We had a big change in plans, and I was going to be gone a lot in the coming months. Also there were travel details that needed to be tended to immediately, plus I had texts and emails I needed to respond to. Did I mention I didn’t get enough sleep last night? My chest tightened and my pulse raced. The irrational thought of, “NO! It’s too much!” repeated in my mind and my stomach flipped then flopped. I’ve heard a million times, “to hold every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5).” Are you familiar with this Bible verse? I believe it’s a great strategy, but often oversimplified. Just telling these thoughts not to exist, just holding them tight and not letting them spiral is a start, but not usually enough to bring me back to God’s beautiful reality.
I tried dismissing the anxious thoughts while answering an email. I tried pushing them to the back of my head while tending to the details. But putting these thoughts in a cage wasn’t getting it. Because I could still see them there, pacing around behind the bars, taunting me. I felt a nudge to spend time in prayer, but dismissed it. I got the nudge again, this time obeyed, and plopped myself on my fluffy gray prayer pillow.
I started talking to Jesus about the whole thing.
Why do I feel this way? These are all good opportunities. They aren’t too expensive or too far or too much, but they feel like it and also like way more than I can handle. Everything feels like too much. Like it’s out of control, and I want it to stop.
My heartbeat quickened as I relayed this all to God.
It’s a control thing, God pointed out.
Right. I really prefer to be in control.
You were never in control, Jesus reminded me. I promise, you think you want to be, but you don’t really. It’s so much better that I’m the one keeping the planets in orbit and your heart beating.
Jesus and I talked like that for a while. He directed our conversation, so I could see what was happening and why. He showed me why my thoughts took this turn, then reminded me of ways He’d been there for me in the past and of how much He loved me. Jesus planted the words trust and release in my mind.
Trust and release. The words echoed in my head. I meditated on them. It made me picture myself spreading out my arms and falling backward into a pool, Nestea plunge style, fully trusting that the water would be there, that no one would substitute cement for water while I had my back turned, that I would land in a refreshing, silly splash, laughing. Then I imagined another scenario, me in a boat, just along for the ride. Blue water beneath me, a sunset ahead. Beautiful. But I wasn’t driving. I wasn’t in control. And that was just fine. It was wonderful actually.
Trust and release.
After a bit I stood up, feeling so much more peaceful. Completely different than when I’d entered.
I still had the same things I needed to do. My plans had still changed, but now I viewed these changes as opportunities instead of obstacles. As things God had in store for me instead of things I was losing. My pulse was normal. My stomach calm. All because I prayed.
Holding our thoughts captive doesn’t just mean putting them in a box on a shelf. It means handcuffing those negative, angry, stressed out, worried, frightened, or hopeless thoughts before they start upending everything in sight then turning them over to Jesus so He can take care of them. We don’t have to try and dismantle those thoughts by ourselves. We also don’t need “prayer pillows,” I just really like mine :). We can ask Jesus to step in. And He always will.
This is where reading the verses around “hold every thought captive” helps me out. The Apostle Paul doesn’t instruct the church in Corinth to push bad or harmful thoughts aside. He starts by telling the Corinthians, For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 2 Corinthians 10:3-4
Paul says in this world we’ll have some wacky thoughts bombard us.
He says it’s a battle to take those thoughts down.
But Paul reminds us not to freak out, because we can tap into God’s divine power to tear down lies of culture, the enemy, and even the lies we tell ourselves. Whew!
Just saying, “bye, bye bad thought,” might work sometimes, but that usually just delays when that thought bothers me instead of getting rid of it altogether. Recognizing a thought is bad, untrue, or toxic is an awesome first step. But then it helps so much to grab that yucky thought and intentionally hand it over to Jesus, asking Him to use His power to help us untangle it. The Message translation of this verse says, “Our tools are ready at hand.” Let’s use them!
Life is fast and expectations, situations, and opinions fly at us and our gut reaction is to grab the things we like or want and swat away the things we don’t want. But the beauty of life with Jesus is we don’t have to do anything alone. We have an all-powerful, all-loving Savior who is on our side. We can take each harmful thought and hand it over to Him. We can ask Jesus to help us see this opinion or roadblock or overload or slow down or speed up through His eyes. Where are the blessings here? What can we be doing? What is the truth of the situation? Who can help? And in our conversations with Jesus, He’ll calm, empower, and direct us. He’ll flood us with love and joy and peace. Our thoughts will turn from negative or scary or prideful to thoughts much more like His of kindness, goodness, and grace.
