Words of Encouragement


I love the story of Joshua in the Old Testament. From the story of his youth of spying in the promised land, to the transition to leadership of the Hebrew people, his story is filled with faith and confidence in God.

God speaks encouragement to Joshua a number of times before he takes on leadership. God’s message is, “Be strong and courageous.” God speaks this to prepare Joshua for what is to come. We first see it in Deuteronomy 31.

This happens often in our lives. Before God invites us into something, he prepares us with a message that speaks to our character. He prepares us for what he calls us into. In Joshua’s case, he was about to lead his people, a people who were known not for their courage at this point, but for their grumbling and complaining, into a land of giants.

As I was reading through the first few books of the Old Testament in my devotions recently, I was struck that Israel (at this point in the story) is constantly handing themselves over to their fears. I had always thought of this word to Joshua as a personal word. I had never really thought about the fact he is about to take on the doubts and complaints of a whole nation who is chronicled to be full of complainers.

As I have been looking at this message in the context of Joshua’s life, I noticed that Joshua already looks courageous in contrast to the rest of Israel. He and Caleb were the only spies of the 12 who thought it would be a good idea to take the land God had promised. Their report was one of courage.

I find it interesting that God is telling Joshua to be strong and courageous. God is not implying Joshua is weak and timid. God is preparing him for what he will face. Joshua is about to come in conflict with naysayers and complainers at every turn. He is about to lead the same people who were scared to leave Egypt, wanted to turn around at the Red Sea, wanted to go back to Egypt because of hunger in the desert, and who built a golden calf to worship when Moses was gone too long. Let’s face it, the track record of these people was not one of courage.

Joshua is being told by God before he steps into leadership that he must stand firm, be strong and courageous and know that God is with him because, let’s face it, the people are not always going to be on his side (or ours). This coming season for Joshua is one of intense growth of strength and courage. He is not only needing to be strong for himself but for a whole nation.

Usually this phrase, be strong and courageous, is quoted from Joshua 1:9. But this is just a reminder of what God had already spoken over Joshua. God is not just faithful to remain with Joshua, he is also faithful to remind Joshua of what he has invited him into in this season.

God supplies, in his grace, what is needed for the season he has us in. That doesn’t mean it will be easy. But he is there with us. The season is both for our benefit and the benefit of others.

I love how God leads us. He prepares us for the seasons ahead with encouragement, and walks through it with us, reminding us of what he says and that he is still with us.

I have found it so helpful in my life to reflect on those words God shares that prepare me for the season God is leading me into. It is so important to hear them because it sustains me when opposition comes. My peace is not shaken as I know God is with me and intends something good through it. Those words spoken to me in preparation, like Joshua, allow me to say, oh yeah, God told me to remain strong and courageous. He warned me these people would doubt this plan, but I can’t give in to them.

God is never surprised by what happens, by what we face. Sometimes we act as though things come out of nowhere, and to us they do. But God is never surprised. He may be saddened or angry at something, but not surprised. He is our shelter in the unforeseen storms of life. He prepares us, and prepares a place for us in whatever arises.

God’s preparatory words of encouragement bring comfort and boldness in times of need. For Joshua those words were be strong and courageous. What is he speaking to you?

My First Love


I had a great chat recently with a wonderful man who has truly devoted his life to pursuit of God. He is a local pastor who has served faithfully at his church and around the globe for many years. I will probably write sometime about the value of these faithful men and women who have devotedly run the race set before them. They have much to offer. But this week, I want to reflect on the conversation we had.

This man told me he is heartbroken over the way many, like in the church of Ephesus (Revelation 2), have lost their first love. He unpacked this as a loss of desire. He asked, “Where are the all night meetings, the waiting for God to show up in our church services, the spending hours on end together and alone to meet with God?”

As this thought has been rolling around in my head, I have been reading through Acts in my daily scripture readings. I am reading of a group of people that seemingly spent every possible moment seeking the Lord and walking out his instructions.

