For years, I lived a secret life of brokenness while married to a pastor. I was buried under psychological pain while quoting Scriptures, leading Bible studies, and serving others, and being a wife and mother. I had wounds from childhood trauma I refused to address. Seeking counseling would mean I had a problem, and I just wanted to forget the pain altogether.

Yet, despite the masks I had affixed with well-rehearsed responses, my weighty burden chipped away at me. My cover-up was breaking down.

The question remained, “How do I turn this ocean-liner around? How can I help others in pain without sacrificing myself?”

I learned that I needed to make small micro-decisions toward healing.

First, I had to withdraw my application for a savior—that position was eternally filled with Jesus. Why did I need to carry the world on my shoulders rather than address my own issues?

Second, I had to face the truth that I couldn’t help others until I received real healing. It’s been said, “There’s only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.” So likewise, the healing journey is filled with micro-decisions – small, wise choices that result in real healing over time.

Proverbs 11:14 says, “Without wise leadership, a nation falls; there is safety in having many advisers.”
If this Scripture was true for Solomon, I needed to also embrace its wisdom.

That meant making the micro-decision to pursue a professional “advisor” to become my authentic self. Facing my lifelong fears was the first way I could conquer them. Then, I’d be better at nourishing my relationships and supporting others.

Our micro-decisions must be anchored in God’s Word so we can come along and help others as we heal.

Then, instead of wearing a cape, we can humbly and boldly kneel at the cross alongside those whose burdens we share.

The last two years’ events and circumstances have changed how we experience life. For some, the movement has been subtle. For others, it’s as if an earthquake shook life’s foundation.

While things shift and change, one thing is sure: Christ never changes, so you are secure.

Advent provides us with a terrific opportunity to reexamine the life of Christ, why He came and how He loves us. Unless we understand who He is, our foundation will be shaky.

Join us, beginning November 28, in a fresh encounter with Jesus Christ through the Gospel of Luke. Prepare with us to celebrate Jesus’ birth on Christmas Day, having pressed deeply into who Jesus is. Having Him as the foundation of your life brings hope and promise to move forward in faith.

“How Can a Weary World Rejoice?” is Cru’s 29-day Advent devotional and guides readers through Luke using the her.BIBLE audio. It includes a daily “Faith Asked Question,” diving deeper into common questions about Christianity.

It’s available daily via SMS, email, and printable PDF. Learn more and sign up here, or text ADVENT to 1-844-335-9080.

Whether you prefer to receive the devotional as a daily email, as a PDF or via text message, we invite you to celebrate Jesus with us this Christmas season.

Regardless of our story, we share a common pursuit. The search for our true identity drives us to be understood and appreciated for who we really are. Yet, deep inside each of us is a longing for something more. Those are not evil desires. God created the thirst so we can enjoy him, the Living Water fulfilling our every need and want.

Unfortunately, we spend much time and energy looking elsewhere for our fulfillment and identity. It feels natural to look to our family, friends, successes, or failures to help define us.

The key is to understand that you are a part of a new family, the family of God, and allow His truth of who you are to fill your heart and mind. Ephesians 2:19 says, “So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family.”

You have a new life in Christ. You have a new name in Christ.

Here is just a lovely taste of who you are in Christ. I encourage you to take a few days to read and listen to these Scriptures:

  • Belonging to God – John 17:9
  • Delighted in – Isaiah 42:1
  • Equipped – 2 Timothy 3:17
  • Accepted – Romans 15:7
  • Free – Romans 8:2
  • Beautiful – Isaiah 61:10
  • Treasured – Psalm 83:3
  • Victorious – 1 Corinthians 15:57
  • Forgiven – 1 John 1:9
  • Overcomer – 1 John 5:4-5
  • Perfect and complete – James 1:2-4
  • Delivered – 2 Timothy 4:18
  • Redeemed – Galatians 3:13
  • Known – 2 Timothy 2:19
  • Indestructible – 1 Peter 1:23

There are more than 200 descriptions of your true identity in Scripture!

You may “know” these Scriptural facts, but take time to let these truths sink deep into your core. God desires these truths to be embedded in your heart and mind so that you will not be deceived when accusations come.

I pray that you will be able to walk each day in honor and dignity, knowing you are a beloved child of God Most High.

I love math. Always have. I’m excited when my kids need help with their math homework. The reason? An equation is black and white and solvable. It almost always has a happy ending.

