Walking through Fire

My family went through a health emergency last week that came on suddenly and took priority over almost everything else in life. Experiences like this always provide an opportunity to see where we are placing our faith and hope. Faith in God’s presence and provision today is based on our past experiences. Hope for our future is based on His character and promises. Both are essential components of far more life.

My husband and I clung to one of my favorite verses during those challenging days:

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

I reference this verse in many posts because it is such a great one! We have confidence — that God is working for our good. First, because we love Him. Also because we answered the call to join Him in fulfilling His purpose on earth. We live for His goals, to build His kingdom and show others His love every day. We meet the conditions required for God to fulfill it, and He has! He has not always made our circumstances easy, but He always gives us grace to trust and obey Him. We find far more life, even in challenges like the one we faced this week.

Let us explore a beautiful promise of far more life given to the prophet Isaiah:

…Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior… (Isaiah 43:1-3, NIV)

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you. As we celebrated on Easter Sunday, Jesus paid the price for our sin so that we have the opportunity for a relationship with God. Jesus bridged the gap between our sin and God’s perfection (I Peter 2:24). If you have been redeemed by Jesus, you have no reason to fear God, life, death, or anything else! Far more life faces difficulties with faith and hope in Christ’s redemption instead of fear.

I have summoned you by name. Before the creation of the world, God chose those He would draw to Himself (Ephesians 1:4-5, John 6:44). It brings us peace to know that not only did God uniquely create each of us (Psalm 139:13-15), but He also wrote the names of His children in the Book of Life (Revelation 20:12). He knows each one personally and is intimately involved in their life (Luke 12:7, I Corinthians 10:13). If you have answered His summons, you have access to far more life.

You are mine. We were created with a desire to belong. Although we experience some of this from our loved ones, God fulfills that desire more completely than any human ever can. When we belong to Him, no one and nothing can snatch us away (John 10:28-29, Romans 8:38-39). Far more life has confidence and peace in belonging to Him during hard times.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. Sometimes we feel like we are drowning in the situations we face. But God has promised that they will not destroy His children; in fact, He has promised far more life through them (John 10:10). We still must pass through raging rivers, but He will be with us and provide all we need (Hebrews 13:5, Philippians 4:19). Far more life focuses on Him and rises above the threatening waters.

When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. I think of the fire as the times when our doubt, fear, or pain feels all-consuming. That is when we are in the thick of the battle for control of our heart and mind. We may not be able to see our way forward to get through the difficulty. But just like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego experienced, God will meet us in the fire of testing (Daniel 3). He will not let our troubles consume us (Lamentations 3:22-23). Praise God for the safety of far more life in the heat of our tests and trials!

For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. We have confidence in all of these statements because of who God is. He is Yahweh, a personal God who keeps His promises (Psalm 33:4). He is the righteous and perfect one who protects and guides His people (Psalm 65). He saves us from our own sin, rebellion, foolishness, and ignorance (Romans 5:8). We can trust Him because He has proven Himself trustworthy over and over since the beginning of the world. He alone offers far more life.

For my family, we think the worst has passed, but the situation is not fully resolved. We are still walking through the difficulty day by day. But we are not alone; God continues to stand with us in the fire. Friends and family are lifting us up in prayer and offering practical support. The promises and examples from His Word continue to give us faith and hope. And we praise God for far more life while walking through the fire.

Sisters,
Where do you turn when you find yourself “walking through fire”?
What experiences have strengthened your faith in God? Or cause you to doubt Him? (Talk to your pastor, mentor, or a trusted friend about your doubts. Satan uses difficulties to plant lies in our minds about God and ourselves. But God offers truth and freedom!)
What strengthens your hope in God? What makes it hard for you to hope in Him?
Which phrase in Isaiah 43:1-3 is most meaningful to you? Why?
Walk in far more life through the next fire you face!
-Shari

Be Loved

Our purpose on earth is to be loved and to glorify God.

When a friend shared this statement from her pastor with me, I expected to hear, “Our purpose is to love.” I was surprised to hear “…to be loved.” I usually think my purpose is giving to God rather than receiving from Him. But as I contemplated this statement, I realized far more life is only possible if we accept God’s love, if we allow ourselves to be loved by Him.

What Bible verses support this idea that God’s purpose for us is to be loved by Him? Several!

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, NIV)

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, NIV)

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. (I John 4:9, NIV)

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (I John 4:10, NIV)

We love because he first loved us. (I John 4:19, NIV)

Jesus came to earth to become the ultimate expression of God’s love for us. That is how serious God is about us receiving His love — He sent His Son to die in our place and make a relationship possible! We are the only beings created in His image (Genesis 1:26), which leads me to believe He has a special purpose for us. He wants us to experience His love in all of its richness and wonder.

We can get caught up in trying to earn His love, trying to do enough or be enough to win His favor. But that is not God’s plan for us. In fact, it is impossible. No matter how “good” we are, we will always fall short of his standard: perfection. Yet He wants to shower us with His love, offers to fill us to overflowing, and give His daughters the gift of far more life.

… God is love. (I John 4:8, NIV)

God is the source of love — it is who He is! So, of course, He wants to share His love with us.