I love the story in Acts 13 where Paul and Barnabas are sent out. I’m particularly struck by the part following God telling the church in Antioch to send out these two. The community fasts, prays, and seeks the Lord before blessing and sending out Paul and Barnabas. I don’t know what else is happening in the lives of these believers, but they seem to drop everything to be with God.

My point is not to quit your job so you can, on a whim, fast and pray. I’m asking, what do I set as priority? What distracts me? And honestly, how many things do I desire above meeting with the living God?

Desire is what drives us. We pursue the things our hearts are for. Our time goes into those things. Our money goes into those things. We have many desires, both as individuals and as a church, that drive our actions.

Jesus gave warning to the church of Ephesus in Revelations. The warning is, you have lost your first love and your desire to be with me. Things will not go well with you if you keep going as you are. Come back to your first love, come back to me.

Repentance is the process of turning towards Jesus. It is turning away from the things that don’t bring life and towards the one that is love. Sometimes we take a look at just the things we know are altogether wrong and turn away from them. I think there is a deeper issue we must face. We must look at our lives and ask the question: What do I desire? We must turn to Jesus and ask that same question.

First love has dual meaning for us as followers of Jesus. Love for God is foremost and God is the source of all love. He is literally the first love. When anything comes above him in desire, we need to repent. We need to repent of those times we have put him on the backburner. But more importantly, we must ask God to give us a desire to be with him, to encounter him, to hear him speak. We were made for this, to be with him. We need (both personally and in our churches) to desire the presence of God, not for what he will say, although he will speak, not so that we will get marching orders from him, although he will guide us, but because it is where we belong. It is where we find our rest and our peace (Shalom).

I am reminded of a song written by friends of mine as I write this, “Where I Belong” by Life Support.The whole song speaks of longing to be in the presence of God. I encourage you to take a listen and let it draw you back to your first love.

The voice of the prophet, as in Revelations, is in our midst now to draw us back to the heart of God. Let us not be like the many who heeded not the message from God, but let us repent of our ways and return to our first love.

King For All

I don’t know about you, but for so much of my life, I had no idea what the term Epiphany meant. So if that is you, please keep reading because it is so good. For those of us who are Gentiles (not of Jewish heritage), this is an important time. It is a day commemorating the Magi visiting Jesus. Epiphany (this coming Sunday) could be viewed as the day we celebrate our invitation to join the party. It is the day we celebrate the Magi or wise men (Matthew 2) coming to worship Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense, myrrh and praise.

On this side of history (and 2000 years later), we may at times think the Magi, or wisemen, just contrast the shepherds in signifying that both rich and poor, powerful and those who seem insignificant, are welcomed to the celebration of the birth of Jesus. But there is far greater significance.

Israel was looking for a saviour for the Jewish people, or the people of God. They thought of the Gentiles as heathens and that the saviour was not for them. We see in the beginning of Acts the dilemma of whether or not the Gentiles should be allowed to follow Jesus and join the community of faith. It took a vision from God to Peter to open up the doors to the rest of the world.

The wise men came from afar and from other groups of people. They studied and followed a star they knew would lead them to a king above kings. They brought gifts and worshiped this baby who was not from their people. This is a significant interaction. God made a way to invite Gentiles to the party. He was telling us that Jesus is for Jew and Gentile alike.

I can’t even imagine what the reaction of Mary and Joseph was when the Magi showed up. Okay, and why are you here? How do you know who this child is? A star sent you here? What is this, Scientology? I am not sure whether at this point they realized the invitation was to Jew and Gentile alike, but I am certain this was a surprise encounter.

Epiphany is a day we are not just remembering the Magi, but celebrating our being welcomed in to the people of God! I can’t help but think of the time in Acts 10 when Peter receives a vision from God of “unclean animals” being lowered from heaven. This happens just before Peter shares the gospel with a household of Gentiles and they are filled with the Holy Spirit.

