Meet the Valley Women's Bible Study Team

Under the leadership team of Women’s Ministry, 6 women serve on the Bible Study Team with the goal of helping the women of Valley move forward in their lives as Thriving Women of the Word.

Meet the team: Be inspired by their hearts for God’s Word….

Annie Stec

Hi, I’m Annie, a mom to three grade school kids and wife to Tony. My biggest and favorite ministry is my family! I love getting to have conversations with our kids about the Lord and life. I also love talking with my husband, he is a pretty wise guy and I am so lucky to have his brain to pick. I have loved learning about the Bible for as long as I can remember - which is why I went to school for my Bachelor of Arts in Biblical Studies at Azusa Pacific University and my Master of Arts in Religion at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. I am passionate about studying the Bible and am grateful there is always more to learn from God’s word.

Some of my favorite childhood memories are of late night road trips. While my dad was driving and everyone else was sleeping, I was laying down in the third row and he and I would talk. We would talk about the Bible, theology, and history. He talked to me like I was his peer, listening as much as teaching. He was truly curious about what I thought. During these conversations, not only did my love for the Bible grow but my dad gave me another gift - by valuing my thoughts he gave me the confidence to study God’s word on my own.

Brenda Long

My name is Brenda Long. I enjoy serving on the Women’s Bible Study Team while working as a nurse educator and keeping up with seven grandchildren. My husband and I have been in ministry for 38 years and have found the Word of God to be essential in navigating all aspects of life. Romans 12:1-2 encourages us to live counter-culturally. Some days I am simply under-equipped to do that! I have found studying God’s Word is my daily Resource - not merely informational but transformational. The renewing of my mind, attitudes and values through scripture gives me daily perspective to live and love well.

Connie Stilley

I grew up on a farm, in a family that was very involved in our church. I knew that when I started college it might be a good idea to look for a church. I attended services close to my dorm at Iowa State a couple of times, but it didn't seem like a good fit. A few months later, a hometown friend offered a ride to a church off campus, that also had a student group that met on campus. The people in this church were welcoming, especially to new college students. The campus group offered a weekly ministry and encouraged involvement in Bible studies. I started attending both and soaked up what I was learning. The faith I had seen demonstrated in my parent’s lives became more personal to me.

College is often a time of important decisions in life. I had some wonderful mentors, developed life-long friendships, and met my husband in that ministry. I'm grateful for the way God has kept me close to Him.

As a Grandma who's been involved in many Bible studies over the years, I'm especially touched by the way God is working through the lives of our four children and our grandchildren. I'm gratified to see that our seven grandchildren are being raised by parents who also walk in faith.

I really love connecting with other women in Bible study, and quite honestly, spend more time studying the Word of God myself when I am in a group study. I love hearing the perspective of others and sharing burdens in prayer times.

The very first verse I ever learned was John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." With that perspective, learning who God is and studying His Word with others is such a blessing!

(Note: As the longest serving Women’s Ministry Coordinator, Connie is a great asset to the team with her extensive knowledge of the women of Valley and the history of Women’s Ministry.)

Diann Cooper

My name is Diann Cooper. I am single and a retired elementary teacher. I taught 4th-6th graders for 38 years. I’ve been a member of Valley Church and Pathfinders Life Group for several years. I am a member of the Senior Ministry Committee-our main responsibilities are Saints Alive and Valley Travelers. I have taken and facilitated many Bible Studies at Valley.

I continue to get more excited about studying God’s Word. I used to think it was about how the Bible could help me, but it’s God’s story! It’s all about Him!!! It’s about knowing more about God and His character, what He has done and what He can do! A book that has helped me with a study method is “Women of the Word - How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds” by Jen Wilkin. It’s a 3-step method: Comprehension (What does it say?); Interpretation (What does it mean?); Application (How should I respond?). It’s God first & then me! It’s loving God with my mind and my heart!!! It’s Psalm 46:10 “Be still and KNOW that I am GOD” and so much more! God gave us His Word so we can KNOW HIM! I pray that God will continue to fill my HEART with the desire to fill my MIND with more knowledge about Him!

Sandy Murphy

Hi, I’m Sandy, wife to Ryan and mom of 3 kids - 8th grade, 6th grade, and 4th grade. I served with Cru for several years during my 20s, in St. Louis and on several trips (from 1 week to 1 year) to Eastern Europe. One of my favorite verses is Philippians 1:6 – “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” He is in the process of completing what He started in me…it’s not just up to me!

Growing up in a family that loved the Lord and was committed to church and Bible study definitely set the foundation for me to love God and His Word. It wasn’t until my freshman year in college, however, that being in the Word shifted from a mere “good thing to do” to a passion. I went to college looking for a Christian group to connect with and found Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ). Vanessa, a senior acquaintance, was actively involved in Cru and teaching others to study God’s Word. She took me under her wing and we studied Philippians together, verse by verse over the course of a semester. Discovering that God was going to continue what He started in me (Phil 1:6) was refreshing and empowering. He not only began a good work in me, but was going to keep working in my life to make me who He wanted me to be. It wasn’t just up to me alone to walk with Him — He was still pursuing and working on me! This paradigm shift emboldened me to share Christ with others. Now that I more fully grasped the gospel, it was truly good news to share! That semester launched me into a life of studying God’s Word and has given me a passion to see others know Him and His Word. One of my favorite things is watching women I’ve poured my life into reach out to other women, teaching them to know Jesus and study the Bible. Over the years I’ve engaged in a variety of Bible study methods, but always come back to some kind of inductive method of going through a passage verse by verse, discovering what it says, what it means, and how it applies to my life — the basics that Vanessa taught me years ago.

Being a part of the Women’s Ministry Bible study planning team at Valley has allowed me to continue to use my passion for His Word in the lives of women. I love to see women at Valley engaged in His Word alongside other women, sharing what He’s teaching them and growing together. I have so loved each Women’s Bible Study at Valley that I’ve been a part of and can honestly say that even though I’ve learned through my own study and preparation, I have learned even more as others share what He’s taught them. I love it! We are called to live in community, and as we study His Word together we sharpen one another — what a refreshing, beautiful place to be!

Becky Staab

My journey of digging into God’s Word began when as a ten-year-old I received my grandmother’s Bible after she went to be with the Lord. I had owned copies of the Bible before, but that special Bible motivated me to start reading and learning on a regular basis. That daily (almost!) habit of Bible reading and study has continued now through many moves and stages of life for close to 50 years. Now we have the joy of watching our 3 children (and 2 wonderful spouses) and 5 grandchildren pursue similar habits. God has been so faithful to bring many mentors and resources into my life – each at just the right time – to move me forward in thriving growth as a woman of His Word. Since coming to Valley I’ve had many opportunities to teach the Bible, both here and overseas. Often, as the “teacher,” I have been the one who had the most to learn! God uses His Word, His Spirit, and the community of His people to teach me. What an amazing thing it is that the Creator of the Universe, who rules over all things, would stoop down to reveal Himself to me through His Word, over and over, in a multitude of personalized ways!

We want to conclude with these statements of intent that we have started to recite together in some of our Bible studies:

The Bible is God’s Story.

We want to know Him.

We will find out what it says.

We will learn what it means.

We will respond to His truth, personally, and in community.

 

Women of Valley, come and join us in this pursuit!

THRIVING IN ALL SEASONS THROUGH GOD'S WORD by Becky StaAb

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Which season is your favorite? Spring is here at last! And summer is coming! Here at Valley we long to see women THRIVE in ALL SEASONS of their lives. In particular, the Bible Study team is passionate about helping women THRIVE as Women of the Word. But… changes in schedules, interruptions to our routines, vacations, extra outdoor activities and longer days all add to the challenge of faithfully spending time in the Word. As a result, we are offering a “lighter” option for the summer that will still keep you motivated and better equip you in your pursuit of knowing the God of the Word. Prayerfully consider joining a group of women either Wednesday evening or early Thursday morning to read through Jen Wilkin’s book, Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both our Hearts and our Minds. Learn more here: Bible Studies. We pray that this is your season for establishing new and solid habits of Bible Study.

We all know that we are commanded to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength.  We also know that you can’t love what you do not know, and that knowing the God of the Word is a lifelong pursuit. Are there right or wrong ways to pursue this knowledge? Keep reading to learn 5 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Studying the Bible…  Becky Staab

1. We don't let the Bible speak for itself.

It is a common mistake to ask the wrong questions when reading the Bible. Rather than asking "Who am I?" and "What should I do?," Jen Wilkin, author of Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds, suggests asking "Who is God?" and "What has he done?"

The Bible is a book that boldly and clearly reveals who God is on every page. In Genesis, it does this by placing God as the subject of the creation narrative. In Exodus, it places him in comparison to Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt. In the Psalms, David extols the Lord’s power and majesty. The prophets proclaim his wrath and justice. The Gospels and Epistles unfold his character in the person and work of Christ. The book of Revelation displays his dominion over all things. From beginning to end, the Bible is a book about God.

The Bible certainly has something to say about who we are and what we should do, but it is important to remember that it is much less a book about us and much more a book about him.

2. We allow our hearts to guide our study.

We often turn to Scripture for help or hope when we are feeling discouraged or seeking peace. Because of this, we can tend to approach the Bible primarily as a way to feel better. Wilkin says:

"Interestingly, the same verse that commands us to love God with all of our hearts also commands us to love him with all of our minds. Our minds are the seat of our intellects. Attaching our intellect to our faith does not come naturally to most of us. We live in a time when faith and reason are spoken of as polar opposites. At times, the church has even embraced this kind of language. For some of us, the strength of our faith is gauged by how close we feel to God at any given moment—by how a sermon made us feel, by how a worship chorus made us feel, by how our quiet time made us feel.

Love for God can, in fact, stem from knowing God. When we engage our minds, our hearts can follow suit as we come to a deeper appreciation of God as revealed in Scripture. Wilkin goes on, "We must love God with our minds, allowing our intellect to inform our emotions, rather than the other way around."

3. We skip over large swaths of God's Word.

The gospel is good news, but not every page of the Bible is intended to make us feel good about ourselves. Quite to the contrary, Scripture often points out our depravity and unfaithfulness. However, it also reminds us of our faithful God.

A popular Bible teacher offers practical guidance and helpful tips for women who want to go deeper in their study of the Bible and learn how to teach others to do the same. When we pick and choose verses from Scripture aimed merely at lifting our spirits when we're feeling down, we run the risk of reducing the Bible to a self-help manual. Wilkin says, "Yes, there is comfort to be found in the pages of Scripture, but context is what makes that comfort lasting and real." Reading this way, Wilkin says: guarantees that huge sections of our Bibles will remain unread because they fail to deliver an immediate dose of emotional satisfaction. We are not very likely to read Leviticus or Lamentations if we subscribe to this approach. A well-rounded approach to Bible study challenges us to navigate all areas of the Bible, even those that make us uncomfortable or that are difficult to understand.

4. We confuse reading books about the Bible with studying the actual Bible.

Extrabiblical resources can be of great help when seeking to understand the Bible and the Christian life, but they are never meant to replace God's Word itself. Wilkin says:

"If I prefer reading what others have written about the Bible to reading the Bible itself, I am probably reading what someone says about what someone says about what the Bible says. As with topical studies, books about the Bible can be helpful, but they are not foundational."

The more time we spend in the primary source (the Bible), the more we'll know and understand it. Other people's thoughts about the Bible are meant to supplement our own, personal engagement with Scripture.

5. We fail to see the big story of Scripture.

Although the Bible was penned by many different authors and falls into many different genres, we believe that is is all inspired and therefore equally God's Word. This means that when we read a specific section of the Bible without paying due attention to the whole, we're likely to miss what Wilkin calls the "continuous and stunning landscape" of Scripture. She says:

"Without the bigger picture, we can gain only a partial appreciation of what any individual snapshot is trying to tell us. From Genesis to Revelation the Bible is telling us about the reign and rule of God. Its topography speaks of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration in every vista. The topography of the Big Story is populated with different genres of writing—Historical Narrative, Poetry, Wisdom Literature, Law, Prophecy, Parables, Epistles—all conspiring to expand our understanding of the reign and rule of God in different ways."

