Meditative artwork, Scripture, and a brief devotional followed by reflective questions and short “breath prayers” to repeat through the day make this book a special part of Advent—or at least December 1-25, since the season of Advent usually begins in November.
The Bible verses come from Luke 1 and 2, highlighting the key figures: Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, Simeon, and Anna.
Making Room in Advent became a favourite part of each day for me, bringing quiet, calm, and pages of journalled response. I missed the benefit of the brief daily prayers by not taking time to write them down and keep them in view to include in my day.
The art in this book is lovely, restful, and thought-provoking. A paper copy of the book would be ideal, although I found reading the ebook on a tablet gave me a large enough view of each image. I don’t know how effective it would be on a smartphone.
Highly recommended for anyone desiring a meaningful collection of devotionals leading up to Christmas—although it could benefit readers any time of the year.
Bette Dickinson is a prophetic artist, a writer, and a speaker. To learn more about her, visit bettedickinson.com.
This practical guide begins with a biblical overview of the necessity and methods of using Scripture to combat the lies and distractions that can otherwise render Christians ineffective and keep us in a state of weakness.
The second, longer section addresses specific issues like anger, worry, fear, etc. It’s worth reading the full book no matter how irrelevant certain topics feel to you—they may help you better understand someone else. However, you can easily jump first to those where you most relate.
Perhaps because I’ve read on this topic before, I found the start a little slow. I’m glad I kept reading, because the examples of specific Scriptures applied daily (or more often!) to retrain people’s negative thought patterns were challenging and inspiring.
The author includes case studies (names changed) of individuals who were crippled by doubt, low self-esteem, etc and who achieved breakthrough into the full life God intended for them through this simple method of identifying suitable biblical truth and repeatedly wielding this Sword. Far too often we raise the weapon once or twice and then give up.
I highly recommend Sword Fighting as a practical example of how we can win the battles in our own heads by accurate use of Scripture.
Some (of many) highlights in my copy of the book:
If a thought or temptation comes into our mind and we can’t immediately combat it with appropriate verses or principles from Scripture, then we are spiritually flabby. [Not said in judgment, but in a call to develop our “muscles.” Chapter 4, Kobo page 2 of 8]
It is the action of “taking every thought captive” that is the core of spiritual sword fighting. [Chapter 4, Kobo page 3 of 8]
You have been listening to your own thoughts, but now you must begin to listen to what God says in His word and to what God says through other people. [Chapter 13, Kobo page 8 of 20]
Christine Dillon writes both nonfiction and fiction. This book was many years in the writing but was ultimately published as a companion to her novel, Grace in the Desert, in which the characters experienced the need (and results) of this type of spiritual warfare. Since fiction can give examples but not detailed instructions, Sword Fighting was released. And I’m grateful.
To connect with the author or learn more about her ministry and her books, visit storytellerchristine.com. If you enjoy fiction that combines a good story with solid spiritual growth, check out her Grace series. I’d encourage you to begin with book 1, Grace in Strange Disguise, since the characters change and grow throughout the series.
When I was in Bible College (approximately a million years ago), I thought the word was synonymous with compromise.
If you “balanced” your spiritual life with your other responsibilities, weren’t you denying the scriptural mandate to do everything as if doing it for the Lord?
It took time, but I realized balance is not a bad word. It doesn’t necessarily mean compromise. Plus, it doesn’t mean that you believe God is more interested in certain aspects of your life than in others.
For example, we are faced with the challenge of balancing how we spend out time and what we focus on every. single. day.
Do I stop and pray for those in the path of hurricanes such as Fiona, which recently affected friends in both Bermuda and the Atlantic provinces of Canada or do I forge ahead, crossing off items from my never-ending To-Do List?
The answer should be BOTH.
As I pray, I can ask God if He wants me to become more personally involved.
If the answer is yes, then I may have to set aside items on my list that are not of high priority.
I must find the right balance.
When I hear about things that are important to me, things that fire me up, I can be tempted to change course, to take up a banner that is not mine to carry, to get distracted from the call of God on my life. I can—and often do—become unbalanced.
I have to ask myself some questions when I’m tempted to change course, something that happens far more frequently than you might imagine.
These questions might also help you if you’re trying to balance your priorities and pursuits.
What are my current obligations? Are there any I could consider setting aside? Which are non-negotiable?
If a new opportunity comes my way, do I have room in my schedule and the energy to take on something more or will I have to set aside something I’m currently working on?
Do I say yes to tasks because I feel God has brought these opportunities into my life or do I say yes because I have a hard time saying no to people—especially if the opportunity intrigues me and is something I have the skill set to accomplish?
