5 Unbeatable Exchanges Nobody Wants to Miss

We can find far more than five unbeatable exchanges that nobody wants to miss — divine exchanges which bring immeasurable benefits. Today as I focus on these few (life, peace, beauty, joy, and praise) may we also discover the many other exchanges available to every believer.

Often things that once worked perfectly, begin to malfunction over time. Some companies even offer trade in discounts to exchange newer, upgraded products for older models. Usually, it’s a limited time offer to urge customers to purchase the latest, fastest, gadgets.

Our children, like everyone else’s, quickly grew out of their clothes as too much leg began to show beneath the hem of pants and tummies protruded from under shirt lines. Shoes also became too tight and developed holes. I smile as I remember how the new purchases seemed to make them stand taller and how they proudly showed off their new-found ability to run faster.

Purging closets and cupboards comes easier to me than loosening my grip on other things which I know I should get rid of — even when those things no longer serve a useful purpose.

An exchange means changes. With changes come challenges we would often rather avoid. But God offers everyone five unbeatable exchanges nobody wants to miss.

The Greatest Exchange

The most beautiful and powerful exchange comes when we surrender our old, temporary life for a new, eternal life in Christ. This divine exchange occurs not outside, but inside us — in the spirit — as we accept Christ’s payment for our sins through His sacrificial death on the cross.

No one dares to claim full understanding of such an exchange. We only receive it by faith. Jesus did for us what we could never do — bridging the gap of separation between us and God and bringing us into relationship with Him.

You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins.
Colossians 2:13

What a wonderful exchange … death for life … separation from God to being united with Him! Nothing compares to the freedom and joy found in this magnificent exchange.

 “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”
Colossians 3:3

Labor for Peace

Although we are all unique, we each feel the weight of responsibilities and concerns. But Jesus welcomes us to exchange our burdens for His perfect peace and rest.

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me. For I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30

Another version puts it this way: “Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Too often, life feels “heavy or ill-fitting.” These never come from God. Sickness, death, and pain were never God’s plan for us. But because we live in a fallen world, rampant with evil, we face trials. God stands with open arms, offering to carry the full weight for us. He teaches us His “unforced rhythms of grace” to walk through even the most difficult times.

Three Exchanges in One

Hundreds of years before Jesus walked the earth, Isaiah promised the unbeatable exchanges Jesus would one day bring.

“… to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”
Isaiah 61:3

Will we sometimes feel like our lives have disintegrated into ashes scattered by the wind? Sadly, yes. Will we face the heaviness of grief and mourning? Undoubtedly. Will we experience seasons of hopelessness and despair? Perhaps.

However, as we draw near to Jesus He promises to bring beauty from the ashes. Even in the midst of mourning, He pours healing oil into our wounded hearts. And out of the dust of despair, He can and will bring forth songs of praise — not for the circumstances, but for His Presence bringing us through those circumstances.

Jesus doesn’t stop there. Twice in verse seven of the same chapter, Isaiah tells us that Jesus will give us “a double portion” for any trouble we have experienced as we choose to place our weakness into His strength.

Unbeatable Exchanges

Even as I write, I sense the heaviness of what some of you are experiencing today. So, I write with tears of compassion. I feel the heart of God welcoming you to His divine exchange, surrendering your loss for great and eternal gain.

Please join in this simple prayer, accepting His divine exchange.

Lord Jesus, I am tired and worn out — tired of pretending I’m strong and have life together. My heart hurts and my emotions feel as scrambled as my thoughts. I give you my broken life and welcome Your whole one. I long for an intimate relationship with You as my loving Father God. Take my sins and failures, Lord. I believe You died for me. I receive the unbeatable exchange of life and fellowship in Christ. The burdens and pressures have become too much for me to carry, Lord. So, I lay them at Your feet. Teach me the “unforced rhythms” of walking in Your grace. I give you the heaviness of my heart — the burned ashes of dead hopes, the mourning over lost dreams, and the heavy spirit of despair. Today, Lord, I receive Your unbeatable exchanges of life, peace, beauty, joy, and praise. Only You can transform my life into something that will ultimately bring You glory and praise. And in that transformation, I know You will give me life eternal and immeasurable good.
Amen.

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Enjoy! Find Joy in Every Moment of Life

MaryAnn Ward - Find Joy in the Moments

Recently, one word invades my waking and dreaming hours, the word “enjoy”! I feel God prompting my heart to find joy in every moment of life.

The other day someone paid me an unexpected compliment, “You make everything more fun! You bring joy!”

I went away whispering a silent prayer of thanksgiving. Though it has taken awhile, God has turned my sadness into joy. Life hasn’t suddenly become carefree and wonderful. But despite what is or has happened, I’m discovering the secret of finding joy in even the smallest things.

I wish I would have learned these joy lessons earlier and found joy more often — in the hard moments, the easy moments, the weary moments, and even the mourning moments. God has given us all things to enjoy.

Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment.”
1 Timothy 6:17

To enjoy means to take delight, pleasure, and satisfaction in or have fun doing something. It also means to have for one’s use, benefit, or possession. Joy is not equivalent to happiness, however. Happiness is an emotion; while joy is a position of the heart.

MaryAnn Ward - Blog - Find Joy

Trust

We find the key to a lifestyle of joy by trusting in God. I’ve fretted over children and grandchildren, over finances and lack thereof, over health, over eternal souls of others, and innumerable other things. Trusting God replaces all unnecessary worry and fretting.

Can life be tough? Yes! Does it push us to our limits? Yes! But God gives us the capacity to find joy in little moments — in the weighty young mother moments loaded with responsibility, in the pressured moments of providing for the tangible needs of others, and even in the sorrowful moments of caring for a dying loved one.

Even so, I have noticed one thing, at least, that is good. It is good for people to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life.”
Ecclesiastes 5:18

The level of our joy ultimately demonstrates the level of our trust in God.

MaryAnn Ward - Blog - Find Joy

Find Joy

Unfortunately, I wasted far too much of my life hoping to find joy and satisfaction in people or lesser things. Everything outside of God leads to disappointment and disillusionment. But as we rest our hearts in the goodness of God, joy flows naturally and freely.

What shall we fear when He holds us fast? He loves perfectly and desires the very best for each of us. The more we learn to linger in God’s presence, the freer we are to experience true fullness of joy.

You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.”
Psalm 16:11

Some of you may find this little message insensitive to the pressures and obligations currently pressing against you. Like precious jewels, God has deposited some of the greatest life lessons during my darkest most hopeless seasons. He has given joy in sorrow and suffering and has even refreshed my joy during loss and pain. The flickering beams of His Presence shine like prisms of color off His jewels of joy.

MaryAnn Ward - Blog - FInd Joy

Prayer

For those of you who have discovered this treasure, rejoice! For those who feel neck deep in overwhelm, take courage.

“Sing to the Lord, all you godly ones! Praise his holy name. For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime! Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.
Psalm 30:4-5

But joy! Such beautiful words of hope and assurance. Lord, I ask for kingdom revelation over those who are weary and worn. Give them strength for today. May they trust You fully when life presses hard against them. Grant them a capacity to find joy in the fleeting moments of the season they are in. Though weeping has lasted through a very long night, may they discover renewed joy today. And may Your joy shine from their lives like beacons of hope to others caught in despair. May Your joy bring a sense of peace and the assurance of victory to all.
Saskatchewan-based acrylic artist MaryAnn Ward captures a serene outdoor scene featuring a reader engrossed in a bible passage, subtly highlighted by their pointing finger.

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White and Black Dog: The One We Feed Will Grow

MaryAnn Ward - Blog - White Dog_Black Dog

A wise, elderly pastor shared an illustration, explaining how life resembles living with both a white and black dog inside of us. Whichever one we feed will grow; while the one we neglect will become dominant. The black dog represents the sin nature with all its selfish cravings and demands. The white dog represents a life empowered by the Holy Spirit, following and obeying everything godly — love, grace, and beauty … honor, humility, and honesty. God encourages us to intentionally feed and focus on only the “white dog” of the Holy Spirit.

I know the illustration is faulty, but it also gives a clear picture of the two realms we struggle between. In Romans 7, Paul explained this daily dilemma of living with two desires warring against each other.

Dead

When we commit our lives to Christ, God wipes the slate of past sin clean, erasing all the charges once rightly held against us. The old has gone and the new has come! Done deal!

Although this “legally” holds true, we experience a different reality — a reality of contending for the very victory Christ has already won. The white and black dog war within us. The black dog refuses to accept death, while the white dog welcomes us to the fullness and freedom that is ours.

For as long as we lived that old way of life, doing whatever we felt we could get away with, sin was calling most of the shots as the old law code hemmed us in. And this made us all the more rebellious.
Romans 7:5

How true these words? Whatever we felt we could get away with, we did or perhaps still do.

MaryAnn Ward - Blog - Black Dog

Alive

But now that we’re no longer shackled to that domineering mate of sin, and out from under all those oppressive regulations and fine print, we’re free to live a new life in the freedom of God.”
Romans 7:6

“But now!” Oh, how I love those words! The white and black dog both ask to be fed. But now, the freedom of Christ gives us the power to choose. Will we feed the things of the Spirit or our own cravings?

Deciding to do the right thing, the good thing, the godly thing, often fails us, however. Our past rebellion ingrains our present actions, as we repeatedly say and do things which we know dishonor God and hurt others. Again and again, we feed the black dog.

We obviously need help. The thing we want to do, we are unable to accomplish.

