Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Annual Verse to Reshape My Heart

“I have chosen the way of truth; I have set my heart on Your laws. I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.”  Psalm 119:30, 32

Fresh starts.  New beginnings.  Desire for change and growth.  As the calendar pages turn and each new year unfolds, I pray that God would show me a specific scripture He wants to use to reshape my heart during the new year.  Our responses to God come from our heart.  Apart from the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, our hearts are deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9).  Just as David prayed for God to cleanse him from his sin and purify his heart, (Psalm 51:10), inviting God through His Word to search and cleanse our hearts is the primary necessity for a renewal.  “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”  Hebrews 4:12

As I seek Him through prayer and in His Word, He has been faithful to show me the scripture He wants me to meditate on for that year, for that season in my walk with Him.  “I meditate on Your precepts and consider Your ways.”  Psalm 119:15  God does not necessarily give me a verse on January 1st every year. Sometimes I am several weeks into the new year before He reveals my annual verse to me. 

My very first annual verse many years ago was Philippians 2:3: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”  Do nothing out of selfish ambition!  Many years later, this timeless truth from God’s Word reverberates in me daily, often moment by moment.   

In God’s orderly character, each annual verse has built upon the one before. Here are a few of mine:

“Those who honor Me, I will honor…”  1 Samuel 2:30

“For My own sake, for My own sake, I do this… I will not yield My glory to another.”  Isaiah 48:11

"Not to us, O LORD, not to us but to Your name be the glory, because of Your love and faithfulness." Psalm 115:1

I will bow down toward your holy temple and will praise Your name for Your love and Your faithfulness, for You have exalted above all things Your name and Your word.”  Psalm 138:2

“If You are pleased with me, teach me Your ways so I may know You and continue to find favor with You.”  Exodus 33:13

As the annual verses string together in harmonious succession year after year, I see clearly His theme for me:  “He must become greater; I must become less.”  John 3:30   As I pause to reflect on all my annual verses beginning with Philippians 2:3 through Exodus 33:13, I see His perfect design:  All because of Him, all for Him, and all to know Him.

Jesus told us in Matthew 5:8 that those with a pure heart are blessed and they will see God.  God wants to give us a new, moldable heart. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”  Ezekiel 36:26  

He leads us through a process as He transforms us into the image of His son.  Godly character is not built in us immediately, but rather through consistent, gradual growth.

Our loving Heavenly Father received faithfully my prayer for an annual verse to reshape my heart all those years ago.  He has diligently been giving me an annual verse to cleanse my heart of myself and fill it completely with Himself.  The purging and filling process has been painful at times.  Yet as I yield my heart to Him in trust, desperately requiring His precepts, He beautifully reshapes my heart and fills me with His perfect truth and love.  “I will keep Your law continually, forever and ever [hearing, receiving, loving, and obeying it]. And I will walk at liberty and at ease, for I have sought and inquired for [and desperately required] Your precepts.  Psalm 119:44-45 (AMP)
Dawning on the horizon of our hearts is a fresh new year.  Let’s seek Him for a treasure from His truth and ask Him to transform and reshape our hearts.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”  Psalm 139:23-24

© 2014 by Sharon Sloan. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Ushered In By Thanksgiving

“Enter His gates with thanksgiving
and His courts with praise;
give thanks to Him and praise His name.”
Psalm 100:4
Happy Thanksgiving!

"Let us come before His presence with Thanksgiving..."
Psalm 95:2

A heart of genuine thanksgiving and praise to the Lord ushers us across His threshold as we dwell in the Lord’s presence throughout the day. As we seek to abide in Him, our thankful hearts prepare the way for us. With a grateful and reverent posture before the Lord, we expect to hear His still, small voice and sense His presence. “The eyes of the Lord are on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His unfailing love.” Psalm 33:18 (NIV

It is more about Whom we are thanking for the giving than what we are thanking Him for.  "Oh, give thanks to the LORD! Call upon His name; make known His deeds among the peoples!"  1 Chronicles 16:8

“In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.” Proverbs 3:7 (KJV
) Genuine thankfulness flows from a humble and reverent heart before the Lord. As we go to Him with gratitude and acknowledging Him in all things, our hearts are postured to receive direction from Him. As we commune with Him from the depths of our hearts throughout the day, we can bring Him our petitions, our fears and our struggles. With the humility of thankfulness for and acknowledging Him as a canvas, our hearts are poised reverently before Him. He guides us and leads us. “I know that it will go better with God-fearing men, who are reverent before God.” Ecc. 8:12

When my children approach me with a humble and thankful heart, it is much more meaningful and fruitful as I talk with them, rejoice with them, pray with them and guide them. Their hearts are ready. But when they are being selfish, stubborn, prideful and entitled, they don’t hear and are not ready for my instruction and help. The condition of their heart is key to our communication and our authentic, vibrant relationship as parent and child.

