I’m always amazed by how God moves and ministers in ways we can never fathom. He is a God of the unexpected. This past weekend I was invited to speak for a women’s luncheon and to stay and preach at the church on Sunday morning. God always has different messages for different congregations, and I always seek to hear exactly what He would have me share with each one.
This weekend was no different. I had prayed and prayed for direction on what He would have me to share with this particular congregation. I seemed to hear nothing but crickets! Then I finally felt impressed in my Spirit to share the same sermon I had preached at a service earlier in the week. I took out my notes from the previous service and looked over them in preparation for Sunday morning.
As I stepped onto the platform and began to preach, the Holy Spirit used the same bare bones structure for the sermon. But, then He stepped in and took me in a totally different direction than I had intended to go. As He led me, I found myself sharing things I had never planned on sharing, and things that were certainly not in my notes.
I love when the Holy Spirit does that. He knew exactly what He had planned for that congregation whether I expected it or not. I had envisioned a totally different outcome for that service that morning. But, He just wanted me to follow His lead. I wasn’t expecting what He did in the altar service either. He showed up in a powerful way, evidenced by signs and wonders.
His plans were totally unexpected, but they were absolutely perfect! I wonder how many times we miss amazing blessings because we are not expecting what He has planned? Do we get so caught up in our own plans that we don’t realize when He changes directions and begins to lead us in another direction?
I’m learning the importance of completely leaning on Him and allowing Him to upset my own plans and intentions more than ever before. I love seeing Him move in unexpected ways. I have heard report after report about how God spoke confirmations to people, and answered questions in the minds of different individuals this past weekend. Some were saved. Others experienced physical healing, and others were baptized in the Holy Spirit.
When we simply let the Holy Spirit have His way, He has the ability to minister to every need in the room. If we rely on our own knowledge we often stifle the work He is trying to do. We need to be willing to go in unexpected directions upon His leading. It might not look anything like what we are expecting. But, I would much rather see the outcome He brings about, than what I could witness through my own feeble attempts.
I’m embracing the unexpected leadership of the Holy Spirit.
What would happen if we raised our expectations, and allowed for His unexpected direction in every aspect of our lives? I think it would be nothing short of miraculous!
Last Tuesday was a super exciting day for me. It was my first day to minister to the ladies in the Carroll County jail. I had planned all day for it. I had just met the ladies the previous Tuesday and told them a little bit about myself and explained that I would be coming on Tuesday’s at 5:00pm to minister to them. They were thrilled and couldn’t wait for the day to arrive.
Three ladies told me they were sad that they would only get to be in the service one time because they were getting out next Wednesday. Knowing this made me even more excited to get there and share Jesus with them before they were released. Celebrate Recovery—which is also an amazing ministry—comes in on Tuesday nights at 6:30pm. But for some odd reason, I got it all mixed up and started thinking my time was 6:00pm. I knew it would take almost an hour to get there, so I left at 5:00pm thinking I had plenty of time.
I was halfway to the jail when I looked at my clock and saw that it was 5:35pm. All of a sudden it hit me! I was supposed to be at the jail at 5:00pm! I could not believe I had messed this up. What would the ladies think? They were sure to think I just decided I didn’t want to come. And, what about those ladies who were getting out this Wednesday? I wouldn’t get even one chance to share Jesus with them now!
I literally felt sick! How could I have made such a mistake? I was in tears at this point. I was so disappointed. I had been looking forward to this for a whole week, and I had blown it! I thought, “I might as well turn around and go home. I’ll call the jail and tell them to apologize to the ladies and tell them I will be there next Tuesday.”
As I was looking for a place to turn around, I heard the sweet voice of the Holy Spirit. He simply whispered to me, “Do not turn the car around. Keep going! Celebrate Recovery is going to cancel.” I admit, I was taken by surprise. I also found it very unlikely that Celebrate Recovery would cancel. They are very structured, and very faithful. Still, I could not make myself turn my car around and go home.
As I continued driving, I reasoned the very least I could do was show up and personally tell the ladies I was sorry for mixing up the time. I walked into the jail at 6:00pm, apologized to the man at the desk for being late, only to find out that just minutes ago, Celebrate Recovery cancelled! I asked if I could have their spot just this once, and they agreed. I was totally amazed that God would amend my mistake and keep the door of opportunity open, until…
About forty ladies were saved in our service. All three ladies that were getting out on Wednesday were saved and baptized in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues! The service lasted 2 and a half hours, and no one wanted to leave! I realized then, that God had this day planned from the beginning of time. Each of those ladies were and are precious to Him.
I am so thankful that when we make goofy mistakes, God’s will still prevails. He knew long before I did, that I would get the time wrong. He knew those three ladies needed a special touch from Him, and He made a way where there seemed to be no way. That’s the God we serve. Even when it looks impossible, we must keep going!
My family and I just enjoyed a quick vacation in the Smoky Mountains. It’s always great to spend time together as a family and take a break from everyday life. I’m still sore from hiking up the mountains, but I’ll eventually recover—-hopefully.
I love the Smoky Mountains. It’s one of my favorite places in the world. The beauty always inspires me to write something. This time, however, my inspiration didn’t come from the beautiful mountain setting, but from a touristy museum on the Gatlinburg strip.
Though we have visited it many times before, the museum had been completely remodeled. So we decided to check it out and see what was new.
Amongst all the shrunken heads and other oddities, we soon came upon a display of several different gods. There were ancient African gods, Buddha, and several others that I had no interest in. Later, one of my daughters and I were talking about the museum, and she sarcastically said, “I guess they couldn’t put anything about Our God in there, because He’s too offensive.”
I said, “You are right, many people are offended by Jesus--the One True God--but the biggest reason He’s not in there is because the museum is full of dead things. We serve the Living God, and you can’t place a Living God in a museum full of dead gods and other oddities. Only dead things belong there.”
I wonder how many times we tend to forget that we serve a Living God? We don’t have to rub a statue's belly for false promises of good luck or fortune, because the Living God cannot be carved out of wood or stone. He is ALIVE. He listens and speaks to us. He is with us and lives within us as Christians.
We don’t go to a museum to learn about Him, we have His Living Word—The Holy Bible—to teach us about Him. Even the Bible is alive and active! [Hebrews 4:12] His Word is unchanging, yet it still speaks into our modern everyday situations. Even the very absence of Our God in that museum attests to the fact that Our God is different. He is ALIVE. He is REAL.
I once heard the story of a man who told a preacher, “I don’t believe in your God, because I can’t go to his grave and find his body buried there. But, I can find Buddha’s grave and many other gods’ burial sites with their remains in them.”
The preacher looked at the man and said, “You will never find Jesus in a grave or a tomb because He AROSE. He is no longer dead, but RISEN and sits at the right hand of the Father!”
Some of you today might just need the reminder that we don’t serve a dead God. He is ALIVE. No matter what you are facing today He is listening. And He is fully able to do whatever we ask of Him. Nothing is impossible for Our Living God!
