Spiritual Prosperity

I have seen a meme stating that in the future when we have a bad day we will refer to it as a 2020. I will not be surprised if that becomes true! This has been a shocking and challenging year, with wave after wave of novel and unexpected challenges.

Many have speculated these events are signs that Christ’s return is approaching. I do not know if these are part of the prophesied “birth pains” (Matthew 24:8) signaling the beginning of the end of this world, but I do know that every day moves us closer to Jesus’ return!

I also know these challenges do not have to crush our spirits. Far more life
enables us to spiritually and emotionally prosper, even when we face circumstances
that devastate our finances, health, livelihood, comfort, and more. Consider this
perspective from the Old Testament prophet, Habakkuk:

Fig trees may not grow figs, and there may be no grapes on the vines.
There may be no olives growing and no food growing in the fields.
There may be no sheep in the pens and no cattle in the barns.
But I will still be glad in the Lord; I will rejoice in God my Savior.
The Lord God is my strength.
He makes me like a deer that does not stumble so I can walk on the steep mountains. (Habakkuk 3:17-19, NCV)

All the resources listed in these verses — figs, grapes, olives, sheep, and cattle — were important for sustaining life in ancient Israel. The situation in these verses is dire. They reflect a shortage of food, drink, shelter, income, security, and prosperity. Even making the required sacrifices to remain in good standing with God would be very difficult under these conditions. Habakkuk is describing a situation that is overwhelmingly hopeless from a human perspective.

But he looks beyond the circumstances to focus on God’s character. God brings joy. God offers relationships. God makes us strong. God supplies what we need to successfully traverse difficult situations. Through God, we can prosper in any difficulty.

I have found that hard times reveal our mindset about God, whether we believe He is good or not good.

If we believe God is good, we trust that He is in control and has a plan (Jeremiah 29:11, Ephesians 1:11). We understand He is faithful, kind, and working everything — even these hard circumstances — for our good (Romans 8:28-30). We know He loves us and is carrying us through this difficulty (Romans 8:35-39), giving us all that we need (Philippians 4:19). We are confident He would never ask us to sacrifice more than He has already sacrificed for us (John 15:13). We are certain that Jesus was God’s Son who died to pay the penalty for our sins, offering us an eternal relationship with God (John 3:16). We understand this earth and these difficulties are temporary, unlike our eternal home in Heaven (Revelation 21:1-4). While we long to be there, we believe God has prepared good deeds for us to do that will fulfill His plan (Ephesians 2:10). Believing God is good brings us hope, peace, and far more life, even in the midst of suffering and hardship.

If we believe God is not good, we think he is aloof and uninvolved in the affairs of earth. We may think He is laughing at us from Heaven as we try to navigate our way through the mine field of life He has set up for us. We question His love and feel very alone, doubting His motives, character, and promises. We think He asks too much of us and offers us little to nothing in return. We long for death as an escape from this misery and may be angry at God for making us remain in overwhelming situations when He has the power to rescue us. We might believe that Jesus died for our sins, but we often think God is punishing us for them as well. We believe we are trapped, hopeless, and helpless; we may see others enjoying far more life, but we do not think that is God’s will for us.

What determines which mindset we adopt? In part, the key is whether we interpret God’s Word through our circumstances or interpret our circumstances through God’s Word. We tend to believe what we have experienced. But our experiences do not reveal the whole picture. Paul writes,

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (I Corinthians 13:12)

When we look in a mirror, our view is limited. And sometimes it is cloudy or fuzzy. Similarly, our spiritual view during this life is limited and unclear. We cannot see the bigger picture or the intricate details of God’s plan. And we have an enemy, Satan, who feeds us false interpretations of what we can see. He wants us to doubt God and question His goodness; if he can keep us from seeing God clearly, he can keep us from far more life. But when we prayerfully analyze each situation where we believe God is not good, asking Him to help us see what is true and how His Word is right, we gain new understanding of ourselves, others, and God. We can replace our doubts with confidence that He is good and does good. Our faith prospers!

I am thankful that Habakkuk interpreted his circumstances through God’s Word and reminds us to do the same. I am thankful that I can experience spiritual prosperity — far more life — whatever happens in 2020…and beyond.

