Sunday

Refusing to Ride the Worry Train

“Sue, I’d like to talk with you about a problem. I’ll see you in my office first thing Monday morning.” 

Ever gotten an email like this? On Friday afternoon at five, when the whole weekend stretches before you, and there’s nothing you can do except fret? 

Or how about a voice mail like this one: “Hello Mrs. Gooding, this is Dr. Simpson. I just got the results of Buster’s pathology report. Unfortunately, it’s not good. The office is closed for the weekend, but call me first thing Monday, and we’ll discuss your options.” Two days to wait with nothing to do but worry and cry. 


When was the last time you were afraid? Afraid you’d lose your job, your health, your home, your loved one? Afraid of punishment or persecution, poverty, or pain? When have you faced an agonizing wait—for a diagnosis, a deliverance, a breakthrough, or a rescue? 

Sometimes God allows uncertainty into our lives to test us. He tested Abraham, and he tested Job. He tested the Israelites in the wilderness: 

“Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands” (Deu. 8:2). 

But unlike the statement above, “. . . there’s nothing you can do except fret,” there is something else we can do. Every fearful situation leaves us with two choices—we can respond in fear, or we can respond in faith. 

When we respond in fear, we torment ourselves with every possible scenario—all horrible. We can’t sleep, we can’t eat (or we overeat), and we can’t concentrate on anything but IT. Scary thoughts consume every waking moment. What if . . . ? What if . . . ? What if . . .

If we’re Christians, our all-consuming worry makes a mockery of everything we say we believe. Our mouths say, “I believe God’s promises,” but our actions say, I believe God’s promises only when everything’s going well

When we respond in faith, we command fear instead of allowing fear to command us. 

When fear wraps our necks in a suffocating choke hold, we whisper the promises of God. 

When fear screams lies into our souls, we shout back truth in the name of Jesus. 

When fear pounds us with what-ifs and whys, we fight back with “Fear not, for I . . .” 

When we respond in faith, we choose to believe what God says instead of what our circumstances tell us. We reign in our thoughts and make them captive to the obedience of Christ. We refuse to ride the worry train to its miserable destination. 

If you’re experiencing a frightening situation right now, God may be testing you to see what is in your heart and to see if you will obey his commands. Contrary to what you may think, you have two choices—faith or fear. Which is it going to be? 

"Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine. 

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the LORD your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior,” (Isa. 43:1-3). 

What about you? Which choice usually wins when you encounter something scary? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts. If you’re reading via email, click HERE to visit Hungry for God online, scroll down, and leave a record of your thoughts.



If you live within driving distance of Brookville, PA, I’d love for you to join me for A Wardrobe for All Seasons—Dressing for Spiritual Success, a one-day women’s conference on Saturday, September 17. I’ll share 3 workshop sessions: “Stepping Out, How Our Footwear Impacts Our Faith,” “Clean Out That Closet,” and “A Hat for All Seasons—Serving God In Every Stage of Life.” 

Cost is $35, which includes lunch, a t-shirt, and a copy of my book, Hungry for God…Starving for Time. For more information and to register (discount registration deadline August 10), contact Kathy Shaffer at flokat1990@gmail.com.

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Wednesday

5 Ways to Search for God

In the 2007 movie, The Bucket List, Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman star as two terminally ill men on a road trip. Each has a wish list of things they want to do before they “kick the bucket.” 

I’ve never seen the movie, and I’m not terminally ill, but I do have a bucket list. I hoped to accomplish one of the items on my list this summer while on vacation at the beach. 


For years I’ve been fascinated by Loggerhead turtles. I’ve walked past their nests. I've seen volunteers inventory nests after they hatch, but I’ve never seen a live Loggerhead. 

Edisto Island, our favorite beach retreat, is a mama turtle’s paradise. How could one resist the soft sand, low traffic, and turtle-savvy population of the island, I wondered. This year I was determined to do everything I could to see a mother turtle lay her eggs.  

Strolling the beach the first afternoon, I spotted nest after nest high on the dunes. Cordoned off with fluorescent orange tape, the neatly labeled nests were proof that the turtle patrol had been hard at work. 

“I’d really like to see a turtle come ashore and lay her eggs,” I told one of the volunteers. “When would be the best time to walk the beach?” 

