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Thursday
Sep222016

7 Times We Most Need to Cry Out to God

In this Spiritual Life UPGRADE, Dawn Wilson urges us to CRY OUT to the Lord. But why?

"We think we don't need God... until we DO!" Dawn says. "Oh, we may not say we don't need Him, but we certainly act like it."

Is that true of you? Come on, be honest.

Dawn continues . . .

I remember how people flocked to their houses of worship shortly after the 9/11 attacks. Suddenly, afraid and confused, so many Americans realized they needed answers and protection "from above." All over the nation, God's children cried out to the Lord.

And God answered from heaven as His people came clean with Him and sought Him. "When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears" (Psalm 34:17). There seemed to be a fresh sweep from heaven as hearts were more sensitive to His Word.

But then after a while, life got back to "normal," didn't it?

We forgot how much we need God. And so many stopped crying out to Him for protection, for help, for anything more than a simple "give us this day our daily bread."

As I'm preparing my heart for the OneCry! simulcast, part of the True Woman 2016 National Women's Conference, I'm considering this whole issue of "crying out." There are many scriptures to direct my thoughts.

How would you answer this question: When do we most need to cry out to the Lord?

Here's what I believe:

1. We need to cry out when we realize we've wandered.

I sense this need when I sing "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing"—"Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; Prone to leave the God I love".

We wandering sheep so need our Shepherd. The Good Shepherd, Jesus, sacrificed his life for us (John 10:11) and rescued us from spiritual death. But we are so prone to wander away from His loving care.

We wander away into darkness, wickedness, habits and addictions that injure us—body and soul.

We need to run back to the Shepherd's care and cry out to Him: "Bind my wandering heart to Thee."

"Draw near to God and He will draw near to you" (James 4:8).

2. We need to cry out when we're frustrated by our sin.

Have you ever resolved to live for Jesus, and then found yourself in some pit you created by sinful choices?

The battle is real. We struggle against not only our own flesh—the war within (Romans 7:14-25), but also against spiritual forces of evil that come against us (Ephesians 6:11-13).

We need to cry out to the Lord when we struggle and say with Paul: "For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate" (Romans 7:15). Our deliverance is in Christ (Romans 7:24-25).

3. We need to cry out when we understand we are helpless.

Jesus said, "...apart from me, you can do nothing" (John 15:5b).

We are helpless, even when we think we are strong or invincible.

Because we are helpless, we cry out when we are in trouble (Psalm 34:6) and our heart is faint (Psalm 61:2). Jesus understand our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15), and the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness (Romans 8:26-27).

4. We need to cry out when we're distressed over life's circumstances.

No matter our situation, no matter our struggle, the Lord desires to be our Refuge.

In Psalm 18, David dealt with his distress in the midst of his enemies by running to the place of protection and rest in God, his rock and fortress.

"In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help," he said (v. 6a). David knew God would be a "shield for all those who take refuge in Him" (v. 30b).

We cry out to God because "...who is God, but the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God?" (v. 31)

Like David, we will discover God can relieve us in our distress, but we must cry out for Him to be gracious and hear our prayer for help (Psalm 4:1).

5. We need to cry out when we need clear answers.

As I write this, so many have told me how they are struggling with how to vote in the coming elections. It's as if we've forgotten God is in control; we've pushed Him to the sidelines and not taken His thoughts into account. This is a huge mistake.

We can spread out ALL our concerns to the Lord, asking Him to give direction. We need His wisdom for family concerns, financial concerns, spiritual concerns, concerns for our nation, etc.

We must not trust our "own understanding" (Proverbs 3:5-6). We must seek and trust the Lord.

"If any of you lacks wisdom," James wrote, "let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him" (James 1:5).

6. We need to cry out when we sense it's "all about me."

Did you notice all the "I" words? This morning the Lord is speaking to me about this.

So many of my prayers are about me, myself and I. And that's sad.

We are not ONLY to cry out before the throne for ourselves (Hebrews 4:16).

We are also urged in scripture to cry out for "all people, for kings and all who are in high positions" (1 Timothy 2:1-2), for God's servants who seek to spread the gospel (Matthew 9:38; Colossians 4:3; 2 Thessalonians 3:1), for fellow Christ-followers (Ephesians 6:18; Colossians 1:9; James 5:16), and even our persecuters—those who attack and oppose us (Matthew 5:44).

