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what sunflowers can teach us

I’m out for a morning run. Though the sun has been up for at least an hour, it doesn’t feel like it. The clouds are heavy and hang low. There is a slight mist in the air and the everything looks gray. There aren’t even shadows on the ground as there is no sunshine to make them.

bed of sunflower
Photo by Designecologist on Pexels.com

As I head down my familiar path, I run past a field of sunflowers. As it is late July, the flowers are in full bloom. I know their heads are bright yellow but I can’t see any of them. I am running past the field on the west side and all I can see is the backside of the flowers.

The entire field of sunflowers is facing towards the east. Towards the sun.

We know sunflowers do that, follow the sun’s path. It’s how they got their name after all. But, what intrigues me today about this fact is that there is no sunshine this morning to follow. The clouds are so thick and dark I can’t even pinpoint where the sun is in the sky.

And yet the flowers are turned in the sun’s direction. Even though they can’t see it, they know it is there. Even though the sun is blocked by clouds, they still know where to turn.

sunflower in field

In Psalm 27:7+8, David writes these words, “Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me! 

You have said,

 “Seek my face.”

My heart says to you, 

“Your face, Lord, do I seek.”

David knew what it was like to have a bad day. King Saul, with an army at his disposal, was openly seeking David to kill him. Though David had been anointed as king, he sure wasn’t living the life of one. Then, when he was king, there were people trying to throw him from his throne, even his own son. David had some hard times, yet, during those times, he wrote beautiful songs to God. A heart cry that we, too, can relate to.

When hard circumstances come, it can be easy to wallow in our grief and self-pity. But God has a better plan for us than that. We can do as David did and seek God’s face. When the road gets rough we can turn to worldly comforts and explanations or we can intentionally turn to God’s word, approach Him in prayer, and seek His face. 

Just like a sunflower that turns towards the sun, even on the cloudiest of days, we can pursue our Father, even when it feels like He isn’t there. The clouds may be blocking the sun, but it’s still shining. Our hard circumstances may be large and overwhelming, but God is still working and in control.

If you are in the middle of one of those cloudy seasons right now, take encouragement from Psalm 27. The last two verses of the Psalm can be a daily reminder as you wait for the clouds to disperse and the sun to shine again: 

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! (vs 13+14)

Isn’t that a spark of hope?! We don’t have all the answers and there isn’t any magic phrase that will suddenly make everything alright. But even when the sun is hidden behind clouds, even when we’re beaten down and our soul feels wilted and weary, we can still turn towards the Son. We can seek out His truth, His promise, His hope. It doesn’t make the hard go away, but it helps us to be able to endure.

So, friend, if you’re feeling bent and weary, if your soul is floundering as it tries to find the sun amidst the clouds, please, hold on. Keep those roots grounded in the Truth, turn your soul to the Son, and seek His hope and promise for your hurting heart. And if you see another who is broken in this way, be the one who reminds them that the sun is still shining. And remind them to turn towards the Son.

more resources
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On disappointment and hurt

David hunkered down behind a boulder, gasping for breath and trying to slow his heart and mind. Once again, he was pursued. He had done nothing wrong. In fact, he had gone out of his way to go above and beyond to prove to his enemy that he meant no wrong. Yet, King Saul wanted him dead and was relentless in his pursuit.

You’ve most likely not had to hide in caves, lead a band of men devoted to protecting you, and navigate the tricky relationship with a king who wanted you dead. But, you’ve most likely had someone speak wrong of you, tarnish your reputation, or treat you in a way you didn’t deserve.

Psalm 43 is a heart’s cry for when we feel wrongly accused or treated unjustly. It’s only five verses long but it leads us through the process of crying out to God, seeking His truth, and resting in His promises.

To read the rest of the article, head over to A Good Day blog where this post is being featured!

https://livewithintent.org/resources/
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2 verses for when life is overwhelming

This past week our school community has suffered a great loss. Our head basketball coach, a man who exemplified Godly character, strength, and grace, passed away from cancer. It was a long, hard fight and he continued to tell the story of God’s salvation and the hope of heaven to every person he came in contact with, including on the basketball court.

