Monthly Archives: December 2016

7 Ways to Pursue Spiritual Growth in 2017

Prayerfully reflect on the year that has passed and ask God to guide you in the year to come.

Physical fitness, wholesome nutrition, quality sleep – chances are you’re hoping to improve at least one area of your health in 2017. But what about your spiritual wellbeing? As you get ready to ring in the New Year, take some time to prayerfully reflect on the year that has passed and ask God to guide you in the year to come.

Focus on Prayer
Prayer is a powerful and essential part of spiritual growth. Set yourself up for success by laying your goals down at God’s feet and relying on Him for strength. If prayer has felt more like a burden than a blessing lately, energize your prayer life with these four tips.

Get Into God’s Word
If you’re resolving to read the Bible this year, The One-Year Bible will help you stay on track with daily readings from the Old Testament, the New Testament, the book of Psalms and Proverbs. Maybe you’re just getting started on your walk with God or picking up a Bible for the first time. Get into the Word and begin to better understand the Gospel with these Bible study tips.

Be Thankful
When we flood our minds and hearts with everything we want to change, it can be easy for the goodness of God to escape us. While we certainly need to pray for our needs and the needs of others, it’s important to intentionally thank God for all the good He is doing in our lives. Cultivate a spirit of joy by focusing on your blessings not your burdens.

Consider a Second Bible
If you read your Bible book by book, try a chronological Bible. If you typically take notes in a separate journal, experiment with a journaling Bible. Supplementing your daily reading with a second Bible can help bring clarity to God’s Word.

Commit to a Daily Devotional
Whether you’re diving into your faith for the first time or you’ve been connecting with God for years, these devotionals will keep you encouraged. Focus your heart on God’s faithfulness with 8 daily devotional books that will strengthen your faith in 2017.

Join a Small Group
Faith flourishes in the presence of community. Consider joining a small group or a Bible study at your church or identify a spiritual mentor who can lovingly challenge you to grow. Surround yourself with believers you can learn from.

Put Your Faith Into Action
As Christians, we are called to serve. Be the hands and feet of Christ by volunteering through your church or another organization in your community. Serving can also be a great way to spend time growing together as a family.

We hope you feel encouraged and equipped to make spiritual growth a priority in the New Year.

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A Gut-Honest Look at Love

A Gut-Honest Look at Love by Lysa Terkeurst

“It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” 1 Corinthians 13:7-8a (NIV)

Today I’m feeling so challenged to look at love a little differently. Sometimes in the gut-honest quietness of my heart, I look at love through the eyes of what it will offer me.

I hold out the little cup of my heart to the people I love, “Will you fill my empty spaces? Today will you do that one really thoughtful thing and make me feel like I’m the most noticed and special woman in the world?”

Then I hold it out to my children, “Will you fill up my empty spaces? Will you do something today that makes me look really good as a mom so I’ll feel a little more validated?”

Then I hold it out to my ministry, “Will you fill up my empty spaces? Will you provide something today that makes me feel more significant?”

Maybe a Wednesday morning is an odd time to consider such things.

But as we get closer to a new year I think this Wednesday morning is the perfect time to hit the reset button on my sometimes frail heart. Love is a tricky thing. Our hearts were created to crave it. God proclaims that love is greater than hope and greater than faith.

Amazing.

God also proclaims that love never fails. And in the quietness of my heart that verse from 1 Corinthians 13 makes me squirm a bit. I see love failing all the time. Or do I?

If my only view of love is what it will give me, love from others will fail me every time. It’s not that love fails. It’s that other people were never meant to be my God. Even a wonderful family and a thriving ministry can never truly fill me up, right all my wrongs and soothe those deep insecurities.

No, I can’t read 1 Corinthians chapter 13 with eyes hungry to see what love should give me, and then demand it from those around me. I should read those steadfast Scriptures with the realization: This is the kind of love I can choose to give.

