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Thursday
Jun292017

You May Need a Change of Pace. I Did!

In this Self-care UPGRADE, Dawn reminds us to ponder our lives and see if we need more rest.

Slowing down is not a sign of weakness. And it's definitely not wimping out.

Now that was my perspective for many years. Even as godly, more spiritually-mature women warned me I might be close to burnout, I argued that I was doing OK.

"I prayed about it," I said.

And I'm sure my godly friends wondered who I was praying to.

"I'm just concerned about you," one of them said.

"I know you think you can handle all of this," another said, "but there are little evidences you're not."

I had to admit, there were lots of little evidences. As my life slowly unraveled over two years, my health grew worse and my stressed-out emotions made me prone to foolish time-management choices.

  • Physically, I had skin, stomach and breathing issues.
  • Mentally, my brain was foggy and I couldn't focus.
  • Emotionally, I was always close to tears. Not depressed, but close.
  • Socially, I was withdrawing from friendships because I was "too busy" and too afraid people might discover how weak I truly really was.
  • Spiritually, I was plagued by doubts, fears and anxiety. I struggled in prayer.

All that time, I was doing many "good things," spiritual things, people-serving things. But I soon discovered a powerful truth.

When we don't take care of ourselves with biblical self-care, we're not much good for the long haul.

As Vicki Courtney wrote in Rest Assured, "We send up a flare prayer for reinforcements to help us maintain the pace, never imagining that God wants us to change the pace."

I was praying for strength to endure, while all the time, God was calling me aside to a quieter place, a slower pace, to recuperate.

But I wasn't listening.

Looking back, I see how much of that "not listening" was based in pride and perfectionism.

And my agenda was too important.

I felt I had to keep up the pace. But the pace was killing me.

  • Jesus said, "Come to me... I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).
  • Jesus said, "... learn from me ... you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11:29).
  • Jesus said, "... my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:30).

I was failing on all three counts.

1. I Needed a "Come to Jesus" Encounter.

I was in the Word of God all the time. It was part of my job description. It was part of my ministry. But I wasn't finding the rest Jesus offered because I wasn't coming to Him.

Thinking and talking and writing about Jesus are not the same thing as meeting with Jesus.

I was also, at that time, affiliated with a ministry (NEWIM) that called women to come apart before they came apart. But I resisted their quiet retreats because I was too busy.

Big mistake.

I needed more than a "come to Jesus" moment. I needed a "come to Jesus" encounter—the huge, transforming kind.

I needed to hear the words of Jesus to those who were so weary and soul-hungry: "...come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest" (Mark 6:31b).

It's not just restful pauses. Our Father God desires to grant sleep "to those he loves" too (Psalm 127:2b).

These days, I'm trying to remember: It is the pause in life that refreshes, the rest that enables growth, and the "margin" we proactively plan into our lives that allows for healing.

2. I Needed to Learn More about My Identity in Christ.

Actually, the learning was only a starting point. A decade ago, I studied the many blessings I have because of my identity in and with Christ. But I wasn't appropriating any of those blessings.

My understanding of "identity in Christ" was all head knowledge, not heart embracing and life changing.

In Christ, I have a new identity, absolute security and God-given dignity. Those are the facts.

But what does that look like in daily living? I'm growing in that understanding.

For instance, where I once acknowledged that I am totally "accepted in the Beloved" (Ephesians 1;6), I'm now understanding the grace in that truth.

I don't have to struggle and strive for more acceptance. I'm all His!

And whereas I was once anxious about performing (and so, I kept super busy), I started actually believing and acting in light of the truth that God will finish what He has started (Philippians 1:6).

There is great freedom in our identity in Christ!

3. I Needed to Exchange My Burden for the Lord's "Yoke."

A great truth I learned out of my journey toward rest is found in John 15:5: "... apart from Me, you can do nothing."

I was only fooling myself to think all my hard work was powerful and effective outside the Lord's strength and provision.

There is no end to the weariness in striving to "work for the Lord."

The right perspective is to abide in Him, and allow Him to work through us. In John 15:4-6, Jesus says, "Abide in me, and I in you." He was saying, "Make yourself at home in Me, let your roots go down deep into Me, and watch Me bear fruit in your life.

