Archive for May, 2013

Scripture: I will stand my watch And set myself on the rampart, And watch to see what He will say to me, And what I will answer when I am corrected. Habakkuk 2:1 (NKJV)

Observation: There are four important expressions in this verse, all of which relate to the attitude of the prophet before God.
1. The first two are “stand upon” and “watch.” The prophets often compare themselves to watchmen, waiting the revelations of God with earnest patience, standing on a lookout watching with intensity all that comes within their view (Is 21:8, 11; Je 6:17; Ez 3:17; compare Ps 5:3; 85:8). The number of synonyms used by Habakkuk, “stand open … watch … set me upon … tower … watch to see” implies persevering fixity of attention.
2. “what he will say unto me”—in answer to my complaints (Hab 1:13). Literally the expression means “in me.” God is speaking, not simply to the prophet’s outward ear, but rather inwardly. When we have prayed to God, we need to wait and listen to what answers God gives by His word, His Spirit, through others, and through events that take place, what some would cal “providences.”
3. “what I shall answer when I am reproved”— in other words, what will be my attitude toward God when in answer to my prayers He chastises me, corrects me, or reproves me? If God answers our prayers just the way we want Him to, we express our thanks to him; but what do we say when in answer to our prayer He reproves us?

Application: The role of the parent, particularly of the father, toward their children is not that much different from that of the prophet. He is to be the Seer (an old term to describe part of the role of the prophet), standing and watching, earnestly and patiently, to see what God will tell them, for wisdom to know how lead his home and his children, for guidance from God which he can impart to his own household.
His role is also as God’s spokesman. As head of the household the parent, and particularly the father, needs to lead his family to do what God wants them to do, what God’s word teaches we should do.
But our role as God’s spokesperson does not give us the right to speak as if we were infallible, flawless, or perfect. In fact, Habakkuk also reminds us that if we are open to God’s leading, there will be times when He will reprove us. When that happens, his humble attitude will teach important lessons about submission to God knowing that He knows what is best for us.

A Prayer You May Say: Father God, may we as parents represent You properly and faithfully to our family, especially to our children, who will get a good or bad picture of You through us.

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Scripture: Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction? Amos 3:3 (NLT)

Observation: The Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible shares these insights on this passage: Can God’s prophets be so unanimous in prophesying against you, if God’s Spirit were not joined with them, or if their prophecies were false? The Israelites were “at ease,” not believing that God was with the prophets in their denunciations of coming ruin to the nation (Am 6:1, 3; compare 1Ki 22:18, 24, 27; Je 43:2). This accords with Am 3:7, 8. So “I will be with thy mouth” (Ex 4:12; Je 1:8; Mt 10:20). If the prophets and God were not agreed, the former could not predict the future as they do. In Am 2:12 He had said, the Israelites forbade the prophets prophesying; therefore, in Am 3:3, 8, He asserts the agreement between the prophets and God who spake by them against Israel [Rosenmuller]. Rather, “I once walked with you” (Le 26:12) as a Father and Husband (Is 54:5; Je 3:14); but now your way and Mine are utterly diverse; there can therefore be no fellowship between us such as there was (Am 3:2); I will walk with you only to “punish you”; as a “lion” walks with his “prey” (Am 3:4), as a bird-catcher with a bird [Tarnovius]. The prophets, and all servants of God, can have no fellowship with the ungodly (Ps 119:63; 2Co 6:16, 17; Eph 5:11; Jam 4:4).

Application: We can find so many similar statements in the Bible teaching us about the importance of being in agreement as a couple and as a family. For instance:
– Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? 2 Corinthians 6:14 (NKJV)
– If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. Mark 3:24-25 (NKJV)
These verses underscore the importance of dating people with whom we have similarities, particularly in the most important areas of our life, such as religious beliefs and principles, values, goals, family background (including relationship with in-laws), education, finances, etc.
The idea that opposites attract is used as a way to explain that we are still individuals with differences. While it is true that we maintain our individuality when we marry, and we should, it again underscores the importance of having and sharing similarities with the person we marry. We can benefit from each other’s differences as long as the differences are not more prominent or greater in number than our similarities.

