A friend asked me to tell her, in one sentence, what God has been saying to me recently. The question caught me off guard because He’s been saying so much on so many different topics that, for a moment, I had to think. How to put it in one sentence?
Then I saw it. Other than the times He’s come to encourage me and help me through something, or to answer one of my myriad random questions, everything He’s said has ultimately been about me getting ready – ready to be used.
I’m not talking about being used as a speaker or writer, both of which I’ve done before and loved. I’m talking about being used every single day of my life.
I’m to stick close to Him, constantly listening for the Spirit’s whispered, “There. He needs help,” or, “Stop. She’s crying out for someone to listen.”
I’m to be prepared and able. For those two nudges, anyone could respond, but He’s calling me to more. I’m to truly grasp who and what He is in me and who and what I am in Him, to understand the authority I have as a believer when it comes to dealing with demonic activity.
I am to have His Word firmly planted in my heart, ready to be brought out and used as the Sword of the Spirit that it is. There are two important things about a sword. You cannot use it if you don’t have it (I’m talking memorization, not just carrying a Bible) and you can’t use it if you don’t know how to use it.
I’m to stay on the offensive. This is something that’s been churning in me for a while, that as a Christian I’ve been living my spiritual warfare life on the defensive. No military leader wants to fight battles defensively. He knows the best chance of winning any battle is to stay on the offensive.
I am to live thankfully trusting, because this is where peace lies, and peace – His peace – is one of the most vital elements of all.
I am to love with compassion. I am to love like never before, being intentional about expressing the love of God to the people He puts in my path – whoever they are.
So, almost everything He’s been saying recently falls into one of these categories. Really, there’s nothing new here. But that’s the point, isn’t it? We never know what’s coming, but He does, and He wants us ready to face it head on.
I read a book in December, a seemingly simple Christmas novel, that convicted me as much as anything ever has outside the Bible. In it, a woman experiences being ignored in her public agony, and it changes her forever.
Without going into the book’s details, let me just say that everything centers around a few words she writes, a prayer. I have it on my wall, and I’ve prayed it many times since finishing the book.
Give me eyes to see what isn’t shown,
Ears to hear what isn’t said,
Hands to do what You want,
And the courage to not walk away.
This prayer has helped me as I’ve tried to be more sensitive to those around me in the past few weeks. I’ve never been the most observant person, taking the pictures people present at face value most of the time, but I’m trying to really watch and listen, especially for that still, small voice.
And then, today, I was tested. I was in the fast food drive through and saw a man who had fallen and was trying to get up. I didn’t want to get out of line and go help him, hoped the line would hurry and I could just swing back by after getting my food to make sure he’d managed it. After all, I was a woman, and alone, and…
Hey, I’m just being transparent here. The first time I heard God whisper, “and the courage to not walk away,” I ignored Him. (Yes! I know!) I kept my eyes on the man through hearing those words yet again – as the line didn’t move an inch. And then, after watching him almost get up only to fall back down, I got out of line.
I knew going in that he was most likely drunk. I knew when he spoke that he surely was. Still, I kept hearing “and the courage to not walk away.” I called another man over and together we helped him stand. I picked up his dropped bag to hand it over and knew exactly what I was smelling on his breath.
We got him up and helped him brace himself. The other man left after getting assurances that he didn’t want us to call 911. I stayed, because I knew it wasn’t over.
I didn’t do any great thing. I let him talk. I listened. I prayed for him. I didn’t offer to buy him a meal or take him anywhere. I just… I just acknowledged his humanity and the fact that even if you’re homeless you are worthy of being treated as a human being.
I got back in my car, went to order (no line-imagine that) and headed home nearly in tears, shame-filled tears. Only weeks ago, I’d have just prayed a quick, “Send him help” prayer and then shut my ears in case I was the help God wanted to send. Even today, I almost didn’t have the courage to not walk away.
And that knowledge hurts.
I’m going to keep praying that prayer, asking God to help me become more like Him. I hope that if I pass by you and you are hurting I have the courage to stop and at least listen. If I fail, please forgive me, and pray with me that I do have the courage next time.
I am being careful what I pray for, because it’s what I want.
The novel is A Cinderella Christmas, by Amanda Tru
Most of us have heard the story of the three Hebrew boys and how they were thrown into a fiery furnace after refusing to bow to the idol. (Daniel 3) We read about their obedience to God, being thrown in, the guards dying from the heat, the king seeing them and the fourth man walking around, and them walking out of the fire not even smelling of smoke. But let’s pause for a moment. What about while they were inside? What happened…from their perspective?
