Still Suffering

I thought when school ended last year and mask mandates in our state of North Carolina began to lift, and when the gyms, movie theaters, restaurants, and other businesses reopened at full capacity, that we were “getting back to normal,” so to speak. In my naivete, I believed the blessed rest of summer would also signal the dying out of the virus. I believed the worst was over. I hoped the worst was over – the worst we would see of this pandemic called Covid-19.

But, I was wrong.

Now, the people I personally know who have tested positive for the virus are sicker than the people I knew who previously had the virus.

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People are struggling alone in hospital rooms. Families are struggling at home in the absence of their loved ones.

And it isn’t just Covid that is causing the suffering, but everything seems to be amplified because of the virus. All suffering seems to be more oppressive now.

Many of my friends have been sharing praise and worship music on social media and in group texts to encourage, support, and bring peach and comfort.

Seeing all the music shared and knowing the power of hearing and singing the lyrics of God-centered music reminded me of my friend, Laurie Hogle, and her work at “Singing Christ’s Hope Into Your Suffering.”

I met Lauri in Flourish Writers, a writing group I found through social media, and I have shared her blog posts a time or two here. I’ve even recently collaborated with her on a blog post about interrupting suffering by helping others.

For all those suffering right now, I share Lauri’s words again. They always bring me peace and comfort. I pray they’ll do the same for you. I encourage you to check out her most recent post and subscribe to her email list (at the bottom of her post). Each week, she sends a post along with a playlist of songs curated for their message of praise and worship of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Relationship>Ritual

The title of this article, “Relationship>Ritual” means relationship is greater than ritual. Imagine a math problem with the greater than (>) sign in it. (3.5>5 or 1/2>1/4, for example).

Relationship>ritual is about our relationship with God. Writing it in this way, with the “greater than” sign in it, serves as a visual reminder that a relationship with God is more important than a legalistic ritual. God designed us for a relationship with Him. However, when we try to earn something from Him, or get Him to do something we want, we may engage in a sort of ritualized behavior to try and coax Him or prove to Him that we should have our way.

A ritual performed legalistically – for the sake of the ritual itself or just to get something from God that we want – isn’t what God is looking for. He desires a warm, intimate relationship with His children. He knows us intimately, and He wants us to know Him intimately, too.

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Jesus warned about overvaluing the ritual or the letter of the law during his ministry.

“And the Lord said to him, ‘Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness’.” Luke 11:39

“Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisees! First clean the inside of the cup and plate, that the outside may also be clean.” Matthew 23:25-26

When we focus on ritual, we become concerned with performance, with ability, with “me” and “I.” We spend time and energy focusing on the rules or the procedures. The focus is external. Did we do all the steps? In the right order? Did we follow all the rules? (We’re focusing on the outside of the cup).

Instead, our time and energy should be on understanding who God is, on reading His Word, on learning to hear His voice. On asking Him to change our hearts and lives. (If we do this, we focus on the inside of the cup).

We should pray: Father, search my heart. Is there anything evil there? Is there anything impure? Is there anything I am prioritizing over my relationship with you? Remove those things from my life, Lord. Make my heart pure. I only want you.

Praying words like this to God from a sincere heart can prove life-changing. God will answer. He will give knowledge of Himself, an understanding of His word. He will help us learn to submit our lives to Him and to obey His will. He will help us lead godly lives.

If you want this – knowledge of God, intimacy with God, an understanding of His word, to live a godly life – you must come to understand that He wants a relationship with you. Personal. Genuine. Mutually loving and caring. Purposeful. Intentional. Interactive.

Knowledge of the steps and rules of a ritual won’t cultivate that kind of a relationship.

Focus on your own ability to perform the ritual won’t nurture intimacy with your Creator.

None of these will ever lead to a life-changing relationship with him.

We need to learn to hear His voice, so we need to learn to listen to Him and talk to Him by spending time in quiet with Him.

We need to understand His character, so we need to spend time in the Word reading about Him and what He has done.

Following a ritual formula means we don’t actually have to get to know Him, just the ritual. We place all our faith in the ritual and in our ability to do it well enough to gain what we want.