A Prayer You May Say: Father, bless us so we may benefit from our different strengths, but also bless us that we may find and marry the person with whom we have more similarities, especially when it comes to how we relate to You.

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Scripture: There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword, But the tongue of the wise promotes health. Proverbs 12:18 (NKJV)

Observation: The expression “piercing words” means someone who speaks hastily or indiscreetly, a person who speaks with anger, or uses his/her mouth in a reckless manner, they are not thought through. The opposite is the tongue of the wise who uses soothing and gentle language.
The SDA Bible Commentary explains, “The simile is particularly striking in Hebrew, since the edge of a sword is called its mouth. The hasty, impatient mouth speaks words that wound the hearts of friends and lead to great suffering and sorrow. Tactless words often prick the tender hearts of those who mourn or are in difficulty, but the wise man knows what to say to comfort the sorrowing, soothe the angry, and cheer the despondent (see Psalms 10:11).

Application: The words we use, particularly those we use on a daily basis toward our spouse or children, can put them down or lift them up. Those words can discourage or encourage, they can hurt or heal, they can kill or give life. Ellen White wrote, “The voice and tongue are gifts from God, and if rightly used, they are a power for God. Words mean very much. They may express love, devotion, praise, melody to God, or hatred and revenge. Words reveal the sentiments of the heart. They may be a savor of life unto life or of death unto death. The tongue is a world of blessing, or a world of iniquity (Manuscript 40, 1896).
Today, let us make a special effort to eliminate from our speech toward our loved ones (or anybody else, for that matter) anything that tears down, any criticism, words that hurt or put the other person down. Instead, let’s begin a new habit of using positive, encouraging words, words that build up and that make them feel better about themselves. Instead of catching others when they’re doing something bad or wrong, and emphasize that, catch them doing what is good, and express your appreciation for those things. . . that is one way to reinforce good behavior. Express appreciation even for the smallest actions or words of the others. Tell your wife you appreciate the meal she prepared for you, or how orderly and clean she keeps the house, or compliment her for the way she looks and how she takes care of herself, of your children, and of you. Thank your husband for mowing the lawn, for keeping the cars in good working condition, or for painting a room or the entire house. Each of those words can be like healing balm for their ears, and for your relationship.

A Prayer You May Say: Father, helps us to use our words to strengthen, encourage, and build up those around us.

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Scripture: Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance. Prov 1:5 (NIV)

Observation: These verses are the book’s own introduction to its nature and purpose. The contents of the book as a whole can be described as proverbs, which have the two main quite different forms noted in the introduction. This in itself shows that proverb is a word of broader and more varied application than the English word ‘proverb’. To us a proverb is a means of comparison. The Bible, however, uses the word more broadly. In different passages it can refer to a prophetic oracle (Nu. 23:7), an object lesson (Dt. 28:37), a saying (1 Sa. 10:12), a poetic discourse (Jb. 27:1), and other forms of speech. It thus suggests something more intense, vigorous and provocative than a straightforward saying. (New Bible commentary: 21st century edition. 1994 (D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer & G. J. Wenham, Ed.) (4th ed.). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.)

Application: Many years ago I read a book entitled “The Lost Art of Listening.” It may seem strange that someone would write a book about listening when it is such a basic skill. One person talks; the other listens. It’s so basic that we take it for granted. Unfortunately, most of us think of ourselves as better listeners than we actually are. Why do we so often fail to connect when speaking with our spouse or children, colleagues, or friends? One of the reasons is because often our emotional reactions get in the way of real communication.
The writer of the book of Proverbs reminds us that we actually become wiser by listening, much more so than by talking. When we listen to try to understand the message that the other person is trying to convey we will have a better chance of actually getting the message correctly. Someone wrote that, “We hear only half of what is said to us, understand only half, believe only half of that, and remember only half of that;” no wonder we have such difficulty communicating with others.
So what if we begin today with listening to understand? Pay attention to the feelings conveyed. Do not try to correct the details or the facts expressed. . . listen for what feelings may be behind those words and then repeat them back to see if you what you heard is what the other person meant to say. Sometimes the acknowledgment of those feelings, and repeating back what you heard can open the doors wide open to better communication.

