Read His Words Before Ours!
We gathered around in a circle, as we did every morning, with the arms of our plastic chairs just barely touching. The blue, African sky seemed endless above us, and the hills that turned to mountains stretched just a few miles away. I shaded my eyes and squinted as I turned towards the man whose voice had risen above the rest.
“We will begin our time today by singing,” said Pastor Jehoshaphat, and we began singing, as we had done every morning for the past 10 days. The sound of eight American girls mixed with the voices of three African men and an African woman as we clapped our hands and sang…
“This is the day, this is the day
That the Lord has made, that the Lord has made
We will rejoice, we will rejoice
And be glad in it, and be glad in it
This is the day that the Lord has made
We will rejoice and be glad in it!
This is the day, this is the day
That the Lo-o-ord ha-a-as ma-a-de!”
Most people would assume the song was complete, but not with Pastor Jehosaphat. We continued with several more verses, replacing “day” with “hour”, “minute”, “church”, “land”, and whatever else Pastor could think of. We started our mornings full of thanksgiving and joy. The singing would often end in rolls of laughter from the seven other American girls on my team and a look of confusion from the four Kenyan people in our presence.
Later that day we walked a few miles to have a church meeting in a little hut. We walked into a dark house as half of us gathered in the living area and the other half gathered in the bedroom to sit on the bed. This little clay home was lined with our team and a few members of the church as we sang songs and spent time praying. Chai tea and some food were passed around, the African sign of hospitality, and so, we ate and drank.
As I sat on the bed, I looked at the worn blankets and thought of the many people that shared this home and this bed, and yet they had just opened everything to us and spent hours preparing food. The Lord’s presence overwhelmed me as I felt Him saying,
“See how thankful they are? See how joyful they are? They give without hesitation. They pray without ceasing. That is Me in them.”
It wasn’t just that day, but it was almost every single day following, that I saw people give thanks to the Lord with joy in their words while graciously giving their time and resources to eight privileged American girls.
This list could go on and on.
But let me tell you something I learned from these amazing people.
Thankfulness is not based on your circumstances.
Thankfulness is not something that comes when we have everything we need.
Thankfulness is not dependent on a situation.
Thankfulness is not what we use to get what we want.
Thankfulness does not come with pride or greed.
With the outpouring of thankfulness comes the capacity to serve others.
Our team was served despite the fact that we came to serve them. We were served even though we had more financial resources than them. Generously, the people we met on our journey served us
because they were so incredibly thankful for all the Lord was doing in their own lives.
I have found myself looking into a nearly empty fridge and a nearly empty bank account on many occasions. I have looked at bills piled on the counter with a sense of dread, knowing most of my paychecks would be going right back into those envelopes.
But I will tell you something, the Lord has used my African friends to teach me that my thankfulness does not stop when my money runs out.
My thankfulness does not die as my circumstances grow dim.
There is always, always, something to be thankful for.
In Psalm 118, we read verse after verse where the psalmist declares his praise to the Lord and his words overflow with thankfulness, but we also read of the circumstances he found himself in. Distress, persecution from people who hate you, and seemingly certain death, aren’t phrases that naturally lend themselves to praise, yet the entire song is filled with adoration for who God is and all He has done.
The Psalmist reminds us that he has endured many hard times, he has been to the point of almost breaking, he has endured suffering because of his mistakes, and he has found himself in many moments of hopelessness.
But the Lord is still good.
The Lord was still his strength and his song.
Not his circumstances.
And we read his last request, “Save us, we pray, O Lord! O Lord, we pray, give us success!”, we don’t know if that prayer was answered. We don’t know if he was given “success”, but that doesn’t stop the Psalmist from praising the Lord.
He doesn’t praise Him because he is hoping it will persuade God to give him success.
He praises the Lord because He is God.
Because He is good and His love endures forever.
This Bible Study is property of Gracefully Truthful, where it was first published. For more studies like this one, check out GracefullyTruthful.com!
Read His Words Before Ours!
My eyes closed as I let the song fall over me, and before I could stop myself, my arms were spread and I could practically see Jesus before me. My heart was soaring and I pictured myself running to the arms of Jesus, closer, closer…
And there He was before me.