The Pharisees in Jewish culture placed a heavy burden of works on the backs of people (Matthew 23:4), but by comparison, the way Jesus offered was light. He wanted to relieve people of those heavy burdens.

The yoke of a Pharisaical, self-righteous lifestyle is burdensome and oppressive, but the yoke of keeping God's commandments out of love for Him is not. As John said, "This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3).

Being yoked to Jesus is lighter because by repentance and faith we are able to live the life that will please our Heavenly Father. Jesus goes beyond law-keeping to heart-relationship, and the blessing is:

Jesus carried the burden that makes our obedience possible!

Presenting our lives in obedience to God is the blessing of "spiritual worship" (Romans 12:1), empowered by the Holy Spirit. We find our rest in the presence of the Lord and our peace in focusing on Him (Exodus 33:14; Isaiah 26:3).

Like me, you may need a change of pace that is really the rest of grace.

Do you need a come to Jesus encounter? To embrace your identity in Christ? To lay down your heavy burden? Be still before the Lord and read Psalm 23. Remind yourself of your Good Shepherd's care: "He makes me lie down... he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul...."

Dawn Wilson, founder and President of Heart Choices Today, is a speaker and author, and the creator of three blogs: Heart Choices Today, LOL with God (with Pam Farrel), and Upgrade with Dawn. She is a contracted researcher/reviewer for Revive Our Hearts and a writer at Crosswalk.com. She and her husband Bob live in Southern California and have two grown, married sons, three granddaughters and a rascally maltipoo, Roscoe.

Graphic of flare, courtesy of Pixabay.

Tuesday
Jun202017

Avoid Drama by Choosing Your Friends Wisely

Cindi McMenamin would love to see women display more and more strength as they embrace life-changing truth. In this Friendship UPGRADE, she explains how we can have less drama and more soul-strength by choosing friends carefully.

She asks, "Do you find there’s much drama in your life? If so, it may have to do with your choice of friends."  

I (Dawn) know this is true. Today I have different "levels" of friendships—intimate, ministry-based, casual, and sad to say, "guarded." Friends are truly a blessing, but we still need to pray carefully about the people we invite into our hearts.

Cindi continues . . .

Christian women often get the idea that they must be friends with everyone. Yet the Bible tells us,

“The righteous choose their friends carefully” (Proverbs 12:26, NIV).

Sometimes you and I don’t actually choose our friends—they just find us and before we know it, we’re hanging out with someone who is either helpful or a hindrance. But if you and I want to dial down the drama in our lives, it would be wise to take inventory of our friendships.

As I was writing my book, Drama Free, I included a list of the five types of friends you and I need in our lives. As you read through this list (which is not in any particular order), you might want to take mental note of the kinds of friends you currently HAVE to get an idea of how balanced you are.

You might also use this list as a guide to praying about the friendships you might STILL need.

1. The Fun Friend

Let’s admit it. We all need someone who is fun to be with, who makes us laugh, who encourages us to set the work aside, have some fun, live a little.

You and I can’t spend every waking moment with this friend because if we did, we’d never get anything done. But if you have a friend who can balance the fun with responsibility and maturity, and encourage you to let go of work now and then and not take yourself so seriously, you have found a treasure.

Who encourages you to not take yourself so seriously?

2. The Firm Friend

I’m not talking about the woman who is constantly working out and has considerably less body fat than the rest of us. Although you and I need her too (we’ll get to her later), we need a friend who will firmly tell us what we need to hear, not just what we want to hear.

While your fun friend may encourage you to laugh it off or live for the moment, your firm friend will often remind you of what’s best for you, even if it isn’t fun or even comfortable. She does this because of her love for you and her ability to see beyond the moment to what really matters.

And if she’s able to be firm with a generous dose of grace and love, hold onto her. She is a rare gift.

Who tells you what you need to hear instead of just what you want to hear?

3. The forward-moving friend

You’ve seen her. You probably even admire her (or maybe you can’t stand her because she has it all together!).

