The Things That Matter

People say a lot of things. Things that hurt. Things that are true. Things that hurt because they’re true. But people also say a lot of things to minimize you, denigrate you, vilify you.

Kids can be cruel, and adults can be mean, and the things they say to put us down shouldn’t matter to us. But sometimes, we let those things that don’t matter at all matter a little too much until they eat away at our confidence, our strength, our joy, our ability to get out of bed every morning and live a purposeful life for our Creator.

It’s hard to forget the things they say. And sometimes, it’s hard to remember the things that matter.

These are the things they say:

You’re not smart enough for that job. Don’t bother applying to work at that place. Aren’t you too young to preach a sermon? You don’t dress very well. Your clothes are ugly. You’re not very pretty. There’s no way you’re that old. You’re way too short. You’re so tall, you look like a clumsy tree. You don’t have enough money. You didn’t go to a very good school. God will never use you. You’re not a very good person, and you’ve done terrible things. You can’t sing. You’re not a very good musician. You’re too skinny. You’re too fat. You’re too loud. It’s really annoying. You’re too quiet. It’s a little snobbish. You’ll never really amount to anything. Your family problems don’t matter. Your dreams don’t matter. Your thoughts don’t matter. You don’t matter.

These are the things God says:

But you matter to Me. I care about your thoughts. Lay your burdens down at My feet. There’s rest for you in My Presence. I can give you all you need. I saw you on the Cross when I died just for you. I knew all you’d have to go through, and I made you for this exact moment in time. You’re not too quiet or too loud for Me. I hear every prayer you whisper at night. I see you struggle and fight and fall and cry. I’ll be the Strength you need to stand taller than your mountain, the Arms to carry you when you’re too weak to climb. You don’t need the world’s fame or fortune to impress Me. Your song is beautiful. You can do all things when you give it all to Me.

I gave everything so that you could have everything in Me. Joy for every morning. Strength through every struggle. Comfort in every night. Eternal life. I love to hear your voice calling My Name. I long for you to be in Heaven with Me so you can see Me face-to-face, so you can see the face of the One Who came and died for you, Who gave you life. I’ve covered all your mistakes with My blood. You see, you’re more than a servant to Me. You’re my child. And you were worth it all. Every nail, every thorn, all the jeers, all the hate, all the scorn. And if you could only see how much I love you, then you’d know all the things in life that don’t matter and all the things that do.

These are the things that matter:

Your life. Your dreams. Your work for Jesus. Your walk with Him. The salvation of your friends. That time you sang that worship song, all loud and strong, and you thought no one was listening, but God heard every word, and it gave Him joy. That time you cried all night, got up the next morning, and went to work, and got to church later, and even though no one knew what you were going through, you praised God unashamedly. The smiles on your family’s faces when you’re together after time away. The time you spend reading the Word, seeking some direction, seeking Him more. When you tell God, over and over again, that you don’t understand, that you don’t know why bad things are happening, that you’re tired, that you’re sad, but you keep serving Him and giving Him praise because you remember. You remember that no matter what happens, you understand all the things that matter after all.

That the things they say and the negative things you think about yourself

are all the things that don’t matter.

And that Jesus, your family, your church, and you

are all the things that do.

A Light in Darkness | Stories of Grief and Loss

Grief is something with which many of us are all too familiar. Although we may try to distract ourselves and pick up the pieces after a great loss, that grief we’ve tried to bury still lingers, waiting for some small moment or phrase to rush those painful memories back to the surface of our thoughts. How can we deal with our grief when it seems impossible to keep on living without all we have lost?

Today, you may find the answer to this question in this guest post below from the Pentecostal Publishing House blog. A version of this article was posted here

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If you have experienced a loss of a loved one or a dear friend, allow A Light in Darkness: Stories of Grief and Loss to offer comfort. Reverend Scott Graham writes an introduction, saying “No one wants to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. It is rocky. The footing is uneven. It is steep at times, and falls are not uncommon.” The valley of the shadow of death is an ugly passage that all must pass through when grieving loss.

Stories of Grief and Loss

Maybe you’ve lost a spouse, parent, child, or a dear friend, and you realize you lack strength to make it through the dark valley alone. It feels lonely and scary. What if someone who made the journey before you could help—someone who could share insights from their experiences, the lessons they’ve learned, and things that helped them cope? That’s what A Light in Darkness is all about.

