Tag Archive: mary southerland


July 15, 2013
Ask and You Will Receive
Mary Southerland

Today’s Truth

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, NIV).

Friend to Friend

I have always loved giving gifts to my children – all kinds of gifts including hugs, kisses, time, and love – as well as material things like toys, books, and clothes. When the kids were young we didn’t have much money, so the gifts were small, but the kids didn’t seem to mind. I often scrimped and saved in order to buy a certain item for a birthday or for Christmas, and loved every minute of it.

Dan and I now have five grandchildren and I am in so much trouble! I want to give them everything! I know I need to give them the important things such as love, time and training in the ways of God, but I find myself in the same situation I was in when our son and daughter were babies – little money but a big desire to give.

I once took our daughter-in-law shopping for Jaydan and Lelia, our five-year-old twins. I had a list of items I wanted to purchase but was disappointed when I found only half of the items on the list. However, it was getting late, and the babies began to “tell” us that they were ready for dinner and bedtime. We checked out, loaded the babies into the car, and headed home.

When Jodi leaned over to kiss my cheek and thank me for the gifts, I looked at her and said, “You are so welcome, honey, but it’s not enough!” Jodi chuckled, but I was serious! “No, you don’t understand,” I continued.  “We have to go shopping again because I haven’t given the babies enough and my heart is not excited enough yet!” I know. I am totally ruined, but I am going to try very hard not to ruin Jaydan and Lelia. (The projected success rate does not look good right now, but I promise to work on it.)

On the way home, I began to analyze my words and my heart. I fully realize that material things won’t satisfy the deepest needs of our grandchildren. I am also committed to investing time in their lives to help them find Jesus Christ and discover His plan for their lives. Honestly, I don’t really know how to explain what I feel for our grandchildren, but it is sort of like watching my heart walk around on the outside of my body. I know I can love them in so many ways…and I do…and I will…but I always want to give them more.

Our Father has the same heart – a giving heart – when it comes to giving His children good things. The problem is that we don’t really believe that truth. We tend to measure His love and benevolent heart of giving by how much we have done or accomplished, or even by what we haven’t done and promise not to do.

We are missing the truth that God’s love simply cannot be measured. God doesn’t love us because we are so lovable. God loves us because He is love.

One of the most tragic results of our unbelief is an ineffective prayer life. We pray, not really believing that God wants to or really will answer those prayers. Jesus addresses this issue in Matthew 7:7-11.

Matthew 7:7-11 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him?”

Jesus is teaching about prayer and about the very nature of God. He relates it to something we all can understand, the child-parent relationship. The son has been out in the fields working all day long and by the time he comes home, he is starving. His family is seated at the dinner table as dishes of steaming, delicious food are being passed around. I can almost see that tired and hungry boy’s eyes zeroing in on the food, salivating in anticipation of the meal before him. Then imagine that the father, seeing the hunger of his child, picks up a rock, tosses it to his son and says, “Here! Eat this!” Jesus is driving home the truth that good fathers want to give their kids good gifts. Now if this is true of earthly parents (and grandparents), imagine what our Heavenly Parent wants to give us – if only we would ask.

No one’s voice sounds sweeter to God than your voice, girlfriend. Nothing in the universe could keep Him from giving you His full attention when you pray. In fact, He longs to hear your prayer. In Psalm 34:8, the psalmist invites us to “taste and see that the LORD is good.” In this verse, “Lord” means “Jehovah, Abba Father.” In other words, your Abba Father, Dearest Daddy, is inviting you to come to Him in childlike faith, with a hungry heart so He can fill it with the gifts of peace, contentment and a satisfied spirit.

Don’t think you have to figure out a way to steal a blessing from God. Don’t believe you have to trick Him into giving up what He would rather keep for Himself. It is God’s very nature to give to His children. He has made all of His resources available to you. Do not doubt for a moment that He is a giving God with a heart that longs to bless, to encourage, to empower and to love you. God is not only able to answer your prayer, but God wants to answer your prayer. Ask and you will receive.

