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

Warm Love

Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold. (Matthew 24:12, NIV)

Sadly, this verse seems to sum up the current climate of our culture. We are a spiritually, morally, and politically divided people. We disagree on what is “wicked” and are quick to criticize those whose definition differs from our own. People engage in hateful dismissiveness rather than loving discourse. It is discouraging and leads us away from far more life.

Although it is right to be sad about the current state of affairs, we should not be surprised. It was predicted over 2000 years ago and has always been true to some extent. But we can consider this a call to be counter-culture and put the warm love of far more life into practice. As society’s standard of righteousness moves further from God’s standard, we have an opportunity to INCREASE our love for others and reveal God’s true character. Jesus tells us how in his first sermon:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? … And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48, NIV)

Love your enemies; this includes people who actively oppose us. Pray for those who persecute you; this includes people who attack us or call us names. God sets the example for us. As Creator and Judge, He would be justified in withholding all good — even sunshine and rain — from those who oppose and attack Him. But He does not. And He does not want us to withhold good, either. Looking out for the welfare of those who oppose us is an example of warm love. It sets us apart from the majority and reveals God’s Spirit living inside of us. We find far more life as we strive to be like God in our love.

…Love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:39, NIV)

Give the same regard to others that you give to yourself. Do kind acts for them that you do for yourself. Some people pay for the order of the person behind them in the drive thru, especially when that person has been impatient or otherwise indicated they are having a bad day. This is one way of responding with warm love. We regularly offer our neighbor warm love by clearing the snow from a significant portion of his sidewalk. It feels good to bless him in this small way. Perhaps one day it will open the door for a conversation about Christ. But in the meantime, we find far more life by showing him love.

…Urge the younger women to love their husbands and children. (Titus 2:4, NIV)

Sometimes the people we serve the most are the people for whom our love cools the most. Caring for those in our own homes day after day can become wearing. We can get bogged down in what we are doing and forget why we are doing it. When my children left home, I thought I would have a vacation from daily cooking. But soon I realized my new attitude of doing as little food planning and prep as possible was not loving toward my husband. I had to choose whether to adopt a “fend for yourself” attitude of cold love or to be a vessel of God’s warm love by continuing to regularly prepare foods we could enjoy together. When I chose to show my husband love, I discovered another level of far more life!

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. (Mark 12:30, NIV)

Our love for God is the most important of all. If we let that grow cold, we will be miserable and unable to find far more life. But as we devote ourselves to loving Him with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, our love for Him and others will grow warmer and more vibrant. This love flows through a circle: as we get to know Him better, our love for Him deepens, giving us more love to give others. Then as we pass His love to others, we discover new aspects of far more life that motivate us to keep deepening our love for God. Growing our connection to God keeps our love warm.

A deeper connection to God also enables us to see others as He does. God is not surprised when people who have rejected Him increase in wickedness. The cycle of righteousness, rejection, wickedness, and revival has been repeated over and over throughout history. God also sees beyond people’s actions to their heart, and knows they are often trying to meet legitimate needs in illegitimate ways. When we see people as God does, we offer compassion rather than judgment. Rather than cooling our love, this produces warmth.

The Bible points out that the love of most will grow cold toward their fellow humans. But a deep and genuine connection to God — far more life — gives us warm love to share with everyone around us. Friends, enemies, family, and strangers alike.

Sisters,
How has the wickedness around us impacted your love for others?
What individual or group is your enemy? What would it look like to love them?
How do or can you love your neighbor as yourself?
Is it easier or harder to love those in your household than those outside of it? Why?
Is your love for God growing warmer or cooler? How can you deepen your connection to Him?
Thank God for showing you His love — and blessing you with far more life!
-Shari

Every Morning

At the start of a new year most people evaluate where they are in life and where they want to be. Many set new goals, make new plans, and use the new year to make a new start. But we never have to wait: God offers His daughters a new start every morning!

