Author: Laura Zielke

Forgiveness Is Freedom

Have you ever noticed that the words GIVE and GIVEN are in the middle of forgiveness? I guess I never really thought about it. Until today. And now, that which has been seen cannot be unseen.

ForGIVEness is a noun, and as such, it is a thing. It is something you can give, and it is something that can be given to you—whether you choose to receive it or not. Isn’t that interesting?

forgiveness

Psychologists have long contended that the offer of forGIVEness benefits the person giving it regardless of the recipient’s reaction. Why? Rarely do the people we need to forgive have a clue how much harm they have inflicted or the extent of the pain they have caused. Can I get a witness?!

ForGIVEness is not about fighting for justice or holding the offender accountable—that’s completely different. ForGIVEness is an attitude of the heart. It’s about us and our willingness to trust God’s sovereignty: Do we trust God enough to forGIVE someone for hurting us? Our family? Our friends? Our pastor? Our animals? Our possessions? Our bank accounts?

When I consider what authentic forGIVEness looks like, I think of the incredibly inspiring and humble members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. I think of  Nadine Collier, the daughter of Ethel Lance, a senior citizen who was shot and killed after an evening service in 2015 for no other reason than the color of her skin. When Collier had the opportunity to confront her mother’s murderer, she did not seek revenge or curse his existence. She did not question why or scream in his face. Instead, she offered the unexpected and holy gift of forGIVEness. Though he was held captive by his hate, she was FREE.

When I consider what authentic forGIVEness looks like, I think of Debbie Godwin, daughter of Robert Godwin Sr. whose cold-blooded murder was posted on social media and shared all over the interwebs. Instead of hate and bitterness, she has shown tremendous grace and emotional fortitude by offering forGIVEness and showing empathy towards the murderer who later took his own life. He was held captive by his hate. She was FREE.

What do Collier, Godwin, and others who genuinely practice the art of forGIVEness have in common? They share a heart filled with humility and trust—the combination of which unlocks our ability to offer forGIVEness to those who have hurt us, even if the hurt can never be undone.

Isn’t it interesting that when Jesus taught His followers how to pray, He taught them to “Let it go!”

“Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you, just as we also forgive those who have wronged us. (Matthew 6:12, CSB)

And just in case Jesus’ followers didn’t understand that forGIVEness was tied to their willingness to forGIVE others, He re-stated it more clearly:

“If you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you don’t forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14, CSB)

In this model prayer, Jesus highlighted the essentials of an effective prayer: honoring God; calling out for His will to be done; looking to Him as provider; requesting protection and deliverance from evil; AND seeking forGIVEness with the same measure we offer it to others. It’s almost as though Jesus was teaching His followers that forGIVEness was an important daily practice—a spiritual discipline, of sorts—and withholding it would have serious negative consequences.

ForGIVEness requires neither a frontal lobotomy nor a risky reconciliation. It simply requires (1) a humble spirit convinced that the best judge of character, motivation, and intention is the Lord God Almighty and (2) a heightened sense of self-awareness that we are not Him! 😳

Only in humility are we able to place our trust in a God who is who He says He is and does what He says He will do. When we trust God, we can genuinely offer forGIVEness—not concern ourselves with the reaction of the recipient—and experience freedom from the bondage of bitterness.

forgiveness

Are you willing to trust God’s judgment over your own and offer forGIVEness to ___________________ today, even though she or he might never know? Or might reject it? Remember, His forGIVEness is directly related to our willingness to forGIVE others. There really is no better time than the present to let go of bitterness and trust God’s sovereignty with your pain. ForGIVEness is freedom.

When I Pray

when i prayWhen I pray
I lay
My requests
At your feet
Where we meet
Heart to heart.
And I start
To cry out,
“Remove my doubt!
Help me trust
That you are just;
Take my pain,
And send the rain
To quench my
Thirsty soul.”

When I pray
A way
Opens up
Before me
I didn’t see
Until I threw
My cares on you.
Only then
Could I see
Your plans for me:
To prosper, not harm;
To be led arm in arm
Into the wild
As a child
With you by my side.

When I pray
My day
Dawns bright.
I feel your light
Warming my soul,
Making me whole,
Renewing my hope,
Helping me cope
With what lies ahead.
The trials I dread:
More bills to pay;
My hair turning grey;
The ups and the downs
The smiles and frowns
Of my blessed life.

When I pray
You display
Your power.
You give peace
And never cease
To amaze!
I give you praise,
O, Holy LORD.
Your Word=My Sword.
Guide me now.
Show me how
To live for you.
Reign anew
in my life.
Remove all strife.

When I Pray (A Poem)
Click to download a full-size PDF of this poem

And so I pray
Today
For ears to hear
Your words so clear;
And eyes to see
Your work in me;
A heart of grace
Toward every face
You bring my way;
My bias, slay,
That I might be
Salt and light
In this fight
For humanity.
All this I pray.

In Jesus’ Name
Amen.

Life Is Like a Box of Puzzle Pieces

Are you someone who enjoys assembling jigsaw puzzles? If so, do you top out at 500 pieces, or are you a glutton for punishment preferring 1000+? I’m not a jigsaw fanatic, but I enjoy working on a good puzzle every now and then. My favorite moment in the puzzling process occurs when I finally locate a piece that has been eluding me, setting off a string of easy matches.

provision

My mother-in-law loves puzzling, and has framed a couple of the beautiful puzzles she’s completed over the years. When we were at the Grand Canyon a few years ago, we purchased a stunning 500+ piece jigsaw puzzle for her as a souvenir. The image was an artist’s rendering of a view from the South Rim overlooking the Canyon at sunset. It was gorgeous! If you close your eyes, you can probably imagine what it looked like; however, I seriously doubt that you would attempt that puzzle without the box right in front of you. Most puzzlers refer to the picture on the box repeatedly to make sure they are headed in the right direction.

So, what if I were to tell you that life is more like a box of puzzle pieces than a box of chocolates? It is. Not only do you “never know what you’re gonna get,” but neither will one bite help you figure it out! You just have to live it. One funky-cut piece at a time.