She gets excited about New Year’s resolutions and seeks out people to join her in them each January. She talks about what she’s reading, what she’s learning in her Bible study, or the latest class she’s taking to explore something new.

Do you have someone to challenge you to be more healthy, read more books, think more deeply, hone your skills?

We all need to keep moving forward personally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

Who challenges you to move beyond where you are right now? 

4. The Faithful Friend

Every woman needs a friend who will be there through thick and thin. Through the dark days, through the sick days, through the days you are having difficulty and just need someone to understand.

Not only is the faithful friend always there, but she’s loyal—meaning she would never talk behind your back or re-evaluate the friendship if she thinks she’s giving more than you are.

A faithful friend doesn’t keep track of how many times she has called you vs. how many times you take the initiative to call her.

She will pick up with you wherever the two of you left off.

The opposite of the faithful friend is the gossip or critic. Proverbs 16:28 says “a whisperer separates close friends.” Your faithful friend is the one who will never be whispering to others about you.

Who can you always depend on, regardless of season or schedule?

5. The “Faith-filled” Friend

Do you tend to be a worrier? Do you stress out when a situation seems out of control? If you hang around others who do the same, you will fuel each other’s fire of fear and doubt.

That’s why every woman needs a faith-filled friend who doesn’t worry or talk about the “what ifs,” but trusts in the Lord and helps fill up others with her faith.

When your concerns cross the line into worry, doubt, and fear, that’s when you need your faith-filled friend to remind you Who is ultimately in control. 

If you have at least one friend in each category above (or all the categories are covered by the few friends you have), you are rich beyond measure.

And if there’s a friend on that list that you don’t yet have, you know what to look for—and the kind of friend to be as well.

Cindi McMenamin is a national speaker and author who helps women find strength for the soul. She is the author of fifteen books, including her newest, Drama Free: Finding Peace When Emotions Overwhelm You, upon which this post is based.  For more on her ministry, discounts on her books, or free resources to strengthen your walk with God, your marriage, or your parenting, see her website: StrengthForTheSoul.com.                        

All Graphics adapted, courtesy of Pixabay, except for the Faith-filled friend graphic, courtesy of Lightstock.

Saturday
Jun172017

'I Will Be Your Father'

In this special UPLIFT for Father's Day, Dawn Wilson is joining with Claudia DeNure to remind us of God's special invitation to be our "Father."

I (Dawn) remember when my Daddy died. It was such a tough day, and to this day, I still have "unexpected tears" when something triggers a memory about him.

I know on Father's Day many have tough memories as well as sweet ones.

I don't know what your memories are, but I once heard a preacher say, "We often respond to the Lord in the same way we responded (or respond) to our earthly fathers."

I don't know if that's true for everyone, but it certainly was for me.

My Daddy loved me, but I never sensed we communicated that love heart to heart (though I was supposedly a "Daddy's girl.") I knew Daddy expected me to "do good" and "not get in trouble." But I also knew his correction when I did mess up was fair and swift. Yet sometimes he let me off the hook. I never deserved the "mercy" I received.

And that's exactly how I viewed God for so many years. That has both good and bad results. Good, because I've always seen God as fair and merciful; bad because there were times I thought God might be letting me off the hook for my sin, and also because I struggled with feeling truly connected in prayer. I knew God loved me, but I somehow wanted to hear it in a more tangible way.

As I matured in faith after finally trusting in what Christ did for me (and not my own efforts), I one day read 1 John 3:1, and it transformed my heart:

"See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are."

That verse was the "more tangible" I was looking for. I believed that scripture. And I built my worldview of God's Fatherhood on it.

I set on a course to discover God's love as a Father.

I started praying to Him in a different way. Instead of "God," I started addressing Him as "Father God." I felt that reflected my awe of Him as the sovereign God and Lord of the universe, and yet acknowledged the special, new relationship the Bible says we have together.

I understand Jesus was the first Jewish rabbi to call God "Father" directly; and it was also Jesus who first taught His disciples to pray, "Our Father in heaven" (Matthew 6:9). Jesus was inviting His followers of all time into a deep, personal relationship with the God He knew so intimately.

