Tag Archives: spiritual growth

Review: Risking Rest, by Carolyn J. Watts

Book cover: Risking Rest: Embracing God's Love Through Life's Uncertainties, by Carolyn Watts

Risking Rest: Embracing God’s Love Through Life’s Uncertainties, by Carolyn J. Watts (hope*books, 2023)

The best memoirs let us experience something of the writer’s world but also invite us to apply some of the life lessons to our own hearts, however different our circumstances.

Risking Rest is a memoir in two parts, linked by the imagery of pregnancy and birth from Dr. Carolyn Watts’ obstetrics training. The first two-thirds of the book revisit her brief years serving in a medical mission to Afghanistan’s “hidden women” in a remote village. A sensitive soul with an as-yet-undiagnosed illness that taxed her body, she nonetheless proved wrong the assessing psychologist’s declaration that she’d never make it—never make meaningful connections there.

For North Americans, this glimpse into the harsh beauty of rural Afghanistan and its courageous women will help us better appreciate the needs. And it helps us see some of what these women have since lost under the restrictive Taliban regime.

For non-medical readers, the narrative of serving 24/7 with never enough staff—or heat!—and while working in a language not their own is the stuff of heroes. But Carolyn Watts is quick to deny the heroic—they served because the need was great, even when exhaustion wore their compassion thin and government officials threatened to shut them down.

In the middle of this intense season, Carolyn wrestled with Jesus’ invitation to rest: “How did ‘my yoke is easy, and my burden is light’ mesh with words about taking up your cross and sharing in Christ’s sufferings? [Page 128]”

She describes feeling a strong call from God to this part of Afghanistan, and that call kept her focused through the hard times—until her deteriorating health brought her back to Canada.

Enter part two of the memoir, learning to let go of the first calling—to focus on the One who gave the call and who was now giving a new call: to be cradled in His love and to learn that weakness could be a gift.

When the outward things that define you are stripped away, who are you?

Favourite lines:

…the One who brings life into being in us, tending it gently and with great skill, is little worried about the mess of the process. [Page 12]

Cling not to the call but to the One who called. [Page 166]

There are times grace hurts. [Page 167]

Risking Rest is a transparently vulnerable account of one Christian’s lifelong desire to grow closer to God. Each chapter opens with a heart-warming Scripture pointing to how she experienced God’s care even in the hard places. The book concludes with some practical and personal questions to help readers consider their own faith journeys and how they might apply the same lessons for themselves.

Dr. Carolyn Watts is a Canadian writer and blogger. You can find her at Hearing the Heartbeat, which she describes as, “Listening together to God’s heart and making our home in Christ’s love.” I highly recommend subscribing to follow her hope-filled blog posts. To view the trailer for Risking Rest or to download a free chapter, visit hearingtheheartbeat.com/risking-rest.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Celebrating 2021 (Guest Post)

Celebrating 2021

by Steph Beth Nickel

Yes, you read the title right.

On December 26, the visiting pastor to our church asked us which we would choose, gold or a struggle. While none of us would willingly choose the latter, he was pointing out the fact that, while things of this world are fleeting, struggles help strengthen and mature us spiritually.

I’m not ready to choose struggles, but I am willing to look back and see how past challenges have shaped and grown me. I’m willing to commit the year ahead to God’s care, whatever it may bring—including further struggles.

Let’s take a few minutes on this, the last day of the year, to journal about what we can celebrate—both “the gold” and the growth that has come as a result of the difficulties, obstacles, and heartbreaks we’ve faced.

Here are a half dozen tips as to how to go about this:

  1. Start here! Make a list of all the things that thrilled your heart this past year. For example, my hubby and I were able to fly from Ontario to Saskatchewan for the weekend to witness our son and new daughter-in-law’s wedding. What an incredible blessing! Now, that was something easy to celebrate.
  2. And now move onto the more challenging part of the exercise. Give yourself permission to be 100 percent honest with yourself and with the Lord. We don’t have to put on a brave face and only write what is “proper and expected,” what we think others would want to read and what we think is acceptable. After all, no one ever has to read these words. (And God already knows what we’re thinking and feeling.)
  3. Take some time to really “feel the feels.” Sit quietly. Journal more. Head out for a walk. Whatever works for you.
  4. Prayerfully, re-examine these struggles. Ask yourself how you’ve grown as a result. Have you been able to empathize with others more readily? Are you more patient with them? Have you seen yourself “go deeper” with the Lord as a result of your challenging times? Journal about it.
  5. Press in even further. What have you learned about God? About yourself? About others?
  6. Record how you’ve grown and developed spiritually. Don’t think you have? Journal about that too. You may be surprised.