His loss has left a huge void in our school. I pray that the example he left will live on in the lives of the students, faculty, and families that he touched. His message to not fear, find your strength in the Lord, and do all things for His glory.

As I process his passing, I think of many scripture verses from Psalm as comfort. Psalm 93:3-4 is just one of them. It’s applicable to this circumstance, but I believe it can be applicable to whatever circumstance you are going through as well.

Between work, family, personal obligations, medical diagnosis, and the daily news, there are countless things coming at us that can make it feel like the flood waters and waves are lifting up their voices and overtaking us. The constant barrage can be overwhelming.

The activity all around us can begin to seem like a roar, drowning out the calming voice of Peace. 

I love the contrast of Psalm 93:3 to Psalm 93:4. 

Verse 3 is the cry.

The floods have lifted up, O Lord,
    the floods have lifted up their voice;
    the floods lift up their roaring.

The soul is overwhelmed. The flood waters keep coming and there seems to be no end. The sound of the roaring waves is deafening, drowning out anything else that we are trying to tune our ears in to.

But verse 4 is the promise

Mightier than the thunders of many waters,
    mightier than the waves of the sea,
    the Lord on high is mighty!

Those waves may seem strong, but we have a God that is mightier. Life’s distractions and roar can be thundering, but we serve a God whose calm, peaceful voice can break through all that.

Are you feeling overwhelmed today? 

Most likely the roar of the waves of life are bearing down strong on you. Here is a gentle reminder to go to the One who is mightier than any wave. Just like He calms the stormy seas of Galilee, He can also speak peace to your heart when it feels like the waves are over taking it.

Take a moment in the middle of your storm to be still. Speak the promise of Psalm 93:4 out loud.

“Mightier than the thunders of the waters and mightier that the waves of the sea is our God on High!”

Be encouraged, friend. He is still calming waters today.

It feels fitting to end this with the reminder of the hope and power of our Lord, in the words of the late Coach Marc Davidson:“…Our hope has never been in a doctor’s report. My hope is set firmly on the finished work of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Whether in this life or in Heaven, because of Jesus, I am more than a conqueror! I remain steadfast in my commitment to honor Him with every breath He gives me. May the name of the Lord be praised!”

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That slippery slope of people-pleasing

No one likes an imposter. Someone who says one thing and does another. We value authenticity. Being able to believe that the way a person acts and speaks is who they really are, not just a show. We appreciate being able to trust others in this way.

And I would assume others would value this in us as well.

But, have you ever found yourself acting different for other groups of people than with others? Sure, there is a time for business-self and casual-self; that’s not what we’re discussing here. I’m talking about swaying your stance on things just to please the people who you are with. It may lead to temporary smooth waters, but what ripple effect could we be causing?

Peter was up against this when it came to the believers in Antioch. Paul saw it and called him out on it:

But when Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.  For prior to the coming of some men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and separate himself, fearing those from the circumcision. The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. Galatians 2:11-13 (ESV)

Peter knew in his heart that there was nothing wrong with eating with fellow believers that were not originally from the Jewish faith. He knew, because of Jesus, that there was no longer a difference between a Greek or Jew. Both could claim the redemptive power of Jesus’ blood as their own, and they were all part of the family of God. Peter knew that, but it was kinda hard to keep living that out when his old buddies came to town.
And when he let their convictions sway him, it caused others, who were looking at his example, to follow suit. Maybe Peter was just trying to find a way to be comfortable and not upset his friends, but it caused many others to question their own convictions and be led astray.

This isn’t an example of refraining from something in respect of another. Like, choosing to not have that glass of wine at dinner when you know your friend struggles with alcohol. Instead, it’s about changing our actions to please people. 

Where have we compromised what we knew to be true in order to get people to like us? Where are all my people-pleasers at?!

