Avoid Distractions to Focus Our Attention — Devotion

Avoid Distractions to Focus Our Attention — Devotion

Our traffic laws forbid distractions while driving, Vehicles may quickly become lethal weapons under the control of distracted drivers. Distractions intrude from every angle, dividing our attention. For the most part the consequences of such interruptions are minor, but not always.

A couple weeks ago, one appointment ran into another with only a small break to run errands before the next meeting. My phone vibrated with yet another message just as I was entering the elevator to go to our fourth-floor condo. I pressed the elevator button while responding to the text. When the door opened, I followed the hallway around the corner, while simultaneously retrieving my keys and responding to the test message. At “my” door, I was surprised when the key refused to fit the lock. Looking up, I was horrified to realize I was on the wrong floor, attempting to open someone else’s door. Yikes!!! I quickly turned back to escape notice and embarrassment, correcting my steps. Distractions had led me down the wrong path, to the wrong door!

Later, I admitted my error to my adult children. “Mom, forget about distracted driving,” they laughed, “you can’t even do distracted walking!” They are right.

It is no wonder God calls us away from double-mindedness and into undivided loyalty.

 “But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.”
James 1:6-8

Divided Hearts and Minds

The word for divided loyalty or double-mindedness, in Greek dipsychos, means to have “two souls, or two selves, to be wavering, two-spirited, or vacillating.

At times, we all waver between opinions and struggle to choose the best option. Usually, like my walking while texting experience, the consequences are minor. But at other times, such distractions result in something much more serious.

Psalm 12:2 tells us that “double-talk” flows from a “double heart.” Many relationships have been irreparably damaged by flattery and double talk. Double minds and double talk will always lead to trouble.

““These people make a big show of saying the right thing, but their hearts aren’t in it. Because they act like they’re worshiping me but don’t mean it, I’m going to step in and shock them awake, astonish them, stand them on their ears. The wise ones who had it all figured out will be exposed as fools. The smart people who thought they knew everything will turn out to know nothing.”
Isaiah 29:13-14 MSG

In the New Testament, Paul advised Timothy to choose leadership who were not “double-tongued” (1 Timothy 3:8).

Distractions

Distractions of texting while walking caused me nothing more than embarrassment, inconvenience, and a waste valuable time. I recently read that people check their cell phones between 100-150 times a day. If each distraction averaged only one minute, that totals a staggering two hours of interruptions daily.

Long before the invention of cell phones, people were prone to distraction — especially the distraction from focused attention and devotion to God.

“Elijah came near to all the people and said, ‘How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.’ But the people did not answer him a word.”
1 Kings 18:21

The divided focus of Elijah’s day included the worship of many other gods. Today perhaps, it is different things that draw us away from worshiping God with all our hearts. The distraction by many things takes various forms. Elijah asked, “How long will you hesitate…?” Every distraction creates a hesitation. We, like they, can’t find a reasonable excuse..

Do you feel the pull of distractions as much as I do?

When I go to pray — distractions! As I try to focus and read the Bible — more distractions! When I plan to serve God with my whole heart — even more distractions!

Throughout the ages, the battle for whole-hearted devotion with undivided hearts has remained the same.

Focused Love and Devotion

God knows and understands our struggle better than we do. He knows the enemy who tries to keep us from focused love and devotion to God. It’s a battle we will win by intentionally drawing close to God.

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you.”
James 4:7

As we acknowledge our weakness to the lure of distractions and seek God, He immediately comes to our rescue.

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”
James 4:10

God was teaching me a far greater lesson through my distracted walking. He doesn’t want me, or anyone else, to follow the wrong path and end up at the wrong eternal door. By avoiding distractions, we will each accomplish our full potential and reach our intended destination. May we not stand before Him speechless, but may He receive our full attention and undivided devotion.

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Mistakes Eat at Us: Dealing with our Faults and Flaws

MaryAnn Ward - Blog - Faults, Flaws, and Mistakes

We all make mistakes. By ignoring and internalizing them, these faults, flaws, and mistakes eat at us from the inside out.

Today, I made a fresh batch of breakfast muffins, but I didn’t add quite enough butter to the mix. The first batch revealed my error, but after adding a bit more, the second lot baked to perfection. Either way, I will still eat my mistakes.

We all make mistakes every day — some (like my baking) are inconsequential but others are far more damaging. We don’t always do good, and we know it.

Last night as I prayed, I remembered the first two kings of Israel. They both had faults and flaws. Their different patterns of dealing with those mistakes caused me to consider the two paths mistakes may lead us.

The Path of Saul

One of the first and perhaps most revealing indicators of Saul’s character comes at his inauguration as king.