Note: This post is for you, not your spouse or your best friend. We should never minimize the struggles others have faced or are facing. It’s important not to weigh them down further with additional “Shoulds.” I’m sure they’re doing enough of that to themselves. And while the Scriptures are true, as it says in Ecclesiastes 3, there is a time to speak and a time to remain silent. We need wisdom as to which is which. Spoken at an inopportune time, Bible verses can sound like nothing more than platitudes. Words meant to encourage and uplift can cause guilt and shame.

Further disclaimer: It is not my intention to weigh you down with Shoulds either. If you can only complete #1, go for it! While I may see some growth in me that has resulted from the challenges I’ve faced, I’d still rather they came via “the gold.”

What are you celebrating about the past 12 months?

What is one way in which you have matured spiritually because of a struggle you’ve faced?

Photo credit: Jaime Mellor Photography

Steph Beth Nickel is a freelance editor and writer and an author. If you would like more information about her services, you can contact her at stephbethnickelediting@gmail.com.

You’re invited to visit her website: http://stephbethnickeleditor.com/.

You can join her Editing Tips Facebook group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/418423519384351.

Warnings Against Over-Committing (Guest Post)

Warnings Against Over-Committing

by Steph Beth Nickel

Caution tape with text: "Warning: Meltdown Ahead"

Complete edit. Find and train sound room personnel. Recruit someone to clean the church.

These are just three of the things on my To Do list, a list that has to be completed before Thursday, July 20, when my husband and I fly to Jasper on vacation.

God calls us to serve one another, to use our gifts and abilities to honour him and bless our brothers and sisters in Christ. And yet, there are drawbacks to over-committing ourselves.

It has been years since I’ve succumbed to anger and frustration and had a meltdown. (Until God delivered me, it used to be a regular occurrence.) However, that’s exactly what happened this past Thursday evening.

My husband and I are waiting on an individual to do his part before we can do what needs to be done in one certain area of ministry.  Busy with a demanding job and a young family, he doesn’t seem to realize how heavily we’re depending on him.

After meeting with this man, my hubby came home and told me they hadn’t gotten anything done that they’d originally intended—and I lost it. I was absolutely, positively overwhelmed.

Being the mature, spiritual person I am, I immediately took my concerns to the Lord and felt His peace wash over me. Right?

No, not right.

I didn’t want to relinquish my anger and frustration. I wanted to stay mad.

Has this ever happened to you? You want to vent just a little longer.

Thankfully, the Lord wouldn’t let me. Even in the midst of my mini tirade, I came to realize just how frustrating it must be for church leaders who want to further God’s kingdom in their community but don’t have the support of those around them.

A tiny part of me was rejoicing that the Lord was teaching me something even when I seemed quite unteachable.

And yes, eventually I did begin to pray for the individuals whose actions I have no control over. I also made a revised list of what I need to accomplish in the next few days, those things I can do something about. I unclenched my fists and got on with things.

My To Do list wouldn’t be near so long if I hadn’t taken on so many commitments. I once heard a wise teacher say she never took on anything new without prayerfully deciding what she could set aside.

Even after my meltdown, I’m not ready to make this commitment. Still, I must carefully evaluate all I am doing and ask God what, if anything, He wants me to lay aside.

How about you? Are you over-committed? Have you asked the Lord which responsibilities He’s given you and which He’s calling you to set aside—at least for now?

If not, I encourage you to do so. You just may be able to forego the downside of being over-committed.


Seek to avoid over-committing. (Click to tweet)

Warning: meltdown ahead. (Click to tweet)

Steph Beth Nickel

Steph Beth Nickel
(Photo by Stephen G. Woo Photography)

Stephanie (Steph Beth) Nickel is an award-winning co-author, a freelance editor and writer, a labour doula, and a former personal trainer. She also loves to speak, teach, and take slice-of-life photos. She would love to connect with you on Facebook or Twitter, on her website or blog.

Healthy Repentance

I have had one message for Jews and Greeks alike—the necessity of repenting from sin and turning to God, and of having faith in our Lord Jesus.
Acts 20:21, NLT*

These days, if people say “that’s a sin” they either mean “what a shame; that’s unfortunate” or they mean “you’re disqualified; that’s offensive.”

