Cross

 

 







 



Devotionals for Women

 

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[Photo of a very disappointed young child]


Grace for the “No”

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it
[the thorn in my flesh] away from me. But he
said to me, “My grace is sufficient for
you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
—2 Corinthians 12:8-9

As a young child, I remember how hard I cried whenever my parents said, “No!” to me. I held out hope that perhaps they would change their minds if I just showed them how miserable they were making me by not allowing my friend to stay overnight, or to get the sweater I really wanted, or to accept the invitation to go swimming.

Much of my adult life, I spent sulking or feeling sorry for myself when God didn’t answer “Yes” to my reasonable requests for a coveted award, or a Christmas trip home, or even for a baby of my own.

Just lately, in the “golden” years of my life, I have learned that when God says “No,” He has a much better plan— even though it might not seem that way at the time. Most times, that “No” signifies that he will fit me with extraordinary grace through means I would never have imagined.

In the Bible story recorded in in John 11, sisters Mary and Martha learned this difficult lesson from Jesus Himself. They had sent for Jesus because their brother Lazarus was dying. Yet, Jesus waited two more days before going to them. In the meantime, Lazarus died. Jesus promised them they would see the Lord’s glory through this, but they still grieved and criticized Him for not coming sooner to heal Lazarus.

The story ended even better than they would have ever imagined. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead for the display of His power and sovereign will. Their brother was alive and their Lord had shown Himself to the crowd that had gathered. He was indeed glorified through this act of love and grace.

I would encourage you to do what I am learning to do—to be content with God’s will and to watch and wait for the ways He reveals Himself in His “No” answer to our prayers. May we see His amazing grace demonstrated in our lives, as we trust Him and learn to accept His answers!

—Posted: Monday, January 15, 2018

 

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[Photo of The Cathedral of St. Paul in Erie, PA]


Janus

“The Lord will watch over your coming
and going both now and forevermore.”
—Psalm 121:8

The name for the month of January comes from the name of Janus, the Roman god of doorways. This god had two faces: one looking forward and one looking backwards. As we step over the threshold into this new year, we certainly have a better view of the year behind us than we do of the one ahead.

We constantly read in the Psalms that we are to consider the Lord’s works and see all that He has done. This good advice is illustrated many times in Scripture.

Samuel, in a story recorded in 1 Samuel 7, met with the Israelites at Mizpah to confess their sins and cry out to God for deliverance from the Philistines. Here Samuel took a stone and set it up, naming it “Ebenezer,” saying, “Thus far has the Lord helped us.”

At this threshold of a new year, we should look back long enough to see how the Lord has helped us through the year just past. I like to make a list of the high points. Then, I take note of how impossible it would have been to meet the challenges and enjoy the blessings without the direct intervention of our Lord.

Looking forward into the new year presents a bit of a harder task. And, lest you get into too much daydreaming, as I often do, let me warn you of the dangers here. We cannot possible know what lies ahead of us in the new year. As much as we would like to plan it out, we don’t have that luxury. We need to remember that God controls the future. We do not.

Nevertheless, we do need to consciously and volitionally trust God with what lies ahead. We often will not know what the next day will bring. Yet, we should not live in fear, or presume life will always work out according to our plans. If we belong to a Sovereign God, we know that we can rely on His wisdom to guide us and His love to watch over us.

I pray that we will know more about how to live in the way of trust, to live in peace with our future, even while we do not know what it will bring. We can depend on the One who knows every day before we get to it and the one who will bring light to the pathways of our lives. As the Psalmist has committed himself, recorded in Psalm 119:105-106, let us also say:

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. I have taken an oath and confirmed it, that I will follow your righteous laws.

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1 Note: The photo at the top of this devotional of The Cathedral of St. Paul, Erie, Pennsylvania, was taken by photographer, Pat Bywater, December 26, 2017.

—Posted: January 8, 2018

 

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[Photo of Mary and Joseph talking]


Disrupted!

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but
it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”
—Proverbs 19:21

Mary and Joseph were planning a wedding. The initial approval of parents and the pledge that would forever bind them together had taken place. Now Mary could prepare for that important date they had ahead of them.

But, the angel Gabriel, coming to her with an unheard of announcement, completely disrupted the wedding plans. She would have a Baby by the Holy Spirit. Not only that, they would have to travel to Bethlehem, some 90 miles away, just about the time the Baby would be due. Plans disrupted!

Mary and Joseph were planning a trip home to Nazareth from Bethlehem. They must have been excited about introducing their families to the Newborn, and getting into a “settled” life as newlyweds.

But, an angel came and told Joseph that, in order to protect his family, they would have to go to Egypt for awhile! Plans disrupted!