On the other hand, do I wear blinders and miss opportunities that the Lord brings my way because I’m so focused on sticking to my current To-Do List?
Do I take on things because I’m “a fixer” who genuinely cares about coming alongside others? Still, there is only so much I’m responsible for, and it’s important to prayerfully discern God’s priorities before jumping in and trying to “fix” something He hasn’t called me to fix.
As a woman of a certain age (61), I’ve finally had to admit that I can’t pursue every shiny object or take up every cause that is important to me.
I foresee that I will always be eclectically interested and eclectically involved. However, I am prayerfully trying to focus my energies on accomplishing the tasks that God has clearly given me and leaving the rest up to others.
Have I found the perfect balance? Not by a long shot, but I’m getting closer.
Whether it’s cancer, COVID, or corruption, it seems everywhere we look there is something threatening to steal our peace.
And in the writer’s world there are contacts, conferences, and contracts to consider as well. While these may be exciting, they can still cause stress.
So, what are we to do?
Should we simply do our best to follow Bobby McFerrin’s advice: Don’t worry; be happy. (Yes, Bob Marley sang it, but Bobby McFerrin wrote the lyrics.)
We can only ignore what’s going on around us for so long. Plus, in the long term, this is 1) virtually impossible and 2) extremely irresponsible.
We are called to fulfill our commitments. Granted, some of us (read “most of us”) take on too much—at least at times. But even if we’ve learned to say, “No, I’m unable to add that to my schedule,” it’s probably because our plate is already full to overflowing.
And would we really be at peace, worry-free, if we could sing and dance our way through life without any thought to the heartaches going on all around us?
Sure, we need to take regular breaks to clear our mind and refresh our body. But the real happiness, the real peace, comes from obeying God’s commands in Philippians 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (ESV).
If we try to obey the first part of this verse in our own strength, we’ll soon throw up our hands in defeat. It isn’t as easy as choosing happiness instead of worry.
However, as He always does, God shows us how we can set aside our anxiety. Pray and give thanks.
That sounds easy enough, but we all know it’s not “one and done.”
I have a tendency to obsess over (read “worry about”) things I can’t change until God reminds me AGAIN of Philippians 4:6.
So, what are you laser focussed on with regard to your writing right now? Is it stressing you out? Is that stress quickly turning into full-fledged worry? Is it immobilizing you, which adds to your stress levels?
Be encouraged. God cares about you. He can—and will—work out all the details.
Take your concerns and requests to Him. Focus on all the things you have to be thankful for. “Rinse and repeat” as necessary. If you’re anything like me that will be often.
Do you scold yourself when you don’t get everything done on your daily To-Do List or when you don’t achieve everything you’d hoped to achieve?
Beating yourself up about it rarely, if ever, gets the job done.
However, we all must be honest with ourselves and evaluate if we’re making excuses or have legitimate reasons for failing to cross everything off our list.
Excuses include the following (just ask me how I know):
Watching “just one more” episode of a show we’re enjoying…or, at least, tolerating.
Scrolling through our newsfeed for “just a few more minutes.”
Thinking, “I’ll do it tomorrow.” (Trust me; I put the PRO in procrastination.)
On the other side of the coin are legitimate reasons for not achieving the things on our list:
Something truly urgent comes up that demands our immediate attention.
Our expectations of ourselves are unreasonable.
Our physical and/or emotional well needs refilling.
These are only a handful of examples, but you get the idea.
And now for the good news!
Whether you’ve been making excuses or have perfectly good reasons for what you do or don’t get done, there are ways you can silence that finger-wagging inner voice:
If you make a To-Do List or simply record deadlines and occasions you don’t want to miss, prioritize your list. What is time-sensitive and something you must/really want to remember? To make sure you don’t miss anything important, write it down somewhere you will check often—whether in a paper planner or on an app.
While it’s important to take other people’s feelings and ideas into consideration, be careful not to allow their priorities to influence your schedule unless those priorities line up with what you believe to be God’s plans and purposes for you.
Be reasonable. There are only so many hours in the day, and you’re only one person.
If you don’t achieve everything on your list, be honest with yourself. Did you have legitimate reasons, or did you find yourself making excuses?
If you find you’re making excuses, choose ONE to work on until it’s no longer a default. Don’t try to eliminate all the excuses at once, or you’ll simply become frustrated and scold yourself even more.
Get into the habit of making an Accomplishments or Victory List. Record what you get done and regularly review the list. It will help when you’re tempted to become discouraged. (Include household chores and running errands. It may feel like you’re getting very little done, but an itemized list will put that misconception to rest.)