As we seek to build intentional relationships, let’s be aware of what we are saying or doing that is motivated by pleasing people. It’s one thing to be considerate and kind (we all need more of that!) and a whole different thing to change who the Spirit has made us in order to make others happy.
For am I now seeking the favor of people, or of God? Or am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ. Galatians 1:10
This week, let’s take an honest look at ourselves. Go before God with this prayer to want to seek God’s approval above human’s. And then having the courage to change, even if it’s uncomfortable or hard.

When a man’s ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him. 
Proverbs 16:7 (ESV)

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The #1 way to identify yourself

In first grade a certain young lady was called ‘fat’ by another classmate and that word has stuck.
 
Now, several years later, as we are shopping for jeans, she vents her frustration at how hard it is to find something that fits, “this makes me feel fat! Just like what that boy said!”

​It’s 5 years later and those words still sting. Instead of looking at the situation as perhaps, those certain jeans weren’t made for her body, she instead continues to listen to that boy’s voice berating her from the past.

​I’m guessing there are many of you out there with a similar story. Maybe it’s wasn’t about the size of your body, but maybe a facial feature, or a personality trait.
 
How often do we let other people’s opinions label us? 

Who told us that in order to be happy with who we are, we had to fit into someone else’s label of us? 
 

Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
 
We are each uniquely and wonderful created in the image of our Creator. We are his workmanship.
 
Maybe you are familiar with the Max Lucado children’s book, You are Special. In the book, the characters go around putting certain stickers on each other, labeling each other how they feel they should be labeled. For some, with the good labels, it’s not a big deal. But, for others, who seem to have the flaws, they just keep attracting the bad stickers. For one particular character, this is the case. Until one day, he notices someone who the stickers do not stick to. They just fall off. He questions her and she brings him to meet the Master Craftsman. When the characters spend time with the Master Craftsman, the stickers and labels fall off and no longer stick.

​When I would read this book to my kids, I couldn’t get through it without getting choked up. Though it was written for children, the message still spoke to my heart as well.

​Sometimes it’s not others who label us. Sometimes it’s ourselves. We tell ourselves that we are failures, untalented, not needed, or worthless. We walk around with this label and filter every interaction with have through it. We end up looking for the times that our actions reinforce these labels, instead of counter-acting them.

​ 
That’s why we need to spend time with the Master Craftsman. As Ephesians 2:10 tells us, we were created in Christ Jesus for good works. He has plans to use us for good and to further His Kingdom. God prepared a way for us so that we could walk the path, shining His light, giving Him glory, and pointing others to Him. We can’t do that when we are wrapped up in the labels that others, or ourselves, have stuck on us.
 
When we can stop identifying ourselves after worldly labels and start identifying ourselves after our Father, we can begin to silence those voices that try to label us otherwise. 
 
If this is a struggle in your life right now, take time this week to intentionally address it. Write down the labels that you have given yourself, or allowed someone else to give you. In your quiet time, take this list to God and ask Him to help heal the hurt and to help you see your identity through His eyes. Spend time looking back over your daily life and think about the voices that are speaking into it. Be aware of where you are getting your identity and whose opinions you let into your life. 
 
Then go spend time with the Master Craftsman and let Him be the One to establish your worth and identity. Because, with Him, you are already loved, wanted, and needed.
 The world has so many lies that can counteract the truth that we already know. That’s why we need daily reminders for things that we already know are true. Click below to download a free printable of Ephesians 2:10. Hang this is a spot that will allow you to see it every day; reminding you that you are His workmanship. You are identified by Him, not by the world.
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The God Who Rejoices in You

​”For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” Zephaniah 3:17 NLT

The nation of Judah was in a tight spot and they didn’t even know it. They were living the life they wanted to and most were turning a deaf ear to the prophets’ cries. In the years of King Josiah’s reign, Zephaniah called out the people’s sin: the leaders and judges were like ravenous animals, destroying the people, the prophets were “treacherous,” and the priests “profane the sanctuary and do violence to the Law.” The people in the city were no better, “accepting no correction and not trusting the Lord.” (Zephaniah 3:1-5 NIV)

They were on a path of destruction and didn’t care.

