Hope

“Hope” settled on my heart as my “word of the year”… and I wasn’t excited.  Really, God? Hope? Why not CERTAINTY or STEADFASTNESS? Hope is… weak sauce…

It was early 2016 in Los Angeles and we were “getting on our feet” with shaky legs, having battled a bad financial situation.  George was finally at a stable job and we were grateful.  But this new job’s commute was killing our family time with Daddy. The boys started taking turns pretending to be him at the dinner table. Slowly, George became more discouraged. We were both in bed every night exhausted, dying to regain intimacy and, conversely, alone time.  And then Hope.  Hope said, “Relax.  There is no more you can do than what you are already doing.  Keep driving the kids, keep cleaning, keep meeting with your small groups—keep praying, keep dreaming, keep learning—and hope.  Hope that the future is bright– that the little things you’re doing today, will make a huge difference tomorrow.”  Hope is the confidence that better is coming.  

But the Lord says, “I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)

So George and I prayed — desperately.   We prayed for the next step; we prayed for wisdom.  And bit by bit the inexplicable peace came.  Peace that trusted—God’s got this.

Eventually, George got a new job.  It paid more and it was two blocks away!  The time we saved  was tremendous!  He was home to eat dinner with us, he could work out, and afterschool activities were easier to plan.  I told him, “We can never go back to you having a long commute again.”  And then, as if to test me, George was offered a job with Ventura County.  The commute would be long if we stayed where we were and moving would save us that precious ‘Daddy time.’  For us, the answer was almost instantaneous.  We would move to Ventura. We said goodbye to our friends, our schools, our comfort zones. We knew from past experience we couldn’t trade time with Daddy.

Though both fear and excitement gripped me, Hope whispered, “God’s got this too.”  I do my part and the part I cannot do, He covers. Jesus went to the cross to take my fear and uncertainty. He became my everlasting Hope, giving me confidence for the future.

Prayer:

Father, help me lay my burdens before you.  Remind me how big you are and how you have already given us victory.  Help me to hope because I know “Hope” is not a wimpy word.   

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Christine Meier is mother to three amazing boys and wife to George. She is a Child Development Specialist and has her Master’s in Human Development with an emphasis in Early Childhood Education. She teaches the two year olds (who adore her) at the City Kids Preschool in Ventura. Christine is passionate about marriage and family ministries, particularly around the issues that pertain to women and children. She and George co-lead a fantastic City Group for families on the first and third Fridays of the month. For more information, or to join her group, click here. 

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Conversations with God

James 5:16-18 says,

16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. 18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.

Let’s think about this. It didn’t rain for 3 1/2 years because of one person’s prayer. The earth did not produce fruit until it was released to do so by the prayer of one person.

The author of James is emphatic in letting us know that Elijah was a normal person, just like us. He was prone to bouts of depression and fear even though he also performed one of the boldest moves in the Bible (the Baal altar incident), he had incredible supernatural experiences, and ran faster than a chariot at one point! We too may wax and wane in our passion and strength of faith, yet we are the ones God calls righteous and we are the ones whose prayers are effective.

How then, do we pray?

Prayer is not a formula. It is not passive, it is not a last resort, it is not in one direction, it is not a list, it is not a wish or a hope.Prayer is heartfelt communication with the God of the Universe. It is a two sided conversation of  speaking and listening. Sometimes, it’s a tear. Sometimes it’s a groan. Sometimes it’s one word. Sometimes it’s many words with heightened volume. Whatever form it comes in, if it is from your heart and aimed at the God of the Universe, it is prayer, and it is a constant and real substance, called incense (Psalm 141:2), which is continually before His throne. Our prayers do not vanish with the evaporation of our breath. They are always before His Throne of Grace.

So what do we talk to Him about?

If we are saved, we have  access to Him anytime, day or night. We can talk to Him out loud or privately within our minds. We can talk to Him about EVERYTHING!!!  He says to come boldly, to give Him our problems and worries no matter how large or small.  He says to ask for the impossible things and to be thankful for what He has already done for us. He desires for us to agree with Him for His will to be done on the earth, to pray corporately and alone. He wants us to be united when we pray, in one accord putting aside our different opinions. He calls us to pray for all people, even our enemies and for those in authority. He calls us to pray for our churches, our families, our schools, our bible study groups, to ask for protection from the evil one. He wants us to be honest when we pray, to tell Him about our day. His ears are open to hear what makes us happy, what makes us sad. He is eager for  us to express our dreams and desires, our whole heart to Him.

