And You Will Find Rest For Your Souls

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light

Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)

Sometimes, the commands of the Bible are counter-intuitive. In Matthew 11, Jesus tells those who are weary from their labors to come to Him. But He continues by telling them to take on a yoke and learn from Him, to find rest for their souls. This doesn’t seem like a restful offer. The image is of an ox or beast of burden being forced to wear a yoke and do more work. How could that be restful? Jesus finishes the image by saying that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. While that may seem better than a heavy yoke, it still implies work, NOT rest.

There is a lot to unpack in these few verses, but here are some thoughts about rest on this Labor Day:

  1. In order to take on Jesus’ yoke, we must be freed from the yoke we already bear– the very one that has left us weary and “heavy laden.” We can’t throw it off ourselves. We must come to Jesus. And we must understand that Jesus offers rest, not laziness, complacence or inactivity.
  2. Jesus refers to “my yoke” and calls for us to “learn from me”– indicating that whatever work we do, He is our partner and teacher. We are not being asked to work alone or under a weight we cannot bear. This is not an image of a single ox pulling heavy weights, but of a team, sharing the load in companionship.
  3. Jesus doesn’t offer us a permanent vacation from work, but “rest for your souls.” Rest from guilt, worry, grief, anger, loneliness, injustice, and more– when we come to Him and lay down our old burdens to take us His new yoke.
  4. “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Jesus isn’t calling us away from work; He IS calling us to meaningful and fruitful work– the kind that brings reward and fulfillment. We don’t need a heavy yoke and a hard taskmaster when we are eager and enthusiastic to see the results of our labors. But we DO need periods of rest. I hope that you enjoy a restful day, and a renewed enthusiasm for the work that lies ahead.
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 My dear brothers and sisters, remain strong in the faith. Don’t let anything move you. Always give yourselves completely to the work of the Lord. Because you belong to the Lord, you know that your work is not worthless.

1 Corinthians 15:58 (NIRV)
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Enjoy times of rest and refreshment, knowing that they are a reward for your work. Enjoy times of work, knowing they are not in vain. For while our work here and now can be filled with struggles, stress, and frustration, we know that Jesus came to redeem every aspect of our fallen world– even the work!

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Thank you, Lord, for giving us rest. Rest for our bodies, and rest for our souls. May we find refreshment and renewed strength to stand firm, and to work with enthusiasm, knowing that You not only see what we do, but share in it.

The Sweetest Frame…

I have several friends who are really great at photography– some have made it their profession. One of the hallmarks of a great photograph is “framing.” I’m not talking about choosing a frame for a printed photograph, but choosing natural elements that draw the eye to a focal point. It include perspective, focus, lighting, and even composition– which elements make it into the picture, and which ones are excluded. After all, photos, by their very nature, only show part of the whole reality. Even a panoramic picture cannot show everything at once, and the photographer chooses where s/he wants to place the focus and framing.

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We have a tendency to “frame” our lives in a similar way. We focus on only part of the whole reality of life. We choose to “frame” our present situations, our past memories, and our future hopes– even when they are out of focus! We can do this in both positive and negative ways. At one point in my life, I felt I had found “the perfect job” as a youth services librarian at a local public library. It was pleasant work that made use of my skills, talents, and interests. It included a mixture of social interaction and self-directed projects. I loved the job, my co-workers, our patrons, the work environment–it was a pleasure and an honor to work there.

Library Story Time

But I was viewing my job (and myself in that job) through a frame. There was more happening in the wider picture of my life and development. After more than a dozen years there, things had changed. I still loved the work, and while some co-workers retired or moved, and the staff changed a bit, the work environment was still mostly peaceful and friendly. I still found the job challenging and rewarding, and I had gotten to know people in the community over the years who truly felt like family. But, as my role changed, so did some of the relationships. As new leadership came, so did new directions and new priorities. And I had become “comfortable”– and somewhat complacent as well.

In time, it became clear that my “perfect” job was not only not perfect, but becoming a source of frustration, stress, and unhappiness. And there were other things happening that demanded my focus. I was preparing to become a wife, and move to a new community. My mother’s health was deteriorating, demanding more of my time and energy (though my Mom remains feisty and independent in most matters!). My future husband wanted to open a shop– someone would have to work there, and we couldn’t afford to hire anyone, even part-time. That meant working a second job at the shop while trying to maintain my efforts at the library.