The first thing they would have noticed, beyond the fact that they were still alive, was that the very fire intended to destroy them had, instead, burned away their bonds. They were thrown into the fire held captive and bound, but were likely loosed before they even hit the floor. Yes, they were still in the fire, but they could stand up, may have even playfully pulled each other up, and they could walk around as they liked. In truth, they were more free than they had been for a while.
Many times in our lives, we find ourselves anticipating potential outcomes with dread, perhaps with such a fear that it binds us, holding us captive and keeping us from moving forward. Statistics say that what we fear almost never even happens. Think about that. How much time do we waste letting the fear of something that will NEVER HAPPEN hold us captive to the point that we can’t even move?
But the thing is that, once we’re thrown into the fire, that fear is burned away. The worst has already happened and, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we can look up from the floor of the furnace and realize, “Hey! I’m still here! I survived!”
I can imagine their surprised joy in that moment. They had dared declare God’s power to the king, assuring him that the One they served was more than able to deliver them. And He had. You know that special laughter that comes with joy? I can almost hear it. I can also see them turning to look through the flames, out the door, at the outside. Perhaps in the midst of their astonishment they wondered what they should do next. And then, just maybe, from behind them…
They heard a chuckle. Can you see them whipping around in even more shock and amaze? The king said the fourth man in the fire looked like the son of God. Presumably, he was right. They wouldn’t have known Him as “Jesus,” but their hearts would surely have recognized Him.
Now their backs are to the exit, the fire that surrounds them is pretty much forgotten, and their eyes are firmly focused on their first ever glimpse of the One they’ve offered their lives for. Though they have no way of knowing it, everything – literally everything – has changed.
What words would Jesus have spoken to them? Did they ask all of the questions that had burned in their hearts for years? Did He… I can’t really even begin to propose what He might have said. We do know this, though. They spent some time in there.
We don’t know how much time, but it was enough that the king eventually realized what he was seeing, pointed it out to his companions, and called out for the three to come out. Given the raging fire, and how loud it would have been, it seems to me that either the fire was allowed time to burn down or Jesus told them, “Hey guys, the king is calling.”
Regardless, stepping back inside with the kids… While I was homeschooling, I wrote an essay entitled “The View from Inside the Furnace,” and at this point I suggested that they, instead of being in the worst time of their lives (what it looked like) were actually on the field trip of a lifetime.
As they walk around, I imagine Jesus explaining exactly how this furnace works, how it is used to harness the destructive nature of fire and cause it to change things, transforming soft clay into usable, even valuable, vessels. Then I imagine Jesus sharing a few secrets about how He is going to use their time in the fire to do far more, not only to change them, making them more useful and valuable, but also change the world. I imagine…quite a lot, actually.
Can you see the disappointment on their faces when either they finally hear the king calling or Jesus announces that their visit is over? The very thing that was at one time the ultimate threat has now become a refuge, a place they’ve been seeking their whole lives – a secret place where it is just them and Him. In all honesty, if it were me I’d have been like a child begging for “just one more story.”
Actually, I have been. I wrote the essay I referred to earlier during one of the hardest times of my life. I intended it for friends who were worried about me, and with good reason. In the midst of the fire I learned things I could never have learned anywhere else, and I developed an intimacy with God that I had never known. As I shared with God in prayer at the time, I would never wish that fire on my worst enemy, but I desperately desired to take the intimacy with me when I walked back out of the flames.
Those three boys had to feel the same way, but for them I think it almost had to be a harder walk to take, because Jesus came out of that furnace with me, staying always by my side, and they had to leave the fourth man behind, knowing they would likely never see Him face-to-face again.
And, as I imagine Jesus promising, their world changed – and not just for them. Yes, they were promoted and given all honor, but even more importantly God was promoted, and the king himself ordered that He be worshipped. Yes, our God was merely added to the list of gods they already worshipped, but it was a beginning.
So I leave us (Yep, this is a reminder for me.) with this. Serve God with all your heart and don’t fear the fire. Jeremiah 29:11 assures us that He has great plans for us, and Romans 8:28 promises that He can cause all things to work together for our good. Even a walk in a fire-filled furnace, though terrifying to face, can be an amazing experience that prepares us for an astounding future.
I’ve been using the YouVersion Bible app for years, and I love it. When I first discovered it, I primarily appreciated the fact that I could have access to multiple Bible translations on my phone. After a friend invited me to do a devotion with her, however, my life changed.
