I think a lot of times pastors, leaders, and others in ministry feel like we should keep our real feelings to ourselves. We are supposed to be “tough” at all times, or at least put on the appearance of being tough. Don’t ever let anyone know you are going through something or know that you are struggling. We are supposed to present a strong example for others to follow.
But, if we do that, I don’t think we are being honest. I believe in being transparent. I’ve never once hoped anyone would believe that I am superhuman. There’s no such thing because the root word “human” exposes it all. Anytime a human is involved, the trials of life are going to be present. And as long as the enemy of our souls can bring trials to God’s people, you better believe he will.
Last week was a terrible week for me. I felt like I had been plunged to the bottom of a pit, and covered with a thick layer of mud. I couldn’t figure out why. I just suddenly felt like I couldn’t preach. I felt like my anointing had flown out the window, (if I had ever been chosen and anointed in the first place). I felt like I had missed the mark entirely. I felt absolutely defeated. It hit me suddenly, and without warning. I just woke up one morning and felt like an absolute failure.
On top of that, from the moment I signed the contract for the publishing of my second book, my right hand went numb. It’s hard to write a book with a numb arm and hand. I had prayed, and had everyone else to pray for my healing, and still nothing had changed. Was God even listening to me anymore? Every day I felt as if I was sinking deeper.
I quoted Scriptures that I knew I would share with anyone else going through the same thing, but the darkness just seemed to close in around me. I woke up Friday morning after a very restless night, and on top of everything else, I was supposed to go minister at the jail that day. I was thinking, “I’ve got nothing for them! I can’t even encourage myself, how can I minister to anyone else?!”
Though I didn’t want to go, I made myself do it. I complained the whole 45 minute drive to the jail. I’m sure God was sick of hearing me whine and complain, but I felt so defeated I just couldn’t hold it back. I went into the jail and we began to sing the worship songs I had chosen for us. I still felt like I had nothing to give these ladies. After we sang the last song, one of the ladies asked if we could sing the song we sang last week.
She said, “It talks about what God says about us.” I knew she was talking about the song “You Say,” by Lauren Daigle. I went to the computer and pulled it up, and we began to sing along. These are the lyrics:
"I keep fighting voices in my mind that say I’m not enough
Every single lie that tells me I will never measure up
Am I more than just the sum of every high and every low?
Remind me once again just who I am, because I need to know
You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
You say I am held when I am falling short
When I don’t belong, oh You say I am Yours
And I believe, oh I believe
What You say of me
The only thing that matters now is everything You think of me
In You I find my worth, in You I find my identity
Taking all I have and now I'm laying it at Your feet
You have every failure God, and You'll have every victory
You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
You say I am held when I am falling short
When I don’t belong, oh You say I am Yours
And I believe, oh I believe
What You say of me
As we sang those words, I lost it. Hot tears filled my eyes as I began to think of how I had stopped listening and believing what God says about me. I had let the enemy replace what I knew to be true, with his lies. All because a few things didn’t go as planned. Someone had attacked me as a person and minister, and really hurt my feelings. I was struggling with writing my second book with a deadline quickly approaching. I had been so busy running here and there, and trying to fit in everything I could because I didn’t want to let anyone down. I was just overwhelmed and exhausted, and I didn’t want to get out of bed.
So, what had I done? I pushed away the words of the one who really loves me—Jesus. I didn’t allow His words about me to penetrate the darkness. I dwelled on the image the enemy wanted me to see of myself. But, guess what? As I began to sing those words in worship to Jesus, the blinders fell to the floor. The sun shone into that windowless jail room, and His presence flooded in like a reckless raging river.
When we finished singing, I told the ladies my message was about feeling defeated. Through tears, I told them about my week, and how horrible I had felt. Before long, ALL of us were crying. I asked them to raise their hand if they felt defeated. Almost every hand went up. As we continued to talk about how the enemy wants to keep us defeated through life’s trials, and his crafty lies we all started to feel better—myself included! The Holy Spirit began to just pour words into me, that freely fell from my lips almost without thought. I felt His anointing more powerfully than I had in a LONG time.
We all began to declare that we are VICTORIOUS through the blood of Jesus Christ, and God moved in a powerful way. We had CHURCH. When I asked who was ready to accept Christ as her Savior, every hand went up. Even those who had already repented. We prayed and celebrated. One of the ladies asked if we could sing, “I went to the enemy’s camp and took back what he stole from me.” I didn’t have the music, so we all sang it acapella! It was so powerful.
