By: Jenni Walker
“That they may be encouraged in heart, knit together in love, and filled with the full riches of complete understanding, so that they may know the mystery of God, namely Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:2-3)
“But Jesus immediately said to them, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’” (Matthew 14:27)
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Have you ever heard someone say, “You can’t be your best for others until you take time for yourself”? This sentiment is extremely common in our culture right now. Harried moms are told to “take time for themselves” so as not to lose track of “who they really are.” Wives are reminded to “keep loving themselves” because “no one is ever going to love you more than you love yourself” (Ilana Donna Arazie, The Real Deal on Finding Love). College students are advised to take at least one course each semester that they personally enjoy even if it is not a part of their degree plan because “constantly struggling at courses that are very challenging saps your strength and can, over time, undermine your confidence” (Lynn F. Jacobs and Jeremy S. Hyman, 15 Ways to Boost Your Confidence at College). Employees today, no matter what age, are being told that they cannot truly be good for their employers or themselves unless they “discover their own identity and inner confidence so they can unleash their full potential“ (Glenn Llopis, 5 Workplace Dynamics That Fuel An Employee Identity Crisis).
But do these cultural mantras align with a Biblical worldview?
I would like to propose that the answer is both no and yes.
“No one is ever going to love you more than you love yourself” is not Biblical. As Christians, our source of love and identity is anchored in the love described here in 1 John 3:1, which says “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God, and that is what we are!” Neither is it wrong to want to grow in confidence and in a sense of self that is rooted in our identity in Christ and His strength at work in us for His purposes and glory (Ephesians 1:3-6). But constantly seeking to discover your “own identity and inner confidence” just so you can hit the ever-moving, often ambiguous target of unleashing your “full potential” can quickly begin to feel fruitless and empty.
So what is a girl to do? Does the Bible tell us to “just suck it up and deal with it” when we begin to feel consumed by the responsibilities of family or work or life, or when we begin to feel like we are losing heart or lacking purpose in what we are doing day-in, day-out? No, it does not! But neither does it tell us to focus on “loving ourselves” in order to be our “best selves” for others. It is not wrong to want to take time for ourselves, but the problem comes when “self” becomes our primary focus.
What the Bible does talk about is cultivating an encouraged heart, which comes from something much deeper and greater than ourselves. Paul writes in Colossians 2:2-3 that he hopes the readers of his letter “may be encouraged in heart, knit together in love, and filled with the full riches of complete understanding, so that they may know the mystery of God, namely Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:2-3) Encouraged, knit together, filled, full riches, hidden treasures…these are words of refreshing and fulfillment according to God’s design.
As Colossians 2 shows us, the Bible talks a lot about receiving encouragement and strength from one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. But it also describes the importance of receiving encouragement, guidance, comfort, and inspiration directly from God Himself! Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” In Isaiah 41:10, God says, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”
As women, it can be so easy for our souls to become weary, to let negative emotions begin to steer the ship of our day, and to feel spent from giving out, giving out, giving out. While God’s power is “made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9), it is also incredibly important to have intentional times to receive strength and refreshment directly from Him. God even set this example for us by resting on the seventh day of creation and by Jesus going away to the mountains to pray.
Now here comes the big question that I know you all are wondering…HOW? How do we cultivate an encouraged heart that is honoring to the Lord in our relationships, in the workplace, in our service to others, in our everyday responsibilities, and in our creative pursuits?
Ladies, it starts with TIME.
Time?! you might be moaning inwardly. How can I find time for one more thing? Perhaps you are currently experiencing any number of the following types of life scenarios:
…I am working daily in a mask at all times. I often don’t notice it, while others times it is a strain on my soul. I often just want to crash on the couch when I get home and veg out. How can I find time for one more thing?
…Getting my groceries takes more mental planning because I have to think through all of the pickup order details, where to get fresh produce, or determine the least busy time at the store so we can easily social distance from others. How can I find time for one more thing?
…I was already a stay-at-home mom before all this, but now we have another child and getting a new daily rhythm seems overwhelming at the moment let alone shaving my legs and finishing the dishes regularly. The moms group I attended is on-hold for the time being, and I know I can do this, yet my heart and body feel weary. How can I find time for one more thing?
…I have a teen and pre-teens, and our school district resumed extracurricular activities for the fall. I feel so conflicted because they need time with their peers, but I want to use wisdom. I keep going back and forth, and it is taking up a lot of mental space lately. How can I find time for one more thing?
…My husband and I just moved to the mission field at the start of the year, and then Covid hit. Nearly everything is still shut down where we live, and the needs are overwhelming. The school and the church we are connected with are operating virtually but only reaching a fraction of the people as before. Yet, the number of families being reached through our weekly food distribution continues to grow rapidly. The need for financial support from our donors is a constant focus and seems to take up what little extra time we may have. How can I find time for one more thing?
I am so glad you asked that question! The answer is not what you may think. To find the answer, consider the example given to us by Jesus in Matthew 14. Early in this chapter, Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist was beheaded by Herod. After Jesus was told about this, verse 13 tells us that “He departed from there by boat to a deserted place by Himself. But when the multitudes heard it, they followed Him on foot from the cities.” One can only imagine that the human part of the very Son of God desperately needed time alone to think, to pray, and to receive strength from His Heavenly Father after such a grievous loss. But when He saw the multitudes, we are told that He “was moved with compassion for them” (verse 14). He proceeded to heal their sick and remain with them for the rest of the day and then to miraculously feed the multitude of literally thousands that evening.
After everyone had eaten, verses 22-23 describe what happens next: “Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on a mountain by Himself to pray.”
While Jesus is alone there, His disciples are trying to do what He told them to do: to cross to the other side of the sea. But verse 24 tells us that “the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary.” It is in the fourth watch of the night in the middle of the churning sea that Jesus comes to them, “walking on the sea,” and they feel anything but encouraged. Rather, they become even more troubled and cry out fearfully because they think He is a ghost (verses 25-26).
It is here that Jesus tells them what I can only imagine God Himself ministered through the Holy Spirit to His heart throughout this demanding, emotional, full-of-interruptions, exhausting day: “But Jesus immediately said to them, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid’” (Matthew 14:27).
Whether the sea is calm, or the wind and waves are raging, Jesus is our lighthouse. Train your heart to immediately turn to Jesus. In all things, orient your heart toward Him! Again, you may be asking HOW? How do we “find the time”? As Jesus taught and modeled for us in Matthew 14, this requires in-the-moment, timely responses in which we “take courage” and also set-aside time to receive refreshing and strength. For the rest of the month, we will explore further HOW to cultivate an encouraged heart in godly, practical, and even transformative ways. But as we conclude today, may the words of Jesus in John 16:33 anchor your soul and draw the eyes of your heart courageously to Him: “I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world.”
TIME TO REFLECT
1. Take some time to reflect honestly with the Lord about today’s devotion topic. What is the Holy Spirit speaking to your heart?
2. Revisit today’s Scripture passages. What do these verses teach us? How do they change things? (i.e. The way that we live? What we live for? Our experience of God?)
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(This devotion contains excerpts from The Wholehearted Woman: Who She is and Why She Matters by Beth Doohan and Jenni Walker.)