relationships

The Jesus Thing

Now that we’ve entered December, the Christmas festivities are in full swing.  There are parties to attend, cookies to bake, packages to wrap, trees to decorate, concerts to enjoy, potlucks to cook for, school programs to assist with, . . . .  and it seems to me that the list is endless.  The truth be told, when I hear the word, “Christmas” it makes me tired before anything starts, maybe like Pavlov’s dogs who salivated when they heard a bell chime.   To make it more challenging for me, I have lots of friends and family members who love the Christmas festivities and countdown the days until the frolicking can commence.  I watch my friends and family with curiosity, perplexed and awed by their ease and grace to enjoy this season.

From their point of view, sometimes they think I’m like the Christmas Grinch, as it may seem like I’d prefer to find a quiet cave and disappear from the noise, obligations, hubbub and seasonal delicious treats.  And it’s not that I don’t like the yummy food, beautiful music or serene snow that can christen this season.

My deal is that it’s easy for Jesus’ birth to get swallowed up in the season’s bustle, hustle, duties, celebrations, cookies, wrapping paper, gifts, decorations, glitz and glam.  So I find it challenging to stay focused on Jesus in the midst of this hectic season.  In the past, I’ve tried to keep this season less hectic so I could focus on Jesus better.  That’s been a really constructive tactic to help me keep Jesus in the Christmas crosshairs.

For whatever reason, this year seems different.  I was looking at my December calendar to find some empty space for lunch with a friend and I was disheartened to see almost every day booked.  How did I let this month get away from me and it’s just the beginning of the month?  Where did Jesus go for me in this month?  Maybe I should call this month my Jesus Month instead of Christmas, as a purposeful reminder for my focus.

And maybe it would be helpful to think about Mary, Jesus’ mother, this month as we celebrate Jesus’ birth.  She was obviously the key player for Jesus’ birth, after she was overshadowed by Holy Spirit, nine months earlier.  So when I think about Mary giving birth to Jesus in this month, I’m reminded about what it was like for me in the last month of pregnancy with my three kids.  I was tired and trying to keep my focus on the finish line of giving each of my babies a healthy and safe delivery / introduction to their separate existence.

I suspect that Mary, being away from her family to register in Bethlehem with Joseph her husband, maybe she was a little jittery or possibly overwhelmed with the unknown (child birth) looming in her immediate future.  Or maybe Holy Spirit helped her all the way through her pregnancy, so that she didn’t deliver Jesus in a completely frazzled and unraveled experience.

So when I think about Holy Spirit helping Mary through her pregnancy to deliver the only begotten Son of God, it encourages me to focus on Holy Spirit to help me through this season to stay focused on Jesus.

This is my prayer for you, as you finish this blog.  May Holy Spirit overshadow you throughout this season so that Jesus’ birth is fresh in your heart and outlook, not just on Christmas day, but for each day that leads to December 25th.  Let’s remember that Christmas is the Jesus thing 🙂

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Posted by sarahbowling in busy, Christmas, cooking, enemies to intimacy, family, fellowship, Genuine love, grow, Heavenly Help, Holy Spirit, listen, living, prayer, relationships, seeing Jesus, spiritual, thought life, uncertainty, values, watch, 0 comments

Why Be Grateful?

I can appreciate that you might think it’s a stupid question to ask, “Why be grateful?”. Obviously, we’re in Thanksgiving week, so it’s season to be thankful and it’s our annual tradition. So Thanksgiving is when we’re supposed to be thankful and it’s easy to go through the customary gratitudes and “check the box” moving along into the Christmas frenzy. But I think we would be wise to pause and do some thinking about being grateful, not just because it’s Thanksgiving.

Why do we need to be thankful?

In one of my all-time favorite books, Man’s Search for Meaning, the author tells about one of his experiences in the Holocaust, in a Concentration Camp. Clearly, life in a Concentration Camp was nothing short of an hellacious existence that was inhumane and depraved beyond even animal existence. But in the midst of such depravity, death, deprivation and sheer degeneracy, the author describes an experience where a fellow inmate beckoned his bunkmates to come outside at the end of a torturous day to see the beautiful sky from a glorious sunset. There was gratitude in the author’s mind in this observation, no matter his daily hell. Every time I read this experience, it causes me to pause and reflect. It’s possible to be grateful even in the most barbaric existence.

