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God’s Presence & His Voice

Picture by Matheus Bertelli

Elijah was a mighty prophet during the reign of King Ahab, a wicked king of Israel who actively promoted and engaged in Baal worship. He is well known for His miraculous exploits for the Lord. He is mentioned in the book of James as an example of powerful prayer. He is also known for his discouragement and depression.

As we read the story of Elijah, we can be encouraged that God is with us during times of struggle.

In 1 Kings 18:16-46, Elijah experienced an astounding victory against the prophets of Baal. Two bulls were prepared for sacrifice and laid on an altar. The true god would respond with fire. Baal did not pay attention to the prophets’ cries of worship and ritual cutting of themselves. After several hours, it was Elijah’s turn. He had twelve large jars of water poured over the sacrifice and altar. “The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench” (v. 35). Elijah called out to the Lord. “Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench” (v. 38). The Lord established Himself as the one true God and He used Elijah to do it.

Later that day, the Spirit of the Lord granted Elijah superhuman speed. He ran faster than King Ahab who was racing on horseback. It was a euphoric day for Elijah.

Events quickly changed, however, as Jezebel the wife of King Ahab threatened to kill Elijah. Depression overwhelmed him and he longed to die.

Elijah was exhausted physically and emotionally. The miraculous events of the previous day did not turn the hearts of the Israelites back to the Lord as he had imagined. He felt alone, the only person standing for God in a godless society. Elijah was ready to give up. He was done.

God, in His great mercy, would not allow Elijah to quit. He supernaturally prepared him for a long journey to the mountain of God where Elijah would meet with Him.

The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by’” (v. 11).

Scripture tells us that as Elijah waited, a powerful wind, an earthquake, and a fire broke out before the Lord. Centuries before, the Lord had revealed Himself to His people at Mt. Sinai when He gave His Law. He showed up with thunder, lightning, and fire. The mountain shook and a loud trumpet blasted. “As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him” (Exodus 19:19). Elijah’s experience was vastly different. God did not speak to him in the midst of the impressive and dangerous elements as during the other theophany. When it had all passed, the Lord spoke to Elijah in a gentle whisper.

It is common for preachers to emphasize that gentle whisper. Their message? We must not look for signs, wonders, and miracles when seeking the Lord, because His presence is known through His still, small voice. We must be quiet and wait to hear God speak to our hearts. While their point is well taken, something else is overlooked.

The Lord may not have been in the wind or earthquake or fire, but He was with Elijah shielding him from life-threatening elements. How else could Elijah remain safe during these natural disasters? God’s presence was with Elijah the entire time. He may not have been speaking, but He was certainly active on Elijah’s behalf.

Elijah had just experienced the earth-shattering glory of God and was kept safe from all harm. When the Lord finally spoke, Elijah was ready to listen.

What does this mean for us? No matter what we encounter, we are never alone. God may be silent, but He is not absent nor is He inactive. He is Emmanuel, God with us. His Spirit is in us and around us.

God can speak to us in whatever manner He wishes. It may be through thunder and lightning or a still small voice or a nature walk or a song. He won’t fit in a neat, tidy box, although His message will always align with the holy Scriptures. He directs our steps and lights our way.

Our job is to keep our hearts open to receive God’s gracious Word. His voice lifts us from despair, depression, and the desire to give up. His Word heals our wounds and renews our hope. Like the Lord did for Elijah, He will infuse us with new life. Be ready and willing to listen to Him.

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God Calls Unexpected People

The women fled from the tomb, trembling and bewildered, and they said nothing to anyone because they were too frightened. Mark 16:8 NLT

Photo by Engin Akyurt, Pexels.com

This is the shorter ending of the Gospel of Mark based on the most ancient manuscripts. Does this surprise you? It lacks faith and falls short of what we’d expect of people who encountered the miraculous resurrection of Jesus. There is no hint of the revival that swept the ancient world. Only the empty tomb, trembling, bewilderment, and fear-driven silence.

Perhaps that’s why later manuscripts add one or two more glorious endings. Check your Bible to see how Mark 16 ends.

At first glance, this ending bothers me. It is unsettling. I want to read about women who were courageous and did not keep the life-changing message to themselves. But the Bible reports events honestly. (Thankfully, the other three Gospels paint a more palatable picture.) From the combination of all the Gospels, we see that the angel of the Lord appeared to women first. Women were considered second-class citizens. Their testimonies were not generally believed.

That is truly remarkable! The Creator of the Universe entrusted the initial message of the resurrection to women.

The Bible doesn’t sugar-coat the women’s reaction to the news. Jesus was alive! But they had seen Him dead, lying in the tomb. Their world was turned upside down, and it took some time to figure out what to do. In other accounts, the women eventually told the disciples and weren’t believed anyway (heavy sigh).

Instead of blaming these women for their lack of faith, what can we learn from them?

  1. Jesus calls unexpected people to share the good news. You may not feel like a qualified candidate to tell others about Jesus. The good news is not reserved for the highly, trained clergy or the flamboyant evangelist. It’s for everyone. If you are a believer, He has called you. Tell your Jesus-story.
  2. Others may not believe us but our message is life-changing. God has not asked us to convince anyone to trust in Jesus as their Savior. That’s His job. Our job is to share God’s message as we go. We plant or water seeds. He does the rest.
  3. Ask the Holy Spirit for the courage to tell others the Gospel. Without the Holy Spirit, we will easily resemble the women in Mark 16:8. But Jesus promised the disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere…” (Acts 1:8). We have the Holy Spirit to give us the courage we need.

Do you feel among the unexpected? Let’s step out with Spirit-filled courage. We have a message that the world needs to hear.

