Strength

There are lots of things that are too heavy for me to lift.  It’s not a big deal, though, because I have some strong men in my life.  When my strength is not enough, I ask them and they do the lifting for me.

Recently, there have been times when I have been quite aware that my strength is not enough.  Life has felt heavy.  As I have been meditating on God’s strength, I have realized that His strength is available to me in a different way than the strength of my husband and my sons.  God doesn’t do the lifting for me; He makes me strong.  He puts His strength in me and empowers me.

infinity tattoo with the word strong | More than I ever give ...

God’s Word has so much to say about strength.  Take a little tour with me…

God’s strength transcends and transforms our circumstances.

“Happy are those who strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.  As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools.  They go from strength to strength; the God of gods will be seen in Zion.”  Psalm 84:5-7

This Valley of Baca has also been called the Valley of Weeping.  It’s likely a real valley, a dry area that had to be crossed by pilgrims as they went to Jerusalem to worship.  So the imagery is clear:  when our strength is “in God,” we can get through times of tears and also times of dryness.  And not only can we get through, the strength of God inside of us changes the terrain.  He provides what we need to keep us going, like oases in the dessert.  Strength builds upon strength and God is seen and worshipped.

Pollywog Creek: Still Saturday::a valley of weeping {Psalm 84.6 ...

It is up to us to choose God’s strength, to “put it on.”

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.  Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”  Ephesians 6:10-11

If God lives in us because we have decided to follow Jesus, His strength is ours.  However, there is an act of our will that is required, a decision to let His strength work and to stop trying to muster up more of our own strength.  Like the words from Psalm 46, “Be still and know that I am God.”  (Psalm 46:10)  His strength is more than enough.  Jesus, take the wheel. 

When we choose to lean on our own strength and don’t accept God’s strength, we miss out on healing.

“Therefore lift up your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.”  Hebrews 12:12-13

My hands definitely get droopy, and my knees get weak.  What I do at those times is so important!  If I allow God’s strength to be like a splint, straightening and supporting me, I grow and heal.  If I don’t, I am likely to end up in a downward spiral of weakness and loss of function. 

Allowing God’s strength to work in me and through me requires focus and obedience. 

Remember Samson, the strongest man ever?  Remember how the more his focus shifted from his calling to his girlfriend, the more relaxed he became about following the vows he had made to God?  We have an enemy that would love to see us forfeit God’s strength by focusing on other things and letting our guard down. 

Deuteronomy 11:8 says, “Observe therefore all the commands I am giving you today, so that you may have the strength to go in and take over the land…”  Disobedience disconnects us from the strength of God.

Attitude matters.

Nehemiah told his people, “… the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10).  It is true that there is an energy that comes with joy.  Joy brings strength, and strength increases joy.  Again, this often comes down to a choice we make.  Will we allow the Holy Spirit to fill us with joy, even when we aren’t “feeling it”? 

We need to renew our strength.

Just like physical strength wanes when we don’t exercise, God’s strength in us fizzles when we don’t seek it. 

Remember these words from the prophet Isaiah, “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint.”  (Isaiah 40:29-31)

Hoping in the Lord, waiting on Him, spending time with Him-that is how we tap back into His strength within us.  We need our daily bread, that daily connection with the source of strength.  Actually, our need is continual – “Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!” I Chronicles 16:11 ESV

Bible Verses about Strength

God’s strength never fails. 

I fail.  “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”  Psalm 73:26.  God’s strength does not fail. 

I can be confident and trust in God’s strength. “The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trust, and I am helped.”  Psalm 28:7

My trust in Him multiplies His strength in me.  “For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and trust shall be your strength.’”  Isaiah 30:15  Once again, that trust is a choice – the end of verse 15 says, “But you were unwilling,” and the following verses paint a picture of pandemonium as the people choose their own power over God’s strength.

A favorite Bible passage of mine speaks to God’s strength even in times of extreme hardship. 

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.  The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.”  Habbakuk 3:18-19

Be encouraged because of God’s strength.  Seek it, choose it.  Trust in Him.  He is well able, and He will enable you to get through valleys of weeping and times of difficulty.