Furthermore, I’m reminded about the ten lepers Jesus cleansed in Luke 17:11-19. In these verses, we see that this small and tragic community yelled to Jesus from a distance, asking that He’d heal them. These men weren’t allowed to mingle with regular society because leprosy was contagious and incurable at that time, hence the distance. Jesus yelled back to them, that they should go and show themselves to the priests and as they went they were cleansed, according to verse 14. This is a really cool story, even if we stop there. But we see the real gold when one of the ten lepers returns to Jesus and expresses his gratitude. It’s noteworthy that the only healed leper to express thanks was a Samaritan, the group who was looked down on by proper Jews. And Jesus’ reply shows us that He’s disappointed that the other nine lepers didn’t return be express gratitude. Based on Jesus’ response, I understand that God expects me to be grateful, full stop.

So what would hinder us from being grateful? Here are some gratitude obstacles that could be hindrances for you:

  • What I deserve: if you think you’re entitled, then gratitude is often overlooked
  • Negative outlook: if your glass is half full, then you’ll struggle to find things for which to be grateful
  • Too much: when we’re overwhelmed with pressure, demands, abundance, leisure, . . . it’s easy to forget to be grateful
  • Life season: we can grow through really tough seasons when it’s easy and natural to forget to be thankful

So how can we avoid these pitfalls and cultivate gratitude as a lifestyle and not just a season? Here are a few suggestions that might be helpful:

  • Make a “Thankful List” everyday with at least 3-5 different things from the preceding day
  • Real-time gratitude: say thank you when people do something nice (even if they can’t hear you) and thank you to God for the daily helps (avoiding a traffic accident, scheduling help, wisdom for a problem, unexpected money or a decrease in a bill, transportation to work, encouragement from a friend, an energy boost when you’re tired, grace in a tense situation, . . . .)
  • Seeing and hearing beauty around you in people, birds, trees, worship songs, Bible verse, clouds, snow, sunset, tasty food, . . . .
  • Thank people for who they are and not just what they do ☺

To that end, I have a great friend who frequently reminds me that gratitude makes everything enough! Happy Thanksgiving!

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Posted by sarahbowling in busy, family, fellowship, Genuine love, grow, Heavenly Help, Holy Spirit, listen, living, prayer, relationships, spiritual, thought life, uncertainty, values, watch, 0 comments

In the Moment

Yesterday, I enjoyed my first day of snowboarding for this season. I really like snowboarding because it’s the sequence of lots of exhilarating moments strung together over the course of a day. Yesterday was particularly enjoyable because my drive to the slopes was filled with interesting podcasts and I could sense Holy Spirit’s presence in the car and talking with me through these podcasts. The enjoyment continued when I strapped on my board and pointed it down the slope, reminding myself that this is a warm up run and not the Olympics. I had a quick adrenaline rush when I made a sharp turn, caught an edge and almost biffed it, but I caught myself before the crash! I found more moments of pleasure enjoying the spectacular scenery, breathing crisp and fresh air, going really fast without getting injured, along with some quiet reflection on the lift going up the mountain for another run.

While I’m grateful for lots of continuous moments of pleasure yesterday, I’ve also been reading about Absalom, the son of David. And reading about him, shows me a man who had lots of continuous moments of pain, anger, stress, dissatisfaction, disappointment and rejection. I’d encourage you to read about him in 2Samuel, to see a person who lived in continuous moments of pain.

We can observe these moments of pain in Absalom’s life in how he responded to his sister, Tamar, after she was raped by their half brother. Absalom told Tamar to stay in his house and he would look after her, but he never said word one to their half brother, Amnon, for two years. After these two years, Absalom threw a party as a convenient context to kill Amnon. Absalom’s behavior and choices show me a man who lived in continuous moments of anger and revenge.

These moments of pain continued for Absalom as he was exiled for two years from his dad, David, for killing Amnon. Upon returning to Jerusalem, Absalom still didn’t see his dad for another two years, likely perpetuating more moments of hurt, rejection and disconnection. Once Absalom was accepted by his dad, David the king, it’s still obvious that Absalom stays in his continuous moments of pain, because he plots for some years to win the heart of Israel and displace his dad as king.