October 24, 2012
How to Manage Emotions Part 2
Mary Southerland

Today’s Truth
Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control. – (Proverbs 25:28, NIV).

Friend to Friend
Many people are imprisoned by feelings of inferiority, and the results are always disastrous. Constructive criticism is perceived as an emotional attack. Jealousy burgeons as others receive the accolades we desperately crave. Decisions are made and the course of a life is determined so that fragile egos are fed, excluding God’s plan and purpose. Comparison reigns as a false idol attempting to validate worth and success. Inferiority crosses over to pride, and sin reigns. It is time for us to take control of and learn how to manage negative emotions.

Step one:Identify the source of negative emotions. Proverbs 23:7 (NIV) reminds us of a simple but powerful truth, “For as a man thinks, so is he.” Negative emotions are nourished in many ways – by daily challenges, a painful past, hurt or rejection, an undisciplined thought life or Satan himself. Some people qualify as “carriers” because they not only transmit negative emotions but constantly use others as their personal dumping ground.  In managing negative emotions, it is imperative that we identify their source and eliminate it.

Step two: Label negative emotions correctly. We are masters at mislabeling emotions because we fear exposing our true emotions will affect the way others see us. It is time for us to take off and burn the emotional masks we wear because healing and restoration begin at the point of emotional integrity.

Step three: Learn to manage emotions. It is not enough to acknowledge the presence of negative emotions or even understand why they exist. We must take action because if we don’t, negative emotions will. We must not only be able to manage negative emotions, but we must be able to respond correctly to negative emotions produced by the sometimes abrasive behavior of others. The people in our lives watch carefully, curious to see what happens when the pressure is on. Our prayer should be the same as the psalmist, “Create in me a new, clean heart, O God, filled with clean thoughts and right desires” (Psalm 51:10).

On the other hand, we can put negative emotions to work in our lives. Emotions can be like runaway horses.  You are trampled by someone with a hidden agenda, kicked in the gut by a friend, thrown by the lies of a family member or crushed by a lack of integrity and character in those in authority over you. Emotions can easily stampede out of control and into sin.

The success of emotional integrity lies in the one who holds the reins. We must constantly choose to surrender every emotion to the supernatural control of God because when we do, the Holy Spirit empowers that choice, produces control and transforms emotional bondage into emotional freedom. Learning to control anger is a crucial life lesson. The people around us want to see what happens when life pushes our buttons or squeezes our emotions. While God created us with the capacity for emotions, it is our responsibility to control them instead of allowing them to control us.

When Jesus saw money-changers desecrating the temple of God, He was furious! Yet, He modeled the right way to harness emotions and use them for good. I have heard many Bible teachers and preachers attempt to soften the response of Jesus, but the truth is – He was irate! I can almost see His face shrouded in plain old fury as He contemplated His options. If I had been in His place, I can tell you that those wicked men would have been toast, but before Jesus faced the intruders, He stepped aside to braid a whip, not because He had completed “Whip Braiding 101,” but because He was taking the time to harness His emotions. Jesus then used that harnessed anger to drive the money-changers out of the temple, correcting a wrong. We choose where to invest every ounce of emotional energy we possess. Like Jesus, we must learn to invest wisely, in order to reap the benefits of healthy emotions, harnessed and trained by godly discipline.

Emotional bankruptcy is too often responsible for the destruction of our emotional health as well as the health of our relationships. When we value success over obedience or comfort over character, the result is a life without balance and purpose. We must intentionally monitor emotional withdrawals and the impact they will have on the life journey to which God has called us.

Daily life provides the opportunity for countless emotional withdrawals that are good, right and ordained by God. I will never forget the night we found a broken and defeated young pastor standing at our front door. With tears streaming down his face, he told us his wife was having an affair and wanted a divorce. Certain that his ministry was doomed, this precious and gifted servant poured out his pain and defeat. For months, Dan and I ministered to this stellar young man, loving him, encouraging him, making him part of our family while he tried desperately to save his marriage.