Psalm 31:24 Be Strong - Free Bible Verse Art Downloads – Bible ...

God, thanks that You are strong, and that You allow Your strength to strengthen me.  I confess my weakness and my need for You.  I choose to keep my focus on You, to obey You, and to regularly renew my connection with You.  Please give me Your joy, even when there is difficulty and sadness.  I trust Your strength to be all that I need.  Let Your strength in me encourage others.  In the name of Jesus, Amen.

-Leah

Exalted

For Thou, O Lord, art high above all the earth

Thou art exalted far above all gods

For Thou, O Lord, art high above all the earth

Thou art exalted far above all gods


I exalt Thee,

I exalt Thee,

I exalt Thee, O Lord.

(I Exalt Thee, written by Pete Sanchez, Jr.)

These words changed my morning yesterday. Life has been exhausting lately. Maybe you can relate. We have a group chat at work, and Friday, I posted a GIF of a runner crawling across the finish line. I captioned it, “This is me today.” I have felt the pressures of the world this week. Maybe you have too. When I feel that exhaustion, even writing this blog can become just another thing that has to get done. Before working on it yesterday, I decided to take a shower. It seemed like a good idea to have some music to accompany my shower, and this is the song I played. Ironically, it washed over me more than the shower did. 

This song takes me way back. I think I’ve known it my whole life. Some might say that the lyrics are too simple. There are really only 18 words here that are repeated. But something happened as I sang along with these words yesterday morning. My heart got lost in worship. My eyes went up. I turned my attention from myself to One Who is worthy of all of my worship. 

Sometimes I jokingly tell people, “I have a PhD in making things all about me.” The sad part is that there is truth to that, and I don’t think I’m the only one. Our sinful hearts default to putting ourselves at the center of everything. We tend to view everything that’s happening in the world in light of how it affects us, and we often feel out of sorts when things aren’t going the way we think they should. We desperately need God’s help to live a life that is free from this kind of self-centeredness.

In those moments of worship yesterday morning, in those moments of singing out those 18 simple words, I was reminded that everything is all about God and His glory. He is exalted. He is far above all the earth and all other gods. 

It’s not about me. IT’S NOT ABOUT ME. Honestly, when my deceitful heart tells me that it’s all about me, I get exhausted, and the things I do to serve can become a drudgery. When my heart instead turns to worshiping the Creator of the universe, I find rest, and the things I do to serve flow from my love for Him. He is holy and worthy. Everything belongs to Him, and He “upholds all things by the word of His power.” (Hebrews 1:3) He is all-powerful, and I am not. He is all-knowing, and I am not. He is infinite, and I am not. Getting a fresh view of Who He is helps me to keep the right perspective. My identity and worth are in Him. He is exalted.

“Worthy are You, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:11)

I want to have a heart that worships. This song will probably be played a few more times this week. Maybe this song isn’t one that takes you to a place of humble worship. That’s okay. Find one that does. Look for lyrics that point to the majesty, worth, and character of God. Then, sing your heart out. Remind your soul that you were made to worship a God that is worthy to receive glory and honor and power. Lift your eyes. He is exalted.

Lord God, You are worthy. Today, we lay down the things that have burdened us, and we look up. Please forgive us for our self-centeredness. We choose to turn our attention from ourselves to You, and we exalt You. May our hearts be filled with worship today and every day. Amen.

-Dana

Catching a Glimpse

We had just stopped for gas and food part way through our eight hour drive to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. A gasp and a “No way!’ from the backseat grabbed our attention. Ben couldn’t get his phone or his words out fast enough. “It’s SideBySide blog!” he exclaimed, while documenting the sighting by snapping a few pics. The object of his excitement was a truck pulling a trailer full of side by sides. Apparently this get-up is well known to Ben from a blog he faithfully follows. Although none of the rest of us had a clue about them, his enthusiasm was contagious. We watched to see which way they went on the highway, and even contemplated following them to see where they were headed and what they were going to do. Although we didn’t see them again, the SideBySide bloggers were mentioned several times as we went on our way.

