Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Need Encouragement?

How are you my friend? Does life have you on the mountaintop or in the valley? Are you grateful for new opportunities or fearful of walking away from old ones? Sometimes life has a way of giving us joyful moments in the midst of chaos and others it's one hard step after another. I don't know what your life looks like, but I'm guessing you, like me and everyone else on the planet, have some hard stuff going on. The depth of our pain may not be the same, but yet our struggles are real. 

I've been thinking about and dealing with challenges in my own life and home - sickness, busyness, parenting; I've also been praying for friends walking thru hard times of their own - health problems, relationship conflicts, rejection, grief, financial struggles...the list could go, but you get the idea. 

My heart hurts for those I love and I often find myself thinking, "What can I do to help?" I can't change circumstances or control the event's in their lives. For some I can deliver a meal or offer a hug. I can try and offer words of encouragement and sometimes I do, but there are times I probably say too much. 

Ephesians 4:29 tells us, "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, so that it may benefit those who listen." Friend, our words are powerful - they speak life or death, they uplift and tear down. Sometimes even those spoken with the best intentions come across wrong. God's the One who knows what others need, I pray we will go to Him before we attempt to utter words that are helpful. May He give us discernment. 

I don't know the struggle you bring as you read these words, but God does and I've been reminded the best encouragement I can offer comes through prayer. I can lift my loved ones to the Lord, and so can you. So with that, words from the Word lifted in prayer for you as you walk thru life...

Dear Heavenly Father,
Lord, You alone are God. You are good, You are powerful and You are loving. You are Elohim, our creator, El Roi, the God who sees us and our Abba, the Father who loves us. Help me remember who You are. Lord you created this world, but pain and pressure, sin and sickness, death and doubt were not part of your original plan. Help me remember this world is not my home, but You have me where I'm at for a reason. You are using everything, the good and the bad, for my good and Your glory. 

Lord, help me not to be surprised by my trials. Your Word tells us in this world we will have trouble. Help me embrace those struggles, count it all joy and even rejoice in my suffering knowing suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And Father that hope does not disappoint us. 

In those hard times, when life overwhelms, worry weighs me down, anxiety troubles my heart and depression leaves me in the pit help me fix my eyes on You. You Lord are the author and perfecter of my faith. You are writing my story, your grace saves me and sustains me. Help me receive the help you offer and strength You provide. When I am weak, You are strong. Help me stop trying to fix problems myself and instead rely on You. May I cast all my cares on You. May I trust You with all of my heart. May I acknowledge You in all my ways. May I come to You when I need rest. 

Father God, no matter how I feel may I cling to Truth and trust Your promises - your promises to never leave me or forsake me, Your promise to finish every good work You've begun, Your promise to be faithful, Your promise to fill me with Your Holy Spirit, Your promises to provide and heal, Your promise to supply all my needs according to your great riches, Your promise for wisdom if I would only ask, and Your promise to keep me in perfect peace if I keep my mind on You. You are a good, good Father. I want to believe everything Your Word says, but Lord in this struggle I ask you to help my unbelief. 

Lord, it feels as though I'm passing through the waters...help me remember you are with me. When I walk through the river, remind me you won't allow it sweep over me. When I walk through the fire don't let me forget - You will not allow me to be burned. 

I ask You to fill me with your Spirit and guide me with Your Truth. Your Word equips and directs...lead me to passages You know I need. Give me a hunger for Your Word. Your Spirit sustains...fill me with it so I can press on. Your power is beyond comprehension...help me trust in it and depend on it, so in me and through me You can do more than I can ask or imagine. 

Jehovah I ask you to cover me with your feathers and help me take refuge under your wings. Lord, I'm seeking You and ask You to deliver me from my fears and wrong thoughts. Father God, I pray you would make your face shine upon me and give me peace. I love You Lord and pray this in your Son's precious and powerful name...the name above all names, Jesus...Amen

Friend, if you're in need of prayer leave a comment and I will lift you up by name. Blessings to you! 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

While you are waiting...

A big hello to those of you joining me from the Encouragement Cafe! I pray my devotional, "Life's Waiting Room"is one God used to speak to your heart.

Let me ask you a question, "What are you waiting for?" Vacation to come, the weekend, resolution of a relationship conflict, a hard season to be over, the end of a loved ones battle with cancer...we are constantly waiting for something. Sometimes it's good, fun things while others it's the end of hard, painful experiences.

