Do you ever have moments when you wonder whether you’re somehow missing the spiritual boat? Maybe at church, while listening to a sermon, everyone else seems enthralled but . . . you just aren’t feelin’ it. Or how about this one? All your friends are into this new inspirational book (“It’s a must-read!” they say), so you order it, crack it open, and . . . no fireworks.
What am I missing? you wonder. The answer may very well be nothing. Most of us have discovered that faith isn’t an exact science. There’s no spiritual equation that guarantees a certain outcome; our hearts aren’t made that way. What speaks to you one day may not register with the friend beside you. What lights your friend’s fire may not even make yours flicker. And that’s good! We’re God’s workmanship, not his minions.
We’re kind of like specially made locks, and he possesses the one-of-a-kind key to each of us. The more we embrace that about ourselves, the more authentic our faith journeys will be.
As we fix our eyes on him and stop comparing ourselves with those around us, we lose the pressure of conforming in ways that don’t speak to our hearts. Then we can encourage and celebrate each other without compromising ourselves.
by Shanna Noel and Paige DeRuyscher , 100 Days of Prayer
Lord, help me to see all the ways you made me special. Guide me as I use my unique gifts to helps others experience your everlasting love. In Jesus name, amen.
“But who am I, and who are my people, that we could give anything to you? Everything we have has come from you, and we give you only what you first gave us! We are here for only a moment, visitors and strangers in the land as our ancestors were before us. Our days on earth are like a passing shadow, gone so soon without a trace.
“O Lord our God, even this material we have gathered to build a Temple to honor your holy name comes from you! It all belongs to you! I know, my God, that you examine our hearts and rejoice when you find integrity there. You know I have done all this with good motives, and I have watched your people offer their gifts willingly and joyously.
“O Lord, the God of our ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, make your people always want to obey you. See to it that their love for you never changes. Give my son Solomon the wholehearted desire to obey all your commands, laws, and decrees, and to do everything necessary to build this Temple, for which I have made these preparations.” 1 Chronicles 29:14-19
“Jesus shouted to the crowds, ‘If you trust me, you are trusting not only me, but also God who sent me.For when you see me, you are seeing the one who sent me.I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark.'” John 12:44-46, NLT
God isn’t afraid of the dark. He’s not scared of the secret places in our hearts. The ones that haven’t seen daylight for years. The kind with the locks on the doors.
God isn’t afraid of the dark. He’s not running scared from the tragedies in our lives. He’s not backing away from the brokenness and the bitterness and the shattered dreams.
God isn’t afraid of the dark. He’s not avoiding the struggles or the addictions. He’s not waving His hands in surrender to the enemies of our souls. He’s not saying, “This is too much for me.”
God isn’t afraid of the dark. In the beginning he spoke life-words into it and said, “Let there be light.” Then he came as a baby into a midnight world and announced his arrival with a shining star. He conquered death in a dark tomb and rolled the stone away, making a way into the brightness for us all.
God isn’t afraid of the dark. This means we don’t ever have to be either. Even when we can’t feel him through the longest nights, right in the thick of it—he is always there.
Holley Gerth, Promises from God for Life’s Hard Moments
God, you have never been afraid of the dark and you won’t ever be. Instead, you turn the darkness into light. You have done so from the very beginning of creation, and you still bring light into each of our lives and hearts today. We ask you to radiate your love where it’s needed most. Amen.
“Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! For the Lord will remove his hand of judgment and will disperse the armies of your enemy. And the Lord himself, the King of Israel, will live among you! At last your troubles will be over, and you will never again fear disaster. On that day the announcement to Jerusalem will be,
‘Cheer up, Zion! Don’t be afraid! For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.’
‘I will gather you who mourn for the appointed festivals; you will be disgraced no more. And I will deal severely with all who have oppressed you. I will save the weak and helpless ones; I will bring together those who were chased away. I will give glory and fame to my former exiles, wherever they have been mocked and shamed.'” Zephaniah 3:14-19, NLT
You are the Lord’s wonderful creation, fashioned first with his heart and then with his hands. He rejoices over your talents, gifts, and abilities because he chose them just for you. He delights in the details of who you are—the color of your eyes, the curve of your smile—because he is the designer of each one. So every day, remember the Lord loves you, he celebrates you, and he’s so glad you’re his.
God, show me all the ways I reflect your personality so that I can be confident of your love for me, so that I can share that love in my own unique ways with the people in my life.
“I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me,just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep.I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.” John 10:14-16, NLT.