Even getting up every morning (or whenever you do it) to have quiet time with God can become “just another ritual” if it becomes mechanical, if we begrudge it, if we are trying to convince Him of how good we are, or if we do it because we feel we must rather than because we long for the presence of our Heavenly Father.

This doesn’t mean rituals are rendered useless: the Lord’s supper, baptism, saying the Lord’s prayer, the sacrament of marriage, lighting Advent candles…but the condition of our hearts when we do them is more important the the doing of the rituals. Don’t just go through the motions. Our hearts should be clear first. Our minds should be set on God. Grudges forgiven. Horizontals relationships (with people in our lives) in order. These things make our hearts clean and open to our Lord when we participate in a ritual.

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Pray this prayer from a sincere heart:

Father, You are my Creator. You have fearfully and wonderfully made me. You have chosen me and called me to be your child. You have revealed yourself to me. You will keep me. Praise the Lord! I am so thankful to be your child.

I want to be able to be in your presence, Lord, to sit at your feet. Show me when I don’t put you first, Father. Convict me when I am focusing too much on the ritual and have neglected the relationship. I don’t want to just go through the motions. I want you. I want you as my Savior and as my Lord, to save me and be sovereign over me. Help me to choose you, to keep my eyes focused on you, to keep your Word in my mind, and to keep my heart open to conviction and change. Make me a light for you. Make me bold. Give me the words to say and the things to do to point others to you. Thank you for hearing y prayer, Lord. I love you. Amen.

When Satan Tries to Lie: Part 3

One of Satan’s main tactics against those who follow Christ is distraction. He doesn’t have to tempt you into some “major” sin to be successful in his mission to steal, kill, and destroy. He simply needs to encourage you to take your eyes off God, to distract you from what God wants you to do.

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In the past few years, I’ve been learning how to catch the enemy at his game. It started a few years ago, when I realized he was trying to use the size of my t-shirt to distract me from worship and fellowship at a women’s retreat. Another time, I came to understand that the enemy was trying to overwhelm me with a to-do list. He wanted me to think I had too much to do and get overwhelmed so I wouldn’t start anything. More recently, I caught myself buying into the lie that I didn’t have time to complete short, simple tasks. Satan was encouraging me to procrastinate on things I needed to get done, to put them off until later.

And just the other day I caught the enemy planting seeds of discouragement and shame so I wouldn’t write this post.

For this week’s post, I planned to write about focusing on others. This topic is an important part of my writing focus; I seem to gravitate toward the idea of focusing on others in my own quiet time with God and to study scripture that encourages this when I read the Bible, so I was writing more and more around that theme.

I started working on this article, as I often do, by free-writing in my notebook about the topic for the week’s post. Suddenly, I remembered something: I don’t focus on others. I wrote in my journal, It’s hilarious that this has become one of the main “cogs” in the wheel of my writing because it isn’t something I do.

My pen kept going: I know I should. I see it in scripture. I just don’t follow through. I don’t live my life that way. I’m not even a social person! Ha! I’d rather not engage in too much conversation with people. I don’t know how to make small talk and get conversations going, so I just don’t – at least not as often as I probably should. I want so badly to be liked and to have friends and to be someone others want to be around, but I’m not. I’ve never been. My life is a testament to being unfriendly.

Whoa!

Thankfully, God opened my eyes to what was going on. I needed to take captive those thoughts because they were all from Satan. He was and is still telling me I can’t write about focusing on others because I don’t focus on others, and I was journaling those thoughts as fast as I could as if they were the gospel truth.

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I shifted my focus back to God. I acknowledged what was going on. That Satan was distracting me by feeding me the now-familiar mantra about me not being friendly and not wanting to engage with people. I began to pull back the curtain, so to speak, and see the mantra for what it was – a distraction. God sat me down to write this week’s article, and Satan immediately set out to derail me.

Once my focus was in the right place, God led me to write this: God made me who I am. He gave me the personality I have. He put me where I am. Obviously, He is going to work through me in spite of myself. I just need to move forward. I just need to act when He says to act. Not worry about my personality. Just follow Him. He’ll show me how to focus on others.

Just because I’m not the most outgoing, introverted person doesn’t mean I can’t focus on others.

I can give of my time, energy, and resources for other people.

I can serve others.

