Peace

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  – John 14:27 (NIV).

Peace. It is a word that we all long for, yet few know how to find. A word that in just five letters, sends calming images to mind and a feeling of comfort to our hearts. A word that conjures up images of beaches and long summer nights. Christmas lights and fireplaces. All things nice, and cozy, and well—peaceful!

It is also a word that is severely lacking from most of the word’s  vocabulary today. 

As humans in present-day-society, we are often encouraged to view life through the lens of lack and scarcity. We are encouraged to chase more prestigious jobs with a higher pay. We are encouraged to get into the most impressive college and make the dean’s list. We are encouraged to change our appearance based on perceived flaws and social norms. We are encouraged to be better, faster, and more. All while killing a part of ourselves in the process.

Little by little, we begin to place our hope in these things—forgetting that as Christians, our joy was meant to be something a lot more eternal.

Though it is something that on some level, I’ve known for years, I have been learning what it means to find peace in Christ, even in seasons that try and test this peace. I am learning what it means to breathe. What it means to let go and let God. What it means to find rest in God’s grace and love—and remember that in itself is enough.

As I write this, I am reminded of some of the things that give me sort of a ‘peace’ in the physical realm. Warm tea. Ice cream and a good movie or TV series on Hulu. A new book. The feeling of a warm blanket. Lights strung during Christmas time. I am also reminded of the things that tend to steal my peace. Too much homework. Early shifts at work. Unexpected bad news. Running late for anything. Driving in torrential rain. These kinds of things, despite my desire to stay calm, often have a tendency to rob me of my peace in an instant.

Writing both about the things that give me peace and the things that send me into panic mode, I feel led to ask you this question—which is your faith for you? Is your faith in Jesus a place where you can find rest, a place that gives you the peace of eating ice cream and watching your old favorite movie? Or does it feel more like akin to the anxiety of too much homework—a task that feels overwhelming, and that you feel you must ‘perfect’ in order to win God’s approval?

According to Jesus, in Matthew 11:28-30, the Christian life should feel more like the first example. This passage says, “Are you weary, carrying a heavy burden? Then come to me.[a] I will refresh your life, for I am your oasis.[b] 29 Simply join your life with mine.[c] Learn my ways and you’ll discover that I’m gentle,[d] humble, easy to please. You will find refreshment and rest in me.[e] 30 For all that I require of you will be pleasant[f] and easy to bear.” (TPT). 

God wants us to find an unexplainable peace in Him. A peace that can carry us even when our lives are anything but. A peace that does not come from religious works or legalism, but from a personal and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. The Christian life does not mean we will not have trials, or feel stress from time to time, but it does mean that we have a hope and a love that can carry us through it. We have something that can sustain us even through the seasons that threaten our peace. 

This week, I want to challenge you to sink into that peace. To rest in God’s presence. To sink into His oasis. To remember that Jesus is gentle, humble, and easy to please.  To find peace in His love, mercy and grace. And, to “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7 (NIV).

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How about you? How do you sink into God’s peace when the storms start to come your way? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments section below! Also – check out this really great song all about this by Lauren Daigle here! I heard it at a Christian conference a couple of weeks ago and it is really good! 

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Perfect

“I got a couple dents in my fender. Got a couple rips in my jeans. Try to fit the pieces together. But perfection is my enemy. And on my own I’m so clumsy but on Your shoulders I can see. I’m free to be me.” – Francesca Battistelli, Free To Be Me.

I was approximately nine years old when the song Free To Be Me, by Francesca Battistelli, first aired on the radio. My family was just starting to listen to the local Christian radio station around this time, and immediately, I resonated with this song. I felt like  Francesca Battistelli had written those lyrics just for me. Ever since I was young, I have always struggled with perfectionism.* And, in some ways, it is still something that I struggle with from time to time today.

To give you all some context on this, I’ve recently discovered that I’m an Enneagram 1w9. Ones are notorious for being perfectionists, and they tend to set extremely high standards for themselves. On the surface level, this can look like a good thing. I’ve never drank or used drugs, I’ve always made pretty decent grades, and I do my best to be kind to the people around me. These are all good things. The not-so-good thing is how, at times, I’ve made my faith about me more than God. How I’ve sometimes put my worth in what I’ve done rather than what Jesus has already done for me. How I put weights on myself that Christ never intended for me to carry.

