|Publisher:||Tyndale House Publishers|
|Product dimensions:||6.10(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.20(d)|
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The Payoff for Practice
My New Year's resolution: coax music out of the mahogany piano which sits, pretty but mute, in our living room. In fact, the only time the strings sound is in a reverberating response to my husband's infamously loud sneezes.
Beethoven would not approve.
As a girl, I never liked practicing, and that hasn't changed. Tackling a new piece, note by note, over and over, seems tiring and somewhat repetitive — unfulfilling, as it is often done alone. But that measure-by-measure practice is foundational to all the seamless, rewarding music that follows. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell says, "Practice isn't the thing you do once you're good. It's the thing you do that makes you good."
So often we want the reward, the pleasure, before putting in the time with drills. Practice, though, builds muscle memory, and muscle memory will kick in almost without thought when needed. For example, when stage fright threatens to wreck a piano performance, the oft-practiced piece will obey the rhythmic, expected motion of the hands till the fear settles down. The hands will automatically do what they have been trained to do even if the brain isn't consciously directing them.
January 1 is a good time to settle what spiritual practices you'd like to reestablish too. Trusting God for small things will trigger an automatic faith response when the larger challenge arrives. When a difficult circumstance arrives unannounced, we often don't have the presence of mind to tell us what to do to lean on God in that moment. If we've "practiced" the disciplines of prayer, dependence, and courage, they will kick in without conscious thought when we most need them to.
Additionally, in happier circumstances, being trained to sense the leading of God will allow your spiritual muscle memory to learn how to play the new songs he's created for your life, even when you're afraid. Inevitably, I find peace in prayer and direction in reading the Bible, even when I didn't feel like doing either at first. Habits enable us to do what is right and trust that supportive feelings will follow.
What spiritual discipline is the Holy Spirit leading you to practice this year, so you and he will make beautiful music together?
Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come. 1 Timothy 4:8, NLT
Come, thou long-expected Jesus,
Charles Wesley wrote those words in 1744, and while they may provide comfort to the believer, they may also provide pain. The Jesus who is, is not always the Jesus we long for or expect.
Jesus is a healer, and we expect that he will heal. He often does, but many times he does not. If we have prayed for a fellow believer who has gone to be with the Lord, we can comfort ourselves with the fact that our loved one is out of pain and in his presence. Still, there is sometimes disappointment that the
Jesus who heals did not do so here on earth when it mattered to us. Jesus is a provider, but for those who struggle with unemployment or homelessness or hopelessness, it can be difficult to be content with the Jesus who holds their hand in the dark but does not immediately change the circumstances.
When the Lord first appeared on earth, the Jewish community had been expecting a Messiah that would free them from the political and physical oppression they suffered under the Romans. Jesus' priority, though, was the souls of people. He came to carry out the most important charge his Father had given him: to die for our redemption. The way he acts and does not act was, and still is, sometimes bewildering even to those who love and follow him. Even his cousin John, who had recognized Jesus by leaping while still in his mother Elizabeth's womb, had a moment of doubt while imprisoned. "Are you the one?" he asked of Jesus in Matthew 11:2-3 (ESV). "Or shall we look for another?"
The first-century Jewish community was expecting someone to solve their immediate problems, and when Jesus didn't do that, some grew disappointed in him. In time, though, Jesus promises he will make all things new and dry every tear. In your present circumstance, what kind of savior are you expecting? Can you find rest and release in Jesus as he truly is and does? He is righteous and good. You need look for no other.
I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day. 2 Timothy 1:12
I sat in the family room, chick flick on in the background, inflating a floating mountain of balloons in preparation for a celebration.
I was also worrying about post-Christmas and health-care bills.
As the balloons expanded, I thought about how what filled them often defined the little orbs. Filled with water? Water balloons. Ready to soar skyward? Hot-air balloons. Huffing and puffing, I thought these would certainly be Sandra balloons — filled with air that had come from inside me. The balloons, though filled, drooped on the floor as if in confirmation of my weighed-down spirit. It put me in mind of Scripture.