Do you know what happened? Every single one of us went to the enemy’s camp and took back the joy he had stolen from us. We stomped the floor and let Satan know he is under our feet! One lady sang “Mercy Seat” acapella, and it was so anointed we all had goosebumps. Then they all asked if we could sing “Victory in Jesus!” It was one of the most beautiful services I have ever experienced.
When I left, I thanked God for giving me a glimpse of what their desperation and defeat felt like. Maybe that is why I had such a terrible week, I don’t know. What I do know is that when we choose to believe what God says about us, and refuse to listen to the lies of the enemy; we cannot be defeated. We are over-comers through Jesus Christ! Those ladies may be behind bars, but they are more free than many sitting on church pews. If you are feeling defeated today, lift up your face and look toward heaven. Jesus loves you. You cannot be defeated!
Photo by Matteo Vistocco at Unsplash
Compassion In Action
The past few weeks have been extremely busy, and yesterday was no exception. All of the running around, meeting deadlines, meeting people, and just going, going, going nonstop seems to have just conditioned me to be in continual state of rushing. To be honest, it has been really tiring, and to be really honest I can get a little short fused when I feel like I’m always in a frenzied rush.
Yesterday, I had to stop at a store to pick up another case of bottled water for something I’m working on. They were out of 24 packs, so I had to get the 36 pack of bottled water. I was trying desperately to maneuver through the aisles toward the register, so I could check out and hopefully not drop them. I should have just gotten a cart when I came in the store, but remember—I was in a rush.
I underestimated how heavy a 36 pack of bottled water could be apparently, but I soon found out. When I finally got to the register there was an elderly man in line in front of me. At this point, I thought for sure my arm was going to completely come unattached and fall to the floor with all the water bottles. He only had a couple of items, so I was grateful.
But, as he ever so slowly took his money from his wallet and continued to move at a snails pace, I became more and more impatient. Any minute these 36 bottles of water were going to be rolling in 36 different directions when I dropped this pack. I was thinking, “Please, just hurry up and move!”
The lady at the register told the elderly gentleman to have a good day. Then—under his breath—I heard the gentleman say, “I never have a good day anymore.” Immediately, my impatience turned to shame. What could be more heartbreaking than never having a good day?
I got a really good look at him as he turned and walked toward the door. Now I was in a bigger rush than I had been before! I wanted to talk to that man. I wanted to pay for this water and run it out to my vehicle as fast as possible so I could flag down this sad looking gentleman.
I prayed, “Lord, please don’t let him get away before I can get out of here.”
I moved as quickly as I could to my car and threw the bottled water inside. Then I turned to see where the gentleman had gone. He was just starting to back out of his parking space to leave, so I ran toward him waving. I guess he thought I was just being really friendly because he waved back at me.
I kept running toward him motioning for him to stop. He finally stopped, and I approached him. I was overwhelmed by the sadness in his eyes, and I felt so guilty for being in such a hurry inside the store that I didn’t take the time to notice that before.
I put my hand on his shoulder and said, “Sir, I couldn’t help but overhear what you said inside the store. You said, you never have a good day anymore. So, I was wondering if I could pray for you?” He said, “Well, sure I guess.” He turned his truck off right there in the middle of the parking lot. He looked at me and said, “Twenty years ago I broke my left leg. It was all messed up! It’s never been right since then. It gives me trouble everyday. I can’t remember the last good day I’ve had.”
Somehow I sensed he wasn’t just talking about his leg injury. I felt a deep sadness that just seemed to emanate from every pore of his being. I looked into his eyes and said, “Sir, can I ask you a question?” He nodded, and I continued, “Do you know Jesus as your Savior?
He looked at me and replied, “Yes ma’am I do.”
I said, “That is great. I’m so glad to hear that. Now let’s pray for that leg of yours.”
As I began to pray for him, I prayed that God would restore the joy of his salvation, and that his leg would be healed in the Name of Jesus. I prayed that he would have many, many, many good days, and even more great days, and that He would know that he never faced a single day alone because Jesus was with him! Honestly, I don’t remember what else I prayed, but when I opened my eyes there were tears in his big blue eyes.
It wasn’t tears of sadness this time. I no longer felt that sense of hopelessness that had been so prevalent earlier. He looked at me and speaking through tears muttered, “Thank you ma’am.” He then started his truck and drove away.
We live in a society that is so fast paced. The enemy of our souls would love to have us so consumed with our daily activities that we never even look into the eyes of another person. Many times—I myself— have found myself trying not to make eye contact with those around me, so that I can speed through my tasks and keep moving.
We all like to think of ourselves as compassionate people. But, what if we took the time to put compassion into action? It’s great to have compassion for others, but it’s even greater to act upon it when we know the Holy Spirit is prompting us. I pray that God will continue to slow me down and open my eyes to those who are hurting around me.
