Tag Archive | Easter

Everything Beautiful Bible Reading Plan, Week 5

Spring is now here, with the natural beauty that is a part of this season beginning to brighten our world. As March comes to an end, and we bring this Everything Beautiful Bible Reading Plan to a close, let’s focus on preparing our hearts for the most important celebration of the Christian year, Easter.

Day 25: 1 Samuel 16:1-7

The same year I was born, the movie Easter Parade, starring Judy Garland and Fred Astaire, came to the big screen. As a child, I recall, my focus at Easter had nothing to do with the true reason we celebrate this holiday. My focus was on outward appearance – usually on the frilly new dress and shiny dress shoes my mother bought for me to wear to church on Easter Sunday.

Today’s Scripture opens our eyes to the truth that people look at the outward appearance. As this was my focus on Easter as a child, it is a trait common to mankind. But our God is different. He looks at the heart. As we prepare for this week’s Easter celebration, let’s turn our focus onto what God is looking at, our hearts. Take time today to ask yourself, “What does God see when He looks at my heart?”

Day 26: Matthew 23:27-39

Am I more concerned with how I appear to people than I am with how I appear to God? People are easy to deceive. They believe what they see outwardly is a reflection of what is within the heart. Our good deeds look great on the outside. But God can see through our outward veneer into our hearts. And He is the One we are called to please.

Romans 2:13 tells us, “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” Okay, we are to obey God’s law. There’s only one problem with that. As men and women with a sin nature, perfect obedience to God’s law is beyond our ability. Isaiah 64:6 says of our best attempts as living righteously: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”

‭‭But our loving and gracious God provided a way for this requirement to be met. He did so by sending His perfect Son to earth, to live as a man and to pay the penalty for our sin. Through Jesus’ life and death, He fulfilled God’s law. When we come to Him as our sin-bearer, accepting His sacrifice as our own and surrendering our lives to Him, He clothes us with the robe of righteousness – His own righteousness, which is now counted as ours. As 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”‭‭

Day 27: Psalm 72:12-18

As we prepare our hearts for the celebration of the resurrected Lord this Easter, let’s also remember Jesus will one day soon return for His own. Then He will reign as King of kings and Lord of lords. And all nations will be blessed through Him.

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Day 28: Job 12:7-13

On Good Friday, we remember the day Jesus became our Passover Lamb. He was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. He is the One Who by taking the punishment for our sin brought us peace (‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭53:5‬ ‭NIV). He is Immanuel, God with us, and we are safe in His hands.

Day 29: Psalm 145:1-9

One of my favorite ways to start my daily quiet time is to focus on some of the character qualities of the great God we serve. It’s helps me to shift my focus off of the circumstances I’m walking through and enables me to see them from a new perspective.

Psalm 145 reveals that the Lord is great, that His greatness is beyond what our limited minds can comprehend. He is our majestic King. And perhaps my favorite, He is filled with unwavering love and compassion toward His people.

Day 30: Psalm 119:12-18

Lord, Your Word is my delight. Neglecting Your Word is like neglecting to eat, because it is the spiritual food that sustains me. My prayer each morning is that You will show me truth as I open my Bible my eyes will be opened to the exact things I need for this day. And I know of no thing more beautiful than God’s Holy Word. As our pastor said in a recent sermon, “Scripture is beautiful – and it is true.”

Day 31: Isaiah 60:1-9

Light – one of the themes of my blog and what our Lord Jesus Christ came to bring – is a beautiful way to close this month’s focus on beauty. Darkness hides beauty, while light exposes it. Let’s learn to walk in the light, as He is in the light.

And this brings this month’s study of Everything Beautiful to a close. On this Easter Sunday, I want to end with a song about our beautiful God, who gave His life for us and is now our resurrected Lord! Because He lives, we can live also.

 

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Learning About Prayer

I am the leader of prayer ministries for a large and growing ministry for ladies with chronic illness. I am currently leading a prayer study for the Sunday school class my husband and I attend. So prayer is important to me. But I do not consider myself an expert in prayer. As my responsibilities in the area of ministering to others in the area of prayer have increased, the knowledge that I still have a lot to learn has become foremost in my mind.  I am a learner in the area of prayer.

I shared in a recent article that my husband and I have been walking through some difficult circumstances in our lives. I don’t want to go into the details again, so I’ll share the link for anyone who is interested in this story.        https://readywriterbr.wordpress.com/2017/07/15/living-outside-my-comfort-zone/

God has been at work through these circumstances in both my husband’s life and my life, but in different ways. In my life, He has had me in what I would describe as theHoly Spirit School of Prayer

During the same period of time, I have been preparing to lead the prayer study in our Sunday school class using The Battle Plan for Prayer Bible Study materials from Stephen and Alex Kendrick, producers of the movie War Room.What I share today is a combination of what God has personally been teaching me and what I’m learning through the study of these excellent materials.

Now I have a more balanced understanding of what prayer includes. Up until recently, when I thought of prayer, what primarily came to mind was confession of sin, lifting our needs up to the Lord (supplication), and intercession for the needs of others. I always felt like I was falling short in these areas, especially in supplication and intercession, because the needs were so overwhelming that it would literally take “prayer without ceasing” to cover all of them daily.

These are important parts of prayer, but prayer is so much more. I knew in theory that worship, praise and thanksgiving were all elements of prayer, but in my mind they were separate things. I had even tried using the A.C.T.S. acronym – Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication – during my prayer time, but I saw this more as a formula for prayer, with worship, praise and thanksgiving more as preparation for prayer than as actual types of prayer.

I had also read of the importance of using God’s Word in prayer, but in my mind and on my daily schedule Bible reading and prayer were two separate things. As we have walked through this difficult season, I’ve begun to understand each of these things as a part of true prayer.

