Sheila Cragg knows of what she writes. She is the primary caregiver to her disabled and ailing husband and has also experienced some of life’s deepest setbacks. But through all of those circumstances, she has drawn increasingly closer to the Lover of her soul and developed a rich, devotional lifestyle that she admits would never have happened otherwise. In A Woman’s Heart for God, Cragg shares her own life experiences and provides scriptural insights, creative ideas and interactive questions to help readers tailor their times with Him—whatever their circumstances—pinpointing how to remove any obstacles that are keeping them from intimacy with Christ.
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About the Author
Sheila Cragg (MFA, Creative Writing) is a mentor/instructor for Jerry Jenkins’ Christian Writers Guild and also formerly served as an associate editor for Focus on the Family Publishing. She has published six books, including A Woman’s Walk with God and A Woman’s Journey toward Holiness, and numerous articles in Reader’s Digest,Family Weekly, and other periodicals. Her Experiencing Christ website ministry— https://protect-us.mimecast.com/s/1eSyCXDXkDS4XJyRi2J5ro?domain=womanswalk.com —is centered on helping women develop a devotional lifestyle and deepen their relationship with the Lord. Sheila lives in Santa Maria, California, with her husband, Ron.
Read an Excerpt
A Woman's Heart for God
Drawing Closer to the Lover of Your Soul
By Sheila Cragg
WORTHY PUBLISHINGCopyright © 2013 Sheila Cragg
All rights reserved.
LONGING FOR GOD
It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him.
—Deuteronomy 13:4, TNIV
My homesickness surprised me. We had anticipated moving to Santa Maria for such a long time, and now we were living close to our sons and their families. I loved my new home, but I felt a restless longing to return to Orange County where we had lived for most of our married life.
One weekend I went back for a visit. It eased my homesickness to drive through our neighborhood and see family, friends, and familiar places. When I went to our old house to pick up mail, the Hispanic family living there warmly welcomed me and insisted on giving me a tour. It was the first house they had ever bought. As the mother took me through every room, I saw how pleased she was to have her own home.
The father had been a migrant worker and was now a ranch foreman. As Andre, their grown son, showed me how his father had turned the yard into a fruit orchard and garden, he proudly named every tree and vegetable. I left with a bag of luscious, homegrown tomatoes and an overflowing heart. I was delighted that this gracious family was living in our old house.
For many years, I was an English as a Second Language teacher. I taught hundreds of migrant workers English, and though most lived in poverty, they were always so generous and appreciative. This family's warm ways and words of heartfelt gratitude brought to mind the hundreds of students whose kindnesses had touched my life through the years.
God not only created us to be homesick for loved ones and home but also homesick for Himself and heaven. As St. Augustine put it, "You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you."
As we grow in our desire to become a woman who has a heart for God, we find ourselves wanting to know Him more. Who is this God who has pursued, wooed, and won us? This Lover of our soul—what is He like?
As the Westminster Confession states: "There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit ... immutable, immense, eternal ... almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute ... most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him."
The Lord our God is one God, but He relates to us in different capacities.
He is the Creator of the universe, our Father and Provider, who meets all of our needs.
He is Jesus, our Savior, who identified with us by coming to us in human flesh and demonstrating His healing compassion and love. He understands and cares about our earthly concerns, needs, and problems. He is our Redeemer, and through Him we have eternal life.
He is also the Holy Spirit, who convicts us and delivers us from sin. He indwells us, is ever-present, ever-caring, and meets our deepest heart cries, which no other human being can do for us. He is our Comforter and Counselor who guides us. The Holy Spirit empowers us to serve the Lord and enables us to use our spiritual gifts.
A. W Tozer said this about the mystery of the Trinity: "God is in complete harmony and agreement with Himself. His justice does not contradict His mercy; His judgment of the lost does not contradict His forgiveness and grace to the redeemed."
God does not distance Himself from us. To the contrary, He wants us to know Him, and growing in our knowledge of Him comprises our spiritual journey. It amazes me that the God who created the universe and everything in it wants me to know Him on a personal level!
Let's look more closely at this amazing God who longs to be in relationship with us and meet our every need.
GOD IS LOVING
Our greatest human need is to experience love. Hear how A. W Tozer described that love: "Because God is self-sufficient, His love had no beginning; because He is eternal, His love can have no end; because He is infinite, it has no limit ... because He is immense, His love is an incomprehensibly vast, bottomless, shoreless sea before which we kneel in joyful silence."
Occasionally I have caught a glimpse of godly love in Christian couples who have been married for many years. They have a oneness and tender affection that is inspiring. Though they have experienced numerous hardships together, those adversities strengthened their commitment and devotion to the Lord and to each other.