He embraced me, and held me as I crumbled in His arms.
“I am so sorry. Oh Jesus, I am so sorry.”
I could feel Him whispering to me, “I love you, my daughter. I love you so much.”
I opened my eyes as the song ended and looked around the white chapel filled with other students worshiping our King. I didn’t know their stories, and they didn’t know mine, but for some reason,
we all needed to be reminded that Jesus was waiting for us with His arms wide open.
Oh, I’m running to Your arms
I’m running to Your arms
The riches of Your love
Will always be enough
Nothing compares to Your embrace
Light of the world
Every time I sing that song, I picture myself running into the arms of Jesus.
Sometimes I’ve crumbled in His arms, as I’ve been embraced by the only One who knows every intimate detail of my heart.
Sometimes I have laughed as I’ve felt Him loving me as only a Daddy can.
Sometimes I have basked in His presence or allowed His embrace to heal my brokenness.
But every time, as I’ve run into His arms, I knew He was always running to me.
We’ve deeply studied the parable of the Prodigal Son, told by the same loving God who has held me every time I needed Him. It’s the story of a son who blows his inheritance in the Biblical version of Las Vegas and when he is broke, starving, and homeless, he finally goes home,
a mess of a man who is wrecked and lost.
He had drunk the richest of wines and lived in deepest of poverty, but when he had absolutely nothing, he went home.
As he walked towards his home, there was his father. His daddy.
The man who had prayed for him, worried about him, and lost countless nights of sleep over him. This daddy wasn’t just standing at the gate waiting for an apology.
No, he had already fully forgiven his son,
which allowed him the freedom to run when he saw his son in the distance.
He ran as fast as he could, with arms wide open.
In that moment of welcome, wounds began to heal.
When they met, there was no awkward pause; there was no judgment.
There was brokenness and healing.
There was an embrace that both had dreamed of and longed for many times over.
And though forgiveness had already been given, the son hadn’t received it yet.
So, in a humble state, the broken son asked his father to allow him to be a servant.
But the father proved his forgiveness with gifts and celebrations.
Forgiveness offered, but yet unrecognized.
Doesn’t that embrace of total forgiveness sound freeing? Yet, perhaps impossible?
“Oh, but you don’t know what I’ve done….where I’ve been…all the shame.”
Are you ready to receive what He stands open to give?
I think of my daughters, though still small, they already make mistakes. Mistakes I know will multiply as my girls get older.
But I will never stop loving them.
Forgiveness will always be offered.
I can love my daughters unconditionally because I have been forgiven and loved by the Father God. Because of His lavish love poured over me, I’m empowered to extend His embrace of forgiveness to others.
It is so easy to say, “I can forgive people who have hurt me”, but it is something completely different to do it.
As I write, there are a handful of people I am picturing whom I need to forgive.
I don’t want to “preach” something I don’t “practice”. I feel that the Father wants me to share that
I am working on forgiveness, just as many of you are.
My Papa passed away recently, and as my uncle spoke at his funeral, in the humblest of settings, with tears streaming down his face, I watched my dear uncle look up and ask a man for his forgiveness. He was in the middle of sharing what a forgiving man my Papa was, and he couldn’t even continue without being convicted to ask forgiveness.
I cannot continue without being convicted.
I cannot continue without telling you that I am currently forgiving, because often, forgiveness isn’t a one-time-done-deal.
I am choosing to offer grace, love, and forgiveness to people who have hurt me.
And as I do, I feel myself running into the arms of Jesus.
I might share with Him that it is really hard to forgive.
I might let Him hold me as I cry because of the pain.
But I’m running to the arms spread wide because of His unconditional love and I’m receiving His grace as He teaches me to extend His embrace to others.
This Bible Study first appeared on GracefullyTruthful.com and is property of Gracefully Truthful. Check out the website for more studies like this one!
Read His Words Before Ours!
As I begin typing, my mind keeps wandering to everything on my “to-do list” so I can avoid this transparency. But, with a deep breath, and a convicted spirit, I tell you this:
I have lived a life full of legalism.
I have lived a life where the world is black and white.