I don’t know what thoughts you’re fighting today. Thoughts of not having enough time, energy, answers, resources, of not being enough. Maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe you’re having thoughts that you’re too much, the expectations on you are too much, the stress is too much, the expenses too high. But Jesus wants to help you sort through all these thoughts. He wants to show you what’s true about yourself–He loves you. And your situation–He’s with you and fighting for your good. Release your worries to Him. Trust Him with your future.
He is the Prince of Peace. And He’s on your side.
Thumbs Up? Or Thumbs Down?
There’s a road I travel that has one of those speeding signs that posts the speed limit and shows how fast you’re going as you drive by. This one has an extra feature I haven’t seen anywhere else–a thumbs up or thumbs down. The first time I drove past, a giant thumbs up lit up. I immediately grinned, kind of nodding my head, like, that’s right, I got the thumbs up.
Approval. It’s one of our biggest human desires. It’s why all the Apps are designed as they are, to give us little hits of approval and achievement as we go, to keep us scrolling, playing, and clicking away.
I do want approval for lots of things, but mainly, I want Jesus’ approval for how I live my life. And not in an earning points kind of way, like if I volunteer or attend Bible study I’ll get extra stickers on my Jesus chart. He doesn’t look at us like that. No, in a, “Jesus I want to seek you first. I want to follow You, because You always know what’s best and Your ways are better,” way. I want His thumbs up--you can do this. And if it's not the right thing for me, I want His thumbs down, so I don't step into anything that's not where I can best serve Him. We don't need one of these wacky signs to get Jesus' opinion, we just need to ask Him.
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:33
My husband and I are both trying to figure some things out. There are pros and cons no matter what either of us decide. Brett and I both want to do God’s will. So how do we decide if we should move forward or hold back, say yes, or no, speed up or slow down?
We talk to Jesus about it.
It usually happens like this. Brett and I are on a walk or sitting on our porch talking, and as we’re processing we share a decision we’re trying to make, that it’s been in the back of our mind for an hour or day or week and we haven’t put much focus on it. But now that we’re talking…hmmm. One of us tells the other we’ll be praying for their decision, and then we usually just start praying out loud, because why would we wait? And then we’ll both keep praying for our own decisions and the other person’s decisions in our personal prayer times.
Because Jesus asks us to seek His kingdom first (Matthew 6:33). To follow Him (John 8:12). To listen to His voice (John 10:27). And when we do, He promises us all kinds of good things, an abundant life (John 10:10), the light of life. Which is way better than a thumbs up.
Asking Jesus is the first step, then we need to actually look at the signs, not the kinds that light up on the road, but the signs God gives us. Is He giving us a thumbs up or down? How do you know?
Read the Bible and keep your eyes open for something that speaks to your question (Not sure where to start in reading the Bible? I have a free guide here). Have someone who loves both Jesus and you be praying for you and your decision. Ask them to let you know if they hear anything. Be alert to the things around you–a song you hear, a conversation with a friend, something you read, a podcast you listen to–that confirms what you should do one way or the other. I’ll often get a tug in my heart. Sometimes it’s an almost sick feeling, a nope, that is not a good idea feeling. Thumbs down. Other times it’s a yearning, an ache, like I really need to do that thing. Thumbs up.
God has all kinds of amazing things in store for us. He will guide us to what and when they are if we ask Him.
I find I rarely get answers as quickly as I’d like, but I always do get answers from God. During the waiting we can prepare for the answer.
Trying to figure out if you should switch jobs? You could update your resume and Linked In profile and see who’s hiring in your line of work while you’re seeking an answer from the Lord. Wondering if you should move? You could search homes in the area you’re considering moving to and talk to anyone you might know in that town. Trying to decide if you should take some classes in something you’re passionate about. Check out which classes are available. When? How much do they cost?
And when the time is right, Jesus will let us know if it’s time to slow down, drop that idea all together, or speed up. He wants what’s best for us, so He’ll show us the way.