In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it (John 1:1-5).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I confess that sometimes I am afraid to share the Good News with others. I worry about rejection or that I won’t say the right thing. Give me courage through the Holy Spirit to plant and water seeds of the Gospel, expecting you to make them grow. Above all, empower me to speak your message with love and grace. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Seven Tips for Restoring Relationships

When God saves us, He never leaves us where He finds us. He provides for our transformation and healing by the Holy Spirit. Often it is a messy process.

Full disclosure: My healing process has been messy, and I have hurt others dear to me in my attempt to find wholeness.

The last ten years have been intense as the Holy Spirit has revealed broken places in my soul and walked with me in transformation. My eyes were open to the extent of trauma in both my childhood and adulthood, experiences I had sought to minimize and dismiss. In my desperation to find healing, without warning I dumped an ugly load of pain in the path of my loved ones, hoping they would graciously sort through all the garbage with me. I admit this was an unwise and unfair approach.

I am grateful to the Lord for His lovingkindness and grace. I am in a far better space today, but Jesus and I are not done yet. I am in awe, that in spite of myself, Jesus has restored my significant relationships. I FaceTime with my mom twice a month and have meaningful conversations. This week I had a wonderful visit with my dad and stepmom, two people incredibly dear to my heart. Throughout our time together, I marveled at the healing work of God. Every moment spent with them was a gift.

I can’t go back in time, but I can be more aware going forward.

Here are some tips I have gleaned about seeking to restore relationships. It takes both parties for restoration. If both parties are not willing, restoration is not possible, but you can still find peace through Christ.

Be patient. Restoration is a process. It takes time to rebuild trust. Also, heart change is a work of the Holy Spirit. God’s timing is not our timing. “He has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11a NIV).

Take responsibility for yourself. You are only in control of yourself. Talk about your feelings, perceptions, and experiences. Do not assume the worst or blame others. “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12a).

Forgive. Just as you have been forgiven in Christ, extend forgiveness. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

Forgive again. Every time feelings of hurt or offense arise, remind yourself that you have chosen to forgive. “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times’” (Matthew 18:21-22).

Listen well. As Stephen Covey recommends, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Listen to learn and understand. Put yourself in the other’s shoes. “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19).

Walk in love. Read and meditate on 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. Model the example of Jesus regardless of the response you receive. Some issues just need to be dropped. “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

Remember that life is short. Each day is a gift from God. Nobody is guaranteed tomorrow. I certainly don’t want a loved one to pass away, knowing that I didn’t do my part to work toward restoration. We don’t have the luxury of withholding forgiveness. “Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom” (Proverbs 90:12 NLT).

Friends, our God delights in restoring relationships. We thrive in life and leadership, as we keep our hearts open to restoration with others.     

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Walk in Faith, Not Fear

It was a perfect day for a hike. My husband picked out the trail, a 31-minute drive from our house. The rock pathway stretched out before us, inviting us to enjoy the beauty of nature. The sheered basalt cliffs framed the area on both sides. The trees, bushes, and flowers burst forth with the colors of spring. A creek meandered from the west, its water adding to the melody of the birds. Our excursion was out-of-this-world, a small taste of heaven.

Two men came walking toward us. They had finished their walk and were heading to the parking area. They stopped just after passing us with a warning. “We saw a rattler back there. She was coiled up near a rock. Looked like she was guarding some eggs. Better keep an eye out.”

My husband and I thanked them and continued walking. Nothing had changed about that idyllic setting, except everything had changed. The fear of encountering a fierce rattlesnake overshadowed my enjoyment. My spidey-senses (or should I say snakey-senses) were on high alert and my adrenaline went soaring.

It took every ounce of my strength to keep from calling quits on our outing. Each step felt like one step closer to disaster. Every rock was a rattlesnake lair. The tree roots were hiding places. The dried leaves were molted snake skin. Broken branches lying on the path were serpents.

Jonathan was in front of me on the lookout for danger, and I lagged further and further behind. In desperation, I quoted Scripture about God’s love being greater than fear. I even shouted out part of Mark 16. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well” (verses 17-18 NIV). 

My pulse slowed. I breathed easier. And then, a snake crossed in front of Jonathan! I cried out in dismay. It was a harmless bull snake. Nonetheless, it launched me back into the cycle of fear.

As my body settled down yet again, I realized I was so focused on impending doom that I was missing out on the Creator’s artistry. I had been oblivious to the surrounding majesty. So, in spite of the fear, I forced my gaze upward to the trees and cliffs. I studied the water dancing along the creek bed. My soul drank deeply of the beauty. The sense of fear diminished as I paid more attention to God’s spectacular creation.

I wonder how often the fear of “what might be” robs us from experiencing the blessings God has for us right now. Do we miss out on the exciting possibilities of the future because we are paralyzed by dread? Perhaps the Lord has planted a vision in your heart for yourself or your family or your ministry. Don’t allow the potential risks to overwhelm you from taking the next steps of trusting obedience. This doesn’t mean you ignore danger signs but you must not allow them to deprive you of present and future joys.

If we encounter obstacles along the way (and we most likely will), it isn’t the time to quit. We must continue to trust the Lord to direct our steps towards His will, to walk in faith instead of fear.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life–of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)

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 (Proverbs 3:5-6 NLT).

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The Trust that Gets God’s Attention

His name was Jonathan. We were in the same first grade class. One day I made him angry by winning a race in PE, dethroning him as the fastest runner in first grade. Jonathan threatened to beat me up after school. Every day as soon as the dismissal bell rang, I shot out of the classroom. Jonathan and his cohort were close behind me, shouting threats of what they would do when they caught me. After a couple weeks of arriving home breathless and quaking with fear, my mom asked me what was going on. When I told her, she became quite indignant. She spoke with Jonathan’s dad, a pastor of a local church. He was apologetic and assured my mom that I would never be bullied by his son again. I never found out what unpleasant consequences Jonathan faced, but that was the end of our adversarial relationship. By the end of the school year, we had become recess buddies.

