Monday, January 16, 2017

Hope In the Face of Loneliness

Turn to me
 and be
 gracious to me,
 for I am
 lonely and afflicted.

 Psalm 25:16

Earlier, as I sat down to write, I heard a terrible squawking coming from our back deck. I immediately recognized the sound—a baby bird caught by a kitty. I rushed to the door. One yellow and white kitten and one baby male cardinal, just testing his wings, wrestled as several kittens looked on. I rescued the bird hoping he would survive. After several attempts to save him from certain death, the trauma became too much for him. I did not see any physical wounds. I think his little heart just gave out from the struggle.

Although I understand that it is critters doing what comes naturally, it always reminds me that too often people are treated like that poor cardinal. Picked on. Harassed. Afflicted. Left alone to survive the traumas foisted upon them by life’s circumstances; allowing loneliness to creep in and fill the cracks and crevices of a desolate, broken heart.

King David knew something about loneliness. Chased, hunted, slandered, and distressed on many occasions—some of his wounds were self-inflicted while others grew from the jealousy and rage of those who wanted him dead. Chosen by God and anointed king as a young boy, as a man, he ran for his life and hid in caves.[G1]  He lived a messy life. In Psalm 25:16 we read his cry to God, “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.”

The thing I love about King David is that no matter the cause of the mess, his own creation or an assault from another, he always knew where to run for help. Psalm 25 begins with these words, “In you, LORD my God, I put my trust.” He says it again in Psalm 86:4 and 143:8. When under attack and overwhelmed by loneliness, he knew that his hope lay in trusting God.

Loneliness arises from a myriad of situations. Friendlessness. Isolation. Estrangement. Seclusion. Companionlessness. Desertion. Abandonment. Death. These are only a few of the many causes of loneliness. You and I can be alone without being lonely—or in a crowded room and yet feel completely isolated from others.

Loneliness can happen when you feel deserted, disconnected, devoid of physical or emotional support from those you love. Emotional hurt or betrayal might cause you to withdraw from your network of family and friends, to build an imaginary wall around your heart, to determine you will never again be hurt; the beginning of an emotional downward spiral that can leave you, and those who love you, drowning in a pool of loss and fear.   

If you find yourself in a season of loneliness, what can you do?

1.      Remember that God is with you
2.      Pray –  ask God for help
3.      Read God’s Word – filled with encouragement, strength, hope
4.      Reach out to others. This will allow you to begin taking the focus off yourself

In Psalm 25:16 we find King David asking God not only for emotional compassion but for action. He wanted God to do something; turn to me, look at me, give attention to me and be gracious—have mercy, take pity, be kind to me.

Loneliness is a pain like no other pain. My sister and I sat holding our mother’s hands as she dropped her earthly rags and put on her royal robes in heaven. At that moment, we looked at each other and simultaneously spoke, “We are orphans!” Although we were together, each of us had an immediate sense of loneliness. But in those moments, God reminded us that He cares, Jesus understands, and He is our hope in the face of loneliness.

If you are struggling with loneliness, it is my prayer that you will begin to look outside yourself. Reach up to God. Reach in to begin your healing. Reach out to others. Allow yourself to find hope in the face of loneliness.

© Joyce Powell

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Hope In the Face of Anxiety

Do not be anxious about anything,
but in everything,
by prayer and petition,
 with thanksgiving,
 present your requests to God.
 And the peace of God,
 which transcends all understanding,
 will guard your hearts and your minds
 in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

Early this morning my husband and I received an urgent phone call from our son. “I need you to pray NOW, Mom.” My heart sank as I put the phone on speaker so his dad could hear. Police. Student. Accusation. Information. Our children. The longer he spoke, the more anxious I became. He and a team of adults, students, and our grandchildren held a kid’s camp for a church several states away and were ready to start home when the trouble arose. “Please call your prayer warriors, gotta go, call later, bye!”

My husband and I immediately prayed then began petitioning others to pray urgently for God’s intervention. After an extremely long hour—it felt like three—and acknowledgment from a myriad of pray-ers confirming their petitions to God on behalf of the mission team, our son sent a text informing us they would soon start home although the situation was not yet fully resolved.

After praising and thanking God for His speedy answer and blessing, extending my gratitude to all who prayed, and deep breathing for a few moments, I sat down to write. My title and Scripture for this chapter, chosen weeks ago, reminded me once again of God’s perfect timing. There is Hope in the Face of Anxiety.

The Apostle Paul began Philippians 4:6 with these words, “Do not be anxious about anything…” I cannot honestly tell you that I earned an A on that portion of the test today. I definitely exhibited signs of concern and anxiety. But praise God for the remainder of that verse, “but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Can you imagine the seemingly impossible task of never being anxious about anything? So, what do we do with our anxious moments—times of stress—legitimate concerns?

o   Pray—Petition God. Make a request. Ask for help.
o   Be Thankful
o   Praise God

Turn your worry into prayer. Worry Less—Pray More! When you “present your requests to God,” be specific. Yes, He already knows, but remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Be persistent in your pursuit of God. Do not give up. He is not running from you. Psalm 139 tells us there is no place we can go where God is not already there. When anxiety makes your stomach roll and your knees weak, run to God, not from Him.