Sisters,
What makes you think of a situation as bad?
What is your spiritual and emotional response to bad situations?
Think of a recent difficulty you encountered. Did you believe God was good or not good?
Ask God to help you clearly see the truth about Himself, yourself, and others in that difficulty.
Thank God that you can experience far more life no matter what happens!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso

Foundational Truth

“You are still his mom.”

These words were a balm to my aching heart as I struggled to understand exactly what I was grieving about my son’s upcoming out-of-state move. I expected to be sad; change is often hard for me and I have spent every day of the past 20 years investing in him. And I understood the bittersweet happiness of watching his face light up as he counted down the days until his new solo adventure began; he is leaving home to pursue the dreams and goals he has been working toward since he was quite young. But my grief was surprisingly bigger and deeper than I had expected.

I told my husband the strength of my grief must mean this life change was revealing a false belief I held about my identity. Although raising my children was an important job, intellectually I knew it did not define me. While mothering has been a focused, sacrificial, time-intensive effort, it was not the foundation on which my life was built. But somewhere along the line, I unknowingly adopted the belief that being a mom was who I was. My sense of value was threatened when I realized I would no longer be investing in my son face-to-face each day. My husband’s response – you are still his mom – reminded me of an important truth: my role as a mom has changed many times over the years, but my identity has remained the same.

I am thankful that my significance, security, and acceptance – and my experience of far more life — do not come from being a mom. In fact, they are not based on any human relationship or earthly role. Instead they come from Christ and my relationship with Him. One day my roles as wife, mother, friend, daughter, sister, ministry leader, employee, and more will come to an end. But I will remain who I am in Christ forever. And while my earthly roles are rewarding for a short time, they are not the foundation of far more life that brings contentment and joy for eternity.

Dr. Neil T. Anderson pulled together a list of Biblical descriptions of our identity in Christ. They provide a wonderful reminder of what is unchanging and valuable about each of God’s children. These are our defining characteristics, what truly give us significance, security and acceptance. Even if everything else is stripped away from our lives, these foundational truths remain intact. Read through the list slowly, letting the importance of each statement about your identity sink in.

  • I am God’s child. (John 1:12)
  • I am Christ’s friend. (John 15:15)
  • I have been justified. (Romans 5:1)
  • I am united with the Lord and one with Him in spirit. (I Corinthians 6:17)
  • I have been bought with a price; I belong to God. (I Corinthians 6:20)
  • I am a member of Christ’s body. (I Corinthians 12:27)
  • I am a saint. (Ephesians 1:1)
  • I have been adopted as God’s child. (Ephesians 1:5)
  • I have direct access to God through the Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 2:18)
  • I have been redeemed and forgiven of all my sins. (Colossians 1:14)
  • I am complete in Christ. (Colossians 2:10)
  • I am free forever from condemnation. (Romans 8:1-2)
  • I am assured that all things work together for good. (Romans 8:28)
  • I am free from any condemning charges against me. (Romans 8:33-34)
  • I cannot be separated from the love of God. (Romans 8:35)
  • I have been established, anointed and sealed by God. (2 Corinthians 1:21)
  • I am hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3)
  • I am confident that the good work God has begun in me will be perfected. (Philippians 1:6)
  • I am a citizen of heaven. (Philippians 3:20)
  • I have not been given a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7)
  • I can find grace and mercy in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
  • I am born of God and the evil one cannot touch me. (I John 5:18)
  • I am the salt and light of the earth. (Matthew 5:13-14)
  • I am a branch of the true vine, a channel of His life. (John 15:1, 5)
  • I have been chosen and appointed to bear fruit. (John 15:16)
  • I am a personal witness of Christ’s. (Acts 1:8)
  • I am God’s temple. (I Corinthians 3:16)
  • I am a minister of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:17-20)
  • I am God’s coworker. (2 Corinthians 6:1)
  • I am seated with Christ in the heavenly realm. (Ephesians 2:6)
  • I am God’s masterpiece. (Ephesians 2:10)
  • I may approach God with freedom and confidence. (Ephesians 3:12)
  • I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)

I am thankful for these reminders of the identity God has given me in Christ. I will probably need to revisit them again next week when my daughter moves out of the house. I do not know what false beliefs that change will reveal, but I am thankful God’s truth is reliable and unchanging! He is the only foundation on which we can build far more life.

