MY GOOD SHEPHERD

On the second Friday in each month of 2019 we will be studying one of the most memorized chapters in the Bible: Psalm 23. Join me as we bring new application of this beloved Psalm to our lives today.

There are multiple places in the Bible where people are compared to sheep. When we look at the photo above we might think that’s a sweet thing. But after some study we will see that it’s not really a compliment!

Sheep may possibly be the dumbest animals on the planet.

They’re wayward and weak. They can’t defend or groom themselves. Their bodies aren’t strong and must be sheared to prevent the wool from becoming a burden. They’re restless and wander away when left alone. And because they have no sense of direction they get lost easily.  Left to guide themselves sheep will literally follow each other off a cliff. And when they fall down on their backs they can’t get up without help. This list could go on and on.

Do any of these weaknesses sound familiar?

That paragraph could easily describe much of my life. There was a time when I walked away from My Shepherd thinking I could do life better on my own. I didn’t take good care of myself and made many bad choices. Soon I began to follow other sheep and ended up in a deep pit with other rebellious sheep.

Then came a soul-shattering time.

My Shepherd allowed me to experience the consequences of my bad choices. Often breaking the bad habits of a strong-willed sheep only comes after serious disciplinary action is applied by the Good Shepherd.

A shepherd disciplines rebellious sheep to protect the whole herd.

When a rebellious sheep leaves the herd repeatedly, sometimes a shepherd must break its leg to force it to stay close to him. In the same way, our Good Shepherd may allow painful life situations to draw us back to Him.

Today I am grateful for the discipline of my Good Shepherd. 

Many years have passed since those harsh days of discipline. But still I stay close to His side, listening for His gentle voice to guide me in all I do. Life is so much better when He leads the way!

Jesus says: “My own sheep will hear my voice and I know each one, and they will follow me.” ~ John 10:27 (The Passion Translation)

There are many beautiful renditions of Psalm 23 put to music. We will listen to several thoughout this year together. Take a few minutes to reflect on your relationship with The Good Shepherd as you watch the video below.

 

SERENITY

In The Serenity Prayer column each month we are dissecting this well-known prayer phrase by phrase and applying it to our life today. These posts will be published the first Friday of each month in 2019.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…

serenity:  a state or quality of being serene, calm, tranquil, peaceful; having an inner calm in the midst of the ups and downs of life; involves learning to be content with the things in our life that can’t be changed. (Serenity’s opposite is agitation.)

Human beings aren’t naturally serene creatures. We don’t have to be taught agitation. It seems to come with the inner selfishness which is built into our nature. I certainly lean more towards agitation with most things in life. That’s why we need God’s help!

Our lack of peace is directly related to our thought life, worry and ingratitude. The Apostle Paul teaches this in his letter to the Phillipians:

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Now brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worth of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.              ~ Phillipians 4:6-9

It’s to us to decide what we’re going to think about. No one can control our thoughts but us. When we look for good we will usually find it. The opposite is also true.

Stressing over situations and people that we can’t change only makes more stress. If we can settle into life as it is, finding a way to be content, we can trust God will work all the good and bad for our good.

Let’s lean into God and put Paul’s teaching into practice. Then the peace of Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, will put a guard over our hearts and minds, and ultimately our life.

Take a few minutes to contemplate Christ’s peace with this beautiful worship song by Bethel Music.

RHW 2019

Happy New Year Friends!

In preparation for the new year I wanted to quickly give you an overview of what you can expect from upcoming Reaching Hurting Women blog columns. For 2019 I’m returning to a monthly magazine format that I used a few years ago. I’m excited to be sharing four of my favorite topics! You can expect a new column each Friday. Each month the columns will have the following schedule:

1st Friday: Serenity Prayer The first Friday of each month  we will be studying The Serenity Prayer. We are breaking down this well-known prayer a phrase at a time and applying it to our life today.

2nd Friday: Psalm 23 On the second Friday of each month  we will be studying The 23rd Psalm. We will break down this beloved psalm verse by verse and find God’s grace and mercy for today.