The other day I was out in the field doing a job the kids and I are wishing was over. We farm organically so rather than spraying weeds with chemicals we walk up and down the rows and pull them. It's not a terrible job, but it's time consuming and can get boring. It does provide opportunity for lots of talk time with my little people.

The conversations can be quite interesting, the singing sometimes drives me crazy, but sometimes thru it all God gives me a picture. Tuesday I was walking along doing my job and we were talking about the corn growing...each day we are out there it seems we can tell it's getting taller. As I thought about this James 5:7 came to mind - "Therefore be patient, brethren until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains." 

Farming involves much waiting, as does life. There are so many things we cannot control - the rain, the temps,the wind, the bugs, but we wait and trust. Isn't that the case with living a life of faith too? We can't control what others say and do. We don't have the power to cure cancer or create a desired result. Our authority only goes so far. But God - He is all knowing, all powerful and the one in control. We must choose to trust Him and wait upon Him.

 Patience is a huge part of waiting, but my day in the field reminded me there is more. Work is also part of the wait. If a farmer just put seed in the ground and did nothing til harvest chances are he'd get a crop, but it wouldn't be a great harvest. While we're waiting for the corn to grow we have work to do. There's weed pulling, cultivating, rock picking...I could go on, but you get the idea there are things a farmer has to do. More important than the manual labor is the time spent in prayer. There are many jobs a farmer (and his wife and kids) do, but God does the growing. We need to ask Him and trust Him.

Friend, I don't know what you are waiting for, but I do know waiting is hard. Sitting in the Dr.'s waiting room can be lonely, it can be a place where your mind takes over and worry settles in. I know life's waiting rooms are no different, but stop for a minute and think about what work you can do while you wait.

Are you waiting for God to open a door and give you an opportunity to do something you know He's called you to do? Spend some time in prayer about this and then start preparing yourself to do it. Be ready when the wait is over!!

Are you waiting for a hard season to end? Remember no matter how hard life may seem, God is working...He is not surprised with your trial and is working good from what feels so bad. So in the wait, keep doing the work of getting into His Word. Sometimes when our feelings are hurt and hearts are broken it's hard to open our Bibles, but it's exactly the work we need to do. His Word is living and active...God will meet you on the pages of Scripture. Go there today!

What are you waiting for? I don't know, but God does and He also knows the work He has for you while you wait! Seek His guidance and direction and He'll show you what to do.

Three years ago I found myself in a hard waiting room of life and once the wait was over I realized I had wasted so much time. What I was waiting for had consumed me and overwhelmed me. It dictated everything I did, which wasn't much, and kept me from doing what needed to be done. Friend, I encourage you to embrace the wait and work through it.

Saying that doesn't mean there isn't a time and place for rest because as a mom of 5 I know rest is important! But sometimes our work in the wait is rest...for many of us resting doesn't come easy. It takes work to stop what we are doing, walk away from our to-do list and shut off our mind. So if you're in need to rest, do the work and obey Jesus command - "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

What are you afraid of?

Have you ever felt like my daughter looks in this picture? Thankfully, it's just a pose, but I'll be honest I've seen this look during the reality of life. She, like all of us, have things that scare her, we've had to talk about what makes us afraid and what to do when that happens.  Tonight I actually, I had to have that conversation with our baby who does a pretty good pose too - 

"Mommy, me is scared," said my little man. I said, "What's wrong? You were watching Andy Griffith." "There's a bad man Mommy, just read me a book." I talked with Jesse and his fears quickly subsided, but my thoughts kept running.

You see, fear is something I've been thinking about...turn on the TV news and you'll find something to be afraid of, parent young children and you know fear is a part of growing up. Some fear what the "Bad Guy" might do, while others fear what loved ones might think. Fear is not something we outgrow as adults - today I fought the temptation to be afraid as I watched my teenage son leave the yard in a big John Deere tractor. Later we all tried not to be scared as dark storm clouds rolled in.

Friend, it's true - there is much we could be fearful of, but what does Scripture tell us? The Bible tells us time and time again "fear not." I believe it's been said the Bible says this 365 times...one command for every day of the year.

Can I ask you, "What are you afraid of?" ISIS, terrorism, death. Perhaps you fear a bad medical report, conflict with one you love or financial problems. Maybe it's snakes, mice or birds. Do you fear the future or failure? A world that makes it hard to live out your faith? There are countless things that stir up this unwanted emotion, but in His Word, God tells us there's only one thing to fear.