Understanding what scholars refer to as the metanarrative of Scripture—the grand, overarching story—helps us piece together what may otherwise seem like disparate stories, teachings, and themes. Knowing the main story of redemption helps us understand all of the individual stories scattered throughout Scripture. Wilkin says:

"Our disconnect from the metanarrative of the Bible can render us much like a gardener who fails to recognize colored leaves as a sign of autumn rather than a sign of disease. When we are fuzzy about the Big Story, we may have difficulty finding continuity between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. We may have trouble relating to the Old Testament at all. We may misinterpret the purpose or emphasis of a smaller story because we have considered it apart from its relationship to the Big Story. We need to hold the metanarrative in our minds as we read each page of the Bible, remembering that just like in our lives, sometimes we may not understand what God is doing in the short-term, but we can trust him in the bigger picture."

This blog, Common Mistakes in Bible Study, was published by Crossway on February 02, 2018.  

SEVEN WAYS TO PRAY FOR YOUR PRAYER LIFE by Tim Challies

Thank you all for joining us through this blog series on prayer!  Your heavenly Father is always waiting for you to commune with him.  This last post from Tim Challies will encourage you from the Word to keep persevering in prayer!    -Karla Evans  

Here are seven ways that you can pray about your prayer life. These are seven items you can add to your prayer list as you consider your own prayer life or another person’s.

1) Pray that your prayers would be the expressions of a humble heart.  And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:5-6)

2) Pray that God would remind you that he doesn’t want or need your eloquent prayers.  And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:7-8)  Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. (Romans 8:26)

3) Pray that you would remember what the really important requests are.Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.”
(Matthew 6:9-13)

4) Pray that you would remember biblical examples of answered prayer.  Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. … Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. (James 5:13-14, 17-18)

5) Pray that God would give you confidence in his sovereign power.  Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

6) Pray that God would help you to persevere in your praying.  And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.” (Luke 18:1-8)

7) Pray that God would encourage you that he is your loving Father and will give you only what is good. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9-11)

Originally posted here:  https://www.challies.com/resources/seven-ways-to-pray-for-your-prayer-life/

 

THERE IS NOTHING TRITE ABOUT IT! by Tim Challies

Many years ago, long before blogs and social media and YouTube, Neil Postman asked this question: “How often does it occur that information provided you on morning radio or television, or in the morning newspaper, causes you to alter your plans for the day, or to take some action you would not otherwise have taken, or provides insight into some problem you are required to solve?” The weather report may compel you to grab your umbrella on the way out the door, or news of a local crime spree may remind you to double-check you’ve locked the windows before you turn in for the night. But generally, the news you hear provokes no response, it motivates no change to your life, it has no impact on your routines. It elicits emotion and opinion, but rarely sparks action.

Postman describes this as “a great loop of impotence: news elicits from you a variety of opinions about which you can do nothing except to offer them as more news, about which you can do nothing.” If this was a concern at the dawn of the era of television and cable news, how much more is it a concern today when we live so much of our lives in the glare of our little glowing rectangles and their endless streams of news, information, and opinions delivered instantly and constantly from every last part of the globe. I’ve often wished Postman was around to help us navigate this strange new world we’ve come into. We could use his help.

Postman was right on many accounts, but wrong on a key one: News we can do nothing about. There is always one thing we can do: We can pray. Recently, prayer has been maligned as an insignificant, wasteful, or even cruel practice as a response to another person’s pain or trial or difficulty. Some of those who pray have been “prayer shamed” into silence, having been told “I’ll pray for you” is a trite, ridiculous, meaningless promise. But it should not be.

As Christians, we believe in the power of prayer. We believe there is nothing trite about prayer. To the contrary, we pray before we act, we pray while we act, and we pray after we act. We make prayer instrumental, not supplemental to all we are and all we do. We make prayer a matter of first priority rather than an afterthought. We have unshakable confidence in its power and effectiveness.

Why? Because for Christians prayer is not merely speaking words into a void. It is not wishing upon a star. It is not summoning positive thoughts to a cold and indifferent universe. Prayer is a child making a request of his loving Father; it is a son claiming his generous birthright; it is a saved one obeying his kind Savior. Prayer is speaking to the Father because of the love of the Son under the mediation of the Spirit. Prayer is taking hold of the promises of God and repeating those promises to the one who made them. How could this be anything but powerful and effective and meaningful?

There is nothing trite, nothing minimal about “I’ll pray for you.” To say, “I’ll pray for you” is to say, “I will speak with the Author and Creator of all things. He’s my Father and invites me to come to him any time. I will speak to him about those things. I will plead his promises. I will speak to the one Being in all the universe who has all knowledge and all power and who is perfectly good, and I will ask him to help, to intercede, to grant joy and peace and meaning.”

When it comes to prayer, there is nothing trite about it. We sometimes can and must do more than pray, but we must never do less than pray.

Originally posted here:  https://www.challies.com/articles/there-is-nothing-trite-about-it/

STEPPING OUT OF MY COMFORT ZONE TO PRAY by Deb Willcockson

This week I have asked my friend and Valley Church member, Deb Willcockson, to share how being part of a prayer group has affected her personally. Deb is a great example of stepping into something she was not entirely comfortable doing and having God meet her in a wonderful way!  We have a prayer group that meets on Wednesday Nights at the Valley Community Center, 6:30-8pm. We would love to have you join us!  - Karla Evans

I started attending the Wednesday Night Prayer group a little over a year and a half ago. The idea of praying out loud with others (besides my family), for an hour seemed a bit overwhelming and like an insurmountable task - I mean really - it is hard enough to stay focused for 5 minutes praying on my own!

In January of 2017, one of our “members” Karla Evans, shared a very powerful and sobering podcast from John Piper with Desiring God entitled “Be Devoted to Prayer”. In that podcast Mr. Piper talked about prayer being part of a normal Christian’s life; that the needs in my life and the life of my family, my church, my world, the culture we live in, etc. are huge and desperate. I felt God opening my eyes to see and feel that the needs around me are so great and in need of much prayer.

I am not perfect. My life is busy and I still catch myself saying “quick prayers” as I get up and prepare for work; as my kids leave the house; when I get in the car to go to work ; when I collapse into bed at night after a long work day. I look forward to Wednesday Prayer night - when I can come, sit in the presence of God and other women seeking the same thing - intentional, devoted prayer. God acts when we pray - and he commands that we pray.

As John Piper stated - The cross of Christ - his death in place of sinners - you and me - is the foundation of all prayer! There is no acceptable answer to why or how we pray if Christ had not died in our place. This is WHY we pray in Jesus name! God has called us to account for our prayer life. When I see Jesus face to face one of these days I want to hear the words “well done good and faithful servant."

SO WHO WAS PRAYING? by Tim Challies

As we move along in our sermon series on Spiritual Influence, I'm sure you have noticed how important our prayers are.  As a church, we are all praying for God to direct us to our individual One Life. We are also praying for opportunities to share the good news with our One Life.  I found this blog post so encouraging!  Have you been praying for this person for years?  Just a short time?  You have no idea who else has been praying for them!  Maybe their day of salvation is just around the corner!  May this encourage you as you seek God for guidance in how he would have you influence those around you for his kingdom! I invite you to join me and others as we pray "together" for this life-changing sermon series on Thursdays, 11:45-12:45 in the Family Room at Valley Church.   - Karla Evans

I am utterly confident that prayer works, but am far less certain about how prayer works. God invites and commands us to come to him with our petitions, our requests. He promises that he hears them, that through the intercession of the Spirit he perfects them, and that it is his joy to answer them. He gives us the things we long for, though not always in the way we ask and often not in the time we ask. Still, he is a God who hears and answers prayer.

I understand that much, but not a whole lot more. Like all Christian parents, I pray for the salvation of my children. Let’s say I pray for the salvation of my child 5,000 times or 10,000 times over the course of his life. Then one day my child becomes a Christian by putting his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. God has answered prayer! But is he responding to a certain one of my prayers, either the first one or the last one or another one I made along the way? Or is he responding to the quantity of my prayers, as if I’ve now prayed enough times that I receive what I’ve so long desired? Or maybe he is responding to the earnestness of my prayers as they’ve grown sufficiently pleading and sorrowful to have gained his ear. I just don’t know how all that works. I’m quite sure I don’t need to. I just need to know that I ought to pray and that it is God’s joy to answer prayer.

I’ve been thinking about all of this in a very precious context—the context of my wife. Aileen is a Christian and has been since we were 19 years old. But there’s no obvious earthly reason that Aileen should be. While she had a safe, stable, loving childhood, it was completely non-religious. When I met her as a twelfth-grade high school student she had never read a Bible or heard any of its stories. She had never set foot in a church. She had never heard anyone pray or heard a Christian song or listened to a sermon. She wasn’t an unbeliever because she had rejected the gospel but because she had never heard it or had opportunity to believe it. Then my mother took her out for breakfast, shared that gospel with her, and encouraged her to respond to it. She did immediately, confidently, and irrevocably. In a moment Aileen became a Christian, her life transformed, her eternal destiny fixed at the very first hearing of the good news. She was and remains the only practicing Christian in her family—direct or extended.

This is a wondrous thing that makes sense only in the context of prayer. Someone must have been praying for her! How else can we explain it? Why else would God have so suddenly and unexpectedly plucked her out for himself? It must have been prayer.

I have spent a lot of time wondering whose prayers were answered in her salvation. I’m sure I prayed for her a bit after meeting her as a high school student, but probably not much. Surely my parents had been praying for my future spouse since my childhood, though only as a stranger they would someday meet. Was it people in her neighbourhood who prayed for her and pleaded with God to extend his salvation? Was it a local church who perhaps prayed their way house by house? Was it a stranger in a distant land for whom the Lord had somehow brought to mind a pretty brown-haired girl in Canada who knew there just had to be more to life than this and who needed to hear the gospel just once? I don’t know, of course, and don’t know how I ever could know. It’s a line of enquiry I’ll want to pursue with the Lord one day. I know I’m not capable of unraveling the whole tapestry God has woven, but I’ve got a theory.

Much of Aileen’s family emigrated from Scotland a decade before she was born. She was and is my Scottish girl. And Scotland has a special Christian heritage. Though such days have long since passed, it was was once a bastion of Christianity, a bright light in a dark, dark world. At one time it counted among its citizens a great many believers—believers who prayed. They prayed for themselves and their families and they prayed for their nation and its people. They prayed for the present and the future, for generations alive and generations still to come. And I just can’t help but wonder if her salvation was the long answer to one or many of those prayers. I just can’t help but wonder if many, many years ago a Scottish family pleaded with God to extend his salvation to their children and to their children’s children. And maybe, just maybe, God answered that prayer in her salvation. Maybe, just maybe, he continues to answer it as our children now hear that gospel from her lips and as they accept it in repentance and faith. Maybe, just maybe, God will make it all clear in eternity and I will be able to thank those people for being faithful Christians who faithfully prayed.

Originally posted here:  https://www.challies.com/articles/how-prayer-works/
 

4 LESSONS THE HAYSTACK PRAYER MEETING TEACHES US by Megan Hill

Check out this wonderful account of a great work of God that was fueled by the prayers of a just a 5 people.  As we begin the Good News For All initiative, may this article spur you on to pray.  Dream big, with great faith, as you pray for yourself and our church as we seek to share the good news of the gospel with many over the next few months!  - Karla Evans

When people find out I live in Massachusetts, I can almost watch the Mayflower sail across their minds. My state is not large, but everyone knows significant history happened here. I have visited the home of Louisa May Alcott, Calvin Coolidge’s Presidential Library, Walden Pond, Amherst College, and the Old North Bridge. All of them are less than two hours from my front door.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I traveled through the Berkshire Mountains to a small, grassy clearing in Williamstown. Unlike other places we have visited, this one is not prominent on the bucket lists of America. It doesn’t even appear on most maps. That Monday morning we were the only tourists there.

But the often overlooked monument at Williams College marks one of the most important events in the history of the world.

Haystack Prayer Meeting                                                                                                                    In 1806, a Williams College student named Samuel Mills began to pray for the cause of foreign missions. Until then, the missionary organizations in the United States were solely dedicated to domestic missions, both in the Western frontier and among Native American tribes. But Mills prayed that the Lord would raise up men to take the gospel to other nations.

One August day, Mills assembled a small group of spiritually minded friends who prayed together outside of campus for foreign missions. Some accounts say there was a sudden thunderstorm as they were praying, which caused the five men to take refuge under a haystack.

Afterward, they continued to gather weekly for what became known as the Haystack Prayer Meeting. In answer to the prayers from among the haystacks, God established the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions, the American Bible Society, and the United Foreign Missionary Society. Through those organizations, the Lord sent many laborers into his ripened field.