According to the “Jigsaw Puzzles for Adults” website,  the time it takes to complete a puzzle rises exponentially in proportion to the number of puzzle cuts:

It usually takes four-times longer to complete a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle as it does to complete a 500-piece puzzle. This is because each and every time you double the total number of pieces, you quadruple the challenge and difficulty. Before you begin a 4,000-piece puzzle, you need to take into consideration the fact that it’s going to take you 64 times longer to complete it than it would to successfully finish a 500 piece one! 1

provision

When you consider the fact that each life is comprised of a gazillion one-of-a-kind pieces, it’s pretty clear that the only One who has the time to complete it is the Lord! In fact, He’s the only One who knows what the finished puzzle will look like. After all, He is the One who designed it in the first place:

“For you formed my inward parts;
    you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them.” (Psalm 139:13-16, ESV)

In other words, what feels like a pile of random craziness to us humans—who barely have an inkling what the final picture might look like—is, in reality, a strikingly complex and completely unique masterpiece cut with such precision that each piece locks perfectly into place with ease. Over time, we see more clearly how certain oddly-shaped pieces fit together to create an intricate pattern we almost missed! And when it’s all said and done, the final image should* closely resemble the picture on the box!

Sometimes, when we’re in the middle of a challenging circumstance, we wonder if there is any rhyme or reason to it. God’s timing rarely matches our desired timing, and delays last decades. (Been there. Done that. Got the t-shirt.) We often struggle to uncover the method behind the madness or simmer internally with frustration until it finally, if ever, makes sense.

What we must always remember—and never forget—is that our Creator is also our Provider. And though we typically experience God’s provision as something tangible (e.g., food, shelter, clothes, money, etc.) or spiritual (e.g., peace, love, joy, discernment, etc.), His provision extends much further than that!

The Lord also provides opportunities for us to acquire knowledge, learn new skills, and explore our world so that we are equipped to make a positive impact in it. He takes our everyday experiences—the good, the bad, and the ugly; the pleasant and the painful; the understandable and the mysterious—and uses them to equip and empower us to fulfill a specific-to-us purpose. Did you get that? He uses EVERYTHING, and in so doing, provides us with exactly what we need to do what we were created to do.

“For His divine power has bestowed on us [absolutely] everything necessary for [a dynamic spiritual] life and godliness, through true and personal knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” (2 Peter 1:3, AMP)

What seems to be a thankless task at the age of 19 could end up being a necessary skill when turning 50. (Yes, I can testify to that of which I write.) We have to TRUST that our experiences—as mundane, ordinary, and/or frustrating as they may feel—are part of His sovereign plan for our lives. And what we perceive to be delays and detours often turn out to be key pieces of the puzzle which were strategically positioned to add depth, texture, and interest to our picture. In other words, our daily experience is a key aspect of God’s provision for us.

provision

“But what about the ugly and damaged pieces? Or the ones we can’t find?” you ask. “What about them?”

In case you didn’t know, God’s philosophy is: No piece left behind!

Sure, there are tattered and faded pieces we would prefer to keep hidden deep inside; however, God says, “Those pieces are an important part of you. Without them, you would not be who you are. Give them to me, we’ll place them in the puzzle together. We’ll use those pieces to help others find hope and healing.”

And then, there are the missing pieces—except they’re not really missing. They were stashed away in moments of sheer frustration when we could not see where they fit! Out of sight = Out of mind. But when the time is right, the Holy Spirit reminds us where we stored the “missing” pieces, and we can find and place them immediately…completing a part of the puzzle we hadn’t seen before.

Every. Single. Piece. Matters. (Even the ones we haven’t received yet!)

Yes, that’s right: There are puzzle pieces we haven’t received yet. Did I forget to mention that? Okay, so apparently, God keeps some pieces to Himself until it’s time for them to be placed. I think it’s for our benefit so that we don’t become overwhelmed by the unrecognizable patterns or discouraged by the enormous number of pieces still waiting to be placed. But in HIS perfect timing, these shiny new pieces arrive and fit perfectly—filling in a section upon we might have all but given up hope!

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6, ESV)

Shiny and new, tattered and faded, formerly missing, and those not yet received—each puzzle piece contributes to the whole picture. It’s who we are, and eventually, with the Lord’s help, who we were always meant to be.

 

* I say “should” because there are those who will inevitably reject the Puzzle Maker and His design, choosing instead to forge their own ways by tossing out pieces they don’t like; smashing together mismatched pieces; using glue to stick pieces together; and refusing to give the original plan a chance. Corrupt religious leaders have done this for centuries. 

—————————-

1 Nazarewicz, Judith. “Interesting Information about Jigsaw Puzzles.” (Rewritten for clarity and succinctness.) http://jigsawpuzzlesforadults.com/interesting-information-jigsaw-puzzles/

He Himself Is Our Peace

As we continue our focus on peace this month, I felt led to share an often-neglected spiritual discipline with you as a way to experience God’s peace in your life. Right now.

What follows is a guided meditation on the Word of God based on the Christian spiritual discipline of contemplative prayer. In his classic book on spiritual disciplines (A Celebration of Discipline), Richard Foster observes:

“In contemporary society our Adversary majors in three things: noise, hurry, and crowds. If he can keep us engaged in ‘muchness’ and ‘manyness,’ he will rest satisfied.”

our peaceOne way we can “disengage” from the pressures of the world is with contemplative prayer or Christian meditation. Foster states that words used in Scripture “to convey the idea of meditation” occur more than fifty times—and that’s just in the Old Testament!

“These words have various meanings: listening to God’s word, reflecting on God’s works, rehearsing God’s deeds, ruminating on God’s law, and more. In each case there is stress upon changed behavior as a result of our encounter with the living God. Repentance and obedience are essential features in any biblical understanding of meditation.”

As followers of Christ, we don’t practice meditation for the sake of clearing our minds or relaxation (although relaxation may be a happy outcome just the same). Instead, we meditate on Scripture and the Lord’s promises in order to bring about repentance in our lives: restoration replaces resistance and rebellion; obedience overrides resentment.

“…Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”
Philippians 4:8 (NKJV)

Today’s devotional will walk you through a Scripture-based meditation that centers on Jesus Christ as our source of peace. As you participate in this contemplative prayer, you will focus your thoughts on your relationship with the Lord by coordinating your breathing (inhale/hold/exhale) with a very simple physical action (palms up/palms down). As you exhale, you will confess your sins.

