Category: Reflective Focus

A Gift for Jesus

It was the night before Christmas and all over the earth

Only a few people were aware of Christ’s birth.

He was not an ordinary baby, for Jesus is God’s Son.

He chose to leave Heaven to provide redemption for everyone.

The wise men came from afar their precious gifts to bring,

Angels in Heaven that day had a new song to sing.

Jesus grew, was crucified, rose, but now He’s gone away.

He’s again at the right hand of the Father, what can we give Him today?

What can we give to the King of Glory, owner of all creation?

Is there anything that we can give to the source of our salvation?

The gift that He wants is the very thing that costs us a great deal more

Than anything we might purchase in the finest department store.

He wants all of our love, our trust and our loyalty, too.

Loving Jesus with all of our hearts is the only gift that will do.

First Christ said, “Love me with all of your heart, soul and mind

Then I want you to spread My love among all mankind.”

We can’t give anything to Jesus that’s not already His, that’s true.

What He asks of us is to give ourselves to others and let His love shine through.

What Jesus asks of us is nothing more than He was willing to give.

Spending His time serving others, He gave the only life He had to live.

So in remembering the significance of this wonderful day

Let us celebrate the birth of our Savior in a Christlike way.

Let us make sure that His will in our lives is the goal that we seek

Looking for ways to help those less fortunate, wounded, weary and weak.

Christmas day takes on new meaning for us all through the year

When the voice of Jesus, not Satan, we have tuned in to hear.

As we live as Christ lived, without resentment, anger or strife,

We can then wish to one another,

“Merry Christmas and a Christ-filled life!”

 

© Stephanie B. Blake

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Words of Wisdom

As it is impossible for me to place a value on individuals who have personally helped me grow in my Christian walk, I also owe a debt to many brothers and sisters in Christ I have never met.  These have shared something on paper – authors who have influenced me through their writing. 

Just because something is in print, doesn’t mean it is true.  However, when someone’s writing is compared against scripture and found true to those principles contained therein, often incredible insight is shed on what scripture has to say – either through the author’s study of the Word or their own experience with the Lord. That is what happens in churches, Bible schools and seminaries.  Believers are exposed to great men and women of the ages who help shape their understanding of God’s Word.

In this Reflective Focus, I am sharing with you a few of the authors who have made an indelible imprint on my life.  Some are quoted in my own book, The Prayer Driven Life. Many of my trusted authors have long since gone on to Glory, but their words live on. Although the language is not contemporary, just like the hymns of the faith, there is great value in many of the Christian classics. I also have favorites among current authors.  A couple of them are noted below. Whether the author resides this side of Heaven or in Heaven itself, all have given me at least a nugget of truth that often comes to mind just when I need it.

Perhaps some of these are also your favorite authors.  My hope is that you will be enriched by their words of wisdom just as I have been.

A.W.Tozer

My father introduced me to A. W. Tozer, a prolific writer who died in 1963. I have read several of his books, but the one that has yellow highlights all the way through is The Knowledge of the Holy.  Several wonderful quotes from that work are:

  • “He needs no one, but when faith is present, He works through anyone.”
  • “God dwells in eternity but time dwells in God.”
  • “He never differs from Himself. The concept of a growing or developing God is not found in Scriptures. . . . Is it not a source of wondrous strength to know that the God with whom we have to do changes not? . . . We need not wonder whether we shall find Him in a receptive mood.”

Hannah Whitall Smith

In 1875, a Quaker by the name of Hannah Whitall Smith, wrote The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life. From the very beginning of that Christian classic, my thoughts were molded by her teaching. Although this book is still in print and for sale, you can also read it online. I especially recommend the first chapter: God’s Side and Man’s Side. To paraphrase the author, God’s part is to do all the work, your part and my part is to trust Him.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Early in my Christian life, someone gave me a copy of The Cost of Discipleship.  The author is well known not only for his writing, but the fact that his faith and courage in opposing Hitler’s persecution of the Jews resulted in what he called “costly grace” in his book – his own martyrdom. Every Christian would do well to read his comparison of “cheap grace” and “costly grace.”

 George Müller

There have been times when I have learned about the wisdom of a great man of God not from his own writing, but the record of his life given in a biographical volume.  This is the case with George Müller, a Prussian-born English evangelist who founded orphanages in Bristol.

I appreciate someone like Andrew Murray, a wonderful example of godliness in his own right, who gives us a record of George Müller’s life and sayings.  George Müller kept a journal of his prayers. Some of these are included in George Müller, and the Secret of His Power in Prayer by Andrew Murray.  However, it was Murray who was able to include facts such as the following.

After some months of prayer and waiting on God, a house was rented, with room for thirty children, and in course of time three more, containing in all 120 children.  The work was carried on it this way for ten years, the supplies for the needs of the orphans being asked and received of God alone.  It was often a time of sore need and much prayer, but a trial of faith more precious than of gold was found unto praise and honour and glory of God.

The Lord was preparing His servant for greater things.  By His providence and His Holy Spirit, Mr. Muller was led to desire, and to wait upon God till he received from Him, the sure promise of £15,000 for a Home to contain 300 children.  This first Home was opened in 1849.  In 1858, a second and third Home, for 950 more orphans, was opened, costing £35,000.  And in 1869 and 1870, a fourth and a fifth Home, for 850 more, at an expense of £50,000, making the total number of the orphans 2100.