I can choose that my love will be patient. My love will be kind. My love won’t keep a record of wrongs. (Ouch — that’s a hard one, right?)

I can choose that my love will protect and persevere.

And I can choose to lay the cup of my heart at Jesus’ feet and stop twirling, twirling, twirling, hoping — no, demanding — that those around me do things for me they were never meant to do.

Love isn’t what I have the opportunity to get from this world. Love is what I have the opportunity to give.

Dear Lord, thank You so much for Your love. I know that because I am abundantly loved by You, I have an abundance of love to give. Help me today to live loved and to give love. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

TRUTH FOR TODAY:
John 13:34-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (NIV)

Matthew 22:37-39, “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (NIV)

Ephesians 3:17b-18, “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” (NIV)

Get the most out of the study by purchasing your copy of Finding I AM here.

REFLECT AND RESPOND:
Is there anyone or anything you have been looking to other than God to fill your empty places? Spend some time in prayer asking the Lord to help you start looking to Him and Him alone to fill your heart with love and security.

What is one specific way you can intentionally “give” love to someone else today?

© 2016 by Lysa TerKeurst. All rights reserved.

Proverbs 31 Ministries
630 Team Rd., Suite 100
Matthews, NC 28105
www.Proverbs31.org

When Your Cares and Concerns Keep Cropping Up

When Your Cares and Concerns Keep Cropping Up by Chrystal Evans Hurst

“Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7 (ESV)

I recently stumbled upon some pictures from when my oldest son, now a teenager, was in preschool.

The pictures captured a summer camping trip, and in one particular shot, I caught him tossing a twig in the water.

I sat staring at that picture on my computer, letting my mind wander back to that moment, almost 10 years ago, when I watched my boy enjoy a carefree moment on a carefree day. I remember standing behind him, watching him, smiling and enjoying my own carefree moment, seeing him having fun.

I watched him consistently and deliberately pick up a stick from the ground and throw it hard and far across the water. There were broken twigs everywhere. It was almost as if they kept cropping up. My son didn’t seem bothered by all the twigs near his feet. His goal was simply to see exactly how far those sticks could go. He cast each broken twig, one at a time, with all his might. The farther each stick went, the more excited he got.

As I contemplated the photo and memories of that relaxed afternoon, I thought about how much easier it seems to cast broken twigs into the water than to cast the concerns of my broken life onto God.

Instead of picking them up one at a time to cast at His feet, I tend to pick them up and collect them — holding on to them and letting the burden of the brokenness weigh me down.

Why do we opt to carry the broken pieces of our lives in arms of anxiety, fear, stress or worry — instead of casting those cares upon the Lord?

I’m convinced we either don’t believe He cares, or we don’t know how to do it.

Our key Scripture says in 1 Peter 5:7 we ought to cast our cares upon God. The word “cast” means to throw forcibly. As it’s used in Scripture, it implies more than a casual placing of our concerns at Jesus’ feet. Casting our cares upon God gives us a picture of forcibly tossing our cares and troubles as far away from us as they will go, trusting the God who loves us can catch them and knows exactly how to deal with all that concerns us.

The Amplified Bible version of that same verse says, “casting all your cares [all your anxieties, all your worries, and all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares about you [with deepest affection, and watches over you very carefully].”

I must be consistent and deliberate about noticing the little things that concern me and placing them at the Father’s feet in prayer. And I must talk to Him about those things verbally or by jotting them in my journal to symbolize giving those things to Him.

And if those broken pieces keep cropping up, I simply keep tossing ‘em His way.

What is concerning you today?

Cast or throw them with all of your might at the feet of Jesus. Pray with faith, believing God does care and He is fully capable of handling your requests.

Will the cares and concerns of this life keep cropping up? Yes. They most certainly will.

But as you consistently and deliberately cast your cares on Him, you’ll begin to see how far anxiety, fear, stress or worry move away from you as you learn to trust in Him.

And just like my son, the more excited you will become.