As I was freewriting, I came to understand that I’ve been focusing on the response from others, and that’s the wrong way to approach it. I want a large group of friends who think I’m totally awesome and want to hang out with me all the time. I want to be cheered and celebrated because I’m so great at putting others first and everyone knows it…but that is totally the wrong approach.

My reason for looking to the needs of others shouldn’t be what I stand to gain from it or how popular I’ll be if I do it. The point is God told me to do it. It doesn’t matter whether anyone else in the whole world knows what’s going on. I shouldn’t put others first in order to gain recognition or acclaim. I should put others needs first because the Lord of my life calls me to.

How does Satan try to distract you from what God calls you to do? How do you take captive your thoughts and refocus yourself on God?

How do you focus on others? In what ways do you serve? In what ways to do you offer your time and resources?

I’d love to hear from you.

Godly Living: A Proper Response to God

“Cleanliness is next to Godliness.” I can’t tell you how many times I heard this phrase when I was a little girl. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized that this familiar saying – along with so many others like it – sounds biblical but isn’t found anywhere in the scriptures between Genesis and Revelation.

Christians are, however, called to display godliness or to live godly lives.

So what does it mean to live a godly life? And why should we do it?

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Godliness is how we conduct ourselves. Our godly lives are our obedient response to God’s offer of salvation and Christ’s redemptive work on the cross. When we conduct our lives in a godly fashion, we show that we understand our accountability to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We behave in a godly way because we know we will one day stand before God. Also, as we are sanctified throughout our Christian journey, we are made more like Christ. One day we will be made perfect like Him – godly living shows our desire to look like Him now.

When someone is described as godly, it is because that person behaves a certain way; They are being like God in their behavior. They have responded to God in a certain way, and that response is evident in their lives.

Godly people do certain things and avoid doing other things. Godly people act in a certain way, live a certain way, behave a certain way…in response to the gift of salvation offered by God.

When you truly believe in Jesus and what He’s done for you, you will change. First, your heart changes on the inside. Then, God, through the Spirit and the Word, teaches you how to live. The evidence of the inward change can be seen on the outside as well. People around you will know it because they can see it in your actions. The change may be fast or slow, but the result is a more godly person living a more godly life – a life pleasing to God. The behaviors you take on and the behaviors your avoid come from obedience and love – love for God, love for His Word, and love for other people.

Once we genuinely believe in Christ and the Holy Spirit comes in and begins to change our hearts, our beliefs will change. Our speech will change. Our conduct will change. Our treatment of others will change. The truth of Jesus and his love for us as shown in the Good News of the gospel will reflect in everything we do.

This new, godly life that we learn to live once we believe the truth and once the truth begins to change us – this life brings glory to God by providing a witness to others which points them to Christ. Godly conduct on the part of the Christian should eliminate reproach – no one can find fault, criticize, or blame. Godly living silences critics of the gospel and makes the love of Christ believable.

At this point, you may be wondering, Where’s the list? Where’s the list of characteristics to show me how to live a godly life?

I’m not giving a bulleted list though, because we aren’t called to strive to check off the characteristics we already exemplify and note the ones that need more work. It isn’t about striving or working to change ourselves. Godly living results from a heart change that happens when we surrender our lives to God. He does the work. He makes the changes.

This isn’t to say that the Bible doesn’t give us any indication of what godly living should look like because it most certainly does! We have godly examples; we have characteristics we can look to, but it isn’t meant to be a checklist of things to strive for. It’s meant to be something to pray about to God and to ask Him to do in our lives.

A “definition” I found that helped me understand godly living came from the McArthur Study Bible which uses the New American Standard Version translation. When I was studying godliness, I read over and over in commentary from this Bible that godly living is “a proper response and attitude toward God in all things.” So, when you live a godly, righteous, holy life, you always put God first; you always look to Him.

If I’m looking at God, if my eyes are on Him, I will live a godly life, as much as is humanely possible in this fallen world. Will I still do, say, and think things that aren’t godly? Absolutely, because I am a sinful human living in a broken world. But, with genuine faith in God, with my eyes focused on Him, and with my life obediently submitted to Him, He will work changes in my life, and the result will be godliness.

