Persevering in Faith

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  (James 1:2-3, NIV)

These are familiar verses to me — and maybe to you as well — but it is easy to skim over them. They can be hard to digest if we read them in the middle of a trial (also translated temptation, test, trouble, difficulty, challenge, and hardship). Joy often seems impossible at those times. But if we read them when life is pleasant, we are tempted to dismiss them as idealistic thinking. But I recently realized how powerful and life-changing this instruction can be if applied literally.

The testing of your faith produces perseverance. In the past, I have thought of perseverance as grinding through a hard time, not giving up, not turning away, digging in our heels. But that response to a test of faith leaves out God and increases our reliance on ourselves and our abilities. That is not what God intends! And that is definitely not far more life.

Looking into the original Greek, the word translated as perseverance (or endurance in some Bible versions) is hypomonḗ, which means “to remain under” or “be unswerving in deliberate purpose and loyalty to God”. God wants us to remain under Him, unswerving and loyal, through our trials. That is actually the best place we can be during hardship: under the care, power, and purpose of our loving Father. That is where we find far more life.

We are tempted to think difficulties mean God is displeased with us and good circumstances indicate His approval. If this is our view, it is impossible for us to remain under Him when trouble arises. Fear tempts us to hide from Him. But God has a glorious plan for the faith-stretching struggles He allows in our lives.

Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:4, NIV)

…Now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials…so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold…may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (I Peter 1:6-7, NIV)

We want to experience good circumstances for remaining under Him; while God sometimes blesses us in that way, we can always count on Him to increase our faith and grow our character. What does that mean? Is it worth the pain we suffer?

Mature. Complete. Not lacking anything. Paul describes the same idea three ways to make sure we catch it. We will become like Christ, perfect in character, with perfect beliefs, thoughts, actions, and understanding. Every trial has the potential to make us more like Him if we allow it. Trials offer us far more life.

Keeping this big picture perspective enables us to obey the beginning of the passage: consider it pure joy whenever you face trials. Knowing we can use each trial to make us more Christ-like is a reason to face it with joy. I have a friend who embraces this. He consistently responds to trials with the exclamation, “Oh, good. God has allowed a trial!” His response is authentic and automatic; he relishes the chance to see God work in and through his life. My friend has faced some very difficult trials yet remained under God; and God has faithfully shaped his character to be more like Jesus.

How do we face trials with joy?

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5, NIV)

If you do not know, ask God! He will not criticize, berate, or belittle you. He will generously and graciously provide the wisdom you need to walk in far more life. But Paul does share this caution:

But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. (James 1:6, NIV)

You must ask God for wisdom with genuine faith. This is not the time for testing: “God, if you are real, give me wisdom.” It is not the time for bargaining, “God, if you give me wisdom now, I promise to never doubt you again.” It is good to admit that we lack faith; that is the first step in growing it! Use your doubt to uncover your core beliefs about God by asking yourself how you feel about trusting God and why you feel that way. As you alternate between these questions, digging deeper into your beliefs, you will encounter a core belief about God’s or your identity that does not line up with His Word. Turning to His Word for truth replaces that false belief, removes doubt, and allows genuine faith to flourish. And far more life!

I think this translation makes this passage relatable:

Don’t run from tests and hardships, brothers and sisters. As difficult as they are, you will ultimately find joy in them; if you embrace them, your faith will blossom under pressure and teach you true patience as you endure. And true patience brought on by endurance will equip you to complete the long journey and cross the finish line—mature, complete, and wanting nothing. (James 1:2-4, VOICE)

Do not run away from hardship. Instead run to far more life as you remain under God in your difficulties this week.

Sisters,
What is your first thought or feeling when a test, hardship, trial, or difficulty arises?
Can you think of a time when you relied on God through a trial and your faith in Him grew? Can you also think of times where you relied on yourself instead? What impact did those have on your faith?
How has your character grown more Christ-like through hardship?
Where do you turn for wisdom? What barriers keep you from turning wholeheartedly to God?
Thank God for His faithfulness and commitment to keep growing you. And for revealing far more life to you each step of the way.
-Shari

New Master

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. (Romans 6:22, NIV)

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. (Romans 7:21, NIV)

When we accept forgiveness through Jesus Christ and God becomes our new master, we want to do what is good and right. But sometimes our desire to obey is not enough to overcome sinful beliefs, habits, and actions we learned under our old master, Satan. Instead of instantly removing all those, God has chosen for us to work together to change them.

Too often, we think the sin is the problem. “I need to stop overeating when I am upset. I need to control my compulsion go shopping after a bad day. I need to stop turning to erotic media or masturbation when I am lonely.” So we tell ourselves (and others) we are going to stop sinning…and we fail.