“Oh, they lay any time after dark,” she said. “We’ve had reports of nestings at 10 p.m., midnight, three a.m. It’s hard to say. ” 

The first night my husband and I walked down to Beach Access #9 an hour after sunset and turned toward the pier. The moon was a huge silver spotlight hanging low over the ocean, directing our path and illuminating the shoreline. A cool breeze was blowing, and the sand was hard-packed and smooth. We made the two-mile walk easily. We didn’t see a turtle, but we thoroughly enjoyed our walk. 

The next night we headed down to the beach at midnight. The moon was again full and bright. Although we were tired from a long day of sun and sea, the breeze was gentle, and the walk was easy. We walked in the opposite direction on the beach from the night before, but still, no turtle. 


Photo credit Carlos Rios
When we returned to the beach the next morning, however, we saw three sets of tracks beginning and ending in the ocean. Apparently mama turtles on Edisto prefer the after-midnight hours of the morning for egg laying. Aaaarg! So close! 

The final night of our hunt, we awakened spontaneously at 3 a.m. Since we knew we’d have the luxury of sleeping in, we decided to walk down to the ocean. This is the night. I thought. I KNOW we’ll see a turtle this time. 

That night, however, it was pitch black. No moon shined to light our path. Because it was considerably later, the tide was high, rising almost to the footings of the beachfront houses. Squeezed between the splashing waves and the dunes, we had to walk on soft, squishy sand, guided only by the light of my cell phone. A strong breeze blew, pushing against us as we slipped and struggled. 

At one point, the bank gave way, dumping us in a sandy heap on the damp shore. The two mile walk to the pier and back seemed much longer than it ever had. Where’s the moon? It’s so dark I couldn’t see a turtle if I stumbled over her. Why is this sand so difficult to walk on? Why does the pier seem so far away? All of a sudden, turtle hunting wasn’t fun, or exciting, or even pleasant. It was hard work. 

When we left Edisto without seeing a Loggerhead, I thought about the spiritual parallels between finding turtles and finding God. 

Some days, like the first two of our search, seeking God is easy. The cool breeze of pleasant circumstances blow, the light of insight shines brightly, and the spiritual path ahead is level and secure. 

Other times seeking God is more like our third day. There is little spiritual light to guide my path, no level terrain for my pilgrim's feet, and no protection from the winds of opposition. I slog ahead, wondering if there is any reward waiting for me. 

The good news is, unlike my elusive turtle, God wants to be found. 

“You will seek me and find me,” God says, “when you seek me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:13). 

And “ . . . anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Heb. 11:6). 

I don’t know what you’ve done recently in your search for God, but I have a few suggestions. I promise—if you follow them, you’ll be much more successful at finding God than I was at finding a turtle. 


1. Begin with God’s Word, the Bible. This love letter from God is the primary way he reveals himself to us. 

2. Read it with an open mind. 

3. Ask yourself, What does this passage tell me about God? Write down your answer. 

4. Pray and ask God to reveal himself to you, then watch for his answer. He may speak to you through the Bible, a pastor, a wise friend or godly counselor, or your circumstances. God even reveals himself through nature (Rom. 1). 

5. Attend a church that teaches the Bible. One of the best ways to get to know someone is to spend time with their family. The church is made up of God’s children, and they’ll be glad to introduce you to their Father. If you need help finding a church near you, click HERE.

Despite my diligent search, the closest I came to seeing a Loggerhead turtle was her tracks. Thankfully, I’ve been much more successful at seeking the Lord. Over the last 30+ years, he’s been eager to reveal himself to me through the Bible, other believers, circumstances, and nature. I think you’ll find him equally responsive if you seek him with all your heart. 

What about you? How has the Lord revealed himself to you? I’d like to hear your experience.  Leave a comment below and join the conversation. If you’re reading by email, click here to visit Hungry for God online, scroll down, and leave a comment.



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Sunday

God Wants to Say Yes

I could tell the group of writers gathered around me was discouraged. No surprising, since I’d just spent an hour telling them all the writing mistakes that make editors reject their submissions. Poor grammar. Inappropriate subject matter. Wrong word count. Improper formatting. The list was long and intimidating. 

I could read their thoughts from their faces. How will I ever remember all this? I might as well quit now. I have no chance of ever being published. 