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As the “frame” of my life shifted, I felt confused, even angry, with God. Why would He allow something so good to turn sour? Why did I feel like I was losing myself? Didn’t He want me to be happy and fulfilled? Didn’t He want me to use my talents to help others?

Now, after a few years’ perspective, I can see some of the “rest” of the picture. I had begun to see myself through the lens of my job, and I was depending on that vision, rather than focusing on what God was doing in, around, and through my life. There was nothing “wrong” with my job, per se, but God needed me to be willing to let go and move in new directions.

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I write all this, knowing that there are people going through much more traumatic “shifts” in their lives– the loss of a job, and a change of career is a disappointment, but it is not the same as the loss of a spouse or child; or the sudden loss of a home to fire; or an unexpected diagnosis of cancer or other health issue. But the principle is not so different. God’s ways are eternal. Sometimes, we see the trauma in front of us, or surrounding us, and it becomes a frame for all of our thinking and emotions. But the “picture” is much bigger than just our immediate situation. God calls us to trust Him in all circumstances, knowing that His love for us is not just for this life, but for all eternity. Whatever we (or our loved ones) go through here is but a snapshot– one of millions that God will put together in a Glorious and Perfect collage.

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Moreover, God gives us the privilege of listening to us when we call out to Him. We need not be afraid to ask, “Why this?” or “Why now?” or even “Why me?” But when we ask, we need to be willing to shift our focus, and remember where our Hope is Built– On Christ the Solid Rock. Even the sweetest “frame”– our career, our relationships, our identity, our happiness in this life– cannot compare with His faithfulness and eternal Sovereignty.

Meaningless?

I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;

    I refused my heart no pleasure.

My heart took delight in all my labor,

    and this was the reward for all my toil.

 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done

    and what I had toiled to achieve,

everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;

    nothing was gained under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 (NIV via biblegateway.com)
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The persistent theme of Ecclesiastes is that everything done “under the sun” is meaningless–wisdom, riches, hard work, morality, pleasure–it all ends in death and futility. In the end, the author (presumed to be Solomon, the wisest king who ever lived) concludes that the whole “duty” or purpose of mankind is to fear God and keep His commandments, because God will judge every deed and hidden thought.

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Sometimes, it can be difficult to pray when life seems “meaningless.” I was reminded recently of a time when my life seemed pointless and pathetic. I was nearing 40, single and childless. I had a good job, and enough to live comfortably, but I wasn’t a “success” by many people’s standards. I owned a car, but it was getting old. I did not own a home, and I hadn’t taken a vacation in years (although I had traveled for work, and counted that as something). I had a cat. I was a single, frumpy, middle-aged cat lady. And when I prayed, I often asked, “Why, God?” And when I read Ecclesiastes, I got depressed.

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But Solomon is writing about life from a distinctive point of view. He sets out to find a purpose for life “under the sun.” When I was looking at my life from that perspective, everything DID seem meaningless. It was meaningless for me to save up for a house if I had no one to leave it to; meaningless to pursue higher career goals or travel, when I had no one to share it with.

A very wise co-worker noticed my depression and dissatisfaction. She pointed out that purpose, happiness, and satisfaction came from God, but that I had to choose my perspective. God had given me life, and purpose– a job, shelter, comfort, family and friends. I could grump and grouse about what I didn’t have, or the meaning I couldn’t find– OR I could trust that God would reveal meaning and purpose as I kept pursuing Him.

Instead of asking, “Why, God?”, I began asking other questions. “What do You want me to continue doing?” “How can I serve You right where I am?” “Who can I bless and encourage, today?” And even, “How can I use these experiences and feelings to honor You?”

God stepped in and offered me the opportunity to change my circumstances–I became a wife, a step-mother, a grandmother. I left my job–now I make even less money, and I’ve had to learn new skills and deal with new challenges, but I have also learned more trust in God’s wisdom and timing. But it didn’t happen right away. What DID happen was that I gained a renewed sense of purpose and a new focus. I wasn’t doing things “under the sun,” but “under the Son!” Somehow, I had forgotten to look for my meaning and purpose in being a child of God, and had turned my eyes inward.