Once you’ve downloaded and set up (easy) the YouVersion app on your phone, you have multiple options. If you look at the graphic above, you’ll see the little house highlighted at the bottom of the screen. This Home screen gives me a snapshot of my YouVersion life.
Select Read, and you’ll pop straight into the Bible. Here you can choose from various translations, some of which you can download, some you can have the app read aloud. As you read, you can highlight, make notes, and more. Depending on how you set your preferences, your friends can also see your highlights and notes. Yes, you have friends here!
Plans is where the real fun begins. You can see that I’m working my way through 2 plans right now, both of which are around 7 days. God alone knows how many plans are available, but I can almost guarantee that you can find a plan (or several) on whatever topic you’re interested in. The plan length varies greatly, from three days being the shortest I’ve done to…well, I know you can read the Bible through in a year, so 365 days for sure. You don’t have to limit yourself to one a day, however. You can blow through any devotional just as fast or as slow as you like.
And you can do it with friends too!
So when you start a devotion, you decide if you want to do it alone or with friends (You invite whomever you choose), and whether or not you want your activity to be public. When you start the plan, you’ll read, watch, or listen to a devotion; then read its accompanying verses. Finally, if you’re reading with friends, you have an option of making comments and carrying on conversations. This can be a very enriching experience!
The app has a lot more that I don’t even get into – like Verse of the Day and being able to make your own verse graphics. It is, indeed, quite amazing and a marvelous tool for me in my determination to be consistently engaging with God’s Word.
Consistency doesn’t just happen; it requires deliberation, conscious action, forethought, planning… and the greater the number of areas that require work, the more your plan demands just the right tool. For me, for 2020, it appears that The Christian Planner is that tool.
I love planners and have used a wide variety of styles through the years. I have one that works great for the office, but this is the first I’ve found that seems to genuinely provide for every area of my personal life. Of course, since it does, there’s a lot to it. Are you ready?
Before I jump in, let me point out that planners are tools, not taskmasters. I’ve seen people look at this planner and be instantly overwhelmed, fearing they will use it improperly. You can’t. At least, I can’t imagine how you could. Since this will be a long review anyway, I’ll share some of how I’m currently using mine, but know that the way I use it will almost surely change as we move through time. That’s the beauty of it; as a tool, it has to do what I tell it to.
Open the (very nice) box and you discover a leather-like, hardcover book. Mine is purple, and it’s a little over 7” by 10” by 1” thick. Because of its size, some opt to keep it at home on their desks. I’m currently carrying it with me everywhere, having decided that my immediate future will be filled with larger purses.
An elastic strap holds it closed. Open the cover and one of the first pages you’ll see is the welcome page. It provides excellent suggestions for how to use the planner, but remember that this planner is all about what works for you.
The next two-page spread is your vision board, which also includes a small area for your “2020,” “Next 5 Years,” and “Lifetime” Bucket Lists. Don’t let the Vision Board intimidate you. Roughly, it’s a place for you to record your vision for the coming year – your goals, your dreams, etc. In my case, it’s super simple and non-traditional. God told me that my word for the year is “Consistency,” so that word alone takes up nearly half the space. The other half is a reminder of specific things I’m working on as I grow in Him. I’ve hardly even touched the Bucket List.
Flip another page and you find two charts, which I’m only just beginning to fill in. These are your Healthy Habit Goals, things you plan to focus on “Daily/Often,” “1-3 Times a Week,” “1-3 Times a Month,” and “1-3 Times a Year,” as well as your “2020 Goals.” Habakkuk told us to record the vision…or was it God who told him? Regardless, you are more likely to accomplish a goal when you record it and keep it in front of you. So, here they are.
2020 and 2021 Yearly Calendars, with holidays listed, are on the next two-page spread, and then you get to your two-page January 2020 calendar. The calendar set-up is pretty basic, but I like it. The week starts on Sunday, and there’s a column to the left of the calendar. A lot of people decorate this column, which is great, but I use it for my monthly To-Do list and clarification of calendar notes. Also on this page, you have areas set aside for…
Reflection: What blessings came into my life last month? What accomplishments am I proud of?
Action: How can I demonstrate my love for God and for others this month?
For January, my action includes a poem I read recently that particularly convicted me, and encourages me to stay open and sensitive to the needs of those around me.
Still with me? It’s about to get GOOD! Everything from here until the back of the book is repeated for every week of the year.
Next is two of my favorite pages: The Weekly Devotional Pages
The area on the left is reserved for Sermon Notes. Some people take their notes in church and then copy them over. I take my notes right there on the page. Also, since we have a midweek service. I drew a line down the center of this page so that I have two columns—one for each service’s notes.