How often do I cry out on behalf of others... relatives, friends, churches, neighbors, the poor and needy, prisoners and those in all sorts of "bondage," the Persecuted Church, our corrupt and increasingly godless nation?

God, have mercy.

7. We need to cry out because it can lead us to glorify God.

There is a sense that God desires His people to cry out, and then stand back and watch Him work. And then we have the blessing of praise—the privilege of honoring Him.

God spoke to His people in Psalm 50:15: "...call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me."

Oh that we would honor God and rejoice in Him. In fact, my biggest heart cry is for revival: "Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?" (Psalm 85:6)

There are no doubt many other reasons we need to cry out to God, but these are a good place to start: in humility, understanding our great need, and desiring to please and honor Him.

Which of these thoughts encourages you to "cry out" to the Lord today?

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), andUpgrade with Dawn. She is a contracted researcher/reviewer for Revive Our Heartsand 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.

 

Tuesday
Sep202016

Struggling? 5 Things God Won't Say to You

Cindi McMenamin has tremendous insight into women's needs and struggles, and she writes to encourage and strengthen them. In this Relationship with God UPGRADE, Cindi writes about what God will never say to the hurting, confused or frustrated heart.

She asks, "Are you struggling right now? Wanting to hear from God? Hoping that when you finally do, it will be something encouraging?"

As a matter of fact, as I (Dawn) received Cindi's article, I was hoping for that. I was eager for an answer "right now"—but God nudged me to pause and think biblically. That's exactly what Cindi is helping us do here.

Cindi continues . . .

There are a few situations in my life right now that could really stress me out. My husband is waiting to hear about three different job opportunities, and to be honest, he needs at least two of the three!

Now, I can pull out my hair, and lose sleep at night, and keep calculating what we'll do if he doesn't get any of those jobs. Or, I can realize it is ludicrous for me to worry that God isn't aware, or doesn't care, or won't provide for us in time.

I choose to not be ludicrous.

So I thought of five good reasons not to worry about that or anything we tend to worry about. Those five good reasons come down to five things you and I will never hear God say as we hand Him our worries and concerns.

So here they are. You never have to fear any of these responses when you trust God with what is on your heart.

1. You've got this yourself.

Instead of putting it back on us, God tells us in Exodus 14:14: "I will fight for you; you need only to be still."

2. I really don't want to hear about it.

To the contrary, God wants a relationship with us in which we tell Him all that is on our hearts and minds. Not because He doesn't know, but because He wants the intimacy that develops as we share our hearts with Him. Intimacy is developed through communication.

We are told in Psalm 62:8, "Trust in Him at all times...pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us."

3. You don't need Me. 

Even if we think God has abandoned us because we've acted independently before, God knows better than we do how very much we DO need Him.

In Philippians 4:13, we are told we we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. The key is Christ's strength.

So don't worry about Him thinking you don't need Him.

Even when you THINK you don't, you really do.

4. Sorry, it's impossible.

Jesus, Himself, said in Matthew 19:26: "With God all things are possible."

5. I don't want to do anything for you.

Sometimes we don't tell God what worries us, or even ask for something, because we fear He doesn't want to give us anything.

If you're a parent you know how far from the truth that is.

Jesus said in Matthew 7:11: "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!"

There you have it.

Does God care? Oh yes.

Can He handle it? You bet.

Give to Him all that is worrying you today and experience the wonder of His peace.

What is it that you are struggling with alone that God is waiting to help you with?  

Cindi McMenamin is a national speaker and author of 15 books including When God Sees Your Tears, and her most recent, 10 Secrets to Becoming a Worry-Free Mom.  For more on her books and ministry, or to download free resources to strengthen your walk with God, your marriage, or your parenting, see her website, Strength for the Soul. 

Thursday
Sep152016

3 Ways to Make Nice in Your Marriage

Elaine W. Miller wrote a book with a funny title, We all Married Idiots. In this Marriage UPGRADE, she gives a little insight into why that’s true!

“Why are we such idiots?” Elaine said. “We smile, open doors, and run to rescue strangers. In the workplace we hold our tempers, fearing a job loss if we don’t. Yet when we enter our homes, we frown, slam doors and lose our tempers with no fear of the consequences.”