At Epiphany we remember the gospel is for all people. We are led to thank God that he did not just come for the Jewish people, but he came for us. He is a saviour for all who will receive him. This is an accepted message today, but at one time, it would have been thought of as blasphemous. Even Peter who followed Jesus around for three years had difficulty with it. Even after a vision and encounter with God he was doubtful as he shared the gospel with some Gentiles and was surprised when they were filled with the Holy Spirit.

As I fix my mind on the significance of Epiphany, I find myself thinking of the hopeless state people were in before this point. People were lost, separated from God, with no promise to cling to for hope. The Magi are our representatives of belonging at this celebration. They may have shown up late, but they were welcomed and shown a way by a star. No angels for them. God’s plan was always to welcome us back in. Jesus was always a saviour for all, but the first sign of this reality is the Magi.

That is why this day is so important to remember. It is important to remember the grace of God shown to us. While we were still sinners, God came to dwell among us. Even when we had no idea there was a plan for our salvation, God had a plan. There is so much to learn about the grace and mercy of God for those who are still lost. Understanding that as Gentiles we were, as a whole people group, absent from the people of God should remind us of the invitation extended to all people to come know and worship Jesus our king.

Did you know the wise men were such strange guests to the celebration of Jesus’ birth? What effect does that have on your life? Feel free to share in the comments.

You Should Probably Ask God


“Yet you don’t have what you want because you do not ask God for it.” (James 4:2)

Have you ever thought about the lack we have in this life and wondered, does God really want me to live this way?

I have been reflecting recently about how infrequently I have been moved to prayer for the everyday, or “manageable” things in life like the common cold, a disagreement with a friend, a friend’s baby who isn’t wanting to eat solid food yet, a baby who isn’t sleeping at night, or my inability to sleep at night.

Why don’t I pray? Why don’t I ask for prayer? It is as though I am resolved to live life on my own and have developed a filter to protect God from my problems. I ask myself, Why should I go to God with the issues facing me and the people around me? I can manage this on my own. Sure it might cause me stress and time, but I can do it. I am resigned to my fate.

What would be the worst thing that could happen if I asked God for something? He could decide to answer me with a “no” and tell me why. How is that any worse than if I had not asked him? In asking, I am in such a better place because it causes me to be more aware of who God is, and confident that he is giving me strength to face the situation.

Do I really believe God desires to restore all things? Do I really believe God wants to reveal his love to us and draw near to us? I realized I wasn’t believing God really cares about little things or the things I was asking about. He does! This has been my biggest revelation.

My niece has been a great training ground for this. My sister shares things like “Selah won’t sleep at night.” So I get to ask God to bring sleep to Selah from across the country. It has been really cool to hear how prayers have been answered for things like sleep, willingness to eat, and teething pain to subside.

Friends recently shared their concern that their son wasn’t eating solid foods yet. So I prayed, and the next day he started eating. Yes, at some point this child would eventually grow to eat solid foods. But does God not care even more than that child’s parents about the health of this child? Wouldn’t God want him to be healthy now?

My sister was visiting recently from BC and the woman she was staying with was coming down with some sickness. Instead of just expressing concern, we prayed for her. She later told us she was better the next day and attributed it to God. She felt loved by God in this because we asked for God to be present and heal her.

The stories I have shared are examples of God supernaturally showing up. We ask and he restores. I have also found that God responds by giving strategies and wisdom. When we ask for things, it is so important to remember we are asking a God who is present with us and speaks. We are not asking a distant deity for help, but God, who came to us in the form of a man (Jesus), was crucified, raised to life, and invites us to follow. As we ask, we should listen.

I am learning things are often not going right because we are not asking God to right them. He is aware of the need, but waiting on our prayers to act. Why are we resigned to live apart from God? Why do we default to “I will do this on my own”, or with what people have created? Where can you invite God in?

I love that we all serve the same God. The stories I share here are about who our God is. He wants to reveal himself in your life too. As you look for ways to pray for the “little things” in your week, leave a comment with stories of how God shows up.