What are you seeking God’s direction on? Leave a comment. I’d love to pray for your discernment. And if this spoke to you, share with a friend :)
Don’t forget to seek answers in God’s Living Word, the Bible. Here’s a FREE guide to get you started.
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Yesterday I was able to drive to Asbury University where a spontaneous revival has been taking place for the last nine days. Basically, a weekly student chapel service from Wednesday, February 8 still hasn’t ended. I mean it was “over,” but students stayed and prayed and worshiped and confessed and were healed and were saved and the University canceled classes, and students kept coming back, and other people joined in and it’s still going on. You can read more about how it started here. We saw license plates from Wisconsin, Montana, Florida, Texas, and everywhere in between as we tried to find a place in the small Kentucky town to park our car. Senior citizens, babies, college kids, people my age, brown people, black people, white people, all gathered to worship Jesus. My emotions are currently high and my thoughts are still swirling. I think it will take me several days to fully process what I experienced. (I’m jotting this all down so quickly, please forgive me for typos.) But these are my two biggest takeaways for now:
1. God is on the move.
Are you familiar with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis? In the book the land of Narnia has been cursed by a wicked queen who has made it always winter but never Christmas. Then, seemingly out of nowhere ice starts to melt. Flowers begin to bud. Frozen rivers start to flow. And the Narnians whisper to one another, “Aslan is on the move.” And it fills them with such hope. Aslan, who represents Christ in the allegory, is alive and well and moving. This changes everything.
And in our world where there is pain, suffering, racism, disease, loss, loneliness, and hate the whisper of “God is on the move,” brings me so very much hope. And He is on the move. It was so apparent as hundreds of people from all over the country lined up outside this campus chapel hoping to get in, hoping to catch a glimpse of God’s glory, feel His presence, experience His grace. It was apparent that God was on the move as strangers standing in line prayed over one another. It was obvious that God was on the move as the people who filled four buildings (the chapel was over capacity and these other three buildings served as overflow) sang, “God I need you.” And, “How He loves us!” And, “Is anyone worthy? He is!”
Yes, God is on the move. And what a beautiful, powerful, hope-filled thing that is.
2. Come and see.
When a man named Philip found his friend Nathanael he told him, “We have found the man the prophets wrote about–Jesus.” Nathanael was skeptical, so Philip invited him, “Come and see.”
On the very first Easter morning Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to the tomb where Jesus had been buried with spices. Suddenly there was an earthquake, the giant stone was rolled away from the tomb entrance, and an angel appeared.
Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying.” –Matthew 28:5-6
Come and see. Come and see. Come and see.
It’s the words I kept hearing Jesus whisper to me when I first heard about what was going on at Asbury last week. It’s what I heard Jesus repeat to me when my twenty-one year old son told me he had gone to the campus. It’s the words I felt as I watched all these people yesterday from all walks and stations of life flooding to Hughes Auditorium on Asbury University’s campus in Wilmore, Kentucky. I heard Christ’s invitation. And I saw His people responding. They all came to see.
If you’re curious about what revival is or what’s going on at Asbury, I invite you to go and see what it’s all about for yourself.
If you’re skeptical, if you aren’t sure about Jesus, if you’ve heard conflicting ideas about Christianity, if you’re intrigued, if you’re not sure what to believe, I invite you to come and see.
These things I know:
Jesus changed my life. I have never felt a love that compares with His love. Jesus said He came so that you and I can have an abundant life. There is nothing you've done that is too big for Him to forgive. Jesus said the two most important things we can do are to love Him and love each other. That’s who He is and what He wants for us–abundance and love.
But don’t take my word for it. Come to Him. Ask Him questions. Yell at Him if you need to. He can take it. He’s God and He knows why you’re upset. Weep with Him. Collapse into His arms. Tiptoe toward Him or sprint toward Him. But come to Him and see for yourself what unfailing love and amazing grace look like.
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I was on a run, almost at the end, when God nudged me to go spend a few minutes in the bird blind adjacent to the trail. Which seemed weird, because I had less than a half mile left, it was freezing outside, and although I’d been in the fenced off sanctuary designed to view birds, I pass it frequently and rarely enter. But I felt pulled. So I ran off the trail and unlatched the gate.