Oh ugh. I (Dawn) am guilty as charged. Why do we hurt the ones we love?

Elaine continues . . .

As married men and women, we should make every effort to make nice behind closed doors as well as in public. I know we can control our tempers. We do what we need to.

In the heat of anger, we politely answered the phone, “Good morning!” Yes, it is under our control. But for some reason I don’t understand (except that we are all sinners), we find it easier to make mean than to make nice to the ones we love. How foolish!

Making nice is something we need to do; it may not necessarily just happen. I like the synonym “do.” Just do it.

Do nice. Cause nice. Build nice. Create nice. Accomplish nice.

Making nice is a choice.

“Nice,” it turns out, comes from the Latin nescius, meaning “ignorant.” The computer dictionary defines “ignorant” as “unaware.” When our loved ones do something idiotic, be unaware of it. Ignore it. Overlook the mistake. Make nice.

One day I watched a husband make nice when he certainly could have made mean. He and his wife and my husband and I climbed an Adirondack mountain together. Inexperienced at climbing, the other wife wore sandals. What a mistake! This trip required sneakers at the very least – hiking boots at best.

As we trekked up the mountain, her discomfort became evident. Reaching the summit, her feet Rob with blisters, she agonized about her ability to descend the mountain.

What was your husband to do? He had a choice. He could yell from the top of the mountain, “I married an idiot! Why didn’t she wear better shoes?” He could have humiliated her with words like, “You are such a wimp! Stop your complaining.”

This husband didn’t choose those options. He chose to make nice. Without a word, he lovingly scooped up his love and carried her down the mountain.

This man realize the truth that on his wedding day he and his wife became one. When her feet hurt, it hurt him. Instead of making the pain grow deeper with thoughtless words, he decided to alleviate the pain.

I once wrote,

“Every day we decide the words and actions that will serve or suffocate our marriages.”

Every new day begins with choices. We choose what clothes to wear and what to eat for breakfast. We choose to sin. We choose to act like idiots. We choose to make nice or not.

Making nice is an investment that pays big dividends. Kind words and considerate deeds deposit love into our marriage love bank. Mean remarks and thoughtless actions count as love withdrawals. Take out too much, and there is no love left.

Making nice manifests itself in every aspect of your life, but especially in the bedroom. When you are unkind or unfaithful, it affects sexual intimacy. You can’t treat your spouse shabbily and then expect your beloved to jump into the sacred marriage bed.

Making nice makes a nice marriage. When meanness becomes the norm, marriages fail to thrive.

Here are three ways to make nice in your marriage:

1. Watch your words

Ephesians 4:29 says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

If in our desire to build ourselves up we put our spouse’s down, every derogatory remark registers in the brain creating a chill in the marriage vault. Negative words are like icicles stabbed into your loved one's heart that only kindness and forgiveness and making nice can melt.

When unkind words come from our condemning mouth, who benefits? No one. Certainly not the little ears that listen. Most are aghast when their children repeat words to the world that their parents say in private.

2. Don’t Demand Your Own Way

Love strives to live in peace (Hebrews 12:14), and God says love does not demand its own way (1 Corinthians 13:5). When we become angry and impatient and rude, most likely it is because we have not gotten our way. Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”

When we choose not to be self-seeking, we then become more patient and kind and not so easily angered. Then, as much as it depends on us, our homes will be peaceful.

3. Root out bitter roots

Hebrews 12:15 says, “See to it that… no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Our bad behavior does not come without consequences. It destroys our marriages.

The hurt of bitterness hurts not only the one the arrow is aimed at, but also others we love. That arrow penetrates our children’s hearts. Sometimes the wounds never heal, and the scars remain for a lifetime.

Marriage is not a competitive sport. The one who gives the most verbal punches does not win. You both lose because condemning your spouse is condemning yourself. God has declared you to be one flesh.

Verbal punches leave you both knocked out and too tired to fight for your marriage. Don’t let it happen. Make nice!

What did you say today that built up your spouse? What did you say that put down your partner? How can you make every effort to live at peace?

Elaine W. Miller is an international author and speaker known for sharing biblical insights with warmth, enthusiasm, and humor. She is the author of three books including her latest We All Married Idiots: Three Things You Will Never Change AboutYour Marriage and Ten Things You Can (available in English, Spanish, and Bosnian). Residing in upstate  New York with her husband of 45 years, she enjoys having three married children and 11 grandchildren close by. Visit Elaine's website/blog to learn more about her unique ministry.