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It seems like a bone-headed mistake in retrospect, but, then again, even Solomon wasted some of his life looking for meaning and purpose in all the wrong places! And those years were not meaningless or wasted. I learned patience, perspective, compassion, and wisdom to pass on to others who may be in similar circumstances.

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“Father, today, may I focus on the meaning and purpose that can only come from seeking You. You are the author of purpose, of wisdom, and of wholeness. And as You reveal Yourself to me, help me to reflect and share Your wisdom and character to others. Amen”

TGIF

Ahhh…Friday. End of the work week, beginning of the weekend. Payday, too, for some. For many people, their goal is just to get through Friday at work, and spend time doing whatever they want until they have to return to work on Monday. Of course, some people have to work weekends, and others don’t have a job at all. Some have other responsibilities on the weekends– caring for aging parents, or shuttling kids to ball games; volunteer projects, working on home improvement tasks, or mowing the lawn. But Friday has become such a special day in our culture that we even have a phrase, “Thank God it’s Friday” (TGIF for short). And we have special Fridays–Good Friday (the day of Christ’s crucifixion), and “Black” Friday (the huge shopping day after Thanksgiving). And several movies about Fridays– Freaky Friday, His Girl Friday, Friday Night Lights, and a string of Friday the 13th horror flicks. And most of the associations with Friday are positive, even festive. For some people, Friday is the high point of their week!

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But what about the other days of the week? Do we thank God for Tuesdays, or Saturdays, or Sundays? Shouldn’t we be grateful every day? God gave us seven days each week, and He even sanctioned one of those days each week for rest and reflection. When Jesus spoke of the concept of a “sabbath,” He made clear that a weekly day of rest was God’s gift to US (Mark 2:27 https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark+2%3A27-28&version=ESV) But every day is a gift– filled with God’s presence and promises, even when it may seem like an endless series of chores, mishaps, and personal failures.

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God gives us each day, and whether it is payday, Monday, a “bad-hair” day, or a holiday, every day is an opportunity to live, love, and learn. And every day, we have the privilege and the opportunity to spend time in prayer with our Loving Heavenly Father.

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So, yes, Thank God that it’s Friday today. And use this day (and every day) to honor Him, obey Him, and walk in joy with Him. Tomorrow, Thank God it’s Saturday!

I Will Give You Rest..

I love revisiting the promises of God. But I have to be careful not to make God’s promises into something they are not.

In Matthew 11, Jesus gives a promise– “I will give you rest.” But sometimes, I read more (or less) into this promise than Jesus meant.

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV) via biblegateway.com

First, Jesus bids us come to Him. There are times I want rest, but I want it on my terms– I want ease, comfort, rest, and renewal in the middle of my own plans, activities, and even rebellion. When we pray, we need to come to Jesus, not demand that He come to us.

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Next, Jesus offers rest to those who are weary and burdened. Similarly, Jesus said He came to save those who were lost, NOT those who already saw themselves as justified. If I come to Jesus asking for perpetual rest– never willing to trust Him when He asks me to exert myself or carry a burden–I will never know complete rest or fulfillment in Him.

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In the very next verse, Jesus offers a yoke– certainly not a symbol of rest for most of us!–and He offers to teach us to find rest. Rest is not a gift like grace or love, even though Jesus “gives” it to us. Rest is a reward. And Jesus makes it clear that He will be with us every step of the way as we work and rest in Him. A yoke has many bad connotations– slavery or bondage, burdens, toil, and hard labor in the hot sun–but it can also have a positive meaning. Oxen who are yoked together share the load– with the lead ox taking the brunt of the burden, and the yoke-fellow carrying a lesser share. Imagine one ox trying to pull the load alone! Yet that is what many of us are doing– trying to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders and pushing away the One who wants to share our load and lead us in the best and most restful paths.

We don’t do much work with teams of horses or oxen in my community. We have powerful machines that make quick work of heavy loads– our burdens have less to do with loads of grain or logs, and more to do with mental and emotional stress. But Jesus reminds us that He is “gentle and humble in heart”–that the rest He promises is rest for our souls.

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What a wonderful promise in these turbulent times! Will we take up this offer? Will we claim this promise of our Loving Father to share our burdens and bring us to a place of rest?

Your Labor Is Not In Vain…

Have you ever had one of those days…the kind where you wondered if anything you did was important, or acknowledged, or valued?

