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Jesus, Help!

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“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1, NIV

On October 19, 2020 around 7:15 a.m., it was dark and raining. I was driving on the highway listening to a podcast when my windshield wipers suddenly malfunctioned. The driver’s side wiper flew off and onto the road, and the other one stopped working altogether. One moment, I was in peace. The next, I was in a panic. There I was going between 60–70 mph, and I could not see a thing. The darkness, combined with the rain, prevented me from seeing the white lines on the road clearly.

“Jesus!” I screamed. “Help!”

I turned on my hazards and slowed down, inching over between the lights of other cars, praying that I would make it to safety. I finally got to a place on the freeway where it split, and I pulled between the two interstates, lacking confidence that I could make it all the way to the right shoulder.
Adrenaline pumping, I sighed. “Thank You, Jesus!”

I called for roadside assistance, then my husband and daughter. I also shared the experience with my prayer groups, expressing my gratitude for God’s protection, not only of me but also for others on the highway. I cried tears of joy and relief. My stomach was in knots. I was shaking, but I was safe.

There are so many things that this experience signifies to me. First, it’s a reminder of personal growth. I recall a time in my life when calling on the Name of Jesus would not have been my first choice of words. Oh, I would have had a four-letter expression of some kind, but I doubt that it would have been “help.” It’s amazing to reflect back on the old self and see God’s transformative power at work in your current life.

Second, the experience reminded me of how accessible God is via prayer. I didn’t have time for fancy words or a long introduction. He was present in my time of trouble and answered both my spoken and unspoken requests. That “help” encompassed a lot—help me make it to safety, help me not cause an accident, help calm my nerves, and more!

Third, it was an opportunity to praise Him. Sure, I could have been upset by the inconvenience of having to re-arrange my plans. After all, I had a ton of responsibilities for the week, and I’d outlined what I needed to do and when I’d planned to do it. However, I wasn’t the least bit upset. I was grateful for so many reasons. The situation could have been much worse, but it wasn’t. I got home safely, the wipers were fixed, and the next day I did all the errands I’d started the previous day.

The psalmist referred to God as a present help. Whether we need Him at the spur-of-the-moment or during a long, drawn-out trial, He is with us. I pray that You not only know that He is present, but that you feel His presence as well, and that it gives you comfort in whatever situations you may face.

Trusting God During a Pandemic

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“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal”—Isaiah 26:3–4, NIV

Trust . . .

Such a simple word packed with a lot of power.

One definition of trust on Merriam-Webster.com is “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.”

I’ve been meditating on that word a lot lately. Recent situations have caused me to reflect on whether my actions indicate that I trust God as much as I say I do.

I sometimes have a lot of anxiety when it comes to finances. It’s not because there’s a lack. We’re not rich by any means, but we are certainly not in want of anything. We have healthy accounts, great credit, and more than we need to meet our needs. Yet, there’s a little knot in my stomach that I must continuously confront called fear. See, things haven’t always been so comfortable. In fact, 2006 and several years thereafter would bring some of the worst financial crises in our lives that we have ever faced. Although God brought us through that season, the memory of our troubles is still seared into my brain. What makes it really crazy is that the financial aftermath occurred after trusting God.

In 2004, I left a full-time state government job with the support of my hubby to focus on writing because that’s what the Lord said to do. I don’t have time to detail how I knew it was God, but it was, and the fact that my husband was on board was the ultimate confirmation. I made more than him at that time, so my not working meant that we were losing the higher income and all the benefits that came with it. Little did we know that life would punch us in the mouth, and as we were healing, he would lose his job.

While all this was taking place, I was still writing and signing publishing and other freelance contracts. However, being a writer can literally be a feast or famine world. The one consistent aspect of what I do is that the pay fluctuates from day-to-day. Nearly 15 years after my first book was published, that hasn’t changed. When aspiring authors seek my advice, one of the first things I tell them is that they have to love writing enough to do it for free because sometimes they will have to. For example, no one is paying me to write this post. 😊

Fast forward, I haven’t had a full-time job since 2004, but we have way more now than we had when I was working at my cushy state job. God brought us through that period and has blessed us beyond what I could even imagine, and our financial portfolio is better than it has ever been. Yet, there’s been a consistent knot in my stomach that has grown within the last few months.