This is one of my favorite features because, in the past, I’ve often forgotten all about the service within just a couple of days. I’ve years’ worth of sermon notebooks scattered all over, but this actually puts the notes in my hand and keeps them there all year. It gives me an open opportunity to go back over those notes repeatedly in coming week and months. It was, in truth, this that drew me to this planner.
Reflection and Action also appear here, but in reference to the past and coming week, specifically. You also have an area that is labeled “Bible Study Notes * Sketch * Prepare.” This is another area in which I deviate from the expected. One of my “consistency” goals is to write more. That being the case, my current plan calls for me using this area to write blog posts and whatever else comes to mind that week. The consistency goal, of course, is for it to never be left blank.
Now the weekly pages. Each one-week, two-pages spread consists of eight columns, the first of which many people decorate, but as is true with the monthly calendar, I use it for my To Do List. My appointments are all on the monthly calendar, and I see no need to duplicate them here. Instead, I use this as a daily record. I may record accomplishments, details of important phone calls, comments made by friends, things God spoke to me that day…whatever strikes me as being appropriate.
At the bottom of these two pages, are “My Space,” which is there for you to use in any way you choose, and the “Daily Healthy Habit Tracker.” This second one is cool. If you like checking off To Do lists as much as I do, you’ll use this. There is space to record nine different habits that you want to establish or reinforce in your life, and there are delightful little checkboxes for every day of the week under each. I’m three days into the week, and I’m already seeing clearly where I’ve made progress…and where I haven’t. You label these as you wish, and can change them every week if you like. I like.
Behind the calendars, the book ends with a dozen or so blank pages. At first, I thought I wouldn’t be using these, but after I discovered the Christian Planner Family group on Facebook, and saw how others were using their pages, I started filling them up.
To give you ideas…
Currently, I have a two-page spread showing all of the books of the Bible broken down into chapters. I highlight each chapter as I read it. Considering how often you read a chapter here and a chapter there, use this chart and you may discover that you actually read more of the Bible than you thought.
I covered the next two pages with scrapbook paper to make them stand out a little more. Here I keep post-it notes with prayer requests that I’m currently focusing on. One of my “consistency” items is to be more focused about interceding on behalf of others; that’s where this part of the tool comes into play.
A hand-drawn bookcase follows. As I read non-Bible books through the year, I will record their titles on the book spines in this drawing. I left the facing page blank just in case I end up reading more than I currently anticipate.
A budget spreadsheet takes up the following two pages. Yes, with such personal stuff in it I’ll be guarding this book, but I think I might finally have found a way to handle my budget that actually works for me. We shall see.
And there you are, having glimpsed one of the tools I hope will help me make the changes I want to see in me in 2020. If you’re interested in learning more, head over to The Christian Planner Family group on Facebook. It’s a wonderful community filled with Christians who support, encourage, educate, and in general focus on loving the brethren. Because it’s the group for this publisher, the focus is this planner, but you definitely don’t have to use the planner to benefit from the group.
So, you can probably expect me to have quite a few Consistency-related posts this year. At least, if I can become a more consistent blogger you will. Not surprisingly, since God is my highest priority, I intend to put more of an emphasis on His Word this year than I ever have before. One of the tools I’m using is the Through the Word Bible app. I learned about it while doing their study of Luke in the YouVersion Bible App (review to follow) before Christmas, and I’m hooked.
The concept is simple. They’ve put together teachings on every single chapter in the Bible. You can walk through the Bible one book at a time, which would be awesome, or you can browse their topical options. I’m currently going through their End Times collection, which uses chapters from Daniel, Thessalonians, Jude, and Revelation, and I can’t limit myself to one session a day. The things I’m learning are fascinating and valuable!
Anyway, it’s really that easy. Download the “Through the Word” app, register, and then take time to do their introductory session. While you might want to dive right in, it is best to start here. However, if you’re too ready to run forward, just go to Browse, select the series that interests you, and tell it to start playing.
Every December, I assess the year I’ve just lived – not what’s happened to me, but how I’ve lived it. This year was a mixed bag. In some areas I’ve grown, thank God. In others, not so much.
So now I look to 2020, and what needs to change. The big word is consistency. I need to be more consistent in so many areas of my life that it’s daunting, but as I recently learned from a YouTuber I watch, “Consistency is what stands between you and success.”
So here goes. I’m stepping out into consistency with determination and hope. 2020, let’s do this.