When it became clear that his wife was determined to leave, we repeatedly assured him that God would once again use him for Kingdom work. Today, that once broken young man is married to a beautiful, godly woman who adores him and they have three incredible children. The church he now pastors is exploding in growth, changing lives and impacting the world for Jesus Christ! The time and energy we poured into this young man was a worthy emotional investment, to say the least, and one of our greatest blessings in ministry.

However, some emotional deposits are not good, right, healthy or God-ordained. Each day is jam-packed with lifeless places in which we can invest emotional energy. There are those who look to us to be their faithful savior or an always available crisis manager. Those roles belong to God alone.

We all know about bounced checks. For the life of me, I cannot figure out why banks don’t adopt my obviously superior philosophy about checking accounts. It goes something like this, “As long as there are checks, there is money.” Sadly, my current bank is rather narrow-minded in this area, so the reality is that our checks will bounce when our bank account is overdrawn and out of balance. The same is true in life.

We constantly need to check our emotional balance, guarding the emotional withdrawals we allow and diligently making consistent emotional deposits. Prayer, solitude, Bible study, friendships, service, accountability and a guarded thought life are just a few of the deposits that can make the difference between emotional health and emotional bankruptcy. Paul says it well, “God has made us what we are. In Christ Jesus, God made us to do good works, which God planned in advance for us to live our lives doing” (Ephesians 2:10, NCV). In other words, we need to do what God has called us to do – period.

Emotional imbalance occurs when we operate in our own strength, doing our “own thing” instead of wholly depending upon God and living in the parameters of His will. When we abandon all that we are to His strength, purpose and power, the Father deposits everything we need to accomplish every good work He created us to do.

Let’s Pray
Father, I praise You for giving me the gift of emotions. Please help me learn how to manage and control those emotions so that they are assets instead of liabilities. I want to become a godly woman of discipline, but I can’t even start that journey without your power. I choose to spend time in Your Word and in prayer. I submit my emotions to You and ask that You use them in my life for Your glory. In Jesus’s name, amen.

October 23, 2012
How to Manage Emotions Part 1
Mary Southerland

Today’s Truth
Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control. (Proverbs 25:28, NIV).

Friend to Friend
You have probably discovered the truth that you simply cannot trust your emotions because they are unreliable, misleading and will constantly betray you. A friend verbally blasts you and rage consumes your spirit. Your business is in decline and depression slithers into your heart. Caught in the comparison trap, you find yourself avoiding those who are more successful. Anger is a constant companion, finances are tight and rest is a distant memory. A sense of bone-deep weariness saturates your soul as your own heart ridicules the authenticity of your life. “You might as well give up. It’s no use. Just quit!” the enemy taunts.

Each day seems to offer the perfect setting for negative emotions to take hold of and destroy a life, but daily life is also the perfect setting for emotional control to shine. Control puts emotions in their God-shaped place, discarding negative emotions as the spiritual leeches they are while safeguarding and reinforcing positive emotions. I am amazed at the number of people who base eternal decisions on feelings while seeking confirmation and even direction from emotional responses. I almost missed one of the highest plans for my life because it didn’t feel right.

My husband, Dan, was Youth Pastor at Sheridan Hills Baptist in Hollywood, Florida, where Bill Billingsley, one of the greatest men I have ever known, was senior pastor. He and his amazing wife, Betty Jean, had an enormous impact on me personally and on the ministry of speaking and writing to which God has now called me. It was in the midst of my God-ordained transformation at Sheridan Hills and the youth program’s greatest growth that Dan dropped the bomb – he felt God calling him back to Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Well, I felt God calling him to stay put!

I loved Sheridan Hills. It was home. Going back to seminary meant I would have to go back to teaching elementary school. Teaching wasn’t the problem, but placing our son, Jered, in daycare was. We had waited so long for this chosen baby, and the thought of handing over his care to strangers broke my heart. How could this possibly be God’s plan when it felt so wrong?

My favorite worship time at Sheridan Hills was the Wednesday night service — for two reasons. I enjoyed the contemporary worship and in-depth Bible teaching. I also treasured the fact that, each week, while Dan was in meetings and Jered was in the nursery, I could slip into the empty, darkened auditorium for an hour of solitude.  However, the Wednesday night after Dan shared the numbing probability of our return to seminary, my usually refreshing solitude dissolved into a tantrum of crying, praying and pleading with God to let us stay.