Being called sheep doesn’t carry much prestige. Sheep can be pretty clueless and helpless. We’d probably much rather choose to be known as something noble—like a lion, a cheetah, or an eagle.
But we’re called sheep because we tend to wander, we get lost, and we need constant protection and provision. The real blessing in all this is that we get to have a Great Shepherd.
He’s not just an okay shepherd; he’s not doing it for a hidden reason. He loves to look after his silly sheep, and we definitely benefit from his care.
“He never left them without evidence of himself and his goodness. For instance, he sends you rain and good crops and gives you food and joyful hearts.” Acts 14:17, NLT
If you could bottle the moment, it would sell for over a million dollars. Actually, it’s priceless—this peace you feel—as your family sits gathered around the table, laughing and sharing the day’s stories. Your soul stirs. Something deep is happening here, you realize, though you’re not sure of the source. This is good. We were made for this. And your heart overflows with thanks.
More than the food, we crave belonging. We crave connections that confirm we are not alone—and never will be. We long for confidence that the good will not only last but grow stronger as time goes on. It’s an appetite for eternal love and community, the kind our hungry souls seek to have satisfied.
For many, the search persists, with only momentary pleasures patching the deeper ache. What on earth are we to do with this raging need no place or person on earth can permanently ease?
The Father says to come. Sit at the table of eternal provision he offers through relationship with his Son. Breathe in his reality through his written Word, and rest from your wearying quest to satisfy the search elsewhere. With unlimited resources and riches, our Father stands ready to supply all that you need.
What worries you today? Are you afraid you can’t make ends meet? That your future plans will fail? That you’ll lose someone you love? Child of God, your Father knows . . . and he will fully satisfy the deepest needs of your body and soul.
God, thank you for knowing my biggest fears and guiding me in your peace in the darkness of anxiety. Help me to release my fears and worries and rest in you, my all-knowing, all-powerful, loving Father. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Isaiah 58:1-12• Psalm 130• Romans 8:6-11• Matthew 6:1-21
For many Christians, it’s customary to fast from some sort of pleasure or indulgence during Lent. When determining what to fast from, we often select something we perceive to be hindering growth in our relationship with Jesus Christ. But the most ancient forms of fasting—abstaining from food or observing a strict diet—were not done in an effort to remove sinful pleasures from one’s life. Perhaps in losing the art of fasting, we have lost the understanding about what can be gained from voluntarily giving up a presumed necessity. Throughout biblical and Christian history, many have fasted for reasonable and healthy periods. True, the expectations of instant gratification in our culture do not react well to the denial of nourishment. Could it be that God has something to reveal to us in the midst of our momentary self-denial?
Suggested Reading : Isaiah 58:1-14
And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.—Matthew 6:16-18
The Apostles’ Teaching on Fasting But don’t let your fasts be like the hypocrites. They fast on the second and fifth day of the week; but you should fast on the fourth day and the day of preparation (Friday). Also, don’t pray like the hypocrites, but pray as the Lord commanded in his gospel: Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us today the food we need, and forgive us our sins as we have forgiven those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. The power and the glory are yours forever. Pray in this way three times each day. —Didache (c. 90–180)
“I can begin to see that Jesus expects us to fast not because He is arbitrary or capricious or cruel, but because fasting does good work on both our bodies and our souls.” —Lauren F. Winner (USA/Contemporary)
John Calvin (France/1509-1564) “Holy and lawful fasting has three objectives. We use it either to weaken and subdue the flesh that it might not act wantonly, or that we may be better prepared for prayers and holy meditations, or that it may be a testimony of our self-abasement before God when we wish to confess our guilt before him.”
“Moses remained there on the mountain with the Lord forty days and forty nights. In all that time he ate no bread and drank no water. And the Lord wrote the terms of the covenant—the Ten Commandments—on the stone tablets.”—Exodus 34:28
“Christians throughout history have fasted in preparation for the Lord’s Supper. In addition to the elements of repentance and humility before God in this kind of fast, it is also intended to help the person focus on adoring the One who is represented in the Supper.”—Donald S. Whitney (USA/Contemporary)
“Fasting is not confined to abstinence from eating and drinking. Fasting really means voluntary abstinence for a time from various necessities of life, such as food, drink, sleep, rest, association with people and so forth. The purpose of such abstinence . . . is to loosen to some degree the ties which bind us to the world of material things and our surroundings as a whole, in order that we may concentrate all our spiritual powers upon the unseen and eternal things.” —Ole Hallesby (Norway/1879–1961)
Purposeful Fasting by Clyde Taber Fasting is a strange word to our ears. We cringe, hesitate, and dismiss it. We sidestep it as gingerly as the religious leaders bypassed the beaten man in Jesus’ parable. Yet fasting was part of the rhythm and flow of the life of the early church.