Physical Location

Scriptural meditation and prayer are gifts God gave us to center our attention on Him and experience His peace in the midst of life’s turmoils, no matter where we are physically. In other words, you can meditate anywhere, but a quiet place would be best. You can do this while laying in bed, sitting at the kitchen table, or even holding a baby. You can do this in the waiting room at a hospital, in the break room at work, or in a recliner by the pool. This is a simple, portable spiritual discipline! For example, King David meditated in the middle of the night while he was laying awake in bed:

“When I remember You on my bed,
I meditate on You in the night watches.
Because You have been my help,
Therefore in the shadow of Your wings I will rejoice.”
Psalm 63:6-7 (NKJV)

Intentional Breathing

Breathing. It’s not something we tend to think about, is it? Since we’ve been inhaling and exhaling our whole lives, the thought of intentional breathing might seem silly. But it’s not. Intentional breathing is a way for us to control our bodies and quiet our minds for the purpose of focusing on the Lord and the truths in His Word.

The 12-Second Cycle

The 12-second cycle is pretty simple, and you won’t need to keep counting after you go through it a couple of times. If four seconds is too long, adjust the timing so that you can focus on the Lord and not your breathing.

  • Take a deep breath (inhale 4 seconds)
  • Hold it for 4 seconds
  • Exhale for 4 seconds
  • Repeat

Practice the 12-second cycle until you don’t need to count it out (2-3 times is sufficient).

Physical Position

Whether you’re lying down, sitting, or standing, you can intentionally position the palms of your hands facing up (palms up) to symbolize your willingness to receive the Lord’s gift of peace (or anything from Him, for that matter).

Meditation Palms up or Palms down

When you purposefully turn your palms face down (palms down), you are symbolizing your desire to let go of anything standing in the way of your relationship with Him. With a simple turning of the hands, you can physically position yourself to receive from the Lord and let go of distractions and obstacles.

Fellowship thru Contemplative Prayer

Since our theme this month is “peace,” what follows is a meditation on peace—a fruit of the Spirit. We will begin with a “breath prayer”—one word or a short phrase that can be said within one breath. The breath prayer is one way we can stay in touch with the Lord throughout the day. In other words, don’t make the mistake of thinking that prayer is limited to your “quiet time” or time of meditation. You can utter a breath prayer at any time throughout the day to remind yourself not only what you’re giving up, but also what God is doing in your life.

I have written a few “breath prayers” (see below) to help you get started, but you don’t have to use my words! As Richard Foster says,

“Christian meditation, very simply, is the ability to hear God’s voice and obey his word…it involves no hidden mysteries, no secret mantras, no mental gymnastics, no esoteric flights into the cosmic consciousness. The truth of the matter is that the great God of the universe, the Creator of all things desires our fellowship.”

That just rocks my world! God wants fellowship with ME. God wants fellowship with YOU! And, listen, this is far from an exhaustive training on contemplative prayer (a.k.a. Christian meditation). If this is something you find fruitful, then by all means, do additional research. I’ve recommended a few resources for spiritual discipline on my website which you can access here.

seek his peace

Meditation on Peace

So, for now, won’t you take a few minutes to slow down, pay attention, and listen to the Lord? Make space for Him to speak to your heart and allow Him to take on the burdens that are wearing you down.

We will begin with slowing down your breathing, then pray a few sentence prayers, and end with contemplative prayer. The breath prayer is something you can take with you throughout your day to remind you of this time with the Lord and call upon Him in times of need.

If you follow my outline, you will affirm the truth found in Ephesians 2:14a: “For He Himself is our peace.”

It’s time to start the spiritual meditation that follows. Allow God to fill you with His peace as you let go of anything that might be hindering your relationship. It’s highly likely that the Holy Spirit will reveal to you obstacles in your life which are not listed here. Feel free to go “off-script” as you spend quality time with the Lord today. Remember: He. Is. Our. Peace.

BREATHING
Practice breathing the 12-Second Cycle. Move to the next section when you’re ready.

Receive (inhale): Take a deep breath ~ 4 seconds
Affirm (hold): Hold your breath ~ 4 seconds
Release (exhale): Blow out the breath ~ 4 seconds

SENTENCE PRAYERS 
This section will provide you an opportunity to receive His peace and release various distractions. Move to the next section when you’re ready.

Receive (inhale): Peace.
Affirm (hold): You, Lord, are my peace.
Release (exhale): I release the turmoil around me to you.

Receive (inhale): Peace.
Affirm (hold): You, Lord, are my peace.
Release (exhale): I release my stress to you.

Receive (inhale): Peace.
Affirm (hold): You, Lord, are my peace.
Release (exhale): I release my exhaustion to you.

Receive (inhale): Peace.
Affirm (hold): You, Lord, are my peace.
Release (exhale): I release my frustrations to you.

Receive (inhale): Peace.
Affirm (hold): You, Lord, are my peace.
Release (exhale): I release my habit of comparison to you.

Receive (inhale): Peace.
Affirm (hold): You, Lord, are my peace.
Release (exhale): I release my insecurities to you.

Receive (inhale): Peace.
Affirm (hold): You, Lord, are my peace.
Release (exhale): I release any feelings of insignificance to you.

Receive (inhale): Peace.
Affirm (hold): You, Lord, are my peace.
Release (exhale): I release all resentment to you.

Receive (inhale): Peace.
Affirm (hold): You, Lord, are my peace.
Release (exhale): I release my need to control to you.

Receive (inhale): Peace.
Affirm (hold): You, Lord, are my peace.
Release (exhale): I release my expectations to you.

Receive (inhale): Peace.
Affirm (hold): You, Lord, are my peace.
Release (exhale): I release my self-centeredness to you.

Receive (inhale): Peace.
Affirm (hold): You, Lord, are my peace.
Release (exhale): I release my _______________________ to you.

CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER
This is your time to fellowship with the Lord. Take your time. Don’t rush this part. Slow down. Listen. Pay attention. 

Pray using your own words…or don’t use any words at all. Use your hands as an outward symbol of the posture of your heart: “palms down” as you confess your sins and release your worries to the Lord; “palms up” as you quietly listen for His voice and receive His peace. You won’t necessarily hear an audible voice, but when the Lord speaks, you will recognize Him. If you’re unsure, continue to listen and pray to the Holy Spirit for discernment. What you hear will never contradict Scripture.

BREATH PRAYER
This is a one-word prayer you take with you throughout your day. Pray it anytime, anywhere. 

The breath prayer for this meditation is “Peace.”

