Mary Oliver

I first became acquainted with the work of Mary Oliver when I was in the formation process for United Methodist clergy.  Her poetry spoke in ways that touched something inside of me. She passed away on January 17 . I would like to share with you a few of my favorites.

Mary-Oliver

The Summer Day

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

WILD GEESE

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

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Filed under Mary Oliver, Poems, Poetry

Be Like gods

What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could “be like gods”—could set up on their own as if they had created themselves—be their own masters—invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.

— C. S. Lewis

God created us to be happy and free. He wanted us to enjoy the fruits of creation and live in harmony with Him in the garden He had prepared for us. Because we were created with a free will we chose to reject His will for us and launch off in an entirely different direction. In our ideal state we were exposed to evil, and evil won. Man fell and we still suffer the consequences of that fall.

What was the fall anyway? Simply put, we wanted to be God. The evil, Satan, told us that we could be gods and it was foolish for us to only obey God. Our egos told us that we could do anything. In fact, if we had the knowledge of good and evil we could rule the world. As a  matter of fact, we would then be our own god. That was the promise of the devil then and it still is his promise today. What are some results of that promise?

  • We miss the very best that God want to give us.
  • We spend our lives try to be what we can’t be.
  • We suffer untold heartaches trying to “do it ourselves.”
  • We live in a world of wars and rumors of war.
  • We fail to truly do what we want to do.
  • We labor for all that we attain.
  • We are not satisfied with what we attain.
  • We live shorter and more difficult lives.

Is there some relief from this? Yes! The relief is not complete but it offers promise. God saw our struggle and came to help us in spite of our sin. He came Jesus-Quote-1-30-19in the form of the man Jesus and offered to be our savior. Jesus gave us the great hope when he taught us to pray,”Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” That simple statement is our hope. We live this present day in His grace and know that He will one day restore His creation.

We miss a lot but Jesus gives us a lot. Let us take advantage of the great gift of God.


Prayer

Lord, I want to trust you. I want to take Jesus as my Savior and Lord. Let Him dwell in me so I might dwell in Him. Teach me to value myself as a sacred creation of yours. Let me see ways of service to you and my community,

Amen

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Filed under C. S. Lewis, Christian Journey, Satan, Sin

Sorting it Out

I have been asked to tell you what Christians believe, and I am going to begin by telling you one thing that Christians do not need to believe. If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through. If you are an atheist you do have to believe that the main point in all the religions of the whole world is simply one huge mistake. If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all these religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth.

—- C. S.Lewis

In the past few years I have become a great fan of British television and movies.  In doing so, I have become aware of the different expressions that are used in the UK in the same manner that people from the UK become aware of American expressions when they view American television and movies. An expression I hear quite often is, “Let’s sort it out.” The expression clearly means that the truth is somewhere in the situation. The job of the detective or the teacher is to find it.

Our very diverse society offers many concepts of religion, God and truth. Lewis urges us not to curtly dismiss the ones who are not of our stripe but rather to engage them and even learn from them. Simply put, to sort them out. Unfortunately, we have a tendency to attempt to destroy those ideas that conflict with our own. Christians do not have to live and believe in a protective bubble. Such an attitude  makes us an isolated and judgmental group that spends its time fighting anyone who sees things differently. As Christians we are called to witness our faith, but that witness imperative requires that we do sort out some things.

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We must sort out truth from prejudice.

Many of us have grown  up in traditions that demand certainty of belief. Certainty does give us a level of comfort which we all desire. Comfort, certainty, in and of themselves, are good. However, when our certainty makes it necessary to condemn others we begin to walk on shaky ground. God never wanted us to go around judging the world and deciding who is worthy and unworthy. When we become judges we invariably have a set of prejudged standards that we impose on everyone. If we don’t watch ourselves we will begin to assess worthiness on sight based on some predetermined set of rules. There is never any search for real truth. Our only interest is if the person looks or sounds “right.” The search of the Christian is for truth.

We must sort out evangelism from crusade.

Evangelism is the sharing of the good news of the path to God. A crusade is organized campaign concerning a social, political, or religious issue. Your relationship to God is a gift,  not an issue. As Christians we share the good news as just that – GOOD NEWS! God’s message of peace and harmony is shared with love and kindness. The message is never to be shared in a semi military fashion. We share as we go. Sharing is done by multiple small acts of kindness. Evangelism is the giving of one’s self to the service of others. We are not on a crusade but a journey with the message of Christ. Make your journey count.

We must sort out our irreducible minimums.

I would be remiss if I did not point out some “I believe” statements.