It is the same with us and our Heavenly Father, who loves His children perfectly. When our hearts are right before Him, He can minister His Truth to us. He encourages and equips us. He communes with us. “He who sacrifices thank offerings honors Me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God.” Psalm 50:23 (NIV
"A fuller revelation of His truth" as Spurgeon puts it.

I want to make it routine not just to count my blessings, but to continually give thanks to God for them. To acknowledge Him in all my ways. To bow before Him with sincerity, thankfulness and reverence. I want to dwell in His presence, commune with Him and receive His encouragement and love. The fruit of that is “sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.” Col. 3:22 (NIV)

Gracious Father, You are the giver of all good things. By Your grace, keep my heart poised humbly before You in sincerity, reverence and thankfulness. I want to enter Your courts with praise in my heart. Usher me in with a thankful heart. Remind me to acknowledge You in all of my ways. Thank You for loving me perfectly and for Your redemption. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Your Devotional Journal

Saying Grace ~ Bring your heart to God in prayer.

Your Portion ~ Where has God met you in His Word today?

Nourishment ~ How does God want to mold and change my heart?

Second Helpings ~ How does God want me to be a doer of His Word today?

Time for Dessert ~ What can I go and share with others today?

"You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
and praise the name of the LORD your God,
Who has dealt wondrously with you..."
Joel 2:26

“I will praise God’s name in song and
glorify Him with thanksgiving.”
Psalm 69:30

Monday, October 6, 2014

I Am Not Taking My Toys And Going Home!

Proverbs 27:6

 "The wounds of a friend can be trusted..."  (NIV)

"Faithful are the wounds of a friend..." (KJV)

Leah, my oldest friend in the world (in tenure, not in age), and I would play jax for hours on end when we were young girls.  It was one of our favorite games to play.  We grew up next door to each other, and we spent long weekend and summer days playing Chinese jump rope, Barbies, kickball, hopscotch and cards. 
From time to time, Leah and I would have a spat and feelings would get hurt.  My childish reaction was to take my toys and go home.  This accomplished nothing and only contributed to a temporary division between us.  Eventually, whether 15 minutes or 15 hours later, one of us would go knock on the other's door and ask the other to come out and play.  Toys were happily shared again and the playing resumed.  Joy, conflict, temporary separation, softening hearts, restoration.  The cycle of healthy friendship.

Leah and I are still friends today. We endured the cycle of friendship and enjoy the blessing of calling each other "lifelong friends". While I don't get to see her as often as I would like, we keep in touch and she will always be extra special to me. Leah is the friend who invited me to attend her church's youth group, where I accepted Jesus and I still walk with Him today. Leah was God's vessel to bring me to Himself.  My life is changed eternally because of her. 

Friends hurt each other. When my heart aches because of the pain one of our children is experiencing from hurtful words or actions of a friend, it seems almost unbearable to me as a mom.  Yet I must yield my heart to the Holy Spirit and respond maturely in such a way that honors Him.  But the greatest gift I can give our children in that moment of pain is Truth.  "A friend loves at all times."  (Proverbs 17:17)  The truth is that usually the friend's hurt was not intentional.  The truth is that we are all sinners and we will hurt even those we love.  The truth is we need to show grace and grant forgiveness.  Surely, we need the grace and forgiveness, too. The truth is a friend loves at all times.  We are not to be fair-weather friends.  We need to give each other room to grow.  Determining not to react childishly, we will not take our toys and go home.

Adult girlfriends hurt each other, too.  Our bristly thorns rear their ugly heads and we wound each other.  Yet, as we anchor ourselves in His truth and love, we are able to weather storms of friendship and life together.  Praying.  Seeking His truth.  Asking for forgiveness.  Showing grace.  Trusting Him to nourish, heal, grow and restore friendships.  

Friendships truly are a precious gift from God.  I am blessed to have treasured friends who I believe love me with a pure heart and who pray for me sincerely.  With reverence for and thankfulness to Him, my heart is devoted to the friends He has given me.  One of the greatest privileges in friendship is seeing each other through the seasons of life ~ joy, pain, rejoicing, sorrow, laughter and tears.  We do this by being there, staying, being actively involved and not taking our toys, going home and isolating ourselves.

When I am wounded by a friend, I lay it at the Lord's feet and give Him my broken heart.  "What do You want me to learn from this?  Do You want to change something in me?  How can I love my friend at this time?"  The wounds of a friend can be trusted.  I trust God to use those wounds to bring life and healing.  I am not taking my toys and going home.  