As believers, committing our day to the Lord before we get out of bed, praying over each task, and laying down what we did or did not achieve before Him each night will make a huge difference in how we create our To-Do Lists. It will also help us keep our focus where it belongs and will make us more sensitive to His leading.
These devotions brim with infectious joy and confident trust in our Lord.
Taking one verse from each of the Bible’s 150 psalms, Joy that Renews invites readers to grow deeper in their relationship with God. The daily devotionals focus on God’s goodness and love and on themes like living in freedom, thankfulness, and listening to God. Although the Psalms were written many years before Christ, they contain much that points to Jesus.
Each day’s reading begins with a title, a one-line summary, and then the Scripture, a brief application, and a heartfelt response. The conversational, transparent style makes for easy reading and relatability. The author uses The Passion Translation, which puts oft-familiar verses in a fresh light.
Anyone familiar with the psalms as a whole is aware that they’re not all light and jubilant. Some are laments, and some groan with deep pain and affliction. One of the points Steve Akerson draws from these heavier psalms is that “You will always have a big choice in your life—either to focus on your problems or on God’s goodness. That choice will make a tremendous difference in the quality of your life and on those around you.” [Day 22, “Chased by Goodness,” Hoopla edition page 61]
And “It is good for you to praise Him, even if your praise is accompanied by tears and sorrows.” [Day 31, “Turn Distress Upside Down,” Hoopla edition page 77]
I appreciate how, whatever the circumstances, this book turns the focus back to God and His goodness. This helps strengthen our faith and leads us into worship. I also appreciate the encouragement to listen to God with expectancy—the more we train our spiritual ears to recognize His voice, the closer we’ll walk with Him. Or, as Day 110, “Listen—God is Talking,” says, “His words will bring richness to your soul.” [Hoopla edition page 253]
These daily readings blessed me, and I’ll be marking Joy that Renews as a book to read again. The book is also available in print and digital format from many online venues.
Author Steve Akerson is one of the Prayer Team leaders at Hosanna Church in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota. For more about the author and his book, and to request the free study guide that accompanies it, visit joythatrenews.com.
Birdsongs. Budding trees. Flowers opening to the sun.
Signs of promise and new life are all around us here in the Northern Hemisphere. (In the Southern Hemisphere, my favourite season has begun.)
Regardless of the season, we have the opportunity to experience God’s promises each and every day.
Will we experience the fulfilment of His promises in our time and in the way we’d choose for ourselves? Rarely, very rarely.
Still, His promises are Yay and Amen!
How can we rest in those promises—and share them with others?
We must spend time in God’s Word. No matter how familiar it becomes, there is always more to learn.
Prayer is crucial. If the past two years have taught us anything, it’s this: what seemed impossible and surreal—unthinkable even—may be waiting just around the corner. Prayer is the only way to find peace and assurance in the midst of unimaginable circumstances. Plus, it’s a great way to focus on the Lord rather than on … well, anything else.
Spend time with other believers, those who will encourage you and build you up. If you’re unable to do so in person, keep in mind that it’s important to carry on two-way conversations, not simply watch church services online.
Head out into creation and soak in the wonder of the season, knowing that God reveals His nature in what He has made.
If you feel overwhelmed, it’s 100% fine to get the help you need, including professional help. These past two years have taken their toll emotionally as well as physically as never before.
We can’t wait until we’ve got it all together before we reach out to others, or we’ll never reach out. We’re always facing one challenge or another.
Even before you feel adequately equipped, look for ways to bless others. Drop a card in the mail. Allow that person with only a couple of items to go ahead of you at the checkout. Smile at a stranger. (Even if you’re wearing a mask, it will show in your eyes.) A simple act of kindness can go a long way to brightening someone’s day—and our own.
Prayerfully consider the writing projects you have on the go. Is it time to persevere and complete them or is God leading you in a different direction? (Remember: just because you’ve hit a wall doesn’t mean you should scrap the project. This is when we need abundant wisdom and clear guidance.)
Take on a new project that will allow you to share the promises of God and evidences of the new life we have in Christ. Write a related blog post. Record an encouraging podcast. Start a Bible study—in your home or a private Zoom room.
We each express our creativity in unique ways, but we can only do so for a limited amount of time if we don’t refill the well.
What is your favourite season and why? What promises does it bring to mind? How do you share this encouragement with others?
Virtually all the COVID restrictions have been lifted in Ontario (Canada).
You would think that would cause relief and rejoicing, a return to “normal.” While that may be the case for some, I have spoken with several people who will continue to wear a mask. And while I’m not overly concerned about my own health, when I’m not feeling 100 percent, I may wear a mask for the sake of others.