 

Humility in Homeschooling

I’m a tri-polar homeschool mom. By “tri-polar,” I mean I tend to bounce between one of three poles: the good, the bad, and the humble. I have “good” days when I think homeschooling is the best choice we’ve ever made for our family and wouldn’t dream of changing a thing! I also have “bad” days when I question my sanity and run the same load of laundry for the third time. Because. Reasons. 😉

humility in homeschooling

Most days I’m somewhere in the middle—like a pinball briskly bouncing between the bumpers on the machine (quadrupling the score) before bouncing back out onto the playfield only to slide straight through the flapper paddles into the “out hole.” Game over. Or so it could be, if not for my third (bonus) pole perspective.

Before I share my “bonus pole strategy” with you, I need to explain the dangers of the first two:

DANGER OF POLE #1: PRIDE
To the homeschool moms who paint the picture that all days are good, that homeschooling is easy, that children are always respectful and obedient: Bless your heart! (I mean that in the most Southern of ways.) Actually, what I mean to say is, “Stop. It.”

If I’ve learned nothing else in the past eight years, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that homeschooling is a 2-for-1 deal (God is efficient like that). Both children AND their parents are transformed through the experiences of home education—sometimes, parents more so than children—and the more challenging the experience, the more dramatic the change. God is always working on us to transform us into His image, anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something.  Outward appearances can be very deceiving.

“Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty,
    but humility comes before honor.” Proverbs 18:12

Some of the most judgmental, prideful people I have ever met have been homeschoolers; however, the vast majority are among the most humble and kind. My point is that when we make the choice to homeschool our children based on strong personal convictions, we must fight the temptation to condemn those who have chosen not to. More importantly, we should not judge those who do it differently than we do. That is pride and generally frowned upon in most Christian circles.

We should be generous in our assumptions (as if we have the right to make any in the first place). Brené Brown, one of my favorite authors, suggests that we “extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words, and actions of others.” This gives satan very little space to bait us with offense and lead us into the sins of arrogance and judgment.

DANGER OF POLE #2: SELF-ABASEMENT
To the homeschool moms who are at their wits’ end, who think all the other moms know exactly what they are doing, and that they are the only moms blessed with disrespectful, obstinate kids in the homeschool community: Things could be worse! And I mean that in the most Northern of ways. Actually, what I mean to say is, “Stop. It.”

“The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom,
    and humility comes before honor.” Proverbs 15:33

Something else I’ve learned in my years of homeschooling: satan loves nothing more than to make us feel isolated, alone, and abnormal. If he can get us to repeatedly verbalize our insecurities, doubts, and fears, he will lead us down a path of self-pity where we forget that We. Are. Not. Alone! We forget that our homeschool journey is as much an adventure of faith as it is an education. We forget to look up!

As Dr. Tony Evans says, “God would not have called you to it, if He did not plan to see you through it.”

How did we ever conceive the notion that the path would be smooth when following God’s will for our lives? It’s rarely like that. Don’t believe me? Just look in the Bible for a few examples of folks whose path was anything but smooth (e.g., Joseph, Moses, David, Ruth, Esther, Mary). God uses the ups and downs, curves and caves to sculpt us into the people He created us to be—so we reach our full potential! So, we must be wary of our penchant for whining on the bad days, lest we forget He who planned this journey in the first place. Does it mean we never vent our frustrations with a trusted friend and ally? By no means! God gives us partners on the journey for a reason; however, we must keep our attitudes in check, lest venting take root or worse drag the other down. Does it mean we take responsibility for our spiritual perspective during these times? Absolutely.

BONUS POLE STRATEGY: A HUMBLE PERSPECTIVE
This, my friend, is where our “Bonus Pole” comes in. The third pole exists in another dimension, and the good news is that there are no dangers here! In fact, this place is filled with extra pinballs that come out at just the right moment to help us keep playing the game. Thank you, Lord! This pole is the best place for me to hang my hat as a homeschool mom. It’s an “every day” attitude of HUMILITY. And the cool thing about this pole is that since it’s in another dimension, I can bounce in anytime I want—whether I’m having a good day, a bad day, or just a day.

“Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:4

HUMILITY shifts my perspective from my relationship with my kids to my relationship with God. I’m able to see the battle for what it is and fight the real enemy—which, by the way, is NOT the kids, the pet(s), the curriculum, the finances, the house, or even the spouse!

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12

humility shifts

When my vision is clouded by pride (it’s all about me) or self-abasement (it’s still all about me), I forget that the same God who called me to homeschool is the same God who has equipped me for battle.  As I intentionally shift my focus from self to Savior, I am reminded whose I am. My vision becomes crystal clear and my discernment is sharpened. I remember my spiritual armor, and I’m able to fight the fight of faith with weapons that actually work! Interestingly, this shift can only happen when I’m in humility.

So, how do I get there? This place called “Humility”?

Well, when you arrive at the fork on Attitude Road, consider your options: You may head down the paved path of pride or choose the grovel road that leads to self-abasement. Or look up and take the highway to humility where there are no tolls or trolls and the view is quite divine!

“Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 1 Peter 5:5

“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” James 4:10

 

Footwear of Faith

Imelda Marcos Shoe Collection - Marikina Shoe Museum
Imelda Marcos Shoe Collection

How many pairs of shoes do you personally own? Does your family jokingly refer to you as “Imelda”? Or are you a one-pair wonder who sees little point in owning more than one functional, comfortable pair of shoes? I, myself, am a little closer to the one-pair wonder than Imelda Marcos (who owned more than 1,200 pairs of shoes).

I tend to have one pair of shoes for every occasion: I wear flip-flops everyday 😎; tennis shoes for the gym 👟; ankle boots with my dress pants 👢; sandals in the summer 👡; heels for special occasions 👠; and winter boots when it’s cold outside ❄️. Oh, I almost forgot: I also have an old pair of those “special” Sketchers® that never did firm or tone anything saggy 😜. Oh well!

Why all this talk about shoes? I thought this was a devotional. True. True. Well, shoes have soles, too!
(Sorry, I couldn’t resist! 😉)

The truth is, as I prayed about this month’s theme, God brought to mind some common idioms about faith, and they all involved feet! For example, a person takes a “step of faith”; another is “walking in faith”; and someone else just took a “leap of faith.” Apparently, the practice of faith requires moving your proverbial feet. Before we start selecting shoes, however, let’s first define what faith (the verb) is and is not.

faith footwear

“To Faith, or Not To Faith?” That Is the Question.