What a tremendous privilege the believer has to pray to the Father, in Christ! And what an introduction Jesus gave us to the most unfathomable love in existence (John 15:9-17).

The Father's love for His own is not like human love. It is lavish and unconditional.

Our love story began with the love of the Father for His "only begotten" Son, Jesus (John 3:16; Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:9-11).

And then this matchless Love of God enabled us to "be called children of God" (John 1:12-13). It is this love that quickens and changes us and empowers the conquering of sin (Ephesians 2:4-5; Galatians 2:20; Romans 8:37-39).

It is a mistake to believe all humans are automatically "children of God." Only those the Father "births" through the Gospel, adopts and transforms through the Holy Spirit can truly call Him "Abba." * (John 1:12-13; 3:6; 1 Peter 1:3, 23; Romans 8:14-17, 22-23; Galatians 4:4-6; Ephesians 1:4-6).

Yet "Father's Day" may truly trouble some. Their memories of their daddies are too grim, too hurtful. But there truly is no comparison between them and our "Abba" in heaven.

God the Father is not like some distant, dirty or deadbeat earthly dads.

Father God is not an absent father, an abusive father, or an always-failing-us father.

He is good—an absolutely "good, good Father," as Chris Tomlin's song reminds us so beautifully:

I've heard a thousand stories of what they think you're like,
But I've heard the tender whispers of love in the dead of night;
And you tell me that you're pleased
And that I'm never alone.
You're a good, good father—
It's who you are, it's who you are, it's who you are;
And I'm loved by you—
It's who I am, it's who I am, it's who I am....

As I was thinking about this recently, I was struck by the powerful testimony of my friend, Claudia DeNure, and I want her to share it with you.

"My mother married three times," Claudia says. "My dad had been a German prisoner of war in the Second World War, and when he returned home, he was a very different man. He divorced my mother. 

"After a second failed marriage to an alcoholic musician, she married the man with whom I went through my teen years calling my step-father. This, too, was a difficult marriage which included many heated and accusatory arguments, and frequently ended with, 'I'm going to divorce you' from both parties. 

"I had just returned from a church camp experience, as I recall, and hearing the screaming above—from the basement room I been given as a bedroom—I prayed, 'Lord, I don't want a life like that. Please help me.' 

"Then I heard quite clearly in my mind, 'If you will be my daughter, I will be your Father." That was the moment I turned my life over to Jesus Christ, and I've never looked back. 

"He became the Father I never had; the best Father a girl—and now a woman—could ever have asked for."

I know that is the case for so many today. Just as on Mother's Day, there are many who hurt on the special day we set aside to honor our dads.

Some, like me, simply hurt because their daddies have passed away and we're no longer to put our arms around their necks and whisper, "Daddy, I love you."

In those times, oh, how we need Father God.

Claudia understood the CONDITION as well as the COMFORT involved in this Fatherhood:

"IF you will be my daughter, I WILL be your Father."

God desires to (and He will) "Father" us, but we must be willing to be His sons and daughters. We must be willing to trust the Gospel, surrender to His control and obey Him.

Do you know the Father today? Do you understand His lavish love for you? If not, here is how to become a "child of God" with the Lord of the universe as your Father in heaven.

Dawn Wilson, founder and President of Heart Choices Today, is a speaker and author, and the creator of three blogs: Heart Choices Today, LOL with God (with Pam Farrel), and Upgrade with Dawn. She is a contracted researcher/reviewer for Revive Our Hearts and a writer at Crosswalk.com. She and her husband Bob live in Southern California and have two grown, married sons, three granddaughters and a rascally maltipoo, Roscoe.

*Note: "Abba" is closely related to the word for "Daddy" in Aramaic.

THANK YOU for your testimony and the use of your photos, Claudia DeNure.

Thursday
Jun152017

When God Interrupts

Kolleen Lucariello’s goal is to help women discover and live out their identity in Christ, and in this Spiritual Life UPGRADE, she encourages us to see the Lord’s “interruptions” as His appointments.

“I listened as my sister explained her dilemma and easily sensed the disappointment and controlled panic in her voice,” Kolleen said.