When I wound a friend, I pray that I will always rush to them to ask for forgiveness.  My heart grieves during that temporary separation, but I am not taking my toys and going home.  I am standing firm, committed to loving that friend even as I bear the consequences of my hurtful actions.  I pray they know that the wounds can be trusted because He is using them.  How beautiful it is that God weaves friendships together and uses us as sanctification tools in each other's lives.  Faithful are the wounds of a friend.

Childhood friendships and adult friendships are quite the same.  Our choice is whether we respond to hurts in childish ways or in God-honoring, mature ways.  I am thankful that, when I hurt my friends, they do not gather their toys in their arms and leave me stranded.  They stay.  They pray.  They love.  They share their toys, their hearts, once again.  

When wounded, I don't want to put my hands on my hips and scuffle my way home with my toys to isolation.  Rather, I want to outstretch my arms to God, offer Him my heart and ask Him for grace to respond like a big girl.

So, let's play!  Toss the jax.  Here's the ball.  I'd like you to go first... 

"When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.   And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." 
1 Corinthians 13:11-13

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Unbound and Unharmed

 “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire,
unbound and unharmed,
and the fourth looks like the Son of God.”
Daniel 3:25

Only that which bound them was burned...and the smell of fire was not on them!

That is what moves me about the testimony of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah in Daniel chapter 3.  They went in the fire bound (verse 20) and came out of the fire in the presence of the Lord, unbound and loosed (verse 25).

That which binds us is burned in the presence of the Refiner.  We may feel the heat turned up more than usual, but as we abide in the Lord and dwell with Him, He allows the heat to loose us from that which binds us.  This leaves me in jaw-dropping silence.

"And [everyone] gathered together, and they saw these men on whose bodies the fire had no power; the hair of their head was not singed nor were their garments affected, and the smell of fire was not on them."  (verse 27)

The fire itself has no power over us...we will be completely untouched by it....we won't even smell like smoke!  In the midst of the fire, our hair will not even be singed.  Only that which binds us will be burned.  

Unbound.  Unharmed.  Loosed.  Free.

We might even get a promotion!  (verse 30)

These truths move my heart in hushed humility before the Lord.  How about you?   

“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any god except their own God!"
Daniel 3:28


Saying grace ~ Bringing my heart to God in prayer.

My Portion ~ Where Has God met me in His Word today?

Nourishment ~ How does God want to mold and change my heart?

Second Helpings ~ Where does God want me to be a doer of the Word and take action?

Time for Dessert ~ What can I share with others from what God showed me today?

"Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good;
Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!"
Psalm 34:8

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Worthy Words

“…if you utter worthy, not worthless, words,
you will be My spokesperson.”
Jeremiah 15:19 (NIV)

Worthy words. 


In this passage of scripture, God was urging Jeremiah to repent so that God could restore him and thus he could serve God again. This particular verse of God’s spoken word to Jeremiah really penetrates my heart. Worthy, valuable, precious words. Words that honor Him and words that are encouraging, founded in His truth and love. His love and truth give words their worth. 

Our God allows us to be His spokesperson. How humbling. In His wisdom, He
requires that, in order to be His spokesperson, our words must be worthy, not worthless. The King James Version says “precious” words. What an excellent, ageless standard He sets for us to maintain as His children in order that we could be His spokesperson.

A spokesperson is someone who represents you and your character well. As this verse resonates in my heart, I ask myself, “Are my words worthy and precious? Am I representing God well and with excellence? Am I allowing Him to mold me so I reflect His character? Am I keeping the bar raised to His standard such that I may be His spokesperson?”

In our home, our rule has been that our words should be based in truth, spoken in love, necessary and kind. Add to this that they must be worthy and precious. How often do I utter words that are worthless and hold no value for anyone? Oh, how I think of the words I have wasted.

If my words hold value and worth, they will reflect His character and minister His truth and grace to those around me. If I keep His standards and utter only worthy and precious words, He allows me to represent Him and be His spokesperson. What an awesome privilege and responsibility.

As we go through our days, may we allow our words, whether they be written, spoken or thought, to go through His filter of requiring worthy, precious words. If we have lowered the bar, let's raise it again to His standard. Let's humbly meet the challenge to utter only worthy words that represent Him well. We will be His spokesperson.

Faithful Father, by Your grace and in Your faithfulness, allow my words to be worthy and precious. May they be worthy such that I may be Your spokesperson and represent you with excellence. Thank You for Your standards and for Your promises. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”
Psalm 19:14

“The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life…”
Proverbs 10:11

“The lips of the righteous nourish many…”
Proverbs 10:21

“Let your conversation always be full of grace, seasoned with salt…”
Col. 4:6

“…the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace…”
Romans 8:6

Your Devotional Journal
Saying grace ~ Bringing my heart to God in prayer.