My experience with bullying pales in comparison with King Hezekiah’s encounter with an enemy of his kingdom. Hezekiah is one of my Old Testament heroes. Although he was far from perfect, in Second Kings 18 and 19, Hezekiah’s response to devastating threats was exemplary.

In 722 B.C.E, Assyria conquered Israel. Centuries earlier Israel split into the northern and southern kingdoms. The northern kingdom was defeated and taken into captivity. The southern kingdom of Judah was spared. Twenty years later, Assyria decided to expand their conquest. Tiny Judah would be no match for their might.

At first, Hezekiah tried to appease Sennacherib, the Assyrian king, by paying tribute. Sennacherib accepted the tribute and proceeded to attack Jerusalem, the capital of Judah, anyway. Then the threats and taunting started.

What are you trusting in that makes you so confident? Do you think that mere words can substitute for military skill and strength? Who are you counting on, that you have rebelled against me?

With your tiny army, how can you think of challenging even the weakest contingent of my master’s troops, even with the help of Egypt’s chariots and charioteers? What’s more, do you think we have invaded your land without the Lord’s direction? The Lord himself told us, ‘Attack this land and destroy it!’” (2 Kings 18:21, 22, 24, 25 NLT).

Sennacherib and his army tried to strike fear into the hearts of Judah. Not only did he boast of his superior strength, but he also cast doubt on their faith. After all, “God Himself” had instructed Assyria to destroy them.

Hezekiah had done everything he could do. Still, he faced a formidable foe with impossible odds. Clearly, there was no winning this battle.

Look at Hezekiah’s response. After he received the letter from the enemy and read it, “he went up to the Lord’s Temple and spread it out before the Lord” (2 Kings 19:14). First, Hezekiah declared the greatness and power of God, as the ruler of every kingdom and the creator of the heavens and the earth. Then, he acknowledged the threatening situation for the people of Judah. Finally, he cried out for deliverance. “Now, O Lord our God, rescue us from his power; then all the kingdoms of the earth will know that you alone, O Lord, are God” (v. 19).

Hezekiah’s response was a demonstration of trust. He could have thrown up his hands in despair and surrendered to Sennacherib. He could have formulated an escape plan. Instead, he trusted the Lord and got His attention.

The prophet Isaiah encouraged Hezekiah with a remarkable message from God. The Lord had heard Hezekiah’s prayer. He promised a good future for Judah with bountiful crops. Not only that, the Lord would cause the king to “return to his own country by the same road on which he came. He [would] not enter [the] city” (v. 33). God assured Hezekiah, “For my own honor and for the sake of my servant David, I will defend this city and protect it” (v. 34).

God did exactly that.

The angel of the Lord went out to the Assyrian camp and killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. When the surviving Assyrians woke up the next morning, they found corpses everywhere. Then King Sennacherib of Assyria broke camp and returned to his own land. He went home to his capital of Nineveh and stayed there (v. 35-36).

What a miraculous victory! God promised to deliver Judah, and Hezekiah didn’t even lift a finger. God took care of Judah’s bullies and the Assyrians never returned.

How will we respond when we encounter overwhelming obstacles in our lives? Will we panic or despair because the situation is so much bigger than ourselves? Or will we go to the Lord, spread out the problem before Him, and declare our trust in Him?

Let’s choose to trust. As New Testament believers, we can have confidence in God’s care for us.

Romans 8:28 promises:

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”

We may not know how. We may not know when. But we can have one hundred percent certainty that God will work everything together for our good. Trust the Lord and get His attention.

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A Lesson from Bike Riding

My husband and I love bike riding together. We aren’t experienced bicyclists, but it is fun to enjoy the great outdoors. On Memorial Day, we loaded up our bikes and rode on a path lined with orchards, blackberry vines, and wildflowers. The air was fresh with a hint of rain that waited until we were almost done.

About midway on our ride, a man came up from behind us on a scooter. His music grew louder as he approached. At the same time, I realized that we needed to stop at an intersection just ahead. I panicked and tried to simultaneously move out of the way and shift to a lower gear. It was too much for my brain to process and I crashed on the gravel.

I suffered a bloody knee and several bruises on my lower legs and on the wrist where I wear my watch. I cried, not so much because of the pain, but because my pride was wounded. My concerned husband asked if I wanted to return to the car. After examining the injuries more closely I decided to continue. I didn’t want a minor accident to cut our plans short.

As we pedaled down the path, I reminisced about learning to ride a bike. I was so afraid of falling that I didn’t attempt to ride a bicycle until I was eight years old. In the summer before I turned nine, I visited family. My cousins were around my age and none of their bikes had training wheels. If I wanted to hang out with them (and I did), I would have to muster some courage and ride a bike. I didn’t let fear hold me back.

It was delightful to balance on two wheels and keep up with my cousins. I got comfortable turning corners and going over bumps. And then, I fell. My fear had been realized. I sat in the dirt and thought of excuses for not continuing the ride. I would walk the bike back to the house and be done with it.

But my cousin cheered me on. “You’re okay. Get back up and try again.”

I stayed put. My fear of falling again kept me rooted to the ground.

My cousin persisted, reminding me of the scene in Bambi when he got injured in the forest fire. Bambi’s father, the majestic king buck commanded Bambi to get up. “Get up, Bambi. You must get up!” Bambi struggled and then complied, bounding to safety.

I finally responded to my cousin’s urging. I reluctantly got back on the bike. I fell again…a few times. Each time it became easier to get back up. I learned to ride a bike that summer. The greater lesson I learned, though, was to always get back up.