C. S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis is well known, especially for his Chronicles of Narnia series.  However, it was The Screwtape Letters, a series of letters written by a demon named Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood giving him advice on how to turn his “patient” away from God and toward Satan, that most caught my attention.  In this work, Lewis states, “The safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

Oswald Chambers

My Utmost for His Highest may well be the most popular devotional book of all time. I know that it is mine.  One day’s entry, Nothing of the Old Life states:

How are we going to get a life that has no lust, no self-interest, and is not sensitive to the ridicule of others? How will we have the type of love that “is kind.  . . is not provoked, [and] thinks no evil”? (1 Corinthians 13:4-5). The only way is by allowing nothing of the old life to remain, and by having only simple, perfect trust in God— such a trust that we no longer want God’s blessings, but only want God Himself. Have we come to the point where God can withdraw His blessings from us without our trust in Him being affected? Once we truly see God at work, we will never be concerned again about the things that happen, because we are actually trusting in our Father in heaven, whom the world cannot see.

Jerry Bridges

Jerry Bridges, speaker and staff member of the Navigators, is best known for his work The Pursuit of Holiness, which is indeed a favorite in my library.  However, it is his Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts that I have read, reread and will indeed read again.

Billy Graham

Having read many of the books that Billy Graham has written, Angels, God’s Secret Agents is a book I refer to time and again.  In his introduction, Dr. Graham states:

When I decided to preach a sermon on angels, I found practically nothing in my library. Upon investigation I soon discovered that little had been written on the subject in this century. This seemed a strange and ominous omission. Bookstores and libraries have shelves of books on demons, the occult and the devil. Why was the devil getting so much more attention from writers than angels? Some people seem to put the devil on a par with God. Actually, Satan is a fallen angel.

Since that time, there have been many books written about angels.  Billy Graham’s book is still my favorite.

Junior Hill

Junior Hill, a godly evangelist and personal friend, has authored many wonderful books.  My personal favorite is The Shadow of His Hand which deals with suffering, pain and disappointment.  It is worth repeating the quote from this book that is in chapter 15, “The Comfort Giver” of The Prayer Driven Life:

While God already knew how we felt, He wanted us to know that He knew! That’s why He left Heaven. That’s why He robed Himself in human flesh.  That’s why He subjected Himself to every hurt and every heartache that is common to us all. He wanted all the suffering and hurting saints of every generation to be able to confidently say, “My Savior knows how I feel-He really does know-and thank God, I know that He knows!” 

Comforted by that blessed truth, we take joy in our tribulations and we rejoice in our sorrows for they become the doorway through which we pass into “the fellowship of His sufferings” (Philippians 3:10). And once we have been shut up with Him, He begins that wonderful process of instruction that prepares us to help others.

There are also notes in my Bibles from sermons preached by my husband, Richard, as well as other preachers who have helped me understand the passage covered in their sermon topic.  I encourage you to be aware when God is giving you a gift of insight through preaching or someone’s writing that will enable you to know Him better.

© Stephanie B. Blake

November 2009

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No Prayer Too Small

Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart (Luke 18:1 NKJV).

Recently I read 100 Amazing Answers to Prayer by William J. Peterson and Randy Peterson.  In a story about George Müller, the authors stated:

Müller kept careful records of everything, including his prayer requests. His prayer notebook had two page entries, one page for requests and the opposite page for God’s answer.  He dated every entry, so no one would question that God had answered.  Müller calculated that during his lifetime fifty thousand of his requests were answered.

George MüIler was a 19th century English evangelist and director of orphanages in Bristol, England. He cared for over 10,000 orphans in his life. He never requested financial support for his work, nor did he ever go into debt.  His ministry of caring for orphans and Bible distribution was solely funded through prayer. Many times God provided the food for the children just as mealtime was approaching. If you have not already done so, I would recommend reading one of the books about his life and dependency upon God.

In The Prayer Driven Life, I mention my own prayer journal.  In 2001 I began keeping a record of some amazing events that God brought about in our family.  Over time it morphed into a prayer journal.  In 2008 my prayer journal became a praise journal where I record praises and thanks to God for His provision and answers to prayer. Although I do not journal every day, I often record His continued involvement in everyday affairs so I will not forget how He has been working.  Reading back through my prayer journal always gives me encouragement.

One very comforting thing is that there is no prayer too small to bring to my Heavenly Father. He cares about everything.  He never says, “I’m too busy. Don’t bother me with those little details.” Just as an earthly father delights when his child tells him everything, God the Father wants to hear from us about anything that concerns us. Although there are still occasions I look back on a situation and say, “I wish I had prayed about that,” I am working to eliminate those times. I take Him literally when He says . . . in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God (Philippians 4:6).

In this Reflective Focus, I am sharing from my personal journal and experience a few of the little things that God took care of.  Reading back in my journal made me realize how many times I pray about driving through the rain!  Only two of those instances are recorded here. My prayers are in italics. Regular journal entries are not.

Mission Trip in Austria

Thank You, Lord, for a special treat today.  On the way home from an outing, Rick found a 5€ bill on the sidewalk right in front of him.  We went straight to the Turkish market and bought lunch for 5€.  I laughingly said, “Anyone who said there is no free lunch doesn’t know God!”