Makes me think of the glimpses of God that we get as we travel through life…

As believers, we are like Ben – we are faithful followers of God’s messages. We read His Word, we listen to His teachings, brought to us by pastors, speakers, authors.

“My soul followeth hard after thee…” Psalm 63:8 KJV

“So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.” 2 Corinthians 5:9

“…this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14

We are dedicated and invested. Following Jesus has changed our identity and is transforming our character.

From time to time, we look up and see God in front of us! We get an up-close view of what He’s doing or what He’s like. We see His glory, hear His voice.

Maybe it’s the answer to a prayer we’ve been praying for years. Maybe it’s just the right Scripture passage for our circumstance. Maybe it’s someone reaching out as the hands and feet of Jesus to meet a need. Some people call these “God-sightings.” One year at vacation Bible school, the kids wore bracelets reminding them to “Watch for God.”

It is important to stay alert and watching so we don’t miss these moments. If Ben had been on his phone or asleep, he wouldn’t have spotted the side by side guys. We often let ourselves be distracted by phones or work or self, and fail to see God.

And, our opportunities to see Him aren’t just random, about us happening to be in just the right place at the right time. God wants to reveal Himself to those who are looking for Him, “seeking Him,” to use a Biblical term.

He promises, “When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13.

We can pray with the Psalmist, “Open my eyes, so that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” Psalm 119:18, or ask like Moses, “Show me your glory, I pray.” Exodus 33:18.

When we ask and seek, He will open the door. “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” Matthew 7:7.

When we do see the “one whom our soul loves,” (Song of Solomon 3:4), it builds our faith and inspires us to follow so we can see what God is going to do next. We can’t help but exclaim and share the news with the people who are traveling with us, and it inspires them too.

So, even though we “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7), and are among those who are “blessed because they have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20:29), there are times the clouds part and we get to see. The day will come when we will see clearly and eternally.

“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12

Until then, our hearts echo the words of the beloved from Song of Solomon 2:14,

“O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the covert of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.”

Beautiful Savior, we want to see You. We want to glimpse Your glory and experience Your presence. Please give us more and more moments where we encounter You. Help us to stay alert and expecting You to show up in our days. Open our eyes and expand our vision. Let us freely share the excitement of following You with the people around us. We want to be faithful followers all the time, and we long for the day when our faith will be sight and we will see You face to face.

-Leah

Noise

Noise. Sound that is unpleasant or causes disturbance. The opposite of serenity. By way of connotation, chaos. The thing that makes a person want to cover their ears. For most of us, being described as ‘noisy’ wouldn’t be complimentary. However, it seems like an accurate word to describe what is happening all around us right now. Noise. There have certainly been times for me in the last few weeks when I have wanted to close my eyes and put my hands over my ears. Lots of noise. It makes me think of these very familiar verses –

“If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

Would any of us volunteer to be in the same room for even an hour with a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal? Yikes. I would not want to sign up for that. I can’t even tolerate the sound of a pencil tapping on a desk or someone clicking a pen. The very thought of having to endure a consistent noisy gong or a clanging cymbal is enough to send this extremely auditory sensitive person running for cover. Yet, that is how the Apostle Paul describes loveless people. Noisy. Clamorous. 

In addition to the noise, he goes on to say that without love, we are nothing and we gain nothing. Even if we have a lot of wisdom, even if we could move mountains with our faith, even if we would give away everything including our lives. Even if we have all the right answers and the solutions to all the world’s problems. Without love, none of that matters. Noise.

I know these words are so familiar, but let’s read on.

“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

As you read those words, who did you think of? Did you think of someone whose Facebook or Instagram post bothered you this week? Did you think of those angry protesters you’ve seen on the nightly news? Did you think of those people from that other political party who just can’t seem to understand your idea of common sense? Did you wish that they all would read these verses and get it figured out? 

I  will admit that at times, I have approached verses like these with self-righteous thoughts like, “God, I wish ____________ (fill in the blank) would read these words and love in this way.” “Lord, would You convict ____________?” “Would You help ____________ to see the error of their ways and the way that they are misrepresenting Your love?”