Let’s try to do this together! Ask God to lead you to someone who needs prayer, or needs to be encouraged or uplifted this week. Then share your stories with me! I want to hear them.
One final note! This past week my blog was named #24 in Feedspot's Top 40 Evangelical Blogs. Thank you for reading, and sharing my blog posts with others. It's you--my readers--that helped me accomplish this!
Blessings, Donna Sparks
I am a sentimental person. I cherish memories from years gone by. I look back at pictures of my children when they were just tiny babies, and I’m usually smiling and biting back tears at the same time. How did they grow up so fast? Where did the time go? It breaks my heart to know that I will never hold them in my arms as infants or toddlers again, but I smile because of the beautiful young women they have become today. It’s definitely bittersweet.
Many of us reflect on days gone by with warm hearts longing for sweet family members who have since passed on. We look back longingly on days from our youth when we felt like we could take on the world, and our only care in the world was how high we could swing before the swing set legs began to lift off the ground. There are many reasons to look back at sweet memories, and cherish those precious moments.
But, there are some things that just need to be left in the past. If we spend too much time in the past, it can not only be discouraging, but it can hinder our future. That’s especially true when it comes to our spiritual lives. I can look back at times when I wasn’t a Christian, and if I dwell on those mistakes from my past, I can start to re-live the guilt and shame. If I spend too much time looking back, I can be so consumed with the past that I fail to see what God is trying to do with my future.
I think we can all be hindered to an extent if we are not willing to plunge forward without looking back. I don’t enjoy sharing many parts of my testimony because I despise the sins of my past. But, I choose to share the story because it demonstrates God’s mercy and grace in my life, and what He can do in the lives of others. I certainly don’t look back longingly to my past life and all my failures. I choose to look ahead to all the adventures with Christ I have not yet experienced.
There are examples in the Bible about not looking back. If we look at Genesis 19, we can see a very specific case where looking back rendered a disastrous outcome. When the angels of the Lord came to rescue Lot and his family from the destruction that would soon come upon Sodom and Gomorrah because of God's punishment for their sin; the angels told Lot and his family to not look back.
Genesis 19:15-17 & 26 NIV
5 With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.”
16 When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them. 17 As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!”26 But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.
When I first studied this passage, I began to think about what a harsh punishment that would be for just looking back at a city. I would hate to be turned into a pillar of salt! But, as I continued to study the passage I realized, first of all, Lot’s wife disobeyed. She was told not to look back, but she did so willingly. I still don’t believe God’s punishment was based entirely upon her just looking back at the city, but I feel that it was the way she looked back. I think she must have looked back longingly at the city.
Though we know that Sodom and Gomorrah was overcome with sin and evil, I wonder if Lot’s wife looked back thinking of the home where she raised her children? Or, maybe she longed for the comfort of being in a place where she was comfortable and familiar with everyone around her. Leaving would mean starting all over in a brand new area, building a new home, and making new friends and new memories. I’m sure she didn’t long for the sin of the city, but she had grown comfortable there.
Ouch! This is where it starts to hit home. Do we find ourselves looking back at our old sinful lifestyles because of what we hate to leave behind? Do we hate to leave behind friends who are bad influences in our lives? Do we hate to leave the comfort of the familiar? When we come to Christ and surrender our lives to Him, the old man is gone. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says we become a brand new creation. If we put the brand new, clean creation back into the same old sinful environment we will continue to be comfortable with sin.
If we are going to move into the future God has for us, we have to take hold of His hand and follow His leading. Don’t look back at what the enemy would tell you, you are missing out on. If the enemy of our souls can get us to look longingly back to our sinful past, or sinful influences from our past, he has accomplished his goal. He wants us to miss all that God has for us. He wants us to become immobile like Lot’s wife. We are as useless as a pillar of salt if we are stuck in the past.
If we continue to look back, we will never realize the power and anointing God has for us in our present or future. There’s nothing in my past I would ever trade for what God has given me, or done in me. Nothing can compare to all the wonderful things He has done and is doing. God has so much more to offer you than this world could ever give. Joy, lasting peace, and eternal life with Jesus is worth more than anything your past could ever offer you. Press forward, and leave your past behind. You don't belong there anymore. You are a new creation, and God wants to use you in miraculous ways. Don't Look Back!
When I was attending the Christian Book Association Conference in Nashville a few weeks ago, I had an experience that inspired the direction for this blog. The conference was held in the Gaylord Opryland Resort. It was quite crowded on the main conference floors, but up in the media areas of the hotel, it was pretty quiet. In fact, it seemed that I was the only one there!