It is because of the Lord’s lovingkindnesses that we are not consumed, Because His [tender] compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; Great and beyond measure is Your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23, AMP)

These verses proclaim that a new, unlimited supply of His compassion is available to us each day. This is a gift as well as a demonstration of His character. Understanding and embracing this is a key to far more life, so let’s explore it.

Compassion literally means “to suffer together”. It involves noticing another’s suffering, desiring relief for them, and acting to alleviate it. Compassion is both emotionally connecting with others and actively caring for them. God is emotionally connected to you and actively cares about your struggles every day.

This point is so important that the writer of Lamentations states it multiple ways to make sure we catch it:

  • God’s lovingkindness keeps us alive.
  • His tender compassions toward us never fail.
  • His compassions are new every morning.
  • God’s faithfulness (guarantee He will do what He promises) is great and beyond measure.

This sparks peace and joy in my heart. God loves me. His love keeps me alive. He is with me. He is for me. He sees my struggles, my hurts, my burdens. They hurt Him as much as they hurt me. Every day He acts to help alleviate them. He never gets tired of helping me. He never gives up on me. He reaches out day after day to connect with me and ease my burdens. He is my God, my Daddy, my Best Friend, my Today, my Tomorrow, my Eternity! Accepting His connection and care is where I find far more life.

I can understand why the writer continues:

“The Lord is my portion and my inheritance,” says my soul;
“Therefore I have hope in Him and wait expectantly for Him.”
(Lamentations 3:24, AMP)

We grow impatient in our struggles. We want them to be resolved now. And we are tempted to think that God is not acting if we do not find immediate relief. We want Him to rescue us, but He has a better plan: to join us in our struggle, to strengthen us, and to rescue our hearts from despair and discouragement even when our situation remains unchanged. We find far more life by expectantly looking for His compassion in action.

This reminds me of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath in I Kings 17. There was a severe drought that lasted 3 years, yet every morning she had enough oil and flour to make that day’s bread for her household. God literally showed His compassion every morning. He did not dole it out a week at a time and ask her to ration it carefully. He provided exactly what she needed for each day. He proved Himself faithful — and reminded her of His connection and care — day after day after day. Although the drought was long, her confidence in God must have grown each day. She had opportunity to stop worrying about running out of food and instead enjoy peace of mind. She had reason to place her hope in God and waited expectantly for Him to meet her need each morning. What a wonderful picture of far more life in action!

The Lord is good to those who wait [confidently] for Him,
To those who seek Him [on the authority of God’s word]. (Lamentations 3:25, AMP)

Goodness is one of God’s character qualities, so He is always good. But I think this verse is saying that we notice His goodness when we seek Him and expectantly wait for Him. I wonder how often I have missed an opportunity to thank and praise God because I failed to realize it was HIM who met my need. In the midst of a struggle when I am praying for His help, I am on the lookout for it and quickly acknowledge His actions. But too often, I am focused on getting myself through the day and forget about His connection and care. Or I fail to realize the depth of His actions on my behalf.

A friend was driving down the interstate when a tire and axle broke off a semi heading the other direction, rolled across the median, bounced onto the hood of her car, hit her windshield, and flew to the shoulder. She pulled off the road and stopped the car, thankful that God protected her being hurt or crashing. But her understanding of God’s goodness and active care was heightened when a police officer who witnessed the whole thing (and told her what had actually happened) said he had never seen anyone walk away from that kind of accident alive, let alone uninjured!

We have all faced situations where we were blind to God’s compassion. Sometimes we are even angry with Him and question why He allowed something bad to happen. While we cannot see what would have happened — how much worse it would have been — without God’s compassion, we can be confident that He is emotionally connected and actively caring for us every single day. This confidence in His love and involvement brings far more life.

Whatever comes your way today, God’s compassion is active and sufficient to give you far more life.