I wish faith were more like algebra. Instead, this faith journey often feels like trying to untangle my headphones. I would honestly rather buy a new pair than tackle this seemingly impossible task. It’s infuriating.

Take John the Baptist’s faith journey, for example. He was a person of exceptional faith. He was set apart from birth to be the forerunner to the Messiah. His character was obedient, humble, and sacrificial. He gave his entire life to God. Jesus described him, “of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11). But despite all that faithfulness, he ended up beheaded before age 35, with his head delivered to King Herod’s wife on a silver platter.

As I said, I’d rather tackle math than try to untangle that confusing mess.

I recently read a book filled with dramatic accounts of miracles. So naturally, I devoured it like a starving dog with a bone. However, hidden beneath my fevered page-turning was a buried belief about God. I believed that a God of fireworks could cure me of a flimsy faith. If I could collect enough evidence of God, I could avoid any questions of Him. As it turns out, however, my math did not add up.

Sometimes God behaves in ways we do not expect and can not control. Miracles do not always increase our faith. Often it is the lack of a miracle that forces us to wrestle with what we really believe.

In our suffering, we become increasingly desperate for answers, believing those answers will rescue us from our pain. But although answers might bring relief in the short term, nothing can help us make sense of some painful heartbreaks. Genuine faith is learning to trust in the midst of the unknowns, to rest even in the turmoil, and to believe our questions will somehow lead us to the God who holds the answers, even if we never discover those answers ourselves.

Although doubt feels scary, it is often a gift that causes our faith to grow into what we have wanted all day along. So, how do we deal with the reality of doubt?

  • Acknowledge it. Doubt is a normal part of an active, stretching, growing faith.
  •  Keep asking questions. To stop asking questions is to stop thinking. Allow yourself to wrestle with the mysteries of an all-knowing God.
  • Keep moving. There is nothing noble about staying lost in a forest. Admit you are lost, ask questions, and keep moving forward.
  •  Accept that not all questions will be answered. If we could solve the equation of God, he would be a god far too small. Make peace with not knowing everything.
  • Choose trust. We will either trust in our own capacity and ability or God’s magnificence and mystery. Which will it be?

Doubt is not the enemy of your faith. Instead, it’s the means to deepen it. So, resist fear and shame.

Instead, take your doubt to Him. All of it. He can handle it. And He has what you need to untangle the mess and deliver you safely to the other side. Even better, there’s a good chance your faith will be stronger as a result.

In the past, I have talked to friends who felt intimidated by the Bible but eager to understand it. To guide them, I needed first to ask, “Where do I begin, and how do I begin to make sense of the stories found within the Bible?”

I eventually came to understand the grand, overarching story of the Bible. Those familiar with it often call it the “Greatest Story Ever Told.” It is the story of our world and follows the first branch of our family tree from Adam and Eve to Jesus and then to us.

Reading the Bible with the knowledge that every story fits within this Grand Narrative provides a greater understanding of the Bible, God, and Jesus. Knowing this story provides readers peace and direction for all the challenges life may bring.

This story is best understood in six acts. Let’s look at these acts briefly, realizing there are countless layers to the biblical story.

The first act provides the foundation of this Grand Narrative—humanity’s close relationship with God, which enabled them to care for others, our world, and ourselves just as he would.

In the second act, we learn that today’s troubles are not because God has forgotten us or is uninvolved. Instead, because of sin, we have not remained in a relationship with him. Therefore we are unable to carry out our duties of care for our world. Chaos is the result (Gen. 3:15).

Act three begins with God’s promise to an older man, Abraham, saying one of his descendants from the nation of Israel would redeem the world’s relationship with God.

Act four is the story of that descendant, Jesus, fulfilling this promise through his death, but his resurrection and return to life—overcame all evil. God’s plan to restore an undamaged relationship with himself has become a reality, now available to those who choose to believe in Jesus.

The spread of this good news is act five, where we live today.

Act six will begin at Jesus’ return when evil is defeated forever.

The last vital piece for biblical understanding is prayer and honest conversation with God, discussing your need to hear from him in these biblical stories.

Throughout the Grand Narrative, God extends his hand in loving grace to those whose hearts return to him. “If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me” (Jeremiah 29:13).

Have you ever watched a lion seeking its prey? An interesting fact is that lions prefer larger and faster animals such as zebras, wildebeest, and buffalo. A lion intentionally stalks its prey and then jumps into a passionate pursuit with every ounce of energy it has. When the animal pursued falls over from exhaustion, the lion devours and satisfies its longings.