Dear Father in Heaven, so much in my life is broken. I have so many concerns and cares, and they weigh me down. While I desire to cast my cares upon You, I find I usually pick them back up again, and they only add more anxiety and stress. Please help me learn to cast my cares on You as I learn what it means to rest and trust in You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

TRUTH FOR TODAY:
Philippians 4:6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (ESV)

REFLECT AND RESPOND:
One of the best ways to cast your concerns on God is to share with others who will pray for you. Share your concerns in the comments below, and allow someone to help you carry your load.

© 2016 by Chrystal Evans Hurst. All rights reserved.

Proverbs 31 Ministries
630 Team Rd., Suite 100
Matthews, NC 28105
www.Proverbs31.org

What Forgiveness Feels Like

What Forgiveness Feels Like by Christina Hubbard

“When you are praying and you remember that you are angry with another person about something, forgive that person. Forgive them so that your Father in heaven will also forgive your sins.” Mark 11:25 (ERV)

It’s making me squirm in my wooden chair, this idea of total forgiveness.

People talk loudly around me as I sip coffee at a restaurant and read Jesus’ words that rock me to the core. I wonder, Can these people hear the secret welling up in my throat? I’m a Christian and I don’t know how to forgive.

I instinctively put my hand over the page to hide the words. I feel exposed.

I’ve walked with God for many years, but I’m struggling to get over past hurts. My relationships are suffering, and the same personal issues keep rising up in my life. I’ve realized I haven’t really shown mercy to those who have injured me, not completely. Forgiveness does not come naturally.

I thought it would be easier to love others like my Father in Heaven. But today, forgiveness feels strange, uncomfortable and radical, like the sun blazing hot on me through the cold cafe window.

Forgiveness is heat and exposure, my heart laid bare in front of God. It feels like surgery. I’m having to admit I’ve become angry and bitter. There have been times lately when forgiveness feels nearly impossible because my heart is bound up tightly like a kid’s knotted shoelaces.

I have pitted myself against others and fought hard for my own rights. I’ve justified myself under the cloak of righteousness and called it love. Slowly, I’m realizing I cannot change people. I am the only problem I can fix.

I think of those who have forgiven me. My husband who pardoned me after I walked out years ago. My kids who hugged me after I yelled. A whole roomful of people who loved me anyway when I threw something in anger.

The capacity to forgive means we are wholly reliant on these open hearts of ours walking around, alive and resurrected in Christ. Beating, open, raw. Forgiving, letting be, letting go.

To forgive is to be transformed completely and never bring up a fault again — no matter what it is. We are to pray and want the best for the one who has injured us. This is unsettling because it feels impossible. Even after I forgive, anger tries to sneak in again and again.

Forgiveness feels like letting people off the hook. Releasing our vise grip on “I told you so” and “You hurt me.” Without forgiveness, our hearts become hard as stone, petrified wood, rotting slower than time.

Today’s Scripture verse reminds us feelings cannot be trusted, but God’s mercy can. It’s not easy, this everyday surrendering of ourselves. We must keep our hearts open to be reworked day after day.

When past hurts rise up and our spiritual lives grow cold, it’s time to bare our hearts to our Heavenly Father, who changes hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. He is faithful to fill us with grace as many times as we need. On repeat. Forever.

We don’t have to be cold, dead wood. We can be heat and life to this world like God. He is constantly reminding us of places we need to let mercy in. He lays our hearts bare at the table, and we experience the great undoing, recalibrating work of grace. We forgive so we will be forgiven. Totally.

Dear Jesus, old hurts and feelings still threaten to hijack my heart, but I want to forgive like You forgive me. When I feel anger creeping in, let that be the signal to forgive again and experience mercy’s healing power. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

TRUTH FOR TODAY:
Luke 23:34, “Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.’ The soldiers threw dice to divide Jesus’ clothes between them.” (ERV)

REFLECT AND RESPOND:
How much we forgive others determines the amount of God’s power we experience in our spiritual lives. What hurts do you have that need to be brought into the light of forgiveness?