But there was a remnant. A small group of Jews who were “the meek and humble, the remnant of Israel who trust in the name of the Lord. (vs12)” I’m picturing them wishing, like we often do when it feels like the world is falling down around us, that God would just skip to the good part.

Sometimes we receive consequences for our own sin. And sometimes we get the fallout from others. It doesn’t always seem fair, but we need to trust that God is just and these experiences are something that we can grow from. This remnant was going to experience some of that judgment along with the rest of Judah.

​Every parent who disciplines their kids can speak to the pain they feel as they have to carry out consequences. How much more does our Father feel when He delivers instruction and judgment?


In Zephaniah 3, the prophet speaks of the coming judgment for Judah. This judgment wasn’t just a payment for their sins but also a way of purifying. If you feel like you are in the middle of a purifying season, take heart. This is not coming from a God who despises and hates, but from a God who loves.

After the purifying, Zephaniah speaks these words of comfort to the faithful of Judah (vs 17):

“The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.”

Can you see it?

​After the consequences, comes the comfort. God does not want to leave us to fend for ourselves. He sees our hurt and pain and wants to save us from our sin. 

​He is our “Mighty Warrior who saves.” Because He loves us, He instructs us and because He loves us, He shows us compassion. There may be discipline and judgment, but only for the purifying of our hearts, not because of vindication.

God does not want to continue to berate us. In fact, He wants to rejoice over us! Our God is a God who desires to comfort His creation and sing songs of gladness over us. If you are feeling far from God, seek out His word. Ask Him to root out any sin in you and come to Him in repentance. You will find a just, kind, forgiving Father who longs to quiet you with His love and sing songs of gladness over you.

Father, at the root of much sin is pride. Forgive me for the times that I think I know better than you. For when I don’t think I deserve the consequences of my own actions. I know you are a God of mercy and love, who rejoices in your children. I come to you with a heart that desires a closer walk with you. Open my eyes to the sin that is keeping me from that. I pray that I would receive your mercy and grace and would know that love that calms all fears.

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You can make a difference right where you are

I knew it as soon as my eyes opened. It was going to be one of those days.

The day felt dark and overwhelming. My legs felt sluggish and my mind slow to start.

There wasn’t anything in particular that made me feel this way. Or perhaps it was everything that did. Depression doesn’t always operate by a formula. And despite having the right tools to be pro-active and head it off, sometimes it finds a new way to come in.

I went through the motions of the day. I know the motions by now and can hide the hard parts from the kids while I shuttle them off to school. But then, in the silence, alone, it’s a little harder to fight.

I made it mid-morning, without a whole lot of productive things accomplished, when the phone dinged.

A text. From a friend. Just reaching out to say she was thinking of me and wondering how I was doing.

It didn’t make me do a 180 on my mental state. I continued through my day as I had before, struggling. But the load was just a bit lighter. The cloud wasn’t as dark, the fog in my mind had lifted slightly. That text definitely helped.

In Galatians 6, Paul encourages the believers to “carry each other’s burdens.” The Greek meaning of burden in this verse is “a weight of personal and eternal significance.” 

We are called to be good stewards with the gifts and resources God has entrusted to us. We shouldn’t blame others, shift responsibility, or make excuses about why we were unfaithful with the blessings that we’ve been given. In this way we need to carry our own loads. But there are also times when life threatens to overwhelm. A spouse dies. A child is injured. A job folds or a house burns down. As part of the family of God, we are to come to the aid of those in need. When a load suddenly becomes too heavy for one person, we are to carry each other’s burdens. The added strength and encouragement of others is often the difference between pressing on and giving up.

And so, I encourage you. If someone comes to mind – call them, text them, write them a letter. You may be exactly who they need to hear from in that moment. Even as the days are getting longer and the sun is out more, we may find ourselves wrapped up in summer activities… and assume everyone else is with theirs as well. They may be wrapped up in it all, but they may also be struggling while doing so.

Please, reach out. Because I assure you, those who are low and depressed don’t always – actually – rarely, ask for it. They need it desperately but they won’t vocalize it.

