2 Corinthians 12:7 NLT
Ever experienced a situation or temptation that felt like a thorn in your life? Paul did. He wrote: ‘To keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh.’ He doesn’t say what his ‘thorn’ was. Perhaps that’s so we can all relate to him. If he told us the specific issue, many of us might not take notice of the verses. But by keeping it general, it reminds us that we will all face struggles. We won’t all have the same kind of thorns. Our thorns could be about things such as health, work, relationships, or temptations. They can be painful and we can find ourselves asking God to remove them from us. Paul asked God to remove the thorn on a number of occasions: ‘Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away’ (2 Corinthians 12:8 NLT). But He didn’t. Paul knew it wasn’t because he was unloved or because God wasn’t wholly good. He said: ‘To keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh.’ When life is going well, we can become more independent. We think we don’t need God and can move away from Him. By allowing us to have ‘thorns’ in our lives, He reminds us that we need to stay completely dependent on Him. Thorns can actually draw us closer to God rather than separate us from Him. God can use anything for our good and His glory. In His wisdom and patience, He permits something we think is intended to hurt us, but He turns it around and uses it to help us.
1 Cor 15; Matt 3:1-6; Ps 116; Prov 31:30
Psalm 55:22 NIV
Ever gone through a time when you felt overwhelmed and overloaded? It might have been in one particular area of your life, such as work, or in all areas of your life. It probably felt like there was too much to do, and not enough time to do it. It’s not unusual for us to go through times like this, but when we are constantly feeling overloaded it starts impacting our attitude, health, and relationships. But we don’t have to live that way. Jesus came so that we could have a full life (have a read of John 10:10), not a life where we feel like we are constantly spinning plates, worrying that something’s going to fall. When we are feeling like that, here’s what we can do: 1) Pray. The Bible says: ‘Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.’ We need to be handing everything over to God and asking Him for the wisdom to evaluate what we are doing. We need to try to understand what’s causing us to feel overloaded, and start prioritising. 2) Delegate. The Bible tells us that Paul left Titus in Crete while he went to spread the Gospel to even more people (have a read of Titus 1:5). Paul knew he couldn’t be everywhere or do everything. He needed people to continue the work he had started. If we insist on controlling and doing everything ourselves, we won’t be very productive or successful. So to avoid feeling overloaded, we need to share our problems with God, and with others. We don’t have to do everything on our own – God made us to live in community, sharing and helping each other.
Neh 5-7; John 18:12-24; Ps 150; Prov 29:22-27
Matthew 6:31-32 NLT
We can often find ourselves saying that we trust God, and then worrying about our relationships, health, jobs, and money. But Paul writes, ‘Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace’ (Philippians 4:6-7 NLT). We can choose whether to worry, or whether to pray. We can choose whether we try and do life on our own, or whether we surrender it to God and allow Him to take control. Jesus said, ‘Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own’ (Matthew 6:34 NIV). It can be easier said than done to think about one day at a time. The trouble is, when we start overthinking our future, we try and take control. We try and figure everything out ourselves, rather than handing everything over to God and trusting Him. And that means we don’t have His peace. Worry can be like a snowball; it starts small, and as we keep rolling it forwards it becomes big enough to knock us down. But if we hand every worry over to God, we can keep going. God says, ‘My grace is sufficient for you’ (2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV). God will only give us what we need for today; that way we have to keep trusting Him for tomorrow. The Bible tells us Jesus is the Good Shepherd who ‘calls his own sheep by name and…walks ahead of them’ (John 10:3-4 NLT). He has already gone ahead of us to arrange everything. Knowing that should help us face tomorrow, confident that God will take care of us.
Ezra 1-2; John 6:25-34; Ps 98; Prov 24:15-18
Proverbs 18:24 NIV
To fulfill God’s plan for your life, you need relationships with the right people, those who stick by you come what may. Remember Jonathan, who loved David even at the cost of his own life? And Ruth, who loved her mother-in-law Naomi and gave her a reason to live again? God can introduce you to such people and help you build a relationship with them. Think about it: He wouldn’t say, “It is not good that man should be alone,” then ask you to live in isolation (Genesis 2:18 NKJV). Sometimes when you’re by yourself, you’re in the worst possible company! But you may need to be healed within before you can build healthy relationships and make healthy choices. That means learning to differentiate between “using” relationships and “heart ties.” Blood ties don’t wear as well as heart ties. Allow God to work on you and when you’re ready, He will facilitate the necessary introductions. In the meantime get to know Him better because He’s the source of true self-esteem. If your last relationship stripped you of self-worth and drained you spiritually, use this time to get back on your feet. You may never have this opportunity again! Begin to love like God loves. He sees our imperfections, handles our rejection, and loves us regardless. Knowing that will help you not to discard a good person because they did a bad thing. Would you throw your car away because of a faulty part? If God forgave you the way you forgive others, could you stand? (See Psalm 130:3). Ask Him today to show you how to build healthy, fulfilling relationships. He will do it!
Soul food: Exo 20:1-17; Matt 5:1-12
Proverbs 18:24 NIV
Relationships of any kind can be challenging because they involve people dealing with people. None of us are perfect, we will make mistakes, say the wrong things, compare ourselves, and struggle to forgive. The Bible warns us against being around the wrong people. The Bible says: ‘Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character”‘ (1 Corinthians 15:33 NIV). We need relationships with the right people in order for us to grow in our faith and fulfil God’s plans for our lives. God can introduce us to the right people and help us build a relationship with them. But He may need to do some work inside us before we can build healthy relationships and make healthy choices. He might need to help us find our identity in Him, otherwise we can look to other people to tell us who we are. God wants us to realise that we are His children, and no one can change that. The Bible says: ‘See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!’ (1 John 3:1 NIV). We also need to learn to forgive. We can’t have healthy relationships with others if we are carrying a load of bitterness and resentment around with us. God also needs to mature us so that we can love like He loves (you can read about His kind of love in 1 Corinthians 13). Healthy, godly relationships are Jesus-centred. Each person points the other to Jesus. In healthy relationships there’s no gossip, comparison, trying to fix other people’s situations, or trying to change people to meet our standards. Healthy relationships involve praying for each other, speaking words of encouragement, and forgiving each other.
Exo 20:1-17; Matt 5:1-12