You are so good to us, Lord.  Each day there are more opportunities to watch how You provide.  The apartment didn’t have a coffeepot or ice trays.  Tom and Barbara are bringing some over in a few minutes.  Thank You again for Your gracious love!

On a Road Trip in Texas

Tire separation after praying for protection during rain, had a place to pull off, insurance paid for the repair (there was already something that needed to be fixed on that side) and Michelin tire paid for another tire and 75% off another 3 so we have four new tires for about the price of one ($226).  Praise God!

By Myself in Germany

Father, there were other things I wanted to accomplish while I was here alone and You helped me with those. I have found my way to Praktiker and Walmart and IBC Weisbaden.  The day I went to speak to the women, I got turned around and it was REALLY raining but You got me through.  I even thought it was kind of comical.  I asked You to keep the rain away and You wanted me to drive in the rain.  I didn’t want to get lost and I did but You directed me back and I greeted Ilsemarie @exactly 11:30!!

 (I remember praying that I would not be late to the event).

Thank You for reminding me to speak slowly and explain things people might not understand.  And thank You for the flowers and the $75.  I also laughed to myself when they packed my food up in aluminum containers that I can use to bake bread in.  I didn’t want to ask Rick to bring bread pans or buy any and You provided these. 

I am so aware, Father, that You cover me with abundance and frugal luxuries.  The table by my bedside was exactly what I wanted (not needed) and You had it sitting there in the junk shop waiting for me.

Please help us not to have such a bad time with jetlag this time.  Thank You!!

Trip across the Ocean

Again, Lord, as I read over these requests, I am in awe of how You answer prayer!  Rick and I had virtually no problem with jetlag this time.  Thank You!

Preparing for another trip

Help us as we get ready to go to Berlin and Vienna.  If may not seem like a big thing, but I need help packing!  Help me to know what to leave and what to take since the allowance on Air Berlin is so small.  I pray that we will not have to pay any extra.

Note on above request: I did not record the answer, but we didn’t have to pay extra for the luggage.

Mission Trip to Ukraine

In the apartment where we are staying, there are many books.  The missionary who rents this apartment has many books that we have and others of interest.  She had a book, Secrets of the Vine, that helped me prepare for the upcoming brunch at ICF Oberursel.  Only God could have placed that book here for me!

Alone Again in Germany

I spent yesterday working on the prayers of Paul and today working on laundry and some financial things as well as online research.  Before I forgot a couple of special prayers that God answered before and during the conference, I wanted to record them.

Before leaving for the conference, I took Rick to the airport and parked in the 15 minute parking spot.  I found him the first time I came in the airport, but went and fed the meter four more times and never found him again.  He had a terrible experience in the airport and the airplane, but thank You, Lord, he made it home safely. However, all the running back and forth put terrible blisters on my feet. I had worn shoes without socks and rubbed my feet raw.  The blisters were still not healed before the conference.  So the day before I left for Dubai, I went shopping to pick up a few things and just asked the Lord that if it were possible for me to find a pair of shoes that would match the clothes I had planned to take, that would be great.  Wonder of all wonders, in a discount store, the Lidl, which just has odds and ends of anything other than groceries, had the same color shoes I needed in my size that had no heel in the back!! I wore them and was comfortable the whole time.  Thank You, Lord, for taking care of small details.

The other prayer answered was indeed for a very small request, but very significant because of how it happened.  My roommate in Dubai tied her necklace in knots and could not get it undone. She had been working on it for a long time before I volunteered to help.  However, I could not get it either.  It was very tight and I could not see it.  She took it over again and then finally said, “I guess I will just cut out the knot.”  I told her to let me try one more time.  I struggled with it for a few more minutes, then said out loud, “I know this is a little thing, Lord, but I could use some help here.”  IMMEDIATELY, the knot loosened up and I was able to remove the necklace for her.  I used this as an illustration in my next seminar as to how God is concerned about the little thing that concerns us.  Praise Him for being a God who cares so much!

During a Visit to My In-Laws

When we arrived at my father-in-law’s home, he was distressed because he had lost his hearing aid.  There were quite a few family members in his home and he couldn’t hear what people were saying.  I then said out loud, “Lord, he really needs his hearing aid.  Where could it be?”  My sister-in-law, who heard me gasped when I bent down, lifted a throw rug and picked up the hearing aid handing it to my father-in-law. I said, “Did you see that?  Isn’t God good?”

Two Bars of Soap

While preparing for a trip to Cuba, the last thing I did before closing my suitcase was to ask God, “Is there anything else I need to put in there?”   The answer was “two bars of soap.” During the trip, we discovered a family who had been without soap in their home for a few days.  Then I knew why God had said “two bars of soap.”  I gave them to my friend and told her how God spoke to me in TX about her need in Cuba.

This has just been a glimpse into how I am assured God is concerned about the smallest details of my life.  The same is true for you. Nothing concerning you is inconsequential to God. My prayer is that you have been encouraged to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

© Stephanie B. Blake

October 2009

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The Promise of Rest

Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it (Hebrews 4:1).