What will happen when you do that? Philippians 4:7 says, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” That is your hope in times of anxiety. God’s peace guarding your heart and mind! Shielding your heart from the enemy.

We have lots of cattle ranches in Texas. As you drive along the highways, you often find areas where there is no fence across a driveway to keep the cattle inside the ranch, but rather a series of metal tubes spaced a few inches apart and buried in the ground with only the top of the tubes showing. Cattle will not cross the cattle guards. I like to think of God’s peace doing the same thing for your heart and mine. Peace places a protective guard around your heart making it more difficult for satan’s fiery darts to penetrate.

So, the next time you face anxiety, remember the HOPE! Present your requests to God and allow His peace that—exceeds, surpasses, goes beyond—transcends all understanding to “guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” He is your hope in the face of anxiety.

© Joyce Powell

Friday, January 13, 2017

Hope In the Midst of Temptation

No temptation has overtaken you
 but such as is common to man;
 and God is faithful,
 who will not allow you to be tempted
 beyond what you are able,
 but with the temptation
 will provide the way of escape also,
 so that you will be
 able to endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:13 NASB

My parents often told me to be careful when choosing friends as you become like those with whom you spend a lot of time. As a child, I didn’t quite get it and thought it was just an old saying passed down through the generations of my Appalachian heritage. But at age thirteen I experienced the concept and the repercussions first hand.

I had a friend who was allowed to be sassy to her mother with no fear of disciplinary action. Since she lived directly across the street, we saw each other every day. We walked to and from the school bus stop together. We climbed trees together. We walked down the street to Lake Erie and swam together. We spent a lot of time together.

I remember well the day my mother told me to do something I did not want to do. I snapped back at her with an attitude that mirrored that of my good friend. My major miscalculation—daddy overheard! That was the last spanking I ever received. You see, we were never allowed to disrespect mother in our home—under any circumstances! But I succumbed to the temptation.

1 Corinthians 10:13 explains there is no such thing as a new temptation. Wrong desires and temptations happen to everyone. The author of Psalm 91 reminds us that the LORD will save us from the fowler’s snare. Like a hunter who baits a snare in order to catch a wild animal, our enemy sets a trap for us with temptations he hopes we cannot resist. The Greek word for tempted translated here into English means to try to trap. Satan sets a trap hoping that we will fail and sin. His motivation is to destroy; “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy…” (John 10:10)

When facing temptation, you may recall past failures, perhaps separation from loved ones, disappointment in yourself, or fear of repeating past behavior. But God has already prepared your way of escape, your way out, your exit from the time of temptation so you will be able to endure it, stand up under it, and bear up under it.

As recorded in Matthew 4, Jesus himself was tempted by satan. When He was hungry, satan offered Him a stone turned to bread. Standing on the highest point of the temple, satan tempted Him to prove He was God. Atop a high mountain, looking out over the kingdoms of the world, satan tempted Jesus to bow down and worship the evil one, and then he would give Jesus the world. But each time Christ answered, “It is written…”

So you see, being tempted does not mean you have already sinned but rather the enemy is trying to get you to sin. Your way of escape, endurance, bearing up under the temptation is the Word of God. John 1 tells us the Word was in the beginning, with God, and the Word was God. “Through Him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.’ (John 1:3)

How do you escape temptation? You go to the Word! Hebrews 4:12-13 is a reminder that God’s Word is alive, active in our lives, judging the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts. “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.” Verse 13.

So, trusting the Word of God is your hope in the midst of temptation. “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” Psalm 91:4.

© Joyce Powell

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Hope Renews My Strength

But those who
 hope in the LORD
 will renew their strength.
 They will soar on wings like eagles;
 they will run and not grow weary,
 they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:31
Hope encompasses most areas of life. Some days we simply hope the car will start, the check will come, or no one will buy the empty lot next door. On other days, we come across situations which cause us to urgently hope. A friend and I once came across a man clinging to life in our church parking lot. While she rushed inside to call 911, I stayed with him, my hand on his sweat-drenched back, praying and hoping the EMT’s would come quickly.

The EMT’s arrived, but only after Art’s heart stopped twice were they able to stabilize him and get him to the hospital. Over the years, that incident has reminded me of how important it is to allow my human weakness to be exchanged for God’s strength by placing my hope in Him.

Trusting in God and looking expectantly to Him “gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.” (Isaiah 40:29) On that day, and in that circumstance, my hope in Him exchanged my weakness for His strength, His power, His might, His ability to accomplish the task before me; saving Art Weir.

Isaiah 40:31 states that hope in the LORD not only renews your strength but allows you to “soar on wings like eagles.” 

Science tells us that Eagles have the ability to use the winds, even strong winds, and updrafts from the hills and mountains to help them gain altitude—allowing them to fly long distances while saving valuable energy. Hope in God acts in the same way for you and me. By waiting for, looking for, or expecting God to accomplish what is best for you, you can rise above the fray knowing He is your strength.