“The godly may trip seven times, but they will get up again.
    But one disaster is enough to overthrow the wicked” (Proverbs 24:16 NLT).

Life is painful sometimes. We might be challenged in our relationships, employment, finances, or health. We might feel discouraged and defeated by the outcome. But we must not stay down.

What about when we make bad decisions or go against God’s Word? What if we find ourselves caught in sin?

Again, we must not throw up our hands in despair. God’s Spirit of grace is available to help us. We have His promise.

“But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness” (1 John 1:9).

When we confess our sins, the Lord forgives and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. We learn from our mistakes and, by God’s power, change our ways.

When life gets hard, don’t give up. Trust the Lord and get back up.

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The Beauty of Diversity

For the last few weeks, I have been listening to a fabulous sermon series on diversity. It has expressed what I have experienced throughout my lifetime. Yes, diversity is important, but it is deeper than making sure that we are politically and socially correct. This goes beyond hiring different ethnicities and genders to ensure there is equal representation in the workplace. It is much more than being satisfied that your church, small group, or service club has a few people who are different skin color than the majority. As God’s dearly loved children, we are to embrace diversity, realizing that true love of others can be messy, confusing, and sometimes just plain hard work. But it is God’s will for His Church, and unity among diversity greatly pleases Him.

Photo by fauxels on pexels.com

I was born in the 1960s to a Caucasian-American mother and a Chinese-Canadian father. Being half Caucasian and half Chinese set me in a rare category back then. I felt that there was no place I belonged. The Asians rejected me because I wasn’t “pure.” Caucasian people didn’t accept me either because I was obviously “something other than White.” When my family moved to a multi-cultural neighborhood, I developed friendships with a diverse group of students—Black, Indian (from India), Pakistani, Jewish, and Caucasian. For the first time I felt whole, and my heart was full. Sadly, we moved a couple years later to a predominantly Caucasian city where a person of color would turn heads.

Because of my childhood experiences, I am compelled to speak and act in such a way that demonstrates the beauty of diversity and that every single life matters. From the moment of conception until death, all life is sacred and worthy of respect. Nothing can diminish that. Not legal status, ethnicity, skin color, worldview, sexual attraction, gender identity, political affiliation, lack of education, poverty, addiction, physical and mental health problems, or homelessness. Nothing can take away a person’s intrinsic value.

Today people often inquire about my kids’ background. One son, in particular, is frequently asked if he is Mexican (which makes sense because we live in an area that is 50 percent Hispanic). When he mentions that he is actually part Chinese, the person laughs, thinking it is a joke. Why is that so funny? Then they find out it is not a joke and things feel awkward for a bit.

My kids are grown, and I have seven amazing grandkids. Some of them are half Mexican-American. All of them are one-eighth Chinese. Each of them is delightful and has captivated my heart! I am also blessed to be unofficially adopted as “Nana” to a sixth-month-old boy of a Congolese couple. His smile is my undoing. There is beauty in diversity that delights the Lord, the One who creates such variety in the first place.

Racism is the belief that one’s own ethnicity, heritage, culture, or group is superior to others. Racism is ever-present and affects the way we look at the world. Left unchecked it leads to prejudice and discrimination. We judge others based on our own culture as the ideal standard. “My way is the right way.” Subtler forms of racism show up as comments about “those people” that elevate us. It divides people into the categories of “us” and “them.” It interferes with experiencing the beauty of diversity. As servant leaders, we must avoid racism and love all the people following our lead.

In the Book of Revelation, John had a vision of a great crowd surrounding the Lord in worship. “After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar,

‘Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne
and from the Lamb!’”
~Revelation 7:9-10

Every nation, tribe, people, and language worship the Lord! They all put their faith in their Savior. No believer was excluded, regardless of their background. Will we be people that love others and include them? Will we be leaders that speak in terms of “us” and “we”? People don’t have to look, believe, think, or live the same way as us to be included and genuinely cared about. When we appreciate the beauty of diversity, we no longer say with an air of superiority, “those people.” Instead, we humbly accept others as ones deeply loved and adored by Jesus. We take time to hear their life stories and experiences. We learn about other countries, cultures, and traditions. As we open our hearts, we will genuinely embrace them as “we.”

All the nations you made will come and bow before you, Lord; they will praise your holy name. ~Psalm 86:9

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Mental Health & Jesus

The month of May has been designated for Mental Health Awareness since 1949. I am grateful that the subject of mental health is increasingly part of the public conversation. According to the National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five adults and one in six youth (ages six to seventeen) experience mental illness. These are pre-pandemic numbers, and experts assert that they have skyrocketed in the last two years.

My beautiful offspring, JoJo, modeling their newest statement shirt. I need to order one, too!

The topic of mental health in a generic sense is considered less hush-hush than in days gone by. But people who step forward and identify their struggle with mental illness are often met with an awkward silence or attempts to change the subject. Much more work needs to be done because only one-third of the people suffering from mental illness seek professional help.

I have been hesitant to talk about my own mental health journey. In my early days of ministry, I was well aware of the stigma for Christians (and even worse, ministers) who needed medication for depression. There were unspoken judgments of having a lack of faith, not trusting Jesus enough to live in the joy He provides. Who wants to be a target of criticism when already feeling incredibly vulnerable?

However, I feel challenged to break my own silence and contribute to finding solutions.

Today I approach you simply as one who has walked the road of depression, anxiety, and PTSD. I was six years old when I had my first encounter with suicidal ideation. I suffered from serious post-partum depression following the birth of each of my five babies. After my fourth child was born, I cried every day for six months until a friend insisted that I make a doctor’s appointment. I encountered several traumatic events throughout my life that took a serious toll on my well-being. I also have had the privilege of ministering to wonderful people seeking answers for their mental health.