A couple of years ago, back when I was still in high school, I read a book about this by Emily P. Freeman called Grace For The Good Girl. I wrote about it in a previous blog post, here. The author, like me, has struggled with perfectionism for most of her life. She writes, in one part of the book, describing her struggle, “When bad girls perform to get their needs met, they get in trouble. When good girls perform to get the same thing, we get praise. That is why the hiding is so easy for us. We work hard, we do right, and we try not to ruffle feathers. And even if we do all that by the strength of our own selves, we tell ourselves it’s okay. It seems to work, therefore it’s acceptable.It is not wrong to try to do the right thing, and follow God’s ways and His heart to the best of our ability. The problem occurs when we put our worth in what we do rather than who we are in Christ. When we rely on ourselves rather than relying on God.

Here’s the thing guys, Jesus did not come so that we can make a couple small behavior adjustments and throw Him into our backpack along with our grades and our accomplishments. He came to completely wreck our lives with His love and make dead people alive! To quote Emily P. Freeman once again, “The story of redemption and healing is that Jesus came to exchange my not-good-enough with his better-than-I-could-ever-imagine. He came to trade my life for His, my weak for His strong, my ashes for His beauty. He longs for each of us to receive the gift of Himself.” It is only when we fully grasp this truth that we can really experience the fullness of God’s power and the freedom that He intended for us to have in Christ.

If any of you are like me, and struggle with perfectionism, I want to challenge you to sink more into Jesus. To rely on His power more than your own. To realize that this journey with Jesus is so much grander than to-do-lists and checklists and trying to be good. To fall in love with Jesus and live your life as an outpouring of that love. To realize that grace is not simply the thing that we experience at salvation, but the thing that carries us and sustains us through the rest of our days and the rest of our life. 

To live faithfully, clinging to Jesus every day and every moment. 

Bringing your best, and trusting God with the rest. 

Loving God and loving people every step of the way. 

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*Full disclosure: I’m also a tad clumsy. So I can also admittedly relate to that part of the song.😉   

How about you guys? Do any of you struggle with perfectionism, or trying to win the approval of God and others? If so, feel free to share about it below! I’d love to discuss this in the comments! 

Where Your Heart Is

“Being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion. It is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ.” – Billy Graham.

As Christians, we spend a lot of time talking about outward ministry (as we should). How we can be an effective witness to others. How we can share Jesus in our circles of influence. How we can shine our light for Christ. All of this is great, please don’t misunderstand this – I hope that these are questions that you are asking yourself every day. However, if we are going to be effective witnesses for Christ, we must first start inward—with the condition of our heart. We must first start with seeking after God’s own heart.

Jesus talks about this very concept in John 15. He says, I am the sprouting vine and you’re my branches.[e] As you live in union with me as your source, fruitfulness will stream from within you—but when you live separated from me you are powerless. If a person is separated from me, he is discarded; such branches are gathered up and thrown into the fire to be burned. But if you live in life-union with me and if my words[f] live powerfully[g] within you—then you can ask whatever you desire and it will be done. When your lives bear abundant fruit, you demonstrate that you are my mature disciples who glorify my Father!

“I love each of you with the same love that the Father loves me. You must continually let my love nourish your hearts. If you keep my commands, you will live in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands, for I continually live nourished and empowered by his love. My purpose for telling you these things is so that the joy that I experience will fill your hearts with overflowing gladness! John 15:5-11 (TPT). 

As Christians, we are called to be so full of love and so full of Jesus that it is contagious, and it spreads to those around us. People should look at us and see something beyond ourselves – they should see the love of Christ moving in and through us. Jesus talks about this in John 13:35 when He says “For when you demonstrate the same love I have for you by loving one another, everyone will know that you’re my true followers.” (TPT). We are called to fall in love with Jesus and spread this love to everyone that we know.

