Praying in the Dark

The past few days have been a dark place for me. I don’t mean that something horrible has happened, or that my life has been upended. But things seem dim and indistinct. Some things I took for granted turn out to be less than sure. Events have been chaotic and tinged with evil and sadness.

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I was reading a novel the other day, set in the early days of World War II in London. Because of the threat of air raids from Germany, the people were required to “black out” their windows at night, and drive with no headlights. People who had driven or walked around the streets of London with confidence just weeks before were being injured or even killed because they could no longer trust in streetlights, headlights, or lights in windows to guide them safely home. At the same time, during the day, thousands of people, fearing that the Germans would use deadly gas, were carrying around gas masks (just in case!), and leaving them on buses or at pubs or train stations, because they were unused to the extra responsibility. Suddenly, the gas mask they were depending on was lost, and all the extra preparation turned out to be useless, anyway. It reminds me how often I would see people last year, getting ready to enter a store, only to return to their car for their required mask. The recent upsurge in COVID cases means that some public businesses and services are requiring masks again, while others do not. No one knows if they are prepared; no one seems confident that they are “safe”– even with masks, vaccines, furious hand-washing, and social distancing.

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Hard times and difficult situations can cause us to shift our focus and have to learn new routines–even new vocabulary! At certain times, life almost seems “normal.” At others, we seem to be tossed by every new wave that comes along. It can be easy to lose one’s way in the fog and darkness of chaos and changing times.

The Psalmist and King, David, had words of wisdom for times like these: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” (Psalm 119: 105 KJV)

Even when things seem dark and it feels like I’ve lost my way, God is right beside me. If I have no other “light” to see by, God’s word will be enough to guide me on. When I pray– even in the dark–God sees me clearly, and knows the way ahead.

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And I needed to be reminded of that this week.

Ceaseless Praise

Have you ever thought that right now, somewhere in the world, someone is singing praises to God? Someone is praying somewhere in the world at every moment of every day. There is not a solitary silent moment in the universe, where God is not receiving the worship He deserves. In fact, Jesus told some angry Pharisees, when they asked Him to rebuke the people of Jerusalem, that if they (the people who were shouting praises) were to be silent, the very rocks would cry out! (See Luke 19: 37-40)

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In fact, “the whole earth is full of His Glory” (Isaiah 6:3). From the smallest insect to the giant creatures in the seas; from the smallest of dust motes to the stars in the galaxies, all of creation sings, shouts, shines, and testifies to the Majesty of God.

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We don’t hear this constant praise. Nor do we smell the aroma of constant prayers that rise up “like incense” to the throne of Heaven. But our prayer should be that Jesus would be as close as our every thought, word, and action throughout the day; that in everything we think, say, and do, we would be participating in the eternal and glorious worship of the One who is worthy. And that our prayers and praise would blend in harmony with all the others in the great “Song of the Redeemed.”

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Prayer and praise should not be a single activity undertaken for a minute or even an hour a day. It should be as natural as breathing or blinking. And while we are in the flesh, and may not physically “pray without ceasing,” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) we can ask God to “take our moments and our days–let them flow in ceaseless praise!”

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Abide With Me

Often, when I pray for those who are in pain or grief, I will ask, “God, BE WITH…” This is a natural desire, but in one sense, it is also superfluous. God is always with us; always present, no matter our circumstances.

So when I ask God to “be with” someone, I am not really asking that He stop whatever else He is doing and go to that person. He is already there. I’m not asking Him to become aware of their heartache or suffering; He already knows. I’m not asking that He do something new or different from His will or His plan. What I am asking is that His presence would be revealed in and through the situation– that my friend or loved one (or stranger whose needs have been brought to my attention) would have a supernatural sense of God’s abiding, powerful, compassion and grace.

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Intellectually, I can know that God is omnipresent and omniscient. I “know” that God is always with me. The Bible is filled with God’s promises to “be with” His people. (See https://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-study/topical-studies/beautiful-verses-to-remind-you-that-god-is-with-us.html) But I also know, emotionally and experientially, that I don’t always feel His presence. I have moments of doubt and despair– I think all of us do. That’s part of the curse of Sin–being separated from the awareness of God’s continual presence. Even Jesus, as He was dying, felt the awful anguish of being separated from the Father, crying out, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)

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God promises each believer that He (through His Holy Spirit) will dwell with us. He will “abide” with us. But just like living with a spouse and other members of a family, there are times when His presence seems to be in another room; and we feel alone. There may be many reasons for this– sometimes, it is because we have walked away, or turned our face away. But at other times, we long for that closeness, that awareness that God is right beside us, only to feel that He is far away. As strong as that feeling may be, we need to remember that it is NOT the reality. God still abides with us. He is still present, even if He is silent.