Jesus Christ affirmed and embraced the Old Covenant practice of fasting: “When you give to someone in need” (Matthew 6:2), “when you pray” (Matthew 6:5), “when you fast” (Matthew 6:16)—he taught all this on the Mount. Jesus assumed that giving, praying, and fasting were a normal part of the spiritual life. These are not electives, but part of the core teaching in the school of Christ.
Fasting preceded many great hinge points in human history. After Moses fasted, he received the tablets that changed our knowledge of sin and the world’s sense of rightness (Exodus 34:28). After Jesus fasted, the cup began to flow with the wine of the New Covenant (Matthew 4:2). After the early church leaders fasted, the Jesus movement exploded beyond the borders of Palestine (Acts 13:2). The twentieth-century church in Asia fasted, and now it grows at unprecedented rates. The Father loves to reward those who fast with a pure heart (Matthew 6:18).
Fasting precedes purpose, and so purpose should precede fasting. When we fast, we should consider it a time of “setting aside” in order to “take up.” We abstain from food for a time in order to better focus on Christ and his Kingdom. Fasting requires resolution and dedication. We take time to exit the highway of our busy lives. Fasting is most beneficial when accompanied with seeking, sacrificing, and sowing to the Spirit rather than the flesh. When we eat, we satisfy the flesh. When we fast, we reach beyond the flesh to the realm of the Spirit.
Fruitfulness in fasting is not quickly achieved. It is a practice that is enhanced with time and experience. When we enter into a season of fasting, the Lord gives grace. For a moment it reminds us of death, and then the Spirit translates the absence of food into a sense of life, light, and discernment.
As Jesus Christ was deliberate in his journey to Jerusalem, may we follow him in this practice. Not “if you fast,” but “when you fast.”
Delivers Us From Fear of the Unknown O Lord, we beseech thee to deliver us from the fear of the unknown future; from fear of failure; from fear of poverty; from fear of bereavement; from fear of loneliness; from fear of sickness and pain; from fear of age; and from fear of death. Help us, O Father, by thy grace to love and fear thee only, fill our hearts with cheerful courage and loving trust in thee; through our Lord and Master Jesus Christ. —Akanu Ibaim (Nigeria/1906–1995)
Read: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 • Psalm 51• 1 Peter 3:13-22 • Matthew 4:1-11
The season of Lent walks us through the grief of Jesus’ last days before his crucifixion. As we read Jesus’ personal conversation with his disciples in the upper room, we imagine the joy of friendship coupled with the sadness of a friend’s imminent betrayal. As we enter into the darkness of Jesus’ arrest, trial, and beating, we weep with those first Christians, and in our efforts to save Jesus from ourselves, we grieve in our Peter-like betrayals.
The tradition of Lent—a forty-day sacrifice—is one way of mourning the death that sin has caused in our lives. As we see Jesus perfectly withstand Satan’s temptation in the wilderness, we admit our own shortcomings, our own inadequate sacrifices. This period of “giving up” has a profound way of recalling our desperate need for Jesus Christ.
“ All God’s plans have the mark of the cross on them, and all His plans have death to self in them.” —E. M. Bounds (USA/1835–1913)
“Remember what I say: if you would cleave to earthly pleasures, these are the things which murder souls. There is no surer way to get a seared conscience and a hard impenitent heart, than to give way to the desires of the flesh and mind. It seems nothing at first, but it tells in the long run. Consider what Peter says: “abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11). They destroy the soul’s peace, break down its strength, lead it into hard captivity, make it a slave.
Consider what Paul says: “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth” (Colossians 3:5). “And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” (Galatians 5:24). “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection” (1 Corinthians 9:27). Once the body was a perfect mansion of the soul; now it is all corrupt and disordered, and needs constant watching. It is a burden to the soul—not a helpmeet; a hindrance—not an assistance. It may become a useful servant, but it is always a bad master.