But it makes sense that in the eyes of a holy God, we often do, think, or say things that fall short of His perfect standards. All of us, so there’s no ground for pointing fingers. We do sin. Sometimes even on purpose. It’s natural, but that doesn’t make it right.

The point is, for a healthy spiritual life, we have to repent of our sin. We acknowledge it as wrong and choose to change. We turn to God.

Anywhere but to God is pointing away from Him. We can only grow in wholeness if we’re moving in the right direction.

To do that that, faith in Jesus is essential:

  • for receiving salvation: cleansing from what’s offensive and damaged in us
  • for daily life: ongoing salvation and cleansing, also leading, power, growth, comfort, wisdom, courage, and the list goes on
  • for the future: He is our hope of heaven

God our Father, thank You for sending Your Son to be our Saviour. Thank You this gift is for everyone who will accept it. Thank You for the faith to believe. Please help us to grow in You and to share Your message with those who still need to hear.

Here’s the original Newsboys’ medley of “Where You Belong/Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” (there’s a newer version on their Hallelujah for the Cross album, but this is the one I bonded with).

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Closer to God

When he [Barnabas] arrived and saw this evidence of God’s blessing, he was filled with joy, and he encouraged the believers to stay true to the Lord.
Acts 11:23, NLT*

Many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, and the two men urged them to continue to rely on the grace of God.
Acts 13:43, NLT*

Both of these encouragements are to ongoing, persistent behavioural patterns. How do we stay true to the Lord and continue to rely on His grace?

  • prayer and praying Scripture
  • practicing His presence
  • reading – and thinking about – Scripture
  • talking, praying, studying with other believers
  • serving where He leads
  • relying on His strength in service and in all areas of our daily lives
  • getting to know His character through life and His Word
  • noticing and keeping a record of where we see God at work in our lives
  • telling our stories of faith, and listening to others

Feel free to add other points in the comments. I think what it comes down to is that we need to let God more into our lives.

God our Sustainer and our Source of life and hope, we echo John the Baptist’s awareness of the need to decrease so that You can increase. Thank You for giving us the Holy Spirit to indwell us. Please help us to give Him full access to our hearts, so that You can grow us in our faith. Help us stay true to You and rely on Your grace every day.

I’ve always taken Cliff Richard’s “Discovering” as a song from God to us. From that perspective, listen to what He might say in invitation.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Ignoring the Gift

As God’s partners, we beg you not to accept this marvelous gift of God’s kindness and then ignore it.
2 Corinthians 6:1, NLT*

The gift Paul’s speaking of is a new life in Christ, reconciled to God and freed from the penalty of sin and death. (2 Corinthians 5:18) In the same verse Paul asks the Corinthian believers to reach out and be agents of reconciliation, bringing others to know this gift of life.

I’m sure that’s what he means by begging them not to ignore the gift. He wants them to fully live – to demonstrate this gift, vibrantly, contagiously, so others will want in, too. The gift is for everyone who’ll receive it.

There’s another aspect of ignoring the gift, though: literally ignoring it. Not letting it change us at all. We’ve escaped a Christ-less eternity, but here and now, life goes on with no appreciable difference.

I believed in God from childhood, gradually moving from a superstitious type of faith into the real thing as I learned more about Him. I knew the dos and don’ts and tried to obey, because that’s what He expected.

But it wasn’t until university that a Bible study weekend showed me Jesus doesn’t just want to be our Saviour, He wants to be our Lord. Not distant, issuing rules, but personal. Close. He wants our obedience, but also our loyalty. Our hearts.

He wants our hearts more than He wants our outward obedience.

How can Jesus have our hearts if we don’t spend time with Him? In quiet, in prayer, reading His Word and even studying it.

Without His having our hearts, of course we won’t change. Others won’t see His goodness. We won’t see it, either.

What if we took a few minutes, just 5 or 10, every day? Even twice a day? A little break for quiet with the Lord, to spend time in His presence. To reorient ourselves under His Lordship. To know Him more.

Father God, You’ve done all that needed doing to rescue and redeem us. You invite everyone to come, to be forgiven and made new. Forgive us for the times we ignore Your gift. Draw us back to Yourself. Forgive those who’ve ignored it long enough that they don’t even think of you now. Like the Roman soldiers, they don’t know what they’ve done. In Your mercy, draw their hearts back to Yourself. Remind them of the gift, and help them to embrace it.