You will hear from writers who have lost parents, a spouse, a friend, siblings, a child, and more. The same questions you may be wrestling and grappling with right now, these writers also wrestled with. Know this: it’s okay to question, closure comes gradually, and God hasn’t turned His back on you.

You will want to meet these writers and read their letters. They are addressed to you, dear friend.

If you know someone walking in the valley of the shadow of death, consider giving A Light in Darkness as a gift this Christmas. These stories of grief and loss will offer comfort and hope.

Resources and Links

A Light in Darkness

When The Unexpected Comes

Life is made up of many unexpected moments—some good, some bad. Somehow, it’s often the bad ones that have a lasting impact on our lives, that mold who we become and shape how we think.

In September of 2013, my diagnosis with Type 1 diabetes was unexpected. It shocked my family and I since no one in my immediate family has it. I was numb at first. Not upset or sad. I didn’t cry or get frustrated. I went along with the doctor’s orders and cautiously trudged through each day afterwards.

What does one do when the unexpected comes?

A wave of emotion didn’t hit me until two months later when I sat by my bed, worrying about what my life would be like now. Diabetes is a lifelong disease with no cure. I thought of all the complications one could have from Type 1 diabetes, of all the frustrations that might come with traveling with this disease. And I so desperately wanted to travel. And suddenly I was sad, frustrated, overwhelmed. I was afraid of returning to college. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to have the future I wanted. Then, at one youth prayer meeting the following spring, God spoke a word through one of our young ladies that I have never forgotten.

“Keep the momentum going. I am everything you will ever need.”

Maybe God spoke to others that night, but I knew He had also meant that for me. In that moment, I knew I would be alright so long as I kept moving forward in my relationship with Him. He even gave me the answer to how I would get through this trial in my life. God would be everything I would ever need.

My comfort. My peace. My strength.

Whatever I needed, He would be that for me.

The only thing that has ever gotten me through each unexpected moment in my life has been my relationship with God. No, it’s not perfect, but it’s my personal walk with Him. It’s comprised of my experiences talking to Him, those moments I’ve cried and gotten upset, those moments He’s comforted me, those moments He’s given me the strength to carry on, those moments He’s given me revelation after revelation of what it means to be His child and servant and what it means to receive His unconditional love and mercy.

It’s when the unexpected comes that you realize you won’t be able to make it on your parents’ relationship with God or your pastor’s relationship with God. It’s when you realize that you have to make sure your own personal relationship with God is solid if you are going to get through whatever situation you’re in and come out of it stronger.

I’m sure, dear reader, that there have been unexpected moments in your life, and there may be many more—some good, some bad. But it is our responsibility to get closer to God now—not tomorrow or next year—but now to make sure that we’re always prepared for the unexpected. If our daily walk with God is strong and consistent, then we are already prepared for whatever good or bad situation may come our way.

As long as our focus is on Him, and as long as we keep the momentum going, then in the presence of our Creator, we will find everything we’ll ever need to make it through when the unexpected comes.

For Better or Worse: Remaining Faithful to God in the Face of Adversity

This is a simple post, but sometimes, we need simple reminders of the greatness of our God to overcome our complex emotions.

The other night in prayer, I was thinking about and praying for our nation in the face of whatever may come in the next few weeks. Emotions have been high for many Americans as the presidential inauguration is scheduled for next week. We well know that God raises up kings (and other leaders) and takes them down. We can rest assured that His Will is what’s best for us, even when we may not like the immediate outcome in the natural.

So, what is our path forward in the face of adversity?

When I was sitting and praying about these things, I believe God led me to Daniel chapter 6 and reminded me of the single most important priority for any child of God no matter what may come our way—our relationship with Him.

(10) “Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime.

(11) Then these men assembled, and found Daniel praying and making supplication before his God.

(12) Then they came near, and spake before the king concerning the king’s decree; Hast thou not signed a decree, that every man that shall ask a petition of any God or man within thirty days, save of thee, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions? The king answered and said, The thing is true, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not.

