Praise from the Darkness

Hallelujah! Praise the Lord, my soul! I want to praise the Lord throughout my life. I want to make music to praise my God as long as I live. (Psalm 146:1-2, GW)

The darker my surroundings, Lord, the greater my need to praise You. As the voices around me rise in anger and despair, I will raise my voice in praise to You. I am not unaware of the trouble around me or hiding from challenges. Rather my need for perspective and wisdom drives me to you, the One who sees and knows all.

Do not trust influential people, mortals who cannot help you. When they breathe their last breath, they return to the ground. On that day their plans come to an end. (Psalm 146:3-4, GW)

Father, it is tempting to trust humans to right the wrongs around me. Their claims and solutions sound right and reasonable. But they, like me, are mortals with limited power and resources. They cannot see the hearts of people to know what solution is truly best. They do not know the future and know only fragments of the past. You alone, Father, transcend all generations and fully understand human hearts and actions. You alone have provided the ultimate solution and will one day overcome all evil. It is better that I trust You, my only certain source of help and hope. Open my eyes to see what You see, discerning the real problem and revealing my role in overcoming evil.

Blessed are those who receive help from the God of Jacob. Their hope rests on the Lord their God, who made heaven, earth, the sea, and everything in them. The Lord remains faithful forever. (Psalm 146:5-6, GW)

I am blessed…happy…joyful…when I place my hope in You, Lord, and accept Your help. Even if my circumstances do not change, You give me joy. You keep all Your promises; You never lie, make mistakes, or change your mind. You never misjudge the situation or underestimate the consequences; You know exactly what to do and when to do it. I can trust Your timing and rest in Your arms until You provide a way out. Grow my desire to help others find joy and blessing in You, too!

He brings about justice for those who are oppressed. He gives food to those who are hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free. (Psalm 146:7, GW)

I confess, Father, that I sometimes grow impatient waiting for Your justice, provision, and freedom. My vision is limited to temporary timeframes and solutions because those are all I know. But when I look at eternity, You clearly rescue the oppressed and bring justice in Your perfect timing and way. You feed “soul” hunger, not just the physical hunger that is so often my focus. You offer freedom from more than physical prison; you set my heart and soul free to experience far more life as You intended! My attempts to bring justice, provision, and freedom are insignificant compared to yours. I desire these because I am made in Your image, but help me, Lord, to not see myself as more capable than I truly am. Help me recognize my responsibility and limits so I can join You in battling evil rather than fight against Your plan. Help me see the role You have assigned me; empower me to carry it out while giving me wisdom and strength to walk away from the roles You have not assigned me.

The Lord gives sight to blind people. The Lord straightens the backs of those who are bent over. The Lord loves righteous people. (Psalm 146:8, GW)

Thank you, God, that you can and will overcome the chaos of this world. Although I am governed by forces that tend toward disorder and destruction, You are not. Help me rest securely in Your love so I know, whatever my circumstances, that You are with me and for me. Remind me that whether or not I experience relief in this life, I will be fully restored — for all eternity — when Christ returns. All my suffering and struggles will become insignificant as I bask in Your glory. Help me walk in righteousness every moment, whether You call me to wait or to act.

The Lord protects foreigners. The Lord gives relief to orphans and widows. But he keeps wicked people from reaching their goal. (Psalm 146:9, GW)

In Your kingdom, I am a foreigner, but You welcome and protect me. I come to You alone, but You embrace me and meet my needs. Help me to treat others as you have treated me. I am thankful for Your guarantee that the wicked — who seem to prosper now — will one day be defeated. I am thankful that only Your goals have the power to last for eternity. I want to join you in pursuing Your goals!

The Lord rules as king forever. Zion, your God rules throughout every generation. Hallelujah! (Psalm 146:10, GW)

Earthly rulers will come and go, but You remain on Your throne through them all. You ruled at the creation of the world. You have ruled throughout all of human history. And You will continue to rule forever. I look to You for wisdom; help me recognize and support human wisdom that matches Yours. I look to You for guidance; help me follow Your path regardless of its popularity. I praise You for what You have done! I praise You for what You are doing! I praise You for what You will do! I follow You by faith and submit to Your leadership all the days of my life. In Jesus name, Amen.