I would suggest that the culmination of these painful moments happened when Absalom declared himself as king, David ran for his life and Absalom began a war against his dad to position himself as Israel’s king. The end of Absalom’s life of continual tragic moments is when he gets caught in a tree, swinging by his hair and David’s army commander throws spears into Absalom’s heart to kill him.

To me, this story is an epic tragedy, portraying a life stacked full of tragedies, pain, destruction, isolation and grief. While I’m sure that Absalom had some good moments over the course of his life, it seems to me that he became swallowed by the bad moments such that his life became a continuous bad moment and he perpetuated the bad with his hurtful choices.

When I think about how this applies to us, we will have good moments and bad moments in our lives. If we choose to live in the bad moments, we run the risk of getting sour and disillusioned, resulting in hurt to ourselves and others. Additionally, watching Absalom’s choices is a vivid reminder that I actively choose forgiveness whenever I’m hurt. I’m also grateful that God gives us good moments, like my snowboarding day ☺

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Posted by sarahbowling in busy, enemies to intimacy, fellowship, Genuine love, grow, Heavenly Help, Holy Spirit, listen, living, prayer, relationships, spiritual, thought life, uncertainty, values, watch, 0 comments

What’s Enough?

Having finished another Halloween season, the question lingers about too much candy or enough candy.  And I think we could push the “enough” question into lots of areas in our lives.  When do we have enough money?  Food? Success? Stuff? Time? Exercise? Entertainment? Power?  Church? Influence? Energy?  In my opinion, we humans can have insatiable appetites – we want more of what we like & it’s not uncommon that we can’t ever seem to get “enough.”  And I don’t think this only holds true for addicts or people who struggle with limits.

We see this same “enough” theme expressed in the Bible with:

  • Solomon who never seemed to have enough women, despite having 700 wives and 300 concubines
  • Nebuchadnezzar who had so much power, glory and wealth that he erroneously believed in his human  supremacy until a divine interruption made him a raving lunatic for 7 years (Daniel 4)
  • Judas who betrayed Jesus for more money – but his realization that money wasn’t more important than Jesus came too late in his thinking

And I think you could speculate that Martha possibly struggled with control (telling Jesus what to do regarding her sister in Luke 10:40 & her brother’s body being rancid with death in John 11).  It’s possible that Joseph, Jacob’s son,  wanted more power over his brothers when he kept telling them about his dreams and maybe flaunting the coat of many colors that his dad gave him.

So what do we do with the challenge about having “enough”?  In the steps below, I’m suggesting some things that could be helpful to you & maybe some friends with whom you’d consider sharing this blog 🙂

  1. Where in your life might you see this “enough” struggle play out?  In what spaces of your life do you want more?
  2. Does your desire for more cause you to behave in excessive ways?  Do you find yourself temporarily satisfied until the satisfaction dwindles and becomes “not enough”?
  3. Consider this truth:  I believe that we have insatiable appetities with only one resolution.  Since God is infinite, the only solution for insatiable is infinite.  In Ephesians 1:23 Paul tells us that God fills all things in all ways.
  4. Let the “more / enough” trigger serve as a reminder to look to our Inifinte God to be enough and fully satisfy that trigger and desire

With these steps, I’m keen for you to live in the reality that God is enough and here’s an example of what this looks like in my life.  My appetite for more isn’t expressed with sugar, money, image, food, power nor stuff.  Where I get tripped up with not having enough, is with friends.  It’s not that I don’t have enough friends but I can struggle with having deep friendships – it’s like I want more depth.  This used to frustrate me until I came to realize that my desire for deep connection is what God has given me so that I can only be satisfied with God meeting that desire for depth and connection.