3rd Friday: 2 Corinthians 4:15-18 This particular section of Scripture is my life verse. Since it was first given to me by the Holy Spirit in 2006, I have found application in every season of my life. Each third Friday of the month we will break it down by sections to find application for us all.

4th Friday: Humility Study The last few years I’ve devoted much study to the subject of Humility. Each fourth Friday, with the help of Saint Benedict, we will learn how better to walk the 12 Steps of Humility with Christ.

5th Friday: Book Reviews The months of March, May, August and November each have five Fridays. On these weeks you can expect a book review that will line up with a topic for that month.

I’m looking forward to a wonderful year of study and writing. I hope you will join me and bring along a friend when you can.

May the grace and peace of Christ be with you…

Tamara

Book Review

When a book continually hits my radar it means I’m supposed to read it.

2018 was my year for Streams.

There are almost as many types of devotionals as there are people and issues. Formats range from monthly to yearly. Some have short daily readings with a Scripture reference and a simple encouraging word for your day. Others are dedicated to specific topics or people groups. Streams in the Desert is for everyone.

With its pinpoint Scripture references, relevant stories and beautifully supportive poetry this devotional is perfect to help us make it through life’s daily challenges. One might be hesitant to read  Streams in the Desert since it was written in 1925. But because humans still struggle this book is completely applicable to life in the 21 Century. 

Lettie Cowman and her husband were missionaries to the Orient in the early 1900’s. When her husband became ill in 1917 they returned to America where she cared for him until his death in 1924. It was during those trying years that Mrs. Cowman penned this touching devotional. For me knowing this history of when it was written gives it much more meaning and insight.

With the new year just ahead, now is the perfect time to get your copy. I highly recommend Streams in the Desert! It’s one of the best devotionals you will ever read! I’ll be returning to it again and again.

Our capacity for knowing God is enlarged when we are brought by Him into circumstances that cause us to exercise our faith. So when difficulties block our path, may we thank God that He is taking time to deal with us, and then may we lean heavily on Him. ~ Lettie B. Cowman 

The Great Unknown

The Great Unknown: The long-suffering that accompanies unanswered prayers.

Most of us don’t process our needs toward God in the best way. We have all kinds of life struggles: a financial crisis, health issues, family strife… More often that not, we shoot off a laundry list of complaints or worse just assume He knows everything and don’t say anything at all. Neither of these are activating our faith.

I have access by faith into His grace where I now stand and rejoice in the hope of God’s glory manifesting in my life!  ~ Romans 5:2 (my personal confession version)

With most spiritual progress, much of what we’re waiting on depends upon our own attitude and mindset. If we are discouraged and lacking hope there’s a good chance we won’t see what we are wanting to see happen the way we want it to.

When faith and hope line up miracles of grace happen. If we allow faith to fill our hearts with hope they will rise up to meet God’s grace coming down. Wow! The possibilities are endless.

HOPE: the happy anticipation of something good.

FAITH: is the reality of things hoped for.

GRACE: God’s undeserved love put into action on our behalf.

Hope must come before faith. In other words, faith brings hope into reality by manifesting, bringing about, God’s supernatural grace in our natural realm.

Look at the image above:

Hope is our dream represented by a balloon. Our Faith fills up the Hope balloon which carries it up to God. As our Hope balloon rises, God sees our heart filled with faith and hope and then showers His Grace on our life in all sorts of ways.

Faith and hope are not prerequisites for God’s grace because there’s nothing we can do to deserve His favor. However, faith and hope put our hearts in the proper position to receive. God’s grace showers down on us as faith fills our hopeful hearts.

How does this help me deal with the great unknown of unanswered prayer? While we’re in this sufferably long state of waiting for God’s hand to move in our direction we must encourage ourselves by fueling our faith with God’s Word, which in turn fills our hearts with hope. As we prayerfully make our requests to God we can confidently sing a song of hope because the God of Heaven will come down in showers of grace upon us!

 Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. ~ Romans 12:12 (NLT)

 

 

Calm Amidst Storms

For some reason we think it’s permissible to doubt the truth of God’s Word about certain things. We give ourselves permission to worry or lose hope when God clearly tells us not to. Unbelief and complaining kept a generation of Israelites out of the promise land. Why do we thing we can get away with it?

As a recovering sex addict I am all too familiar with overcoming a bad thought life. Lustful thoughts, fantasy thoughts and memories of past people, places and behaviors plagued me in the early days of recovery. It’s easy to recognize these types of thoughts as sinful and easy to focus on removing them. After all they were sinful.

Thankfully, I don’t struggle with those kind of thoughts any longer. But what about other negative thoughts: doubt, unbelief, worry, complaining? The Bible calls these thoughts sinful, too. We should be rejecting doubt and discouragement just as much as we would reject any other sinful thoughts or physical behavior.

Just like we need to reject hateful and lustful thoughts, we need to reject worrisome, and discouraging thoughts. When we do reject these negative thoughts we make room for the Holy Sprit to fill us with God’s supernatural hope and peace.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. ~ Philippians 4:6-7 NIV

Like the stillness of the deep ocean floor, which is untouched by the turmoil and storms on the surface, we too can have stillness and calmness. By intentionally obeying the commanded scripture above, we are diving into the Presence of God that will provide the peace we so desperately seek.

It helps me to see my anxiety and worry as sin just like lustful fantasy thoughts are.  When I look at these negative thoughts and worries with a different perspective I am motivated to be more obedient. I am also encouraged that God will reward me with His promised peace when I do.

 

Image Credit  

The Great Silence

Deep space and the deep ocean have something in common: Great Silence. Humans cannot maintain life in deep space or in the deep ocean without life-support. Our Life-Support breaks the great silence.

Silence and waiting on God are built in to the human experience. There are many places in Scripture where God was silent. People waited for days, sometimes years, for God’s answer. Moses waited 40 years in the desert before he was sent back to Egypt to save the Israelites. Joseph spent at least a decade in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Abraham and Sarah waited over 20 years for a child.

Time means nothing to God. He is outside of what we call time. He sees eternity from beginning to end, all at once. Our concept of time isn’t important. What’s important to remember is that God’s timing and His grace are for this moment. God is in the now!

 

With the Lord a day is like a thousand years 

and a thousand years is like a day. ~ 2 Peter 3:8

 

We don’t do well with long term silence.  Our psyches, our souls: our minds, wills, and emotions run from it. Silence makes us feel alone. And to be alone can be painful.  At times we experience a silence that screams so loud it is deafening. There is a suffocating silence that is so intense it is almost breath-taking, We may be asking, where is our life-support?

 

If the Lord had not been my help

my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence. ~ Psalm 94:17

 

We must remember we aren’t alone. Our life-support is there! The Holy Spirit is with us all along. All we need to do is take a breath. Breathe in the Holy Breath of God… Don’t allow the silence to bring anxiety and fear. Trust God. He may keep you waiting, but He always remembers promises made and will appear in His perfect time to fulfill His Word.

Be still. Wait with God. Listen. Silence may be the answer today.

God’s Speed

Jesus saved the world at 3 mph, a walking pace.

A dear friend recently sent me the above sentence which she read in the introduction for a documentary film Godspeed. As I contemplated this thought I was convicted to slow down my pace even more. Before long a blog column was born…

Our world has most of us living at breakneck speeds. Jobs; families; children; church and school activities; hobbies; groceries; chores; cooking… With all this who has time to rest much less contemplate God’s goodness and purpose for our lives.

When we look at world history and the pace at which most cultures have lived, it’s only within the last 100 years or so that family and personal lives began to get overcrowded with outside distractions. With the invention of steam power for boats and trains, followed by automobiles, airplanes and computer technology, life for the average person has gotten complicated at an exponential rate.

