will they stop by my house? Will they invite me to play? A smothered sob escaped from my little boy who was trying valiantly to be "big."

Ever since our move to North Carolina earlier in the year, Joshua had trouble making friends. The playgroups were established, and my shy son was painfully on the outside. His little brothers were good companions at home, but that didn't replace friendships at school or in the neighborhood.

The loneliness was oppressive, and I felt it too. In fact, that period of my life was one of my darkest times. We all left life-long friends when we moved. Those friendships had been born of common experiences, and years spent together. They were effortless. Now we faced unknown territory, not just geographically, but culturally and socially. This was a new world to us, and Josh felt it as painfully as I did. And yet, during that time, we all learned some things about God and ourselves that we wouldn't have learned had we stayed in Phoenix.

Although loneliness is painful, it isn't always a bad place to be for a time. C.S. Lewis said "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world."

God definitely spoke to us in our loneliness. And I started wondering if perhaps there are times when God allows loneliness into our lives as an invitation to pursue Him as our closest friend. When our friends have left us, or we have left them, God reveals His presence in new ways. Tim Hansel, author of Through the Wilderness of Loneliness writes, "Loneliness is not a time of abandonment…it just feels that way. It's actually a time of encounter at new levels with the only One who can fill that empty place in our hearts."

God longs to fill our hearts with Himself. Yet we often try to fill the desires of our hearts with the things of this world. We also discover those attempts to find replacements for God are fleeting and insubstantial, leaving us even lonelier than before.

As you or your child face a time of loneliness, take this opportunity to look to Jesus as a best friend. Jesus Himself calls us friends in John 15:15, "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you."

Even though we were designed for community, God has a purpose for loneliness. If we can learn from it, rather than resent it, I believe we'll find a life-long Friend who'll never leave us lonely.

Dear Lord, thank You being a friend who will never leave me. Sometimes the loneliness is overwhelming. Please be real to me today. I want to learn from this time of loneliness rather than resent it. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
When Your Child is Hurting: Helping Your Child Survive the Ups and Downs of Life by Glynnis Whitwer

Visit Glynnis’ blog for tips on how to help your child (and you) make friends.

Are you lonely today? Click here to meet a Friend who will never leave you.

You are My Hiding Place, Lord: Finding Peace in God's Presence by Emilie Barnes

Application Steps:
Spend 10 minutes sitting in the presence of Jesus. Invite Him to be real to you, and listen for His voice.

What characteristics does God display when He reveals Himself to us as a friend?

What can you do to be a better friend to God?

Power Verses:
Psalm 37:7a, "Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him…." (NIV)

Matthew 6:33, "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." (NIV)

© 2009 by Glynnis Whitwer. All rights reserved.

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Overcoming the Fear of the Unknown
Micca Monda Campbell

"Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before." Joshua 3:4a (NIV)

Do you have a fear of the unknown? If so, then you know how nerve-racking it can be. Fearing the unknown can cause us to live on pins and needles as we spend precious energy anticipating the worst-case scenario. There are two problems with this type of fear:

1. The future is not here.
2. The future is not ours.

While the future may be out of our hands, it's not out of the hands of an adequate and trustworthy God. When we face a worrisome unknown situation, we can look to Joshua as an example.

It's recorded in the first chapter of Joshua that before Moses died, God passed the baton of leadership to Joshua. The Israelites had been wandering in the desert for 40 years under the guidance of Moses. Now, their journey was almost over. Just beyond the Jordan River was their promised land—the land that God had guaranteed to Abraham and his descendants.

Upon reaching the Jordan River, Joshua and the Israelites set up camp by the stream and awaited God's direction. Much like their meeting with the Red Sea, God had to make a way for them to cross over the river. On the third day, God told the officers to instruct the people that when they saw the Ark of the Covenant (where God's Presence abided) to follow it because they had "never passed this way before" (Joshua 3:4). In essence God was saying, Follow Me and I'll see you through this unknown territory.

That's not all. The people were instructed on how closely they should follow the ark. Without this instruction, the people would have crowded the ark and God wanted every person to be able to see His presence ever faithfully leading them through the unknown valley. What greater encouragement could they have than this, that the Lord was their God, a God who was with them?

You see, friend, the Lord understands our fear of the unknown. He realizes that you may be in a situation that you've never passed through before and you're afraid. It may be the first time you've been without employment. Maybe you've just been diagnosed with an illness or your child is in rebellion. You've never been down this road before and you don't know which way to go or what to do. God will guide the way.

Joshua's life was unpredictable and full of unknowns much like yours and mine. Yet, he successfully resisted fear by keeping his focus on God rather than the events surrounding him. Just as God guided the Israelites through unknown territory, He will guide you and me too. When we come to a place we've never passed through before, God is always present to help us.

"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD, your God,the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; (Isaiah 43:2,3b, NIV).

Even though the children of Israel were not told how they would pass over the river, the people went forth in faith. We too can move forward in faith sharing in the promised presence of God leading the way through our unknown circumstances.