I was scheduled for an interview with Donna Feyen from “More Than A Review.” I was a little early, so I was taking my time and walking at a leisurely pace. I happened to notice a man softly playing the grand piano at the far end of the media mezzanine. As I got closer I decided to pause and listen for a little while. He played so beautifully, and I kept my distance not wanting to disturb him in this private moment. I just soaked it all in, and quietly prayed for God to be with me, and help me during my interview.
After a few moments, I continued on to the room where my interview was to be held. Donna Feyen was amazing, and it was a really fun interview. When it was over and I came back through the area, the man was no longer playing the piano. I really never gave him a second thought. Until…
Later that night, I was looking through the conference magazine, and I noticed that Michael W. Smith was also attending the conference. He was there to do a book signing for his new book. Suddenly the lights went on! I was standing on that mezzanine listening to Michael W. Smith playing the piano! How could I not have known it was him? Why didn’t I recognize him? Maybe I should have paid more attention. My mind was just not open to the possibility that it could be Michael W. Smith!
Maybe it was because I wasn’t expecting to see him there. It wasn’t a normal every day occurrence to just walk up on Michael W. Smith playing the piano. Since I wasn’t looking for him, and didn’t expect him to be there, it was as if he was out of context to me in that moment. I’m sure you have experiences of your own where you may have overlooked someone, or something because it just didn’t seem to fit the situation. We all do it.
As I reflected on this impromptu secret concert, it made me think of other things we tend to take out of context. One in particular is God’s Holy Word—The Bible. Maybe you have seen people who pick and choose a verse here, or a verse there and use it in the wrong context. They might pick a sentence here or there, and make it fit their own view, even though their view is wrong.
Context is the key to good Biblical interpretation. Sometimes it helps to think of the Bible as a series of letters written between different people that we are to read and learn from. This is especially the case when we are reading the Epistles—or letters—of the New Testament. Rather than being addressed to us, the readers, individually, each letter has an intended audience, and a certain cultural, temporal, and geographical context in which it is set.
For instance, let’s look at a verse that is so often taken out of context. Paul wrote to Timothy: "A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent" (1 Timothy 2:11-12).
If we look at the whole picture including who the letter was intended for, the cultural norms at the time of writing, and the geographical context (the church of Ephesus) we can see this was not meant to apply to every instance of women in ministry. Paul encourages the women to learn. This was not common in the traditional Jewish culture. In fact women were very restricted in religious education.
So, why would Paul have women to study and learn at all, if he never intended for them to teach? Paul commends women for their leadership in house churches, so he is not making a contradictory blanket statement here about women teaching or leading in the churches. Instead, he is addressing the issue of certain women who were being disruptive and domineering in the worship services at Ephesus.
In Romans 16:1–6, Paul sends greetings to many friends and fellow workers in the faith. He mentions many women who have been involved in leadership and service to his apostolic work, including Junia, who is listed as an apostle. In Philippians 4:2–3, Paul references two women who have contended by his side for the cause of the gospel, an obvious testament to their work and leadership within the church.
These Scriptures attest to the fact that 1 Timothy 2:9–15 should not be interpreted as a universal rule for all women to be silent in the church nor does it imply that women should be exempt from teaching or having authority. This interpretation would be in direct conflict with the close context of 1 and 2 Timothy, as well as other writings of Paul, and the testimony about women in leadership in the early church in the book of Acts.
There are many other instances, and Scriptures I could share that are commonly taken out of context. It’s important to study the Word of God. We have to go all in, and see who the passages are speaking to, the cultural norms and customs of the time period, and the geographical context. It's as simple as who, when, and where.
It’s so easy to take things out of context, if we don’t pay attention. Study God’s Word, pray and ask the Holy Spirit to teach you. He will do it.
2 Timothy 2:15
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”
How would you rate yourself as a listener? I admit, when I have a lot going on—like I have lately—I find myself going a little A.D.D., and seem to have trouble listening. It seems my brain just overloads from time to time, and I simply lose my focus. Anyone else, or is it just me?
It’s not always easy to be a good listener. I can think of a few lectures I’ve had to sit through when I thought I might fall asleep if I had to listen for another fifteen minutes! Listening is just hard sometimes.
But, when God starts talking we must do our best to listen. It can certainly save us a lot of trouble if we do. This past week as I was going to do my weekly jail ministry I was praying and asking God what He wanted to do in the service. I seemed to get no reply. I tried so hard to be still and just listen. I still didn’t hear anything—not even a whisper!
The ladies came into the room with me, and we briefly talked about what had happened since the meeting last week. I opened with prayer, and we all stood to sing a few worship songs. As we were worshipping, I was still praying and asking God which direction He wanted me to go in?
