Lead me to Rest! (Matthew 11:28-30)

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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.

Ever have those moments when you are just tired? Not a “I should probably go to bed soon” or even a “Wow, that was hard work!” kind of tired, but a “I can’t move, can’t think, can’t function” kind of tired.

I’ve been there. Life is exhausting sometimes. With active kids with vastly different talents and interests, with congregational activities, with school, with work, with volunteering, with family obligations… sometimes I find myself not knowing which way is up.  When we’re tired, it shows physically. When we are exhausted, we don’t make clear decisions. That’s why they say that tired driving is said to be as dangerous as drunk driving. If we are honest, we’ll admit that our minds are not as sharp but our tongues are. Think of the new parent with a child who wont sleep more than a couple of hours at a time. They are haggard. They are worn out. Our bodies need rest.

So we get that much needed vacation or couple of days off. It is a much longed for rest, right? So what do we do? We get busy. We have projects to complete, we have things to do, we have places to go. It’s time off, because we aren’t working or doing school work, or are taking a break from the norm. But is it rest? When is the last time you actually rested?

As I think about these things, I can’t help but wonder if this is what happens to me when I am physically tired, what about spiritually? What happens when I am spiritually tired? Physically we get weak and make bad decisions. Why would I think that doesn’t happen spiritually as well? I think often we go, go, go, go. We are working for the Lord. We have souls to save and there is no time to stop. But we get so busy doing and working that we forget our souls need caring for too. We need to be fed. We need our batteries recharged. We need to spend time in quiet rest.

God knew this. Of course He did. In the Bible, there are so many passages about rest. The Old Testament mentions rest from physical weariness (Gen 18:4), rest from sorrow (Ruth 1:9), rest from enemies (several places!), rest from discontent (Prov 6:35), and rest from fear (Isa 14:3). There was also a recognition of the need to rest spiritually. The Jews were given a day of rest. They were to do nothing. No work, no travel, no cooking. They were to spend that time in worshipping God and recharging themselves both physically and spiritually. The verse I quoted earlier (Matt 11:28-30) is a precious promise, because in it Christ promises rest. Not just in the hereafter, when this life is over, but rest now. “Come to me and I will give you rest.”

Spiritual rest. Peace for our minds and hearts. A recharging of our spirits and our desires. This is so very important. We need to take care that we are not missing it. So often we push ourselves. It’s like, without even realizing it, we are trying to be Super-Parents and Super-Christians. But you know, Christ needed rest. He needed to get away from it all. He knew that and He regularly took that time to step away and recharge. We need to come to a realization that we need to take care of ourselves, not just physically but spiritually as well.

When we are physically weak, accidents happen. Illnesses happen. Our immune systems are suppressed and we get sick. Spiritually speaking, the same thing happens. So guard your souls. Take the rest you need, the rest Christ offers, and recharge.

Rest area

 

 

Born Ready! (Ephesians 2:10)

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For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

There is so much in this verse! I know I’ll come back to it at some point, but today one specific part of the verse is standing out to me: For we are…created…for good works.

The biggest questions of life are: Why am I here? What is my purpose? Paul tells us plain and simple: You were created for good works which God has prepared. You were created to work.  This is not about a career or vocation. This is about being about the Father’s business. This is about using what God has given you – whether it’s opportunities, abilities, the relationships you have in your life, circumstances you find yourself in – and using that to the glory of God.

“But I’m too old.” No you’re not. Caleb was 85 years old when he saw what he needed to do and said “Give me this mountain!” (Joshua 14:6-15) Anna was 84 years old when she met the baby Jesus in the temple and she gave glory to God. (Luke 2:36-38)She’d served her whole life. She could have said, “Well, I’ve done my part.” But that’s not what she said. She continued to serve and to be a blessing to those around her. She brought glory to God.

