Five Ways God’s Love Changes You

Stress has a way of constantly creeping up on us. God's love can change that.

I’m an action oriented person. Give me a to-do list and I’ll tackle it until every item has a neat little check mark next to it.

So the idea of just sitting in silence and contemplating God’s love and nearness seems well–not very productive. How can stillness accomplish anything?

During one busy season of my life I decided to try a little experiment. During this period I had a to-do list the length of a football field. Just thinking about the list was caused a panicky feeling. So to keep stress from being a frequent visitor, I decided to set a timer to go off every hour. At the sound of the timer, I stopped what I was doing for a couple of minutes and contemplated God’s great love for me. Sometimes I listened to a favorite song about God’s love, sometimes I reviewed words of God’s love from Scripture, sometimes I just closed my eyes and remembered: Jesus loves me.

The results were astounding. My productivity increased with these breaks instead of decreased. Stress wasn’t looking over my shoulder every minute. I remembered I didn’t have to work alone–God was more than willing to work alongside.

This small act of basking God’s love made such a difference in my day, that I took a look in God’s Word to see what it says about the effects of Divine love. Here are 5 ways God’s love changes us.

  1. God’s love banishes fear. 1 John 4:18 says:  There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” I noticed that recalling God’s immense love for me chased away the fear of not being good enough. The fear of not pleasing people evaporated because, well, what did that matter if the King of the universe loved me?
  2. God’s love gives us strength against Satan’s attacks. Look at Psalm 59:10,17: “My God in his steadfast love will meet me; God will let me look in triumph on my enemies…O my Strength, I will sing praises to you, for you, O God, are my fortress, the God who shows me steadfast love.” We are safe in the fortress of the Redeemer’s love. God’s love gives us the strength to resist Satan’s arrows.
  3. God’s love helps us trust. Psalm 13:5 says, “But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.” It’s easy to trust someone who loves you unconditionally. When we think about God’s love our trust grows.
  4. God’s love leads us to contentment. One of my favorite verses is Psalm 90:14, “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.” When our hearts are filled with the beauty of God’s love, we are satisfied. Cravings of the world fade away.
  5. God’s love draws us to worship. King David wrote in Psalm 5:7, “But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house. I will bow down toward your holy temple in the fear of you.” When we contemplate God’s love for us, our hearts bow in worship. We enter God’s presence to praise Him for His priceless gifts.

Try my experiment. Set an alarm or timer to go off every hour. Stop for a moment. Close your eyes. Remember God’s love. Watch it change you.

Question: How has God’s love changed you?

When Your Part Seems Small: Playing in the Symphony of Life

If you are feeling unnoticed read why you are really indespensible.

Every so often I persuade my husband to attend a concert of classical music with me  A while ago we traveled into the city to hear the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

As soon as we found our seats, I knew something special was going to happen. On the stage, behind the chairs set up for the string section, sat six harps. I had never seen so many harps in one place! I could hardly wait to hear what fantastic part they would play in the opening music by Wagner.

But wait is what I did. The harpists sat for almost twenty minutes while the violinists and cellists moved their bows over their strings, while the flautists and oboists blew their horns, while the percussionists banged drums and clashed cymbals.

Finally, at the end of the Wagner pieces, the harpists pulled their harps toward their shoulders and began to pluck strings. But still I could barely hear them because, as they were plucking, drums were pounding, trumpets were blowing.

I wondered if the harpists were disappointed that they didn’t have a bigger part to play in the performance.

Truth be told, I sometimes feel like those harpists.

In the performance of life, it often seems like I do more waiting than performing. And when my time comes to play, hardly anyone notices. I sometimes feel that in the grand symphony of life, the part I play is very small. I wonder if I can make any difference at all.

When I read 1 Corinthians I wonder if some of the people that the apostle Paul was writing to in Corinth were feeling the same way. Paul uses the analogy of the body and tells the Corinthians that as Christians we are all part of Christ’s body. Some of us are eyes, some are ears, some are hands. But we are all important.

In fact, he writes:

Those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.

(1 Corinthians 12:22)

When Wagner composed the piece for orchestra, he considered the harpists indispensable. Otherwise, he would not have included them. The timbre of the plucking strings was necessary for the sound he wanted to achieve. Though they waited a long to play and had a small part, the music would not have been the same without them.

Though we may wait for a long time to play our part, even though our part may seem small, it is crucial in God’s symphony of life. He made each of us for a specific purpose and role. He wants us to know our worth in His plan.

In God’s symphony of life, you are indispensable.

Question: How do you see your current role in God’s symphony of life? Waiting? Playing?

indispensable

How to Truly Love Yourself: The Four Degrees of Love

A crucial element in truly learning to love yourself is learning the four degrees of love.

