Maybe it has something to do with being born in the “Giving Thanks” month, but for me, this season is always a time of reflecting and anticipating what’s ahead. Autumn, with its crisp blue skies, bright orange pumpkins, the smell of burning leaves, and even the rainy foggy days, is truly my favorite season. It’s the season when I take stock of the past year, and prepare for the next, by asking God to confirm what spiritual focus He wants me to have for the coming year.
Every fall, God impresses on my heart the topic and passage that He knows I’ll need to dive into for that year. I certainly don’t know what lies ahead, so it’s best that I go to the One who does. (I love that He’s not only omniscient, but He’s also a gracious teacher!)
For this year, my spiritual focus passage has been:
“The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.” (Psalm 9:9–10)
And every morning begins with a time of thanking the Lord for being our stronghold through this strange and difficult season. A season when LeRoy’s physical state (and at times his emotional as well) has been oppressed and our “normal way of functioning” has experienced great “times of trouble”—but the Lord has clearly been our stronghold.
This passage has served as a solid stronghold this year.
Every fall, I give you the same challenge: “Begin seeking God for what your spiritual focus should be next year!” I lovingly offer that challenge in the fall, so you have time to pray and seek God to confirm what direction He has for you in the coming year. I encourage you to have a spiritual focus for the year, because an intentional pursuit of God brings the joy of knowing Him more intimately. And there is nothing better than that.
You don’t have to adopt a “spiritual focus” for the year in order to pursue God or cultivate a more intimate relationship with Him, but I’ve found that it helps to have a map that guides you toward a worthy goal. The yearly Scripture passage becomes my map and provides me with a course for the year. Setting the heart toward a certain destination will produce greater results than wandering aimlessly.
When I pull out old journals to look back over the focus God has put on my heart, and led me through in past years, it testifies to the fact of His loving care in preparing me for what He knew was coming.
In 2016, there was a word (and action) that stayed on my heart throughout the year: Surrender.
2016 was to be the year of the yielded heart, surrendering all to Him. Living the “Not my will, but Yours” life—moment by moment. Not that I mastered that, but God led me through some serious lessons to prepare my heart for greater degrees of surrender than I’d yet walked.
Thus, each day of 2016 began with this journal entry:
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
(2 Cor. 4:16–18)
This passage was the foundation for my spiritual focus for 2016. Day in and day out, each morning started with inscribing this passage on a fresh day’s journal page—while also engraving it on my heart. As these words poured out on paper, I voiced prayers for those who’ve been living this passage: For moms and wives who’ve released a loved one to the “unseen and eternal” but are left waiting for that day when they will be reunited. For those of us who need a “sight readjustment” to see beyond the temporary, and for loved ones who are bodily wasting away, while needing that inner renewal.
Almost every day of 2016 I challenged myself (and often you blog readers and friends) to look to the unseen, the eternal, rather than staying fixated on the transient. I was pressed that year, to step into that area of faith that involves mystery: where I trust God’s character and know that He is good and all powerful—even when witnessing horrific events.
It was the year that LeRoy’s strange symptoms were increasing and the doctors had no answers. It was the year that we finished writing Men Who Love Fierce Women and sent it out into the world, praying for men to read it and love their wives well.
Being pressed into faith in 2016, helped prepare me for 2017, which held the greatest challenge LeRoy and I have ever faced.
Not Losing Heart!
Read again the first sentence of my Scripture passage for 2016: “So we do not lose heart.” This is the key to not losing heart—surrendering the heart to God’s sovereign plans. Knowing that whatever affliction a year may hold, it is temporary. The affliction is temporary, but the eternal weight of glory being formed through that affliction is eternal.
And isn’t eternal glory worth more than all the temporary? Isn’t the temporary affliction worth gaining the eternal glory?
In knowing God’s character, there is joy in the surrender. His character is good and merciful. He is kind and just, and His mode of operation is redemption! These days, as our lives look much different than we could’ve imagined, I often remind myself of this statement that God impressed on me back in the fall of 2015:
If I truly desire God’s glory, I will embrace every affliction God appoints for me.
Little did I know then what affliction was awaiting us in the late summer of 2017. God brings afflictions and He brings abundant delights. In all of it, He is working out a beautiful plan—an “eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”
In the fall of 2016, a year before our lives would change dramatically, when I began asking God what Scripture passage He would have me focus on for 2017, He quickly brought this to mind:
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart (2 Corinthians 3:17–4:1).
That passage was my Scripture focus for 2017. It served as my guiding “map” for the spiritual journey God took us on that year. It was the Scripture passage I inscribed on my journal page each morning as I began my time in the Word and prayer. From January 2017, all the way up to the day that LeRoy dropped to the floor of the hotel in Prince Edward Island, this is what I wrote out and prayed for each morning.
Read again the last four words of this passage.
It’s interesting to me that the same phrase is found in both passages in the two years leading up to LeRoy’s illness: “. . . do not lose heart.” During his illness, there have been many times that I struggled with “losing heart.” I’ve felt overwhelmed by the workload of care-giving and medical demands, I’ve battled with fears about the future, I’ve lived in a bone-dead weary state, and felt much older than my years.
But in surrender, there is peace and even joy waiting for us—no matter how difficult the road we’re walking.
The word, surrender, is actually an antonym for “not losing heart.”
I’m intrigued by that. We’re called to surrender all, but not lose heart in doing that. In surrender, relinquishing all control to the Savior, we find hope. And hope is a synonym for “not losing heart.”
Hope. That is the word that keeps coming to mind, and I’m thankful. Hope is filled with confident and delightful expectation. Hope is a beautiful word to wake up to in the morning.
Hope is the anchor that holds in the fiercest storm.
(Several years ago I considered writing a book on hope . . . perhaps one day . . .)
But today, I’m taking to heart the truths from this passage, and continue preaching them to myself—and possibly to you dear readers who will listen. Today, I take from it the promise of freedom. I do not have to be enslaved by the fears, doubts, and overwhelming needs that threaten to take me down. There is freedom as I walk under the Spirit’s command.
There is joy in surrender, and hope gives reason to “not lose heart” as the surrender grows more difficult.
Will you join me?
Will you begin asking God to lead you, as you seek out what should be your spiritual focus for 2020? (I can’t even believe we’ve made it to that decade, as I type numbers that look like a year from a science fiction novel!) He’s already put on my heart the Scripture focus for 2020, and I hope to share that with you later. But today, I just want to encourage you to consider that He knows what lies ahead for you in the coming months and years, and how about pressing in to His Word, and asking Him to provide you with some personal direction for what’s ahead?
God knows what you will need to learn in 2020. Will you join me in seeking His Word, and asking Him what passage He has for you?