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My father worked for almost 30 years in a factory. His job (for many of those years) was to stand at the same spot for hours a day. He would fit a large bag over an opening, pull a lever, and guide the bag as it filled with several pounds of anhydrous citric acid– a caustic powder that, in small amounts, is used in everything from cleaning products to soft drinks. When the bag was filled, he had to take it down and move it to another station, where the bag was sealed. Finally, he had to take the sealed bag and hoist it onto a conveyor. It was hot, heavy work. It was lonely, noisy, dusty, and monotonous. He worked a swing shift– sometimes twelve or sixteen hours at a time, often overnight. He often had to work on weekends and holidays. And my father was grateful.

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When Dad had a day “off,” he could often be found visiting some of the older members of our community– helping them by mowing their lawns or helping with chores, or just visiting and listening to their worries, memories, and dreams. Dad knew the value of his work, and he knew that his work was not in vain. His work fed and clothed our family. It allowed us to give gifts to family, donate to charities, give to the church, and enjoy vacations and outings with friends. His work helped send my sister and I to college, and pay off the mortgage. But more importantly, my father’s unusual schedule allowed him to come to school programs in the middle of the day; it allowed him to go on day trips with my mother or my grandparents; it made him more aware of the value of time. Dad filled thousands of bags of citric acid– and he never knew where it ended up or how it was used, except in a very general way. But God knew. He saw every grain of acid in every bag. He knew where it would go and what good it could do. And he watched my father’s efforts every day.

1 Corinthians 15:57-58
English Standard Version (Via http://www.biblegateway.com)

57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

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Today, we are celebrating “Labor Day” in my country– a day to celebrate the contributions of working men and women throughout the year. And many people will have time today to enjoy a trip to the beach or a cookout, or an extra-long camping weekend or late-summer vacation. But some will have to work today– clerks at the local store or gas station, police officers, nurses, factory workers, and others. Their labor today will ensure that others are kept healthy, safe, and supplied. We should not forget them.

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And we should not forget to take a moment to remember that our labor– whether glamorous, mundane, urgent, physically intense, or mentally stressful–is noticed and valued by our Father in Heaven. Whatever we do, if we are doing it for God’s glory, we will see fruit from our labors. Maybe not today or even in our lifetime. But our efforts– and our words and interactions– matter! Those prayers that we lift up in a quick moment; those simple gestures and hugs; that small favor or gift; each one is noted and celebrated by none other than the Ruler of all Creation.

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What a Waste!

The author of Ecclesiastes (presumed to be King Solomon) was a wise man. Yet he concluded that almost every aspect of life was meaningless– nothing more than “chasing after the wind.” Health, wealth, learning, entertainment, popularity, achievement– they can give pleasure and temporary satisfaction. But in the end, everyone dies, and their health is gone, their wealth goes to someone else, their learning is lost, their name and accomplishments are all forgotten and/ or destroyed.

In chapter 3, the author states that there is a time for “everything”– all the seemingly important activities of life–building, and tearing down, war and peace, living and dying…https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ecclesiastes+3&version=NIV And then he makes a curious statement in verse 11: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Solomon describes this as a burden– mankind can sense eternity, but can live and see only a brief span of it.

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So what are we to do?

First, we need to make an important distinction– Solomon explores the pursuits of life and finds them all meaningless. At no point does he say that life itself is without meaning. Nor does he say there is no difference between wisdom and foolishness, honest labor and laziness, or self-indulgence and connectedness. I know some people who, after a quick reading through Ecclesiastes, use it to justify a hedonistic lifestyle. “Nothing matters,” they say. But that’s not what this book actually promotes. It isn’t that “nothing” matters. Rather, it is that none of our personal pursuits produce meaning in and of themselves or beyond our own limitations.

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Next, we should be wise in light of the eternity that God has placed in our hearts. Even if our pursuits seem trivial and temporary, they have consequences that ripple through time– long after we are gone. We may not be able to see the future, but we CAN see the effects of wisdom and foolishness in the lives of others, and we can heed the advice of those who have come before us. Most of all, we have the wisdom that comes from God. Solomon’s wisdom, though incredible among humans, was limited to his own experience and learning. His frustration and despair came from knowing how limited it was!

