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Garment of Praise

On the morning of New Year’s Eve I nestled into my comfy couch with a Bible and a delicious cup of hot coffee. Before reading, I took one quick scroll through Insta stories and my eye caught on a scripture that a young friend of mine posted (Thanks Sam!) And just like that–no gif, no emoji, just a plain screen with a verse on it, God captured my attention. I read Isaiah 61, the verses that Jesus quoted when He first announced His ministry:

“He sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”

I’m pierced by the phrase “garment of praise.” As I sat with my coffee, I felt God state matter-of-factly, Maggie you need a new garment.  My breath caught in my throat. Yes? Garments can be taken off or on and I guess somewhere in 2020 I took off that lovely garment of praise and put on one of low-key sadness. It wasn’t like a heavy coat of depression, but it was more like an undershirt. I wore it under a jacket at the beach or sweats at home. I wore it while we played cards during the holiday and while I cooked our meals. Can anyone relate to this? Like a low-grade fever, sadness doesn’t stop one from working and going about the day. But it does flatten our response to life. Perhaps it insulates us from anxiety but it also dampens our joy. And I don’t know about you, but I was made for joy!

So, I got up off the couch and imagined Jesus standing there with a beautiful garment of praise. Would you like to do the same? As we turn with our back to Him and slip one arm into the sleeve and then the other, He bestows on us what He promised: a garment of praise. Will you accept it? Wear it? Admire it in the mirror? (Yes, praise does look good on you!) Wear His garment of praise in the car, at the beach, while you cook. Declare God’s goodness as you go to sleep and when you awake. 

After Jesus read Isaiah 61, He said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled” and He sat down. (Luke 4:21) Think about it: He heals our broken hearts, proclaims freedom from oppression, and comforts us. He gives beauty instead of ashes, joy instead of mourning, and praise instead of despair! Jesus acknowledged the heaviness this life can bring and He declared Himself as the remedy.

Just four days into 2021 I have already won in the difficult choice to put on His garment of praise when my mind, will, and emotions screamed despair. Can I just tell you how good that felt? Come on! We are made to wear His praise. Here’s my prayer: God, we praise Your holy Name. From the rising of the sun to the setting of the same God’s Name is to be praised. For breath in our body and strength in our bones, we give You thanks. In every trial and every comfort, we give You praise, O God for You are good and Your love endures forever! Thank You Lord for giving us a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

Dear friend, if you are desiring spiritual growth, please go through my book with a friend! You can find Gracious Living, creating a culture of honor, love, and compassion at www.MargaretAllen.org or anywhere books are sold. If you want to get this blog emailed to you each week, go to my website and sign up at the bottom of Monday’s with Margaret.

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Endurance

“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” Hebrews 12:1,2

I joined a running club when I lived in Tulsa years ago. I remember the feeling of starting a run all nervous and excited. I would invariably start out too fast but after a few minutes I would settle into my natural pace. And once I eased into that natural rhythm of running, breathing, and relaxing, man it felt like I could run for days. The road stretched in front of me, welcoming my arrival.

I don’t know about you, but as we head toward Christmas and New Year’s, I wonder if we all need to find our stride, our natural rhythm to finish well. Could we look at December like a marathon, choosing to ease into our run, steadying our breath, relaxing shoulders, and softening the gaze? Could we allow the path to stretch out in front of us in welcome, no matter what surprises or disappointments it holds? Unlike any other year, 2020 requires us to dig deep into our relationship with God to find sustaining grace to finish well.

How do we run? Three clues stand out as instructive from Hebrews 12:1-2. First off, we run with endurance. This life is a long haul not a sprint. Organize your life with the end in mind so you can run with endurance. Secondly, we run the race set before us. Don’t run someone else’s race- you don’t have the grace for it and you will never win! Thirdly, most importantly, we fix our eyes on Jesus. It is so stinking easy to fix our gaze on problems or pain. I can lock eyes on all the wrong things- fear, lies, conspiracies, doubt, confusion, boredom, shame, annoyance and 1000 other life-sucking issues. Every morning, and throughout the day, I choose to fix my eyes on Jesus because He is the author and the perfecter of faith. He is good, all the time.