MaryAnn Ward - Blog - White Dog - Black Dog

Something More

“But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway.”
Romans 7:17-19

God understands our dilemma and has given us all we need for complete victory. The something more we need is Someone more — Jesus Christ. Into our poverty and powerlessness, He comes, providing the way.

“The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.”
Romans 7:25

MaryAnn Ward - Blog - Which Dog Will We Feed

The Choice

So, we live within a sobering reality. God provided through Jesus all we need for a complete and victorious life in the Spirit. Each decision leads us to feed either the white or black dog.

Jesus summarized all the commandments this way,

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
Matthew 22:37-39

Whatever attention we give to the black dog of sin results in a disastrous outcome. It may be delayed, but it will come. But love always feeds the things of the Spirit. As we give our full attention to loving God and others, the things of the Holy Spirit (or the white dog) will grow stronger. Through Jesus Christ, victory becomes our portion over every area of our lives.

When we can’t find the strength or power to will and do God’s pleasure, thank God … Jesus Christ can and does! Let us turn to Him each day in prayer and petition, in reading His Word and devoting ourselves to follow its direction, and to love and serve God and others to the best of our ability.

May the black dog die from neglect and the white dog flourish.

MaryAnn Ward - Blog - White Dog

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A Personal Testimony: Facing Our Fears: Whom Shall I Fear

MaryAnn Ward, Blog Post, Facing Our Fears

Facing our fears presents unique challenges for us all. We try to bury, deny, and wrangle fears into corners of avoidance. Sooner or later, however, God graciously leads us into bravely facing and dethroning them.

My Amplified Bible calls out the heading for Psalm 27 as “A Psalm of Fearless Trust in God.” Oh, if only I might claim such a constant position of faith. Isn’t that what we all seek? A fearless trust, not in ourselves but in Omnipotent God.

The Lord is my light and my salvation—Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the refuge and fortress of my life—Whom shall I dread?”

Psalm 27:1

When it comes to most things, I have more nerve than a toothache, naively going where others dread or doing what some prefer to shy away from. But lately, I’ve been facing more than a tad of fear. Only I didn’t recognize it until some close friends discreetly called it out. For that, I am most grateful.

Please, let me explain.

MaryAnn Ward, Blog, Fearless

The Origin

Last September at an InScribe Writer’s Conference, I felt God compelling me to write my memoir. Though I have shared snippets of my life story, I panicked at the thought of exposing the ugliness of my former life for all to see. “No, Lord,” I pleaded through tears.

I’ve never yet won an argument with God. After all, long ago my story became His story woven through the bright and glorious as well as the dark and ominous segments of life. Could His story in and through me possibly bring hope and help to others?

Grudgingly, I consented. “I give you thirty days,” I conceded, fearing the intensity of the emotional cost.

“Yes,” I felt God counter in my Spirit, “and you will paint thirty pictures in those thirty days — thirty pictures of roses.”

I laughed. To write “His story” in thirty days seemed more than an impossibility. To add another thirty day challenge felt outrageous. And roses! As a fairly new painter I’ve never once tried to paint roses.

For nothing will be impossible with God.”
Luke 1:37

But here we were, God and I, co-laboring to do something that would expose every raw piece of emotional flesh and disrobe every protective covering I’d invented. Numbly, I mass dumped memory after memory onto the pages until I was too exhausted to continue. Then, I’d paint, finding soul healing in the brush strokes. After thirty days of writing and painting, the rough draft and paintings were complete.

Facing my fears, God carried me through.

MaryAnn Ward, Blog, Father

God Intervention

But God had more proof that this little memoir was of His choosing. The first editor waved all her fees and asked to use the book, in combination with her resources, to bring healing to many others.

The second person to read the draft had the most to risk with the publication, but he found the contents entirely redemptive and healing. “This needs to be published. It will help many people,” he said.

The second professional editor also waved her fees. Without request, she offered this review:

“… Readers will come away with a renewed sense of hope, because through this writer’s experience they will discover that no one is too lost, too broken, or too far gone to have their lives restored beyond what they could even ask or imagine…” – Michele H.

“Do it afraid!” the slogan declares, regarding facing our fears.

But God provided even more assurance. Ordering the first shipment of books, I charged them to my credit card. Since my business account had funds to cover the cost, I neither worried nor prayed about finances. However, before the credit card payment came due, God stirred the hearts of people to donate money to my ministry efforts. (Something never done before!) No one knew the pending costs. I hadn’t expressed a need. But God picked up the full tab, providing more than enough to pay the entire bill!

Through God’s provision, He stamped, “MINE!” over this little memoir. “This is My story!”

MaryAnn Ward, Blog, Father's Love

Thursday’s Child

So, I now present to everyone Thursday’s Child Has Far to Go — a book I never chose to write and never paid for. I lay it down as a humble example of facing our fears.

