Truly Blessed

“Blessed” is a familiar — even overused — word in Christian circles. For most of us, hearing this word implies pleasant situations and comfort. I can recall many such blessings, times when my circumstances were good, my heart felt joyful, my mind was thankful, and my outlook was positive.

But that does not mean we are not blessed — or we are missing far more life — in the difficult times we face. In fact, I can think of many times I felt MORE blessed while encountering difficulties. When I felt alone, hopeless and helpless, scared, or overwhelmed and reached out to God, He met me right where I was and gave me exactly what I needed. I was blessed to experience Him in a new way, to understand Him better, or to realize where I had a wrong impression of Him or my situation. The memories of those “hardship blessings” are clearer than most of the sunny moments I have experienced. One psalm states it this way:

It was good for me to be afflicted, so that I might learn your decrees. (Psalm 119:71, NIV)

I have learned much more about God — and why following His ways is where I will be truly blessed — during hard times than good ones. And while those lessons were painful, they are precious to me and have brought me far more life!

The Greek word translated “blessed” throughout the New Testament means happy. This probably means different things to different people, based on personality. I think of “happy” as an emotional optimism and steadiness that is rooted in something more solid than our circumstances. Look at some of the situations where God instructs us to be happy (blessed):

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4, NIV)

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:10, NIV)

Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. (Luke 6:22, NIV)

Blessed are those who have not seen [Jesus] and yet have believed. (John 20:29, NIV)

…It is more blessed to give than to receive. (Acts 20:35, NIV)

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12, NIV)

Even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. (I Peter 3:14, NIV)

Mourning, Persecution. Hate. Exclusion. Insults. Rejection. Emptying yourself. Trials. Suffering. We may not enter these situations feeling happy, but each offers the opportunity for blessing. Some blessings are immediate while others come later. It is a blessing to find comfort in Christ. It is a blessing to inherit the kingdom of heaven. It is a blessing to belong to Christ. We are happy when we can meet needs for others. We will be happy when we receive the crown of life. We are happy with a clear conscience before God about our choices.

How do we find the blessing in these hard things? Reread the verses and note that each one points us back to the Lord. He comforts us. He gives us His kingdom. He offers us a relationship. He provides for us. He defines and rewards righteousness. The blessing of far more life rests on our connection to the Lord. Whatever we face in life, we are blessed to face it with the Creator of the Universe and Lover of our Soul living within us.

Recognizing blessings depends on our perspective, not our circumstances. Circumstances can change quickly; death, betrayal, financial loss, natural disaster, and so much more can take away the people, things, and situations that we count as blessings. But when we base our happiness on what has eternal value — knowing God, growing in Christlikeness, and sharing His love with others — we can look beyond our situation to the Blesser, who is constantly present and available to us. Changing our perspective brings happiness, even in the middle of difficulties. One of my favorite blessings is recorded in Romans 8:

 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39, NIV)

We are blessed through security in God’s love, no matter what we face in this life!

When we are in hard situations where comforts and pleasures are stripped away, we may find ourselves thinking, “Well, at least I can look forward to Heaven. I am happy that Jesus forgave my sins and accepted me into God’s family.” What we think of as our “last resort” blessing is actually our greatest blessing! Without a saving relationship with Christ, none of the other things that make us happy really matter! Even if this was the only blessing God offered, it would be enough. Jesus raised this question to His followers:

What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? (Mark 8:36, NIV)

He asked this while prompting them to consider how they wanted to invest their lives. He challenged them to choose between worldly success and spiritual success. One may be more tempting in the short term, but the other will reap dividends for eternity. We are truly blessed through anything we experience with Christ.

Sisters,
When you hear (or say) something is a blessing, what does that mean?
Have you ever felt like you were missing out on blessings when you encountered difficulties?
What does happiness mean to you? When have you experienced happiness in Christ?
What blessing have you discovered DURING or AFTER something hard?
If you have accepted Christ as your Savior, thank God for the biggest and best blessing possible — far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso

Choose Praise

During the midst of a challenging situation this week, my husband asked me to read Psalm 103 to him. It reminded me that no matter what circumstances we face, God is worthy of our praise. As I put this into practice, I found far more life by offering Him praise.

Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. (Psalm 103:1, NIV)

It is good to praise the Lord without hesitation or reservation. To release doubts and fears we are tempted to hold on to. To examine the parts of our heart and mind that are reluctant. Then we can fully and freely praise Him.

Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits — who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (Psalm 103:2-5, NIV)

Too often we take the Lord’s benefits for granted. Take a minute to ponder this awe-inspiring list; I think you will agree each item is enough to inspire praise.

He alone has the power to forgive all our sins.

One day He will eradicate all our diseases and bless us with perfect bodies and health.

He gives our lives purpose and meaning.

His love and compassion mark us as His beloved children.

He goes beyond meeting our needs to satisfying our desires.