Four Valuable Lessons                                                                                                                     The site of that prayer meeting is not a superstitious holy place or a magical Mecca; instead, it is a testimony that God works in time and place to advance his kingdom. Standing and praying there, I reflected on four lessons that place can teach us:

1. God uses people in the middle of nowhere to plead for the souls of people who are everywhere.  In our day, it is popular to talk about the culture-making, idea-shaping, world-changing work that happens in urban ministry. Urban settings offer unique gospel opportunities, but the small prayer meeting in a hayfield reminds us that the Lord has important work for people in rural places, too.

Williamstown has far more trees than people, but the prayers offered there were answered in Turkey, in India, in South Africa, in Mexico, and in China. On the Last Day, a multitude from every nation will give thanks to the Lord for saints in the middle of nowhere who faithfully prayed for them.

2. God uses people who are young to stir up people of all ages. The men of the Haystack Prayer Meeting were young—not yet enrolled in seminary, not even graduated from college. They had no worldly power or resources. They held no official position in the church.

And yet, they were so moved by the desire to “effect . . . a mission or missions to the heathen” that they began to organize missionary societies on several college campuses, encouraging other students to pray for the cause of missions. After this, they repeatedly visited the influential ministers of their day, eventually prevailing on those men to form a missionary board (The American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions) for sending gospel laborers into the world.

In 1816, Haystack organizer Samuel Mills died at sea on a return voyage from Africa. His legacy included people of all ages partnering in missions throughout the world. At the time of his death, he was 35.

3. God uses people who are few in number to gather a countless harvest. Most church prayer meetings are poorly attended. In a lifetime of Wednesday nights, I have rarely been in a gathering of more than a quarter of my church’s total membership. This is not good, and I pray and write hoping this might change.

But the Haystack Prayer Meeting is an encouraging reminder that, no matter how small our numbers, the Lord of the harvest hears and answers our prayers. Jesus promises that when two or three are gathered to pray, he will attend every time. Brothers and sisters, take heart. The five haystack men—not even enough for a college baseball team—prayed in the name of Christ and received in reply an exponential harvest of souls.

4. God uses invisible and seemingly insignificant events to accomplish his great purposes.  As my husband and I prayed at the Haystack monument, we were entirely ignored. A landscaper on a golf cart passed without a glance, a student or two hurried down the sidewalk, a professionally dressed woman crossed the street nearby. It was just us and the birds.

In 1806 the world did not notice what was happening at the edge of campus. But the Lord did. Because of the prayers, the laborers were sent. Because of the laborers, the gospel was preached. Because of the gospel, people were saved.

Like a haystack in a field, praying together can seem ordinary and unremarkable. But viewed from eternity, it is one of history’s most significant events.

Offensive, Powerful Gospel As I took one last look at the Haystack monument before getting into the car, I wondered aloud if it would still be there 10 or 20 years from now. Through secular eyes, the monument—like the gospel it represents—is an embarrassment and an offense.

In 2006 the Haystack bicentennial was an occasion of skepticism—even hostility. The United Church of Christ, which has historic ties to the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, designated September 24 as “Haystack Sunday” and supplied resources for church prayer events. But the denomination also called its members to use the day to “lament” the “imperialistic” and “colonialist” implications of the missionary movement. Though such popular sentiments are widely accepted as true, the negative social effects of the modern missionary movement have been greatly exaggerated—and the positive effects largely ignored—as sociologist Robert Woodberry has ably demonstrated.

I would not be surprised if someday soon the Haystack monument proves too great a liability for the college to keep.

But, for now, it rises as a public reminder that, once, five students on their knees asked God to send out laborers to preach Christ to the nations. They knew it was the world’s only hope.

I’m glad I could stand there and add my “Amen.”

Megan Hill is a pastor’s wife and writer living in Massachusetts. She is the author of Praying Together: The Priority and Privilege of Prayer: In Our Homes, Communities, and Churches (Crossway/TGC).

The Power of Praying Together by Karla Evans

In my last blog post, I told of my journey in personal prayer. Today I’m sharing about my journey in praying with others. I would say this one has been harder for me. It takes planning, a significant time commitment, and overcoming hurdles that always seem to interfere with the time that I set aside.

Many people seem to have hang ups when it comes to praying together in groups. Maybe the church you grew up in only allowed a priest to pray so you never learned how, or you only prayed the Lord’s Prayer out loud. Maybe you did not even grow up attending church and the whole prayer thing is new to you. Some people feel awkward and just don’t like to talk in front of others, let alone pray. I mean, what if you don’t know what to pray for, or how to do it right, or if you sound stupid?

God grabbed hold of me in 1985 at age 19, while a freshman at Luther College. I had the benefit of immediately having other believers who were willing to pray with me. The Christian group that I was involved in had us find another person each week to get together with and pray. These very small groups at the beginning of my Christian life provided a safe place for me to pray out loud with another person, and to learn from them as I listened to their prayers.

From 1988-1992, my husband and I lived in Minneapolis. We had no children until the end of our time there, so it was easy to jump at every opportunity to be involved in our church that we could. We had prayer with the youth leaders, all night prayer on New Year’s Eve, and we were even involved in a couple city-wide concerts of prayer. The amazing answers to prayer that we saw fueled the fire to pray more. Praying with others for things that were clearly God’s will, such as marriages being strong and missionaries to reach lost people, knit our hearts together as we were united in seeing God’s purposes accomplished.

This experience helped me realize that a big part of being truly connected to a community of believers is prayer. Jesus commands it over and over in the gospels. In verses such as Luke 10:2,  And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” When we pray as Jesus commands us, we align desires with God’s desires. After Jesus ascended into heaven, we are given many accounts of the early church praying together. For example, Acts 12:12, “When he (Peter) realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying.” I am sure that with all the persecution going on in the early church, prayer seemed like a necessity. Yet we should feel the same urgency for the things God cares about, whether or not we are facing persecution.

After grad school, God led us to Michigan for a brief time, and then to our second church back home in Iowa, where we were for almost 18 years. There were many times that we prayed with people, and we had some mighty prayer warriors in that church, but for reasons unknown to us it was very hard to get people to gather to pray. I don’t think this is all that unusual. It often goes back to those things I mentioned at the beginning. It’s just plain hard to get people to commit.

So now on to our time at Valley Church. We started attending Valley in August of 2013. I didn’t go looking for any groups to pray with. We came at a time when we were hurting, and many were willing to pray with us for our needs. But I had very little to offer. Until January, 2016. The events of that weekend are forever seared in my memory. Mike was gone, it was a Saturday night, and I started getting some strange prayer requests. So I asked our daughter if anything troubling was happening on social media. It was. I was so grieved to learn that a high school senior from our very own church, the brother of our daughters’ friend, was clinging to life after trying to take his own. In the end, the efforts to save his life did not work. A family was left heart-broken. A church youth group was shocked. A school and community were stunned. A young man with a bright future had a weak moment. On any given day, that could be any other kid. It could even be my kid. He had been at church earlier in the evening on the day this happened. But no one knew what was coming.

Our student ministry director is also one of the preaching pastors, and with our lead pastor gone he had to preach. After the last service I went up to him and told him that God had laid on my heart to really pray for the youth of our church, and if there was a way that could happen on Wednesday night when other activities were going on, I would love to organize that. Sherri Anfinson went one step further. Having the same sense of conviction, she just did it. So the next week we started praying together on Wednesday nights.

Since then we have prayed pretty much every time there are Wednesday night activities going on. If you go to Valley Church, you have been prayed for! Yes, we have prayed a lot that God would protect our kids from the lies of the enemy. Our kids, our pastors and staff and their families, our missionaries, our single people, our marriages, our leaders, our wayward children, our ministries, our country… OUR is the key word here. We are all in this together as the body of Christ. Our prayers are not the “please give me” kind of prayers. More than anything else we want to align ourselves with God and what his plans our for us and for the people of Valley Church. Our prayers have been that Satan would be pulled back and disarmed and that God would be glorified. Our prayers have been that people would be saved and prayers would be answered in such a way that all that could be said is, “Look what God has done!!!”

Over time, our small group has gotten close enough that we can share those extremely personal needs, some that are nearly impossible to even utter. We all have each other’s backs no matter what happens. We don’t agree on everything, but we do know the sincerity of each of our hearts to passionately pursue God. Christ is what unites us, and that bond is enough to keep us coming back each week.

So now my plea to you, my exhortation really. Can I do that even if you don’t know me? Well I’m going to. My exhortation is for you to find some other people here at church to pray with. Are you already doing that? Great! Our team would actually love to hear about groups who are already meeting that we don’t  know about! If you are, please send me a note at the email address below. We would love to encourage you and get you connected with more ways to pray as we kick off Good News for All (GN4A)!

If you are not meeting with someone, start your own group. If you would like help starting  contact me. bukelenj@hotmail.com Not wanting to do that? Then do I have an offer for you! There are 5 ladies in the Valley Community Center kitchen from 6:30-7:45 every Wednesday night when children’s ministry is going on. We know a lot of people are serving elsewhere, but if you aren’t you are welcome to pray with us! We would love to have enough people show up that we have to find someplace much bigger to meet!

The young man from our church has a name. Drew Lienemann. I was not able to attend his memorial service, but I watched a video of it. Much of the message was from his very own prayer journal. He had a heart for God and for others. He had a bad moment with life changing consequences for many people. He also left a legacy. He left a testimony of his faith in Christ in his prayer journal. As an organ donor he helped over 100 people’s physical lives, which is amazing, but how many more people could he have impacted had he lived a long life. As one of our own, I believe his greater legacy may be that many people’s spiritual lives were affected, because a few of us were prompted to pray. Do not wait for a health crisis or a marriage crisis or a death to be moved to join with others in prayer. 2018 is the year! Get a group and get praying! I can’t wait to see what God does!!

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Karla Evans has been the wife of Mike for almost 31 years, and is the mother of 5 children, ages 12 to 25.  God has used the circumstances in her life to give her a heart to minister to others, especially women in hard circumstances. Karla serves on the Good News For All Prayer Team. If you are interested in forming or joining a Prayer Group, please contact Karla at bukelenj@hotmail.com

BRING BACK THE CHURCH PRAYER MEETING by Megan Hill

So far in our blog series on prayer we have tried to encourage you to ramp up your own personal prayer life.  Today we would like for you to start thinking about praying with others within the church.  The next few blog posts will look at what happens when we pray together.  Before you read this post from The Gospel Coalition, maybe you will want to ask God how he might have you join with others in prayer.  -Karla Evans

Some of my earliest memories are of my dad, a fly fisherman, carefully selecting tiny bits of feather and horsehair for his fly box. He knew the importance of carrying a colorful and varied selection of flies: Once on the river, he would identify the newly hatched insects on the stream’s surface and notice which were attracting the fish. He could then “match the hatch” from his box, tying onto his line a fly that resembled the real ones on the water.

In the Christian life, too, we should “match the hatch.” The commands “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15) and “Bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2) are exhortations to sympathy—to joining in others’ sufferings and blessings.

These commands call us to look at our brothers and sisters and then reach for work gloves, put on sackcloth, or iron our finest party clothes. They call us to dress our hearts to match the people around us.

And one of the best ways we can match the hearts of others is by praying with them. Is your brother joyful? Give thanks alongside him. Is your sister grieving? Express sorrow with her. Does someone have a need? Make it your concern too.

Loving the Hurt and the Happy

We do this most obviously when others are experiencing trials (or joys) we ourselves have experienced. When my husband and I suffered a miscarriage, other couples who’d also lost children prayed for us. Men and women sympathized with us at the church prayer meeting—asking God to tenderly care for us in our grief just as he had tenderly cared for them in theirs.

And then a year later when we celebrated the birth of our son, the same couples rejoiced with us—praising God for his kind provision of a baby just as he had also given children to many of them.

This is what Christ does for us. The God who became man always makes intercession for us (Heb. 7:25). The Savior who “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isa. 53:4) sympathizes with us (Heb. 4:15). The Shepherd who celebrates with his friends when one sheep is restored (Luke 15:3–7) will rejoice with us as we pray.

Loving the Burdened and the Blessed

But we also sympathize with others in prayer when we notice they don’t have the blessings we do. We who are strong lend a hand to the weak—helping them to cast their burden on the Lord in prayer. In this way, the employed pray for the unemployed, the married for the widowed, the mature for the new believers, the healthy for the sick, and those at liberty for those in chains.

A handbook for church members from 1835 quaintly described the unifying blessings of a church prayer meeting this way:

[The prayer meeting] tends to keep alive the spirit of devotion; demonstrates, by the prayers of so many brethren who engage, the minor varieties, yet prevailing uniformity, of Christian experience; humbles the rich by the holy gifts and graces of the poor; encourages the poor by the sympathies, confessions, and acknowledgements of the rich; cheers the heart of the minister by the kind interest and fervent supplications of his flock; cements the minds of the members; and may be supposed to bring down the blessings of God upon the church.

