Hope Remains

She busied herself in the garden, tending to the tender new shoots under the gentle spring sun. But her thoughts betrayed her, harkening back to the forbidden box she’d hidden under blankets and bedding. 

What’s in that box? Why am I not allowed to open it?

Curiosity. A gift from the god of gods that felt more like a curse. It niggled constantly in the back of her mind until it broke loose, demanding to have its way.

I could lift the lid just enough to peer inside. What harm could come from that?

Looking around and seeing no one, she sprinted to her room, threw off the coverings, and grabbed the box. She paused, thoughts still tormenting her in their do I or don’t I tug-of-war. Curiosity gave the final pull, and she lifted the lid.

With no warning, the box jolted open and terror enveloped her. Whisking and whooshing around her, dark cloud-like figures cackled with glee in their freedom. Dropping her head to the floor under the weight of such evil, she despised herself and very nearly gave in to Despair. That is, until she heard a gentle hum and saw a light emanating from the box.*

Heart pounding, Pandora crawled nearer. Peering into the box, she saw Hope remained.

“Pandora’s Box,” by Charles Edward Perugini. Credit: Wikipedia/Public Domain

A Hope-full Solo

I’ve had quite the journey with the Greek myth of Pandora and the idea of hope since 1983, the year I danced my one and only ballet solo–in Pandora’s Box. My fourteen year old self took the role of Hope with great pride and determination, thinking I’d somehow earned this spot and deserved to end my dance career in the spotlight.

But as the years have gone by, I’ve learned that such pride leads to folly–and falls. Despite my naive assumptions, however, that particular dance opened to me a beautiful curiosity about hope.

Early on I claimed the gift of hope as my own, allowing its influence to seep into stressful situations with positivity, into dire circumstances with a faith-filled attitude that God will work it out. And as I mature in my faith, I continue to learn how to hold onto hope even when worry and fear beckon me toward despair.

So as I step into 2023, it is with great eagerness and anticipation that I claim hope as my word of the year. Hope and I have danced together for over forty years, yet my spirit hints to my mind that what I think I know…it’s only the beginning. 

The Hope Chorus

For all the years that I danced in the chorus (or, ensemble) of ballets like The Nutcracker, longing to be the elegant Snow Queen fluttering among us snowflakes, my solo-moment as Hope failed to fill me with the satisfaction I’d expected. In fact, as I look back on that experience, I realize a deeper truth was planted in me–I’d much rather be part of the ensemble. Part of the group experience. Part of a community where we all work together toward the same goal.

Photo by Jess Zoerb on Unsplash

So, even though my fingers may be the ones to tap out these weekly posts, I don’t see myself as a soloist. I see myself as part of the troop, all of us eagerly doing our part to shine the light on the only One who deserves the spotlight. This, my friend, is an invitation to you. Will you join me this year for a dance with Hope? We’ll delve into its meanings. We’ll dig into its implications. We’ll even dare to allow it to enter our true selves so that all that we desire is washed in the cleansing blood of Christ, trusting that darkness will take flight. And the light of hope will remain.

Bolstered by Hope

On the chance that you are one of many believers who are sick-to-death of hope–maybe your workplace puts way too much emphasis on it or you’re tired of all the watered-down “hopes” of the world or you have lost most, if not all, of your hope–I especially extend an invitation to you. God beckons us inward, then outward, so that when we place our genuine hope in Him, something happens within us. We are better able to lay down doubt and fear to pick up trust. Then He asks us to share that hope with others.

In other words, God’s hope is much different and deeper than what most of us have known or experienced. So. I anticipate that this journey with hope won’t be a weak, unempowered, over-indulged, or empty experience. Instead, I have a holy expectancy that God seeks to reveal to us a well of truth about HIS HOPE–because His hope is true and good and oh-so powerful. 

Like Pandora, hope has been gifted to us–to go with us as we walk through life’s pains and problems. God never leaves us to stumble through life’s struggles on our own. His hope always remains.

Father God, how we need You. We confess to You our tendency of both having too little hope in You and too much hope in ourselves and our plans, in others and their power. We turn our faces toward You, with eyes that long to see your light, to absorb your goodness, to have your hope. How grateful we are that hope is found in You. Lord Jesus, your birth, life, and death demonstrate to us how much You love us and how much You trust your Father. We see in You a way to move and breathe and have our being in this world. And as we seek to understand how to put our hope in the life You have for us in eternity, may we feel the power of love and hope sustaining us through all life’s struggles in the here and now. Holy Spirit, what a gift You are! To have You dwelling in us at every moment of every day is a truth and a reality we too often take for granted. We look to You now and for the future to be our guide because we need your help to lead us along the right paths. Your very presence gives us hope. In Jesus’ name, amen. 
(inspired by Job 22:26; Psalm 62:5; Acts 17:28; 1 Peter 1:3-6; Proverbs 3:5-6)

  • *I’ve taken artistic license with Pandora’s story, merging many variations into my own thoughts. I’ve found in my research that neither is there just one Greek myth about Pandora nor any entire ballet about her–much to my shock and chagrin.
    • There were plenty of versions of “Pandora’s Box” to read and watch and listen to. I thought this one worthwhile (though it turns out to be a bit of an ad for Ted Talks in the end).
    • My own curiosity has reached new heights as I wonder what music and dances were included in my studio’s version of Pandora’s ballet back in 1983…
  • Resources
    • If you’d like a more in-depth analysis and explanation of Pandora’s myth, check out this article.
    • The only nugget I found about a Pandora “ballet” turned out to be one six minute song, but I chased that rabbit hole as far as I could. To no avail…never finding a way to listen to it. Here’s the article if you’re as curious as I.
    • And, of course, there’s a Spotify playlist. For now I’m calling it “Revival of Hope” as that is what I truly hope will happen–in us and among us. It’s loosely organized around what I think will be our winter themes. We’ll see!
  • Rhythms
    • Rather than jump in too quickly into all the rhythms we could add to our lives here at the beginning of the year, I propose we keep it simple. Let’s take a listen to the songs on the playlist, asking God to speak through them, to awaken within us a deeper desire to know His brand of hope.
    • Then, as you feel things, learn things, wonder about things, share here! Comment and come back to read what others share. We are, after all, a chorus of believers dancing TOGETHER!
  • And, as community, let us not neglect sharing God’s hope with others. Share your God-stories with people around you. Share this site. Share God’s Word. Shine His light into the world!

Featured Photo by Olga Korolenko on Unsplash

God With Us: Hope

Last night my extended family rang in the new year together as we gathered to celebrate the wedding of two beloved 20-somethings in our family. Like births, weddings intrinsically hold within them much hope–hope for the future, hope for lasting love, hope for starting well so that all that is to come will have a solid foundation on which to build. 

So then, how appropriate it was to usher in 2023 while witnessing the coming together of two hope-filled people in marriage, celebrating in a room permeated with palpable love. Every eye sparkling with joy, and excitement crackling the air–because hope.

Finding Jesus

Similarly, Jesus’ birth brought with it a new beginning, and ultimately a new covenant, for all creation. His leaving heaven and all the power held within its halls to become a newborn baby reveals to us a new kind of hope. A hope born not of our ability to keep the rules but a living hope that cried in the cool of night over two thousand years ago. This was a living sacrifice that would one day require this baby’s body to be given on our behalf. 

Perhaps it was this kind of hope that drew men of science from far off kingdoms in the east to a king recently born in Bethlehem. These magi traveled for months to arrive in a foreign land in search of a baby because of a star. This celestial phenomenon piqued a curiosity that quickly became a pursuit of hope and a quest for presence. 

The men we often call wisemen were not satisfied with their well-kept notes about the star that shone with a unique brightness. And, they refused to justify a decision to remain safely at home, intentionally choosing not to ignore the star’s beckoning brilliance. 

Instead, these magi set out on camels, bearing gifts, to follow the glow in the eastern sky because somehow they knew in their hearts what their calculations couldn’t confirm–a baby boy had been born king of the Jews (Matthew 2:2). Foreigners, who sought Jesus by a star that gave them great joy (v.10), worshiped from their knees upon stepping into His presence (v.11). 