I had no idea what God had in store for me here. But I felt like there was something, so I sat on the bench behind the wooden wall “blind” to the birds, but able to see them through the slats. And in two minutes I saw redhawks, cardinals, a blue jay, a goldfinch, a purple finch, and several other birds I couldn’t identify darting about and eating from the bird feeders. They were an actual rainbow of feathers feasting on seed someone smarter and kinder than them regularly puts out for them.
I was dazzled by their colors, but also by Jesus’ words coming to life right before my eyes, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”--Matthew 6:26
I have a lot of things I’m praying for and waiting for right now. Things that I don’t know how they’re going to turn out, what next steps are, how all the pieces will fit. And yet, God was reminding me, “Laura, look. You don’t have to worry. I will provide. In fact, you can flit around like these birds completely carefree, enjoying themselves and the feast in front of them. See these birds.” I felt God kind of tapping me on the knee, making sure I was paying attention. “I 100% care for them. But you, you are infinitely more valuable to me than these birds. I’ve got you.”
I bet you have things you’re praying for, situations you don’t know the endings to or even the middles to, as well. But Jesus tells us, “No need to worry. I love you. And I’ll provide for you. Everything you need. You mean the world to me.”
I love how this verse is translated in the Message:
Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.
Jesus invites us into this free and unfettered life. One without cares, because we know God cares for us. Sound inviting? It’s available 24/7 with no cost of admission. All we have to do is follow Jesus.
Sure, we still have responsibilities. We need to send the emails, go to the appointments, take care of ourselves, do the prep, put in the time. We’re still entrusted to do the good work God has put in front of us. Those beautiful birds I saw all had to fly to the bird blind, land on the feeders, and grab the seeds with their beaks. But they had zero worries that those feeders would be full. We can follow suit. Go where God sends us (even if that’s a bird blind), action what He calls us to do, and trust in His abundant provision, allowing us to live as carefree as birds.
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You Need A Filter
Today my dear friend, author, and Bible teacher Alli Patterson is on the blog talking about why we need a filter for all the noise and voices we hear each day.
A country song played in my car one day. It was about what all country songs are about-- heartbreak and whiskey. My youngest daughter piped up after it ended; “I don’t like that song, Mom. I don’t think God wants us using alcohol to solve problems.” Her sister gave me a huge eye roll at her overly serious reaction, but I was delighted. She had a filter in place for the words coming at her and rejected what got stuck in it.
When you think about “having a filter” you probably think about the words coming out of your mouth. We all have that one friend who says absolutely anything that passes through their mind. However, the much more important filter is the one for the words coming in. The words you let in have the power to alter your life. You need a filter in place for those.
Life is full of words; your phone, social media, books, friends, family, even in your own mind. Some words you hear are empty calories at best. Some need spit out altogether, even if they come with the sweet taste of your best friend or your favorite influencer. You can’t listen to all the words in the same way. Instead: you need to hear like a cow eats. Yep, a cow. The cow’s first (of four!) stomach is like a storage bin to hold what comes in until the cow sorts it out through chewing, digesting and - if necessary - spitting things out. Cows take in an unbelievable amount of food but only digest what they really need. You need something to sort out all these words, so you can follow the Lord towards a thriving life in and around you.
Jesus said, “The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life” (John 6:63). If you want the life God has for you, you need to be filled with his words and let them act as a filter for anything else that wants in. The words that bring health and life will be in-sync with the attitudes, actions, and authority of the Word of God. As you spend time reading and hearing scripture, your filter will begin to catch the words around you that are inconsistent with His voice, love and direction for you. You will also leave space for God’s words to resound in your mind and heart as timely wisdom in your real life. All words are not the same, so get that filter in place with three simple things:
If you want to learn more about how to adopt these practices and build a faith that can stand firm, get my new book called How to Stay Standing; 3 Essential Practices for Building a Faith that Lasts. Chapters 5-7 dive in deep about practices you need in your life to hear the voice of God…because these are the only words that will be standing in the end.