"But the LORD is the true God; He is the living God and eternal King. The earth quakes at His wrath, and the nations cannot endure His indignation.” Jeremiah 10:10
I’m not going to lie. The swing in the picture above scares me to death. I could never see myself doing that in a million years. I am not a fan of heights. I see no purpose in doing that sort of thing because I’m just not that kind of thrill seeker. My fear of heights keeps my feet planted firmly on the ground for the most part. (But I love to fly, imagine that?)
I have other fears as well. Fear isn’t always bad. Fear keeps us grounded. It prevents us from doing a lot of crazy things that might not turn out too well. Our job is to understand when fear is a good thing, and when it has been sent to keep us in our place when we should be doing the thing.
For instance, there are a lot of roller coasters that I will never take a ride on. I think there's a very good possibility of me having a heart attack if I did. I see no benefit in putting myself through that kind of stress. It would be much better for me to keep my feet on the ground.
But sometimes God asks us to do things that are scary. And, often when He asks something of us fear comes in like a flood. Why? One word—Satan. When God begins to ask us to step out of our comfort zone, the enemy is quick to point out all the reasons why we shouldn’t. He knows that whatever we do for God will mess up his pathetic plans.
God often asks us to do things that we would never dream of doing. We are usually quick to point out why we are a bad choice for the task. We are afraid we will fail, or—oddly enough—maybe we’re afraid we will succeed. Either way, when we are walking closely to God we can count on Him to ask bigger things of us than we could imagine for ourselves.
Just recently I have felt like God has been dealing with me about going into another type of ministry. It literally scares me silly. I would be so far outside of my comfort zone I might be prone to have a panic attack. But, where is the fear coming from? Is it fear of others opinions? Is it fear of failure? Is it fear for my own personal well-being?
Sometimes if we can identify the actual source of the fear, we are better situated to deal with it. We can answer many of our fear related questions by referring to God’s Word.
“Obviously I am not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant.” Galatians 1:10 NLT
“This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 NLT
“The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” Psalm 118:6 ESV
So, today I ask you—what scares you? And, what are you going to do about it?
Everyone was watching the Super Bowl at my house last night…except for me. I don’t have much interest in football, so after making sure the Super Bowl snacks were prepared I retreated to my bedroom. Part of the reason I don’t enjoy football is because I didn’t grow up watching football, and I don’t understand all the rules.
Our small school didn’t have a football team. But, we did have an awesome basketball team. We were ranked #1 in the state for many years. I believe that was, in part, due to the fact that we didn’t have football. If we were going to be recognized athletically in anything, it was going to have to be basketball.
There was a concentrated effort on being the best in basketball and winning the state tournament. I could tell you all about how basketball is played even though I never played in school. But I attended the games in support of my school mates, and I learned all the rules.
There was no football team to distract us from basketball, and I believe that is one of the reasons we excelled. The deficit of having a football team, contributed to a heightened focus on basketball. That has always been my opinion anyway.
I have also considered the lives of people who are blind or have another kind of disability. Those who are blind seem to have heightened senses in other areas. If a person is blind they hear things more clearly. They focus more attention to what they hear because they can’t see what is happening around them, so they listen to hear what is happening.
They are more sensitive to touch. The only way they can know the shape of an object is by feeling it with their hands. Think about reading braille for a minute. I don’t think I could read braille by feeling it or seeing it. It just looks like a bunch of dots. But because that is all a blind people person has known, they have focused all their attention to reading that way. A deficit in the area of sight, has caused more focused attention in other areas.
As I was thinking about this, I was reminded of how similar that is to our relationship with the Holy Spirit. Many of us want to have Spiritual gifts, but do we realize the importance of neglecting other things in our lives, and focusing on our relationship with the Holy Spirit?
I believe that when we create a deficit by sacrificing other things that take up our time, and spend that time praying in the Holy Spirit our Spiritual senses are heightened, and our Spiritual gifts are revealed. This is what I believe Paul was referring to when he encouraged Timothy with these words.
Timothy1:6-7 (NLT) This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. 7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.
Notice he first tells Timothy to fan into flame the spiritual gift God gave him. But he also reminds Timothy that he has been given power, love, and self-discipline.
When we apply self-discipline in our own lives, and focus on fanning into flames the gifts God has given us, we can do what God has called us to do more effectively.
This is one example of how I’ve seen God do this in my own life. Last week before I went into the jail I found myself spending more time in God’s presence. I spent more time praying in tongues, and listening for the voice of the Holy Spirit. I turned off my radio in my car, and just talked with God. Sometimes I prayed in english, and at other times I was led to pray in tongues.
Before I went into the jail on Friday morning, I prayed in tongues all the way to the jail. When I went into the jail service, I felt a heaviness in the room. It was like I had a heightened sensitivity to what was going on in the lives of some of the ladies. We sang a few worship songs, and before we took our seats, the Holy Spirit began to lead me to address a few things.
I started by telling them that I knew there were struggles going on in many of their lives, and that the enemy had been attacking their minds this week. As the Holy Spirit led me, I turned to one lady in particular and the Holy Spirit revealed some very specific things that had happened in her life that week.
I said to her, “God is showing me that someone contacted you this week. They are a very bad influence on you, and the enemy is using them to distract you from what God has for you.” Tears began to roll down her cheeks as I continued, “I don’t know who it was, or what they said but you have been thinking about your past and the sinful lifestyle you were in before. You have been looking back at that lifestyle and longing for it again. The enemy is clever. He knows how to reach you even in this jail, and he is determined to steal, kill and destroy you, if you lose sight of what God has for you.”
She was crying very hard by this point. She told me that she knew God was speaking to her because there was no way I could have known that. She began to tell me who had contacted her, and how it had changed her thoughts during the week, and how she had been longing for her past lifestyle. She cried uncontrollably and promised me that she would never talk to that person again, and that she would never go back to her old sinful life.
Immediately I turned to another lady in the room, and God began to reveal to me her situation in full detail. As I spoke it to her, she began to weep uncontrollably as well. God did a major work in the lives of the ladies during that service. He showed them that He was real, and that He knew the details of their lives and their most private thoughts.
As, I reflected on the service I was reminded of the time and distractions I sacrificed during the week, and how I spent more time with the Holy Spirit, and praying in tongues. Just a few extra hours in His presence seemed to heighten my sensitivity to the Holy Spirit in that service. He revealed specific details to me that I could not have known otherwise.
This is only one example. I could share hundreds more about how He has done this over the years. What are we willing to sacrifice to fan into flames the gifts God has given us? When we deny ourselves and sacrifice things that distract us from spending time with Him, we do ourselves a great disservice. He longs to use us in amazing ways. Will you create a deficit in your free time, to allow the Holy Spirit to fan into flame the gifts within you?
I know I talk about the jail ministry I am involved in a lot. But I can’t help but tell of the greatness of God and how He moves in the lives of the most broken. Yesterday was no exception. I was blessed beyond words as tears streamed down my face in the service.