If you’ve been a Christian for a while than you’re probably familiar with terms like “falling in love with Jesus” or “it’s a relationship, not a religion“. These are terms that I personally have  heard since I was nine years old. However, there have been points in my life when it’s been hard for this message to really get through—for me to really understand this on a heart level. It is easy to go through the motions in our faith; reading our Bible, praying, going to church and Bible studies. It is something else entirely to maintain a relationship with a God that we cannot see. But once we encounter the width and depths of His love, our relationship with Christ will never be the same. 

As humans we are wired for relationships. We are wired to be connected to people in a deep and personal way. It doesn’t take more than a simple observation of children in a Kindergarten classroom to know that there is something in us that longs for connection. It is only in our older age, and acquired hurts that we start to believe the lie that we can go at it on our own. Christ wants us to approach our relationship with Him with the wide eyed innocence of children—throwing off chains of legalism and “religion” that too often characterize our approach to God. God wants your heart – not your perfection and not your works. He simply wants YOU! 

This Valentines Day, I want you to take some time reflecting on a different kind of relationship; whether you are single, dating, or married. I want you to reflect on your relationship with the God who loves you with an everlasting love and who left the glories of Heaven to pursue you. Who wrote love letters to you through His word and who continues to chase after you daily. I want you to see and experience the “overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God, who chases you down, fights ’til your found and leaves the ninety nine”* – Fully embracing the fullness of God’s love, mercy and heart and sharing this breathtaking love with the world.

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God still loved us with such great love. He is so rich in compassion and mercy. Even when we were dead and doomed in our many sins, he united us into the very life of Christ and saved us by his wonderful grace!” – Ephesians 2:4-5 (TPT). 

*Words courtesy of Corey Asbury.

Overcoming Anxiety

Recently, I posted to my Instagram story, asking those who follow me for suggestions on future blog topics. And, knowing a little bit about my story and my struggle with OCD/anxiety, a friend asked that, if I was comfortable, I would share how I manage it.

And, I told her that I would be more than happy to share.😊

For those of you who don’t know me, or are new to my blog, I’ve struggled with OCD/anxiety on and off since around middle school. My struggle with OCD/anxiety is mostly a battle of the mind (to borrow a term from Joyce Meyers). It can look different for different people, but for me it mainly takes the form of thoughts. Thoughts that make me feel stressed, or that trigger my emotions in some way. When this happens, it often triggers a host of physical symptoms – symptoms like a racing heart, or the sensation of ‘tensing up’ under stress. The thoughts, mixed with the symptoms, brings us to what most people would dub “OCD” or “anxiety.

And while, dealing with this kind of anxiety can be hard, it isn’t impossible.

I believe that through Christ’s power living in us, we are more than conquerors through Christ who strengthens us (Romans 8:3). And as intense as anxiety can sometimes be, it is no match for the God who breathed earth into being and breath into our very lungs.

And, here are some tips that have helped me overcome my own anxiety.

1. Identify the source – “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” – John 10:10. Back when I was in middle school, one of my youth leaders made us memorize this verse. I can still remember being in a line of middle schoolers waiting to recite it back to her to get a piece of free candy. Years later, as an adult, I am super glad that I learned it. Because as Christians on fire for Jesus, our enemy is constantly looking for ways to defeat us, and keep us from the plans that God has for us.

One of the primary way that he will do this, is through using anxiety to defeat us—putting thoughts in our minds and making us think that they are ours. He will also lie to us in any way that He can—about ourselves and about the people that God has placed in our lives. When these kinds of self-defeating thoughts come, it is important that we identify the source. 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.When our knowledge of God’s truth becomes more powerful than the lies that we hear about ourselves, we are in a place where we can begin demolishing these thoughts and the anxiety that comes with them.

2. Surround yourself with a community – “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25. I honestly cannot speak enough about the importance of community in the life of the believer. I fell into a season a while back where I struggled to find this, and it was honestly one of the worst times for me in regards to anxiety/OCD. When we surround ourselves with people who will speak truth into our lives and encourage us in our faith, it is so much harder for the enemy to lie to us and attack us with temptation and troubling thoughts. There’s a reason that God tells us to surround ourselves with other believers. It is not only good for our Christian walk—it is good for our mental and emotional wellbeing.

