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Then He Smiled at Me

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I’ve often wondered what I have to offer to the One who created me. In my limited travels, I’ve experienced worship in other cultures and seen firsthand that we have all been intricately designed to worship God in different ways. Regardless of my cultural or economic background, I have something to bring to Him as my gift of worship.

My first overseas trip was to the country of Jamaica, where I worked at a Christian camp in the heart of the mountains. One Sunday I went to a local church with my fellow Americans. Church members shuffled in well past the service time and settled into their seats. Each person dressed in their best. Older women donned floral-patterned dresses and brimmed hats. Little girls wore lacy, frilled dresses, with a rainbow of barrettes in their hair. An older gentleman stood up front decked out in a black suit, pressed white shirt, and red tie. He carried a battered accordion and led the worshipers in song, his instrument the lone contrast to the chorus of voices.

A man in my group of short-term missionaries stood at the end of the row, his hand in his pants pocket. At the start of the first song, he eased out of the pew and walked toward the front. Out of his pocket he withdrew a harmonica and joined the other man in making music for the Lord. The voices in that tiny room reverberated off the concrete walls, and I felt God’s presence brush over me. All because two men from different races and cultures were willing to let God use their meager talents and battered instruments for Him.

My next trip out of the United States was to the slums of Mexico City. When I first entered the open-air building near the church where I’d be serving with members of my team, I saw bright smiles that contrasted against the gray walls and floor. A group of women huddled around a lopsided counter, which would be their hideout during my 10-day stay. Their makeshift kitchen was where they prepared meals for my entire team, using their limited resources to feed those of us who had so much at home.

I was further humbled when a family opened their home to me and a group of nine girls. Throughout our two-week stay, our hosts endured our stomach illnesses, sheltered us during a nearby volcano eruption, and unselfishly gave of their food and possessions. We spent time in their church, worshiping the same God in different languages, and I realized they understood the heart of God better than I did. The sacrifices they made on my behalf represented His love and humility. They displayed worship the only way they knew how — offering their limited resources to bless others, transcending language barriers to represent the hands and feet of Jesus.

During college, my global perspective broadened when I became part of a campus ministry called World Christian Fellowship. One of our speakers was a missionary with Voice of the Martyrs. He shared harrowing stories about delivering Bibles to people in desperate need of God’s word. Although I’d never visited these faraway lands, his depictions transported me to places like Xinye, China, Ittanwali, Pakistan, and Karaj, Iran.

I imagined hovering in a darkened alleyway in China, waiting for my turn to enter the hidden church door. I imagined being beaten by my Muslim friends in Pakistan after I shared my Christian faith, listening to their threats to torture and humiliate me, then being taken into custody by the police. I imagined sitting in a house church in Iran and watching security officers in plain clothes confiscate my precious Bible and handcuff me, taking me away from my family.

As I listened to this man’s stories and visited Voice of the Martyrs’ website, I realized how little I’d sacrificed to worship God. I’d never faced threats of torture or arrest and I wondered if I’d be willing to sacrifice everything like those dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Their worship was borne of necessity, and they gave everything they held dear — their life, their family, their security — in order to honor their King.

My understanding of God’s presence and individual design throughout the world came full circle after I got married. My husband and I vacationed in Hawaii, and we decided to visit a local church one Sunday. The congregation met in a warehouse building on the island of Maui. When I entered the room, I spotted a massive drum set and a slew of guitars up front. Despite my hesitation of being an outsider, the tension in my heart eased as the band began to play. The electric sound of the instruments and the joyful voices around me echoed off the high ceiling.

The last song that morning was Chris Tomlin’s “How Great Is Our God.” It was a familiar tune, and I closed my eyes as I sang. I knew no one in that room, but we all lifted our voices to the same God. I sang words about praising the King and admonishing the earth to rejoice with me, and I was struck by the reality that members of my home church had finished their church service six hours ago.

