Choosing Worship Over Worry

… Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41

Two weeks ago I was one kid away from being an empty nester, but Covid-19 changed everything. My daughters fled their big cities and hunkered down at home. Suddenly there’s more cooking, laundry, dishes . . . more everything.

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They help out, but I’d gotten used to (and enjoyed!) the slower pace of life. I’m happy they’re safe but frequently find myself going into “Martha mode.”

Martha was one of Jesus’ close friends. She owned a house in the village of Bethany, which was about two miles from Jerusalem.  One day Jesus and his disciples stopped by.

The Bible doesn’t tell us if she anticipated the visit, but we can tell by the story that she flew into a tizzy. Though the passage is only eight sentences long, the story is legendary.

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”  Luke 10:38-42

I can relate. Has stress ever made you cranky and bossy?

I love Jesus’ response because it highlights his approachability and gentleness. He assessed the situation and cut to the heart of the matter — Martha’s priorities were out of whack .

The Greek word for distracted is perispao and means: to be so overburdened by various distractions as to be worried and anxious.

By contrast, Mary’s posture was one of worship. In those days, women weren’t always able to learn. Rather, they’d be excluded from discipleship and expected to learn from male relatives or husbands. But Jesus welcomed Mary’s devotion.

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I often wonder if Martha listened. Jesus told her that Mary had chosen the “good portion.” In other words, she had two options: she could continue in frustration or take a seat in his presence.

Either way, his words tell us what’s truly necessary. When life or change makes us feel overburdened and worried, we can choose to stop and sit with him.

What are the things that throw your priorities out of whack?

A life changing Bible verse

A number of people close to me struggle with anxiety. At times, it’s severe. Furrowed brows, hammering hearts, and full-on panic attacks are common. It’s hard to watch, hard to feel helpless, especially since I’ve experienced these emotions myself.

A long time ago, especially when I was a young mother, I worried a lot too. Having small children can heighten the emotions that twist like tornados through our minds. Suddenly, everything is dangerous and anything is possible. What if we can’t feed them? What if I lose my job and our company goes under? The “what ifs” drove me nuts and drove my actions. But then God led me to a Bible verse that changed everything and put a stop to all the spinning:

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matt 6:33

Jesus knows a thing or two about worry. He often spoke to his followers about the things that tend to make humans anxious.

Matthew 4:18 tells the story of Jesus calling his first followers, the brothers Simon Peter and Andrew. He had lots to teach them and as they traveled through Galilee, great crowds followed. Matthew 4:18-7:29 is rich with instruction about the way Christians should live.

But the key for me was found in Matthew 6:33, and specifically in the word, first. Jesus tells us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. First, as defined in the Greek, means first in a series involving time, space, or set. We’re familiar with the concept of being in first place, or first in line or first in our class — it’s an order of priority.

Jesus tells us that before we worry about everything else, whether that be nourishment, clothing, or where we’ll live, we need to make God first. Easy to say, but harder to do right? It’s hard to think straight when you’re worried about being hungry or thirsty.

But Jesus doesn’t leave us without answers. After he explained the way to live, he explained the why. The answer is simple — God cares for us.

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He said, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” Matt 6:26-32

The Gentiles he spoke about were those who didn’t believe in God. We are not to be like those who have no faith. We have a heavenly Father who knows exactly what we need, when we need it.

Put him to the test. Trust him and see what happens when he gets put into his rightful position.

Once I rearranged my priorities everything changed. He’s poured out unbelievable blessings on me and my family. But it only works if you work it!

What actions can you take to put God in first place, in every area of your life?

Peace, Prosperity & Politics

By Erika Rizkallah

I grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. My parents worked in the Capitol – one in the Senate and one in the House of Representatives – though neither were politicians. They worked grueling hours for Congress and I grew resentful about the way our government treated its workers.

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Politics was the news in our town. Other than that, we just got doom and gloom reports of crime and death in what was then “the murder capital of the world.” What I remember most was a having a sense of overwhelming fear. Almost every thought and decision was filtered through a lens of anxiety.

I felt like a captive.

Many of my friends thrived on political discourse but I hated it. I didn’t want to hear or talk about it so I stopped watching the news.

I learned the “behind the scenes” truth from my parents. Though our politicians fought and filibustered on television, many were backroom buddies. The powerful and power-hungry dined and drank together in posh clubs, away from the C-Span cameras.

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When I turned 40, God called me to a new place – hours away from the ladder climbing and clamor. It’s my personal “Promised Land” and the home I’d always longed for.

Ironically, I’m a political junkie now. I guess it’s woven into the fabric of my life. However, I’m no longer anxious or fearful about the state of our country or world. I believe making it a better place is up to us.

It’s the duty of those who believe in Christ, to be salt and light. To help create reform. We’re able to create positive changes because we have true power.

We have the Holy Spirit.

I’m halfway through the book of Jeremiah and it reminded me being a captive. Jeremiah warned people for years that if they didn’t reform their ways, they’d be exiled to Babylon. But they didn’t listen and were sent to live in a land with a new ruler, customs and language.

 

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In the midst of their servitude to King Nebuchadnezzar, God gave them instructions for living through a letter sent by the prophet Jeremiah. He said, “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper . . .”  Jeremiah 29:5-7

I love the phrase . . . Build houses and settle down.

