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Praise in the Prison

“When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.” Acts 16:24-25 (NIV)

God speaks to His children in as different ways as we are unique individuals.  For me, I realize that God will say something to me before I need it.  He knows my personality and knows I like to be prepared.  While I don’t like to skip ahead and read the final chapter before reading the whole book, I am the type of person who likes to watch the nurse stick me with the needle so I can prepare for the prick.

I didn’t realize just how often God does that for me, out of love, and how much I appreciate it.  As I began the fasting period this fall, I previously shared that I knew God was inviting me and I also knew I needed to be prepared because I sensed God was getting ready to do amazing things.

As He was still inviting me, I kept reading passages of Scripture about Paul and Silas praising God while in prison.  I heard sermons about how the best way to enter into God’s presence is through worship and praise and I kept reading blogs about “praising God in the prison.”

When I accepted God’s invitation to fast, I felt as though I was being held captive in a prison. Every area of our lives was being affected negatively by various circumstances.  There didn’t appear to be any relief in any area and it felt very prison like.

God reminded me ever so gently I had a choice:  Was I going to praise Him while in the prison or was I going to complain or try and fight with my own strength?

I chose praise.  I’m so glad God loved me enough to give me the tools I needed to fight the battle ahead of time and then remind me I had a choice when it started to get hard.  Praising Him through the prison looked like singing worship songs, having praise music on in the background, thanking God continually for the blessings we have and reminding God that I trust Him and have faith that He is doing a good work even though I can’t see any movement during this period.  Praising in the prison reminded me that God works all things out for His good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28, NIV).

While the “prison” isn’t completely over (we’re still dealing with some of the issues), it doesn’t feel as confining anymore. While I’m tired from fighting the battles and now physically sick as well, I’m happy and my faith has been renewed.  It’s so true.  When we fix our eyes on the Problem Solver and all He can do, the problems themselves shrink and our faith grows.  Praising Him goes from an act of discipline to an act of worship.  It changes from something I have to force myself to do to something I get to enjoy doing.  I’m so glad God gave me the tools ahead of time to fight the enemy during this fasting period.  Praising Him while in the prison is a great way to fight.

© Cheri Swalwell 2017

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Spoken from My Heart to Yours,
Cheri

“And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?” Luke 18:7 (NIV)

 

I spoke the last time we were together that God invited me to fast in the fall of 2017.  Just like the saying for Spiderman goes, “With great power comes great responsibility,” and that’s how I felt going into that fast.  I knew that while I was invited by God to fast this particular time, it wasn’t going to be easy.  I had a feeling that God was getting ready to do amazing things in the life of my family, and I was ready, but I also knew from experience that when God is doing amazing things, the enemy doesn’t step aside and say, “Oh, let me get out of the way.”  No, he tends to fight harder and make life more difficult… temporarily.  Let me say that part again… temporarily.

This period of fasting was no exception.  While the enemy has realized that resisting the actual food I’m fasting has gotten easier since the summer of 2016, he now uses other circumstances in my life to try and shift my focus off of God to give up.  However, because I knew that God had invited me, because I was fairly certain God had great plans for our family this time, while the circumstances weren’t pleasant, I was able to stay focused on my commitment and not give up.  However, I had to rely completely on God’s strength in order to accomplish that goal.

I had to stay focused on reading my Bible, praying consistently and almost constantly, be willing to be rebuked, corrected or reprimanded by God (listen to the warnings He gave me about various areas in my life) and then have a heart willing to change.  It felt as though the enemy attacked our family in many different areas – I don’t think there was an area that wasn’t touched.

However, through it all, I had a choice.  Continue to walk the journey to the finish line or give up because it was just too hard.  Giving up isn’t an option. I’ve been waiting for this breakthrough for our family for years. God has been whispering to me about changes that He wants to give our family since the fall of 2015, and encouraging me to continue to believe even when it looks futile.

I don’t want to speak for God or put words in His mouth, but I believe He invited me to fast this time because the breakthrough is getting ready to happen.  I want to make sure I do my part.  Do I believe that by fasting, I’m the one who will create the breakthrough if it occurs?  No, but I do believe by obeying God and stepping into this invitation fully committed, it shows my trust in Him to do His will, in His time.  Do I believe a breakthrough is occurring?  Yes, I truly do.  Will God get all the glory when it happens?  Absolutely!

But regardless of the blessings God chooses to give after the fasting period is over, it feels good to obey God for the sake of obedience.  I feel honored to be invited to fast for my family… as the wife and thermostat of our home.  I choose obedience to my Father because He’s my Father and I want to be an example to my children that when we are called to obey, it’s always the right choice, whether blessings occur afterwards or not.

© Cheri Swalwell 2018

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?”

Isaiah 58:6 (NIV)

 

Last time we were together, I spoke about how God invited me to fast in the fall of 2017 for 30 days.  I tend to have the type of personality that thinks, “If God tells me to fast for 30 days, then I should fast for 31 days because then He will bless me more.”