When a hand gently patted my shoulder, I looked up into the tear-filled eyes of my pastor. “I have something to tell you,” he said. Pastor Billingsley was not only a spiritual mentor in my life, but a loving father figure as well.  Expecting a word of wisdom or encouragement, I was shattered by his words, “I have cancer.” Speechless, we sat in pain-filled silence, weeping; each flailing in our own sea of emotions and questions. Bill Billingsley then spoke the words that have guided my steps from the moment he gave them life. “Mary, just remember that God’s will penalizes no one.”

I immediately knew I had a choice to make. I could stubbornly hold on to my emotional comfort or submit to God’s will. My choice to obey God plotted the course for an incredible journey filled with purpose, a life of sharing God’s hope and healing with women across the world through speaking and writing. Had my emotions ruled, I would have missed God’s best and highest plan for my life.

Emotions are a gift from God. While emotions themselves are not sin, the place we give them can be. Since God created us with the capacity for strong emotions, we can rest assured that He has a plan for managing them. It is a step-by-step plan that begins with our commitment to being honest and transparent about every emotion, especially the negative ones.

Step one:Identify the source of negative emotions. Proverbs 23:7 (NIV) reminds us of a simple but powerful truth, “For as a man thinks, so is he.” Negative emotions are nourished in many ways – by daily challenges, a painful past, hurt or rejection, an undisciplined thought life or Satan himself. Some people qualify as “carriers” because they not only transmit negative emotions but constantly use others as their personal dumping ground.  In managing negative emotions, it is imperative that we identify their source and eliminate it.

Step two: Label negative emotions correctly. We are masters at mislabeling emotions because we fear exposing our true emotions will affect the way others see us. It is time for us to take off and burn the emotional masks we wear because healing and restoration begin at the point of emotional integrity.

Going back to seminary proved to be a spiritual marker for our family. At first, I cried every day and seethed in anger each night. I couldn’t blame God so I blamed Dan! I missed being home with Jered, even though he loved the seminary daycare and Miss Nancy, his incredibly gifted and caring teacher. I complained about others raising my son, even though Dan picked him up after lunch each day and kept him every afternoon. I resented having to work, even though my teaching assignment was at one of the best elementary schools in Fort Worth and my principal was a precious Christian man.

Gradually, God broke my hardened heart as I realized that Jered was flourishing in daycare as he made wonderful friends, learned how to adjust to changes, and enjoyed priceless time with his dad. Teaching school became a passion and, in many ways, prepared me for the calling I now live.

Looking back, I now see how I gave negative emotions free reign. The result was wasted emotional energy, health problems, spiritual disobedience, and mental exhaustion. Do not walk that path, girlfriend. Instead, right now, commit to emotional integrity and discipline. God will surely empower that commitment.

Let’s Pray
Father, I come to You, knowing I have allowed emotions to dictate my actions. I no longer want to live at the mercy of my fickle emotions. I want to control and manage them in a way that pleases You and brings emotional discipline to my life. Today, I choose to surrender the control of my emotions to You. In Jesus’s name, amen.

Words: Power Tools

October 18, 2012

Words: Power Tools
Mary Southerland

Today’s Truth
The mouth speaks the things that are in the heart. Good people have good things in their hearts, and so they say good things. But evil people have evil in their hearts, so they say evil things – (Matthew 12:34-35, NCV).

Friend to Friend
Words are power tools that, in the right hands and used correctly, can build and encourage. However, in the wrong hands and used incorrectly words can destroy or, at the very least, cause confusion.