The field of mental health is vast. Mental illness comes in many shapes and sizes. One blog post can barely scratch the surface.

The one thing I do know is that Jesus loves you. In whatever mess you may find yourself, Jesus is there. Not with shame or condemnation, but with grace and wholeness.

The route to wholeness looks different for each one of us; yet wholeness is ours through Jesus.

For me, this has looked like…

  • Prayer and worship focused on Jesus as my Healer.
  • Taking different medications during different seasons of life.
  • Many hours of counseling sessions to unlock trauma from the past.
  • Memorizing God’s Word to counteract the negative messages in my mind with God’s truth.
  • Working with a psychiatrist to discover how to properly balance my brain chemistry.
  • Heartfelt conversations with loved ones about my mental health.
  • Dozens of once-full-now-empty tissue boxes.

As you can see, it has been a process involving faith and community. I continue to become who God has designed me to be.

In 2 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul recounts his story about a thorn in the flesh. He asked the Lord three times to remove it. God’s answer to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (v. 12a).

What was Paul’s thorn in the flesh? There are a variety of thoughts depending on the Biblical scholar you ask. Some say it was a physical condition, perhaps an eye disease. Others identify it as bouts of depression. Still, others claim it was a spiritual attack. Regardless of what the thorn was, we can be encouraged that Paul didn’t define it.

For whatever reason, Paul felt weak and God assured him that His grace was sufficient. Indeed, His grace was all, everything Paul needed. In the midst of weakness that threatened to hinder Paul’s ministry effectiveness, God’s power was at work.

We can take heart. The same God who was with Paul is with us. Jesus promised that He would always be with us. We are never alone.

Knowing this to be true, you can be honest with the Lord. (Um…He already knows anyway.)

You can be honest with others who have shown themselves trustworthy and supportive.

You can reach out to mental health professionals for help.

Mental illness does not disqualify you from God’s call. But, please, don’t leave it untreated.

You can thrive in life and leadership.

Because there is abundant grace and hope in Jesus!

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When God’s people obey, God shows up in a big way.

By Julian Jagenberg @pexels.com

Joshua led the Israelite army to march around the formidable city of Jericho. The Lord had instructed him to place seven priests and the Ark of the Covenant at the front of the line. Nobody was to make a sound for six days. On the seventh day, seven priests were to blow the trumpets. Only then could the army shout. (See Joshua 6:1-27.)

Gideon led 300 Israelite soldiers to fight the vast army of Midian. Under the Lord’s command, he sent about 32,000 men home. Gideon divided the soldiers into three companies of 100 soldiers each. Upon the signal, the men were to break their jars with torches inside and blow their trumpets, shouting “For the Lord and for Gideon.” (See Judges 7:1-25.)

Paul and Silas traveled to the city of Philippi after receiving a vision from the Lord. Several days later, they were beaten and thrown into jail because they were considered a public menace when a slave woman was delivered from the fortune-telling spirits that made her master money. At about midnight, with their feet in stocks, Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns to God loudly enough for the other prisoner to hear. (See Acts 16:6-40.)

These three distinct stories share a common theme of obedience. Joshua and Gideon were both given unusual battle plans. Both men followed the Lord’s orders. God performed mighty miracles and the Israelites won incredible victories.

Paul and Silas went to the place God had told them to go, but after only making one recorded disciple, they were falsely accused and put in jail. Instead of having a pity party and moping about their unfair circumstances, the two Jesus followers decided to praise the Lord. A divine visitation shook the jail, setting all the prisoners free. When the jailer went to check out the situation, none of the prisoners had escaped (a huge miracle by itself). As a result, the jailer and his entire household put their faith in Jesus.

God’s people obeyed, and God showed up in a huge way!

By Andrea Piacquadio @pexels.com

In the middle of obeying, it didn’t make sense. There were plenty of occasions for doubt to creep in and to quit before the plan was completed.

Joshua’s army could have stop marching before the seventh day. They might have felt silly marching silently around Jericho. But they persevered.

Gideon’s men could have decided to join all the others who had gone home. What chance did they have against the Midianites? But they didn’t give up.

Paul and Silas could have lamented about what a waste of time it had been to come to Philippi in the first place. How could the Lord have planned for them to land in jail? But they trusted Him instead.

However, in each situation, when they looked back, they could see the unmistakable intervention of God.

The walls of Jericho fell and the city was captured.

The Midianite army was soundly defeated.

The Lord visited the jail and a prominent family in Philippi was saved. (The Bible doesn’t say, but I wonder how many prisoners gave their lives to Jesus that night?)

What has God asked you to do?

What next step do you need to take to move forward in obedience?

Take courage, my friend.

It might not make sense in the middle. It might not be easy. But don’t give up.

As you obey the Lord’s leading, expect Him to show up. That’s the kind of God He is.

Special thanks to my son, Jason Babcock, for sharing a devotional that inspired me to write this.   

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(Re)acquaint yourself with God’s grace

Resurrection Sunday is here! We put to rest the Lenten season of preparation and focus on the culmination of God’s plan to redeem humanity. The long-awaited and hoped for deliverance, the final blow in the battle against sin, they have been ushered in by the New Covenant of grace and faith in the risen Jesus.

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Lent is observed during the forty days before Easter. It symbolizes the forty days Jesus spent in the desert, being tempted by the devil. Afterward, He emerged and began His public ministry. The season of Lent is dedicated to reflecting on our lives and opening our hearts to the sacred work of the Holy Spirit. We respond to God’s invitation to prayer, fasting, and giving.

I was drawn to observe Lent twelve years ago. Previously I hadn’t been aware of the church calendar. Through the influences of friends and authors, I learned about the life-giving practices of Lent that draw us closer to Jesus. Since then, I have established a rhythm of renewal each year during the Lenten season.