I don’t know if this song was intended to be about a romance, but to me it’s always sounded like a lament/invitation from the Lord. Here’s Cliff Richard with “Discovering.”

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Want More Grace and Peace? Grow.

May God give you more and more grace and peace as you grow in your knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord.
2 Peter 1:2, NLT*

Coming to Jesus is just the beginning – the rebirth. We’re not to remain as spiritual babies, but to thrive and grow up into a vibrant Christian life.

Peter tells us to grow in our knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. How do we learn more about the power and character of our God and Saviour?

  • by reading the Bible
  • through experience, as we trust Him and live for Him
  • through other Christians, as we spend time with them in prayer and in working for the Kingdom
  • in prayer, and in quiet times with God

Peter says coming to know God means receiving “everything we need for living a godly life (verse 3)” and that we need to grow by responding to His promises (verse 5). Verses 5-7 give detailed advice on what to cultivate in our lives by the Spirit’s help.

Growing will make us “productive and useful (verse 8)”. It’ll keep us from falling away. We need to remember what we’ve been taught about Jesus from His word – and to rely on it. To base our lives on it.

The better we know our God, the more we can rely on Him. The easier it is to trust and obey Him. And the more others will see and respond to the difference He makes in our lives.

God our Father, thank You for drawing us to Yourself to be spiritually born again. Thank You for Your promises and for all that You’ve given us. Help us to receive and to respond, for our own sakes and for the sake of Your Kingdom.

Keith Green‘s song, “Draw Me,” is a great prayer to bring us deeper into the Lord’s presence.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Keeping Our Focus

So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then.
1 Peter 1:14, NLT*

Peter reminds his readers that they’ve been chosen, made holy, and cleansed by God (v. 1, 2). They’ve been given new life (v. 3), great expectation (v. 3), and a future inheritance (v. 4).

This is what matters, the true perspective “even though you have to endure many trials for a little while” (v. 6). These people love and trust Jesus (v. 8), and their reward will make all the struggle worthwhile.

The pain is part of the purification process (v. 7), not to disqualify them but to grow, train and strengthen them. Their focus isn’t to be on their present trouble, but on what’s to come.

With this in mind, Peter tells them to “think clearly and exercise self-control. Look forward to the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world (v. 13).” And to be obedient to God instead of slipping back into their old ways (v. 14).

It’s so easy to get caught up in the cares of the day and to forget the big picture. Heads down, burdened, we’re slogging through deep mud and our focus shrinks to taking the next step. Can we keep Heaven in our hopes, and take that next, heavy step, trusting that Jesus is with us and that He will bring all those future promises to pass in His perfect time? Can we hold on, and trust that He’s holding us? That by His grace, we will make it?

“Think clearly and exercise self-control” (v. 13). This battle is won in the mind. “Live as God’s obedient children” (v. 14). Again, a deliberate choice. “Don’t slip back into your old ways” (v. 14). Vigilance, and ongoing choice. This isn’t just a warning to stay out of past overt sin like drunkenness, sexual promiscuity, theft, lies etc.

We need to be on guard against the small things, too. Attitudes, grumbling, petty thoughts… even daydreaming about perfectly good things at a time when we’re supposed to be focusing on something else.

Keeping focus long-term may be impossible for us, but that doesn’t mean that practice won’t improve it with God’s help. He wants us to draw nearer to Him, so we know He’ll help. In retraining our minds, we need to “take every thought captive to Christ” and remember:

  • God
  • His love for us
  • we’re chosen
  • our future hope
  • all He’s given us
  • eternity… let it affect our choices today

Father, forgive us for those times we’ve slipped back into our old ways, and those times we’ve stalled instead of growing. Give us hearts to know You better and to live to please you, and help us focus on living as Your obedient children, with Your help.

This week’s song is “No Turning Back,” by Brandon Heath.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Responding to God

In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises.
2 Peter 1:5a, NLT*

“In view of all this” refers to what Peter says in verses 3 and 4 about the abundance of what God has given to those who have received Him. God’s promises are “great and precious” and they’re what enable us to draw nearer to God and to escape the corruption around us (v. 4).

How do we respond to God’s promises? And do we truly “make every effort”?

I think part of responding is discovering and relying on His promises. Believing them. Each of those actions require work, but Peter assures us in verse 4 that we’ll benefit from this work.