So I’m increasingly living in the awareness that my desire for more and having enough is most thoroughly satisfied in my connection with God.  There’s an old worship song that I sing from time to time that helps me live a more fulfilling and satisfying life:  All of You is More Than Enough 🙂

 

 

 

 

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Posted by sarahbowling in busy, enemies to intimacy, fellowship, Genuine love, grow, Heavenly Help, Holy Spirit, listen, living, prayer, relationships, spiritual, thought life, uncertainty, values, watch, 0 comments

The Recipe for Answered Prayer

If you’re reading this, then you might have some questions or challenges about some prayers you’ve made that are unanswered or unresolved – so we’re in this together 🙂

To this end, I was recently asking God to change someone & make them more flexible.  This could translate to mean that I want that person to be more compliant to my preferences and it could mean that God might want to work on some control issues in my heart, which is certainly food for thought 🙂

As we think about the prayers we make to God, it’s interesting to think about how God answers prayers.  I say this because of recently reading two exchanges between David and God in 2Samuel 5, when David asks God about attacking the Philistines.  In the first exchange, God tells David to attack in response to his first enquiry.  David obeys God’s direction and successfully defeats the Philistines.

On the heels of being defeated, the Philistines attack a second time.  And David asks God again about confronting the Philistines.  In response to David’s second enquiry, God tells David to circle behind the Philistines, wait for the sound of marching in the tree tops and then attack.  David obeys God’s instructions and defeats the Philistines the second time.  From my point of view, these are very explicit instruction & a stark contrast from the first battle.

So here are some ingredients for the recipe to Answered Prayer:

  1. AFDI:  Ask For Divine Input rather than depending on your own brilliance or willpower
  2. Unlimited obedience, served up with daily consistency
  3. Trusting God more than a method:  yeast goes with flour like trust goes with God;  God seems to work uniquely in each situation, so trusting in a method isn’t as helpful as trusting in God 🙂
  4. DBS:  Don’t Be Surprised when you have to repeat something, but with a different method

In addition to these ingredients, it’s also important to consider how these ingredients go together, some possible marinading time and what happens when heat is applied over a length of time.  To this end, when I asked God about changing someone and making them more flexible, like I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, I received an interesting reply.

I felt God say to me, “Sarah, maybe the answer to your prayer is a combination of that person becoming more flexible and you being less controlling.”

I had to sit with that feedback and let that marinade for a little while.  And truth be told, I’m still ruminating on what God said to me.  Maybe I’m a little similar to meat marinating in a sauce.  Maybe it takes God a little time to break down the fibers of my resistance and self-deception so that God’s truth and loving flavor can influence my thoughts, attitudes, words, decisions and action.  Ultimately, this is what I want.  This is the ultimate answer to my prayers, even in the heat and fire of daily living.

In our quest to get our prayers answered, let’s be committed to allowing God to change us and help us grow.  Maybe the tasty outcome of God’s culinary efforts in our lives is the expression of genuine love, as we are wholly dependant on God’s presence yeasting into our core identity 🙂

Selah 🙂

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Posted by sarahbowling in busy, cooking, fellowship, Genuine love, grow, Heavenly Help, Holy Spirit, listen, living, prayer, relationships, spiritual, thought life, uncertainty, values, watch, 0 comments

The Ambition Factor

Are you ambitious?

That’s a really loaded question.  If we answer “yes” then we run the risk of being perceived as selfish, driven, neglectful, insensitive, demanding and lots more.  If we answer “no” then we might be perceived as unmotivated, lethargic, non-productive, aimless and inert.  No matter what your answer is, the external perceptions aren’t as important as your internal motives.  To this end, if insecurity, fear, selfishness, pride impatience, anxiety, etc drive our ambition, then the chances for a trainwreck and hurting others skyrocket.

I’ve been thinking about ambition as I’ve been reading about David being anointed to be king & then running from King Saul for ten years, just to stay alive.  In these ten years, David has some opportunities to kill Saul & take the throne which would be ambitious and easy to justify because Saul was a jerk & David was anointed by Samuel to be Saul’s replacement.  But David kept his ambition in check because he valued God’s anointing.

Furthermore, when Saul & Jonathon were killed in battle, David didn’t promote himself as king to save the day for Israel.  When David heard that Saul & Jonathon were dead, his immediate reaction was to grieve and write a lament about the loss of these important men.  In relation to David’s possible ambition to become the next king of Israel, it’s very insightful look at David’s words and action in 2Samuel 2:1, “Then it came about afterwards that David inquired of the Lord, saying, “Shall I go up to one of the cities of Judah?” And the Lord said to him, “Go up.” So David said, “Where shall I go up?” And He said, “To Hebron.”