Knowing Jesus

Like the magi of old, we can choose to leave our places of comfort and step into a forever journey with the One who beckons us into His presence. We can choose to ignore lingering doubts that all the scientific proofs fail to answer and step into a faith that is sustained by the Spirit and Word.  

No matter how long you’ve been pursuing Jesus–fifty years or fifty minutes–there’s always more to know about Him. Like the magi, this journey to knowing Jesus is not a short one. It is, in fact, a lifetime of dwelling in His presence, of scouring His Word, of drawing closer to Him through prayer. 

We may never know how the magi’s lives were changed that day they bowed low before the King of Kings, but we do know of their faithfulness–they stayed the course till they knew Jesus for themselves, and they heeded God’s warnings (Matthew 2:12). And their faithfulness demonstrates for us the way to know Jesus most fully, through keeping God’s command to love in truth and deed (1 John 3:18).

God With Us

This year we’ve sought to follow Jesus more fully by learning all that it means to dwell with Him. We can look back to see the ways God has inhabited His world and His people through all generations. We can wrap our minds around the idea of remaining with Him more as a lingering, or a tarrying that is unrushed, uninhibited, and unobstructed by our ideas, our pride, our calendar.

We’ve sought all the ways we can abide most wholly with the Holy One–in body, mind, heart, and spirit. And we’ve taken time to walk with our Good Shepherd, allowing Him space to lead us to every good meadow and river, through every valley and path.

We’ve discovered that Immanuel really is GOD WITH US and that to dwell with Him is to live in peace, with love and joy and hope. 

As we set out into this new year, let’s take all that we’ve learned with us and choose to dwell with our God every moment of every day–and trust that as we dwell with Him, He dwells with us. Jesus is always and ever will be God With Us.  He is our hope.

Stars may not guide us to Jesus today, but the Holy Spirit leads us well. So, no matter what mysteries the future holds, we can take brave steps forward, following the One who will never leave us, never forsake us. He not only knows the future, but He’ll help us navigate all of it–and that is His promise for us as we step into 2023. Our trust in Him is secure because He is Way Maker, Miracle Worker, and Promise Keeper. 

So, let us set our eyes on the horizon of this new year ready to pursue His presence and hope.

  • Rhythms: I don’t know about you, but these last two weeks have been quite challenging as far as keeping rhythms goes. His Word kept me grounded, however, even if I only read in snippets and snatches. And so much of what we learned this year about dwelling in God broke out several times, reminding me to abide in Him–so in the moment I’d say a quick “I love You” prayer and ask the Holy Spirit to help my heart and mind to remain aligned with His. And I’m so grateful for all the ways He sustained me and showed me His joy and love.
    • Week Six Praise Rhythm: Like the star that led the magi to Jesus, stars can continue to be our reminders this week. As we pack away our Christmas decorations or look up into the night skies, we can thank God for showing us His way and for the hope of promises fulfilled each time we see a star.
  • Resources: I love sharing with you the books, podcasts, articles, and anything else that has inspired, encouraged, or taught me. These are humble offerings with no expectations.
    • Well, I had to add “Way Maker” to our God With Us playlist. Singing aloud these monikers of Christ helps my trust and faith grow stronger–I hope it does the same for you!
    • Each week this Advent I’ve mentioned Annie F. Downs’ podcast, That Sounds Fun, because it’s really spoken to me in the midst of busyness and disappointments. But no week surpassed my expectations like her first week on Hope.
  • We’re a flock. We’re a fellowship of believers. We’re a community. Know that you are not alone. You’ll walk these paths with Christ at your side and your sisters hemmed around you.
    • As you feel led, share in the comment section. I’d LOVE TO HEAR how the Praise Rhythms help you keep in step with God this season. Do share!
    • God’s hope needs to be shared. One way to do that is to share this site. 😉
Photo by Jonathan Chng on Unsplash

Featured Photo by Alexandra Gornago on Unsplash; Bits and Pieces Photo by Yana Gorbunova on Unsplash

God With Us: Presence

Today we light the fifth candle of Advent in honor of Jesus Himself. Imagine an Advent wreath encircling a looming, white candle, arising from its central place and marking Christ’s presence at the center of our being–personally and corporately. The flame flickers its glow across the room ready for the joy of this Day.

Yet on a Sunday that also happens to be Christmas Day, it’s easy to push that candle to the side and immerse ourselves in the passing of packages, the ripping of wrapping–the presents. 

Giving a good gift is a blessing, to be sure. I personally LOVE the whole process of selecting stashes of goodies to give my loved ones, wrapping them, placing them under the tree–all the while anticipating their joy as they open them.

Yet what I find myself longing for more than anything today is to plant myself and my family squarely before Jesus–the presence.

So how about we pause for a simple moment to nod toward the nativity and remember whose birth it is we’re celebrating, to settle ourselves into His goodness, His peace, His joy, and His love.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Father God, it’s here! The Day we have anticipated for at least four weeks–the Day we celebrate your Son’s arrival on earth as a baby. Born among animals, laid to sleep in a manger. We look upon the nativity and remember this miraculous birth and the ultimate gift You laid before humanity: your glorious Son given to us–fully human, fully divine. Lord Jesus, we celebrate YOU. We look upon that Christ Candle and remember that You remain at the center of all we are and all we do. Your presence, like the flames of Pentecost, alights within our hearts and minds and spirits. You are Immanuel, God With Us! Around us! In us! We pause to take in the truth that You abide within each of us, and we nestle ourselves into You with our hearts and minds aligned with yours, our very essence abiding in yours. Holy Spirit, thank You for dwelling within us. How incredible to remember that we are vessels of Christ’s majesty–that we carry within us the fruit of your abiding Spirit. So we choose to lay aside our expectations and earthly ideas, all our doing and disappointments–right here, right now. And we pick up Christ’s peace, love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. We choose to offer these as the best gifts we could ever give. Thank You for your blessings. Thank You for all the reminders of Who is at the center of today’s celebrations–the nativity, the candle, the gifts around the tree. We ask with joyful humility, Spirit–throughout our day continue to be our reminder of the present of Christ’s presence. In Jesus’ name, amen.
(inspired by Luke 2:1-20; John 1:14; Ephesians 5:1-2; Acts 2:3; Matthew 1:22-23; 1 John 4:13; “Tabernacle” song by We The Kingdom; John 15:8; Galatians 5:22; John 14:26)

Featured Photo by KaLisa Veer on Unsplash
Need some tunes for the Day? Here’s our “God With Us” playlist.

God With Us: Love

Perhaps there is no word more overused in our culture than ‘love.’ 

Love my family.
Love chips and salsa.
Love Jane Austen.
Love Hallmark Christmas movies.
Love a good mystery.
Love my Christmas tree.
Love my friends.
Love a good cup of hot tea.

You get the idea. We tend to L.O.V.E. everything. In all our loving, we lose the potency for the kind of love God has for us. We miss its depths, its sacrifice, its unconditional and long-suffering character–so that when we hear John tell us “God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son…” (3:16), we nod, but the familiarity of those words often prevents us from entering into all that God has done for us–out of His love for us.

God’s Brand of Love

Paul helps us in our attempt to grasp what God’s brand of love is truly like.

“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-7, NLT

In short, God’s love never flows from a divided, unsure, fickle heart. His love is pure and good and righteous. And it never changes. 

Throughout the Old Testament we get glimpses of this chesed–God’s loving kindness that pours out on a people who vowed covenant love for God yet who consistently turned from Him in every way. They failed to love Him over and over and over.

But God never gave up. He constantly forgave and rescued and demonstrated His love.