“…Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”
Isaian 43:1-2

Has there been fear? Yes, many times. Have I completely overcome fears of rejection, exposure, shame, and criticism? No, not at all. But this is and always will be God’s story of healing, deliverance, and redemption. A story to bring hope to others.

If you aren’t brave, please don’t read it. But if you would like to be brave, please read it. I’m sorry that it is a hard read. But I’m not sorry that it will make the road easier for others. Far too many people will relate to the painful experiences written within its pages. But far more people will hear God’s redemptive voice speak courage and life into their personal experiences.

Available to Order:

Overcome

As God leads, may we overcome our fears together. His love exceeds all other loves. Facing our fears, we focus on Jesus Christ who casts out all fear.

Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear.
1 John 4:18

I welcome you to take a few moments to rest in His cascading love and to meditate on these few Bible verses to bring comfort and strength.

  • Isaiah 41:10 — “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
  • Psalm 34:4 —“I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears
  • Psalm 23:4 — “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
  • Deuteronomy 31:6 — “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

I’ve also included this play list of songs that has encouraged me, as one more resource that might help you.

Psalm 34 - Taste and See - by Shane & Shane (Lyric Video) | Christian Worship Music
Chris Tomlin - Whom Shall I Fear [God Of Angel Armies] (Lyric Video)
Zach Williams - No Longer Slaves (Live from Harding Prison)

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1 Corinthians 4:15 — Not Many Fathers and Mothers

MaryAnn Ward - Spiritual Fathers and Mothers

Are spiritual fathers and mothers found only within the pages of history books? I don’t think so, but they are few and far between. What does spiritual parenting look like today?

Never has the opportunity to teach and learn become so accessible. Untold numbers of teachers upload millions of videos, podcasts, and blogs to the internet daily. Thousands of these even show us how to be great fathers and mothers. If ever Paul’s words of 1 Corinthians 4:15 were true, perhaps we find their fulfillment today.

For even if you were to have ten thousand teachers [to guide you] in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers [who led you to Christ and assumed responsibility for you], for I became your father in Christ Jesus through the good news [of salvation].
1 Corinthians 4:15

Paul trained under the greatest teachers of the first century. Yet, one touch from Jesus removed him from the accelerated path of knowledge and the upper religious elite, setting him toward a better way — the way of The Father.

MaryAnn Ward, Blog, Image, Family

The Father

Jesus prime focus was to demonstrate the Father’s heart to those who would listen and pay attention. We instinctively know that fathers and mothers form the foundation to not just solid homes but faith communities as well.

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
John 14:8-9

Jesus lived with His spiritual children for three years. These disciples saw how He “did” life, how He interacted with difficult people, and how He responded under pressure. He modeled a value system that contradicted the teaching of others. But more than anything, He demonstrated an inseparable unity with The Father — a unity He prayed we too would experience.

“…Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
John 17:21

MaryAnn Ward, Blog, Image, Family, Play, Fun

Fathers and Mothers

Perhaps no other word evokes more personal shame than the word “mother.” Like many other mothers and fathers, I have carried the weight of my shortcomings. Yet a couple years ago, the Lord whispered the word “matriarch” over me. He bypassed my failures as “mother,” giving me a variant without negative connotations. This affirmation sent me on a quest to discover afresh the context of mothering and fathering.

Fathers and mothers “do life” with their children. They submit to a high level of vulnerability and transparency, teaching through personal successes and failures. Teachers instruct through knowledge and information, but fathers and mothers model through intimate relationship. They pass the baton of faith to successive generations, bringing exponential increase to their efforts.

The early church didn’t just worship together. They worked together, ate together, traveled together, and served the community together. What a stark contrast to how most of us live.

God creates these divine connections, bringing strategic people into our lives at opportune times.

  • Have spiritual fathers and mothers mentored you through intimate relationship?
  • How did they walk their role out?
  • What valuable lessons did you learn?
  • Are there aspects of their godly example that you imitate?
MaryAnn Ward, Blog, Image, Group of People

The Fruit of Fathers and Mothers

No other human, apart from Jesus, influenced generations of churches as much as Paul. Why? Because of his excellent teaching and debating style? No! Rather, his greatest measure of influence came by “fathering” people in the churches he established. Through intimate relationship, he modeled a faith lifestyle, language, and value system.

The generational influence of godly fathers and mothers cannot be denied. I see God again calling forth and raising up a new stream of spiritual mothers and fathers. Some of them, still in their youth, are successfully fostering others in the faith. Just as Jesus and Paul modeled the heart of our Heavenly Father, these dedicated disciples are answering God’s call and filling the gap.

God promises,

I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. They will spring up like grass in a meadow, like poplar trees by flowing streams.”
Isaiah 44:3-4

May there be no fatherless or motherless orphans among us. May this be a time when every Christian experiences life with a spiritual father and mother, growing strong in a solid faith-family.