Travel is wearying.  My husband and I do a lot of it.  In fact, he tells people that we live in the airport! I love our ministry but sometimes I just want to “be there,” and not go through the hassle of airline travel. I am sure many of you reading this can identify.

Finding the ticket or tickets for our trip takes a great deal of research. After paying for those expensive tickets, we must then decide what to pack.  Sometimes that is tricky since weather is unpredictable. Even in the summer, I pack a jacket when traveling to Europe.  Since we are often gone several weeks at a time, many times I pack for more than one season.  It is often necessary to pack equipment such as laptops, projectors, cameras, etc. The weight limitations now make that extremely difficult.  After much thought and careful weighing (even then we may leave something important behind), we are ready to start out on the trip.

The next phase, of course, is the trip to the airport.  Starting from our office in Texas, that portion of the trip takes an hour or more depending upon traffic.  There is always the decision of whether we impose upon someone to take us or drive ourselves and pay the hefty parking fee at the airport.

If you are a frequent flyer, you know what happens at the airport:

  • locating the correct check in line (even though we try to arrive at the right spot, sometimes we are at the wrong terminal and need to walk a long distance to get to our check in line)
  • long lines at check in for depositing the checked bags
  • more long lines through security and careful scrutiny of carry-on items
  • waiting at the terminal for departure (hoping the airplane will not be delayed)
  • the flight itself (usually 10 hours or more for us and maybe a change or two in between)
  • security and passport check at the destination
  • waiting to claim checked bags
  • waiting to go through customs declaration line
  • looking for the person who is meeting us at the airport, renting a car, boarding a train or taking a taxi to our destination
  • trip to the hotel
  • unpacking the bags
  • finding a local store (if possible) to buy things we have forgotten or snacks to eat in the room
  • repeating above in a few days for another destination

Just listing the process involved in 21st century travel makes me tired.  Neither my husband nor I can sleep on an airplane. By the time we reach our hotel room or other place of accommodation, we are exhausted. All we want to do is rest.

Perhaps that is the reason I have been so intrigued with God’s promise of rest.  The references He makes concerning rest give me hope for the future and affects how I feel about the present. Since I can rest in the Lord (Psalm 37:7), I can cope with the challenges of life.

There are several Hebrew and Greek words translated “rest” in the Old and the New Testament.  Some of them are nouns such as in Jeremiah 6:16, Thus says the Lord, “Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find rest for your souls”.  Others are verbs such as Proverbs 19:23, The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied, he will not be visited by harm (ESV).  The NKJV translates whoever has it rests satisfied as he who has it will abide in satisfaction. Christ told His followers to abide in Him (John 15 and 1 John).  We will never rest satisfied until we abide in Him.

The promise of rest is so encouraging. Rather than inactivity, it is a picture of safety and completed work, refreshment, recuperation.  In the process of creating the heavens and the earth, on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.  Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made (Genesis 2:2-3).

If rest was defined as total inactivity, there would be the temptation to think that it is dull or boring. I do not think this is what is being communicated in scripture. Jesus healed on the Sabbath and was criticized for it, but He reminded the critics that even on the Sabbath, they led their animals to food and water (Luke 13:10-17). There will be productivity in heaven, but no weariness involved in the work.

David knew the meaning of this word. Although rest itself is not used in his best known Psalm, he paints a visual picture of resting in the safety and security of the Good Shepherd. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters, He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me (Psalm 23:1-4).

Jesus also painted a word picture of this concept in Matthew 28:28-30.  A yoke is placed on the shoulders of two oxen so that they share the burden of carrying the load.  Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”                                                                                                                               Sharing your yoke (work) with Jesus does not remove the burden. It makes it easy to bear resulting in rest for your souls.

Spiritual rest is a goal for the Christian and a privilege denied the unbeliever. (Hebrews 3:7-4:11 and Revelation 14:9-13). Certainly, a Christian wants to be productive.  The fruitfulness of a believer is determined by his obedience to Christ’s call upon his life. The result of this obedience is the promise of rest. Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience (Hebrews 4:11).Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors and their works follow them” (Revelation 14:12-13).

When I finish an assignment, the completion of the task is very gratifying. I may take a rest before starting a new one. I can think more clearly after a rest.  As long as I am here on earth, there is work for me to do and there will be the need for refreshment and restoration. Fortunately, He who began His work in me is the One who will complete it (Philippians 1:6). In the life to come, there is the promise of rest from the labors of this life.

Just as I look forward to returning home at the end of a trip, there is a much greater anticipation for the “rest” of eternity, always and forever in His presence, without worry or care.

© Stephanie B. Blake

September 2009

All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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The Owner of the House

. . . say to the owner of the house, “The Teacher says, ‘Where is My guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?’ And he himself will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; and prepare for us there” (Mark 14:14-15 NASB).

Recently I met a man whose servant spirit truly impressed me.  A layman, he resides in a country where practically every church is a house church. He and his family had previously lived in a small apartment but looking around, he observed there was not a church available for those in his area. As he began praying for another place to live where there would also be space for a church, God led him to the ideal property.  After clearing trash from the lot, he set about building onto his home.  Being a steel worker, he constructed both the roof covering and the benches. He is continually making improvements to this “church” attached to his residence.