This blog post was adapted from Chapter 9 in We All Married Idiots.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of christinevitved for Pixabay.

Tuesday
Sep132016

Trusting the Trustworthy God

Rhonda Rhea is just plain funny. Until she's not (on purpose). Rhonda's spiritual depth always amazes me, like when she's sharing about the character of God and how we relate to Him, as in this Spiritual Life UPGRADE.

"Sometimes people agree with me without even thinking it through," Rhonda says. "Of course, let’s face it, that shouldn’t happen all that often. Still, when something happens only occasionally, it makes every occurrence that much sweeter."

Have you ever had anyone trust you that much? I (Dawn) have, and I can testify how sweet that is!

Rhonda continues . . .

When someone agrees before even fully knowing what I’ve said, it makes me feel like I’m sort of the “terms and conditions” of people. Oh, the power.

Basically I’m letting you all know that you can trust me. At least part of the time. I’ll be honest and tell you that you still wouldn’t want to leave me alone in a room with your nachos.

But other than that, trust.

The trustworthiness of a promise always depends on the nature of and the power held by the one making that promise.

Let’s get real, once someone adds a layer of melty cheese, if you trusted me, I would question your trust-judgment. But our God? The very essence of who He is in nature is flawlessness. The power He holds can’t be compared to anything or anyone else. He has it all.

Paul said in Hebrews 10:22, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (ESV). So Paul is talking to us as believers here when he says in the next sentence, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (vs. 23).

It makes sense to have faith in the One who is faithful.

It makes sense to trust in the One who is trustworthy. His record is clear. He has never failed to deliver on a promise. Never.

God’s Word is filled, cover to cover, with one blessed occurrence after another of promises kept.

We have His nature as the basis for our trust in Him. We have His power, knowing He is fully capable of carrying out His promises. And if that’s not enough—which it certainly is, but still—we have His love for us to top it all off.

You can trust the One who loves you without limits, without reserve. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5 ESV).

Our Lord loved us all the way to the cross. His love is perfect. And that leads us to trust Him without the slightest apprehension. Our faith is well-placed. “But You, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth” (Psalm 86:15, HCSB).

David wrote also in Psalm 143:8, “Let me experience Your faithful love in the morning, for I trust in You” (HCSB).

Love leads to trust. And trust leads to love. That is perfect!

Anytime you encounter a challenge, difficulty, doubt or question, it changes how you see that struggle when you remember that Your Father is trustworthy. Not part of the time. All. In every room. He is perfect, He is powerful and He loves you with a lavish love.

Those are His terms. Those are His conditions. Oh, the power!

What encourages you to trust God the most: His nature, power or love? Can you thank Him today for being your trustworthy God?

Rhonda Rhea is a humor columnist, radio personality, speaker and author of 10 books, including How Many Lightbulbs Does It Take to Change a Person?, Espresso Your Faith - 30 Shots of God's Word to Wake You Up, and a book designed to encourage Pastor's Wives (P-Dubs): Join the Insanity. Her new book, Turtles in the Road—coauthored with her daughter Kaley (another UPGRADE blogger)—is releasing soon. Rhonda, a sunny pastor's wife, lives near St. Louis and is "Mom" to five grown children. Find out more at www.RhondaRhea.com.

Thursday
Sep082016

6 'Holds' to Strengthen Your Life

In this Spiritual Growth UPGRADE, Dawn Wilson looks at the word "hold" and four ways to look at this word that can change and strengthen your life.

"To hold is to grasp or restrain," Dawn says, "and we see both of these meanings in our walk with the Lord."

Here are six truths about the word "hold."

1. Hold On

We're encouraged in scripture to hold on to the Lord by faith, but the reality is, He holds on to us!

Psalm 27:14 encourages us to let our hearts take courage as we "wait for the Lord." Derek Kidner calls this "holding on with naked faith"* Sometimes it is nothing but our simple faith in God that gets us through the struggles of life. The real strength is not in our faith, however, but in the object of our faith—the Lord!