“So they asked the Lord, ‘Where is he?’ And the Lord replied, “He is hiding among the baggage.‘”
1 Samuel 10:22

Hiding among the baggage of life always causes our mistakes to eat at us. We all tend to wander down the Saul path of dealing with our faults and failures. We:

  • Self-protect, justifying oneself for poor behavior, which leads to strained relationships (1 Samuel 13:8-13; 15:9, 15, 20-24, 30).
  • Externalize, blaming others to protect fragile our egos and deny personal responsibility (1 Samuel 15:16-23; 19:9-17; 20:30).
  • Become jealous and controlling to prove our own worth, which only leads to more anxiety and irritability (1 Samuel 18:7-9).
  • Internalize through negative self-talk plagued with guilt and shame (1 Samuel 16:14).
  • Withdraw from matters of faith and publicly disobeying God (1 Samuel 13 & 15)

Though remorseful, Saul refused to turn to God in repentance. Sadly, the freedom God provided remained out of his reach. Instead of being victorious, he remained dark, moody, and sullen, until he ultimately took his own life (1 Samuel 31).

“But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people because you have not kept the LORD’s command.”
1 Samuel 13:14

The Path of David

Through a quick comparison of the faults and failures of these two kings, we could easily assume that David’s adulterous affair far surpassed any crime Saul committed. But David didn’t respond like Saul. He acknowledged his weaknesses and understood the key principles to effectively deal with his faults and flaws.

  • From young shepherd to an aged king, David put God first, developing a heart of worship (1 Samuel 16:18-23; Psalm 63:1-5; 2 Samuel 6:12-15)
  • He valued spiritual leadership and sought godly counsel and direction (1 Samuel 23:1-3, 4-5, 12-14; 30:8-9: 2 Samuel 2:1-2; 5:17-21, 22-25; 21:1).
  • He honored even corrupt political leaders (1 Samuel 24 & 26)
  • He was quick to repent and fully turn back to God (2 Samuel 12:13; Psalm 51)

David did not allow remorse to shackle him. He pushed past ego and pride, humbling himself before God and those he sinned against. By valuing his relationship with God and others, David earned the title of a man after God’s own heart.

“…acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever….”
1 Chronicles 28:9

The Godly Path of God

David demonstrated the path of God for us. But talk comes easy; doing comes hard.

Without godly counsel and accountability David may never have confronted his sin patterns. In a safe and productive way, Godly counsel freed him to acknowledge and leave his baggage behind.

First Samuel 30:6-8 tells us that when David was in deep distress, he “encouraged himself in the Lord.” Not only did he submit to others, he also knew how to personally connect with God in a sustaining and life-giving way.

Though Saul often allowed “friends” to sway him, David consistently chose to obey God rather than the poor advice of his comrades to seek his own revenge (1 Samuel 24:4-9).

We are no longer talking about baking ingredients and muffins that don’t turn out quite right. The paths we take dictate life choices with far reaching consequences. Taking the God-path leads to turning our hearts fully to God and humbling ourselves before Him and others. Through seeking and honoring godly counsel, God gives us the capacity to leave our hiding places and dusty baggage. He gives us ample courage to face our responsibility regarding our mistakes, faults, and flaws, not in shame but as victorious overcomers.

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A Few Seconds Can Change a Life: Use Your Time Wisely

A Few Seconds Can Change a Life: Use Your Time Wisely

As I look back, I realize more than ever how often a few seconds can change a life. I am still learning the art of using my time wisely by valuing the days, moments, and even seconds God has given to me. The results, or fruit, of these moments become the seeds that influence many other moments of our lives.

I have often told others, “I can not afford to have one negative thought toward anyone.” Why? Because the thought I harbor will influence my actions, my actions will form patterns of behavior, and those patterns will ultimately dictate the course of my life.

Does this sound too dramatic or overstated? Perhaps, but not likely!

God continues to challenge me with the reality of making the most of this moment of time — to reevaluate and refocus.

Procrastination

Procrastination robs us of any future reward for present effort. It deceives us into believing we have unlimited time to do the things we know we should do, and to think the way we know we should think. In the deception, we are hindered from moving forward.

“I know I should forgive, but …” “I should invest in that relationship, but …” “I shouldn’t think this way, but …”

We muse, buried in excuses and self-absorption — unmoved and unchanged. It’s a sad representation of far too many lives.

In a Few Seconds

In a few seconds, we have the power to change both our thoughts and actions.

  • “There’s nothing I can do about it,” can become “I can’t do everything, but I can do something.”
  • “Someone else will do a better job of that,” can become “I may not be the best, but I can make a difference.”
  • “It’s not my problem,” can become “Whether I’m the source of the problem or not, I am responsible to do my part.”
  • “I tried, but nothing changed,” can become “This relationship means too much to quit now. I will do everything I can to bring change.”

These changes of attitude demonstrate single moment re-thinks capable of transforming the lives of more people than we realize. A few seconds can change a life. Even mine!

The Seeds of Change

What is it today? What is God asking us to do right now? Les Parrott speaks of six impulses that keep us from improving:

  • Giving up before trying … because we feel helpless.
  • Shunning a challenge … because it seems daunting.
  • Settling for the statue quo … because we lack vision.
  • Shirking responsibility … because its easier to shift blame.
  • Doing the bare minimum … because that is all that’s expected.
  • Avoiding taking action … because we fear failure.