When we visited his home, he proudly introduced my husband and me to his young pastor and wife and some other members of the congregation. He and his wife provided a virtual banquet for a large group of people that evening.  Where he lives, that was not an easy thing to do.  His obvious joy in the Lord is cemented in my memory.  Honestly, I don’t remember his name, but it really doesn’t matter because God knows it.  I believe God will richly reward him for unselfish service for His kingdom’s sake.  I often think of this gracious man as “the owner of the house.”

Jesus, knowing that His time had come and that His crucifixion was close at hand, needed a private place to celebrate the Passover with His disciples. Sermons have been delivered and pictures have been painted about the events in “the upper room.” Mark tells us that place had already been made ready by the owner of the house. Only two verses tell us anything about the man who owned this house. Mark 14:14-15 tells us that he was expecting Jesus and His disciples.  Questions about the relationship between Jesus and this man go unanswered. How did he meet Jesus? Had he been His follower for a long time?  When did Jesus tell him He would need this room for the Passover?

It was in this house where Jesus washed the feet of all twelve of the disciples (even Judas). It was in this house where Judas left the group to betray Jesus into the hands of the chief priests, officers and the elders (Luke 22:52).  It was in this house where Jesus made astonishing statements to the remaining eleven disciples. It was in this house He said He was going to His Father’s house to prepare a place for them. It was in this house He revealed Himself as the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6) and the true vine (John 15:1).  It was in this house He promised to send the Holy Spirit to them.  It was in this house where He prayed for those who believed in Him (John 17).  The words that Jesus spoke in this house have been instruction, comfort and encouragement to believers throughout the ages.

The owner of the house goes unnamed. He is not mentioned again.  However, the value of his ministry is enormous. Certainly, without his obedience and generosity, this privilege would have gone to someone else. But he is the one who opened his home to the Lord and His disciples and provided the privacy, protection and atmosphere that Jesus needed at this crucial time in His ministry.

After reflecting on the owner of the house, I became aware of other important people in scripture whose names were not given to us. Many who served God were mentioned, not by name, but by their obedience and contribution to His purposes.

In the Old Testament, when Israel asked Samuel for a king to reign over them, God told Samuel that He would grant this request. His choice was a tall, handsome Benjamite named Saul. 1 Samuel 9 tells of the first meeting of Samuel and Saul. That meeting actually came about because of Saul’s servant. When Kish, Saul’s father, lost his donkeys, Saul was sent to search for them.  After a time, unsuccessful in his mission, Saul determined to go home. It was his servant who convinced Saul to seek out the prophet Samuel first (1 Samuel 9:5-10). God revealed Saul’s coming to Samuel (1 Samuel 9:15-17) and subsequently Saul was crowned king of Israel. The unnamed servant was a spiritual man led and used by God.

Another unnamed man in the New Testament provided something that the Lord needed.  On what we call Palm Sunday, the disciples were sent to bring a donkey and a colt to Jesus.  The Lord told His disciples, “If anyone says something to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them” (Matthew 21:3 NASB).  Although the scripture does not say that the disciples were questioned when they obtained the donkey and the colt (Matthew 21:6-7), it seems clear that the owner of the animals willingly provided them for the Lord’s use.

Cuba, May 2009 109 Just as the man I described at the beginning of this devotional, I have known many Christians whose service goes unnoticed by all but God. Some of those are prayer warriors.  Some have the spiritual gift of service or mercy.  When Paul described the parts of the body of Christ, he recognized the possibility that the “feet” and “ears” might rather be “hands” and “eyes” (1 Corinthians 12:15-16). Paul made the point, however, that fulfilling your individual calling as part of the body is what is important to the Lord.

 

How often have you thought what you do for the Lord is of little consequence?  Do you doubt your service really has any meaning? Service in obscurity sometimes seems like service without merit.  And yet, we can learn something from these unnamed men of God’s word.  Leave the results of your obedience to Him. As Jesus’ mother told the servants at the wedding in Cana, “Whatever He says to you, do it” (John 2:5).  

 

Jesus deserves to be the focus of your life.  Focus on Him, His love and His unique calling for your life. Your responsibility is to trust and obey Him giving Him glory. You will never know what He will dowith your smallest act of obedience. 

© Stephanie B. Blake

August 2009

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Focus Is A Choice

“O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31 NKJV).

Fear, worry and panic (all related emotions) have always been a struggle for me.  Loud noises make me jump. I often hesitate before stepping onto an escalator. I had a very hard time watching my sons climb beyond where I could reach them and have the identical response in observing my grandsons. In unfamiliar circumstances, I may experience a moment of panic. Perhaps it was something I learned as a child. Perhaps it is part of my temperament.  Whatever the reason, this tendency makes it necessary for me to exercise faith more often than I might otherwise.  My husband rightly says, “Fear and faith cannot reside in the same space.”  I choose to be a person of faith and so constantly work to remove the “fear factor” from my life.

My life verse is Philippians 4:6-7. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (NKJV)In many situations of life, I have had to say these verses to myself in order to get my mind off the situation that would cause me to be fearful or to worry.  More than anything, I know that I need the peace of God to guard my heart and my mind. If I allow myself to focus on negative possibilities, fear gains the upper hand.  If I focus on God and His unfailing provision, the negative emotions disappear. I have learned that focus is a choice.