Genesis tells us, "The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man's nostrils, and the man became a living person" (2:7, NLT). When we were filled with his breath of life, that was our defining moment as humans. We are filled with him, which is who we are meant to be.
That verse is directly where the word inspiration comes from. We are animated, filled, and defined by what is inside us.
The book of Acts shows Barnabas to be a good man, filled with faith and the Holy Spirit. After Saul had approved of the stoning of Stephen and the ravaging of the church, he left for Damascus to do more damage. Then Saul saw Christ in a vision and was saved. Barnabas found Saul and brought him back to Jerusalem. While many believers were understandably filled with fear at the sight of Saul, Barnabas was filled with faith. I imagine, like the other believers, he had that choice: be filled with fear or be filled with faith.
We, too, as modern-day disciples, have that same choice when faced with troublesome situations, large or small: faith or fear. What fills us, defines us? God tells us that he does not give us a spirit of fear but of himself — power, love, and self-control. Because he loves us, we each have the choice every day to be filled with the Spirit. Which do you choose? He wants to breathe peace and life into you today!
God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. 2 Timothy 1:7, ESV
The first week of the year is a time when most of us hope to make a fresh start, a new beginning. It's a biblical concept — our Lord is a God of fresh starts and do-overs. The psalmist pleads, like we do, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me" (Psalm 51:10, ESV).
A dieting trick I picked up some years ago was to brush my teeth immediately after I'd finished a properly-sized portion or any time I was tempted to overindulge. Most of the time it worked, because it gave me two minutes to consider the commitment I'd made to my health.
In our Christian walk, it also feels good to be clean, and when we are spiritually shipshape, there's hesitation to mess that up. The price of "getting clean" spiritually is much costlier than a couple of minutes in front of the sink and a tube of toothpaste. It cost the Lord his very life.
I had a friend who refused to drive another friend's expensive convertible because she was afraid she'd wreck it. She had no trouble driving my old Toyota, though. First Corinthians exhorts us, "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body" (6:19-20, ESV).
When I consider the cost to Christ for his relationship with me, I remember and experience his love for me in a fresh and energizing way. Recognizing anew the price Christ paid to purchase me, I'm compelled to consider my own devotion to being his disciple. When I sin, now, I not only ask for forgiveness and a fresh start, I prove my intentions by planning ahead, like that tooth brushing. When I sin, I pray, confess, repent, and text a friend and admit it. It's much harder than it seems, but it works, because who wants to do that multiple times a day and seem like a spiritual slacker? Not I. Being accountable and knowing how expensive this convertible was to my Savior lessens the desire to mess up.
Do you have a plan to avoid your temptations? You can succeed!
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. James 4:7-8
The Gentle Cycle
I arrived at the gym in the late afternoon, just after school let out — a mistake. Half the pool was cordoned off for swimming lessons, which meant that all free swimmers would have to cram, like proverbial sardines, into the other half of the water. I looked out over the crowd. Many bathers did not have room to stretch their arms without whacking someone else, much less enjoy the water. The pool was over capacity.
I determined to come back another time, another day, but I mused on overcapacity all the way home. I wasn't sure my packed schedule allowed for another visit soon.
Sometimes I stuff too much into my washing machine in an attempt to get everything clean in one load. Only problem — nothing gets clean when the washer is over capacity. I'd recently read of a party on a college campus. Not only were there many revelers, but too many of them had also spilled out onto a tiny balcony designed for two plus a little grill, to tragic results. The balcony collapsed and took the students down with it.
Too many plugs in the socket leads to a blackout wherein nothing gets juice. So, too, when much is asked of anything or anyone, above and beyond their designed capacity, uselessness, poor performance, lack of joy, and even disaster may result.
We often think of self-control as stopping ourselves from participating in something harmful. But often, self-control means moderating the amount of good we take on. Self-control means saying no to two ministries so that we might do one well. Self-control means not taking on too many hours at work to the detriment of the body. Self-control means carving out time for rest, reflection, and pleasure in a society which often equates value with busyness. Things and people regularly running at overcapacity eventually break down, black out, or collapse. When I pack my life (or allow others to pack my life) with stuff to do, there is very little time to be: be Sandra, be still, be with Jesus and experience his presence and provision that day. Even the Lord withdrew from ministry, his work, to rest and recharge (see Luke 4:42; 5:16).