My Portion ~ Where Has God met me in His Word today?

Nourishment ~ How does God want to mold and change my heart?

Second Helpings ~ Where does God want me to be a doer of the Word and take action?

Time for Dessert ~ What can I share with others from what God showed me today?

"You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
and praise the name of the LORD your God,
Who has dealt wondrously with you..."
Joel 2:26

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Singing Through The Rain

Gabrielle ~ June 2012

"Jehoshaphat bowed with his face to the ground, and all the people of Judah and Jerusalem fell down in worship before the Lord.  Then some...stood up and praised the Lord, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice.  Early in the they set out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, 'Listen to me, Judah and people of Jerusalem! Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld; have faith in His prophets and you will be successful.' After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise Him for the splendor of His holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: 
'Give thanks to the Lord,
    for His love endures forever.'
As they began to sing and praise, the Lord...He [brought victory]." 

2 Chronicles 20

A few times a year where we live, especially during the spring and summer seasons, we have a "severe weather/tornado warning".  My kids know the drill when the warning sounds from the television:  quickly get your most valuable things and head to the basement playroom until the warning is over.  We all stay close together and, if the electricity hasn't gone out, we turn on The Weather Channel to watch updates on the unwelcome storm. 

Being the The Weather Channel meteorological geek that I am, I find storms fascinating.  As long as nobody is being harmed, I love watching weather miracles unfold. 

"He makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth;
    He sends lightning with the rain 

    and brings out the wind from His storehouses."

Psalm 135:7

It is quite different, however, when you find yourself seeking shelter from a storm. Frightened and feeling vulnerable, watching a storm and being in its path are two different things.  

My go-to passage when facing a storm or menacing enemy is 2 Chronicles 20.  Full of God's truth and His victory plan for battle, 2 Chronicles 20 reminds us to meet an approaching storm with prayer, fasting and praising the Lord in song.  I love that Jehoshaphat appointed a worship team to lead the people in song as they approached the vast army in front of them.  Hello life lesson.
"For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us.  
We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon You. ” 
2 Chronicles 20:12

Recently one evening upon hearing the storm/tornado warning on our television, my children and I went calmly but quickly into storm mode.  We grabbed our Bibles, the children's portrait above our fire place, our dog, a few of our favorite things and our electronic devices with chargers and headed to the basement.  Joshua and Gabrielle were frightened but knew what to do and handled the warning with great responsibility.  With pounding rain and clashes of lightning and thunder outside, Joshua and Gabrielle went to safe shelter in the basement.

Realizing I had left a flashlight upstairs, I ran back up to the kitchen.  Gabrielle shouted, "Mom, hurry up. I want you with me."  Taking a little longer than Gabrielle would have wanted me to, she snuggled up with her blanket, pillow, Bible and flashlight while I was still upstairs.  Assuring her that I'd be right down to snuggle with her, I heard her start to sing:

"Holy is the Lord God Almighty,
the earth is filled with His glory."

Her tender voice embraced me as I made my way down the stairs to the basement playroom.  With her blanket sweetly wrapped around her face and holding her Bible and flashlight in her hand, she sang praises to our Maker in the midst of the approaching storm.  

"We stand and lift up our hands, 
for the joy of the Lord is our strength.
We bow down and worship Him now,
how great, how awesome is He."

She knew.  Instinctively, Gabrielle's heart knew to sing to the Lord as "the vast army" approached...or in this case as a dangerous storm ruthlessly knocked on the door of our home.  Joshua and I sat down next to Gabrielle and we joined her in singing to the Lord as the thunder roared and the lightning lit up the night sky.

With a lump in my throat and tears streaming down my face, I quietly thanked the Lord for His faithfulness.  His children's battle plan is straightforward:  keeping our eyes on Him through prayer, fasting and praising Him in song.

Like it did that day for Jehoshaphat and God's people, our storm ended and we were able to dwell safely in our home. Psalm 107 shows us that, as we cry out to Him in our distress, He stills the storm to a whisper and He leads us to our desired haven.  God is our Defender (2 Chronicles 20:29), who He gives us peace and rest on every side.  (2 Chronicles 20:30)

Gabrielle reminded her mommy to sing praises to Jesus in the midst of life's storms.  Aside from Christ, we have no power to face a storm.  Not knowing what to do in and of ourselves, we keep our eyes are fixed on Him in prayer, fasting and praise.

Then they cried out to the 
Lord in their trouble,
    and He brought them out of their distress. 
He stilled the storm to a whisper;

    the waves of the sea were hushed. 
They were glad when it grew calm,

    and He guided them to their desired haven.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love 

    and His wonderful deeds for men.

Psalm 107:28-31