This COVID pandemic has stirred up bad memories of economic downturns and anxiety, and I’ve found my financial decisions peppered with fear. Life didn’t stop because of COVID. College tuition still needed to be paid, cars still needed repairs, and home improvements still had their place on our priority list. We have two businesses, and while they have taken a hit during the pandemic, they haven’t gone under. Additionally, we’ve haven’t skipped a beat on contributing to our retirement and savings accounts, and we’ve made more than our fair share of discretionary purchases during the pandemic. (My husband said that I’m helping to keep Amazon in business. #retail therapy) Given the stability of things, I have to ask myself, what is the basis of my fear? Is it because there is that part of me that remembers the financial fire and how I wondered where God was during that time? Is it that I am scared to fully trust Him with that area of my life because subconsciously, I feel like He let us down previously?

I don’t know what’s behind my anxiety, but I know that I don’t like it. Even when we went through our financial crises, we never went hungry or homeless. Our children never lacked anything. James 5:16 says to “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” So, here you have it, my big confession that financial anxiety is a sin of mine. I have not yet once worried about catching the virus, but I have had the “what ifs” swirling about other ramifications of it. I unashamedly ask for prayer. While you pray for me, know that I will be praying for you as well. I might not know you, but I am praying, in general, for all of us who know God to wholeheartedly trust Him throughout this pandemic. May the world see a difference in how we respond and know undoubtedly, that we are His.

In what areas of your life have you been holding back trust? Let’s take this faith walk together, believing that our God will supply everything that we need!

Defeating Hopelessness

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“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”—1 Corinthians 13:13, NIV

Sometimes I struggle with what to say to others during this COVID-19 crisis. People don’t want to hear “don’t worry” when they’ve lost loved ones due to the virus, may be sick themselves, are unemployed, or quite frankly, scared about all the possibilities. News reports that the worst is yet to come and the ever-increasing number of cases, legitimize people’s cause for concern. And, if you’ve watched the Netflix series Pandemic that eerily foreshadowed the destructive impact of a novel virus outbreak, then you know that the projected loss of lives could be in the millions. Despite all of this, my naturally optimistic nature won’t allow me to panic.

It’s not because I’m trying to be extra deep or that I’ve donned a “Super Christian” cape. Those who know me know that’s not how I roll. It’s not because my loved ones are in a bubble, far removed from the crisis. Nope. Quite the opposite. My husband must still go to work Monday through Friday and interact with others. My son continually reports to the Naval base. My father and uncles are part of the vulnerable population. I have loved ones in nursing homes, with weak immune systems, or other health issues. The business my husband and I own has seen a dramatic shift in revenues because of everything that’s happening. So, nope, I’m not calm because my life is unaffected. I’m calm because I cannot afford to let fear and worry overtake me. My mental and emotional stability rely on me digging my heels into the only thing that has gotten me through tough times—my faith.

In the Hunger Games movie, President Snow is quoted as saying, “Hope. It is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective. A lot of hope is dangerous. A spark is fine, as long as it’s contained.”

While I don’t have the “right words” to share during this time, I pray that I can encourage each of you not to give up hope. Hope is dangerous, but not in the negative way that President Snow mentioned in the movie. He wanted to contain the people’s hope to keep them in line with the oppressive order that he’d established. Likewise, if we lose hope amid this pandemic, the enemy will keep our minds in bondage and consumed with fear. We’ll lose sleep, the quality of our relationships will diminish, and we’re more likely to become depressed.

Even more powerful than hope is love.

Paul wrote,  “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” 1 Corinthians 13:13

COVID-19 is the perfect opportunity for those of us who know Christ to share His love with others. We can show love in many ways. For example, by sharing our goods with others in need instead of hoarding them, we not only behave differently than those who are fighting in the store over toilet paper, but we would also emulate the behaviors of the very first church members in the book of Acts.

“Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need” (Acts 2:44–45).

I doubt any of us are to the point of being willing to sell everything we have to give to others. Okay, maybe you are, but I’m not. (Stretch your hands my way!) The point is that they gave unselfishly, and their generosity was motivated by their love for Christ and one another. In whatever way you can look out for others during this time, please do it. It can be a phone call, an email, an encouraging word, or helping out with food or supplies. Do it genuinely and with love. Your actions may be the thing that helps someone else believe.

So, while I don’t have the answers to what’s happening, I choose to share with you what I have—faith in a sovereign God, hope that He will produce something good from this outbreak, and a love for Him and others that I hope will be contagious.

Trouble Doesn’t Last Always . . . For Real, It Doesn’t

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“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world”—John 16:33, NKJV

Ever thought, New year, same stuff!

We like to think of January 1 as a fresh start, but some issues tend to follow us into the new year. It can be frustrating and cause us to wonder if situations will ever improve. I can think of people who, for years, have experienced a bad marriage, wayward children, financial difficulties, grief, illness, depression, and much more. These issues seem more than temporary setbacks. They have gone on so long that they appear to be more of a lifestyle. For those in such situations, it can be easy to lose hope of things ever getting better. Even when there is hope, sometimes things don’t improve (e.g., sick people die), and then one may wonder where was God or why He allowed such things to happen to those who trusted Him.