My next words made their long faces even longer. “And whether you like the guidelines or not, the editor holds all the cards. She has the ultimate authority to accept or reject your work, because she’s the editor. She wrote the rules, and you have to follow them if you want to write for her publication.” 

But then I said something that made their gloomy faces perk up. “I want to tell you a secret,” I said, and waited until everyone was looking at me. “It’s true that there are a lot of reasons for an editor to say no. But deep down inside, she wants to say yes.” 

My statement surprised many of the attendees. They assumed that the long list of requirements to get an article accepted means editors are looking for reasons to reject an article. “On the contrary,” I said. “It gives an editor great joy to accept a submission that follows the rules of the publication. 

At the risk of calling down lightening from heaven, I’ll make another surprising statement: Editors are a lot like God. 

Stay with me. By the end of this post, I think you’ll agree. 

An editor has one goal in mind—to put together the best book/magazine/ezine possible. In order to do this, she (or the publication she works for) creates a set of guidelines. This helps writers know exactly what’s expected of them. 

If they follow the guidelines, guess what? Their book or article gets accepted, and they are happily on their way to publication. If they don’t, the editor rejects their work. No arguing. No explaining. No second chances. Zip. Zilch. Nada. 

In the spiritual realm, God is our editor. He has one goal in mind—to have a relationship with us. To help relate to him, he created a set of guidelines. Unlike the pages and pages of writers’ guidelines, however, the simple version of God’s requirements can be summed up in one sentence: “. . . if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). 

Even more than magazine and book editors, though, God really really wants to say yes to us. To make it easy for people to understand his guidelines, he sent judges, kings, and prophets to help explain them. Then he inspired them to write down everything he said, so we could have a permanent record.

And if that wasn’t enough, he came down to earth in the form of his Son. This was for the people who said, “It’s hard to believe in a God I can’t see. But if he appears to me, THEN I’ll believe.”

Guess what? He did, and they didn’t. 

As a magazine editor, I occasionally encounter a writer who argues with me about my magazine’s guidelines. “I’m an individual, and I don’t appreciate having my creativity stifled by having to follow your rules. I prefer to write according to my own rules.” 

Writers like this are like those who reject God’s law and choose to go their own way. Romans 1 describes them this way: They “exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator. . .” 

Like an editor, whether we like his guidelines or not, God holds all the cards. He has the ultimate authority to accept or reject us, because he is God. He wrote the rules, and we must follow them if we want him to accept us. 

But the good news is, God wants to say yes. And he’s done everything possible so he can. 

“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh (according to our own guidelines), but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. 

For what the law (my own attempts at pleasing God) could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:1-4). 

Now it’s time for me to ask: Whose guidelines are you following? Your own, or God’s? When you die and stand before him, and he asks you, “Why should I let you into my heaven?” will he accept you or reject you? 

If you’re not sure, click here to read more about how to have a relationship with God. I think you’ll be happy to discover that he wants to say YES. If you already have a relationship with God, please consider sharing this with a friend or on social media. 

And if you’re a writer in the Columbia, SC, area and would like to attend this Saturday’s (July 23, 2016) Summer Seminar for Christian Writers where other writing professionals and myself will be presenting workshops to help you grow as a writer (including the workshop I’ve referenced above, “10 Mistakes that Make Magazine Editors Say No”), CLICK HERE for more information.



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Wednesday

What to Do When Your Situation Seems Hopeless

It was ugly.

And scary.
Photo credit Kristen Hatcher

You’d think a force of 400,000 valiant warriors would be enough to guarantee a victory, but the enemy had 800,000. Outnumbered two to one by a superior fighting force, things weren’t looking good for the army of Judah.

But instead of raising the white flag, Abijah, the army’s king, took a bold stand.

“Don’t you know that the Lord God of Israel gave us this land?” (2 Chr. 13:15) he shouted across no-man’s land to Jeroboam and his army. “You turned your back on him, but as for us, the Lord is our God, and we have not forsaken him.”

Then he issued a final warning: “Do not fight against the Lord God of your fathers, for you shall not prosper.”

You’d think, after making such a declaration of trust in God, things would have gotten better. But they didn’t. Battle conditions went South faster than a college kid on Spring Break.