In the Bible, “faith” (whether noun or verb) is an action word. And while we can easily translate the Greek noun pistis (PIS-tis) as “faith,” the English language has no way to accurately translate its verb form, pisteuein (pis-TYOO-ane), which literally means “to faith.” Most of the time, pisteuein is translated “to believe” which simply implies mental assent in English; however, it’s meaning is more complex than that. Pisteuein is an action-imperative verb and contains the concept of trust combined with obedience.

Just let that sink in for a moment…

“Faithing” is not merely believing in something or someone. “Faithing” is demonstrating trust in something or someone through obedient action. Unfortunately, there’s no such word as “faithing,” and should you begin to use “faith” as a verb, people may question your grasp of grammar. Therefore, it’s up to us to ensure that when we read about faith in the Scriptures, we call to mind its intended meaning: We must remember that “having faith” means doing something—it connotes an act of obedience.

At the very least, this offers a fresh perspective on a favorite Bible verse, John 3:16, which typically translates pisteuōn (the present active participle of pisteuō) as “whosoever believes in Him”; however, a more accurate translation is “all the ones faithing in Him.” In other words, eternal life is the promise to those who have faithed in Him.1

So, how does one “faith”?

Sometimes, it’s easier to look at the opposite action to understand the action. For instance, have you ever found the perfect pair of shoes, purchased them, brought them home, put them in your closet, and never worn them? (If you’re not a shoe person, just substitute something you use in your favorite hobby, and you’ll get the point.) In cases like this, our unused purchases are not only a waste of money and time, but they also become a constant reminder of what might have been. Shoes are made to be worn, not put in a closet to rot.

steps of faith

It’s the same with faith: Steps of faith are made to be taken, not prayed about forever and never acted upon. When we get stuck in prayer mode (i.e., seeking God’s guidance on the same decision over and over and over again while refusing to acknowledge that He has given it), we are exercising unfaith (apistis). God WANTS us to do His will. He desires for us to act in faith and trust His sovereignty. Daniel 2:28a says that “there is a God in Heaven who reveals mysteries.” When we seek His will, He reveals it. Every. Single. Time.

So, what hinders a person from faithing in life? 

To illustrate the answer, let’s return to the shoe analogy. shoesAccording to shoe fitters2,3, the following issues will cause unnecessary pain and potentially devastating foot problems:

  1. Assuming the wrong shoe size
  2. Selecting shoes that are the wrong shape for the foot
  3. Leaving no room for impact
  4. No support in the shoe itself

In the same way, when we allow our emotions, peers, family, and/or friends too rule our lives, rather than relying on the Lord’s guidance first and foremost, we find ourselves “wearing the wrong shoes,” and risking permanent damage to our “feet.”

  1. Assuming the wrong gifting
  2. Committing to something that is the wrong shape for your personality
  3. Leaving no room for impact
  4. No support structure

How do we sidestep these faith pitfalls?

First of all, we can avoid them by seeking the Lord’s face in prayer, through worship, and in His Word. Slow down. Listen. Pay attention. Look for patterns in what you’re hearing, reading, singing, playing, doing. Secondly, we can apply the shoe fitter’s solutions for finding the right shoes to sidestep the potential pitfalls of faithing:

👟 Brannock Measuring ToolShoe Problem #1: Assuming the wrong shoe size

Solution: Have your feet measured every year. Since your feet can change over time, your decision about new shoes should be reliant on your current foot size, not your past shoe size.

🔥 Faithing Pitfall #1: Assuming the wrong gifting

Solution: Take a spiritual gifts inventory every year (click here for free resources). As Christians, the Lord is continually maturing us and growing us to be more like Him. Since God gifts us according to His agenda (not ours), we should pay attention to current gifting rather than assuming we’re supposed to do what we’ve always done.  It might be the same, but it could be quite different depending on His plans. 

👟 Shoe Problem #2: Shoes that are the wrong shape for the foot

Solution: Look at the shape of the shoe; it should resemble the shape of your foot.

🔥 Faithing Pitfall #2: Doing something that is completely wrong for you

Solution: Take time to understand your personality type and spiritual gifting (click here for free resources), and look for opportunities to serve within those areas. God has created and equipped you uniquely for His purposes. There is only one you, and to assume that authenticity is a liability is just plain silly. You have a destiny that only you can fill! God will not call you into something that requires you to be someone you are not. 

👟 Shoe Problem #3: No room for impact

Solution: It’s important not only to fit the shoes to your feet, but also to leave room for impact. Make sure there is approximately 1/2″ between your longest toe and the end of the shoe. Since toes splay as you walk or run, be sure to walk around in the shoes to ensure a proper fit.

🔥 Faithing Pitfall#3: No room for impact

Solution: Remember that there is a difference—sometimes massive—between the way a thing seems to work and how it actually functions. Take time to test things out before making a long-term commitment. Give yourself permission to have a trial period. See how you “fit.” Do you have a peace that passes understanding? Is there room to “wiggle your toes”? Or does it feel constricting and uncomfortable? Slow down. Listen. Pay attention. Follow peace.

👟 Shoe Problem #4: No support in the shoe itself

Solution: Inspect the three main areas of the shoe for proper support: the heel counter, the torso, and the midfoot (arch region). Interestingly, each of these areas should be stable with little-to-no flexibility. These critical areas minimize risk of injury.

🔥 Faithing Pitfall #4: No support structure

Solution: Make sure you have a support structure in place before you begin. Ideally, your spouse will be your biggest backer; however, I realize that life isn’t always ideal. What I know for certain is that when God is calling you to take a step (or leap!) of faith, He has already strategically placed His people into your life to support you through the process. Be wary of stepping out with no one backing you. If you are convinced that God has called you out, then ask Him to reveal your support team to you. Pray for discernment and protection as you selectively share your dream/vision/calling, because satan would like nothing better than to derail your dream.

Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.”
Matthew 7:6

Faith footwear. Who knew there was such a thing?! Not I. Yet, somehow, it all makes sense. I faith when I put the right shoes on my feet and walk in them; I exercise faith when I prayerfully make a decision and act on it. Does this mean I will never get a blister? Never twist my ankle? Never break a heel? No. Stuff happens.