I’ve rarely had trouble with any of the ladies in the jail, but for the past few weeks I have had one inmate who was determined to make my life a nightmare. She came into the service cursing, and being extremely disrespectful. She wouldn’t listen and was a big distraction to everyone else.
The ladies would tell her to be quiet, and stop cursing because she was being disrespectful. She replied, “I don’t give a (expletive)!” I wanted to have her thrown out. I have the option to ask the jailers to come and get a disruptive inmate and take them out at any time. If they are taken out of the service they are not allowed to come back.
My patience was growing so thin I was just before calling them to come and get her. But inside I knew the Holy Spirit was not releasing me to do so. I bit my tongue and tried to ignore her shenanigans. The following week I was filled with dread when I saw her walk into the room again. Once again, I endured her disruptions, and I allowed her to stay even though I was dying to kick her out!
She repeated her performance again; disruptive, rude, obnoxious, argumentative, and using profanity. I was so close to calling the jailers, but once again I felt that I needed to endure. I’ll admit, I was finding it very hard to love this one. She was making ministry extremely difficult, but God was still obviously working in the lives of the other ladies.
On the third week, I had determined that if she came in, I was going to set some strict boundaries. Well, here she came yelling as she waltzed through the door. As all the ladies took their seats, I told them I needed to talk to them about something serious. I dreaded doing this, because most of them would never dream of being disrespectful to me.
I explained that for the past few weeks, I had put up with some things that I refused to put up with any longer. I said, “Most of you would never dream of being rude or disrespectful, but there are some who have come in here using profanity, being disruptive, and disrespectful.” I continued, “You don’t have to respect me. I would like it if you did, but if you don’t that’s your concern. But, I will not stand for you being disrespectful to God. This is a church service. You would not go into a church in your neighborhood and act this way, so you will not come in here and disrespect the God I love and live for in here.”
I explained, “I have never had to send anyone out of here, but I will if I am forced to. I will not let anyone be a disruption to others who have come in here to seek God.” The room was so quiet, you could hear a pin drop. I felt bad for having to speak to them in this way, but I knew it had to be done. We continued the service, and the lady for whom those words were intended did not make a sound or say a word the entire time. That was last week.
Yesterday when I went into the jail, I still had the feeling of dread when I saw her come into the room. I felt like every word I had spoken for the past four weeks had gone in one ear and out the other as far as she was concerned. There were a few new ladies in the service, so after I opened with prayer, we went into the praise and worship service. Some of the ladies requested to sing Redeemed by Big Daddy Weave.
As we sang those words, some of the ladies were crying, and others had their hands raised and were rejoicing. When the song was over I said, “Some of you sang that song in honesty, but others are longing to be able to sing that song and mean it.” The Holy Spirit’s presence was so evident in the room at that moment. I continued to let the Holy Spirit speak through me, and ended with an altar call. Four ladies gave their hearts to Christ!
I asked if they wanted to sing it again now that they could all sing it truthfully and from the heart. They gave me a resounding yes! As we began to sing it again, I walked around the room hugging each one of them and telling them how proud I was of them.
When I got to little Ms. Disruptive, I looked at her and was suddenly overwhelmed with compassion for her. Tears rolled down her face. When I approached her, she grabbed me and began to weep uncontrollably. She said, “I am so, so, so, sorry Miss Donna, will you please forgive me?” I was crying as I said, “Yes dear, of course I forgive you. I come here because I love you, and I believe in you. Yes, you frustrated me, but I still love you and want the best for you. I want to see you set free and living the life God has planned for you!”
She continued to weep as she hugged me and would not let go. She apologized over and over again. As we continued to sing Redeemed, she had the biggest most beautiful smile on her face. Both hands were raised to heaven as tears dripped onto her orange jumpsuit. The ladies who had seen the ugly side of her began to walk over and hug her as well. It was an incredible service. God’s love poured into that room in the most powerful way.
I was reminded of how quick we are to write someone off when they disappoint us, or cause us frustration. I remembered something I have said to others so many times--hurting people, hurt people. But I believe that freed people free people. We must sometimes pray for patience, and allow the Holy Spirit to guide us so that we can be people who help free hurting people. It’s not easy to love the unlovable, but when we allow Jesus to love them through us, He makes it possible, and we are blessed in the end!
I have been incredibly blessed over the past few years by the opportunity to minister to female inmates. When God called me into a ministry behind locked doors I admit I was a bit afraid. I had no idea what to expect or how these ladies would react to me. I never could have anticipated the blessings that would come into my life because of these ladies and this ministry.
For a while now God has been speaking to my heart about expanding the ministry. Of course when the Holy Spirit begins to put something in your heart, the enemy comes along with a dozen reasons why it’s not a good idea. I have to admit he had some very compelling arguments.
One of the reasons I have held off on doing this is due to the fact that I am being invited to speak in more places. I’m often speaking in different states which makes it more difficult to go to jail and minister. So, I began to ask myself if I should just resign from jail ministry altogether? That question was met with a resounding, “NO!”
I have seen God do too many miracles, and touch too many lives to walk away from a calling so sacred. I have come to love these ladies I minister to. Seeing the hopelessness in their eyes, shrouded by a tough exterior designed only to hide the pain and desperation inside them haunts me. I think about how God rescued me, and I know He can and is willing to do the same for them.
Many of those ladies have a major calling on their lives, and the enemy has tried everything he can to destroy them. How will they know what God has in store for them if no one is willing to go into the desolate places to reach them? Some of them will walk out of those doors and go right back to the pit they came out of. They may come back to jail and end up in the church services all over again. Some of them will walk out those doors and in to eternity because of a relapse.
Others will come out and walk in freedom through the blood of Jesus Christ. Others may be led into ministry and become teachers or evangelists. Some will become jail ministers themselves and share how God rescued them from the prison of sin. There is no limiting the power of God, and the wonderful thing about God is He always uses the most unlikely people to do the most extraordinary things!
So, as I continued to contemplate what to do concerning the jail ministry, God began to give me a vision of a group of ladies who will go out into many different jails. Guided by the Holy Spirit, I will begin to train and encourage ladies to speak to these inmates and to believe God for miracles. God showed me His vision for “Story of Grace Jail Ministry,” a while back and just recently He has been confirming over and over again the plan He has for this outreach.
Ladies, this is where you come in. I am looking for saved, Spirit-filled women who have a desire to minister. I need ladies who have compassionate and patient hearts. Ladies who are bold enough to speak the Truth but who do so in a loving manner are a necessity! I am looking for ladies who believe in miracles!
As I have continued to pray about this, God has begun to send ladies to me. Some have just approached me and asked how to get involved in jail ministry. Others have approached me and asked for training, and still others have expressed a desire to do something for God because they feel they have something to give. Other ladies have come to me because they feel unfulfilled in their current calling, and they desire to minister but do not know how to step out of the boat so to speak.
Maybe you fit one of these categories. Perhaps God is calling you to use your own story to reach someone lost and desperate. I won’t say it is easy. It requires discipline. People will say negative things to you and tell you it’s a waste of time. Others will constantly tell you that these ladies are not serious and they will never make it once they leave the jail. These naysayers have no idea what you will be seeing happen behind prisons doors! You will see miracles!
