“What If” to “What Is”

Renew your mind by focusing on the “what is” of the Word, not the “what ifs” of worry.

 I was watching one of my favorite television dramas a few weeks ago and the main characters, to get their minds off some potentially bad news, played a game called “It Could Be Worse.” Each person would then name a worse case scenario, and the other person tried to top that worse case. For example, “You could be trapped in a flooding cave.” The other person would retort “You could be trapped in a flooding cave with piranhas eating your toes.”

Isn’t that so like how women view life. Our children struggle with a class and we immediately blame ourselves and panic that they’ll never get into college and they’ll never get a job and they’ll end up living in a van down by the river and it’ll be all our fault. We can go from content to catastrophic in less than 60 seconds. We play the “what ifs” like a roulette game. What if she fails the class? What if he loses his job? What if my child can’t overcome his learning disability? What if I say the wrong thing? What if I blow it as a parent? What if I take a risk to seek a new friendship and get rejected? What if? What if? What if?

CNT8FS9WEAAP2paI have played that game far too many times. The fear of failure and rejection threatened to paralyze me. Then a wise counselor taught me a skill that changed my life. He gave me little pink slips of paper that had two words on them, “reject” and “replace.” I was to write down whatever lie the enemy was using to taunt me and replace that lie with a scripture that spoke truth into that lie. I was replacing the “what if’s” of life with the “what is” of the scripture. I was walking through Paul’s exhortation, “forgetting what lies behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14

This scripture reminded me of three things:

1)      My past is under the blood of Christ. I am forgiven and made new. I don’t need to dwell on guilt or shame or feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. In Christ, those things no longer define who I am nor dictate who I will become.

2)      I need to be intentional in pursuing Christ. Straining is defined as forcing to make a strenuous or unusually great effort. If I am straining toward what is ahead, and the goal is Christ, then I will need to discipline myself to seek after Him, with all I’ve got, every day.

3)      I need to always, always, keep the call of Christ at the forefront of my mind. Keeping my eyes fixed on things of the kingdom and not on things of earth is vital in learning to reject the lies of the enemy.

I spent years walking, trudging, crawling, little by little through the discipline of rejecting and replacing.  I was learning to demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5) Like Daniel Larusso learned karate by painting fences and waxing cars, I was learning day by day, step by step, how to defeat the enemy of my soul. And I had one far better than Mr. Miyagi as my guide, I had the Holy Spirit deepening my understanding of the truth.

After years of little pink slips of paper floating around my Bible, my purse, my car, my desk at work, one day I realized I was beginning to reject and replace without even consciously thinking about it. After years of constantly being transformed by the renewing of my mind, I was noticing a difference. I stood firm on the truth. I was applying what I was learning to every aspect of my life. I was seeing myself more like God saw me. I was confident, not in myself, but in the Creator God who loves me, redeems me, is making me new, and delights in me. One day I woke up and realized the despair I typically felt every day was being replaced with delight in the Father and basking in that delight helped me love deeper, and discover peace and joy and hope like I’d never had before.

So if you’re spending all your time focusing on the “what if’s” I want to encourage you to get out of that dark, vicious cycle of worry and anxiety and frustration and anger. I want you to find your way to standing firm on “what is.”

Consider starting with these verses:

Reject:

God doesn’t love me. He doesn’t care about me.

Replace:

“But now, this is what the Lord says,–he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel; Fear not for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your life.” Isaiah 43:1-4

 

Reject:

God can’t be trusted—especially with my “what ifs.”

Replace:

“He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.” Psalm 112: 7

 

Reject:

God doesn’t hear me. He doesn’t care if I’m hurting.

Replace:

“He will call upon me and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.” Psalm 91:15-16

 

Now start your own list and replace those “what ifs” with the “what is” of the Word of God. You can even use little pink cards if you like. 😊

and-he-who-sits-on-the-throne-said-e2809cbehold-i-am-making-all-things-new-e2809d-and-he-said-e2809cwrite-for-these-words-are-faithful-and-true-e2809d.png

 

Perspective from a Dog’s Eye View

So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Matthew 10:26, 29-31

It was first thing Monday morning 4 weeks into my new routine, birds singing their varied songs somewhere in the treetops just off my back deck, a cool breeze soothing the senses, and Pow! The Father dropped a word picture in my life as He often does if I’m looking with spiritual eyes.