The final way we bear one another’s burdens in prayer is perhaps the most radical of all: We sympathize with others when we pray for them to have blessings we ourselves haven’t enjoyed. In discussing the 10th commandment, the Westminster Larger Catechism explains we have a biblical duty to “further all that good which is [our neighbor’s].”

Has the Lord given your brother good health? Pray for it to continue. Has he given your sister a job that uses her gifts and provides for her financial needs? Pray she would have it for years to come. Has he blessed other church members with loving marriages, obedient children, opportunities for ministry, and abundant friendships? Pray for those blessings to be multiplied even further.

This is self-denying love. Brothers and sisters, let us love one another by prayer.

Editors’ note: Megan Hill is the author of Praying Together: The Priority and Privilege of Prayer in Our Homes, Communities, and Churches (Crossway, 2016). She will be leading “Walking with Others in Prayer” at the 2017 Bethlehem Conference for Pastors and Church Leaders, January 30 to February 1. Megan Hill is a pastor’s wife and writer living in Massachusetts. She is the author of Praying Together: The Priority and Privilege of Prayer: In Our Homes, Communities, and Churches (Crossway/TGC).

Originally posted by the Gospel Coalition.   https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/bring-back-church-prayer-meeting/

THE RIDE THAT IS MY PERSONAL PRAYER LIFE by Karla Evans

Most people have some sort of prayer life, whether it be a daily time of communicating with God, crying out to him only in times of great distress, or anywhere in between.  No matter where you are at on this continuum, you can likely use some encouragement to keep working on praying, or maybe to get back to it.

I remember quite vividly my first prayer as a follower of Christ when I was a 19-year-old college freshman.  It was the one where I confessed to God what he already knew (that I was a sinner) and then prayed for forgiveness based on the shed blood of Jesus Christ. It was not very profound.  I didn’t confess a lot of specific sins because I thought they were too many name, although over time I certainly dealt with a lot of things in my past through prayer.  In that same prayer I vowed to be a better person and to only focus on God, specifically as opposed to desiring to date anyone that might be interested in me.  That lasted almost 2 months, until I started dating my now husband!  I knew nothing of what God expected of me.  I simply believed and wanted to know more of God.

I don’t recall anyone teaching me how to pray.  I took a class on Christian Spirituality that did help me focus more on praying, which was good.  The Christians on our campus also would meet regularly and pray, so I figured it was something I should do on my own as well. 

At that time, my prayers consisted mostly of praying for what I wanted. God does care about such things, but it would be quite awhile before I realized that mostly he cares about me being conformed to the image of Christ.  Prayer would play a big part in that!

After college we went to Minneapolis so that my husband to go to seminary and I could attend grad school.  The church we attended taught me much about prayer!  Instead of prayers that went something like, “Dear God, Will you please…” I started learning the importance of praising God, confessing my sin, and thanking him before I started in on asking God for things.  Spending time praising God for who he is was truly transformational!  It really got the focus off myself, and whatever I thought was wrong at the time, and put it on God, which is where ALL of my prayers should be anyway.  I also watched as people experienced trials.  I saw how they turned to God in prayer and how he answered. 

Then came the kids. My prayer life took a big hit!  Many days my prayers consisted of comments to God throughout my day.  Not that this is a bad thing, but it really was not desirable to have it be the only time I prayed.  Being a new mom was hard, and struggles with depression were very real.  There were times when my prayer life was okay, but most of the time it was pretty lame.

Fast forward to October 23, 2008.  God woke me up to the need to depend on him in every way by hitting me on the side of the head.  My husband had a seizure that morning that sent us on a journey I would not wish for anyone to have to take.  It is a very long story, but there were many days that he could have died, and all I could do was lean on God.  I spent hours in the hospital, and many long nights sleeping alone.  And you better believe I prayed!  I prayed that God would spare my husband’s life.  I prayed that God we be with my kids who were 4 hours away and scared.  I prayed that I would be able to make all the right decisions by myself.  But I also prayed much bigger, and ultimately much more significant, prayers.  I prayed that God would keep us all strong in our faith in him.  I prayed that we would all trust him as the good and loving father that he is.  I prayed that we would be able to testify of wonderful works God did on our behalf.  I prayed that through it all God would be glorified, whether that be by death or by life.  This time led me to a dependence on God that has been greater that ever before and continues to sustain me to this day.

My latest favorite personal prayer help is a app on my phone called PrayerMate.  It helps me keep track of what I want to be praying for in many areas, such as my family, my church, and missions.  It also reminds me to pray for things that are hard for me to pray about, like praying for people who have hurt me.  If it’s on a list, I won’t leave it out, even if I want to!  I told one friend about it and she said that’s what she had been doing for years in a notebook.  I tried that once and it didn’t work for me, but this does.

I have also started praying scripture much more.  I can’t go wrong if I am praying the word of God!  It keeps me in line with what God cares about, helps me to focus on things of eternal importance, and gets me away from my selfish desires.

I am guessing that something here has resonated with you.  If you are currently struggling to pray regularly, be encouraged!  This journey has taken place over the past 33 years!  If your prayer life is great, thank God and keep at it.  Wherever you are, take time during this season of preparing for Christmas to spend time with the one whose incarnation we will celebrate.   I will be praying that God meets you and encourages your heart as you communicate with the one who created you and loves you enough to be born as a baby so that would be able to live eternally with him!

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Karla Evans has been the wife of Mike for almost 30 years, and is the mother of 5 children, ages 10 to 24.  God has used the circumstances in her life to give her a heart to minister to others, especially women in hard circumstances. Karla serves on the Good News For All Prayer Team.

PRAYER FUELS THE ENGINE OF YOUR HEART AND MIND - PRAYER FOR BEGINNERS

No matter where we are in our walk with God, most of us can us some encouragement in the discipline of prayer.  Over the next few weeks we will be sending out many posts to help all of us in area of prayer.  If you are one who struggles to pray, this will help you get started.  If your prayer life is going well, you will probably still find something that will encourage you to persevere in prayer.

Prayer for Beginners  by Marshall Segal

How’s your prayer life?

It’s a simple question, but it can be tough to answer. Literally it sounds like, “How has your talking to God been lately?” Emotionally it might feel like, “Sum up your relationship with God at this point in your life.” Bible reading, by comparison, is clearer and more “objective.” How many pages? How far along in your plan? Which books have you been reading? What have you learned? Prayer doesn’t fit into an Excel sheet quite as easily.

God means for your life — married or unmarried, student or employee, young or old — to run on the power of prayer. Prayer fuels the engine of your heart and mind. It’s not coffee, or Chipotle, or social media buzz; it’s prayer. You need God in and through prayer more than you need anything else. We will not do anything of any real and lasting value without God, which means we will not do anything of any real and lasting value without prayer.

And yet you probably feel as insecure about your prayer life as you feel about anything. Prayer might be, at the same time, the most pivotal and most puzzling activity in the Christian life. It is the lifeline and life-mystery for believers. We know we need to pray, but we know we don’t pray enough. And we’re not always sure we’re even doing it right when we do pray. Should I even be asking God for this? Should I still be asking God for this? Do I even know what I need?

Conscious, Personal Communion

The Bible refuses to give us one small, simple picture or pattern for prayer. Jesus never intended for his model prayer (what we call “the Lord’s Prayer”) to be our only guide or counsel for prayer. It is a great place to start, but God’s word gives us so much more material for our prayer lives.

Prayer is objectively real — a real God, real communication, real work, real answers. But it also comes in a million shapes and forms. Prayer happens in seconds — short moments in the cracks of our day — and it can happen for hours at a time, even throughout a whole night.

Prayer is conscious, personal communication with the God of the universe. A better question than “How’s your prayer life?” might be, “Have you been enjoying conscious communication with God — over his word, in your daily needs, throughout your day?” Has your relationship with him been real — not a box to check, not just a hurried place for help, not a vague abstract idea hovering over your head and life? Has your faith been tying you to him in your heart? Have you been leaning on him, and not yourself?

So how is your prayer life? If you (like me) are not happy or content with your answer, here are seven ways to grow in your time alone with our God.

1. Pick a time and place.

You can pray anytime and anywhere. Jesus met a woman beside a well who thought we all had to go to a particular place to pray and worship, as God’s people had prayed in the Old Testament (John 4:20). But Jesus says to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. . . . The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:21–23). No longer in a place, but in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:18).

The freedom to pray anywhere, though, often leads to praying nowhere. We should absolutely pray spontaneously whenever and wherever prayers arise in our hearts — during a break at work, before a test, in line with our groceries. But our lives are fueled by prayer, so we shouldn’t leave it up to spontaneity (we wouldn’t do that with fuel for our cars). Pick a consistent time and place when you can be alone. It might be in the morning at home, or during a long commute, or over your lunch break, or at a convenient time in the evening. The times and places can be different for different people — one of the stunning blessings Jesus bought — but it should still be consistent for you. And Jesus is clear that it should be consistently alone (Matthew 6:6) — not exclusively, but consistently.

2. Listen before you speak.

For some people, setting aside time to be alone with God is intimidating. In fact, for many today, any time alone at all — no friends, no television, no phones — is unnerving. We are speaking to almighty God here. He already knows everything we need and everything we are going to say. So what can we even say?

One important thing to learn early on about prayer is that it truly is a conversation. Just as God really does speak to us in his word, he is also really listening when we pray. It may just feel like journaling out loud at times, but there is always someone on the other side of prayer. Jesus promises, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7–8). A real Giver, a real Guide, a real Host.

On any given day, God may choose to move or “speak” in some unexpected way through his Spirit — bringing something to our mind, altering some circumstance, saying something through a friend. But God has told us how he speaks, the only truly trustworthy way we hear his voice. “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16). Read something from the Bible (even just a verse) before you pray. Those words from God are “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

John Piper writes,

Oh, how precious is the Bible. It is the very word of God. In it God speaks in the twenty-first century. This is the very voice of God. By this voice, he speaks with absolute truth and personal force. By this voice, he reveals his all-surpassing beauty. By this voice, he reveals the deepest secrets of our hearts. No voice anywhere anytime can reach as deep or lift as high or carry as far as the voice of God that we hear in the Bible. (“The Morning I Heard the Voice of God”)

When you sit down to pray, let God speak first. Let him have the first word. Put his living and active words into your ears, and let them shape and inspire what you say back to him. If you learn something new about him and his ways, tell him. If the verses raise questions, ask him. Eventually, you can move on to today’s burdens, but begin by worshiping him over and through his word. Enjoy the relationship. With reverence and awe, be a son or a daughter, and listen well.

3. Prioritize the spiritual over the circumstantial.

Often when people ask how they can pray for me, I immediately try to assess if I have any unusual needs right now (like, this minute). If I don’t, I start to think about people close to me that do. “Pray for my co-worker whose dad passed away last week.” Or, “Pray for my grandmother who’s back in the hospital, again.” It’s not wrong by any means (we should be praying for these things, and asking others to pray, too). But if we take that mentality into prayer, we may only ever pray for physical or circumstantial needs. Physical needs are important, but they pale in comparison to our spiritual-emotional and eternal needs.

Paul says, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Does that mean we will never have to worry about or spend time on our physical needs — food, work, cancer? Absolutely not. “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). It means life is mainly about unseen realities. At the end of each day, what matters most happens at the spiritual and emotional level, not the physical and circumstantial.

That reality should be lived out in our prayer lives. We should spend as much time praying for our souls, for the salvation of our loved ones, for the spread of the gospel, and for the establishment of God’s glory and his kingdom as we pray about anything. Those prayers shouldn’t be tacked on to the end of our “real” needs. They are our deepest and most enduring needs.

4. Don’t be afraid to stop and pray now.

Prayer should be prioritized and scheduled, but the beauty of our newfound freedom and mercy in Christ is that prayer can happen anywhere. It should start alone with God in your prayer closet, but it never needs to stay there. It must not stay there. Bring prayer into the cracks of your day. And I don’t just mean before meals. When you feel the impulse to pray, seize it. Take it as the prompting of the Spirit (Satan certainly won’t encourage you to pray).

A few years ago, I saw a friend in passing. We caught up for a few minutes. At the end, I asked him if he would pray for something I had shared with him, assuming he would just take that request home with him. To my surprise, he responded, “Sure! Can we pray right now?” It felt awkward the first time, but I learned an important lesson. One way to ensure you do pray for someone and their need is to pray right there in the moment. It only takes a minute or two, and more than meeting a need, it draws you both Godward in the middle of a day. It can be a brief and unexpected (and needed) meeting with the Almighty.