Life is filled with men and women who have been hurt and even defeated by words spoken in anger or words rising out of a wounded and bitter heart. In fact, many people are guilty of speaking damaging words with the ulterior motive of flaunting power or demonstrating control. It is so easy for my mouth to be in motion before my mind is in gear, and the result is rarely good or godly. The words we speak can clarify or complicate a situation. I have watched my husband, Dan, defuse an emotional bomb and avoid a potentially explosive situation with a few carefully chosen and quietly spoken words of wisdom. I have also observed him in the art of confrontation – and with Dan, it really is an art. In fact, one person told me that she was halfway home before she realized that she had just been corrected by Dan.

Church bulletins are prime examples of the confusion that misused words can cause. Here are a few real and interesting examples:

“This afternoon there will be a meeting in the south and north end of the church. Children will be baptized at both ends.”

“Tuesday at 5 p.m. there will be an ice cream social. All the ladies giving milk – please come early.”

“Wednesday, the Ladies Literary Society will meet. Mrs. Johnson will sing, ‘Put me in My Little Bed’ accompanied by the pastor.”

“Thursday at 5 p.m. there will be a meeting of the Little Mothers Club. All those wishing to become little mothers will please meet with the minister in the study.”

“This being Easter Sunday, we will ask Mrs. Brown to come forward and lay an egg on the altar.”

“The ladies of the church have cast off clothing of every kind, and they can be seen in the church basement on Friday afternoon.”

Yes, these illustrations are humorous, but there is nothing funny about the grief that careless words can cause. Unless strained through discipline and holiness, words can impart false perspectives and untruths. However, the right word, spoken at the right time and in the right way can bring order in the midst of confusion, light on a very dark path as well as wisdom and insight.

I believe God gives us spiritual “radar” so we can assess a situation and speak the right word for that circumstance. In fact, Paul writes, “Let your conversation be gracious and effective so that you will have the right answer for everyone” (Colossians 4:6). We just need to check the “radar screen” before we speak.

Solomon offers great wisdom concerning the use of words, “Whoever controls his mouth protects his own life. Whoever has a big mouth comes to ruin” (Proverbs 13:3, GWT). If we do not learn to use and control our tongue, it will use and control us. While it is true that we need to choose our words carefully, it is just as true that the tongue is a spiritual thermometer that reflects the condition of the heart.

I am not a good patient and tend to think that most medical rules apply to everyone else in my life – but not to me. After all, I am a woman and I am a Southerland. According to my husband, it doesn’t get much tougher than that. Two years ago, I was slammed with a high fever and blinding headache that sent me to bed for days, something highly unusual for me. I called my doctor. When he heard my symptoms, he told me to come in immediately and even though his waiting room was full, he would make room for me in his already crammed schedule. His urgency was not encouraging.

The minute I walked in his office, the receptionist waved me back to the patient area where a nurse promptly escorted me to an examination room, hurriedly recorded my symptoms, took my temperature, glanced briefly at my tongue and quickly left the room. Minutes later, the doctor and a nurse walked in and stood on the opposite side of the room, almost smiling at me. At this point, I realized that whatever I had was evidently highly contagious and probably fatal. I felt so awful that the latter was most appealing.

“Mary, I am almost certain you have viral meningitis,” the doctor said. Seeing the blank look on my face, he explained, “Your abnormally high fever of 104 and severe headache are classis symptoms of meningitis, but we need to run some tests to verify my suspicions. Oh, and by the way, how long have you had the solid white coating on your tongue?” I was stunned! What coating? Why is the color of my tongue even important in determining my illness? The doctor continued, “The health of the tongue is a very strong indicator of the health of the entire body.”

The same is true when it comes to the words we speak. “The mouth speaks the things that are in the heart. Good people have good things in their hearts, and so they say good things. But evil people have evil in their hearts, so they say evil things” (Matthew 12:34-35 NCV). If my words are boastful, my heart is insecure. If my words are filthy, my heart is impure, and if my words are critical, my heart is filled with pride and anger. In other words, the problem is not really my mouth, it is my heart. As my mama would say, “What’s down in the well comes up in the bucket!”