Sinful thoughts and actions are symptoms of an underlying belief about ourselves or God that is untrue. They reveal an area of our mind that is still being influenced by our old master. Far more life is not overcoming a specific sin, rather it is consistently being who our new master made us. Our new nature cannot sin. Conversely, our old nature cannot live righteously. Whenever we sin we are operating under a part of our mind that is listening to our old master. 

But returning to the new nature is more than simply saying, “I am not going to do that anymore” or “I am going to listen to God instead of Satan.” The Apostle Paul instructs us to overcome sin in this way:

“…Be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you can work out what God’s will is, what is good, acceptable and complete.” (Romans 12:2, NTE)

Uncovering what we are feeling and thinking when we sin is the key to overcoming it. We can do this in the moment we catch ourselves sinning or later. The process is the same in either situation.

First, we must recognize what negative emotion we are feeling when or just before we sin. For example, “I am stressed.”

Next, we ask why we feel that, what we believe in that moment. “I have so many things I need to do and not enough time.”

This may be true or not true. Either way, we dig deeper by asking how that belief makes us feel. “Overwhelmed.”

Ask ourselves why we feel that way, what we believe about this. “I cannot do them all.”

Again we ask how that makes us feel? “I feel like I am worthless.”

We may have to go back and forth between what we feel and why several times. When we uncover a belief about our core identity or value that disagrees with God’s perspective, we have found the trigger Satan used to master us!

Holding up that belief, “I am worthless”, to God’s Word proves it false. The Bible reveals truth. “God does not see me as worthless. I am created in His image. He bought me with the blood of His Son. He is preparing a place for me in Heaven so I can live with Him forever. He loves me. I am valuable to Him.”

When we renew our minds with truth, we find far more life in our new master. Our old master’s influence is removed from that area. It is possible we will never be tempted to engage in that sin again. But it can take time to make new habits based on our renewed mindset. When we catch ourselves in that sin, we can thank God for helping us recognize we were listening to our old master. Then recalling God’s truth empowers us to say “no” to the enslavement of old beliefs, thoughts, and actions and “yes” to being a slave to righteousness.

Each area of our mind that is renewed deepens our understanding of our new master. But far more life is more than a logical understanding. Far more life desires a close relationship with Him. Far more life wants to experience His love, joy, peace, goodness, faithfulness, and more. Far more life grows in love, not just knowledge. Far more life recognizes that serving God and yielding to Him is a delight, not a decision.

Being enslaved to God is a blessing. It offers freedom we never dreamed possible. We find pleasure in righteousness rather than in sin. We find pain relief in God rather than in sin. He transforms our beliefs, thoughts, and habits so we are free to live reverently and righteously, enjoying rich fellowship and bringing God glory. 

We live as slaves, either to sin or righteousness. Far more life recognizes that being a slave to righteousness is the best life possible. It embraces our new master and reaps holiness.

Sisters,
What emotions, thoughts, or feelings are warning signs that you are listening to your old master, Satan?

Take a minute to try the mind renewal exercise. Use a recent sin as your starting point.
Which list of words describes your relationship with Christ: “ideas, truth, choice, logic, decision” or “experience, treasure, relationship, love, delight”? What barriers keep you from embracing the second list?
Think of how you have been blessed as a slave to righteousness. Thank God for those blessings of far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso
Photo Credit: Jennifer Marsh

Spiritual Slaves

…Teach older women to be holy in their behavior, not…enslaved to too much wine… (Titus 2:3, NCV)

The Christian life is filled with competing desires. We have 2 natures within us, fighting for control: the Spirit-filled nature and the sinful nature. The fight is evident in how we pursue pleasure and minimize pain.

When we find something that brings us pleasure or decreases our pain, we want more of it. What starts as an indulgence — something rare and special — can easily become an over-indulgence. We are hard-wired to create habits — and the habits we form often bring us pleasure or relieve pain. But how do we know when we have crossed the line from healthy to enslavement?

When we cannot be happy, satisfied, or functional without something or someone (besides God), we are wise to ask ourselves if we have become enslaved. Another warning sign is if our thinking changes from “I like this” or “I want this” to “I NEED this”. Christians are not exempt from enslavement, but far more life helps us recognize and overcome it.

We are tempted to think that faith in Christ is all we need to drive away sinful habits and compulsions. So when we struggle with or give in to sin, we may be tempted to think it is because we lack faith. And plenty of people with bad doctrine will confirm that false belief. So we do more of all the things we think will increase our faith: we go to church more; we study the Bible more, maybe even memorize parts of it; we pray more; we try harder to be good people. But working hard to grow your faith usually does not overcome an over-indulgence that has enslaved you. Why? Because lack of faith is not the problem. Even the Apostle Paul, a man of great faith, wrestled with this:

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. (Romans 7:21, NIV)

It would be great if a switch was flipped when we accepted Christ. That switch would turn off the pleasure we receive from sin, impure thoughts, anger, anxiety, fear, and pain.  It would turn on peace, patience, and a desire for only pure hobbies, entertainment, and fun. But that is not what God chose for us.