He refreshes us daily, allowing our spiritual strength to grow as we age.

We have so many reasons to offer Him praise!

The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed. (Psalm 103:6, NIV)

The Lord sees all that happens and will bring perfect justice in His perfect timing. He knows who is guilty or innocent in every situation. He will end all oppression. He, our ultimate judge, is trustworthy, wise, and just. He deserves our praise as we await justice!

He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. (Psalm 103:10, NIV)

While some of our sins are against other people, all of them are against the Lord. We can never do enough good to make up for them and become righteous. Yet He has chosen to suffer the punishment we deserve and offer us forgiveness, holiness, and far more life. Understanding His mercy and grace compels us to praise Him.

He knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children — with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts. (Psalm 103: 14-18, NIV)

It is easy to focus on human accomplishments and minimize reality: God made us and all the materials that we use in our creations. His creations are infinitely greater than ours because He is infinitely greater than us. Although we have done amazing things, we are made of dust. He existed long before we were born and will continue long after we die. Our legacy will fade, but His character, provision, and praiseworthiness are unwavering. When we recognize His greatness, it is a natural response to offer Him praise. Not just for what He has done, but for who He is.

The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all. (Psalm 103:19, NIV)

Human kingdoms will come and go, following the cycle of growth and decay that has repeated over the centuries. But the eternal kingdom of the Lord is immune to decay. It will never fall to greed, disaster, warfare, or conquest. He will always deserve our praise and always offer far more life.

Praise the Lord, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word.
Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will.
Praise the Lord, all his works everywhere in his dominion.
Praise the Lord, my soul. (Psalm 103:20-22, NIV)

I appreciate how the psalmist broke this down. It reminds me of His greatness and how truly deserving of praise He is…from everyone and everything.

Angels, though mighty, answer to God and owe Him obedience and praise.

Heavenly hosts may include other spiritual beings as well as celestial bodies such as the sun, moon, and stars. Heavenly armies praise Him through battling spiritual forces, unseen by the human eye, at God’s command. The sun and moon praise Him by keeping the orbits He established for them. Each praises Him by playing their assigned role in God’s master plan.

“All his works everywhere in his dominion” includes everything else God has created. It may be odd to think of mountains, trees, and oceans praising God, but they do! Animals and plants praise God, too, through their diversity, habits, and place in His order. He holds everything together yet each component offers praise in its own way.

Humans are given the choice of offering praise. What a humbling and motivating realization! Once we have a taste of far more life, we can see Him and His works more clearly and are eager to offer Him the praise He deserves. Even when we lose sight of this — like I did in the midst of this week’s hard circumstances — God is faithful to draw us back. Today I choose to praise Him for Psalm 103 and its pull to far more life!

Sisters,
What reluctance or hesitance to praising the Lord do you face? Talk to Him about it; He understands and wants you to be free to praise Him!
What “benefits” have you experienced as God’s daughter? Do you praise Him for them?
Are you creating a legacy of praise during your limited time on earth?
Choose to praise Him today — whatever you face — and find the peace and perspective of far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso




Rooted and Established

I was reminded this week of the importance of being grounded in love. Not just giving love to others, but accepting love from God. If we do not adequately grasp God’s love for His children, we will not be attracted to far more life. If we have not experienced His love in action, joining His mission will not be more appealing than pursuing our own desires. Without this grounding, we will not understand His love and our passion will be directed at something other than glorifying Him and building His kingdom.

The Apostle Paul’s prayer for the believers in Ephesus applies to us as well:

…And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17-19, NIV)

Being rooted and established in love. Roots anchor a plant; they hold it in place and absorb the nutrients and moisture needed for health. Once the root system of a plant is established, it begins to grow. Similarly, Christ’s love anchors our faith; He paid for our sins with His own life to offer us holiness and a restored relationship with God. His love enables us to absorb the grace and truth needed for spiritual connection and health. Once we become secure in His love, our faith is established and begins to grow. Far more life is rooted and established in Christ’s love.

I pray that you…may have power. The word translated “power” means “to have strength enough” in the original Greek. Paul is describing a God-given spiritual power that enables His children to do what is humanly impossible. This is the result of being rooted and established in God’s love. Far more life gives us supernatural spiritual power.

Together with all the saints. We are not alone in this pursuit. We are joined by everyone who has a personal relationship with God. As we share God’s love with others and experience His love through them, our spiritual strength and joy increase. Far more life is best lived together.

To grasp. It takes mental and spiritual work to comprehend God’s love. We may have to wrestle with experiences and beliefs that seem contradictory to the promises we read in the Bible. Far more life holds on to the truth it knows while learning about and experiencing Christ in new ways.

How wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ. We don’t think of love as having physical measurements, but God’s Word offers us these word pictures to help us understand the enormity of Christ’s love for us:

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him. (Psalm 103:11, NIV)

As far as east is from west— that’s how far God has removed our sin from us. (Psalm 103:12, CEB)

If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. (Psalm 139:8, NIV)

God’s love for His children is bigger than anything we can imagine or experience. There is no place we can travel that will take us beyond the reach of His love. He has taken our sin as far away from us as possible and filled the space with His love. Even when we feel like God is far away, His love is still with us. Far more life delights in the vastness of God’s love for His children.

To know this love that surpasses knowledge. Human wisdom cannot comprehend God’s love. We cannot prove it with scientific research. We cannot explain it with logic. God’s love must be experienced to be known and understood. His love is an unconditional acceptance of us, despite our sin against Him. It is His protection from what should injure or destroy us. It is His peace and joy during a horrific situation. Far more life does not just know about God’s love, it knows God’s love from personal experience.

That you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of Christ. Paul wants God’s love to fill us up so completely that there is no room for anything else. If we could fully grasp God’s love for us — the extent of it and the nature of it — we would gladly push all else out so we could have more of Him. When I read this phrase, I always think of cooking. Especially the times I have added so many ingredients to the measuring cup that it overflowed! Imagine that your heart and mind are so full of God’s character that each situation you face during the day causes His love to spill onto others. Or His patience. Or His joy. Or His forgiveness. Far more life strives to fill itself more and more with Christ by better understanding His love. Then it can express His character — through the Holy Spirit living inside.

Whatever season of life you are in, it is the perfect time to be rooted and established in the love of Christ. Know love, know far more life!

Sisters,
Are you rooted in God’s love — is it a secure anchor in your life?
Are you established in God’s love — are you growing in your faith and Christlikeness?
How have you seen God’s power at work in our heart, mind, and soul?
How does connection with other Christ-followers help you to understand God’s love better?
What besides God’s love is filling you? If you are unsure how to know more of God’s love, ask a trusted spiritual mentor for ideas.
Look for evidence of God’s love today and thank Him for those moments of far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso
Photo credit: Jenjoe Marsh

Sacred Fragrance

Say to the Israelites, ‘This is to be my sacred anointing oil for the generations to come. Do not pour it on men’s bodies and do not make any oil with the same formula. It is sacred, and you are to consider it sacred. (Exodus 30:31-32, NIV)

Do not make any incense with this formula for yourselves; consider it holy to the LORD. (Exodus 30:37, NIV)

It is surprising to read “Do not make any for yourselves,” in the middle of these instructions. If we like it, why would God restrict us from using it? The scent of perfume and incense we use seems like a small matter that should be unimportant to God. We can be tempted to interpret these — and other commands from God — as controlling, mean, or selfish. But He did not restrict them to limit us, rather He did it to give them importance. He has declared those particular scents as sacred or holy. Set apart. Special. Separate to God. They have a specific purpose.

When I was a young wife, decorative towels were popular. The young husbands in our circle of friends did not understand why their wives hung up “no touch towels”. From the men’s perspective, all towels served the same purpose: a tool for drying something. But to the women, the embellished towels were set apart as special and should be admired but not used. The goal was to protect them from being soiled with use or faded with repeated washings. We did not want to prevent our husbands from drying their hands, we wanted to give some towels a different, decorative, purpose.

Many people have some items they consider “everyday” and others they consider “good”. Clothing and dishes come to mind immediately. We wear good clothes to weddings and funerals but have everyday clothes for mowing the lawn or jobs that will be hot and sweaty. We may have dishes that are only used for holidays or when serving guests. Like God, we have set some things apart as special.

Why would God set apart perfume and incense? Science tells us that scents are powerful. They evoke memories. They allow us to recall details otherwise forgotten. They can also set a mood. So it may not be surprising that God wanted the scent of one particular oil and incense to be associated exclusively with His house. Perhaps He wanted that scent to build a connection between His people and Himself. A reminder of His holiness. An invitation to offer Him praise and worship. A prompt to remember His provision, protection, and promises. A signal to lay all else aside and focus on Him.

But oil and incense are not all that God considers holy and sacred. There are several Bible verses reminding us that people fall into that category as well!

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. (Ephesians 1:4, NIV)

Know that the Lord has set apart his faithful servant for himself…(Psalm 4:3, NIV)

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession… (I Peter 2:9, NIV)

If you have accepted Christ as your Savior, God looks at you differently from people who have not. He sees you as holy and blameless. He has set you apart. He considers you His special possession. He also has given you some specific instructions for life, including these:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12:2, NIV)

Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness… (Matthew 6:33, NIV)

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil… (James 4:7, NIV)

Honor God with your bodies. (I Corinthians 6:20, NIV)

Fill your mind and thoughts with God’s wisdom. Seek righteousness and what will expand God’s kingdom. Submit to God and resist the temptation to sin. Use your body to honor God. God did not give these commands because He is mean or controlling. Instead he gave them so we could experience far more life! They restrict us in order to set us apart. His purpose for us goes beyond existing or surviving on this earth. He wants His children to be special. To be noticed. To be a reminder of His holiness, power, and grace.

While Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross ended the need for us to burn a particular oil or incense to honor God, the book of Revelation describes a scene in Heaven where something we do produces a scent that is special to Him:

Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. (Revelation 5:8, NIV)

This is hard to imagine, but the prayers of God’s children are a pleasant fragrance to Him! When we talk to God, share our thoughts with Him, give our adoration, seek His guidance, unload our burdens, declare His praise, or cry out for His mercy and grace, it is a sacred act. Praying to God is a sacred privilege. Those prayers are set apart for Him alone. They are valuable to Him. They connect us to Him. They are special.

You, your life, and your prayers are set apart. You can make them a sacred fragrance to God.

Sisters,
Do you have a scent or fragrance that has special meaning? Of what does it remind you?
Where in your life do you make distinctions between the “everyday” and the “good”? Do you feel differently about them?
Do you think God’s commands restrict you or set you apart? Why?
How do you feel about being sacred to God?
Fill heaven with a sacred fragrance as you thank God for far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso

Lifeblood

A precious woman in my circle passed away this week. She lived a long life and was ready to go home to her Creator and Savior. I remember hearing her say that we do not talk about the blood of Christ enough anymore. “It’s all about the blood,” she told me. The conversation stuck with me and ever since I have noticed Bible verses, songs, and messages that directly reference the blood of Christ. I am writing this post in remembrance of that dear woman and her desire for the sacrifice and power of Jesus’ blood to be known, respected, and celebrated.

For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life. (Leviticus 17:11, NIV)

God emphasized the importance of blood to the Israelites; blood contains life. It carries oxygen and nutrients to our cells. It carries waste to organs that filter and expel it from the body. Blood also fights infection and delivers regulatory hormones. It contains living cells and is essential to our well-being. Blood is powerful!

God has also chosen blood to be the vessel of atonement. Starting with the first human sin, innocent blood was shed to pay the penalty:

Then the Lord God made clothes out of animal skins for the man and his wife. (Genesis 3:21, CEV)

When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they became aware of their nakedness and felt ashamed. To cover their bodies and assuage their shame, God killed animals and used their skins to make clothes. The penalty of human sin has always included the shedding of innocent blood.

Centuries later, on the night of the first Passover, God used the blood of a lamb to mark the homes of His children and save them from death:

The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you.  (Exodus 12:13, NIV)

In this case, the blood of innocent lambs was used as a protection; it marked a home where the occupants were obedient to God. The firstborn sons and animals of the household were spared physical death through the sacrifice and blood of one lamb. God instructed His people to remember this through a special celebration every year.

The law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (Hebrews 9:22, NIV)

Sacrifices were God’s prescribed way for His people to make amends for their sin — whether intentional or unintentional — and indicate their commitment to Him. Most of these sacrifices, as outlined in Leviticus, required the blood of an animal without blemish or defect. The shedding of blood and sacrifice of the animal restored a person to good standing with God. It paid the penalty for their sin and state of being spiritual unclean before God. Of course, this foreshadowed the sacrifice Jesus would make. The New Testament repeatedly references the life-giving power of the blood of Christ:

…After the supper [Jesus] took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:20, NIV)

God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood. (Romans 3:25, NIV)

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!  (Romans 5:8-9, NIV)

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins. (Ephesians 1:7, NIV)

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:13, NIV)

The only way we can experience far more life is by acknowledging that Christ gave up His life — His blood — to pay the penalty for our sins. Being sinless, He was innocent before God and in the position to sacrifice Himself for our benefit. His blood is the perfect sacrifice, more spiritually powerful than any animal sacrifice:

The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:13-14, NIV)

Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.  (Hebrews 7:27, NIV)

With your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. (Revelation 5:9, NIV)

The blood of Jesus purifies us completely from every sin we commit at any time in our life. He does not need to die over and over again. Knowing we are forgiven of every sin clears our conscience so we are free to live for God instead of being afraid of being punished by Him. And Jesus’ sacrifice applies to people of all cultures, races, and ethnicities; anyone can accept His offer of forgiveness.

Most of us do not like to focus on our sin or on blood. It is easy to minimize our wrongs or take Jesus’ sacrifice for granted. But as I remember my friend today, I also remember her challenge to pay proper respect to the blood of Jesus. To remember the high cost He paid so we could have far more life.

