Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Sometimes, It Takes Some Manure~


Yep! You read that right…..manure.

Manure Pile Sign
{Photo Credit}

When you think of manure,
 what comes to your mind?



Yeah, mine, too.




Not a pretty picture, is it?





While manure may not be pretty on the eyes or easy on the nose, it does serve a vital purpose. In fact, it is one of the most commonly used forms of fertilizer around.

World English Dictionary defines fertilizer as: any substance, such as manure or a mixture of nitrates, added to soil or water to increase its productivity.

Which brings us to Luke 13 and a particular fig tree.

The owner of this tree had been waiting three long years for this fig tree to live up to its name and produce some figs. Three long years! Now, I don’t know much about fig trees, but it is obvious from the owners reaction that this tree had grown to a level of maturity capable of producing fruit. But it wasn’t. And this owner was disappointed, to say the least.

So he said to the vinedresser, See here! 
For these three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree and I find none.
 Cut it down! 
Why should it continue also to use up the ground [to]deplete the soil, 
intercept the sun, and take up room]?

Not only was the owner upset with this tree, he no longer felt it was worth cultivating. He was ready to cut it down! But wait….the vinedresser, the one who was in charge of nurturing and growing this fig tree, wasn’t ready to call it quits. He knew this fig tree had the potential to bear fruit and he wasn’t ready to give up on it.


The vinedresser decided it was time for some manure.

I’ve got a question for you:
How long have you been a Christian?

How long have you been rooted and grounded in the soil of God’s love?

And…………hmmm……….well, how much fruit have you produced?

As I look back on my own life, I have to admit, it was during the manure-caked times of my life that I produced the most spiritual fruit. I have a feeling you will discover the same is true in your own life.

Sure, we all like the good times. We don’t like life to get messy. We especially don’t like it when life dumps manure on us. Yet, could it be, that this manure is a gift from the vinedresser himself? Could it be that without it we will never live up to our spiritual potential?

I AM the True Vine, and My Father is the Vinedresser. 
Any branch in Me that does not bear fruit [that stops bearing]He cuts away (trims off, takes away); and He cleanses and repeatedly prunes every branch that continues to bear fruit,
 to make it bear more and richer and more excellent fruit. 
~John 15:1,2, The Amplified Bible

What does it take for you to bear fruit?

Has your life been full of manure lately?

Maybe the vinedresser is simply applying some fertlizer. He sees your potential to bear spiritual fruit and he isn’t ready to give up on you.

You have been showered upon with Christ’s blessings,

you have felt the warmth of His love as it has illuminated your heart and life,

and you have grown deep into the soil of His word.

It is time to start producing fruit! It is time to start living up to your name as a disciple of Christ and to start making some disciples. It is time to do that for which you were created to do!

Manure. Not something we like, but oftentimes something we need, especially if we are ever going to produce spiritual fruit.

 But how?

How do the “manure times” of our life help us to produce fruit?
How can our suffering bring others to Christ?

Simple.

All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! 
God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times,
 and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. 
~ 2 Corinthians 1:3-5, The Message

As you grow through the hard times you can be sure these times have not come to you in vain. What Satan means for your harm, God will ALWAYS use for HIS good and HIS glory. Allow the manure to produce fruit in you and in those around you. Use these times of testing, trials and suffering to minister to those around you.

Are things a bit messy in your life right now?
Can you see and smell the manure?

Then give thanks.

The vinedresser is at work.

He is lovingly cultivating you and graciously giving you what
                                   you need to be fruit-filled and fruitful.

Fall Grapes
{Photo Credit}
When you bear (produce) much fruit, 
My Father is honored and glorified,
and you show and prove yourselves to be true followers of Mine. 
~John 15:8, The Amplified Bible










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Monday, August 3, 2015

31 Ways~

Words.
It's amazing to me the sheer "power" these consonant and vowel laden creations contain.