(13) Then answered they and said before the king, That Daniel, which is of the children of the captivity of Judah, regardeth not thee, O king, nor the decree that thou hast signed, but maketh his petition three times a day.”

~Daniel 6:10-13 (KJV)

In this chapter, corrupt leaders conspired against Daniel, who oversaw the financial affairs of the kingdom, to get him out of the way because he was an upright man. They manipulated King Darius to sign a decree saying that no one could present a petition to anyone, including God, except for the king for 30 days, knowing full well Daniel’s faithfulness to God. Now, Daniel knew that the king signed this decree, but instead of cowering, panicking, and following along with the corrupt leaders, he maintained his relationship with God. He remained faithful and prayed to God three times a day “as he did aforetime.”

In the face of evil, of darkness, of danger, and a threat to his life, Daniel remained faithful to God.

In the face of adversity, he continued to put God first.

His faithfulness got himself thrown into the lions’ den. Now, any one of us, if we went through that situation, may be thinking at that point, “God, whatchu doin’? Where you at? This ain’t looking good.” But Daniel didn’t doubt God, and as we see, God delivered him from the mouth of the lions.

(19) “Then the king arose very early in the morning, and went in haste unto the den of lions.

(20) And when he came to the den, he cried with a lamentable voice unto Daniel: and the king spake and said to Daniel, O Daniel, servant of the living God, is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions?

(21) Then said Daniel unto the king, O king, live for ever.

(22) My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before him innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt.

(23) Then was the king exceedingly glad for him, and commanded that they should take Daniel up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no manner of hurt was found upon him, because he believed in his God.”

~Daniel 6:19-23 (KJV)

No matter what kind of adversity comes our way, if we’re faithful to God, He will deliver us.

What we learn from Daniel’s experience in this chapter is that things always seem to be falling apart in the natural. Remember the three Hebrew boys from Daniel chapter three? Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego refused to worship to the golden image King Nebuchadnezzar had set up, and the king had them thrown into the fiery furnace. In the natural, things seemingly became much, much worse.

I certainly would rather not be thrown into a fiery furnace. I don’t think I’d be all that calm or chill with it, but maybe that’s just me.

In the natural, when we consider what we see with our flesh, we can often allow ourselves to become focused only on the storm and only on the bad, but we fail to see with the spirit. We fail to see that no matter how bad things may look in the natural, God is preparing a great work in the supernatural.

This great work then serves as a great witness to others of the greatness and glory of God. God delivering the three Hebrews from the fiery furnace impressed Nebuchadnezzar, and he blessed God, declared that no one could speak against God, and he promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (see Daniel 3:28-30). God delivering Daniel from the lions’ mouths impressed Darius, and he made a decree that gloried God as “the living God” whose “dominion shall be even unto the end” (see Daniel 6:26). Not only is our faithfulness to God a witness to others, but how God comes through for us is a testament to others.

God shows His Glory to the world when adversity comes.

Things always seem to get worse in the natural before they get better. Before God moves, before deliverance comes, and before God reveals His Glory, things seem to be falling apart.

But God is moving.

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” ~Romans 8:28 (KJV)

God was right there with the Hebrew boys when they were thrown into the fire. He was right there with Daniel when he was thrown into the lions’ den.

God is always with us. We just have to keep the faith, pray, and keep up our relationship with God.

No matter what may happen in the natural world, God is getting ready to do a mighty work for His people and for His Glory the likes of which the world has never seen.

Fight or Flight? What to Do When Life Gets Overwhelming

I’ve been tired a lot more than usual this week, and the effects of the events at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday have been lingering in my mind. I spent the majority of the day yesterday trying to understand everything going on in our country and world. I read and pondered the updates from insiders on social media, and I prayed.

I trusted that God had everything in control (and I still do), and yet I was still very tired. My brain felt like it would nearly explode from deciphering coded messages and conflicting information from all sides.

What does x mean?

What really happened?

If x scenario doesn’t happen, what then does that mean?

Why did so-and-so say or do what they did?

I later realized my weariness was not due to fear or worry over what might happen but over realizing the significance of where we are and what will happen next.