I tend to have a love/hate relationship with myself. Maybe you can relate.

On days things are going smoothly, we are pleased. But on days we mess up we might be disappointed with our performance and even despise who we are.

Popular culture says some of the keys to loving ourselves are not expecting perfection from ourselves and not comparing ourselves to others.  Loving ourselves means learning to nurture ourselves and forgive ourselves. Listing our best qualities and practicing receiving love are keys to loving ourselves.

These are all useful tools. But I think one crucial element in truly loving yourself comes in learning the four degrees of love.

Recently I read a devotion by Bernard of Clairvaux.   A supervisor of a monastery in France, he lived from 1090 – 1153. His writings influenced Luther and many other Christians. His book On the Love of God outlines the four degrees of love.

1. The first degree of love–love of self for self’s sake. This is our selfish preoccupation with our own needs. It is a sort of natural love for ourselves, wanting everything to revolve around us. 1 Tim 3:2 talks about this kind of love, “For people will be lovers of self and [utterly] self-centered, lovers of money and aroused by an inordinate [greedy] desire for wealth, proud and arrogant and contemptuous boasters.” (Amplified Bible) It’s not a true love for ourselves, but a love for comfort and fame and attention for ourselves.

2. The second degree of love–love of God for self’s sake. When we can’t meet our own needs and experience a crisis, we crawl to God and beg Him for help. We love God for His blessings. We see this love in Psalm 116:1, “I love the Lord because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy.” This is not a bad love, but it is still a self-centered love.

3. The third degree of love–love of God for God’s sake. As we grow in faith, we grow to love God in a deeper way. We realize that He is more than a genie who solves our problems. Through worship, prayer, and time in His Word, we come to truly know God and love Him for who He is and not just for what He can give us. 1 Peter 1: 6, 8 describes this kind of love, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trialsThough you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.”

4. The fourth degree of love–love of self for God’s sake. Bernard explains that this love is experienced only fleetingly in this world. But when we experience a oneness with God and can pray from the heart, “Thy will be done,” we lose our self-preoccupation. We don’t dwell on our needs. That’s when we truly love ourselves.

I think that this love of ourselves for God’s sake only comes when we truly see ourselves as the forgiven, much-loved daughters of the King. We don’t love ourselves because we have performed well. We don’t love ourselves because we deserve love. We love ourselves because we see ourselves through God’s eyes. Because of Jesus, He sees us redeemed and righteous. He calls us precious and honored and loved (Isaiah 43:4).  1 John 5:19 says, “We love because He first loved us.” It is only because of Christ’s love that we can love ourselves or others.

I love the words of 1 John 4:16.

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.

Rely on the love God has for you. That’s when you can truly love yourself. That’s when you can truly love others.

1 John 4-16

God’s Love Letter to You

God's love letter to you. Click here to discover His relentless love.

The Bible isn’t always an easy book to read. At times it seems like a long list of dos and don’ts. Sometimes it reads like a rather dry history book. Some parts read like a racy novel. Other chapters seem like an action movie with plenty of violence.

So when you hear that God’s Word is His love letter to you, you might raise an eyebrow or stifle a laugh.

But it’s true. All the way through God’s Word He has woven His theme of love.  Take a look at the book of 1 Kings which is full of tales of unfaithful rulers and tyrants. Even there in 1 Kings 8:23 we find:

O God, God of Israel, there is no God like you in the skies above or on the earth below who unswervingly keeps covenant with his servants and relentlessly loves them as they sincerely live in obedience to your way.

There is no God like ours who relentlessly loves.

Who continually treasures us.

Who constantly pursues our hearts.

Take a minute and let that settle into your heart.

Breathe in and allow that truth to seep into your soul.

God relentlessly loves you. He will never stop. There is nothing you can do that will change His constant, persistent, unchanging, unyielding, unfailing love. You can mess up and He will be there with arms open. You can fall down and Jesus will gently pick you up. You can be too busy to notice the Father’s loving care, but even then He will be there right beside you ready to hold your hand.

This week in your Bible reading, look for reminders of the Savior’s love. Read God’s love letter to you and find evidence of His care in every book in the Bible.

Our God relentlessly loves.

relentlessly loves

Question: How does contemplating God’s relentless love change your day?

Once Upon A Time

 

OnceUponATimeincourage.me

Once upon a time.

We all love those words. Those words promise a love story and we all long for romance.

Truth be told, I yearn to live a Cinderella story. I secretly hope someone will come and whisk me away from the ashes – from my humdrum life. I picture my dowdy clothes being changed into a beautiful gown. I imagine the prince choosing – me.

But that kind of thing only happens in fairy tales. Right?

