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
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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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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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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What does it mean to love God? Because Jesus tells us the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind (Matthew 22:37), so therefore it seems fairly important.
I think it’s the same as to love anyone else we love.
Think about someone you love–like your sister or best friend or spouse or parent or child–someone you would do just about anything for. Think of all the things loving them means to you. This is how we are supposed to love God.
I think of my kids–I love spending time with them. If one of them says, “Hey, want to sit with me on the porch while I eat lunch?” Or “I’m running to the store, do you want to come with me?” If at all humanly possible I answer, “Yes!” Because being with them brings me great joy. Whether that’s just running errands or sharing a meal or a lovely adventure at a show, museum, restaurant, whatever. It’s the same with Jesus. I want to spend time with Him. I really look forward to spending time with Jesus in both the big events and the everyday occurrences.
And my mom? I really want to know what she has to say. I want to lean in close when she speaks. I want to hear about her childhood, and the cookout she went to last night at her neighbor’s and her doctor’s appointment and her tennis match. I learn so much from her about how to love others and enjoy life and be positive. I also just get a kick out of hearing her stories. The same is true with Jesus. I want to hear what He has to say about everything. I look forward to opening my Bible and seeing what He did, with who, and what He said to them. I’m eager to learn from all the things He thought were important enough to put in His living word, the Bible.
I also want to share things with the people I love. I want to share everything with my husband. I want to tell Him about what I’m reading and this idea I have for a chapter I’m writing and who I saw at the grocery. I want to tell Him about my dreams and concerns and hopes and the thing I saw on social media that made me giggle. I want to do the same with Jesus–tell Him what’s on my mind, what I’m experiencing, where I’m really excited and where I’m really struggling. I trust Him with my heart and my emotions, with all the things.
Humans, although amazing, are sometimes hard to love, because we’re unreliable and moody and we mess up. I know I do. But Jesus is easy to love, because He’s dependable and constant and never makes mistakes. He always wants what’s best for us. God is filled with unfailing love and faithfulness (Exodus 34:6, John 1:14). He loves us perfectly and faithfully. Which makes me want to hang out with Him and listen to Him and tell Him what’s on my heart.
Loving God is like loving anyone else. Only better. Because the way He loves us back is bigger than we can hope or imagine love could ever be.
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I feel the change in the air, the sweet scent of leaves mingled with a crispness signaling the cooler temperatures. And I see it all around me, too. Golden sunflowers and vibrant yellow mums. Bright orange pumpkins. Leaves morphing from green to scarlet. Autumn wreaths and pumpkin decorations on neighbor’s doors and local stores. And I taste it. In the crunchy apples from the farmers market bursting with flavor and pumpkin spice everything from lip gloss to lattes.
But I feel it differently, too. Not just in the air and the inner call to pull out a cozy sweater, but in my heart, in my soul. There is a change in the air, because God is on the move and He has something new for us this fall, for you and for me. Something good. No matter what your circumstances.
What is it? That’s probably different for all of us.
How do we detect it?
By spending time with Jesus.
What does that look like?
Make a List
What do you want to do this fall? What do you need to do this fall? What are you excited about? Worried about? Big things and little things. Are you starting a podcast or beginning chemo? Moving across the country or moving your body more? Painting a room or a downtown mural? Or trying some new routines or routes or recipes? Is there someone or something that makes you so happy or that’s heavy on your heart? Write it ALL down.
Open your Bible.
The Bible is God’s Living Word. It’s Him speaking to us today, even though it was written ages ago. How does that work? Well, God is God so He can do things like that. When we read the Bible, God reveals things to us. Broad ideas about who He is (loving, faithful, powerful, kind). And also, the Living Word speaks directly to our current situations. God uses what’s there on the pages to enlighten, lead, encourage, heal, and strengthen us today in all those things we wrote on our fall lists.
Talk to Jesus
Jesus loves you and wants you to come to Him with your emotions, ideas, concerns, fears, and excitement. Anything and everything that’s on your mind, that you wrote on your list, and the things that you couldn’t even bring yourself to write you can bring to Him, just like you can tell the person you trust most in the world, only better. Jesus said, “For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. (John 12:47) ” He’s not judging you. He wants to save you.