It's actually not a thing at all. It's not the bad guys on the news or TV show either. Nor is it the ones who've hurt us in the past. Take a look at these words from God's Word -

"You shall fear only the LORD your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name." Deuteronomy 6:13

The Lord commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the Lord our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today." Deuteronomy 6:24

Friend, it is God we must fear. Not because He's scary and mean, but because He is worthy and sovereign. He is our Creator. He is our Lord. And our Savior. He is worthy of our respect and reverence. Our Father God is the One we must fear.

That being said doesn't mean all other fears are unnecessary...as I spoke with my little boys about this, we talked about the bulls, the tractors and machinery, bad weather and strangers. It's OK to fear things/people who are dangerous, but when those fears come (and they will) we must know what to do with them.

We must take them to the One we fear. Proverbs 1:7 tells us, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge..." When we know who we fear, He will give us wisdom. God will guide and direct, calm and comfort, but we must take our fears, worries and anxieties to Him. 1 Peter 5:7 instructs us to "cast all our cares on Him because He cares for us".

Friend, this God we fear is the One who is faithful, present and loving. At the same time, He is the One who is sovereign and in control. He knows our thoughts and our hearts. As we fear Him, we will strive to obey Him. If we abide with Him, He will strengthen us. If we trust Him, He will make our paths straight.

I don't know what or who you are fearing today, but if it's anything besides our great God, I encourage you to spend sometime in prayer. Cast your cares, God knows them already. Ask Him to remind you who He is and the power He has. And allow these words from David to his son Solomon encourage you, "Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the Lord is finished." (1 Chronicles 28:20)

God was there for David, He was there for Solomon and friend, He hasn't changed...He won't fail us either! Press on, lean in, persevere and trust the One who knows. Fear the Lord and remember "He has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind." (2 Timothy 1:7)

May these verses from Psalm 33 encourage you today -

"But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear Him,
on those whose hope is in His unfailing love,
to deliver them from death
and keep them alive in famine.
We wait in hope for the Lord;
He is our help and our shield.
In Him our hearts rejoice,
for we trust in His holy name.
May your unfailing love be with us, Lord,
even as we put our hope in You. 
(Ps. 33:18-22)

Monday, June 6, 2016

Don't Farm Alone

A BIG welcome to those of you joining me from the Encouragement Cafe...it's a pleasure to meet you there. I pray my devotional, "Wisdom for the Wait" spoke to your heart and encouraged you. I'm also asking God to use the following post to strengthen you as you live out your faith! 

Farming...it's not just my husband's job, it's our way of life. It impacts our daily plans and will hopefully provide for our future endeavors. Farming requires work, but it teaches countless lessons. We learn about life, and faith, here in Iowa between the corn fields and cattle lots.

Recently, I've found myself grateful that we don't farm alone. We farm with Job's brother and his family. Together the 10 of us make up "Beran Brothers Farms". Job and Matt each have their own daily routines, but when busy seasons (which is most days) come they are there to help each other. The kids pitch in where they can and our oldest has added a dimension to the farm with a recent purchase of 26 pigs.

A couple of weeks back when we were planting corn I was grateful our families worked together...thoughts of Job doing it all on his own made me realize the season could be even busier than it already was. While Job did one job, Matt did another. If one guy wasn't sure how to fix something, the other one usually could.

I saw this strength in numbers philosophy as I watched my son and husband move pigs as well. They didn't just work together, but my husband shared wisdom with our boy. He used his experience and knowledge to teach our up and coming farmer. He offered instruction, assistance and encouragement.

As I thought about this, I felt the need to apply a similar strategy to my life as a Christian. Friend, we shouldn't do faith alone either. God is a God of relationship and we are created in His image...we were designed for them as well.

First and foremost, a relationship with our Heavenly Father is a must. Though we farm with my brother-in-law there are times Job is alone in the field, but if he needs help, he knows we're only a call away. The same and more is true of God...we can always reach Him with prayer and He has promised to always be with us. Deuteronomy 31:8 says, "The LORD Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you..."

We also need relationships with others....just like farmers, those walking in faith need one another. We don't want to walk this road alone. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says, "Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor; if either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity the one falls and has no one to help them up." Have you ever watched a young child learn to walk...they often fall down. The same thing happens to us as adults when life is hard and situations overwhelm. Spiritually, we can fall down and it's so important to have brothers and sisters who can help us up. When we labor together...be it thru prayer, service or relationship, God will bless our efforts.