Letters, placed together, all in an attempt to convey a thought, an emotion, a reaction.

Every day, you and I engage in conversation.
A joke here.
A comment there.
A "have a nice day" here.
A "what were you thinking?" there.

On and on, all day long, words spewing from our mouth with no end in sight.

And yet, I wonder how often we stop to contemplate our words and the impact they are having on those around us.

Don’t use foul or abusive language. 
 Let everything you say be good and helpful, 
 so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. 
~ Ephesians 4:29 NLT 

Watch the way you talk. 
 Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth.
 Say only what helps, each word a gift. 
~ Ephesians 4:29 MSG 

Words.
I've written with them,
written about them,
and wrestled without them time and time again.

And, I've also
heard them,
received them,
and been wrestled to the ground because of them.

" . . . so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them."

". . . each word a gift."

No matter what we feel we need to say,
be it
a word of congratulation,
a word of correction,
a word of inspiration,
a word of rejection,
a word of recommendation,
a word of protection,
a word of stipulation -
what we say and the way we say it matters.

Everything can and should be said in a way that is helpful, useful, encouraging.  A gift.

Words.
Little bundles of letters that when unwrapped to reveal their true meaning can either
lift up or tear down,
inspire or deflate,
heal or wound,
unite or undo,
bless or curse.

What are my words speaking into the lives of others?

What are yours?




 


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Thursday, July 30, 2015

God, How Could You?~

One day, when I least expected it, God used me to answer a prayer. Me! Imagine that. Now, I know God uses each of us, in many ways, on any given day, to be an answer to prayer, but on this day, it was the last thing I would have ever expected God to do.

You see, on this particular day, my thoughts and actions had been anything but pleasing to God. From the moment my alarm had jolted me awake, my grumbling and complaining had started. Before my feet even had a chance to hit the floor, my mouth had started groaning to God about this, and whining to God about that. By the time I made it to the shower, my pity party was in full swing.

I wish I could say a nice hot shower did the trick, and before long I was rejoicing in this new day that the Lord had made, but unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. It seemed the more I moaned, the more I found to moan about. By the time I left for work, I was singing the blues better than B.B. King!

Sadly, it didn’t stop there. The events of the day kept giving me more to complain about. I couldn’t believe what a horrible, rotten, no good day I was having. Then, to top it all off, I found myself sitting in traffic at a railroad crossing. With nothing to do but wait, I began to watch the activity in a store parking lot to my left.

That’s when it happened. I spotted my then 84 year old father-in-law attempting to change a flat tire on his truck. When the way was clear, I maneuvered my way over to where he was parked. As soon as he saw me pull up, a look of relief flooded his face. “Oh, Stacy! I can’t believe it’s you. I just prayed God would send someone to help me and here you are. You are the answer to my prayer!”

Who me??????
{Photo Credit}


Me?!




God, how could you?




How could you possibly have chosen ME
to be the one to bless this dear man today?



How could I be the answer
to a prayer spoken in desperation,
when my own lips were so desperately
far from you today?



How could you even think to use me
when I have been acting in a way
so undeserving of this honor?



In spite of my thoughts, my actions and my lousy, no good for nothing attitude, God used me. In spite of what I had done and what I had said, God used me. In spite of who I am, God used me. But why? Why would He choose to do that?


Because, it’s not about me….it’s about HIM.


If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness.
 We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. 
That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. 
As it is, there’s not much chance of that.
 You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at. 
~2 Corinthians 4:7 The Message


The sad truth is, even on a “good day”, when my words and my thoughts bring a smile to my Father’s face, the only good in me, is still HIM. Who I am is simply a vessel that, amazingly, God chooses to work through to touch others with His love, and in this case, His provision.


I phoned my husband, and soon, my father-in-law and I were each back on the road again and headed back into the rest of our day. As I drove, I bowed my heart before the Lover of my soul. Through words of confession and repentance, mingled with tears of shame and regret, I felt God’s unconditional love flood my heart.