However, God doesn’t work that way.  While He wants me to obey Him, He wants me to obey Him.  Obeying Him means if He asks me to fast for 30 days, then I need to fast for 30 days.  Not 29 days, not 31 days, but 30 days.  Why?  Because obedience to God means obedience… not on my terms but on His.

When I realized God was giving me the opportunity to fast from September 13th through October 13th, it was October 11th.  I also realized God was giving me one more day of “freedom” before embarking on this journey and I wanted to enjoy it to the fullest.  However, there was still a part of me that wondered… “Am I supposed to start today or wait until tomorrow?  Am I disobeying God by waiting until tomorrow… or am I being obedient by enjoying one more day with food I like?”

I prayed about it, asking God to show me if I was being disobedient by waiting until Wednesday to start the fast… and then decided to pick out a few things I really wanted to enjoy.  Coffee and donuts.  Not black coffee, which I truly enjoy by the way.  But pumpkin spice latte coffee.  And not just any donut.  A Sweetwater’s donut.  I told my prayer partner what I was doing… I told my husband what I was doing so he wouldn’t lovingly surprise me with treats I couldn’t eat during the month long fast and then prepared to enjoy one last day.

God answered my prayer in a way only the most personal God could.  I didn’t just get a chance to drink a pumpkin spice latte.  I got an invitation from my husband to join him on his coffee break at work and we had time to sit, laugh and date each other.  Because it was spontaneous, I was sitting there with no makeup on and not dressed up in the least.  He didn’t care – he just enjoyed having company on his break.  Then, instead of having to settle for a good, but not my favorite donut from Sweetwater’s, I was able to stop at the store where they have my all-time favorite donut – Oreo.  I picked one up for me to enjoy that morning and another one to surprise my husband with in his lunchbox.  And then I enjoyed family dinner later that night, complete with peach cobbler for dessert.

God showed me through various personal ways that He was pleased with my acceptance of His invitation to fast.  He also loves to help us enjoy life and the splurges that occasionally come with it.

I started the fast on Wednesday, September 13th, completely committed to seeing it through to October 13th.  God invited me and I chose to accept.  For me, when personally invited by the God of the Universe, the fast is a little easier to follow.

© Cheri Swalwell 2018

“Even now,” declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning.’” Joel 2:12 (NIV)

 

Last fall, God invited me to fast.  He had invited me to a series of fasts in 2016 and they were quite successful.  However, instead of keeping with the lessons God taught me through those fasts, I quickly fell back into old habits and lifestyles I had given up.

As a result, I tried to fast by my own initiative several times during the following spring and summer to regain the healthy habits I had lost and to give God my addiction, but continually failed time and time again.  I couldn’t understand why I kept failing when I wanted to want to, but the want to just never came.

However, September 2016, God invited me to fast again. I knew it was Him because of the way He presented the invitation.  He showed me several Bible passages about fasting and praying and I knew there were some areas in our family’s life where I needed to press in… and fasting is a great way to accomplish that.

While I wasn’t sure the exact amount of time (at first) or exactly what He wanted me to give up, I knew that I was being invited and I could accept or not.  He would love me the same if I said no, but I had a feeling God wanted to bless our family with breakthroughs as well… and was waiting for me to “step into the river,” do my part first before seeing the results.  So I asked God.  I asked Him the amount of time and I asked Him if this was truly His invitation or just another “godly” attempt at self control for dieting sake.

I got my answer within a day or so.  We had planned a fall getaway for the family and it was supposed to occur mid-September.  However, that trip fell through and instead we planned a different one approximately a month later.  The first trip was one of the things that was preventing me from committing to the fast.  I knew that I had less than a week before the trip and to start, stop and then start up again after returning home wasn’t the best way to approach a fast.  I also knew that fasting while on a trip is doable, but awkward.  However, when I realized that we weren’t going away in September and we would instead leave a month later, then I knew that God was opening up the door for me to start the fast NOW instead of waiting or starting, stopping and then restarting.  He knew my heart desire was to commit fully to Him by accepting His invitation and He also knew I wanted to set a good example to my husband and children about true fasting.  And God allowed me to accomplish both.

When I saw the dates, I realized His answer.  He wanted me to fast for one month: September 13th through October 13th.  I knew I would be giving up my free food in the concession stand for helping during the football games.  He knew pumpkin spice latte was available already for the season as well as caramel apples, candy pumpkins and candy corn… but He also knew that I want the breakthrough I’ve been praying about for my family more than I want to enjoy those aspects of fall.  And He also knew I didn’t want to wait for that breakthrough to occur.  I had already wasted the spring and summer months… I didn’t want to wait any longer.

Or did I?  Come back next time as I explain how God’s love (and invitations) are incredibly personal – even while He invites us into a period of fasting.