  • I believe  that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world.
  • I believe that all salvation is through Him.
  • I believe that He is the son of God.
  • I believe that He had a special birth.
  • I believe that there is an afterlife.
  • I believe God’s kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven.
  • I believe that God is still active in this world.

Those are the “irreducible minimums “ that guide my life. Far be it from me to force others to agree with me, but these are the basis of how I determine my walk with God. Once our minimums are thought out and established we are ready to share with others. We can be faith sharing Christians without being grand inquisitors of the world. Know what you think and be open to listen and share.


Prayer

Lord, help me to see the value in people who disagree with me about you. Let me see the light that you have given them. Teach me to go forward and make a difference with all people not just those who agree with me. Allow me to see your light in all that I encounter.

Amen

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The Spirit of Christ

It is not for us to say who, in the deepest sense, is or is not close to the spirit of Christ. We do not see into men’s hearts. We cannot judge, and are indeed forbidden to judge.

—- C S Lewis

How many times have you been confronted with the question, are you a Christian? Our first response is obvious, yes! For some, that response requires a great many qualifiers. Have you had a dramatic “born again” experience or , like John Wesley, has your heart been strangely warmed ? C S Lewis in his writing warns us of such qualifiers. He asserts that the spirit of Christ is far more powerful than our words and expressions. Our place as Christians is to share the love and freedom that comes from knowing that spirit to all who come our way. Anything other than that would be judging, and we are not to judge. That judging is, in my opinion, the unforgivable sin

Every Christian is called to ministry by their Baptism. Our Baptism is the coming of the spirit of Christ upon us by our personal affirmation of Christ or by the affirmation of our faith community. Through that we are called to share that faith and love to our community. Faith and love cannot be shared while we are judging others.

  • The spirit of Christ is a spirit of love.
  • The spirit of Christ is a spirit of forgiveness.
  • The spirit of Christ is a spirit of inclusion.
  • The spirit of Christ is a spirit of freedom.

When we allow His spirit to rule our lives, we possess those qualities and are equipped to share them with the world. Being Christ like is not a contest of holiness but a challenge to be the good news to those we encounter. Have you shared the true love of God with anyone lately? If you did then you saw the shear joy that appeared on their faces when they were touched by that love. We live in a world that is reeling with division and strife and seeking to find a peace that only God can offer. People who see and feel forgiveness, freedom and inclusion are changed in an instant. Let us offer that as often as we can.


Prayer

Lord, help me to truly live in the spirit of Christ. Allow me to see his love in me and share it with others. Take away my drive to judge and replace it with a drive to love and forgive. May that spirit be my way of living.

Amen


 

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Two Mysteries

“God has to work in the soul in secret and in darkness because if we fully knew

what was happening, and what Mystery, transformation, God and Grace will eventually ask of us, we would either try to take charge or stop the whole process.”

― St. John of the Cross

When we come to truly believe that God is at work in the world we face two mysteries. The first is the pure reality that we can never fully define or explain God. The second is we cannot predict what will be expected of us as followers of this mysterious God.

The First Mystery

God is real but we find that reality impossible to pin down. For God is not tangible but beyond the tangible. God is real but not definable. God is present but never seen. God speaks but we never really hear the voice of God. The essence of God is the mysterious presence. This is the presence that guides us when are lost, comforts us in sorrow and strengthens us in weakness. John of the Cross and other mystics understood and embraced a God that did not give them all the answers. God is this overarching presence that allows us to feel and experience things that are beyond this realm. That mystery is what carries us forward to worship and adore our creator.

Two-Mysteries-Quote

When we are ready to embrace this mystery we can engage God as never before. God then become our partner in all that we experience. We can live with our doubts because we understand that doubt is a vital part of faith. I would venture to say that there is no faith without doubt. Embracing the first mystery allows us to believe.

The Second Mystery

God is not in the business of giving followers a blueprint of their lives. The mystic asserts that we would be very reticent to follow our creator if we had the full scope of what would be expected of us. The sufferings of life are not something we look forward to experiencing. Yet as followers, will will suffer. Some suffering will come as a direct result of following God. In all relationships, there will be some bad days. The mystic tells us these times and events must be a mystery. If we knew everything that would happen to us or be expected of us everyday, it would be impossible to face many of our days.

This second mystery involves our willingness to be believers without knowing exactly what is expected of us. This makes our lives unpredictable but none the less protected. This same God who does not allow us to know what our path will be us gives us the ability to go through every door and rise above anything that befalls us. In the midst of demands and struggles, God guides us, blesses us and makes us stronger. That strength compels us to become vessels of strength to others.