Sisters,
What has challenged your sense of identity?
Where, besides Christ, have you looked for significance, security, and acceptance?
As you read the list of truths, which were most meaningful? For any that were hard to believe or accept, what do you believe instead? Consider talking to God about the differences and working to discover the barriers that keep you from readily accepting His truth.
Thank God for being the stable foundation on which you build far more life!
-Shari

Shine Your Mirror

Far more life requires an understanding of who we are in relationship to God. An unrealistic view of Him or ourselves robs us of the richness He offers. From time to time it is good to stop and reflect on who we are in Christ, how God viewed us before we accepted Christ as our Savior, and what He has promised His children. We can think of it as “shining our spiritual mirror” to remove the impurities — wrong perceptions, false beliefs, faulty thoughts — that have clouded our view. A freshly shined spiritual mirror offers far more life — a clearer image of God and who we are in Christ.

Ephesians is a great “mirror shining” book. The first three chapters remind us of our identity in Christ. The last three chapters tell us how to put that truth into practice. Some friends and I spent last week reading Ephesians, one chapter a day, and sharing our thoughts. We had wonderful virtual fellowship as we shined our mirrors. You can do the same! Recruit some friends to join you on this journey or share your comments here to connect with others pursuing far more life.

Here are the truths about myself and God from those chapters that I want to wholeheartedly embrace and live out:

  • I am one of God’s holy people, a saint. (1:1)
  • I am faithful in Christ Jesus. (1:1)
  • I am blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ. (1:2)
  • God chose me! Before the creation of the world, he chose me. (1:4)
  • I am holy and blameless before Him. (1:4)
  • He predestined me for adoption into His family. (1:5)
  • He has freely given me His glorious grace. (1:6)
  • I have been redeemed, my sins forgiven, by Jesus’ blood. (1:7)
  • He lavished the riches of His grace on me. (1:7-8)
  • He shared the mystery of His will with me. (1:9)
  • I am marked with the Holy Spirit; He is a seal — a promise — guaranteeing my inheritance, a deposit on my future. He will stay with me until I am with God in Heaven. (1:11-14)
  • God wants me to know Him. (1:17)
  • I have been called to hope. (1:18)
  • He has a rich inheritance for me. (1:18)
  • He shows incomparably great power to me. (1:19)
  • I am part of the body of Christ, His church. (1:23)
  • I was dead because of my sin, an object of God’s wrath. But God made me alive with Christ! (2:1-5)
  • God raised me up and seated me with Christ in the heavenly realms. (2:6)
  • He will continue showing me grace and kindness through the ages to come. (2:7)
  • I have been given the gift of salvation through God’s grace. (2:8)
  • I am God’s workmanship, His masterpiece. (2:10)
  • I was created to do the good works that God prepared for me in advance. (2:10)
  • I have been brought near to God through Christ’s blood. (2:13)
  • Jesus is my peace, He unites me with others who love Him. (2:14, 16)
  • I am reconciled with God through the cross of Christ. (2:16)
  • I have access to my Father, God, through Christ. (2:18)
  • I used to be an alien and a stranger, but now I am a member of God’s household, His family. (2:19)
  • I am part of a bigger group of Jews and Gentiles who have become a dwelling place for God’s Spirit. (2:22)
  • I can approach God with freedom, boldness, and confidence. (3:12)
  • His Spirit gives me power in my inner being. (3:16)
  • Christ lives in my heart. (3:17)
  • I have power to grasp God’s love, to understand how wide and long and high and deep it is, even though that love surpasses knowledge. (3:17-19)
  • I can be filled completely with God. (3:19)
  • God’s power, which is more than I can ask or imagine, is at work within me. (3:20)

So much rich truth in these chapters! Remembering all those truths would enable us to always walk in far more life with a sparkling clean mirror. But our limited hearts and minds may need time to absorb them one at a time and shine our mirrors bit by bit.

I attended a conference recently that helped me shine one corner of my spiritual mirror. I was challenged to think of the theme verse in a whole new way:

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Ephesians 2:10, NLT)

To bring this verse to life, we were each given a postcard with an abstract picture on it. Each postcard was unique, with different colors and patterns, just as each person was unique, with different skills, interests, and spiritual gifts. But when we put all the cards together, they created a literal masterpiece, an image of a famous painting. The speaker pointed out that each person who follows Christ — from the first disciples recorded in the gospels to the last saints remaining alive when Christ returns — has a unique role to play in building God’s kingdom. But everyone needs to add their part in order for the masterpiece to be complete. We are each important, but we are also part of God’s bigger and more important masterpiece: fulfilling His purpose and bringing Him the glory He deserves. It was a wonderful reminder to value ourselves as God does, not too highly and not too lowly, and to find the work He has planned for us.

We experience far more life when our mirrors are shined so we can see both our immense value to God and our role in His bigger purpose. Both are required to see ourselves and God clearly. Both are necessary for far more life.

Sisters,
Does your “spiritual mirror” need to be shined? Is it showing God and you accurately?
Read Ephesians 1, 2, and 3 this week — alone or with friends — and list the truths you see about God and yourself. (You are welcome to comment here.)
Which truth do you want to focus on absorbing right now? Spend time reading it in different translations, looking up related verses, memorizing it, working through your doubts about it — whatever you need to do to imprint it clearly in your mind.
Enjoy far more life as you see yourself and God through a cleaner spiritual mirror!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso

Overflowing with Grace

Think of a time something happened that you were eager to tell others. I bet you could hardly keep it from bubbling out! I feel this way when my hopes or dreams become reality or when something good happens unexpectedly. But the biggest, most exciting thing we will ever experience is God’s saving grace! He wants us to freely share that good news through words and actions that show how He changed us.

God is able to make all grace overflow to you, so that in all things, at all times, having all that you need, you will overflow in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8, EHV)

All grace. All things. All times. All you need. Every good work. Wow, God is serious about this! But notice the verse begins “God is able…” Being filled with His grace and power — and overflowing with good works — is for our best, but God does not force it on us. Far more life is letting God’s grace fill us to overflowing. We know we are overflowing with grace by the changes in our thoughts and feelings. Others know by the changes in our actions.

One person in history was perfectly filled to overflowing with God’s grace: Jesus. His thoughts, feelings, and actions were always in line with God’s. The gospels are full of incidents where people experienced His grace in action. The Bible records how those in His hometown responded:

Everyone spoke well of him and was amazed by the gracious words that came from his lips. (Luke 4:22a, NLT)

Overflowing grace makes you stand out! Jesus stood out because He was different. Our natural human reaction to challenging people and situations is defensiveness, anger, callousness, or other sinful responses. But when we live in the power of the Holy Spirit, we — like Jesus — are different. We have power to respond with gracious thoughts, feelings, and actions. Those are moments of far more life.

There are times we bite our tongues and put on a fake smile. That is better than spewing ugliness, but it is not grace. The grace that is evidence of God’s work in our lives is expressed as compassion and kindness. It is the result of a renewed mind, as described in these verses:

Stop imitating the ideals and opinions of the culture around you, but be inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit through a total reformation of how you think. This will empower you to discern God’s will as you live a beautiful life, satisfying and perfect in his eyes. (Romans 12:2, TPT)

God’s grace transforms us, first changing our beliefs and thoughts, then changing our feelings and actions. The gospels illustrate this with the account of a woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. Just watching this made the disciples uneasy, but Jesus explained:

“…The great love she has shown proves that her many sins have been forgiven. But whoever has been forgiven little shows only a little love.” (Luke 7:47, GNT)

This woman understood that her sin was great, but she also understood that God’s grace was greater. Experiencing the depth of God’s grace inspires us to show others grace. When we realize how many sins we have committed and how much God has forgiven us, our love for Him increases. This inspires us to show grace to those around us.

When my children were young I got tired of giving them the same instructions over and over. But one day I realized God did not become impatient or angry about giving me the same reminders over and over. Recognizing God’s grace toward me inspired me to show my children grace; I decided even if I had to give the same instructions every day for the next 18 years, I would do so with love and kindness. The result was far more life in my own heart and in my relationship with my children.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10, NIV)

God has a beautiful, satisfying and perfect plan for your life! And He offers you overflowing grace for each step of that plan. Far more life embraces God’s purpose and seeks to fulfill it. His plan for you is unique; no one else on the planet can do the specific good works He prepared for you. But these works are not hidden; there is no reason to fear you will miss them. Instead, when you focus on understanding and living through His grace, those good works will natural flow out of you. Frequently your good works will benefit the people you regularly interact with. At other times you will have a strong desire to love and serve those facing a particular struggle or a particular people group. Often your good works will be linked to a particular skill you possess, so you will be happy to do them. Some of these works are actions that reveal God’s work in our lives, but they can also be words that share God’s grace.