A Prayer You May Say: Father, helps us to use our ears, our mind, and our heart more often than we use our mouth so that we may hear, listen, and understand what our loved ones are trying to tell us.

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Scripture: But I would strengthen you with my mouth, And the comfort of my lips would relieve your grief. Job 16:5 (NKJV)

Observation: Job had lost all his property, but what hurt him most was the loss of his children. Ultimately he was struck with some skin disease and with the discouraging words of his own wife. To add insult to injury, his friends, who came to encourage him, used words that were more like accusations and a call to repentance.
The words of today’s text are in response to Eliphaz’ boasted “consolations” (Job 15:11). Job would have like words that would strengthen him, words spoken from the hear, with love, words that would bring true consolation. The text could be paraphrased: “Like you, I could also strengthen with the mouth, with heartless talk and the moving of my lips – mere lip comfort could console in the same fashion as you do.”

Application: I know that for the most part people have good intentions when they say some things. I have heard people say things, particularly at funerals or to bereaved families that make me cringe. Probably the most commonly used are the words “I know how you feel!” By that they mean, “I have also experienced pain, so I know what your pain is like. The reality is that no one can possibly know the pain we feel because pain is a very personal experience. Just because I lost my father or mother I can’t tell someone else whose father or mother has just dies that I know how they feel.
Have you heard someone say to a parent whose child has died, “well, at least you have other children”? Or, “You can have more children”? Or have your heard someone tell a person whose relationship has ended, “There are plenty more fish on the ocean!” Our careless words, intended to bring consolation, may sometimes do more harm that they can help.
In dealing with people who have experienced great loss, your presence is often more helpful than any words you may say. Later, after the funeral, when you visit those who are still going through the process of recovery from grief, let them talk about their loved one. In fact, encourage such conversation by asking about their loved ones – their favorite memories, etc. After six to twelve months, friends and family go back to their own life and routine and inadvertently leave those grieving alone. It is at those times that your presence and encouraging them to express their feelings and to talk about their loved ones can become one of the most helpful tools for healing.

A Prayer You May Say: Father, help us to become instruments of healing through our presence and through our heartfelt words.

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Mercy in Marriage

Scripture: For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. Hosea 6:6 (NKJV)
Observation: This is one of the best known, most often quoted passages of the Old Testament. The word Mercy (vs. 6) is the same word as that translated love or faithfulness in v 4. It describes the steadfast love shown by God in His covenant with Israel. He does not want sacrifice in place of that type steadfast love; instead, He desires that Israel’s steadfast love should be the real thing. In place of whole burnt offerings He would prefer a genuine, deep personal relationship with Him.
Considering God Himself instituted sacrifices, this doesn’t mean that He did desired them that His people would stop offering them entirely, but rather that even in the Old Testament He valued moral obedience as the only end for which positive ordinances, such as sacrifices, were instituted—as of more importance than a mere external ritual obedience (1Sa 15:22; Ps 50:8, 9; 51:16; Ps 50:8, 9, Is 1:11, 12; Mic 6:6–8; Mt 9:13; 12:7).

Application: The marital relationship that follows God’s pattern should be one in which love, faithfulness, and mercy reign. First of all LOVE, the giving of oneself completely to another person, the unselfish devotion to another, the decision to seek the best for the other person. Secondly, FAITHFULNESS, which is the commitment to not betray the other person’s trust and to remain with them even when we may not “feel” like doing it. And lastly, MERCY, which is accepting the faults of the other knowing they are no more perfect than we ourselves are.
Our relationship with God is reflected in our relationship with one another. His desire is that we draw close to Him, that we love Him, that we remain faithful to Him, because the result of such relationship is that we we’ll be more loving to one another, faithful in our relationship with one another, and t hat we will extend mercy to one another. To most of us, it is more natural to be judgmental of others, while excusing ourselves. God’s order of things encourages us to look at ourselves before we look at the faults of others and to be merciful with others as God has been merciful with us. That is what Jesus referred to when He said, “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. 3 And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:1-5 (NKJV)

A Prayer You May Say: Father, help me to be less judgmental and more merciful, especially with those closest to me.