  • When humanity’s hearts were only evil all the time (Genesis 6:5), God didn’t fully give up on His creation. He cleansed the earth and started over with the one righteous man. Because of His chesed.
  • When His own people’s hearts turned to pagan idols and practices–like burning babies and twisting the love between a man and a woman into a fertility god’s orgy (Ezekiel 16:20-21; 2 Kings 17:10, 17; 23:4)–God didn’t completely turn His back. He always saved a righteous remnant (Genesis 45:7; Ezra 9:8). He always kept up His end of the covenant because of His chesed.
  • When the Jewish leaders held a list of laws higher than their love of God and oppressed His people with legalism, God still loved them enough to keep His Messianic promise.

Just as in the days of Noah and David and Jesus, God’s love is never dependent on our actions. It’s always there for the giving, for the filling of our hearts. It’s forever ready with forgiveness and grace. It’s unchanging and undefeatable. And there is nothing, not one thing, that can separate God’s love from us (Romans 8:38). 

God’s Love In and Through Us

Paul’s description of this love that is both feeling and action helps ground us in God’s way of loving others, as well (ref. 1 Corinthians 13): 

  • It’s practicing kindness when we’re tempted to want our way–right. now. 
  • It’s patience with the people around us even when they’re missing the mark or flat out failing. 
  • It’s a persevering persistence that chooses to believe and hope and endure no matter the circumstances or situation.
  • It’s putting ourselves second.
  • It’s placing someone else’s needs before ours.

And this way of loving looks much differently than the way the world loves. God’s way is selfless; the world’s way, selfish. God’s way is motivated by hope; the world’s, desperation. God’s way is driven by generosity; the world’s way, greed. 

This patient, kind and unconditional way of loving is the way to love as followers of Christ. However, it’s not all on us to pull this kind of love out of ourselves. Rather, we have a pool to draw from–because He loved us first (1 John 4:19); because love is from God (1 John 4:7); because God is love (1 John 4:8).

Photo by Mauro Sbicego on Unsplash

Love Made Flesh

Our challenge this season, especially as Christmas gets closer and our hearts start pounding with stress–I mean, ONE WEEK TILL CHRISTMAS (gulp!)–is to keep the priorities and perspectives aligned with Jesus’ heart. 

How many times have I had to stop and say to myself: 

  • “This is good enough,” when not one package has a ribbon or bow. Or if all the gifts are stuffed hurriedly into gift bags–reused from last year.
  • “No one else expects this event to be perfect–just me.”
  • “The boys have enough gifts.”
  • “Larry knows I’m doing my best.”
  • “It’s not about how much we spend but the love we give with.”
  • “It’s okay if it doesn’t all get done before the family arrives.”

How many times? Every year. I get so caught up in all the doing or the guilt or the pride that I have to get my heart and mind back where they belong, every single year. In fact, every day I have to return to the source of love.

The love that left the safety and power and glory of heaven to enter earth as the most fragile, dependent creature–a newborn baby. In a barn. On a cold winter’s night. To a teenage mom who was far from home. In a country where a power hungry king killed baby boys to prevent Jesus from growing up to be the King of Kings. This, my friends, is the true love that sources all of creation, that sacrificed EVERYTHING to be here. On earth. With us. 

The One who left His immortality to become immortal.
The One who left His home to become our refuge.
The One who left His glory to become our shelter.
The One who left eternity with His Father to die for His children.

This. Is. Love.

So, when I give myself space to stop and sit in the truth of such love, I am transformed. My temptation to earn favor and love settles into a peaceful relationship of mutual affection. Jesus and I, we just share all the feels. We gush with our gratitudes. We let the tears fall because as we abide with one another, true love is shared.

It’s like nothing on earth.

The change in me is purer motive, kinder actions, fuller heart, more patience, and more holy hope for all those I love so dearly. To pull from that pool of love that exists in me because I dwell in Him is to draw on the living water of love that never ever runs out. It’s a pool I can return to every moment of every day. 

And, so can you.

Father God, You are love. You are full of perfect love, and You love us most and first and best. Your love never ends and never changes. Your love motivates You to keep your promises–even when it means allowing your one and only Son to leave your heavenly presence to come to earth to suffer, to become the bearer of all our sin, and to die on our behalf. That is true love. Lord Jesus, You did all of that for us. You are love incarnate, love divine. You are the living story of amazing love. And now your love dwells in us. We can abide in this love, allowing it to soak into every pore, every bone, every fiber of our being so that fear is cast out and we are made whole. Thank You for this love You have so freely demonstrated and given. Holy Spirit, help us to be good receivers of such love. May all this love that courses through our veins transform us into generous God-lovers who go into our homes and work spaces and churches and stores and restaurants and gas stations–to be love to others. Remind us that loving others is not a box to check off but a heart status that allows your love to overflow from us and splash onto all we meet. We pray, Holy Spirit, You would help us keep love as our highest goal! In Jesus’ name, amen. 
(inspired by 1 John 4; John 3:16; Lauren Daigle’s song “Noel;” John 15:9; Ephesians 3:18-19; John 15:12-13; 1 Corinthians 14:1)

  • In all this talk about kindness and love and forgiveness toward others, it’s important to differentiate in abusive relationships. We need to always have Jesus’ brand of love for our standard to love others AND to be loved by them. Never abused–physically, mentally, emotionally. One place to reach out if you are in an abusive relationship is the National Domestic Abuse hotline: 800-799-7233. Or let your pastor know. Or a friend.
  • Rhythms: When I say that Jesus and I get together and share all the feels, I do not exaggerate. I am a feeler for sure. And getting in His presence is a rhythm I treasure because it keeps my mind aligned with His and my heart full of His love. I can always feel it (of course) when I neglect this rhythm–stress reigns and joy is fleeting. So is my love for others… Today I turned on my Lectio 365 app and just sat with Jesus. LOVE!
    • We’re looking for organic ways to keep our focus on Jesus this Advent by tapping into what’s already around us. Like Christmas trees. So…Week Four Praise Rhythm: Anytime this week you see a Christmas tree, speak a word of thanks to God for the love displayed on the cross.
  • Resources: I love sharing with you the books, podcasts, articles, and anything else that has inspired, encouraged, or taught me. These are humble offerings with no expectations.
    • Lauren Daigle is a constant on my playlists, making an appearance twice on our “God With Us” playlist. But one is kinda sneaky because it says “Chris Tomlin.” I’ve listened to “Noel” so many times that it’s become one of my all time favorites. And it captures so beautifully Jesus as love incarnate, love divine!!!
    • The Lectio 365 app really is a great way to immerse ourselves in God’s Word and presence–through prayer.
    • I’m still enjoying Annie F. Downs’ podcast this Advent. She’ll be diving into LOVE all week.
  • We’re a flock. We’re a fellowship of believers. We’re a community. Know that you are not alone. You’ll walk these paths with Christ at your side and your sisters hemmed around you.
    • As you feel led, share in the comment section. I’d LOVE TO HEAR how the Praise Rhythms help you keep in step with God this season. Do share!
    • God’s love needs to be shared. One way to do that is to share this site. 😉
Photo by Anne Nygård on Unsplash

Featured Photo by Jesse Goll on Unsplash

God With Us: Joy

This time of year the word ‘joy’ can be seen and heard everywhere–on decorations, in songs, even on people’s lips. All of which become reminders of just how much we long to have joy in our souls. Instead of just seeing and hearing about joy, we deeply desire to possess it ourselves.

Ironically, it’s this time of year when we are most at risk of losing our joy. We’re overly busy or overcome with grief. We’re lonely. Resentful. Ashamed. Disappointed–again. All the reminders dangling in our line of sight can distract us from true joy.

What if. Instead of fixating on all that has to be done or all the painful reminders before us, we look to the One who came–at this time of year–to make a difference. To change things so that we don’t have to live so swallowed up by the hard and hopeless.

What if. Instead of looking for situational happiness, we seek Jesus’ joy–the inner gladness that remains and strengthens us no matter what is happening around us. 

Finding Joy

The only way to find joy is to find Jesus–like the shepherds in the local field or the magi who travel thousands of miles. Faithful, lowly shepherds receive the news that Messiah is born–then they go to Him. Wealthy, foreign men of science, who know the sky and see a strange star, don’t just jot down notes when they spot the celestial phenomenon; they get up and follow, at great risk and sacrifice.