Prayer

Lord, you are the greatest of all mysteries. Your ways will never be totally known to me. My path will never be laid before me like a highway. I live knowing that no matter how winding and crooked my path may be you are always near. Your nearness, though it is a mystery, gives me comfort, strength, and joy.

Amen

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Ways to See God

Rev. Thomas pioneer of the Contemplative Movement died this past week at the age of 95. I share below some quotes from him.

Silence is God’s first language; everything else is a poor translation.

God will bring people and events into our lives, and whatever we may think about them, they are designed for the evolution of His life in us.

For human beings, the most daunting challenge is to become fully human. For to become fully human is to become fully divine.

Nothing is more helpful to reduce pride than the actual experience of self-knowledge. If we are discouraged by it, we have misunderstood its meaning.

― Thomas Keating

There is no question in my mind that the best path to God is through silence. Prayer is not measured in the abundance of our words or the eloquence of our speech. Prayer is quietly listening to and waiting for the voice of God. The Contemplative Movement is about bringing this idea into the mainstream of Christian thought and spreading it beyond the limited boundaries of Christianity. Thomas Keating was a pioneer of that concept. Let me share a few ideas, with Keating’s help, about living the Contemplative life.

Silence is God’s Language

  God is not American or Chinese. He is God. The Creator is not impressed with our methods of prayer or our vain attempts to be holy. He is a God who speaks beyond words and we, as His people, must learn to listen and communicate beyond words. Silence is the language of God. Noise is the language of man. (The Devil?) My major calling of the last several years has been to search for silence in my life. In that search, I have come to understand more of God but realize that I have discovered I know less of God.

Pay Attention

When I was a boy my “report cards” often had a checked box that said, “inattentive in class.” My teacher’s method was to let me and my parents know that I was not listening to the message that she was trying to deliver. God has sent people into my life, and your life, for the purpose of teaching us about him and his intention for our lives. We often go through life inattentive of these vital messengers. In silence, we can hear them.

Becoming God’s Creation

Most of us would agree that God created us. The problem is that we immediately begin to try to recreate ourselves in the way that we see ourselves. We forget God as soon as we are able to think for ourselves. Being fully human is to acknowledge that we are created by and dependent on God. In realizing our dependence we become fully human and open the divine gate of our life.

Seeing as God Sees

We all agree that pride is a major problem in ourselves and in the world. Keating draws a correlation between pride and self-knowledge. There are many who see their weaknesses and become forlorn and depressed by them. That’s because we fail to understand the nature of God. God is the ultimate source of love and understanding. He wants us to see ourselves so we can understand him better. He has offered us a “way out” of self-centeredness and self-destruction. That way is to accept his love and understanding, and we can never do that do unless we see ourselves as we truly exist. Self-knowledge is not a road to ruin but a road to the riches of God.

These few points give us a basis to living life and becoming closer to God in that journey. Give some thought to them as you travel the pilgrimage that God has given you this week.


Prayer

Lord ,I so want to see you. Help me to find a path to you. Help not to flounder in my ways. Show me a way to listen and hear so that I may come to understand you and myself as well. Guide me to a quiet place and speak loudly to me.

Amen

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Living in the Kingdom

“Now therefore, my beloved, I beseech you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, not to neglect your salvation, that this transitory life may not deprive you of eternal life, nor the skin of this corruptible body deprive you of the kingdom of light ineffable, nor a guilty seat lose you the angelic thrones of judgment. Truly my children, my heart is in wonder and my spirit in terror, that even when we were given the full freedom to become saints, we all take our pleasure like drunkards on new wine.”

—– Anthony of Egypt

Articles are written, sermons are preached on this elusive topic of salvation. Churches have formulas that are touted as the only way to God. In times past, and today, people are killed because they see the pathway to God differently. There are those who proclaim that we live in a time of “Christian Genocide.” I am not sure how far I am willing to go on that subject but I do think we are living in a time of tremendous exclusivism in religion that leads to horrible atrocities. The desert monk gives us some instruction that make the path to God very personal.

He urges us not to neglect our salvation. Religious fanatics who are engaged in eliminating others are forgetting that the main thing is how we personally relate to the kingdom of God. Does that kingdom live in our hearts.and minds? Is it real to you and what are you doing as a part Article-10.17.18--1of that kingdom? I would hardly think that God wants us to kill people who disagree with us.

Anthony asserts that our lives are transitory. He points to the tragic decision that so many make to neglect the eternal nature we all share.  We are part of the Kingdom of God, not just in the future, but right now. We are in the corruptible body that drags us down. This corruption causes us to believe that we hold ultimate right answer and all who see it differently are heretics.