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.P.S. If you’re like me and still kind of want a “list” – you still need to see some actual behaviors or some more specific information on exactly what godliness and godly living look like – read through the books of 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus. (The first chapters of each book in the NIV version of the Bible are linked here from biblegateway.org. You can follow the links and read each book there). In these books, Paul gives clear instructions on godly living and what it should look like.

You could also use the concordance in your Bible to do a word search for the words “godly” and “godliness”. You could also find and read verses that are cross-referenced when you do the word study using your concordance. Another option would be to study the word in the original Hebrew and Greek languages used in the Bible. I prefer the Blue Letter Bible app and the Vines Dictionary app for studying the original languages of words in the Bible.

Pray about what you read, asking God to help you understand and to make these changes in your heart and life. Write your thoughts and your questions regarding what you read. Ask questions of trusted Christians you know (or contact me. I’d be happy to talk with you about this subject. I don’t profess to be an expert in any way, but maybe I would point you in the direction of some more resources).

The bottom line is that you seek God to show you how to live according to His Word. He’ll show you the way.

Interrupt Your Suffering by Serving Others

{I am honored that Lauri Hogle agreed to co-author this week’s post, and I’m simply ecstatic to be able to offer you access to her weekly devotionals and playlists. Lauri is a Christian blogger and music therapist who writes about “singing Christ’s hope into your suffering.” I was introduced to Lauri and her posts as part of Flourish Writers and was instantly drawn to her use of music to interrupt our suffering with worship and focus instead on praising God. Each week, along with her devotional blog posts, she offers prayerfully selected playlists to encourage worshiping God even in our suffering. I hope you’ll take time to visit her site and sign up for her weekly emails. I know the scripture and song choices will bless you as they have me, and we can join together in interrupting our suffering by worshiping God}.

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I have a radical idea – what if we interrupt our suffering by worshiping God?

And what if that worship came in the form of serving others?

Totally crazy, right?

Maybe not.

What did Jesus tell us was the second most important commandment?  He said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31

The Greek word Jesus used for love was “agapao” – it’s a verb, an action, meaning you DO something.  You live out this love.

Let’s live out our love. Let’s interrupt our suffering by focusing on others.

Literally take our attention off our own challenges and struggles and focus on the needs of someone else.  This is a godly way to persevere through suffering.  This is also a way to worship God: love other people.  Meet their needs.  Be God’s hands and feet…even as we’re dealing with our own tests and trials.

Does serving others guarantee our pain will go away?

Unfortunately not.

Does putting the needs of others before our own needs exempt us from future suffering?

It doesn’t.

Then why should we do it?

Because God commanded us to, in Leviticus 19:18b, “…You shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD.”

Because Jesus echoed this command during his earthly ministry (Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31).

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And because Jesus and other figures from the Bible lived this out.  They modeled for us how to serve others during a time of suffering.

Remember Jesus washing his disciples’ feet mere hours before his brutal death?  (See John 13:1-20)

Then, remember him making provisions with his disciple John for his mother, Mary’s long-term care even as Jesus was hanging on the cross?  (John 19:26-27)

The widow of Zarephath served the prophet Elijah even though she thought she and her son were starving to death during a drought.  The widow and her son were gathering sticks to make a fire to use the last flour and oil they had in their house to make bread.  When Elijah approached and asked for food, the widow told him that she planned to use up the remaining food in her house and then die with her son (she thought they would starve to death because there was a drought in the land and they had no way of getting more food).  Elijah gave her a word from the LORD: if she would serve Elijah during her suffering as God was calling her to, her flour and oil wouldn’t run out until God sent the rain. She submitted to God’s will and helped Elijah even as she and her son were starving.  (Read the whole story in 1 Kings 17:8-24

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Joseph’s story, in the book of Genesis, also illustrates interrupting personal suffering to meet the needs of other people.  As a youth, Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers (Genesis 37:18-28).  He ended up in Egypt working in the house of a man named Potifar.  Because God was with Joseph, everything Joseph did was successful, so Potifar prospered as a result.  Unfortunately, the young man suffered again at the hands of his master’s wife who tried to seduce him then falsely accused him of attempted rape when he refused her advances.  His master believed his wife’s allegations and had Joseph thrown in jail (Genesis 39:1-23). While Joseph suffered under false imprisonment, he served others who were jailed with him by correctly interpreting their dreams; for one of his fellow inmates, he provided comfort in the knowledge that the man’s time in prison was about to end.  Joseph was still suffering in prison when he was asked to serve Pharoah . When Joseph correctly interpreting Pharoah’s dreams, Joseph won freedom from jail (Genesis 41:1-56).