Sisters,
Are current pressures and circumstances making it hard for you to praise God?
How are you tempted to trust people to solve the problems around you?
How has God helped you? How can you help others find His joy?
Are you pursuing God’s goals or someone else’s? How can you join God?
Praise God today for being who He is and giving you far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso
Photo credit: JenjoeMarsh


Perspective

After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” (John 17:1, NIV)

Father God, thank you that we can follow Jesus’ example and come to you in prayer. Thank you for promising to give us all we need (Philippians 4:19). Thank you for choosing to make us like Jesus so we can be a picture of Him in this sinful world (Romans 8:29). We want to bring You glory by living out Your character (Colossians 3:17). We want people to know You are good (Mark 10:18), loving (I John 4:8), compassionate (Psalm 51:1), righteous (Psalm 48:10), and just (Isaiah 30:18). Please give us wisdom in each conversation and situation so we know how to respond as You would.

…Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. (John 17:11, NIV)

Thank you, Father, for making us one with you. Thank you for adopting us as your daughters (Ephesians 1:5) and sending your Holy Spirit to live inside of us (Ephesians 3:16). Thank you that our eternal future is guaranteed (Ephesians 1:13-14). We are thankful that Your name has power (Jeremiah 10:6). People who are blind to reality may take your name in vain or ridicule us for trusting in you, but those in the spiritual realms see clearly and know that power (Ephesians 1:18-21). You have promised that nothing can separate us from Your love, Your power, or Your name (Romans 8:35-39). Help us to gratefully accept the protection You know we need, even when it is not the protection we want or expect.

…I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them…Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. (John 17:13, 17, NIV)

We desperately need the full measure of Your joy. What a light that is to this dark and hurting world! But your joy brings us hope, peace, perspective, and love (Psalm 30:11). It protects us (Psalm 5:11) from falling into darkness, sinful anger, and unforgiveness. Help us cling to Your truth, let that ring louder in our hearts than any lies or half-truths we hear from Satan or the world (John 8:32). We want Your truth to make us different so we can respond to hate with love, to evil with righteousness, to pain with comfort, and to injustice with wisdom (2 Corinthians 6:4-10). And we want to offer all this with joy that brings you glory (Psalm 33:1).

…I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you… (John 17:20-21, NIV)

Empower us to pursue and maintain unity, Father (Psalm 133:1). Help all your children, regardless of their differences, to demonstrate the power of Your love that brings us together (Ephesians 4:3). Use our private prayers, personal conversations, and public actions to bind us together, fighting as one to shine your light in the spiritual darkness that covers this world (John 13:34-35).

Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. (John 17:24, NIV)

We look forward to going home to live with you forever (I Thessalonians 4:17)! We long for the time when we are rescued from sin and suffering of all kinds (Revelation 21:4). We are eager to see Your face, offer praise in Your presence, and be held in Your arms (Revelation 22:3-5). But as we hope for that day, Father, give us strength and grace to bring You glory right where we are. You deserve just as much glory today from earth as you will on that future day in heaven (Psalm 96:3). Help us faithfully finish our work here: the work of finding our lost brothers and sisters and welcoming them into Your family (Matthew 28:19); the work of growing in righteousness so we offer a picture of Christ to all we touch (2 Peter 2:12); and the work of bringing You glory with every part of our bodies (Romans 6:13). Help us to see ourselves and our place in this world as You do (2 Corinthians 5:20). Help us to see others as you do (2 Peter 3:9).

We echo this familiar prayer:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time; 
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; 
trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; 
that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. 
Amen.