Dear Lord, thank You for Your promised presence. It comforts my heart to know that I am not alone. Lead me, Lord, through the unknown in my life. Make Your path clear and I will follow it. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Visit Micca’s blog – Reflections

Today’s devotion was taken from Micca’s book, An Untroubled Heart: Finding Faith that is Stronger Than All Your Fears. Order your copy by clicking here.

Do You Know Him?

Application Steps:
The Bible calls us to walk by faith not by sight. God doesn't always give us the details we desire.

He does give us Himself. Believing is certainty that He's laid out a path and He goes before us.

Have you ever run from fear? Where and when?

Where did you find comfort from your fear?

How can God's promised presence soothe your fears?

Power Verses:
Psalm 32:8, "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you." (NIV)

Jeremiah 29:11, "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'" (NIV)

© 2009 by Micca Campbell. All rights reserved.

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I Don't Want to Raise Successful Children
Lysa TerKeurst

"Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." Proverbs 22:6 (NIV)

I don't want to raise successful children. That's a shocking thing to read, and a shocking thing for a mother to type. So, let me clarify.

I used to define success according to my child's report card. Good grades and academic achievement would surely equal a good child with great potential in this world. But then several of my children wound up being average students with average grades. Though we carted them off to tutors and spent many a late night at the kitchen table helping them, they remained average. And I remained concerned and frustrated.

One report card day I found myself facedown in the fibers of my carpet crying and wondering, "Where have I gone wrong as a mom?"

I dug into Scriptures. I begged God for wisdom and discernment. I prayed for God's perspective with each of my kids. Finally, one day it dawned on me - what if I simply chose to embrace the natural bent of each of my kids as God's way to protect them and keep them on the path toward His best plans for their lives?

What if my A student needs academic success to prepare her for God's plans while my average to below-average student needs to be steered away from a more academic future? What if my sports star kid needs that athletic excellence for his future assignments by God, but my benchwarmer kid is being protected from getting off course by her lack in this area?

And that's when it finally dawned on me. My job isn't to push success for my kids. My job as a parent is to recognize the unique way God created each child and point them to Jesus at every turn along their journey toward adulthood. Yes, I want my kids to learn and thrive and grow up educated, but it's not a flaw in me or them if they don't have straight A report cards and trophy cases full of sports medals.

Proverbs 22:6 says, "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it" (NIV).

I am challenged to ponder these words, "… in the way he should go." Are we training our kids that the "way he should go" is to chase worldly achievement or to chase God? Whatever they learn to chase as a child, they will chase as adults. Therefore, we must be challenged to honestly assess the way we are pointing them to go.

My daughter, Hope, is one of my average students. She has also warmed many a bench in the sports she's tried, and can always be found hiding on the back row of the stage during school concerts. Using the world's benchmarks for achievement, Hope wouldn't be seen as a child positioned for success. But God…

This past January, my 15 year old Hope, shocked me when she announced she wanted to go to Ethiopia with some missionary friends of ours and live in the remote African bush for the summer. Yes, she may not have trophies and straight A report cards but she does have a heart of gold. And because she's not entrenched in sports and academic pursuits that could have created obligations for her summer, she was free to go to Africa. Free to chase God in a really big way.

One of the first e-mails she sent me from Ethiopia read, "Mom, I've fallen in love with the AIDS orphanage children. They rushed at me when I held my arms out and I tried with all my might to hold all 30 of them at once. I love it here."

Now, don't get me wrong. I do expect Hope to return to her studies this fall, give 100% effort, and finish her high school career having done her very best. She will most likely then go to college. But she probably won't be delivering the valedictorian address or wearing the honors cords and medals. She'll be the one with a vision of a dying AIDS orphan pressing against her heart ready to chase God's plans to the ends of the earth.

So back to my original statement, I don't want to raise successful children. It's true, I don't. Though Hope's sister coming behind her is an A student and can always be found on the front row of school performances - we don't chase after success for her either. I trust God that she needs those things in her life for the plans He's unfolding in her life. We train with that bent in mind. But, we don't chase it. Just like Hope, we point her in the direction of God at every turn and pray like crazy.

I stand by what I said and I'll say it again, I don't want to raise successful children. Because--- raising God-honoring adults who will set the world on fire for Christ is just so much more rewarding.

Dear Lord, being a mom is a really tough job. Please help me, teach me and show me how to define success for my kids. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Visit Lysa’s blog to watch a video of Hope’s trip to Ethiopia

Becoming More Than a Good Bible Study Girl by Lysa TerKeurst

The Bathtub is Overflowing but I Feel Drained by Lysa TerKeurst

Application Steps:
Spend some time specifically praying for your kids today and ask the Lord how you can train them according to the way He created them.

What worries about my kids do I need to ask the Lord for His perspective?

How should I define success for my kids?

Power Verses:
2 John 1:4, "It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us." (NIV)

Matthew 19:14, "Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.'" (NIV)

© 2009 by Lysa TerKeurst. All rights reserved.

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The Beauty of the Lord
Lynn Cowell

"One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple." Psalm 27:4 (ESV)

The jagged scar on his back may be gruesome to some. To me, it is a mark of beauty. It is a reminder of the love he showed that day.