The story of Ruth provides more proof that it is possible to serve others while you are experiencing pain and heartache of your own.  Even though Ruth’s husband died, she continued to care for her mother-in-law, Naomi, remaining in Naomi’s home rather than returning to her (Ruth’s) parents.  Eventually, Ruth moved with Naomi away from her (Ruth’s) homeland and returned to Naomi’s hometown (Ruth 1:1-19). There, Ruth continued to minister to her widowed mother-in-law by gathering grain from the fields in the area so she and Naomi would have food (Ruth 2:2-3).

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You see, God has already given us everything we need to pull ourselves out of our suffering: the mandate to love our neighbors as ourselves, and godly examples in His Word of people who served while they suffered, even His own Son, Jesus Christ.

Talk to God today about your suffering.  Ask Him to show you the needs of people around you, people who are hurting.  Ask Him to give you the strength to help those people even though you are also in need of help.  Ask Him to help you interrupt your suffering by serving Him.  He is faithful to hear you and to answer your prayers. 

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To Heather’s words, I add this, as one who is so often physically ill and then riddled with feelings of guilt when I want to serve and help others but don’t have the physical capacity to care for others’ needs well. 

How can I wash the hands and feet of others if my body isn’t working? How can I keep going in moments when I’m physically weary from my current season of continual caregiving for others?

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:10 ESV).

By His indwelling Spirit, we can walk in His perfectly planned good works, beloved. 

He answered my desperate prayers…with the answer of “prayer!” At my sickest, this flip calendar prayer helped me:

Deliver me Lord, from the snare of self-pity

the lie that I’m no longer a value

Remind me that when I’m unable to work,

I can still be of use …

I can pray … I can praise … I can be.

I can pray for my brothers and sisters in Christ continually, as serving the Lord:

keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints (Eph. 6:18 ESV);

asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding (Col. 1:9 ESV).

I can pray for those who do not know Jesus or who are hurting me:

love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Mt. 5:44 ESV).

I can pray for this suffering to be a time of new learning and sharing the gospel with others:

but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect (I Pet. 3:15 ESV).

Beloved in Christ, let’s all serve and honor our Lord, by loving others, in and through our suffering this week. How can we best do so? Let’s pray and ask Him to help us, the One who has already prepared us for good works during this time of suffering.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (I Thess. 5: 16-18 ESV).

This week’s playlist gives us words to pray, as we seek the Lord’s help and wisdom about how to serve God, especially in today’s suffering. If praying through song would bless and help you, this playlist is for you. You can sign up to receive it in your email at https://laurihogle.com.

How to Study the Bible Part 4 – Do a Formal Bible Study

***At the end of today’s post, I’m previewing next week’s article – a collaboration with a writer I’m excited to introduce to you. Don’t miss the “heads up” below.***


It is obvious, based on scripture, that God intended for His children to read His word. We are to learn from it, yield to it, proclaim it and share it. He intended for us to write His word on our hearts so it would be with us for eternity.

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By all means, open the Bible. Read the Bible. Study the Bible. Ask questions about the Bible. Allow it to be alive and active in your life, as the writer of Hebrews said it was. (Hebrews 4:12). Most importantly, allow it to reveal your sin and teach you to ask forgiveness and to turn back to God.

You can most definitely study the Bible on your own as I have described in the Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of this series. But you can also choose a formal Bible study as a vehicle through which to learn about God’s Word. There are a wealth of studies with sound doctrine that were written by credible believers. If you are flying solo, you may need to do research into unfamiliar authors. Search the internet to see if that author has his or her own page so you can read about others things he or she has done to promote the faith. You could ask a trusted Christian friend or visit the website of women’s ministries that list trusted Bible study authors.