What were the goals and concerns on your list? Take them to Jesus! Are you annoyed with someone at work or school? Struggling with your physical or mental health? Have a new schedule or situation that has you feeling uncertain? Talk to Jesus about it. Are you so proud of your kid or excited about your promotion or just so dang happy you get to wear your favorite pair of boots again? Share it with Jesus! He also wants to laugh and celebrate with you. Do you have a new project or idea or roommate? Are you teaching or taking a class? Talk to Jesus about it. Let Him inspire and energize you, guide your steps and give you strength for everything you face this fall.
Open your eyes
Intentionally look for ways to find Jesus in all the things on your list.
For me fall includes soccer games and cross country meets for my kids. Does this mean a busy schedule? Yes. It. Does. Does it mean a lot of driving around the tristate area and eating meals in the car as we to and fro? Of course. And I want to embrace every single moment of it. What a blessing that I can cheer my kiddos on, that God has given them to me, that He’s allowing them to do things that light them up, that He’s given them friends on their teams and coaches who motivate them. My mom also loves to cheer for the kids, so Jesus gives Mom and I built-in excuses to see each other when she comes to a game or meet. Blessing upon blessing!
Sure, I have a lot to get done this fall–from edits to paperwork to chapters that need written and a book that releases in December (more to come on that soon), plus all the normal day to day stuff like laundry and groceries, but it’s all good work–work God has put in front of me, and I’m so grateful for it. And also…my oldest is coming home for a week this fall and already I can’t wait to go on walks in the woods and sip coffee with her. In the autumn our family eats dinner on the porch and usually finds a hayride or corn maze. We’ll get apple cider and bake pumpkin bread. Thank you Jesus for all the above!
In our college town everything changes in the fall, because the students come back. Which means fewer parking spots and longer lines at the bagel shop, but also the entire town has more energy. The university hosts events and shows and speakers. Our college age son leads worship, and I adore going early on Friday mornings and praising Jesus in a room full of college kids. I’m so grateful God lets me live in a college town! I want to inhale the vibrancy it offers. I want to meet and chat with the students and learn from their perspectives and hear their stories. Where has Jesus put you? How can you live it to the fullest?
What can you embrace about all those things on your fall list?
There is beauty and goodness all around you. Open up, not just your eyes, but your five senses to the crowd cheering at a fall sporting event, the sweet and tart, crunchy and chewy of a caramel apple, the challenge and thrill of a new assignment, the people you meet in an unexpected situation, a breeze pulling a leaf from a tree branch. Watch it spiraling and float to the ground. Jesus’ love and goodness is all around you!
Then repeat the whole process. Go back to your list. Back to your Bible. Back to Jesus. And again and again open your eyes to the ways Jesus is actively loving you.
All four seasons hold such hope and promise–there is a change in the air and in the possibilities. Including this fall. God has so much goodness waiting for you –even if you’re in a battle, even if you feel alone, even if you’re exhausted. God still has goodness for you in this season. Start your list and let Him show you.
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I’m giving away a 5-day 4-night stay in this gorgeous mountain house in hopes it will Restore Your Soul! Keep reading for all the details on how easy it is to enter.
Soul restoration. It’s what Jesus wants for us. It’s what He offers. But often we're worried, tired, stressed or some combo of the above.
How do we make the switch? From frazzled to at peace? From anxious to feeling safe and secure? Mainly by spending time with Jesus and letting Him guide, protect, and love us. I write all about it in my new book, Restore My Soul, which releases on July 5, 2022! You can pre-order your copy here (if you order two copies you can enter the mountain house giveaway–more on that in a minute). Getting away from the hustle and bustle, seeking beauty, taking time to rest, finding a quiet place to talk to Jesus, and slowing down so you can hear Him are all great ways to begin your soul restoration–thus the mountain house giveaway.
Psalm 84 says:
How lovely is your dwelling place,
My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD;
My heart and my flesh cry out
For the living God. (vv.1-2)
Do you have a place like this? Where you seek Jesus? Where you cry out to Him and spend time–dwelling or abiding–seeking Him?