I either pleased God or angered Him.
Sitting with my counselor several years ago, I explained that I could almost see the Lord frowning at me throughout different points in my life, as He found Himself, once again, disappointed by my mistakes. Because of this mental imagine, I lived a life trying to make a frowning God smile with approval for me. I would belt my little heart out singing on a Sunday morning and listen intently to the pastor speak. Some weeks I felt especially holy and would even take notes during the sermon.
There are exact moments in my memory where I recall stopping and thinking, “Ah! I’m really making God happy now!” One day, I explained the power of grace in the most clear and convicting message to another friend, and I knew, I just knew, that I had earned another jewel for my heavenly crown. Another time a woman asked me how much she owed me for babysitting her little loves and with a heart full of pride I smiled and said, “You don’t owe me a thing. I just want to minister to you today.” I really did want to minister to families like hers. I really did want my friends to understand grace. But sometimes I got too caught up trying to please the Lord instead of living out the things He had placed in my heart.
This only led to a complete crash when I found myself living a life of secrecy in my late teens. I attempted to outweigh the Lord’s certain displeasure, by serving and praying even more.
I was doing something so many of us find ourselves doing: I was living below my birthright – the birthright that I gained when I asked Jesus to be the Lord of my life. The birthright that promised that because of Jesus, I had an unshakeable inheritance in Heaven. Before I could make the Lord even more upset with me, I decided I should just end it all. I hit the lowest place of my life.
Looking back now, I can see that my life has been a lot like our “Prodigal Son”. Sure, I’ve made some big mistakes, wandered away from my Father, and found my way home again, but I’ve also been caught in the trap of legalism. The Prodigal and I both lived below our birthright.
One day, when that wayward son finally became more desperate than he could bear, he thought to himself, “My father’s servants have more food than I do. They don’t wonder where their next meal will come from, and they at least have beds to sleep on. I will go to my father and tell him that I am no longer worthy to be called his son and ask him to treat me as one of his hired servants.”
No. Longer. Worthy.
That was exactly how I felt. I felt I wasn’t worthy of the Lord’s grace. I wasn’t worthy of His forgiveness. I wasn’t worthy of His compassion. And I certainly wasn’t worthy to represent His Kingdom anymore.
The shame-wrecked boy, though having never lost his place as redeemed son, felt he had completely lost his worth. He was so caught up in his sin, his emotional despair, and lies about who he wasn’t, that he didn’t feel like his father would even want him to be his son anymore!
As a mama myself, it’s utterly unfathomable to imagine one of my daughters begging to be my housekeeper because they don’t deserve to be my daughter anymore. In youth ministry, I’ve seen kids make mistakes. I’ve seen parents weep in agony over their children. I’ve never seen a parent disown a child, but even so, we live in a fallen world and I know parents make awful mistakes. I know some of you have been disowned. But Jesus tells us this story so we can know that He will never abandon, never turn us away, and never disinherit us.
It’s against His nature as the perfect Father.
The Prodigal Son found himself so caught up in legalism, so overtaken by disappointing his father, that he lost sight of the truth.
He was his father’s son. And nothing could strip that title, that birthright, away from him.
I am my Father’s daughter.
You, friend, are your Father’s daughter.
Nothing, absolutely nothing can take that away from you.
Our Father will do anything for us (He already has), and He will always, beyond a shadow of a doubt, love us deeper than we can comprehend.
There is freedom when we embrace the truth of our birthright, which is 100% gained when we decide to follow Jesus.
Peace, grace, and joy await us when we aren’t living a life caught up in appeasing a God who already paid the debt we owe.
This Bible Study is property of Gracefully Truthful, where it was first published. For studies like this one, check out GracefullyTruthful.com!
Read His Words Before Ours!
I was just five years old when I found my life verse. It was an accident, really. I opened up my Bible one evening to read a Bible verse to my family:
“Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
“Mama! This is Chuckie’s verse!” I exclaimed, thinking only of my cousin in that very moment. He and I were two peas in a pod; we were peas and carrots, as Forrest Gump would say. Born just a month apart, we shared everything from birthday parties to the same kindergarten teacher. My little cousin had endured more than the average five year old. Due to his parents’ divorce, he was shuffled back and forth between a working mom, a working dad, and my house, where we would spend most of our time playing together while having cloud-watching picnics and climbing trees. These verses were for him. He had a rough life, but if he came to Jesus, then Jesus would give him rest. This verse has been special to me ever since, and I have remembered it time and time again as I endured my own heavy burdens.