Finally, He gently whispered, “I haven’t given you anything because I want you to ask Anna (not her real name) to speak today.” Anna is one of my sweet ladies in the jail. She has been saved, baptized with the Holy Spirit, and is on FIRE for God. I’m blessed every time I see her with hands raised worshipping God, and tears rolling down her face.
I asked God, “Are You sure You want me to ask her?” In His sweet gentle way, He assured me. After we finished singing, we all sat down at the table. I looked at the ladies and said, “Well, things are going to go a little differently today.” They looked at me with puzzled faces. I continued, “Things are going to be different because Anna is going to bring the message today.”
Of course Anna looked at me like I had lost my mind at first, but then she quickly said, “Ok, I can do that!” I told her to come and sit at the front, so she could minister to us, and she did. I was totally unprepared for what was about to happen in the next few moments.
Anna had us to turn in our Bibles to Ruth, and she began to share with us about the relationship between Naomi and Ruth. Then she began to share her testimony with us, and how she had always been afraid to let others get too close to her, because they always left. As she continued to share the importance of sisterhood, and how we as women all need each other, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.
I think we were all in tears as she poured out her heart, and spoke to us with such beautiful transparency about the friends, and others who had abandoned her in her life. My heart broke for her. Then she began to share how she knew beyond a doubt that God had brought her into the jail at this very time because of the close friendships she had made with all of us, and how our relationships with Christ have bound us all together as friends, and sisters. She told us she was no longer afraid to let others get close to her, because God had delivered her from the fear of abandonment.
She did an excellent job, even though she was certainly put on the spot. I was so proud of her. We all prayed together, and she told me that she would likely be gone the next time I came because she was getting out. When the other ladies left the room, she came to me and said, “Miss Donna, thank you for giving me the opportunity to minister!” I told her that God had told me to ask her to minister, and that I was honored to do it, because I had complete confidence in her.
She said, “I have to tell you something! Last night I was reading Luke 12, and I remember stopping on this one Scripture. I couldn’t stop reading it, and though it’s not the exact same circumstance, I believe God was preparing me for the very moment you asked me to minister in the service this morning.” She said, “The verse was: Luke 12:11 When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”
She continued, “The first thing that popped into my head when you asked me to speak was, ‘the Holy Spirit will teach you what to say at that time.’ And, now I know why I stopped and re-read that verse several times. I believe God was preparing me even then!”
I agreed with her. I’m glad we were both listening. All of the ladies were blessed because we quieted ourselves long enough to listen to the Father’s instructions. Sometimes I wish He would let me know His plans a little sooner so I wouldn’t have to panic as much, but I know I can trust Him. He is always on time, He may be last minute, but He’s never late!
Are you listening? We certainly don’t want to miss the blessings He has in store. Take some time to just be still in His presence, and listen. He loves to speak to His children.
“I will listen to what God the LORD says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants—but let them not turn to folly.”
“God has spoken plainly, and I have heard it many times: Power, O God, belongs to you;”
I love how God goes to great lengths to get our attention, even in our busyness! He is never too busy for us. Let me give an example.
Last week I had the great honor of attending the Christian Book Association’s Unite Conference & International Christian Retail Show, with my sweet and beautiful publisher Suzi Wooldridge. I also enjoyed a wonderful few days with some other amazing Bridge Logos authors and dear friends—Angela Donadio, Heather DeJesus Yates, Julie Wilkerson Klose, and our super creative publicist Danielle Stoltz. I was fortunate to be in such great company, and the whole experience was just overwhelming to say the least.
I was thrilled to do my very first ICRS book signing on Monday, and I met so many amazing people through that experience. I was informed on Tuesday night that my book had been picked up by a Korean publisher, and would be translated to the Korean language, and distributed throughout Korea! I was also blessed to be interviewed on four amazing broadcasts. The whole event was simply breathtaking. God has certainly been busy pouring out blessings over me, and I am so thankful to Him!
But, as blessings are being poured out upon us, we must not be too busy or too distracted to do what we were first called to do. The thrill of everything happening so quickly, and all the attention can cause us to lose focus if we are not careful. We must remember, God has not called us to be successful. He has called us to be obedient. When we are obedient children, we can expect blessing to naturally follow us.
When I arrived at the show on Sunday, I met my publisher and we ran some errands, and put together gift bags for my book distributors. We had fun just hanging out together working on the bags! But, in all the excitement, I left my purse in one of the halls in the Opryland Hotel. It was an hour or more before I realized I had left it somewhere. I left Suzi, and hurriedly went back to the last place I could remember having my purse—right outside the Fed-Ex office in the hotel.