My mom’s mountain house is one of those places for me. Staring out at the lake, marveling at the mountains, unplugging, being present. It’s beautiful. I find God here. I’ve been going to these mountains with my family since I was in 8th grade. Brett proposed to me in these mountains. One of our kids took their first steps here. We’ve played cards and gathered near the fireplace on chilly evenings. We’ve lounged on giant rafts floating around the lazy river, played tennis, basketball, and giant Connect Four on steamy summer days. We’ve shared countless meals and stories, celebrated birthdays, Easter and Thanksgiving–all gifts from our glorious God–in these rooms. I’ve sat on the deck with my Bible and soaked in His living word. Plus, the views are spectacular.
But the places God restores us don’t have to be fancy. My closet is also one of my favorite places to seek the Lord. I turn out the lights and close my eyes, so there are literally zero views. I shut out all noise and just talk to Jesus. I might shout out to Him my frustrations, thank Him for all that He’s done, rattle off a list of my concerns, meditate on something I read in the Bible that morning, or sit in silence and simply listen to Him.
And that’s such a cool thing about Jesus! He wants us to come to Him with all our emotions. Our joy and fear, our laughter and anger, our exhaustion and bursts of energy. The Psalms illustrate this for us. The psalmists brought everything to God–the good, bad, and ugly. And God promised to those emotional psalmists to always be faithful, that His love for them would endure forever. Jesus promises the same to you and me–no matter what we’re going through or how we feel.
Join me in the pages of Restore My Soul: the Power and Promise of 30 Psalms as I dive into thirty psalms and explore how relevant they are to our lives today, how these ancient poems and songs show us that no matter what we’re facing our God goes before and behind us. He watches over us and never sleeps. He bends down and picks us up. He wants only goodness and mercy for us. He longs to restore our very souls.
And while you’re picking up a copy of the book, if you grab two YOU CAN ENTER THE MOUNTAIN HOUSE GIVEAWAY! That’s right, the only thing you have to do to enter is purchase two copies of my new book, Restore My Soul wherever books are sold between today and July 12 and submit your receipt here. Make sure you're following me on Facebook or Instagram.
Must be 18 and over to enter. Void where prohibited. U.S. citizens only (sorry international friends). Note: I will never ask for credit card information and will only contact winners via email. Not affiliated with any social media site. One grand prize winner can stay five days and four nights at the pictured mountain house in Lake Lure, NC (30 miles outside of Asheville) and will be randomly selected from all entries. Transportation not included. Grand prize winner must work with property owner to find available dates. Runners up will be randomly selected from all entries for additional prizes including having Laura Zoom into your Bible study or book club. If your prize is being mailed to you, please allow additional time for postal delays.
I lined my putter up to my bright red ball.
And then the cutest little person in a striped shirt toddled around the hole in front of us towards his daddy. The little guy was adorable and stole my focus for a minute. I looked back down at my ball and swung. The ball went in the direction of the hole… and past it. I’ve never been a super star putt putter but not paying attention to the game wasn’t helping my cause.
A few holes later Maguire exclaimed, “Mallory! There’s a lizard on your shoe!” My daughter jumped. The salamander skittered off toward the rocks at the side of the course and we all laughed. Somewhere in the distance a lawnmower buzzed. The fountain on one of the holes wasn’t working but was filled with thousands, yes thousands, of tiny tadpoles. We all took turns gaping at them. Needless to say there were several distractions on the Mini Golf course. Which was totally fine, because we were on spring break playing with our family in the afternoon sun surrounded by the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. Absolutely nothing was at stake. But it made me think about professional golfers and how much focus and concentration they must have to NOT get distracted on the course and how easily any of us can get distracted from what God has put in front of us.
This can hold true for anything. For me I might be writing and get a text. I’ll pick up my phone and message my friend back. While I’m on my phone I might also check Instagram, maybe do the Wordle, and fifteen minutes later I realize I’m not doing the thing God called me to do today, because I focused on my phone instead of the work He put in front of me.
It happens in the middle of conversations when everyone’s chatting about great things, then somebody mentions something that bothers them about that person, place or thing, and the conversation gets derailed as we focus on the negatives instead of the really cool thing we were just talking about.