Scripture tells us that it rains on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45, NKJV). The NIV uses the terms righteous and unrighteous. The point is that no matter who we are or how much we love God, trouble comes our way. Gee, thanks, God. While that Scripture in and of itself may not be encouraging, many others provide comfort. For example, while confirming to the disciples that there will indeed be trouble in this world, Jesus says, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

While writing, I’m currently in a storm myself, one that pierces my heart like none other. Yet, I have peace. No sleepless nights. Minimal tears. Lots of prayers. For me, it is incredibly comforting to know that all is in the Master’s hands. I also know that I could lose my peace the moment that I take my focus off of God and His word and put it on my situation. So, I try to keep looking up instead of looking around. Here’s what I know:

  1. This thing will end. How it ends is totally up to God. (Of course, I’m fighting the temptation to give God my unsolicited advice of what He should do and how He should do it. Lol.)
  2. I am growing through the process. I am not the same as I was when it first began, and I won’t be the same as I am now when it ends. This is a character-building experience that has the potential to change me for the better if I surrender to the process.
  3. No matter what it looks like, God is in control. I could drop the mic right here because the best part of it all is knowing that God’s got this.

As you journey through whatever current storm life has brought your way, try not to be overwhelmed by your circumstances. Yes, it may be a new year with the same stuff, but we also have the same God with the same power with the same authority to get us through this as He has gotten us through many things previously. Rest in the fact that you do not have to journey alone. Not only has God gone before you, but He’s also currently with you. Each day that passes brings you one day closer to the end of your storm as everything has a season (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

Stay encouraged!

P.U.S.H.

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“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” — James 5:16, NIV

Many of you may be familiar with the acronym P.U.S.H., which stands for pray until something happens. Last night as I laid in bed, I thought about the power of prayer and how much prayer has changed my life. I reflected on many prayer requests that I’ve had over the years—some that have been answered and some on which I am still awaiting manifestations. Some prayers were easy to communicate (e.g., bless this food that I’m about to receive) while others took more oomph out of me (e.g., help me to forgive). I’ve even prayed about what some would consider minor issues (e.g., my Bluetooth not working in my car) and major things (e.g., healing of someone with cancer). Whether big or small, easy or hard, I am confident that God hears our prayers (1 John 5:14).

One key that I’ve learned when praying is to be transparent. My prayers are raw. I hold nothing back from God. I recall a time when I felt pure hatred building in my heart for someone. As a believer, I know that God calls us to love everyone, so the fact that I was hating this person convicted me. So, I prayed. And, honey, my initial prayers were nothing nice. They started out something to this effect:

God, I don’t want to pray for this person. I’m only doing it because You tell us to pray for our enemies. I don’t mean anything I say. I don’t want you to bless her. I don’t want you to save her. I want her to burn in hell for what she’s done.

Ouch! That definitely wasn’t Christ-like.  It was brutally honest. There was no need to pretend that I felt otherwise. God already knew, and for Him to turn things around, I needed to confess the ugliness that was inside of me. The rest of the prayer was something like this:

I know that these feelings are not representative of who I am in You. Jesus, I need You to soften my heart. I want to love as You love. I want to forgive as You forgive. I want others to see me and see You in me. God, I cannot forgive her on my own. No matter how I feel about her or what she’s done, You love her, and I need to love her, too. Please help.

I prayed nearly every day and before I knew it, I started meaning everything that I said about God blessing and saving her. I don’t know if she ever gave her life to Christ or what she’s doing nowadays. The only thing I know for sure is that God completely changed my view of her. Whenever she crosses my mind now, I will say a brief prayer, “Lord, I pray that she knows You and has allowed you to heal her from her pain.”

While God does not always answer prayers in the way we want Him to, He will always use prayer to instill His fruit in us. The person giving her life to Christ is not under my control or even His. She has to make a choice to do so. Nevertheless, God used that situation as a character-building experience. I, too, had a choice. Had I not surrendered to Him, I would have continued down an emotionally destructive path.

When we pray, the external situation may not change, or it might take time to do so, but change can begin in you immediately. Prayer can renew your faith, give you a different perspective about things, and fill you with internal peace amid chaos. “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective,” James 5:16b. Prayer works! So, P.U.S.H.—pray until something happens. That something may come packaged differently than you expected, but if you believe in God’s Word, then you can rest in His sovereignty.

