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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Carrying Thankfulness with You in Ministry

It was one of those Sundays when it seemed everything had gone wrong. I wasn't in the mood to worship--I just wanted to survive the next hour so I could go home and hide. Being thankful was the last thing on my mind. But then the praise team played the opening notes of "Count Your Blessings." As we sang and people called out their blessings across the sanctuary, my mood shifted. I had much to be thankful for--including our congregation.

Thankfulness should characterize our ministries. Paul directly told congregations that he was thankful for them and prayerfully thanked God for them in nine of his thirteen New Testament letters. Paul cultivated an attitude of thankfulness toward the congregations he served--even congregations he sometimes had a strained relationship with. He didn't shy away from correcting problems, but he chose to be thankful for the way God demonstrated his grace among the churches he planted and served.

We also need to choose thankfulness in ministry. Sometimes it's hard to do. Our brains are hardwired to hold on to negative information more than positive information. Researchers say it takes five positive comments to outweigh one negative one. Perhaps that's why the criticisms and the slights are easier for us to remember than the positive things about ministry. And when we let ourselves dwell on that negativity, it sets us up to become bitter toward our congregations.

Choosing thanksgiving cancels out that negativity, It forces us to be attentive toward what God is doing and how he is blessing us--even in the midst of challenging circumstances. In ministry, choosing thanksgiving allows us to see how God is at work around us.

This week, try beginning your prayers for your church by thanking God for them. Thank God for:
  • Lives that are being transformed
  • People who love one another well
  • Those who give generously to one another
  • Those who hold on to faith despite life's challenges
  • People who are willing to speak the truth
  • Those who faithfully serve
  • How God displays his grace and glory in your congregation
The list could go on, but perhaps this can help you get started. Write down your list of thanksgivings and look back at it when times get hard. Choosing thanksgiving puts our attention back on Christ and helps us love well in ministry.

About the author:
Leigh Powers is the author of Renewed: A 40-Day Devotional for Healing from Church Hurt and for Loving Well in Ministry. She is passionate about helping women find hope and healing by meeting God in his Word. You can connect with Leigh on Facebook or Twitter, or follow her at her blog, My Life. His Story (www.leighpowers.com).

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Dodging Pity Puddles


"Not yet, no one is here."

"Five minutes."

"I hope so. This was a crazy week and as you know, it took all I had in me to prepare. I sure do hope someone shows up."

"Thanks honey, I will call on my way home . . . it could be sooner than later."

Ever been there? You've had a busy week and it took all you could do to prepare for a meeting, Bible study, or get-together and then either no one shows up, or just a few.

I have, obviously, and it was just a few weeks ago. As I sat in a chair looking out the window waiting for at least one car to pull up I felt it—that familiar tap on my heart when the Lord needs to get my attention. I knew my attitude was not good when I was on the phone with my husband, but at the moment I felt I had good reason to feel as I did.

As the minutes ticked, God took this time as a teaching moment. You know, the moments you take with your children or grandchildren when they are doing something wrong or inappropriate and you guide them. Well, that was where I was. He had my full attention and was going to teach me something right then.

In those minutes He gently reminded me that this wasn’t about me. I know, in ministry we are well aware that we signed up for “it’s not about me,” but sometimes we get tired and we fall into a pity puddle and forget. Yes, I said pity puddle, instead of party. Puddles are stinking and stagnating, and that was about my attitude at the moment.

But our Heavenly Father is so gracious and if we will give Him our attention for those teaching moments, He will not only guide us, but prepare us and give us the energy for the work He has called us to, as well as pour over us His peace.

In those quiet moments of waiting He reminded me that this was His work and the dear ones I was waiting on, they were His also. He didn’t prompt me to teach this particular Bible Study for the numbers so that my worth could be validated. No, He prompted me to teach for many reasons; to use the gifts He had given me, to begin to grow our new women’s ministry, to bring together these ladies for instruction and fellowship. If only one came, then my preparation was for her. It wasn’t about my performance or their attendance but about obedience.

While in the midst of ministry I think we can stumble and fall face first into a pity puddle. But again, our Heavenly Father is full of grace and love. He will always give us what we need when He has asked us to serve Him. Our part is to be obedient and keep our eyes focused on Him, then it doesn’t matter the outcome.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good word in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ,” (Phil 1:6 ESV).

About the Author:

The hats I wear are many but with each one brings an opportunity to share heart, humor, and hope. My day job is with a ministry in Greenville, SC but my other hours I fill with writing, speaking, teaching Bible Studies, leading our women's ministry, designing landscape/gardens, rowing at Greenville Indoor Rowing and answering to Beth, mama, and grandmommy. Serving alongside my husband, who is a pastor, for over twenty years, I can say without a doubt that as difficult as it is at times, it's also a great honor. They say that with age comes wisdom, I'm not sure about the wisdom part, but I do know that with age comes the realization that no matter what I go through God is always there with His overwhelming love and grace. 

Connect With Beth:

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Who Comes First?

Joan rested her hands in her lap, crossed and uncrossed her ankles. The entire week was filled with activities again. It had been months since she enjoyed even an afternoon to herself. As for family and friends, it would take a shoehorn to wedge in quality time with them.

And here she sat wasting time at the doctor’s office for a follow up to an annual physical.

“Joan Phillips?” The nurse’s voice was tight.

Joan rose and followed the perky blonde down the blue-carpeted hallway. The casual pace and chitchat made her wonder if she’d be on time for Bible study. Gesturing toward a black leather chair set in front of a massive desk, the nurse assured Joan the doctor would be right along.