In this verse and the succeeding verses, I see several helpful keys for being ambitious:

  1. Seeking God:  raw ambition is often impulsive.  As a result, seeking for God’s input and direction is a very effective way to prevent the fallout from hasty, impulsvie and raw, unchecked ambition.  After mourning the death of Saul and Jonathon, David’s first action was to seek God.
  2. Clear Direction:  David had two questions for God.  The first was about action and the second was about location.  When we seek God, that helps to neutralize the impulsive nature of ambition.  Once we have some input from God, it’s helpful to pause for more clarity, direction and input from God.
  3. Be committed:  once David had God’s input and direction, he moved to Hebron, took his wives, kids and all of his loyal followers to settle down and reside in Hebron.  If we are driven by raw ambition, it can be very difficult to put down our roots and be committed in a community, in relationships, a church job, marriage etc.
  4. Get confirmation:  once David, his family and followers moved to Hebron, we still don’t see David being pushy, assertive, demanding nor self-promoting.  On the contrary!  In 2Sam 2:4 we read, “Then the men of Judah came and there anointed David king over the house of Judah.”  From my perspective, David waited for Judah to come to him.  Maybe we could say that ambition pursues but anointing pauses and waits.
  5. There’s more:  even though David was anointed to be King in Judah, the rest of Israel didn’t accept David to be their king until seven years later.  Unfortunately, human ambition settles for less than God’s best and fullest promise. Patience can vaccinate our human ambition so that we receive the full potential of God’s promises.

If God puts a dream in your heart for your life, let your highest priority be to walk with God even more than achieving God’s goal or dream. Walking with God will get you to the dream God puts in your heart, along with shaping your character, deepning your relationships and most importantly, knowing God with ever increasing intimacy.  Let’s make our life’s ambition to revolve around knowing God and letting God be known through our lives!,

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Posted by sarahbowling in busy, enemies to intimacy, fellowship, Genuine love, grow, Heavenly Help, Holy Spirit, listen, living, prayer, relationships, spiritual, thought life, travel, uncertainty, values, watch, 1 comment

4 Keys to Intentional Living

“Let’s Do It!!!”  This is my impulsive reply to the suggestion to go snowboarding today, even though there’s not enough snow, the lines are stupid long, there’s like one run open and I have more than enough work that needs to accomplished today.  So the intentional reply should be, “Man that sounds like a blast!  But if I wait, the snow will be better, more runs will be open and I’ll have more fun if I choose to skip my impulse reaction today.” And still, it sounds like lots of fun to throw caution to the wind 🙂

There’s a chick in the Bible whom I greatly admire because she was more intentional than impulsive.  This is Abigail, the wife of Nabal, the jerk.  When we first meet Abigail, she is purposefully gathering loads of provisions to bring to David because her foolish husband was self-absorbed and hostile.  Nabal had refused to give David & his men food and assistance, even though David had been kind to Nabal’s shepherds.  So David had determined to repay Nabal evil for his unkind reply.

Into this toxic mix steps Abigail, who intentionally brings supplies to David, acknowledges her husband’s foolish behavior and prevents David from making a disasterous impulsive decision.  Abigail brings heaps of provisions to David, without telling her husband.  And when she returns home, Nabal is drunk, so that could be the perfect time to tell him what she did!  But again, Abigail is intentional about how and when she communicates with Nabal, waiting until the next morning when he’s sober.  Once Abigail tells Nabal what she’s done, the Bible says that his heart is turned to stone, he dies shortly thereafter & David nabs Abigail to be his wife.

Abigail is intentional in lots of ways that could also be helpful to us in our modern living.  Here are some things for your consideration about doing life with intentionality:

  1. External assessment:  what is going on around you, in your immediate vacinity & the broader world?  How might these events and situations be affecting you?  Abigail assessed what was happening with David, along with determining what her husband had done.
  2. Internal assessment:  what’s inside you, what do you want and what are your motives?  Sometimes we’re unaware of our core motives and what we want.  This can cause us to make impulsive decisions without considering the results.  When we look at Abigail, she wanted to prevent destruction from coming to her house, as well as preventing David from doing something he would later regret. She sat with her motives before acting impulsively & maybe lashing out at her husband.
  3. God’s input:  what does God want and what would be God’s best for this situation or season in your life?  Although we don’t read of any explicit input from God to Abigail in the Bible, her actions reflect God’s heart of compassion, grace, forgiveness, intervention and generosity.
  4. Course of Action:  what actions could you take that would best support God’s design and character?  When I look at Abigail’s decisions:  she chooses to be generous, she chooses to interrupt David’s wrath and retribution, she chooses to communicate with her husband when he can best absorb her actions and she chooses to protect her household from Nabal’s foolish behavior.

