Sing this song with me. You know it.
"It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year
With the kids jingle belling
And everyone telling you "Be of good cheer"
Ok, now that we've gotten that out, it's Christmas time! For so many it's the most wonderful time of their year. The precisely decorated houses. Towering and twinkling Christmas trees. Hilarious commercials. The seemingly scheduled Facebook arguments over 'Xmas vs Christmas'. It's that time of year for family, friends, connections and bonding. *deep happy sigh*
While some see all of the positives this season has to offer, others are running on fumes. Literally the gas tank is empty. The sign has been flashing. But the engine somehow is still moving...barely. If you are like me, you find yourself working and moving in this state of tired, but determined ambition. The end of the year is approaching. You have completed 17 out of 20 resolutions for 2014. Just a few more, and you just are convinced you can do it. You have no idea where you're getting the energy or inspiration to make the next step, but you know that their is a race to run...and who else better to do it?
The holidays can be a time where we force ourselves to prove how greater, better, richer, smarter, etc., we are than our friends, family, and our previous self. That gets tiring. You get worn down and out before you ever get the chance to enjoy yourself. But why? It is because you haven't received God's love.
If you know you are loved by God, you act like it. It shows. (1 John 4:13) Receive the love of God. The love of God looks like the sacrifice Jesus made. Living in the knowledge that God loves you changes everything!! (Gal. 2:20)
When you operate out of God's great love for us, you don't have to worry about having the biggest box, giving the most expensive watch, or planning the biggest surprise. The pressure to deliver is off of you. (Gal 1:10) No more tired, weary days. No one is expecting you to be the hero. Jesus already did that. Receive the love given from God. (John 3:16) Only when you have His love can you give freely and happily. When you're giving of the love you have received, it's not forced or exhausting. It's exciting to see how Jesus begins working in someone else's life. Receive Love...and pass it on. (1 John 4:19)
Now when you sing this last verse of the song, your heart will glow when loved ones are near. Know that you won't be drained, dreading, or dreary of having loved ones near. You can now give because of the love you have received. Not of yourself, out of performance, or pretending but because God loves you.
"It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year
There'll be much mistltoeing
And hearts will be glowing
When love ones are near
It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year"
Always Praying Blogger
Now is the time of year when most people sit around and began to think of what they are thankful for. Sometimes there are things in life or in the world that make you ponder on what you are thankful for long before the month of November.
As I meet new people, witness new events, and travel to new places I am often reminded of the things I’m thankful for. Most of all, I am thankful for the many blessings God has given me. It is very easy to overlook the little things. However, the little things you have may be the “big things” another person wish they had. Likewise, it is easy to complain about what we do not have. I once heard someone say, each person should think of all that they already have before complaining about what they do not have. Remember that every blessing that you receive is a gift from the Lord above. We would not have much without his love, grace, and almighty power.
Reflecting on my own life, I’m thankful for many blessings. First, I am thankful for life itself, and my current state of good health. I’m thankful for 4 parents (a mother, 2 dads, and a stepmother) who have always pushed me to reach my potential and held me to high standard. I’m thankful for surrounding family members who are always praying for my safety and well-being. I’m thankful for a girlfriend who is prayer partner and gives me a reason to smile even on the toughest of days. I’m thankful for many mentors who are always willing to talk with me and show me the way. I’m thankful for friends to chat with and enjoy great conversation. I give thanks to Lord for the chance to receive a college education and the ability to work towards achieving my goals.
There are so many more things I am thankful for. Yet, many may not have some of those I listed above. Regardless, just the gift of life is something to praise the Lord for. I believe each life is precious and has value. Jesus Christ died and rose for each person on this Earth- regardless of gender, color, last name, or region of the globe. Each new day, each meal, and each opportunity is a gift from our Creator.
This Thanksgiving, think of all the things you are blessed with. Think of all the wonderful people in your life. Think of the blessings that may seem small, like the next breath. Think of the blessings that are large, like the receiving your dream job or buying your dream car. Then, remember that the Lord is the source of everything we have. No matter how simple or complex, big or small; the Lord is the source of everything we have today and all we will receive in the future. Do not just give him thanks in the holiday season. Give the Lord praise continually, ever day of the year, without ceasing. Be thankful for all your many blessings.