So many things are trying to pull our relationships apart. Hate, division, strife, disease. But we don’t have to let it win.

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Dwelling on Truth

“Don’t believe everything you think.” 

A few years ago, I hung those words in a prominent spot in our home. It has become a reminder for myself, as well as anyone who comes for a visit.

I’ve found that sometimes we make ourselves anxious because of the thoughts spiraling around in our minds, but not all of them are true. We make assumptions about a person, an event, or even ourselves, and soon our thought life is out of control. 

Thoughts, if left to run wild, can hold us captive. They can make us anxious. And holding onto negative thoughts can affect us at work and in our relationships. 

If you think about something long enough, you begin to believe it. Maybe you’ve thought… 

“I’m a failure.”
“No one needs me.”
“Everyone has it figured out but me.”

When I was at my lowest point with depression, these negative thoughts were constant. I couldn’t escape them. My “inner critic” was constantly pointing out my flaws and telling me what I could be doing better. It followed me around relentlessly–in every circumstance and situation. It was exhausting and defeating. 

But we don’t have to give our thoughts that much power. By intentionally digging into our ideations and reasonings, we can find out the validity, or lack thereof. We can fight back with Truth.

When the enemy is attacking us with lies that we are prone to believe, we can look to the hope in Philippians 4:8. 

“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” Philippians 4:8 (NASB)

Another word for dwell is to exist. It’s not about briefly visiting these types of thoughts listed – honorable, right, pure – and then leaving them for less desirable thoughts. Instead, we are called to exist, to dwell on these things. Dwelling means putting down roots, establishing ourselves, settling in, and resting. These thoughts of honorable and lovely are meant to be permanent, not just rest stops along the way.

Creating a thought life like this takes intention. 

Our minds gravitate towards self-focus instead of upward focus. When we continue to be wrapped up in our own thoughts and don’t establish ourselves in truth, we will only spiral downward from there. We need to be intentional with lifting our gaze to Christ, the One who embodies right, pure, and lovely.

But dwelling on thoughts that are true, honorable, and right is easier said than done. Thought patterns that have been there for years are like deep furrows, they can be tough to get out of. I have found three actions that have helped turn my thought patterns around.

For the rest of the article CLICK HERE.
The whole article can be found at Kingdom Edge Magazine.
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What if we chose discomfort?

What if we chose discomfort?

C’mon.
You can do it.
Almost there. One step in front of the other.
Eyes up, don’t look down.

This was my inner monologue to myself this morning as I trundled through 2 miles on the treadmill. From the moment I started running this morning, I thought about being done. I appreciate the feeling of accomplishment afterwards, but during the whole thing I have got to keep telling myself to keep going and finish.

Maybe it’s not running for you, but you can relate in your own life with something tough and having to keep reminding yourself to push through.

Why? Why is it such a mental and physical battle?

Because we are prone for comfort. Humans like the easy route, if at all possible. It’s what drives invention – everything we create, if you look at the core, is to make life easier, take less time doing it, and make us comfortable.

But here’s the rub: if we spend our whole life seeking comfort, desiring to remain in comfort, and making no effort to step outside of it, then when something difficult comes, we have no past experience to pull from. We are left floundering. We’re soft and cushy, and easily trampled.

We have no stamina for discomfort.

What in your life are you avoiding because it would make you uncomfortable? Maybe it’s a certain doctor appointment you need to schedule. Perhaps that pair of running shoes in the corner collecting dust. Or a hard conversation that needs to happen. And maybe, ugh, a diet change.

What if, this week, we sought out something that made us uncomfortable? What if we routinely built discomfort into our lives?

Some of you may already be full of discomfort and this sounds like a load of bunk. This may be your season of looking for those pockets of comfort and relief.

But if you think through your day and see that you are moving from one comfortable thing to another, then maybe it’s time to stretch a little. Growth rarely comes when you bask in comfort. Discomfort calls for mental endurance and brings us closer to our true Comforter.

This week let’s take a fast from easy, choose to embrace discomfort, and see what God can do with our choice to say ‘yes’ to the hard path.