When we’ve prayed through a decision, taken the step/leap of faith only to watch the dream disintegrate right before our very eyes, it’s CRITICAL that we not second guess ourselves.  God often allows discomfort and inconvenience—not because we are out of His will or heard the wrong thing—but because He had a lesson to teach us. (When this happens, our goal should be singular: Learn the lesson the first time. Ain’t nobody got time to learn the same lesson twice! 😉) Consider this: Without our willingness to take that step of faith, we would have missed the lesson and the connections made along the way—connections which often come into play later in the faith journey. We must trust His sovereignty.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
Romans 8:28

⏳ Is It Time?

Is God prompting you to take a step of faith? 👣 A leap? 🐸 While it might feel intimidating, or even impossible at first, with the right “shoes” — custom fit to the size and shape of your foot with a little room for impact and stable support—the step becomes a walk; the leap, a manageable stride. And God receives the glory for the great things He has done through our willingness to faith in Him. 🐧

 


Footnotes:

1 Interestingly, even demons are said to faith in Him (cf. James 2:19). You might wonder how that is possible. Well, when Jesus said, “Get out,” they got out because they faithed.
2 Jeffers, Justin. “11 Tips For Finding Work Shoes That Fit.” Business Insider, Business Insider Inc., December 13, 2013, http://www.businessinsider.com/how-to-tell-if-shoes-fit-2013-12.
3 “Shoe Fitting and Buying Tips.” Canadian Footwear, https://www.canadianfootwear.com/fitting-buying-tips.

What Type of Joy Are You Nurturing?

As I prayed about and contemplated the word JOY for this month’s devotional, I spent some quality time in the Bible and a few minutes on Google. Did you know there are 19.5 million articles about how and why joy is better than happiness?! Good grief! Just so you know, I’ve decided NOT to add to that total. You’re welcome! 😁

While I was clicking around, I came across a number of images and memes promoting the popular motto: “Choose Joy!” Upon reflection, I wondered if it were literally possible for a person to CHOOSE joy. Rather than ponder this by myself, I chose to pose the question to my Facebook friends—a fantastic cross-section of folks from across the U.S. (and the world)—to see what they had to say. Here’s what I posted:

Do you think it’s possible to CHOOSE joy? Let’s define joy as “an internal sense of happiness that can co-exist alongside grief and frustration, but be snuffed out by worry and anxiety.”

 

what type of joyAs you might imagine, the answers varied, but not very widely: The overwhelming majority of my Christian and Agnostic friends agreed that it’s possible to choose joy, although a few dissented. A Buddhist friend suggested that while choosing joy is attainable, it’s not easy and requires “not just self-discipline, but a willingness to forgo unhealthy attachment to things as they are.” The response that really got my attention, though, was from a good friend in Washington state. He commented, “I think I choose optimism and attitude, but ‘joy’ is something I receive.” And just like that, my perspective on joy shifted.

I realized that I had been approaching this subject all wrong—as if joy had only one meaning. What I needed to do was research JOY more thoroughly in order to understand its nuances. Because if joy can be received, then it can also be given. If it can be given and received, then it can also be rejected and disregarded. What IS joy? Where does it come from? Can I generate it by myself, or do I need to find it somewhere else? Or both? Or neither? (Yes, this is how my brain works.) 😉

So, I began my “formal” research. And guess what I learned? JOY, one word in English, is expressed with a variety of words in other languages—especially in the Bible! I was surprised to find at least ten different root words for joy in the Old Testament (Hebrew) and five different word groups in the New Testament (Greek). Since we English speakers tend to use only one word for joy, it’s simple to suppose why joy is so frequently conflated with cheerfulness, contentment, pride, bliss, hope, and happiness.

Plutchik's Wheel of EmotionsNoted psychologist Dr. Robert Plutchik developed a “Wheel of Emotions” to visually describe the relationships of emotions to each other—like an artist’s color wheel. He first identified eight “primary” emotions: joy, sadness, anger, fear, trust, disgust, surprise, and anticipation. He went on to teach that basic emotions could be expressed at a variety of intensities (like shades of a color) and could combine to create even more! Plutchik identified 8 distinct second-level and 25 third-level emotions for a grand total of 33 distinct emotions that comprise JOY. No wonder we struggle to understand it.

Imagine a backwards prism.

In order to better apprehend joy, imagine a backwards prism. There’s a full spectrum of second-level emotions shining into the prism (not to mention those in the third-level behind it), but only one emotion beams out the other side: JOY. That tiny word is pretty complex!

Joy is neither pre-meditated, nor can it’s time of arrival be controlled. When joy arrives on the scene, “it takes possession of the whole person”1—body, mind, and spirit. This is why “tears of joy” is not an oxymoron: It’s perfectly natural for a person to well-up with tears (i.e., have a visceral reaction) in the midst of a joyous occurrence. 😂 😂 😂

So, does everyone experience joy? Yes, but in not the same way and not necessarily the same kind. There are three main types of joy we see in Scripture: Public Joy, Personal Joy, and Pure Joy.

“You are to hold a seven-day festival for the Lord your God…and you will have abundant joy.” Deuteronomy 16:15

PUBLIC JOY is a shared experience with others and fades more quickly than the other two types. For example, you might experience public joy at a Panthers 🏈 game—assuming they are your favorite team, and they win. Or maybe you’re at a regional conference with some friends, and one of them 🙋 makes a life-changing decision. Or maybe you are cheering at the TV when your favorite team seals their spot in the Final Four 🏀 during March Madness. Even though you’re not necessarily in a crowd at the moment, you are enjoying it with people from all over the world. Biblical examples of public joy are seen during annual feasts, communal festivals, and celebrations (cf. Num. 10:10Deut. 16:15). At times—even today—it may be felt in the course of corporate worship (cf. Ezra 3:13). Unfortunately, public joy is temporary—it rises and falls with the live experience. At certain times it will last longer than others, but eventually, public joy fades away.