But, there will be many days when you feel discouraged, and you will wonder if you really are making a difference. There will be days when you just can’t make it, or you need a break. This is why I feel this collaborative ministry is so important. We need encouragers, prayer warriors, and people who are willing to fill in the gap when we can’t be there. There’s nothing that I hate more than having my jail ladies sitting there wondering if I’m going to come that day, and not being able to be there for them. I need help, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. When I am traveling to minister, I simply cannot be in two places at one time.
It’s a little scary to put your God-given vision out for the world to see, but I believe it is necessary to move forward at this time. I envision a team of ladies under the umbrella of “Story of Grace Jail Ministry.” You will be going into various jails after you have received training, taken all necessary jail classes, and when you feel comfortable in doing so. I have three ladies who will be joining me after the first of the year. Will you be joining us?
You may be near or far. We can do live training classes online if necessary. There are ladies sitting in jails all over this nation who need Jesus. Will you be the hands and feet of Jesus? Pray and ask God what He would have you do. I’m believing God will go before us, and continue to give us favor. I believe prisons doors will open wide to welcome ladies who have a heart to minister to the lost and broken.
Seek God. Pray and search your heart. Please contact me to sign up for the informational class in January. It’s not a commitment, just a class to gain more information. Blessings await you!
36“I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.”
40“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’”
Honestly, sometimes I wonder if God would have me start a church in a grocery store. He certainly keeps me busy when I’m there. I know I have written more than a handful of blogs about being led by the Holy Spirit and being obedient when He tells us to move. Still, I never cease to be amazed at how He moves in the unlikeliest of places.
This morning after dropping my daughter off at school, I decided it would be a good time to get my grocery shopping done. The earlier you can get there the less crowded it is and in most cases that means you can get in and out quickly. That was my plan anyway.
I was passing by the electronics department when I met a nice looking couple. The man nodded at me, and the lady smiled, and we both continued walking opposite directions. That was the moment when the Holy Spirit said, “I want you to pray with them.” My first thought was “Really Lord?” These people seemed to be an ordinary couple. They didn’t appear to have a care in the world. They didn’t look troubled. And once again the Holy Spirit whispered, “Pray with them.”
I turned around to see if I could still see them, but they were gone. Feeling like I had missed God, I continued walking but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I should have stopped them. As I often seemingly find myself doing, I said, “Ok God, bring them back into my path and I will pray with them.”
I continued my shopping and just minutes later I rounded the corner to find the lady standing in the aisle I was entering. I approached her and said, “Ma’am, I know this is probably going to sound crazy but a few minutes ago I passed you and your husband, and the Lord told me to pray for you.”
This is always the point where I anxiously await their reaction. The thoughts rushing through my mind go something like this, “Did I totally miss God, or did He indeed want me to stop her? If so, is she actually going to let me pray for her, or does she have some choice words for me?” My eyes searched her face for a reaction that would reassure me.
She spoke softly and slowly as she began to tell me about her husband’s health. He had been having severe heart problems. She continued to share with me that he had congestive heart failure and for the past several weeks had spent a lot of time in and out of the hospital. She told me she had been very worried about his health. She shared some of the upsetting things that had been happening recently, and how they were really worried about what would happen next.
I asked her if she thought he would let me pray for him. Almost as if on cue, he walked around the corner and joined us. She told him exactly what I had told her. He looked at me and said he would love for me to pray for him. I took both of their hands in mine, and as I prayed I allowed the Holy Spirit to take over and lead me.
When we all said, "Amen," I noticed the gentleman had tears in his eyes. He was squeezing my hand so tight as he said, “God bless you for praying for me. I appreciate it so much.” The lady looked at me and said, “I have never felt the Holy Spirit so strong in my life!” I walked away thanking and praising God for this gentleman’s complete healing.
I may never see them again, but God knows what happened in that encounter in the grocery store. And, because the Holy Spirit orchestrated the whole event, I’m certain He had a plan for them.
Many times we strive to be obedient to God because we don’t want others to miss a blessing. I have learned that if I ignore that small still voice of the Holy Spirit, I am the one who will miss the blessing. There is nothing that thrills me more than knowing that God trusts me enough to lead me into the path of those who need prayer.
Maybe God keeps me writing about this topic because He is trying to let you know that you can do the same thing. It may seem scary to step out in faith and offer to pray for a stranger in a grocery store. But you can know for certain that if God asks you to do it, He has gone before you and prepared their hearts.
The enemy of our souls would love for us to remain quiet. He knows that if you ever take that first step of faith—and reach out when God instructs you to—you will be unstoppable. He wants to rob you of a blessing. I want to encourage you today to pray and ask God to give you opportunities. Then listen for that small still voice of the Holy Spirit. When He nudges you, and draws your attention to someone—move! You will be so blessed, and who knows what miracles will take place because you were obedient?
Luke 11:28 NIV
“He replied, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.’”
I love how the Holy Spirit leads and guides us when we are ministering. So many times I have had Him step in and totally change the direction I am going in while I’m speaking. Unlike us, He knows exactly what every person in the room is thinking. So if He prompts us to change direction we can trust that there is someone in the congregation that needs exactly what He is leading us to say next.
Yesterday as I was ministering in the jail service I had one of these wonderful experiences. I was going in one direction, when an image popped into my mind accompanied by an understanding of what the Holy Spirit was impressing upon on me. There were some new ladies in the jail, but there were a few who had fallen, and as a consequence had returned to jail.
I briefly shared my testimony with the ladies and shared 2 Corinthians 5:17 with them. It says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come; The old has gone, the new is here!” I often use this verse when I share my testimony. I also shared John 8:36, and talked about who the Son sets free is free indeed. Next I explained 1 John 2:1-2, and how Jesus is our advocate, and the atoning sacrifice for our sins. He is our defender.
But the Holy Spirit nudged me back to 2 Corinthians 5:17, and gave me the image of an old car in need of restoration. I knew exactly where He was going. I began to explain to the ladies that when we ask Jesus to forgive us, and we accept Him as our Lord and Savior, He makes us brand new. Then I shared this illustration.
When I was growing up, my dad restored old cars, and still does. He is really good at it. I can remember him driving up with many old beat up cars with little to no paint. Some had broken windows, and ratty upholstery. Others had holes in the floorboards, dented or missing fenders, rusted bumpers, and busted dashboards. In other words they looked like a hopeless pile of junk.
Mom and I would roll our eyes because we never could see what my dad saw in those old cars. He always had a vision for what they could become when all we saw was a mess. Dad would do the engine work and get it running good, sometimes replacing the engine with a more powerful one. Then he would sand down and remove all the old paint. He would fix all the dents and dings, and have it repainted in a bright beautiful color.