Not only has my life verse (and many other scriptures) helped me conquer my fears, but my preference in reading material includes examples of those who have learned to focus on the positive.

Victor Frankl was a Jewish Viennese psychiatrist who recorded his experiences as a concentration camp inmate in his 1946 book, Man’s Search for Meaning. In his observation of other inmates, he discovered “those with a why to live could live with almost any how.” He also concluded that once a man lost his faith in the future, he was doomed.

No one can argue that the horrors of a concentration camp can devastate a person both physically and emotionally.  But, as evidenced in the story of Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsy, how you react to those circumstances is up to you. Corrie’s book The Hiding Place tells how she and Betsy chose to focus on Jesus and eternal blessings rather than the horrendous situation in which they found themselves.  Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things [focus on these things] (Philippians 4:8 NKJV).  With your focus on Jesus, you can birth a ministry even among the most terrible circumstances.

The Knowledge of the Holy by A. W. Tozer is based on Proverbs 9:10. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (NKJV). Reading this book helped me understand that when we fear God (have an awesome reverence for Him), we need fear nothing else.

The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith helped me to see the sovereignty of God in a new light.  Focus on God and He will direct your life (Proverbs 3:5-6).

In Tozer’s book, The Next Chapter After Last, he states “Doctors are becoming increasingly aware of the deadly effects of  the burden of the imponderables; they are learning that if they would do the patient any permanent good they must minister to the mind as well as to the body.” Many illnesses are caused by or made worse by worry.   Scripture states that as [a man] thinks in his heart, so is he (Proverbs 23:7).  Worry can make you sick.

Jesus knew that man had this tendency toward worry. He supplies the remedy in his Sermon on the Mount. One of the bullet points in this sermon starts with Matthew 6:19 and ends in verse 34. Jesus tells us that our perspective determines our loyalty.  Are we focused on the material and the immediate or are we focused on Heaven? An eternal perspective makes all the difference.

At first glance of verses 19-21 where Jesus tells us not to lay up treasures on earth, but in heaven, we might conclude that Jesus is telling us that we should not accumulate material things.  He had no place to call home himself and had few possessions.  However, we must always remember to take scripture in context and see the big picture.  Abraham, David, Solomon, Job and others were blessed with great wealth by God. He made the world and all that is in it for us to enjoy.  The key is verse 21, for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  Your heart determines your perspective.

Do you love God more than the things He provides? If everything in your life was removed, would you still trust Him? Is God enough? When you believe that life is more than food (Matthew 6:25), then your perspective is directed away from the concerns of the temporal.

Worry is mentioned five times in this passage (Matthew 6:19-34). In many other passages, God makes it clear that we should not worry. Casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you (1Peter 5:7 NAS).

My only consolation about my tendency for fear or worry is the Bible says I am in good company.  David said, “Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You” (Psalm 56:3 NKJV).  God repeatedly told Joshua to “be strong and of good courage” (Joshua 1). At one point, the faith of the apostle Peter was so strong that he was able to walk on water. He discovered something important that day. When he took his eyes off the Lord and focused on the wind around him, he became afraid and began to sink. See Matthew 14:25-31.

Like Peter, you can choose to focus on the wind of fear and circumstance or Jesus.  I choose to focus on Jesus. I pray that you do as well.

© Stephanie B. Blake

July 2009

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Where in the World is Barnabas?

 Therefore encourage one another, and build up one another. . . (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

In our ministry, my husband and I travel internationally.  Because of those travels, I am on a quest.  I would like to find one Barnabas . . . or two . . . or three . . . or a whole church full would be preferable.  You know who Barnabas is, right? He’s that friend of the apostle Paul who was an encourager.  Barnabas was the guy who first accepted Paul into the fellowship of believers (Acts 9:27).  He was also the one who decided to set out on a missionary journey with Mark when Paul refused to work with Mark (Acts 15:36-39). Barnabas was the man who stood by someone who was having difficulty being accepted in the fellowship.  He saw God working in the lives of his friends. He believed in them, and encouraged them.

You see, I have discovered a very sad fact.  No matter where the body of Christ is gathered, there are believers who have been hurt by someone in the church.  I mean, no church in the world is exempt from this issue.  Many of the people that we work with are leaders in the church – pastors, their wives, someone with a leadership role. I can think of very few instances where we have had a chance to hear someone open up where the primary problem wasn’t someone in the church!  Even in countries where you would think the government would be the biggest obstacle to productive church work, it was often another church member who was causing the most heartache.

Unfortunately, that was the way it was with Jesus.  He came to His own, and His own rejected Him.  It was the religious leaders that had Him crucified. He hung on a Roman cross, but He was on that cross not because of the Romans, or the people who didn’t care about religion at all, or the man in the street – but the people in “the church.”  When He foretold His death, He showed His disciples how He would suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day (Matthew 16:21).  See Matthew 26:59, 27:1-2 as well.  The chief priests and the elders were the ones who incited the crowd and persuaded the multitude to free Barabbas, instead of Jesus (Matthew 27:20).

I cannot count the number of church leaders whom I have met who have been blindsided by someone in the church, often also in church leadership.  Most of the time, the onslaught has been a total surprise – from someone the leader thought he could trust, even someone who had been closer to him than most of the others in the church.  Many of the people telling their story were still reeling from an attack that happened months or years ago. What a tragedy!