“I’m too young.” No you’re not. Josiah was 8 years old when he became king. He brought back worship to the true God. (2 Chronicles 34 ) When Christ was teaching and thousands of people started getting serious hunger pain, it was a child who brought the means which would feed the multitude. (John 6:1-14) The young get a bad rep, but they truly often have the best minds and the greatest ideas. They are so creative and so many have such huge hearts for service. We need to be listening and to learn from them.

“I’m too busy.” I hear you, believe me. Life is busy. Where’s your priorities though? (Col 3:2)

“Circumstances prevent me from being able to do much.” I understand that as well. So instead of looking at your circumstances as being a hindrance, see the opportunity there. So you can’t make it to help at the soup kitchen because of your health or other circumstances. Okay, can you sew? Check out organizations that can use your skills. Sew’n Hope is a project we created and would be delighted to have your help. Can you write cards? There are people who would love to hear from you. One of my favorite cards I ever received was a card that said on the front “Thank you” and on the inside “You have been a blessing to me.” There was nothing else on that card. No signature, no note, nothing. Tot this day, I have no idea who sent it to me, but it brought me such encouragement. Can you bake or cook? Can you paint or draw? Can you type? Can you read? Can you use scissors and glue? There are so many opportunities out there. They don’t have to be huge, but they will make a difference and they will help you fulfill your purpose.

This is what we were born to do. We were born to do good works and to bring glory to God. Isn’t there a restlessness in your soul when you aren’t fulfilling this purpose? Then let’s get busy!

Leave me a note and tell me what you are doing.

Talents

Parking Lot Lessons: God’s Presence (Psalm 139:7)

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Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?

You know where a great place to go people watching is? Parking lots. You want to make it a bit more interesting? Go spend some time in a high school parking lot. (No, I’m not a creeper, I’m a parent of a high schooler, just waiting for my kid)

So I’m sitting in the parking lot and typically it’s just kids making their way to class. There’s those who sit in their cars an extra minute, checking (or applying) their makeup and fixing their hair. There’s those who emerge from their cars weighted down by numerous books and heavy bags or instruments. There’s those who come flying in at the last minute, scrambling to make it in time and those who are early and are casually sipping on their morning purchase from one of the many local coffee drive thrus. You see a myriad of relationships in that parking lot. There’s the new, or almost there, relationships where the kids walk so close but don’t actually touch. There’s the established relationships where she’s fixing his collar and he’s helping her with her bag. There’s the long time friends who are joking and kidding around even at this early hour. There’s also the siblings, who part ways as absolutely fast as they can the moment the car door slams. There’s a lot of lessons and applications to be made, I think, just from sitting and observing a parking lot.

Today though, I saw something that really caught my eye. I haven’t noticed these two before, but it was a couple of teenage boys. I don’t know the relationship or what was going on with them, but I noticed that every step the one bay was matched by the other. If one boy started to turn one direction, the other followed. When the one boy changed his mind mid stride and switched directions, without missing a beat, the other one did the same. I can’t explain it exactly, but they reminded me of a boy and a shadow.

These boys immediately reminded me of the relationship between the Lord and His people. There was a skit I saw once about a young person and Christ. Everywhere she went, Christ followed. He was there. That was great, and the person loved it until she was invited somewhere she wasn’t really comfortable having Christ along. The whole point of the skit was about how the decision to become a Christian isn’t a sometime thing, but an all the time thing.

God promised that He would not leave us. In the skit, that caused discomfort. But that should not be the case! We should not be afraid or worried about it. It should be a wonderful thought. It should be a comforting thought. I am not alone. No matter where I go, no matter what I do, no matter what situations I face, I am not alone. Not only that, my ever present companion is the Creator of all I see. He is the One Who SPOKE the universe into existence. He not only is with me, He wants to be with me. He’s my comforter, my guide, my help. He knows my needs even before I do and He supplies them. Praise God for that!

Take some time and read Ps 139. Don’t read it as one afraid of the presence of God, but as one grateful for it.