Praise God, when I got back there I saw it sitting on the counter in the Fed-Ex office. Someone had picked it up for me, and nothing was taken from it. Hallelujah! I was walking back to my room when a frantic looking couple stopped me and asked where to go to register for CBA Unite. I told them I was sorry, but I didn’t know. The lady looked at my tag hanging from the lanyard around my neck, and said, “But you are registered.” I explained that my publisher had picked it up for me. I apologized for not being able to help, and continued the hike back to my room. (If you’ve been to the Opryland Hotel, you understand why I said,"hike")!
With literally thousands of people attending CBA Unite, I didn’t expect to see the couple again. Later that night we walked back to the CBA show floor, so I could show Bryan and the girls where to meet me the next day for my book signing. Oddly enough, we met that same couple again. The lady stopped walking, so I approached her and pointing to her lanyard and tag I said, “I see you found the registration area.” She laughed and said, “Yes.” And that was that.
The next day as I was walking around the enormous showroom floor, I happened to see the couple again. They were talking to some distributors, and I kept walking. For some reason, I had an odd feeling upon seeing them again. I certainly wasn’t continuously running into my own friends at the show this often, and there were more of them than just this one couple.
The next day, Danielle helped me pass out the gift bags, and introduced me to our distributors. I had a few bags left so I took them back to the room. On the final day, I decided to go to the floor and give away the final couple of bags. I didn’t know who I should give the final bag to, so I prayed and asked God to lead me. Immediately the couple that I kept bumping into came to mind. So, I prayed again and said, “Ok God, if something is going on here, and you would like for me to talk to these people, let me just see them here one more time.”
I promise you with all my heart, I turned around and they were right behind me. I approached them, gave them the last gift bag, and introduced myself. They asked what my book was about, so I shared a little of my testimony with them. The gentleman looked at me and said, “Can I ask your advice about something?” I humbly agreed. Now, I’m not going to reveal the situation, for their privacy, but it was obvious that God had set up this entire meeting! As the Holy Spirit began to speak through me, the lady’s mouth dropped wide open, and tears came to her eyes. I had no idea what their situation was, but God DID. We continued to talk for quite awhile, and then I prayed with them both right there on the show floor.
God knew exactly where they would be, and what they needed. I’m glad He was patient with me, as I ran marathons around the hotel to get from meeting to meeting. He never let me forget that couple. That divine encounter was set into motion before any of us even arrived at the show. As busy as I was, He kept reminding me in His sweet gentle way that there was ministry to be done. Yes, spreading the word about my book was important to me, because it carries His message of grace to all who read it. But this precious couple was just as important to Him. He's never too busy to leave the ninety-nine, for the one.
No matter how busy or exciting the things are that are happening around us, we must always be ready to listen and obey. Slow down, take a minute and ask God, “What is YOUR plan for this moment?” He will let you know. I pray that precious couple was as blessed as I was through that experience. What a loving, caring, and patient, God we serve! There’s never a need that is too small for Him to meet, and there’s never a need too great for Him to meet, and He's never too busy. He is ALL we need.
Psalm 139:16 NIV
“Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.”
Sometimes being the leader of the same ministry for 20 years is not a good thing! It could mean that you are holding tightly to a dead or dying ministry. So what makes us hold onto ministries that are perishing anyway?
Sometimes we have been doing something for so long, we feel it is the only thing we can do. We refuse to try to step out into a different calling because “this is what I’ve always done.” We may feel that God has equipped us to do one thing only. But God is more creative than that. He has so much to offer us, and He delights in promoting us, if we are striving to follow Him and listening to His voice.
Fear of losing our place can hold us back. We might feel like if we let go of the ministry we are currently leading, we will have to go back and sit on the pew with nothing to do. In other words our ministry becomes our identity. We may feel that if we are not recognized by the position we fill, we won’t be recognized at all. We have to remind ourselves that God is not in the business of demoting, but promoting.
God wants to see us grow, and in that process He wants us to train others to do what we have been doing. My Pastor/Mentor in Iowa always told me that I should be continually seeking to work myself out of a job. We are not supposed to hoard up all of our talents. We should train and mentor others to do what we are doing, and if possible to do it even better than we are!
We must train others to take our place. This lets others grow in their calling, and it allows us to move into the new areas of ministry God has planned for us. If you are not equipping others, you can be certain that you are leading a dying ministry. You will not be here forever!