5. Identify your prayer circles.

When I say “prayer circles,” I’m not talking about circles of people that pray in a group, but concentric circles of people in your life. When it comes to praying for the needs around you, you will have to prioritize some people over others (at least consistently). Otherwise, you will do nothing but pray.

I pray outward in circles, beginning with my own soul, then for my wife, then for our families, then for our small group and our church, then for our nation, and lastly for the nations, especially the unreached in the world. I don’t hit every ring every time, but the circles lead me as I pray each morning.

The rings should not keep us from praying for the random stranger we met yesterday. They’re just meant to keep the consistent people in our life consistently before us in prayer. If prayer is the most important thing we can do for someone, shouldn’t we structure our schedules to do that for the most important people in our lives?

Try praying through your circles. And be willing to pray for someone or something that doesn’t quite fit.

6. Ask whatever you wish — literally anything.

If we’re honest, many of us lack courage and imagination in our prayer lives. We have a tiny little box of routine things we’re willing to ask God for, and we take on everything else — our questions, our frustrations, our dreams — on our own. We assume God’s not interested in or doesn’t have time for the small details of our day. And we can’t even imagine him conquering global crises like 27 million in slavery and millions more enslaved to sin and headed to hell. And so we settle for middle-of-the-road mediocre requests. We wait to pray about something until it becomes “serious enough” for God to care about, and we don’t pray for something unless we expect him to do something in the next 24 hours. And so we deprive ourselves of his mercy and power in massive areas of our life and world.

Do we have enough courage to pray that God would save the 136 million men and women in the Shaikh people group in Bangladesh? 0.00% Christian. Is that too big for God? “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” (Genesis 18:14).

Do we have enough imagination to ask God to end sex-trafficking in India (and in Minneapolis)? We pray to a God “who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20). Jesus says, “If you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain” — the sex-trafficking slave trade or an unreached people group of 120 million in Japan — “‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20). Will we believe Jesus and pray for big things?

Do we have enough faith to think God cares about another Monday morning at work or with the kids? God cares about everything in your heart and life, down to the very smallest things. Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything” — your random conversation with that friend, your sleep tonight, this month’s budget — “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). Anything and everything, every day. Don’t be afraid to pray big prayers, and small ones.

7. Be willing to ask one more time.

Jesus knew we would lose heart in prayer, specifically that we would pray for things for long enough that we would start to question if God was listening or might ever answer. But he didn’t want us to lose heart or give up. He wanted us to keep asking, keep pleading, keep praying. he tells his disciples a story about a widow seeking justice from a judge, "who neither feared God nor respected man.” She pled and pled with him. Luke writes,

For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?” (Luke 18:4–8)

The widow was rewarded for her persistence by an unrighteous judge. How much more will God listen to his precious sons and daughters who ask and ask and ask? If the unrighteous judge could not ignore her, how much more will our heavenly Father hear us?

Don’t think now about praying for that need or desire for decades. Just focus on today. If God has given you a burden or a desire for another day, and you really believe that burden or desire might be from him, be willing to ask him one more time — one more prayer for relief, for reconciliation, for provision, for a breakthrough, for salvation. He’s still listening. Are we still believing? Jesus says,

“Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9–11)

He won’t give you a stone. He won’t give you a serpent. He loves you. He knows what’s best for you. And he’s listening. Don’t be afraid to ask, again.

Marshall Segal (@marshallsegal) is a writer and managing editor at desiringGod.org. He’s the author of Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness & Dating (2017). He graduated from Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Faye, have a son and live in Minneapolis.

The original article can be found at:  https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/prayer-for-beginners

Standing Firm When Your Faith Feels Flimsy by Gwen Smith

Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. (Ephesians 6:10, NIV)                     

Friend to Friend                                                                                                                                   In his letter to the believers in Ephesus, the apostle Paul talked straight about the spiritual battle of faith. He exhorted them to:

Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Eph. 6:10–13 ESV)

In recognizing that the battle is real, I’m motivated to prepare for the fight. The Bible maps out my rules of engagement and holds my trembling hands until they calm. I have to keep in mind that the battle is ultimately not mine. It is God’s. And when I suit up in His strength, He goes before me and fights on my behalf.

What help do I have to stand firm against attacks from Satan and his cronies?

Truth: Protects me against damaging lies.

Righteousness (by faith through grace in Christ): Annihilates my sin.

Peace: Guards my heart and mind. Motivates me to share the hope of Jesus.

Faith: Protects me from attacks and extinguishes the flaming darts of the Evil One.

Salvation: In Christ alone. Conquers death. It is finished. Team Victory wins.

The sword of the Spirit: The Word of God. Inherent. Flawless. Guides me in all truth.

Pray in the Spirit: Connects me to God’s power.

How do I invite the Holy Spirit to lead me each day? By putting on the armor of God in prayer and stepping up in faith to stand firm in His power. (Note to self: review that list when I feel exhausted, intimidated, and battle worn.)

Let’s connect another power dot here. When Jesus promised to send His disciples the Helper, He linked the Holy Spirit to truth: “When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you in all truth” (John 16:13). Truth has to lead my battles. When I believe lies, I choose to join Team Defeat. (No thank you.)

Jesus went on to pray for us, His followers, that the truth would protect us from Satan:

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth (John 17:15–17).

God’s Word is truth, and truth protects us. It sanctifies us. Helps us grow in holiness. Helps us recognize the difference between God’s ways and the ways of the world.

The Holy Spirit leads me to a faith with greater power because the Spirit of God will always lead me in the ways of the Word. Toward knowing, obeying, loving, and trusting Jesus in everything. I want that. So I pray with the psalmist, “Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long” (Ps. 25:5).

Yes. Faith is a tug-of-war, but I’m not without hope, help, or power.

And neither are you.

When we call upon the Holy Spirit, who is the anchor of all things truth, comfort, guidance, and power, He helps us gain traction in every battle of life.

Let’s Pray

Lord, thank You for the presence of Your Holy Spirit in my life. Please open my eyes wide to all the courage, strength, and wisdom You have for me in Christ.
In Jesus’ Name,

Amen.

Now It’s Your Turn

Girlfriends in God trio picture.jpg

In what area of your life do you feel the enemy is attacking you? What is one thing you’ll do or believe today to help you stand firm in the power of God? “Today I will ...” (Tweet your answer to me @GwenSmithMusic or leave a comment on my Facebook wall.) Gwen will be joined by Mary Southerland and Sharon Jaynes at the Girlfriends in God Conference held at Valley Church on September 29 & 30.  Find out more and register at http://www.valley-church.com/conference

ONCE AND FOR ALL by Gwen Smith

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

Friend to Friend

All who pause for reflection and allow their hearts to wander in wonder down the Way of Suffering feel the darkness of this day in history. Good Friday was anything but good – yet, because of God’s unsearchable love for you and me, it was the pathway to our hope, to our forgiveness... and to eternal life.

Injustice took center stage that day as Pilate turned Jesus over to a rowdy mob though he had found no fault in him. Roman soldiers rendered Him wounded and weak as they flogged an innocent man – the perfectly innocent Son of man – with 39 excruciating lashes.

A twisted crown of thorns was placed on his head and a purple robe draped over his shoulders as the crowd struck Him in the face and mocked God’s Son. (John 19:1-3)

“He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7)

Forced, then, to carry the weight of a heavy, wooden cross through streets full of accusations and curses, Jesus, the Messiah, was led toward the hill of death to the place of the skull: Golgotha.

He was poked, prodded and provoked by angry voices that cried for his torture. For his death.

Crucify! Crucify!

“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.” (Isaiah 53:3)

Nails to flesh.

Agony.

“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.” (Isaiah 53:4)

On that pivotal day, darkness hurled hatred at the Light of the World. The sun stopped shining and the sky grew black as night as the beloved Son of God drew His final breath and declared, “It is finished.”

It. Is. Finished.

Death.

A spear to His side. (John 19:34)

The tomb. Myrrh. Aloe. Burial. Heaven’s sorrow.

All for you. All for me. This sacred substitution.

Radical love.

To fulfill the wrath of a holy God who cannot accept imperfection into His presence, the Bible tells us that “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) and that the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf brought a new and living way of redemption to all who would call on His name. Once for all. (Hebrews 9 and 10)

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)

His punishment. Our peace.

By His wounds we are healed.

Read that again: by His wounds we are healed. Made whole. Forgiven. Saved. Redeemed. Set free. Healed.

The condemnation of our failings no longer bind us to hopelessness.

It is finished because though darkness shook the earth with death that Friday long ago, the grave could not hold Jesus and death could not defeat Him! {TWEET this!}

Friday brought death, but Sunday brought life!

He is risen, friend! He is risen, indeed!

Respond with me today in worship and thanksgiving in light of the life we have in Christ alone!

Let’s Pray

Holy Father, My heart is swollen with the weight of Your love. That You would give Your only Son to make a way for me to know You – to be made right with You – to be made righteous in Jesus – is more than I could ever, ever thank You for.

All glory and honor and praise be to Your name, Jesus!

Amen.

This Blog was published on April 14, 2017  at http://girlfriendsingod.com and at  http://gwensmith.net/blog/  Check out more about Girlfriends in God, Gwen Smith, Mary Southerland and Sharon Jaynes at www.girlfriendsingod.com and don't forget to register for the Girlfriends in God Conference at Valley Church on September 29 & 30.  Find out more about this amazing conference at www.valley-church.com/women .

Sadness.  Grief.  Loss.  Emptiness.  Brokenhearted. These words can be associated with a lot of different events.  But not very many people associate them with the word “abortion”.

But I do.  You see, I work directly with women who have experienced the heartbreak of abortion.  Initially after abortion, a young woman may feel relief.  It may be much later before she feels any emotion about her decision.  But then it comes – guilt, shame, sadness.  Emptiness.  She may feel grief, but then doesn’t think she can grieve, because she’s the one who made this choice, isn’t she?

The enemy likes to mess with everyone, and women who have had an abortion are no exception.  He starts spinning the lies when a young woman finds out she is pregnant. Lies like – “You’re too young to have a baby”; “You can’t have a baby and finish school”; “How will you raise a baby alone?” “What will your family think?”, and so on and so on and so on.

After a young woman has bought into the first lie, there are more to come.  Lies like – “No one will love you if they know what you’ve done”; “God won’t forgive you for having an abortion”; “You’re better off keeping this secret and forgetting about it.”; “It would be bad if so-and-so found out about it.”

The young woman hears these lies day in and day out, and soon begins to believe them.  But there is truth she needs to hear and receive.  Truth that “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).  The truth that God can turn wailing into dancing; remove sackcloth and clothe them with joy, and that their heart may sing and not be silent (Psalm 30:11-12). The truth that “(But) God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Surrendering the Secret allows God’s truth to be proclaimed to these brokenhearted women!  I’ve been a leader of the Surrendering the Secret Bible study at Valley going on four years now.  The title explains it perfectly – it’s about surrendering the secret of abortion to God, and letting Him heal you and restore your joy!  I’ve seen God turn wailing into dancing!  I’ve seen Him remove sackcloth and joy restored!  I’ve seen hearts sing!  God is so good – His mercies never end!  It’s been a privilege to be a part of the healing, restorative journeys that these brave women are taking.

A new session of Surrendering the Secret is starting soon.  If you have abortion in your past (or know someone who does), we’d love to have you join the class.  There is no cost to participants, and everything is confidential (the only person who knows you’ve signed up is me, and we don’t provide a list to the church office). 

I could give you lots of reasons to sign up for the class.  But I’ll just leave you with the words of a young woman (used with permission) from our first class- back in 2013:

“This course will take you on a journey that you maybe feel you could avoid or never needed to take. it requires courage, it will change you forever, but God loves you so deeply and he has so much in store for you and amazing grace and PEACE to offer you as a reward!”

Brenda Knollenberg has been a member of Valley Church since she and her family moved from Illinois to the Des Moines area in 2006.  She has a heart for women with unplanned pregnancy and has been involved in pregnancy center ministry for almost 17 years, currently serving as the Executive Director at Agape Pregnancy Center in Des Moines,  She is also one of the co-leaders of Surrendering the Secret, the post-abortion Bible study offered to women at Valley. A new class of Surrendering the Secret begins this Spring, contact Brenda at brendak1009@gmail.com or call her at 515-344-0682 if you would like to find out more.  All contacts are confidential.