“For you see, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped for joy inside me!” Luke 1:44

PERSONAL JOY is experienced within oneself, but it is not received or felt until something happens. The “something” might be an anticipated milestone (e.g., the arrival of a letter from a publisher accepting your book proposal; the birth of a child; your husband’s promotion at work;  etc.), or it could be a complete surprise (e.g., a soldier surprises her family by coming home unannounced). At that moment—when IT happens—you experience a spontaneous visceral reaction as personal joy “wells up” within you—“tears of joy” may be involved. Or not. How you experience personal joy has as much to do with your character and values as it does your personality type. When something happens in alignment with your values and hopes, the strong emotional response you have is more than relief, happiness, or even peace: It’s a deep sense of joy that lingers (cf. Luke 1:39-442 Tim. 1:4). Personal joy takes up most of the spectrum. Individuals will find joy in a variety of things or find themselves receiving joy in unexpected moments. Interestingly, however, what brings one person joy, could just as easily trigger sadness in another. Personal joy is, well, personal.type of joy

 

“For the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10b

PURE JOY is experienced at the metaphysical level (spiritually). It exists separate from the individual, and might seem elusive, if you don’t know where to find it. Thankfully, Scripture teaches us where to look and how to acquire it (cf. Ps. 16:11; ). Pure joy is the spiritual fruit of a personal relationship with the Lord—rooted in His Word (Ps. 119:105) and cultivated by the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-26). It’s this relationship that produces in us the ability to face severe circumstances with a sense of deep and abiding joy. Pure joy holds us in place like an anchor in the storm. No longer do we rely on public joy or personal joy to carry us through the tough times: That’s dangerous and way too subjective (Neh. 8:10). Instead, we cling to the promises in His Word (cf. Isa. 40:31; Mal. 3:10John 8:36Jas. 1:5), trusting that our Heavenly Father will work everything out according to His plans and for His glory (cf. Ps. 139Isa. 46:9-10Jer. 29:11Rom. 8:28; 1 John 4:13). This yields a peace that passes understanding, and pure joy has a place to take root and grow.

Public Joy, Personal Joy, Pure Joy—each of these was created for our benefit, and they are not mutually exclusive. We can experience them one at a time, or all at once! But if your goal, like mine, is to approach life from a place of pure joy (the joy of the LORD), we must discipline ourselves to tend the garden of our hearts. 🌱💗🌱 We must consistently lop off self-reliance (Rev. 3:15-20), fear (1 John 4:18), and anxiety (1 Peter 5:7); and instead, feed on the Word (2 Tim. 2:153:16-17); assure proper exposure to the Son (cf. Rom. 10:9-10; Jas. 4:7-8); allow pruning to stimulate growth (John 15:2); and enjoy unlimited access to living water (cf. John 7:37-39; Rom. 5:4-6; Rev. 22:17). Tend the garden, and pure joy will bloom in a full spectrum of color so beautiful that others will want to know how you did it. Then, you share your little secret: It’s all about Him! 🙌 ☝️ ️✝️

“I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.”
John 15:11

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Works Cited:
1 Beyreuther, Erich. “Joy: agalliaomai.” Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. 2, edited by Colin Brown, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986, p. 352.

Unselfish Love

“Love is in many ways fine:
      Like a nickel, like a dime.
But love is more valuable to me
      Than one, two, or even three.”

And so begins one of the most *ahem* “memorable” poems I’ve ever written. (I won’t make you suffer through the rest of it.) Judging by my handwriting at the time, I’m guessing I was around nine or ten years old when I penned that masterpiece. Back in the day, apparently, those two silver coins represented huge value for me, because I compared them to the one thing everyone on the planet desires: LOVE.

It should come as no surprise that my nickel and dime view of love wouldn’t last forever. As I entered the teen years, my experience of love shifted from coins in my pocket to “teardrops on my guitar.” (Well, make that my pillow. Taylor Swift, I am not.)

unselfish love

All the Feels

In high school, hormones had me convinced that love was a feeling (or more than a feeling)—one I couldn’t fight anymore. When “the feels” eventually subsided or my heart was broken, that all-consuming “love” evaporated into thin air. And then, I was all out of love, and so lost without ____________ (fill in the blank). Emotion took me over—tied up with sorrow; lost in my soul. And time? It kept flowing. Like a river.

As I matured, I struggled to wrap my mind around that crazy little thing called “love.” It’s such an ambiguous term, we shouldn’t be shocked that people go looking for love in all the wrong places. For with this singular word love, I express my passion for penguins, “The Princess Bride,” dark chocolate, football, and family.

If I were to explain the power of love according to hit singles on the radio, it might sound a little bit like this:

Love is an open door…in the air. It keeps lifting me higher and higher. Love is higher than a mountain and thicker than water. It’s all we need, because we found love right where we are. It will keep us together! I love you. You love me…tender. The fact is, I will always love you, because you’re my endless love. And there’s nothing that I wouldn’t do to make you feel my love. I’m gonna love you forever. Forever and ever, amen. I’m literally lost in love, but I have just one issue: I wanna know what love is!!!

Stringing together lyrics from a few famous love songs weaves a fascinating tapestry of the feelings-based, self-absorbed, narcissistic version of love our society promotes 24/7/365. The problem is that it’s a poor impostor of the real thing. And let me tell you, ain’t nothing like the real thing, Baby!

demonstrate love

Love is More

In his first letter to the Corinthians (chapter 13), the Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, beautifully describes love as patient and kind. Rejoicing in the truth. “It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love never fails.” Did you notice anything in this list connecting love to how someone makes me feel? No? Me neither. Paul’s point here is crystal clear: Loving someone has nothing to do with meeting my own needs and everything to do with how I relate to and treat others in my life.

In contrast to what love is, Paul utilizes negative definitions to further explain what love is not. Love is neither envious nor boastful. “It is not arrogant or rude. It’s not irritable or resentful. Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing.” In other words, love literally limits the influence of negative emotions on our actions.

Love is not a feeling: Love is a verb. Offering Christian love—selfless, no-strings-attached, generous—to another living being is a free-will choice, and that’s what makes it so precious. When we choose to love, it’s always a risk, and it’s always a dare. There are no guarantees that our gift of love will be received; however, since love is not made of physical matter, the only way a person can know he or she is loved is through the selfless actions of another. Words, while welcome and worthwhile, mean nothing without the corresponding actions to back them up: Love must be demonstrated to be known.

The Lord Himself modeled this when, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13

Are we literally called to die in order to prove our love? Of course not! But we are called to die to selfish desires—and our own personal agendas and expectations—and simply LOVE one another. Not merely with words, but mostly with actions. Not for recognition or kudos, but solely for the benefit of the other person. No ropes attached.

