Sunday, January 19, 2020

How To Take A Spiritual Retreat-Part One

"He makes me lie down in fresh, tender, green pastures. 
He leads me beside the still and restful waters.
He refreshes and restores my life..." 
Psalm 23:2-3 AMPC

This past week I had a three day personal retreat all by myself at a cozy little hotel at the beach. This time of spiritual rest and refreshing was exactly what I needed. I am so blessed that my husband and our church leadership recognized what I needed as well and provided this getaway for me.

Lest you think, "How lucky is she? She gets to get away from life and responsibilities whenever she wants!" The truth is, this is only the second time in my sixty two years of living that I've gone away by myself like this. Yes, I've been to many retreats with other women, but only twice have I gone away all alone. I can't just take off for a few days at the beach every time I feel depleted. (Although, if anyone has a cottage at the beach they'd like to donate for this purpose I wouldn't turn it down!)  So, I've had to learn to take times of personal spiritual retreat right where I live. But, if you can take some time away, I highly recommend it! I've decided to make this a three part blog series. This week  I thought I'd share some symptoms of spiritual depletion/weariness. In part two I'll share some suggestions on what to do on a personal spiritual retreat and in part three I'll share how to build times of personal spiritual retreat into your normal everyday life.

Signs of spiritual depletion.
First of all, I think that those who are in any kind of ministry or occupation that involves caregiving are most prone to physical, emotional and spiritual weariness and depletion. From mothering, to caring for aging parents, from nursing to teaching, from counseling to pastoral ministry, when your full time job is caring for others than I would assume that it's more common to experience times of emptiness, depletion and weariness. It makes sense that those who spend their lives pouring into others would, on occasion, struggle with their own emptiness.  In my life, I've learned some preventive measures that usually help me to not become completely depleted. However, there have been a few occasions, these past few weeks being one of them, when I felt like I needed a more intensive time of getting filled back up and refreshed than I normally get through my daily devotional time.

To be clear, spiritual depletion is a weariness that sleep doesn't satisfy. While physical weariness can contribute to spiritual depletion, when you are spiritually depleted you will notice that even after a good night's sleep you still wake up feeling tired and weary in your innermost being. For me, I noticed that the normal demands of ministry life, even little things added to my schedule, seemed monumentally overwhelming.

Let me give you an illustration that may help you understand what I'm trying to communicate. Our physical body needs daily hydrating which we get by drinking water, daily nourishment which we get by eating nutritious food, and rest, which we get through sleeping. But if you've ever had a bad flu bug and gotten dehydrated then you know that sometimes you have to have medical intervention, IV fluids, to get your body hydrated again. Similarly our innermost being, our spiritual self, also needs water, food and rest. Normally, we get these through daily times of eating and drinking from the Word of God and spending time in His presence. I realized I needed a time of personal spiritual retreat, a spiritual I.V., when I still wasn't "hydrated" even after my normal spiritual intake at home.

When I'm spiritually depleted I am not in good control of my thoughts and emotions. When I'm spiritually strong and healthy I'm able to discern when my thoughts and emotions are leading me astray and I can bring them back into alignment with the truth and peace of God. Normally, I'm a natural optimist, but during this season of spiritual depletion I noticed that my thoughts were gloomy and negative. My feelings were more sensitive than normal. I was easily wounded and cried easily. God showed me the depth of my depletion while I was on a walk and listening to the podcast of my son-in-law's Sunday sermon. In his message he had the congregation read aloud with him the twenty third Psalm, so I began reciting it aloud on my walk. Suddenly big racking sobs rose up from deep within me. God was mercifully showing me how desperate I was for inner rest and refreshing.