We are in a spiritual war, and the people of God are fighting a battle against not only powers of darkness but against our own flesh and weaknesses. We are only human, of course, and we need rest. But how do we deal with things when our fight vs. flight mode kicks in? If we’re too weary to fight, what then? Run away from our problems? (A terrible solution, really.) Instead of running away from the issue and from stress, I propose a different kind of “flight”:

Running to Jesus and not away from our struggles.

It’s moments like these when our weariness reminds us that we are flawed and incapable beings who desperately need our Creator. We don’t have the strength on our own to keep going. We aren’t capable on our own to fight this spiritual war and still stand for Truth, but that’s okay because we have Jesus.

When our hearts are overwhelmed, He leads us to the rock that is higher (see Psalm 61:2). That rock is our God (see Psalm 62:2, 6).

David endured many circumstances that seemed overwhelming. His son, Absalom, instigated a rebellion against him, and David had to flee (see 2 Samuel 15). David’s decision to activate his own “flight mode” wasn’t an act of giving up. Instead, he continued to rely on God and run to Him for shelter and strength.

(3) “But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me: my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.

(4) I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy hill. Selah.

(5) I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me.”

David cried to God and rested, and God sustained him. This word “sustained” means, according to the dictionary, “to strengthen or support physically or mentally.” The Hebrew word that we translate into “sustained” also means “to establish” or “uphold.”

When adversity comes, God strengthens our body and our mind, but we must go to Him in prayer, and we must allow ourselves to rest. The rest we have in Him restores our soul, strengthens our body, and refreshes our spirit.

(28) “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

(29) Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

(30) For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30 (KJV)

Be Prepared

This is the story of how I almost contracted pneumonia after a treacherous journey in a torrential rainstorm during the fall semester of 2019.

It was around five o’clock in the evening, and I had only fifteen minutes to race from one side of my university campus to the other side and make it to my history class in time. When I chose my classes that semester, I knew a moment might come when I would regret the back-to-back scheduling of classes on opposite sides of the campus, but I could never predict how or why that might happen.

I was not prepared for the rain. Sure, I had checked my weather app that morning and knew there was a slight chance of rain, but it was only slight, and I didn’t want to carry around an umbrella all day, so I brushed it aside. A foolish decision, really, for the rain was not light, and I had no tool at my disposal to protect me.

It was a cold October evening, if memory serves me correctly, and I had to rush from my English to my history building while carrying my bag full of books and my purse as the rain poured. It soaked my thick, chenille-knit sweater and flattened my curls against my scalp. Of course, I tried to shield my head from the rain by holding my notebook over my head, but then I realized that I couldn’t let my class notes become soaked and, thereby, unreadable, and so I quickly stuffed the notebook back in my bookbag and sloshed forward as the rain beat on. By the time I reached my history building, I was nearly thoroughly wet.

And, of course, my history building was cool and breezy, and so I sat in the front row of my history class on the Spanish Conquest for nearly three hours in the evening in a wet sweater and damp hair.

I could get pneumonia, I thought. I could have a terrible cold. I might freeze to death in this classroom, wearing my adorable but uncomfortably wet chenille-knit sweater. I should have known.

Yes, I should have known to bring my umbrella and perhaps even my rain jacket that day, and when my father picked me up from class that night, he cranked up the heat in his truck for me and wisely informed me I should make sure to bring my umbrella next time. That week, he brought me a poncho to keep on me “just in case.”

Spoiler alert: I did not die, and neither did I contract pneumonia or come down with a cold or even the sniffles and a light cough. But the uncomfortable experience of sitting in a cool room in damp clothes and wet hair for three hours gave me plenty of reason to always be prepared for the next time it might be raining during the walk between my classes. If I had been prepared, I could have saved myself all that discomfort.

But don’t we often ignore our better judgment and find ourselves ill-prepared for life sometimes?

There were times in college when I failed to start my morning with a proper prayer session, and the rest of my day was awful. I was extra irritable and extra stressed and generally in a bad mood, and I remember thinking each time that if only I had prepared myself for the day in prayer, then perhaps I wouldn’t have been so miserable.

Prayer is not only our time to commune with God, but it’s how we prepare for each day and each situation so that we begin each day and situation prayed up and spiritually balanced.