© 2016 by Christina Hubbard. All rights reserved.

Proverbs 31 Ministries
630 Team Rd., Suite 100
Matthews, NC 28105
www.Proverbs31.org

But Lord, I Don’t Want to Go There

But Lord, I Don’t Want to Go There by Arlene Pellicane

“When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’ So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt.” Matthew 2:13-14 (NIV)

Have you ever had to move on … when you really wanted to stay put?

Maybe you didn’t want to relocate because of work. Perhaps you dreaded that first appointment with a counselor or fitness coach. You pleaded with the Lord, “Please, don’t make me go there!”

I have felt that way before and I believe Mary, the mother of Jesus, also knew what that was like. In Matthew 2:9-12, we find the Magi visiting Mary’s family. Imagine Mary’s delight and awe to see the Magi worshipping her son.

She didn’t have to worry about necessities because the Magi gave young Jesus treasures of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Maybe Mary wanted to freeze those moments of abundance and goodness. After all, it had been a hard journey to Bethlehem and giving birth in a stable wasn’t exactly comfortable or lavish.

Yet after the Magi had gone, our key verse introduces an angel of the Lord who appears to Joseph in a dream. He instructs Joseph to take Jesus and Mary and flee to Egypt because King Herod was trying to kill Jesus.

Imagine going to bed happily with visions of Magi, gold and treasures, then being shaken in the darkness with the urgent command, “Get up! We must travel now to Egypt. Herod is trying to kill Jesus!”

Another journey … and of all places, to Egypt. Egypt was famous for idolatry, tyranny and enmity toward the people of God. It was the house of bondage for the Israelites — the place where centuries earlier, Hebrew male infants had been sentenced to death.

Don’t you think Mary might have thought, “But Lord, I don’t want to go there. Are You sure about this?”

Notice the Lord spoke to Joseph, not Mary. Mary had to trust that God had spoken to her husband. We don’t know if she said stubbornly, “Well, if we’re supposed to go to that awful place Egypt, the angel better come back and tell me!”

But I doubt that’s what she said. That’s not consistent with Mary’s character and disposition of “let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38c, NKJV). The Bible tells us they left that night for Egypt. There was no delay. With every step, Mary declared her faith in God. She knew her position was the “maidservant of the Lord” (Luke 1:38b) not the “master of her own life.”

Would you or I have gone so directly, so obediently?

About six years ago, I attended a small prayer meeting once a week at my church. I loved that prayer time with older, wiser women who taught me how to persevere in prayer. Yet in this peaceful oasis, I felt the Lord nudging me to start another prayer meeting at my home, in my neighborhood instead.

But then I would miss praying with my friends.

But then I would have to lead instead of just participating.

But then I would have to clean my house!

Regardless of my questions, excuses and hesitations, I couldn’t shake the thought. I knew the Lord wanted me to make the change from my beloved fellowship to something new. A few months later, I opened up my home and four moms joined me for the first time to pray together for our children and our neighborhood school.

It’s been wonderful.

Sometimes God calls us away from something good so He can do a new work in a different place.

Whether God calls us far away to Egypt or to our own dining room table, we must trust and go as Mary did. Mary’s days in Egypt fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet Hosea, “… Out of Egypt I called my son” (Matthew 2:15b, NIV). When God calls us to new or different places, He’s fulfilling His purposes through us, too.

Lord, may I go where You call me without delay. Like Mary, I am Your maidservant. May it be to me according to Your Word. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

TRUTH FOR TODAY:
Jonah 3:3, “Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Ninevah. Now Ninevah was a very large city; it took three days to go through it.” (NIV)

Psalm 119:4-5, “You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed. Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees!” (NIV)

REFLECT AND RESPOND:
Do you have an “Egypt place” or experience where God is calling you obey His leading?