Just as those husbands and wives pledged their loyalty to God and to each other, we can vow our love and faithfulness to our most Beloved. We can choose to believe in the depths of our hearts that God loves us with a holy love as passionately as a groom loves his bride. Furthermore, Jesus is an ever-faithful Husband.
As our love for Him grows stronger over time, as we remain spiritually steadfast in adversity, we will develop a deeper fellowship with Him and a greater assurance of His love.
Again, we may feel distant from God when we experience trouble. But God's very nature is love, so He cannot withhold His love from us. No matter what hardships we experience, God loves us. He has not forsaken us, and He never will.
The apostle Paul's declaration can be yours and mine: "I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).
GOD IS HOLY
God is holy and untouched by sin. God is holy, pure, and infinite in His perfection. Any defect in God's character would mean that He is imperfect, which He can never be.
We can rest with absolute security in His love and His holiness. "For I will proclaim the name of the Lord; ascribe greatness to our God! 'The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he" (Deuteronomy 32:3–4 ESV). As Tozer wrote, "Holy is the way God is. To be holy, He does not conform to a standard. He is that standard. He is absolutely holy with an infinite, incomprehensible fullness of purity that is incapable of being other than it is. Because He is holy, His attributes are holy."
It was this holy God who sent His Son to die on the cross so that we might share in His holiness. The best-known verse of Scripture makes that fact very clear: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved" (John 3:16-17KJV).
Consider the evidence of how important holiness is to our pure and righteous God: "He loves righteousness in the life of His children to such a degree that He gave His only begotten Son to secure it. The Cross shows how much God loves holiness. The Cross stands for God's holiness before even His love. For Christ died not merely for our sins, but in order that He might provide us with that righteousness of life which God loves."
GOD IS ALWAYS THE SAME
We need the assurance that God does not change. The owner of a large company I once worked for did not trust his employees, and his mistrust made him such a changeable and inconsistent leader that we could not figure out what pleased him and what displeased him. Not only did we feel insecure, but we wasted a great deal of energy and company time trying to meet his unpredictable and poorly defined expectations.
In sharp contrast, I taught at a college where my supervisors were consistent and reliable, and they clearly communicated their expectations. They also constantly expressed their confidence and trust in their staff.
The result of their consistency and encouragement? We were far more committed and productive because we felt appreciated and secure—and we gladly worked overtime!
In the same way, we can rely on God to be consistent, reliable, and unchangeable in His expectations of us. We know, for instance, that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8), so the standards do not and will not change.
God is who He says He is, and He always will be. God's ways are what He says they are, and they always will be. What God has promised He will perform. He can never be unfaithful or unloving because that would require the impossible: for Him to change.
But since we humans constantly change and contradict ourselves, we find it difficult to conceive of Someone who doesn't. One reason we are changeable people is because God Himself gave us the power to think and act and choose as we please. This free will—this freedom to change for good or bad—may seem a curse, because the sins we humans commit result in so much suffering. But this freedom to change is in reality a blessing.
Tozer spoke to this truth: "In a fallen world such as this, the very ability to change is a golden treasure, a gift from God of such fabulous worth as to call for constant thanksgiving. For human beings the whole possibility of redemption lies in the ability to change. To move across from one sort of person to another is the essence of repentance: the liar becomes truthful, the thief honest, the lewd pure, the proud humble. The whole moral texture of the life is altered. The thoughts, the desires, the affections are transformed."
GOD IS MERCIFUL AND LONG-SUFFERING
We are blessed to know that God is merciful and patient. We find that truth proclaimed throughout the Bible. For instance, Paul wrote this: "When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy" (Titus 3:4-5). Jesus Himself demonstrated the compassionate mercy of God in His ministry here on earth, and that mercy is infinite and inexhaustible.
God is also long-suffering: He is slow to anger, and He demonstrates patience and self-restraint in the face of provocation by sinful, ungrateful human beings. The apostle Peter said, "The Lord does not delay and is not tardy or slow about what He promises, according to some people's conception of slowness, but He is long-suffering (extraordinarily patient) toward you, not desiring that any should perish, but that all should turn to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9 AMP).
Though we may often fall and wonder if we will ever overcome our habitual sins, God is ready to forgive (Psalm 86:5). We are to pray boldly for God's help for all our needs, sins, and weaknesses (Hebrews 4:16), for He is willing to deliver us from sin and give us the strength we need to change.
GOD IS EVER-PRESENT
We need to experience God's constant and abiding presence with us. We desire closeness in human relationships, but no one can be with us at all times the way God is. He watches over us and is with us wherever we go. He sees everything we do and knows our every thought. He knows everything that happens to us, both good and evil.