I’ve prayed before every test I’ve taken, paper or assignment I’ve submitted, and important decision I’ve made. If I fail to do so, it is the same for me as failing to give God full control of every situation. Failing to put my life and work in His hands is the same as attempting to keep my life and work under the control of my incapable and ill-equipped hands.

I need Jesus to get through each day and each situation.

I need Him when I’m taking a test.

I need Him when I’m choosing which career decision to make.

I need Him when I’m walking through the literal or metaphorical rainstorm.

If we’re going to be prepared for whatever comes our way in life, we can’t ignore our responsibility to seek Him in prayer first. During prayer, God equips us with the ability and strength we need to get through each day, for He is the only One Who knows what each day will hold.

Prayer is preparation, and our preparation must begin with Jesus.

Setting the Right Goals in 2021

2021 is finally here, and many are already starting on those special resolutions they’ve set for themselves, but before you start on your new resolutions, here’s something you might consider:

Don’t.

Seriously, don’t make any resolutions. Instead, make goals, and instead of making goals that are glorified resolutions, strive to set goals for yourself that are practical and have a real purpose to them.

For example, I once set a goal at the beginning of a new year to exercise to a specific workout video every day. I did it for about a week, and then I began skipping a few days here and there. Those few days turned into an entire week, and before January was over, I’d completely abandoned my new year challenge.

“Well, that’s just you,” you might say.

Maybe that is just me. Maybe I have a deeper passion for delicious food than taking up running marathons, but maybe many of us have the habit of setting goals for ourselves out of flimsy desires that are simply unrealistic.

But I learned some time ago to choose a specific goal for which I had a passion and burden, and I developed a few steps to achieving success in completing said goal.

1. Start small.

Last year, I decided to study the Word more, so rather than commit right away to analyzing Isaiah or Revelations in depth, I chose one of my favorite shorter books—Esther. I knew it would be a book that I could easily commit to studying due to its short length (only 10 chapters), and I chose to read a few verses each day and study those verses only.

2. Set time aside each day.

I made a schedule to read Esther over the course of several weeks and estimated the time I would spend each day reading the verses and then set time aside to study each verse individually, taking notes and using Bible study tools to help me.

At the same time, I’d made a goal to pray more, so I set a realistic time to pray each morning. The set time sometimes changed, depending on the day of the week, but I knew that specifically writing down my goals and the time I would set aside for them would help me achieve them.

3. Gradually increase time allotted each day and effort necessary to complete the goal.

After about a week, I gradually began to increase how much time I spent in prayer. Sometimes, it was by five minutes or by ten minutes or by fifteen minutes, but the more I prayed and focused on prayer, the easier I found it was to increase my prayer time.

4. Approach with firm resolve and understanding—don’t quit.

I didn’t always pray as long as I needed to or study for as long as I could have, but I didn’t give up. Why? Why didn’t I give up the same way I gave up exercising to that new exercise video after a couple of weeks? Because I didn’t set a goal that was only linked to fleeting desires or insecurities. Instead, I made sure to set a goal linked to my own identity and lifestyle. I am a child of God, an Apostolic Pentecostal, and as such, I seek a stronger relationship with God through prayer and studying His Word. I understood the value of the goal I set.

When I failed one day to meet my goal, I began again the next day with a resolve to try harder and do better. By the end of the year, I’d managed to read through and study more of the Word, such as the book of Genesis and themes like comfort. Because I didn’t give up or revert to doing the “same-ole-same-ole,” I was able to reach a breakthrough in my prayers and spend more time in His Presence, getting closer to Him than I’d been before.

Don’t underestimate the importance of writing down your goals and setting schedules.

I’m a visual person, anyway, so putting down my goals and plans on paper helps solidify them in my mind and helps me take those goals seriously.

Your goals don’t have to be big, but your passion does.

If you don’t truly, really, deeply care for achieving your goals deep, deep down, then chances are you’ll give up on them.

After 2020 let down many people, I believe it’s acceptable to set small, realistic goals for 2021—something simple like spending more quality time with loved ones or taking a short vacation (or even staycation) that was cancelled last year due to lockdowns.

2021 will certainly be better than 2020 if we set that as a goal for ourselves and charge forward in faith and with purpose. We have an entire year ahead of us, and we can’t control what happens outside of ourselves. But we can control our determination.

Let’s do this, 2021!