A minister was making a wooden trellis to support a climbing vine. As he was pounding away, he noticed a little boy who had wandered into his yard and was carefully watching him. The youngster didn’t say a word, so the preacher kept on working, thinking the boy would eventually get bored and leave, but he didn’t. Pleased at the thought that his work was being admired, the pastor finally said, “Well, son, trying to pick up some pointers on gardening?” The little boy grinned and replied, “Nope, I’m just waiting to hear what a preacher says when he hits his thumb with a hammer.”

The subject of taming the tongue is a hard one. Since communication is a gift from God, He has a plan for the right way to use it. My problem is that I tend to think my plan is better. I know. I can be arrogant … and stubborn. Someone recently sent me this prayer: “Lord, keep Your arm around my shoulder and Your hand over my mouth.” Amen!

It has been estimated that most people speak enough words in one week to fill a large 500 page book. In the average lifetime, this would amount to 3,000 volumes or 1,500,000 pages. Let me ask you a question. What kind of book did you write today for your children – your spouse – your friends and co-workers? Did you use words to encourage someone today? Join me in a fresh commitment to carefully choose and lovingly speak words of life.

April 30, 2012
What Did You Say?
Mary Southerland

Today’s Truth
“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Proverbs 25:11).

Friend to Friend
Fruit is one of my favorite foods. When I go grocery shopping, it always takes me longer to get through the fruit section than any other area of the store. I spend what some might consider a ridiculously long time picking out what I hope will be the juiciest apples, the plumpest grapes and sweetest bananas. Experience has taught me to quickly discard any piece of fruit that is bruised, mushy or discolored. I shake cantaloupe and thump watermelons. Ripe strawberries have a unique sweet scent and only the reddest cherries will do. Plums and tomatoes must be firm to the touch, bright in color and wrinkle-free while the more wrinkles the better when it comes to choosing passion fruit.

On a recent trip to the grocery store, I was carefully making my fruit selections when the thought occurred to me that I spend more time choosing fruit than I spend choosing my words.

Words are power tools that can build and encourage. Words can also destroy and cause confusion. We have all been hurt and even defeated by words spoken in anger or words rising out of a wounded and bitter heart. I have been guilty of speaking damaging words with the ulterior motive of flaunting power or demonstrating control. It is so easy for my mouth to be in motion before my mind is in gear, and the result is rarely good or godly.

The words we speak can clarify or complicate a situation. I have watched my husband diffuse an emotional bomb and avoid a potentially explosive situation with a few carefully chosen and quietly spoken words of wisdom. I have also observed him in the art of confrontation – and with Dan, it really is an art. In fact, one person told me that he was halfway home before he realized that Dan had just confronted and corrected him.

Solomon offers great wisdom concerning the use of words, “Whoever controls his mouth protects his own life. Whoever has a big mouth comes to ruin” (Proverbs 13:3 GWT). If we do not learn to use and control our tongue, it will use and control us. While it is true that we need to choose our words carefully, it is just as true that the tongue is a spiritual thermometer that reflects the condition of the heart.

I am not a good patient and tend to think that most medical rules apply to everyone else in my life – but not to me. After all, I am a woman and I am a Southerland. According to my husband, it doesn’t get much tougher than that. Several years ago, I was slammed with a high fever and blinding headache that sent me to bed for days, something highly unusual for me. I called my doctor. When he heard my symptoms, he told me to come in immediately and even though his waiting room was full, he would make room for me in his already crowded schedule. His urgency was not encouraging.

The minute I walked in his office, the receptionist waved me back to the patient area where a nurse promptly escorted me to an examination room, hurriedly recorded my symptoms, took my temperature, glanced briefly at my throat and quickly left the room. Minutes later, the doctor and a nurse walked in and stood on the opposite side of the room, almost smiling at me. At this point, I realized that whatever I had was evidently highly contagious and probably fatal. I felt so awful that the latter was definitely appealing.

“Mary, I am almost certain you have viral meningitis,” the doctor said. Seeing the blank look on my face, he explained, “Your abnormally high fever of 104 and severe headache are classic symptoms of meningitis, but we need to run some tests to verify my suspicions. Oh, and by the way, how long have you had the solid white coating on your tongue?” I was stunned! What coating? Why is the color of my tongue even important in determining my illness? The doctor continued, “The health of the tongue is a very strong indicator of the health of the entire body.”