The Bible is speckled with “come to Jesus” verses, and many songs have been written with the same theme. Every single Sunday for many years, my little Baptist church would stand and sing:
Just as I am without one plea
But that Thou blood was shed for me
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!
Many Sundays I would watch people walk down one of the aisles to the pastor standing at the front, as they would come to Jesus, sometimes for the first time, and sometimes for the first time in a long time. Each knowing that it was no longer their own strength that brought them home, but it was the welcome of a God who loved them despite their wanderings.
In the parable of the Prodigal Son, we read about both sons “coming” home. The first comes home after a season of destruction and poor decisions. He comes home after hitting rock bottom. The second comes home after a long and tiring day of working in the fields. He comes home after his tasks for the day are complete.
As they both come home seeking rest – of the spirit for one son and of the body for the other – neither of them make it into the house alone.
The first son comes home full of shame and guilt. He is dirty, he is spent, he is ashamed, he is alone. He comes home clothed in humility, seeking the forgiveness of his father. He doesn’t make it very far before his father
He doesn’t just come. He runs.
He sees his wandering son’s return, and he runs to him to embrace him and rejoice in his coming home.
The second son comes home full of aches and exhaustion. He is marked with dirt, his bones need rest, his self-sufficiency has made him arrogant, his pride has fed into anger. He also is alone. He comes home with the air of a man who just worked hard for his father. He doesn’t make it very far before he stops.
He hears music. He smells delicious food. There is a celebration going on inside and it has nothing to do with him. He stands there, flabbergasted and angry when he hears the celebration is in honor of his brother. But he doesn’t stand there long before his father
I once was in the shoes of the first son. Maybe you have been, too. Rock bottom… filing for bankruptcy, signing divorce papers, walking into the soup kitchen or food pantry, staring at the negative sign on the bank statement, looking at a positive on the results of a test… the depths of despair.
And with that despair, I found myself returning to the Father. I found myself coming home. But I didn’t have to go all the way, because my Father was already waiting for me. His welcome was already waiting as my own strength was waning.
I have also been in the shoes of the second son. Maybe you’ve found yourself with those same feelings, as well. Frustrated, because you have just given every last penny you had to the Lord, but you see your friend’s family being blessed abundantly in their finances. Annoyed, because you have served Sunday after Sunday in the nursery with no recognition and there is a new lady at church who is already on the worship team, with her face ten times bigger than life on the screen above everyone’s head. Angry, because you have worked hard for the Lord and you are exhausted and worn and weary, but you feel completely lost and forgotten.
And in that frustration, annoyance, or anger, I have found myself coming home. Burdened with pride, but finding I didn’t have to go all the way, because my Father was already waiting for me then, too. His welcome was already waiting.
You see, the Father knows us. He knows the most detailed and intimate parts of our thoughts. He knew exactly what would happen before we would come to Him with all of our brokenness, so He could give us rest.
And He knew exactly how hard we would work to serve Him and see His Kingdom come. And He knows that we will be tired, and we will be worn, and we will need rest.
So, He comes to us.
Ready to offer our burdened spirits rest.
Ready to give our weary bodies rest.
He comes regardless of our effort.
Regardless of our goodness.
Regardless of the stench of our sin.
But, only after we’ve realized that we want to come to Him.
He waits until we are ready to come home,
and then He shows us that He came a long time ago.
So, wherever you find yourself, whether you are just now hitting the depths of despair, or whether you are in the middle of a season of hard work… know that whenever you are ready to come to the Father, He will know, and He will already be waiting for you.
This Bible Study is property of Gracefully Truthful, where it was first published. Visit the website for more studies like this one!
From Bible studies to blogs, articles to musings of the heart, Kendra's writings are unbarred and raw - exactly how she speaks.