Next he would replace all broken or cloudy glass, and have the bumpers and ornamental pieces re-chromed. Then he would have the inside done, re-upholstering all the ripped or rotted seats, and replace the carpet. After all that work was done, he would do the finishing work; new fancy wheels and new tires, radio, etc. Before we knew it the car would be ready to go, and he would take it to a car show and come home with first place trophies.
His old cars looked so nice because he really worked hard to restore them to their original condition. They looked like they had just rolled off the manufacturers assembly line. And though they looked perfect to the natural eye, the fact remained that underneath all that restoration—beautiful paint, new chrome, and upholstery—it was still the same old car.
My dad is a perfectionist and his cars looked perfect. But in reality he couldn’t make the car brand new no matter how hard he tried. He wasn’t the original designer. The same is true in our lives. The only one who can make the old brand new is our Heavenly Father, because He is our original creator. When we give our lives to Christ, the old is gone. We become brand new creations. He doesn’t patch up our battered parts, or sand off our rough edges and cover us with a fresh coat of paint. No, he makes us brand new.
There are no defective parts in us at all. Our failed areas, and the parts that are not working according to His desires, are not replaced. They are made brand new. It’s as if we have rolled right off the manufacturers assembly line. We are born again! We have a new life, and a new start. Others may not be able to see what we can be, but Jesus has the vision to see us as brand new creations.
I watched as each lady’s eyes began to well up with tears. And I fully understood why the Holy Spirit had led me in this direction. So many times we struggle with the thought that our past defines us, and no matter what happens we will still be defective. We often feel like the dirt that has stuck to us, or the dirt others have thrown on us is there to stay.
We have to realize that Jesus desires to make us brand new. There are no defective parts left when we turn to Him. We have the opportunity to stand up and walk into the brand new future we have in Jesus. We no longer have to be held down in guilt and shame. Our dirt isn’t covered up, it’s gone. The old has gone, the NEW has come. And the amazing part is, when we continue to follow Him we only increase in beauty. We are never the same. There are no defective parts.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAD!
I’m continually amazed by how God seems to call upon us to minister to others when we feel we have the least to give. Not only does He use us in powerful ways when we feel like we have nothing to give, but in turn He refreshes us, revives us, reveals His plans to us, and meets our own needs in the process.
I’m reminded of this example in the Bible. 1 Kings 17:10-16 (NLT) says,
“So Elijah went to Zarephath. As he arrived at the gates of the village, he saw a widow gathering sticks, and he asked her, ‘Would you please bring me a little water in a cup?' As she was going to get it, he called to her, ‘Bring me a bite of bread, too.’
But she said, ‘I swear by the LORD your God that I don’t have a single piece of bread in the house. And I have only a handful of flour left in the jar and a little cooking oil in the bottom of the jug. I was just gathering a few sticks to cook this last meal, and then my son and I will die.’
But Elijah said to her, ‘Don’t be afraid! Go ahead and do just what you’ve said, but make a little bread for me first. Then use what’s left to prepare a meal for yourself and your son. For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: There will always be flour and olive oil left in your containers until the time when the LORD sends rain and the crops grow again!’
So she did as Elijah said, and she and Elijah and her family continued to eat for many days. There was always enough flour and olive oil left in the containers, just as the LORD had promised through Elijah.”
Last weekend we had our Tennessee District Women’s Conference. It was powerful. Three hundred ladies worshipping together, drawing closer to God together, and He showed up in all His glory; what a blessing it was to be a part of the “Fierce Conference.” The week before the conference had been incredibly busy for me, and the three day conference was busy as well. Before I could even get home from the conference that weekend I realized I was coming down with a cold…great.
The cold knocked the wind out of me, and literally landed me on the couch for a whole week. I was miserable. Add the let down that comes after every amazing conference—I don’t like let down, maybe cool down is more appropriate—and I was down for the count.
Well, I thought, maybe I could get some writing done since everything else had come to a halt. I was hoping to at least get caught up on my blog. (Yes, I’m aware that I’m terribly behind. Please forgive me.) So, I tried to write but I couldn’t put two sentences together to save my life. I had a really bad case of writer’s block.
I prayed, I read my Bible, I did daily devotionals, and still nothing inspired me to write. With my deadline for my second book looming in the distance, I began to feel even more anxious. What would I write? Will I ever have another inspired thought in my life?
When I was at the women’s conference, there was a common thread that was woven throughout the entire event. It was the simple but compelling admonition to, “Tell your story!” We all have a story to tell. Writing my first book was fairly easy to write, because I simply told my story.
This morning when I woke up I had a message from a pastor friend. He wanted me to listen to a video of him sharing his testimony, and asked if I could tell him if I thought it was book worthy. After listening to his story, I encouraged him to write the book. I explained to him that his testimony would be a great help to other pastors going through the same thing. He was thrilled and thanked me for encouraging him to write it.
Later in the afternoon another pastor friend messaged me and asked me to listen to one of his recent sermons. As we began to talk about the topic of his sermon, he began to share some of the things on his heart about where he feels God has him in ministry right now. You guessed it, I told him he should write a book. He asked me if I thought the timing was right. As the Holy Spirit impressed it upon my heart, I told him, “Yes! Now is the perfect time. Write the book while you wait for your next assignment!”
Now, in my current state of writer’s block, desperation, and lack of enthusiasm for writing my own book, I still managed to pour into and encourage two other ministers to write their stories! I didn’t really feel like I had any encouragement to give, but I strongly believe in the power of sharing your story. I have seen what God can do with us when we choose to be transparent, and simply tell our story. I have seen how God has used my own story over and over again in ways that I can’t even begin to comprehend. Our stories are powerful, and we all have a story to tell.
People will gladly pick up a book that deals with the same issues they are going through. It’s confidential. It’s non-confrontational. They can read the pages, and feel like someone else understands them without even talking to that person. They can learn from the mistakes of others, and make detours to prevent those mistakes in their own lives. They can be encouraged just by knowing they are not alone. We always have something to give, even when we feel like there is nothing left. We have a story.
So many times, we feel that we are running on empty. We may feel tired, burned out, sick, or depleted. But God loves to pour into us and through us when we are emptied of ourselves. The widow thought she had just enough oil and flour for one more meal for herself and her son. But when she shared with Elijah, it became more than enough!
God can do more with nothing, than we can do with everything. Don’t ever think you don’t have something to contribute. You always have enough to be a blessing to someone else. Tell your story, and then encourage others to share their stories.
Now, do you know what happened to the rest of my day? After encouraging others, and telling them the story of how I wrote and shared my own story, I was inspired to write again. When we give from the little we have, God provides. And… This is how we fight our battles!
Rev. 12:10-11 (NIV)
“For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
who accuses them before our God day and night,
has been hurled down.
They triumphed over him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;”
Last week my wonderful loving husband sent me away to a cabin in the woods so I could get alone with God and just write. I’m currently working on my 2nd book, and I really needed a place to go where I could just focus on writing. I wanted to find a cabin somewhere that had all the amenities of home, but also had a beautiful view and privacy. I found the perfect place in Rising Fawn, Georgia.