In all of these events, Mary and Joseph responded to God’s plans by obeying and adapting their schedules and dreams. From the very beginning, they seemed to submit willingly to God’s mysterious will. Mary even responded to the angel, as recorded in Luke 1:38:

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.”

I must admit that I have much more trouble adapting to disrupted plans than Mary and Joseph seemed to have. If the weather gets bad, and friends are unable to make it for dinner, or cousin Jake gets sick at the last minute and the family can’t get together for pizza and games, I’m disappointed. If I felt assured that I had the new job for which I had applied, and then I heard that someone else got it instead, it would take me several days to move on from my disappointment. Maybe you respond to disruptions in the same way.

When we stop to remember that we, like Mary and Joseph, no longer should live for ourselves, but rather for the God who has called us, we can begin to live in the place of His blessings, protection and usefulness to the Kingdom. I think of the verses in 1 Corinthians  6:19-20:

You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.

Lord, help us to realize, like Mary and Joseph did, that since You called us, our lives will never be our own again. Help us to understand that we have a new loyalty, a new responsibility, to do Your will above our own, and a gladness and eagerness to obey, in order that You will be glorified. May Your will be done on Earth, in us, as it is in Heaven. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

—Posted: Monday, January 1, 2018

 

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[Photo of a Christmas tree with gift box ornaments]


Special Gifts

“Then they opened their treasures and presented him
with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.”
—Matthew 2:11

One of my fellow teachers, Ramona, loved gifts! Every year after Thanksgiving, she would bring out the “gift pin” which she wore on her lapel. It started with one “present” and grew to several attached together by the time the last day came before Christmas vacation. She hoped that this subliminal message to her second graders would result in many packages coming her way by the end of the month! We laughed at Ramona’s ploy. But, more than we liked to admit, each of us enjoyed the little gifts kids would bring to us.

Even though the Christmas gifts gave me pleasure, too, I think that the little surprises that came my way throughout the year pleased me even more. “Mrs. Wilson, I made this for you!” Gina entered my classroom and handed me a handmade picture. “Mrs. Wilson, you’re my favorite music teacher!” came my way from another child. At other times, the hugs given out of the blue helped me through a rough day.

What kind of gifts can we give to the Lord that He would appreciate during this season, and the new year to come?

St. Paul mentions that the Macedonian churches, which lived in extreme poverty, shared with a generous spirit. He commended them because they gave themselves first to the Lord. (2 Corinthians 8:5). Whether we have great riches to bring to our Lord or not, we can give the most important thing He desires, and that which He requires.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man, I would do my part;
Yet, what I can I give Him: Give Him my heart.1

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1 from “In the Bleak Midwinter” by Christina Rossetti

—Posted: Monday, December 25, 2017

 

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[Photo of St. Edwards Crown]


And He Shall Reign

“He will reign on David’s throne and over
his kingdom, establishing and upholding
it with justice and righteousness from
that time on and forever. The zeal of
the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”
—Isaiah 9:7

The Prophet’s word promised a King of kings and a Lord of lords—forever! We sing about it, we say we believe it, and yet, we find it oh so hard to live in the truth of it!

All of us are born with the compunction to create our own mini-kingdoms—places where we have control of our comforts, conveniences, desires, happiness, schedules, career paths, and more. Just notice how you respond the next time you have to wait in a line of Christmas shoppers!

Psalm 99:1 reminds us of God’s place:

The Lord reigns, let the nations tremble; he sits enthroned between the cherubim, let the earth shake.

Jesus often spoke of His kingdom, and set patterns for life in that kingdom, that turned on its head the methodologies of the natural world and our natural inclinations controlled by our sinful bent.

Here’s how Paul Tripp explains it:

Jesus had to rescue us from our bondage to our little kingdoms of one and usher us into his kingdom of loving authority and forgiving grace. He came to destroy our self-oriented kingdoms and dethrone us as kings over our own lives. In violent grace he works to destroy every last shred of our allegiance to self-rule, and in rescuing grace he lovingly sets up his righteous rule in our hearts. In grace he patiently works with us until we finally understand that truly good rule in our lives is his rule.1

I return to Psalm 99:5:

Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy.

Here we see our place. In modern jargon, “He’s God and I’m not.” Or, in the words of the Lord’s Prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done.” (Matthew 6:10)

This season, as you hear the beautiful text of Handel’s Messiah, allow it to remind you of His place and ours. Submit to Him again as the King of kings and Lord of lords over all of your life, and bow at His footstool in worship.

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1 Tripp, Paul David. Come, Let Us Adore Him: A Daily Advent Devotional. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017. p. 56.

—Posted: Monday, December 18, 2017

 

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[Photo of an angel appearing to Mary and Joseph]


Stranger Danger!

And the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.
I bring you good news of great joy that will be
for all people. Today in the town of David a
Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”
—Luke 2:10-11.

Shepherds were afraid of very little. They “were able to tangle fearlessly with fierce predators or club-wielding poachers, but they felt their legs turn to jelly when confronted with the sudden appearance of the divine messenger.”1 Scripture says they were “terrified.” (Luke 2:9)

This sight, so surprising, so bright and loud, of a “great company of heavenly host appearing with the angel” (Luke 2:13) was like nothing these country bumpkins had ever encountered. This invitation to see the Baby pulled them from their terror, and excited enough of their curiosity, that they got up and went to Bethlehem.

The experience of seeing the newborn Messiah changed these poor, backward men into evangelists of the Good News of Christ. No longer did they shake with fear. The angel’s words to them and the encounter with the God/Man in the form of a Baby incited them to “spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child.” (Luke 2:17)

Has God invited you to a new experience with Him, called you to a new venture, given you a task that you know will tax everything in you? Hear the angel’s words: “Do not be afraid.” Believe that He wants to reveal to you something great about Himself that He expects you to share with others. It could possibly be, as it must have been for these shepherds, a turning point in your life.

After they shared the news of the birth of Jesus, they returned to their flocks “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” (Luke 2:20) God wants us to experience a higher joy that produces higher worship and praise than we have ever felt before. During this Christmas season, listen for God’s voice and obey His call. He desires to show us His glory!

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1 Gugel, John. Messiah. Fenton, MO: Creative Communications for the Parish, 2003. p. 20.

—Posted: Monday, December 11, 2017

 

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[Photo of snow covered rose]


It Came a Flower Bright

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.”
—Isaiah 11:1
“I am a rose of Sharon.”
—Song of Songs 2:1

It came, a Flower bright,
Amid the cold of winter,
When half-spent was the night.
1


You may recognize the words of this Christmas Carol sung by many people from as far back as the 14th century. The images portrayed in this hymn give us a sense of something unexpected, welcomed in the coldest and darkest time of year.

This beautiful meditation reminds us that in our most sinful and hopeless state, Jesus came to us with salvation. This coming also quietly and largely unexpectedly appeared in the most undesirable of locations, in a most unconventional way: the birth of a Baby to a peasant, unmarried teenage girl, into poverty, and in a stable.

That night still surrounds us. But, we can continue to welcome the Light of the World. Even in our darkest hours, He comes to us with His beauty and shocking favors, through that same Flower of long ago.

Meditate this season on the ways Christ has come to you in the dead and cold of night with His light and His fragrance, as a rose blooming in winter. Read and rejoice in these words:

This Flower, whose fragrance tender
With sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor
The darkness everywhere.
True man, yet very God,
From sin and death He saves us
And lightens every load.2

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1 German Carol. Lo! How a Rose E’er Blooming. Public domain.
2 Ibid. Verse three.

—Posted: Monday, December 4, 2017

 

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[Drawing of Noah and the ark]


By Faith, Noah

“By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet
seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family.”
—Hebrews 11:7

Noah lived in a time of wickedness and violence. God determined things were so bad that He needed to start over by destroying everything except a germ of life that He had made. He saw Noah, a man who He favored because of Noah’s righteous way of living. The Bible says Noah walked with God (Genesis 6:9). God decided that He would spare Noah and his family with yet another test of his faith.

The earth had never known “rain” up to this point. God watered the ground by a mist. So, when God directed Noah to build a huge ark to prepare for a flood of rain, Noah had to believe that something new was about to happen. So, he obeyed and built on dry land, this enormous boat to preserve his family and the animals that God brought to him. Day after day he built, trusting God’s promise.

After the flood came and Noah and his family safely floated above the water for 40 days and 40 nights, the rain stopped. I would imagine they counted the days, and hoped that soon they could discover some dry land. However, in Genesis 7:24, the Bible says that the waters covered the earth for 150 days. After he waited longer, Noah, hoping to have good news, released a raven from the ark. However, finding no place to land, the raven came back to the ark.

Noah waited and sent out a dove with the same result. The dove found no place to light. Once more, this time after seven days, Noah sent the dove out again. This time when the dove returned, he must have felt encouraged with the fresh olive leaf in the dove’s beak. Again, he waited a week and sent the dove out. This time it did not return.

After a full year God invited Noah and his family to leave the ark. Upon stepping onto dry land, Noah built an altar. They worshipped and praised the God who had kept and rescued them. Noah’s faith at last had been rewarded.