It is not for me to judge whether the attackers were planted by Satan, unbelievers in the midst of a congregation, or believers who just stubbornly thought their way was right.  Whatever the reason, the result is devastating.  I have observed people with obvious spiritual gifts who are so downcast and hurt that they cannot see a way to continue ministry.  Or they are just “treading water,” trying to stay out of trouble.

In His last discourse with His disciples, Jesus said that He was giving them a new commandment.  “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).  He repeats that commandment in John 15:12 and prays for unity and love of the fellowship in John 17.

About this “new commandment,” G. Campbell Morgan makes this statement:

Then followed the arresting statement, “By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples.” Not by the creed you recite. Not by the livery you wear. Not by the hymns you sing. Not by the ritual you observe. But by the fact that you love one another. Tertullian tells how in those early days, the exclamation that was made about the Christians was, “See how these Christians love one another.” The measure in which Christian people fail in love to each other is the measure in which the world does not believe in them, or their Christianity. It is the final test of discipleship, according to Jesus.

Jesus knew where our biggest problems were going to come from.  And He knew that if the world didn’t see our love for each other, the witness of the church would be lessened.  Isn’t that happening today?  Think of how the media loves to broadcast discord within a church, a denomination, a Christian family.

Obviously, this problem is not going to go away until Christ comes.  However, the more we are aware of Satan’s schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11), the more likely we are to recognize that the cause of Christ is being harmed.  If we all decided to obey His commandment, then our focus would be on Christ and His mission.

Certainly, I have met some who qualify as a Barnabas.  Praise God for them.  However, they are few and far between. We still need to ask the question. Where in the world is Barnabas?

© Stephanie B. Blake

June 2009

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Quote from G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to John, Fleming Revell Company, p. 241

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The Forbidden City

. . . abounding in riches for all who call upon Him. . . (Romans 10:12b NAS).

My husband and I just returned from China. While there, we were able to view the Imperial palaces and gardens of the Ming and Qing dynasties. Construction began in 1406 and was completed fourteen years later. For over 500 years, 24 emperors ruled from the confines of this city.  The palaces were fully walled on four sides by 10-meter-high walls, 7,236 kilometers in circumference.  Outside the walls, a 52-meter-wide moat with a length of 3.8 kilometers surrounds the city.  Only the rulers of China and their servants were allowed within the city.  Anyone else attempting to come in was killed.  Thus, it was named “The Forbidden City.”

In one of the palaces, the imperial throne sits on a seven-floor base.  It is so high that when the emperor was seated on the throne, his feet were 11 meters above the heads of the officials.

The Imperial Garden, 130 meters long and 90 meters wide, has more than 20 architectural structures of different kinds arranged symmetrically in hierarchical order, dotted with rare flowers and trees, ponds and layered rocks.

Walking through this massive city, I compared the vast difference between those rulers of old and Jesus Christ, our Lord. For some human rulers (such as these were), exercising supreme power over the people was done from a distance.  From within the confines of “The Forbidden City,” these emperors, called the Sons of Heaven, issued commands with absolute authority to millions of subjects.

How unlike our Savior!  Leaving Heaven, He became one of us. John tells us that the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).  Not only did He leave Heaven, but He came to serve . . . .The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). After washing the feet of His disciples, He said, “You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right; for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you” (John 13:13-15 NAS).

Instead of ruling from a distance, Jesus came and lived among us.  Instead of sitting above us, He came and knelt at our feet.  Instead of killing any who would attempt to come near, He sacrificed Himself.  Instead of forbidding us to see His beautiful gardens, He offers us eternal life so that we can enjoy all the splendor of Heaven with Him. Jesus does not live in a forbidden city.  He invites all to live with Him.  For those who accept His invitation by trusting Him as Savior and Lord, He is preparing a place in His Father’s house (John 14:20).

It continues to baffle me that anyone who hears the truth of who Jesus is and what He did on our behalf could refuse such an incredible gift.  God’s grace and the riches of Christ are truly unfathomable. To God be the glory for such amazing grace!

©Stephanie B. Blake

May 2009

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Pulling Weeds

Oh, the joys of those who . . . delight in doing everything the Lord wants. . . . They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season without fail. Their leaves never wither, and in all they do, they prosper (Psalm 1:2-3 NLT).

It’s spring time in the northern hemisphere. If you are like me, you are always eager for spring.  The beauty of new growth invites a more prolonged stay outside. Some of my friends say that I am a little crazy because I love doing yard work.  Although it is a lot like housework (never completely finished), there is a great deal of satisfaction in walking away from a flower bed after having rid it of weeds and letting the plants that we really want to see show through.  Of course, if it is not done on a consistent basis, the weeds really do gain the upper hand. Then, instead of loving yard work, I find myself wishing for an easy way to produce the result I yearn for.  As of yet, I have not discovered a weed killer that will discriminate between what I want and what I don’t want, so I am the one who needs to make the judgment and pull out the unwanted growth one by one.

As I work in my flower beds, I often reflect on the fact that Jesus gave many illustrations using seeds, trees, fruit, plants, sowing, pruning and reaping.  As a result of the fall, the ground was cursed and work became an effort instead of a joy (Genesis 3:17-19).  There remains, however, the beauty of God’s creation all around us. If we are privileged enough to have the stewardship of a plot of earth in which we can sow and reap, then we partner with God in His garden enterprise.