We are given the freedom to become saints. The word saint comes with some baggage. By definition, a saint is a person who is recognized as having an exceptional degree of holiness or likeness or closeness to God. That closeness is developed by Article-10.17.18rising above the corruption of this world. We cannot rise above this corruption and be obsessed with it at the same time. It is my firm belief that those who spend their lives condemning others simply condemn themselves. This condemnation is a result of our desire to be God.  They make the judgment, and thus, hand out the punishment.

We must not take pleasure in our own holiness but be constantly aware of our own corruption. The goal of the believer is to live in the Kingdom here and now. In order to live in the Kingdom, we must  have the heart of the King.  “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17) Let us have the same attitude as the King. Our calling is to be  the light of the world and the one who offers hope to those who are hopeless. That’s what  “Living the Kingdom” means.


Prayer

Lord, give me the wisdom and knowledge to live in the Kingdom today. So often my own corruptions cause me to stray. The source of such corruption is sometimes a lack of self-esteem and other times just pure arrogance. Lead me away from both so I may be as you.

Amen

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Spiritual Direction and Healing the Soul

(Note: This is a reblog of an article by Lou Kavar. I thought it to be very informative and worth sharing. I will share some thoughts of my own on “Healing of the Soul” soon)

Spiritual Direction. It’s an odd term. It refers to a practice in which one person tends to another as a companion for the spiritual journey. The “direction” aspect of “spiritual direction” is what makes the term awkward. A wise spiritual director doesn’t direct anything. At best, an experienced spiritual director may make some observations about what form life is taking for the other. But someone shouldn’t be giving directions or advice.

Some people have tried using other words for “spiritual direction.” There’s spiritual friend, spiritual companion, spiritual coach or advisor, spiritual teacher …. all of which have their own problems. Conveying the dynamic of this process seems to elude all of these terms. It’s similar to trying to define spirituality itself: as soon as it’s defined, it becomes obvious that something is missing.

I don’t know when the English term “spiritual direction” was first used. In all my study, I’ve not been able to find a reference for that. But the actual process is found in every great religious tradition.

My understanding of the practice of spiritual direction is rooted in the Eastern Christian tradition. In the Eastern Christian tradition, spiritual direction traces its origin to the third century of the Common Era. At that time, the fathers and mothers of the Christian contemplative tradition sought refuge and quiet in the Sinai desert. From them emerged an understanding of what we today call spiritual director. The person regarded as a father or mother, abba or imma, was a person known for living a well integrated spiritual life. Others would seek out the wisdom of the father or mother. More often in small groups, but sometimes individually, the father or mother would offer perspective about the path of the spiritual journey. This process was understood to be one of healing.

Unlike many other approaches to spiritual direction common today, spiritual direction in Eastern Christianity is primarily known as the healing of the soul. Affirming that each person is at heart the image and likeness of the Divine, soul healing is meant to remove all obstacles that prevent the person from living fully in consonance with the Divine spark that animates each of us. From this perspective, spiritual direction isn’t just about prayer and spiritual practices or a set of exercises. Spiritual practices and disciplines do have merit in that they enable us to live into the truth of the inner light we carry. But the process of healing, of returning to wholeness, is the focus of spiritual direction. Healing and wholeness are the result of turning toward and reorienting ourselves to (Greek: metanoia) the Divine presence in us. In this process, every aspect of life is refocused to enable us to manifest the Divine light, to be transfigured into the image of God we were created to be. Healing is a movement toward integration from all the ways we each lead lives that are imbalanced or off-target (Greek: hamartia). This healing doesn’t come in an instant but is a process of growing into greater balance and harmony throughout all of life.

When I meet with others as a spiritual director, either in my study or by way of Skype, any aspect of life may be part of the conversation. For example, some people explore how the spiritual direction of life can be better integrated with work and career while others explore living compassionately in our complex world. In these conversations, my role is not that of a counselor or psychologist who identifies problems and establishes goals to solve those problems. Instead, my role is to be a reminder to return to the simple perspective of how the spiritual dimension of a person’s life gives form and shape to the other aspects of life. While only the person seeking spiritual direction can come to that kind of integration, it’s often helpful to have another ask questions or share perspectives on the process of integration. That’s what the fathers and mothers in the Sinai did when people sought their counsel.

While the spiritual dimension of my own life is rooted in the contemplative tradition of Christianity, many of those with whom I work in spiritual direction don’t share that same background. While some are Christian, some are Buddhist, and others describe themselves as spiritual but not religious or humanist. The metaphors for the integration of the spiritual dimension of life with the other aspects of life may differ because of our beliefs and practices. Yet, the essential process of healing the soul, of journeying with another along the process of wholeness, is very much the same.