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Scripture: So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. 13Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way. Romans 14:12-13 (NKJV)

Observation: Paul tells us (Romans 14:10) that we will all have to appear before God’s judgment court. The IVP Bible Background Commentary explains that , “Judgment seats” were common in the Greco-Roman world; officials like Pilate or Gallio would make their judgments from such a bema or rostrum (Acts 18:12). God judging all people before his throne was a common image in Jewish portrayals of the end. It is natural for Paul to apply Isaiah 45:23 to the final judgment, because the chapters around it speak of God delivering Israel in the end and calling the nations to account before him so that they acknowledge that he is God.

Application: Since only One was ever perfect, that is, Jesus, it is impossible for us to find the perfect person to marry anymore than it is possible for us to be perfect in every way for others to marry us. And yet, it is so easy for us to look for and find fault in our spouse and to close our eyes to our own faults. That’s why these words of Paul should be of particular interest to us because we will all have to give account for ourselves. Here are a few things that these texts tells and that we should keep in mind:
1. Since we all will have to give account for ourselves, then we should work on changing and improving ourselves, not others.
2. We should not judge others (our spouse, children, parents, etc.) because God is the judge and He does not give us the right to judge others.
3. Judging others does not help them but rather becomes a stumbling block which prevents them from growing in the image of Christ.
Instead of judging others based on our own faulty natures, let’s find ways to help each other to imitate Christ and thus become more like Him. Judging my spouse will only make me less satisfied with them and more unhappy to have them in our life. On the other hand, if I help my spouse be more like Christ, in reality I am helping myself have the best spouse possible and as it happens I will be happier with the person He gave me as my helpmeet.

A Prayer you may Say: Father God, help me to be less judgmental of others, particularly my spouse, and instead help me to help them be more like Jesus Christ.

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Man the Fort!

Scripture: He who scatters has come up before your face. Man the fort! Watch the road! Strengthen your flanks! Fortify your power mightily. Nahum 2:1 (NKJV)

Observation: Nineveh is under attack and Nahum calls it to defend itself. The prophet first addresses Nineveh (1:11, 14; 2:1), and later Judah (1:12–13, 15). While the attacker is not named, it is believed to be Nabopolassar, the Babylonian who, with Cyaxeres the Mede, conquered Nineveh.
The four commands in vs. 1 reflect the Ninevites’ scurry of activity to defend their great city. Nahum urged the city to prepare for the approaching siege by guarding the fortress, watching the road for invaders, bracing themselves (lit., brace “the loins,” i.e., exert strength physically and mentally), and marshaling all their strength. But the prophet knew that such precautions could not hold back the siege or change its outcome. All Nineveh’s efforts to defend itself would be futile because, as God said (1:15), the city would be destroyed.