…It is God who is at work within you, giving you the will and the power to achieve his purpose. (Philippians 2:12, PHILLIPS)

Accepting Christ delivers us from the penalty of sin; we will never be punished for our wrongdoing (Romans 8:1). And it delivers us from the power of sin; we now have a clearer understanding of right and wrong and His Spirit living within us gives us power to choose what is right (2 Peter 1:3). But it also increases our awareness of sin; we realize things we thought were okay are actually displeasing to God, and some are actually enslaving us (John 9:39-41). We will spend the rest of our lives becoming aware of actions, thoughts, feelings, and beliefs we have embraced that are contrary to righteousness. There is no need to feel shameful about this; it is God’s plan for us. Far more life is being alert, honest, and humble about these areas.

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin…having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:17-18, ESV)

We live as spiritual slaves, either to sin or righteousness. The Greek word translated slave, doúlos, means “someone who belongs to another”. So plugging that definition into the above verse reads, “…You who once belonged to sin…now belong to righteousness.” We want to be independent, self-determined, our own masters. But spiritually speaking that is simply not possible:

…Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. (I Corinthians 6:19-20, NIV)

God, our Creator, owns us. Although we originally rejected Him and chose sin, He paid a high price for a restored relationship with us: the blood of His Son. God is our rightful master. And once we become His through Christ, nothing can separate us from Him; we belong to Him for all eternity (Romans 8:38-39). We have security as a slave to the righteousness of our perfect, loving Heavenly Father. This is hard to grasp, but there are benefits of being a slave to righteousness:

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. (Romans 6:22, NIV)

As slaves of God, we become a new creation. Our new nature desires to please God. We want to do what He says is right, to be holy like He is holy. We want to live in awe and reverence to Him. As new Christians, we see some changes right away and eagerly pursue more! We experience unconditional love and want to share it with others. We find purpose and meaning that satisfies us. We gain true pain relief through embracing His truth. We get a taste of far more life!

Sisters,
Think about what brings you pleasure; are you walking in the Spirit-filled nature or the sinful nature when you pursue it?
What do you do to avoid (emotional) pain? Which nature does that reinforce?
What do you NEED to be happy, satisfied, or functional? Is this healthy or could it indicate enslavement?
How do you feel about being a slave to righteousness? Does that feel different from “belonging to” God? If so, why?
Thank God for the benefits of being a slave to righteousness. Far more life is one of them!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso

Reflections

Some Bible verses bring us comfort. Others offer perspective. They can even motivate us to do better. Here are some of my favorites; reflecting on them helps me consistently experience far more life.

…The God we serve is able to deliver us…But even if he does not…we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up. (Daniel 3:17-18, NIV)

I love the boldness, confidence, and faith of these young men! They did not know whether they would live or die, but they knew God. He is ABLE to deliver. He is WORTHY of complete allegiance. Far more life is knowing God.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28, NIV)

This verse reminds me that God is in control. Even when my circumstances are rotten, God is at work, bringing beauty from ashes. Although I prefer better circumstances, His “good” is often character development. But in the long run, that is better because it leads to far more life!

If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. (James 4:17, NIV)

This is my go-to-verse when I need a kick in the pants! When I am tempted to be lazy or selfish, this verse keeps me from justifying my sin. Rather than condemning me, its bluntness encourages me to be honest with myself and God. Far more life is found in doing good rather than sin. I am thankful for this motivating truth!

And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this? (Esther 4:14, NIV)

Mordecai posed this question to his niece, Esther, during a life-or-death situation. She had to choose whether to risk her life to try and save the Jewish nation from genocide. This verse reminds me that even when it appears evil is “winning”, God is still working. Sometimes He positions us to play an unexpected role in His plan. Far more life looks for opportunities to join God’s work.

But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”  (Genesis 50:19-20, NIV)

Joseph was mistreated by his brothers and sold into slavery as a teenager. Instead of letting anger turn to bitterness, he entrusted himself to God. He focused on the blessings he received rather than the hardships he endured. Then the tables were turned and he got to to determine their fate. Far more life forgives others and trusts God to bring good despite their sin against us.

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. (Hebrews 11:13, NIV)

I love the “Hall of Faith” chapter. It is encouraging to read of the hardships people suffered in a different light — one that illuminates their faith. Although I have not built an ark, sacrificed my son, left my home, escaped the sword, shut the mouths of lions, or been tortured, this chapter encourages me to face my struggles with faith. And to remember that Heaven, my real home, is ahead. Far more life looks to the future with faith that it will be all God has promised!

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23, NIV)

I am so thankful for a fresh start every day. (Actually, God’s children get a fresh start with Him each time they sin, but that is not as poetic!) These verses reveal so much about God’s character: He is greatly loving; He is unfailingly compassionate; He is flawlessly faithful. We do not deserve a fresh start, but He generously offers it. Far more life radiates God’s character qualities.