I (Dawn) think it’s clear Kolleen has a sensitive heart—a heart primed to help.

But is helping at that moment what the Lord wanted? Great wisdom here.

Kolleen continues . . .

After months of struggle, my sister was finally able to help a young woman she had been mentoring find residential housing suitable to help her overcome the obstacles she’d been battling.

Unfortunately, she had just been informed her friend would not be able to continue in the program and my sister would need to find a new place for her immediately.

As in: ASAP.

After hearing the complexity of the assignment before her, I offered her the only sisterly advice I had when I said, “I’ll pray for you.”

I’ve learned this answer is the safest when the fixer in me rises up at the same time my empathy levels increase. As a recovering-controlling-fixer I often offer quick solutions to the pickles people found themselves in; my advice flowing from emotion with little thought or prayer involved.

This, my friends, usually put Kolleen in a pickle with her husband, Pat.

So now, rather than allow my emotions to speak up, I’ve become determined to wait on the Lord and be prayed up. So pray I did. 

I prayed hard for my sister. I prayed fervently for her friend.

I prayed that whoever God had given the ability to help would clearly follow His leading.

Each morning for almost a week I would grab my cup of tea, play “I Surrender” quietly in the background, and enter my quiet time of prayer—seeking God for wisdom in this situation.

As the day of her discharge grew closer and no temporary housing had been found, the desperation level began to increase. Calls for help were put out but—with a list of very specific needs in housing—choices were limited.

What became unlimited, however, were the many reasons for the answer, no.

Still, I prayed on.

I sensed the Lord was beginning to unravel this mystery of where He had in mind for her to go when I was reminded of the empty spare room we had recently painted and put together.

I began pleading my case for why the answer had to be no.

Since we were on limited time, the Lord wasted little of it exposing the reason for my hesitation: Interruption. Exactly.

How is it possible to sing “I Surrender” or “Withholding Nothing” in the morning and yet refuse to be interrupted by the One I promise to surrender to and withhold nothing from?

Ouch.

I wonder how Abram managed when God spoke to him, “Go away from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you” (Genesis 12:1 AMP). Talk about interruption. 

You UPGRADE your responsiveness to the Lord when you:

1. Listen for God to speak to you.

Abram was settled in Haran when the Lord spoke to Him and told him, “Go.”

Is there a chance we’ve become so settled in the safety of our routine that we fail to hear the Lord when He speaks to us?

2.  Allow God to move you out of your comfort zone.

God instructed Abram to leave his country, his relatives and his father’s house.

Is it possible we’ve become unmovable by the comfort of people, places and things?

3. Receive God’s blessing through obedience.

The Lord promised Abram there would be great blessing for him in exchange for his obedience.

Could we be missing out on the blessings He longs to give us each time we fail in our obedience?

Abraham became the father of many nations when he “...departed [in faithful obedience] as the Lord had directed him” (Genesis 12:4, AMP).

I wonder what we might become if we depart, in faithful obedience, when the Lord directs.

We won’t know if we refuse to surrender to His interruptions.

Does the Lord want to interrupt your life?

Kolleen Lucariello, #TheABCGirl, is the author of the devotional book, The ABC’s of Who God Says I Am. Kolleen and her high school sweetheart, Pat, reside in Central New York. She’s a mother of three married children and Mimi to four incredible grandkids. She desires to help others find their identity in Christ—one letter at a time. Learn more about Kolleen here.

 

Tuesday
Jun132017

How To Run without Looking Back

In this Spiritual Life UPGRADE, I want to encourage readers to run the race of life wisely, and especially without looking back!

How are you running the race God gave you?"

Pause. Think. Read on.

I hated field hockey. As a junior high student, I didn't like anything about it—the endurance running (with my asthma), the craziness of scrambling after the ball, and especially all those swinging sticks!

But I remember one game in particular where I really blew it and suffered embarrassment for days.

My stance was fine, my Indian dribble fair, and my slap shots sufficient. But my coach repeatedly yelled, "Stay focused, Dawn. Quit looking back."

Pretty good advice considering I froze and looked back every time I heard the pounding of footsteps behind me. Whenever I had the ball "corraled" and girls rushed toward me from behind, I tended to spin around and get out of the way to avoid being run over!