As I counted the hours to Hawaii time, a new recognition hit me. Every hour of every day, someone, somewhere in the world, is worshiping the God of the universe, whether in song or in words and actions. I remembered the two men in the Jamaican mountains who brought that small congregation closer to God with their accordion and harmonica. I remembered the selfless worship of the women in the Mexico City slums. I remembered the stories of people persecuted for their faith in China, Pakistan, and Iran. All these people worshiped God at different hours of the day, with different gifts and sacrifices, honoring and praising the same Creator as I did in that moment.

I began to wonder: What do I have to give back to the One who created me? How can I worship Him just like the humble and brave people of those other cultures I’d visited? If they could draw me close to God with their limited earthly resources, how much more could I bring? And more sobering, how much more accountable will I be in heaven one day because of the earthly resources I possess?

Just like those men in Jamaica, I can give of my talents, however meager they may seem to me. Just like those women in Mexico City, I can give of my possessions and time to shelter and feed others. Just like those men and women in China, Pakistan, and Iran, I can sacrifice my safety, if that’s what God calls me to do for the sake of worshiping Him.

Every hour of every day, I can remind myself of my brothers and sisters in Christ around the world, how they sacrifice of themselves to demonstrate God’s intricate design within them. And that inspires me to do the same.

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Sarah Forgrave is a work-at-home mom whose writing has been published in a Pearl Girls™ anthology and Guideposts' A Cup of Christmas Cheer collection. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Sarah writes romantic novels that blend her love of health and fitness with her passion for God. When she’s not writing, she teaches group exercise classes and loves spending time with her family in their Midwest home. To learn more -- or to sign up for her health-inspired newsletter - -visit www.sarahforgrave.com.

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When Doing Justly, Loving Mercy, and Walking Humbly Stand at Odds

If your compassion far exceeds your capacity, here’s one way you can be sure to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.

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One of my life verses is Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

It is one of my favorite verses because my heart has been so moved by the love Jesus has for me and the sacrifice He made for me that I am grateful to have a way to express my gratitude through acts of justice and mercy while walking humbly with God.

I have found at times, however, the call to do justice and love mercy come in conflict with the call to walk humbly with God. For me, one of the ways to walk humbly with God is to recognize my limitations. I have to put skin to the fact that I am not God which means saying, “no” to ministry requests. It means going to sleep when I could be spending time advocating for the harrowed and helpless in the world. It means limited seats at my table, limited funds in my bank account, and limited energy in my body cannot be ignored but respected and adhered to.

This is hard for me at times, especially when I scroll my Facebook feed and see friends who are caring for their really sick children, spouse, or other family member all while millions of refugees flee war torn countries and babies are slaughtered by the hundreds each day in our country through the abortion industry.

As I scroll, I receive texts about one family member’s surgery gone wrong and another family member announcing a new baby is on the way. I have in mind my neighbor who has inpatient surgery scheduled this week and another neighbor who is trying to hold down a full-time job, care for twins all while battling profound “morning” sickness.

Folks at church are fighting for their lives in physical and spiritual ways, and strangers who pass me on the road are clearly battling something as demonstrated by their impatient honking because I won’t take a right turn on red. I want to meet the needs of all; I want to do justice and love mercy, but I’m daily confronted by the fact that I am so limited.

What am I to do when doing justly and/or loving mercy seem to come in conflict with walking humbly with my God?

God keeps bringing me to this answer: prayer.

God invites us to cast our cares before Him because He cares for us.
God tells us to be anxious for nothing BUT WITH PRAYER present our requests before Him.
God commands us to pray without ceasing.

And, when I walk humbly with God, I see the immense kindness in His command.
He gives us a way to do justly, love mercy WHILE walking humbly with Him.
It is by praying without ceasing.

I cannot take a meal or give money to every sick person or family I know. I cannot extend kindness to all my neighbors all at the same time they’re in need nor conjure up sustainable solutions for the refugee crisis and contact all the necessary world powers to make it happen.

I cannot heal all, but I know the Healer.

I cannot provide for all the needs, but I know the Provider.

I cannot rescue everyone in need, but I know the Rescuer.

I cannot comfort all the broken, but I know the Comforter.