 

Encouragement: A Piece of Cake (Proverbs 12:25)

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Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, But a good word makes it glad

Have you ever wanted to try something but there was something that kept you from trying? Have you ever wanted to do something but were afraid it wouldn’t be received well? What eventually motivated you to put yourself out there?

I use my children as examples a lot, but there is so much insight to be gained from watching them interact with the world. 🙂 For example, our youngest struggles with chronic pain. She has fought this fight for over half of her life, but this last year in particular has been full of pokes and prods, countless appointments and tests and even a short hospital stay. Through the course of this, she has developed an intense fear of her doctor and anything medical. It’s to the point where she has full blown panic attacks. What does this have to do with our verse? Well, yesterday she was struggling through yet other appointment. She wanted to share something completely unrelated to her health but something she was quite proud of and that she uses to help calm herself. When we told him what she wanted him to see, at first his expression was one of “okay, I’ll humor you.”   When he saw the picture, however, his face completely changed. “WHOA! Whoa! That could be professionally done!” He proceeded to look at the picture until it timed out on my phone. “You are very talented,” he told her. “We have to get you feeling better so you can get back to that.” That short interaction, those few words of encouragement was like flipping a light switch in her head. Not only is she no longer afraid of him, when we told her later that she is looking at two more hospitalizations and more testing, she completely took it in stride and was willing to do it, without a fight.

What made the difference?  It was the same doctor she’s been seeing and afraid of for a year. It’s the same hospital, at least for one of the visits. It’s still more tests. The only thing that changed was the fact that he took the time to encourage her. That’s all she needed in that moment. What will happen down the road when the tests and hospitalizations loom large? Who knows, but right now, she’s okay with it. And that is priceless.

We are surrounded by people who need a nudge to be willing to step out in faith and do something they have been called and created to do. It may be something small, or it may be something huge. Regardless it’s something that will make a difference. What’s holding them back? Fear. Fear of rejection, or failure, of humiliation, of hurt. Fear of trying something without knowing the outcome. Fear of being themselves and of putting themselves out there. What if all they needed was one nudge, one word of encouragement, to change their perspective and maybe even their world?

Over and over in the Scriptures it talks about how we are to be encouragers. (Rom 15:2, Heb 10:24-25, 2 Cor 1:3-4, 1 Thess 5:11) Think of Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement. What a great difference he made in the lives of those he touched and encouraged! What if your job today is simply to be an encouragement to someone? What if our job each and every day was to offer a kind word? How would our lives be changed as we effect change simply by our words? My challenge to you today is this: make a point once a day for one week to say something sincere but encouraging to someone else. Do that, and then let me know what happens.

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Flags and Basketball (3 John 1:8)

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Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth.

Today, I had the opportunity to go and support some friends of ours at some sporting events. We saw portions of final games of the regular season of flag football and basketball. It’s easy for us to say “I don’t have a kid the game, I’m awfully busy” and pass on events like these. I think it’s important, though, to show support, to root on our friends and children of the congregation. It’s important to be encouragers even when – perhaps especially when – it is not required nor expected. It’s being there because you want to, not because you have to. That means a lot. I know it does for me when people show up to support my children in their various activities.

As I was watching these games from the sidelines, a few things stood out to me as easy applications to our spiritual walk.

These are team sports. While there were certain players on the teams with greater skills, it wasn’t just about them. In both games, these players came together to work together as one unit. Isn’t that what we do as Christians? We come as individuals and are put together by the Lord to form the body of Christ. As the body of Christ, we work together towards the goal of heaven and of sharing that hope with as many as we can.