© Cheri Swalwell 2018

“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” II Corinthians 6:14 (NIV)

 

I read in a James Dobson book many years ago about an experiment he loved to perform with his Sunday School class of middle schoolers.  At the beginning of the school year he would fill a bag with beautiful, ripe, healthy apples.  Into that bag he would put one apple that had one blemish on it – a bruise, a dent. It wasn’t a rotten apple but it had “issues.”  Then he would place the bag in the closet and leave it there for a month or more, eventually bringing it out and opening it up for the class to observe.  What they found was a bag of rotten apples now because the “issues” that one apple had spread to the healthy apples over time.

I have heard the same truth spoken multiple times by multiple people but it bears repeating.  If you’re married, without counting your spouse and children, think about the five people you spend the most time with – people that you choose to do life with regularly. What are their characteristics?  How would people describe them?  Are they kind hearted, sensitive, sweet?  Driven, ambitious?  Self centered, gossipy or mean spirited?  The character traits that you see in them will be reflected back in you if they are the people you choose to do life with because we will become like those we associate with.

It’s so important to choose friends wisely.  This is a truth we try and instill in our children. While it’s a great idea to befriend someone who is troubled or hurting or needs a friend (that’s something Jesus Himself did), it’s just as important to “do life” with those whose values and beliefs line up with yours.

If you look at the life of Jesus, He befriended everyone and turned no one away.  However, those closest to Him, His disciples and those He “did life with” shared similar values as Him.  They chose to believe His message of hope and truth and they lived it through their actions, lifestyle and choices.  Jesus warns us in the Bible multiple times to be careful not to be unequally yoked with one another, because what fellowship does a believer have with an unbeliever?

I believe this is talking about two separate types of “yoking” – I believe it’s talking about the marriage covenant, a believer not marrying an unbeliever.  Marriage is hard enough with the pressures of life, but becomes much harder when you can’t share your deepest relationship with the one you pledged your life too.  And I also believe God is talking about friendships – because when you share life on a regular basis with an individual whose values are in direct conflict with your own – someone will end up compromising.

That’s why I seek godly wisdom and guidance when trials arise in my life.  I choose to surround myself with songs, books and teachings from people who look at life through the same filter I do.  It’s a good idea to take inventory of one’s tribe occasionally because it does say a lot about the person staring back in the mirror.

© Cheri Swalwell 2017

 

“Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Psalm 139:16 (NIV)

 

So far this morning I’ve had to explain why we don’t eat a breakfast bar, granola bar and fruit snacks as I’m getting ready to serve an egg muffin sandwich in less than five minutes.  I’ve re-reminded of the rules of why we don’t drink our sibling’s chocolate milk just because he’s not here.  I’ve had to explain to one of our children that since said child doesn’t know what is planned for the day, arguing with me isn’t really reasonable when I say we’re eating lunch at noon and I know what our schedule is (and they don’t).  I ended my evening the night before with, “I understand that you’re upset.  You’re welcome to cry or be upset – I get it, but it doesn’t change the direction that was given.”  And all this before 9 AM!

As I was reflecting on the above morning, it got me thinking.  My husband and I are raising three distinct personalities.  All wonderful, unique personalities and all vastly different.  One is more sensitive than the others and a certain tone of voice works better than another.  Another child is also just as sensitive; yet will not admit it, so while said child comes off strong, we as parents must be careful how we word things as well so as to shape the child, not break the spirit.  Our third child is different still – all perfectly created to fulfill the role God created them for.

Each of our children are at different stages in parenting.  And each child has a different personality that needs to be parented.  And it’s our responsibility to parent each child the way God intends… not necessarily the way each child wants to be parented, but to be strong enough to parent each child the way each needs to be parented.

I say this because I was parented by God last week and I found myself resisting, even though at 45 years old, I know better. I don’t like being corrected and I don’t like being told “no.”  I resist being parented because I don’t like making mistakes.  Yet, God knew I needed it because He loves me and saw the big picture.  He knew if He ignored the issue, while it was still small now, could grew huge and I could fall off the cliff that He knew and I knew I didn’t want to fall off of.  However, He loved me enough to bring the issue to my attention.  It was still my decision whether I listened to His correction and submitted or continued toward the cliff.  I chose submission because I would rather submit to God and remain close to Him than choose to do things my way and have a wall between us.  However, during the time it took me to fully submit, I was miserable and hated having my flaws pointed out.

Three different personalities.  Three different parenting skills.  Working simultaneously to parent the way God intends, not the way our children necessarily want.  Will we get it perfect all the time?  Nope.  Factor in hormones, exhaustion, chaos, sickness, etc. (from me, not the kids) and I fail miserably more than I wish.  But today, when the debate landed squarely in my kitchen all before 9 AM, I was able to see clearly the differences we have, and how it’s my responsibility to hold fast to being sensitive to their personalities while continuing to point out areas that need to be changed.  Not always easy, but always worth it.

Parenting according to personality – I’m so glad God loves me enough to parent me in the way that I can hear it but is also the way that points me back to where I need to be.

© Cheri Swalwell 2017