Think of a time in the past when you had to move or do something difficult and it worked out for good. What happened? How did God get the glory through that situation?

© 2016 by Arlene Pellicane. All rights reserved.

Proverbs 31 Ministries
630 Team Rd., Suite 100
Matthews, NC 28105
www.Proverbs31.org

Turning Weak Places Into Strong Places

Turning Weak Places Into Strong Places by Lysa TerKeurst

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” Romans 8:26 (NIV)

We all have them. Weak places. Places inside that make us wonder if we’ll ever get it together like those “together people.” Places that make us feel less than. Less than victorious. Less than a conqueror. Less than strong.

My weak places frustrate me. And yet I refuse to resign that I can’t ever change.

With the power of Christ, all things can be made new. All broken things are subject to restoration. But sometimes I get so tired of trying and I just feel weak. Can you relate?

Let this verse breathe a little life into your weakness today. Whatever it is, however large it may loom:

“… the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Romans 8:26b).

We don’t have to have all the answers. We don’t have to make suggestions to God. It’s okay to be so tired of our weak places that we run out of words to pray.

Look at the beautiful verses written to us Jesus girls tucked around Romans 8:26 about weak places …

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 8:1, NIV).

“You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit …” (Romans 8:9a, NIV).

“If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31b, NIV).

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37, NIV).

Maybe we need to sit still for just a moment or two today. Quietly sit without the weight of condemnation or the swirl of trying to figure things out. Quiet, with nothing but the absolute assurance the Spirit helps us in our weakness.

He understands our weak places. He knows what to pray. There is a purpose to this weakness. Though it doesn’t feel good, things will be worked out in a way that good will come from it (which Romans 8:28 reminds us).

In that quiet stillness while the Spirit prays for us and we just simply soak in truth, there will be a flicker of light. A slight trickle of hope. A grace so unimaginable, we’ll feel His power overshadowing our weakness.

Even the smallest drop of God’s strength is more than enough to cover our frailties, our shortcomings, the places where we deem ourselves weak. So we’ll reject that title.

We aren’t weak. We are dependent.

Dependent on the only One powerful enough to help us. The only One sufficient enough to cover us in grace throughout the process.

Our relationships are not sufficient. Our circumstances are not sufficient. Our finances are not sufficient. Our willpower is not sufficient. Our confidence is not sufficient. But He is and has been and forever will be.

Dear Lord, I know I am nothing without You. I want Your strength to be present in every area of my life. Thank You for hearing the pleas of my heart even when I don’t have the words to express how I feel. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

TRUTH FOR TODAY:
2 Corinthians 12:9, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (NIV)

REFLECT AND RESPOND:
What is one of your weak places? Spend some time in prayer surrendering that area to the Lord and asking Him to be your strength.

Choose one of the verses from this devotion to memorize. Let it be encouragement to your heart on the days you feel particularly weak.

© 2016 by Lysa TerKeurst. All rights reserved.

Proverbs 31 Ministries
630 Team Rd., Suite 100
Matthews, NC 28105
www.Proverbs31.org

A Season of Joy: Jesus Christ is Born

Keep Christ at the center of your family’s Christmas celebration by reflecting on the birth of Jesus.

With Christmas quickly approaching, stress levels are at an all time high and to do lists are longer than ever. Keep your family focused on the reason for the season by reflecting on the birth of our Lord and Savior.

The Christmas Story: Luke 2:1-20 NLT

At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

The great news from an angel of the Lord filled the shepherds living nearby with absolute joy. The most amazing event in history had happened — the Messiah had been born! With Jesus’ birth came hope for the entire world, hope we continue to believe in today. We encourage you to look toward Christ’s second coming with a joyful spirit and a hopeful heart.

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The Big Gift of Smallness

The Big Gift of Smallness by Alicia Bruxvoort

“This is the embodiment of true love: not that we have loved God first, but that He loved us and sent His unique Son on a special mission to become an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” 1 John 4:10 (VOICE)

I’d side-stepped a stack of stuffed animals and trooped over a jumble of Barbie dolls as I followed the sound of her muffled sobs.