If there are prayer requests that you’d like to share, please do so. I’d be honored to pray on your behalf.

A Message from God – a poem by Yolonda Tonette Sanders

 

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“For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous” — Romans 5:19

“Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be understood” — Romans 8:26

“Pray without ceasing” — 1 Thessalonians 5:17

Everyone was born into sin
Because of how Adam behaved
So I sent My Son to die on the cross
So that all might be saved

You often feel that you’re not worthy
Well I can’t argue with that
But I am filled with grace and mercy
So I’ll cut you some slack

Why do you always remind yourself
Of the person in the past
No longer the same, I’ve changed your name
Your sins have been forgiven at last

Remember to pray continuously
It’s important that we communicate
I may not come when you expect Me to
But relax, I’m always on time, I’m never late

Not really sure how or what to pray
Just be genuine and do your best
At times when you’re not sure about what to say
My Holy Spirit will do the rest

Concerned that others will reject the change
And remember what you were
If so, they forget who I am
Because with Me, anything can occur

Others may try to put you down
But My Word is always true
Worry not about what they say
Find comfort in the fact that I anointed you

You may have committed many sins
Others may have committed just a few
But the blood that it took to save them
Is the same blood that it took to save you

(c) Yolonda Tonette Sanders

All I Want is to Love You – a poem by M.S.Lowndes

 

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For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” – Romans 8:38–39, NKJV

Come to my refreshing waters,
Let your fretting cease
Cast your burdens upon me
And I will give you peace

Always know I love you
And won’t leave you alone
So when you face the darkness,
You won’t face it on your own

When you’re in need of a friend
To listen to your cares,
Know that I will be that friend
To hear your desperate prayers

I know just how you’re feeling
Before you kneel to pray
So nothing will surprise me
In what you want to say

And I will not condemn you
When you confess your sins,
I just long for you to come
And let my love come in

I am here to heal you
And protect you from harm,
For all I want is to love you
And hold you in my arms.

(c) M.S.Lowndes

Love = Action

 

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“If you love Me, keep My commandments”

John 14:15, NKJV

Jesus made it plain about how we are to demonstrate love for Him — through our obedience. A similar mandate was given in the Old Testament with the Deuteronomic covenant. (See Deut. 5:10; 6:5–6; 7:9; 10:12–13; 11:13, 22). The bottom line is that those of us who claim to love God, can’t settle for lip service only. We must act according to His Word.

Whenever our words misalign with our actions, people will always believe what we do rather than what we say. For example, if a man or woman claims to love a spouse and yet habitually commits adultery, his or her love will be questioned. If parents love their children, they don’t intentionally mistreat them or put them in harm’s way. If we love Jesus, we won’t purposely misrepresent Him.

As humans, sometimes our words and actions will contradict one another. We have this thing called flesh that gets in the way of us naturally displaying perfect love. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a situation where you have done something for which you felt horrible because your actions did not align with the core of your values and beliefs, but I sure have. I recall a time in December of 2017 when I completely lost my cool about a customer service issue that I’d been waiting to have resolved since October of that same year. When I say that I lost it, that old flesh that had been crucified with Christ (Gal. 5:24) was resurrected, and honey, it was nothing nice. The call ended with me hanging up because I’d said things to which I could not recover.

It would be easy for me to make excuses for my behavior — 2017 was the year I lost both my mom and favorite aunt, became an empty nester, healing from a broken friendship, etc. I was under a lot of stress, no doubt, but none of that justifies wrong actions. I’m sure the woman with whom I had spoken would have been shocked to know that I’m a firm believer who writes and promotes Christ. That bothered me. I was so disturbed by my own behavior that I ultimately let the issue go without seeking further resolution.

Even our best efforts to live right will fall short (Is. 64:6; Rom. 3:23). It doesn’t mean that we should quit trying. Unlike us, God’s actions and words are always congruent. He promises to forgive us when we fall short (1 John 1:9). While our love for God will not be displayed perfectly, it should compel us to desire and strive to live by the fruit of His Spirit rather than our flesh (Gal. 5:19–23). Yep, we will mess up. #Humanity. Remember, God loves us so much that He won’t leave us in our mess. When we love Him back, we won’t want to stay there either.

Consider any areas in your life where you have settled for living contrary to His way. Now, determine if you love Him enough to turn those areas of your life to Him.