But what about me? Don’t I need love, too? Of course! And who better to supply the exact love we need to fill us up than the Lord God Almighty? Our Heavenly Father. Abba. It’s only because of our personal relationship with Him and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that we are able to share any love  with anyone at all! Out of the overflow of that relationship—knowing that we are drawing from a well that will never run dry—we are able to share unselfish love with others.

Pause for a moment and inhale deeply. Hold it. Exhale slowly. Do this a couple times, and then offer this simple prayer:

“Lord, thank you for loving me as-is. Thank you for not giving up on me. 
You are faithful and your love endures forever. (lift your hands)

I lift my hands to you in worship and adoration.  (open your hands)
I open my hands to receive what you have for me today. (bring your hands to your heart)
Fill my heart with your love once again, O Lord.
I’m completely yours.

Open my eyes to the needs of those around me, 
and help me share your love without expectation.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
Amen.”

music
Did you catch all the song allusions in this devotional?
Come visit my website for a complete list
AND a free printable of 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a.
http://laurazielke.com/devotionals/

Are You Giving an Empty Box or Authentic Praise?

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
Inigo Montoya

This is one of my all-time favorite quotes from the movie “The Princess Bride.” In this scene, the Spaniard confronts Vizzini, his Sicilian boss, about repeatedly blurting “Inconceivable!” during scenarios playing out before their very eyes (or behind them, as the case may be). Vizzini, Inigo concludes, is clearly confused concerning the meaning of the word “inconceivable.” His observation is simple, yet profound. For with it, he shines a spotlight on one of humanity’s most annoying tendencies: the habitual repetition of a common word or phrase by someone who lacks a clear understanding of its meaning.

As children, we initially learned how to speak by mimicking sounds and words and phrases. Unless we make a conscious choice to stop, think, and choose our own words, we may accidentally adopt a favorite phrase without giving any thought to what it means. Take for example this exclamation: “Praise the Lord!” Although you will find it throughout the Old Testament (most frequently in the Psalms), it is often misused in Christian circles today.

In this post, I will make the case that the expression “Praise the Lord!” does not mean what you think it means. And I will challenge each of us to think twice before saying it, in the hope that we replace it with authentic praise. Got that? Ok, let’s unpack it.

Praise his character

“Praise the Lord!” is a translation of the Hebrew “Hallelujah,” a compound word formed by combining the verb hallel (to boast or praise) with yah—a shortened version of the name of the LORD. It occurs twenty-four times in the Old Testament (mainly in the Psalms), and only four times in the New Testament (all in Revelation 19 as part of a hymn).

In Hebrew, the verb praise is in the imperative mood. This means Hallelujah is a command. In other words, “You praise the Lord!” or as we say here in the South, “Y’all praise the Lord!” In the same way a parent might tell a child “Clean your room!” we are instructed to “Praise the Lord!”

Throughout Scripture, the command to praise is almost always followed (or preceded) by a retelling of the Lord’s deeds (Ps. 135); a recognition of His majesty (Ps. 148); a recitation of His character (Rev. 19:1-4); or additional instructions about how, when, and where to praise Him (Ps. 150).

Stay with me here, because this is important: There is literally only one occurrence in the entire Bible where “Hallelujah” is said as an expression, and it’s not between friends.

The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God, who was seated on the throne. And they cried: “Amen, Hallelujah!”
Rev. 19:4 (NIV)

This was knees-on-the-ground worship of the Lord right smack-dab in front of the throne. They cried, “Hallelujah!” directly to Him.

As you can see, to praise the Lord is to honor and worship Him for who He is, what He has done, and to trust His promises. We do this when we ascribe His attributes back to Him. His character. His name. In fact, this is the most meaningful praise we can offer in the midst of life’s harshest trials and tribulations.

We offer our praises in the sentences we speak; the words we write; the thoughts we think; the songs we sing; the dances we perform; the art we create; and so on—NOT through the mindless repetition of an idiom that seems like the right thing to say at the time.

authentic praise

Authentic praise is neither complicated nor simplistic, but it does require something from us: engagement of our minds. We must think before we blurt “Praise the Lord!” Consider the following questions: “What is it about the Lord I am wanting to honor? What has He done that compels me to praise Him? How is God making Himself known to me in this moment?” It is only after I’ve identified the reason(s) why I want to honor Him that I can offer a sacrifice of praise. Forethought is a powerful way we love God with our minds.

And he [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”
Matthew 22:37 (ESV)

The word praise is an empty box. The only way it has any weight (meaning) is when we fill it with authentic praises. Otherwise it remains empty. Cliché. Vain. Devoid of meaning.

For example, when your son, Micah, aces his math test, you don’t praise him by saying, “Praise Micah!” That doesn’t mean anything to him. Instead, you speak truth to him about who he is and what he did.

Similarly, when your daughter, Leah, is hired as the summer camp intern, you don’t praise her by saying, “Praise Leah!” That would be weird. Instead, you speak truth to her about who she is and what she accomplished.

In the same manner, when God shows Himself faithful, you don’t praise Him by saying only, “Praise the Lord” as if that’s the end of the praise. Instead, you acknowledge who He is and what He did.

Imagine a scenario where a friend calls to share good news with you. She exclaims, “My husband got the job!” You could respond out of habit, “Praise the Lord!” But what exactly does that mean? “Yay!”? If so, you’ve used the Lord’s name in a mindless manner. If not, you’ve commanded your friend to “Praise the Lord.” Either way, you’ve tipped your proverbial hat toward Heaven with no personal investment, no acknowledgement of who the Lord is or what He has done deserving of praise. Is that what you thought you were doing? Or were you wanting to praise God for something? If so, what? Say that!

You could declare, “That’s great news! God is amazing! He’s promised to take care of us, and He is doing just what He promised. His timing is not ours, but it is perfect. He is sovereign.”

THAT, my friend, is what it means to PRAISE the Lord.

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.
Hebrews 13:15 ESV

I hereby challenge you (and me) to fill the empty “Praise the Lord” box with authentic, pre-meditated praise from our minds and hearts. Can you imagine how transforming this practice will be in our daily lives and our relationships? It might take a while and require re-training ourselves, but authentic—not empty—praise is a worthy goal.

To help us get started with this new practice, I’ve created a free printable for you with “12 Alternatives to ‘Praise the Lord!’”

Visit LauraZielke.com/downloads to save it, and let me know what you think about this challenge.

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