We can learn so much from this old story. By obeying God and building the ark, Noah worked by faith. By staying in the ark, seemingly longer than he expected, Noah waited by faith. And once he and his family exited the ark safely, Noah worshipped by faith.

It may be that you have trusted God for something and done what you feel God has shown you to do. Perhaps you have waited and waited, far beyond the amount of time you expected, day by day trusting and praying. Then, you can expect that God will finally come to you. When He comes, how natural to present to Him an offering of thanksgiving for answered prayer, for sustenance, and for the end of the trial.

At some time, most of us will experience a faith-growing experience like Noah’s. May we find the same kind of favor from our loving and faithful God!

—Posted: Monday, November 27, 2017

 

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[Photo of a platter of carved turkey]


Leg Bone, Please!

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,
and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
—Luke 14:11

Did you ever know anyone who, when seated for a Thanksgiving feast, always asked for the leg bone so that the better portions could be given to someone else? Now, I realize that even a turkey leg bone can be very tasty, but it’s probably not the choice piece of the meat. Or maybe you know someone who regularly would peer over the cook’s shoulder as the turkey was sliced, pointing out the brownest, tenderest looking piece and asking her to save it for him.

Jesus told a parable to some guests at a banquet whom he noticed picked out the places of honor for themselves at the table. (Luke 14:1-14) To these people, He spoke and told them not to take these places of honor, because it might happen that the host would want someone else to sit there and ask those seated to move to another, less important seat. How humiliating! Much better, He said, that you should sit in the lowest place so that, if the host desires, he can invite you to a higher place of honor.

Jesus always likes to turn our human ways upside down. He will often exalt people who may not even be noticed in the typical day-by-day happenings of life. And, in exchange, allow those who seem full of their own importance to become humiliated. God wants humble followers. He never seems to honor or lift up people whom He hasn’t first seen either humbled of their own accord or humiliated by circumstances He allows.

Lord, help us not to live puffed up, better-than-others lives. Instead, help us to live our lives with eyes to please You, even if that means taking a low position until You change the circumstances.

—Posted: Monday, November 20, 2017

 

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[Photo of someone walking on gravel]


In Step

“Since we live by the Spirit, let
us keep in step with the Spirit.”
—Galatians 5:25

“Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah…”

I could hear him coming down the hallway past my classroom one morning, quietly singing the words to this familiar Disney song. I laughed to myself because Aaron, true to his methodical self, sang it at least half as fast as its common tempo, and he slid along the wall as he slowly made his way to his classroom—never in a hurry, and in his own inner imaginative world.

Conversely, Ellie always ran to her classroom, ignoring clearly stated hallway rules and oft repeated warnings. She had things to do, places to go, people to see!

Do we not act like these children with our Heavenly Father? We seem to either drag along when we know He wants us to do something for Him, or we get so far ahead of Him, thinking we know where He wants us to go, that we run forward without His specific direction. Scripture gives us examples of both kinds of people who thought they “walked” with the Lord.

The slow goer, Moses, argued with God that he wasn’t eloquent enough for the assignment He was given. (Exodus 4:10) He revealed his doubts that anyone would listen to him, and tried to wiggle out of the role God had for him to speak to the Israelites in Egypt. (Exodus 4:1). He dragged his feet at God’s call.

Then we read about Sarai, Abraham’s barren wife, who thought God had decided not to act in giving Abraham a son, so she would take up the task herself by giving Abraham her servant girl. (Genesis 16). What trouble she brought on her household, and the world by that act of running ahead of God.

Neither the doubtful hangers-back nor the presumptive racers walk with the Lord properly. He wants us to walk by faith, and that means staying close to Him. Pray the following with serious intention today:

Lord, keep me walking so closely with you today in faith that I neither get ahead of you nor linger behind. May your voice be clear to me as I listen, and may my steps be in line with your will. May we walk together this day. Amen.

—Posted: Monday, November 13, 2017

 

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[Photo of a lone male fan standing at a sports event]


Team Spirit

“And let us consider how we may spur one another
on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give
up meeting together, as some are in the habit of
doing, but let us encourage one another—
and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
—Hebrews 10:24-25

An illustration that Pastor Max Lucado uses reminds me of a very important Christian principle. He tells the story of being in Boston for a conference and deciding to take in a Celtics basketball game. They were playing his favorite team, the San Antonio Spurs.

Max found himself standing and cheering alone when “his” team did well, and upon doing so, received stares from the Boston fans around him. A few minutes later, as he stood to cheer, he noticed another Spurs fan across the aisle. When Max stood, he stood. When Max cheered, he cheered. They were united by a common love and purpose.