In my garden, I have encountered a variety of weeds.  Some of them have a single root.  If that weed is pulled out by the root, wonderful!  If not, it will come back.  Others have complex root systems that make them next to impossible to pull out.  They must be dug out.  In those cases, I remember that the Lord said that He was going to leave the tares and the wheat to grow together, and do the weeding at the end of time (Matthew 13).  Sometimes I make a similar decision.  I will deal with those weeds again and again in order to save the good plants that are growing close to them.

The task of weeding reminds me of sin.  Maybe you, like me, have discovered that weeding, like ridding your life of sin, involves the following.

  • Weeding is backbreaking work.  If I don’t stay alert and “prayed up,” sin keeps coming back.  If I don’t keep up with the weeding, the weeds overtake the garden. Vigilance is the key! Bill Gaither says that there is a plaque on the wall of his home in Alexandria, Indiana that summed up his parents’ attitude about faith, “Pray for rain, but keep hoeing.”
  • It helps if the weeds can be pulled up by the roots. If possible, it is best to stop sin at its source. For instance, my nature is to panic and be fearful of unknown situations.  That is the opposite of faith.  When fear raises its ugly head in my life, I have to go back to the basics: trusting God! As my husband says, “Fear and faith cannot occupy the same space.”
  • Sometimes I need help. The task of weeding is a bit overwhelming sometimes, especially since my husband and I travel much of the year. Occasionally my husband, a friend or a neighbor will sit with me and help me pull out weeds.  Likewise, an accountability partner can often notice an area that is displeasing to God that I have overlooked.
  • Weeding is easier if the soil is soft or wet. If you ever tried to pull weeds in hard, dry soil, you know how hard it can be. Likewise, it is easier to dispose of sin when it is fresh and recognizable as sin.  The longer sin is left to harden in our lives, the harder it is to remove.

I started this reflection by commenting on how much I love to see new growth and flowers in my garden.  That is how I want to end it as well.  Weeding, both in my garden and in my life, is well worth it.

As I observe the flowers in my garden, I am reminded that a garden is not just one flower.  It is many flowers.  You and I are part of a big garden that God has planted.

Flowers need attention.  But don’t we love the attention our Heavenly Gardener showers on us? We are linked to His Living Vine.  We need each other.  Together we can “bloom where we are planted” so that others can see Jesus in us.

© Stephanie B. Blake

April 2009

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Driven by Prayer

My book, The Prayer Driven Life,  examines basic questions we all have about prayer. What is prayer? How do we pray? Why do we pray? What difference does it make? By examining the prayer life of the great apostle Paul, you and I discover some great truths about how to relate to God through prayer.

I chose The Prayer Driven Life for the name of the book for several reasons. Paul’s life was driven by his relationship to God and their conversations. Also, I knew that if we followed his example, it would be possible for us to have that same kind of relationship. When a life is truly driven by prayer, the promise of Proverbs 3:5-6 becomes a reality. God wants to direct our paths.

I also want my life to be prayer driven. As much as I wish I could say that everything I do is bathed in prayer, I must admit that it is not always. However, I know that everything should be bathed in prayer. The more my life is prayer driven, the closer I get to God. As I journey through life, I am learning just how important prayer is and what a wonderful privilege it is to be able to speak to Him and to hear His replies.

I can testify that when I have made prayer a priority in my life, God’s presence has been more real and His answers have sustained me.  Space would not permit me to include all the ways He has answered prayers for me and my family: my beloved father, my best friend and husband, my two sons, their wives and my incredible three grandsons. However, I would like to give you one example.

When my sons were toddlers, I started praying for the women that they would marry.  I figured it was never too soon for that request!  Now they are married and have sons of their own.  I can see the hand of God on their lives every step of the way, but especially in their choice of godly women who love them and their sons.

One daughter-in-law was being prepared for us right in front of our eyes.  She and my son played together as children in our church daycare.  We have pictures of them as they celebrated second and third birthdays together. When they were both three years old, we moved away.  In the providence of God, however, our families lived in the same city again when they were teenagers.  They were part of a wonderful group of young people at a church where my husband was pastor.  It was not until they were ready to graduate from college, though, that our son told us that he was going to ask her to marry him.  The joy that filled our hearts (my husband, me and our youngest son) was nearly tangible!

Our other daughter-in-law came to our family after our son was already in the Air Force.  He had also been praying for a godly wife.  At a singles class in church, he met a girl that he was immediately drawn to.  He was impressed not only with her physical beauty, but her inner spiritual strength. The deep friendship that was formed at first eventually developed into a romance. You can imagine the rest.  I thank God every day for how He answered those prayers.

I have observed that in the big and little issues of life (and everything in between), God is pleased when we talk to Him.  As our loving Father, He responds with the answer that is best for us and for His perfect plan for our lives.

My hope is that you, too, want to know God better through a special relationship with Him which includes prayer.  The apostle Paul said that we should rejoice always; pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NKJV).  If you and I would follow his suggestion, that would make every day a wonderful prayer walk with our gracious God.

© Stephanie B. Blake

March 2009

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