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Finally, we must read Ecclesiastes in context. Solomon was wise, but he lacked the vision of his father, David, to fully anticipate the coming of Messiah. Solomon’s ambitions were for the span of his own earthly life. He did not have his hope firmly rooted in a resurrection and an eternal life shared with his Creator. For all his wisdom, he was found lacking in faith. After writing such wisdom (not just in Ecclesiastes, but throughout the Proverbs), Solomon ended his life in a foolish pursuit of relativism and compromise that ruined much of the strength and prosperity he had brought to his kingdom in earlier years.

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One thing remains– to fear God and follow His commands. God is eternal–and all that is done for Him and by Him and through Him will never be wasted. Solomon’s life may have ended with failure, but his words and wisdom live on. Our lives may be short; we may have wasted precious time in meaningless pursuits–God has promised that “all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 CSB) and that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6 NIV)

Prayers for Harvest

I love the autumn harvest season, and I believe it has many lessons for us about prayer:

  • There is a time and season for harvest. We cannot harvest at our convenience; neither should we expect God’s answers and our circumstances to arrange themselves around our wishes. Instead, as we pray, we should watch and wait, ready to do what is necessary in the meantime, and ready when the time is right for harvest. Too soon or too late, and we will miss the best of the crop, or lose it altogether. If we pray for a harvest, we must be willing to wait on God’s timing.
  • Harvest is a season among other seasons– not a single event. If I pick apples this fall, that is not the end of apples. There will be more apples to harvest next autumn, and the following year. Sometimes, we must wait through several seasons to see the harvest; seasons of rain, sun, even snow and cold dark days. We must be faithful to keep praying for the next harvest, and the next…
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  • The harvest bears little resemblance to what we planted. If I plant an ugly bulb in the ground this fall, I may see a beautiful tulip next spring–unless I plant an onion bulb! If I plant some tiny black seeds in the spring, I may harvest a large orange carrot later in the summer. If I plant kernels of corn, I will get new kernels, but they will be on an ear on a tall stalk. If we are praying for a harvest, it may come in ways and shapes and circumstances that will surprise, or even mystify us. Often, we pray for what we imagine we could do– instead, we need to learn to ask for what only God can do!
  • We cannot control the harvest– we can plant the seeds, fertilize them, tend them, weed them, water them, prune them–but we cannot predict or guarantee the results. But if we do nothing, we will not see any harvest at all. Similarly, we do not control God’s answers to our prayers, but we will see no growth, no harvest, if we do not pray at all, or if we give up.
  • Harvest is gathering the crop (and the seeds for a new crop). We need to gather prayer requests, thanksgiving lists, areas of conviction, songs of praise; we need to present a bountiful harvest of prayer–an offering and a fragrant sacrifice to the giver of all good things!
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Dona Nobis Pacem*

*”Grant Us Peace!” (In Latin, Dona Nobis Pacem)
“When Peace like a River attendeth my Soul…”
“Peace be with you..”
“Give Peace a Chance..”
Peace that passes all understanding–Phil.4:7

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We spend our days rushing, working, worrying and stressing, always hoping for a time of peace, believing that if we work hard enough, rush fast enough, hope fervently enough, we will be rewarded with peace.

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But this is contrary to the Biblical pattern. God has already given us a blueprint for peace, rest, and contentment. And it doesn’t involve working harder! It involves trusting more. God wants us to work, yes, but He also wants us to rest, to seek times of solitude, meditation, and silence. This is not a suggestion given to a lucky few–it is a principle to be practiced by all of us. God wants to give us peace for the asking—not for the earning.

When prayer becomes a priority, and not just something that happens in our “spare” time, or after all the “important” things get done, we should find that peace is a by-product of our pursuit. Taking time for prayer gives our mind a new focus, calms the rhythms of our heart and body. It forces us to step aside from the frantic pace of life– to lift our eyes (or close them) away from the flickering light of the tablet or phone, to sit (or stand or kneel) still and apart from whatever task is beckoning, and listen, not to the blare of the radio or TV or street noise, but to the underlying sounds of life–heartbeats, breathing, the slow ticking of a clock, or the retreating rumble of the world.

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Most importantly, through our time spent in prayer, we access the source of peace– The Prince of Peace! And it is this same Prince of Peace who will “grant us peace” if we just ask. You may not be able to set aside hours for blissful meditation. But if you ask, God will help you guard your time, and help you find those few precious moments of prayer and peace– peace with Him, peace from Him, peace that passes all understanding.

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