That story reminded me of the day in my public school teaching career, when, feeling very much alone in my faith, I met a Christian teacher’s assistant who had playground duty with me. We bolstered each other in our faith during those days, and formed a prayer relationship as well.

Soon, that twosome grew to three or four others, and then, a few years later, I became involved with a Christian organization that encourages Christian teachers to live as “salt” and “light”—following the admonition of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, as recorded in Matthew 5:13-16. What an encouragement we became to each other.

Jesus meant the Church to not only exist to give us a place to worship and minister to others, but to also as a place of community and fellowship. We need a place to expose our wounds from the week to the balm of caring brothers and sisters. We need a place where we can hear the encouragement of God’s work in the lives of others, in order to encourage our own faith. We must not miss out on this important, regularly attended event each week!

Max Lucado puts it like this:

All week you cheer for the visiting team. You applaud the success of the One the world opposes. You stand when everyone sits and sit when everyone stands.

At some point you need support. You need to be with folks who cheer when you do. You need what the Bible calls fellowship. And you need it every week. After all, you can only go so long before you think about joining the crowd.1

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1 Lucado, Max. When God Whispers Your Name. Nashville, TN: W. Publishing Group. Copyright by Max Lucado, 1994, 1999. pg. 140.

—Posted: Monday, November 6, 2017

 

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[Photo of infinity symbol


Beyond

“No one is like you, O Lord; you are great,
and your name is mighty in power …
Among all the wise men of the nations and in
all their kingdoms, there is no one like you.”
—Jeremiah 10:6-7

Sometimes I hear people questioning to what the “Beyond” in the chain store Bed, Bath and Beyond® refers. But, it got me thinking about that English word, and two Scripture passages containing it.

Perhaps the first passage came to me in an especially difficult time. From 2 Corinthians 1:8, I recalled:

We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.

Many will say that God never gives us any burdens we can’t bear alone. I’m not so sure. He wants to grow us to the point in which we have no strength left in ourselves, so that He can show us His mighty power at work in and for us. When we run out of our ability to endure, we can count on His power to take over.

I know this because I read about this power in the Apostle Paul’s words found in Ephesians 3:20-21 (NASB):

Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.

Our God gives us trials beyond our abilities to endure so that He can do what goes abundantly beyond all that we could even imagine!

In response, I repeat to you from a contemporary hymn:1

O God beyond all praising,
    we worship you today
And sing the love amazing
    that songs cannot repay;
For we can only wonder
    at every gift you send,
At blessings without number
    and mercies without end;
We lift our hearts before you
    and wait upon your word,
We honor and adore you,
    our great and mighty Lord.

The only thing we can do when God shows His “beyondness” over our weakness is to offer Him our thanks and praise in such a way that honors His wonderful name. Amen and Hallelujah!

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1 Perry, Michael. O God Beyond All Praising. Carol Stream, Illinois: Hope Publishing Co., 1982.

—Posted: Monday, October 30, 2017

 

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[Photo of a hydrangea]


Clusters of Mercy

“Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on
me, for in you my soul takes refuge.”
—Psalm 57:1

One prayer we can always pray and know God will answer is, “Lord, have mercy.” In reading Charles Haddon Spurgeon, that great preacher of the 1800s, I came across a devotional that opened up the word “mercy” to me. The definition reminds me of my hydrangea bushes.

When you look at the bush from a distance, you see the clusters of flowers that look like pom-poms, but when you take the time to look up close, you see tiny petals that make up the smaller flowers within the larger blooms. According to Spurgeon, God’s mercy resembles the hydrangea. Perhaps we have to come to the place where we see our need for God’s mercy up close before we truly realize the beauty, power, and depth of it.

Spurgeon first reminds us that the mercy of the Lord is a tender mercy coming from the gentle, loving touch of God. It is a great mercy. Like God Himself, His mercy shows His infinite bigness. God’s mercy is undeserved mercy. We have no right to it. This mercy is also rich mercy. It has efficacy for all our wounds.

God’s mercy is manifold mercy. Here we see the cluster of multitude blessings. God’s mercy is abounding mercy. We can never exhaust it. It is unfailing mercy. God always gives it to us and it will never leave us.1

As Psalm 23:6 tells us:

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow thee all the days of thy life.

Why would we not call for mercy? We can never live beyond the beauty and breadth of it. When you come to the end of your own resources and those of everyone you know, remember that God makes His mercy available to you. And, His mercy will never fail.

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1 Spurgeon, Charles H., Morning and Evening. McLean, VA: MacDonald Publishing Co., Public Domain. p. 588.

—Posted: Monday, October 23, 2017