I was mesmerized by its beauty from the moment I drove onto the property. I couldn’t have dreamed up a more perfect setting. Situated on the most stunning, placid lake with a deck that extended over the water and a view of the most majestic mountains just beyond the lake, I was almost certain I was in heaven! I quickly unpacked and went outside to sit on the deck to just unwind and enjoy the view.
The next morning, I went downstairs and started a pot of coffee and prepared to spend some quality time with God before I began to write. I was hoping to get so much done in the seven days I would be here, but I ended up writing only three chapters. Little did I know that this trip was not meant to be solely spent in the cabin writing chapters. God had more in store for me than that. Oh, how I cherished the conversations I had with Jesus out there in His beautiful creation, but even that was not the sole purpose for this trip.
One afternoon, I received a text message from the cabin owner and she said she would be coming over to clean another cabin in the area. She asked if I needed anything while she was there? I told her that I was fine, but I would love to see her other properties she had available to rent. She came over, and that is how I met my friend Sheila. We instantly hit it off, and talked for most of the afternoon.
Before we parted ways, she asked me if I had heard of “Miracle Pottery?” I hadn’t heard of it but I was intrigued as she told me the incredible story of the lady who ran the shop. She suggested I make a trip into Alabama to visit this shop and talk with the owner whose last name just happened to be “Miracle.”
I got up early the next morning and arrived just as the little pottery shop opened. I was amazed to see all the beautiful pottery, most of it engraved with Scripture verses. But, when I met the store’s owner I was completely blown away. She invited me to have a seat with her in the back of her shop, and we began to talk about Jesus. As she began to share with me all the things she had been rescued from in her life by the healing power of Jesus it was all I could do to fight back the tears. This lady was a living miracle!
I ended up spending the entire day with this lady, and what an experience it was! When I returned to the cabin that afternoon, Sheila texted and asked how it went. I told her, and she replied with, “I have someone else I want you to meet.” At this point I was well behind schedule for what I wanted to accomplish as far as the book was concerned. But something wouldn’t let me say, “No.”
Sheila met me at the cabin at 6:00 p.m. the following day, and we went to a very interesting place called “Uncle Lar’s Outpost.” Sheila wanted me to meet the lady who owns and manages the store. When I met Shannon, I could sense there was just something special about her. We sat out on the front porch of the adorable outpost and began to talk about Jesus! I was amazed by her testimony as well. I could not believe all the things she had survived in her life. Seeing this strong, beautiful lady in front of me I would never have dreamed that she had been through so much and I was amazed by how she had come out of the trenches victorious and glowing with the light and love of Christ.
After talking for a little while, she invited me to come back to do a book signing at the outpost. There was no way I could refuse. After all, it would be like coming home to visit family when I returned. Sheila and I left and went to eat at a Mexican restaurant where she shared more of her own story with me. There was no doubt in my mind that God had brought these two ladies into my life for a reason.
In my mind I had envisioned a week of silence with no social interaction; just time alone to write and focus on my upcoming book. God had other plans. This little adventure had all the trappings of a Christmas Hallmark movie, without snow, Christmas or a romantic love interest of course; I left him at home! I thought the solitude and beauty would provide inspiration for my book, but actually it was the experiences and the people God introduced me to that inspired me to write.
I can’t tell you how excited I am to return in November to see what God has in store for the two day book signing. Who knows how many other people God has ordained for me to meet while I’m there? I can sincerely say I know He is up to something. I’m believing He is providing for the greatest chapter yet. I’m so thankful for my new found sisters, and I’m thrilled to spend more time with them as together we witness the sovereign plans of God unfold.
We often plan our steps and have ideas about how things are going to go. But, if we allow God to step in and lead us wherever He sends us, I believe we will have the adventure of our lives. Nothing is more exciting than divine appointments, and nothing is coincidental with God! Follow His leading and direction. You will never be disappointed.
“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.”
Proverbs 16:9 NIV
here to edit.
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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Proverbs 25:11 says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.”
I have been blessed with some amazing people who have been incredible encouragers in my life. I wish I could list them all by name, but I’m sure to forget a name, and I would never want to leave one of these precious ones out. Besides, you know who you are!
Life as a minister is not always easy. I’m certainly not complaining, because there is nothing I would rather do or be. There is nothing more thrilling than seeing lost and broken people come to Christ, and find Hope in Jesus. It is beautiful sight, and it is worth every second of discomfort or trial that could ever come my way. Nothing could stop me from talking about how wonderful my Jesus is!
But, at times ministry can be so discouraging I find myself wondering if I’ll even survive. Ministers rarely talk about the trials and burdens they carry, and the huge amount of discouragement that comes along with the assignments, but these things do exist. A big part of our job in ministry is to encourage, and lift up others. We often have a smile on our face when we are dealing with our own worries, frustrations, and feelings of just not measuring up. The enemy knows exactly how to hit us where it hurts the most, and he is relentless if he thinks he can discourage us in the least.
We sometimes deal with depression, and feelings of rejection. We often doubt our abilities, and we feel like our best efforts just don’t make a difference at times. We are human. But, most of the time we feel like we must be super strong for those we lead. Sometimes we pour out our hearts preaching on a Sunday morning, being careful to share exactly what the Holy Spirit has given us and no one responds to the altar call.
We then leave church wondering what we should have said, or what we shouldn’t have said, or what we said wrong. We feel that we were unsuccessful, and we spend the rest of the next few days critiquing and mentally replaying every word we said, looking for where it could have gone wrong.
We lead people to Christ, and are thrilled to see them growing and beginning to find their purpose and calling, and then they backslide and quit church altogether. We wonder if there was something more we could have done to prevent it. We deal with hundreds of issues, and counsel many, many people behind the scenes. And though we pray for God to take care of them, we still worry about their problems and their wellbeing, as well as our own.
Many times we are criticized about what God has called us to do, and how He has led us to do it. We hear about unkind words that others have spoken about us from people who call themselves our friends. Many times they don’t realize that what they are sharing with us is indeed hurting us. Sometimes it’s just better not to know.
It’s not always easy. But, then there are those times when out of the blue, I get an email or message from an encourager! They might tell me that something I said in a sermon really impacted them or was right on time. They might simply tell me that they are lifting me up in prayer, and thinking of me. They might tell me that what I’m doing is indeed making a difference.
I’ve been blessed by individuals who have contacted me to tell me that God has called them to intercede and pray for myself, my family, and my ministry. Just knowing that I have prayer warriors fighting on their knees on my behalf thrills my heart, and gives me strength! I’ve had friends who have shown up for out of town events just to show their support for me when I speak. Just seeing them sitting in the congregation has been an encouragement to me, and has strengthened me more than they could ever know.
I have a few ladies who are older and wiser than I am who have lifted my arms in the heat of battle more times than they could even imagine. I treasure these dear ones, and I know that their reward is going to be amazing in heaven. If God has called you to be an encourager, do NOT take it lightly. Yours is a huge job, and one of tremendous importance. You may feel that your words don’t make a big difference, but I’m telling you they do! We ministers depend on you, your prayers, and your words of encouragement.