I’ve read through the entire Bible every couple of years for the last 42 years. Yet I still sit down with my Bible every morning. Why? I’m not so much seeking information as I am connection. I am connecting with a living, loving God who longs to communicate with me through His word, through prayer, special revelation and so on. I have yet to plumb the depths of God’s word! I’m almost always surprised, comforted, corrected, or inspired by scripture. 

May you run with endurance the race set before you, my friend. I pray that you fix your eyes, yes set your mind, heart, and intention on Jesus Christ. May you discover fresh insight and joy in your journey with Him. 

*A personal note about my race: writing this blog sharpens me in so many ways. I’m grateful for the opportunity to process the spiritual life with you and to find the words to wrap around this wonderful journey in Christ. My book, Gracious Living, creating a culture of honor, love, and compassion just went into a second printing. I’m so thankful for the ways God is using Gracious Living and I truly want to steward it well. I will be taking a break from writing for the remainder of December to focus on hearing God’s plan for next year. Please send any prayer requests or topic requests for the blog as I love to hear from you. Thank you so much for your support and encouragement. See you in 2021!

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Beautiful Resilience

I am a proud survivor of this year’s family camping trip. You remember I mentioned a glorious trek into the Emigrant Wilderness last week. Perhaps I should have printed T-shirts with a giant mosquito on the front and the simple statement “I survived Wood Lake 2020.” I thought the hike to our campsite was twelve miles. I had water for about that much. Turns out it’s more like sixteen miles but who’s counting? (Uhh, me actually)

It was so 2020! This must be the year of doing hard things. I didn’t realize the altitude would affect me so greatly. My feet blistering wasn’t quite in my plan, either. I got worn out, honestly. Then the mosquitoes took it to a whole new level of uncomfortable. But maybe life is feeling that way for many of us: a whole new level of uncomfortable. The economy, marriage, parenting, working from home, feeling lonely have worn us down. Are you struggling my friend?  Maybe the road you are on has taken an unfortunate twist. But once you head into that wilderness there’s just no turning back now, is there? You may find in the strenuous journey that you emerge a different person: stronger, wiser, more compassionate, and flexible.

Here’s the scripture that carried me through that sixteen-mile hike: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, persevering in prayer.” (Romans 12:12) I figure that if the apostle Paul can write this admonition as one who suffered much, surely it can nourish and support me with my daily struggles. Seriously, when your marriage aches with pain and baggage, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, persevering in prayer.” Are medical issues weighing heavy on your heart, my friend? Are you wondering if anyone sees your life? Whatever struggle, whatever long ass journey you are on, be joyful in hope, don’t give up! Be patient in difficulty. Persevere in prayer. When this truth is your compass, the strength of God guides you. He will surely answer the cry of your heart. With each step, be joyful in hope, another step, patient in affliction, more steps, persevering in prayer, step by step. Joyful in hope. Patient in affliction. Persevering in prayer. As the trail grows steep so does your hopefulness. Resilience is invigorating. People will wonder at your patience and strength of character. Prayerfulness will steady your life and create a beautiful culture all around. The bottom line is love. When we are joyful, persevering, and prayerful we are actually loving ourselves, loving others, and even loving God.

On the journey, I had people cheering me on. I hope you do too. Either way, you are a proud survivor. Keep moving forward! Resilience feels great and it looks good on you too. Romans 12:12 is a guide; let it direct you no matter how long the journey. When you overcome difficulties this week, congratulate yourself on hanging in there! Appreciate what God is carefully crafting in your life.

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Do you need resources right now to come alongside your spiritual journey? Go to MargaretAllen.org to get Gracious Living, creating a culture of honor, love, and compassion.