While Abijah was telling the front half of the army what he thought of it, the back half was sneaking around behind him to set up an ambush.

“When Judah looked around, to their surprise, the battle line was at both front and rear.” Like a bowl of M&Ms in a room full of toddlers, they were not only surrounded, but about to be consumed.

But if brave Abijah and his army were going down, they were going down with God’s name on their lips.

“They cried out to the Lord, and the priests sounded the trumpets. Then the men of Judah gave a shout.”

Guess what happened next?

“God struck Jeroboam and all Israel before Abijah and Judah. And the children of Israel fled before Judah, and God delivered them into their hand.”

Five hundred thousand choice men of Israel fell slain . . . “and the children of Judah prevailed, because they relied on the Lord God of their fathers.

I don’t know about you, but some days I feel like Abijah and his army. Surrounded by things that seem too powerful to overcome in my own strength, I have two choices: surrender or stand.

You face the same decision. Will you surrender to the emotions and circumstances that threaten our peace, safety, and well being? Or you we stand on the promises of God’s Word and trust his power to meet your needs, defend your cause, and deliver your soul?

When the battle grows fierce around us and the enemy squeezes hard on all sides, there’s only one true option for the children of God. We must stand our ground, cry out to the Lord, and watch for his deliverance.

Are you facing a challenge that seems impossible? I pray God will give you the faith to stand, cry out to him, and wait for the victory.


To help Abijah's message stay with you today, here's a musical reminder. If you're reading by email, click here to hear Petra's "The Battle Belongs to the Lord."





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Sunday

3 Ways to Stay Positive When You Feel Negative

Some days I bounce out of bed. Other days I drag. 

Some days my prayers soar to the heavens. Other days I struggle to ask in faith. 

Some days I speak encouraging words that build others up and inspire their faith. Other days I speak fearful, worrisome words that direct their eyes to circumstances and trouble their faith. 

Some days I focus on every good and perfect gift God has given me. Other days I catalog everything I don’t like about my life and my circumstances. 

I suspect I’m not alone. You struggle too. Staying positive when we feel negative is easier some days than others, and it’s almost always a battle. 

But it’s a battle we must fight. 

Negativity comes when we take our eyes off God and focus instead on our circumstances or feelings. Like a kitchen fire, it starts small but can quickly burn a house down. To tolerate or ignore it is to invite our own destruction. 


So how do we quench the fires of negativity? 

Here’s my three-step formula: 

1. STOP. As soon as your brain starts walking down the path of negativity, put the brakes on. Reign in those thoughts and don’t allow them to run away with your happiness.  
Negativity is sneaky. Like a looter during a power outage, it gathers everything that makes you happy and spirits it away. Then it heaps up everything bad it can find and presents the pile to you with a flourish and an evil grin. 

As soon as we recognize this sneaky joy thief, we must take action. Sometimes this is as simple as saying aloud, “NO, I’m not going to think negatively, fret, or grumble.” 

2. DROP. Drop the woe and replace it with wow. It’s not easy just to stop thinking negatively. We have to fill the void with something else. Philippians 4:8 tells us what that “something else” is: “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-- think about such things.” 

Choosing to replace our negative, pessimistic, gloom and doom thoughts with positive, hope-filled, upward-looking thoughts is an act of self-discipline. If we practice, it will become easier and eventually become our default setting. 

3. ROLL. Roll your cares off your frail, weak shoulders and onto God’s big, strong ones. As the old hymn says, “Have a little talk with Jesus.” It sounds simplistic, but praying about what we’re struggling with is amazingly powerful in at least three ways. 

First, it moves us from powerlessly spinning our wheels to tapping into the greatest force for change available. Second, it forces us to acknowledge our helplessness and our need of God’s help. Finally, it opens the door for peace to enter our hearts. 

Philippians 4:6-7 commands us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” 

So the next time negativity threatens your happiness, I encourage you to stop, drop, and roll. By tapping into the strength of self-discipline, the truth of God’s word, and the power of prayer, you can quench the fire of negativity and embrace the peace and joy God intends for you.

What about you? Do you struggle with negativity? How do you fight it? I'd love it if you'd share your thoughts in the comment box. If you're reading via email, CLICK HERE to visit Hungry for God online, then scroll down to the bottom of the post to comment.



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