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So, when I know that feeling, or when I know someone else is going through that feeling, I pray, not that God will come to us, or come back from being away, but that our awareness of God’s presence and closeness will be deepened or reignited.

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Someday, I won’t have to pray that prayer. Someday, and for all eternity, we will be surrounded by God’s Glorious Presence. But in this fallen world, what a privilege and hope to be able to pray to a God that abides with us!

On This Day…

There is a website, On This Day, that can tell you an interesting or important fact about something that happened on any day of the year throughout history.

http://On This Day – Today in History, Film, Music and Sporthttps://www.onthisday.com

Of course, this site only gives you certain facts from certain years and in certain areas of interest. So its focus is limited to one or two events per day from random years. Sometimes, the dates and facts are important events in world history; other times, they are trivial but interesting details about a sporting match, or a film star.

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I don’t have to consult On This Day today. Something very personal, very important, and very tragic happened on September 1, 1998. My father died. I watched him take his last ragged breath in a hospital bed. I held his hand moments before he died, and I wept with my mother and sister as we tried to take in the great loss. There are many days that are etched into my memory– birth days, death days, graduation days, wedding days–that will never make the pages of history books or web sites. There are other days, “ordinary” days, that pass me by without reference to any memories at all. Many days that mean little to me fill others with joy or pain.

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Yet each day is a gift from God to each one of us. My 24 hours today will be different from yours. Somewhere, this day will be a new beginning of life– elsewhere, it will be someone’s last day. Small things will happen on this day– a cheerful greeting, a burnt slice of toast, shared laughter with a friend, a hug, a stubbed toe–things we won’t remember tomorrow, or things we won’t value in the moments when they happen. Big things will happen, too–joyous occasions and tragic events that may shake families, communities, or even the world. This day may be filled with sunshine or rain, happiness or grief, achievements or disappointments.

God sees them all– He not only sees them, but He shares them with us. Every moment–every place– every person!

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On This Day, you can be assured that God is with you. In joyful moments and tragic circumstances. In fearful situations and quiet moments of routine tasks. In crowds of commuters or in lonely corners. On This Day– and every day– God wants to share all that is on your mind and in your heart. On This Day and in this moment, God is as close as your next breath.

(See Deuteronomy 31:8)

24-Hour Help Line

My husband and I run a small business. And I am always surprised at the number of people who call us “after hours.” Sundays, early mornings, late at night…they seem to be under the impression that we will be available to answer their questions 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We have a website, which includes frequently asked questions, and a list of our hours, but people still call when we are not available. Some of them even call to complain that we are not open as they stand outside our door–which also has a list of our hours! We just can’t be at our shop all the time, and we can’t anticipate when someone will call or want to stop by.

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God doesn’t have any “after” hours. He’s always available when we need help, have a question, or want to express our feelings and thoughts. There is no busy signal, no “peak” time, and no need to “hold” while waiting for Him to listen to our call.

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We know this, or we ought to, but we often take for granted this incredible gift of access to the Almighty. Suppose God went on vacation for two weeks every year, or took a siesta every afternoon, or had a staff of “receptionists” to screen prayers, so that only certain ones reached His ears? Imagine a God who could only be reached between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays, or could only be reached at His “main office” in Peoria, or Lagos?

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God– The Only, Sovereign, Eternal God–is accessible in a way that no one else can ever be. He is our “ever present help in time of trouble” (Psalm 46). No matter when, no matter where, God is “on call.” And He is available to anyone and everyone at all times. Hundreds of thousands of prayers rising up at any given moment– ALL reach His ears and capture His attention.

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It is tempting, especially when we expect an instant answer, to interpret God’s seeming silence as inattention or even rejection. We begin to wonder if God has heard us, if He cares, or if He is indifferent to our pleas. One way to keep things in perspective is to journal our prayer life. Not just the requests, but the answers.