It was suppose to be a day filled with wonderful memories with my husband's family in the foothills of South Carolina. The highlight of our trip would be Slippery Rock, a natural water slide in the cool Pisgah forest. However, under the guidance of a "local" we changed our plans to go to a different waterfall.

When we reached it, the waterfall wasn't quite what we were told or expected. Unprotected. Steeper. Less water. No lifeguard, no stairs, no rope. Though disappointed, we vowed to make the best of it.

Greg watched the kids start down the steep slope. Sensing everything was not as smooth as it seemed, he called to our nine-year-old daughter, "Wait for me, and we'll go together."

The laughter and squeals brought joy to my heart. Wanting to catch their expressions, I looked down to adjust my camera's zoom. Looking up, I caught his eye. Something was wrong. I pulled the camera away just in time to witness Greg sticking out his leg, causing him and Madison to spin. Instead of her head slamming into the stone wall, Greg's bare back took the blow.

The day ended then, with a trip to the emergency room. The four-inch gash on his back, evidence he saved our daughter. Today, it is a thick red scar; proof of his love for his family.

My First Love also bears scars of love. Though I haven't seen them, I know they're there. I was young, naive and taking the course with no stairs, no rope, no lifeguard. I wanted to "live a little." Just before I smashed against the rock of this world, I listened to Jesus' invitation: "Wait for me; let Me get you out of harm's way and lead you." I fell into His accepting arms, rescued and safe.

Like I was, there are those who want to go their own way. They are oblivious to the rushing power of sin, which will smash them against the hard walls of this world. Thoughts such as "I can flirt with this sin; I just want a little fun!" or "I'm tired of responsibility. It's my turn. My kids will bounce back," or "I don't have to put up with him anymore. It's my life too," take precedence. Inevitable destruction follows. All along Jesus is at the top of the slope inviting them: "Wait for Me. Let's go together and I will lead you."

They've missed the Man. They've missed His strength. They've missed the scars that are proof that His love held Him to that gnarly cross when His mind and body screamed out. I see the price He paid to protect me from my own destruction and all I can say is "Oh, the beauty of the Lord."

Dear Lord, help me look to You every day. Help me trust Your instructions and warnings, knowing that You love me more than I love myself. You are my first love. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers

Visit Lynn’s blog – Leading Others to Completion in Christ

Confessions of a Good Christian Girl: The Secrets Women Keep and the Grace that Saves Them by Tammy Maltby

Visit here for encouragement in your Everyday Life.

Application Steps:
Take some time away - away from laundry, tv and internet - to get quiet and worship Jesus. Thank Him for saving you and giving you new life!

Is there someone you know who is at the top of a slippery slope and needs to read this? Pray for them and forward them today's devotion.

Is there any area in your life you are flirting with something dangerous to yourself? Your family?

Confess this to Jesus. Tell Him you want to fall into His accepting arms and help you walk away from this danger.

If you answered yes, think of a friend you really trust with whom you can share this. Have them pray for you and hold you accountable.

Accept Jesus' invitation for the first time, or renew your acceptance of His grace.

Power Verses:
Isaiah 53:3-5, "He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed." (NIV)

© 2009 by Lynn Cowell. All rights reserved.

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Stained and Ruined
Melissa Taylor

"But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed." Isaiah 53:5 (NIV)

Looking back, it seems like I'm viewing the story of another person. I hardly recognize the little girl I became in that dark moment.

I was walking home from the bus stop. The walk took about ten minutes unless I stopped to talk to a friend or neighbor, which I usually did. Mr. Parks, a retired man, was sitting in his driveway waving to all the kids walking by. He was so friendly. On this particular day, he invited me into his garage. He said he had some candy to give me. I walked in that garage an innocent trusting little girl. I walked out scarred for life.

Mr. Parks sexually violated me. I didn't understand what was going on. I didn't know what to do. He became someone else; I didn't recognize the man he changed into once that garage door was closed. He did things to me and made me do things to him that I never imagined existed. I was absolutely terrified. When he was done, he said, "Come back tomorrow." And I did.

The experience of being sexually abused left me devastated, feeling stained and ruined. In my mind, what I had done was so bad, I couldn't tell anyone. And because it happened more than once, I felt like it really was my choice; my fault. That's what he told me. I felt dirty and I was filled with shame. Shame is a joy stealer and my joy was gone.

Over the years I perfected the art of wearing masks. On the outside, I looked great. However, on the inside I felt completely unworthy of any good thing. When I experienced success, I would usually sabotage myself or quit. I apologized for being good at something and downplayed my God-given strengths.

It must break God's heart when we allow shame to steal our sense of worth. Jesus gave His life to prove how valuable we are. We were created to walk in God's confidence, not our own.

Our key verse tells us "By his wounds, we are healed." Jesus became stained and ruined on our behalf. We don't have to live in fear or condemnation over anything that has taken place in our lives, whether it was our fault or not.

When I accepted Christ as my Savior, I also accepted freedom from my past hauntings. Still, I have to remind myself of this every day. My thoughts must center on Jesus or they can easily slip back to the darkness of that garage. Yes, even 35 years later, I still have flashbacks of what happened to me. That's when I look up to heaven and say, "By Your wounds I am healed. Thank You, Jesus. I am not stained and ruined. I am clean, pure, and precious. Mr. Parks has no hold on me anymore."