Application: Our marriage and our family is under constant siege from many different directions. Marriage is under attack by society which tries to tell us that divorce is a good option when our relationship doesn’t make us happy. Politically, marriage is under attack by those who believe people of the same gender should have the right to be married. Some social scientists believe that living together before marriage is a good step for couples to take (even though there is a large body of evidence that shows many problems and disadvantages with this type of arrangement).
Nahum’s words seem to place the responsibility for fighting to protect the city/family on the men, or the husbands. “Man the fort!” writes Nahum. As husbands, we must “man the home!” We cannot sit back passively while so many forces threaten to destroy it. We must assume the responsibility for the health and well-being of our wife and children. What this means, in practical terms, is that we must assume and practice daily our position as the priest of the home by initiating the family morning and evening devotional time. No program on TV, no game on the computer, no project (car repair, remodeling, etc.) can take the place of those divine appointments.
“Watch the road!” The study of the Scriptures, particularly the prophetic passages, should tell us as husbands what is approaching and make the proper preparation for those events. The personal preparation cannot be done by anybody else or relegated to others.
“Strengthen your flanks!” What this means is to look to see what may be causing our marriage or family to experience weakness. Is the programing on TV what would lead us closer to each other or farther apart? Is the internet, and what it brings into the home and into our lives helping us or hurting us? What controls should be apply to the access we or our children have to all this technology?
“Fortify your power mightily!” All we have to do is to watch the commercials on TV which show men as weak, foolish, clumsy, unreliable, cowardly, and dumb. That is the image that young boys are growing up with. As men, we need to show the image of men as strong, smart (which does not necessarily mean we know everything), driven, committed (to God, to our wife, to our family), decisive, passionate and compassionate.
Nahum’s challenge to Nineveh, facing the attack of the enemy, is our challenge as men today, when our homes and families face even more fierce attacks. Man the fort!
A Prayer You May Say: Father, help us to be the type of men You created us to be, in Your image. . . strong, courageous, wise, compassionate, and committed to You, to our wife, and to our family. Help us to stand strong against all that attacks us and our families, and may we protect them not just physically but spiritually.

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Good or Bad Prayer?

Scripture: Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Romans 8:26 (NKJV)

Observation: There are people who worry about the proper posture of prayer, and that is certainly important. The Jewish people often pray with their eyes open and their face turned upward, their bodies turned toward Jerusalem. The Muslim people will pray five times each day, facing Mecca, with their head to the ground. People in other faith traditions burn incense, beat drums, write their prayers and place them next to their gods, and perform many other acts as part of their prayer tradition. Christians of different faiths will recite prayers, close their eyes, clasp their hands, stand or kneel, perform certain rites, all as part of their prayer tradition and practice.
Paul is more concerned about the content of our prayers than just our posture when we pray. He evidently sees our prayers as very limited, probably because of our weakened, selfish natures, and thus encourages us with the knowledge that God still hears our prayers because the Holy Spirit utters them on our behalf in the proper way, that is, asking what we should really be asking for.

Application: Often we pray for our loved ones’ health, when they are extremely ill, even to the point of death. That is natural to us because we do not want to part ways with them. As a hospice chaplain I worked with patients who would not recover, which is the reason they were in hospice care, but their loved ones continue to pray for a miraculous healing that would keep them alive. That’s normal! We want to enjoy our loved ones in our life for as long as possible.
At the same time, is life always what’s best for them? In Greek mythology there’s a story of a goddess who fell in love with a human. As life progressed and they lived happily together, the goddess asked Zeus, the king of the gods, to allow the human to live forever, a wish that was granted him. Unfortunately, he didn’t enjoy eternal youth but simply continued to age indefinitely until living was an unbearable burden. So, to wish for and even pray that God would extend the life of our loved ones could turn out to be more of a burden than death itself. In cases like this, it might be better to pray that God would give them life as long as they were not suffering or in pain, but if life became more difficult then to pray that God would give them rest.
The Jewish people teach that some prayers should never be uttered. For instance, if you’re driving home and as you get close you see that a house is on fire, you should not pray, “God, please don’t let it be mine.” Such prayer is equal to saying, “God, please make sure the fire is on somebody else’s house.”
Prayers that have to do with education, work, finances, need to be uttered carefully, not selfishly. If your child lives far away and there’s an opportunity for a job that would bring them closer to home, we can pray, “God, since you know everything, if that is the best for his/her future, please open the doors. . . if not, please close the doors, even if that means they won’t be able to come closer to home.” Pray for your children’s education that God will lead them to the career where they can best serve Him and people, not just one where they will make good money.
The encouraging thing about today’s text is that in spite of our poorly phrased prayers, and the spirit which accompanies them, the Holy Spirit still speaks on our behalf, praying for us with an agony that we ourselves rarely experience. We have the assurance that God hears our prayers, because the Holy Spirit filters them and strengthens them through His own pleading on our behalf. That being the case, don’t stop praying for your spouse, for your children, for your family, for your friends, and for others. . . and let the Spirit do His work on our behalf.