These helpful keys, when applied into daily living, can prevent us from making impulsive & possibly foolish decisions.  These keys can help us be intentional and more thoroughly aligned with God’s purposes and designs in our lives.

So based on these helpful pointers, I’m deciding to not go snowboarding today.  Instead, I’ll get my board waxed and the edges sharpened so that when I go, I can have double the fun ,)

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Posted by Sarah in busy, fellowship, Genuine love, grow, Heavenly Help, Holy Spirit, listen, living, prayer, relationships, spiritual, thought life, uncertainty, values, watch, 0 comments

3 Benefits to a Saul Grinder

Ever feel like you’re going through the ringer, like life is just hard & almost nothing is going right?  I’ve been reading about David in the Bible & how he spent more than a decade running away from King Saul who was trying to kill him. Maybe a little like a meat grinder, David was in the Saul grinder for a long time. When you read the Psalms that he wrote in the Saul grinder season, these Psalms are overflowing with David crying out to God to be his shield, comfort, strength, shepherd, provision & so much more!!

Maybe David went through the Saul grinder to help us today, when we go through various difficult seasons. Let’s allow Holy Spirit to encourage us in the grinder times that Holy Spirit is with us, walking alongside us.  These seasons can have tremendous benefits for helping us:

  1. grow closer with God,
  2. develop stronger trust in God,
  3. see God do miracles & sharpen our focus on God rather than the challenges  & problems that seem to be so difficult.
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Posted by Sarah in busy, fellowship, Genuine love, Holy Spirit, listen, living, prayer, relationships, spiritual, thought life, travel, 0 comments

Not My Home

Over the weekend, I had the privilege of ministering in Baltimore at my friends church. As I’m sitting in the airport now, waiting for my flight back to Denver, there’s lots of things here that are different from my hometown. They seem to really like crab here & that’s pretty uncommon in Denver. There’s also the prominence of Baltimore Raven football clothing, a huge melting pot of ethnic cultures, way more diverse than Denver & i don’t see the marijuana thing here that’s so pervasive at home.

I’m familiar with my home culture, so the contrasts stand out here. Maybe we could also say this for our heavenly home. Perhaps we know in our hearts our heavenly home & this earthly existence sometimes feels foreign to us. And maybe some of the reason for our earthly life is to bring the culture of heaven to earth, letting our relationship with Jesus define our outlook, attitudes, conversations & priorities. Let’s not forget that heaven is our home & let’s be committed to bringing  heaven to earth, genuine love in our daily living 🙂

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Posted by Sarah in busy, Genuine love, grow, Heavenly Help, listen, living, prayer, relationships, spiritual, thought life, travel, uncertainty, values, watch, 0 comments

5 Values of Process

I like to achieve goals & accomplish stuff. And I recently read about David killing Goliath which was a huge achievement!!

Sometimes I think we can get so goal oriented that we miss or neglect the value & maturation that we gain in the process to achieve such goals. Indeed, David went through lots of process to culminate in the Goliath victory: 

  1. he killed a lion & a bear: don’t belittle “small” victories 
  2. he became super proficient with a slingshot: sometimes what is a hobby or “play” has powerful application in our future 
  3. he knew that Sauls armor didn’t fit a shepherd persona: don’t be anyone but yourself 
  4. he was scrappy with his brother & most importantly: feisty can helps us confront bigger giants
  5. he was confident in God:  let’s not trust anything nor anyone more than we trust God

Let’s value the process & journey not just the outcomes & destinations!

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Posted by Sarah in busy, fellowship, Genuine love, grow, listen, living, prayer, relationships, spiritual, thought life, travel, uncertainty, values, watch, 0 comments