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“Some became fools through their rebellious ways
    and suffered affliction because of their iniquities.
 They loathed all food
    and drew near the gates of death.
 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he saved them from their distress.
 He sent out his word and healed them;
    he rescued them from the grave.
 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for mankind” (Psalm 107:17-21).

I tend to be a clumsy sort of gal. Like epic Lucille Ball antics, but not on purpose. It’d be nice if I could get away with blaming circumstances, others, or even inanimate objects for my stumbles. Even if I could pretend some level of temporary comfort with the dishonesty, I’m too obvious a klutz to pull it off.

Excuses amplify the ridiculous, you see.

“The sidewalk jumped up to trip me!”

“Who moved that wall?”

If only my foibles were limited to physical falls. Sin causes deeper bruises and its consequences sting for longer than I’d like to recount. I hate when I’ve created afflictions for myself. No backward movement on the soccer field can be more humiliating than dishonoring the Lord.

I’m so thankful God saves me anyway. Even when I least deserve it. Especially when I’ve run out of ridiculous excuses. I need only cry out to Jesus. In the pit of my deepest failures, my Redeemer never fails to show up.

Whether or not it’s my fault, Jesus lifts me from the darkest distress. He brushes off the dirt of my sin and pours His healing love over my self-inflicted wounds. I get myself into the mess, but the Faithful Savior gets me out of it. I’m so thankful for His unfailing love.

Are you thankful for the Lord’s redeeming love today?

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 I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the Lord” (1 Samuel 1:27-28).

Hannah endured years of endless persecution. She faced it while cooking. The torment followed her into the marketplace. She could not escape it at night. The bully, you see, lived in her home. And shared her husband’s bed.

Neighbors stopped whispering when she approached. They didn’t use the “cursed” or “barren” words to her face like Peninah. Other women turned away from her on the street, shunned her at parties, or gave her a sideways glance with raised chins–the look.

One night, her gut soured from years of abuse, Hannah broke. She ran to the Lord and prayed with all her heart and soul. Her childless womb ached for life. Even more desperately, her soul yearned for a touch from the Lord. To know that her cry mattered to God would redefine her identity from “cursed” to “favored.”

The Author of Life showed up and showed off, as is often His glorious style. He blessed Hannah with an extraordinary son, who would become the nation’s last judge and prophet to its first two kings. Before launching into his destiny, his mother had to do something quite extraordinary herself. She had to surrender her most precious blessing. After sacrificing a valuable bull, Hannah returned the answer to her most heartfelt prayer back to God.

Yesterday, I learned both my sons will leave for college in a few weeks. Like Hannah, my arms will soon be emptied of children. I’m listening to them play the guitar and sing together as I write this post, wishing I could preserve the moment. Such times cannot be held in our fingers, and attempts to protect a blessing will rob it of its most beautiful potential.

Hannah shares the secret of optimizing our blessings by releasing them back to the Lord. When we first receive an answer to prayer, our natural response is to embrace it. Clutch that treasure to our chests and never let go. Faith in the awesome goodness of God empowers us to act against our nature. Because we know and trust Him, we can respond to His blessings in the most unexpected way imaginable and give them back.

There’s no more lucrative investment than placing my treasure in God’s hands. I can’t bring better results than Jesus. He alone can make springs from rocks and evangelists from brawling fishermen.So, I choose to lift my sons up to the Lord and let them go.

I look forward to seeing the glorious work God crafts with my surrendered blessings. Come do it again, Jesus. I love when You show up and show off.

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“’Am I only a God nearby,’
declares the Lord,
‘and not a God far away?
Who can hide in secret places
so that I cannot see them?’”

– Jeremiah 23:23-24

Padlocked journals. Receipts tucked into a sock drawer. Deleted files. Disguised flasks. Shredded evidence. What happens in Sin City . . . behind our doors . . . outside the church . . . when we believe no one is watching us . . . allegedly remains our little secret.