We may say, “But if God already knows everything, why do we need to tell Him?” The answer is: intimacy. A wife may know basically what her husband does everyday. He gets up, has a cup of coffee, maybe spends some time with the Lord, walks the dog, eats breakfast, and goes to work. He comes home, eats dinner and hangs with the family for a bit then goes to bed. Of course God sees our lives and He does know the desires of our hearts, just like a wife probably know which things are preferable to her husband to have on the dinner menu. But when he tells her and explains WHY he likes those certain dinners and what he would like to try in the future, it changes everything. She gets a peek into his feelings and what makes him come alive. It makes her want to cook those dinners all the time and find more things that will please him!! It’s love on a whole different level. It’s a love that seeks to meet the heart’s desires!! This is what God wants to do with us! This is why He wants our hearts in prayer. He does not want to just observe us and automatically take care of us (Though He will because it’s His nature). He wants a relationship, a sharing of the hearts. He desires to be a constant companion in an ongoing conversation.

When I first became good friends with a woman named Jil, we bonded through email. We knew each other from church and were friends, but it really kicked into high gear when she moved to Texas. We constantly emailed and texted. We were in an ongoing conversation all the time. We were always checking our devices. This is exactly what “praying without ceasing” is like. It’s an ongoing, open ended conversation with the God who adores you!

But it’s not all about what He wants. It all starts with what He gives, how He comes to meet with us. God made the choice to send Jesus to become one of us, to take on our weakness, our pain, our rejection so that He could be a sympathetic and merciful advocate. The Bible says that Jesus has a prayer life, sitting at the right hand of the Father God, and He prays for us! (Rom. 8:34).  That kind of love, that offer of real friendship makes me want to respond and make space for an authentic and intimate prayer life. We get intimacy. Out of that, we find identity, direction, wisdom, love, provision, all of the promises in the bible!! We receive restored relationships, bodies healed, joy, an inheritance, and authority over the enemy. God tells us things that He doesn’t tell everyone. We get the “treasures hidden in darkness”. We get to know Him and HIS WAYS (Isaiah 55:8). The list could never be exhaustive because He is not finite as we are.

I hope you feel encouraged to begin or continue seeking the Lord in prayer. I’ll leave you with Psalm 116:2 (NKJV), “ Because He has inclined His ear to me, Therefore I will call upon Him as long as I live.”

What are you going to talk to Him about today?

XO,

Sharon

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Sharon Rhodes is a mom of three incredible boys and the wife of Allen. She’s passionate about prayer and evangelism and helped to pioneer the Agoura Campus of The City Church. She leads the Agoura Campus prayer team and also leads a City Group. If you’re passionate about prayer and would like to join Sharon, sign up for her City Group here. 

Intimate Friendship

“15 I have never called you ‘servants’, because a master doesn’t confide in his servants, and servants don’t always understand what the master is doing. But I call you my most intimate friends, for I reveal to you everything that I’ve heard from my Father. ~ John 15:15 (TPT)

Years ago, I started to see bracelets and heard people giving advice by asking, “What would Jesus do?” I started to think that if I served more and ‘did good things,’ I would get God’s approval. While it sounded like a good idea, it was something that I could never do. I spent many years being a diligent servant, yet love for myself and others was still missing.

One evening when I was having an internal meltdown, I came across a video on grace. My spirit awoke and in that moment, I understood how I could receive and then give others the only thing that matters to the Father – love.  

I began spending personal time with God daily as a “want to,” not a “have to.” Friendship and intimacy with God as a Father gives you access to all that is happening in His kingdom right now. The byproduct is bringing the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. In heaven there is peace, health, prosperity, joy, and more. An encounter with the tangible love of God has the power to transform your life with lasting fulfillment NOW!

Prayer: Father, I thank you for sending your Son to reveal the truth of your love for me, and that you never leave me. You love me unconditionally, and meet all of my needs, as a perfect Father. I ask you to make yourself real to me, to know me as a friend, and show me more of what’s in your Kingdom. I expectantly wait to encounter your love again and again, discovering more of who you created me to be in the fullest sense. Amen

“16 We have come onto an intimate experience with God’s love, and we trust in the love he has for us. God is love! Those who are living in love are living in God, and God lives through them. 17 By living in God, love has been brought to its full expression in us …, because all that Jesus now is, so are we in this world. ~ 1 John 4:16-17 (TPT)

brandi shot.JPGBrandi Matherne is a devoted wife and mother who works alongside her husband in business and in ministry. She has a passion to share with others how the grace of God has changed her life, and how it continues to elevate her marriage, family, and business to new levels. Her testimonies of the various ways God shows His love today are helping others walk in renewed hope, joy, peace, and faith. She is compelled with compassion for other’s to be FREE indeed. Brandi and her husband are leaders in the City Church Marketplace Ministry, and lead a City Group: “Firehouse: Prayer and Power.” To join a City Group, sign up here. 