Passing the bunkbed, I’d stubbed my toe on her wooden dollhouse before reaching the dresser in the corner with the missing pink knob where I’d found her hiding in the slender gap between the wardrobe and the wall.

We’d had a bad day. A tantrum-throwing, word-slinging, frustrating kind of day. We’d traded cuddles for conflicts, silly songs for sighs, peace for power-plays. And, to be honest, the selfish side of me just wanted to leave my disgruntled daughter sulking in the corner while I lingered on the couch with a cup of coffee and a covering of quiet.

But four years of parenting this fiery child had taught me that humility goes further than harshness, and grace always has a place in our worst moments. So I dropped to all fours and crawled into the gap, right next to my glowering girl.

“May I join you?” I’d whispered.

She’d cast me a solemn nod and reached for my hand, slowly threading her delicate fingers through mine. Then she’d leaned her head on my shoulder and exhaled a jagged sigh. And, together, we’d sat squished in weary silence behind that bedraggled bureau.

That was years ago. My littlest girl doesn’t hang out behind her dresser anymore. She’s more likely to be found hanging from the monkey bars on her elementary school playground. But not long ago she brought home a picture that reminded me of our corner-huddling days.

At the top of the page was a simple writing prompt typed in boxy letters: “I know my Mommy loves me because …”

And just below the words was a crayoned picture of two small stick figures sitting behind a tall white box decorated with pretty pink knobs and my daughter’s response scripted in messy second-grade scrawl.

“I know my Mommy loves me because … she makes herself small when I really need her.”

“See, Mommy?” My little artist exclaimed as she pointed to the picture she’d drawn directly below those fortuitous words. “That’s you and me in my secret hiding place … Remember how you used to come find me when I was crying?”

I nodded and felt my eyes burn with unsolicited tears. I oohed and aahed over that precious masterpiece, then I headed to the kitchen to hang the simple sketch with a magnet on the fridge, because this mama desperately needs to remember what her daughter already knows:

True love bends low to say, You matter.

True love kneels humbly to say, I care.

True love stoops freely to say, I’m here.

True love is willing to become small to offer the BIGGEST gift of all — the power of presence.

Maybe that’s why I found myself thinking about crowded corners and crayoned pictures as I unpacked our simple nativity scene and positioned the baby Jesus figure in the delicate folds of that painted porcelain manger.

At the heart of this season filled with grand fanfare and pomp, is a humble Savior who made Himself small for us when we needed Him most.

It’s crazy when you think about it — how the biggest love of all shrunk small on that first Christmas long ago. The King of Heaven stooped to earth so we might know the gift of His presence, the wonder of His with-ness, the comfort of His company.

And according to a 7-year-old who once hid behind a bedraggled bureau and the timeless words of our key verse today, 1 John 4:10, that’s how we know we are loved, truly and lavishly loved. “This is the embodiment of true love: not that we have loved God first, but that He loved us …”

Dear Lord, Thank You for Your gift of true love. Teach me how to unwrap the joy of Your presence at Christmastime and always. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

TRUTH FOR TODAY:
Matthew 1:23 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” (NLT)

John 3:16a “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son …” (NLT)

REFLECT AND RESPOND:
Be honest with Jesus about your greatest need this holiday season.

Take time to share with a friend one way you’ve experienced God this Christmas.

© 2016 by Alicia Bruxvoort. All rights reserved.

Proverbs 31 Ministries
630 Team Rd., Suite 100
Matthews, NC 28105
www.Proverbs31.org

The Must-Have Gift of the Season

The Must-Have Gift of the Season by Katy McCown

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger … ” Luke 2:7a (NASB)

I stared at my son. Did he really mean it? Does he know what he’s doing?

Moments before, I grabbed a box and sat our little army in a row with the charge, “Time to clean out the toy box.”