I was chosen to be someone’s answer to prayer, and yet I couldn’t help believing that God has used this encounter to answer a prayer of my own. Just like my father-in-law, I needed my God to rescue me. Depression was sucking the life out of my day and out of my heart, yet before I had even sought the Lord for a way of escape from this cruel prison, He had answered.


God, how could you? How could you be so beautiful to me?


As I continued my day, I found myself humming a brand new tune -
a melody of grace, forgiveness and joy!


Why, I could hardly believe the beautiful day I was having!








 
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Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Gift of Being There~

Life isn't always sunshine and roses, peaches and cream, or joy and laughter. Sometimes, life is hard. And, it hurts - all the way down to the deepest place in our heart.

I'll never forget the Ziggy cartoon card a friend sent to me when I was away at college (years and years ago!) Remember, Ziggy? On the cover was a picture of Ziggy and two words: "There, There". The inside simply read: Feel better? Sometimes, all we need is just a little there, there.

Her name was Dorothy. I became friends with Dorothy when her husband of 69 years passed away. She attended our church and I knew who she was, but it wasn't until that summer day, standing at the graveside, watching this dear lady mourn, that I really got to know her. As I helped the preacher escort her to the car waiting to drive her back to her home, I couldn't help but overhear their conversation.

"You'll be OK, Dorothy. It will just take some time."

"But Pastor, you don't understand. We've been together for 69 years. I went from my mother's house to my husband's house. I've never, ever spent a night alone. I was always afraid of the dark and I made my husband promise me he would never leave me alone at night. For all of our 69 years of marriage, he never did."

"It'll be OK, Dorothy. God is with you. And we are here for you, too"

We were at the car now. As he opened the door and she stepped in, I saw her wiping away the tears that flowed steadily down her cheeks. And, I knew. As much as our pastor "intended" to be there for Dorothy, his schedule wouldn't allow him much time with her. I was a teacher out on summer break. I knew God was calling me to be the one there for this broken-hearted lady.

I knocked on her door early the next morning. She was surprised to see me, I could tell, but happy I was there. I had no idea what I would say to her, or what I should do to ease her pain, but I knew God had sent me to her, so I was there.

Each day.

All day long.

All summer long.

Sometimes she re-lived happy moments from the past. And, sometimes, she just sat and said nothing. And I sat right beside, not saying a word either. Sometimes, she told of struggle and heartache. And sometimes, when the room was silent, I would simply walk over to her, rub her back, and then take my seat again on the other side of the room. Together, we learned the ways of sorrow and we both discovered the comfort of a simple....there, there.

Being there, that is.

So often when those around us are hurting we try to cheer them up. We put on our biggest smile and hand them a bouquet of balloons and strike up the band. And, while our intentions are good, they may only add to the sting of hurt.

Singing cheerful songs to a person with a heavy heart
is like taking someone’s coat in cold weather
or pouring vinegar in a wound.

 ~ Proverbs 25:10, NLT

Sometimes, we all need a little "there, there".

A simple acknowledgment of our hurt.

A hug or a touch that says what words sometimes can't...

fatherson_hands
{Photo Credit}
"I'm here.

I'm sorry.

I hurt with you."

To know someone else shares in our sorrow,

is aware of our hurt,

is touched by what has touched us -

this is where healing is found.


This is where a heavy heart finds comfort and peace.


This is what God has called us to do -

to be there.~







 
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Saturday, July 18, 2015

It's Never . . . or It's NOW!~

I will never forget that moment almost six years ago now.

Sitting in a staff meeting one morning, a colleague read a short devotional based on a passage found in Mark 10. Then, he led us in a short prayer. On any other day, after the prayer, the Pastor would have dove right into our work assignments for the day and the issues at hand. Not this day. The prayer finished and we were met with silence; a silence that lingered, creating an uneasiness in the room.