3. Pray – “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Philippians 4:6 I know this one probably sounds so cliche, but trust me, it works. This is not to say that if you pray, all of your problems will automatically be resolved – after all, Paul still had his thorn even after he asked God to take it away (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). However, this does not diminish the power of prayer. Praying changes something in our hearts, even at the times that we struggle. It causes us to position our hearts towards God and ‘cast all of our fears unto Him because He cares‘ (Psalm 55:22). God is with you even in your hardest moments. When we begin to praise God in the storm, anxiety slowly begins to lose its power over us. Suddenly, the things that we were once so worried about, and that we were so stressed out about seem small—by comparison of the amazing, awesome, and powerful God that we serve! A God who is greater than any form of fear or anxiety!

4. Be Real—not perfect -“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10. Ironically, just last week, as I was planning this blog post, one of the other leaders at my church’s youth group was asked to speak on this very topic. And one thing he mentioned that stood out to me was letting go of the need to be strong and be perfect—opening up to God and others about our areas of weakness. As your classic ‘type A’ perfectionist, this can definitely be a struggle for me. It can be hard to say to a friend or someone close to you ‘I’m not OK.’ However, as God taught me over the course of last year, one of the healthiest things that we can do as human beings is confide in each other, and be real about our struggles. We are all human, and there is not a human on this planet who has their life completely figured out. 

5. Get in the word – “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12. Staying plugged into God’s Word is one of our surest keys to keeping our anxiety and negative emotions in check. It has the power to break through the deepest places in our heart and penetrate through our whole being. A couple of days ago, I woke up feeling stressed about the future, and trying to discern God’s plans for me, and as soon as I broke out my Bible and put on some good worship music, I felt better. As Christians, the Bible is our lifeblood, and it is so important that we stay in the Word to steady our spirits as we go throughout our day to day lives.

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How about you? Have you ever struggled with anxiety, or negative thoughts? If so, how did you combat it? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.😃

Prayer – This Is How I Fight My Battles

A while back, I heard a really cool worship song called Surrounded by Michael W. Smith. 

It mostly repeats the same two lines throughout, but it’s such a great song with such a great message that I felt led to share it on this blog. It says, “This is how I fight my battles…it may look like I’m surrounded by I’m surrounded by You.” It’s a song about prayer as spiritual warfare. And that’s exactly what I want to talk about in this post.

Over this past summer I challenged myself to go deeper in my prayer life, and doing so has helped me so much in my daily battles, challenges, and concerns. It has given me peace in the midst of hardships and joy as I approach each day. I used to struggle while praying, because that’s when my OCD would typically kick in the hardest, but lately, it has been through prayer that I’ve been better able to combat it.

It is through prayer that I have been able to fight my battles. 

The Bible talks about this very subject in Ephesians 6. It instructs us to put on the full armor of God to fight our battles and live victoriously. It says, “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” (Ephesians 6:14-18)

As Christians, we are in a spiritual battle against the enemy every day. And the only way that we can effectively fight it is through seeking God consistently through prayer. 

The other day, I started reading a book by Beth Moore called Praying God’s Word. And in this book, she notes of the above passage…

Only one piece of the armor is actually a weapon. The figurative belt, shield, breastplate, shoes, and helmet are all defensive pieces of armor intended to keep us from being injured by the weapons of the evil one. The sword of the Spirit, clearly identified as the Word of God, is the only offensive weapon listed in the whole armor of God. Second Corinthians 10:3 uses the plural, assuring us we have weapons for warfare. What would the other primary weapon be? Perhaps additional weapons might be identified elsewhere, but I believe the other primary weapon of our warfare is stated right after the words identifying the sword of the Spirit as the Word of God in Ephesians 6:17. The next verse says “And I pray in the Spirit in all occasions.” I am utterly convinced that the two major weapons with divine power in our warfare are the word of God and Spirit-empowered prayer.

Prayer, along with regular time in the Word, are our best bets of defense against spiritual attacks. And when we do these things daily, seeking God with our whole heart, we’ll have so much more strength to fight the battles that we face each day. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy and it doesn’t have to be anything long, it just has to be sincere.