(Reinhold Niebuhr, 1892-1971)

Sisters,
Which part of John 17 meets your need today?
What perspective do you hold about God, yourself, this life, or eternity that does not line up with God’s Word? Where did you learn that false message? What truth did you need to know or understand in that situation?
How will you bring God glory today?
What is one thing you cannot change and need to accept? One thing you need to change? Commit to those today, asking God to help you take those steps.
Thank Him for giving you far more life that will continue for eternity!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso

Great joy!

Joyful. Happy. Blessed. Content. Satisfied. Glad. Delighted. Pleased. Cheerful. All of these words occur on the joy spectrum. We think of some as outward expresssions and others as internal responses, but all are aspects of joy. All forms of joy are indicators that we are walking in far more life.

When our children were little, my husband and I taught them to obey the instructions they were given quickly, completely, and cheerfully. Their attitude was as important as their actions. Sometimes cheerfulness came easy for them; preschoolers LOVE helping with “big people” tasks. Other times were challenging; in some situation neither they or us were naturally cheerful! It was important to us that they learned to work and follow their leaders in life joyfully.

Joy, in all its various forms, is important to God, too. It is a recurring theme in His word:

…This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. (Nehemiah 8:10, NIV)

I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. (Ecclesiastes 3:12, NIV)

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. (Psalm 34:8, NIV)

But godliness with contentment is great gain. (I Timothy 6:6, NIV)

After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied…(Isaiah 53:11, NIV)

But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful. (Psalm 68:3, NIV)

He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me. (2 Samuel 22:20, NIV)

And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (Hebrews 13:16, NIV)

…God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7, NIV)

But the angel said to them, Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. (Luke 2:10, NIV)

The last verse caught my attention this week. The angel could have prefaced the news of Jesus’ birth in many ways: it will give you hope; it will bring you peace; it will show you God’s love. But he focused on the GREAT JOY it would cause. The birth of most babies is a cause of great joy for family and friends. The birth of Jesus, however, was a cause of great joy for ALL the people because it offers far more life. The angel continues:

Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  (Luke 2:11, NIV)

There are several reasons the birth of Jesus brings us great joy:

We have great joy — and far more life — because Jesus is our Savior. He rescued us from the penalty of our sin, which is separation from God now and forever.

…Our Savior, Christ Jesus…has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. (2 Timothy 1:10, NIV)

We have great joy — and far more life — because Jesus is the Messiah. He is a descendant of King David who will establish an eternal kingdom:

But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31, NIV)

…The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 11:15, NIV)

We have great joy — and far more life — because Jesus is Lord. He is our ultimate master and ruler…forever.

That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:10-11, NIV)

But why do these names — Savior, Messiah, and Lord — bring us great joy and far more life? Because they reset our perspective. They remind us to lift our eyes from the everyday struggles of this life and remember the bigger picture. Because of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus we have the opportunity for far more life now and for all eternity. We have a Savior willing to rescue us from the consequences of our sin. We have a Messiah who will bring justice to the world. We have a Lord who will rule over His followers with goodness and righteousness for all eternity. Letting Jesus fill these roles in our life is indeed cause for great joy!

Great joy is not ignoring our problems, rather it is putting them in perspective. Whatever circumstances we face in this life, we can have far more life by choosing joy. We can choose joy because, through Jesus, our sins are forgiven, even when our circumstances tempt us to sin. We can choose joy because, through Jesus, justice and peace are coming, even though our circumstances are unjust. We can choose joy because, through Jesus, we will live in a perfect paradise forever, even though our current circumstances are far from perfect. Even Jesus chose to focus on His future joy when He faced the difficulty of crucifixion:

Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end. He did not give up because of the cross! On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and he is now seated at the right side of God’s throne. (Hebrews 12:1-2, GNT)

Whatever you face today, face it with great joy — and far more life — in Jesus!

Sisters,
What word on the “spectrum” best describes your joy?
How does reflecting on Jesus’ life and purpose bring you great joy?
What circumstances challenge your joy?
Thankfulness helps us maintain and restore our joy. Choose far more life — and experience great joy — by taking a few moments to thank God for His work in and around you.
-Shari

Copyright 2019-20, Shari Damaso

Far More Joy and Thankfulness

This article title jumped off the page at me: “How Complaining Physically Rewires Your Brain to be Anxious and Depressed”. Immediately this Bible verse came to mind:

Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life. (Philippians 2:14-16a, NIV)

I had always thought this verse said when my mouth does not complain, others see God shining out of me. But God wants to change more than my speech:

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (I Thessalonians 5:16-18, NIV)

Joyfulness, prayer, and thankfulness involve our hearts, not just our actions. And notice God wants them to be constant. Why is this His will for us? Hearts that are joyful, thankful, and connected to God are living far more life. They are transformed by the Holy Spirit and change our thoughts and actions. Not only does that allow us to be a better image of Christ to those around us, it also — according to the premise of that article — protects our brain wiring from serious consequences.

Why do we complain instead of being joyful and thankful? If I am honest, I want to be in control. I want smooth sailing — as I define smooth. When that doesn’t happen, I view the situation as troubling and am tempted to complain. But smooth sailing is an unreasonable expectation. Jesus clearly stated:

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33b, NIV)

As long as we walk this earth we should expect trouble, not be surprised by it! Far more life trusts God’s ultimate control and follows Him through the troubles and good circumstances. The Bible makes it clear God has a bigger plan for us and challenges us to have this perspective:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds. (James 1:2, NIV)

The verses that follow tell how trials mature our character until we “lack nothing”. Far more life understands trouble is a God-approved spiritual growth plan. My pastor says, “I love trials!” because he understands their purpose. We, too, can walk through troubles with joy when we believe God has a purpose for them.

Jesus faced a more difficult trial than we will ever encounter: the cross. How did He overcome temptation to resist God’s plan?

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus…who for the joy set before him endured the cross. (Hebrews 12:2, NIV)

Jesus remembered the purpose for His suffering. He looked to the future rather than His current circumstances. And He did it with a focus on joy. The Bible does not record this, but I think Jesus was grateful for the opportunity to reconcile us to God. And that perspective allowed him to do the hardest thing ever without complaints even entering His mind. We, too, can do hard things without complaining when we remember that God is using them to mature us so we lack nothing.

God never commands us to be thankful FOR everything, simply to be thankful IN everything. He doesn’t expect us to be thankful for divorce or cancer, for example. But He does want us to remain thankful as we navigate those challenges, whether we are thankful for support from others, hope for a better future, lessons we learn along the way, or anything good we know about Him or receive from Him. We also know that our character and understanding of God can grow most during our most difficult experiences; we choose whether to grow better or bitter through our troubles. Like me, you may have life experiences that you wouldn’t want to repeat but are thankful for the closeness to God that developed through them.

I was recently challenged to not complain for 3 days. And to go beyond swallowing my complaints to replacing those thoughts with gratitude. I gave my family permission to lovingly point out my complaining, which one of my teens eagerly embraced. I was surprised by the lightness in my heart as I chose to embrace a new perspective. “I am so tired,” led to thankfulness for a comfortable bed and hope for better sleep that night. “There are so many dirty dishes,” was replaced with thankfulness for my family and ample food. When chronic pain flared I was able to be thankful for the things I could do — even if I had to move slowly and carefully. During those 3 days I realized complaining makes my mind feel gray and overcast but gratefulness makes it sunny and bright. I have committed to choosing gratitude so I can continue to enjoy far more life. (And my family continues to point out my complaints!)

Will you take that 3-day challenge grow in far more life? It will be a battle! You will need to examine your thoughts and determine whether they come from a grateful or complaining heart. When you aren’t sure, ask if they fit this criteria:

“…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8, NIV)

These are the thoughts that help us constantly be joyful, thankful, and prayerful. They remind us that troubles lead to growth. They protect us from spiritual anxiety and spiritual depression. They are the far more life we crave.

Sisters,
Are you more likely to argue and complain or be joyful and thankful?
How do you respond to trouble and not getting what you want? What helps you respond with joy?
What promise can you look forward to that brings you hope and joy?
Will you take the 3-day challenge to practice thankfulness rather than complaining?
Enjoy far more joyful and thankful life this week!
-Shari

Copyright 2019-20, Shari Damaso

Future Focus

We face numerous problems in life. Many situations cause pain and suffering. Difficulties pound us like the surf pounds the shore; sometimes there is barely time to recover from one wave of trouble before the next one hits. We are tempted to focus on surviving today — it feels like all we can do. But these truths give us perspective and far more life:

But I am always with you. You hold me by my right hand. You give me wise advice to guide me. And when I die, you will take me away into the glory of heaven. (Psalm 73:23-24, NIRV)

Your kindness and love will always be with me each day of my life, and I will live forever in your house, Lord. (Psalm 23:6, CEV)

We don’t have to wait until heaven to be with God; He is already with His children! Eternal life doesn’t start when we get to heaven. It starts as soon as we accept Jesus as our Savior and Lord. We face the challenges of this life with God’s Spirit living inside us. He showers us with kindness and love every day — including our hardest days. His presence gives us far more life in every situation we face. If we are willing to ask, He will guide us through every difficulty; recognizing His response deepens our understanding and love for Him. And one wonderful day we will leave this earth and move into His house forever!

Choosing to be future-focused allows us to rise above our circumstances and embrace far more life. We suffer because our world is filled with sin, illness, heartbreak, and injustice. It is easy to think we will always face those challenges. But God wants us to see the big picture: our relationship with Him will continue for eternity, and after a short time on earth we will live with Him in His perfect home forever. A future focus enables us to view our present, temporary difficulties from His perspective.

These troubles and sufferings of ours are, after all, quite small and won’t last very long. Yet this short time of distress will result in God’s richest blessing upon us forever and ever! So we do not look at what we can see right now, the troubles all around us, but we look forward to the joys in heaven which we have not yet seen. The troubles will soon be over, but the joys to come will last forever. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18, TLB)

What joys in heaven can we look forward to?

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (Revelation 21:4, NIV)

Can you imagine living without death, mourning, crying, or any kind of pain? We have to endure them for a few years on this earth but not in heaven. Focusing on our future brings joy because our pain will end.

Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Revelation 21:27, NIV)

In heaven, there will be no sin. We will never have to say we are sorry or ask forgiveness. We will be free from evil thoughts, words, and actions. And no one will ever sin against us or hurt us. Focusing on our future brings joy because heaven will be safe, pure, and holy.

No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. (Revelation 22:3-4, NIV)

The curse that separated us from God will be lifted. God and Jesus will be among us in all their glory. We will look Them in the eye without shame or fear; They will know us fully and we will know Them. We will live with Them forever as daughters of the King! Focusing on our future brings joy as we anticipate being reunited with our true Father.

And they will reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 22:5b, NIV)

We will be secure under God’s loving leadership forever. Perfect love and justice will guide all of God’s decisions. Focusing on our future brings joy because the perfect King will lead us forever.

You should greatly rejoice in what is waiting for you, even if now for a little while you have to suffer various trials. (I Peter 1:6, VOICE)

Our future in heaven is so wonderful, so satisfying, so glorious that it far outweighs the suffering and hurt of this life. Jesus has already paid the price to rescue us from this broken earth. And one day He will return and take us home to heaven. Until then, focusing on our future allows us to praise God for all He has done and will do. We are not alone in this life as we wait for deliverance. God’s Spirit already lives inside of us, giving us all we need to overcome the challenges each day presents. While we focus on the future amidst our struggles, we can praise Him for meeting our needs in the past and present. The best is yet to come, but thankfully we can embrace far more life with Him today.

Sisters,
When facing struggles, is your focus on surviving or far more life?

If you have accepted Christ, how does it help you to know your eternal relationship with God has already started?
What aspect of heaven is most exciting and appealing to you?

Thank God for specific needs He has already met in your life.
This week, memorize a future-focused truth from His Word you want to remember and offer as praise when difficulties arises.
-Shari 

Copyright 2019-20, Shari Damaso