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. (I John 5:13, NIV)

It was a great relief when I learned that God wanted me to be confident of my eternal destiny. He knows we need certainty in order to prosper, so He gives it! Once we accept Jesus, we can have confidence that our “sin debt” has been settled. We no longer need to fear Judgement Day. Far more life is free to live for God, knowing we will never be separated from Him.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. (I John 4:18-19, NIV)

Whether it is my personality or being a first-born, I want to stay in good standing with the authorities and avoid punishment! I am thankful I no longer need to fear God, the ultimate authority! His Word assures me that I will never suffer His punishment now that I have accepted Jesus’ offer to take it on my behalf. His love has given me a perfect standing before God, even though I do not deserve it. I can focus on loving Him and others. Far more life offers love because it has received God’s perfect love.

Sisters,
What Bible verses do you like to reflect on? How do they communicate far more life to you?
What aspects of God’s character bring you peace, comfort, and hope?
What makes you confident in God’s forgiveness and love for you?
Do you have a “life verse” that serves as your mission statement for life (or this season of life)? If not, prayerfully consider adopting one.

Praise God for far more life!
-Shari


Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso

Praying Praise

I will praise the Lord at all times. I will constantly speak his praises. I will boast only in the Lord; let all who are helpless take heart. Come, let us tell of the Lord’s greatness; let us exalt his name together. (Psalm 34:1-3, NLT)

You deserve our constant praise, Lord. Even if we spent our whole lives praising You, we would never run out of reasons to glorify You. As we praise You, we see how much more praise you deserve! With You as our Father, we never need to feel helpless; we can remember the great things You have already done and trust You to do more. Your work in others’ lives prompts us to praise You, too. Far more life is filled with Your praise!

I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears. Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken their faces. In my desperation I prayed, and the Lord listened; he saved me from all my troubles. For the angel of the Lord is a guard; he surrounds and defends all who fear him. (Psalm 34:4-7, NLT)

Thank you for hearing and answering us, Father. Thank You for helping us see our fears are baseless against your wisdom and power; You hold us and our future securely in Your hands. Your provision makes us glow with confidence, love, and joy; we have nothing to fear or worry. Our weakness is offset by Your strength; help us to recognize our need for You sooner so we do not waste time floundering. Thank You for saving, protecting, and defending us — often without our awareness. Without Your help and intervention, we would not be able to survive! Far more life expectantly looks to You as the source of truth and grace.

Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him! Fear the Lord, you his godly people, for those who fear him will have all they need. Even strong young lions sometimes go hungry, but those who trust in the Lord will lack no good thing. (Psalm 34:8-10, NLT)

Your goodness is evident to those who place their trust in You. Your abundant love and provision lead us to praise You. When we humble ourselves before You and place ourselves in Your keeping, we know You will provide. You are sovereign over all creatures, yet You promise to always meet our deepest needs; thank You! Far more life celebrates Your goodness and proclaims your abundance.

Come, my children, and listen to me, and I will teach you to fear the Lord. Does anyone want to live a life that is long and prosperous? Then keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies! Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it. (Psalm 34:11-14, NLT)

Teach us from your wisdom, Lord, and soften our hearts to accept what we read in Your Word. We want to listen to You and follow your wise counsel. Help us to recognize evil so we can stay far away from it. Give us a desire for peace so we can enjoy Your blessing in our relationships. Your ways are simple, even a child can understand them. We are like children before You, Lord; thank you for patiently reminding us what is best. Far more life listens and obeys.

The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right; his ears are open to their cries for help. But the Lord turns his face against those who do evil; he will erase their memory from the earth. The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. (Psalm 34:15-18, NLT)

We are relieved to know Your eyes and ears are always on us. We depend on You for help in the troubles we encounter. We need Your comfort to overcome the grief and fear we face. Thank you for always being there. Always. Far more life stays connected to You, through both good and challenging times.

The righteous person faces many troubles, but the Lord comes to the rescue each time. For the Lord protects the bones of the righteous; not one of them is broken. Calamity will surely destroy the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be punished. But the Lord will redeem those who serve him. No one who takes refuge in him will be condemned. (Psalm 34:19-22, NLT)

Thank you that we can depend on You to rescue us. Even when it looks different from what we expect or prefer, we can trust You to do what is best for us. Thank you for protecting us from dangers that we cannot even perceive; Your love for us is humbling and inspiring. We are thankful that final justice lies in Your hands. Our enemies are Your enemies and You will take care of them in Your perfect timing. We can release them to You and move on. Thank you for being a safe refuge for those You have redeemed. Far more life rests in You today and for all eternity.

We praise You for who You are and what You do. We pray to You through Jesus and are humbled that You hear us, Amen.