So the next time you are weary from running the race of life, or you have grown tired, exhausted, fainthearted from walking through the storms of life, remember the words of Hebrews 4:16, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Hope in the LORD. Allow Him to renew your strength. Walk, run, and soar through the storms of life as He exchanges your weakness for His strength.

Heavenly Father, Thank you for reminding me— my hope is in You. As I approach Your throne of grace with confidence, thank you for reminding me that You are my strength for the journey, my hope in the storm, my focus during trials and my assurance of renewal as I grow weary from the pilgrimage. LORD, give me the strength, Your strength, which will cause me to soar today. In Jesus Precious Name, Amen and Amen.

© Joyce Powell

Friday, December 30, 2016

A Heart Like His in 2017

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Psalm 139:23 NIV

I want to be a woman after God’s heart yet I often find myself in a struggle between my heart and His. Do you? I have been asking myself a lot of tough questions about knowing God, loving God and following the road signs and plan that He laid out for my life even before He formed me in my mother’s womb.

The Bible says that “as he (man) thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7 KJV) and that “out of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12:34 NIV) It also says that God knows “the secrets of the heart.” (Psalm 44:21 NIV)

Do you sometimes struggle to keep a pure heart? If you are like me, it is easy to be good at home. However, when I leave the driveway and pull onto the highway, it is often a different story as people push and shove their vehicles through traffic in a me first adventure.

Throughout the day our eyes and ears see and hear things that can make our hearts heavy. I find that if I am not careful, by the end of the day I am weighed down with a heart that is weary and joyless—my mouth speaking with the agitations and frustrations I have encountered. Surely I am not the only one.

Therefore, we must purposefully determine to think good thoughts, speak kind words, and willingly expose our heart’s secrets to God in prayer. We must choose good over evil, mercy over anger, and contentment over dissatisfaction. Some days the choice is easier than others, but it is always a choice.

Our Heavenly Father is loving, kind, generous, and faithful. If you and I want to be like Him, if we want to live with that determined purpose of fulfilling His plan for our life, if we want to leave a legacy—a road sign—that points people to Jesus, we must resolve to have a heart that reflects the heart of our Father. We must determine to have a Heart like His.

© Joyce Powell

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Consider It Pure Joy

Consider it pure joy, my brothers,
whenever you face trials of many kinds.
James 1:2 NIV

History recounts that in 47 AD, Emperor Claudius celebrated the 800th anniversary of the founding of the city of Rome. Records indicate that in 49 AD he passed an edict expelling all Jews from Rome, and in 50 AD he adopted Nero as his heir. During this period of constant change and turmoil in the Roman Empire, the first century church faced its own struggle—the merging of Jews and Gentiles.

The Jews believed that Gentile converts to the faith should be circumcised and follow the Mosaic Law. The Gentiles were not anxious to be entangled with all of the rules and regulations of Judaism—especially circumcision. (Acts 15:2-35) Conflict followed and a delegation led by the Apostle Paul was sent to Jerusalem. James, Jesus’ brother, was an influential leader in the Jerusalem church and after much discussion the conflict was resolved and a letter which included these words was sent to the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:

“You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.” Acts 15:29 NIV

It was around this time that James wrote to “the twelve tribes scattered among the nations…” I find it both interesting and timely that his first instruction to the church was “consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds…” That is a head scratcher! Joy and trials are not words we generally see in the same sentence. But here they are; written by a man who surely knew much about both.

Why did James say that, and how does that apply to you and me today? He continues by telling the Jewish Christians residing in Gentile communities that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. In James 1:12 we read, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”

James did not say if you face trials but rather when you face many kinds of trials. He is not writing to those early Christians to say when bad things happen just put on a smile and pretend to be happy. Instead he is encouraging the church to have a positive attitude in the midst of trials in order to profit or learn from the bad and use it for good. I suppose you could say it is the ancient version of, when life hands you a lemon—make lemonade.

It may seem easy to be a man or woman of faith when life is good and trusting God comes naturally. However, what we do with the trials of life that inevitably come to each of us is the true test of our character.

Little did James know that in a few short years Nero would become emperor of Rome, and the persecution of Christians would rise to a new level. But God knew, and through James He was sending a message to the early church to trust Him in the trials of life, to face those trials with the right attitude and to learn from the immediate in order to persevere through the trials on the horizon.

This message is as timely today as when James wrote it almost two thousand years ago. Trials will come. But we have been given the recipe for making it through the tough times. When life hands you a lemon, through faith in God make lemonade, and consider it pure joy.

© Joyce Powell

Saturday, December 17, 2016

My Christmas Prayer for America

He that dwelleth in the secret place

of the most High shall abide under
the shadow of the Almighty. I will
say of the LORD, He is my refuge
and my fortress: my God; in Him
will I trust.

Psalm 91:1-2

My Christmas prayer for our nation is that we would invite God back into the halls of our schools, the corridors and offices of our public buildings, the courtrooms and chambers of our judicial system, and the lawns of our public squares.

That will only happen as we invite Jesus to reside in our hearts and lives and surrender our will to the will of our Heavenly Father.

Please LORD, today, let it begin with me.

Have a blessed day, and don't forget to look up.

Merry Christmas friends.