Proverbs 27:17 tells us, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." Friend, we shouldn't walk through life and live our life alone because there is too much we can learn from others. And believe it or not there are ways God can use you to sharpen someone else. Experience is a great and powerful teacher, a needed one as well, but we don't have to learn everything from doing and by our own mistakes. This verse doesn't just refer to the things we do, the people we surround ourselves impact the way we act and choices we make as well. Spending time with other believers, especially those ahead of us in the journey, will help us grow in faith. For instance as my 13 year old son works alongside my husband, he is learning more than how to drive a tractor and feed cattle from his dad. He is seeing how a man works, watching a husband provide and care for his family and how a Christian relies on the Lord.

Along with this idea is one of my favorite passages - Titus 2:3-5, which says, "Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanders or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the Word of God." Friend, Scripture tells us to train the younger women, which implies that the younger must learn from the older. And the truth is depending on the situation we fit both of these roles and this command can't be fulfilled if we are doing life alone. Ultimately it is about more than teaching/learning how to live; did you catch the end of verse 5? We are to do these things so that God's Word is not maligned. Friend, doing life together on the farm distributes the work load and decreases financial risk, but walking out our faith together blesses us and glorifies God.

We're preparing to plant our organic black beans and the other day my husband asked me to pray about the timing of all that. His request is another great reminder of why we shouldn't do faith alone. Friend, prayer is powerful. It's an opportunity to connect with our heavenly Father, praise our Creator and take our requests to God. Last week as I prepped to lead a study on perseverance I came across Colossians 1:9-12 and Paul shared a prayer I'd love someone to pray for me. I'm pausing now to pray it for you! "For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light." I challenge you to do the same for someone in your life and then encourage you to make prayer part of your walk with others. Don't be afraid to share requests and be bold and lift others up. Friend, we need each other, but we need God even more...prayer helps meet that need.

Finally, one last piece of encouragement...just because we walk through life together doesn't mean we all need to do the same thing. Actually, it's best if we don't. For instance, my husband and his brother have different areas of expertise and they use those strengths to help each other. You and I as members of God's family must do the same. God has gifted each of us in unique ways, we all have roles to play in the kingdom of God. The more we work, live and serve together the stronger the body will be. Let's not just read 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 let's apply it - "Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body..."

I know it can be tempting to isolate ourselves and rely on our own strength...I've tried that a time or two and though it's possible, it's so much better when I'm walking together with others who love the Lord. Brothers and sisters keep me accountable, encourage me when I'm down, strengthen me when I'm weak and provide wisdom when I ask. When life is hard, they provide support; when grief overwhelms, their presence helps; when the road seems all uphill, their example inspires.

Life on the farm has its ups and downs, the work truly never ends and days can be long, but the same can also said about living a life of faith. It's not always easy, but when we walk together and give up trying to do it all alone, we will be better equipped and more encouraged. Things won't always go our way and rain will come, but together we'll have more fun! Just like my wet, muddy little rock pickers! I'm grateful YOU do life with me...I appreciate the time you take to join me here and share via comments, emails and Facebook posts - Thank You!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Press on! (A Study on Perseverance)

Life is hard sometimes...I established that point in my last post, but since coming to that conclusion God has led me in a study on perseverance. Again a concept we've all heard of and understand to a certain degree. 

The word takes me back to my days as an athlete and makes me think of hard practices and the sprints, wall sits or push-ups we had to do before coach called it a day. There were times we thought we couldn't do it and times we wondered how we actually finished. It was hard, your body hurt and pulse pounded, but yet as an athlete who wanted to win and was driven to do what the coach said, you did it. 

Trials in life make those days on the court look pretty easy. I'd take an infinite number of sprints compared to the grief that accompanies losing a loved one. I'd choose countless push-ups over the hurt that comes with watching a love one suffer. Screams from a coach for two hours are easier to listen to than grumbles from a child or co-worker day after day. 

I say all that and a new thought comes to mind...life may be harder, but it's reward is so much better. Sure in sports you can break records, win championships and get awards, but eventually it all fades away. Life brings roles where we impact others and make a difference. Faith allows us to influence others for eternity. 

It's important for athletes to respect, obey and work hard for their coach, but friend it is vital that we as daughters of the King do the same for God. When life gets hard, we must press on. When living out our faith is difficult, we need to persevere. Like I said at the beginning, I'm guessing you know this...we often understand the what, but struggle with the how. If that's the case for you, I invite you to join me for a short study on Perseverance. 

I pray God uses your time in His Word to speak to your heart, to give you wisdom and offers encouragement as He leads you to persevere. Let's pray...