How can we expect to receive greater things from God, if our hands are clenched tightly to a ministry that He has told us to let go of? Look at the picture above. If you will notice, when our hand is outstretched to release something, it remains in the perfect position to receive from God our next assignment. Do we doubt God’s ability to continue to use us, and lead us into greater ministries?
We only hinder ourselves and our own growth when we adopt the attitude that we are the only capable leaders. Instead we should be seeking to invest in the lives of others. This is how churches and ministries grow. If you can’t love your people and appreciate the gifts of those under your care, why would God lead other people to your ministry? If you know someone within your ministry or church that has a gift such as singing, speaking, teaching, preaching, praying with others, etc., and you are not willing to let them use that gift from time to time; they can become stagnant, and so will your ministry.
However, God often uses those He has gifted by opening other doors to them if we ignore them. He doesn’t neglect, or forget His chosen. And if we do, it is only our ministry that suffers. God uses variety. If He didn’t, He would have made everyone JUST LIKE YOU. But, guess what…He didn’t. Remember, if you close doors to those God is trying to use, He WILL open other doors to them, and it is often in another church.
Another thing that gets in our way is jealousy. The enemy loves to use this destructive tool between God’s people. We might start to think that someone will do a better job than we did. Or perhaps people will like them better than they liked us. Well, if that’s the case it’s a good thing! People will not forget you, and you can believe they will love you even more if they see your heart is for the betterment of the ministry as a whole. Hoarding a ministry because of jealousy is a major sign of spiritual immaturity.
Sometimes it takes a fresh set of eyes to refresh and revive a ministry. If your heart is sincerely in the ministry because you love and want to serve people, then you want the best for them. I sent my daughters to school because I wanted them to get a great education. I would have loved to have kept them home with mommy. But, I realized my scholastic teaching skills were not the best—algebra comes to mind—so I entrusted them to the care and teaching skills of other teachers. Why? Because I love my girls and want the very best for them.
As leaders it is our job to see that those entrusted to us are taken care of Spiritually, and emotionally, and used in the way God chooses to use them. I’m often amazed by all the attempts and lengths some ministers go to in order to get more people in the pews. How many of the people in the pews do you know already? Do you know their needs? Do you genuinely care about their wellbeing? What are their personalities like? Do you have relationships with them, or, if they walked out today would you even notice or care? People know if they are cared for.
Do you really think God will entrust more people to your care, if you are not willing to love the ones He has already entrusted to you? We must LOVE people. All kinds of people. There will always be those we don’t particularly like. Everyone has their own different quirks and hang ups, but God has called us as leaders to love and care for His flock. If we can’t care for the flock He has entrusted to us, we shouldn’t think He will lead more sheep into our fold.
Time is running out. We want to reach the lost at any cost, but it requires caring for those God has entrusted to us already. Lead, teach, train up leaders. This is not a one man, or one woman show. God uses us in different ways. Think about this. Who believed in you? Who mentored you, and trained you? Where would you be without people who were willing to invest in you? Are you willing to do the same for others?
2 Timothy 2:2 ESV
And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
1 Peter 5:1-5 ESV
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
Acts 20:28 NLT
Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.
When I was a young girl growing up in Tennessee, it seemed like nothing ever really changed. My home, and the landscape was seemingly much the same for many years. Even after I was grown I never really noticed a lot of obvious changes in my familiar environment. I grew up, time passed, life happened, and God moved my family and I, to Iowa for nine years.
When we moved back to Tennessee I began to visit some of the places that I frequented when I lived here nine years earlier. I was amazed by how drastically things had changed. Trees and vegetation seemed to be so much taller than before. Everything looked so different. Nothing looked the same as it had before I left. I was shocked by how much things had changed.
It seemed to be so much like the old frog story. We’ve all heard it. The premise is that if a frog is suddenly put into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in cool water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. Though the story has been passed on for years and years, it is not true. A frog will jump out of the pot when the water becomes uncomfortable. (But, please don’t try it. The frogs and I both would appreciate you skipping that experiment.)
But, the point the story was attempting to make is that we don’t always notice things changing in our immediate situations, especially when change occurs gradually. We get used to our surroundings, our habits, our way of doing things without taking a lot of notice of the subtle changes that are taking place. Just like as a young girl I didn’t notice how much my environment was changing daily. But, coming home after several years I was shocked to see so much change.
We live in a world that is changing on a daily basis, and unfortunately, most of it is not for the good. Some of the change has happened gradually over many years but it seems to be picking up momentum. The enemy of our souls is continually trying to lull us to sleep by making sin appear ordinary.
He would love to convince us that nothing is really changing. He uses so many different tactics to try to get us into a common routine, or a comfortable level of complacency. He causes us to be self-absorbed and focused on ourselves, our families and nothing more. As we get comfortable, we pay less and less attention to the changes happening around us.