Sisters,
What praise is on your heart, mind, and lips today? How can you share His greatness with others?
How have you experienced God’s protection and provision? Did you thank Him for that?
What challenge or trouble are you facing today? Have you talked to God about it? Asked for His help? Searched His Word for wisdom?
Are you looking to Him for wisdom? Peace? Comfort? If not, confess your distance and any barriers that keep you away.
Thank Him for giving you far more life, an eternal connection to Him!
-Shari

Let Go…Find Joy

I recently read this quote by Rachel Marie Martin: Sometimes you have to let go of the picture of what you thought life would be like and learn to find joy in the story you are actually living. The same sentiment is shared in the Bible:

People can make all kinds of plans, but only the Lord’s plan will happen…The fear of the Lord leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble. (Proverbs 19:21 & 23, NCV)

Let go…find joy: embracing this change of perspective is far more life!

When life is not going as we would like, we can have joy because the Lord’s plan for us is still in place. When our hope is in Him, nothing can steal our joy. Jesus suffered more than we ever will, yet He held on to that truth:

He saw the joy ahead of him, so he endured death on the cross and ignored the disgrace it brought him. (Hebrews 12:2, GW)

I cannot imagine experiencing joy in the midst of the suffering Jesus endured. But He focused on the outcome, a relationship with us. Far more life accepts the pain and suffering of this life by tapping into limitless joy through faith in Christ. God promises that one day our suffering will end, but our joy will continue for eternity:

You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence. (Psalm 16:11 & Acts 2:28, NIV)

Even when we face injustice, God offers us joy:

The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. (Psalm 33:9-11, NIV)

The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him. (Psalm 28:7, NIV)

God’s plans and purposes prevail over every sin committed against us. He helps us through every difficulty and strengthens us to stay on His path. Far more life finds joy by pursuing God’s purposes. Because we do not always understand His purposes, we are tempted to doubt them. Many Christians find encouragement in this promise of God’s protection and provision:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV)

This promise to the Israelites was followed by 70 years of captivity! They did not experience the prosperous life they envisioned right away. But, as they waited, God’s joy was always available in the story they were living.

Mary’s life did not unfold like she had pictured. Her future marriage was threatened by an unexpected pregnancy. Many of her friends and family probably did not believe the child she carried was miraculously conceived. But Mary let go of the life she had pictured and found joy in the story God asked her to live, proclaiming:

My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me — holy is his name. (Luke 1:46-49, NIV)

Our natural tendency is to avoid or eliminate anything negative: pain; hard circumstances; broken dreams; and dashed hopes. We would happily rescue ourselves and our loved ones from unwanted life situations.

But if Mary had been rescued, Jesus would not have come to earth to pay for our sins.

If the patriarch Joseph had been rescued from slavery, millions of people would have faced starvation (Genesis 37-47).

If David had been rescued from Saul’s pursuit, we would not have many of the Psalms that remind us to rely on God (I Samuel 16 – 2 Samuel 1).

Hebrews 11 contains many more accounts of people whose lives did not go as planned. But as they followed God’s storyline and purpose, they found greater joy than they had imagined possible!

My life has not gone as I expected. I have not worked in the field I dreamed about. I did not get married or have children when I thought I would. I have experienced loss and disappointment that I would not have chosen. The future will not be what I envision, either. But with each departure from my plan, I have a choice: will I let my heart keep longing for my story or will I joyfully pursue the story God has for me? Sometimes the choice is hard, but I know far more life is only found pursuing God’s story.

Happy are the pure in heart; they will see God! (Matthew 5:8, GNT)

God has been faithful to me. He has shown me over and over that His way is best, His Word is trustworthy, His character is unchanging, and His love is unconditional. As I live the story He planned for me, I find joy in His friendship, peace in His presence, and hope in His promises. I find far more life as I live out each day of His story. You can find joy and far more life by living out His story for you!

Sisters,
Are there things you expected in life that have not come to be? Have you let go of them? If not, what do you fear will happen if you do?
How have you found joy in the unexpected aspects of your life?
If you are not experiencing joy, what are you feeling? What do you believe about yourself or God that supports that feeling? Is that belief consistent with what God’s Word says? If not, pray and ask Him to help you recognize His truth and embrace it rather than the false belief that is hurting you.
What aspect of God’s character helps you trust Him and His story for your life?
Throw yourself wholeheartedly into pursuing God’s story — and enjoy far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso

All I Know

…All I know is this: I used to be blind, and now I can see. (John 9:25, NTE)

The man who made this statement had been called before the religious leaders to explain who Jesus was and how He had healed him. The leaders’ desire was to uncover sin and have justification to discredit Jesus. But the healed man had no idea who Jesus was; all he knew was what Jesus did for him. As the story continues, the religious leaders ask him to tell what happened…again. I think this confuses the man:

He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?” (John 9:27, NIV)

We sometimes find ourselves in confusing spiritual conversations. Is the other person seeking to understand? Are they looking for a safe person to open up to? Do they simply enjoy arguing and debating? Are we pushing our perspective on someone who is not interested? Or are they interested and want us to share more? It is important to remember that our job is not to convince people of God’s truth; that is the job of the Holy Spirit. We do not need to “sell” God. Or defend Him. Or be experts on spiritual matters.