Your word, Lord, is eternal;
it stands firm in the heavens. Psalm 119:89
My Favorite Reads of 2022
I made some progress in my to-read stack this year, but every time I took one book off, more seemed to multiply in its place. Which is wonderful, because bring on ALL the books! I usually give you my “best” books in a couple of categories each January, but it’s so hard to pick “best” when there are so many grand books. So this year, I’m just going to share some of my favorites.
I discovered a new author, Clare Pooley. Her writing is honest and authentic. My daughter loaned me her copy of The Authenticity Project, which I devoured and loved so much I went on to read Pooley’s other novel Iona Iverson’s Rules of Commuting. It was so good I bought a copy for my girl. Both books give glimpses of a variety of individual’s lives that collide under a set of unusual circumstances. Their interactions remind us that everyone has value and deserves to be seen, and that first impressions don’t tell the real story.
I dove into Charles Martin’s third book in his Murphy Shepherd series, The Record Keeper. I raved about the first two last year here ). The Record Keeper was. So. Good. In this trilogy Martin exposes the detestable sex trafficking industry throughout the plot raising awareness of the heinous crimes being committed against young people. But it is the journeys of healing the characters travel that are the gold nuggets here. They remind us that there is hope and redemption for us all. Read these books starting with #1. Allow the stories to roll over you. Breathe them in and believe that the healing grace offered the characters is available for you, too. Because it is.
I'm trying to broaden my Midwestern white girl perspective. Two books that helped this year were I Take My Coffee Black by Tyler Merritt and Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
The social justice work Bryan Stevenson does and shares in Just Mercy is beautiful, hard, life-changing work. As Rosa Parks told Bryan when they met, "You're going to be tired, tired tired. So you're going to need to be brave, brave, brave."
I learned so much about systemic racism, the prison system, death row, and humanity on these pages. Bryan is so bravely loving His neighbors, taking back ground for God's kingdom, and saving and changing people's lives (Just Mercy is also a powerful movie).
Tyler Merritt is funny, smart, creative, full of faith and warm-hearted. He weaves important, historical information on systemic racism throughout his personal narrative. Merritt honestly steps into hard life situations, but always bounces back to the love and grace of Jesus. Tyler also loves all things Hamilton and almost every genre of music, which is an added bonus. For a glimpse of Tyler’s work watch his YouTube video, “If Only She Knew”
As usual, this year I spent a lot of time reading my favorite book–the Bible. I mostly hung out in the Old Testament (with extra time in the Psalms) but also had an extended stay in Ephesians, plus frequent dips into the Gospels. I read books on faith and Jesus and the Bible. I absolutely loved Shauna Niequist’s I Guess I Haven’t Learned that Yet. I read more World War II Historical Fiction set in France, like Jacqueline in Paris by Ann Mah, because, please, I cannot resist. I also enjoyed a couple of fun romances by Betsy St. Amant like All’s Fair in Love and Cupcakes, because I have a sweet tooth for romance. You can find my reviews on everything I remembered to review on my Goodreads profile.
Other favorites of the year?
Music wise, I listened to Lion by Elevation Worship on repeat. Shows? Our family discovered a new series on Disney Plus, National Treasure: Edge of History we’re all enjoying. My favorite movies of the year were Redeeming Love, the film adaptation of Francine Rivers’ novel about the book of Hosea and ultimately God’s love for each of us, and Top Gun: Maverick, the follow up to the 80’s classic, full of fighting for what’s good and right, never leaving your wing man, plus a little romance sprinkled in. I also got new running shoes–I switched to Hokas and this running girl’s knees are so thankful! And last but not least, my mom got me to try a new mascara. Thrive, which goes on and off differently than any mascara I’ve ever tried, was super weird at first, and now I’m in love. Plus Thrive Causemetics donates money to great causes to help people suffering from domestic abuse, homelessness, cancer, etc. with every purchase. Win win.
How about you? What books, music, shoes, new things did you discover in 2022? What’s on your reading list for 2023? Leave a comment–I’m always looking for more books to add to my stack.
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Word of the Year
At the beginning of 2022 God placed a word on my heart to focus on throughout the year–JOY. It was interesting to me, because I believe most people would describe me as a joyful person. I’m definitely a glass half full kind of girl. But sometimes, I struggle to fully accept the joy Jesus offers me, as if there is a limit to the joy I am entitled to, and I don’t dare exceed that limit. Do you ever feel that way?