My final triumph in this horrific ordeal was the most difficult: forgiveness. I claim forgiveness for my sins everyday through Jesus. In doing that, I am faced with the fact that I'm called to forgive. "Mr. Parks, I forgive you. I know you must have been very sick and your heart was stained with sin. I hope and pray you accepted Jesus before you died. What you did to me was the worst thing anyone could do to a little girl. I want to hate you. Instead, I choose to hate what you did, but forgive you." I can only do this with Jesus at my side. I'm not capable any other way.

No longer do I believe I am stained and ruined. I am clean. I am worthy. Jesus has set me free. "By his wounds, we are healed." I believe that. I hope you do too! For more on becoming free in Christ, visit here.

Dear Lord, I need You every day of my life. Please remind me that I am worthy and delete the lies that haunt me. Help me live to the fullest for You. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Hidden Joy in a Dark Corner by Wendy Blight

Visit Melissa’s blog and read how feeling stained and ruined led to issues with sexual intimacy, weight, relationships, and success.

His Princess Bride, Love Letters from Your Prince by Sheri Rose Shepherd

For more encouragement, visit here

Application Steps:
If you are suffering due to your past, seek Christian counseling in your area.

Read your Bible everyday. Begin each day by saying, "Lord, because of you I am healed and valuable."

Stop by Melissa’s blog and leave a comment - she will email you her "Top Ten Ways to Know You are Worthy" list.

Is there something in your past keeping you from living the life God intended?

Do you believe Jesus has washed you clean?

Have you shared what Christ has done for you with anyone lately?

Power Verses:
Deuteronomy 14:2, "For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the Lord has chosen you to be his treasured possession." (NIV)

Isaiah 43:18-19, "Forget what happened long ago! Don't think about the past. I am creating something new. There it is! Do you see it? I have put roads in deserts, streams in thirsty lands." (CEV)

Isaiah 45:3, "I will give you treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name." (NIV)

© 2009 by Melissa Taylor. All rights reserved.

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Being the Stillness
Bonnie Grove, She Reads Featured Author

"Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great." Job 2:13 (NASB)

I have sought comfort in the book of Job many times in my life. After I buried my infant son, I asked, "Why?" God reminded me that when Job asked the same question His answer was, "Who?"

While laying on a hospital bed knowing for certain I would lose the twins I had carried only a few precious months, God reminded me how in the midst of Job's suffering, God came. And in the whirlwind He answered. Not right away, not in Job's time, but in God's time – the perfect time when Job's heart could take in the words of healing.

In the years following those dark events, I trained in theology, counseling and psychology. I was on a quest to understand my brokenness, and that of others. I'm still on that quest, though my formal training is behind me.

One evening, I was in conversation with a man who was going through a divorce and was in obvious pain. He spoke of his daughter, and how his hopes for the future had been destroyed. When he finished speaking I sat in silence, knowing I had no great words to offer. Spent from telling his story, he too sat quietly.

Our silence stretched into minutes. Then, the man began to cry. I sat with him, keeping his tears company, and still said nothing. More minutes passed, and the man said, "That's the first time I've cried since this whole mess started." Then he said something surprising: "You've helped me so much. Thank you."

The silence had changed something for him. From my perspective, the silence was a result of my limitations as a counselor – I was empty handed. But it became clear to me there was something powerful at work. I remembered how Job's friends sat in silence with him for seven days and nights. With that in mind, I began to pay close attention to silence. I found that by being quiet, I could better understand my thoughts, fears, hopes, and desires. And in my long silences I was able to sense God's presence and hear His voice. When I sat with the man going through a divorce I listened to him without interruption. Then, by saying nothing, I helped him listen to what God had to say to him.

There are astounding lessons to be learned from the act of listening. I have learned that listening is an act of love. It is not passive; it is intentional, engaging with the heart and mind of another person. To listen you must turn off all outside distractions; say "no" to the world rushing by you. A sacred act of deliberate silence and meaningful pause, listening helps people clear a space in their life, heart, and mind in order to simply "be." Our listening is an important gift. I am learning to make it my first response. Through listening I want to provide the stillness God speaks into.

Dear Lord, bring me into a deeper silence before You, that I may hear Your voice, and in hearing, believe, and in believing, listen to the heart of others. When people hurt Lord, let me first offer them my listening, not my advice. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Visit with Bonnie today, where she will be a guest at the She Reads blog

Talking to the Dead by Bonnie Grove is a She Reads winter selection. Head over to the She Reads blog today for a chance to win a copy of the novel, plus an iPod Nano loaded with the songs Bonnie listened to while writing her book.

When Your Marriage Dies: Answers to Questions about Separation and Divorce by Laura Petherbridge

Find encouragement in God’s peace on today’s Radio Show - How Difficulties Affect Us

Application Steps:
Practice stillness in your prayer life. Sit quietly; offer the sacrifice of love by listening long to what the Lord has to say to you today.

Practice stillness in your relationships. Begin to pay attention to the silences around you and offer yourself to a friend through the act of listening.