Today, I am calling a spade a spade. That is pride. Our hearts are so bent toward pride and self-exaltation. We see lack of love in others so clearly, while at the same time, we are completely blind to our own lack of love. (We see the speck in someone else’s eye, while we have a log in our own.)

Let’s read those verses again, and this time, let’s refuse to think of anyone but ourselves. It might help to insert your name every time you see the word ‘love’ or ‘it’. Let’s take this opportunity to measure our own thoughts, feelings, and actions. Before reading, let’s ask the Holy Spirit to help us read these words as if we are reading them for the first time. Ask Him to give us fresh eyes to see these words and to let them penetrate to the deepest parts of our hearts.

“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

My heart breaks when I read those words with myself in mind. When I come to those verses with a humble heart, I see that I fall so short of the kind of love that could change the world. You see, all the noise around us can only be silenced as we humbly learn to love. One at a time, as we humble ourselves and learn to let God’s love live in us and flow through us, the noise begins to diminish.

This world doesn’t need our noise. As believers, we don’t need to add to the chaos. We need to put down our clanging cymbals and pick up the towel to serve like Jesus did. When I read those verses in 1 Corinthians 13 and insert my name, I see how far I still have to go. If I insert Jesus’ name, I see it modeled perfectly. There is nothing noisy about the way Jesus loves. Perfect humility, perfect compassion, perfect love for others. Love that gives even when it is confronted by hate. Love that sacrifices even for enemies. Love that changes the world.

Yes, I can look around and see the shortcoming and the noise of others, but I can’t do anything to change that. It is far more productive for me to look inside my own heart and to ask the Holy Spirit to show me my shortcomings and noise. With His help, as I see these things, I don’t measure myself by the standard of others’ behavior. I measure myself by the perfect standard that God has put forth in His Word. I confess my sin, and I repent. I depend on the Holy Spirit to make me more like Jesus as He does His work in my heart. I learn to be a peacemaker, and I learn how to let love win.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends You, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

-Dana

Confession

I need to confess.


I have been silent when I should have spoken. I have spoken when I should have been silent. By not choosing to be an active part of the solution, I have been part of the problem. I am sorry. I am sorry for what I have done and failed to do.


Today, I choose to speak. Honestly, I don’t really know what to say. I feel inadequate to express things that I don’t fully understand. I am afraid of causing harm with my words, but I am choosing to risk that rather than to cause harm with my silence.


Racism is a real thing in our country. It is not the way of Jesus. Sometimes it is blatant and intentionally cruel, and sometimes it is undercover, hidden in “the way things have always been.” From where I sit, it takes work to see quieter, nicer-looking disparities between the lives of people of color and the white majority. It is uncomfortable and unpopular and easy to avoid. It requires turning my focus off of me and mine, interrupting my agenda, and risking for the sake of another.

Do You Love Your Neighbor? (Take this Self-Test to Find Out ...


Remember Jesus’ story explaining who our neighbor is?


The Parable of the Good Samaritan
“Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’


But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’


Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity [also translated compassion]. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’

Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’


Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’ “


The directive is clear, if I choose to see it. If someone is hurting, help them. Do what you can. Don’t ignore the situation. Go out of your way to show love and work for healing. Give your presence, give your money. Help and come back to help some more.

The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself ...


There is a passage in Isaiah that has been heavy on my heart for quite some time. Jesus quoted it and Paul quoted it. (Isaiah 6:10, Matthew 13:15, Acts 28:27)”Go to this people and say, You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull [also translated calloused], and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn-and I would heal them.”


May this no longer be said of me or of the followers of Jesus, the Church.


God, soften my heart. I choose to open my eyes; teach me how to truly see. Speak to me. Let me hear You and be willing to listen to all my neighbors. I want to understand. I want to understand with my heart. May I be willing to turn and act. Will You heal? My brothers and sisters of color need healing. Your Church needs healing. America needs healing. I need healing.


“Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts…’ ” (Hebrews 3:7-8)


“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (II Chronicles 7:14)

2 chronicles 7:14, if my people


I kneel. I kneel in confession, in humility, in prayer for healing.

-Leah