The Wonder of You by Mary Southerland

"For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." Ephesians 2:10

Friend to Friend                                                                                       As a high school junior, I decided it was time to take Homemaking 101. I can still see Mrs. Johnson’s face as she naively gazed at her new students. Bless her unsuspecting heart! She had no idea the challenge I brought to that class or to her career as a teacher. For weeks, I muddled through each lesson with a respectable, but less than stellar performance, until we hit the section on sewing. It would prove to be her undoing where I was concerned.

Being the veteran teacher that she was, Mrs. Johnson took a deep breath and doggedly plunged ahead in determination, vowing she could teach anyone to sew – even me. I decided to make a blouse, and chose what I thought was a simple McCall’s pattern.   Mrs. Johnson was thrilled with my selection, competent that even I could make a blouse requiring approximately seven straight seams.

The pattern looked so simple and even pretty in the package. Then I opened it, gingerly unfolding and carefully arranging each delicate pattern piece, staring at the foreign documents before me. They were simply beyond human comprehension. I concluded that the pattern was actually a sinister trap of some accomplished but sadistic seamstress, and quickly stuffed the flimsy entrapments back into their package. After all, I was creative. I didn’t need a pattern. I knew exactly what I wanted to make. How hard could it be? Ignorance really can be bliss.

When I presented the completed blouse to Mrs. Johnson for a grade, her eyes widened as she stared in silence at my first and last attempt at sewing. “Interesting,” she muttered, obviously in shock. I made a “C” in her class, a sympathy grade if there ever was one.

And the blouse? I buried it in my back yard – literally.

Since that day, I always make sure I have at least one friend who can sew and the name of two seamstresses on hand at all times. However, in all my years of ministry, I can truthfully say that my inability to sew has never hindered God’s work in my life.

Some have even dared to suggest that since I have a daughter, I should not only sew, but that I should teach her to sew as well. Danna is a very bright and talented young woman, but sewing is not on her radar. So I buried that proposal like I buried that dreadful blouse I made.

Another line of thinking proposes that because I am a pastor’s wife, I should drag out my silver (if I had any) and host dinners and teas for the women of the church. Please know that those of you who actually enjoy these tortuous events have my undying admiration and respect. Seriously!

In our first full-time church, I actually invited the entire church to our home for a Christmas open house. Since there were several hundred church members at the time, I concluded it would take three nights to accommodate them all. Looking back, my only defense is a complete loss of sanity.

My family eventually grew to hate the month before the first open house. They had good reason. I put them all to work, cleaning and scrubbing every square inch of the house. I bought and hoarded food, and threatened to hurt anyone who even thought about infiltrating my “stash.” I even managed to destroy Thanksgiving weekend by insisting that we decorate the house, inside and out, for Christmas – not in anticipation of celebrating Christ’s birth, but in preparation for the “open houses” to be held the following weekend.

For three years, I tried to be the consummate hostess until my husband put a stop to the madness by asking one simple question, “Honey, why are you doing these open houses?” The answer that popped into my mind and out of my mouth was absurd. “Because that’s what pastor’s wives do!” I feebly responded. “Where does it say that, honey?” he asked. Dan went on to set me free. “We have done our last open house. Please don’t ever do anything else because you think it fits the man-made profile of a pastor’s wife. Do what God has gifted and called you to do – period – and never apologize to anyone for doing it.” I do not have the gift of hospitality, but in every church we have ever served, there have been women who do and delight in using that gift for Him.

What do you love to do? What energizes you? What is your heart passion? What gifts and abilities do others see in you? What did God create you to do? Ask Him to make His plan for your life clear. Trust Him with all your heart. Submit your will to His, and choose now to walk through the doors He opens.

Let’s Pray                                                                                             Father, I praise You because I am made in Your image. Please help me live my life on the basis of that truth and not on the lies of the world. Teach me how to see myself through Your eyes.                                      In Jesus’ Name,                                                                                          Amen.

Now It’s Your Turn                                                                                  Here is your assignment for the week. Read Psalm 139 at least one time every day. In your journal, write each verse in your own words. At the end of the week, set aside time to celebrate who you are in Christ. Have a praise party – just you and God – or invite a few girlfriends to join you in celebrating how special you are to Him.

This blog was posted on December 14, 2016.  To receive Girlfriends in God daily devotionals to you in box, go to: www.girlfriendsingod.com

Mary Southerland is The Stress-Buster, a leader at helping women manage stress and enjoy peace in their daily life. Mary Southerland is a dynamic communicator, delivering a powerful message that changes lives.  Mary is a ministry partner with Sharon Jaynes and Gwen Smith.  These three ladies are known as Girlfriends in God.  They write daily online devotionals at http://girlfriendsingod.com/ , author books and Bible Studies for women and do weekend conferences.  We are pleased to announce that all three Girlfriends are coming to Valley Church, October 6 & 7th!  More information coming in 2017!

Finding Strength for Your Struggle by Gwen Smith

Moses faced complicated challenges and circumstances. Born in a time when he, as a Hebrew baby, was supposed to have been killed, Moses was saved by God’s sovereign grace when Pharaoh’s daughter pulled him from the Nile and kept him as her own.A Hebrew among Egyptians, Moses was raised in a land and culture that was far removed from his heritage and from the One true God of Israel. You know this story! We saw it on the flannel graph boards in Sunday school as little girls. We watched Charlton Heston act it out in the movie The Ten Commandments.

Moses had it all in the palace, lost it all when he murdered an Egyptian soldier, then eventually, risked it all for the holy God who called out to him and commissioned him from a flame. Moses set out to free his people through the power of God.Though the Pharaoh doubted God’s strength, the Lord displayed His might, plague after plague, until finally it looked like Pharaoh got the memo. At last he let God’s people go. Moses and the Israelites left Egypt promptly and high-tailed it down the road of divine deliverance. But when Pharaoh changed his mind and gathered his army to chase them, the Israelites ran smack dab up against the Red Sea. Major problem.

Not one to be hindered by impossibility, the Lord took care of business in a huge and powerful way. He parted and held back the Red Sea for Moses and the Israelites so they could escape destruction and experience deliverance. After His people crossed over safely, God again demonstrated His strength by sweeping the Pharaoh and his army into the sea, killing every last one of them (Exodus 13 and 14).

My goodness. What a story! What. A. God!If this doesn’t get you excited about the strength of God, I’m not quite sure what will!  “Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses” (Exodus 14:31).

Then a big ol’ party went down as Moses and the Israelites sang to the Lord a song that’s commonly referred to as the Song of Moses.“The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.” (Exodus 15:2)In Exodus 15, Moses calls God his Strength and celebrates the power that brought salvation to his people.The Bible reveals many names that highlight the power of our God; El Sali is a Hebrew name meaning “God of my Strength; God my Rock.”

King David also calls God his Strength, El Sali, in Psalm 59:9: “O my Strength, I watch for you; you, O God, are my fortress.” Then again in verse 17, “O my Strength, I sing praise to you; you, O God, are my fortress, my loving God.” Elohei Ma’uzzi is another Hebrew name meaning “the God of my Strength.” As David sang, “It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect” (2 Samuel 22:33).

Got any complicated challenges and circumstances right now?Perhaps you find yourself lamenting to the God of Strength, El Sali, wondering why you’ve been forgotten and why you feel weak. Maybe things are good for you right now, but you know of others who have encountered shadows along their roads of deliverance. Each of us is guaranteed life challenges, but God promises to be our strength when we call on Him. He is not puffed up and powerless. He is El Sali, the God of Strength who loves you and longs to move in and through your life.

Will you trust Him more deeply and allow Him to be your strength today?               

Dear Lord, my Strength, El Sali,You are powerful and loving. Thank you for allowing me—this average, ordinary girl with complicated relationships and difficult circumstances—to have access to Your perfect Strength when I am weak. Help me to trust You when all my heart sees is fear.  In Jesus’ name, amen. 

Blessings and peace in Christ,                                                                                                                                            GWEN

This Blog was published on October 26, 2016 at http://gwensmith.net/blog/  Check out more about Gwen Smith, our 2016 Christmas Bash Speaker at her website: and read more devotions from Girlfriends in God at http://girlfriendsingod.com/

I am an unashamed, imperfect worshiper of Jesus Christ. I cling to His goodness to cover my mess and purpose my days to live out the hope of the Gospel. It is my joy and passion to inspire women to live fully in grace and truth. I write books, devotions and songs. I speak. I sing. I worship. I post, pin and tweet. I am intensely in love with the Word of God and believe, wholeheartedly, that the Bible is divinely inspired truth.

When Mercy Meets Messy by Gwen Smith

Ladies! The beauty of fall is blanketing my yard and the logs in our fireplace are ready to glow. This can only mean one thing: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years are right around the corner!! {YAY ... and oh-my-glory-I-haven’t-even-begun-to-shop!} I love this time of year and am so excited to be heading your way in a few weeks for the Christmas Bash! We are going to CELEBRATE and have an incredible time as we connect and reflect on God’s goodness. Can’t wait. See you soon!                                                                                                                            Blessings in Christ,                                                                                                                             Gwen Smith

Taken from Gwen's Blog - November 1, 2016

A four-year-old girl was overheard reciting the Lord’s Prayer, “and forgive us our trash baskets, as we forgive those who pass trash against us.” When I first heard that story, I smiled. Then I thought of a conversation I had had recently with a girlfriend.

She is a Christian friend. But though she has “emptied her trash basket” of sin before the Lord in sincere repentance, she has not emptied it of self-condemnation. Not completely. She holds the trash basket lid on tightly.

She’s haunted by shame.

Haunted by mistakes that are no longer remembered by a holy God.

Haunted by sins that have been cast as far as the east is from the west.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him. (Psalm 103:11-13)

These memories haunt her regularly like a spine-chilling horror film monster. As much as she would like to move forward in forgiveness, she just can’t find the courage to scare the monster away.

In the New Testament book of John, chapter 8, we meet a woman caught in the act of adultery. The legalistic teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought her before Jesus. They publicly humiliated her in front of all the town’s people, saying to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” (John 8:4-5)

Jesus bent down and wrote on the ground with his finger as they continued to question him. Finally, “He straightened up and said to them, ‘“If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground” (John 8:7-8).

The crowd eventually thinned to nothing. The older, wiser men cleared first. Then the younger ones trickled away. When the adulterous woman and Jesus were the only ones remaining:

“Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:10-12).

My sister, do you see that our holy Lord delights to show us mercy? He does not condemn us as we deserve. The woman in this story was guilty when she was brought to face Jesus, but as she left His presence, her guilt was forgiven. Her trash basket was empty.

When we turn to face Jesus with repentant hearts, our guilt is forgiven as well.
TOSS YOUR TRASH

This account of the adulterous woman teaches us about forgiveness and about judging and condemning others. But what does this lesson teach us about judging ourselves?

While my friend’s trash basket contained junk from other people, the lingering condemnation came from memories of decisions she’d made, things she’d done, and brokenness she has experienced because of her own choices. In her heart, she accepts the forgiveness of Jesus, but she can’t bear to forgive herself.

So many women won’t forgive themselves.

I know that self-loathing. I’ve lived it. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that forgiving yourself is easy. It’s hard—and, in a lot of ways, it should be! But I can testify that it wasn’t until I prayerfully allowed the stubborn, strong, and unconditional love of Jesus to pry my fingers off the lid of my trash basket and empty the condemning contents, that I experienced true freedom and complete forgiveness.

Is there something that you have not been able to forgive yourself for?

My friend, we need to stop beating ourselves up for sins of our past.

We need to stop allowing guilt and shame to chain us to unproductive living.

Jesus humbled Himself by becoming human, endured an excruciating death, and then defied the grave in His resurrection so that we could be restored to a place of complete healing.

Complete healing.

Second Corinthians 5:21 states that “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” If you are in Christ, the Bible says that your guilt was paid for on the cross of Calvary. Jesus carried the sins of the world on His shoulders so that you would not have to carry them on yours.

If you are holding on to un-confessed sin, the time has come for you to release your grip. God’s Word promises that, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

None of us are perfect, just perfectly forgiven in Christ.

Take your hand off the lid and allow the Lord to empty your trash basket of every last condemning voice once and for all.

Embrace the freedom that Jesus intends for you to live in.

Holy Father,
Your mercy defies logic. I don’t deserve it, and I don’t understand how You could possibly forgive me for all that I have done. Please take my trash basket and empty it. Forgive me today and help me to forgive myself, and others, so I can live freely in Your amazing grace.
In Jesus’ name, amen.