On the surface, these two groups of men have nothing in common. Until they learn of Jesus’ birth. Each group recognizes the significance of this long awaited Savior, and they are filled with so much joy that they turn their eyes toward Him and get in His presence.

So should we.

It Is That Simple

The last night of His life, Jesus prayed that all His believers would have His joy. That we’d be filled by it (John 17:13). Earlier that same night, He taught His disciples the concept of abiding in Him–like branches to a vine: 

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. …As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

John 15: 5, 10-11, ESV

Abiding leads to fruit. Obeying leads to love. And all this leads to true joy.

Finding joy is not impossible. Joy exists in the presence of Jesus. It is fruit that grows sweeter over time because we’re anchored to the Vine, abiding in His life-giving presence. So, all that’s required for the finding of joy is finding Jesus. Then remaining there.

So, when you hear people like me say Christiany things like, “just dwell in Jesus,” it really can be that simple to find His joy.

It’s also that difficult. 

Like peace, joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Fruit doesn’t appear overnight. Fruit doesn’t come without effort and intentionality. Fruit requires something of us–namely, to abide in the life-giving Vine. In fact, if we close our eyes and picture ourselves, the branches, remaining attached to that firmly rooted, well-established Vine, we become immovable. Anchored.

Yet, I don’t see Jesus telling us to grab hold of Him and hang on for dear life. That seems too fragile, too dependent on our own strength–which fails when we’re unwell, flounders when we doubt, or flees because our grip weakens.

Rather, Jesus tells us His burden is light. That we can yoke ourselves to Him and find rest. And, Nehemiah offers another truth: “the joy of the Lord is [our] strength” (8:10).

Joy As Strength

If we zoom out a bit, Scripture shows us that joy is both a feeling–an inner gladness that comes from knowing and abiding in Jesus–and a function, the strength we need to remain in Him.

If it seems hard to believe joy could be or do two things at once, we need only to look to branches and stems. These marvels of nature simultaneously carry minerals and water from the roots to the leaves and fruit AND food from the leaves to the rest of the plant (re: photosynthesis). I imagine each stem as a two-lane highway with traffic flowing in both directions. One stem. Two functions.

So, maybe we’re beginning to understand Jesus’ brand of dual-actioned joy more fully–it is the strengthening agent Jesus uses to help us cling to Him and the fruit of all our trusting and abiding in Him. But, maybe even more marvelous than the flow of food through branches and stems, is the fact that joy rises up within us because of who Jesus is while at the same time helping us remain anchored to that Source of said joy. Joy is the means and the end (insert mind-blown emoji).

Whatever threatens to steal your joy this Christmas season, friend, it has no power, no hold over the true joy Jesus offers. Be like the shepherds who leave everything to go see Jesus. Be like the magi who risk everything to go find Jesus. Be like branches who are anchored to the Vine. Whatever you do, get in Jesus’ presence because that’s where the joy is. And, on the chance you just don’t think you have the energy or will to go to Jesus, trust that His joy is already at work in you and will give you the strength you need to remain in Him. Here’s a promise, just for you. Keep it close. And trust it:

[God,] You make known to me the path of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence,
    with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Psalm 16:11, emphasis mine

Father God, You are joy. In all your glowing glory and goodness, joy exudes. To step into your presence is to know true joy. We may not see You now, but we believe You and rejoice because of You! We pray to have hearts that receive your joy–and minds that desire and discern the difference between your brand of joy and the world’s counterfeit version. We long to experience the deep inner gladness that remains despite the storms that rage and the doubts that threaten. Lord Jesus, thank You for being our anchor and for praying that your joy would fill us and that your joy would be made complete in us. We know that whatever You pray for happens, so we look to You now with arms wide open–fill us with your joy. Holy Spirit, in your power and profound wisdom remind us continually to abide in Christ. Be our supernatural help to remain in Him throughout each day this week so that our souls become seedbeds for the fruit of joy to flourish within us. So that we become that fruit of joy in the world. So that joy becomes the strength we need to keep ourselves attached to the Vine. In Jesus’ name, amen. 
(Inspired by Psalm 16:8-11, 1 Peter 1:8-9, Psalm 33:21, John 15:5-11, John 16:24, 1 John 5:14, John 14:15-18, Psalm 28:7, Nehemiah 8:10)

  • Rhythms: Eugene Peterson’s “unforced rhythms of grace” (Matthew 11:29) is a phrase I keep close to mind so that I don’t start forcing things like prayer and Bible reading into the busier days of December. Instead, I lean into the grace Jesus gifts us. Instead, I pick up rhythms that fit the season. Like a Praise Rhythm.
    • Week Three Praise Rhythm: As the announcers of great joy, angels abound at Christmas. So, each time you see one this week, thank Jesus for His truth proclaimed–like joy is for all people (Luke 2:10).
  • Resources: I love sharing with you the books, podcasts, articles, and anything else that has inspired, encouraged, or taught me. These are humble offerings with no expectations.
    • There are some incredible songs of joy on our Advent playlist. Example: Caroline Cobb in her song, “Hallelujah, Christ is Born,” reminds us that “this is the One we’ve waited for!” Rejoice!! Even as we yet wait…
    • I’ve been listening to Annie F. Downs’ podcast, That Sounds Fun, every chance I get because her Advent series touches on the themes we are here. So far, she’s spent a week on hope and peace. They are short, daily insights that have really stirred my heart and imagination.
  • We’re a flock. We’re a fellowship of believers. We’re a community. Know that you are not alone. You’ll walk these paths with Christ at your side and your sisters hemmed around you.
    • As you feel led, share in the comment section. I’d LOVE TO HEAR how the Praise Rhythms help you keep in step with God this season. Do share!
    • God’s joy needs to be shared. One way to do that is to share this site. 😉
Photo by Andy Cat on Unsplash

Featured Photo by Matthias Cooper on Unsplash; Bits and Pieces Photo by Yana Gorbunova on Unsplash
*an affiliate link with which I might earn a bit

God With Us: Peace

The rush of a season meant for festivities often leaves us floundering in a wake of struggle and stress. Hustle shifts, becoming the hectic pace of hurry. Long lists begin to feel like imprisonment instead of empowerment. And plans for peace and joy get swallowed by panic and chaos. 

Will I get it all done?
Will he like his gift?
Will they get along?
Will the money stretch?
Will the grief overtake me?

December has just begun, yet pressure already squeezes with its tight grip. 

So. We pause. 

We take a breath, and we refocus. We move our gaze off the waves that threaten to drown us and onto the Savior who is reaching for us. We let go of our worries that have overtaken our hearts and minds in order to look to the Sovereign One whose plans are perfect, whose burden is light, and whose peace is offered freely.

We look to Immanuel, God with us. Because He knew we would be here. Overwhelmed. Overworked. Over it all–as in, done. He knew we would have trouble (John 16:33). That’s why the Prince of Peace gives us His peace (John 14:27). Our Sovereign God has gone before us with an offering of peace because He knew we would need it.

God’s Brand of Peace 

Jesus desires that we would discern the difference between what the world calls peace and what He provides, so it helps to know what God’s peace is–why Paul says it’s beyond our understanding (Philippians 4:7), and why Jesus says it helps us live unafraid (John 14:27).  

The world’s version of peace often depends on absence. The absence of conflict, for instance. I remember teaching a unit on ‘war and peace’ to my seventh graders years ago. In all my materials, the only definition given for ‘peace’ was the absence of war. The thesaurus offered ‘tranquility’ as a synonym–a word that exudes calm and quiet. In other words, no battles raging.

A few years later, I saw a picture that stopped me in my tracks. A woman standing in the middle of a storm with the look of serenity. Something in me knew before I had done any sort of word study through the Bible that the ‘peace of Christ’ permeates us no matter what’s going on around us or even inside us.