“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.” - 1 Chronicles 16
Thanksgiving. Something that should be innate to believers. In everything give thanks, right? God is good all the time and...you know the rest. Thanksgiving and praise should ring forth out of our hearts and off of our lips every day, at least once a day to meet the required Christian quota, or so we're taught. But what if that's not what happens? What if you aren't really seeing anything in your life to be thankful for? What if your health is failing, your finances are insufficient, you hate your job, or you're still single? What if you're really not thankful?
You are not alone. Often in the Bible, we can see men and women who were unhappy and dissatisfied with where they were in life. Elijah was trying to be killed by Jezebel so he went out to a field and asked God to kill him. That doesn't sound like he was too grateful for life. Naomi lost both of her sons, only had 2 daughter in-laws, and a debt. She told her daughter in-laws to go back to where they were from and just forget about her. She didn't seem grateful to have them with her. Job lost everything he had except his wife and his life and still had the audacity to 'go off' on the God of the universe. Job didn't seem grateful for what was left. Jesus prayed that there be another way other than the cross. He didn't seem grateful to die. John was exiled to the island of Patmos. Although he wrote the book of Revelations, I doubt he was grateful to be on an island alone for an extended period of time.
So what do you do when you're ungrateful? Shift your focus. Oftentimes, it is easy to see all of the bad in any situation. Research has shown that bad or deleterious memories and emotions stick with us longer than happy or exciting memories and emotions do. In other words, we remember and attach to the bad more than the good. Although, this may be the truth, as believers we have a different truth. We always have a different reason to be thankful. The objective truth of the gospel is that a perfect Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21) came to an imperfect earth, put on this sinful flesh (Romans 8:3), lived a perfect life (Hebrews 7:26), died a death meant for us (Rom. 4:25), and was raised for our reconciliation with God (Rom. 5:10).
When we shift our focus from subjective, temporal situations and people and onto the almighty Savior of the universe, thanksgiving rings from our hearts. When we remove our selfish, sinful desires and look at the One who is true, just, gracious, and loving, we can only be grateful. Not to undermine our emotions and feelings, because God does care and wants to hear about what troubles and worries us (1 Peter 5:7). However, we can't focus or dwell in negativity and ungratefulness with a Savior like Jesus.
This thanksgiving in those times when you don't feel the most grateful, ask yourself what are you truly thankful for?
Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas – basically, anything that included a feast – those were definitely the go-to’s; days filled with hours upon hours of meal preparation, spending the entire afternoon with grandparents, visits from relatives you often didn’t see otherwise, and the promise of a top-pant-button-unfastened full belly and delectable leftovers for microwaveable-reheats to come.
Think back on your own fondest moments and memories from childhood. If your yesteryear was anything like mine, holidays are seated firmly atop the leaderboard.
As for THE favorite, I’d suspect that many will hearken back to the awe and wonder of Christmas mornings; all the suspense and anticipation the event had to offer, complete with yet-to-be-unearthed treasures awaiting their respective turns to be shredded open beneath wondrously decorated Christmas trees, adorned by festively designed wrapping papers of sleigh bells, snowmen, and reindeer.
As a preemptive measure, let me be clear: Christmas was a BIG deal in our home (especially as an only child with very generous grandparents that took great fulfillment in living up to all joys and perks their role entailed). Christmas lights, inner-tubes (more maneuverable than sleds), the wish for a multiple-foot-deep unleashing of snow that’d ensure a week’s worth of Snow Days to keep me home from school; and those were all just the longings to attribute to my father.
But… There was just something about Thanksgiving. Even as a youngster that couldn’t quite yet grasp the entirety of what the holiday was “really” about – you know, aside from the essentials: turkey, stuffing, pies and pies and pies, and football – I remember a difference in demeanor of the adults around me. It was unlike any other of our ‘holy days,’ Christmas included. You always did (mostly) your best to behave (or just avoid getting caught), but there was a certain tangible reverence in the air when it came to Thanksgiving Day and, accordingly, how you should conduct yourself. That’s what I recollect most clearly; when it was evident the occasion meant something more than any other typical day.
We were not a church-going family. We didn’t pray before meals, didn’t adorn our Sunday best, and didn’t discuss God (and certainly not Jesus) in any capacity. It wasn’t relevant; we led a pretty busy life and no mention of including God into it was ever steered to the forefront of our attention. This isn’t to say we were anti-Religion (although I did believe I was Atheist at one point), but it was just never part of the discussion, never brought into consideration.
Thanksgiving, though; if there were ever a time I can look back and see myself experiencing the Presence of the Lord being firmly planted in my midst, it’s crystal clear He was abiding right there in the room with us. While I was still none the wiser, God was molding and fashioning me to learn how to acknowledge that His Presence was and is dwelling amongst us.
Before I ever knew any semblance of who He was, He was teaching me reverence.
Before I ever learned to recognize His voice, He was calling my name.
Before I ever knew I was running the other direction, He was drawing me near.
Before I ever had any notion of my need for a Savior, He was displaying signs of His unending Grace and Patience, allowing my discovery to take place squarely within the safety of His Hand.
We all grew to learn about the Pilgrims, Plymouth Rock, and the traditions surrounding the holiday here in the States. What will forever strike the biggest chord in my memory is discovering how the Lord used Thanksgiving to instill in me an understanding for those moments where we need only to give Him thanks, praise His name, and declare that He is Lord.
Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving.
– Psalm 95:2
Surely the righteous shall give thanks to Your name; the upright shall dwell in Your presence.
– Psalm 140:13
All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.
– 2 Corinthians 4:15
And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
– Ephesians 5:20
Gardens require more work than those without a green thumb may realize. At least that was the case for me as a young girl. I was fascinated by the look of gardens and the idea of eating food you planted.
Have you ever looked at someone else’s life and wanted their life, family, money, job, reputation, etc.? We all have wanted what someone has. It is true. But just like with a garden, we see the end result and are unaware of their labor for their current harvest. Galatians 6:7 says, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.”
What have you been sowing? If you are constantly comparing your life to someone else’s you are sowing seeds of ungratefulness, discord, strife, jealousy, and so much more. Stop! I beg you!
Wherever you are now, take a moment and write a list of things you are grateful for. Add to it. Review it everyday. Review the list when your garden seems to be dying. Rejuvenate yourself through faith. Speak over your garden. And, review it when everything is going great- sincere gratitude requires humility. Always give thanks to God for all your successes and victories.
Do you think the lady with a beautiful garden goes out and says her garden will die and not produce any fruit everyday? Or can you see her smiling from ear to ear in anticipation of what she will harvest this year. Your words have power. How are you using yours?
Water your garden with seeds of thanksgiving and praise. Giving God thanks does not mean your life is perfect. Many times, giving God thanks in the midst of challenging situations is an act of faith and the way God intended for us to water our gardens.
When you see someone reaping a harvest, remember you have no idea how many times they experienced crop failure in the past. Yet, they did give up! They studied, learned from their mistakes and went back out there the next year. Let this be your gratitude check. It may be by far easier to complain and whine about what is not right in your life, but that only plants seeds that you will later reap. Plant seeds of thanksgiving!
The bottom line is that your faith, gratitude, and current situation is linked to your ability to give God thanks at all times.
Be thankful for life. Be thankful for friends and family. Be thankful God woke you up this morning. Be thankful you are able to read this blog. Just be thankful. While you may not have rows and rows of harvest like your neighbor next to you, you at least can give thanks for what you do have.
Water your garden with thanksgiving. Nothing is impossible!
Founder, Always Praying
What is hope? Hope is a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.
The song “In Christ Alone” by Stuart Townend is one of my favorites. The song speaks to me and makes me think about my relationship with Christ. However, most importantly, the song lifts me up on a rough day and reminds me to place my hope and trust in the Lord’s almighty hands.
The song starts “In Christ alone my hope is found.” What does this mean? To me, it means that I rely on nothing else but God’s plan for my life. No matter how great things are going in my life, or how bad things may be going. No matter if I have my dream job, or I do not have a job at all. Whether I’m healthy as can be, or I’m sick- In Christ alone, my hope is found.
To a Christian, hope should be a confident assurance when things may not seem clear. Too often, people (including Christians) place our hope in other things. We place our hope in our plans over God’s plans. Many have heard the saying that sometimes when God hears our plans He just laughs. Our hope should rest in the One that gives us life, breath, peace, and so much more. At times, we, as human, may put out hopes in the wrong things. We may place our hope in some of the worldly things. Or we may place all of our hope into a friend or family member. Yet, we have a Father who we can place all our hope in and know that he makes all things work for our good.
For I know the plans I have for you. declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11
The Lord always has our best interest in mind. He has plans for us to succeed and to prosper. The Lord’s definition of success may not be the definition of success to a friend or co-worker. However, we are called to live lives pleasing to Christ and not to our fellow man. When we place our hope in Christ, all our hope in Christ, there is no way we can lose. He has the plans to give a great hope and a great future.
Pray to him without ceasing and without any inch of doubt. As we pray, we should turn over every situation to him- the situations that are not going well in our life and the ones that we think are perfect. Place every situation in his hands and let it rest there. Place your hope, faith, trust, and love in his hands. Get the weight off of your shoulders. As you place you hope in God’s hands, remember you are not leaving it in the hands of an average person- you place them in the hands of the One True King. Place your hope in the One who fed thousands with 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread, the one who can make the blind see, the one who can make the lame walk, and so much more. Place all your hope in He who has never failed and never will fail.
As you place your hope in Christ, encourage others to do the same. Let them know the message of a Savior who will never leave them behind, nor fade away. Let others know that in Christ alone your hope is found.
The final stanza of “In Christ Alone” says, 'Until he returns or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I stand.' Stand in the power of Christ through the best of times and the worst of times. He will guide you in the right direction each and every step of the way. The first step is placing all your hope in Him.
In Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory, there is a scene where the main character Charlie, tells his bed-ridden grandfather Joe, that he bought a chocolate bar with THE golden ticket. There were only 5 golden tickets available for 5 children and a guest into the amazing, unbelievable factory of candy and chocolate. Charlie came home to tell Grandpa Joe about the ticket and invite him as his ‘plus 1’. Grandpa Joe, who had not walked in 20 years, asked for help out of the bed, grabbed a cane, and began to dance and sing around the room! He was beyond excited about the golden ticket and the incredible and magical experience that he and Charlie were about to share together. Grandpa Joe had a hope that he hadn’t had in years. The promise of entrance into the chocolate factory with Charlie caused him to get out of bed with excitement.
Having a guaranteed hope causes movement toward things you have not seen. Like Grandpa Joe, when you hear of good news that you can experience or entrance and favor that is promised to you, your response should be with singing, excitement, and gratitude. As a believer, you have a Hope far greater than a golden ticket. Believers have a solid hope in a risen Savior, Jesus Christ. When your confidence is in Jesus, you are loved and secured.
In Romans 8:35-39, Paul reminds the believers in Rome that nothing can separate them from the love of God. Nothing that they can do. Nothing that can be done around them. Absolutely, positively nothing can separate them from the love of God. What is the love of God that believers can never be separated from? That love physically looks like Jesus. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, Jesus (John 3:16). Yep, because God loved us SO much- He gave Jesus. Nothing can change or pull you apart from God’s love. Have hope in God’s unshakable love. Rest in that hope.
Jesus became sin and took on the penalty of sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 Thessalonians 5:9). You are safe from your sin! Jesus paid the price for every sin we have done, will do, or can think about doing. Your sin can never overtake you when you are anchored in Jesus.
With an Almighty Savior as your hope, your response should be like Grandpa Joe. There should be a pep in your step, expectation in your heart, and an excitement in your tone that expresses your hope. When your hope is in Jesus, you are confident of the good work that He began will be completed (Philippians 1:6). You are expectant of His promise to never leave or forsake you (Hebrews 13:6). You have a peace beyond understanding when your hope is in Christ (Philippians 4:7).
In a world filled with so many uncertainties, suspicions, and fears-- choose hope. Don’t choose a hope in money, your education, your material things, or even a spouse (or lack thereof). Hope only in a risen Jesus. When your confidence is in Jesus alone, nothing in this world can shake (Psalms 62:6) or break you (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). Know that you are secured and you are loved. I encourage you to choose Hope.
Always Praying Blogger
We look around in today's world and are constantly bombarded with death, tragedy and misfortune. For many of us, all the doom and gloom has become normal. Throughout the Bible, we encounter stories and principles that remind of why we should choose hope. This week, join the AP team as we mediate on hope scriptures. The choice is ours, and we are taking charge of our hope!
For I know the plans I have for you. declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who is promised is faithful. Hebrews 10:23
LORD, you know the hopes of the helpless. Surely you will hear their cries and comfort them. Psalm 10:17
Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished! Luke 1:45
Find rest, O my soul, in god alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. Psalm 62:5-6
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. John 3:17
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. Romans 15:13
By definition, hope is a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.
What are you hoping for? Good grades? A better job? A fancy car? A sexy spouse? Too often we focus on our dreams that we lose focus on life. How often do you hope that God brings someone in need across your path to help? Or hope that you're prepared for tests and trials ahead of time?
Recently, I endured a season where all I hoped for was an escape from my problems. I wanted out. I wanted to be happy, free, and in control of my life. Well, I did not get what I wanted. Instead, I got a wake-up call - my hope must be in Christ. All of it. Yes, you hear that all the time, but it is true! Because my hope was not anchored in the Lord I became overwhelmed and frustrated with my plans not working out.
Let's go back a few years, where my hope was firmly in Christ. I was running for elected office in my hometown, working and studying for the LSAT. I decided to save money, well, I really did not have the money to pay for a LSAT class. I was living paycheck-to-paycheck at that time. So, I taught myself. I was studying and studying yet still seemed to come up short. I wanted a near perfect score. I took the LSAT. And, my hope of getting a 160 did not happen. I was crushed. I was confused. All I knew to do was to cry and keep trusting in the Lord. Long story short, I was accepted into law school, graduated and now I am a licensed attorney in Florida.
The differences in my hope dramatically impacted my feelings, emotions and outlook. I ask, Where is your hope? Are you fully trusting in God?
Hope does not guarantee your desired outcome. Believe me! Hope doesn't ease the pain of rejection, either. Yet, hope firmly anchored in Christ can ensure you withstand the tough storms, failures, disappointments, betrayals, etc. Hope firmly anchored in Christ provides a peace that is unexplainable, yet rewarding!
I understand, you may have severe financial troubles, an indigestible doctor's report, a child that is driving you crazy, a job that leaves you with more grey hair or maybe you're like me and you feel stuck in your current spot. No matter what you're facing- have your hope anchored in Christ. He is the source of the peace, strength, joy, comfort, and wisdom you need to survive the storm.
Your hope is your anchor!
Founder, Always Praying
Always Praying is very excited to announce the addition of two new bloggers, Rasheda Likely and Nicholas Buford!! On a monthly basis, expect dynamic and thought-provoking blogs from each of them. They both are young adults who have dedicated their lives to serving Jesus and sharing His message with the world around them.
Join me in welcoming Rasheda and Nicholas to the AP team!
Rasheda Likely is a former religious person that has been radically transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. She currently fellowships with the Image Church in Jacksonville, FL, where she is an active member of the worship team and weekly discipleship groups. She also writes for the nationally syndicated urban Christian radio show, The Wade-O Radio Show.
Her excitement for the gospel, discipleship, and blogging create an exceptional opportunity to affix relatable and relevant content with God's truth. Jesus has radically transformed her life, and Rasheda is delighted to share His love with you! Rom. 8:31-39
Follow her on Twitter: @Shedabeda
Nicholas Buford was born and raised in Cordele, GA. He currently attends Valdosta State University; where he is working to receive a degree in Political Science. In addition to being a full time student, Nicholas serves as the Vice President of the student body at VSU. After graduating from VSU, Buford plans to attend law school. In February 2014, Nicholas Buford was hired as an administrative assistant by Property Tax Eagle, a prominent property tax firm that fights for low-income housing residents across the Southeastern United States. Nicholas has loved politics ever since the eighth grade. He has serves in numerous class elective offices and leadership positions. He works in numerous capacities for different political campaigns within the state of Georgia.
Above all, Nicholas Buford is overjoyed to be a child of God. The son of a Baptist pastor, Nicholas has been in church his entire life. More importantly than being in church, Nick has seen lives changed, people healed, and so much more. He's a firm believer that there is not a single person out of the reach of God's grace. Day by day, Nicholas prays to grow closer to Christ, live in a way that is more pleasing to him, and commit to God's master plan. One of his favorite Bible verses is Jeremiah 29:11 " For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
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Here young adults share their struggles and victories to encourage you on your Christian journey. You are never alone! God is with and for you and we always praying for you!