At a low point of my life, when I struggled with fear, overwhelmed by circumstances, a friend shared Isaiah 41:13: "For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, 'Fear not, I am the one who helps you.'" I immediately felt God's comfort. Like a child walking confidently with her Daddy, I've learned to hold my Father God's hand.

God holds on to us with his righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10) and keeps us in His presence continually (Isaiah 42:6; Psalm 73:23). But we need to hold on tightly to Him—to "cling" to Him—too! (Psalm 63:8)

2. Hold Fast

The author of Hebrews tells us to "hold fast our confession" (4:14). What does that mean? We confess with our mouth concerning our salvation (Romans 10:10); we openly acknowlege Jesus and live for him with our whole being.

Because we have a Great High Priest, and we can trust Him to be our Advocate, we come boldly to God's throne of mercy in Christ (Hebrews 4:16). We "hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering" because God is faithful! (Hebrews 10:23) And because the Lord is faithful to continue to work in us, we can hold fast to what is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21, 24). We are forever anchored in Him.

"Troubles almost 'whelm the soul; Griefs like billows o'er me roll; Tempters seek to lure astray; Storms obscure the light of day: But in Christ I can be bold, I've an anchor that shall hold" (My Anchor Holds" by William C. Martin).

3. Hold In

God wants us to use discernment (Psalm 119:66) and hold some things in—at least until we’ve paused to think before we speak. In our culture, we're encouraged to be transparent, but we don't need to say everything we're thinking.

Some of the worst things I’ve heard have come from well-meaning Christians who just weren’t thinking. It’s things like: “God needed another angel” when a loved one has died. First, people aren’t angels; and second, that’s incredibly insensitive when someone is hurting. Even when we must confront in truth, the rule is "speak the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15).

Another example: Some have said, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Sometimes God does give us more than we can handle, to teach us to rely on Him.

When in doubt, think it out; and until God gives you beneficial words to say, hold it in!

4. Hold Out

I'm learning to hold out against temptation, looking for that "way out" that He provides (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Sometimes it's a pause—holding out—that prevents me from rushing headlong into sin.

While I'm in that "holding" pattern, I pray, I recall scriptures or I call an accountability partner. And while I'm pausing, I'm also learning to actively resist the devil and his schemes (James 4:7). For so many years I was afraid to do this, afraid of some of the excesses I saw in the spiritual warfare movement, I went to the other extreme and didn't obey God's command to submit myself to God's control and then resist the devil.

Thomas Brooks offers a list of 10 ways the Christian can resist Satan's temptations in Precious Remedies against Satan's Devices. Reviewer Tim Challies lists them here.

God promises the enemy will flee if we fight sins biblically, so determine to hold out against sin!

5. Hold Lightly

We must take time to determine what is valuable and eternal—what really matters. Even good things God gives us can consume and control us, or distract us from what is best.

When anything becomes dearer to us than the Lord (i.e., idols), we need to let God pry our hands loose so we can put that "thing" down (treasures, possessions, relationships, etc.). We need to hold lightly those things that have any potential to come between us and God.

We see this principle in Luke 12:16-21. Basically, stop laying up treasures for yourself and become rich toward God instead.

Don't misunderstand. There are some things to hold tightly: your marriage and children, for example. But even then, be sure the Lord is number one! A good rule of thumb: try to hold lightly anything you can't take with you to heaven—especially your "stuff."

6.  Hold Up

Just as Aaron and Hur held up Moses's hands in the middle of a great battle (Exodus 17:11-12), sometimes we need people to hold us up—to encourage us and hold us accountable.

We need to bear each others burdens (Galatians 6:1-2); hold each other up in prayer (James 5:16); tell each other the truth (Ephesians 4:25), and confront, exhort and "sharpen" each other (James 5:19-20; Hebrews 3:12-13; Proverbs 27:17).

But it's not just people we "hold up." In another sense, we hold up the Lord before a watching world when we lift him up. We magnify His name and mighty works. 

"Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!" (Psalm 34:3)

When we lift up Jesus, when we show Him to be the beautiful Savior He is, He will draw people to Himself (John 12:32). This is perhaps the most important "hold" of all.

Which of these "holds" is the Lord speaking to you about today? What can you do to help these truths become a strong part of your life?

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.

 * Derek Kidner, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Psalms 1-72, p. 139

Graphic of Father and Daughter at sunset, adapted, from wesharepics.