Photo from Crosswalk.com — not the photo, but one that speaks a similar message

Jesus gives, not as the world gives. His peace is perfect. It’s transcendent of our situations. It surpasses our ability to describe it, but when it fills us, we feel its power to push aside all the doubt and dread, angst and apathy. Maybe that’s why the first words Jesus speaks to His fearful disciples after His resurrection is “peace be with you” (John 20:19, 21, 26).

There’s nothing absent in God’s brand of peace–rather, it is full. Full of the power only His presence can bring.

Eirene and Shalom

In the Greek, Jesus’ ‘peace be with you’ carries with it “the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and content with its earthly lot” (Strong’s, Greek 1515). Tranquil. Assured. Fearless. Content.

Such is the peace from the Greek, eirḗnē, which derives from a root word meaning, “to join, tie together into a whole.” In the Hebrew, its sister word, shalom, also connotes a sense of completeness (Strong’s, Hebrew 7965). Isaiah paints a beautiful picture of this peace:

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.”

Isaiah 26:3, emphasis mine

“Perfect peace” is a translation of shalom shalom–Isaiah’s creative doublet, using shalom twice, back-to-back. Jesus, the One who lived as a man on earth, knows the impossibility of achieving such perfect peace on our own. And He sees how our lacking definitions fall short of His shalom–peace that not only gives us a feeling but does a work of completeness and wholeness within us.

So, with all that in mind, I read Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Philippians 4:6-7 with greater understanding and appreciation:

“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”

Philippians 4:6-7 MSG, emphasis mine

Jesus knows we need His brand of peace. A peace that comes when all the “essential parts are joined together” (Strongs, Greek 1515)–something like:

Jesus dwelling in us  +  us dwelling with Him  =  perfect peace

Peace and Trust

Isaiah tells us that the only way to displace worry from the center of our lives is to trust God (Isaiah 26:3), yet it’s impossible to trust someone we don’t know. So. As we anticipate the coming of Jesus at Christmas, we can reflect on who He is as we move throughout our days. Our knowing Him will grow our trust in Him. 

Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

We can remember that He has been around since the beginning (Genesis 1:1, 26; John 1:1). He has ruled in heaven with all glory and power and honor for eternity yet gave all that up to come walk the earth in flesh. He left His throne in heaven to be a vulnerable baby, a tempted man, and the target of so many. For us.

We can remember that He accepted execution on a cross when He had the power to stop it. He chose to take on all our sins and die a criminal’s death. For us.

We can remember His love. His faithfulness. His joy. His peace. And that He extends all of these. To us.

We can remember that He is always near. That He never leaves us, never forsakes us. That all we need to do is look to Him, to call on Him–and He’s right there. With us.

We can remember that He sent His Spirit. To dwell IN us.

As our trust in Him flourishes, His perfect peace blossoms within us, making us whole and complete. His peace in us pushes aside all worries–because He is able. Jesus is sovereign. He’s been the plan for God’s redemption from the start. He knows the beginning to the end. And He invites us into all of it.

For all these reasons we can thank God for the incarnation because He “knew we didn’t just need someone to look up to but we needed someone to be with us, someone who brings peace and makes peace and is Peace.”**

Father God, we thank You for your sovereign plan of redeeming us to yourself. We’re so grateful that your Son willingly carried out that plan to perfection so that now we get to enter your presence anytime we want to. Lord Jesus–our Prince of Peace–the peace You offer lacks nothing. It covers us in the storms. It fills us when war wages around us and within us. Oh, that we would trust You enough to believe, really believe, that this peace can be ours. Holy Spirit, we need your help to know Jesus well. Prompt us to look for Him in His Word and throughout our days. Nudge us to remember all He has already done for us. Warm our hearts with a love for Him that is fierce and unwavering so our trust in Him keeps our minds steadfast on Him–all the time. Jesus, thank You that you bring peace. May we receive it. Thank You for making peace–in us, around us, and through us. Thank You that You. Are. Peace. Make us whole in You. It’s in your name we pray, amen.

(inspired by Isaiah 53:5-6, John 3:16, Isaiah 9:6-7, Hebrews 10:19-23, John 14:25-26, Ephesians 2:14, 1 Thessalonians 5:23 MSG, Emily P Freeman)

  • Rhythms: The more I lean into the “unforced rhythms of grace” (Matthew 11:29, MSG), the more I desire to do them. In fact, over Thanksgiving week my rhythms all but disappeared, and I lamented their loss. So, this week I’ve loved getting back into the Word and spending time with God. But, as I suspect you know, December’s rhythms are so different than any other time of the year. My rhythms have to adjust accordingly for this season. I’m happy to say that an added rhythm has been spending time with good friends–such life-giving gifts they are!
    • Another way to keep our focus on Jesus this Advent is tapping into what’s already around us. Like flames. So…Week Two Praise Rhythm: Anytime this week you see flames (ie: candles or fireplaces), speak a word of thanks to God for the peace that comes with trusting Him.
  • Resources: I love sharing with you the books, podcasts, articles, and anything else that has inspired, encouraged, or taught me. These are humble offerings with no expectations.
    • This week Spotify sent out our “2022 Wrapped” details. It was fun to relive the songs and artists that have filled my year (and ears–haha). So many hours of listening to playlists that strengthen faith and encourage my spirit!! You might notice I added a song to our “God With Us” playlist this week. Matt Maher’s “Glory” speaks to so much of what we’re discovering about God’s brand of peace. Enjoy!
    • **You’ve heard me mention Emily P Freeman here before. I love her books and podcast. In her her October ’22 newsletter, she actually said: “Thank God for the incarnation, who knew we didn’t just need someone to look up to but we needed someone to be with us, someone who brings peace and makes peace and is Peace.” It’s still rocking my world.
    • I do love a great resource to help me dig into the original languages of Scripture. And when they’re online, it’s even better! Biblehub.com has been my go to for a while now. It’s where I can read a passage in its original language alongside English, then click links to get to deeper meanings and connections as collected by the Strong’s Concordance. I sat in awe as I read Isaiah 26:3 to see “shalom shalom!” I know I’m FAR, so very far, from the first person to see that. But I kinda felt like I’d discovered a treasure. You can see for yourself here.
  • We’re a flock. We’re a fellowship of believers. We’re a community. Know that you are not alone. You’ll walk these paths with Christ at your side and your sisters hemmed around you.
    • As you feel led, share in the comment section. I’d LOVE TO HEAR how the Praise Rhythms help you keep in step with God this season. Do share!
    • God’s peace needs to be shared. One way to do that is to share this site. 😉
Photo by Anne Nygård on Unsplash

Featured Photo by Guillermo Casales on Unsplash

Five Minute Friday: Instant

I don’t participate nearly as often as I’d like, but every Friday Kate Motaung posts a prompt in her Five Minute Friday writing community. This week’s prompt is the word ‘instant.’ I’m meant to free write for five minutes on this word, then post. So. Here goes.


The instant I saw her on the screen–thousands of miles from where I sat on the Zoom call–my heart felt a tug. Something in me knew I’d like her. That I should reach out to her.

The voices in my head debated this idea. One voice argued, maybe she doesn’t want your encouragement. Maybe she’ll think you’re weird. Or creepy. Or silly. Another voice suggested, not so nicely, that I’d been alone for so long that I didn’t know how to connect with people anymore. Then there was the voice that pointed out the distance between our two continents–so what would be the point?

But the voice connected to the tug, the one telling me I should send an email letting her know she’s seen and cared for, won out. I clicked send. And hoped.

An instant later, her reply came–full of teary emojis–amazed that I’d noticed. Even more astounded that I would make such a personal contact, especially in a moment she really needed it.

That was a year ago. Since then, Emily and I have worked ‘alongside each other’ digitally on projects and learned much about one another. We’ve planned and projected, dreamed and delighted along with other friends in our online community.

Then. Today. We got to meet in person. The connection made complete.

God With Us: Goodness

So much fills our senses this time of year. Baubles on trees. Music jingle-jangling through every speaker. And stories of all sizes and skill-sets. From tall tales told by uncles around the table to the newest holiday book on display at the store, from romances set in Pinterest-styled living rooms to bedtime dramas about flying reindeer, stories abound.