I cannot speak peace over every situation, but I know the Prince of Peace.

I cannot be all to all, but I can go to the Great I Am through prayer, lay all the people, problems and pleas for help before the Omniscient and Omnipresent God of all Creation.

I can do this through prayer.

Recently, via an Instagram contest of all things, I came upon A–Z prayer cards designed by blogger/author/speaker, Amelia Rhodes. It is a simple concept packed with a powerful prayer punch. It has served me personally in this tension of wanting to do far more than I practically can do. It provides prayer prompts starting with each letter of the alphabet along with a scripture that coincides with the prayer focus. It ranges from Adoption to a creative “Zero Prejudice” for the letter “Z.”

The cards are well thought out, color printed on sturdy cardstock with blank lines for the user to write in the names of people and/or organizations that are personal to them.

If, like me, your compassion far exceeds your capacity, pick up a set of these prayer cards and unload your burdens onto a God whose competence matches His kindness, both boundless.

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Facing Our Fears in Motherhood

Do you have fears tied to motherhood? If so, here’s encouragement for you.

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“Are you scared?”

I was taken aback by his question. Scared? Of what?

“Of anything,” he answered.

I had just shared my due date with a new class of trainees.

“He has three boys,” another new hire volunteered. So fear is to be expected, I reasoned. I’m just about to face the most frightening experience in my life.

Of course I was scared.

I was scared…

  • I’ll lose my temper.
  • I’ll whine about sleepless nights.
  • I’ll breastfeed too often or not often enough.
  • I’ll leave piles of unfolded onesies in the middle of the nursery floor because I’m too tired (or lazy?) to fold teeny-tiny baby clothes for the upteenth time.
  • I’ll go with disposable diapers when the better choice would be cloth.
  • I’ll work too many long hours at the office and miss precious moments with her.
  • I’ll sign her up for too many activities and push her to become Miss Achieve-It-All.
  • I’ll pass on to her my ugly pride, self-righteousness, and perfectionism like a dreadful contagious disease.
  • I’ll miss countless little joys in life while pursuing worthless dreams.

Facing Our Fears in MotherhoodIn short… I was afraid I was going to fail miserably as a parent.

And now, holding my second-born daughter in my arms, thinking back on that brief exchange just a few years ago, I realize those fears were well-founded. I’ve failed many times. I’ve lost my temper. I’ve raised my voice. I’ve worked too much and played too little. I’ve seen my own sinfulness reflected in my daughter.

Yes, I’ve failed, but over and above it all, God’s grace has covered my parenting imperfections and made me run to the cross day after day. The writer of Proverbs puts it this way:

Whoever fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge.
Proverbs 14:26

When it comes to fears, we have two choices: Will we fear the unknown or will we fear the Lord? Will we allow the uncertain to grip us in its clutch or will we turn to God’s Truth to set us free?

Scared? Oh yeah. There was so much to be scared of that day. And even now, if I’m completely honest, there are still fears nibbling at the edges of my consciousness. Fear that we won’t outgrow the temper tantrums. Fear that the two girls won’t get along. Fear that I’ll mess them up and cause them interminable hours on a psychologist’s couch.

I’m sure you have fears, too.

But rather than allow those fears to consume and paralyze us, we can take them to the Lord, acknowledging His sovereignty over our parenting, pleading His grace over our mistakes, and entrusting His provision over their futures. He is not only able to handle it all — He is far more capable to be trusted with it all.

If I say one thing to that frightened 9-month-pregnant me standing in that room years ago, I would say this: Don’t let fear rob today’s joy with tomorrow’s unknowns. Each day has enough worries of its own (Matthew 6:34).

Instead, let us keep seeking God, running to Him as our secure fortress and resting in the knowledge that He will care for us and our children one day at a time.

What are you scared of today? Name your fears and bring them to the Lord, allowing Him to replace them with His peace that passes all understanding.

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He Gives Shade To The Weary

If anxiety is a struggle for you right now, remember that He gives shade to the weary.