Actually, God has been reminding me that I am smack dab in the middle of a breathtaking, astonishing love story right now. His Word is the crazy tale of a Prince who proved His love by giving up His cushy life in heaven, living on this dusty earth, and dying so that I could be with Him forever. Jesus chose me to be His bride. His grace – like the fairy godmother – transforms me, giving me a perfect gown of righteousness.

The problem is that I don’t always live like the princess I am.

Continue reading over at incourage.me

Finding Your True Self

true self

Finding your true self–it’s a quest we are all on.

Because too often we live in a disguise.

Did you put on your funny self today to hide the pain in your heart? Did you dress up in the competent, confident self even though you feel like a failure? Are you wearing the bubbling, outgoing self to cover up the loneliness inside?

We’ve all been there.

We don’t think anyone will love the real person inside and so we cover up the authentic self with a closet full of disguises. Or we’ve neglected the true self for so long we aren’t even sure who that is anymore.

God is in the business of resurrecting our true selves. We can find that authentic person when we believe that God truly loves us as we are. Not the disguise. Not the mask. He loves our authentic self.

Now, finding that authentic self sometimes requires a bit of discomfort as Jesus peels away the masks we have been wearing. Jesus said:

Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for? Matthew 16:26 (MSG)

Self-sacrifice sounds painful. But don’t worry–Jesus work is gentle. Even as He asks us to give up one of our false identities, He fills us with His love and grace. And when we do make that sacrifice, we often feel a sense of relief. Release in not trying to be someone we are not.

Today ask God to reveal to you any masks you have been wearing.

Feel the freedom of being your true self as you allow Him to peel the mask away.

Remember Christ loves the real you.

Question: What masks are you sometimes tempted to wear?

 

The Number One Obstacle to Your Spiritual Growth

numberOneObstacle

Obstacles to spiritual growth?

You can probably name a few:

  • not enough time in God’s Word
  • lackluster prayer life
  • wishy-washy commitment

Or maybe you would cite:

  • inconsistent church attendance
  • inattention to Scripture memory
  • not enough time spent serving God

Of course I would agree. We all need to spend time in Scripture and prayer to grow in Christ. We need the support of our brothers and sisters in Christ to keep the faith. We need God’s Word in our hearts to combat the lies of Satan.

 

But the number one obstacle to your spiritual growth is:

doubting God’s love for you

Read Brennan Mannings words from The Ragamuggin Gospel:

“Do you really accept the message that God is head over heels in love with you? I believe that this question is at the core of our ability to mature and grow spiritually. If in our hearts we really don’t believe that God loves us as we are, if we are still tainted by the lie that we can do something to make God love us more, we are rejecting the message of the cross.” (The Ragamuffin Gospel, p. 159)

Maybe you’re like me–you’ve sung “Jesus Loves Me” since you were a little kid. You’ve heard “God loves you” a million times. And so of course you know God loves you.

But do you live like you know that in the depths of your soul?

I ask because I recently discovered a part of me that didn’t totally grasp onto that truth. I realized that deep down I don’t really believe that I have worth apart from my accomplishments. Perhaps it is because of our society’s emphasis on performance. Maybe it’s because that is how I have always earned favorable attention–through accomplishment.

So even though my head knows my worth is in being a dearly loved child of God and not in accomplishment and success, I see now that my heart hasn’t quite grasped that truth.

To counteract this faulty area in my heart, I am grasping onto God’s truth. I am memorizing some of God’s words of love.

I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with lovingkindness. Jeremiah 31:3

The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing. Zephaniah 3:17

You are precious in My eyes, and honored, and I love you. Isaiah 43:4

Believe that God is head over heels in love with you. Live the truth that there is nothing you could do that would make Him love you more.

Question: What is your favorite verse about God’s love?

Jer 31-3

Freedom from the Tyranny of People-Pleasing: 3 Steps to Live Free

freedomTomorrow is the Fourth of July–a day of celebration in our country. A time to celebrate the freedom we enjoy in America. A time to be thankful for the fact that we still have the freedom to worship God.

With all the emphasis on freedom during the days ahead, it made me realize that even though God has given me freedom, I don’t always live as if I am free. I get tangled up in the chains of ambition and people-pleasing. Although I am free in Christ, I sometimes willingly step into shackles that prevent from living in that freedom.

It seems like this is nothing new. When the apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians, he said,

So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law. (Galatians 5:1)

The Galatians had experienced the freedom of salvation in Christ–the joyous freedom that comes when we realize that there is nothing we can do to earn salvation. There is nothing we can do to make God love us more. Christ has already done everything necessary.

But they had been convinced by other people that they needed to follow some of the old laws, such as circumcision. They were willingly stepping into the shackles of trying to please other people by doing things God had told them they didn’t need to do.