Authors and collaborations of authors I personally recommend include Beth Moore, Priscilla Shrier, Jessie Allen, Jessie North, Mindy Kiker and Jenny Kochert (Flourish Gathering), Mary Kassian, Nancy Leigh (DeMoss) Wolgemuth, Asherita Ciuciu, and Sophron Studies. You can also usually trust studies found at DaySpring, Lifeway, etc. (This list is not exhaustive – just authors and publishers I have experience with).

Another option would be to join a group Bible study for added accountability, guidance, fellowship, and discipleship. The studies you do in these settings are typically curated in some way (people with past experience with the author or the study have recommended them). Group Bible studies are usually led by someone with experience in studying the Bible, in leading group studies, and in choosing studies with sound doctrine, and these people can answer your questions, lead you to other resources, help disciple you, etc.

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The benefit of having others to talk through material with is immeasurable. I have personally learned and grown so much from studies I’ve done over the past 16 years. These studies have helped deepen my faith. They’ve helped me develop my own Bible study methods that I use when I’m not doing a formal study. They’ve helped me learn to hear from God and to talk with God. They’ve led to life changes where God has broken through and put me on a different path. They’ve given me the confidence to go to the Bible on my own and read it for myself. They’ve helped me learn to follow God in general and have given me direction specifically as a women, as a mother, and as a wife.

Not sure how to join a small group Bible study?

Ask a friend where she goes and join her.

Check the women’s ministry pages of local churches to see when their next study starts up. (Here’s our women’s ministry page at Calvary. Our next formal group studies start in the fall, but you’re welcome to join one of our small groups as we continue to do informal studies during summer break. You do not have to be local to participate as some of these groups use Zoom or meet/talk virtually in other ways). The small group I’m in does plans through the YouVersion app, purchases bible studies to work through, or reads the Bible itself, focusing on a book, a person, or a concept to study.

Feeling a little intimidated? Reach out to me, and I can walk through a plan or study with you.

Whatever way you choose to study the Bible, start with prayer and continue to pray, pray, pray. Always be in conversation with God, asking for guidance so you can learn from His Word remain in His will.

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***Next week’s post, Interrupt Your Suffering by Serving Others, was co-authored with Lauri Hogle, fellow Christian blogger and music therapist who writes about “singing Christ’s hope into your suffering.” I first read Lauri’s posts as part of Flourish Writers, and I was instantly drawn to her use of music to interrupt our suffering with worship and focus instead on praising God. Each week, along with her devotional blog posts, she offers prayerfully selected playlists to lead us in worshiping God even in our suffering.

The idea that God calls us to focus on others resonates strongly with me, so I’ve explored it recently in my writing as well. As I became more familiar with Lauri’s writing through her weekly posts and playlists, I felt a nudge from God to reach out to her and ask her to co-author an article specifically about serving others as a way to interrupt our suffering. She graciously agreed to work with me on the article, but most importantly, to create a playlist to you through the article. I encourage you to visit Lauri’s site and check out her work, then join me again next week for our post and her playlist.

When God Changes Your Plans

I should be packing the last item in my carry-on bag and checking that I have enough changes of clean underwear 😉

But, I’m not. I emptied what I’d already packed and put away my bags last night.

I should be checking into my flight on the American Airlines app.

But, I’m not. I canceled my flight yesterday.

I should be flying out of Charlotte tomorrow morning at 9:40 and landing in Cincinnati around 11:30am.

But, I’m not. I’ll be home in Monroe instead.

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Three friends and I began planning this trip in January. We met when we started Flourish Writers Academy at the beginning of 2021 (part of Flourish Writers). After we got connected and started meeting regularly outside of academy events to talk about our writing and to share prayer requests and praises, we decided to travel from our home states (NC, FL, CA, and MI), spend the weekend of April 30-May 2 together in Cincinnati, and attend Flourish Writers LIVE on May 1.

But we aren’t.

One friend tested positive for Covid-19 this past Monday and began the necessary 10-day quarantine.

Another friend’s mom fell over the weekend and had surgery for her injuries on Tuesday. Our friend decided she needed to stay with her mom to help in her recovery.

That left two of us.

Officially, we could have still gone. But part of the reason we were so excited about going was to get to meet each other in person and spend time together. When it became obvious that everyone couldn’t go, she and I decided we’d cancel our plans as well.