Jesus said He came so we can have an abundant life (John 10:10). And we’re instructed by the Apostle Paul to, “Rejoice! Again I say rejoice! (Philippians 4:4).” Turns out we’re not only allowed, but encouraged to dip our toes in the joy pool.
To remind myself, I wrote out Nehemiah 8:10 at the top of my calendar page each week of 2022, “The JOY of the Lord is my strength.” It centered me, reminding me that Jesus had joy for me, more than I could imagine, joy I should be jumping into, not just taking what I thought would suffice.
And so, because Jesus is Jesus, He kept reminding me throughout the year. A reader sent me the most adorable card with JOY on the front. My kiddos stopped in a boutique that had sticky notes with Bible verses on them. The shop owner encouraged them to take one. They selected one to bring home to me with Psalm 16:11 on it. I’d just written a book on the Psalms (you can find it here), and specifically a chapter about this Psalm. It’s all about God’s protection. But even in my studying and actual writing of that chapter on Psalm 16 I’d never paid attention to the word JOY smack in the middle of it. In Your presence is fullness of JOY. Not a little joy, not enough joy, but full-on, ridiculous amounts of JOY. This is what Jesus wants for us, not just for me, for all of us.
Over the summer God gave me more meaning to this word. I was given a wonderful opportunity, but full disclosure, I was afraid to step into it. And as I was planning a new week and writing this verse once again at the top of my planner–it hit me in a fresh way. The joy of the LORD is my strength. God’s joy is what gives me the strength to do the things He puts in front of me. We don’t have to be strong enough. Because God’s joy steps in and becomes our strength. Wow! That whole thought process really blew me away.
As the year came to an end, God used this verse one more way for me. Someone told me my joy was, wait for it, MY strength. I almost fell out of my chair. The joy of the Lord is MY strength. And I, Laura Smith, am fueled by the joy Jesus gives me. I love that. I can think of no other strength I’d rather have.
One word. Three ways it impacted me this year.
What I’m trying to say is the Bible is dang powerful. I enjoy reading every single page. Reading the entirety of the story of Jesus’s redemption and love for us that flows from Genesis all the way to Revelation is powerful. But even one tiny verse can power punch through an entire year. The Bible is alive and active. I’m not sure what word or verse God is going to give me for 2023, but I can’t wait to see how He’s going to use it!
You? Do you have a word, phrase, or verse for 2023? Any good stories of how God used a word or verse in your life last year? Share in the comments so we can marvel together at God’s word and His work in our lives.
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What Does Jesus Want?
An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. Luke 2:9-11
If you’ve ever attended a Christmas Eve service or watched A Charlie Brown Christmas you’ve heard this verse before. The night that Jesus came down from heaven where He had been living since the beginning of time with God the Father and the Holy Spirit this is how it was announced. By an angel. An angel surrounded by the glory of the Lord. Imagine the sky lighting up in the middle of a night without fireworks or a full moon–a wild, crazy, magnificent light that makes your jaw drop open and your knees shake. A lot.
And this announcement didn’t come to the government or royalty or priests or religious scholars. It didn’t come during an election, at a concert, or during a holiday or at the temple. The good news that the Israelites had been praying for and hoping for for centuries –that the Messiah had finally come to save them–was given to a group of shepherds, considered uneducated and unclean, working the night shift in a field with smelly animals.
Here are the bullet points of the news story:
This is the first thing humans besides Jesus’ very own parents, Mary and Joseph, heard about Jesus. This is why Jesus came. This is what Jesus wants. To calm our fears and worries when there are so many things we’re worried about, when anxiety is running rampant. To give us good news in a world where it’s hard and heartbreaking to watch or read the news. To bring us joy, no matter what we’re going through or what our circumstances are or how sad we feel or how deep our depression is. Because this joy is for ALL people, which certainly includes you and me.
Christmas is in three days.