We don’t need to lose momentum, robbed of time and opportunity. By God’s grace, we can move beyond limitations into a lifestyle of wise time management. A few seconds can change a life!

May we be bold, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal any areas which are keeping us from living to our full potential. We have all faced similar challenges.

Truth to Hold on To

Instead of focusing on the problem, God offers us living truth:

  • We are not helpless!

 “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness…”
Romans 8:26

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Philippians 4:13

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

For we are each responsible for our own conduct.
Galatians 6:5

  • I will do my best in every situation.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Colossians 3:23-24

  • God defines me, not failure!

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”
2 Timothy 1:7

A Few Seconds Can Change a Life

Let’s take a few seconds to consider these truths God declares about us — seconds that may change our lives. Hopefully, these seeds of change will produce the fruit of change in others.

“Lord Jesus, show me the paralysing lies that keep me from transformational change. May the truth You declare about me become stronger than the belief systems that have bound me. May I use the time You have given me wisely, bringing life, love, and hope to others. May I accomplish the full purpose and design You have declared for me. Today, Lord, I turn from wasted moments. I know that what You have ahead of me is greater than I can imagine. Thank You, Jesus. Amen.”

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5 Unbeatable Exchanges Nobody Wants to Miss

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.

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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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4 Promises from Psalm 34 — Tell of the Lord’s Greatness

MaryAnn Ward, Blog, Tell of the Lord's Greatness, Psalm 34

Those who love God have one common goal, desire, and purpose — to tell of the Lord’s greatness through our words and actions. The pre-empt to Psalm 34 tells us a lot, “A psalm of David, regarding the time he pretended to be insane in front of Abimelech, who sent him away.”

Though everyone experiences difficult times, few people relate to the desperate situation David encountered. Escaping to enemy territory to seek protection, his only means of survival was to fake insanity. But even then, David’s consistent pattern of worshiping God grounded and sustained him.

I will praise the Lord at all times. I will constantly speak his praises. I will boast only in the Lord; let all who are helpless take heart. Come, let us tell of the Lord’s greatness; let us exalt his name together.
Psalm 34:1-3

Whether on the hillside watching over sheep, playing his harp before a crazed king, or on the battlefield, David discovered the open door to God’s blessing through praise and worship. He would not allow his circumstances to control him. Ironically, God often reveals the richness of His goodness most clearly in desperate seasons.

MaryAnn Ward, Blog, Evangelism

Free from Fear

David exhibited one response to trouble. He “sought” the Lord. The Hebrew word translated as “sought” means to tread, frequent, follow, seek, ask, and worship. We find the fullness of this comprehensive seeking through a personal relationship with God, following His ways and engaging in worship.

I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears. Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken their faces. In my desperation I prayed, and the Lord listened; he saved me from all my troubles.
Psalm 34:4-6

Even as fear taunted and troubles tormented, David chose to tell of the Lord’s greatness. As a result, He experienced God’s promises.

“For the angel of the Lord is a guard; he surrounds and defends all who fear him.”
Psalm 34:7

David discovered the protection and defense found in God alone.

MaryAnn Ward, Blog Post

Lack No Good Thing

We may be tempted to praise God only when times are good but doubt Him during struggle. David recognized the goodness of God while in enemy territory — escaping death moment-by-moment.

“Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him! Fear the Lord, you his godly people, for those who fear him will have all they need. Even strong young lions sometimes go hungry, but those who trust in the Lord will lack no good thing.”
Psalm 34:9-10

Here we find the second promise in Psalm 34 — having all we need and lacking no good thing. Without knowing where he would sleep that night or if there would be food that day, David looked to God as his only source and resource. God never failed him; He proved Himself faithful.

MaryAnn Ward, Abundance

The Lord is Close

Before I knew the Lord, I doubted His existence. I could only imagine Him as distant, looking down upon earthlings with judgment. But then I discovered that He is intimately close — even residing within us and watching over us.

The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.
The righteous person faces many troubles, but the Lord comes to the rescue each time.”

Psalm 34:17-19

As a Father watches over His children, He comes close to rescue and deliver us. His ears are tuned to our cries for help. He knows the many troubles we face and comes to our rescue. How amazing!

MaryAnn Ward, Blog, Rescue

Free and Innocent

The final promise of Psalm 34 reaches beyond the here-and-now help God provides. He redeems all those who serve and trust Him.

“But the Lord will redeem those who serve him. No one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.”
Psalm 34:22

The Passion Translation says, “He will declare them free and innocent when they turn to hide themselves in him.” If we assumed such things, it would be heresy! But when God declares them over us, what joy!

We daily discover endless reasons to tell of the Lord’s greatness. Like David, may we seek the Lord — doing life with Him, following His ways, praying and worshiping Him. May His praise flood from grateful hearts in unhindered praise.

MaryAnn Ward, Blog, Innocent

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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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