Sisters,
What life-giving aspect of blood is most meaningful to you? Why?
Imagine you are Eve and watch God spill an animal’s blood to clothe your nakedness. How would you feel? How would it change your obedience to God’s commands?
How has the blood of Jesus cleansed your conscience? Has that impacted your eagerness to serve Him?
Thank Jesus for sacrificing His blood and offering you far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso
Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay


Far More Wealth

I took an informal poll recently which asked people if they wanted to go to heaven when they died. As I expected, the majority answered yes. I am sure the responders had different ideas about what heaven is like or how you get there, but most of them agreed that they wanted to experience it. But I am certain there would have been fewer yes answers if I had asked, “Do you want to love and obey God now so you can live with Him in heaven forever after you die?”

Sometimes what we want — in this example, to live in heaven — and what we are willing to do to get it — in this example, love and obey God — are incompatible. We find the same incompatibility in many areas of life. I want to be at my ideal weight but am not willing to make the necessary lifestyle changes. Some people want to get out of debt but are unwilling to reduce their spending. Others want better relationships but are not willing to put in the required effort. Regardless of what we say, what we do reflects what we truly want.

The gospels tell the story of a man who also faced this dilemma:

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

…Jesus answered, “You know the commandments…”

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. (Mark 10:17-22, NIV)

This man is just like us! We want to have everything we want…but on our terms. We want treasure, influence, and significance in this life AND we want eternal life. It is tempting to think having the best of earth and the best of heaven is far more life. But it is not.

Jesus was not giving the man in this story a to do list that would lead to salvation. Based on other Scripture passages, we know that selling all we possess is not how we gain eternal life (John 3:16, Romans 10:9-10, Ephesians 2:8). Instead, Jesus gave this answer to draw out the true desires of this man’s heart, to reveal what he truly loved. Jesus had explained the principle at work in an earlier teaching:

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21, NIV)

The man was doing many good things but had given his heart to his wealth. He treasured his possessions and lifestyle. He wanted the benefits God offered but was not willing to give up the benefits his wealth provided.

Throughout human history people have wanted to do their own thing but still receive God’s blessing. God made this statement to the Israelites around 1300 years before Jesus walked the earth:

You shall not bow down to [idols] or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand [generations] of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:5-6, NIV)

Humans want the freedom to make other things, people, or pursuits more important than God, but we also want Him to shower us with good gifts. However, this verse draws a sharp line: we either love God and receive His love or we hate Him and receive His punishment. There is no middle ground in our relationship with Him or His response to us. A similar warning is found in Revelation:

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. (Revelation 3:15-17, NIV)

Do you notice the different “riches” that are referenced in these verses? It is tempting for us to place value on material possessions, status, or physical comfort. But God’s riches are spiritual in nature. In fact, he warns us:

What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? (Mark 8:36, NIV)

Far more life desires and pursues the spiritual riches that God offers. It seeks to give and receive forgiveness, love, joy, peace, patience, unity, generosity, and hope. It is grounded in faith. It sees this life — with its struggles, temptations, and successes — in light of eternity. Far more life is centered on God rather than self. It strives to understand and obey Him more rather than cling to comfortable attitudes and actions. Far more life may look poor to the world but it leads to the greatest and best wealth possible!

Sisters,
What do you desire in life? Are your actions compatible with that desire?
How would you describe the best earth has to offer? The best heaven has to offer?
What is your reaction to the statement, “We either love God and receive His love or we hate Him and receive His punishment. There is no middle ground.” What Bible verses support or negate this strong stand?
If you love God, what spiritual riches have you already gained?
Thank God that the riches of far more life start now and last forever!
-Shari

Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso

Bless Me

In Jewish culture, names are significant. Some names reflect the mother’s pregnancy or birthing experience. Others give praise to God. Names are also a way for parents to express their hopes and dreams for the child’s future. Jewish parents want the name to capture the child’s personality and set the path of their life.

The first nine chapters of I Chronicles contain lists of names. Starting with Adam, they record generations of names covering about 2900 years. Very little explanation about the lives of the people is given. We read about some — good and bad, choices and traits — in other parts of the Old Testament, but here the focus is on their place in the genealogy of God’s people.

But in the middle of these lists, two verses stand out:

Jabez was more honorable than his brothers; but his mother named him Jabez, saying, “Because I gave birth to him in pain.” Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, saying, “Oh that You would indeed bless me and enlarge my border [property], and that Your hand would be with me, and You would keep me from evil so that it does not hurt me!” And God granted his request. (I Chronicles 4:9-10, AMP)

God did not tell us what made Jabez more honorable, so we must not need to know. We can be assured that Jabez’s character and life were pleasing to God. It was so pleasing that his prayer is recorded among hundreds of names representing 2900 years’ worth of lives.

The name Jabez appears to be an unpleasant burden. Although God viewed Jabez as honorable, his mother associated him with pain. We are not told why she made this connection; the Hebrew word for pain (otseb) can also mean sorrowful, wicked, or even idol. Perhaps it was a difficult labor and delivery. Perhaps there were negative circumstances in her life that she blamed on him. Whatever the reason, his name served as a constant reminder of that pain.