In the New Testament Barnabas’ given name was Joses, or Joseph, but the apostles gave him the name Barnabas, which means “Son of Encouragement!” He left a legacy of being an encourager. Can you imagine having these things said of you?
Acts 11:23-24 says of Barnabas, “When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.”
I am so grateful for all of my friends and encouragers. I hope you never feel insignificant or unnoticed. Your prayers, faith, and wonderful words of encouragement help me to remain true to the Lord, and continue to do what He has called me to do, with all my heart! You are so important to the Kingdom of God, and you are so important to me. I pray that God blesses you abundantly for being obedient to His call of being an encourager! I love you.
Isaiah 61:1-“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,”
To be honest, I hesitated to write this blog because a lot of people don’t believe, or understand how destructive the power of darkness can be in the lives of some individuals. I also hesitated because I have heard others share these kind of things, and I thought they might be, well, a little flaky if you know what I mean.
But, just like Peter and John in Acts 4:20, I cannot help speaking about what I have seen and heard my Jesus do! As I have stated before, jail ministry has proven to be the perfect atmosphere for miracles. I believe there are many reasons for that, but I feel the biggest reason is because there is a silent cry of desperation coming from the hearts of the inmates. They feel hopeless, and we all know where true HOPE is found—only in Jesus. Also Romans 5:20 tells us, “But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”
So, if we are going into an atmosphere where sin and evil abounds, we can count on God’s grace to be there in great abundance. We can also count on the Holy Spirit to empower us for what we will face, or to teach us what to do when we are faced with spiritual forces. This is why I always encourage others to seek the baptism in the Holy Spirit, evidenced by speaking in tongues.
But Ephesians 6:11 says, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
As I was driving to the jail on this particular Friday morning, I was just listening to my praise and worship music. Suddenly it was as if the Holy Spirit just filled the car with me, and I began to pray in the Spirit. It flowed and flowed out of me with such an urgency, I was a little surprised. I arrived at the jail and went inside.
Once inside, twelve ladies joined me for the service. I prayed, and we began to sing worship songs. As we continued to worship, I noticed an older lady with her arms raised. I’m always blessed to see these ladies with their arms raised, tears streaming down their faces in worship to our God. But this lady seemed a little different. I felt I should continue to watch her.
As the music continued to play and the other ladies continued to sing, I made my way toward the lady. When I approached her, she turned to face the wall, mouthing something that I could not decipher. I placed my hand on her shoulder to pray for her, and it was if the Holy Spirit spoke to me and said, “That is NOT my Spirit.” She immediately fell to the floor, and started trying to bang her head on the concrete.
Realizing now what I was facing, I whispered, “Help me Holy Spirit.” I then turned to the eleven other ladies and told them what was going on. I asked them to check their hearts and ask Jesus to forgive them of any sin in their lives, and ask Him to be Lord of their lives. I explained, “This lady has a demon, and when I cast it out, it will look for the next available vessel. Don’t be that vessel. Make things right with God right now.”
By this time, the lady was starting to foam at the mouth and her arms were curved in toward her body and stiff as if she couldn’t unfold them. I tried to get her to look at me, but she wouldn’t. I was holding her head to keep her from banging it into the wall and floor. She still wouldn’t look at me, so I physically turned her head toward me. Her eyes glazed over right before my eyes with what appeared to be thick cataracts.
The whole time I was thinking, “Is this really happening?” Still, I was amazed by the total absence of fear or doubt in me. I knew the Holy Spirit was empowering me. I am certain I would not have had the boldness or faith to do what I did next. I turned around and noticed that three jailers had come into the room with us. All three stood back and did not come near us. That in itself was a miracle because they are supposed to remove inmates that get in the floor for any reason.
In the next moment, I looked straight into the lady’s eyes, and said, “You have to come out of her in The Name of Jesus!” She continued to try to mouth something, but it was as if her jaw was totally locked, and she continued to foam at the mouth. Once again, holding her head in my hands to prevent her from hurting herself, I commanded the unclean spirit to come out.
She still seemed to writhe, and foam at the mouth, so once more I said, “You have no power or authority here, and you MUST come out now in The Name of Jesus!” She looked at me, and her eyes became clear. She sat up, and I asked her if she was ok. She said she was. I immediately prayed with her and led her to Christ.
She told me and the other ladies at the table that this was the first time in years that she had felt like she was in control of her own body. The other ladies began to comment that she looked so different, and even her voice sounded different. She thanked me and thanked me. I told her to thank Jesus, He did it!
The jailers had left the room, and I continued the service using the opportunity to point out the importance of staying sober. Because when we alter our unconscious with drugs or alcohol or other destructive behaviors, we open ourselves up to demonic possession, or oppression.
When the ladies left the room, one of the jailers told me to wait at the desk because the head CO wanted to talk to me. I was thinking, “Oh boy, this is it. They are never going to let me come back.” The CO approached me and said, “I just want to ask you ONE question. Are you SURE you got them all?” I assured her that I felt they were gone.
She continued to tell me that the ladies had been having nightmares, and seeing strange dark shadows when no one was there, and they all just felt an evil presence. She told me it all started when this particular lady came into the jail. She thanked me, and I left.
Driving away, I thought back to my drive to the jail, and I remembered how the Holy Spirit had flooded the car with me that morning. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He was preparing me for what I was about to face. We must be prepared to release prisoners from darkness. I’m not just talking about the people inside the jail, I’m talking about anyone who is bound by the powers of darkness.
We must have the spiritual discernment to recognize what is happening in situations like this. That lady had been bound for years by this demon. She told me of the horrible things it had spoken to her, and it had physically thrown her out of a moving car at one point. This isn’t surprising. The enemy comes only to steal, kill and destroy. (John 10:10)
Let’s be ready to face the enemy head on, no matter what he presents us with. Satan has no authority or power when we stand in faith, and trust in the Name of Jesus. Greater is HE that is in you than he that is in the world! (1 John 4:4)
There are so many things in this world that can bring fear into our lives. We live in a world of uncertainty. Unexpected circumstances are a normal occurrence. If we are believers, we build our lives on faith, and the Word of God—the Holy Bible. But, that doesn’t mean we are exempt from feeling fear.
The enemy loves to use fear and doubt in our lives. Like I’ve said before, his tactics seldom change. He knows how to push our buttons, and bringing fear into our hearts and minds is one of his favorite weapons. I know and recognize many of his tactics, but at times even when I know he is at the source, fear can creep in and try to steal my joy.
Things have been going great over the past few months. I have been extremely busy, but I love it! It thrills my heart to be able to travel and share the Word of God and watch Him move in the lives of His people. He has been doing so many amazing things; saving people, healing people, delivering lives from the powers of darkness, rescuing lives from addiction, and breaking chains in a myriad of situations. There is nothing better than giving God the opportunity to display His glory! It is my hearts utmost desire.