Dr. Johnson entered the room as his personable self, but when he folded his hands on the green blotter his eyes tightened. He took a deep breath, and said, “Joan, I’m sorry Dave couldn’t be here, but this can’t wait. I have to tell you your test results came back and . . .”

On the drive home, the only words she could remember were, “If we can get hold of this now, you have plenty of quality years ahead of you.” How could that be? I feel fine.

A tearful conversation with her husband Dave when he returned from his trip followed by a three-way discussion with Dr. Johnson brought clarity. The ongoing stress of her busy lifestyle had taken a toll on Joan’s body. Immediate corrective action was recommended to stabilize her overall health.

Dave and Joan went through her schedule and cut back all but essential responsibilities. Her symptoms improved somewhat, but Dr. Johnson was not satisfied. “You’re getting more sleep and regular exercise, but there’s still a harmful level of tension. Can you pinpoint the cause?”

His question drove Joan to the inner courts of heaven. LORD, please reveal the problem. I want … I need to rest in Your peace. Thank You for Your grace. Amen

God granted her request in the days and weeks ahead, bringing her to a fresh understanding of His priorities. The key element was Holy Spirit’s whispers through two main references to convince her that leaving herself at the bottom of every list was not the Father’s design.

With support from Dave, Joan began to exercise biblical self-care. Embracing her identity as a cherished child of the Risen Savior relaxed her soul. The inner transition carried peace filled her life with peace and blessed those around her.  The transformation took mental and emotional effort, but a year later Dr. Johnson gave her two thumbs up.

 Each of you should look not only to your own interest, but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:4).*emphasis mine

Love your neighbor as yourself. (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 19:19, 22:39; Mark 12:31,33; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:19; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8).

Are your days regularly over-the-top busy?
Could it be time to consider your priorities in light of these verses?

About the Author:
Sandra Allen Lovelace is a continuing missionary, a pastor’s wife emeritus, and a homeschool pioneer. She’s an award-winning speaker and author, and a sought-after mentor. Sandra writes for a number of publications and has two manuscripts underway, Wallflower Women and Naomi. She enjoys hiking with a camera in her hand, best done on an international adventure. Sandra and her husband Curt are transitioning to South Carolina.

Get to know Sandra at her website, http://sandraallenlovelace.com/
You can also connect with Sandra on Facebook. If you contact her at Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Google+ she’ll be delighted by a reason to practice.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Weight of Waiting

You know how, in January, people claim a word for the year? I’ve been doing that for a long time, as in, since the hashtag symbol meant “number.” One of my early words was obedience. Another was balance.

Then one year, about mid-February (not ironically), the Lord gave me a different kind of word: wait, or more specifically wait on the Lord. Wait is not a very inspirational word. I mentally argued with Him about claiming it. I needed something to get me through the year, not hold me back.

As I reflect now, I can name several periods of unexpected waiting in my past—times when I thought God was ready for me/us to move forward, but instead, He told us to wait.

Perhaps your mind has already gone to that classic verse about waiting.

But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
    they shall walk and not faint.  -Isaiah 40:31 ESV

We think of waiting as a dormant period where nothing much happens, but Isaiah says waiting is a time of strengthening. Why is it “they” can fly, run, and walk endlessly? Because they first waited.  And in the waiting, they got stronger. They lifted weights, so to speak.

That’s another thing people do in January: They resolve to get fit, maybe through lifting weights. When you lift, you schedule rests between each set of exercises. It’s in those waiting periods that your muscles connect more tightly and become stronger. If you don’t wait before jumping into the next set, you’ll hurt yourself.

Two things happen when we wait for the Lord. God prepares the way for us (as in Proverbs 3:5-6’s “make your paths straight”) and God prepares us for what’s coming.

In my year (fourteen months, actually) of waiting, we faced unexpected…let’s call them challenges instead of difficulties or trials. Sometimes I felt like I was doing squats with weights too heavy for me. However, when the time came to take off in flight, we soared instead of stumbling.

Imagine Hannah’s heavy weight of waiting (1 Samuel 1). Year after year, she endured the teasing of a rival wife. Year after year, she hoped the next festival season would be different, that she would carry a son rather than the twin dumbbells of disappointment and shame.

But God caused her to wait. On the outside, He was preparing a place for her eventual son with Eli, the priest. On the inside, He was cultivating Hannah’s heart so she could and would give her child to Eli and the Lord. Both these things had to happen before the time was right for Samuel to be born. Without those years of “heavy lifting”—of strengthening her heart—Hannah might not have fulfilled God’s purpose in her life.

The NIV translators chose another word in Isaiah 40:31. Look at this:

But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength...  -Isaiah 40:31 NIV

Our waiting is a time of hoping, of looking confidently toward the future, of knowing we will soar if we are obedient in the meantime.

So do some squats and lunges while you’re waiting…I mean hoping.

Question for Reflection: Have you been frustrated by a time of waiting? Reflect on that time and document how He strengthened you during those days. It may have been pure encouragement, the acquisition of a new skill, a maturing of the Fruit of the Spirit, or something else. Regardless, we find ourselves praising Him once it’s over!

We would love to hear from you in the comments below if you’d like to share your own experience with waiting (or any other response).

About the Author:

Carole Sparks is passionate about God’s Word—about how it can change our everyday lives! After years of globetrotting, she now lives, learns, and loves (plus a good bit of writing) in the hills of East Tennessee. Connect with Carole through her blog, http://notaboutme1151.wordpress.comor on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

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