MaryAnn Ward, Blog, Image, Generations

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What are We Doing with Our Talents and Gifts?

MaryAnn Ward - Blog Post - Talents and Gifts

One of the most revealing indicators of our vision and self-identity shows through what we do with our God-given talents and gifts. Romans 11:29 tells us that “God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” He never voids His gifts. Once given, He allows us to choose what we will do with the talents and gifts He has given to us.

In context, this verse speaks about God’s gift of salvation, but the principle applies to all His gifts.

“For the gifts and his call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you”
Romans 11:29-31

I’ve highlighted two repetitive words — disobedience and mercy. When it comes to our God-given gifts, most of us can relate to both of these terms.

MaryAnn Ward - Blog - Gift

Shining Example

Although a recent incident brought this principle to light, I have been pondering this truth for some time. Let’s spotlight one shining example of disobedience and mercy — Moses’ brother Aaron.

God called Moses up Mount Sinai to teach him all the principles of worshipping God and living in healthy community with others. God took all the time He needed to make sure Moses understood each detail, writing them on two tablets of stone as perpetual reminders for everyone.

Aaron, who God had gifted with leadership ability, was left in charge of the people below. Eventually, they all grew tired of waiting for Moses and God. So, Aaron used His God-given talents and gifts to lead the people into idol worship!

“(Aaron) took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.'”
Exodus 32:4

What! How could anyone go so far wrong? But wait! Remember those two words — disobedience and mercy. As great as Aaron’s disobedience, God’s mercy was more.

Later in Leviticus 8, we see the ordination of Aaron and his sons as priests. Now, His God-given leadership brought the people into true worship. Aaron acknowledged his God-given talents and gifts, using them to bring people to God instead of steering them away from Him.

In mercy, God refused to disqualify Aaron for his blatant failure. His gift of spiritual leadership to Aaron was “irrevocable.”

MaryAnn Ward - Gift - Time

God-Gifts

Few of us have failed God as miserably as Aaron did. But we all have experienced our share of failure and God’s mercy. The Bible offers many accounts of people who received second chances to use their talents and gifts for God’s glory and Kingdom purposes. But, more important, we also see many people who walk out their faith with unwavering, wholehearted devotion.

“Every gift God freely gives us is good and perfect, streaming down from the Father of lights, who shines from the heavens with no hidden shadow or darkness and is never subject of change.”
James 1:17 TPT

Many people find it difficult to discern their God-gifts. Others know their talents but live in frustration — unsure of how to use them.

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”
1 Peter 4:10

Perhaps, like me, you find the greatest hurdle to overcome is the temptation to use God-gifts for personal pleasure or advantage. We need the Holy Spirit to search our hearts and reveal impure motives. God gives His gifts for one purpose — to serve others.

MaryAnn Ward - Share - Gifts

Serve Others

We may often overlook the obvious while aiming toward the ambiguous. Let’s consider a few gifts we have all received.

  • The gift of time. This moment is a gift. Will we serve God with wholehearted devotion, consecrating our time as belonging to Him? The stewarding of our time reveals how well we steward other gifts.
  • The gift of relationship. Who are the people God has planted around us? How can we use our gifts to invest in those relationships for their good and God’s glory?
  • What inherent talents do we possess — working with numbers, leadership, servanthood, baking, caring for children, teaching, creativity, …. ? The list is endless! We don’t need to dig deep in our search. What do we enjoy and do well?
  • Ask God! His list may look quite different from ours. Let’s also ask Him how we may better use our talents to serve His purposes.

Though God will never take His gifts from us, we have an opportunity to daily surrender them back to His full control. As we surrender our God-given talents and gifts back to Him, He will do profound things in and through us.

MaryAnn Ward - Gift - Serve Others

Prayer

Father, I thank You for Your gracious and beautiful gifts. Forgive me for, like Aaron, using them in ways that have brought harm instead of good. I confess that I have used them for my own satisfaction and gain. I thank You for your amazing mercy and a new opportunity to use these talents and gifts for Your service. May I steward Your gifts well. Nothing can hinder Your purpose in and through these talents and gifts which You have embedded in me. I surrender them to You to be used when, where, and how You so design. Fill my heart with overflowing gratitude for Your gracious gifts. May I assume responsibility to develop and perfect them. Thank you, Lord, for Your good and perfect gifts.

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Life is Like a Garden — What Fruit Grows There

Life is like a garden — planted, tended, and watered. Let’s consider what kind of fruit grows in the garden which God has planted in us.

This morning while driving through snow-slush streets, my random thoughts turned to warmer days and the work it takes to produce garden fruits and vegetables. Many times, I have planted seeds in faith, believing they would grow and bring abundance. I consistently rejuvenated the soil with well-rotted compost and diligently worked to keep the weeds away.

Even though I know that daily efforts produces the best results in the natural realm, I often grow impatient when spiritual fruit doesn’t instantly appear in my life.