Today, there’s a wide variety of perspectives on spiritual direction. Some follow a particular approach to prayer and spiritual practice, like the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius, and others use psycho-spiritual tools, like the Enneagram. My approach is one of integration and is rooted in the tradition that understands spiritual growth and development as a process of healing and wholeness for all of life.

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There Is a Door for All

First, there are those who are called by the law of love which is in their nature, and which original good implanted in them. They achieve the true manner of life, because their souls are ready to follow the love of God. This is the first kind of calling.

Anthony newSecond, there are those who hear the written law testifying of the pains and torments prepared for the wicked, and of the promises for those who walk worthily in the fear of God. By the testimony of the written law, their thoughts are roused up to seek to enter into the calling.

Third, there are the souls which at first were hard of heart and persisted in the works of sin; and somehow the good God in his mercy sends upon such souls the chastisement of affliction, till they grow weary, and come back to their senses, and are converted, and draw near, and enter into knowledge, and repent with all their heart.”

—— Anthony of the Desert

Everyone who has ever lived has an inbuilt desire to discover the great unknowns of life and death. At some point in our lives, we ask questions that have no answers.  These unanswerable questions are usually pursued by venturing into the realm of the spiritual. The monk seeks to present reasons that people discover and satisfy their need for the unknown.

The first and the seemingly most noble is love. Anthony asserts that there are people who have a natural gift to love. He terms it the “law of love.” This law draws people toward a calling in Christ. They feel and see the love of God in action and are compelled to follow that law. Their motivation is one of a heartfelt desire to imitate Christ and to be His light for others.Anthony-10-10-18

The second is fear. I would venture that this is the “fear of the Lord” that is frequently referenced in scripture. These people see the might and majesty of God and quickly realize that they fall woefully short and cry out to God for redemption.

The third fear is distraction. Our world is filled with people who live busy and distracted lives. They meet themselves “coming and going” but something drastically changes. All of a sudden, often without warning, they hit a wall. Anthony calls that event a chastisement. That chastisement thrusts them into the presence of God and changes their lives.

These wise words should be taken seriously in our present culture. There are so many people crying out for answers that seem elusive to all. Examine what you are going through and I believe that you will see God showing a door that leads to peace. He invites us to walk through that door to experience His love and grace. God has a tailored invitation to all who seek Him.


Prayer

Lord, allow me to see and hear the message that you have prepared for me. May I discover the love that surrounds me and know that you are the source of that love. May I go through this day as one who is at one with you.

Amen

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There Is a Purpose After All

“When the demons see Christians, specially the monks, working joyfully and growing in the spirit, first they fight them with temptation, and by placing obstacles to hinder their growth, trying to inject evil thoughts in their minds; but there is no reason for fear from their temptations because their offenses fail instantly by prayer and fasting, specially if you have had armed yourself with faith and the sign of the cross.”

He also said, “Whoever has not experienced temptation cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven,” he even added, “without temptation no one can be saved.”

—- Anthony of Egypt

Most of us struggle with the concept of evil in our lives and the world. I wish that God would just straighten everything out and let us all live in peace and harmony. That would make things smooth and comfortable. How many times in your life have you asked the question, Why? We all want to know why we suffer, why do bad things happen to good people, why can’t I rid myself of this bad habit? what is the purpose? God, please let me see the purpose of my plight.

The first advice of the monk is to give us a way of conquering the temptations that perpetually plague us. October-3-Quote This much is clear. We will all face evil in our lives. This evil is not accidental but planned and intentional. The world is the domain of the evil one and he spreads his message to all of us. The good news is that we need not fear because we have the tools to battle this invasion of our being. Abba Anthony points to prayer, fasting, and the cross as our means of victory. Those of us who pray, fast and are signed by the cross will overcome. That is truly the “Good News”  of Jesus.

The monk asserts very strongly that without temptation it is impossible to be saved. Through our trials, we learn to rely on and live for God. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:13 “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is commonSatan-and-God to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” Fascinatingly, we experience God’s power when we are tempted with evil. Our trials carry us to places we would never attain without them. It is through these times of testing that we taste the grace of God that eventually lands us in His Kingdom.

We all have cursed our time of temptations, but we also have been strengthened by such times. This strength carries us to new heights. Trials, temptations, and tribulations have a purpose after all.


Prayer

Lord, as I walk through these tough time help me to remember that there is a door on the other side. This door leads me to a life that is increasingly closer to your kingdom. Allow that realization to give me further strength as I make that occasional turn in the wrong direction. Let me be faithful to you in all that I do.

Amen

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