Do you believe God will meet you in your silence?

Can you recall a time when you listened as an act of love to a friend or family member?

Power Verses:
Habakkuk 2:20, "But the LORD is in His holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before Him." (NASB)

Psalm 46:10-11, "Be still and know that I am God….The LORD Almighty is with us." (NIV)

© 2009 by Bonnie Grove. All rights reserved.

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The Unique One
Amy Carroll

"You shall have no other gods before me." Exodus 20:3 (NIV)

Are there really 330 million gods and goddesses in the Hindu religion? How can that be true? I wondered as I prepared for my trip to India. I began to think surely that number was made up by some cynical Christian, but as I read through a secular source the number was confirmed. Even so, I was completely unprepared for the overwhelming influence of idol worship in the culture of Calcutta.

There were idols of gods and goddesses everywhere I looked. There were idols at the entrance to the hotel, at the archway into the dining room and in booths all along the streets. Everything had religious significance. From fashion—the dots on women's foreheads and the bangles on their arms—to transportation, where the drivers had a goddess on their dashboard for safety. I started asking about each idol. "This is the god of milk," one store owner explained. "That is the goddess of candy," said a waiter. Suddenly I began to understand how there could be so many gods and goddess. Everything within my sight and senses had an idol attached to it.

This was hard to process for an American raised in a culture that is mostly monotheistic. I felt a little tug of pride until I began to think about the idols of my own country: wealth, leisure, youthfulness, work, children, power. The idols that surround me in America may be invisible. There may not be temples built to them with a beautifully sculpted statue in the center where offerings and sacrifices are laid. But America definitely has idols.

The Christian pastors in Calcutta explained to us that it is difficult to share the Gospel of Jesus with Hindus. Many times a Hindu will respond receptively to the Good News of Jesus with this sort of response, "Sure, I'll accept Jesus and add Him to all my other household gods and goddesses." It's difficult for a Hindu to understand and accept Jesus as the One and Only, so the pastors preach about the uniqueness of Christ.

While in Calcutta, I learned of the beautiful ceremony of baptism for new Indian believers. The new Christians line up their idols at the edge of the baptismal pool. They turn their backs on the idols to be baptized, and then the idols are disposed of. The exquisite symbolism of this practice pierced my heart.

I began to ask myself, Have I turned my back on my idols? Have I trusted and believed in Jesus more than anything else in my life? Do I value Christ as uniquely sufficient, or have I just added Him to my list of comforts and priorities?

I thought back to the year when my family had moved into a house that was badly in need of renovation. As a lover of all things decorative, I plunged head first into paint swatches, wallpaper books and HGTV. One morning when I finally had a quiet time with the Lord, He spoke to my heart that I had an idol that needed demolishing. An idol? God clearly showed me that feathering my nest had become my number one priority and had displaced Him in my heart. He asked me to fast from all the things that fed my decorating addiction for a year.

Sadly, I cancelled my subscriptions to Better Homes and Gardens and Southern Living. My husband even agreed to cancel our cable subscription so I wouldn't have access to HGTV. The reward came as my heart's desire turned back to Jesus, the Unique One. I turned my back on my idols and their consumption of my time and focus was demolished.

When the year was up, I sought God's direction and permission to re-subscribe to my magazines and decorating shows. Knowing He had re-ordered my heart and taken up preeminence in my life, I felt His approval. My idol had been cast down, and I was able to enjoy these things as God's gifts put back in their proper place.

Dear Lord, help me to identify the hidden, invisible idols in my life. It is my heart's cry that I would put You first, above and over all. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
For encouragement on laying idols down, listen to today’s Radio Show, Bring it to Me

Come Along: The Journey into a More Intimate Faith by Jane Rubietta

Pierced by the Word by John Piper

Visit Amy’s blog – Ponderings from the Pathway

Application Steps:
Do You Know the One and Only?

Read the Gospel of John and fall in love with Jesus as the Unique One.

Are there things in my life that have become idols?

What do I need to do to remove them?

Power Verses:
Exodus 20:3-6, "You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments." (NIV)

© 2009 by Amy Carroll. All rights reserved.

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Please Interrupt Me
Lysa TerKeurst

"And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NIV)

I wonder if the greatest witnessing tool available to us Christians is often pushed aside because of our busyness.

The other day I was focused on all the items on my seemingly never ending to do list. As I was sitting at a stoplight a friend called me and started lamenting that her son had forgotten his lunch and his belt required by the school's uniform policy. She was stressed and trying to get in touch with her husband who'd just dropped her son off at school. She was at home with a new baby feeling groggy from a sleepless night and overwhelmed by her situation.

Her son could probably get his friends to share their lunches with him. But, the belt would be a problem. The school would call her when they noticed the missing belt and require her to bring one. She lives over 20 minutes from the school.

As I sat at the stoplight listening to my friend, I looked to the store off to my right. That store has belts. That store has lunch food. I was faced with a decision. Could I help? Well, I could but my schedule would have to be rearranged a bit. Would I help? My friend wasn't asking but in that moment I knew it would be a tremendous blessing for her.