I love the way Jesus explained spiritual truths through parables of land and crops. He even repeated a parable that Isaiah had told centuries earlier.

A Vineyard of the Lord

It amazes me who God chooses to invest spiritual seed into. — often the least likely and most unconducive to bear anything of value. He sees fertile ground even amongst the stones!

“…My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest of vines.”
Isaiah 5:1-2

Oh, how much work God pours into our stony lives. hoping for the potential returns. Lovingly, He chooses each one of us. Looking beneath our rough exterior, He sees value and worth.

Like in the parable, He digs out what needs to be exposed. He clears the rocky debris of rebellion and disobedience. Often, the hardened soil of our hearts resists His efforts rather than yielding to the pressure of His process. If life is like a garden, what kind of fruit will be produced in us?

How many rocks of offense must first be removed? How much of His grace will it take to soften hard-hearted attitudes and stoney selfishness? What type of gifts, or the “choicest of vines,” will He plant in us, hoping to see the fruit of His efforts?

Protect Potential

Though we may feel abandoned during the growth process, nothing could be further from the truth.

“…He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well…”
Isaiah 5:2

After planting the vineyard, our Lord takes every precaution to protect the tender vines from harm. He stands in His heavenly watchtower. His eye is upon us, protecting and keeping us from and through enemy attack, while always promising to never abandon us.

As I look back, I remember many times of snaring gophers, chasing rabbits away, and ridding my little garden from pesky bugs? Weeds were quickly dug out by the roots to prevent them from sapping the garden of strength. Do you think for a moment that my garden was more valuable to me than we are to God? Hardly!

He faithfully guards the eternal seed He has invested in us, expecting to see an abundance of fruit flowing from our lives. The seedlings, once frail, lacked any potential for immediate increase, but He “cut out a winepress.” He sees ahead to what we can’t comprehend — the full result of His working in our lives.

Life is Like a Garden

Because life is like a garden, we remember that not every patch of ground produces equally. Some years an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables kept our family fed until the next year’s harvest. Other years, the produce grew sparse.

We find in Isaiah’s parable the saddest response to God’s loving efforts.

“…Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.”
Isaiah 5:2

I openly weep as I read this passage. God did everything God could do for us. He even sent Jesus, His Precious Son, to pay the ultimate price for our sins and to die in our place so that we might have abundant life.

Though we were nothing but specks of dust, He chose us to bear fruit. He lovingly planted the best seeds in our lives, and then nurtured and protected them.

But sadly, when it came time for a harvest, He found “only bad fruit.” Life is like a garden. Any bad fruit in our lives never results from God’s flawed efforts. “Bad fruit” in this passage literally means stinking things or be’ushim — a fungus that stunted growth and caused the fruit to shrivel and die prematurely.

Good or Bad

While God came expecting to find vitality and a bountiful harvest, He found fermented, shriveled fruit. How incredibly sad!

What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad?”
Isaiah 5:4

As we read this passage it causes us to solemnly consider the eternal significance of what we allow in our lives. No one desires to hear Jesus speak these words. Yet when we meet Him face-to-face, He alone will assess the outflow of our lives as either good or bad.

Invisible to the natural eye, tiny but deadly spiritual fungus spores float around us. We, too, must carefully keep watch over the garden of our lives so that we may correct anything potentially damaging to God’s good intention for us.

Many invasive things attempt to rob us of fruit. Upon closer look, we may find critical judgments, pride, slothfulness, selfishness, or even a passive acceptance of thoughts and attitudes contrary to God. Whether our spiritual be’ushim is long or short, the implications of such invasion loom large.

For Us All

Jesus repeated Isaiah’s parable in Matthew 21, to remind His listeners, then and now, of potential harm.

Fungus can live in the soil for generations but, praise be to God, so does good seed. Life is like a garden — a garden that will produce eternal benefits as we cooperate with the Holy Spirit, tending it with daily consistency.

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First Corinthians 13 —The Way of Love

What is the way of love? How do we truly love? By asking God these questions and seeking to understand love, we will continue to form a lifestyle of love.

And yet, I know I fall so far short of truly loving the people I am in contact with. Last night I fell asleep with these swirling thoughts and awoke this morning pondering them again. First Corinthians 13 echoed in my heart, reminding me that though faith, hope, and love eternally remain, the way of love is the greatest of all three.

Today instead of personal thoughts or perspectives, I offer you the pure word of God which speaks clearer than any words of my own. May the Holy Spirit highlight the portions that soothe your spirit, calm your concerns, and echo living hope to you.

I have chosen The Message Bible1 (perhaps a less common version) so that His voice would speak in a fresh tone and resonate to us in a new way.

First Corinthians 13

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere.”
First Corinthians 13:1-3


“So, no matter what I say,

what I believe,

and what I do,

I’m bankrupt without love.”