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I keep a prayer journal, and periodically, I go back over the requests from last week, last month, or even last year. I am astonished at how many I’ve forgotten in the march of time, and how many of them God has answered– often in unexpected ways and at unexpected times. He never forgets, but He often acts in His own ways and in His own perfect timing.

God is the ultimate 24-hour help line– ALWAYS there to listen; always available; always able; and always compassionate.

Seasonal Prayers

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It is supposed to be springtime in my neck of the woods. We’ve had two days of snow this week, chilly winds, and frost/freeze warnings. Fruit farmers are worried about losing the fragile blossoms that we need for apples, peaches, and cherries later this year. Many of the spring flowers are also in jeopardy. People are joking that we need to “unplug” springtime and “reboot” it, because it seems not to be working! The seasons seem “out of time.”

Sometimes our lives seem the same. We expect a season of growth or warmth, only to feel the cold winds, or we experience drought when we expected rain. Our prayers will change as the seasons come and go– young parents pray for patience as their days are hectic; aging parents pray for visits from their busy children and grandchildren. We go through seasons of success, seasons of stress, seasons of forced immobility, seasons of grief, and seasons of distracted activity.

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Throughout the Psalms, David and the other psalm writers sang of woes and wonders, praises and problems– sometimes within a single Psalm! We have seasons of questioning, and seasons of confidence. Sometimes, we feel close to God; other times, we wonder why He seems so far away. Our “songs” and prayers will change over the course of our lives and according to our moods and circumstances– desperate, worshipful, even indignant. Yet God hears them all– He wants us to pour out our hearts in all seasons!

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Our seasons may change, but God is Eternally Loving and Sovereign. Our moods and changing circumstances cannot remove us from His watchful eye or His tender care. Our momentary anger and doubt are not beyond His willingness–even eagerness– to forgive and redeem! God is Lord of all the Seasons– seasons of snow and sunshine; seasons of joy and sorrow. Even when our seasons seem “out of time,” we can lift our voices to a God who never changes.

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Where Are You, God?

I’ve missed posting a couple of blog posts this past week. My husband and I have been ill. We both came down with COVID, and my husband ended up in Hospital for a week with COVID-related pneumonia. As I write this, he is scheduled to be released to come home, where he will continue to recuperate. I will be finished with my quarantine period, but I am still recovering, as well.

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It can be very tempting in times of sickness or unexpected struggles to ask, “Where are you God, in all this?” And, while some would say it is not appropriate to question God, I think this is a good question to explore. There is nothing wrong with the simple question, if you are seeking an honest answer. Here is part of the answer I’ve received over the past two weeks:

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  • Where: I know all the “correct” and spiritual answers– “God is everywhere, omnipresent.” “God is seated on His Throne.” “God is right beside you, and His Spirit is within you…” These are big answers, true and Biblical. But they can be very cold comfort when you see your husband struggling to breathe, or when you are exhausted and frightened. God is omnipresent, but He is spirit– invisible and undetectable through our physical senses. We can “know” He is present, but we can still question His “Presence.”
    But when we are seeking His presence in the question, there are so many wonderful and comforting answers. God IS Everywhere– so that even when my husband is miles away in a hospital room and I am alone in our apartment, God is in both places at the same time, providing rest, wisdom, and healing! God IS on His Throne– orchestrating timing and people to offer their skills, advice, services, prayers, encouragement, and more. David and I have been sick, and even in danger, but God did not abandon us. He provided for us to be able to get David to the hospital at the right time; He provided friends and family to help us– even strangers to pray for us and encourage us. God’s Spirit gave us strength and courage to ask the right questions, make decisions, and trust Him through this process. And God will continue to be working within, and around, and through us as we continue to heal.
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  • Are: We may claim that God is omnipresent and omnipotent– always present and all-powerful– but often when things don’t go according to our plan, we question. Not so much where God is at the present moment, but where WAS He? Why didn’t He stop this from happening? And where will God be tomorrow, when the medical bills start to arrive? Doesn’t He know or care about the aftermath? The fall-out? When will my husband be able to return to work, if ever? How did we get exposed to COVID? Why didn’t God prevent it? How much more will we suffer?
    But once again, God IS omnipresent– not just in space, but in time. God knew this would happen long before we had ever heard of COVID. God has already seen the future play out. He knows the end from the beginning, and every step in between. I tend to get lost in all that I cannot see– past and future, why and how–but God is so much bigger than all that. There is NOTHING that can take God by surprise or cause Him to fail in His plans for us. God spends a great deal of time throughout the Bible reminding us of His promises; many of which are promises of His Presence, His Provision, His Protection, and His Peace. He never promised that our lives would be easy, problem- or worry-free, or boringly comfortable. Such lives don’t shape us or develop our character; they teach us nothing about God or ourselves. God wants us to have an abundant life– a life full of “LIFE”! And that means facing challenges that show us how to trust our Loving Father, and cause us to see the depths and breadth of His Love and Power.
  • You: God is Spirit; He is invisible and indescribable. Yet He is a personal God, and wants a personal relationship with each of us. It is easy to lose sight when I am worried or suffering– I forget the heights and depths of what God has done to pursue that relationship with me– ME! I never have to ask “Where is the God of the Universe?” I can ask, “Where are YOU?!” And even though God is Spirit, He also has a “body”– US! God is in the welcome voice of loved ones, and the hugs (even virtual ones during these days of quarantine) of family and friends. God is in the offers of help and advice from friends and strangers alike. God works through US to bring us together, to encourage, and strengthen, and guide us every day– on good days and difficult days alike.
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  • GOD: Illness gives one plenty of time to think, reflect, and meditate on God. It is a stark reminder that I am NOT God (and never could be, thankfully), and that God knows and always does BEST, even when I can’t see or understand. I know many thousands of people have not survived their COVID journey– they didn’t recover; they lost their husband or wife or other loved ones. God doesn’t stop being God when we don’t get a “happily ever after” ending. Some day, David and I will each die. We will leave or be left behind by other loved ones. God is still GOOD; He is enduringly FAITHFUL; He grieves WITH us, just as He rejoices with us. He SUSTAINS us, and He REDEEMS us.
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Where are you, GOD? YOU are everywhere, always, and perfectly where and when and how YOU should be. And I will praise YOU!

Out of Time

We’ve said Goodbye to 2020–in another 365 days we will have finished the year 2021. At some point, it will “run out” of its designated time. We live in a world limited by time and space.

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But God lives outside of time and space– He rules them, bends them, and contains them in His sovereignty. I often write about the omnipresence of God– that He is everywhere. In fact, the only place He is NOT is Hell; and He’s even visited there, once… But God is also omnipresent in time. He IS the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob– always, and all at once, along with being the God of everyone who has ever called and will ever call upon His name to put their trust in Him. God IS in the past; He is ever present, and He is already in the future, acting and overseeing His plans and purposes.

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With the birth of Jesus Christ, God did not step out of time– instead, He inserted Himself into time and space and obeyed the limits He Himself had placed. He came exactly when He had determined, exactly where, and exactly how He had planned. And the same is true of His death and resurrection. His death on the cross was not a moment too soon, and not a single second overdue. Yet, Jesus was at the mercy of the very time and space He had created. Just like us, He was limited to being in one place at a time, and limited to the circumstances around Him.

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Nothing shows this better than the story of Lazarus (John 11). A close friend of Jesus, Lazarus became mortally ill. Word was sent to Jesus so He could come immediately and heal Lazarus, but He delayed in coming. He delayed for two days, continuing to work where He was before going to help friend. He knew that Lazarus would not survive. By the time He arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had not only died, but had been buried. Both of Lazarus’s sisters greeted Jesus with the same rebuke–” If you had been here, my brother would not have died…” The God who is everywhere, always, was limited by His physical form, and had to walk to Bethany. He could not continue to work in one area, and be in Bethany at the same time. Nor could He stop time and space so the Lazarus’s sickness could “wait” for Jesus’s arrival days later. But the Sovereign, Omnipresent God had not “run out of time” to save His friend. Even in His human form, in His “inability” to get to Bethany “in time,” Jesus was acting according to His Sovereign plan. He brought Lazarus out of the grave! He was “there” in all of His power and mercy. And He was precisely where and when He needed to be!

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As we enter a new year, it comes with limitations–12 months, 52 weeks, 365 days, and so on–we can’t see what will happen, or where we will be in March or September. It may seem that God is “late,” or “absent” in our circumstances. We may be tempted to stop praying when we don’t see immediate answers. We may, like Mary and Martha, be tempted to scold the very author of Life when we don’t get the answer we want when we want it.