This day I wouldn't let my busyness take precedence over the blessing of divine interruptions and opportunities to love. So, I helped.

I don't know this for sure but I suspect my friend had been asking Jesus to please help her. It's hard being up half the night with a sleepless baby. It's hard to find a new normal when life gets a little off kilter by changes in the family dynamic. It's hard when you need help but feel like everyone is so busy you hate to bother them.

Now, I'll admit, I'm a task-oriented person so it doesn't come naturally for me to look for ways to be interrupted in the midst of my busyness. But sitting at that stoplight, I realized the power of pausing. Pausing just long enough for Jesus to tap on the edge of my heart and say, "Could you? Would you? Do this as if it's the most important part of your day and not an unwelcome interruption."

The Bible teaches one of the most important precepts is love. When we love others we are living the message of Jesus. And listen to what Psalm 19:8 says, "The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes."

Oh how many times have I missed the joy of pausing to live and love and light the world for Jesus?

Dear Lord, help me to pause today and remember my great witnessing tool is to simply be available to love others. Show me where I can love. Make me courageous enough to step aside my carefully planned to do list and look for ways to be an answer to the prayers someone has prayed today. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Visit Lysa’s blog for a fun contest to win a gift for you and one to share with a friend!

Becoming More Than a Good Bible Study Girl by Lysa TerKeurst

What Happens When Women Walk in Faith
by Lysa TerKeurst

Application Steps:
Spend some time praying about an opportunity to be interrupted today. Remember when the interruptions come…connect them with the prayer you prayed and enjoy your experience of God.

Is there anyone in my life that is currently going through some changes where I could practically lend a hand?

How can I create some more white space in my life to make myself more available to help others?

Power Verses:
Deuteronomy 15:7-8, "If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs." (NIV)

Psalm 19:8, "The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes." (NIV)

© 2009 by Lysa TerKeurst. All rights reserved.

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The Power of Encouragement
Renee Swope

"Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9 (NIV)

I hate open heights. I can't stand balconies, and when driving across a bridge, you'll find me hugging the rail along the inside lane.

Some friends tried to help me conquer my fear of heights by inviting our family to an indoor rock-climbing center. My heart stopped as we entered the doors and I scanned the highest peak at 25 feet! The instructors assured me that a web of ropes and harnesses would hold me tight. Before I could say "no thank you," I was strapped in and signing an injury waiver.

Towards the end of the day, our friends John and Laura encouraged their eight-year-old son Steven to climb to the highest peak – promising tokens and ice cream if he did it. Steven was afraid of heights, too, but he loved a dare. The promise of reward, mixed with the challenge and faith of his father evoked courage in him.

I watched with admiration as Steven started the climb with confidence. He made it to 10 feet, then 15, then 20. But as he inched past the next face of the wall, he saw how far he still had to go. In fear, he looked down with tears and claimed he couldn't do it. Then he cried out for his daddy's help.

By this time, Steven's dad was holding their very tired 3-year-old and his mom was feeding their hungry baby girl. I don't know where my brave husband was, but I quickly realized I was the only one standing there who could do something.

Suddenly courage and strength surged through my body and I called out, "Don't give up buddy. You can do it. I'll help you!"

In record time, I reached the 20-foot marker, crossed over the peak and came up beside Steven to encourage him, reminding him of how far he'd come. I told him he could do it with God's strength and that it would be worth it if he'd persevere. With my words and my confidence in him, I helped Steven turn his thoughts towards a higher goal, an inner peak, a reward much greater than ice cream and game tokens – the reward of getting to a place he had stopped believing he could reach.

Funny how I stopped thinking about my fears when I was focused on encouraging someone else to overcome theirs. I realized that the same promises I had claimed for Steven were true for me, too. I could do it with God's strength, and I did!

Each day we have the same opportunity. Like God did with Joshua in today's key verse and like He does with us, we can come alongside each other in some of life's hardest challenges and highest peaks and say, "Don't give up, you can do it. I'll be with you and help you."

When we take our eyes off our fears, our doubts, our struggles and focus on someone else's needs, we somehow forget our own, for a little while. In believing the power of God's promises for others, our confidence in His promises for us seems to grow as well.

Lord, thank You for the power of Your Words that give me courage to become who You've created me to be – to go to places You're calling me to go and climb spiritual heights that are out of my reach without Your help. Give me Your encouragement today, and help me encourage someone, too. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Visit Renee’s blog for more encouragement in your day and find out how you can share the power of encouragement with others!

Mining for Gold in the Heart of Your Child CD and Character Chart - a message and method for parents to see the power of encouraging words in the lives of their kids, by Renee Swope

Girlfriends’ Road Trip – a message on CD about building Godly friendships, by Renee Swope

Self Talk, Soul Talk: What to Say When You Talk to Yourself, by Jennifer Rothschild

Application Steps:
Ask God to encourage your heart today with a promise from His Word that offers hope and power in the midst of your circumstances.

Write a note, leave a message or send an email with a promise and a prayer to someone who needs encouragement.

How has someone's encouraging words impacted my life in the past? How has God's words of encouragement helped me do things I never thought I could?