Let’s be honest: We really didn’t cancel our plans though.

God did.

At this point, I don’t know His reason for doing it. I may never know why, or He may reveal it at some future time.

But, I can tell you this, I am at peace with it.

I eagerly anticipated this trip since I bought my plane ticket in March. I was looking forward to the content of the writers conference itself. I was also excited to meet Mindy and Jenny – the women who created Flourish Writers and who would lead the event. I was looking forward to being refreshed, encouraged, and inspired anew in my writing.

However, I trust God. If this trip didn’t happen, it was for my good – it was for the good of my three friends as well. There was something else we needed to do this weekend or something God was protecting us from. Or it just wasn’t in God’s timing for us to go right now. Or some other reason that only God knows.

Has God ever canceled your plans?

Maybe it was something relatively small like my current example – a weekend trip with friends.

Or maybe it was something big.

You expected to be married by a certain age, but you’re still single.

You assumed marriage would last forever, but you’re divorced.

You planned to have children, but you’re still childless.

You thought your child would stay on the right path but now he or she is wayward.

You wanted a certain job or a promotion, but those doors haven’t opened.

You thought a move to a new house or a new town or a new state would make things better, but the move didn’t happen or your situation didn’t change even when your address did.

God interrupts.

God cancels plans.

God changes plans.

God makes new plans.

The next time God cancels your plans, it’s ok to be disappointed. It’s ok to be upset or even angry. It’s ok to cry. It’s ok to scream. But don’t stay in that dry, dreary place.

Take some time in quiet to talk with Him. You can express your feelings. God can handle your anger, frustration, or hurt feelings. He isn’t surprised by your response. In fact, He already knows how you feel; he’s just waiting for you to talk to Him about it so He can show you what He has planned instead.

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Ask Him to reveal to you why you missed the opportunity. Why things didn’t go according to your plan. Then wait and listen to what He has to say. Ask Him to help you accept what He has to say. Ask Him to help you trust Him more. Ask Him to help you with your unbelief. He is faithful to hear His children and to respond when we cry out to Him.

What If You Had Been There?

Imagine you’re Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Salome, Mary the mother of James, or any of the woman who closely followed Jesus and were there in Jerusalem during Holy Week.

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WordPress Blog

Focus on Jesus, the one you followed, talked to, learned from, believed in, loved…

Now see him snatched from the garden by torchlight.

See him dragged around the city and subjected to illegal trials.

Now he’s beaten and spat on. See his bloody and broken body.

See him on the cross.

Now he’s dead. See his body wrapped in cloth and laid in a cave in the side of a hill.

All is lost. How can this be? You don’t understand. Were you wrong to follow him? You were convinced he was going to save you, but he couldn’t even save himself.

Now, the angels say he’s alive!

Now he appears before you – whole, healthy, breathing, eating, speaking!

Now he tells you to go, teach, baptize, and make more disciples.

See him lifted from the mountain and watch him be carried into heaven.

You have been saved. Everything he said is true. He is alive. He is the Christ!

Now you are sure.

Now you will tell everyone you meet about what he did to free people from sin.

Now you will live the rest of your life for him.

Then, you will spend eternity with him…

On this Maundy Thursday, spend time in quiet with Jesus thanking him for the sacrifice he made for you. If you haven’t been following along with us as we focused on Holy Week during the month of March, here are the reading lists:

What Happened the Week Before Jesus Died

What Happened The Week Before Jesus Died – Triumphal Entry

What Happened the Day Before Jesus Died

What Happened the Day Jesus Died

What Happened Three Days After Jesus Died

What Happened Three Days After Jesus Died – Resurrection and Ascension*

{If this is your first “What Happened” post, go back to the introductory post for the survey of the major events of Holy week that we’re doing together on Servant Girl Stories during March. Then, read the post detailing Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Next, read the post about the night before Jesus died. Finally, read the post describing Jesus’ trials and crucifixion. After that, you’re ready for this post}.

The women find Jesus’s tomb empty. Image credit: 1stbiblical blog

As early as possible on the first day of the week, you gather with the other women to take more spices to the tomb where Jesus’ body was placed.