A Fresh Start

 

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“Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness”

Lamentations 3:22-23, NKJV

Being honest with ourselves is not an easy thing to do, and yet, it’s a necessary component (in my humble opinion) for growth. I had to admit to myself that I’d been slacking when it came to spending quality time with God. The busyness of school, publishing, writing, etc. had resulted in what I referred to as spiritual quickies. I read the Word each day via a devotion or the Bible app’s daily verse, but it was more of a checklist action. I wasn’t taking the time to meditate on or internalize the Word as I should.

I suspect that one reason this bothered me so was because my top love language is quality time. I demonstrate my love through the investment of my time. Whether it’s simply hanging out and having fun, helping a loved one work through a crisis, or setting aside time to work on projects of my own or others, I do so because I love what I do and those with and for whom I do it. Though 2018 brought new challenges into my life via the doctoral program, I still maintained my relationships. I even talked to God on a regular basis, but I wasn’t consistently taking time to be with Him.

I felt the void and I didn’t like it.

Nope, not one bit!

Yet, it took a while for my behavior to change because I’d gotten accustomed my quick interactions with God. It was as if I would hurry and get my time with God out the way because I had a paper due . . . project deadline . . . business meeting, or whatever else was on my agenda that day.

I wasn’t and still am not focused on the amount of time. Unlike one of the characters I created, I do not wake up every morning and spend three hours praying and studying the Word, feeling like I’m “less saved” if I fall short of that time. I’m not legalistic or robotic about my spiritual walk. Rather, my focus was and is on the value of the time spent, and I knew in my heart that I was not valuing time with God as I should.

Admitting my shortcomings to myself and God is one thing. Admitting them to others is something different. I shared with a few friends who encouraged me as I worked to change my behavior. I had no intentions of sharing publicly. However, as I prayed about what to write this month, I kept feeling like I needed to be transparent about this struggle. One of the reasons it took me so long to write this month is because I really didn’t want to talk about this on the internet! God, really! Do I have to? We’re good now. It’s okay that no one else knows. Or, so I thought. But, this thing called obedience gets me every time and I don’t have peace until I do something I’m supposed to do! (That’s another story for another day!) I can only trust that my sharing will be a blessing to someone else.

If you have been struggling to spend quality time with God, here are a few things I hope you take away from this post.

  1. God is not mad at you. When recently thinking about a not yet answered prayer in my life, I flat out said, “God are You mad at me?” Kid you not, after I asked the question, I saw a t-shirt that read: God is not mad at you, He’s mad about you. I smiled. Message received! God loves you so much (Romans 8:38–39). He’s patiently waiting for you to give Him the space He deserves in your life.
  2. There’s no greater relationship we can have in this world than the one with God. Your spouse, significant other, or BFF may understand you to an extent, but only the Lord can reach into the crevices of those deep places in your heart (Psalm 107:9).
  3. Whether you’ve neglected time with God or have turned away from him altogether, as long as you still have breath in your body, it’s not too late to start again. His mercies are new every day. Today is a new day, so how about getting a fresh start?

I Wonder . . .

“if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land,” 2 Chron. 7:14, NIV

I Wonder . . .

I wonder if our government would be stronger if we, particularly Christians stopped acting like God is a republican or democrat and recognize that He is holy.

I wonder how much more effective our prayers would be if we stopped playing the in-group/out-group game, realizing that there is corruption on both sides of the aisle and began praying for politicians, in general, not just the ones we like and want to “win.”

I wonder how many believers spend more time praying for President Trump than criticizing or complaining about him.

Oh, I wonder . . .

I wonder how impactful our churches would be if we didn’t act like our denomination is the only one who has it “right” and realized that God is not Baptist, Pentecostal, Methodist, etc., but once again, He is holy.

I wonder if our places of worship would exude humility if we cared less about titles and more about the ministry. Why isn’t the moniker of brother or sister good enough?

I wonder how many souls would be saved if we stopped focusing on having the “biggest” or the “best” buildings, celebrations, or choirs/praise teams, and instead, concentrated on giving our best efforts to witnessing to others for Christ.

Oh, I wonder . . .

I wonder how much the world would change if we were all others-centered instead of self-centered.

I wonder if our children would grow up and stray less from the Word if we modeled Christ in our homes and not just in public.

I wonder how much more effective our witness would be if we didn’t pretend to be perfect but admitted our struggles and how we get through them with Christ rather than act like we are the holiest of holy.

Oh, I wonder . . .

I wonder how much stronger sermons would be if preachers stopped using the pulpit as a platform to promote their preferences (political, personal, or otherwise) and strictly stuck to the Word.

I wonder how much more people would listen if we stopped lecturing and trying to change them and trusted the Holy Spirit to work in their lives.

I wonder how long it will take for people to get that consistent and sincere prayer is the key to true change.

Oh, I wonder . . .