Secrets range from embarrassing moments to treachery, from things we’ve done to those we should have. Some hidden facts seem innocuous, like an emotional struggle we’d rather not share. Other mysteries demand cover because we can bet others won’t help us justify the sin. Murderers feverishly cover their evidence, as do tax evaders, addicts, and adulterers.

Camouflage grants us confidence. We convince ourselves that no one sees, that the matter remains of no consequence at all. A cycle of shame and arrogance flips us between insecurity and justifying our cover.

When my boys were tots, they’d press their hands over their faces and declare, “You can’t see me.”

“Yes, my baby. I can still see you,” I’d assure them. I wanted to see their precious, beloved faces.

“No!” They insisted. “You can’t see me!”

Ah, the myth of our powerful hands. We have yet to outgrow the childish idea that we can cover our eyes and become invisible to our Father. While swirling in shame and pride over our sins, we miss the point of our relationship with Him. He adores our precious souls, and enjoys intimate face-time with us. Especially when our cheeks bear stolen cupcake grime and our noses bleed from playing in areas we shouldn’t have.

I resisted sharing my emotional struggles for years, believing they’d make me appear faithless. I didn’t want others to think less of Jesus because of my weaknesses.

“I see you.” The Lord pried up one of my fingers.

“Yes, I know. You must be very disappointed.” I peeked between my digits to glimpse His gentle, loving smile. “Can’t I just keep hiding anyway? It’s more comfortable here behind my hands.”

“Comfortable isn’t always best.” He tugged my pinky. “In order to see more of Me, you have to come out from hiding behind your hands.”

I gradually opened my palms. Transparency wasn’t a comfortable thing, but I offered a little at a time. I knew it would be a challenge, but I really did want to see more of my Father. Peeling back my hands required me to depend on His hands. And God revealed His presence in more ways than I imagined. Not only did the Lord exchange my frailty for healing, but He also used my story to lift others to see Him more clearly.

I had convinced myself of my power to hide, to avoid the risk of disclosure. The true risk, I discovered, was in keeping my secrets. The myth of locking away reality holds its believer in a dangerous lie. Pride and shame wielded authority over my purpose and identity instead of God’s power and grace. Not only could I have remained outside God’s perfect will, but hiding also withheld healing God intended to pour through my story into others’ lives. Darkness of locked boxes could have defined my life instead of God’s glory.

Maybe you have unconfessed secrets, too. Consider extending your confessions to the Father Who adores you. He transforms the darkest moments of life into a more powerful vessel of freedom than you can imagine. It’s hard to expose your heart, but I guarantee that His freedom and love are more than worth it. So are the lives of those who’ll be blessed in the wake of your new life of trust in Christ.

Will you pray with me, to become more yielded and open as He leads us? Let’s take Christ’s hands and encourage one another to become His vessels, bringing others to see Him a bit more each day.

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).

“If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,’
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you. . .

Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be. . . 

Search me, 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 139:11-24).

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Cakes, red meat, and fresh neckties fly off the shelves this week. I’m grateful for the ease with which I could choose a card for my wonderful dad. But many struggle with this weekend’s holiday. I heard a comedian wish aloud for a card without overstated accolades, reading something like, “Well, Dad, I guess you did the best you could.”

Others experience deeper strife than choosing an appropriate card. Father’s Day torments the orphaned, abused, or widowed. A strong sense of loss comes with grieving a beloved man or aching over the empty hole never filled by a father’s love.

God never designed fatherhood to hurt us. Nor did He intend for the role to fill a permanent need. Fathers were built into our life cycle design as a model to help us better understand significant aspects of our relationship to the Ultimate Father. A temporary model to help explain the source Who fulfills our needs forever. The Creator employs earthly dads to point their children toward relationship with a heavenly Father. Dads are meant to serve as imperfect place-holders to demonstrate the role of Our Perfect Father who will fulfill our needs forever. Where humans can only attempt to provide, God sustains us with a sufficiency beyond our expectations. Whether you have a good, hurtful, or missing one, Christ offers us all access to intimate, fulfilling relationship with a Perfect Father. No one needs to remain fatherless.