Regardless of how we feel about the mandates and statistical reporting, the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine, and how others have dealt with the situation over the past two years, we’ve had the opportunity to learn a lot of lessons.
Here are just five that come to mind:
Kindness and compassionshould always be “the norm.” There have been too many attacks launched on social media from every perspective. (In this, I include all the belittling comments and attacks—even the seemingly benign attacks—on the intelligence of those who feel differently than we do.)
As we enter a time when each of us is free to choose how we deal with mask-wearing and social distancing, respectis vital. Those who continue to wear masks should be treated as those who previously could not wear masks wanted to be treated—with respect.
And speaking of respect… Even easygoing people have developed strong opinions about things they’d never given a second thought pre-pandemic. We may/likely have friends and family members who are adamantly opposed to our perspective on a wide variety of topics. It’s important to learn how to live at peace with them—especially when they are members of our family or church, those people we interact with regularly.
The Lord instructs us to put other’s needs above our own. In Philippians 2:3, He says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (ESV) Although I’m sure not based on this biblical directive, the employees at the garage where we get our car serviced have what I think is an excellent approach. Because of government mandates, they are no longer required to wear masks. However, if a customer comes in with a mask, they are to put one on out of respect for them. That earns them five out of five stars in my book.
The anxiety of the last two years hasn’t necessarily evaporated. We may have a whole new list of concerns. Should I shed my mask or not? Should I get a/another booster shot? Should I be extra cautious around people with cold and flu symptoms, knowing my immune system hasn’t had the workout it’s had pre-COVID? And on and on and on.
As we navigate these and other issues, God’s Word gives us instructions that apply. He knew what each and every one of us would face down through the millennia. Amazing!
In the ESV*, Philippians 4:4-9 says:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
I return to these verses again and again. What are your go-to verses in times of anxiety and uncertainty?
Have you ever opened your electronic journal or notebook and simply written, “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!”? I have. Maybe not with that many Hs, but you get the idea.
I’ve also written what Julia Cameron refers to as Morning Pages, three pages of whatever pops into my mind (also known as “stream of consciousness writing”). Cameron recommends doing so first thing in the morning to clear out the cobwebs. I should probably get back to this practice.
Journaling is a wonderful way of expressing our frustration, clearing out those cobwebs, and what I refer to as “rambling until we stumble upon truth.”
The advantage of journaling is that no one, not one single person, ever has to read what we’ve written. We can process thoughts, emotions, and questions we’re reluctant to share with anyone, even our most trusted friends and family members.
As a Christian, you might be concerned that your journal won’t always overflow with faith-filled declarations. I came to grips long ago that God knows my innermost thoughts and motives already. It’s often good if we face up to them and learn to apply the Truth in genuine, truly lifechanging ways.
Of course, we have much to be thankful for. Gratitude journaling has become a prominent idea, at least as far back as the publication of Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts. Keeping track of what I’m thankful for is another practice I’d like to get back to.
An app on your phone, such as Day One or your Notes app.
Good ole Word on your laptop or desktop.
A simple notebook and a ballpoint pen.
An elaborate journal and colourful gel pens.
An artist’s grade sketchbook, brush markers, washi tape, and stickers.
Lies to Squelch (Trust me, I’ve told myself these lies repeatedly.)
Each sentence must be perfectly crafted with proper punctuation and no misspelled words. (This is a hard one for writers to set aside, but it’s important to do so.)
If my writing is horrible… If I can’t find my favourite pen… If my “artwork” looks like a preschoolers got her hands on my supplies… I might as well give up. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
I must “hold back” for fear someone will come across my journal. (There are ways to ensure this doesn’t happen, including asking your family to respect your privacy and/or tucking away your journal where they will not find it.)
Pouring out my random thoughts has no benefit.
God will think less of me for expressing my fears and doubts.
Ways to Get Started
Give Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages a try for at least a week. She recommends using pen and paper as there is a different neurological connection between brain, pen, and paper than between brain, fingers, and keyboard.
Pouring out your heart in the form of prayers is a great way to focus. I know praying aloud with others or writing in my prayer journal keeps me focused far better than “saying my prayers” silently.
Buy a simple notebook to get started. If you spend a lot of money on elaborate supplies and a leather-bound journal with handmade paper (my favourite), you’re less likely to put pen to paper for fear of messing it up.
Grab a pack of multi-coloured gel pens. Sometimes, just writing with fun-coloured ink can elevate your mood.
Slap on some stickers. This is one of the easiest ways to express your creativity and summarize the mood or topic you’re dealing with.
Are you a journaler? What are your favourite journaling tools? Is there something you hadn’t thought of that you’re going to try out?