But, when things seem to be going extremely well, and God is moving you can be sure that the enemy of our souls also takes notice. It shakes him up. It makes him nervous, and it makes him mad that our God is receiving honor and glory. He becomes furious when he realizes that souls are being brought into the Kingdom of God. That’s when he begins to use his influences to attack us with weapons from his underhanded arsenal.
After a wonderful weekend of ministry in Iowa, I went in to see my doctor yesterday just for a run of the mill check-up. They did blood work, and today I received a phone call to tell me that some of the levels in my blood panel came back elevated, and now I will have to undergo more tests including an ultrasound.
The first thing that pops into my head when I hear the word abnormal levels, or abnormal tests, is “Oh no! What is wrong with me?” The second thing that comes to mind is, “I don’t have time for this!” And of course all kinds of scenarios begin to run through my mind about what could be wrong, and what the outcome will look like. We all do it. Health matters often have the greatest potential to make us fearful. So, what do we do?
I am currently going through a Bible Study with my ladies at church on the book of Daniel by Beth Moore. Having done this study a few years earlier, I was impacted greatly by one point she makes concerning fear for our lives and wellbeing. I was reminded of it today, and as I looked through my homework for tomorrow night, I was surprised to find it there on the pages for this very week. Coincidence? I think not.
Beth discusses three scenarios when we face trials, and their potential outcomes. In reflecting on Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s situation when they were faced with being thrown into the fiery furnace, we can draw some conclusions that can be helpful to us in our own situations.
Scenario A: We can be delivered from the fire. In other words, God could have stepped in, and prevented the king from even throwing them into the furnace. In our personal lives God could completely heal us, or instantly resolve the situation. The outcome—their faith (or our faith) would be built.
Scenario B: We can be delivered through the fire like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. We might have to go through the fiery trial, but God uses other means to deliver us. It could be a doctors or surgeons hands, or another situation resolved by the hands of a person God chooses to use. Either way, Jesus goes through the trial with us, just as He went into the fiery furnace with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. The outcome—our faith is refined.
Scenario C: We can be delivered by the fire into His arms. In other words, we get to go see Jesus! The outcome—our faith is perfected!
No matter how the scenario plays out, we win! We are often frightened by the unknown, but we can have the confidence in knowing that no matter what our situation looks like, if we are trusting in Jesus—WE STILL WIN.
Even though it may be frightening, and we may initially face tremendous fear, we will ultimately have the victory if we are living our lives for God. The words of the song “In Christ Alone” sums it up so well when it says:
“No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life's first cry to final breath.
Jesus commands my destiny.”
This is the POWER of Christ in us. We have nothing to fear. We have the blessed hope. No matter what you may be facing today, whether it is the fear of a relational outcome, a broken marriage, a financial crisis, or even a health issue. We have not been given a spirit of fear! God is working all things together for our good, despite how things may appear in the natural.
God is faithful, and the Holy Spirit is our Comforter. He gives us perfect peace in every situation if we will give it all over to Jesus. Nothing is impossible for God. We can overcome fear because we are overcomers though the power of the cross! In the end WE STILL WIN.
2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
Romans 8:28 NKJV
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”
Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:11(NLT)
I love happy endings. I love the feeling of anticipation as a movie or book reaches the end. You feel the tension rising. You see where the story line is headed. You may not know all the details, but you know “The End” is drawing near.
Don’t you wish life was like that? Wouldn’t it be great if there was always a nice, neat ‘happily ever after’ for every part of your life story? But there’s not a guaranteed happy ending. We don’t always know how things will turn out. We know that whatever happens God will work it for our good. We know from reading scripture that the ultimate end is good. God wins. The enemy loses. We live with God forever in a beautiful place. But between now and then? We know a few things to look for to know the time is getting close. We have some apocalyptic prophecies laid out in the book of Revelation. But exactly how it is going to play out? That’s a bit hazy.
We can’t see the ‘whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end’. We don’t know how things are going to work out. We don’t know how God is going to solve our financial problems. We can’t see a logical way to work out the mess we’ve made of our lives. It seems impossible for God to change the heart of our wayward child. We can’t see the happy ending.
Sometimes, we read the Word of God and we see the amazing stories of the lives of the men and women that God saw fit to put within the pages of Holy Scripture. I stand in awe and wonder at how God moved in their lives. But something hit me one day as I was reading about the life of Abraham in Romans 4:20. It was the phrase that said Abraham did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief. It says in God’s Word that Abraham did not waver. But if you read the story back in Genesis, it seemed like he did waver. Sarah wavered and gave Abraham her maid Hagar to bear the son. Abraham wavered when he took Hagar and bore a son with her. God clearly said to him that Sarah would bear the covenant son. This looked a lot like wavering to me.
Now I know and fully believe that God’s Word is inerrant. I know that God does not lie. I know that He does not make mistakes. But here it was right in front of me. I knew there had to be an explanation and I knew that I was going to have to seek if I was to find the answer. I pondered. I meditated. And one day, when I was thinking and reading about something completely different, the verse out of Ecclesiastes popped out at me. “He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.”
God has planted eternity in our hearts and we don’t know His work from beginning to end, but HE does! He is the great I AM! He is timeless. He is beyond and above the limits of time. When he looks at us, He sees us through the eyes of eternity! He sees us completed in His Son! He sees us covered by the Blood of Jesus. He sees His Righteousness! He saw Abraham’s end from the beginning. And He sees our end from the beginning. He sees the end of our story! He sees our ‘happily ever after!'
God looks at us through the eyes of eternity! He also chose to do a unique thing: He planted eternity in our hearts. Whether we choose to believe in eternity or not, it is real. It is part of who we are. I think those that say that we just cease to exist when we die aren’t really being honest with themselves. Why do I believe that? Because God planted eternity in their heart. There’s a seed of eternity there. It may be hidden deep down. It may not have been watered and nurtured. They may have tried to ‘pull it up’ and throw it out. But what God plants, man cannot destroy. Eternity is there.
And since eternity is in our heart, it influences how we perceive things. God looked at Abraham and saw his end from the beginning. All God saw was Abraham’s faithfulness!
When we look at situations, circumstances, and people through the eyes of eternity we see them differently. An eternal perspective helps us see past the here and now to the potential of what God can do! We see, through the eyes of faith, that God has a plan for our situations and circumstances. We see, through the eyes of faith, a soul for which Jesus gave His Life. We see that “God has made everything beautiful for its own time."
An eternal perspective is a perspective of hope. It is a perspective that sees the potential. It is a perspective that sees the best. It changes how we see everything!
What if we chose to see the best in people instead of the worst? What if we chose to give others the benefit of the doubt instead of doubting they are of any benefit? What if instead of jumping to conclusions we jump to their defense? Or better yet, we jump in to help? Or jump into the gap in prayer. What if we chose to see situations, circumstances, and people through the eyes of eternity? We just might see more ‘happy endings’ and ‘happily ever afters’.
Donna Sparks is an International Speaker and Evangelist. She is the Author of Beauty From Ashes: My Story of Grace, and, No Limits: Embracing the Miraculous.