A Prayer You may Say: Father God, Thank You that we have not only and Intercessor in Jesus but an Interpreter in the Holy Spirit, and thank you that Jesus’ blood and the Spirit prayers on our behalf give us the assurance that You hear us and that You answer us in our need.

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I Am Very Content

Scripture: Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:
Philippians 4:11 (NKJV)

Observation: In Wuest Word Studies of the Greek New Testament we read: The words “have learned” are in a construction in the Greek which speaks of entrance into a new condition. It is, “I have come to learn.” Paul had not always known that. He had been reared in the lap of luxury, and had never known want as a young man. The “I” is emphatic. It is, “I, for my part, whatever others may feel.” The word “content” is the translation of a Greek word used by the Stoic school of philosophy which taught that man should be sufficient to himself for all things. It means “to be independent of external circumstances.” It speaks of self-sufficiency and competency. But Paul’s self-sufficiency was not of the Stoic kind. It was Christ-sufficiency. Paul’s independence was not Stoic independence, but dependence upon Christ. He found his sufficiency in Christ. He was independent of circumstances because he was dependent upon Christ. (Wuest, K. S. (1997). [Wuest’s word studies from the Greek New Testament: For the English reader. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.]
This passage, in Peterson’s paraphrase, The Message, reads this way: “Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances.” Philippians 4:11 (MSG)

Application: This morning I rode in a Taxi in my homeland (Colombia, South America). As we got to the first red traffic light, there was another taxi stopped, a woman was standing outside, and a man inside, and she was yelling at the man. My taxi driver made the comment, “the things that drinking will make people do. . . I never drank in my life.” Since it was only 8:00 am, I thought it curious that he made the conclusion that either one or both of the passengers of the other taxi were drunk. Once the light changed I was a little curious about his statement and since he had a rosary hanging from his rearview mirror (which is typical for many Catholics in this country) I asked him why he had never drunk. I’m not sure what answer I expected, but certainly not the one he gave me. From the moment I asked him the question until he dropped me off he told me the story of his life, a very sad life, indeed. Here are some of the highlights, in his own words:
– He began by saying of his own family that it was “very strange.”
– He was one of 13 siblings, his father a police officer (never mentioned anything about his mother).
– His early life was the end of a period of political violence in Colombia (which took place in the 50’s and early 60s.
– His father never allowed them to go outside to play.
– He was kicked out of school unjustly for what another student did.
– He was fired twice from companies and was never told why.
– He married and had children but his wife divorced him and neither wife or children speak to him.
– His siblings have a combined twenty university degrees (several medical doctors).
– Most of the 13 siblings never married.
– He and the siblings do not speak to one another. . . none of them know where he lives, and he doesn’t know where most of them live.
– While his father was never physically violent with him he could tell his father never liked him or cared for him. . . thus he left his home as a young child.
His closing words, as he dropped me off, were “Since my youth I have often thought of suicide. . . most days I really don’t care if I live or die.”
I am rarely speechless. . . but this time my heart was so broken for this man that I could not find words to say. If it were not a taxi, I might have asked him to stop so we could talk more, but he needed to keep working. Time stopped meant he wasn’t making any money. But his sad story got me thinking about how blessed I am and all the things I have. He also got me thinking about all the people that have so much and do not appreciate it all. The couples fighting, wishing their marriage would finally be over. The children wishing they could leave home and be far away from their parents. The people wasting their life away in addictions that are taking their health, their happiness, and their life. Paul was in jail but could happily declare he was content! But we’re not just encouraged to accept our lot no matter what. Jesus offers us life in abundance (John 10:10). Someone shared these words with me, “Learn to appreciate what you have before time makes you appreciate what you had.”

A Prayer You May Say: Father God, help us to appreciate the great abundance that we have in physical goods, in our marriage, in our family, in our parents, and in our children. Help us now to be not just content but grateful for all we have.

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