Standing Strong Through the Storm OPEN AND CLOSED DOORS*

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*The text below is taken from Standing Strong Through the Storm (SSTS), a daily devotional message by SSTS author Paul Estabrooks. © 2011 Open Doors International. 

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

The Bible has much to say about open doors but many times – even as Christians – we seem to face obstacles on our path and in our ministry. Blocked doors can be VERY frustrating. Yet God often uses closed doors to advance His cause.

 Bible teachers like Max Lucado remind us that God closed the womb of a young Sarah so he could display His power to the elderly one. He shut the palace door on Moses the prince so he could open shackles through Moses the liberator. He marched Daniel out of Jerusalem so he could use Daniel in Babylon.

And even Jesus knew the challenge of a blocked door. When he requested a path that bypassed the cross, God said no. He said no to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane so He could say yes to us at the gates of heaven.

It’s not that our plans are bad but that God’s plans are better.

A prayer is circulating on the Internet that expresses it this way:

  • He asked for strength that he might achieve, he was made weak that he might endure;
  • He asked for health to do larger things, he was given infirmity that he might do better things;
  • He asked for power that he might impress men, he was given weakness that he might seek God;
  • He asked for wealth that he might be free from care, he was given poverty that he might be wiser than carefree.
  • He asked for all things that he might enjoy life, he was given life that he might enjoy all things;
  • He received nothing he asked for. He received more than he ever hoped for.

His prayer was answered!

Blessed man!

The shortest distance between a closed and open door is the distance between your knees and the floor. The one who kneels to the Lord can stand up to anything.

RESPONSE:

Today I will accept that my blocked door doesn’t mean God doesn’t love me. Quite the opposite. I’ll see it as proof that He does.

PRAYER:

Thank You Lord that You know best and have even better plans for me and my service for You. Help me wait patiently for You to open the right door at the right time!

 

Freeing the Mind of Negative Thoughts

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Even though I am a die-hard optimist, I had a rude awakening about the power of positive thinking – as a committed Christian, my positive thoughts don’t hold any inherent supernatural power to force God’s will into existence.

My positive thoughts, affirmations and visualization aren’t a substitute for discerning God’s will.  Nor can my positive thoughts and visualisation substitute the “hard work” of patient trusting and faith that declares “Thy will be done.”

Sounds obvious, doesn’t it?  God, not my positive thoughts, is the Almighty and only real power in the Universe.  Yet many of us have seen and heard testimonials of the benefits and outcomes of positive thinking.

Jesus implores us to “Ask believing to receive.” (Matthew 21:22)

Asking and believing imply the expectation of a positive outcome.  Belief requires holding positive thoughts in faith.  Our faith influences the outcome of our prayers.

Paul admonishes the believers in the Church at Rome to “be transformed by the renewing of their minds,” to not think and act like non-believers who are influenced by the things in this world.  Our thoughts coming from our renewed minds influence our behaviour. (Romans 12:2)

Disappointing outcome of positive thinking

Following the teachings of the Bible and influenced by an endless list of spirituality teachers, I recently spent quite some time and effort convincing myself, through positive thinking and visualization, that a new career opportunity was mine.  I saw a series of coincidental events as further proof that I was headed in the right direction and that I could expect to get the job offer.  Many people were praying with me and for me.  Many people made positive affirmations and said that they could clearly see me in that new role.  So did I.  When the job offer did not materialize, I was disappointed.  What the heck went wrong?

On reflection, I realized that I had spent an inordinate amount of time convincing myself – fighting against recurring negative thoughts and doubts that I wouldn’t get the job offer. Negative thoughts stirred up feelings of fear and anxiety, which I tried to eliminate by using positive thinking to predict a positive outcome.  The positive thoughts not only calmed my fear and anxiety, but made me falsely believe that I correctly discerned God’s will.  That’s wishful thinking!

Nothing is wrong with replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts that are based on the teachings of the Bible.  Our thoughts do determine our attitude and influence outcomes of things that are generally within our control.

The big lesson I learned from this experience is that affirming a positive thought, or visualizing a desired outcome is not to be mistaken for the voice of God or the revelation of His will.

Faith to receive God’s best

Faith in the uncompromising love and goodness of God is at the core of the declaration “Thy will be done.”  The believing that Jesus implores us to do when we ask in prayer is about having faith that His answer will always be for our highest good.  Rather than fearing an outcome that I don’t want, I have resolved that I will ask in faith for what I desire but leave myself open to receive God’s highest and best.

In my struggle to rid my mind of negative thoughts, I have learned that residual fear can co-exist with faith.  This is where the struggle between intention and action occurs.  Paul tells his fellow Christians in Rome that he knows in faith what he is to do, but he is prevented by his fear of letting go and trusting God completely to help him do what he ought to do. (Romans 7:24).  The truth is that even in the face of fear it is possible to step out in faith to do what I ought to do.  This is courage.  Courage comes from trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit, who is also my Comforter and support in times of struggle with fear which can weaken my will to surrender to God’s will.

3 steps to increase faith

In my ongoing journey to live a life free from fear and anxiety, it is possible to root out negative thoughts, which is essential if I am to get to the place of increased faith and unbridled trust in God’s infinite goodness and love.

Three steps that I take every time I have a negative, fear-filled, anxious thought are–

  1. I have a conversation with myself –
    • Is the thought factual?
    • Is the thought supporting me?
    • What’s the worst and best that could happen?
  2. I surrender to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, by aligning body (physical reactions), soul (ego, emotions) and spirit (thoughts)
    • Stop struggling to know the outcome
    • Breathe deeply and relax in silence
    • Pray – ask God to prevail, to be present, to powerfully control my emotions and give me more faith
  3. I affirm the Word of God, speak positively and courageously, even if I feel scared –
    • “God has a good plan for my life” – Jeremiah 29:11
    • “All things are working together for good.” – Romans 8:28
    • “Every thought that God has not planted in my mind and heart will be uprooted.” – Matthew 15:13

Expanding faith

Finally, the Bible teaches us that faith is counted as righteousness. Abraham’s faith was counted as righteousness, which put him in a right, loving, guiding relationship with God. (Romans 4:3) 

I am reassured that by Christ’s death, God sees me as having Christ’s righteousness.  I can run to Him as my loving “Abba Father” when I feel afraid and my faith is weak (Galatians 4:6).  God doesn’t hold my lack of faith against me, as long as I ask for more of it.  I know for sure that I am being transformed as I grow in faith.  Growth and transformation take time.  Negative thoughts will die, as I nourish my mind with the Word of God.  That’s how my faith will expand as I leave myself open to accept God’s faithfulness and goodness in the answers to my prayers.

Christ in me, the hope of glory!  That’s why glory matters.

@Glorymatters

www.camilleisaacsmorell.com 

3 Lessons from Learning to Listen to God

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Feeling vulnerable, confused and anxious come with the territory of personal uncertainty, particularly in relation to life’s big questions – Who should I marry?  Should I take this job?  Where should I live?  Why am I here?  What’s my life’s purpose?   

We only find the answers when we find our truth.  Our truth is what’s right for us in our particular situation.

While the good advice of others cannot always be discounted, it is really up to each person to find their own truth.

Finding one’s truth can be very tricky.  This is because no one but you really knows what impassions you or what your life’s purpose really is.  Intuitionthe ability to know without conscious reasoning – for most of us, is generally the source of our truth.  Whenever I have come to a crossroads in my life’s journey, I have had to rely on my intuition to take the next step.  Admittedly, this is not easy, but I have learned a few lessons, which I share below –

Lesson #1 – Claim your own power

It takes faith to own your truth, which only you intuitively know.  Intuitively knowing doesn’t always come easily to most of us as we’ve been taught and conditioned to rely on our intellect, logic and reasoning to solve our problems and find the right answers tough questions.  It’s very easy to buy into the good advice of others, without really knowing that what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for us. To follow someone else’s dream is to surrender your own power and deprive yourself of the pleasure and fulfilment of your life’s mission.

As a Christian, I consider intuition to be the quiet voice of God speaking specifically to me and my situation.  In fact the apostle Paul, in his first letter to the church at Corinth speaks about the capacity of the Christian mind to discern and understand spiritual truths.  When we personalize these truths, we gain personal insight and direction.

What I know now is that following my intuition is the best way to claim my power and find true fulfillment in life. 

In my experience, silent meditation opens the mental space for inspiration and the voice of intuition to be heard.  Positive affirmations and mantras support alignment of purpose and intention.  The inner knowing that comes from intuition empowers me to take action in the face of risk and uncertainty.  This requires faith and surrendering the outcome.

On the face of it, it seems ironic to say that claiming one’s power requires faith and the ability to surrender. This is because we often equate power with control.  Faith and surrender require that we relinquish the power to control outcomes.  My experience has taught me that there is power in faith and in surrendering the outcome.

Lesson #2 – The power of faith

Whenever I tried to control the outcome of situations beyond my control, I realized how powerless I made myself become.  I ended up being sick with worry and the effects of anxiety attacks over things like other people’s decision to hire me, extreme weather conditions, election results, etc.

What I know now is that the only power I really have is faith.  

Faith is the courage to say “Thy will be done.” For me, faith lets me know that regardless of the outcome, I’ll be okay.  I’ve come to understand that the Universe is God’s orchestra and that understanding the interplay of events with the benefit of hindsight has reaffirmed my mantra that “All things are working together for good.”

Lesson #3 – The power of surrendering

Having faith for a specific outcome can be very limiting.  In fact, I have been fortunate to learn this lesson the easy way.  The hard way would have been to get what I thought I really wanted only to find out later that I had missed out on enriching opportunities.  With the benefits of initial disappointment and hindsight, I have come to understand that very often, what seems to be the best really isn’t.  Several declined applications to advanced degree programs, made me feel crushed and caused me to question my faith.  Taking a partly paid leave of absence from a job in which I saw no future, opened the door to a scholarship to study abroad for 2 years, a promotion on my return and I eventually had the opportunity to migrate to a country where there was greater scope for professional growth and expansion.

What I know now is that if all things are working together for good, then I leave myself open to limitless possibilities.  

I don’t have to have all the answers, but I do have to know my truth.  Guided by my intuition, if I am clear on my life’s purpose, affirm my intention and have faith, I know that the final outcome will lead me to my highest good.

 

Christ in me, the hope of glory…That’s why glory matters!

www.camilleisaacsmorell.com

 

A New Year & A New You

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This is what the Lord says, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” —Isaiah 43:16, 18-19 (Read all of Isaiah 43)

Thoughts on Today’s Verse…

The year is gone, finished, past. We cannot reclaim it or undo it. We cannot rest on the great distance it has brought us. If tomorrow dawns, it will be another day, a new opportunity, and the time to show our faith in Jesus as Lord. Let’s journey forward, knowing that God already inhabits the future and promises to provide us refreshment on our journey there.

My Prayer…

Lord of all eternity, please help me to learn from my mistakes this past year, but not to dwell on them. Please help me not rest on my accomplishments in this past year, but use them to further your work in me and through me. Please help me not quarrel with those who injured me yesterday, last month, or this past year. Instead, O Father, lead me in your paths and help me see your mighty works this next year. In Jesus’ name and by his power I ask it. Amen.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The source of this post is not known. It is quoted from my daily devotional reading.

I don’t believe in work/life balance

Work Life Balance

Although I tried it for many years, I no longer believe in work/life balance, and here’s why –

The term work/life balance implies that there is work and then there are other things in life.  According to this way of thinking, finding the balance means that there has to be a trade-off.  In the end, one or the other suffers.

As someone who enjoys working hard, I do cherish time spent with my family and people I love, as well as volunteering and having my ‘down time.’   For many years, I tried unsuccessfully to find a balance between my work and all the other things I wanted to do in life.  Trying to fit in one hour of long distance running, preparing supper, spending quality time with my husband and family, working on communications plans for the two social activities I was involved in, working on my latest art project and then factoring in two hours commuting to an 8-hour day job… all left me tired, frazzled, overweight and unfulfilled.  Then I tried to cut down some of my social activities in pursuit of the ideal balance between work and the other things in my life.  I got the same result – not enough sleep, weight gain and frustration instead of fulfillment.

Then, one Saturday morning a few years ago, I woke up feeling tired.  I was overwhelmed when I read the uncompleted items on the previous week’s “to do” list that was running and ruining my life.  The reality check came when I tried to add another set of commitments for the coming week to the list of “to do’s.”

Realizing the impossibility of accomplishing all of the tasks, I had an honest dialogue with myself about what mattered most to me in my life at the time.   Instead of identifying specific actions, I considered what my priorities ought to be.  Here’s what I came up with –

  1. My spiritual well-being,
  2. My family and the people I love,
  3. Developing my talents and career and
  4. Serving other people.

Overarching all of these priorities was my health and well-being and the need for a holistic, balanced way of life.

What I realized was that if I stayed true to my priorities, I wasn’t making a choice between work and life.  My priorities covered every aspect of my life, of which work is only one component.

Since then, I have reframed my thinking about how I manage my time and energy.  Treating my priorities as assets and the hours in a day as a portfolio, I invest my time and efforts in activities that matter most while ensuring that my health and well-being are not compromised.  Since I’m most alert and productive in the early morning, I spend my first waking hours in meditation and getting ready to start my work day early, allowing for more time in the evening to spend time with my family and with people while being involved in social activities.  Then there are boundaries I set on the commitment and number of volunteering opportunities that I’m involved in.

It’s simple, but then again it’s not that simple.  Having it all is eventually possible.  It’s all about setting priorities and making choices that are appropriate at a given time in life.  As King Solomon stated, “For everything in life there is a time and a season.”  These are wise words to live by.

Christ in you, the hope of glory!  That’s why glory matters.

Visit my website www.camilleisaacsmorell.com

Prayers of a man in prison

In an earlier post, I observed that the church’s mission goes beyond our preferences and perceptions of how, where and who to serve. The church’s mission is rooted in Jesus’ command in the great commission defined in Matthew 28 v 19 – 20 to teach others about who God is and what it means to follow Him.

True it is that there are many people who won’t be reached initially through Biblical teachings. Like Jesus, we also have to commit ourselves to activities that cater to both the physical and spiritual well-being of others. This is what sets the Church apart from other social service organizations.

Christians must commit to intentionally and actively understanding the needs in our communities and beyond and make a collective effort to address these needs by spreading the Good News in word and action. Acting on this understanding of mission in the local context will require the abandonment of assumptions and judgements about people and their circumstances. Mission will require us to go into places where all hope seems to be dimmed by the darkness of sin, suffering and despair. In the face of resistance, we must still press on with sharing the Good News.

Prisons are dangerous, difficult places where inmates have many reasons to have very little or no hope. With lives rooted in poverty, abuse, abandonment, addiction and crime, some are repeat offenders, never having been given any guiding principles, labelled as incorrigible, despised and forgotten by their families.

The Prison Chaplaincy Programme at the Cowansville Correctional Centre offers the opportunity for mission. Under the leadership of Rev. Canon Tim Smart, volunteers visit the prison to participate in Bible studies and fellowship meetings lasting more than an hour each week. These meetings provide the opportunity for inmates to hear the Good News and commit themselves to personal transformation and eventual reintegration in the society.

During a visit nearly two years ago, one inmate, serving a life sentence, expressed his helpless, hopeless frustration at being locked away from society and his desire to die, rather than continue living in prison. The inmate, who I will call “Louis,” is a repeat offender with a heavy criminal record, once considered among the most dangerous criminals in Québec. In his frustrated state of mind, he vehemently declared that the teachings of the Bible on hope and salvation could have no meaning to him.

On the face of it, we could empathize and take a hands-off approach, offer to say a prayer and not persist with bringing the message of hope and the Good News to this frustrated man. However, in the months that followed, it was the commitment of the Prison Chaplaincy Programme volunteers to fulfill the Church’s mission that has led Louis to share the following prayers that he wrote earlier this year and has taped to the wall of his cell:

Prayer of an inmate
Lord, from the depth of my cell, here I am humbly before you, calm and at peace by your great mercy O God my Saviour.
I thank you for this day – one more has passed. Even if the other inmates say that I’m serving a long, hard sentence, in this way I’m getting to know you better O Jesus.
It is not easy to be on the inside, in prison and to call on Your Name. When the other inmates hear Your Name, they say that they are here because of You. This is why I need Your strength. Increase my faith so that I may live each day in the joy of Your forgiveness and in the hope of Your presence.
Watch over my family who are on the outside. Fill them with your love and peace and may we one day,
By Your grace, be reunited. Amen

I’ve changed
Lord, I no longer recognize myself. I, who was violent and impulsive, have become calm and patient.
I, who wanted to win always and everywhere, have learned to become a good person.
I, who was lazy and a thief, now work to earn my living.
I, who would always be ashamed to pray to you alone, here I am, praying to you along with other people.
Frankly Lord, I have come a long way. Never would I have believed that I am capable of changing this much. You know how happy I am. I am comfortable in my own skin. I am at peace and I feel free.
But what I want to say to you, above all, is that I am aware that this change does not only depend on me. Much of it comes from You. For this reason, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Amen

These beautiful prayers of a former criminal are testimony to the work of the Holy Spirit working through people who are committed to mission.

Sharing the Good News and helping to transform lives, everywhere, at all times and in all places as God leads is the best and right use of the teachings of the Bible. That is what mission is all about.

When God sends you to the dogs and pigs

A few years ago, my parents had just returned home from church on Easter Sunday.  They were met at their gate by two people who were going door to door, and in their words, “making disciples, teaching others to observe all that Jesus commanded in the great commission.”   My father pointed out that his was a Christian home and that our family has always been involved in acts of Christian witness and service.  He suggested that the visiting couple should consider reaching out to the helpless and hopeless, people who needed to hear the Good News, particularly those in an economically depressed, crime-ridden area a few kilometers away.    In response, one of the visitors said that “those people” are not interested in the Bible and she went on to quote Matthew 7 v 6:  “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

Easy excuses

The common interpretation of this verse is that Christians shouldn’t waste time preaching to people who don’t want to hear the Good News.  The assumption is that some people are beyond God’s redemption.  Apart from being a subjective and judgemental interpretation, my reflection leads me to believe that this interpretation is also an easy excuse to avoid doing the essential work of mission.

Isn’t is easier to be hands-off – write a cheque or donate food and used clothing – rather than be committed to the going into the places to meet the marginalized, gravely ill and those relegated to the scrapheap of society?  Isn’t it easier to preach to the converted within the comfort zone of our circle of influence, than to bring the Good News to the hopeless and helpless among us?  I suspect that the comment made by the visitor to my parents’ home was rooted in the fear of stepping out of his comfort zone.  This fear is very often shrouded in judgemental comments and personal preferences that are then justified by subjective interpretations of Bible verses such as the one quoted by the visitors.

Going beyond our preferences

Conventional wisdom teaches us to offer our help to people who ask for help and to contribute towards the obvious material needs of others.    The church’s mission transcends conventional wisdom and goes beyond our preferences and perceptions of how, where and who to serve.  The church’s mission is rooted in Jesus’ command in the great commission defined in Matthew 28 v 19 – 20 to teach others about who God is and what it means to follow Him.

Going back to Matthew 7 v 6, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces,” I am convinced that Jesus is saying that Biblical truths are precious – like pearls – and should not be wasted.  By being hands-off, judging others, avoiding difficult places and people, we are not properly acting on the Biblical truths and we are wasting our call to mission – like throwing pearls to pigs. God’s truth is meant to be put to good use.  Sharing the Good News and helping to transform lives, everywhere, at all times and in all places as God leads is the best and right use of the teachings of the Bible.  That is what mission is all about.

The following observation made in the Mission-Shaped Church report published in 2004 by The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Council on Mission and Public Affairs, sums up the call to mission in today’s world:

The missionary situation faced by the church has changed… The change is to an outward focus: from a ‘come to us’ approach to a ‘we will go to you’ attitude, embodying the gospel where people are, rather than embodying it where we are and in ways we prefer.