Power Verses:
Psalm 69:32, "The humble will see their God at work and be glad. Let all who seek God's help be encouraged.'" (NLT)

Deuteronomy 3:28, "But commission Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he will lead this people across and will cause them to inherit the land that you will see." (NIV)

Psalm 10:17, "You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, (NIV)

© 2009 by Renee Swope. All rights reserved.

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The Battles Within
Marybeth Whalen

"What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you?" James 4:1 (NIV)

Our verse for today gets to the root of why my husband and I get in arguments: the desires that battle within me. Desires I wish weren't there. Desires that are ugly and selfish and petty. Desires that motivate me to seek my own way. Desires that battle within me, then spill over into my actions.

There is a battle raging within each of us. It is a battle between flesh and Spirit, between reaching out and focusing inward, between living for Christ and living for ourselves. How can we find victory in these battles without claiming more casualties? I have found there are several ways:

Praying: James 4:2 goes on to say, "You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God." James is telling us how to avoid fights. Take our unmet needs, desires, expectations and complaints to God. We don't need to expect our husbands, children, neighbors, co-workers or friends to fulfill our every need.

Walking in truth: It's easy to believe the lies of the enemy or our flesh: If you were only married to someone else, you'd have a better life. If he would clean up after himself, you wouldn't have so much work to do. No one around here appreciates you. The lies escalate the battles. We spiral quickly into feelings of self-pity and anger. Instead we can learn to recognize those lies and refocus on Truth—God's Truth. We can go to His Word and read what He has to say about the people we love and the position we are in. Psalm 26:2-3 says, "Test me, O Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind, for your love is ever before me, and I walk continually in your truth."

Taking each thought captive: 2 Corinthians 10:5b tells us that we are to "take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." There are two action verbs in this statement: take and make. These are strong words that indicate effort. It's not something we can sit back and hope will happen. It's something we have to be intentional and insistent about. When our thoughts start wandering down those dangerous "if only" paths, we can instead find a fork in the road and change direction, remembering who Christ is and how He lived His life on earth—as a loving, humble servant.

Being silent: I have often regretted my speech. In the heat of battles, I've found it is almost always better to walk away and pray. If I feel I have been wronged then I need to ask my Father to defend me. If I feel that battle still waging inside me then I know it's time to ask Him to quiet my heart. Being silent is hard work! But I know that my silence is not as likely as my angry words to hurt the people I care about. Proverbs 17:28 says, "Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue."

When the battles rage within us, we can change the results and stop the arguments that ensue. It's up to us to pause and choose a different reaction. I hope these things will help us today as we rise to the challenge!

Dear Lord, please help me to remember to pray, to walk in truth, to take each thought captive and to be silent. Help me honor You when the battles rage inside me. I don't want to fight with the people I love and I need You to help me with that. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Do You Know Him?

30 Days to Taming Your Tongue and accompanying Workbook by Deborah Smith Pegues

The Reason We Speak General Editor Marybeth Whalen

Visit Marybeth’s blog – Cheaper by the Half Dozen

Application Steps:
In your journal, write down the four things you can do when you feel those battles raging inside you. Spend time praying and thinking about how you will do these things instead of being angry.

Think about the last argument you had. What battle was raging within you when it happened?
What would have changed if you had done the things listed in today's devotion?

Power Verses:
I Peter 2:11, "Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul." (NIV)

Galatians 5:16, "So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature." (NIV)

© 2009 by Marybeth Whalen. All rights reserved.

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Communing Over Chaos
Whitney Capps

"Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me." John 15:4 (NIV)

I am out-going and chatty. I like to make fun of myself. I love to laugh. I enjoy being with people – until I don't. You see, at heart I am an introvert. At some point I can sense my energy waning. I begin to crave quiet, silence and solitude.

This is why I cherish quiet time with the Lord. I love the stillness of sitting and reading the Word or a book that turns my heart toward Jesus. My husband knows that one way to fill my love tank is to give me an evening of going out to dinner alone: just me, Jesus and a good book. (All you extroverts just cringed at the thought of eating alone didn't you?) Don't get me wrong, I adore my family, but I need mental white space.

However, with three kids under age four, quiet time with the Lord is an endangered species. I don't often get to go the bathroom by myself. If the water closet isn't a quiet place, you can imagine the chaos that follows me to my prayer closet.

For a few months after our youngest was born I lived in a spiritual desert. My soul was parched. I was desperate for quiet time with Jesus and prayed earnestly for God to help me find time to be alone with Him. Faithfully, He always provided, but often my tired and flesh-wrapped spirit dozed off in prayer or got distracted by other things.

I couldn't consistently make it work. After several months of mostly failed attempts, I cried out to God, "I don't know how to be alone with You!"

"Daughter, you don't have to be alone with Me. Just be with Me. Remain in Me, and I will remain in you."

Rather than give up on being with Jesus because it's not like it used to be, my Savior is asking me to abide with Him all day. God has ordained this season of my life and He knows even better than I do how much my children demand of me. In the clamor of the sword fights and confusion in the playroom, He is my hiding place.