Verses 5b – 7 give practical life advice that we can only obey if we’re relying on God’s promises to be all we need. We certainly can’t do this in our own strength.

Why does it matter?

We’ll grow, and be productive and useful (v.8). We won’t forget what God has done for us (v.9). We’ll prove our faith is real, and staying focused will keep us from drifting from God (v.10). There will be a reward (v.11).

I think just growing deeper into the abundant life God gives will be reward enough.

God our Deliverer and Redeemer, on our own we can’t stay spiritually focused to remember You and Your promises, but this is the sort of prayer we can be confident You want to answer: Give us the desire to grow in relationship with You, give us hearts willing to make every effort to respond to Your promises. Remind us when we forget, and help us to begin again, as often as needed. Your patience is great, and Your mercies are new every morning.

When we think of all that God has done for us, it’s natural to join Kathryn Scott in singing “How Can I Ever Say Thank You?

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

We Must Remain Teachable

"If I remain teachable -- if you remain teachable -- we will have so much to share with those the Lord brings into our lives." -Steph Beth NickelWe Must Remain Teachable, by Steph Beth Nickel

I can’t remember not being a Christian. I believe I went from a childish faith right into a childlike faith. And by now, with the dawn of my 55th year on the horizon, you’d think I would have it all together—or at least be well on the way.

I wish!

I have been working through Larry and Kathy Miller’s most recently released book, Never Ever Be the Same. And wow! Do I have a lot to learn! (I hope to read through it every six months or so and see what new things God will show me.)

And as I was going to sleep one night last week, worried about a hasty decision I’d made, the Lord gently reminded me that I couldn’t serve two masters. I didn’t even know I’d been serving money. But since I was giving our financial situation much too much thought, worrying about it, and trying to figure out how I could fix it, I had been. Oh my!

This wasn’t the first such revelation over the years. One day, quite some time ago, I asked God why I wasn’t happier about a wonderful event that had happened in my sister’s life, the fulfilment of her heart’s desire.  When I realized the self-centred, humbling answer to my inquiry, the Lord reminded me He knew about my motives all along and loved me regardless. Wow! Talk about grace!

Years ago, I asked God to “tear off the Band-Aid™,” as it were. I didn’t want to become aware of my sin bit by bit. I knew I could trust Him to bring the healing even though the process would often leave me raw and vulnerable.

As I dig into God’s Word in order to prepare devotionals for HopeStreamRadio, I am constantly amazed by two things. One, there are details in Bible passages I’ve read dozens, if not hundreds, of times before that I’ve never noticed. They pop right off the page like someone jumping up and down waving their arms. And two, peace and joy often wash over me when I read familiar truths I haven’t thought of in some time.

The Scriptures are not some old, irrelevant writings. And though the pages are filled with rich theological truths that we must diligently study, they are also so much more. They are a love letter written by the Creator of the universe to His children. And they are applicable to our situation today, right where we are. It’s truly amazing!

Just today I re-read the passage in Matthew 7:1-5 that refers to dealing with the plank in my own eye before seeking to help others with the speck in theirs. When I look into God’s Word, I must first learn what He is teaching me before I can share with others what He may want to teach them.

If I remain teachable—if you remain teachable—we will have so much to share with those the Lord brings into our lives.

And we must always remember that no matter how old we get, there is still so much to learn.

Be vulnerable. Be honest. Be teachable. And the Lord will surely bless others through you—through your writing and through your every endeavour.

What has God been teaching you lately?
[Leave your thoughts below!]

Photo of Steph Beth Nickel

Steph Beth Nickel
(Picture by Sarah Grace Photography)

Stephanie is a freelance writer and editor. She writes under the pen name Steph Beth Nickel. She co-authored Paralympian Deborah L. Willows’ memoir, Living Beyond My Circumstances. Among other places, it is available from Castle Quay Books and Amazon. Steph has been blogging since 2010 and is a regular guest on Kimberley Payne’s site (fitness tips) and Christian Editing Services (writing tips). She will also be writing and recording regularly for the newly-formed Hope Stream Radio. Stephanie is an active member of The Word Guild and InScribe Christian Writers’ Fellowship.

Steph invites you to pop by for a visit on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/stephbethnickel or https://www.facebook.com/stephbnickel?ref=hl

You can also look her up on Twitter @StephBethNickel; her blog: http://stephseclecticinterests.wordpress.com; or her website (still a work in progress): http://stephbethnickel.com