Things that used to shock us seem to have become commonplace. How many of us can see a rainbow now without feeling uneasy, or having a sense of grief? We now see it so commonly associated with homosexuality, that we rarely appreciate what it was originally created for.
“I have set My rainbow in the clouds, and it will be a sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. 14 Whenever I form clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember My covenant between Me and you and all living creatures: Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.…”
The sin of homosexuality used to be hidden. Now you can’t get through a single TV program without one of the characters proudly announcing they are homosexual. Society has accepted it as the norm, and so it is fed to us through every outlet available. This is only one of many sins that has become normalized in today’s society. If you don’t like your gender, you can change it.
Don’t misunderstand me, certainly not all change is bad, and certainly not all change is good. But how do we know how to accept the good, and reject the bad?
There is a standard. We must hold tightly to the Standard, or the Truth of God’s Word. One thing that will never change is God and His Word. We can count on Him to be the same yesterday, today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8) Sometimes the methods of sharing The Word have to change, but the Truth—The Holy Bible—never changes!
God’s opinion of sin does not change. He is a just God, and He will never condone sin. It doesn’t matter how widely accepted sin becomes by people of the earth, God has the final word, and authority. He demands justice, and He follows the standard He gave us. We can try to rationalize or make excuses for why we reject God, and His ways, but one day each of us will stand before Him. We will be accountable for ourselves and only ourselves. Excuses will not work. Why? We all have been given the same standard to live by. It is the Holy Bible.
No matter how much times change, God does not change. We must be aware of the changes taking place around us. We must be alert. Sometimes we have to return home to notice change. We have to look back at our lives, and how we desperately wanted to serve God when we first believed and accepted Him as Savior.
Our home should be the Bible. We must go there to see, and know the standard—the Truth— and then look at the changes that have taken place in our own lives. We may be shocked when we “go home,” and see the changes that have happened while we were away, or lulled into complacency.
We are often tempted to compare ourselves to others. “Well at least I’m not doing what Sis Snobby is doing. I’m not as bad as her.” Sound familiar? God isn’t going to compare you to Sis Snobby. Her life is not the standard. He will compare you to His Word. He will compare you to Jesus, His Perfect Son who died in your place to make atonement for your sins. He will compare you to the real standard—His Holy Word—the Bible. Have you changed, or do you need to make some changes?
This past weekend, I had the honor of wearing my “photographer’s hat” for a dear friend’s wedding in Iowa. The photo above of the groom and his father helping him attach his timepiece seemed so relevant to this blog, I just had to include it. I love photographing weddings. Each one is beautiful in its own way, and I’m always excited to see the new ideas and traditions that come together by the combining of families.
I love that moment when the groom looks upon his bride for the first time in her beautiful white gown. Times and traditions have certainly changed. It used to be taboo for the groom to see the bride on the day of the wedding, until the moment she walked down the aisle. Now, most weddings that I have photographed have what we call “first look” pictures done before the actual wedding. The groom waits in a designated location, and the bride arrives. On my cue, he turns to see her for the first time in her wedding dress, and I start snapping photos to capture the look on their faces. Traditions always change, and this is how its done these days.
If we go way back and look at the Jewish wedding traditions in Biblical times, we can really see some interesting things. Nothing at all like our weddings today, the Jewish wedding included a number of steps over a period of time.
First, the father of the groom made the arrangements for the marriage. At this point the groom would travel from his father’s house to the home of the prospective bride. He would pay the purchase price for the bride, thus establishing the marriage covenant.
Second, the groom would return to his father’s house, remaining separate from his bride for 12 months or longer, during which time he prepared the living accommodations for his wife in his father’s house.
Third, the father would release the groom to go back and get his bride at a time completely unknown to her. Because no one knew when the groom was coming, he would announce his arrival with a shout!
And fourth, the groom would return with his bride to his father’s house where he had prepared a place for her. The marriage would take place, and there would be a celebration with a great wedding feast.
Sound familiar? It really makes Matthew chapter 25 a lot more clear, doesn’t it?
Let’s read Matthew 25:1-13 NIV
25 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
9 “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’
12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’
13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
We are all waiting for a grand wedding. Jesus is coming to take His bride—the church—back to His Father’s house to a place He has prepared for us.
John 14:2-3 NIV says:
“My Father's house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
We must be prepared. We must be sure that we have oil in our lamps, and are prepared to meet Jesus! We must keep watch because we do not know the day or the hour when He will return. But we do know that God cannot lie. Jesus will come to take us home one day. The groom is coming! Will you be ready?
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