I’d come to this new routine by way of a needy, black fur ball, Poppy, a charming little black Markiesje mix that had attached himself to me over these few weeks. A job out of the country for my daughter necessitated finding him a new home. It only made sense he’d come to live with us; he is our “grand dog” after all.

Poppy has quickly trained me to get up as soon as he dances circles on my bed just after sunrise each morning. He yaps and spins incessantly until I roll out of the covers and start talking to him, at which time he bounds to the floor and spins ever more aggressively as I try to throw on some workout pants and a t-shirt. We head to the kitchen with him following me – because one day he went ahead of me and I got side-tracked with laundry on the way to the kitchen – so now he herds me like a sheepdog to the back door.

IMG_7504Mr. Poppy spins ’round by the back door until I open it. When I let him out, he waits looking back at me impatiently, because in a scant 28 days he’s learned my routine: grab a cup and start the Keurig; gather up my Bible, journal, and pen; put cream and sugar in the freshly brewed coffee; and head out to my morning spot at our intricately designed cast aluminum table on the deck.

This particular day I was perched as usual on our deck high above the ground  facing my neighbor’s back yard. Poppy headed down to do his morning business, romp in the wet grass, chase squirrels, and sniff out and dig up moles. It’s a dog’s life!

Well into my cup of coffee, while notating something in my journal, I vaguely noticed a car engine crank up next door. Immediately Poppy sprang to action. Bark-bark-bark! He would eat up whatever the threat was. He dashed to the fence on that side of the yard, ears alert, scampering back and forth trying to get a better view, alarmed and aggressive to protect his domain. He was on flat ground and could not see what was going on. I, however, was 15 feet up with a totally different perspective on the scene. Having a perfect sight line to my neighbor heading out to work, I summed up the scene casually with no worries, while he remained ever vigilant and ever anxious for the next 5 minutes as the neighbor loaded her car and finally pulled out.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Immediately I saw myself and my heavenly Father in this scene.

Earthbound as I am, I cannot not see and decipher certain earthly events correctly. I hear and experience alarming things that ignite a fear response or cause me to be perplexed and to not understand what is going on. I run my fence and yap at the “problem” just like Poppy. But all the time my Father is on His Heavenly “deck” and has a totally different perspective knowing and understanding things I don’t. He realizes this will pass quickly. It’s just a part of life. A higher perspective changes everything.

Psalm 55_22 Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken..pngAs much as I call Poppy and speak in a calming way to him when he’s upset, he still runs and yaps and gets anxious. And I am much that way with my Abba Father. I’m anxious, alert, wondering if He understands that something big is going on over there. Do I need to jump this fence and do something God? Are you not aware? Why are you just sitting there? What if this lasts forever? What am I supposed to do? Aren’t you going to do something, Lord?

Nothing. 

Many times that is my answer, just as it is with my sweet Poppy.

Nothing.

Poppy just needs to relax and keep chasing squirrels and having a good doggie day. And me? I also need to relax, to cast my cares on the Lord and just keep doing the things he gave me to do, being the one he made me to be, and walking faithfully through the unknown.

But that is not what we humans like to do.

We like to yap (complain), run the fence (go through life in a tizzy as we say here in Alabama), rankle our fur and perk up our ears (become obsessed with our issue), become alarmed, bark at people closest to us (out of fear no doubt), and aggressively try to protect our domain. All of these are signs of my lack of faith.

If Poppy could listen and understand my ways, trust them, and believe me to be true to my word to love and care for him, he could relax and not rile himself. As can we. The next time you find yourself in the midst of the Barking Dog Syndrome, turn to your Heavenly Father who is on deck, aware, and has it all in hand. Listen to Him. Seek to understand His ways. Trust Him. Take Him at His word that He loves you. He cares for you. Relax! No need to be riled up.