Consider, again, the words of Paul: “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Romans 13:14). “These,” says Leighton, “are the words, the very reading of which so wrought with Augustine, that from a licentious young man he turned a faithful servant of Jesus Christ.” John Charles Ryle (England 1816-1900)
“People do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” —Deuteronomy 8:3
“The Blood deals with what we have done, whereas the Cross deals with what we are. The Blood disposes of our sins, while the Cross strikes at the root of our capacity for sin.” —Watchman Nee (China/1903–1972)
AWE – F U L L Great and holy God awe and reverence fear and trembling do not come easily to us for we are not Old Testament Jews or Moses or mystics or sensitive enough. Forgive us for slouching into Your presence with little expectation and less awe than we would eagerly give a visiting dignitary. We need neither Jehovah nor a buddy— neither “the Great and Powerful Oz” nor “the man upstairs.” Help us to want what we need . . . You God and may the altar of our hearts tremble with delight at Your visitation amen. —Frederick Ohler (USA/Contemporary)
Hollow Sacrifice Eileen Button Like many Catholic children, I gave up sweets for Lent. I remember creeping downstairs on Easter morning, hoping to be greeted by a marvelous chocolate bunny. After surviving the torturous season of sacrifice, I could barely wait to nibble the cottontail’s long, delicious ears.
I would sometimes be disappointed to find a hollow chocolate cross in my basket instead. Propped in green plastic grass stood a milk chocolate version of my Savior’s object of torture. I couldn’t eat it. It felt blasphemous to do so. While it was almost impossible to endure the long, sweet-less days of Lent, the triviality of my “sacrifice” always shocked me when I was confronted by that chocolate cross on Easter morning.
The season of Lent is puzzling to many. Denying ourselves our favorite treats or habits—even for a short time—seems archaic in our I-want-it-now culture. Lent is a plodding, definitive crescendo that leads up to the cacophonous noise of Good Friday and the gorgeous aria of Easter. It’s a season marked by deliberateness and intentionality.
But we often get in the way of our own best intentions. When fasting we might be tempted to feel a sense of pride about our sacrifice. The very thing we relinquish sometimes clamors inside us as a “need” to be met. Instead of focusing on Jesus Christ, our attention can dangerously be drawn to the very thing we’ve voluntarily surrendered.
Even so, the practice of Lent can be a valuable discipline. It’s difficult to grasp what our sense of entitlement does to our bodies and souls. Our culture worships at the feet of pleasure. As we “shovel it in,” we can become desensitized to our needs—the real hungers in our lives. Observing Lent can help us wrestle with the causes of our perpetual consumption. When we decide to relinquish what fails to truly satisfy, we come face-to-face with some tough questions. Can we believe Jesus when he says, “People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”? How can we make room for the Savior in our lives? Can we grasp the reality of Good Friday and live within its irony?
Lent challenges us to consider the honest answers to these and other soul-searching questions. It invites us to jump off the hamster wheel of consumption and experience the pinch of abstaining from thoughtless indulgence.
Perhaps I was offended by a hollow chocolate cross for another reason: The outside of our lives might look pretty, but we can be tragically empty. Occasionally, the reality of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and the power of his love break through our hardened hearts. The realization causes us to gasp. The hollow parts of our souls can be filled.
S H O W M E T HE S U F F E R IN G O F T HE M O S T M I S E R A B L E Show me the suffering of the most miserable; So I will know my people’s plight. Free me to pray for others; For you are present in every person. Help me to take responsibility for my own life; So that I can be free at last. Give me honesty and patience; So that I can work with other workers. Bring forth song and celebration; So that the Spirit will be alive among us. Let the Spirit flourish and grow; So that we will never tire of the struggle. Let us remember those who have died for justice; For they have given us life. Help us love even those who hate us; So we can change the world. Amen. —César Chávez (USA/1927–1993)
“The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.”—Psalm 51:17
Bibles We Love (and love to share!)
Tyndale House Publishers
Valentine’s Day is a great time to share what you love. And we LOVE Bibles!!! There are so many wonderful Bibles out there, but we have a few that make our hearts so happy. We love them so much that we just can’t help but share them! Here are a few of ours. What are yours?
Maissie Currently I love the Immerse Reading Bible. It is easy to read and understand. There is something special about reading the Bible like a novel without the distraction of verse numbers, chapters, and notes. Reading Immerse reminds me that God is the Author both of the Word and of my life.
Callie I’m so excited to own the Art of life Bible! While I wouldn’t say I am a Bible journaler per say or even artistic, I love jotting down my reflections in the margins of my Bible. This Bible gives me extra room to do this alongside new content that I can’t wait to dive into. Who’s ever wondered what the trees and plants look like in the Bible that God talks so vividly about? Or wondered why God goes into such detail on specific animals? I know I have, and it’s always fascinating when someone connects the dots on what the Bible is describing and why it’s important. It’s going to be a great way for me to explore the Bible in a fresh way.