We may feel alone and abandoned by God, however, when we are going through tough times, our life is in turmoil, and trials grow worse. We cannot feel His presence, and as we focus on our expectations of what God should do and lock into how He should solve our heartaches, we can become more and more convinced that He does not care and is not present with us. Once we relinquish our expectations and demands of how God should answer, we are then freed to experience His presence in our lives and to see how He has been working in the background all along.
We can be assured that the Lord our Shepherd will guide us through life's darkest valleys, deepest rivers, and most fiery trials. His thoughts of us are precious and so constant we cannot count them, for they number far more than all the grains of sand in the world (Psalm 139; Isaiah 43:2).
What great comfort to know that our Sovereign God is constantly watching over us and listening to us. If we are Christians, His Spirit dwells within us. No one is as close to us as the Spirit of God, and no one cares more about us than He does. He is with us, within us, and will be with us always (Matthew 28:20).
GOD IS FAITHFUL
We have a deep need to know God's faithfulness to us. One of the deepest hurts we may experience is the wound of a loved one's unfaithfulness. And once we have been betrayed, we find it difficult to trust again—but we need to remember that we can rely on God's faithfulness even when human beings fail us. Moses offered this reassurance: "Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands" (Deuteronomy 7:9).
God's faithfulness is the foundation of our eternal relationship with Him: "Upon God's faithfulness rests our whole hope of future blessedness. Only as He is faithful will His covenants stand and His promises be honored. Only as we have complete assurance that He is faithful may we live in peace and look forward with assurance to the life to come."
GOD IS OUR REWARDER
God will reward us for remaining faithful to Him. As the writer to the Hebrews acknowledged, "Without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him" (Hebrews 11:6 KJV).
When we walk by faith and continually seek God's guidance, then no matter what difficulties we may experience, we can be confident that He will reward us for trusting Him. We will be commended for our faith even if we do not see some of our most God-honoring requests answered.
GOD IS ETERNAL
We will live forever with God. Monuments, pyramids, and statues have been erected as eternal memorials to kings, queens, presidents, movies, and sports stars. Though the world tries to preserve their legacy, they will all be forgotten (Ecclesiastes 1:11). So rather than revering human heroes past and present, let us exalt our eternal God.
King Solomon recognized the value of doing so: "Everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him" (Ecclesiastes 3:14).
But what if earth were all there is? Millions of us have had difficult and pain-filled lives, knowing extreme poverty, or suffering from crippling disabilities. But we can find great comfort in the thought of living forever with God without pain, and we can cling to that hope here on earth when our lives are miserable. We have an eternal future that is absolutely glorious.
Speaking of things eternal, although we are bound by time here on earth, we are actually living in eternity even now. In other words, today is part of the forever that started an immeasurably long, long time ago.
So let us lift our eyes to the heavens and praise and worship our Lord God, who is from everlasting to everlasting. For God has planned something far better for us than what this earth holds (Hebrews 11:39-40). Jesus is preparing a place for us, an eternal home in heaven where we will enjoy the rewards of dwelling forever with Him (John 14:2-3). Knowing God and His holy attributes provides a solid and unshakable foundation for our spiritual life. Knowing God means resting in the promise that "he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6 ESV). And knowing God gives us the assurance we need to trust Him with our lives and to grow in our faith in all circumstances.
This kind of knowing with our head, however needs to be under-girded by our knowing God in our heart, especially knowing that He loves us. As you read chapter 2, may you hear in your heart the truths that proclaim God's great love for you.
Excerpted from A Woman's Heart for God by Sheila Cragg. Copyright © 2013 Sheila Cragg. Excerpted by permission of WORTHY PUBLISHING.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Part 1 The God-Centered Life
1 Longing for God 3
2 Confident in God's Love 15
Part 2 The Changed Life
3 Find Rest for Your Soul 29
4 Receive God's Grace 37
5 Respond to God's Love 49
6 Spend Time with God 57
7 Grow in Different Seasons 69
8 Keep a Spiritual Journal 79
9 Plant the Word in Your Mind and Heart 91
Part 3 The Praying Life
10 Simple Prayer 103
11 Why Pray? 117
12 Open Yourself to God's Presence 123
13 How to Pray Scripture 133
Part 4 The Tested Life
14 Being Crucified with Christ 143
15 Recognizing Life's Uncertainties 157
16 Pressing on in Painful Circumstances 167
17 Relinquishing Your Heart's Desires 177
18 Releasing Your Life to God 187
Part 5 The Servant Life
19 Present Yourself for Service 201
20 Give the Gift of Grace 215
21 Rejoice in the Lord Always 223