Cast all your cares on him, because he cares about you. 1 Peter 5:7
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Gratitude in the Midst of Sorrow

Just moments before I snapped the picture of the balloons headed Heavenward I was sitting in a somber service of remembrance. I was moved by the courage of the Mama and Daddy. They’d lost their precious one and they were making a public plea. Their Dear One had been a recent victim of distracted driving and they had made the most of the opportunity and occasion and implored those present not have cause to experience the pain and hurt they were in that moment.

There are times in life when we are given a captive audience and we can make the most of such an opportunity or not. I sat in awe of their courage, strength and dignity. The Mama and the Daddy, in that moment, they were proving themselves trustworthy. They’d asked those in attendance to avoid distractions while driving. They were speaking to the loved ones seated around them asking them to reconsider picking up their phone the next time it begged for their attention while they were driving.

I listened intently as I sat amongst a dozen or so people, all of whom I share a genetic makeup, as we honored the life of a precious one, who also had running through her body a common DNA as those people surrounding me, the same thread as her Mama. I marveled at these dozen or so people. To my right, my cousin, Dinger as she is best known, more of a sister-like figure to me than actual cousin. To my left, my Mama. A few moments ago I’d heard a statement from her sister Nancy that I already knew.

“You look just like Mama.”

As the service ebbed and flowed and the sting of tears sat just beneath the surface words of joy and remembrance filled my ears, memories filled my mind and I held my Mama’s hands. As my eyes looked back and forth, I noticed Mama’s hands looked just like the ones slightly to the left in front of me, propped up on the back of the chair, they looked like the ones to the right of Dinger, and the set directly in front on me. Those hands, were my Mam-Maw’s hands.

I distinctly remember them wrapped around a Hull Brown Drip Pattern coffee cup. She would use those hands to pull weeds, feed animals, quilt and sew. Those rugged hands would hang up clothes to dry and hug tiny frames, they’d wipe tiny hands and faces with scalding hot water and Clorox saturated dish rags. Those hands could make a sweet tea that I only wish I could replicate. I’m quite sure when Mam-Maw made it to Heaven Jesus would have declared that she was in charge of the Sweet Tea making. Despite not having had it in 30 years my mouth still longs for that Devine sweet nectar.

As I sat there and listened, I looked at the ones seated around me I thanked the King. I thanked Him for good childhood memories that dozens of cousins, aunts, and uncles filled. Long summers of adventures and fun. I thanked Him that I never eat a kraut and weenie that I don’t think of my Aunt Sis and the summer my sister and I had deduced that she must’ve been pregnant because all she ate was kraut and weenies and she’d recently purchased a high chair. Two coincidences developed from some lean economic times and a practical need being met. We cleaned her entire house that day. We figured she didn’t need to be on her feet in her condition and advanced age. We sat on the steps leading to her den, formulated a plan befitting a seven- and five-year-old.

I thanked Him that the one physical feature that all of us share are early onset crows feet and laugh lines. They are evidence of our good sense of humor and laughter. We are a funny lot, those that share the name and genetics of that side of my family.

I thanked the King for the life of the beautiful young lady who had left our world way too soon and tragically, but I did so knowing that she would not be forgotten. She had not died in vain for the message was given, and the warning heeded. I thanked Him for allowing me to be made up of good, strong stock. His word says that laughter and a cheerful heart are good like a medicine and I thanked that He has abundantly gifted me with those very things.

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Known

We live detached, lonely lives even in the midst of an era focused on social events and connections. For all the “social” media offering to connect us, we find ourselves in dark, solitary, depressing places. We know the realities of being lonely in a crowded room or behind a screen which declares we have 700 friends. We feel unknown, forgotten, un-cared for, invisible. The darkness creeps in easily these days. Darkness that whispers the lie, “The world would be better off without you.”

Our desperate hearts long to be known. We crave being seen and heard to the point that many will do anything, even degrading, embarrassing, horrible things to be noticed for their 15 minutes of fame.

We desire to be loved unconditionally…

…Well at least loved…

…Maybe even liked would do…

…Just recognized by someone in the ocean of people around us…

…Anything.