But none are as foundational to this season as the one Linus has been telling every year for fifty-seven years. “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field…” (ref. Luke 2:8-14, KJV). 

This inaugural chapter of our Advent series finds itself within an ancient yet most alive story that grounds itself in the goodness of God. For since the fall in the Garden of Eden, God has been implementing a plan to redeem what has been torn apart. He’s been working to restore His relationship with us. 

As we turn the pages of history to look back at all God has done, our faith builds because we see with fresh eyes just how good He is. We’ll also witness how this perfect plan of His pulls us into the story He is still writing.

Remember: The Bigger Story

Since the saga of Christmas is part of a bigger story–that of redemption, that of God desiring to dwell with His people–it’s good to name the steps He’s been implementing in His great rescue plan.* Turning to early chapters in the story, we see God’s blueprint of redemption revealed through unlikely heroes: 

  • Noah, through whom God extends redemption to his family of six. 
  • Abraham, by whom God sets aside a chosen people. 
  • Moses, through whom God delivers a newborn nation. 
  • And David, by whom God offers redeeming power to an established nation of millions. 

Step by step, the goodness of God seeps through His people at each point of restoration until the main character leaps onto the page.

Even before His arrival, it’s obvious Jesus is different. He is miraculously conceived. His coming is announced by angels. Stars grow brighter and move about to lead some distant magi to Him. And his parents have to travel to another town–when His mother is heavy with child–for a reason only God could control.

His birth is startlingly ‘normal,’ albeit set in a stable. But eight days later, prophecies spoken over Him at the Temple confirm what Mary and Joseph have been told by angelic beings. Then, the holy family has to make a quick escape to Egypt to avoid Herod’s murderous plot against Him. Our hearts race at each turn.

But, when the apostle John describes Jesus as the Word made flesh (John 1:14), we pause. We zoom out a bit to see how this baby’s story fits into the bigger one. Ah, yes.

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).

“But you, Bethlehem…
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old….”
Micah 5:2

“For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given…”
Isaiah 9:6

We knew this would be the way God’s Redeemer would make His appearance. 

Only God can restore the rift separating us from Him. So, since we could not go to Him, He came to us.* (EE) And, that is very good.

Reflect: His Goodness

God’s story gives us many glimpses of His goodness. His provision of manna, quail, and water for the million-plus people wandering a desert–every day for forty years. The conquering of the fortified town of Jericho with walls falling at the sound of trumpets. His saving of Rahab and Ruth. His gift of a child to Hannah. His forgiveness and love of David. The sending of judges and prophets to save His people, again and again. 

Never does God’s character change. Nor His goodness wain.

So, at just the right time and perfect place, Jesus steps into our story. That Word made flesh–who tabernacled among us. Human and divine. Teacher and deliverer. Son of man and Son of God. Out of His immense love for us, God sends His only Son not only to dwell with us but to die for us (John 3:16). 

The more I read the Old Testament, the more I see God’s enormity. From beginning to end, He extends grace. He enters humanity’s mess. He executes His plan at every stage until this moment we’re reflecting on. Christ’s birth. The Messiah’s arrival.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

This baby born in a manger is the gift of all gifts. We don’t even need to unwrap Him to feel His goodness. His love. His peace.

God is so big and so good that I often marvel in my smallness. I can look at a Christmas tree and realize that He knows the number of every needle on every tree, just as He knows how many hairs our heads hold. I can stare at the stars in the sky and sense the stretch of the universe before me. And me, this little speck in the middle of it–yet He knows me. He loves me.

Just as He knows and loves you.

Realign: With Our Redeemer

We carry these remembrances and reflections with us into this busy season–not just for sentimentality’s sake but for a lining up of our hearts with His.

So that we remain in our Redeemer at every moment.
So that we can offer the grace we’ve been given.
So that we share the goodness of God with all who cross our path.

I’ve been praying for holy alignment in my own life for several months now. It started with Beth Moore’s Align study. So, now when I feel myself slipping out of sync with Him–you know, those moments of panic or self-pity–I return to Him. I turn on a worship song and lift my hands in surrender to Him. Or I pull out a written prayer and speak it aloud.** Or I sit in my favorite chair asking the Spirit to help me “recenter my scattered senses” back onto the One I adore.***

Realigning with my Redeemer is making all the difference. 

Jesus gave Himself so we could live like Him. Not some people, but all who will believe (John 3:16). Not some of the time, but any time that we’ll align our hearts with His (Ephesians 4:22-24). Not a little bit like Him, but full of His character–every fruit of the Spirit (Galaitans 5:22). 

Friends, our Redeemer came to earth to live among us and to make a way, through the pouring out of His atoning blood, for us to dwell with Him. Immanuel, God With Us, beckons us to draw near–to enter this story He is writing in us, about us, and through us and to seek His goodness with every turn of the page.

Heavenly Father, we marvel at your expansive reach–across time and space. How incredible and humbling it is to know that in the midst of all You do and see and know, You see and know and love us. Thank You for your Great Rescue Plan–for going before and making a way for us to be redeemed to You. Lord Jesus, You are the Savior we have been praying for. In our humble hearts You dwell. You are in us; You are for us; You are God With Us, Immanuel. We sit in these truths–right now–allowing the goodness of your presence to permeate our entire beings. Thank You, Jesus. Holy Spirit, we pray that You would continue to be our Helper, our giver of God’s wisdom. In this busy season, we especially ask that You would help us keep our hearts and minds aligned with the Father’s. We ask for eyes to see as He sees and ears to hear as He hears. Then hands to do as He leads. How grateful we are for your indwelling presence. In Jesus’ name, amen.

(inspired by Psalm 139:7-10, Isaiah 14:24, Epic of Eden, Casting Crown’s song “God Is With Us,” Galatians 5:17, John 14:26 , John 17:20-21, Colossians 3:23-24, 2 Timothy 1:14)

  • Welcome to Advent! Every year we lean into the four weeks preceding Christmas as a time to remember, reflect, and realign our hearts with our Father in heaven. Advent, meaning ‘arrival of a notable person, thing, or event,’ is meant to help us keep our focus on the coming of Jesus. It’s a season to celebrate the original advent of Christ and anticipate His second arrival. And on this blog we will focus specifically on the ways Jesus is God With Us. I hope you’ll invite a friend to take part with us!
  • Rhythms: I love the idea of connecting with God in rhythms–what Eugene Peterson calls “unforced rhythms of grace” (Matthew 11:29). Rhythms help us keep moving toward God with practices and a heart posture that move in and out as each day and season allows. For most of us, Advent (aka: the Christmas Season) is so jam packed with plans and to-do’s that our rhythms need to adjust. Rather than let go of all prayers and studies, we can pick up rhythms that fit our pace and place. With this in mind, I’ll suggest one rhythm a week during Advent that I’ll call our Praise Rhythm because the hope is we’ll find creative ways to praise Immanuel as we go about our days.
    • Week One Praise Rhythm: Anytime this week you see a poinsettia, immediately offer a praise to Jesus, thanking Him for shedding His blood for your redemption.
  • Resources: I love sharing with you the books, podcasts, articles, and anything else that has inspired, encouraged, or taught me. These are humble offerings with no expectations.
    • Christmas music is here, and this playlist is specifically curated for our Advent series, God With Us! Some of the songs capture the overarching theme perfectly while others touch on specific topics we’ll hit each week. But all of the songs anchor us in the reality of what happened that night in Bethlehem all those years ago–Jesus came to earth to dwell among people! What a miracle to celebrate!
    • *When I allude to The Great Rescue Plan, I am pulling in the language used by Dr. Sandra Richter from her book Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament.**** I reference her work a lot because IT’S SO GOOD. 🙂
    • **There are so many great ‘pre-written’ prayers we can pick up anytime we someone else’s words to help us realign with God’s heart. The Psalms, to name a few. But, one I’ve been going to a lot this past year is Victor Matthew’s “Believer’s Warfare Prayer.” It’s just long enough to break through the muck of my mind and powerful enough to push back all the untruths. Again, so good.
    • ***A friend and I jumped into Beth Moore’s study, Align: 31 Days of Prayer Aligned with God’s Desires, this last summer. And wow! About a week into it I really felt my prayers deepening and saw the Word of God fill my prayers. I’m so excited that it’s available again on her site. If you need something to jump start your New Year, grab a friend and do this!
  • We’re a flock. We’re a fellowship of believers. We’re a community. Know that you are not alone. You’ll walk these paths with Christ at your side and your sisters hemmed around you.
    • As you feel led, share in the comment section. I’d LOVE TO HEAR how the Praise Rhythms help you keep in step with God this season. Do share!
    • God’s goodness needs to be shared. One way to do that is to share this site. 😉