FOR YOUR REFLECTION and RESPONSE Recite, write, and memorize these verse: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2)

Prayerfully share this with a friend who might need to read this message. If you feel like this message is for you today, post a prayer on my wall today and join the community of the broken. Don’t be afraid. Mercy meets us in the messy.

Broken and Beautiful in Grace,                                                                                                   GWEN

This Blog was published on November 1, 2016 at http://gwensmith.net/blog/  Check out more about Gwen Smith, our 2016 Christmas Bash Speaker at her website: www.gwensmith.net

I am an unashamed, imperfect worshiper of Jesus Christ. I cling to His goodness to cover my mess and purpose my days to live out the hope of the Gospel. It is my joy and passion to inspire women to live fully in grace and truth. I write books, devotions and songs. I speak. I sing. I worship. I post, pin and tweet. I am intensely in love with the Word of God and believe, wholeheartedly, that the Bible is divinely inspired truth.

Practical Proverbs: How Should I Dress Today? by Sarah McElvaney

The last four years have been so painful.  The kind of pain that leaves scars of fear that seep out at any given time. 

“What happened?”

Well.

We lost a baby in the summer of 2012.  My body was unable to miscarry on its own, and after a month of carrying that child, I had to have surgery.  I felt like my body was broken!  And I’m not sure if I ever fully recovered from that before I got pregnant again.  I chose to look at this baby as a miracle, tried to find joy when I felt the fear, and BEGGED God to just “keep knitting” that baby inside of me.  

He did, and my precious boy was born in the spring of 2013.  Even through all the first time mom struggles, I knew what a miracle he was.  I knew how much I had yearned for him and motherhood.   Jesus Christ, my promise & my hope, the anchor for my soul, had delivered this baby to our family. 

Two years later, we decided that it was time if God chose, to add another little one to the family.  While we got pregnant right away with both of our previous pregnancies, this one took a bit longer.  Those thoughts of a broken body crept up and I began to believe the lies again.  But truly, before long we were pregnant again!  I was absolutely miserable.  I was so sick, had to care for a toddler, and I wondered why I couldn’t do it when so many other women do. (seriously, was I broken?) I was afraid of losing this baby and afraid of permanently damaging my toddler with the number of movies I let him watch. 

We encountered so much adversity in this last year while I was pregnant.  I was incredibly sick with morning sickness & migraines.  The doctor was unable to find a heart beat at 14 weeks, causing me to get a bonus “peace of mind” ultrasound.  I had bleeding at the beginning, and again in the middle of the pregnancy.  I got pneumonia.  I talked with my doctor about depression mid-pregnancy.  AND one week before my scheduled c-section, my son contracted influenza A.  (yowza…!)

After a week longer than anticipated (due to the influenza), she was born.  The most beautiful baby girl I have ever laid eyes on.  We knew our family was complete.  We basked in the wholeness of our house.  My husband had two wonderful weeks off work, to spend time with us while I recovered.  It was amazing. 

Then I entered into the darkest depression I had ever experienced.  I wanted to run away.  I was always mad at my kids (yes, even the 4 week old.), and I didn’t want to be!  I was so afraid I’d never find my way out of this.  My mind wandered all the time, and one day I had the very distinct thought about what kind of woman I wanted to be.  I didn’t want to be the kind of woman who threw in the towel…or just stuck around for all the wrong reasons & made her family miserable.  That was definitely the path I was on. 

I sought help.  I knew that however “normal” this was for moms after giving birth, however common this was, this just wasn’t the normal me.  {SIDE NOTE: If you have the “baby blues,” it is OKAY to get medical help.  It is more than okay for you to need and receive this help!}  I reached out to my friends, and I reached out to my doctor.  My friends held me up.  They held me up in prayer, and texted/called/visited me so that I was full to the brim with love. 

Ultimately, the Lord gently lead me to Proverbs 31.  This is the kind of woman I have always wanted to be.  I read through Proverbs 31 quite a few times.  I found it therapeutic to create pages and pages of this passage in my creative journal, & even went out on a limb and colored in my bible for the first time(!).  I felt like I discovered encouragement and more strength each time I read it.  As I read about finding food & making clothes, working to contribute to my family, helping those less fortunate, and making sure that I am healthy and strong, one verse stuck out to me over and over.

Proverbs 31:25 “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.” 

Different versions state that she is clothed in strength & splendorstrength & honor are her clothing…she laughs without fear of the future…she looks to the future with confidence…she is full of joy about the future…she laughs without fear of the future

THIS is the woman I want to be!  HOW do I do this??  HOW can I possibly laugh without any fear!?  My laughter is more ofa nervous chuckle right now… how do I get to this place of laughter without fear?!? I want this confidence about my future!!!

In verse 30, the author gives us the answer:  A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. 

And THIS is my practical proverb y'all.  A little well-placed fear will change your life.  It will turn your world around to fear the one true God.  To trust in the power of His name for you & your family.  It seems easy right?  BUT as cliche as it is, you must make this choice daily. 

If I wake up in fear of the unknown, I will live in that fear all day.  I will live in that fear until my anxiety reminds me that it’s there with a pain in my chest, and I’m begging my husband to come home early.  When I wake up and find the Lord first, I can place my trust in him before my feet hit the ground, and I can live a completely different day. 

Here is how I do that:  leave the phone on the night stand until I’ve prayed.  When I do pick up that phone, I “Swipe here to read today’s First 5” (check out the First 5 app!!).  AND then when those spiritual needs are met, I get up & brush my hair and teeth.  Because no matter how you read it, you can’t “dress [yourself] in strength and make [your] arms strong” with dragon breath. ;)

ABOUT ME:  Sarah McElvaney has attended Valley MOPs for two years.  She is a wife to Justin of 8 years, and a mom to Ethan (3), Evelyn (7 months), and a baby being held in the arms of Jesus.  She wears a lot of hats, including daughter, sister, friend, & photographer, but sometimes her biggest accomplishment is getting a shower before leaving the house. 

Practical Proverbs: Hope Through Infertitlity and Miscarriage by Lindsey Norine

Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” When I was eight years old, my parents found me crying face down on my bed, because I was worried that God would give me a child with mental challenges, and that I would not be a fit mother for them. Why would I have been upset about this at such a young age—much less even thinking about it? Well, God made me a uniquely sensitive and passionate human, with a very strong desire to nurture. I have always known that being a wife and a mother is what I was built for, my true calling. I met my husband Carter when we were both counselors at Hidden Acres Christian Center. The first thing that attracted me to him was how good he was with his campers. I saw a God honoring man pouring out love to children and I was done for!

Carter was 23 and I was 21 when we got married- I still had a year left in college. We waited one year before we decided to start trying for a baby. We knew it was early, that most people waited longer after getting married, especially at our age. But we both had this deep desire for a child in our hearts, so we decided to give it a shot. I remember reading an article that said the average time it takes to conceive is six months and thinking, “There’s no WAY I would be able to wait more than six months, we better get going!”

And then a year passed.

That winter I typed, jokingly, on our Christmas card, “Despite their best efforts, Carter and Lindsey have failed to have a baby. Check back next year.” I felt that was all my year had been- a series of failed attempts to pursue a desire that had been banging around in my heart since I was small. To make matters worse, after trying and failing to conceive for a full year, a couple is officially medically labeled as “infertile.” Satan used those labels to suck me into believing that was my identity.  I thought the one thing that I should naturally be able to do had failed me. My body had betrayed me. God wasn’t listening to my prayers. I felt like I was being punished. I felt deeply, deeply alone.

You never know when asking a young married couple when they are going to start having children might pierce like a dagger in their heart. These words sound harmless and are meant to show interest, but they can be brutal to more women than you might guess. We have a tendency in society to push each other to look towards what’s next. If you are dating, when will you get married? When are you going to upgrade your house or get that new car? If you have one child, when will you make it two? The idea behind asking these questions is good, desiring to enter in to each other’s lives in order to identify and encourage. However, constantly pushing for the next thing can cause ones you care about to feel like where they are right now isn’t good enough. Over that first year of trying, I fell into a deep trap of believing I was not worthwhile because I had not yet achieved motherhood. Those close to us knew we were trying. Well-meaning friends asked what the plan was, what we could do next, how we can push through to achieving our goal. The issue is that those questions do not leave room for what God is doing during the waiting time; how He is showing glory through our lives right now. It is easy to point to God’s goodness when we get something we want, but it means a whole lot more when we do it while we are waiting.

This lesson ended up taking me a long time to learn, because after a year and a half it was finally my time to make my big announcement. I was pregnant. We would be nine weeks pregnant at Christmas, the perfect time to tell our families our news. It was a time of pure joy, a precious pocket of weeks that I will never forget. Unfortunately, our first pregnancy was also our first loss. Our world crumpled—especially mine.

Three dark weeks of processing the pain followed. We had only begun to explore the depths of this loss when something shocking happened—I was pregnant again. It was the ultimate emotional whiplash. How could this be? I thought, Wow, first 17 failed months and now two pregnancies back to back? God must REALLY want us to have this baby! As terrified as I was of experiencing the same loss all over again, I didn’t think God would let me go through that pain again. My battered hope slowly regained confidence. The joy was still there, but this time was very different. We didn’t talk about names, didn’t plan for the due date, and didn’t think past the first two months. When the day of our first ultrasound finally arrived. I was thrilled and terrified. We prayed together fervently. I wrote letters to my sweet precious baby, telling of our love and excitement.  

At the ultrasound, two words destroyed the fragile hope we had rebuilt. “Something’s wrong.” My heart dropped, tears immediately started, and I just knew. Four excruciating days followed of waiting to hear back on tests to confirm the worst. I was miscarrying again. A week later, our second baby was gone.

The next few months were a blur of merely surviving. In a matter of three and a half quick months, I had become a mother of two precious babies in heaven. My grief was enormous. For really the first time ever, I questioned God’s promises for my life. Did he have a plan for me, for us? Why did he give us this deep desire to be parents, only to rip it away from us, not once, but twice so quickly? Did he not know how much we wanted those babies; how deeply they were loved in the short amount of time we had with them? Had I done something wrong? I sank deeper and deeper into doubt and fear. I succumbed to Satan’s lies and believed that this was all I would ever be: an invisible mother that was incapable of bringing her children safely into this world. My pain would never be understood, my babies would never be held, and I would forever bite back tears watching other parents effortlessly live out my most precious hopes and dreams.

I would still be in that darkness if it wasn’t for God’s sweet, perfect provision. As I questioned whether God had a plan for me, He was enacting a beautiful one that would lead to a sweeter and deeper relationship with Himself, my husband, and my someday babies.  Jesus had seen and counted every tear we shed over our lost children. He collected them in His hands and whispered in my ear, “I know, dear child. I have already made this right. I have gone before you and laid your path. Wait on my perfect timing.”

He called me to Psalm 130:6, which says “I am counting on the Lord; yes, I am counting on Him. I have put my hope in his word. I long for the Lord more than the watchman longs for the dawn.” As surely as the morning comes each day, God will come to me and deliver me from this broken and weary place of longing. He will make me new again, and my joy will overflow. So on the bad days—the days that I burst into tears upon hearing a pregnancy announcement or force myself to swallow bitter words of jealousy—even on those days, God’s promise for me is true. My emotions may overcome me and draw me into darkness, but the reality of Christ is that He does not leave us with our emotions being the final word. The creator of all things is in charge of my destiny. Only He can say what my future will hold: not doctors, not nosy onlookers, not my own most faithless and terrified thoughts. Proverbs 3:5 reminds me, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” When my earthly understanding has been shattered through doubt and fear, it is so comforting to know that I can lean on His truth. I don’t have to understand what God is doing, I just need to trust who He is.   

Psalm 139 says, “You go before me and you follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. . . You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered!” verse 5 and 16-17. If this God--the one who built me from scratch and gave me every longing--has created me to be a woman with arms desperate for a baby, then why would he withhold this from me? He wouldn’t. Nowhere in the bible does God give one of his people a longing and does not answer it. There are, however, lots of times when God gives a desire and then allows suffering, false starts, and years upon years of waiting before satisfying the thirst. There are many women in scripture that were for lengths of time infertile, Sarah being the best example. She had to wait for 80 years before she was given a child, far beyond childbearing years. But God is BIGGER than our human limitations. Genesis 21:1-2 proclaims, “Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him.” It was not Abraham and Sarah’s time, it was God’s, and their very lineage would eventually produce Jesus Christ. Their family line had multiple instances of years of childlessness. It was God’s timing that these women would have their children when they did, in order to make sure that Jesus came to us at the exact right time. God’s timing allowed Christ to bridge the gap from our sin to Heaven, saving all of mankind. Uh, wow! That’s kind of an important thing, and it makes me glad that God did not answer their prayers for a child the first or thousandth time that they prayed them.