Love In Motion

“Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut.
Doesn’t have a swelled head.
Doesn’t force itself on others.
Isn’t always, “me first.”
Doesn’t fly off the handle.
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others.
Doesn’t revel when others grovel.
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth.
Puts up with anything.
Trusts God always.
Always looks for the best.
Never looks back.
But keeps going to the end.”
First Corinthians 13:4-7

Eternal Love

“Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled. When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like an infant. When I grew up, I left those infants ways for good. We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!”
First Corinthians 13:8-12


But for right now,
until that completeness,

we have three things to do …

trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly.

And the best of the three is love.”

Such perfect love we find only in and through God. Rather than seeing our failures as a source of shame, the imperfection of our love drives us continually toward His grace, leading us to love Him, ourselves, and others in life-giving ways. May we all carefully consider His Word and grow in the way of love — God’s love!

  1. The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson ↩︎

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Psalm 90 — The Work of our Hands

At every stage of our lives, the work of our hands significantly impacts both this earthly realm we now occupy and the eternal one to come. Psalm 90 encourages us to continue with our efforts — large and small.

Several years ago, I retired from occupational employment and re-positioned myself into the full-time ministry of writing, artistry, and raising up faith-filled believers in God. The value of the work of our hands does not equate to the size of our paycheck at the end of each month. What we do carries eternal impact in the lives of many others. Only eternity will reveal the true merit of our efforts.

In reading Psalm 90, I find perspective to the ups and downs, and the successes and failures of life.

“Teach us to realize the brevity of life so that we may grow in wisdom.”
Psalm 90:12

Wisdom

Another version says, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Of course, only God knows how many days we have been granted. Sadly, I have heard people say at the end of their life, “I thought I would have more time.” More time? For what? To do the things we knew to do earlier but didn’t do? For another chance to live better?

May we learn to appreciate and make the best of our days. May we have godly wisdom to realize this moment only comes once. We aren’t promised this opportunity tomorrow. Life is short — very short. Eternity is long — very long. With wisdom, may we live fully and love wholly, without regret and with eternity in focus.

Often, how we begin our day sets the trajectory for the rest of it.

“Satisfy us each morning with your unfailing love, so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives.”
Psalm 90:14

If we awake each morning with a sense of gratitude, thankfulness forms the climate of the day. The psalmist had already learned that a thankful attitude comes not from circumstances but the “unfailing love” of God. When we are grounded and rooted in His love, the decision to choose joy comes much more easily.

The psalmist considers the shortness of his life on earth. He wants to finish well — settled and secure in God’s love.

Request

Under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Moses wrote the words of Psalm 90. We gain a further glimpse into his heart in the next couple verses as he prays.

“Give us gladness in proportion to our former misery! Replace the evil years with good. Let us, your servants, see you work again; let our children see your glory.”
Psalm 90:15-16

When we remember Moses, we often think of his great exploits in facing pharaoh and leading Israel out of Egypt. Or we remember him speaking face-to-face with God until God’s glory had settled on him.

But how quickly we forget about the Moses who was ripped from his family as a toddler and taught to worship every god but God. We forget about the Moses who fled for his life and spent forty years in the backside of a desert. Did Moses know misery? Absolutely! Had he experienced many evil years? Most certainly! But all those years of misery drew Moses into an unshakeable relationship with God which grounded him for whatever may come.

So as Moses considers the shortness of his life on earth, he asks God for one thing — that he might finish well.

The Work of our Hands

“May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us — yes, establish the work of our hands.”
Psalm 90:17 NIV

Jesus taught his disciples that without Him they could do nothing (John 15:5). Neither could Moses. And neither can we. But when the favor of God — His grace and delight — rests on us, everything changes. Then, He establishes the work of our hands.

Wisdom displays itself through “the work of our hands.” Wisdom determines how we spend our time and where we focus our energy. The New Living Translation says, “make our efforts successful. Yes, make our efforts successful.”

I don’t know about you, but I can be full of good intentions. But God never promises to bless our good intentions. He never promises to make our good intentions successful. It is only the work of our hands — that collaboration between wisdom, prayer, and effort — that He blesses, establishes, and makes successful.

Prayer

Father, by Your grace, may all our good intentions transfer into the purposeful work of our hands — a work that focuses on You and others. Whether we are stay-at-home mothers or airplane pilots, may we number our days with wisdom. Whether we are young with our lives ahead of us or grey hair and wrinkles mark the end of our days, may we live with eternity in mind. Give us the single-hearted assurance of Your unfailing love and the deep-seated joy to live each day to the fullest. Though our efforts may feel weak and insignificant, breathe life upon them. May the work of our hands create a long-lasting impact in the lives of others. Lord Jesus, it is only through You and by You that we can and will make a difference in our world and for eternity. So today, we commit to You the work of our hands.