(Poinsettia Praise Photo by Nika Benedictova on Unsplash)

Featured Photo by Max Beck on Unsplash; Bits and Pieces Photo by Yana Gorbunova on Unsplash
****an affiliate link with which I might earn a bit


Dwell: In God’s House Forever

and I will dwell in the house 
of the Lord forever.
Psalm 23:6b

This time of year conversations swirl, spurred by simple curiosity, “Are you going home for the holidays?”

Home. The word can mean something different for each of us, and many have attempted to give it a solid definition–or at least a direction:  

  • There’s no place like home.
  • Home is where the heart is.
  • Home is not a place but people…or a feeling.
  • A house is made of bricks and beams. A home is made of hopes and dreams.

As I read each of these adages, I detect a note of longing. Maybe because I hear Dorothy’s desperate wish. But also because I know that no matter our unique past experiences of ‘home’ or our current state of home-ness, we all have an unquenchable craving for a place of true belonging. 

Of being loved for who we are. 
Of feeling safe and secure.
Of being part of something bigger than ourselves.

Our hearts yearn for such a home because our inmost self feels the lack of it in this life. The more we endure the brokenness of the world where things like death, disease, and divorce keep us from finding true belonging, the more we awaken to the truth that we were created for more. 

David, in Psalm 23, helps us understand that this ache for home is the God-given desire to dwell with our Good Shepherd.

Contentment and Assurance 

After the summer adventures of navigating dark valleys and lush mesas, sheep love coming home as autumn closes out (Keller, 166). The warmth of home welcomes. Its shelter assures. The very act of coming home comforts. 

David, writing as the sheep, knows the contentment of being at home with the Shepherd (p.165). He delights in the truth that God is near–and always will be.

I love a good Hallmark Christmas movie, and the underlying theme of so many is ‘coming home’–back to the place of birth, the house full of memories, the town of their growing up. Some protagonists resist the pull of the return trip. Others skulk home, hearts heavy with failure. While a few eagerly brave the snow-packed roads to get back to their roots. But, in the end, they all discover the deeper truth that home is presence.

Photo by Sweta Meininger on Unsplash

Like David, when these Hallmark heroines embrace all that home has been, has become, and will be, contentment settles in. The heaviness lifts. Hope replaces disappointment. Joy carries them into a new future–because of the love around them.

Lest you be tempted to wave off such simplistic plot structures, just know there’s a reason over 85 million people tune in for the two months of Christmas feature films on this one channel. Because they reflect what all our hearts hunger for. 


Our Forever Home

Despite the disappointment that comes from living in fractured families and with broken bonds, we have reason to rejoice. We have much to hope for–not only because our Good Shepherd is with us now but also because He has gone before us to prepare a place for us, an eternal home. This mansion with many rooms is the very place our hearts have yearned for all our days (John 14:2-3). 

Friends, the home of our pining has been promised, and it exists. Our forever home looks like:

  • The place of perfect protection and provision. 
  • The abode of abiding love. 
  • The refuge of restful peace. 
  • The shelter of safety and security. 
  • The new heaven and earth where no sickness or sadness, no strain or sting exist (Revelation 21:1-4). 
  • The New Jerusalem where the Light of World fills the earth everyday, all day, for eternity (Revelation 21:22-24). Because He is right there with us.

For all our wanderings in this world as sojourners, we will finally put down roots in our eternal residence. And it will be better than anything we could have ever imagined–because, for the first time since the Garden of Eden, our Father will bodily dwell among us. Just as He intended.

Not only do we benefit from God’s goodness and mercy all the days we live on the earth, but we possess the gift of anticipating His glorified presence with us in eternity.

Photo by Lucas van Oort on Unsplash

All the Wonder

So, as we wrap up another series together, I invite you to cease your wandering. Instead, look up! Be wowed by the wonder of God’s handiwork all around you. Sense His nearness. And know that His presence guarantees everything you’ll ever need. The Lord is your Shepherd. You lack nothing (Psalm 23:1).

In Him you have found a home. And, in you God has made His home–right here, right now. This dwelling together in our imperfect world serves as a source of strength and inspiration, opening our hearts to worship the One who has claimed us as His own. 

Until you move into your room in that big, heavenly house, be fueled by the hope of the great and perfect joy that is to come. I pray that each of us can be sustained by the sheer anticipation of such glory! In the meantime, remember the Good Shepherd dwells within you. His Spirit waits for the turn of your ear, the opening of your eye to take in the wonder of the goodness of God. Inside you. And all around you.

Father God, we are so humbled by this gift of your perpetual presence. Thank You for helping us understand that this longing in our hearts is for more of You, for time in your holy presence. Father, we desire to dwell with You. Lord Jesus, gratitude fills us as we rest in these truths of hope and joy–You have made a way for us to abide in You, now and forever. We thank You for the gift of your presence within us–the Spirit’s indwelling. Holy Spirit, our Helper, we thank You for all the ways You nudge and poke and whisper to our hearts the ways of Christ. Thank You for showing us the path of faith, taking us by the hand and leading us by your counsel. And for being our constant reminder that God is with us. Always. Now and for all eternity. May the hope of God continue to fill us with all joy and peace as we trust in Him, so that we may overflow with hope by the power You offer us. We’re looking up! We marvel at all the ways You work, so we move into this holiday season with renewed hope–because You are our home. In Jesus’ name, amen. 
(Inspired by Psalm 139:7, John 15:4-8, John 14:2-3, John 16:7, Psalm 72:23-24, Romans 15:13)

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  • It’s always bittersweet to end a series. Sad to let it go, but grateful for the work it’s done in me. Reluctant to move on, yet excited about our upcoming Advent series: “God With Us.” I hope you’ll join me for this most special season as we anticipate Christ’s coming and the dawning of a new year.
  • Rhythms: We’re entering into the busiest time of the year. So, we’ll be challenged to keep the same rhythms we’ve developed this fall. In response, we could shift our rhythms a bit. Maybe let go of the deeper studies and focus on one passage for the rest of the year. Psalm 73:23-26 has been a sustaining Word for me in the last two years, so I offer it as one you could abide in as you go about all the work of planning and preparation, of purchases and product development ;).
    • We add Psalm 23:6b to our memorization this week, finishing out Psalm 23. It’s forever locked in our minds and hearts–always at the ready when we’re tempted to disbelieve truths about our Good Shepherd or to doubt His goodness and mercy. We’ve dwelled upon His Word. Now it dwells in us.
  • Resources: I love sharing with you the books, podcasts, articles, and anything else that has inspired, encouraged, or taught me. These are humble offerings with no expectations.
    • If you need a prayer rhythm for the holidays, I love recommending the Lectio 365 app. Prayer giants like Pete Greig lead us in daily prayers that are soaked in the Word, helping us align with God and look beyond ourselves. So. Good.
    • I must admit I’ve not been listening to our Dwell playlist this week as I’ve been indulging in the upcoming Advent playlist. But. I’ll share that next week!
    • Phillip Keller’s book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23.* What a gift. You know, I received this book as a gift two Christmases ago…thanks, Aunt Susan!
  • We’re a flock. We’re a fellowship of believers. We’re a community. Know that you are not alone. You’ll walk these paths with Christ at your side and your sisters hemmed around you.
    • As you feel led, share in the comment section. Let us know how God is leading you. And how we can be praying for you. Ask questions. And share your thoughts.
    • I hope you’ll invite someone to join our flock. All sheep need the Good Shepherd.