Another sign of spiritual depletion and weariness is having a feeling that I would describe as an inner itch you can't scratch, an inner dissatisfaction. The danger that I have fallen into at times is to try to satisfy my spiritual itch with physical pleasures-food, fun, shopping, etc. It's as ludicrous as trying to fuel your empty car with water instead of gas. When you are running on spiritual empty the fuel that you need is only found in God's presence. 2 Samuel 22:7 in The Message Bible states, "My cry brought me right into His presence." Isn't that such a beautiful truth! I don't want you to think that the only way to get spiritually filled up is to get away from your home and real life responsibilities. We will be ending this series with a post about how to have times of personal spiritual retreat without leaving home. God's presence, peace and rest is accessible to us right in the middle of our demanding lives. Your only hope is not in getting away, but in crying out to Him about your desperate need for being filled up. A personal spiritual retreat away from home is a rarity. If you are able to take one, next week I'll share about what that looked like for me and some suggestions for you.

still following,

Friday, January 17, 2020

The Amazing Power of Fasting

By: Sarah Geringer 

“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."

Matthew 6:16 NLT

Is fasting a part of your prayer routine? If not, you can supercharge your prayers with the amazing power of fasting.

I joined a new church in October. Every January for the past 10 years, they have held 21 days of fasting and prayer for all who want to participate. For almost two weeks, I've experienced amazing results from fasting.

Even though I've been a Christian for four decades, fasting hasn't been a regular part of my spiritual journey. I only started using it here and there as an adult. But each time I've used it, fasting helps me get closer to God and receive powerful answers.

Often, God uses fasting to clear out blind spots. The first time I fasted as an adult, God revealed an idol in my life. I was praying about something totally different, but God wanted me to deal with that sin first.

During fasting, you can hear the Holy Spirit more clearly.
If you have a sin standing in the way of your relationship with God, he will reveal it to you right away. Be prepared for this!

If a hidden sin isn't the problem, God can teach you new things through fasting. For example, when I took a sugar fast during Lent in 2017, God helped me increase mindfulness. I learned to appreciate smaller blessings that I previously overlooked. This longer practice of fasting helped increase my joy and depend

This year, fasting has taught me to focus on interceding for others. Right before the fast began, the Holy Spirit told me to use these 21 days in January to pray for others. Amazingly, he has put certain people on my heart and mind without their knowing it. When my stomach growls in hunger, it's my trigger to pray on their behalf. And I'm already seeing results from those prayers!

Fasting can take different forms, and you can pick the one suited for you. But for the rest of us, fasting can be a short-term or regular habit for mega spiritual growth. I am simply skipping one meal per day. Some people in my church are only eating supper. Others eat only fruits and vegetables on The Daniel Plan. If you are pregnant or have a health condition, it would be better for you to fast from something like social media or TV instead of food.

All of us can have more powerful prayers through fasting. Once these 21 days are finished, I plan to sacrifice lunch one day per week and use it for prayer. Remember that Jesus says "when you fast," not "if you fast." He assumes it will be part of our regular habits. If you haven't tried fasting yet, why not start this week?
Heavenly Father,
Thank you for the gift of communing with you in prayer.
I trust that fasting is good for my spiritual life.
Jesus, your words assume that fasting is part and parcel of my routines.
I confess that I'm more likely to choose comfort over sacrifice.
Lord, give me the courage to try fasting so I can have more powerful prayers.
I thank you in advance for the amazing things you will show me during a fast.
In Jesus' name,

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Have a wonderful weekend!

Blessings and God's peace to you,

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Wednesday, January 15, 2020

No Other Gods

By: Jenifer Metzger

Then God spoke all these words:
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of 
Egypt, out of the place of slavery. (#1) Do not have other gods besides me.
(#2) Do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything
in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the
earth. Do not bow in worship to them, and do not serve them; for I,
the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the
fathers’ iniquity, to the third and fourth generations of those who hate
me, but showing faithful love to a thousand generations of those who
love me and keep my commands. (#3) Do not misuse the name of the
Lord your God, because the Lord will not leave anyone unpunished
who misuses his name. (#4) Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy: 
You are to labor six days and do all your work, but the seventh day
is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. You must not do any work—you,
your son or daughter, your male or female servant, your livestock,
or the resident alien who is within your city gates. For the Lord made
the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything in them in six days;
then he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath
day and declared it holy. (#5) Honor your father and your mother so that
you may have a long life in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
(#6) Do not murder. (#7) Do not commit adultery. (#8) Do not steal. (#9) Do not give false
testimony against your neighbor. (#10) Do not covet your neighbor’s house.
Do not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female servant, his ox or
donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
Exodus 20:1-17

The Ten Commandments. Our rules to live by. Our God given laws. Today I want to look at the very first commandment; "Do not have any other gods before Me." God was very clear on this commandment. I also believe He put it as the first for a very important reason.