They know the drill. It’s a Christmas tradition aimed at clearing out clutter before we add more. And I can usually guess what stays and what goes.

The toys at the top of the box are the ones the kids use often. Those stay. The toys at the bottom of the box are the forgotten, broken or replaced toys the kids are willing to part with.

But this particular year, I was in for a surprise.

My rough and tough 4-year old, Micah, sat on the rug with his little legs crossed. One of the first toys out of the box was his beloved toy, “Dad the Moose” — Micah had named him. Micah loves his Daddy and loves his moose, so it seemed appropriate.

Dad the Moose often slept tucked under Micah’s arm. Dad the Moose traveled wherever we went. Dad the Moose was Micah’s buddy, maybe even his best buddy. So when I pulled him from the box and said, “Give or keep,” I already knew the answer.

“Keep!” Micah yelped and squeezed Dad the Moose close. We continued on with several more “keeps” until without warning, Micah interrupted.

“Wait,” he said urgently. “I want to give Dad the Moose.” And he tossed him into the box.

I stared at Micah. Did he really mean it? He’ll miss that moose! After a few minutes, Micah changed his mind and dug the moose out of the box of giveaways, but moments later he dropped it back inside.

Three times this happened. Moose in. Moose out. Moose in. Moose out.

I watched my little boy struggle. Something inside him said give. But something inside ached. Dad the Moose belonged to Micah. Micah chose him. He named him, and he loved him.

Then, once and for all, Micah did it, “Mom, someone else can have Dad the Moose.”

Elijah, our resident stuffed-animal collector warned, “Micah, another boy or girl may not call him Dad.”

Fearful of Micah’s heart breaking further, I jumped in … “But that’s okay. Because when we give, we also trust that whoever gets our gift will love it as much as we did.”

All of a sudden our box seemed unfit to hold this treasure. It meant too much. It didn’t belong there. How could this gift be dropped into an old, torn, dirty box?

The Bible tells a story of an even greater gift. Our key verse describes the moment, “And she gave birth to her firstborn son” (Luke 2:7a).

God loved the world so much, He gave his Son. The Son He chose. He named. He loved. God knew some would not call Him by His Name. Some would not call Him Savior. King. Emmanuel. Yet because He loved us, God still gave.

But He means too much! He doesn’t belong here! How could the gift of God’s own Son, Jesus, be laid in a forgotten, dirty manger?

But He was, “ … and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger” (Luke 2:7). And the story doesn’t end there.

Scripture reveals the greatest love story ever told, as God gave His only Son not just to live, but also to die and be raised to life, defeating death once and for all and paving the way for us to share in a glorious, unimaginable eternal life in fellowship with God.

It’s this gift — the greatest gift ever conceived — that prompts us to do more than scour countless stores at Christmastime in search of the perfect gift. Instead, the greatest gift compels us to offer our lives back to God as His gift of love spills over.

I watched a similar thing unfold in front of my toy box.

“Okay, Mom, I’ll give Louie.” There Elijah stood with his stuffed owl. Just a few days before, he’d paced all over the store considering every option before he picked Louie. He chose him. He named him. He loved him.

“I’ll give away Pythor too, Mom.” Here came our eldest boy, Jonah, with his prize stuffed python. His scales were blue, Jonah’s favorite color. Jonah chose him. He named him. He loved him.

Watching their little brother give up something so precious compelled two bigger boys to part with something special to them, too.

Today let’s pause not just to remember, but to rejoice in the Love that left Heaven many years ago for you and me. And as we unwrap this gift, let’s find a way to share it with someone.

Dear God, may the truth of Your gift grace my heart in a new way today. And may Your greatest gift of love spill out of my life into the world around me. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

TRUTH FOR TODAY:
John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (NIV)

REFLECT AND RESPOND:
The word “rejoice” means “to feel or show great joy or delight.” What’s one thing you can do today to rejoice in God’s gift of love to you through Jesus?