At some point, honorable Jabez had enough. He called out to God from his distress and made some bold requests:

Oh that You would indeed bless me… Jabez’s prayer begins with an appeal. He is desperate for God’s blessing. He acknowledges God as his provider, protector, and authority. He looks to God alone for His needs and wants. He knows nothing is impossible for God. Jabez knows God can reach beyond his name and pain to bless him.

and enlarge my border (property)… We do not know how much land Jabez owned, but he asked God to give him more. As an honorable man, it seems safe to assume he was wanted more than personal riches. More land would also bring more influence, responsibility, and productivity. Jabez wanted to do more, to become more, for God. Jabez was born into the tribe of Judah, which had received the greatest blessing from the Israelite patriarch, Jacob. Jabez boldly asked for the opportunity to be entrusted with more of God’s treasure and blessing.

and that Your hand would be with me… God’s hand represents power, guidance, help, and direction (Psalm 18:35; Psalm 21:8; Psalm 119:173; Psalm 139:10; Proverbs 21:1; Daniel 4:35). Jabez asked for more than just material blessing. He wanted to be blessed with God’s approval and help as well. He wanted a closer connection to God and to witness God’s work in his life. He wanted to experience God in action.

and You would keep me from evil so it does not hurt me. Jabez also wanted to rise above his name and the expectations it carried. Rather than being known as a man of pain, Jabez wanted to be known as a man blessed by God. He wanted to be as far from evil — and as near to God — as possible. He trusted God to protect him rather than his own strength, wealth, wisdom, or tribe. He wanted his life to be characterized by righteousness rather than sin. He wanted to rejoice in God’s work rather than be overcome by pain.

This prayer indicates that Jabez wanted far more life. He asked for a deeper connection to God that would impact every aspect of his life. Jabez knew his request would glorify God. And God shows His agreement by granting the request. This implies that Jabez’s life became a picture of God’s goodness, grace, power, and provision. God’s invisible qualities became visible to others; I believe Jabez gave God all the credit. God Almighty blessed the man of pain. God generously expanded the man of pain’s territory. God’s hand helped and guided the man of pain. God’s righteous instruction and provision protected the man of pain from evil.

By answering the prayer of Jabez, God showed His compassion. Although his life was hidden in the midst of generations spanning 2900 years, God noticed Jabez. God heard. God responded. God blessed. And He notices each of us, too. Especially when we, like Jabez, are asking for far more life.

Far more life is a blessed life. Sometimes it is blessed by pleasant circumstances. But it is also blessed by a connection to God. Blessed with stewardship of the gifts He gives. Blessed under the protection and guidance of God’s hand. Blessed with righteousness. Blessed to see God at work. Blessed with joy.

“Oh that You would indeed bless me and enlarge my border [property], and that Your hand would be with me, and You would keep me from evil so that it does not hurt me!” (I Chronicles 4:10, AMP)

Sisters,
What does your name communicate about you?
What do you think it means for God to call someone honorable?
Have you asked God to bless you? Was your motive honorable? How did God respond?
Would you want God to enlarge your border?
How have you seen God’s hand with you?
Have you asked God to keep you from evil so it could not hurt you? What happened?
Follow the example of Jabez this week as you ask God to bless you with far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso

For His Name’s Sake

There are a lot of deep and challenging questions about God that I cannot answer. It is not fair that God allows some people to suffer more than others. It is not fair that evil and sickness and disasters wreak havoc in the lives of “good” people. It is not fair that God created Satan and has given him reign over the earth. Ultimately, it is not fair that God has predestined some people to spend eternity in heaven and others to receive punishment in hell. But it is also not fair that Jesus willingly submitted to being tortured and killed on the cross to pay for our sins. It is not fair that He will bear those marks forever while we — who deserve to be separated from God forever — are welcomed into His perfect eternal home.

As I pondered this, I was reminded of the phrase, “for His name’s sake”. Doing a word search, I found it in 3 Bible passages:

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. (Psalm 23:1-3, NIV)

When our ancestors were in Egypt, they gave no thought to [the Lord’s] miracles; they did not remember your many kindnesses, and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea. Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, to make his mighty power known. (Psalm 106:7-8, NIV)

Through [Jesus Christ] we have received grace and apostleship to bring about believing obedience among all the nations for the sake of his name. (Romans 1:5, NTE)

The simple truth of these verses is this: in whatever they face, God works in and among His children for His name’s sake. He provides all they need for His name’s sake, to reveal His character. He protects them for His name’s sake, to display His power. He draws them to love, obey, and follow Him for His name’s sake, to demonstrate His grace.

Those who live in relationship with God are not protected from everything bad, but He limits the evil that is inflicted on them. Here are two examples from Job’s life:

 The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” (Job 1:12, NIV)

 The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.” (Job 2:6, NIV)

God was working for His name’s sake. He let Satan do anything he wanted to Job except kill him. What kind of Father would allow His child to suffer like that? One who is all-knowing and all-powerful. God knew Job’s heart and character would withstand. He knew Job’s response would be a lesson and encouragement for people for thousands of years in the future. God let Job suffer for His name’s sake.