Mothers raise and nurture children, also conveying certain God-head characteristics when fulfilling their roles well. Some of the Lord’s qualities can be modeled by both parents, in different ways. For the sake of Father’s Day, let’s focus on specific divine attributes reflected in the ideal design of a father’s role.  These include protection, provision, discipline, and fatherly love.

“The Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went” (Deuteronomy 1:31).

In Deuteronomy, we see the Lord’s provision and protection described in tandem. Earthly fathers are engineered for provision and protection, but cannot meet all physical or spiritual needs for a growing individual. Human insufficiency illuminates our need for God as the ultimate resource. Like a good dad, God doesn’t indulge our every desire, but only He can sustain us by identifying and meeting our true needs. Responsible fathers try to protect their kids without insulating them from opportunities to grow. While we might experience hardship, the Lord can use our struggles toward increasing our strength. He alone can guard us against the forces of evil.

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline,
    and do not resent his rebuke,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
    as a father the son he delights in” (Proverbs 3:11-12).

Discipline wasn’t fun when our parents delivered it. We often shrink from the notion of loving rebuke from God. Unlike the unreliable outcomes of human correction, our heavenly Father only sets boundaries which offer increasing benefit to us. His guidance prevents disaster and steers us toward glorious, abundant life. Sinful tendencies resemble nits in our hair, and the Lord removes them as often as we allow Him to comb them out.

As a father has compassion on his children,
    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him” (Psalm 103:13).

Ideal dads show some compassion to their kids. Many never experienced this quality during childhood. Even those who had caring fathers didn’t get selfless adoration at all times. People in this broken world love imperfectly. Why did Scripture offer this insufficient analogy? Because the ancients living in Old Testament period needed a relevant starting point for understanding their relationship with God. Before Christ set aside His glory to dwell among us in human form, nothing on earth came close to the love of God. Jesus alone offered exact representation of the Father’s love.

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

Unconditional. Suffering when we hurt. Willing to suffer for us. Selfless. Unlimited. Over-the-top. Amazing. Beyond all our imagination can comprehend. Blowing all other concepts of love out of the water. THAT is the love our Father extends to us.

This weekend, while honoring those designed to point toward heaven, consider the gift of the cross. Christ’s outstretched arms leave no one excluded from access to a perfect Father. If you’ve never accepted the ultimate love gift of eternal life, let this be your opportunity to respond to Jesus’ scarred hands and receive His embrace. It only takes a simple but sincere prayer, like, “I need You, Jesus. I’m all yours.”

Today could begin your endless Father’s Day.

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“Wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons;
    he deposes kings and raises up others” (Daniel 2:20-21).

I offered my head to the young apprentice. She needed to practice, so I would become the lab rat of her experiment. Few had seen the procedure and my outcome was difficult to predict. Bowls of gel mixtures littered the small table. Countless paint strokes surrounded me. After an hour, I resembled an alien with head of silver tentacles sprouting hair. A cosmic halo orbited my noggin, projecting heat onto the foils. A tiny flutter stirred in my belly, churning a bit of acid to rise into my throat.

It’s only hair, I told myself. No matter how this turns out, I will be okay.

This year brings a variety of changes for me, all more significant than last fall’s balayage venture (which proved less dramatic than I anticipated, by the way). My son leaves for college. I’m handing off an officer position. At the same time, church and career undergo major transition. I’m not sure how the results will look, but a different world is shaping up around me.

Change shakes up our lives in a myriad of forms, and can often prove refreshing. Some novelty brings joy, hence the constant trend shifts in technology, fashion, and adventurous recreation. New movies rock. Hidden waterfalls delight the soul. Who doesn’t love a fresh outfit?