When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, the Israelites had just come from slavery. They had been captive for many, many years. Now, they were free, all thanks and glory to God alone. But they were not acting like it. They weren't acting like God did this huge thing for them. They were whiny and grouchy. They were complaining about every little thing. They acted like they couldn't trust in God, the God who did this massive thing for them and still had them in the very palm of His hands. Not only did they become a whiny group, but they were now worshiping a false god. An inanimate object. Something that wasn't living, that couldn't see or hear, and something that surely could not provide for them or save them.

God wanted them to get their focus back. He wanted them to remember Who He was, what He did, and what He was capable of. He wanted to give them a starting point for following Him. Have no other gods. Put God and God alone first.

When we put God and God alone first in our heart and life, I mean truly put God first and have absolutely no other god before Him, the other nine Commandments fall into place. Think about it. If you truly put God first in your life and have no other god before Him, you deeply desire to live for Him and honor Him in all you do, say, and think. When He is first, you don't want to make an idol, you don't want to misuse His name, you want to have a Sabbath day to honor Him, you want to honor your parents, you don't want to kill, you don't want to commit adultery, you don't want to steal, you don't want to lie, and you don't want to be jealous. You know that those things hurt the heart of our Creator and put a barrier between you and Him so you do your very best to avoid breaking those commands. If we struggle with any of those nine commands, we must go back to the first command and put God back as number one.

Are you struggling with any of the Ten Commandments? Maybe you have hate in your heart for someone, that is as good as murder. Maybe you are jealous of someone, that is coveting. Maybe you are gossiping, that is giving false testimony. Maybe you are having thoughts about someone who isn't your husband, that is adultery. Maybe your phone has become an idol in your life. If you are struggling with any commandments, go back to number one and put God first. Have no other gods.

It's time for Share A Link Wednesday! Each Wednesday we invite you to leave a link to your latest blog post in the comments. We still desire to connect women of God with one another and encourage each other in Christ. So grab a cup of coffee or glass of sweet tea, sit back and visit a few blogs. Be encouraged and share your own stories.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Mary and the Quest for Purpose

Photo Courtesy of: Gareth Harper

“Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” ~Luke 1:38

When I read Mary's story each Christmas season, what strikes me the most is seeing the hope that was brought to all mankind through her willingness to surrender herself to the Father’s will. 

Scholars often say that she was likely no more than about fourteen years of age when she was visited by the angel and told she was going to give birth to a son. Fourteen! We read the amazing story of Mary’s willing surrender to the Father’s will in the narrative Luke writes in Luke 1:26-38. 

What amazes me the most is that, apart from her initial shock over how it could be that she, a virgin, could bear a son, Mary immediately jumps to surrender and obedience. We read her words in Luke 1:38, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” She describes herself as a servant of the Lord - she has no agenda of her own but rather finds her purpose and mission in doing her Master’s bidding. Such is the kind of heartfelt response we find in Luke 1. No grumbling, no trying to find a way out, no argument, no frustration or anger or pride, nothing. Simply quiet, willing surrender. To say that she possessed an amazing sense of faithfulness for a young teen would be an understatement!

Mary’s faithfulness to God was the natural outworking of her faith in God. We read, in what has become known as Mary’s Magnificat (Song of Mary), of this young girl in Luke 1:46-55 singing forth a hymn of praise to her God. This song is a staggering and countercultural portrayal of Mary’s theological prowess in a day and age in which women and girls were not regularly taught theology. This theological training, however, was a God-send, for it was precisely what prepared her for the hard work to which God had called her. Had she not known her theology and had she not known God to be a God of goodness, love, mercy, and compassion, she never could have willingly and trustfully surrendered herself to her Master’s bidding in the way that she did. 