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Do you ever have those moments of fear because you don’t know what lies ahead? When do those thoughts tend to happen to you?

For me, most of those thoughts happen when I lay my head down to sleep at night. The vulnerability comes forth every time. That’s what happened the other night to me. I shut my eyes and immediately anxiety welled up inside me.

What if we don’t succeed in this new venture? What if we have to move? What if we can’t pay our bills?

I laid there with the covers drawn tight over my head (I still think that I am safer if the covers are over my head), praying scripture over my anxious heart. Assuring myself that God sees me and that He cares.

In the morning, I turned to Isaiah 41, specifically verses 10-20.

“Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10, NASB)

Yesterday, the “what if’s” piled up as I anxiously looked about me. My daughter needs tutoring, however at this point in life, tutoring feels like a luxury we can’t afford. So I listed some items online to sell hoping to make just enough to cover the tutoring. I’m buying groceries on a Visa reward card. I’m holding my breath until the next paycheck comes. But what did God speak over me: Do not fear. Do not look anxiously about you.

“For I am the Lord your God, who upholds your right hand, Who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’ Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel; I will help you,” declares the Lord, “and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:13-14 NASB)

Why shouldn’t I be anxious? Because God will hold me up. God will help me. When I first read the word “worm” as a description, I took it as a slam against Israel. Like, gesh, God. What animal does He relate me to? But through further study, He calls them a worm because worms are helpless. They are viewed as insignificant, despised and weak. God will help me — seemingly insignificant, helpless me — because He is my Redeemer. He is my go’el — my next of kin. The Redeemer is the one who provides for all my needs. Rent. Car payment. Credit card bill. Gas. Food. Clothes. Debt. God will redeem.

He Gives Shade to the Weary

“Behold, I have made you a new, sharp threshing sledge with double edges; You will thresh the mountains and pulverize them, And will make the hills like chaff. You will winnow them, and the wind will carry them away, And the storm will scatter them; But you will rejoice in the Lord, You will glory in the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:15-16 NASB).

God is transforming me from a helpless one to a powerful one. The description of that type of threshing sledge is like a modern day earth mover. Powerful. Strong. Immovable.

“The afflicted and needy are seeking water, but there is none, And their tongue is parched with thirst; I, the Lord, will answer them Myself, As the God of Israel I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 41:17, NASB)

He will come to our rescue. God, Himself, will answer you and me. Can you hear how personal that sounds? Have you ever pleaded with someone important whether your boss, public figure, or even a parent, and they responded to the need themselves? You expected for them to send their assistant, but instead they — the most important one — responded to you.

“I will open rivers on the bare heights And springs in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water And the dry land fountains of water. I will put the cedar in the wilderness, The acacia and the myrtle and the olive tree; I will place the juniper in the desert Together with the box tree and the cypress.” (Isaiah 41:18-19, NASB)

This passage describes the wilderness-like times in life. You are barren. You are thirsty. You are hot. You are in need. God will provide what you need. God will quench your thirst. He will provide shade when you are weary. During those times, God can provide in creative, innovative ways. He can provide something out of nothing. Doesn’t that give you great hope? Even when you can’t answer how He will do it, He is creative enough to figure it out even when the odds are stacked against you.

“That they may see and recognize, And consider and gain insight as well, That the hand of the Lord has done this, And the Holy One of Israel has created it.” (Isaiah 41:20 NASB).

God will do all of this so that His glory will be put on display. People — including yourself — will see that He is powerful.

So you can see how after a night of wrestling with fear and anxiety, reading this was like shade and water for my soul. God is a god who sees. And God is a god who acts on your behalf.

What do you need His help with today? What are you fearful about today? What keeps you awake at night? Where do you need some shade?

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Hi, I'm Ashleigh Slater, founder and editor of Ungrind. Here at Ungrind, it’s our goal to churn out biblically-based encouragement for women. We strive to be honest and transparent about our struggles in a way that inspires hope, faith, and perseverance.

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Then He Smiled at Me

by Sarah Forgrave time to read: 5 min
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