And it also happens with our identity in Christ. I read my Bible in the morning, and I thank God for loving me completely, for eliminating the need to prove myself or earn anything. And then I turn something in to an editor and worry about what they’ll think. Or walk into a room and wonder if I fit in. Or say something dumb, and beat myself up for it. I read in the Bible how Jesus is in control, how He’s strong and mighty, and that He’s my protection. But midday I might get news that gets me worrying, because I switch my focus from the truth of who our God is to the circumstances coming at me. Zoinks!
Things get out of whack in a hurry when we focus on the wrong things.
We’re not the first people to do this:
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” --Matthew 14:29-31
Peter was doing just fine, miraculous even, when he was focused on Jesus. Peter was actually walking on water. But when he switched his focus away from Jesus to the storm everything went haywire.
We do the same thing.
But also, we get to choose.
We can choose to inhale the fragrant perfume of hyacinths sitting by our sink–a lovely gift from God’s creation (Philippians 4:8), or grumble about how many dishes we have to wash. We can choose to bake cookies or play games on a rainy day–deciding this is the day the Lord has made and we will rejoice and be glad (Psalm 118:24), or mope around because our outdoor plans got canceled. We can take someone’s insult or rejection personally or remember that Jesus loves us so much that He created us, that He gave His very life for us (John 3:16). We can worry about what someone will think, or how successful our work will be, or what if… or we can chase after the dreams Jesus gives us, holding tight to the truth that He equips us and protects us and is cheering for us.
What are you focused on today?
It’s super easy to get distracted in this world. But if we take time to read the Bible and pray each day, it helps us stay focused on the truth of God’s love and His protection and guidance over us. If we hang out with other people who are also seeking Jesus, we can point each other back to these truths. There’s nothing wrong with watching a cute toddler prance around a putt putt course or doing the Wordle. But let’s keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on His love, His grace, His ability to do anything, anytime, anywhere, the fact that He is always fighting for good, for what’s best. When we do, we remember who we are and why we’re doing what we’re doing. We come alive with hope and joy. We gain strength and courage from the God who empowers us.
I can’t promise focusing on the truth of Christ’s love will do anything for your putt putt game, but I do know that when we focus on His endless, reckless all-in love, our lives will be forever and gloriously improved.
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We had these old gross towels that we’ve had for twenty-six years (yup, wedding gifts). They were great at the time, but now some of them have holes, many are fraying, and quite frankly some of them stink. Right after Christmas I bought some nice, new towels on a ridiculously low priced clearance. And you all! They are so thick and fluffy. Every time I dry my hands or get out of the shower I am amazed by how lovely these towels are. I also wonder why I waited so long to upgrade.
I know it sounds silly. But I was settling. And sometimes we do–for old towels or a quick meal or a pair of shoes our growing child will probably only wear once or twice. But God doesn’t want us to settle for the big stuff.
Are you doing things that fulfill you? Hanging out with people who make your life rich and full? Taking classes or doing things that challenge you? Finding ways to laugh and learn? Taking care of yourself mentally and physically?
Because that’s what Jesus wants for you. An abundant life. An overflowing life. A rich, full, joyful, satisfying life! He tells us:
"But I have come to give you everything in abundance, more than you expect—life in its fullness until you overflow!" –John 10:10 TPT
Do you love your job or volunteer work? Does it bring you satisfaction? Do you use some specific skill or talent that God gave you when you’re there? Or are you settling?
Sure, there are parts of every job that are an absolute grind–filling out the forms, cleaning the bathrooms, or maybe attending the staff meetings. And sometimes we do jobs with the sole purpose of paying our bills. Years ago, I waitressed while interning at an advertising agency that didn’t pay me a cent, unless you count parking. I waitressed in the evenings and on weekends to pay my bills (which was not my dream job) and interned during normal work hours (which was my dream job and led to an actual job). It worked. Maybe you’re working a job to help pay for your education or certification, or because the flexible hours allow you to be around for someone you love or to spend time on that creative endeavor you’re so excited about. And that’s awesome. Because you’re not settling. You’re chasing after that education, family, or dream. You’re seizing the abundant life God has for you.
Is the person you’re in a relationship with someone who brings out the best in you, who encourages you to be the amazing person God created you to be? Are your friends people who build you up, love you for just who you are, listen well, pray for and with you? Are they there for you when you need them? Or are you settling?