What is our role in introducing others to Christ? As I researched this, I discovered the New Testament gives four similar-yet-distinct instructions: proclaim, share, tell, and witness. The intention is the same: God wants us to communicate who what Christ has done for us and who He is to us. But the method varies based on the situation.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “…proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ (Matthew 10:7, NIV)

This was near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. The Greek word used for proclaim is kēryssete, which means “to be a herald, to proclaim”. Jesus wanted to draw attention to His presence and power, much like a town crier drew attention to the king’s actions and decrees. Since He wanted everyone to know about the salvation He offered, Jesus instructed His disciples to proclaim His message boldly. Those who were receptive had the opportunity to experience God’s power at work. At times, far more life is proclaiming, “All I know is the message Jesus gave me.”

…Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. (I Thessalonians 2:8 NIV)

The Greek word translated as share is metadounai, which means “to give a share of”. Rather than being isolated or closed off, we are to introduce others to Christ by sharing our lives with them and developing genuine friendships. As we live side-by-side, our words and actions show how our relationship with Christ impacts who we are and what we do. Far more life shares the message of Christ by sharing “All I know…” in words and through actions like forgiveness, generosity, kindness, patience, and more.

Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him. (Luke 8:38-39, NIV)

This man was set free from demon possession through a personal encounter with Jesus. He then instructed the man to tell his family what happened (diēgou), which means “to relate fully”. I think Jesus wanted the man to tell how his thoughts, feelings, and beliefs were changed by Jesus’ actions. According to the text, the man did not just tell others, he proclaimed (kēryssete) it all over town. I think his response was so big because Jesus radically changed every aspect of his life! Far more life is being ready to fully relate the changes produced by your personal encounter with Christ: “All I know is how Jesus changed me.”

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8, NIV)

When you think of a witness, what comes to mind? I think of a person telling what they observed or experienced. We most often hear witnesses associated with court cases; their testimony supports the case of the one who called them to the stand. This verse instructs the disciples — and us — to be “martyres”, witnesses, for God everywhere we go, starting in our hometown and extending as far into the world as our influence reaches. Sometimes witnessing means calling out evil. At other times it means doing what is right when others choose sin. Witnessing can mean sharing what God has told us about the future and why we believe Him. Far more life testifies “All I know is I have seen His power at work and I believe what He says.”

Far more life proclaims, shares, tells, and witnesses. Putting Jesus’ instruction into action can open doors to wonderful conversations with those God is drawing and sweet fellowship with those who are already following Him. Far more life rests in our willingness to include Christ in our interactions, not in the other person’s response. A mindset that looks for opportunities to communicate, “All I know…”, enables us to join the Psalmist in declaring:

My mouth is filled with praise for you. All day long I will talk about your glory. (Psalm 71:8, NIRV)

Sisters,
What has God done for you? How has He changed your life?

Do you agree it is your role to communicate about God and God’s role to draw people to Himself? If not, consider John 6:44 and 63-65.
In what situation would you…proclaim? …share? …tell? …witness?
Pray to recognize opportunities to communicate “All I know…” this week so you can experience the blessing of far more life that accompanies obeying your Heavenly Father!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso

Life Storms

My area received a lot of rain last week, so it was fitting that my pastor included this verse in his Sunday message about suffering:

When the clouds are dark and heavy with rain, showers will fall upon the earth. (Ecclesiastes 11:3, VOICE)

He acknowledged our first thought at reading it is, “How obvious! Dark clouds bring rain.” Then he reminded us of the cultural context. This was written by King Solomon, who lived in Jerusalem, where the dry season lasts more than half the year. Yet when it rains, a significant amount can fall in a short time. So seeing the dark, heavy clouds roll in probably brought mixed emotions to Solomon and his people: eager anticipation of the life-giving water with dread of the storm that sometimes delivered it.

It is common knowledge that rain benefits plants, animals, and humans. Even the smell of rain is pleasant to most people. But many think of its delivery — especially from strong storms — as inconvenient, depressing, or frightening. I admit I selfishly wish it only rained at night, when I am tucked in my bed, so I could be comforted by hearing it, appreciate its benefits, but not endure the discomfort of a dripping umbrella or wet clothes, shoes, and hair!

Similarly, we often view the storms of life, hard situations, negatively. But what if life storms actually lead us toward far more life? What if we focused on their benefits rather than our discomfort?