And when I read this passage again, I realized that, in a way, I had done the same thing. Lofty ambitions, avid goals, and the desire to do what the “experts” tell me I need to do, have chained me to an unrealistic work pattern. I have probably been trying to do more than God has asked me to do–more than I was meant to do.

Sisters in Christ, I hope that you have not been shackled to people pleasing and working beyond what Christ has asked of you. But if you have, here a few steps you can take to break free of the chains.

  1. Write down everything that you do during a normal week and everything you feel you “should” be doing. Include everything from cooking meals and laundry to driving kids to school and organizing play dates.
  2. Take your long list into God’s presence and mentally lay it at His feet. Pray over each item. Ask yourself questions like: Is this activity necessary? Is there a simpler way to do this chore? Why am I choosing this activity–is it because God asked me to do it or I am doing this simply to impress the neighbors or please other people?
  3. Eliminate the activities that God asks you to purge from your calendar. Find simpler, less stressful ways to accomplish some of your chores. Do what God is calling you to do–but not more.

Experience the freedom of doing what God has asked you to do. Live free.

How have you sometimes been chained to people-pleasing?

 

The One Mirror Where You Will Always Look Beautiful

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“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” Do you remember those words spoken by the evil queen in the Snow White fairy tale? Every time the queen approached the mirror, she fully expected the mirror to reply, “You, O queen, are the fairest of them all.” And watch out if this wasn’t the answer she received! If the mirror mentioned anyone else, the poor girl was quickly done away with so the next day the queen could receive the reply she wanted from her mirror.

Who wouldn’t want a mirror that gave a daily dose of compliments? We all long to be attractive and sought after. We all want to be told that we’re beautiful.

The bathroom mirror might not always give us the answer we want when we ask ourselves the question, “Am I beautiful?” After all, bad hair days, bad skin days, bad everything days happen now and then.

But there is a mirror that will always tell us we are beautiful—in Christ. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, we always look lovely in God’s looking glass. Our heavenly Father sees us not as we are with our mammoth mistakes, our messy sins, our major bedhead. He sees us as we will be—perfect.

The Bible tells us:

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

In God’s eyes we’re already beautiful because He sees us dressed in the robes of Christ’s purity. He watches your makeover progress, but at the same time sees you in your final photo shoot. God can already envision the reveal.

When we have trouble seeing past the flawed image in our bathroom mirror, we need to look at God’s mirror—His Word. In it God tells us over and over how much He loves us. When media, self-doubt, or even my friends leave me feeling unloved and unlovely, I can look in God’s miraculous mirror to see who I am in His eyes.

Here is how God sees you! Gods mirror 3

You can download and print this poster in a 5X7 or 8X10 size for yourself.

Find God’s Mirror here.

 

 

Divine Makeover001

This post was adapted from my new book for teens and young women:

Divine Makeover: God Makes You Beautiful.

Perhaps you have been looking for a resource for your youth group or a study to do with your daughter. Or maybe you need a confirmation or graduation gift for a lovely young woman.

Check out Divine Makeover at CPH and Amazon.

When Your Soul Doubts Its Worth

One of my favorite “jobs” of the Christmas season is to get out all of the Christmas decorations and put up the Christmas tree. I drag up all the boxes from the basement, assemble the Christmas tree, gently unwrap each ornament and hang it on a branch–all while listening to my favorite Christmas CDs.

This year while I was wrapping lights around the tree, one little lyric from the beloved carol, “O Holy Night” suddenly struck me as if I had heard it for the first time:

“Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.”

The soul felt its worth.

Do you feel valuable?
Precious?
Do you feel you are worth something?
Anything?

In his book, Fearless, Max Lucado says that one of mankind’s greatest fear is the the fear of not mattering. Friends forget to call–we wonder, do they care? We shuffle through crowds looking for Christmas presents–we feel like one of a herd. Among a world population of 7 billion, does one puny life make any difference at all?

Thankfully, the truth of Christmas is that you do matter. You are especially important to God. You matter so much that Jesus left the comfort and splendor of heaven to be born to a poor Galilean couple. He loved you enough to lie on a bed of straw. He cared enough for you to experience hunger, thirst, and even damp swaddling clothes.

He came to this world because of all our “sin and error.” He came to redeem us so that each one of us could live with Him forever if we believe in His saving work on the cross.

This Christmas, if while pushing through crowds you begin to wonder if you matter at all, remember that you are valuable in God’s eyes. He tells you in His Word:

“You are precious in My eyes and honored, and I love you.”
Isaiah 43:4

When I reread those words, my fear of not mattering melted, and

“the soul felt its worth.”

Question: Where do you turn when you doubt your worth?