Maybe you’ve checked everything off your list and all that’s left to do is celebrate with people you love. Maybe the people you love aren’t around this year and that’s harder than you knew it would be. Maybe they’re around, but you still need to shop for a few of them and bake for a few others and send one more package and eight more cards and wrap everything. Maybe your bank account or your energy is depleted. Maybe you cannot wait for a new year, a new start, a new situation.
But you guys? There is a loving peace that will calm all our fears, fill us with such incredible goodness, and flood us with joy. His name is Jesus. And He left everything–His throne in heaven with all its glory and privilege–out of love for you and me. He suffered on the cross so that our suffering would end. He rose from the grave, so that we, too, could rise from the things that have nearly killed us.
That’s good news. We don’t have to be afraid of anything. Joy is waiting for us.
The shepherds took the angel up on the invitation to go and find Jesus. The Bible tells us they “hurried off” to find the baby. And once the shepherds had seen him, a baby born in an animals’ feeding trough in a cave, they were so amazed they went around and told everyone what they’d seen and heard. The shepherds didn’t doubt because Mary and Joseph and the setting of it all weren’t what they’d expected. They didn’t doubt when their circumstances didn’t change. Because their lives were changed. Their hearts were changed. The angel was right. This was good news–the best news. The shepherds weren’t afraid any more. They were filled with joy. And they wanted everyone to know that they could experience this too.
Now, it’s up to us. We can stay where we are. Or we can look for Jesus. When we do, we always find joy, peace, love and light. What are we waiting for?
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Does someone you care about struggle with their mental health (maybe even you)? If so, how can you help?
Seeking help from a mental health professional is always the best and most important first step. But you can make a difference right now. Where should you start?
1. Take care of their physical needs. Our mental health wobbles when we’re not taking care of ourselves, so basic self care is a great place to start. Are they eating enough? Sleeping enough? Moving their bodies? Are they staying hydrated?
If not, help out how you can. Bring the person you care about a charcuterie tray or a meal or take them out to one of their favorite restaurants. Deliver a goodie bag of their favorite hydrating beverages–La Croix or some other flavored fizzy water or a box of their favorite tea with a jar of local honey. Invite them on a walk or a bike ride or to kick the soccer ball around with you (it is World Cup season, after all). Suggest they get some sleep–go to bed early, take a nap, etc.
Jesus did this. He fed crowds (John 6:5-13). He made sure the disciples were eating and resting (Mark 6:31). He cared about the people around Him and their basic needs. We can too.
2. Be a calming presence. Lean back, breathe deeply and slowly, speak in a calm voice, light a candle, or play some soft music. We live in a loud, hurried world. Show the person you love what peace looks like–that it is available.
Jesus calmed the storms at sea, showing the disciples peace was accessible to them even when they least expected it (Mark 4:35-41). We can also offer the people we care about a glimpse of calm.
3. Check in. When we’re alone is when our thoughts tend to spiral. We worry about the what ifs instead of focusing on the now. When we’re alone is when Satan loves to slither in and whisper lies to us. Make sure you’re not alone and the people you care about aren’t alone, that they have someone to talk to. Remind them that they are seen. That they matter.
Jesus made sure the disciples traveled in pairs, not solo (Luke 10:1). Jesus approached people no one else would consider speaking to or even getting near. He didn't want them to feel isolated (John 4:7-27, Matthew 8:1-3). From the get go God knew it wasn't good for people to be alone (Genesis 2:18). We can follow Jesus’ lead and send the text, better yet make the call, even better knock on and open doors to make sure the people we care about are doing okay. If you’re worried about someone’s safety, seek professional help immediately.
4. Pray. There’s just nothing like prayer. The God of the Universe, the Creator of All Things is just waiting for you to talk to Him. He loves you and every single person on earth so very much. He created us all. He died for us all. He cares about our mental health. Jesus wants to flood us with hope, joy, and peace. When we talk to Jesus, it sets things in motion. Prayer costs nothing. It doesn’t require any knowledge or skill set. All you have to do is start telling Jesus what’s on your mind.
Peter, one of Jesus’ very best friends, tells us: “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7). Peter saw first hand that Jesus cares so much about you and me, that we can hand over all our troubles and fears and concerns to Him. Ask Jesus to help the people you love(and yourself) with their mental health. I’ll get us started: Dear Jesus, please flood me and ______ with your peace, hope, and love.