I’ll be honest with you. This year, Lent was difficult. It felt much more laborious than other years, like walking through the wilderness without any shade or water. I read my Lenten devotional and engaged in prayerful introspection, but fasting was brutal. Self-discipline, which is usually my faithful companion, was nowhere to be found. I related to Paul who described our battle with sin in Romans 7:15.

I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.

The harder I fought, the weaker I felt. The more restrictions I put on myself, the more I food I ate. The vicious cycle spiraled steadily downward. Discouragement took root and feelings of failure settled in. What was happening to me?

It took almost thirty days before I could hear what the Holy Spirit was speaking to my heart. (What can I say? I’m a slow learner.)

I needed to get reacquainted with God’s grace.

Sometimes we can become masters at outward, godly behavior. We do and say the right things so well that they become automatic. We know how to play the Christian leader role with excellence. We are so good on the outside that we lose sight that the one and only reason we are good is because of Jesus.

God extends His grace to save us. We need His grace to change us. We survive by His grace as He renews us from the inside out. His transforming grace empowers us to honor Him with our lives.

I say “we,” but I really should say “I.” I had allowed self-sufficiency to infect my thinking. It showed up in my failure to fast. I couldn’t pat myself on the back for maintaining a routine with reading and prayer either, because I wasn’t relying on Jesus.

I was including Jesus in my life, but I wasn’t completely relying on Him.

I decided that the remaining days of Lent would be spent embracing His grace. I realized that the end game isn’t to be perfect at reading the Bible, praying, and fasting. It took off the pressure to perform and freed me to joyfully surrender to Jesus.

God’s grace is offered to you and me for every area of our lives every single day. We are blessed when we receive it.

In which area(s) do you need to get reacquainted with God’s grace? Ask Jesus to give you a fresh start.

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence (1 Peter 1:3 NLT).

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One Word for the Year…With a Twist

In 2014, I added a meaningful activity to my soul preparation for the new year. It involves prayer, asking the Lord to direct me to one word for the year. That one word becomes a source of inspiration and encouragement in the weeks and months ahead. At first, the word might feel uncomfortable or it might not make sense.

One year I felt that God’s word for me was “dare.” Now, I am not a risk-taker. I like my routines, and I don’t enjoy rocking the boat. However, after trying several times to pick a different word—one gentler and less in-my-face—I surrendered my own desires. “Dare” it was. And that year, the Lord empowered me to dare to believe Him for big things for the pregnancy help center I lead. Believing for big things required me to stretch and walk in new territory.

At the end of each year, I start praying and listening for my word. Some words from the past have been “virtue,” “expectation,” “listen,” and “fearless.”   

This year I didn’t receive one word. I sensed there were three. Because I’m a rule follower, it felt like I was doing something wrong. I continued to seek the Lord, and the three words resonated equally. I couldn’t get rid of any of them.  Pray. Wait. Trust.

There are times that we can get set in our way of doing things and our rituals lose their vibrancy. The Lord may invite us to change some elements of deeply held practices and embrace flexibility. Being flexible can be life-giving as we rely on His steadfastness when we feel shaky.

How do you like to start off a new year? What can you change to make your routines more life-giving? May you thrive in life and as a leader through Jesus in the days ahead.

Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you. ~Psalm 33:20-22 ESV

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More About Words…

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There is an old story about an elderly couple who was approaching their 50th wedding anniversary. They had planned a small celebration with family and close friends. As the special day approached, the wife ventured to share a concern she had about the relationship with her husband.

“You know, dear, it has been a very long time since you’ve said, ‘I love you.’ In fact, I can’t remember the last time you said it.” She held her breathe, hopeful for some sign of affection.

The husband growled, “I told you on our wedding day. If I change my mind, I will let you know!”

It’s a wonder that this couple had managed to be married for so long.

Spoken words are powerful. Words left unspoken also carry a power of their own. They morph by people’s imaginations. Assumptions run wild.

There are four phrases that should be spoken often.

  1. I love you (or I care about you). Relationships need to be nurtured. At home and in the workplace, people need to know they matter to you. With my husband and kids, I made a commitment to say “I love you” every day before they left the house. If something unexpectedly tragic happened, I wanted my last words to be “I love you.” When spoken, the expression of affection builds others up.
  2. I appreciate you. It’s important to mention specific actions or attributes that you appreciate. Naming somebody’s strengths and talents affirms their positive qualities and encourages them to continue expressing them. Appreciation also creates a sense of value in the hearer.
  3. I’m sorry. Be genuine and mention what you are sorry about. Admitting that you are wrong and sorry establishes a safe environment. Mistakes are learning opportunities. By your example, others will be encouraged to take ownership for their actions and apologize for wrong-doing.
  4. I forgive you. Embrace the humility of Jesus and be quick to forgive. Let go of pride and refuse to hold a grudge. We receive God’s forgiveness when we forgive others. The LORD has graciously forgiven us and continues to forgives, and empowers us to walk in forgiveness toward others.

Let’s bless others with our words. May we speak words of life and love, building people up and glorifying the LORD. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14, NLT).

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Four Questions to Guide our Words

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Words are powerful. The LORD God brought creation into being through words. “Let there be______. And it was so.” (Genesis 1). We have the ability to speak life or death into situations (Proverbs 18:21). Therefore, we must keep a tight rein on our tongues (James 1:26).

Nicky Gumbel, pioneer of The Alpha Course and Vicar of HTB in London, offers three questions to guide our words. I have added a fourth. As we pass our words through the filter of these questions, our mouths become refreshing wellsprings of wisdom and revelation.