Kim One of my favorite Valentine’s Days was when a married friend surprised me with a care package in the mail that included the sweetest note and some personalized items, including a CD with hand-picked worship songs. It touched my heart so very deeply. I would love to do the same for my close single friends and surprise each of them with a Valentine’s care package including a greeting card with a heartfelt prayer-note and either the THRIVE Creative Journaling Bible (for those who would like the blue interior and wide margins for note-taking or creating original art) or the THRIVE Devotional Bible for Women (for those who would prefer a traditional setting without wide margins—and a pink interior). Both Bibles are the same other than those two unique features—the interior second color and the margin width. I think my friends would love this Bible because it is filled with daily readings that encourage us to keep our eyes on Christ and thrive in him. As Sheri Rose Shepherd, the author of the devotionals, says: “God paid much too high a price on the cross for us to live powerless lives.” I pray this Bible would be a daily, tangible reminder to each of them that they are so very loved by God and that they can trust him with their hearts! ❤
Dave It has been a joy for me to read through the Bible over many years and I LOVE our New Living TranslationOne Year Chronological Bible . For me, this has been the best way for me to understand the big story of God laid out in order. As the Bible Acquisition Director for Tyndale I’m also really excited about a project we’re working on right now to create a One Year Chronological Study Bible……stay tuned for more details in the months ahead about this amazing new resource.
Blaine My favorite for 2021 is the Mosaic Bible. I love the finish on the leatherlike edition with the classic celtic cross design. In the front of the Bible there is a 340 page section of beautiful ivory paper. This section features 52 meditations, each with full-color artwork, thought-provoking writings from historical as well as contemporary scholars, prayers, poetry and space to write my reflections as I meditate and pray. Each week’s theme compliments the Church calendar which helps me stay in rhythm with my fellow believers. The Bible text is only interrupted by the center column references which are there when I need them but easy to ignore as I read scripture. A very nicely done Bible in my opinion.
Jim There is so much to love about the Life Application Study Biblethat it’s hard to know even where to begin. This Bible has had a special place in my heart for over 20 years. I learn something new every time I pick it up! And it is always relevant to what I am facing today.
The Other Jim I once had a Sunday School teacher who, when I – or another student – forgot to bring a Bible to class, would say: “that’s great; you must have it memorized.” I didn’t, but I’ve used his line since then. And it leads me to my recommendation of a Bible I love. I love the HelpFinder Bible because of its extraordinary 352-page Index-on-steroids. The index is an amazing guide when you’re looking for biblical counsel on more than 200 topics from Abilities to Worth, including Faith, Humility, Rejection, Sexuality, Success and Vulnerability, and so much more. Each topic in the Index has questions and answers and biblical references. And alongside the Bible text there are short teachings on many of the topics. It’s a terrific, helpful, must-have Bible for everyone from new believers to Bible veterans. Unless you have the Bible memorized!
Evie I have been loving the Swindoll Study Bible. My parents were huge Swindoll fans so I have memories growing up listening to him on car rides or hearing my parents discuss Swindoll’s thoughts on different Scripture passages. I feel like he’s my spiritual grandpa. But it wasn’t until I started reading the study Bible on my own that I understood his significant impact on my parent’s walk with Christ. It’s truly like sitting by a beloved mentor as he helps to bring God’s truth and the amazing intricacies of Scripture into a way I can understand and grapple with. One of my favorite features is the Holy Land Tour. It’s like being on a trip to the Holy Land with Chuck Swindoll (#lifegoals)!
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8, NLT
Love Letter from God You are my witness in this world. When you live by the power of My Holy Spirit, you will be an effective witness for Me. Some people try to manipulate to get what they want, but that is a dangerous game. You do not have to operate your life in your own strength. Show others what I am like by how you live. Introduce them to Me, and I will do the rest. I want you to rely on the power of My Holy Spirit as you witness and tell people about Me. Love, Your heavenly Father
Reflection Relying on our own strength affects our witness for God. We have a limited voice with little power and only a temporary ability to influence others. Permanent change is only possible when the power of the Holy Spirit works through us, giving power to the weak and new life to the rest.
Treasure of Truth The Holy Spirit’s power in us can accomplish infinitely more than we can on our own.