…We’ll settle for scraps: one night stands, drug buddies who would abandon us to the hands of death at the sound of a siren, a bottle that will make us forget the loneliness in the wee hours of the morning.

But the prince of this darkness lies. We are not alone and forgotten.

There is one who notices. Always. One who sees us. One who listens. One who loves us, and who will always love us – truly, completely and unconditionally. The One the Psalmist speaks of who searches us, knows us – all about us  and loves us anyway. The One who knows where we go, what we say, even what we think, and loves us anyway. The One whom we cannot run away from, who seeks us out and reaches into the dark places to find us. The One from whom we cannot hide or escape. The one who holds us fast. The One who meets us in our darkest hour and turns the darkness to light. The One who made us in that secret place and has ordained all the days of our life. The One who does think about us, when we thought no one did.

Psalm 139

You have searched me, Lord
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.

If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
They speak of you with evil intent;
your adversaries misuse your name.
Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
I have nothing but hatred for them;
I count them my enemies.

Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting. Amen.

 

Our Father sees us, knows us, loves us, holds our hand, and walks us through those dark places.

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The Journey: What to Do When You Get Stuck

I get stuck sometimes.

And when I get stuck, my responses are revealing.

Sometimes I get stuck in traffic, and instead of trusting God’s timing, I let resentment grow and give birth to anger at others I blame for dictating the pace of my journey.

Sometimes I get stuck because of my own choices. Instead of choosing the path of wisdom, I let a craving for adventure send me rushing off the path, only to find myself spinning my wheels in mire and mud.

robert-hickerson-38585-unsplash.jpgSometimes I get stuck in ruts and routines. Instead of navigating my day with purpose and awareness, I just go through the motions, failing to notice beauty or need.

When I find myself feeling trapped by the actions of others or by my own choices, the real-time condition of my heart is revealed.

Anger, rebellion, or apathy in my attitude or actions are signs that I’ve neglected my heart, that I’ve gone headlong into my day rather than stopping to spend time with my Father.

I need a love refill.

And sometimes I find myself paralyzed by a sudden health or relationship crisis, not knowing what to do next. When I find myself caught in circumstances out of my control, fear can freeze me in place.

steve-halama-369625-unsplash.jpgI need a love reminder.

So when I get stuck, what do I do?

I turn to God’s Word.

I remind myself that God’s love is available to me not because of what I can do, but because of what Jesus did for me on the cross. This perfect love reached me not when I was at my best, but when I was at my very worst — trapped in my sin, helpless, with no way out. The unfailing love of my Father rescued me not when I was worthy or making progress or doing good things, but at the right time, when my need was the greatest, when I was stuck in my sin. God’s amazing love never fails.

But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8 CSB

I remember Jesus’ words to a group of believers who were stuck, who were doing the right things, but had neglected this first love.

I know your works….But I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. 
Revelation 2:2, 4-5a CSB

russia-1070170_1920.jpgSo, when I get stuck, I do these things:

I stop and examine my heart.

I listen for my Father’s voice.

I remember the height of His unfailing love, a love that can reach me no matter how far I fall.

I turn around and choose to go God’s way rather than my own. I repent, confessing any anger or apathy or self-reliance and ask my Father to renew my heart.

And I do what I did at first.

I do what I did when I was first intoxicated with the love of God. In those days, a friend showed me a simple way to start my day with God’s Word. I look at the date on the calendar and read the Proverb that matches that number. Then I read the same chapter number in Psalms, add 30 to the number and read that Psalm, then keep adding 30 until I’ve read five Psalms. (For example, on the 16th I would read Proverbs 16, Psalm 16, Psalm 46, Psalm 76, Psalm 106, and Psalm 136.)

wheels-1813465_1920Like me, the psalmists got stuck and cried out for help. The psalms remind me of the character of God, and they remind me to rely on His unfailing love rather than spinning my wheels trying to rescue myself. The psalms give me words to shape my worship and my prayers when I can’t find my own. And the proverbs show me the difference between foolishness and wisdom and help me choose God’s way.

This return to Psalms and Proverbs, to the rhythms of the Bible’s songs and practical wisdom, allows me to re-establish habits of the Spirit that restore my heart and help me find my way once more to the path of joy.

What can you do when you get stuck?

Stop.
Listen.
Remember.
Turn around.
Do what you did at first.

cat-1708658_1920When you get stuck, tend to your heart.

Spend time with your first love like you did at the beginning. Read God’s Word and listen to His voice. Ask Him to show you what to do. Trust His unfailing love.

You don’t have to stay stuck.
Your Father will make a way out for you.
Follow Him.

Let me experience your faithful love in the morning, for I trust in you.
Reveal to me the way I should go because I appeal to you. Psalm 143:8 CSB

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. Psalm 32:8 NIV

Labor Day: 7 Lessons on Laboring

According to the “History of Labor Day” at the U.S. Department of Labor website, (and in case you are curious)…

“Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

A quick search on Bible Gateway reveals several verses about labor. The following is a quick and easy reminder list for Christians to make sure we are looking at labor from Our Creator’s perspective.

1. WORK HARD 
Scripture reminds us to work hard, doing honest work, to provide for ourselves and to be able to share with those truly in need.

Psalm 128:2 – “You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it  shall be well with you.”

Ephesians 4:28 – “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.”

2. LABOR FOR THE LORD
Our Father has plans for us, jobs for us to do. Just as the Israelites built the temple and walls under God’s direction, we each have building projects the Lord has for us to do. Are we also willing to work faithfully despite the opposition?

Nehemiah 4:16-17 “And the leaders stood behind the whole house of Judah, who were building on the wall. Those who carried burdens were loaded in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other.”

As long as we have breath, our Father has a job, a purpose for us here on Earth.

Philippians 1:21-22 “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.”

Our main job here on earth is spreading the gospel. We may have “day jobs” but this mission should be the focus of our lives once we come to know Christ.

1 Thessalonians 2:9 “For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.”

Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV) “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

3. DON’T LABOR IN VAIN
Labors that are not done according to God’s Word, for His glory, and by the Spirit’s  inspiration are useless. We choose wisely when we let go of earthly distractions and focus on God’s purposes and His leading.

Psalm 127:1 “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”

1 Corinthians 15:58 “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

4. WORKERS ARE NEEDED
When we came into a relationship with Christ, that relationship came with a mandate to make disciples as we were going through life. Are we doing this job we were given? Are we praying for others that are working with us? Why then are the laboreres few? If the spread of the Gospel totally depended on you today, then how is the mission going?

Matthew 9:37-38 “Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few, therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

5. WE EACH HAVE A PART TO PLAY AND WE WON’T ALWAYS SEE THE FINISHED PRODUCT.
As we’ve said, our main labor in life is spreading the Gospel of the love of Jesus to a dying world. We can’t let ourselves get discouraged when we share this message of hope and people reject it. An old song examines the idea that it could take 15 times of someone hearing about Jesus before they come to Him. We would do well to keep this in mind. These scriptures point out clearly that we each have a job to do, but the results lie in the hands of the Father.

John 4:38 “I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

1 Corinthians 3:5-9 “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.”

6. DON’T GET WEARY.
Laboring is hard. It is time consuming. It is not always fun. Some days it seems like a useless, endless task, as moms of toddlers can testsify – toys never stay picked up, laundry is never done, and spills happen endlessly. But it is worth it. Take this challenge from scripture on the days it is ovewhelming doing what God has called you to do.

Galatians 6:9 “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

7. REST –
This busy society values leisure, but the averge person seldom allows themselves true rest. God rested after His 6 days of creation. Likewise, a sabbath of rest each week is important for each of us, and not just a day off to clean house or catch up on projects, but a time to renew our relationship with Jesus, rest our weary bodies, and focus our priorities. A time to lay those spirtual and emotional burdens down before the Father. This is a necessary life skill to learn as we journey through this world and wait for the true rest Jehovah has for us in our immortal life with Him.

Deuteronomy 5:13-14 “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work.”

Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Revelation 14:13 “And I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!’ ”

So this Labor Day let’s commit to working hard, laboring for the Lord, not in vain, but being the worker and praying for more workers, doing our part, not growing weary, and learning to truly rest.