My heart’s desire is to be intent on passionately pursuing God, His Word, and His voice with everything I’ve got. Then I can love and feed my ministry team from the overflow of seeking God – just like a lion seeks its prey.

I regularly ask God to keep me hungry and thirsty for Him so that I can say, along with the psalmist in Psalm 63:1,

“O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you.
My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you
in this parched and weary land where there is no water.”

One way I have been pursuing God is through a continual practice of reading the Bible, cover to cover, book by book, like a novel. No studying, no underlining, just reading. As the Holy Spirit washes His truths over me, I’ve discovered overarching themes spanning the Bible. Listening to God is one of them.

God’s loving desire and eager expectation is that when we hear His voice, we listen intently, follow intentionally, without delay, discussion or doubt.

In 2017, Jenny Steinbach shared with me her vision for her.BIBLE. I immediately felt drawn to partner with her in prayer. Personally, I began to wonder, what if I added “listening” to my practice of reading God’s Word?

It would be like hearing an audio version of God’s Book. I was intrigued. I wanted to try it. The results have been tremendous. As I have been listening to her.BIBLE, God’s Word has become the background music of my life. Each woman’s unique voice is like a song, bringing a different melody to each book. I love reading and listening to God’s voice as I run hard after Him daily.

Neighbor Bible Studies 2GO loves partnering with her.BIBLE and we look forward to discovering more creative ways to join in ministry in the future. We encourage our women to download and use the her.BIBLE app with their Bible studies groups, disciples, family, and friends!

My nearby neighbor’s lovely garden grew into a mess. Her once beautiful trees and plants became overgrown, no longer producing blooms and fruits like they once did.

This overlooked garden reminds me daily of what Jesus said: “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you” (John 15:1-3).

We, followers of Jesus Christ, sometimes forget the beauty of God’s grace and forgiveness. We might become overgrown with weeds of worries and choked by thorns of troubles when we keep trying to live like the world. Sometimes we even willingly lay ourselves down in rocky patches after hardship comes our way, losing our joy. Often, unhealthy parts of our lives must be ultimately thrown away and pruned like dead branches.

God’s plan to bring forth new life in us because Jesus lives within us. He wants us to bear much fruit as the Holy Spirit helps grow our character.

God already took us out of the wasteland and replanted us in good soil, so there is no reason not to believe what He says: Beauty can sprout again in us! You and I will be transformed into spectacular landscapes, showcasing God’s glory in hopeful ways!

When we allow God to water us with His Word, we will see Him cultivate beauty in our lives.

Over the years, God has changed me from timid, hurting, and self-involved; to one who knows his love and shares his love with others.

How has this happened? A big part is through praying with the Bible. By doing so regularly, God’s Word has made itself at home within me.

As we dwell in the Word and it lives in us, it comes alive within us. “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires” (Hebrews 4:12).

What happens then? We begin to experience those uncanny moments of coming across a passage and feeling God’s Word burn into our hearts. God comforts us when we’re hurting as we read a line of the Psalms. He convicts us with his teaching from the Sermon on the Mount. As you read the Scriptures, pause before you delve into them and ask God to speak to you. He loves to respond when we seek him.

Why not take a few moments to explore the Bible prayerfully?

Maybe God is waiting for you to take the time to seek him out. You could rest in God’s presence and open her.BIBLE on your phone. Ask God through his Spirit to bring to mind something from his Word just for you – for right now.

A well-loved phrase from one of the New Testament letters might pop into your head, or maybe a portion from a song or hymn based on a passage from the Bible, or even the chapter and verse reference of a Scripture text itself. Wait and receive, and then weigh how the text applies to your life and whether you’ve heard from God.

After a breakup, I needed a practice that wouldn’t overwhelm me but would penetrate to the tender places within. I began writing out verses, adding my name again and again so that the words would move from my head to my heart: “Amy, I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give you is a gift the world cannot give. So Amy, don’t be troubled or afraid.’ (John 14:27).

I recommend this simple practice, which can have profound results. Wonder where to start? Here are some suggestions:

Matthew 6:25-34 (Don’t worry)
John 14:15-21 (The Promised Holy Spirit)
John 17:20-26 (Jesus’ prayer for us)

Finally, I encourage you to rewrite a passage in your own words. Writing out a passage of Scripture can move us naturally to pray about concerns in our lives. One example is Paul’s prayer from Ephesians 1:17-19.