Sisters,
Are there any barriers that make it hard for you to believe that God’s compassion is new every morning? If so, share those with Him and seek out His truth so you are free to embrace His compassion.
What challenges you in waiting expectantly for Him?
How have you experienced His emotional connection and active caring? Has He ever used people as His messengers?
Pray that you will see God’s goodness today and find far more life.
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso
Photo Credit: Jennifer Davis

Far More Generations

Think about the women in your life. How does the youngest girl you have a relationship with impact you? What kind of relationship do you have with the oldest woman in your life? Think of the women in between, both consistent contributors to your life and the most influential. I hope your life contains a richness of women who offer a wide range of life experiences, a variety of personalities, and diverse interests and gifts.

We are often most comfortable with people who are like us. Sadly, the message we increasingly hear in our culture is we can only be understood by people like us. We may believe those are the only people whose input we can trust. We may feel they the only people we should turn to for perspective. We are told they alone have the right to speak into our lives. We may draw lines between “us” and “them” that rob us of different experiences and perspectives.

Relationships that cross generational lines offer far more life. Older women offer wisdom and experience. Women in the middle generations offer insights on balancing challenges as they strive to support aging parents and maturing children. Young women offer enthusiasm, optimism, and connection to our culture. Each generation faces unique challenges and possesses unique gifts.

Despite our differences, women of all ages have commonalities. We all have hopes and dreams. We all experience love and loss. We all face challenges. We all sin. We all are made in God’s image. We all want to experience far more life. Sisters in Christ share a faith, a future, and fellowship that is not impacted by the number of candles on their birthday cake. God has given us a common role in each other’s lives:

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17, NIV)

Women of any age can help others become more Christ-like. We can sharpen and be sharpened by others, which leads to far more life. Although age differences can feel awkward, Christ provides a connection point. We can always pray for each other, share encouragement, and study God’s Word together.

We may feel awkward with other generations because what we give each other is not the same. A sense of inequality in what we have to offer and what we receive can be a barrier. For an example, an older and younger woman cannot trade babysitting. Or one may need help with meals or cleaning while the other has no practical needs at that time. We can become uncomfortable receiving from another generation because we are not sure what we “owe” them in return. But if we shift our perspective, we realize that removing debt is not the goal.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another. (Romans 13:8a, NIV)

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7, NIV)

If we trust the other woman is giving lovingly and cheerfully of her resources, there is no debt or inequality!  It is okay to ask once, “How can I repay you?” or “Are you sure this is okay?” Humbly accept the answer, trusting her to speak truthfully. We build connection by lovingly and gratefully giving and receiving different things from each other. This connection helps us experience far more life.

As a college student, I formed a friendship with a woman who I later found out was just a couple years younger than my mother. Our age difference was not a factor. I learned a lot from observing her life and asking questions about a variety of situations that I, as a young adult, had yet to experience firsthand. She appreciated my support and encouragement as she traversed a hard season of life. Our relationship was centered on a mutual desire to love and serve God, not on the specific situations we faced.

There are many formal opportunities for us to build relationships with women from other generations: at work, at church, at the gym, in community groups, through shared hobbies, and more. But being in the same place at the same time may not be enough to form a connection. Take initiative to get to know women from other generations. It can be as simple as asking them for advice or offering to pray for them. It can be a few minutes face-to-face when you are already together or a special time you arrange in advance. You can use social media or go “old school” and call!  Do not assume someone else is too busy for you, instead, if you want to get to know them, initiate. You may enrich your life in ways you never imagined! 

In addition to the blessing in your own life, pursuing intergenerational relationships at a time when others are turning away from people who differ from them gives you a chance to be a picture of God in action.

Everyone will know that you are my disciples because of your love for each other. (John 13:35, GW)

Enjoy the richness of all your relationships this week as you live far more life!

Sisters,
How have older and younger women helped you grow in far more life?
What hesitation or reluctance do you have about pursuing relationships with women from another generation?
What do you have to give? What do you need? How can giving and receiving enrich your life rather than just adding more to your to do list?
Pray for your plans to initiate sharing far more life with a woman from another generation this week.
-Shari

Copyright 2019-20, Shari Damaso