The same is true when it comes to the words we speak. “The mouth speaks the things that are in the heart. Good people have good things in their hearts, and so they say good things. But evil people have evil in their hearts, so they say evil things” (Matthew 12:34-35, NCV). If my words are boastful, my heart is insecure. If my words are filthy, my heart is impure and if my words are critical, my heart is filled with pride and anger. In other words, the problem is not really my mouth, it’s my heart. The words I speak reflect the true condition of my heart.

Careless words can cause such grief. Unless strained through discipline and holiness, words can convey false perspectives and untruths. However, the right word, spoken at the right time and in the right way can bring order in the midst of confusion and light on a very dark path. I believe God gives us spiritual “radar” so we can assess a situation and speak the right word for that circumstance. We just need to check the “radar screen” before we speak.

Choose Joy

April 12, 2012
Choose Joy
Mary Southerland
Today’s Truth
James 1:2-3 Whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow (NLT).
Friend to Friend
When golf balls were first manufactured, their covers were smooth. Golfers soon discovered that after the balls had been roughed up a bit, they were able to get more distance out of them. Manufacturers then began producing golf balls with dimpled covers.
Life is a lot like that. It takes some rough spots to make us go our farthest. It takes some storms to teach us that God is faithful and will provide the strength to stand firm.
The Apostle Paul knew all about storms. As a fully devoted follower of Christ, Paul was despised, slandered, mistreated, abused and poor. He had every right to be angry and distressed but instead chose joy. “We own nothing, and yet we have everything” (2 Corinthians 6:8-10 NLT).
I never fully understood the amazing truth behind Paul’s words because I had never really lived their truth – until 1995 – when I found myself sitting at the bottom of a deep, dark pit. Clinical depression, the psychologist called it. The name was irrelevant to me. All I knew was that it was the most hellish place I had ever been and I had absolutely no idea how to escape. I was paralyzed and totally helpless – the perfect setting for a miracle. Sitting at the feet of Jesus, stripped of my human efforts and impotent plans, I discovered the life changing truth that He did not come to eliminate the storms in my life. No – He came to fill those storms with His presence. I was not delivered from that pit until I was delivered in that pit.
Because joy is a deeply-rooted confidence that God is in control, it only stands to reason that the highest joy will come through the greatest pain. The greater the pain, the more we are forced to search for and cling to the hand of God. But that only happens when we choose the right attitude toward pain.
James 1:2-3 Whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. (NLT)
When was the last time you threw a party to celebrate the trials and storms in life? God’s ways are higher than our ways and most human reactions are in direct opposition to the paradoxical ways of God. Honestly, there are times when what He has asked me to do simply does not make sense – to me. And there we find the problem. Faith is a matter of blind obedience, not human logic.
At the heart of every storm is victory – waiting to be claimed. The words of James offer the perfect backdrop for every life storm.
My son, Jered, was a beautiful baby. One Easter I took him to Sears for their “Get a million pictures for $2.99” deal. Expecting the studio to be crowed, I was met by one bored photographer thrilled to see his first customers. Jered always loved having his picture made and put on quite a show. After the advertised special pictures were taken, the photographer asked, “Listen, I don’t have any appointments today and really need some new pictures for wall displays. Would you mind if I took more pictures of Jered?” What mother is going to say, “I don’t want my child’s face plastered on every wall of this studio?” Not this proud mama. We went to work.
The photographer handed me a box of clothes, asking me to choose several different outfits for Jered. First was a tuxedo. No, I am not kidding you. The photographer pulled down a silver backdrop, making Jered’s curly, black hair stand out and his blue eyes dance. Next was the blue snow suit against a red backdrop. With every backdrop, Jered’s appearance changed and an eternal truth lodged in my heart.
We have a different backdrop for every life experience. It is a manger – a cruel cross – an empty tomb – and eternity itself. That backdrop changes everything. It makes our hearts sing and our souls dance with the truth that we can always count on His joy in us to face the storms around us.

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