At it’s root, prayer is communion and communication with God. When Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 we are to pray without ceasing, he was not talking about what I used to think of as prayer. He was saying throughout the day we are to stay in open communication with God. The main way God speaks to us is through His Word, so we are to read His Word expecting Him to speak to us. And we are to respond to what He shows us in prayer. Bible reading and study are meant to be a part of our prayer life, not separate from it.

This season of my life has caused a major change in my daily quiet time. Instead of seeing it as composed of a series of things I do, I have begun to see the whole quiet time as a part of prayer. Praise and worship are no longer preparing my heart for prayer – they are prayer. Overcoming discouragement by looking for God’s blessings in the midst of our trials and expressing my gratitude to Him is also a part of prayer. And when I pick up my Bible or open a Bible app on my iPad to begin reading and studying, I do so with an attitude of prayer and expectancy.

One thing that has really helped me gain this new understanding is prayer journaling. I’m not new to journaling. I remember many years ago as a new Christian getting up and reading my Bible and writing in my journal every morning before leaving for my job as a kindergarten teacher. And through the years, I’ve filled hundreds of notebooks and journals from this habit. But again, I saw this as separate from my prayer life.

When we began walking through this season where the cry of my heart daily became “God, we do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chronicles‬ ‭20:12‬b‭ NIV)‬‬, I began prayer journaling. I now begin my quiet time with a prayer for God to speak to me through His Word, and as He began to do so regularly I grew into an expectancy that this would happen.

Now, as I read God’s word, I do so with a pen in my hand and my current journal open so I can put in writing the things God in showing me. This isn’t really much different than the journaling I’ve always done, but I no longer stop there. Those insights now become prayers of worship, praise and gratitude to God, of confession of sin, of honestly telling God where I am and asking His help, or of commitment to obey something He has shown me I need to do. Often as I’m reading a Scripture, someone with a need comes to mind and I intercede for them. Or I read a verse that gives a burden for Christians facing persecution for their faith and I turn this into a prayer. Or I read a passage that reminds me of how messed up things are in our nation , and I pray using that passage for our nation. Whatever God speaks to my heart during this quiet time in His presence is turned into a prayer of response.

As a result of this growing understanding of all prayer includes, and of learning to make prayer an important part of my day and not just an add-on to my Bible study time, I have been walking through one of the most difficult trials of my recent life, one where my normal response would be fear and anxiety, in almost constant peace. There have been days when staying close to God was a battle – life as a Christian in this fallen world is like that. But by staying in communication with God by talking with Him throughout my day, walking in meekness and submission to His will and purposes in our lives, and resisting the devil and his lies, I’ve experienced God’s peace and strength as seldom before.

As I was praying this morning about this article, a picture came to my mind of someone throwing a large stone into a lake. When the stone breaks the surface of the water, it creates a ripple effect, with concentric waves of water moving out from the spot where the stone landed. This is a picture of the effect of true prayer in our lives. True prayer isn’t just something we do as a part of our daily schedule, or even throughout the day as we become aware of needs. True prayer is like breaking the surface to enter into the presence of God, and the result has a ripple effect. It changes every part of our lives and even spreads out to touch the lives of others.

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Easter Hope: A God Who Understands Suffering

Living with chronic illness is difficult. Having someone you can talk with who understands what it’s like to live with longterm pain, a friend who can say “me too” when you share some of the struggles you are currently dealing with, makes it a little easier.

I’m grateful to be a part of a group of ladies who love Jesus and also know what it is to suffer with chronic pain, exhaustion, and other common symptoms of chronic illness. As we share with and pray for one another, I am encouraged and strengthened. I consider that a blessing from the Lord.

But as I’ve spent this week preparing my heart for the celebration of Easter, one thought has come to mind repeatedly that I consider an even bigger blessing. We have a Lord and Savior who knows what it is to experience pain. A God Who can say, “Me too!”

Isaiah 53:3 (NIV) tells us that Jesus was well acquainted with pain and grief, “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.” Therefore, when we suffer pain and grief, we are not alone. We have an ever-present God and Savior who understands.

As I was doing some research online, looking for a meaningful quote for this article, I came across some quotes from a book by Jon Weece,  entitled Me Too: Experiencing the God Who Understands. Weece speaks of the cross as “God’s ‘me too’ statement to a world saturated with suffering.”

Weece adds, “Pain is the common language of the human experience. Most people I know are fluent in suffering. They speak it, but they don’t understand it. One of the ways people begin to heal is to sit across the table from someone who can say, ‘Me too.'”

Jesus didn’t like suffering any more than we do. He strugged in the Garden of Gethsemane with what laid ahead of Him. There He cried out to His Father, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death… “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark‬ ‭14:34‬a, 36 NIV‬‬)

Jesus’ suffering was more intense than anything I’ve ever experienced. In his description of the Garden, Luke adds, “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke‬ ‭22:44‬ ‭NIV‬‬) Have you experienced more emotional pain than this?

So why did Jesus go through this suffering in the Garden, just thinking about what was ahead of Him, and then the actual physical suffering leading up to and on the Cross?  He did it because of love. He did it to make a way for us to be restored to the relationship with God that we were created for.

Through Jesus’ suffering, His death on the cross, and His resurrection,  1 Peter 2:24 says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” Because of Easter, we can have peace with God and hope for the future. And we can also have the comfort of knowing we will never be alone in our suffering. We have a Savior who understands and walks with us through whatever we face.

Have you taken advantage of Jesus’ immeasureable sacrifice? If not, don’t let this Easter go by without accepting the forgiveness of sin His suffering purchased for us. Ask Him to be your personal Savior and Lord. Make the decision to die to sin and live to righteousness. The price has been paid, and the gift is yours if you are willing to accept it for yourself.  

        

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