If you’re not sure what to pray about, try making a list. Write down the things that are concerning you and start talking to God about them. Maybe you’re struggling with anxiety, or being bullied at school. Ask God to give you peace and the strength to endure and love your enemy. If you have a good friend who doesn’t know God, pray for her, and ask God to reveal Himself to her. If you see a lot of darkness at your school, pray over it—and ask that God would bring redemption and hope to the people there.

Lastly, don’t forget to praise God! Thank Him for all that He’s done for you and praise Him for who He is. You can do this by simply talking to Him, or by putting on some good worship music and praising Him through the lyrics.

The important thing is to stay connected to Him, and the way that we stay connected to anyone is through regular conversation with them!

To conclude, if any of you guys have prayer requests for me, feel free to contact me through my DM on Instagram or Twitter @authorcourtney1 or through my email address, at courtneyloves2read@gmail.com. Just be sure to title it “Prayer Request” so I know what it is! I’m always happy to pray with/for you all!

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“To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” – Martin Luther.

How about you? How has prayer impacted you in your own life? I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below!

#RelationshipGoals

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:13

As human beings, we’re naturally and innately wired for relationships. 

From the time that we are children, we’re motivated to forge relationships with those around us. No one has to teach us that we need other people. It is something that we instinctively know; whether introverted, extraverted, or somewhere in between, regardless of culture, gender, race, or ethnicity. It is God’s fingerprint on His creation—and one of the clearest and most incredible ways that we are made in His image.

We were made for relationships with other people.

And, even more importantly, we were made for a relationship with God. 

While it is often easy for us to remember that we need to be in close relationships with those around us to flourish, it can often be easy to forget the importance, and life-altering significance of our relationship with God.

Many of us, if we’ve been in the church for a long time, have heard the old cliche ‘Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship’, but in our real, nitty-gritty every day lives, this can be a difficult truth to live out. It’s all too easy to fall into routine with our faith. To read our Bible, go to church, and pray—all while missing the breathtaking beauty of it all. That the God of the universe wants to know us personally, and loves each of us more than any human being on this earth ever could. 

And until we shape our lives around this truth, nothing else will ever be enough. 

The truth is, in my own life, this has often been a struggle that I’ve personally dealt with. Though I know this truth deep down in my heart, there have been far too many times that I’ve tried to place something else where God should be. In some seasons, it’s been an achievement. In other seasons, it’s been a close friendship. Yet in other seasons, it’s been my own struggle with perfectionism. There have been times when I’ve been so focused on what my life looked like on the outside that I’ve totally neglected what was really important—the condition of my heart on the inside.

Sometimes, even really good things can distract us from deepening our relationship with God. Things like pursuing a talent that God has given us, or a relationship with someone God has placed in our life. The problem isn’t always the thing itself, but the weight that we give it. Anything can turn into a negative thing if it keeps us from turning our hearts most fully to the one most important thing.

No matter who you are and no matter what you’ve done, God wants a deep, personal relationship with you. He sees you as His beloved child and friend and would die for you all over again even if you were the only person on earth.

As you go throughout your week, I want to challenge you to fall more in love with Jesus. To see your faith and quiet time with God as a way of growing closer to the One who wants to know you, rather than just a list of tasks. To never stop being captivated by the heart of the Gospel.

To never stop pursuing a relationship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

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“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Matthew 7:7

A Poem For Easter

Love Saves

Darkness, darkness aluminates the night

Scattered, battered, running in fright

Do you know him, do you see Him, hang from the tree

No I do not, said Peter, not once but three

Blood flowed, love showed, the sky glowed

Emptiness, emptiness, hovers over the land

As Jesus cries from the cross why has Thou forsaken this man

Who hangs in agony worse than we can know

All the while His love still continued to show

Arisen, Arisen, said the angel to they

Not on day one, day two, but day three

From the lips of angel He directed they

To see the empty tomb where Jesus no longer lay

Because it is finished, don’t you see here now

Love, love has saved us here, taken a bow

Because nothing could keep Him down, not a grave

Finally, with a risen Savior we’re saved

Not by mere man, or a hero in cape

But a God who loved us all, who has changed the day

This is why we celebrate, you see

Because of God’s love, poured out for you and me

Happy Easter everyone! I hope y’all have a great day!