The transitions we don’t seek will occur, too. We age. People leave us. Security blankets blow away in one strong gust of calamity. Expected or not, certain life-upheavals rattle our roots from their comfortable places. From relocation to chronic health issues to grief, uncomfortable transitions stretch across differing levels of life’s Richter scale. They all begin with a similar emotion, as the first thing felt in an unwanted quake is loss. Pain screams to the forefront of human awareness, blocking other details from our perspective.

The time varies with the impact, but painful aftershocks begin to diminish. The dust settles after a while. If we choose to open our eyes, we can see. Before surveying the land, we know it has changed. We don’t need to look to acknowledge the change affected us. Life shifted, and things are not as they were.

I cannot move on from a state of loss until I open my eyes and accept the new reality. I must survey the landscape to identify my resources. A strange realization dawns in the moment of clarity after the impact has subsided. Despite the change, all is not lost. My greatest resource remained with me even when I could not see Him.

In the tumult of life in this errant world, God remains steadfast. He never leaves us. His love gushes endlessly over us whether we sense it or not. Often, He brings our sweetest blessings in the times we feel most lost and alone. Regardless of the many transitions and losses we experience, God never changes.

As my maturing sons depart and work and worship landscapes transform, these changes occur on the temporary plane of my existence. Even if I lose all I hold dear, the Lord will sustain me with His precious loving presence to the end of mortality. And then, all be restored. Adonai, Whose every work surpasses excellence, revitalizes life with extra gobs of glory lavished on top. Eternity will gather my entire spiritual family to worship and serve together. Ultimately, nothing will be lost forever. I will be better than okay.

What changes are you experiencing today? Try offering a prayer of trust and praise with me. Choose to believe in God’s steadfast nature, despite the shuddering earth. Let’s cling with all our faith to the Rock in the midst of life’s quake.

  “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deut. 31:6).

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

“He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he” (Deuteronomy 32:4).

Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens,
    your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
    your justice like the great deep” (Psalm 36:5-6).

He rescues me unharmed
    from the battle waged against me,
    even though many oppose me.
God, who is enthroned from of old,
    who does not change” (Psalm 55:18-19).

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“Now remain in my love…

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

Greater love has no one than this:

to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”

(John 15:9-13).

He grinds his jaw as his blistered soles pound the trail. His gear weighs as much as a man’s corpse, and the load drives an ache through his spine and knees. Perspiration stings his eyes. His lungs heave in a steamy breath. Five more miles before the downhill slope. Must. Press. On.

“Let’s go, soldier!”

Ears clogged, he can’t tell if the raspy command comes from behind or ahead of him. But he knows that voice.

The crack of gunfire shatters the air. An explosion rattles through the earth into his weary bones. He stumbles in the plume of smoke, but does not fall. Adrenaline pulses to steady his gait. Chaos dulls his pain and drowns the officer’s words. But he knows his mission. Heart bearing the worth of his people, the soldier plunges headlong into the deadly fray.

Soldiers. Willing to lay down their lives for our people, they represent the utmost fulfillment of Christ’s call to all of us. This Memorial Day, many of us will offer our respect to the soldiers who have offered the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. Active duty service men and women also deserve our thanks, for they lay aside peace and comfort most of us take for granted. Many in our military face unimaginable horrors in battle, continuing years afterward to fight for emotional survival.

We owe them thanks in many ways.. Verbal gratitude, assistance, and favor provide a good start. Tangible appreciation must never be neglected or diminished one iota. There remains an even more significant means of honoring our troops–join them in answering the call.

Christ commissions all of us to lay down our lives in love for one another. If we rise to follow His example, setting aside our comfort to plunge forth in the fight against evil, we adopt the soldier’s mission. Carrying out acts of love despite hardship will honor the soldier, for we rise to a value more worthy of his or her sacrifice. More worthy, though it remains difficult to imagine we’ll deserve what our fallen troops have offered.

We’ll never deserve the sacrifice Jesus offered for us. No manner of thanks, no acts of service can make us worthy. Grace cannot be earned. Yet our grateful hearts prompt us to follow His example and love others. Like these noble soldiers, we, too, can grow selflessly loving hearts. Far away from perfection, long before we reach our destination, God awards us, both spiritual and tactical soldiers, an amazing distinction. He calls us friends.

This Memorial Day, join me in the ongoing practice of thanking God’s friends. And becoming one of them.

Blessings to all who have offered service to our country and our King.

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“Sacrifice thank offerings to God . . . and call on me in the day of trouble;

    I will deliver you, and you will honor me” (Psalm 50:14-15).

Heels bouncing. Arms upraised. Palms waving. I did the happy dance today. Full-on, Snoopy-style. A long wait sweetens good news, and I had waited over a year for an acceptance letter. Could’ve sworn I tasted chocolate while reading.

I love champagne truffles as much as any girl, but I’m more thankful for achievements. Success and answered prayers fire up my worship to a near-charismatic levels. Hand-raising tends to linger outside my comfort zone. When gratitude for provision and healing bubbles up from my soul like a wellspring, I can hardly help myself.

Christ receives my best praise when things go well. Do I offer the same level of gratitude during tough times? I pour out passionate prayers, declaring the power and perfect nature of God. I cry out, reach out, and plead. But days of trouble don’t bring out my Snoopy-style, charismatic thankful dance.

Eternal, indefatigable blessings remain with me at all times, bright or dark. The Holy Spirit promises never to leave me. Christ redeemed my soul and declares me an heir to heaven. The All-Powerful Creator adores me as a Father. Whether I see circumstances working out in my current moment or not, the Lord assures me of His presence. God promises to work out the big picture for my good, and I can trust Him with the immediate details. His goodness never fluctuates. Christ’s most significant blessing remains with me always. Jesus deserves my happy dance every day.

In Psalm 50:14-15, the Lord promises two bonuses if we offer thanks when we’re in trouble. He first assures our deliverance, a cherished gift of His grace. A grateful attitude provides additional perks. Praise shifts our mindset toward hope. Faith grows and strengthens. We secure our footing in the awareness of God’s presence. Thankful prayer offerings sustain and support us through trying circumstances. The privilege of new status gleams on our souls like a crown, for He lifts us up as those who honor Him.

I’m a fan of pleasing my Lord, so I set a new prayer objective. Every day, rejections and life-worries notwithstanding, I plan to fire up some thankful Snoopy waving. I’m working on my “Woot!” Will you join me?

“give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

“I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving: (Psalm 69:30).

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

– Philippians 4:6-7

Afternoon rays highlighted splatter-spots dappling my kitchen window. I corralled piles of dishes toward the sink. The third time since breakfast. My hands trembled as I scrubbed the grimy counter. Why is it always such a mess? Recurring, ugly streaks, just like my failures in business and publishing. I tossed the rag at the sill.

I marched out the front door with an announcement to any ears in range. “I’m going for a walk.”

As I strode under the oak canopy, I grasped the air at my side. “Walk with me, Jesus.”

My morning time of prostrate meditation remains a precious way to center myself before the day’s mission begins. Bedside prayer also offers great benefit, laying all needs and offenses in divine hands. Sometimes, I wrestle with overwhelming angst and need to break out of my conventions to better connect with God. Fresh perspective unstops the ears of my soul.

This common need resounds from world headlines to the soul cries of our neighbors–financial crises, illness, general household chaos. Circumstances shatter our peace. Life whirls around our heads, distracting us from intimacy with the Lord. In this tumultuous life, we need help centering our spirits in prayer.

Kelly O’Dell Stanley’s new book, Praying Upside Down, offers novel tools to uncork conversations with God. She expands our view of divine interaction beyond the formulaic ideas of conventional prayer. A graphic designer, she crafts an artistic pathway to spiritual intimacy. Her analogies and suggested applications prove easy upon a reader’s eye and attainable to a beginner’s soul.

Have you ever struggled to focus? Railed at the ceiling as if it were a blockade? Or felt your heart too overwhelmed to summon a prayer? Upside down experiences might just refresh your mind and reveal the path to renew your weary soul.

If you’re interested in Praying Upside Down, find out more information from Tyndale or check out Kelly O’Dell Stanley’s website http://www.prayingupsidedown.com/

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“The heavens are telling the glory of God; they are a marvelous display of his craftsmanship. Day and night they keep on telling about God” (Psalm 19:1-2).

Tender grass bursts from the earth. Glimmering beetles scurry up to lily pinnacles and raise their antennae. My favorite gnarled oak ascends from a velvety ring of petunias. Its branches wield leafy poufs as live, rain-guzzling, sun-swallowing pom-poms.

Meanwhile, a masterpiece rolls overhead.

Coral rays claim the heavens, staking dawn’s entry. Glorious brilliance floods the earth with awesome energy, both life-sustaining  and requiring the respect rather than scrutiny of mortal eyes. The light reigns undaunted, despite the morphing hues of its backdrop and fleeting clouds to veil its position. Ten thousand bird species laud the majesty in song and aerial dance. Crimson explodes across the skies as the sun descends to meet the edge of our perspective. The world blackens against a fabulous gleam of twilight. Predators crawl out into the shadows, anticipating easy prey in the sun’s absence. The light never abandons us. A silver orb rises against the darkness to reflect the sun’s continued presence. Crickets and cicadas praise its faithfulness. It continues to guide and shine upon us in this new form as we hope for the new dawn.

Before a single word of Scripture inked the ancient papyrus, God authored creation as a living testament. The Bible anoints modern Christians with immeasurable benefits and deepens our understanding of God, but He foresaw those without access to the written word. The Father did not leave anyone bereft of His message. Creation’s magnificent design proves His sovereignty. He reveals Himself and His attention to us in the artistic, majestic, and whimsical elements of nature. The progress of each day reflects the gospel, a Son who remains with us and bestows His life upon us that we might represent Him to the world.

As we continue to cherish Scripture, let us also remain aware of its earliest writing–God’s love letter crafted upon the world around us. The story nature has read aloud since the dawn of creation.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

Refugees abandon homes in pursuit of it. Defendants empty bank accounts to negotiate it. Acquisition offers empty promises of it. Anesthesia poisons the flesh with temporary illusions of it. A mother of toddlers looks for it in the bathroom.

Peace lingers in the desperate pleas of souls worldwide. From those enduring brutal oppression to those overwhelmed with daily stress, a valid strain proves critical within each experience. Humanity cries for an end to war with one another, heart-breaking circumstances, and ourselves. We struggle to cope and survive. A greater need pervades and exceeds all others. And it has already been offered to us at the grantor’s expense.

No change of address. No attorney fees. Debt-free and without side-effects. Not even confined to the powder room.

Peace with God provides hope beyond this heart-wrenching world. While refugees flee torment to dwell as outsiders in poverty, we leave behind a broken mortality and return home to the splendor for which we were created. Jesus, having paid our expenses with His suffering, also serves as our advocate to free us from judgment. We can trust His sufficient payment and negotiation has secured a brilliant future.

Our hope isn’t limited to the future.  Though salvation doesn’t eliminate earthly challenges, peace with God equips us to cope with our current struggles. Acceptance of Christ into our hearts brings His presence into our daily lives. We can neither survive this mortal life nor cope with it on our own. Thanks to Jesus, we don’t have to. His indwelling Spirit offers a constant resource of divine wisdom and strength, awaiting our requests for support.

Paul reminded early Christians of this, since they endured severe trials.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

Will you take a moment today and thank God with me for His beautiful gift of peace?

Thank You, Jesus. For Your grace which secures our hope. For Your reliable presence that sustains us with precious, incomparable peace.

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