  1. Is it true? As Christ-followers we are called to honesty, accuracy, and integrity. Our words must embody truth. “Telling lies about others is as harmful as hitting them with an ax, wounding them with a sword, or shooting them with a sharp arrow” (Proverbs 25:18, NLT).
  2. Is it kind? With our words we build up or tear down. Is our motivation to benefit the hearer, or is it to get something off our chest? “Kind words are like honey— sweet to the soul and healthy for the body” (Proverbs 16:24).
  3. Is it necessary? Is there a sense of urgency to avert danger or avoid a costly mistake? Perhaps it is essential to speak up on behalf of some else, or to highlight their positive achievements. Don’t use an opportunity to pridefully show off your knowledge. Instead determine necessity by being others-focused. “Wise words are like deep waters; wisdom flows from the wise like a bubbling brook” (Proverbs 18:4).
  4. Is the timing right? Is the audience able to give their undivided attention? Is there space to interact? If not, wait. Our words and the timing of delivery must both be right. “Timely advice is lovely, like golden apples in a silver basket” (Proverbs 25:11).

Our words are designed to make a difference. In our families and in the places we lead, our words can set the tone of honoring God and one another, creating an environment of health, respect, caring, learning, and thriving.

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Blessed are the Peacemakers

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For most of my life, I believed that conflict was negative. I dreaded the tension that filled the room when two people I cared about disagreed. I longed to run away, to find a place to breathe. The message came through loud and clear: Conflict is dangerous, disagreements are harmful, and differences ruin relationships.

I carried the message into my parenting. One of my roles was to keep the peace, to ensure that nobody rocked the boat. I wanted one big happy family where nobody would ever get hurt. Can you say, “Unrealistic expectations”?

I also carried the message into early ministry. I spent a lot of effort to avoid offending anyone. I had a fear of stepping on anyone’s toes. When I was eight years old, I literally stepped on my uncle’s little toe and broke it. Even though it was an accident, I was devastated. My uncle was gracious, but the memory impaired my perspective for decades.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught the crowds. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9, NIV). There is a blessing when we prioritize peace. However, merely avoiding strife or stilling opposition falls short of the mark. During the pax Romana, the mighty Roman military kept the peace. The powerful quelled all hostilities and conflicts, and the Roman Empire maintained the exterior of peace, while animosity boiled beneath the surface. We are not called to be peace keepers.

The New Living Translation phrases Matthew 5:9 as, “God blesses those who work for peace.” It requires consistent, courageous work to pursue peace in its fullness. Shalom is the ancient Hebrew concept of peace, meaning “wholeness, completeness, health, safety, and prosperity.” Shalom involves our relationships with others and replacing systems in which shalom is broken. Shalom originates from and is sustained by God.

As followers of Jesus, we must seek peace, working to maintain and strengthen it (Psalm 34:14). We reflect the LORD’s heart for humanity as we actively engage with others in pursuit of shalom. We should view conflict as a natural part of existing with human beings, rather than as a threat. As servant leaders, we create a safe place to lovingly address conflict, disagreements, and differences. We build bridges by seeking to truly understand, and emphasizing empathy, listening, and respect (even if we don’t agree). Beyond our relationships, we advocate for true justice and systems that restore shalom to others living in the margins.

Let’s be peacemakers—not peace keepers—and walk in the ways of Jesus, our Prince of Peace.

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Where Has All the Integrity Gone?

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“What is truth?” Pontius Pilate asked Jesus the question in a dismissive manner during their encounter (John 18:38, NIV). Jesus had appeared before Pilate for sentencing. During their brief conversation, Jesus declared, “The reason I was born and came into the word is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37). In Pilate’s world, truth was subjective, determined by the person considering it. Much like the society in which we live today.

The fact that Jesus mentioned “the side of truth” reveals that truth does indeed exist. Truth isn’t what we decide it will be. Truth isn’t like a chameleon changing color to blend into its environment.

In our current political environment, truth is difficult to discover. I have family members and friends who identify with a wide variety of political viewpoints. They are all good people. Some of them stand strongly on one side of the political aisle; others stand just as convinced on the other side. Political viewpoints come with particular beliefs. As a result, truth is reported by news media, social media, and other sources (on both sides) with subjectivity. It is often tricky to sort through so much information for the facts.   

As one who is passionate about the truth, my spirit is grieved by the partial truths and spin that surround us on every side. Where can we go to find out what is really going on and get the whole picture? Our country suffers from a lack of integrity, which prompts me to inquire, “Where has all the integrity gone?”

Now more than ever, we need leaders of integrity.  

Charisma can only carry leaders so far. Healing of our nation requires more than promises and new policies. Integrity is the quality that is essential to restoring trust. We need strong leaders to navigate the chaos and confusion of the times and model integrity before crowds and behind closed doors in top-secret meetings.  

Leaders of integrity tell the truth. They make sure that their words and actions match. Always. They are also genuine in every setting and have nothing to hide.

As Christian leaders, we must rely on the LORD to empower us to lead with integrity in our sphere of influence. We stand on the truth as revealed by the Word of God, and we live the truth without compromise. We may not be able to change the whole world, but we can make a difference where God has placed us.

Let’s pray for the restoration of our nation, and let’s be leaders who honor the LORD and those we lead by leading with integrity.

“May integrity and honesty protect me, for I put my hope in you” (Psalm 25:21, NLT).

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ALL Human Life is Sacred: The Leader’s Call

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Since 1984 the month of January has been set aside to promote the Sanctity of Human Life. President Ronald Reagan established January 22 as the official day, and churches observe it on the Sunday closest to that. However, as time has gone on, the entire month of January is dedicated to focusing on the sacredness of all human life.

Society values life according to the quality of life and the contributions one can provide. Certain segments of the population value a particular skin color, ethnicity, lifestyle, or political affiliation as worth more than others. If someone doesn’t conform, they are discriminated against, ostracized, or treated with violence.