They worked together according to a plan. When the teams were sent out on the field or the court, they were sent out with a plan. They had worked and drilled and they knew what their plan of action was going to be. The teams that held to that plan showed themselves to be better organized and more confident in what they were doing. They weren’t always successful in their efforts, but they all knew what the plan was and as a result they were able to worked as a single unit. The Bible gives us the plan. Somethings are specific, such as the need for and the way to salvation, how to worship and how to conduct ourselves in our lives. Other things are left to the prayerful consideration of the leadership of the individual congregations. We know we need to evangelize. We know we need to be benevolent and hospitable. We know we need to be reaching out and lighting our lights shine before men. How do we go about doing that? When a congregation’s leadership has a solid plan in place, when the members understand that plan and can get behind it, the benefits and the results are seen. If we all go about doing our own thing, fighting amongst ourselves about what we should be doing, nothing gets done. Even worse, what we are showing the world is not the light of Christ at all.

They helped each other. In both games, this was evident. Players got open, they assisted one another, and they were aware of what the need was. By the same token, there were also times when this did not happen. When a player is dribbling the basketball and gets surrounded by the opposing team, what happens when his teammates are nowhere to be found? What happens when the quarterback is looking to throw a pass and nobody moves to get open? In both instances, the other team gets the ball.

The verse I chose for this devotional is 3 John 1:8. Here the apostle is writing to a man named Gaius. Gaius was an elder in the church, and in context, had supported several brethren who were traveling through the area. John commends him saying “Yes! This is what we should be doing! We need to be supporting each other. When we do so, we are showing ourselves to be fellow workers.” As a Christian, I struggle sometimes. Sometimes it’s with stress, sometimes it’s with feeling overwhelmed, sometimes it’s with physical difficulties. Sometimes those struggles have to do with a specific ministry that I am involved in. I cannot do it alone. So I reach out for help. When my brothers and sisters in Christ are there and able to help, that burden is lifted and I can continue on. If that doesn’t happen, I continue to struggle and sometimes have to drop my endeavors. This tells me two things: 1) We have to be there to help our fellow Christians. We need to be fellow workers supporting and encouraging one another. 2) We have to be willing to reach out in our need.

 

 

 

Comforting Others (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

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Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

This passage is amazing to me. It’s so simple.

Why do we struggle? Why do we go through things? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do children have to hurt? I don’t even want to go down that road, but what stands out to me in this passage is the answer to the next question: I’m in this situation, now what? What can I do?

You’re struggling, treading water maybe. You’re suffocating under the burden of financial worse, regret, guilt, pain… what do I do? I’m a part of an amazing group of parents who have children who suffer terrible pain on a regular basis. A very common thought that is shared is – what do I do now? When the doctors aren’t giving me any answers, when nothing is working, what do I do?

There’s so many ways to answer those questions, but let’s not overlook this gem the Holy Spirit has given us in 2 Corinthians: as God comforts you in your situation, use that and comfort other people who also suffer. Relate to other people. Share your experiences. Find that common ground and gain strength in doing so. Share the comfort and hope you have found in Christ.

Our daughters suffers tremendously on a daily basis. Because of her experience, because of her pain, she is able to connect with people in a way that I can’t. A friend in the congregation we worship with had some stroke like symptoms. One of the things he struggled with was the slurred speech. When she heard this, her immediate response was “He’s just like me!” She was able to relate to him in a way that nobody else could. They had that shared experience.

I don’t know why you’re struggling or hurting. I don’t know why things are happening to you. But know that in your difficulty you have an opportunity and ability others might not have – the ability to connect with others in similar situations and struggling with similar burdens. Take that opportunity, connect with others and support and strengthen others and in most importantly share the source of your own comfort – the Father of mercies and God of all comfort

 

Praise God! (Isaiah 25:1)

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O Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you; I will praise your name, for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure

When we think about all the wonderful things the Lord has done, it’s pretty easy to make the decision to worship the Lord. God wants our worship to be filled with thoughts and remembrance of God’s great work, not only an emotional response” (David Gusik: A Study Guide for Isaiah 25)

When we are caught up in the pressures and stresses of life, often we find ourselves brought low. When all we see is the never ending cycle of work, bills, appointments, other people’s expectations of us, it’s easy to feel burdened, anxious and trapped. Our focus becomes so centered on what we have to do to get through the day that we forget the wonders around us.