Since beginning my Benedictine Oblate path in 2012, I’ve come to understand my need to slow down and simplify my life. It’s not something that happens overnight to be sure. Life didn’t get complicated and cluttered in one day and it isn’t going to get simplified in one day either. But just like most things, as we take baby steps each day towards our goal eventually we will see improvements.

One thing that helps me is to keep strong boundaries on my use of media and devices. Apple’s iOS 12 update has a new feature which allows you to put time limits on your apps. I implemented it immediately and have already seen great results. By limiting screen time I’m able to be more in the present moment; to recognize God’s Presence in my life; to be present to my surroundings, to myself, my husband and my dogs. By limiting, and in some cases removing, media distractions I’m able to focus more on the things that are important to me. To enjoy learning because I can remember more of what I’m reading. Then I’m able to share more with you.

God doesn’t want our life to be lived numbed out from one media device to the next, never having personal relationships with Him or anyone else. But He isn’t going to come in our living room and hide the TV remote or change our device passwords. It’s up to us to discipline ourselves. Let’s look at Jesus’ example. Let’s slow down our pace. The next time you’re outside, stop. Take sit down and just look at the clouds, listen to the birds and soak up the breeze. You’ll be surprised how energized you will be afterwards.

Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. ~ Matthew 11:29b MSG

Learning the unforced rhythms of grace means accepting that where I am now is where God wants me to be. Living the pace of grace for this moment means not looking back to yesterday, last week, or last year with regrets and do-over wishes. The pace of grace in the moment doesn’t look forward with fear, anxiety or dread. As we learn to let go, to walk each moment at Jesus’ pace, He dispenses His grace to us at the perfect place in His perfect time.

 

 

seed… T-I-M-E… HARVEST!

We have a seed but we need God’s help to bring it to life.

We begin first by planting. We have our seed: a plan or project. Even though we need God’s help to bring it to pass, it’s up to us to start working our plan. We must step out and do our part. God adds His Super to our natural and faith begins.

Then comes growing time. Seeds begin their growth in the dark. It may be a long time before we see a sprout show itself above ground. Faith is the step between the promise we seek and the promise received. We must take these baby steps each day toward our final goal until it is achieved or something better comes in its place.

When the sprout pops up it may take months, even years, before our seed bears any fruit. Here is where our faith is tested. We may begin to see our project taking some form or life, yet not fully grown. Patience and perseverance are required to press through to fruition. As we press into our plan, with God’s help we will see fulfillment in His perfect timing.

 

Are you growing in the dark? Waiting on the next rainfall or sunny day?

We must remember we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.

 

Be strengthened with all His glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. ~ Colossians 1:11

 

Free Will Sacrifices

God has given us the ability to make lots of choices.

  • You have the freedom to watch a certain program… Is that a good use of your time?
  • You have the liberty to surf the Internet all day… Is there a better use of your talents?
  • You have the freedom to eat that donut… Is this best for your body the temple of the Holy Spirit?

Just because someone else can do it doesn’t mean we can or should.

Looking at it one way, you could say, “Anything goes. Because of God’s immense generosity and grace, we don’t have to dissect and scrutinize every action to see if it will pass muster.” But the point is not to just get by. We want to live well, but our foremost efforts should be to help others live well.    ~ 1 Corinthians 10:23 MSG

We must check our choices:

  • Is this choice leading to something good in your life?
  • Is this choice leading to something good in someone else’s life?

It isn’t about whether something is right or wrong. It’s about getting God’s blessing.

It’s about getting the best life He has available for us. God is a gentleman He won’t force us to choose something good. It’s up to us. It’s OUR choice!

We must decide what we want Good, Better or Best?

Do we want to live a mediocre life, just barely getting by until Jesus takes us to heaven?

Or do we want to sacrifice our free will on the altar of our transformation and allow God to change us and improve us through the best choices He wants for us?

Is the altar of sacrifice calling you? Let’s ask God to bind us to His altar so we will never be tempted to turn away from a life fully dedicated to Him.