Dear Heavenly Father,
You never change and I'm grateful, but sometimes my life does. Situations happen, events take place, sickness comes, relationships break, my thoughts run....these can all be hard. Sometimes I'm tempted to quit, others I feel like I might explode. Things don't go my way, and I want to stop, but Lord I know that's not an option. Your Word tells me to press on, I want to finish the race, I need to persevere. Will You use this time to help me learn about that so I can run hard after You no matter what comes my way. I thank You for your living and active Word and praise You for what You are about to teach me. Help me know You more and serve You better. In Jesus' Name...Amen

What does it mean to persevere? Why is it necessary? How do we do it?

Where in your life right now do you need to persevere?

The Greek word for perseverance is proskarteresis and there are many definitions. Here are some phrases pulled from Bible dictionaries - steadfastness, earnest toward, constantly diligent, abiding under, energetic resistance, endure in trials, not giving up, no quit attitude, fight to finish, staying power, long-term perspective, comes from confidence in God's power and faithfulness, linked to hope.

Which of these speak to you most? Why?

My kids are often more willing to do something if they know why it needs to be done and even as adults I think we find that helpful. Take some time and look at the following verses...what do they tell us about why we need to persevere?
Romans 2:6-7, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, 1 Timothy 4:15-16, Hebrews 10:35-36, James 1:12

Once we've established the why, we can move on to the how. It's one thing to know we should do something, but another to understand how to do it. How do these scriptures help answer that question?
Prov. 3:5-6, 2 Corinth. 12:9-10, Gal. 6:9, Col. 1:10-12, 2 Thes. 3:11-13, Heb. 12:1-3

Friend, we've looked at the why and the how's, which is a great place to start, but the Bible has more wisdom to share with us. As I was studying perseverance, I started seeing a pattern - there were many "P's" that helped me with the process of persevering. These "P's" apply when it's a hard, life-changing situation or the daily grind of life. If you need to persevere to overcome sin or fight a battle in your mind, apply these priniciples. Motherhood have you down or marriage leave you defeated, these's "P's" will help you do what we need to do.

P’s of Perseverance
Pray – Hebrews 4:16, 1 Thes. 5:16-18

Prayer must be our go to response...whether we need to confess because we blew it or gave up, ask for strength to press on or thank God for what He's doing prayer connects our hearts with God's. We must go to Him and ask for what we need while remembering who He is!

Praise – Psalm 118:24, Daniel 2:23, Eph. 1:3

Friends, no matter how life changes, God never does...He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. No matter what is happening in our life, He is worthy of our praise. He deserves our praise, but we need it because praising our Maker reminds us of who He is.

Prepare – James 1:2-4, Romans 5:3-5

Friends, when things are good and life seems easy, we don't think about persevering, but perhaps we should. Scripture tells us in this world we will have trouble, so stop right now and decide what you will do when it comes. Vow to walk with God, determine to trust in His promises. Look back at past struggles are their patterns in your struggle to persevere? Go back to the first "P" and pray about that.

Patience – Proverbs 14:29, Romans 12:12, 1 Peter 2:18-21

As I studied this topic with our local Titus24U group, we talked about the race of life being a marathon rather than a sprint. This life we live is long, and sometimes the trials are too. As we persevere, there are times we will have to wait. May we always remember pain has a purpose and perseverance is a process.

Perspective – Psalm 16:8, Proverbs 4:15, 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, Hebrews 3:1

Here's a question we must not forget - Where's your focus? What or Who are you looking at? Self or God? Today or eternity? Feelings or God's sanctification? Oh friend, as we press on may we keep our eyes on the prize!!

Pep Talk of Promises –  Joshua 1:9, Isaiah 43:1-2, 1 Cor. 15:56-58, Romans 8:28,37, Eph. 3:20, Phil. 1:6, 4:13

I don't know about you, but sometimes I need a pep talk. The perfect place to find those encouraging words are in God's promises. In those moments, when life has you down, grief beats you up and thoughts leave you depressed go to God's Word. He will speak to your heart and remind you who He is. 

Friend, I didn't put this last "P" on the list, but it pretty much sums it up - PRACTICE! Not one of us will do this persevering thing perfectly, but we'll have plenty of opportunities to practice. Today no matter where life has you or what it brings you, please join me in persevering. It's God's desire for us, it's what's best for us and it will impact those who see us living out our faith and pressing hard to follow the God we love and Lord we serve!

I'd love to hear your thoughts, insights or experience with perseverance. Did one "P" stick out more than the others? Do you have wisdom to share I didn't include? Feel free to share in the comments. 

Until next time, may these words from Jesus encourage you -

Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.” Revelation 3:10-11