 

The Miracle of the Sink

WILD Devo By Sharon Rhodes

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6 (NKJV)

Reluctantly submitting to my husband, I found a cheaper sink; so cheap in fact that when we opened the box on installation day, we found that it was completely shattered. My contractor looked at me and said, “You need to get a sink… today.”

As I turned to walk out the door to go settle for another sink I didn’t want, I heard the Lord whisper, “Look at Craigslist.”  I turned around and obeyed.  To my astonishment, I found the exact, English sink that I had wanted and it was being sold for even less than the cheap sink. My sink fantasy was not sunk! God directed my path when I acknowledged Him!

He is a good heavenly Father who has the incredible capacity to know about and care about every detail in our lives. When we yield to His voice, His word, He will always fulfill His purpose in our lives.

Prayer: Dear Lord, please help me to acknowledge You and trust You with every detail of my life. Your ways are far greater than mine and I desire to follow your lead.

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Sharon Rhodes is a mom of three incredible boys and the wife of Allen. She’s passionate about prayer and evangelism and helped to pioneer the Agoura Campus of The City Church. She leads the Agoura Campus prayer team and also leads a City Group. If you’re passionate about prayer and would like to join Sharon, sign up for her City Group at http://www.thecityagoura.org today!

Jesus Time

Have you ever heard someone say they were going to, “Spend time with the Lord”?  Am I the only one who has ever had a problem with that statement? I mean, what does that mean? What does that look like? How do you spend time with an invisible Being?

Years ago, I  moved to Seattle and started going to The City Church up there, I would hear people say that phrase, or something similar to it, all the time. I remember moving in with my best friend from church and she would often go to bed early so that she could spend time with the Lord in the morning. I wanted to know what it was all about. I mean, I was a Christian and it sounded like it was something I should be doing.

Now don’t get me wrong, I definitely said my prayers before meals and before I went to bed. I kept a Bible by my bedside just in case I got an attack of insomnia and needed something to help me fall back to sleep. I had even read through a handful of Bible studies when I was younger (Daniel and Revelation… my mom is SUPER into end-times stuff), and I was a part of a small group. However, the concept of spending time with the Lord by myself, just because, was completely foreign to me.

Back then, I was involved in GC, the youth ministry. I went to my group leader, Ammie, for clarification. She was one who had mentioned spending time with the Lord on several occasions. The conversation went something like this:

“Hey, Ammie?”

“Yeah?”

“What are you guys talking about when you say you’re going to ‘spend time with the Lord’?”

“You mean my ‘Jesus Time’? It means I’m going to set time aside to be with the Lord.”

“Yeah, I get that, but what do you mean?”

“Well…I make God a priority by spending time with Him.”

“Uh-huh. But…” slightly exasperated, “What is it that you DO exactly when you ‘spend time with the Lord’? How can you spend time with God? He’s like, invisible.”

“Oh!” soft chuckle “Well, basically you pray, read the Bible, worship and just…talk to God.”

Now, for those of you who are like I was, this still sounded a little – I’m just going to say it – odd. I mean, aren’t pastors the ones who are supposed to spend hours praying and reading the Bible early in the morning? Like, isn’t that their job?

Anyhow, I decided to give it a try. I had a desire to be closer to God and to live my life the way I saw all of my new friends living, completely devoted to Him. So if this “Jesus Time” was going to do that, then I would give it a whirl.

Ammie gave me some advice based on biblical principles, like having ‘Jesus Time’ in the morning because it’s good to start your day out with Jesus. She also encouraged me to have a “prayer closet” or a special place where I could get away from all the craziness of my house and life. She told me that having worship music helped to set the atmosphere – luckily I had just downloaded the newest worship album onto my brand new video iPod! I set a timer for one hour, sat there in my room at 5-something in the morning, music quietly playing in the background. I closed my eyes and began to pray. When I opened my eyes to look at the clock, a whopping seven minutes had gone by.

“Are you for reals?” I asked out loud. How was I supposed to do this for an hour?!?!