I am learning to seize each moment, and see it as an opportunity to fellowship with Jesus. While my kids recite "God is great; God is good," I have a chat with Jesus. When I feel alienated from girlfriends, I read a magazine article. P31 Woman and Today's Christian Woman magazines are spiritual lifeboats for me in this season. While my kids do art at the kitchen table, I read a psalm or two. Whenever possible I try to have praise music playing in our house. Sometimes singing those lyrics is the closest my heart may come to meaningful prayer time all day.

Please hear me. I am not suggesting that these brief moments should replace consistent, focused times of prayer and Bible study. Those habits are hallmarks of Christian discipleship and growth. I am learning, however, to rethink my ideas on fellowship with Jesus. In this season of my life it's not so much the quantity of quiet reflection as it is the steady communing over chaos. But hey, at least we are together!

Father, Your daughter longs to be with You. Remind me of Your constant presence. May I seize opportunities to enjoy You throughout my day. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Join us for more Everyday Life encouragement

Real Moms...Real Jesus: Meet the Friend Who Understands by Jill Savage

P31 Woman magazine

Whitney’s blog – Speak When Spoken Through

Application Steps:
Look for ways in your day to carve out time alone with God. Examine first how you spend your free time.

Is it possible that activities like television watching or surfing the internet should be cut back or eliminated to make time for Jesus?

Study John 15. Assign times of your day where you can practice abiding with Christ.

Power Verses:
John 15:7-8, "If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples." (NIV)

© 2009 by Whitney Capps. All rights reserved.

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Serving Rolls and Switching Roles
Karen Ehman

"Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?" James 2:15-16 (NIV)

"Mommy….look at her eat that turkey and mashed potatoes! She must be sooooo hungry!" my then four-year-old daughter Mackenzie whispered in my ear. Her eyes were riveted on a beautiful, chubby-fingered toddler. The child's coiled chestnut hair nearly cascaded into her plate as she leaned forward and eagerly consumed her holiday meal, complete with all the trimmings.

On Thanksgiving Day that year, my husband and I opted to skip the normal extended-family holiday feast and instead signed up to serve at a soup kitchen in the heart of the inner city. We took our preschool daughter along. Since then, all three of our children have had several opportunities to don an apron and serve mothers and fathers; children and grandparents; precious people who normally don't enjoy a well-rounded, home-cooked and piping-hot meal.

We often choose to serve a noontime meal at the soup kitchen while we skip breakfast ourselves that morning. As a result, our stomachs growl and our mouths water as we pass out the relishes, serve the rolls, or scoop the sweet potato casserole. After serving we discuss how, in a very small sense, we are switching places with the people we are ministering to that day. We get a tiny glimpse of their hungry plight.

Many of them live at poverty level. Some are homeless. For them, the noontime meal at the soup kitchen is the only hot nourishment they receive each day. They are accustomed to going hungry while watching well-fed others around them.

Our family has experienced financial struggle, to a much lesser degree, over the past year. My husband was laid off last Christmas Eve and spent over 9 months waiting to get called back to work. During this budget-tightening time, our children learned to go without; to see others acquire what we could not afford. To make ends meet, we ate more simply at home, and cut out restaurant trips. We bought only the clothing necessities on sale at deep discounts or at a resale shop. We learned what it was like to live at an economic level that was less than what we were used to.

And God was faithful. Many dear friends helped to lighten our load by giving us food, gift cards, and gas vouchers. They helped to smooth the rough bumps in our financial load.

So often, as in today's key verse, it is easy to talk the talk, yet utterly fail to walk the walk. What good is it to say, "I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but do nothing about another's physical needs? What is the point of declaring, "God bless so-and-so" in our prayers, yet never lifting a finger to bless "so-and-so" ourselves?

Let's vow together to put feet to our prayers; to love on people in tangible ways. Let's commit to step out of our comfort zones and help others enjoy the necessities and pleasures we often take for granted. Even during our own financially difficulties, we can volunteer our time or offer someone a needed hug.

This holiday season, let's try switching roles and serving rolls. I'm convinced if we do, we'll experience the immense privilege of being Jesus to a hurting soul.

Dear Lord, help me to not just say I care about others. Give me an opportunity to physically love and serve them, giving credit only to You. It is an honor to be Your hands and feet. I am ready. I am willing. I want to love and serve like You. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Do You Know Him?

A Life that Says Welcome by Karen Ehman

Homespun Memories for the Heart by Karen Ehman

To discover more ideas for blessing others during the holidays and to be entered in a Thanksgiving giveaway, visit Karen’s blog

Application Steps:
Put your creative cap on and do a little brainstorming. What are some tangible ways you and your family could reach out to those affected by our current sluggish economy during the upcoming holiday season? List three or four ideas and purpose to enact one.

Who are some friends you could include in such a "blessing adventure?" Think of others you could invite to serve those struggling financially at this time of year. Make a few phone calls or meet for coffee to plan your strategy.

How might you introduce others to Jesus as you serve at this time of year?

Power Verses:
James 1:27, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." (NIV)

Matthew 25:43-45, "'I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.' They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'" (NIV) © 2009 by Karen Ehman. All rights reserved.

© 2009 by Karen Ehman. All rights reserved.

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