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This year, let us remember that God is beyond time and space. This allows us to trust that He can and will do what is best, when it is best. It also allows us to trust that God can make the most of OUR time as we trust it to Him. We may be limited to 24 hours a day, but we serve a God who can stretch and bend time, and supplement even our smallest efforts and resources with the endless riches of His Grace!

The Long and Winding Road

Joseph and Mary traveled dark and dangerous roads to reach Bethlehem before the birth of the Baby Jesus. The wise men made a long journey to see the newborn king. The entire nation of Israel spent more than 40 years wandering in the wilderness. Abraham, Jacob, Jonah, the Apostle Paul…there are many tales in the Bible of long journeys to unknown destinations and unknown outcomes.

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Traveling can be exciting and adventurous, but it can also be filled with detours, setbacks, and hardships. Traveling means being away from our comfort zone, our “safe” place– even if our “safe” place isn’t really safe. Travel often means going into the unknown, especially if we travel alone or travel against our own will. Where does this road lead? Who will I meet along the way? Where will I stay at night? Will I get lost? Will I get delayed? What if I get sick or hurt or attacked? Will I find my way back home? Can I feel safe in a new home, among unknown people and circumstances?

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Jesus was born “away from home.” The first people to greet him were not grandparents or giddy relatives or neighbors, but shepherds– unnamed in scripture, unknown to his parents. In fact, the Bible doesn’t say much about Jesus being close to an extended family– his own small family always seemed to be on the move! Later, Joseph was told to take Mary and the child to Egypt; another long and unexpected journey, another long and winding road.

As an adult, Jesus was also “on the road” for much of his ministry. Long dusty roads leading to Galilee, or Jerusalem, Jericho, or Bethany.

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At times, it can seem like our “roads” in life are long, winding, dusty paths leading to strange new places– lonely, rambling trails or busy superhighways taking us where we don’t always want to go. But we don’t need to fear traveling– even if we have to walk through the “valley of the shadow of death,” God is always with us. Just as He was with Mary and Joseph on the long road to Bethlehem, where there was no room for them in the inn. Just as He was with Jesus on the lonely path in the Garden of Gethsemane. Just as He was with Jonah in the belly of the big fish!

As we await the Advent of the Christ Child this year, it is likely that most of us have been on a long and winding road. Though many of us have been prevented from physical travel to foreign lands, we’ve traveled on an emotionally and even spiritually exhausting road in 2020. Chaos, corruption, COVID, elections, “executive orders”, economic collapse, lock-downs, lawlessness, and loneliness–we seem to have traveled a lot of miles, and most of them have been perilous and unfamiliar. But God has a plan, and a destination. The journey may not make sense right now; it is not the journey we would have planned; not the journey we would have chosen. But let us follow it to Bethlehem– to the Manger– to the Cross– and finally, HOME!

My Father’s World

As I look outside, there are bare branches on the trees, and the grass is covered in fallen leaves. The beauty of early autumn has almost gone, and winter is coming. The air is brittle and chilly, but not as cold as it will be in another month.

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Yet, this is My Father’s world. I trust that winter will come, and pass. Spring will follow, and the trees will once again be covered in leaves and filled with birdsong and new life.

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As I listen to the news, I hear of COVID deaths and hospitals filled with the sick and suffering. I hear of political unrest, and people spewing hatred, anger, and fear for the future. There is chaos and uncertainty, injustice, and pain. There are hurricanes and fires, floods, and earthquakes.

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Yet, this is My Father’s world. He sends rain on the just and the unjust; He brings healing and hope, even in the darkest hours. This world does not belong to any one nation, or political party, or natural disaster, or epidemic. Such circumstances have the power to cause destruction and fear, but they do not have power over the Creator of all things. Their reign is temporary and limited. And ” ‘tho the wrong seems oft so strong,” God is eternally sovereign– nothing that happens today can either take God by surprise, or cause Him to quake.

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I meet with people who are discouraged, angry, bitter, and scared. And I cannot “fix” the world around me with good intentions, or hard work. I cannot give assurance based on my own efforts or my own wisdom. I don’t know the answers, and I don’t have the solutions. I will make mistakes. I will say things that cause confusion, or even offense.

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But this is not my world; and it isn’t the world of those who try to discourage me, judge me, take advantage of me, or manipulate me. This is My Father’s world. And in this moment, I will choose to look for His hand and listen for His voice.

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AMEN!

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