Months passed and I kept plugging away at it. Sometimes I’d start with prayer, other times I’d start with reading the Bible, and still other times I would just sit and sing along with the worship. Ammie (the best group leader ever) would call me in the mornings at 5:00 to make sure I was up early enough to get my ‘Jesus Time’ in. I got into the habit. It became a routine. There were times I would make it the full hour and even times (though very few) that I felt like the Lord was with me and we were actually spending time together. But, if I can just be real with you… for the most part…it was rough. It wasn’t enjoyable. I certainly didn’t look forward to it. And I really didn’t feel like I was growing closer to the Lord.

Fast forward years later. Yes, you read that correctly, years. I moved to California and for almost two years, was still going through the same routine. Although, admittedly, the routine was pretty sparse. One Saturday, after a week or so of being out of the habit, I decided I was going to have some ‘Jesus Time’. So I put on my worship playlist, got out my Bible, shut my door, and began to pray (I had stopped using the timer by this time because…why? Plus it was Saturday and I didn’t have anywhere I needed to be).

As I started going through the motions, something different happened…the Lord spoke to me! It wasn’t audible, but it was very clear in my spirit that this was the voice of the Lord. It wasn’t rough or harsh. No. The best way I can describe it is, friendly. In a very friendly tone, the Holy Spirit asked me a simple question, “Do you like this song?”

I stopped in the middle of my prayer list. “Huh?” I asked.

“This worship song that you are listening to right now, do you even like it?”

I stopped to listen. It was a popular song by a popular worship band. A song we had sung close to a million times before and one I wasn’t particularly fond of. I knew that God already knew the answer, so it was pointless to pretend, “Uh…no. I don’t really like this song at all.” I admitted.

“Well, change it.”

“What?”

“Change it. Put on something you like. And it doesn’t have to be worship.”

Oh. Em Geee, you guys. You have no idea what freedom and joy came with that one simple statement. It was like the Lord had lifted the weight of conformity and rigidity off of me. Of course I knew whatever music I picked had to be something that would keep me in the right mindset, so my gangsta rap playlist was out (just kidding, I don’t have a gangsta rap playlist…well I do, but it’s just the beats – no words). I’d recently started enjoying Americana, folky, jazzy bluegrass, and had a playlist full of decadent instrumentals that I loved to listen to. I put on my favorite song from that playlist and just sat there.

It was like a floodgate opened. I felt the Presence of God so greatly that I laughed, cried, got on my knees, and danced all at the same time. In that moment, God gave me a vision of us together (me as His daughter and He as my Father) that was so sweet and real I am sure we will replay it for real when I get to Heaven.  By the end of the song, I was so full and overcome by joy, I could barely move. I just remember saying, “I don’t want this to end! I don’t want this to end!” I spent the rest of my morning (yes, OVER an hour) just soaking in the Presence of God. I read my Bible, I sang songs, I talked to God and experienced  moments of intense humility and even greater joy!

At the end, the Lord spoke to me. He said, “Shaleta, when you spend time with Me, I want you to WANT to spend time with me! I want you to enjoy the time we have together! I want to hear your heart and I want you to hear Mine. That’s not going to happen if you’re just going through the motions of something you feel you’re supposed to do. I want you to be with me, not because you have to, but because you want to.”

Looking back on that day, my heart races a little bit and I get chill bumps. I had longed for the kind of connection with God that my friends had and when I finally opened up to the Lord and let go of routine and schedule, it was far better than I could have ever dreamed or imagined.

I am grateful for my friend, Ammie who taught me some great principles, like praying before my day begins and having a quiet place where I can feel free to pour out my heart to God. I am even more thankful for my best friend, The Holy Spirit, who led me to a freedom in my relationship with Jesus that I never knew was imaginable.

So for anyone who wants to experience this amazing, wonderful, ridiculously great relationship, I hope you are compelled to go and seek it out! And for those of you who have tried or are still trying but feel like you’re just going through the motions, be honest with the Lord. He is so faithful and GOOD. Maybe you need to change something up. Not big on talking? Try journaling. Can’t find a quiet space in your house? Try going for a walk. Work the early shift? Try driving down to the beach and spending time with Jesus as the sun sets.
Whatever you do, be honest and open to God. He sent His own son to die on the cross so that we could have access to knowing Him in a real and powerful way. He can and will use any opportunity you offer to speak with you.t He wants to! Be real and get ready for the best, most exciting relationship you will ever have!

XO Shaleta

Shaleta Chatman is an elementary school teacher, currently student teaching and working on her master’s degree. She taught the third grade class at City Christian School for many years and has been an active leader at The City Church since the beginning. Shaleta’s passionate about writing and serves on the Beautiful Stories editorial team. She also likes to make us all laugh at every Beautiful women’s event.

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