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