My athletic sons would shake their heads in embarrassment if they could time-warp to see me back then.

One day, when the stampede of girls behind me once again scared me to death, I spun around, lost my footing and fell awkwardly, spraining an ankle and hitting my head. Sprawled on the grass, little birdies spun around my head, tweeting. (Back then, those were life's original "Tweets.")

Not exactly a star player.

I never really liked those wayward hockey sticks either. Or bruised knees (when players somehow missed my shin guards).

Like I said, I hated field hockey.

But that "looking back" thing? I still do it. In life.

I look back when I live with regrets, compare myself to others, or lose focus.

Life, unlike a field hockey game, isn't optional. And I don't want to stay stuck in fear. I want to grow in faith.

The Lord wants me to learn, grow and run my race well "to get the prize" (1 Corinthians 9:24).

So ... what am I DOING about that "looking back" problem?

1. I'm dealing with regrets biblically.

I know I can't go back for life re-dos. Looking back is fruitless except as I take my past to the Father and allow Him to redeem it (Isaiah 44:22).

When we confess our failings and leave them with the Lord, His forgiveness, mercy and grace allow us to move forward with God-confidence and fresh obedience (1 John 1:9).

The Lord will keep refining us as we run our race (Psalm 66:10; 1 Peter 1:7). It's His work, and He will perfect us (Psalm 138:8; Philippians 1:6).

2. I'm learning to compare myself only with Jesus.

My sidetracking temptation in playing field hockey was to idolize the best players. When I did that, there was never any real progress—at least not as far as I was concerned.

The truth is, my coach didn't want me to become Beth, Angie or Mary. He wanted me to be the best Dawn possible.

That's what the Lord wants for all of us too.

It's so easy in Christian circles to compare ourselves with women who have it "all together for Jesus," forgetting they have their own struggles—their own weaknesses, sometimes hidden beyond our view.

The Lord simply wants us to live in the ways and for the purposes He created us, all "to the praise of His glory."

Earthly comparisons are foolish (2 Corinthians 10:12). But finding out God's purposes and imitating Jesus in pursuing those purposes—that's wisdom.

3. I'm learning to focus on the Father's will.

  • The goal isn't to look back and regret what might have been.
  • The goal isn't to look around and constantly strive to be better than others.
  • The goal is to finish the race God sets before us in ways that please Him.

We will desire to be obedient. Holy. Wise. Purpose-driven. Loving and compassionate. Serving in kindness. And we will allow the Holy Spirit to produce fruit in us as we follow hard after the Lord.

The goal is to imitate Jesus and align ourselves with what our Father God is doing (John 5:19).

We accomplish this goal in the power of the Holy Spirit—not in our own strength, and certainly not with our own agenda (Zechariah 4:6; I Corinthians 2:4).

As Dr. Charles Stanley wrote, "Spiritual power is the divine energy God is willing to express in and through us and the divine authority needed to carry out the work God has called us to do... God will not place you into a position or ask you to accomplish a task for which He will not fully equip and enable you." *

So we are empowered, equipped and enabled; but our FOCUS is crucial.

The look is important:

  • Looking back, we'll stumble around in painful regret.
  • Looking around, we'll be distracted and hindered.
  • But looking forward and up toward the Lord, there is sure hope for progress in Christ.

Let's think more biblically, and run our race with a God-centered focus.

Running with wisdom, we're less likely to take a tumble!

Are you living with regrets? Comparing yourself to others? Unfocused or confused about the goal? Ask the Lord to help you clear direction from His Word and empower you to finish well.

Dawn Wilson, founder and President of Heart Choices Today, is a speaker and author, and the creator of three blogs: Heart Choices Today, LOL with God (with Pam Farrel), and Upgrade with Dawn. She is a contracted researcher/reviewer for Revive Our Hearts and a writer at Crosswalk.com. She and her husband Bob live in Southern California and have two grown, married sons, three granddaughters and a rascally maltipoo, Roscoe.

Field Hockey graphic courtesty of keithjj, Pixabay

* Charles Stanley quote, here.