God’s call on Mary’s life was definitely a hard one. Remember: she is likely in her early teens as all of this is happening. She is betrothed to Joseph, but they have not yet come together intimately. She is living as a young girl in a culture and under an old covenant in which women and girls were regularly stoned to death for not being virgins when they married (see Deuteronomy 22:13-22). Mary is agreeing to what could potentially be a death sentence for her. And yet, her faith and trust in (not to mention her evident love for!) her Lord renders her willing and able to surrender whatever plan she may have had for her own life so that she can instead take on the plan prepared for her beforehand by the hand of her Heavenly Father. She exhibits great strength and fortitude in the face of a call which would leave many a weaker woman trembling off in a corner somewhere. God not only called her to this mission, but in His grace He also strengthened and equipped her for it.

Truly, it was her willingness to follow the Lord and His mission for her life and the surrendering of her body as a willing vessel for the world-changing plan of the Lord, which secured for us the hope we each so desperately crave as we live out our days in this sin-cursed world. Granted, if Mary had not willingly submitted to the Lord’s overarching plan for her life, He would have found someone else who would in order for His great redemption plan to unfold as  first prophesied about all the way back in the Garden (Genesis 3:14-15). But He didn’t have to. Mary knew Him, and that is what made her willing to follow Him.

That, my friend, is why we are able to have hope today - an unending, unfaltering, persevering hope in the face of even the worst of life’s trials and hardships. 

As we consider today Mary’s actions, I pray you are walking away feeling refreshed, renewed, and infused with a new sense of hope. A hope you can take with you as you journey through the rest of this Lenten season and on into the rest of the year. A hope that the enemy can’t shake. A hope that is not based on your circumstances, your background, your age, your bank account, your family situation, your friendships (or lack thereof), your past (or present!) sins and failures, or anything else you could imagine. I am praying for you a hope that is unchanging specifically because it is not based on the changing realities of your day-to-day life. Rather, I pray that you will be able to journey forth from this study feeling within you a tangible hope that can only come from our great Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ Himself. The same Christ who intentionally and graciously included women with rather colorful and challenging stories and backgrounds into His genealogy. The same Christ Who desires to do that very thing for you today as He welcomes you into His forever family.

Because, while we pause this Advent season from all the stress and overwhelm of our typical daily schedules and seek to step back from the many distractions, may we remember this: we don’t have to strive to find our purpose. We don’t have to think that living a life of purpose for the Kingdom requires that we always be rushing to and fro, running on empty. This is not at all what God designed us for! Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” 

Paul writes in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” We don’t have to push, strive, and overextend ourselves in order to live a life of impact. All we ned to do is keep in step with the Spirit and follow Him as He leads. After all, those good works He designed for us to walk in? They were prepared for us before we ever even came to be.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Make the Needed Change

By: Joanne Viola

We are almost at the middle of the first month of this new year and new decade. Many of us would have made resolutions and goals. But did you know …
  • 4 out of 10 adults will make at least one resolution for the new year
  • at the end of the 1st week, about 75% of people will have kept their resolution
  • at the end of the 2nd week, about 70% are still maintaining their resolution
  • after a month, about 64% are still sticking to it
  • after 6 months about 46% are still at it
        (*statistics were gathered from various sites)

This means that about 60% of adults make resolutions and about 9% maintain them successfully.

These statistics show us how hard it is to be consistently determined. Yet many will look back at the old year and will have wished things had been different. We wish we had done more, wasted less, met some goals, lost that weight, paid off those bills, broken that habit, and read our Bibles more.

For the new year to look differently from the old year, we need to do something – we need to start. And it is not too late to start.

Today when you hear his voice, don’t harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled.” 
(Hebrews 3:15 NLT).

God speaks to us today. In the here and now. When we put off what He is telling us to do, it is going to cost us something – our very hearts. They harden.

We will not ever start if we keep putting it off. We become casual towards achieving the goal and lazy in our relationship with Him.

So what are we to do?
  • Pick a devotional and start reading your Bible. Today.
  • Pick a reading plan and achieve your goal of being in the Word. Today.
Steve Jobs passed away at a relatively young age. By all standards, he achieved much in his lifetime. He has been quoted as saying:
For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
Are there changes in your life which you have been putting off? 
Begin to make the needed changes,

Photo by Carolyn V on Unsplash