There’s a poem that talks about being thankful for dirty dishes because it means we have food to eat. It’s all about finding the blessings in life, which is easy to miss when we allow ourselves to get distracted by the day’s demands.

This verse is talking about praising God for the things He has done. It’s not just the “little things,” although we certainly should praise Him for all the blessings He gives. Here it speaks of “plans formed of old.” This immediately brings to mind the greatest blessing of all – that of His Son. Go back to the beginning  of the world, to the time of Adam and Eve in the Garden. Already He had made plans to redeem man (Gen 3:15). That plan is promised time and time again and is eventually brought to fruition when the Son of God “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:6-8)

His plan was to save us, to offer us – not force us to take, but offer us – eternal life and rest. Salvation. Allow that to sink in. Allow your mind to shift focus away from the day and all it brings to His great work. When you do that, regardless of the problems and stress you face, how can you not sing? How can you not offer praise?  “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Ps 8:9)

 

 

My Way or the Highway? (1 Cor. 1:10)

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I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment

This verse and others like it have been popping up in my studies rather frequently lately. I don’t want to write about this verse. I’d rather write about just about anything else. Which is why, of course, I need to write about it even though, if I’m honest, it makes me uncomfortable because it steps on my toes right now.

The past few months I have been involved in a series of rather unfortunate disagreements with someone. From my point of view, I have been unfairly and repeatedly attacked out of nowhere. I feel as if I’ve done nothing wrong, that I have made every accommodation possible and that truly there’s nothing I can do right in regards to this particular person. If I’m fair, I will grudgingly admit that the other person probably also believes they have done nothing wrong.

So what do you do when you disagree or feel like you’re being attacked? Society says fight back – tit for tat. Now, I’m a peace loving person. I hate confrontation. I’ll do just about anything to avoid it. But at the same time, I shouldn’t have to let someone walk all over me, right? I should be able to stand up for myself when it gets to a certain point, right?

Well, what does the Bible say? This verse says let there be no divisions among you, but be united. Matthew 5:39-41 says “Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.”

*sigh* That’s a bit uncomfortable, and not at all what I want to do.

What happens when there is conflicts within a physical family? It’s awkward. The tension is felt through the whole family. Why do we expect that it will be any different with our spiritual family? As Christians, our goal is to bring glory to God in everything we do. So, is my disagreement bringing Him glory? or is it actually hindering the work?

The Holy Spirit through Paul says not to be divided. Elsewhere we are told to Outdo one another in showing honor (Rom 12:10) or as the King James has it “it honor preferring one another.” (Do you hear that sound? Yeah, that’s the sound of my toes being stomped on with this verse!) As Christians we are to love our brothers and sisters with an agape love – a self sacrificing kind of love. That means I put the needs and desires of others above my own – or at least I should.

We are not called to fit in with our society, or to live like the world. We are called to lead radically different lives. That includes how we handles arguments and disagreements. I need to be accommodating. I need to be loving and merciful and forgiving, even at the expense of my own ego. I need to remember that it’s not about me and getting my way, but it’s about God and bringing Him glory.

In my life I need to exhibit the same characteristics and attitudes that God has displayed towards me. For my part when disagreements happen, I need to emulate Christ, regardless of how the other person reacts. I simply need to do my part.

In case I’m misunderstood, let me clarify: disagreements happen. We can having differing opinions or ideas about things. We cannot let those disagreements get in the way of our affection for one another nor the work of the Lord. I’m not saying that we baby people, but we need to keep our priorities right. We need to do our part in that, understanding that there are serious admonitions about our attitudes and actions toward one another: 1 Tim 3:11, 2 Tim 3, 1 Pet 2:12, Gal 5, Col 3:8, 1 Tim 6, Eph 4:9, etc

Bottom line: I need to worry about living a life that reflects the love of Christ fully, even if that means I need to sacrifice my own desires. I pray that the Lord will help me make this necessary change in my attitude.