It is common to believe we should be exempt from hardship and suffering, that we deserve perpetually good circumstances. This is not logical! When we look at God’s original plan for creation in Genesis 1 and 2, suffering was not included. But Adam and Eve chose to assert their own will rather than contentedly follow God’s will. Perhaps if they had realized suffering would be a result of sinning they would have chosen differently. Yet God, in His infinite kindness, brings good from our suffering.

God did not even spare His own Son from suffering on this earth. It was His suffering that paid the penalty for our sin and opened the door for us to have a restored relationship with God:

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:3-5, NIV)

Jesus faced worse life storms than any other human! Fortunately suffering is not the end of His story; Isaiah prophesied the good it would produce:

After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:11-12, NIV)

None of us will ever suffer as much as Jesus did. But our suffering can bring good, too. It enables us to see the light of life. It changes our perspective, even bringing satisfaction and thankfulness. Consider how these verses describe the outcome of suffering:

He covers the sky with clouds; he supplies the earth with rain and makes grass grow on the hills. (Psalm 147:8, NIV)

Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. (Hebrews 6:7, NIV)

He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:45, NIV)

Be glad, people of Zion, rejoice in the Lord your God, for he has given you the autumn rains because he is faithful… (Joel 2:23, NIV)

Jesus even used an intense storm to show His disciples who He was:

The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.” (Luke 8:24-25, NIV)

Jesus offered His disciples far more life that day by showing His power and revealing His divinity. He invited them to put their faith in Him. He is bigger than any storm we face and willing to use that power for our benefit:

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32, NIV)

God will not withhold anything we need (Philippians 4:19).

Everything He does or allows — even suffering — is for the good of His children (Romans 8:28).

Thankfully, through faith in Christ, our suffering will come to an end (2 Peter 3:13).

He will wipe every tear from our eye (Revelation 21:4).

We will see and understand God’s bigger perspective (I Corinthians 13:12).

Until then, we have a choice: despise the storms or look for the beauty the rain brings. Choose to look for beauty — and find far more life!

Sisters,
Do you feel positive or negative about rain and storms? Why?
Think of a life storm you have experienced. What spiritual benefit did you gain from it?
What is your response to reading about Jesus’ suffering?
Thank God that Jesus paid the price so our suffering will one day end.
Commit to look for beauty and far more life in your next (or current) life storm.
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso
Photo Credit: Kim Reem

Deeper Righteousness

Do you ever struggle with feelings that you are not “good enough” to make God happy?  Or that He is disappointed with you, your life, and the bad habits and sins you cannot seem to break? These thoughts and feelings rob you of far more life and keep you bound to depression, anxiety, fear, and self-deprecation.

The truth is that we – on our own — can never be good enough for God to accept us. But the good news is that we do not have to be. The Bible says:

There is no one righteous, not even one. (Romans 3:10, NIV)

Jesus was given to die for our sins, and he was raised from the dead to make us right with God. Since we have been made right with God by our faith, we have peace with God. (Romans 4:25-5:1, NCV)

We cannot earn God’s approval because that would require us to be perfect like Him. Jesus paid the penalty for our sin so that, when we accept his payment, God sees us through His perfection and righteousness. Once we have God’s approval, we cannot lose it.

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)

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. (I John 5:13, NIV)

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe… (Romans 3:22, NIV)

The righteousness we receive from God is deeper than any “righteousness” we can achieve on our own. His deeper righteousness changes us to be like Him. It changes our desires to match His. It changes our motives; we begin acting out of love for God and others. It changes our thoughts; we think of people as eternal souls and earth as our temporary home. And those lead to different behaviors. We are no longer trying to earn God’s approval. Deeper righteousness frees us to love and live for Him. 

But we still sin sometimes. We fall into old habits and patterns. We give in to fear or worry instead of trusting God. Is God disappointed in us at those times? His Word says:

Therefore there is now no condemnation [no guilty verdict, no punishment] for those who are in Christ Jesus [who believe in Him as personal Lord and Savior]. (Romans 8:1, AMP)

We will not go to hell when we die. We will not be judged for our sins when Christ returns. God will not allow bad things to happen — or withhold good from us — as a punishment for our sins and wrong choices. He will not scold, criticize, or shame His children. 

When we sin—or even make mistakes — we can be overcome with disappointment in ourselves. We may become angry, harsh, critical, judgmental, and demanding. We might return to old patterns, fearful that we are not good enough. We often assume God is also disappointed with us and has negative feelings toward us. But there is no verse in the Bible stating that God experiences this kind of disappointment toward His children. Instead, here is God’s instruction to us:

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (I John 2:1-2, NIV)

These are not critical, condemning, disappointed words. These words encourage us to look to Jesus, confess our sin, be thankful for His sacrifice on our behalf, and get back to pursuing deeper righteousness! 