What might you trim back to do, be, and enjoy what remains? Your body and spirit deserve to be treated gently.
Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control. Proverbs 25:28
In Need of a Little Christian-ease
So often we Christians exhort others to "have faith." Have faith that the situation will be resolved in the right way. Believe that all will end well, although current events seem to be careening out of control. Trust that shattered relationships will be restored, that God is bigger than any situation or circumstance that we face and can overcome for and with us. Our advice is true and biblical. After all, we walk by faith and not by sight, as 2 Corinthians informs us. We're so used to saying "just have faith," though, that it's become Christianese, something we casually reference but don't practically facilitate.
I'm here to tell you, it's not "Christian-ease" to have faith in difficult times; it's "Christian-hard."
We rejoice and praise together when times are good, but we must persevere and lean into faith in both God and his faithful followers when times are tough. God has promised that he will never leave nor forsake us, but as a child once said, I sometimes wish I had Jesus with skin on him, right here and right now, in my house.
That little child's prayer can be answered. The word encourage means to inspire courage or confidence in someone. People who need courage are facing a daunting, tiring, or worrisome situation. We are to help them be brave, to hold them up as it were, as they stand or fight. We experience the love of God in an unmatchable, powerful way when we act as his agents, on his behalf, offering that love to others. To "go and do likewise" (Luke 10:37) to someone who is disheartened is a marching order from Jesus Christ to all who believe.
To whom, today or this week, can you bring a little "Christian-ease" by your loving, helping presence? Having a "Christian-hard" week, yourself? Be brave. Reach out to a loved one and ask for help and hugs.
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:23-25
Experiencing the Love of God
The amazing thing about giving to others is that it gives back to us, and almost immediately. "Give, and it will be given to you" — the mysterious economy of our wonderful God.
Today, right now, think of three or four people who could use a little lift and then reach out and encourage them. It works best if you target their particular need. Someone who is suffering from physical pain might benefit by your sharing a meal you prepare or buy, or rubbing their feet and hands. Someone who is discouraged might be encouraged by a funny card. In a day of e-mail, receiving an actual card in the mail shows care and concern. Or poke a plastic pink flamingo in their front lawn. Do you know parents who need an evening out? Send a gift card.
For the friend who needs prayer, offer to pray every day this week, and then set a calendar reminder and let them know once or twice after you've followed through.
Another friend might like a quick walk with you if weather allows. You can leave positive reviews online for your favorite authors, musicians, and even doctors and dentists.
Now — the harder part. Reach out and ask for help yourself. Text a friend when you need prayer. Admit your marriage is in trouble or your child is wandering, and get help. Ask on social media for a book recommendation that will lift your spirits. Join a Bible study — many new groups form at the start of the year. Lift others, and let them lift you, too.
We all experience God's love when we're holding hands.
The people I will reach out to, and how:
The people I'll ask for help, and for what:
Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full — pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back. Luke 6:38, NLT
Only One Voice
I write for a living, which involves direction and suggestion from lots of people. Everyone from editors to friends to readers lets me know what I've done right — and wrong — and tells me what I should do next. My family even pitches in. When my young son read one of my books for tween girls, he told me exactly where I'd gone wrong. "No submarines," he said. "That's why they're not selling. You don't have any submarines in your books."
I'll bet your job is like that too, whether it be your career, your ministry, your mothering, or whatever else you undertake. Someone always knows how you should be doing it differently. Though there may be dozens of voices trying to direct me, I aim to satisfy primarily one person — my editor, my boss.
When he directs me, it is for our common goal. When he signs off on the project, he's saying, "Well done." No other voice ultimately matters.
Overall, most of us are tempted to be people pleasers. But Scripture is clear that we cannot have two masters. It's easy for the noisy one in the same room to win out over God's still, small voice.
Excerpted from "The One Year Experiencing God's Love Devotional"
Copyright © 2017 Sandra Byrd.
Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.
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