 

 

 

A Giant has Fallen (Psalm 116:15)

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Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.

This morning I woke up to the sad news that my grandfather passed away peacefully in his sleep. He was 95 years old and had been married to my grandmother for over 74 years. They raised 5 children in addition to the young one they buried.

As I was struggling to come up with words to explain who this man was, this all I could come up with. This certainly does not do him justice:

Today the world lost a giant. At least that’s how he always seemed to me. My grandpa, Kenneth E Elder, was a WWII lieutenant who served with the 634th Tank Destroyer Battalion in Germany. The story goes that he promised God if He spared his life, he would dedicate it to serving Him. Grandpa went on to spend the majority of his adult life serving as a missionary in Zambia. I remember when I was in high school, he and Grandma went back to Zambia for a visit after being Stateside for over 20 years. The next thing I knew, they were moving back “home,” where they stayed until a broken leg necessitated a move back to the States. He was teacher, a preacher, a leader, and an amazing story teller. He touched countless lives over his 9 1/2 decades on this earth, and he will be greatly missed.

Grandpa Elder was a man who loved the Lord, loved his wife and loved his family. As I read people’s comments, I was reminded of the man who had a great sense of humor, and a project always in the works. He served God faithfully, and was an amazing example of a full life that was well lived. I pray that the same words can be said about me someday.

While we mourn his passing, I know that heaven is rejoicing as they welcomed this old, faithful soldier into eternal rest.

Fear Not (Isaiah 41:13)

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For I, the Lord your God, will hold your right hand, Saying to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you.’

I read this verse this morning and my first thought was “How very appropriate!” You see, just yesterday I was confiding in a friend about something we are dealing with. “Honestly at times,” I wrote, “it’s terrifying… I am afraid.” How blessed am I to have a reminder of God’s encouragement and reassurance waiting for me this morning!

“Do not fear.” These three little words, these 9 letters strung together in a sentence, speak mountains of information.  Over and over in the Scriptures, we read of God taking the time to comfort and reassure His people.

Do not fear, I am with you. I will help you. I will strengthen you. I will never leave you. .. Do not fear.

The fear I confided in my friend about yesterday has to do with the health of one of our children. Your fears are likely different. Maybe its about a family member, a friend, safety, a move, or uncertain times. Maybe the fear you are struggling with right now is something that never even crossed my mind. Whatever they are, fears can be overwhelming. They loom large in our minds and heart. They shadow everything and rob us of joy. They leave us unsettled, anxious, distracted and on edge. They can be suffocating.

When we think of the big picture, of God and in the light of eternity, what are our problems and fears but a drop in the bucket, a twinkle in time. They are insignificant to the One who has watched generations of lives lived. Who sees the problems of this world. How could my problem , how could my fear even be a blip on His radar?

But that’s not what He says. He says “Do not fear.” He says “I am with you. I will help you.” He says “Out of the billions of lives on this planet right now, you and your fears are important to Me. They are significant to you, so they are to Me as well.”  God doesn’t promise happy endings. He promises that things will work out. He promises hope, security and strength as you move through your trials and peace to sustain you come what may.

When our children were small, sometimes there would be things that would frighten them. A shadow, a noise, something new, perhaps. They would be afraid. When our daughter was going through tests and when she was hospitalized, she was afraid. What did they want, what did they need in that moment? They needed someone they trusted to be there with them. To comfort them. To lend them their strength. To give them security. Even if the problem couldn’t be immediately fixed, they needed someone to be there with them to calm their minds and their hearts. So we sit with them. We hold them and we reassure them, because we love them and because this is what parents do.

In the same way, as I’m confessing my fear, I need that same reassurance that strength and that security that my kids need from time to time. Praise God that He is not only able, but willing to look at us, His children, see our fear and offer the reassurance and comfort only He can.