God even brought good from Job’s situation. In fact, He brought more good than the pain and loss Job suffered.

The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part. (Job 42:12, NIV)

When we suffer for His name’s sake, it is never wasted. I have experienced some hard times in my life that I would not want to repeat. But I can also say I am glad I went through each one because they grew my faith. They exposed my weaknesses and revealed God’s strength. I experienced His love and provision. My prayer life was deepened. My understanding of the Bible was expanded. God became more real and personal to me. His name was glorified as He provided all I needed through my suffering. Looking back, I can see how He was working for His name’s sake.

Sometimes when we face intense difficulties, we experience a crisis of faith. Our misperceptions and doubts are exposed. We may question our beliefs or even God’s existence and goodness. There is nothing wrong with this; God is not threatened by our doubts. Working through a crisis of faith actually strengthens our faith. Wrestling with hard questions solidifies our beliefs. We bring God glory by working out our faith during these times. His name is honored.

Millions of people have suffered terrible persecution because of their faith in God. This is not just in the past, it also happens today. God gives them supernatural strength to endure, even to the point of death, for His name’s sake. The gospel message spreads where people witness this faith that is proven to be real, deep, and powerful. The suffering of those faithful believers is not in vain; it is for His name’s sake. If you asked them, they would agree.

Right now, there are many who reject Jesus, curse His name, and ridicule those who follow Him. But the Bible describes the day His name will be revered by all. Those who have suffered for His name’s sake will overflow with joy on that day!

Therefore God exalted [Christ Jesus] to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11, NIV)

Sometimes we are spared from hardship for His name’s sake. Other times we endure hardship for His name’s sake. He invites us to experience far more life in every situation when we embrace it for His name’s sake. Will you accept His invitation?

Sisters,
Are you more aware of God’s hand on your life when things are good or bad?
When has He shown His character, protected you, or drawn you to follow Him more closely through your circumstances?
Do you trust God to bring good from your challenges? If not, why do you believe He has allowed them in your life? Is that belief confirmed by Scripture?
If your knee will bow in adoration, thank God for far more life that will last for eternity!
-Shari

Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso

Understanding

As a youngster, my son regularly proclaimed, “You don’t understand!” in frustration when I did not agree his way was best. He was convinced that if I accurately grasped his perspective, I would embrace his idea or plan.

We can feel the same way about God’s instructions and decisions. We trust our wisdom and experience because they usually serve us well. So when God’s Word tells us to do something that disagrees with our assessment, we may look for loopholes: “Surely He did not literally mean to resolve all anger before the sun set” (Ephesians 4:26) or “He cannot expect me to love someone who abused me” (Matthew 5:44). Or we may outright reject His instruction by saying it is outdated or does not apply in our circumstances.

These responses are part of our limited human understanding. And they are not new. Despite the changes in circumstances, we face the same basic temptations, challenges, thoughts, and responses as people who lived centuries ago. King Solomon noted:

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9, NIV)

People have always doubted and questioned God. One contributing factor is that He does not usually reveal His reasoning to us. I was surprised to find this verse describing God’s choice for the Israelites’ path when they were escaping Egypt:

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. (Exodus 13:17-18, NIV)

I’m sure some of the Israelites thought God made a bad choice. We have the benefit of knowing His reasons, even though they did not.

When questioned why He was washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus only offered this cryptic and unsatisfactory answer:

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” (John 13:7, NIV)

In reality, we do not understand. We know some things. We have some experience. But we overestimate ourselves and underestimate God. As a result, we are tempted to fight against God’s ways. We may argue, beg, plead for Him to embrace our ideas and preferences. We may reject, dismiss, or despise His ways and pursue our own path.

But we have another option, one that leads to far more life.

But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me. (Psalm 131:2, NIV)

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. (Psalm 62:5, NIV)

We can rest in God, trust Him, and yield to Him. But we must humble ourselves and acknowledge His superiority. He states this truth bluntly:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9, NIV)

There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death. (Proverbs 14:12, NIV)

For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (I Corinthians 1:25, NIV)

When we accept these truths, we can focus on understanding Him instead of proving ourselves. We can trust His intentions toward us rather than fighting to prove our worth. We can rest in His knowledge and character rather than having to protect, defend, and promote ourselves. In this way, we bring Him honor and glory.

But, to do this we must have an accurate view of Him. Many people think God is cruel, distant, harsh, judgmental, apathetic, or uninvolved in their lives. They do not want to obey a god like that — I would not, either! Fortunately, those are inaccurate descriptions of the God of Scripture.