The Bible does say God can grieve over our sin (Ephesians 4:30).  But our disappointment and God’s grief are vastly differently. God’s grief is rooted in compassion. He sees how sin hurts His children, and He feels compassion for them. He sees the pain, confusion, or deception in our hearts and feels compassion that we cannot see them, too. He is grieved when miss out on the safety, wisdom, and happiness offered by His perfect ways. God’s grief is motivated by love and a desire for us to be and experience all He intended. He wants us to find far more life in Him.

I came to bring them life, and far more life than before. (John 10:10, PHILLIPS)

In Christ, we are free to let go of our disappointment and pursue deeper righteousness. Rather than feeling obligated to obey God, deeper righteousness loves Him wholeheartedly. Rather than following rules that shape our behavior, deeper righteousness conforms our motives and thoughts to His. Rather than living in fear of His judgement, deeper righteousness lives in anticipation of His blessing and approval. And as we pursue deeper righteousness, we reap inner peace and contentment – far more life!

Sisters,
Are you trying to be good enough to win God’s approval?  If so, how will you attain His perfect standard?

If you have accepted Christ, what can separate you from God’s love? (Refer to Romans 8:38-39)
Do you believe that God ever condemns or punishes His children? If so, read through Romans 8 and talk with a pastor or spiritual mentor about your concerns.
What differences are there between God’s grief and human disappointment?
Pursue deeper righteousness today through the freedom of far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso
Photo credit: Jenjoe Marsh

Set Your Heart

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  (Colossians 3:1-3, NIV)

You may read this verse and think, “But earthly things need our attention!” We need to eat and sleep. Many of us need to go to work to earn money. If we have children, we need to meet their physical, emotional, and mental needs. Other relationships need attention, too. We may need to mow the yard, shovel the walk, and tend our gardens. Appliances break. Our vehicles need maintenance. Our living space needs to be cleaned. We need to replenish our resources. We must think about these things and many more; they cannot be ignored while we think about “things above” and hope God sends angels to do the actual work for us.

But this passage is not telling us to ignore our responsibilities or the necessities of life. Rather it gives instruction about our heart, which is our command center. Biblically speaking, our heart is the source of our will, intellect and feelings. It determines our values, motivation, and mindset. It tells us to know what is most important, which then shapes our goals, dreams, decisions, and priorities. These verses are challenging us to think about the big picture — the foundation on which our lives are built — not just the needs and challenges of today. That is essential for far more life.

Here is a sampling of Bible verses that provide specific instruction about our hearts:

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. (Proverbs 4:23, NIV)

I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. (Psalm 119:111, NIV)

For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. (2 Chronicles 16:9, NIV)

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

We are born with a heart of stone that is spiritually hardened and lifeless (Ezekiel 36:26). It is set on earthly things and does not know or desire God. But God offers us a new, soft heart that is set on heavenly things and eternally connected to Him. But even with our new heart, our mind is still full of the old thoughts, plans, and feelings. We will spend the rest of our lives uncovering the damage done by our old heart and experiencing the healing available through our new heart. We cannot change our old heart and its desires; instead we must learn to let our new heart control more areas of our mind, intellect, and feelings. That is how set our heart on heavenly things.

We can test our heart to determine whether we are listening to the part set on earthly things or the part set on heavenly things. One question that tests this is, “Whose kingdom am I building: my own or God’s?” At the times our desire is to acquire all the wealth, possessions, status, power, experiences, and pleasure we can, we are listening to our old heart and focused on earthly things. But when our desire is to use the things of this life — our wealth, possessions, status, power, experiences, and pleasure — to know God better and introduce others to Him, we know we are being ruled by our new hearts and are focused on heavenly things.

It is not what we are doing that reveals our heart, but why we are doing it. Two people can perform the same action but be building different kingdoms. We can do anything — even spiritual activities — with a focus on ourselves or a focus on God. For this reason, God’s Word contains other verses that help us determine where our heart is set:

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18, NIV)

What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? (Matthew 16:26, Mark 8:36, Luke 9:25, NIV)

For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.  (I John 2:17, NIV)

Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12:25, NIV)

When our heart is set on heavenly things, our life is not about ourselves. We can definitely appreciate our blessings and enjoy God’s creation, but we are not focused on acquiring more toys, experiences, recognition. We see the world as our mission field rather than our playground. We think about the eternal impact of what we do rather than the short-term benefit. We recognize physical death is the gateway to our eternal home rather than the end of our existence. We accept that things do not always make sense because we do not have access to every detail of the master plan. We trust God’s character and His Word as our guidance rather than our own understanding and experiences. Focusing on heavenly things brings us peace, hope, joy, and purpose. It brings us far more life!

Sisters,
What earthly things compete with God for your heart’s attention?
In what areas of life is your new heart in control? In which areas does your mind revert to old heart patterns?
What helps you recognize when you are building your own kingdom instead of God’s?
Thank God for faithfully giving you far more life, no matter how many times you have to reset your heart on heavenly things.
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso