Perfect Plan

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. (Isaiah 55:8, AMP)

This verse is proven true by the Christmas story, the events of Jesus’ birth as recorded in the Bible. If humans were planning this historical event, we would have done it much differently!

…Behold, the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and she will name Him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14, NASB)

We would not have asked Mary to carry the burden of misunderstanding and public rejection that accompanied the virgin birth. We would have wanted her to remain respected and accepted. Yet God knew the virgin birth was the best for His plan.

The angel said to her, “…You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High God.”  (Luke 1:30-32, NASB)

…An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.”  (Matthew 1:20, NASB)

We would have told the angel to talk with Mary and Joseph together. Then they could have been united from the beginning, both having heard the same proclamation, both having the opportunity to ask questions. Yet God chose to tell them separately for His own reasons.

So Joseph and his fiancé, Mary, left Nazareth…When they arrived in Bethlehem, Mary went into labor, and there she gave birth to her firstborn son. After wrapping the newborn baby in strips of cloth, they laid him in a feeding trough since there was no available space in any upper room in the village. (Luke 2:4-7, TPT)

We would not have sent our son to be born in the feed trough of a barn in a distant city. We would have wanted him to be in a more comfortable environment, perhaps the best hospital or at home with the best midwife. Yet God’s perfect plan for His Son’s arrival on earth prevailed.

When the angels went away from them back into heaven, the shepherds…hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and saw the baby lying in the manger. (Luke 2:15-16, GNT)

We would not have let our son’s first visitors be shepherds from nearby fields. We would have chosen close family and friends to share our joy and welcome our son. But God knew shepherds were the best visitors to welcome His Son to earth.

An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to kill Him.” (Matthew 2:13, NASB)

We would not have forced our son to flee to a foreign country to spare his life from a jealous king. We would not have wanted to uproot his life in this way. But God had a reason for His direction, even if He did not share the details with Joseph.

Throughout the rest of His life on earth, Jesus encountered many more situations where God’s ways are not the ways we would have chosen. And we experience this in our lives, too. Far more life does not expect God to think and act as we want. It is secure in telling God, “I do not understand why you did it like this.” But it also submits to His authority and wholeheartedly believes that He alone knows best because He alone knows everything. Far more life is more than yielding to God’s ways; it is embracing them as the best ways.

The book of Job records a man and his friends doing their best to decipher why God has allowed Job to encounter so many troubles. And they fail miserably! For 37 chapters they present their proposals and arguments. Then, starting in chapter 38, God challenges their knowledge and wisdom with His truth. Humbled by God’s reminders of the vast differences between Himself and humans, Job meekly answers:

I know that You can do all things, and that no plan is impossible for You…Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I do not know…I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You. (Job 42:2-5, NASB)

Job found far more life by discovering a new depth of understanding of the difference between God’s thoughts and his own, and between God’s ways and his own. He admitted that God’s understanding is too wonderful for him to comprehend. His spiritual eyes were open to the vast difference between himself and God.

Human nature has not changed since Job’s time. We still are tempted to create God in our image rather than resting in far more life by allowing ourselves to be molded to His image. When we find ourselves resisting God, we are wise to stop and ask ourselves why. How do we feel about God at that moment? What false belief about Him is controlling us and robbing us of far more life? What is preventing us from trusting Him completely? What aspect of His character are we doubting or disbelieving? Why are we resisting Him?

Clinging to our limited understanding makes us miserable. Letting go of our thoughts on how things should be and adopting God’s thoughts brings peace and joy. In moments of doubt, remember the Christmas story: God’s perfect plan to bring us far more life!

Sisters,
Where do you struggle to accept God’s ways?
In what areas of life have you expected God to do what you want?
Are you willing to look for the false beliefs that are robbing you of far more life?
How can the Christmas story remind you that God’s ways are best?
Thank God for His perfect plan for you — and the gift of far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso

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

Far More Hope

As you think about life, are you hopeful or hopeless? Your answer will be determined, in part, by where you are placing your hope.

Sometimes we place our hope in things that change. When they are going well, we are hopeful, but when they take a downturn, so does our hope. For example, if we hope in financial investments for our security, each time the stock market dips we will doubt our future. But when our hope is placed in the unchanging, it remains steady when circumstances shift. We have hope that a new day will dawn because it always has; the darkest nights have always given way to daylight and we are confident that will continue to happen.

During this uncertain time, where can we place our hope that is secure? The Bible offers an answer:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13, NIV)

Far more life is built on an active relationship with the God of hope. Do you think of Him as the God of hope? When I hear that phrase, I am reminded of His character, both what I have read in the Bible and what I have experienced:

God keeps His word. The Bible is filled with promises, some already fulfilled and some yet to be fulfilled. Since God has faithfully kept His promises we can have confidence that He will continue to do so. Keeping His word confirms He is the God of hope.

God’s plan prevails. When God created the earth, He had a plan: an eternal relationship with us. He has communicated that plan to people throughout the ages, inviting them to join Him in fulfilling it. Yet His plan is not dependent on us, so we cannot ruin it by refusing to join Him or making mistakes. Far more life on this earth is part of His plan, but the best is yet to come! Revealing and enacting His plan shows He is the God of hope.

God is powerful and good. He sets the course of each celestial object in the universe. He arranges each atom just as He wants it. He controls the seasons, the tides, the span of each life. Yet his goodness is revealed in every detail as well. Our bodies are perfectly suited for life on earth. We experience happiness and satisfaction. He promises to reward righteousness and punish evil. He offers us forgiveness. Demonstrations of His power and goodness prove He is the God of hope.

God is love. We are designed to put our hope in love. That is why so many books, movies, and songs focus on love. The message is reinforced by well-known sentiments such as “love conquers all”, “love means never having to say you are sorry”, and “all we need is love”. But humans are incapable of being a stable source of love. God’s love, however, never wavers. We can be confident in it because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, whose perfect love led Him to sacrifice Himself as the ransom our lives. And this gives us hope! Sacrificial, unconditional love sets Him apart as the God of hope.

Keeping our hope fixed on God, through Jesus, is an important aspect of far more life. But God asks us to take it a step further and share our hope with others:

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.  (I Peter 3:15, NIV)

I was recently challenged with this question: what source am I most actively promoting as the reason for my hope during this pandemic? Is it a particular doctor? An elected official? A political party? A line of research? Or am I primarily hoping in God and pointing people toward Jesus?

Far more life has hope in eternal life, with God through Christ, which is evident in our words and actions. Hope allows His Spirit in us to stand out: we can remain calm when others panic; we can act with kindness and generosity when others are rude and selfish; we can grieve what we have lost while wholeheartedly celebrating what we have. During this time, hope in God opens the door for us to share how a relationship with Jesus gives us far more life, empowering us to live above our circumstances and remain hopeful.

This is how far more life puts hope into action:

Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. (I Peter 1:13, NIV)

Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord. (Psalm 31:24, NIV)

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. (Psalm 130:5, NIV)

You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in your word. (Psalm 119:114, NIV)

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. (Psalm 62:5, NIV)

Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. (2 Corinthians 3:12, NIV)

Make this your motto: my hope is secure in God! Share it with those who are seeking hope. Far more life is the best gift you have ever received…and the best gift you can give to others!

Sisters,
Are you hopeful or hopeless?
In what are you placing your hope? Is that source secure or shifting?
What confirms to you that God is the God of hope? What causes you to doubt?
What source of hope are you promoting to others?
Who in your circle is seeking hope? How can you share the reason for the hope that you have?
Thank God for the hope of far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso