Helping women live victorious lives in Christ

Posts tagged ‘encouragement’

Hold On

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.  Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” Isaiah 41:10 (NLT)

by Brenna Fields Taylor

As I write this blog, it is April of 2020, and the world is in the middle of a pandemic called COVID-19, a virus that is spreading rapidly throughout the world, taking the lives of countless people.  Because of the contagious nature of the disease, many communities are living in a complete shut-down (or at minimum, are sheltering in place, rarely venturing outside). As a result, the times in which we are living are unsettling, unusual and unprecedented.  History records that there have been many plagues of diseases that have impacted the entire world, including the flu pandemic of 1918 and a cholera pandemic that ran from 1852-1860.  While the experience of pandemics is new to us, it is not new to the world and certainly not new to God.

In the midst of these trying weeks, I have witnessed God’s healing power restores friends and loved ones, and at the same time I’ve seen when God has chosen to call others home to be with Him.  It has been an emotional rollercoaster!  What we are being told about this current pandemic seems to change almost daily, and a lot of times, we are unsure whose report to believe.  Churches don’t know whether they should meet in person or not, and sadly, there are debates among Christians on faith (or lack thereof), depending on churches’ decisions on this issue.  Vacations, conferences, class and family reunions, and weddings have been cancelled or postponed.  And since no one has any idea of how long this thing is going to last,  our lives seem to be on hold.

Even in the midst of all of this, I want to encourage you (and me) to hold on.  Isaiah 41:10 in the NLT says “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.  Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”

This virus has many of us hesitant to leave our homes and to be in close proximity to other people, and rightfully so. But this particular passage says that we shouldn’t be afraid.  This virus may have some of us feeling discouraged because we see so much sickness and death around us. I will admit that, even as a minister, I have been overwhelmed by the many prayer requests for healing and comfort, even as my own family deals with the aftermath of death.

But in this passage, God tells us that we don’t have to be afraid and discouraged, because He is with us AND He is our God.  God has given us three promises in this one verse: He promises to strength us, to help us and to hold us up.  I encourage you to lean on and lean into God and these promises, that He will strengthen you, to help you and to hold you up.

What I find interesting about this passage is that it’s not just any old hand that is holding us up.  It is God’s “victorious right hand” that is holding us up.    The right hand of God symbolizes power and might.  It conveys authority and blessings.  Not only is the hand of God powerful, but it is also victorious.  So if God is holding me up with his victorious right hand, he is giving me power, strength, authority, blessings and victory, even in this precarious time.

I know we are overwhelmed, tired and unsure…but hold on.  God has promised to strengthen us, to help us, and to hold us up.  Let’s trust God together.

 

God is Speaking…Listen!

by Brenna Fields Taylor

I was in my devotional time today, and I began to pray for a friend of mine who is going through a situation similar to what I have just recently experienced. I called her name in prayer, asking God to give her bold faith to persevere through this trial. Since I am beginning to emerge from my own circumstance, I’ve come to recognize that my faith in God has increased!   What I’m currently facing seems to be challenging, but I am declaring by faith that God will handle it (I am not worried about the ‘how;’ I just know that He will). This is the prayer I prayed for my friend.

God is an amazing God! After I finished praying, I turned to the daily devotional I read, and this is what the scriptural reference was:

Isaiah 46:3-4 (NLT)

Listen to me, descendants of Jacob,
all you who remain in Israel.
I have cared for you since you were born.
Yes, I carried you before you were born.
 I will be your God throughout your lifetime—
until your hair is white with age.
I made you, and I will care for you.
I will carry you along and save you.

Talk about an on-time word! God spoke directly to my situation as well as to my friend’s, and I had literally just called her name in prayer minutes before! If you ask God to speak to you about a situation, trust that He will do it! And it will be unmistakable that it is HIS voice!

What God also said to me in this short amount of time is that when you are listening for His voice and walking in faith (bold faith, I might add), when the fiery darts of the enemy come your way (Ephesians 6), they affect you differently. Yes, the enemy may shoot them, but our faith doesn’t allow them to burn us! Our bold faith, based on the Word of God, is protecting us…we don’t have to worry about what the enemy throws our way. We are aware of the enemy’s tactics and schemes, but we keep moving forward in faith, knowing that God WILL care for us, carry us, and be with us!

Be encouraged, friends! We serve a God who speaks to us and to our specific situations. Ask Him to speak to you and then listen for His voice. And walk in faith!

Reflections on 2019

As one year comes to an end and another one approaches, many people tend to reflect on what happened over the last 12 months. We assess ourselves for the progress we’ve made toward the goals we set, and look to the future to set new ones.   I normally engage in this activity every year, but this time, things are a little different for me.

2019 was probably one of the most challenging years of my life (2018 is a close second).  I faced some situations that I did not at all expect (you could not have told me at the end of 2018 that 2019 would end the way it is). So this year, in addition to thinking about what will be most important to me in 2020 (a new decade), I am spending time reflecting on the lessons I learned in 2019.

First, I’ve been reminded that with God, I can face ANY challenge.   There were times this year when I didn’t know how I was going to come out, and there were some days when I was mentally and emotionally tapped out. And yet, God carried me through. The things that happened to me could have caused a mental breakdown (literally), but they did not. God kept me ‘closed in my right mind,’ as folks from the old church sometimes say.

Related to the first lesson is this one: Never take mental health for granted. I recognize that my situation could have gone another way. I’m grateful to God that I was able to continue functioning at work, with school, in ministry and with all the other things I do, and still be successful.   Regarding my mental health, I am now more intentional about self-care and recognizing when I need to rest.  I am also more aware of the foods I eat (while my diet is not perfect, I have incorporated more fresh vegetables and fruit and try to drink more water). Additionally, I am more intentional about getting physical exercise (even if I can only do 2-3 times a week of something). I believe that what we eat, how well we rest, and how much we exercise contributes to our mental and emotional health.

Next, I have learned on a deeper level the importance of having a positive and supportive tribe. A tribe doesn’t have to be (and probably shouldn’t be) a large group of people, but they should be people in whom we can confide, those who will pray for us, and those who support us. Through this year’s challenges, my tribe was there for me in ways I could not even imagine. When I couldn’t share what was going on with me with most people, I could share with my tribe, without fear of judgment or ridicule. I know God placed them in my life for a reason, and for their love and support I am eternally grateful. I pray that one day, I can return the favor.

Lastly, this lesson is one that is in progress for me. I am learning that my goals will not achieve themselves, and that I must keep them top of mind at all times. There were some things that I wanted to accomplish in 2019 that just didn’t get done. While I’m not beating myself up about that, I am more aware of why that is…because I was distracted and spread too thin. I am now assessing what I do to determine those things that are critical to my goals and vision for my life, and those other things that are not essential. I believe this is something we should all do, if we want to fulfill the vision and calling that God has on our lives.

Yes, I will be setting some goals for 2020. But they will be set in light of what I’ve learned in 2019. I pray the lessons you’ve learned in 2019 are just as life changing as mine are. As we enter a new decade, let’s redeem the time and stay focused on what’s most important — God’s will for our lives.

I am a different person going into 2020…and I’m thankful for the lessons 2019 has provided.

Surviving the Holidays? How Did I Do?

Happy New Year! I’m grateful to be in the number of those who made it to 2019!

As I promised in my previous blog post entitled “Preparing to Survive the Holidays,” here is my follow-up on how things went.

daisy flower in the desert

I must admit that I am glad to be on the other side of the holidays (insert sigh of relief).  As I anticipated the first holiday season without my mother, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I wondered if I would be extremely sad, angry or what, as Christmas, New Years’ Eve, and New Years’ Day approached.  Shortly after New Years’ Day would also be the first anniversary of my mother’s passing (January 6).  So, all of those milestone dates were back to back on the calendar.

I think overall, I didn’t do too badly.  On Christmas Day, my daddy and I spent the afternoon and evening visiting friends. People were very gracious to us, and we had several invitations to Christmas dinner (too many to accept lol).  Overall, the day was filled with fun and laughter.

It was on New Years’ Eve 2017 when my mother went into cardiac arrest. My plan was to go to a church service this year, but the later in the evening it got, the more I knew I wouldn’t make it.  I ended up sleeping through midnight, and woke up in time to call my Daddy to wish him a Happy New Year in the Central Time Zone.  New Years’ Day was quiet…I made some of the traditional food for the holiday (collard greens, black eyed peas) and reflected on what I was doing a year ago….trying to get home to be by my mother’s bedside.   I was back to work the next day, and my busy schedule resumed.  It helped to be busy when the anniversary of her passing came.

What did I learn in this process of surviving the holidays?

Don’t be afraid to share with people what you are about to face during the holidays

I’m not saying share with everyone, but only with those who understand what you are going through and who will show you compassion. They may or may not remember that you are facing the holidays without a loved one (and that’s ok…we shouldn’t expect people to remember every significant moment of our lives).  Those who really care about you will check on you, invite you to dinner, or do something to help you get through this period.

Some people choose to share these milestones on social media.  I chose not to, because I didn’t think I would be up to responding to hundreds of responses about my loss.

Go with the flow

For Christmas, while my Daddy and I had made plans, we also let the day unfold as it would.  It was great spending time with loving friends, and we also knew when it was time to call it an evening (even though we didn’t make it to every house we thought we would).  We didn’t put pressure on ourselves to do it all…and it was ok.

Thank God for the grace He extends

Through the entire holiday period (from Thanksgiving to New Years’), God showed Himself gracious to me!  Yes, there were some sad moments.   Yes, I shed some tears.  Yes, I wished things could be different.  But God showed His love and concern by giving me the strength to face this season, knowing that He would never leave me nor forsake me.    I’m grateful to God for placing people in my life who would remember and acknowledge my loss…just the acknowledgement alone, and the fact that I was thought of, was a comfort.

 

Yes, I still grieve, but I am grateful.  And…I’m looking forward to a new year with new possibilities.

Responding to Trials

Trials, difficulties, struggles, challenges.  They all happen to each of us throughout life.  These situations come in all shapes, sizes, and flavors:  job loss, loss of a loved one, divorce, or a health challenge.  As Christians, we should not be surprised when they happen (although they do sometimes catch us off guard).  Scripture reminds us that we should not be surprised when challenges come in our lives: “Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you– 1 Peter 4:12, NLT. Whatever the situation, we have a choice as to how we react…we can try to embrace the challenge and push through it, or we can resist it and possibly become bitter and angry because this thing has happened to us.  The path we travel on during our situation is really up to us.  And for Christians, as we push through our situation, we do not do it alone.

In my own experiences, my trials have eventually turned out for my good.  Note I said “eventually”!  The good from my situations was not instantaneous, but was revealed over the course of time.  And as a result of my challenges, I am a better person, a stronger person, a more compassionate person, a more grateful person.   So, as we are facing difficulties, what can we do to get through them, to the point where we can see the good, and can experience the transformation that God wants to make in us?

Choose our perspective

How do we view this negative experience?  In our mind, is it the end of the world, or is it an opportunity for a new beginning?  James, the brother of Jesus, reminds us of this: “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” (James 1:2-4, NLT)  This trial is an opportunity for our endurance to grow!  Something good will come out of this!  We choose to look at this situation from that perspective.

Choose to trust God

As we experience our trials, we can choose go to the Word of God to bolster our faith.  When we read passages about the heroes of faith (Moses, Mary, Paul, and Joshua are just a few examples), we can see how God worked in their lives, and we are reminded that He can also work in ours (AMEN!)  We can also look back on my own life and remind myself of what God has already done for me (if we were to really count our blessings, we would lose count!)  As we read Scripture and look back at past blessings, we are learning to trust God more and more in what’s happening right now.  If He did it before, for me as well as for others, can He not do it again?