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Self-Identification — Realigning to our God Identity

Biblically, self-identification comes through realigning to our God identity and coming into agreement with what He says is true about us.

While the western world has perhaps created confusion around self-identification, the concept of recognizing and acknowledging who we are goes beyond the realms of governments and social correctness. How we view ourselves and who we verbally declare ourselves to be forms the grid upon which we make life choices and decisions.

The Bible offers a clear view of who God declares us to be in Christ. Adopting His viewpoint becomes pivotal to our success and reaching our full potential.

I constantly remind myself of these basic principles, introducing them to the people I mentor. I ask them to daily repeat (out loud) God’s identifying truth for several weeks to solidify them in their hearts and minds.

The first step to realigning to our God identity begins as we experience His love for and acceptance of us — welcoming us into a personal and ongoing relationship with Himself. From that beginning, God calls us to steward His truth. This includes His truth about ourselves.

If we don’t allow God to “label” us, the world will.

Set your mind and keep focused habitually on the things above [the heavenly things], not on things that are on the earth [which have only temporal value].”
Colossians 3:2 AMP

Our words repeat heavenly realities, and our lives reflect our beliefs.

Who I Am

Realigning to our God identity falls under three main categories: who God says I am, what God says I can do, and what He says I can have. I don’t believe in a “name-it-and-claim-it” philosophy, but I do believe God’s Word to be infallibly true. As a result, whatever He says I believe.

That faith-hold on His Word comes by hearing it again and again. Just as an abused child believes their worthlessness through repeated actions and verbal declarations, the reverse holds true. The lies and judgments we have heard and come to believe break away as we steward God’s truth over ourselves.

Though this list is far from exhaustive, I include a few main points below.

I am

  • a Son (Daughter), a child of God and not an orphan (John 1:12)
  • God’s adopted child (Ephesians 1:5)
  • in Christ and He is in me (Ephesians 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:30)
  • holy and blameless through the finished work of Jesus on the cross (Ephesians 1:4)
  • a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20)
  • secure in my relationship with God (John 10:28-29)
  • fearfully and wonderfully made by God (Psalm 139:14)
  • a friend of Jesus (John 15:15)
  • rooted and grounded in love (Ephesians 3:17)
  • chosen, holy, and dearly loved by God (Colossians 3:12)
  • more than a conqueror through Christ (Romans 8:37)
  • a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17)

What I Can Do

Everyone encounters discouragement and failure. We have given our best and somehow fallen short. However, God’s declaration over us destroys the twisted delusion of previous experience. Here is a snippet of what God says we can do.

I can

  • stand firm because God has anointed and stamped me with the seal of His love (2 Corinthians 1:21-22)
  • accomplish anything in cooperation with God — even the impossible (Mark 9:23)
  • grow and mature spiritually as God’s child (Ephesians 4:15)
  • understand what God’s will is for my life (Ephesians 5:17; Romans 12:2)
  • be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power (Ephesians 6:10)
  • approach God with confidence and freedom through Christ (Ephesians 3:12)
  • overcome any obstacle that stands in my way (Mark 11:23)
  • have the ability to create wealth and glorify God through it (Deuteronomy 8:18; Proverbs 8:17-21)
  • forgive others as Christ has forgiven me (Ephesians 4:32)
  • be kind and compassionate toward others (Ephesians 4:32)
  • choose to give thanks for everything (Ephesians 5:20)
  • stand firm in my faith clothed in God’s armor when troubles come (Ephesians 6:13)

What I Have

Every time we declare God’s truth over ourselves, we are realigning to our God identity. We fix our eyes on Him, while refusing to allow the past to define us. God points our gaze to the future and the fullness of our God-potential.

The Bible says a lot about who we are and what we can do in and through God’s abiding presence. But it also makes powerful declarations about what we have in Him.

I have

  • everything I need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3)
  • received God’s grace poured out on me (Ephesians 1:5-8)
  • a fruitful and productive life (John 15:1-5)
  • the spirit of power, love, and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7)
  • the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16)
  • an eternal hope through Christ (Ephesians 1:12)
  • everything I need according to God’s riches through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19)
  • a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11)
  • treasure and riches stored for me in secret places (Isaiah 45:3)
  • supernatural peace in Christ (Ephesians 2:14)
  • fresh opportunities and a new beginning in Christ (Isaiah 43:18-19)
  • unhindered access to the Father through Jesus (Ephesians 2:18)

Realignment

May we receive our true self-identification, receiving biblical truth and realigning to our God identity. For most of us, realignment comes as a life-long process, allowing what God says about us to become our standard.

As I walked through inner healing and the Steps to Freedom these truths began to develop strong roots in my life. Rather than a leap of faith, each truth grounded me in the soil of God’s love, allowing enduring growth and spiritual fruit.

May the same be true for you. May each truth become life-giving nourishment. And most of all, may what God says about us become our self-identification.

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