After several moments, the Pastor, looking at no one in particular, yet speaking directly to everyone seated at the table asked, "What do you want Jesus to do for you?" Again, silence. Minutes ticked by as we each allowed this question to penetrate our heart.  

What do I want Jesus to do for me?

Then they reached Jericho, and as Jesus and his disciples left town, a large crowd followed him. A blind beggar named Bartimaeus (son of Timaeus) was sitting beside the road. When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus of Nazareth was nearby, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

“Be quiet!” many of the people yelled at him.

But he only shouted louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

When Jesus heard him, he stopped and said, “Tell him to come here.”

So they called the blind man. “Cheer up,” they said. “Come on, he’s calling you!” Bartimaeus threw aside his coat, jumped up, and came to Jesus.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked.

“My rabbi,” the blind man said, “I want to see!”

And Jesus said to him, “Go, for your faith has healed you.” Instantly the man could see, and he followed Jesus down the road.
~ Mark 10:46-52, NLT

I often wonder what it would have been like to have lived during the time of Jesus' earthly ministry. As He went from town to town and village to village, people young and old crowded around to hear His words and to witness His healing touch. If I had been there, I think, I too would have been among the crowd. I, too, would have followed Jesus.

I wonder, though, would I have had the courage, the boldness, or the faith to cry out to Him with my own need. Sadly, I don't think I would have. I would have wanted to, to be sure, but honestly, I think I would have let the opinions of the crowd and my own poor self-image keep me at a distant.

"Who am I to think I can interrupt Jesus while He is ministering to those who need him?"

"Why should I take up Jesus' time when there are so many more who needed Him more than I do?"

Yes, I would have wanted to run to Him, but...

As I have studied this passage of scripture, my eyes have been opened to see my own spiritual blindness - my own spiritual need. As I have looked deep into my heart, I now realize I am in greater need than the blind beggar, Bartimaues. When Jesus drew near, He had the courage and the faith to cry out to Him. But me, I often stay silent. I have the faith, but I don't ask. Every single moment of my life Jesus is here, and I just let Him pass me by.
 
Dare to reach out your hand into the darkness, to pull another hand into the light.
{Photo Credit}

Oh, for the courage of Bartimaeus.


He didn't allow anything or anyone
(not even himself ) to keep him from drawing near Jesus and experiencing His touch.
He boldly cried out and in faith, received.


Bartimaeus did nothing to make himself
worthy of receiving this miracle from God.
When he ran to Jesus,
he was just an ordinary human being in need -
just like you and me.


He knew all he needed could be found in Jesus.
I think he also knew that Jesus invites us to come as we are.
After all, aren't we powerless to come any other way?

You see, Jesus doesn't see us the same way we see ourselves.

Yes, He sees the real, ugly sinful person that we are,
but He sees us through His eyes of love.
He sees us as His child.
He sees us as someone worth giving His own life for.
He sees our need - but looks beyond it to see the ONE in need.

He simply wants us to come -
to not let anything or anyone, not even ourself,
keep us from experiencing His love and receiving His touch.

Today, Jesus is passing by.

All it takes is one touch to change your life forever. 

Are you content to let Him simply pass you by?
Or, are you willing to risk everything and run to Him?

It's never.........or it's NOW!






 
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Friday, July 17, 2015

Catching On~

It is one thing to know the Word.
It is another thing altogether to know THE WORD WHO BECAME FLESH.

You see, somethings are taught...and somethings are caught.
(If you take a few minutes to digest this thought, I think you may agree with me.)

After all, how did you learn to tie your shoes? That's right. Someone taught you how to first make a loop, then to hold it tight while going around your thumb and into the loop....and voila!

How did you learn to read? Again, someone took the time to teach you the alphabet and the sound each letter makes alone and in relation to other letters.

How did you learn to drive a car? Your mom or dad (or some other brave soul) patiently...(or maybe not!) instructed you on the ins and outs of maneuvering a vehicle through the maze of other cars, stop lights, and of course, the all too common, construction zone.

Dictionary. com defines teach this way: to impart knowledge of or skill in; give instruction in.

Yes, somethings are most definitely taught.

Now, let me ask you this.

How did you learn to bring out a smile in someone else by sharing a smile of your own?

How did you learn to go "awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww" whenever you see something that melts your heart?

How did you learn to learn to talk?

How did you learn to give a hug, help someone up, clap and cheer?

You caught these!
You learned these by simply observing the behavior and actions of those around you.

The Bible is divided into two testaments. The Old Testament is about the Old Covenant.(Death through the Law) The New Testament is about the new covenant. (Life through Christ Jesus). But, have you ever thought about the Old Testament being that which was taught and the New Testament being that which is caught?

In the Old Testament, through the prophets of old and their instruction in the law and the commandments, we are taught about sin. In the Old Testament, through the prophecies, we are taught about the promise of the Messiah. In the Old Testament, through the lives of Moses, Noah, Joseph, Daniel and many others, we are taught about Faith.

Old Testament learning requires our mind, our intellect.

In the New Testament, through the birth, death and resurrection of Christ, we catch a glimpse of who God is. In the New Testament, through the power of Holy Spirit,we begin to feel the power of God. In the New Testament, as we follow the life of Christ and his disciples and journey with Paul, we begin to realize what it means to be a follower of Christ.

New Testament learning requires our heart.

Somethings are taught - by instruction.
Somethings are caught - by beholding.

One requires our mind. The other, our heart.

Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!

You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.But I say, if you are even angry with someone,you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot,you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone,you are in danger of the fires of hell."
Matthew 5:17-22, NLT

The Pharisees and Scribes had been taught the law. They knew all about "Do not kill", "Do not steal", "Don't not..."etc., but the real truth of the law never reached their heart. They never caught the Law. They never understood the Law was not just something you spoke about or a standard by which you judged someone else. It was a matter of your own heart.

It's not just enough to have a head knowledge of the law. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the law must be caught by our heart. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, our life becomes transformed by God's law, our heart becomes changed. The through the power of the Holy Spirit, the law becomes more than a set of rules, it becomes the ruling force of our heart.

"Don't kill" becomes "do not hate someone or to harbor hateful feeling against someone in your heart".
"Don't steal" becomes "don't even think about taking what isn't yours".

The Old Testaments teaches us about God. In the New Testament we are able to behold His glory in the face of Jesus. In the New Testament, through the power of the Holy Spirit, as we observe Jesus' behavior, His mannerisms, and His heart, we become changed. We catch on to what life in and through Jesus is all about.
"But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." 2 Corinthians 3:18, KJV

I gotcha!
{Photo Credit}
Maybe you have been taught all about God.
But, let me ask you this?
  

Has your heart caught on to new life in Christ?



Has your life taken hold of
His forgiveness, His grace and His love for you?



Have you been transformed by beholding Him?



Have you caught what Christ came to teach us?



Amazingly, all of this happens when we are caught by His grace!

It is one thing to know the Word.
It is another thing altogether to know THE WORD WHO BECAME FLESH.

The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.

John pointed him out and called, "This is the One! The One I told you was coming after me but in fact was ahead of me. He has always been ahead of me, has always had the first word."

We all live off his generous bounty,
gift after gift after gift.
We got the basics from Moses,
and then this exuberant giving and receiving,
This endless knowing and understanding—
all this came through Jesus, the Messiah
. John 1:14-17, The Message







 
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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Not Even Myself~

Sitting in church one day,
I had one of the most profound revelations of my life thus far....
straight from God, straight to my heart. 

As the soloist sang, "God is my light and my salvation, whom then, shall I fear?",
the thought hit me . . . no one.

But, THAT wasn't my profound revelation.

You see, from childhood I have known, with God on my side, I have no one to fear. 

The revelation came when God's Spirit took this point one step further.  
No one....not even myself.  

Sitting on the pew, I suddenly realized I am my own worst enemy. 
I am the one I fear most.
 
I fear I will 
say the wrong thing, 
do the wrong thing, 
be the wrong thing.  

I fear I will 
hurt feelings, 
disappoint loved ones, 
insult strangers.  

I fear I will 
mess up, 
throw up, 
or give up.

 I. fear. me.

As the soloist sang the refrain again,"God is my light and my salvation, whom then, shall I fear?",
my lips moved as I whispered the answer:

No one - not even myself.  

This same God who can fight off my enemies
and storm the gates of Hell,
is the same God who can work 
in me and through me,
in spite of me. 
It's not by my might,
or my power,
but by the Spirit of the living God working in me and through me.
(Zechariah 4:6)


I can't,
but God can. 

Even if I do mess up,
my Redeemer can take my mess and transform it into a mighty message of amazing grace. 

Yes, my God can save me from anyone,
even myself!
Whom then, shall I fear? 

What a revelation! 
What sure victory!  
What a God.~♥






 
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Monday, July 13, 2015

How Did I Miss THAT?~

When my father's health was declining, the Lord opened the door for me to move back home with my parents. Unfortunately, my husband wasn't able to make the move.

For five years, seven hours of driving each way, my husband and I commuted back and forth on long weekends and holidays. Did I mention we traveled this seven hour road back and forth, forth and back for five years?

Each time I found myself behind the wheel, I was on a mission: getting home to see my husband or getting back up to my parents. Both hands on the steering wheel, eyes locked on the road in front of me, full steam ahead.

A couple of years ago, far removed from the situation that had been my life for five years, I traveled this same route once again. This time was different, though. I had no mission. I was leisurely traveling North to spend time with my mother. I was on a mini-vacation. Time was my friend, not my enemy. The trip was inviting, not to be endured. And, what a trip it was.

SEE!
{Photo Credit}

I saw antelope,



bouquets of wild flowers,



fluffy clouds,



a stately windmill,



the smile on an elderly lady as I drove down the main street of a little town.



Everywhere I looked, I saw beauty.
Each time I turned my head or a corner, I saw life.
The entire trip I saw everything I had failed to see for five years!


How had I missed all of this before?


Sadly, each time I drove this road before I only saw what was right in front of me. The commitments. The obligations. The demands. The deadlines. The distance to be traveled.


The same was true of Elisha's servant.
When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked.


“Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, LORD, so that he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 2 Kings 6:15-17
When he awoke one morning, all Elisha's servant could see was an army surrounding him. That's it! He only saw what was directly in front of him. But then, Elisha prayed the eyes of this "spiritually blind" man would be opened to see what was truly before him - the army of the Lord surrounding them.

It makes no difference if we are merely out for a joy ride or fighting the battle of our life, we cannot afford to lose our spiritual vision. We cannot settle for merely seeing what is before us. We must also see beyond that, to see God in every place of our life.


In the beauty of a desert landscape, He is there.


In the operating room of a hospital, He is there.


In the traveling of life's highway, He is there.


And yes, even (and especially!) in the deadlines, demands, disappointments and diseases of life, He is there.


Don't miss what you can't see
by only concentrating on what you do see.


Faith looks beyond.

Faith sees what can't be seen (yet!).

When we allow God to open our eyes, our vision becomes clear. We see beauty where we have never noticed it before. We see the army of the Lord encamped around us ready to protect and defend.

We see God!

Heavenly Father,
Without eyes of faith we are spiritually blind. In our blindness, we stumble through life, void of beauty and void of the realization and assurance of Your presence. Today, Father God, I pray that like the eyes of Elisha's servants, our eyes, too, would be opened. We want to see, Lord. We want to see YOU.
In Jesus' name we pray, Amen~







 
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