Choose to be patient with ourselves

We should remember that as we experience trials, our change may not be instantaneous (in fact, most times, it’s not).  There may be days when we feel we’ve make one step forward, and the next day we get knocked two steps backwards.  That’s ok.  We should be patient with ourselves as we trust and believe that we are being transformed by God (and that transformation happens by the renewing of our minds…see Romans 12:2).  So, be patient with the process…it is a process. We choose to be patient and to take each day as it comes, believing by faith that transformation is happening (even if we cannot see or feel it).

As we press through trials, we have choices!  We can choose to be bitter or better, we can choose to trust God, and we can choose to take things one step at a time.  It’s up to us.  Make a decision to want to be better as a result of what has happened to you. And watch what God does in you and through you.  The lyrics of this song by James Bignon remind us of this:

“On the other side of through
There’s a blessing waiting for you
Hold fast
Hold fast
Your troubles will not last
There’s a blessing
There’s a blessing
On the other side of through”

Why Should Christians Assemble Themselves Together?

We live in a world where technology affords us opportunities to do thing quickly and easily, many times with little to no help from others. We have smartphones and tablets that we can use to get the latest information on any given topic, without having to ask anyone. If we want to connect with someone, we can use our devices to do so, and when we call them, instead of just hearing a voice, we can also see them ‘face to face.’   If we want to further our education, we can take online classes (as a student in an online Master’s program, I can relate to this).  And if we want to participate in a worship service, we can live stream many churches from anywhere in the world.

Assemble Ourselves Image

Technology is a good thing, but it has the ability to make us think we don’t need to get together with other believers.   Hebrews 10:25 tells us “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near (NLT).” Since the Word of God is timeless and true, this not only applied to believers during the time this was written, but it also applies to us today.  So the question is: in spite of all the advances that enable us to go solo, why should Christians assemble ourselves together? What are the benefits of assembling ourselves together? I’m glad you asked!

As we come together in worship and praise, we receive encouragement from one another, as the verse in Hebrews clearly tells us.  Each person has had difference experiences during the previous week, and will have to encounter other types of challenges in the upcoming week.  These tests can sometimes cause us to get discouraged, so we are to build one another up as we face them, admonishing each other to “…stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58, NIV).  Assembling ourselves together is a way for each of us to get the strength we need to face these tests, “for you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing (James 1:2-4, NLT). The encouragement we can receive coming together and sharing with one another is invaluable (having recently experienced this myself, I can totally relate)!

Also, as we come together, we are given opportunities to minister to others. Worship service is not just about what we can receive individually, but also what we can give to someone else.  God can use us in unexpected ways to be a blessing to others, and we should always be prepared to minister to and bless one another.  Being prepared to minister doesn’t necessarily mean having a sermon or teaching prepared, nor is it just reserved for those who are called to ministry (although every believer has a ministry…that’s another topic for another blog).  We should ask God to send us opportunities to be a blessing to someone, and be open to recognize them when they come.  They can be things as simple as greeting someone with a smile and a hug (not knowing that your greeting is the first friendly one they’ve received in a while), holding the door open for someone, or offering to watch a baby while mom goes to the restroom.  Or you may be called to pray for someone or offer a word of encouragement to a person who’s hurting. Instead of saying, “I’ll keep you in my prayers,” why not stop right then and there and pray for them? What a tangible and real way to show someone you love them and are concerned about them!

Lastly, when we assemble ourselves together, we can learn from one another.  Yes we can certainly listen to a sermon or teaching online, but there’s nothing like sitting next to someone hearing the message or teaching and seeing the light bulbs of revelation come on!  When we’re in small groups or in Sunday School classes, we have the chance to share our personal experiences, which help us to see how the Word of God manifests in real and practical ways. We can ask questions about what we’re learning (something we can’t do over a livestream) and others can help reinforce the lessons in our minds.

Yes, life can get busy, and technology gives us the opportunity to hear God’s Word wherever we may be.  But nothing can replace Christians coming together to fellowship with each other, encourage each other, learn together and pray for one another.  So put your electronic device away, get up and go assemble with the saints of God.  I promise that you’ll be blessed by the experience and will be able to share that blessing with others.   See you in service!