Since you are an individual, you’re not going to agree with anyone 100% of the time. You won’t always think things should be done the same way or at the same speed or for the same reasons. And your friends or spouse or boy/girlfriend have their own responsibilities and lives to tend to. They can’t be there for you 24/7. But, you know what I mean. If you’re friends or significant other takes you for granted, doesn’t listen to or respect your wishes, doesn’t encourage your faith life, only wants to do things their way, God has more for you.
Jesus doesn’t want you to settle. He loves you too much. The Bible says before you were even born, God chose you and called you by His marvelous grace (Galatians 1:15). Get that? You are chosen. You have a special calling from the God of the Universe. So, no, you shouldn’t settle.
I don’t know what that means for you today. But hopefully it means being reminded of all the amazing things God has in store. Hopefully it means ditching something that does not bring life to you–that committee you’re on that completely drains you, that “friend” who only texts when they need something “desperately,” that book you’re reading that is inappropriate (put it down, there’s so many great reads out there!), the date who won’t go to church with you and who never seems to remember that crowds make you uneasy or that you’re allergic to nuts. Or maybe it's time to quit that activity that makes you grumpy.
Step one is getting rid of the things that deplete you. Step two is talking to Jesus about what He has for you. Ask Him. Right now. It’s as easy as praying: Jesus, I love You so much! Thank You for choosing me, for giving me a special calling, for Your amazing grace. Please show me how to step out of anything I'm settling for and into the abundant life You have waiting for me. Please help me keep my eyes, ears, and heart open to all You offer. Amen
FREE Bible Study: 10 Minutes for 10 Days
A year ago I posted this picture of our abandoned looking upstairs hallway with piles of deliveries outside the bedroom doors with the caption: Quarantine Day 7. Four Smiths shut behind closed-doors--studying, playing music, working, writing, Zooming, napping… .trying to keep their germs to themselves. Two Smiths caring for the rest of us--selflessly and lovingly delivering clean laundry, bottled water, meals, and anything else we need to our doors. So grateful for family. For love. For God’s provision and protection. And for hilarious family group chats and Facetimes.
Life has changed a lot since last November. In some ways it feels like the world has changed. Again. All of us are a year older. Some of you might have a different job, different hair color, live in a different place (maybe with different people), have a different relationship or health status. I’m grateful to say the Smiths are not in quarantine. Whew. But God hasn’t changed. He never has. He never will.
I look over that list of things I was grateful for in my quarantine post. And no matter what changes in my life or in this world, I can always be grateful for:
On my last blog I challenged us to begin a “gratitude journey” to help us stay grounded in the good gifts God showers on us. I’ve gotten so many beautiful responses from you all on things you’re grateful for--the fall leaves, a supportive group of friends, waking up in the morning. How about this week we simply turn our gratitude to God, Himself? Take some time to meditate on who He is. On what He does for us. On how He loves us. Take a moment each day to say, “Thank you, God, for being my provider, my protector, with me always, my peace, the perfect Father.” You can write these statements out in your journal or on note cards to tape around your home or work place. You can close your eyes and focus on one of these truths, one of these names of God and how God being with you (or providing, or any of the above) changes everything. You can get down on your knees and proclaim these truths about God’s character out loud (I find this so powerful to drown out the lies and the gunk) or whisper them in your soul.
And when we do, our mindset shifts. It’s harder to feel lonely when we remember God is with us. The stressful things ease up a bit when we focus on the fact that Christ is peace. That thing we’re worried about or downright frightened about is less scary when we proclaim God as our Protector and Provider. Sure, curve balls (like my family catching Covid-19 last November) will come our way, will change the way things look, and might be different from the way we hoped or wanted. But God is still God. He is still all the things He says He is. His names don’t expire or leave or fade or change. Our God is an everlasting God (Isaiah 40:28).
The God who split the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21), defeated a fully armed army that consisted of “too many to count” with only 300 men armed with horns, torches, and clay pots (Judges 8), and who died on the cross because He loves you so fiercely (John 1) is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). That fills my heart with gratitude.
What’s your favorite name of God? Let me know, and together we can praise Him for it!
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Laura L. Smith