© 2016 by Katy McCown. All rights reserved.

Proverbs 31 Ministries
630 Team Rd., Suite 100
Matthews, NC 28105
www.Proverbs31.org

When You Can’t See the Road Ahead

When You Can’t See the Road Ahead by Tracie Miles

“And Jesus said to him, ‘Go, for your faith has healed you.’ Instantly the man could see, and he followed Jesus down the road.” Mark 10:52 (NLT)

I’m not much of a Monday person, but this particular Monday morning, I found myself disliking that dreaded day even more than usual.

Shortly after waking up from a restless night’s sleep, my thoughts drifted toward what the upcoming week might hold. I felt a sense of dread sink into my heart and soon found myself wishing it were already Friday.

Most people long for Friday because it means the beginning of the weekend; however I knew that if the week were over, I would no longer have to worry about what challenges it might bring. If it were Friday, I would already have encountered them, faced them and made some progress in dealing with them.

Yet, the fact remained: It was only Monday.

As anxiety set in, God pricked my heart, reminding me I could either let my anxious thoughts control me throughout the week, or I could choose to be in control of them instead. I could worry myself into a frenzy or ask for His peace to fill my heart. I was blind to what was ahead, but knew God had a crystal-clear view.

In Mark chapter 10, a blind man named Bartimaeus sat beside the road — as he normally did — when he heard a commotion. He soon discovered the large crowd of people following Jesus. And they were all headed his way.

Bartimaeus had no idea what was going to happen. Having no sight, he could have felt threatened and anxious, fearful the crowd might trample him. He could have been concerned he’d be unnoticed and overlooked, yet again. Instead, he focused on what he could see with his heart rather than what he was unable to see with his eyes.

He excitedly began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:47b, NIV)

When the people yelled at him to be quiet, he refused and continued to shout, saying, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10: 48b)

His shouting pricked Jesus’ ears.

Jesus stood still, and asked someone to bring the blind man to him. The Bible says Bartimaeus threw aside his coat, jumped up and headed straight toward Jesus. (Mark 10:50)

I love that. The blind man threw aside anything that might hinder his running, jumped up all on his own and blindly ran to Jesus.

He ran solely ahead by faith, not by sight — unafraid of falling or bumping into things, nor fearing what might be ahead of him, simply because He heard Jesus’ voice and knew He was there.

Bartimaeus’ eyes caused him to live without sight, but his heart allowed him to live by faith. That small act of blind faith changed his life forever.

As I lay in my bed pondering this sweet story God brought to mind, my heart began to calm. My inability to “see” the upcoming week did not have to hinder my ability to run forward in faith. I could follow Jesus’ voice in blind faith too, if I chose to believe He would watch over my every step, much like He did for the blind man.

I prayed for the strength to live by faith even when I couldn’t see what was ahead. I committed to trust Jesus with all the things He could see coming but I could not.

We can always choose to follow Jesus’ voice, rather than let our blindness keep us paralyzed in anxiousness and pessimism. Just like the blind man, when we choose to follow Jesus’ voice instead of our eyes, our faith can be life-changing, helping us discover peace and blessing.

Lord, help me have the courage to move through my circumstances each day with blind faith and peace instead of worrying about what I cannot yet see. Open my spiritual eyes to see what You want me to see and hear what You want me hear, while helping me trust You more. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

TRUTH FOR TODAY:
2 Corinthians 5:7, “For we live by faith, not by sight.” (NIV)

Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” (NLT)

REFLECT AND RESPOND:
Where in your life could committing to live with blind faith, trusting God is in control, help you feel less anxious and more positive about what’s to come?

How might you go through this week differently if you learned to control your anxieties instead of letting them control you?

© 2016 by Tracie Miles. All rights reserved.

Proverbs 31 Ministries
630 Team Rd., Suite 100
Matthews, NC 28105
www.Proverbs31.org