Now, I am not saying that I think we have suffered both infertility and multiple miscarriages because we are going to produce a messiah (duh.) But I am saying that God’s answers of “not yet,” and “not this child,” are ultimately for my good. Only God is sovereign, and His plans are perfect. God says to us in Isaiah 55:9, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” Of course His plan for me is what is best. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “”For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.””

I know God hears my prayers for a child. Psalm 138:3 confirms, “As soon as I pray, You answer me; You encourage me by giving me strength.” Whether His answer is yes, no, or wait, He does not delay in answering my pleas and giving me strength to handle his answer. I may never know exactly why He allowed it to happen (until Heaven), but I do know that it was not to punish me or cause me pain. The only way we can grow is through suffering, and it was time for me to grow. He wanted to draw me closer to my husband and to Himself, to let me know that even my good and right dream of a family would not satisfy my heart. He alone can create hope and joy in my life, and I need to look only to Him.

The first time I was pregnant, I felt extremely confident that I would be having a perfectly healthy baby in my arms in nine months. Even when things got shaky, I kept insisting in the emergency room that the doctor was going to come in and tell me my baby was doing great. I felt the Holy Spirit telling me, “I’ve got you. You and your baby are both going to be safe and fine.” So when the doctor told me that my baby had died in my womb, I felt like the God had betrayed me. How could He deceive me like this? But later my dad pointed out, “Lindsey, you are safe and fine. And guess what? Your baby is safe and fine.” It is true; my baby was now in the safest and most glorious place possible. God had created and then brought our sweet, precious, perfect child back to himself. As a mother, all that I could ever want for my children is for them to be cared for, loved, and protected. No one can do this better than God, as much as I wanted the opportunity to try. I’m quite sure that Carter and I would have done a bang up job loving that baby fiercely, but we are nothing compared to our Maker and Heavenly Father.

It has been a while since our losses, and it is not true what they say. Time does not heal all wounds; God heals all wounds. Thanks to God’s loving provision of His word, caring family, understanding friends, and wise mentors, I have come to place of expansive healing. When we lost the second pregnancy, my mentor asked me, “Do you think you could heal from this without getting pregnant again?” That was a tough question for me, because I felt like the only way I got over the first loss was the promise of the second pregnancy. What if there wasn’t a third? What if motherhood for me only ever was the promise that I would hold my babies someday in Heaven? Well, if that were to be true, I would still be safe and fine. I would still have God’s love for me, Christ’s sacrifice covering my sin with holiness, an eternity to spend in perfect light and love. But God gave me this promise, and His word does not return void. Hours after our first miscarriage was confirmed, my husband and I looked into each other’s tear stained eyes and realized that we felt closer than we ever had before. Despite it being the worst day of our lives so far, God was giving us glimpses of Himself. That kind of steadfast love simply does not fail.

I believe with every fiber of my being that we are going to get to experience the joy of parenthood here on planet earth. It takes work, a sometimes-daily effort to set down my fear and pick up my faith.  But I have come to a point of believing that some day—maybe in nine months, maybe in 15 years—I will hold a living and breathing, precious child of my own. Someday you will see me with a pregnant belly, and I can GUARANTEE that no matter the pain or sleeplessness or stress you see on me, I will be the most infinitely ecstatic and joyful pregnant woman. Some day you will see me carrying my baby or holding the hand of my toddler, and I hope that it speaks of God’s faithfulness to you. The promises He has made for you is just as true as mine. Please know that you are loved, and despite your suffering you are being cared for. God’s work is always bigger than the darkness.

I thought about waiting to share this story with people until we were successfully awaiting a viable pregnancy, or until after we had had our first baby. But there are times when I hear stories of God’s enduring faithfulness after the fact and think, “Well that’s great for them, but what if my time never comes?” I want to share our story with as many people as I can so that they may see our faith and believe for themselves, too. Even if our happy ending is delayed, doesn’t come, or is totally different than we wanted, God is still good. Our faithfulness and hope will be rewarded when we meet Christ in heaven, whether or not we get to see the rewards on earth.  Our darkest times are when God puts us in the fire, reforms us, and brings us out holier, stronger, and more like himself. Rather than letting the fire destroy us, we need only to wait faithfully for God’s work to be done. Only through our weakness can His strength be shone.  

These words are my pausing to build an altar for God, to thank Him for His goodness to me and to show others what He has done. This place of healing and joy despite my circumstances is God bringing me into holy ground. If you are reading this and have suffered from miscarriage, infertility, or waiting for your baby for any amount of time--you are not alone. If you are waiting on God’s timing in any way, know that the joy that is to come will overshadow all of the pain. Until then, we wait in hope and trust in the Lord.

"Lindsey Norine has been attending Valley Church for four years and serves in creative arts, high school, and children's ministries. Her husband, Carter, is a children's ministry associate at Valley Church. Lindsey is a private music instructor and a part time choir director at Des Moines Christian School. She has a heart for discipling to young women over coffee, scripture, and prayer. She also enjoys painting, reading, biking, yoga, and traveling God's beautiful creation."

PRACTICAL PROVERBS - THREE YEARS AND COUNTING by Karla Evans

Proverbs 19:23, "The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm."

I believe the Word of God is true.  All of it.  To the best of my ability, I strive to honor God in all I do.  Yet my heart has been very heavy lately. Not always, but some of the time.  Overall our family has had a wonderful summer!  Son #1 has been working in the Cities, but took the time to make a visit home recently, which always makes this mama happy!  Son #2 was in South Carolina on the leadership team for a ministry project through Campus Outreach, which also makes this mama happy!  Daughter #1 was a camp counselor at Hidden Acres this summer and had a great experience, which brings this mama great joy!!!!!!! (She likes exclamation points so those are all for her sake.)  Daughter #2 and son #3 joined Mike and I on a great trip to South Carolina, where we visited friends along the way, saw beautiful parts of this country that we had not seen before, and had a very enjoyable vacation.  We had still another trip to Michigan before the kids all started back to school in several locations.  Mike, my husband, and I even had 5 days with no one home while the girls were at a national conference with the Valley Church youth and the youngest was at camp. Talk about a quiet house! Yes, it’s been a good summer!

At the same time, this heaviness has been there. Several years ago my Pastor-husband had an Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM). An AVM can lead to a rupture that disrupts the flow of blood to the brain. Fortunately, the AVM was removed by surgery before it ruptured.  However, this condition resulted in a long time of convalescence for my husband, Mike, and our family.  This past July marked three years since Mike last preached as a pastor. Some things have changed, and some have not.   The heaviness comes because I really thought more would have changed by now.  I want to invite you into my life for a moment to help you understand some of what it feels like to go through what we have been going through.  If you are in the middle of a difficult life circumstance, I want you to know that others are too.  I want you to be encouraged that God is in the middle of it all with you, working on your behalf even if you don’t always see Him.

So what hasn’t changed?  We still live in the same city, so we drive by the church almost every day, usually a couple times a day.  Not only do we drive by, but it can be Still. So. Hard. The memories that driving by the building bring up are not all good.  I probably spent about a year not thinking that anything else but bad memories could come up, and the last two years praying that God would bring to mind the good memories, which in number FAR outweigh the bad. But it’s still hard.

But it’s not as hard as it used to be!  And this is a change.  There are times when we are driving by that I am so involved in conversation, or thought, that I don’t even realize I’ve gone by the church. God has graciously answered my prayer to bring to mind good memories from time to time.  We still have good relationships with many people we ministered to and with over the years, which brings up many good memories.

Mike is still not back in ministry.  I thought he would be.  I thought he would be after a year!  It’s been 3 and still no movement in that area. I don’t know what the future looks like, and I want to.  Three years ago I said that I never wanted to be a pastor’s wife again, but now I think I could do it again.  But that would require my husband to be a pastor, and so far that’s a no go.

God has given both Mike and me many new opportunities to minister to people in ways that are similar to what we did as a pastoral couple.  Mike teaches our Sunday School class regularly, where his gifts are utilized and appreciated and affirmed.  We have spoken together at a couples retreat, which is something we both love to do.  Mike continues to meet with a homebound man, and in a very real sense is his pastor even now.  I have had opportunities to counsel and encourage women, which is a passion I have always had in ministry.  

I had hoped there would be full reconciliation with all that happened that resulted in my husband's leaving the Pastorate, but that has yet to happen.  When I read the Bible, it looks to me like that is what God desires.  And it’s what I desire!  I don’t like conflict or relationships that are not right.  I like to work things out quickly and completely.  I don’t like to get that sinking feeling in my gut when I see certain people, or have my heart race and start to shake.  Yet all those things still happen.

Again, it’s not as bad as it used to be.  I learned years ago that if you pray for people…for a long time sometimes…it becomes easier.  Easier?  Yes! Easy?  NO!  My heart does not always race now.  I am often genuinely able to greet people with a smile, and sometimes even have a conversation. God has slowly but surely worked on my heart to bring healing so that I can honor Him in these situations.  Probably one of the biggest changes was that I was even able to attend a funeral at our former church this spring.  While I did experience all of the physical responses mentioned previously, I did not have to leave and I was able to calm down enough to show love to the dear sister in Christ whose husband had died.  I had an army of prayer warriors behind me that day, so I did not go into that sanctuary alone and unprepared.  And as we sang in a worship song last Sunday, I went in knowing that the God of angel armies was by my side.  (As well as my friend Misty!)  What a powerful picture, the God of angel armies there with me in the midst of a very emotionally hard situation!

So those are most of the things I can think of that haven’t changed.  There are other things that have. Mike and I have been overwhelmed many times by the friendships God has provided. Being asked to do normal things, like meet another couple for dinner to, or go to a 4th of July gathering, or hang out around a fire pit with friends for an evening. With people who like us and who we love to be around. What an encouragement this has been!

Our older kids are all doing great!  They have all had their own hard times as a result of these past few years, but the things I most feared, like them never wanting to go to church again or walking away from the faith, have not happened. It has been evident that God is working in their lives in powerful ways.  So I am able to rest satisfied in God, knowing that ultimately I will not be visited by harm.  But how can I be sure of this?

I can be sure because there is one more thing that has not changed, the most significant thing. Over the past couple months, God has repeatedly reminded me that He does not change. Specifically, His love does not change. Have you ever noticed how many times the phrase, “for his steadfast love endures forever,” appears in the Psalms?  I don’t know how many, but it’s a lot!  I was blown away by Psalm 136 as I read it a few weeks ago.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for His steadfast love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of gods, for His steadfast love endures forever.  Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for His steadfast love endures forever; to Him who alone does great wonders, for His steadfast love endures forever;     (verses 1-4)

It goes on like this for awhile, and then starts recounting events in history, from creation to the plagues in Egypt to the parting of the Red Sea and more.  Each verse ends with, “for his steadfast love endures forever.”  In every circumstance, good or bad, the steadfast love of the Lord endured forever.  And it still does for me.  So my psalm could go something like this.

To Him who created AVMs, for His steadfast love endures forever. To Him who brought together Mike and Karla in marriage, for His steadfast love endures forever. To Him who blessed us with children, for His steadfast love endures forever  And to Him who led us to do full time ministry, for His steadfast love endures forever. To Him who brought us low, for His steadfast love endures forever. And raised us up anew, for His steadfast love endures forever. To Him who delivered from depression, for His steadfast love endures forever.  …for His steadfast love endures forever.

Do you see the only thing that doesn’t change?  It is the steadfast love of God for His people. For me.  And for you, if you are trusting in Him, which sometimes is hard and doesn’t feel like we are doing it very well. He is always loving us well!

Psalm 136 ends like this:

It is He who remembered us in our low estate, for His steadfast love endures forever; and rescued us from our foes, for His steadfast love endures forever; He who gives food to all flesh, for His steadfast love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of heaven, for His steadfast love endures forever.

That’s it. It has been 3 long years for us, but God works in terms of eternity.  He has never wavered in His love and it goes on forever.  So when life gets hard, whatever that looks like, I know that I can rest in His love because it has always been and will always be the same.  Yes, I thank you, God of heaven, for Your steadfast love endures forever.

 

Karla Evans has been the wife of Mike for almost 30 years, and is the mother of 5 children, ages 10 to 24.  God has used the circumstances in her life to give her a heart to minister to others, especially women in hard circumstances.  You can check out her blog here: https://howlongolordblog.wordpress.com