Nicodemus and Joseph already covered his body in myrrh and aloes before binding him and laying him in Joseph’s tomb three days ago. But the women agreed to take more spices as soon as the Sabbath was over, and you want to go with them.

One last chance to be near Jesus.

It seems right that he should be honored this way.

The sweet aroma of the burial spices forces you to confront the truth – their scent is meant to cover the stench of a dead body as it decomposes. Jesus is dead. You are going to anoint his dead body with these spices. You have helped anoint dead bodies of loved ones before, but you never really noticed how the spices smelled. Not so keenly as you do now. But the odor is overwhelming. Your eyes burn, and your nose and throat sting.

Thinking of him and how much you loved and were devoted to him, hot tears pour from your eyes again. You haven’t stopped crying since Friday. Since you witnessed his gruesome death. Something you will never forget for the rest of your life.

You still cannot believe the teacher is gone.

Quietly, you and the other women gather the spices and make your way to the tomb. You don’t look at each other. You don’t speak to each other.

How can he be dead? You ask yourself for the millionth time. How could someone that good… be gone?

On the day he removed the demons that possessed and tormented you for so long, you vowed to follow him to the ends of the earth.

You just never expected the end to come so quickly…and in Jerusalem.

“How will we move the stone?” Someone asks, snatching you back to the present.

You’d been blindly following the group in a trance of disbelief, despair, and devastation.

How will we move the stone? You wonder, your forehead furrowing. Panic begins to rise. We must be allowed to anoint his body! You think as your heart begins to race. Blood pounds loudly in your ears.

From the front of the cluster of your friends, Joanna gasps loudly and stops so quickly that Salome bumps into her and you bump into Salome. The other women behind you crowd close.

“Look!” Joanna’s voice is barely above a whisper.

Glancing past the women in front of you, you see it. But you don’t believe it. You squint and blink against the sun just beginning to rise over the tombs.

The stone has already been rolled away…

The empty tomb/Image Credit: istockphoto

Readings for the fourth week of March

*As you read each account, note similarities and differences.  How does each writer describe the events?  How are they similar and how are they different?  How do the different perspectives give you a fuller picture of the event?

**Always pay special attention to the things Jesus said/direct quotes.

***When you’re reading, try to imagine the scene in your head: see the people, hear the sounds, inhale the smells. Visualize the events happening as clearly as something you’ve witnessed with your own eyes. For example, with the arrest in the garden, see the soldiers’ torchlight dancing off their armor, hear the worried voices of the disciples as they realize what the soldiers have come to do…imagine you are there in the scene as it unfolds.

Sunday – Jesus resurrects and appears to various people. 

READ:

  • Matthew 28:1-20
  • Mark 16:1-9
  • Luke 24:1-53
  • John 20:1-31

Other Accounts of Jesus’ Appearances after His Resurrection

Optional Reading

READ:

  • John 21:1-25

The remaining 11 disciples speak with Jesus before he ascends.  Soon after that, the disciples return to the upper room (where the Last Supper was held) for a prayer meeting. 

Jesus ascends into heaven. Image Credit: pinimg.com

Optional Reading

  • Acts 1:1-14

Everything we have read about Jesus’ Passion week should point us to Jesus, the cross, salvation, and penitence. It should make it even more grateful for what he did and what it means in our lives.

During the week, reread the verses as many times as possible. Try to read them in different translations as well. Also, read commentary on these verses. Listen to them on a Bible app that will read them aloud. This will help you visualize everything and write the events on your heart. Journal your thoughts on the questions to consider above. Share our survey of events with a friend so you can discuss together what God is showing you as you pray and read.

I pray the Lord will show you something fresh in these familiar stories as you prepare your heart for His resurrection.

Image Credit: elevatechristiannetwork.com

How have you been impacted by studying accounts of Easter events in the 4 Gospels? I would love to hear about your experience reading about Easter week.

*Along with the Bible verses listed above, the following articles helped inform the narrative at the beginning of this study:

https://www.gotquestions.org/anointing-spices.html

https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/678-the-sweet-fragrance-of-a-subtle-argument

https://godasagardener.com/2016/03/25/aloe-and-myrrh-wrapped-body/