The grace that overflows from us can help others find far more life, too. We have a wonderful opportunity to be a fountain of His grace. And experience another aspect of far more life. Try it out this week!

Sisters,
Are you overflowing with grace? If not, what barriers are blocking the flow?
How do you feel about standing out for overflowing with grace?
Do you think God has shown you a little or a lot of love? How does this impact the love you show others?
How are you seeking to fulfill God’s purpose for your life?
Focus on letting grace overflow this week and share far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2019-20, Shari Damaso

It’s Not Really Up To Me

A well-meaning advisor at my high school gifted me a coffee cup depicting one colorful woman amidst a jumbled crowd of outline people. She is holding up a sign that proclaims, “If it’s gonna be it’s up to me!”  This message resonated with me. I was proud that my advisor had noticed my dedication to picking up the slack and worked even harder to prove my new life motto true.

In college and early adulthood I enjoyed the doors that opened because I was a dedicated, hard-working perfectionist. But as my life responsibilities increased I didn’t always have enough time and energy to pick up all the slack. The burden I carried started to feel heavy.  But I was afraid to find out what would happen if I failed to do it all. (I was once asked in a job interview which was more important: turning in perfect work or meeting a deadline. I was shocked at having to choose. To this day I have no idea if I answered correctly, even though I got the job!) My passion started to wane as my stress climbed, but I kept pressing on. After all, it was up to me to make things happen.

One day a friend directed me to Jesus’ offer of far more life:

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, NLT)

I was familiar with this passage. It’s likening our life with Jesus to a pair of oxen, joined by a wooden yoke that keeps them close together and working as a single unit.

My friend asked me to describe the yoke I thought God was asking me to wear.  I pictured a bulky device that was heavy and uncomfortable. She said she used to think of her yoke like that, too. But now she imagines it being as light as a silk scarf.  Those ideas were so far apart that one of us had to be very wrong!

It turns out there are different styles of yokes used for different tasks. But a proper fit is critical; a yoke should never cause discomfort or be too heavy. It should help equally-matched oxen work at full potential without causing any harm. Some yokes allow more freedom of movement; others require the oxen to go exactly where the farmer commands.

God was not asking me to take on a yoke that would add to my load, rather He was offering to ease my load. He was offering far more life. As I wrestled with this new idea, it became clear that “If it’s gonna be it’s up to me!” was an ill-fitting yoke that was adding to my burden. Perhaps it was robbing me of far more life that Jesus offered. Was it really up to me?

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10, NIV)

I had always felt responsibility pile up when I read this verse. I had to finish the jobs on God’s to do list; I was under a deadline and had a lot of work to do. But what if that wasn’t God’s meaning? What if, while there are definitely things that I need to do, ultimately if it’s gonna be it’s up to God? What if I have a role to play in the projects He orchestrates, but HE’S going to make sure it gets done? And what if He knows my limits and ensures that my assigned tasks are not too much? That they strengthen me rather than break me? This new interpretation meant that God had custom-fitted yokes ready for me. He knew exactly what was needed and wanted to equip me to work at my full potential with Him.  He was offering me far more life!

I have since realized that when I am stressed, irritable, or apathetic — or if I feel a certain heaviness in my chest — I am struggling under that old yoke again. At those times I need to follow the instructions in Matthew and go to Him, rest in Him. I need to ask, “What am I taking on that is not my burden to carry?” and then analyze my life to figure out which commitments or responsibilities (or even mental pressures) are weighing me down. When I release those and join God in the yoke He custom-designed for me, the work becomes rewarding again. I feel my passion return. And I experience far more life!

Sisters,
I promised that on this journey to far more life you would lose some baggage.
Have you, too, fallen for the lie “if it’s gonna be it’s up to me”?
Are you carrying too much?
Is your passion drowning under the weight of your yoke?
If so, go to God.
Rest in Him.
Lay down your ill-fitted yoke and join Him in the one He custom-fit to you.
Take a step away from a burdened life.
And a step toward far more life.
-Shari

Copyright 2019-20, Shari Damaso
Note: I gave away my mug a few years ago. I found this photo at an on-line auction site.