But it may be hard for us to accept His love for several reasons. First, we know that we do not deserve it. While we are flawed, He is perfect. In reality, that perfection enables Him to love us unconditionally despite our flaws. It is reassuring to remember He loves us because of His character, not because of ours. In fact,

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. (Lamentations 3:22, NIV)

It is also hard to accept His love because we feel obligated to give something back. But what can we possibly give God? I had a friend who would not accept God’s love because she said it was too big; she realized she could never repay Him, so she preferred to say “no, thank you” to His offer of love. Fortunately, God does not expect us to pay for His love, He offers it as a gift:

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ …and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. (Ephesians 2:4-5, 8, NIV)

Finally, it is hard to be loved by God because we fear giving up control to Him. Part of us longs to be under His authority and protection, but another part questions His trustworthiness. It feels safer to think we are in charge of our own lives, making the decisions that will lead to the best life possible. But who always knows what is best? Who is wise and never makes a mistake? Who can see the future? God, in His perfect love, wants to free us from fear, worry, and doubt. The better we know Him, the more secure we become in His love and the more we understand and embrace this truth:

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

We find far more life when we embrace our purpose of being loved by God. Early in my Christian life I was so afraid of displeasing God that I was often paralyzed from living for Him. Every night I pored over my day, seeking to remember every sin I had committed; I was desperate to make sure God understood that I did not take His forgiveness for granted. I believed my purpose was to confess my sin and how I was undeserving of God’s love. It was only after I learned the security of God’s love that I could relax and really accept His love. I still did not take His forgiveness for granted, but now I was free not only be loved, but also love Him back. I experienced gratitude rather than fear. I wanted to honor Him with my life, because I recognized it was a precious gift. I discovered that far more life runs toward God and His transforming love.

Your purpose is to be loved by God and glorify Him. Far more life is waiting for you, wrapped up in God’s love. Let yourself be loved today!

Sisters,
Can you accept your purpose of being loved by God?
What makes it hard for you to accept His love: Thinking you need to earn it? Believing you owe Him? Fear of giving control over to Him?
What Biblical truth helps you accept His love?
Commit today to let Him love you…and show you far more life.
-Shari

Facing Forward

Do you identify as a “sinner saved by grace” or a “saint who sins”? It may sound like semantics, but there is a big difference between these mindsets. The one we choose impacts our self-perception, which is critical in our pursuit of far more life.

Biblically speaking, sinners are people who are separated from God and have no relationship with Him. The Bible clearly contrasts them with those who are in good standing with God.

Trouble pursues the sinner, but the righteous are rewarded with good things. (Proverbs 13:21, NIV)

All the sinners among my people will die by the sword… (Amos 9:10, NIV)

I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Luke 5:32, NIV)

We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. (John 9:31, NIV)

Separation from God was not His plan for us; He created Adam and Eve to be in fellowship with Him. But when they chose sin, they became sinners and experienced spiritual death. All future humans, including us, were born spiritually dead and separated from God by a sinful nature. So God sent Jesus Christ to redeem sinners and restore the relationship between Himself and people.

…While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, NIV)

Those who accept Christ — acknowledging they are incapable of meeting God’s standard of perfection and accepting Christ’s death as payment for their sins — are no longer separated from God. The relationship is reconciled. They become a member of His family, and He makes them into a new and different spiritual person, transforming them from sinner to saint. This is our first taste of far more life!

He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son He loves. (Colossians 1:13, HCSB)

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household. (Ephesians 2:19, NASB)

But the saints of the Highest One will receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, for all ages to come. (Daniel 7:18, NASB)

Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17, GNT)

…Our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. (Romans 6:6-7, NASB)

Although God has changed us, we are still tempted to look at ourselves in the old way and forfeit far more life. This is tempting because we still sin. We still make wrong choices and have wrong thoughts, every day. We can still be deceived by Satan. And our understanding of God and the systems of this world remains imperfect. The changes God makes are not always obvious; our outward appearance and life circumstances stay the same. So we consider ourselves, our identity, to be the same as it was before accepting Christ.

But our identity was irrevocably changed; we are a new spiritual being that is alive and longing for far more life. We have a new desire: a yearning to grow in righteousness. We also have the ability to say “no” to sins that we felt powerless against in the past. But we also have a new enemy who wants us to continue living in sin and miss far more life. The battle between good and evil can trick us into forgetting that we are a new creation, a saint.

Psychologists tell us that how we view ourselves influences our choices. So if we view ourselves as sinners, we expect ourselves to sin. We also expect to feel empty, defeated, discouraged, fearful and more. But understanding that we have become saints enables us to expect ourselves to live righteously. We also have the power to feel and share love, joy, peace, patience, and other aspects of God’s character. We realize we will not be perfect in our actions, thoughts, or feelings, but we are willing to keep growing in understanding and righteousness. Each step that we take toward righteousness brings the experience of far more life, which increases our desire to keep growing.

Consider this analogy. We can only face one direction at a time, either backwards or forward. When we cling to our old “sinner” identity, we are facing backwards to our life before Christ. We are focused on the bad things we have done and continue to define ourselves by those thoughts and actions. But when we turn toward our new “saint” identity, we are facing our future with Christ. We can focus on the good things we want to do and can define ourselves by His qualities that are growing in our lives. Rather than striving to be less sinful than we used to be, we can strive to be the most righteous we have ever been. Would you rather be facing your future with anticipation or facing your past with regret? I choose the future and hope you do, too!

…This is what I do: I don’t look back, I lengthen my stride, and I run straight toward the goal to win the prize that God’s heavenly call offers in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14, GW)

Will you join me in facing forward, saint? Far more life is waiting for us each step of the way!

Sisters,
Are you a sinner, a sinner saved by grace, or a saint who sins?
If you have never acknowledged your separation from God, would you like to do so now? If you aren’t sure how to do this, ask for help at farmorelife@gmail.com. I’m happy to talk with you about it.
Have you missed far more life by facing backward? How?
How have you grown in righteousness by facing forward?
Thank God for the prize — eternal life — waiting for saints in Heaven. And for far more life as we journey toward Him.
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso