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Thanksgiving: A State of Mind – An Expression of Faith

How do you celebrate Thanksgiving Day? Do you intentionally make the giving of thanks a part of your Thanksgiving observance? Or do you, as many other Americans, simply enjoy the meal with family or friends, oblivious to God’s many blessings in your life? If you are thankful, do you express your thanks outwardly?

Thanksgiving is not just something you do, it is also a state of mind, and an expression of faith that recognizes the benevolent unseen Being who is responsible for all good gifts that come our way.

As a child I felt there was something different between the Thanksgiving meal and other dinners, even though it was not the habit at our house to say a prayer of thanks to God on Thanksgiving Day;  in fact there were not many prayers said for any reason at our house. When I became a Christian as a young teenager, I asked if we could say a a prayer before the Thanksgiving meal, and my father permitted me to offer a prayer of thanks. My parents were not unthankful, but they didn’t express gratitude in prayer. We were not taught that what we had came from God’s hands, though He got credit for the rain when we needed it for our garden.

Now, as an adult, with my husband and family, and others with whom we celebrate Thanksgiving Day, we make it a point to share at least one thing we are thankful for as we sit at the dinner table.

In these days of economic downturn, compounded with a slow recovery from the loss of jobs over the past several years, and the ever-increasing government debt, an attitude of  gratitude does not come easy; it has to be cultivated.

Here are some “gratitude starters” to help you develop a thankful heart:

  • a roof over your head
  • food to eat
  • clothes on your back
  • friends (come on, you must have at least one)
  • family
  • your job (your present job or one that’s coming in the near future because you are trusting God for it)
  • freedom of speech (while we still have it),
  • a free country that, in spite of its shortcomings, is still a place where foreigners are clamoring to get into
  • a sunrise or sunset,
  • trees and flowers,
  • snow, rain and early morning dew
  • the ability to walk unassisted
  • the ability to read
  • the senses of smell, taste, touch, hearing and sight
  • art and music
  • hundreds of other things

A Christian’s faith in a loving God is best expressed in the ability to see beyond present circumstances, as bad as they might be, and find things for which to be thankful. There are many blessings that appear to the person with a thankful heart.

There are numerous examples in Scripture of the offering of thanks, beginning with our Lord Jesus, who gave thanks to the Father every time He broke bread with the disciples and the throngs of people whom He fed with a few loaves of bread and a few fish (Matt. 14:17-21).  In the Gospel of John, Jesus thanks the Father for hearing his prayers:

 “ . . .  Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” John 11:41-42

The apostle Paul frequently referred to giving thanks: he gave thanks for people (Phil. 1:3), for the faith of converts (Rom. 1:8), for obedience of believers (Rom. 6:17), for spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 14:18), for victory over sin (1 Cor. 15:57), for answered prayers (2 Cor. 1:11), for people who cared for others (2 Cor. 8:15), for the gift of grace provided through Christ (2 Cor. 9:15), for financial support of the ministry (2 Cor. 9:12), for believers (Eph. 1:16), for pleasant memories of people (Phil. 1:3), for joy (1 Thess. 3:9), for strength and being chosen for service for God (1 Tim. 1:12), for everything (Eph. 5:20).

When should we give thanks and for what?

Eph. 5:15-16,19-20 “ Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  . . .  Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Phil. 4:5b-7 “The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

It’s when we begin to express thanksgiving to God for everything and in the midst of everything, that our faith comes out and takes a bow and the peace of God settles around us like a warm blanket. Darkness is driven away and the glow of the Spirit shines in our inner being. This is true spiritual life – the life that Christ came to give us.

Col. 2:6-7  ”So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him,  rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”

What more examples do we need of thankful living in the midst of difficult circumstances, than the examples of the Apostle Paul and our Lord Jesus Christ?

The Apostle Paul received death threats and had to be sneaked out of a city for his safety; suffered shipwreck while being transported as a prisoner; was snake-bitten and beaten with a whip on several occasions; went hungry; was imprisoned and finally killed. But in the midst of it all, he gave thanks to God.

Jesus Christ, God’s own Son, suffered persecution, criticism, verbal and physical abuse, lies about his character, rejection, misunderstanding (even from his closest followers), beatings, chains, an unfair trial, and death on the cross. But His life was a continual picture of trust in and thanks to His Father.

Why were our Savior and His followers, like Paul, able to endure hardships and constant crisis in their lives and still be at peace and full of joy? I believe it was because of their thankful hearts that came from their constant communion with God, punctuated with prayers of thankfulness, based on what they knew of the heart of our heavenly Father. They lived within the sound of His heartbeat.

May you develop a life of daily thanks to God for His gift of life through Jesus, and His continual provisions for you out of His heart of love. May hearing His heartbeat cause your heart to resonate with gratitude for every blessing.

Happy Thanksgiving!!

©2013, Marcy Alves


Thanksgiving: A Time of Reflection

Thanksgiving Day is fast approaching.  All too soon, if not already, you will begin your preparations for whomever, whatever, and however you will be spending the day.

A friend of mine said recently, “I’m not interested in Thanksgiving or Christmas. I’m just not looking forward to the holidays.”

I can understand the lonely feeling that is often experienced by singles during the holiday season; I was single once myself and away from home during several Thanksgivings and Christmases. It’s nice to be with family or a special someone to celebrate these holidays. Neither Thanksgiving nor Christmas began as a celebration of “me”, but rather as recognition of “us” and “Him”.

How did Thanksgiving begin?

There are several different scenarios regarding the original celebration of “Thanksgiving” on American soil. It is thought that the Spanish were first to celebrate a day of thanks in 1565 in St. Augustine, FLA. Later, in 1619 the Virginia Colony held a Thanksgiving feast in celebration of the one-year settlement of that colony. The Pilgrims in Plymouth, MA celebrated a good crop year with a feast of Thanksgiving in 1621.

Thanksgiving was established as an annual national event in the midst of the Civil War in 1863, by a presidential proclamation from President Abraham Lincoln, as an offering of thanks to God for His provision and preservation of the United States. It was thought that establishing a national day to observe the giving of thanks would help to foster a sense of American unity between the southern and northern states.

So you can see, Thanksgiving as a celebration was about “us” (a group of people) and “God” and our gratitude to Him.

This also demonstrated that during earlier times in our country there was a belief in “Someone” to thank, besides the federal government.

Thanksgiving Day is a time to reflect. There are many things for which I am thankful; some of which are the following:

  • my relationship with my heavenly Father through His Son, Jesus, who came not only to die for me on the cross, but also to show me what God the Father is like
  • a Christian husband who loves me and treasures our relationship above all other human relationships
  • family members – parents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews
  • our “heart adoptions”

Though I was pregnant a couple of times, I was unable to maintain pregnancy; so God brought children into our lives, first as youth group leaders and in a youth pastorate. Then a “daughter” came to us in a more permanent relationship; she is like a birth daughter to us.  There are two other young women, foreign students, whom God brought into our lives who lived with us for several years – one as a teen and the other as a young adult – who are family to us. All three of our “daughters” now have husbands and families of their own. There are quite a few more loosely connected “daughters” in our lives.

In this we follow the pattern set for us in our own lives: my husband was legally adopted by a wonderful couple as a child of five years of age.  And after my parents died, a pastor and his wife took me as one of their three adopted daughters.

We also have a few “sons”, “nephews”, and “nieces” whom we have taken into our hearts along the way. There are others as well who have adopted us as their parents. I sometimes feel like the barren woman mentioned in Gal. 4:7 & Ps. 113:9:

“Be glad, O barren woman, who bears no children; break forth and cry aloud, you who have no labor pains; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.”

  • Friends

We have many dear friends that we have made over the years, scattered across the country and around the world; people whose absence of years fades away immediately each time we are reunited with them. Plus there are many friends from our two pastorates. Some of these people are closer than birth family in our on-going relationships with them.

  • Opportunities

God has given me many personal opportunities over the years to develop and use my gifts of music, writing, public speaking, and spiritual ministry to bring others to Him and to encourage the body of Christ, across denominational lines. I’ve traveled up and down the east coast, in the mid-west, in Canada and in several other countries to share my faith in Christ with others. It has given me a broader picture of the body of Christ. There have also been opportunities for television work in my early ministry and for co-hosting a radio program with my husband for a couple years. I’m thankful for the ability to express faith in God through my current writing venues.

  •  Challenges

I am thankful for the many challenges in my life that have tested, tempered, and firmed my faith in a loving God who is worthy to be entrusted with my life. Losses, health issues, lack of regular income, disappointments, and some temporary discouragements have been a few of those challenges. They have served to secure my faith-walk and deepen my peace.

I trust that as you see Thanksgiving Day approaching you will get your eyes off of the minor disturbances of your life, and train your eyes to see the good things that often are obscured by petty irritations and worthless drains of spiritual and emotional energy – things that tend to empty your life of peace and joy, rather than to fill it with awareness of the good gifts of a loving God.

Ask God today to show you how you can add to someone’s experience of Thanksgiving Day – a call, a note or email, a visit, or an invitation to share Thanksgiving dinner at your house. Be sure also to share with someone else the things for which you are thankful.

©2011, Marcy Alves

Trials and a Thankful Heart

Thankful heartI love holiday celebrations: Labor Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day, Valentine’s Day – steadily marching by in a series of remembrances of festive family gatherings, tasty seasonal dishes, decorations and lighting displays, parades and numerous holiday social events. Thanksgiving and Christmas rank the highest for me because they hold the most meaning in my life.

I was reading recently about a Thanksgiving celebration which took place in 1623 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In the summer of that year Massachusetts crops were threatened by a shortage of rainfall “from the third week of May until the middle of July, without any rain and with great heat.” Fasting, rather than feasting was ordered by Puritan governor William Bradford, who recorded in his History of Plimouth Plantation, 1606-1646:

“They sett aparte a solemn day of humiliation to seek the Lord by humble and fervente prayer in this great distress. And He was pleased to give them a gracious and speedy answer . . . Toward evening it began to overcast, and shortly after to raine with such sweet showers as gave them cause of rejoycing and blessing God. Afterwards the Lord sent them such seasonable showers with enterchange of faire warme weather as through his blessing, caused a fruitfull and liberal harvest to their no small comforte and rejoycing. For such mercie, in time conveniente, they also sett apart a day of thanksgiving.” (Reported in Jeff Kacirk’s Forgotten English calendar July 15, 2014)

It’s interesting that the Puritan’s trials produced humility, followed by fervent prayer, which resulted in blessings, that produced thanksgiving. Most of us would prefer to skip the first two steps: trial and humility.

Last year during the Thanksgiving/Christmas season, I faced a trial of my own. I had been diagnosed with breast cancer 5 ½ years earlier and prescribed with mastectomy, to be followed by chemo and radiation. I was set to go that course when friends from several different places put me onto naturopathic treatment as an alternative consideration. For almost three years I followed a very holistic diet, exercise, and supplement regimen which resulted in a remission of the breast cancer. Then life got busy and the diet and health routine became harder to follow.

During the fall of 2012 a tumor began to grow in the same breast, and in the spring of 2013 surfaced from the breast. By late summer, there was a large tumor with periodic bleeds which were hard to stop and twice sent me to the emergency room. You may be asking why I did not seek medical treatment earlier.

Back in 2008 with my first diagnosis I had sought the Lord immediately about a treatment decision. At that time He gave me 5 specific words: 1. Don’t be afraid. 2. Trust me, I’m with you. 3. This is not just for you, but also for others. 4. Wait on me. 5. Be still and KNOW that I am God.

After the cancer returned, I began to pray fervently that the Lord would continue the healing which I had experienced those first three years. But that did not happen. Gradually through times of continued prayer for guidance, I met someone who had undergone moderated traditional cancer treatment; I sensed that this time the Lord was taking me in a different direction. I felt that He wanted me to experience His presence and healing in the more traditional approach, but to keep following His original five words to me.

I first consulted with a surgeon, to whom my primary care doctor referred me, who told me she could not operate on the tumor because it presented a stage 3+ cancer, and was of too large a diameter to afford proper healing if she were to remove it. I was referred to an oncologist, and a radiologist who had experience in the use of lose-dose radiation on such tumors, and was willing to take my case.

From early November through mid-December of 2013 I experienced five weeks of lose-dose radiation treatments, accompanied by a form of chemo pill. I began to turn the visits with the doctors and the radiation treatment sessions into times of prayer. Prayer for safety from the cancer treatments, for God’s healing hand in the cancer treatments, and prayer for anyone I met in the departments of oncology and radiology at the Paysen Cancer Center at Concord Hospital – doctors, technicians, nurses, office personnel, and other cancer patients and their families. I sensed God’s comforting presence during each visit.

The results of this trial and seeking God in it were, and are, many answered prayers: the complete destruction of the presenting tumor, a clearing of the cancer in the breast – all treatments without sickness or pain of any kind from the tumor – which I consider to be a miracle – I attribute this to God’s gracious, loving answer to my prayers and those of my family and many friends around the world.

There are other things from that trial for which I am thankful: remember God told me when first diagnosed not to be afraid? Even with the emergence of the large tumor and the sometimes severe bleeding, there was no fear – aggravation, yes, but no fear. I have been drawn into a deeper relationship with my heavenly Father, my husband, and our daughter (who, without being asked, took time off from work to accompany me to the hospital, just to be with me and to give my husband a break from the daily treatment routine). Also, many people have shared with me that my situation has caused them to trust the Lord more. Plus all the treatment bills were met, without any debt remaining!

I am thankful for every day of the life God has granted me on this earth. My husband has commented to others that he can see a deepening of my faith, a quieter more peaceful spirit. Each time I take a shower and see the scar from the tumor, I whisper a quick “Thank you, Father” to God for His loving hand on my life.

And I am thankful for the encouragement of Scripture:

James 1:2-4  Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

1 Peter 4:12-13  Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

Romans 5:3-5  Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

If you are going through a trial right now, let it take you deeper into God and into faith in Him; this will result in a true heart of thanksgiving – appreciation for all that you have that is really important in life.

Happy Thanksgiving Day!!

Other posts on Thanksgiving:

Words of 2 Presidents:Heart of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving: A State of Mind – An Expression of Faith

Thanksgiving: A Time of Reflection

©2014, Marcy Alves

Habits of Faith

Do you know that faith is contagious? That living in faith can become a habit that affects the faith walks of others?

I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. —2 Tim. 1:5

Timothy had a sincere faith because his grandmother and mother had passed it down to him.  He saw in them a living faith that was able to get them through the hard things of life. The faith of his father is not mentioned – perhaps his father was not in the picture? Paul became his spiritual father.

The gentle heart of Timothy enabled him to weep openly. Paul refers to the tears that Timothy shed on Paul’s departure. Timothy was timid and had stomach problems, for which Paul prescribed a “little wine for your stomach’s sake”. It seems that Timothy was not your macho man, confident, aggressive, sure of himself. But he had a sincere faith and a calling from God.

Timothy also had spiritual gifts that God gave him for his ministry to the church through the “laying on of hands”.  Paul told him to fan the gift into flame. Apparently the gift was there, but in ember form, smoldering but not giving off much heat or light. God gave the gifts to Timothy, but Timothy had to do something about it. He had to step out in his gifts.  This took great faith from this timid young pastor.

God also gives us gifts through His most awesome gift of the Holy Spirit; that Spirit is not timid, not ashamed, not self-focused.  That Spirit is our teacher to help us to learn the lessons of the school of faith. If we don’t learn to live in “sincere faith in God”, our children will not “catch the spirit of faith”.

I heard from someone recently who was speaking from another spirit than that of faith.  I felt myself pull back inside.  I wanted no part of that negative, depressing, self-pitying spirit.  My desire is to walk in “sincere faith” – real faith.

Throughout life we form habits – most of what we do, say, and think as adults comes from a lifetime of habits that have become cemented into our lives, both good habits and bad habits.

The Apostle Paul had developed such a “habit of faith” that he could say in 1 Cor. 4:8-9:.8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed . . .”

Sustaining faith like this is what I desire to walk in; what I want to share with others whose lives may touch mine.

QUESTION: What kind of faith-legacy are you passing on to your children?  Would anyone say to your child or grandchild, “You have the sincere faith that was in your . . . grandmother, or mother, or father?”

Walking in Faith & Passing It On

What’s your faith quotient? How strong is your faith?

Luke 18:8 asks an important question: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”

I’d like to rephrase the question: if Jesus came back today or tomorrow, would He find faith on the earth? If you pay attention to world news – written, audio and visual; if you have conversations with people around you at work, school, community events, or the local grocery store – you would probably answer “Not much.” to that question.

Narrowing the question further: if Jesus came back today or tomorrow, would He find faith in the church? I don’t know about your experience, but it appears to me that the American church seems to give more credence to secular professionals than to God when it comes to personal or national issues; whether it is health problems, marriage issues, financial difficulties, mental health issues, government intervention, joblessness, parenting, interpersonal relationships, etc. For the Spirit-born believer, these are really spiritual issues that need operative faith.  But for many, if not the majority of worshippers in the American church, handling these issues often leaves faith out of the equation.

Let’s make this question personal: if Jesus came back today or tomorrow, would He find faith in your heart  regarding the issues mentioned above? Would He find you trusting Him for personal, national and international problems that seem to dominate the news and our lives today?

Let’s take a look at how faith is defined in the Bible in Heb. 11:1 :

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.  KJV

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”  NIV

Faith is not believing in God; it’s believing God.

Faith is a funny thing: you don’t really know if you have it until you need it. It’s only when faced with the opportunity to act on it that you find whether or not you have it.

The Scripture says that “without faith it is impossible to please God, because the person that comes to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him”. (Hebrews 11:6)

2 Cor. 5:7 states:  “We live by faith, not by sight.”

Helen Keller wrote: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.

When is the last time you did something daring, based on faith, not knowing how it would turn out, but entrusting yourself to God – having full confidence that He is not only able, but willing to see that you get what you are trusting for?

Can your life be described as a “walk of faith”? Or would those who know you best say that you tend to be motivated more by anxiety, stress, fear, doubt and discouragement than by faith? Or do you have so much materially that you don’t have to trust God for provision? You’re walking by sight.

Gideon told his soldiers in Judges 7:17 that things would work out in their military maneuver if they would:

“Watch me and do what I do. When I get to the edge of the [enemy] camp, do what I do.”

All sorts of miracles took place in the Bible – because of someone’s faith. It caused them to step out and do – often not knowing exactly what would come next.

Could you say to those who know your life most intimately, “Watch me and do what I do and everything will be okay?” When it comes to faith, you can’t pass on what you don’t have.

The eyes of faith look for God in the most obscure places –in the midst of the most challenging circumstances.  I don’t mean to infer that God causes the sickness, pain, failure, or loss – but that God is there with you in it. That He will bring something good out of it. That He will see you through it. That God keeps His promises to His children – as we appropriate them through faith.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever.  Eph. 3:20-21

”Fear not for I am with you; do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Is. 10:41

God wants to bring you from where you are to a better place.  But first He needs to develop in you a faith that is worth giving away – a faith-walk that you would not mind someone following, because you know it will lead them into God’s throne room.

Whatever you have faced or are going to face ahead, God wants to use that in somebody’s life besides yours. God wants to use your faith-walk with Him to encourage others.

What does your faith-walk look like? Does the way you live influence those around you – family, friends, acquaintances – to a deeper life of dependence on God or dependence on people?

More than anything else in my life, if Jesus returns, I want Him to find faith on the earth, faith in the church – and faith in me that “. . .  is being sure of what [I] hope for and certain of what [I} do not see.”

What kind of faith do you have?  What kind of faith do you want?

©2012, Marcy Alves

Life Challenges, Prayer, and a Relationship with God

What is prayer to you? Is it just hopeful or desperate words letting God know you need or want something?

I’m finding that it is so much more.

Despite any questioning, discouragement, or perplexity that my cancer diagnosis of three and a half years ago has produced, today’s morning devotional reading reminds me:

“No calamity will ever bring only evil to us, if we will immediately take it in prayer to God. . . And when we flee to God, taking refuge beneath the shadow of His wing, we will always find more in Him than we have ever before seen or known.” Nathaniel William Taylor

I have been saturating myself with books and music that are faith building, healing, and peace producing. I am learning the daily benefit of ducking under the shadow of His wings at any anxious, disturbing, baffling, or irritating moment; sometimes talking to Him in words, thoughts, or emotions, and other times just being in His presence.

If you believe that prayer only happens when you are kneeling at an altar, or reading words to God from a prayer book (as beautiful or heartfelt as those words may be) than you are missing out on a true delight of the Spirit life.

Although the writer quoted above refers to the “shadow of His wing”, I picture my Father’s arm around my shoulder as I move about doing my chores, chattering to Him. During my listening times He draws me near Him as I sit on the rug in front of my couch, facing the sliding glass door to our deck that overlooks our back yard and adjoining field, with the stand of tall trees at its back edge; focusing my thoughts on the beauty He has created.

I used to turn to God mostly with my troubles and needs, or those of my friends and acquaintances; sending my prayers up to Him and hoping, sometimes actually trusting, that He heard them.  And wondering if He would be pleased to answer those prayers as I confidently recommended to Him my most logical solutions.

I’ve read several awesome books on prayer in the last 3 years – I’ll recommend some of them in my next post. But nothing – including a good “how to do prayer” book – brings us into the essence of real prayer more quickly than personal, on-going challenges, either temporary – or as the Apostle Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” seemed to be – permanent ones.

Prayer is more than having faith – though without faith, prayer seems to be ineffective.

Hebrews 11:6  “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.”

I believe that though faith is what brings us to God in prayer, it’s trust that gives us assurance that our prayers are being answered in spite of current appearances to the contrary. And you don’t trust someone you don’t know.

God is knowable and wants to be known. The Hebrews passage above points us to relationship with God – “for whoever would draw near to God” – rather than merely sending prayers up or out to wherever we picture God “residing”.

Relationship with God – think about that for a minute – not just faith or belief in God.  “Relationship” shows nearness – like husband/wife, parent/child, aunt/uncle, boyfriend/girlfriend, horse/rider – personal connection.

So instead of picturing yourself in your place of prayer sending SOSes to God somewhere out there, picture your Heavenly Father’s arm around you drawing you to a seat on the couch next to Him – or if that scares you a bit – seated across from you in the stuffed chair.

Hear Him ask you, “Well, child, how’s your day going?”

“Did you receive that gift I sent you yesterday: that call from your friend? That unexpected check in the mail? That beautiful sunset I painted for you?  What did you think of that?”

“By the way, I heard that prayer you said for your friend; he’s in serious trouble. But I’m taking care of him.”

As you let your spirit respond to Him, drawing near and becoming personal, you feel the weights lift off your mind, body and spirit.

Then, hear Him ask, “Now what’s on your heart today? What would you like for me to do for you?”

You pour out your requests; big, small and sometimes ridiculous – being confident from your time with your Father that what’s important to you is also important to Him, because He loves you. That the answers are already there, or on the way – though occasionally He may say, “No. I have a different plan” and often will say, “Wait a while – it’s not time yet.”

This is the next step for faith – this thing called trust – because you won’t put your faith in someone you don’t trust. This is the confident assurance of conversational prayer that is born out of a heart-relationship with the One we’re petitioning – it goes beyond a certain time on the clock, or a ritualistic physical posture, or recitation of words, or a call to religious duty.

So, whatever else our personal challenges do to us, when we trust our Father, we find they also do something for us – they draw us into a deeper relationship with Him, where He shapes our character, changes our perspective, and conforms us to the image of His Son.

How’s your prayer life going? Anything you’d like to share?

©2011, Marcy Alves

*Lifesong by Mark Hall as heard on Casting Crowns album Lifesong 

Dealing with Fear

What are you afraid of?  How do you handle fear? It you didn’t have enough of your own worrying-issues to deal with, there are plenty troubling things going on around the world and here in the U.S.

The past week’s headline news paints a disturbing picture:

  • Fires and looting in London creating fear and mayhem
  • Iran (sworn enemy of the US and Israel) developing a nuclear bomb
  • Thirty soldiers killed in a helicopter shoot-down
  • Shock waves from a roller-coaster stock market (is a tsunamis coming?)
  • A drop in financial “ratings” for US, France, Germany and others
  • Continuing starvation in Somalia
  • Massive joblessness in the US
  • Tight-fistedness in the banking industry in spite of government bailout
  • Gridlock in the US Congress regarding debt ceiling and budget balancing
  • US foreclosure prediction, 1 in 3 homes by 2012
  • Massive flooding, then drought across our nation’s south and mid-west
  • Predictions of permanent deserts ahead in current U.S. drought areas

The fear network is alive and well on planet earth. And the enemy of our souls would like to keep us in a constant state of panic and anxiety, to drive us away from the shelter of our Heavenly Father’s arms, to damage our faith-walk with God, to destroy our peace.

While we can’t ignore the catastrophic events in the US and around the world, we have many encouraging words from a higher authority when it comes to dealing with fear.

49 times in the Old Testament and 17  in the New Testament we are told not to fear.

 Is. 41:10  So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

There are things about fear that we learn from Scripture:

Fear is not from God

2 Tim. 1:7 for God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind;

We are not to fear as the world does

1 Peter 3:14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.

Love combats fear

1 John. 4:18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.

A significant passage in Mark reveals a scene in which Jesus and the disciples are facing a serious storm on the lake:

Mark 4:35-41:  As evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” 36 So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind (although other boats followed). 37 But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.

38 Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”

39 When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. 40 Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

After Jesus spoke to the wind, he spoke to his disciples: vs. 40 “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

What is Jesus saying?

Faith and Fear are mutually exclusive.   So, how do we go from fear to faith? Here are five steps that I have found are successful combatants to fear:

1.  Pray about it

 Phil. 4:6-7. 6 Do not be anxious [fearful] about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Most of us have yet to discover the power of believing prayer. ABC news a few nights ago shared the story of a young boy attending a beach party with his church who was swept out on a rip tide and could not get back to shore. He was underwater for 15 minutes before divers located him and brought him in to shore. He showed no vital signs. However, the moment he got in trouble with the waves, church members had dropped to their knees and began to pray.  The boy was resuscitated and put on life support; he gained consciousness a short time later with no apparent permanent damage.

2.  Turn your fearful thoughts over to Christ and rebuke fear.

 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 3 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

Fear is defined in 2 Timothy 1:7 as a spirit. Admit to God that you are up against fear, and in the authority of the Holy Spirit, rebuke that fear. Then ask the Lord to remove those thoughts that gave fear an in-road into your mind and emotions.

3.  Change mental subjects – think about good things

Phil. 4:8-9   8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

When we were kids we used to sit out on our porch in the dark of a summer night and tell ghost stories – the scarier the better. But walking alone to the outhouse in the dark after such sessions was terrifying; something fearful lurked in every shadow. We had set ourselves up for fear to take over our thoughts. I did not know as a child how to combat fear with faith.

4.  Get God’s word in you and believe it – memorize Scriptures that counteract fear and speak them out.

 5.  Rely on the character of your heavenly Father. And remember:

  • God is good
  • God is love
  • God loves you
  • There is nothing too big for Him to handle
  • He is the One who says, “Fear not for I am with you. . .”

So, how do you handle fear? Which of the five actions above do you most need to apply?

Expectant Prayer: Looking for Answers?

How big is your God? How expectant are your prayers?

A book came into my hands when I was in college entitled, How Big is Your God? by J B Phillips. I don’t remember much from that book except that it dealt with how the expectancy of answered prayers and the daring in our requests is greatly affected by our perception of God. We pray small because we expect small answers.

Things haven’t changed much since the earliest century of Christianity.

I was reading my Bible one day and came across the following report from the early church:

Acts 12: 5-16:  “So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him . . . Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell . . . the chains fell off Peter’s wrists . . . They [Peter and the angel] passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened by itself and they went through it . . . he [Peter] went to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many were praying . . . and a servant girl answered the door.   When she recognized Peter’s voice . . . she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, ‘Peter is at the door!’ . . . ‘You’re out of your mind,’ they told her . . . ‘It must be his angel [ghost]’ . . . Peter kept on knocking . . . when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished!”

The people had been praying for Peter’s protection and release, but when he stood before them, they were “astonished”!!  Did they not really believe their prayers would be answered?  Perhaps not.

Often in the midst of trouble we pray fervently to God for our need or the need of someone else.  But in that time of calling out to God, do we pray with expectancy?  Do we believe our prayers will be answered?

Prayers should not be merely well chosen words that have only an appearance of faith.

About 25 years ago my husband was serving as youth director at a small church in S. Easton, MA.  One Sunday morning the pastor’s young daughter shared that she had lost her favorite doll while shopping with her mom in a department store. She didn’t notice the loss until they got home from shopping. She was very upset, so her mom went back to the store to inquire about the lost doll. It had not been found or turned in to the lost and found.

That morning I felt moved by the Lord to pray out loud during the open prayer time that Kirsty’s doll would be found to show her how much God loved her.

Later that evening Kirsty’s mom phoned me. She said that when I prayed the prayer she was very skeptical about my request and was concerned that if the doll was not found it would hurt her daughter’s faith and she would have to do spiritual repair work.

However,  at her daughter’s insistence, despite her own resistance,   they returned to the store and discovered that the doll had been found that very day.

We should not be surprised when answers come to our prayers; even the most brazen, audacious requests.  We should have thankful hearts, ready to give praise to the One who invites us to pray, guides us in what to pray through His Holy Spirit, and sends the answer at the proper time.

Father, I thank you for access to Your throne room. I want to learn from You how to use that marvelous privilege of prayer in a way that whispers to Your heart, “I trust You.

My Dad is the biggest and He loves me.

How about you? How big is your God?


©2011, Marcy Alves

The Purpose of Pain – part 2 of 2

Pain is no fun. We all would probably choose to live in a pain-free world, which would require an injury-free world, because to have an injury without pain could result in avoidable death. But as presented in part 1, pain does have purpose and the ability to feel pain is a gift from God.

But even though pain has positive purpose, it still hurts. Human pain of several kinds – mental, emotional and physical – are interconnected – affecting each others on-set and intensity.

We all have pain in our lives. What do we do about it? We need to ask questions like the following:

  • Do I prefer the pain to freedom from the pain? For example, this may be true about those who have been emotionally hurt and refuse to forgive those who have hurt them.
  • Is my physical pain caused by emotional injury or mental pain?
  • Is this pain really necessary? Or is there something I can do about it?
  • How can I handle this pain in the most beneficial way to me and those close to me?

Several years ago I received two phone calls in the same week. The first was from a friend who had lost her husband of 39 years from an unexpected heart attack. The second call was from a friend who just lost a close relative to cancer.

Both women would identify themselves as Christians. Both women were hurting – both were wondering if and when the grief would ever end. Yet their responses to their losses displayed quite a contrast to each other.

The first woman had released her husband and her grief to the Lord. She missed him greatly, but knew he was safe in the Lord’s keeping and that she would see him again some day.

The second woman, who had lost a nephew to cancer, was also a doctor. She was   bitter and angry with God. Her statement to me was, “When I see God He will have to answer to me for what He allowed to happen.”

Did the second woman love more deeply than the first woman?  Not on your life!  Was the first woman more loved by God? No. For God is strong enough to absorb our misplaced anger and disappointment.

There are three situations where pain overwhelmed me, and I was astonished that God did not answer my prayers the way I prayed them.

Auto Accident: A few years ago I was involved in an auto accident, which was not my fault. A driver attempting to pass me on a narrow road side-swiped my car, taking off the outside of my driver-side door. I was taken to court one year later by the insurance company of the owner of the other car. The driver of that car (who was not the owner) lied in court. I had asked God to make truth triumph. But the case was decided in liar’s favor.

What do you do when you’ve been hurt by a lie?  When you lose faith in our judicial system

I’ve learned to hold to the facts:  God spared my life and the lives of the people in the other car. And God is still in control; He will deal with that man who lied. I wanted Him to deal with that man who lied “now” at the time of the hearing.  However, as I look back on that court hearing years later, I want God to deal in mercy instead of judgment.

Broken engagement: Before I met my husband, David, I committed my affections and my future to a handsome young man. I was willing to give up my own plans and aspirations for him. We became engaged. He met someone else. End of love story, beginning of pain.

What do you do when your affection is not returned – when someone betrays your trust? The natural response is to ask, “What’s wrong with me? Was I not attractive enough? Not good enough? What did I do that lost his affection?”

I remember crying out to God, “You don’t know what will make me happy.

After nights of crying and soul searching, I asked God to heal me and to pick my husband for me.  I committed my love and trust and aspirations to Him. I found out He did know what kind of man would make me happy – one who would cherish me and our relationship. That’s my husband, David.

Miscarriage:  I was pregnant for the first time after 9 years of marriage. I had thanked God for this child. I offered the child to Him.  And God took the child before I ever got to hold it.

What do you do when God takes you at your word?  “God, this child, husband, person, occupation, object, dream I give to you.”  And He takes it.

There is a song we sing at Sunday celebration which says,

“You give and take away, you give and take away, My heart will choose to say, Blessed be your name.”

I decided long ago to let God be God in my life.

You see, I know that it is not our circumstances that hinder our faith, it is our response to our circumstances that hinder our faith walk.

Current Challenge: And now I have the challenge of breast cancer. As I’ve share in an earlier post, God has led me in a different way for dealing with it. But no matter which course you or I or anyone else my chose or be led to take, there is pain involved. I have the pain of people not understanding my choice of “treatment” – those who think I’ve really lost it.

Others who question whether my faith is strong or whether I’ve done something to deserve this.

Pain has a purpose:  I am learning more deeply what it means to trust my Heavenly Father’s love.

The Scriptures ask, “When he returns, will He find faith on the earth?” My heart cries out, if He returns in my lifetime, I want more than anything for the answer to be “yes” and I want Him to find that faith in me.

Pain can turn us toward God or away from Him. It’s our choice which direction we want to take. As for me and my house, we will “choose” the Lord.

©2011, Marcy Alves

Accidental Encounters

While on vacation this past week I was sharing with a young friend about God’s timing in our lives and the junction of “chance” encounters with others whose flights are also on God’s radar screen. Though airplanes on a collision course would spell disaster, when God designs our travel plans, amazing things happen, even through accidents.

When David and I were first married and living in Kentucky, I was invited by a church, located on Cape Cod, to present a program at a mother/daughter dinner. Since David was still in college and had a part-time job, I drove alone to New England.

I was not in the habit of using a seat-belt, but David had put a note on the dashboard that read, “Please wear your seatbelt for me.” I complied out of respect for him, even though he was not with me. I believe now, looking back, that God motivated both David’s gesture of protective love and my response of respect, to save my life.

Somewhere northeast of New York City on Rt. 95, my car stalled in the passing lane – I did not have enough speed to cross over to the right-side shoulder of the highway. There was no shoulder on the left, only a concrete barrier. As my car slowed to a stop, I put on my flashers. It was mid-afternoon in bright sunlight, so not easy for vehicles approaching from the rear to see my car in time to change lanes easily.

Several cars got around me, then one car clipped my rear passenger side while attempting to change lanes; that car spun around and was hit by a motorcycle. The next car in line had no place to go except into the rear of my car.

After the sounds of screeching tires and metal hitting metal and shattering glass ceased, and the traffic behind came to a stop, I shakily got out of my car and sat on the concrete divider, glad to be alive. Had I not been wearing my seatbelt I have no doubt that I would have been seriously injured.

The young woman whose car had clipped mine while changing lanes was a Christian. We had a quick word of prayer together, thanking God that no one had been seriously injured.

The ambulances arrived and the EMTs insisted that we all be taken to the emergency room of the nearest hospital, where I was admitted for overnight observation due to a partial memory loss. I also sustained whiplash.

My roommate was a young married woman who had been in the hospital for several days to determine the cause of her back pain. After running tests, the doctors had concluded the pain was psychosomatic, caused by emotional stress. My roommate had marital problems, augmented by interference from her over-involved mother. She was thinking of legal separation and possibly divorce.

I asked for permission to share my personal testimony of God’s grace and love that had changed both my life and my husband’s life. She gave me permission to do so.

Later that night she said, “I need what you’ve been talking about.” I led her in prayer to begin a personal journey with God through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.

The next morning her husband came to visit. My roommate excused herself for the bathroom and I began to share the Lord with her spouse. He stopped me and said, “I came to the Lord last night with the help of my friend in whose apartment I have been staying.” I told him that his wife had something to share with him. They went for a brief walk in the hospital corridor.

When they returned to the hospital room, they sat on the edge of the bed and the wife said to me, “We feel so responsible for your accident.” And we all had a joyous laugh.

I heard from that couple about six months later in a Christmas card. It read, “We have moved away from my mother and live in upstate New York. Our marriage has never been as happy as now.”

There is a sequel to this story. Twenty-plus years later I was invited to speak at a women’s brunch in Vermont. A woman approached me at my table and asked if I had been involved in an auto accident in New York on Rt. 95 some years before. I replied that I had. She said, “I am the woman who shared the hospital room with you. I didn’t know who was speaking here today – I came because my mother-in-law invited me. I saw your name on the program and then recognized you.”

When I inquired about how she was doing and how her marriage was, she said her marriage was very good and then added that she and her husband were involved in ministry. I asked what that ministry was. “We are commissioned as official church-visitors.” she said, “We visit people in the hospital, and pray with them.” I got thrill-chills.

When we commit our lives to a love relationship with God and to declare that love to others, our Father then commits Himself to us to co-ordinate all our travel plans – destinations, arrivals, and encounters along the way.

What God-timing story do you have to share? Let’s hear it. We need to build each others’ faith. I may even invite you to do a guest blog.

©2011, Marcy Alves

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