God’s standards are different than society’s standards. God loves all human life. Every human being is sacred, created in the LORD’s image.  

We can go back to the beginning of creation to some of the earliest Sunday school lessons in Genesis chapter one. On the sixth day, God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us” (v. 26a, NLT). (The words “us” and “our” reference the relationship of the Trinity.)

So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (v. 27).

At the end of the sixth day, “God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good! (v. 31, emphasis mine). At the end of the first five days of creation, God saw that it was good. But this day with the creation of human beings in God’s own image, it was very good.

Just two chapters later, the first human beings fell from God’s original intention. They opened the door to disobedience and all its consequences. Thankfully, Jesus came to redeem us and give us new life. The fall may have marred humanity; nevertheless, every person is still created in the image of God. As a result, all life—from conception until death—is sacred and worthy of respect, dignity, and protection. All human life matters to God; what matters to God must matter to us.

Psalm 139 provides beautiful imagery of God’s loving, abiding presence. He is constantly thinking about us with precious thoughts that cannot be numbered. Verse 13-16 depict the caring, skillful craftsmanship of the pre-born baby in the womb. While the words were written by David, they describe God’s relationship with every person.

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.

Every human being is sacred and priceless. God loves each and every one of us. Nothing can diminish a person’s worth—not age, sickness, disability, hardship, oppression, or any other barrier.

With that in mind, we must embrace the beauty of life. Life becomes even more beautiful when we surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and allow Him to transform us.

Nobody is exempt from the beauty of life. In the Book of Revelation, we get a glimpse into heaven.

“There before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (7:9, NIV).

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When we pray the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13), we ask for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Heaven establishes the pattern to follow. Heaven has a great multitude of Jesus-followers from every nation, tribe, people and language. Here on earth, despite the ugliness, messiness, and brokenness people may encounter, life is still sacred, it is still beautiful, and it has breath-taking variety.

As Christians and servant leaders, we must consider every person as created in the image of God, and we must look at them through the lens of God’s love and potential. Then, we will be prepared to truly love our neighbors—all of them.

Note: I made the words “all” and “every” bold to accentuate the point that no person is excluded from being treated as sacred and valued.

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One Word for the Year

Welcome to 2021. For many people, the passing of 2020 brings a sense of relief, not because the new year magically rid the world of all its problem, but because we have successfully lived through a year considered the most difficult one in recent history. When the clock struck midnight, the weariness of the past 366 days (2020 was a Leap Year) was lifted, and replaced by hope for better days. Even though the coronavirus is still here and social and political issues continue unchanged, the new year brings a renewed determination to flourish.

The new year also symbolizes the new life and new start available through trust in Jesus Christ. We can pack up our mistakes and offer them to the LORD, in exchange for a clean slate and another chance to do better.

I have a meaningful tradition for starting the new year with fresh faith. I select One Word for the Year.  Instead of making a new year’s resolution (which has an eight percent success rate), I spent time in prayer (talking and intentionally listening to the LORD) and choose a personal word to direct my course for the year and provide inspiration to become a better version of myself. It usually takes serious and deliberate time with the LORD to come up with your One Word, although I have heard from some colleagues that they asked God for direction and immediately discerned their One Word.

I can attest to the power of One Word, as I have practiced this for several years. Last year my One Word was “fearless,” with the accompanying Scripture verse: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18a, NIV). Little did I know how often I would come back to that word to face problems and challenging situations with courage.

Last summer, I realized that the non-profit I lead would be unable to have our usual annual fall fundraiser due to COVID-19 restrictions. As we converted to a virtual format, stress and anxiety began to mount an attack on my mind and health.

At the perfect time, my assistant gently approached me saying, “What is your One Word for the Year?”

I tried to pull the word from my memory without success. I ran to my office and found it in the middle of my bulletin board. The bright red graphic emphasized the word like a neon sign. How could I forget? I raced back and breathlessly announced, “It’s ‘fearless.’”

“I think the LORD really wants you to remember your word, especially now,” my assistant pointed out.

“Point taken,” I agreed smiling. “Thanks for your help.”

There are different ways for identifying your One Word for the Year. You know how the LORD relates with you. I encourage you to connect with God in the ways that work best for you. However, if you’d like some direction, here are some basic steps for choosing your One Word for the Year.

  1. Reflect. Think about the past year. Is there a direction you’d like to change or a quality you’d like to add to your life? In what area does the LORD desire you to growth?
  2. Imagine. Think about what the perfect day would feel like. Focus particularly on how you feel during this perfect day. This is best done during quiet time, meditation, or prayer. Is there a Bible verse the LORD keeps bringing to your attention?
  3. Create a list. Set a timer and create a list of words. No erasing or changing words. Once it’s on paper, leave it alone and keep going. If you prefer, Google a list of words as a starting point. If you already have a particular direction for your word, write it down and add as many similar words that come to mind. Continue to pray.
  4. Review and refine. Review your list. Highlight or circle your top three. Pay attention to how each one makes you feel. More importantly, to which word do you feel the LORD leading?
  5. Ask yourself: Which of these words am I most willing to commit to? If the word merely interests you, most likely you won’t make the changes necessary to implement it. Commitment is the key to success. Take as long as you need to think and pray this through (but don’t procrastinate).
  6. Choose your word. Which one has the LORD confirmed to you? Which one are you 100% committed to? That’s the word for you!

Make sure you write and post it somewhere you will see it regularly, even daily. Be as creative as you want to highlight the importance of your One Word for the Year.

My word for 2021?

“Expectation.”

The Scripture verse is: “Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see” (Heb. 11:1, NLT).

I would love to hear about your experience with One Word for the Year. I am celebrating with you!

Note: One Word for the Year can work for your team, department, or organization. It is a simple yet powerful tool to bring focus to your efforts and activities.