Featured Photo by Ian Keefe on Unsplash
*an affiliate link with which I might earn a bit

Dwell: In God’s Goodness and Mercy

Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life
Psalm 23:6a

On this journey with the Shepherd King, David, we’ve trekked through fields and valleys and mountaintops to get to this final verse–to be reminded that Psalm 23 is a looking back. David gazes upon this life he has walked with his God and calls it good. The one who fought a giant, battled against armies all around him, lost children, and sinned greatly stares in the rearview mirror and sees only God’s mercy and goodness.

How many times in our own lives do we see God at work best by looking back?

At a recent women’s retreat, I heard a woman reflecting on the last few years. As she recited each dire circumstance, her smile grew wider–because she could see how God worked in and through each one. Then the dots connected and lights went on as she realized how much she had grown because of those difficult situations–because she had relied on God. This sweet woman allowed her mind’s eye to revisit the difficult years in order to see how God’s goodness and mercy had followed her. How He worked all things out for good. How He met her where she was and helped her mature–spiritually, emotionally.

And as she did, her joy exploded. Her faith for her current circumstances stabilized, anchoring on the truth that God never leaves her. That He is her means for navigating through all she faces. He’d done it in the past. He’ll do it again. And again. And again.

This is living with expectancy. When we put our faith in the Good Shepherd–the One before us, the One we follow–our hearts and minds and souls abound in trust that He also comes behind us with nothing but goodness and mercy.

Soaking in God’s Love

Do you remember those old bubble bath commercials? Calgon, take me away! The dailiness of life takes its toll. The challenges of the world’s chaos and people’s brokenness cause us to want to hide away. But a better option is to soak in God’s love.

Photo by Timothy Dykes on Unsplash

Soaking requires full-body immersion. Not dipping a toe. Not standing in a shower. But slipping into a tub full of warmth that envelopes every part of us. Then we stay there, soaking–steeping ourselves in the love needed to replenish and restore our depleted selves. 

God promises that His love for us will be unshakeable (Isaiah 54:10).
God demonstrated His love by sending Jesus to die for us (Romans 5:8).
God makes us alive in Christ because of His great love for us (Ephesians 2:4-5).
God’s love makes us more than conquerors, more than overcomers (Romans 8:35).
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them (1 John 4:16). 

When we are rooted and established in God’s love, we have the power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep Christ’s love is; and when we know this love that surpasses knowledge–that has no words to describe it adequately–we are filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (paraphrase of Ephesians 3:17-19).

Paul’s language embodies abundance. Not shallow roots that come up easily, but roots that run in a million different ways at a depth that can’t be plumbed. Not a love that ebbs and flows like the tide, but love that is steady and so deep that we cannot see or fathom how far it goes. Not a little bit of God, but all of God. 

All of God in us. 

God dwells in us. His love flows through our veins. And His love is so perfect, so divine, so unconditional, so finite that an eternity of soaking in its depths wouldn’t be enough for us to exhaust its supply. 

Friends, this is the love of our Good Shepherd. The One who created us. Who knows us by name. Who counts every hair on our heads. Who leads us to the greenest meadows and the freshest waters. Who goes before us preparing paths and tables. Who anoints our heads and fills our cups. THIS is the Shepherd who also hems us in from behind while simultaneously walking beside us (Psalm 139:5; Psalm 16:8).

This is the love available to each. of. us. This is the love that helps us trust that our Shepherd will never leave us. Never abandon us. NOT EVER. He loves us too much. Soak in that truth. Let it seep into every pore, every brain cell, every vein and muscle and tissue of your being SO THAT you will trust that His love for You is not only constant but only and ever full of goodness and mercy.

Share the Love

Phillip Keller describes sheep as the only livestock that can leave a field better than they found it. When they have a good shepherd who takes care to meet all their needs, fend off the wolves, and fight the pests and pestilence, the goodness they’ve been given is shared. They are natural weed-eaters. They clear the overgrown. They fertilize the sterile. They restore ravaged lands (p.159).

Photo by Martin Bisof on Unsplash

In other words, sheep pass on the goodness and mercy they’ve been given. And so must we.

We can share the love we’ve been soaking in with people around us, being the peace instead of the conflict, the hope instead of the negative pot-stirrers, the joy instead of the bitterness, the love instead of the hate. 

“The only real, practical measure of my appreciation for the goodness and mercy of God is the extent to which I am, in turn, prepared to show goodness and mercy to others.” 

Keller, 162

There’s no fear in sharing the love we’ve been given because we know of its endless supply. There’s no hoarding it all for ourselves because we have been given so abundantly. There’s no waste when it comes to sharing God’s love because once we’ve sown its seed, we never know of the roots that grow unseen. We trust the outcome to God. We simply release with joy all the love we’ve been given, leaving the world better than we found it.

Friends, God’s goodness and mercy never cease. They’ll always be with us because God forever dwells with us and in us. When we begin to live from this place, our minds shift from scarcity to abundance. Our hearts fill to overflowing. Our souls pour out all that we’ve been given. Do you see the constancy of such love? Do you see how in the presence of our Good Shepherd we, the sheep, can find not only comfort but an outpouring of everything we could ever need? And how from that overflow we can spread that love across the fields of this earth? This lovely, eternal cycle is what we’ve been invited into. This holy, abiding relationship is what sustains such a constant flow of love and faith, of hope and joy.

So, let us never give up looking back to see all that God has done. Let us live in our current circumstances with a full trust that He remains with us as our Good Shepherd, offering us all we need–provision, protection, and a proliferation of life and love.

This Shepherd is worthy of our adoration. Our trust. Our abiding love. Let us follow well, full of expectancy for all He is and all He will do.

Today is a great day to enter into a prayer made famous by St. Patrick. To speak these words aloud builds our faith and anticipation of just how near He dwells:

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
(taken from the prayer of St. Patrick’s Breastplate)

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  • Rhythms: Swaying to the rhythm of a song gives us a great picture of what it is we’re meant to do as we come into God’s presence to pray, to read His Word, to hear His voice, to just be… Some days hold more of these than others. Some seasons are packed full of such holy rhythms. Some moments are full on intercession while others are full of peaceful silence. What is your spirit yearning for today? What rhythms are pulling you toward Jesus? Enter in. And rest.
    • Goodness, we’re nearly done memorizing Psalm 23. Next week we wrap up this series and this Psalm. Which means–this week we add the first half of verse 6 to our memory work. Sway with it as you recite, picturing the Good Shepherd stepping in time with you.
  • Resources: I love sharing with you the books, podcasts, articles, and anything else that has inspired, encouraged, or taught me. These are humble offerings with no expectations.
    • Chris Tomlin almost always makes our series playlists, and this playlist is no different. From his 2018 album, Holy Roar, Chris sings Psalm 23, emphasizing God’s goodness, love, and mercy. Allow the truths of these lyrics to pour over you like anointing oil!
    • Phillip Keller’s book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23,* packs a punch with every chapter. I’d forgotten, since first reading this book, how the sheep pass on the good they’ve been given. What a gorgeous picture of how we’re meant to live in this world!
    • Though they went unquoted in this post, Aimee Walker and JD Walt continue to inspire me with their own thoughts and writing. Thanks!!
  • We’re a flock. We’re a fellowship of believers. We’re a community. Know that you are not alone. You’ll walk these paths with Christ at your side and your sisters hemmed around you.
    • As you feel led, share in the comment section. Let us know how God is leading you. And how we can be praying for you. Ask questions. And share your thoughts.
    • I hope you’ll invite someone to join our flock. All sheep need the Good Shepherd.

Featured Photo by Kourosh Qaffari on Unsplash
*an affiliate link with which I might earn a bit