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It conveys a sense of peace in frightening circumstances. Though their rebellion resulted in captivity, God still comforted them. He always has a purpose and plan for his people.

The letter also said, “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. “ v. 29:11

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We often hear the prosperity part without the following verses:

“Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” v. 29:12-14

I believe his declarations. His gracious promise of peace and prosperity. He’s for us no matter the political posturing or predicaments.

When we seek him with all our heart and seek the peace and prosperity of our cities, he will listen and we will be found by him.

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Oh what a reason for rejoicing and wonder!

How about you: Are you seeking?

 

 

5 Tips for Conquering Procrastination (aka Resistance)

By Erika Rizkallah

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5 tips for conquering procrastination

Yesterday I was talking with a shrink (that’s what he calls himself) about procrastination. I was listening in on an open conversation he was having with a family member and as soon as he said the word my ears pricked up. I struggle with procrastination and he told us it’s really a symptom of anxiety.

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He said if it were laziness we would be fully lazy – we wouldn’t do anything at all. But if it’s procrastination it’s a matter of choosing to do something other than the thing we’re avoiding. I think there’s some truth to that and it got me thinking about  Steven Pressfield’s book, The War of Art.

It’s a great book for people of a creative nature. He talks about resistance being an impersonal but powerful force that immediately appears as soon as we delve into the creative.

While it’s secular in nature, it speaks to me and I turn to it as as way to shake the grip of procrastination from my spirit. Here are 5 of my tips to help you conquer this inevitability.

Tip #1 – Be prepared: There are always things in life that will make us anxious. Whether it’s a task, conversation or event, rest assured, resistance will come. Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” This is a good time to run the “what if” scenarios through our minds. We can ask things like, What if my computer crashes? or What if the boss doesn’t like my presentation? By thinking through things that could thwart our efforts, we’re preparing ourselves for success.

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           Think through problems

Tip # 2 – Pray for God’s strength: We’re simply human beings, only flesh and bone. We are inherently weak, but when we ask God for strength to persevere, we’re accessing his power. He’s generous and he loves to give us gifts.

Tip # 3 – Face the obstacle head on: Yes, there may be resistance but we don’t help ourselves by avoiding it, we just delay the inevitable. Or worse, live with regret.

Face obstacles head on!

Face obstacles head on!

Tip # 4 – Get an accountability partner: Grab a friend and ask for help. Ask her to help you stay on top of the issue by calling, e-mailing or standing with you as you reach for your goal.

Tip # 5 Stand firm: At the end of procrastination is a gift waiting to be opened. In his struggle to preach the gospel, the apostle Paul suffered beatings, hunger, shipwrecks, sleepless nights, and more. It’s likely we won’t suffer physically, but if we do, we’re in great company.

Your Turn: Can you share tips for conquering procrastination? What tip will you use from my list? 

The Way

Say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.” Isaiah 35:4

Living with fear, especially in our day and age – these days of brazen and barbaric wickedness – can seem like a normal way to live.

I lived much of my life with fear. In fact, I was one of the most fearful people I know…until I was delivered of it. Fear is a form of bondage. It causes anxiety, stress on the body and affects all aspects of our lives. We are clothed in it and everything we do is borne out of it. In short, it’s a terrible way to live.

…he will come to save you.

And Jesus did. He came to save us and set us free from the oppression of it. I know this to be true because it’s part of my story. One of my earliest memories is one of fear. And even when I accepted Christ as my savior, at the age of 26, I wasn’t immediately released from it. God had some serious work to do in my spirit and my freedom wouldn’t come until years later.

I urge you to read all of Chapter 35 in the book of Isaiah. It’s titled Joy of the Redeemed and speaks of Jesus well before he ever walked the earth as a human. Isaiah gave God’s people a hint of what was to come and this picture always makes me think of him.

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It says our savior will:

give sight to the blind. And Jesus did.

unstop the ears of the deaf. And Jesus did.

cause the lame to leap like a dear. And Jesus did.

cause water to gush forth in the wilderness. And Jesus did.

cause the burning sand to become a pool and the thirsty ground bubbling springs. And Jesus did.

It speaks of new growth and a new road, a highway – a way in which the righteous walk. And Jesus was.

Jesus is The Way.

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Those who walk in this way have no fear, because His perfect love casts it out.

What about you? Do you walk in this way? Have you accepted Him as your savior? If so, fear not!

And if you don’t know Him as your savior yet, I urge you to choose life now. Your reward will be great. Your reward is Jesus himself and a new life. All you have to do is ask him to be the savior and Lord of your life. And he will because he loves you.

Isn’t that amazing?! It is! He loves you. He wants you and he wants to give you this new life and Way of life.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

Finding comfort in a “messy” world.

Yesterday our President said, “…The world has always been messy.”

He’s right.

As I watched the news and lamented over the brutality of ISIS, one picture filled my mind. It’s a scripture from the book of Isaiah:

…All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever. Isaiah 40:6

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Think about it. Whatever ISIS is doing and whatever our government is not doing, this is the truth – God is watching over us and his ears hear our prayers for peace. 

Here’s more truth to comfort you:

He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff. Isaiah 40:23-24

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Regarding barbarians like ISIS: We have nothing to fear. Our God is stronger and His ears hear our prayers.

Jesus never worried about men and what they could do to him. We are His followers. So today Lord, we ask in your name that you blow them away like chaff. Blow them all away.