I rewrote this prayer he prayed for the church of Ephesus, “I ask that you would give me your Spirit of wisdom and revelation that I might know you better. Open the eyes of my heart and enlighten me, that I might know the hope to which you have called me.”

I trust and pray that as God dwells within you through his Word, that you too will be made more like Jesus.

Have you ever wanted something so badly you would do anything to get it? If you are old enough to remember the eighties, you may remember some television shows that dared people to do crazy things for big money. And they did! But right now, that ‘thing’ you really want? There is not enough money in the world that can buy it for you. There is no game show you can get onto that will help you win it.

Until along comes an extraordinary man who can give you this ‘thing.’

‘Jesus went into the synagogue again and noticed a man with a deformed hand.’ (Mark 3:1). He notices your hand! He can give you anything you want, and he doesn’t want your money! But there is a glitch. People are watching, and some influential leaders are in the audience.

On top of this, today is the Sabbath! Work is forbidden on the Sabbath, including healing someone to make them whole.

“Then he [Jesus] turned to his critics and asked, “Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing evil? Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?” But they wouldn’t answer him.’ (v.4).

Here you stand. You realize that to receive this gift, you would have to accept it in front of these people. ‘Jesus said to the man with the deformed hand, “Come and stand in front of everyone.” (v.3)

What do you do? Stand in front of everyone and suffer the consequences? Or do you continue to suffer in silence?

That’s what the man with the withered hand had to decide.

Fortunately for him, he decided he wanted healing more than he feared the opinion of the leaders. So when Jesus called him, he went to him. He had lived his entire life without the use of this hand.

The man vulnerably stood in front of Jesus. ‘Then he [Jesus] said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” So, the man held out his hand, and it was restored!’ (v.5).

Jesus wants our restoration and wholeness for us even to the point of dying on the cross to give us that wholeness.

We need only to stand in front of him and hold our hand to receive it.

What does fighting for our joy look like? We find an excellent example from the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Church at Philippi, written during a time of great uncertainty.

Paul wrote this letter in prison, unsure if he would live or die. The call on his life as an apostle has cost him everything; his comfort, prestige, and maybe even his life. However, he is not writing to the Philippians to complain about his situation. He is not asking for help.

Instead, he’s writing to gush over how joyful he is in Christ and his hope for them to experience this same joy. For every reason Paul has to be discouraged, he relentlessly finds more reasons to be joyful. He is so intentional and adamant about finding joy even in this situation. This letter is like a direct assault against any discouragement or doubt that may come his way.

Through the example of Paul, we learn that joy is a choice, and sometimes it is a choice we must fight for with thanksgiving and prayer (Philippians 1:3-4). Paul paints a clear picture for the Philippians to see beyond what is happening and to understand how everything “that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News” (Philippians 1:12) and complete God’s good purpose.

Although in chains, his imprisonment was the cause of the gospel’s advancement. This brought joy to Paul because he understood that God will often use the very thing meant to hold you back to complete his work in your life.

We see this truth throughout the Bible:

The very flames King Nebuchadnezzar used to try to kill Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are the same flames that destroyed the shackles meant to hold them hostage while not harming a single hair on their heads (Daniel 3:9-25).

The thorn in Paul’s side meant to weaken him was the very thing that caused the power of God to rest on him (2 Corinthians 12:9).

The crucifixion meant to humiliate and kill Jesus was the very situation that afforded eternal life to all who would believe in him and gave Christ all authority in heaven and earth (Ephesians 1:20-21, Matthew 28:18).

Sometimes the opposition, failure, lack, weakness, hurt, suffering, detours, and disappointment we face are not signs of doing something wrong, as we are commonly led to believe. Instead, God works all things out for our good and his glory (Romans 8:28).

This is why Paul rejoices. We can as well, even in hardships. Paul wants the Philippians to know his imprisonment is not failure but victory.

So in Philippians 1:18, he doesn’t say, “I might rejoice,” “I want to rejoice,” or “I’m thinking about rejoicing.”

Instead, he says, “I will rejoice.”

“…The message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice” (‭‭Philippians‬ ‭1:18‬‬‬).

I love that Paul tells himself what he will do. I also love that he can look past this difficulty to see the greater work that God is doing. This ability truly leads to joy because joy is a choice.

Choosing joy may be challenging, but joy is always worth the fight.