5. Grab them a copy of my new book, 5 MInute Devotions for Teens: A Guide to God and Mental Health
It releases one week from today! I wrote this book as a way for people to quickly connect with Jesus, and in doing so, also care for their mental health. The short devotions are catered to teens, but early readers are saying, “It’s great for ALL ages, even adults.” Each page has a Bible verse, devotion, and prayer or activity. These books make great stocking stuffers for kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews, anyone you love. Maybe even sneak an extra in your own stocking.
It’s amazing how many scientific tips for caring for our mental health are Biblical. Jesus loves us so much. He always has our best interest in mind, and cares so much about our mental health. Praying for you, for your mental health, and for the mental health of those you love.
When I was a little girl I wanted to be Wonder Woman, gold bracelets and all. She was amazing–smart, resourceful, brave, and powerful. These days as I watch Marvel movies with my son I admire the strength and courage of Black Widow and Captain Marvel. Those ladies are cool. It’s the same idea. These women have super powers that make them strong and confident, that enable them to take down whatever bad things come their way. But here’s the thing.
So do you and I.
Our super powers make us mightier than any superhero. We have the power of the Holy Spirit living in us. And that power isn’t timid. It can’t just do little things. It is w-i-l-d! The Bible tries to explain the power of the Holy Spirit over and over.
Like here in the Old Testament:
She is clothed with strength and dignity,
and she laughs without fear of the future. Proverbs 31:25
You and I can laugh without fear of the future. Not because we’re indifferent, or don’t care, but because we know we have the power of Jesus in us. Whatever we’re facing, whatever comes our way, we don’t have to be afraid of it. We have a strength that comes not from deep within ourselves, but from the God of the universe. We can say what needs to be said, battle the bad, and fight for cures. We never have to stoop to talking behind someone’s back or making someone else feel small. We can stand strong with dignity. Once again, not because that’s easy. Because dang it’s hard to bite my tongue sometimes. But because the power of the Holy Spirit lives in us and if we tap into it, we can garner up the self control to walk in dignity while taking down the villains.
And here in the New Testament where Paul prays that we may know:
His (God’s) incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. Ephesians 1:18-21
Wait a second. That was a mouthful and I don’t want us to miss anything. Let’s take a deeper look. The power that God put in us is incomparable. So whoever you consider powerful–a world leader, a professional athlete, a CEO– the power in you is more than theirs. Beyond compare. So whoever or whatever makes you uncomfortable, is being unkind, is making things difficult–they are no match for the power of the Holy Spirit living in you.
Next, this verse says the power in you and me is the same mighty strength that raised Jesus from the dead and put Him on the throne above everything–every power and authority, every moment in time. This power lives in me and you. Raised from the dead power!!! Authoritative power! Royal power! We are so freaking mighty!
But I don’t always act like it.
There are days and situations when I’ll think to myself:
This conversation is going to be hard.
What if I do it wrong?
What if I don’t have enough time to get it done?
What if it doesn’t work?
I don’t want to say the wrong thing.
What if I’m a nuisance?
What if they think I’m crazy?
How can I avoid this uncomfortable situation?
This feels like a lot of work, a lot of steps, like something I’ve never done before.
I don’t even know where to start.
And in that moment, where our inner critic, and sometimes the enemy, tries to tell us we’re not enough, not competent, not connected, not capable, we have a choice. We can cower or avoid or blame or pick up our phones to distract ourselves from even thinking about our struggle. Or, we can tap into the Holy Spirit. Hold our heads up high. Take the first step. Stand up for what’s right. Tell someone we don’t appreciate their derogatory comments. Walk through the door. Walk out the door. Take a deep breath. Apologize. Tell the truth, even if it makes us look less than spectacular. Make the call. Send the proposal or resume. Try one more time.
You don’t need a gold lasso or an invisible jet. You and me–our super power is a gift from the Creator of everything. Our power can be as gentle as a lamb or as fierce as a lion. It can feel like inner peace or a whipping wind. It’s there. Ready to use when the evil of the world comes our way. To protect the innocent (sometimes that’s us), seek truth and justice, fight the good fight, do things for God’s glory, and put things right.
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Laura L. Smith