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (I Timothy 1:17, NIV)

He is the King. He is at the center of His realm and holds it together. He is aware of what is happening. He is engaged and decisive. He has a plan and is implementing it. He is not afraid of anyone or anything. He takes on responsibility for the wellbeing of His people. He provides for them, protects them, and genuinely cares for them.

He is eternal. God created the time in which we exist, but He is outside of time. Unlike us, He has always existed and will always exist. Our lives are just a moment of His existence. His reign will never end.

He is immortal. God will never die. He is indestructible. He is always alive and active.

He is invisible. Although we cannot see Him with our eyes, God made His nature and power visible through creation (Romans 1:20). He exists in a dimension we cannot access, yet makes Himself accessible.

He is the only God. There is no pantheon, family, or council of gods. There are no changes as different gods take control. There is no threat to His rule. He exists as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, but He is One.

That is just a taste of His character! God understands us better than we understand ourselves. He invites us to understand Him so we can follow Him wholeheartedly and find far more life.

Sisters,
What tempts you to think God does not understand you or your circumstances?
Looking back, can you see times when His way was better than what you thought was best?
What makes you reluctant to rest in, trust, and yield to Him?
What aspects of His character have you experienced? Which do you need to better understand to follow Him wholeheartedly?
Thank Him for offering you far more life each step of your journey!
-Shari

Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso

Given Much

When I started this blog, my goal was to help women find their passion by recognizing how God had uniquely designed and equipped them for the good deeds He prepared for them. My belief was that in doing this, they would also find far more life — satisfaction, fulfillment, joy, and more — in their relationship with Him. My desire is that each reader would see herself as God does and be inspired to connect deeply with Him, draw what she needs from His unlimited supply, and expend her energy loving those He has placed in her life.

The need for godly influence in our society is great; the news and social media overflow with reports of spiritual, emotional, and physical needs. It is easy to get caught up in the debate about how the needs should be met and never do anything to help meet them. It is also easy to be paralyzed by guilt for not recognizing the needs or acting sooner.

Today I asked myself, “If Jesus was on the earth today, how would He respond to these needs? How should I respond to them as His representative?”

How we answer those questions depends on our understanding of Jesus’ perspective. Do we view Him as a humanitarian reformer? An uninvolved deity watching from afar? A wise teacher or philosopher? Lord and Savior? Jesus took on multiple roles during His time on earth, but He had one overarching life goal:

For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me…my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (John 6:38-40, NIV)

Jesus’ primary goal was to meet our biggest need: reconciliation with God that results in forgiveness of our sin and eternal life with God. He was unwavering and unapologetic about that goal. But Jesus met physical and emotional needs — which people perceived to be bigger — to gain the opportunity to talk about those spiritual needs. He confirmed that He was the fulfillment of this prophecy:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19, NIV)

Proclaim good news. Offer freedom to prisoners. Restore sight to the blind. Free the oppressed. Usher in the time of the Lord’s favor. Each one of these meets a combination of physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. Some of these could only be accomplished by Jesus, the Messiah. But we can follow His example in others.

As I pondered how to accomplish this, I remembered:

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. (Luke 12:48, NIV)

Would you be surprised to learn that this verse applies to you? It is not just for those who are richer, wiser, more influential, or better educated. If you are God’s child, YOU have been given much in at least one area. Using your “much” to honor and glorify God by loving people is far more life!

  • Maybe you have been given much compassion. Jesus expects you to show much compassion to those around you.
  • Maybe you have been given great problem-solving skills. Jesus expects you to devise and share (and maybe implement!) solutions for others’ needs.
  • Maybe you have been given vast communication skills, influence, or followers. Jesus expects you to share His message with others and offer them His truth and grace in love.
  • Maybe you have been given much energy. Jesus expects you to joyfully invest yourself in helping others. There are so many ways to help, choose one that you are excited about.
  • Maybe you have been given much time. Jesus expects you to use it in pursuits that will reveal Him to others. There are many people and organizations you can help with your time and skills.
  • Maybe you have much wealth. Give much to people and organizations who are meeting needs for Christ!

I believe every child of God has been given “much” of something. We do not all have the same resources, skills, talents, and interests because God’s plan requires diverse contributions. As each person does their part, the bigger need is met. This is stated clearly in Scriptures:

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.  (I Corinthians 12:4-7, NIV)

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. (Romans 12:4-6, NIV)

You have a unique and important role to play in God’s plan. He has given you specific gifts and allowed specific circumstances so you can serve as His representative. He wants you to partner with Him in meeting the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of those around you. As you give much, you will grow far more life.

Sisters,
What is an area of our society or world where you see a great need?
How do you view Jesus (reformer, teacher, deity, Lord, or something else)? How does that influence what you do for Him to meet others’ needs?
What “much” have you been given? How can you use that to glorify God by meeting others’ physical, emotional, and spiritual needs?
Thank God for your “much” — and far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso
Photo credit: Jenjoe Marsh